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French Immersion and School Libraries

By Philip Harber

Volume 14 Number 5

There are evidently problems involved in selecting and evaluating French-language materials, especially for French Immersion programs; the fact that Canadian Materials has never since its inception reached out to include them in its mandate points to the likelihood that the difficulties have hitherto seemed insurmountable. The situation of the bilingual school library in Canada has not changed in essence since Angela Thacker (I) described it to l.A.S.L. in 1981.

What are the problems that first spring to my mind? The first is the specialized nature of the skills and experience needed to evaluate such materials, bearing in mind the particular needs of the English and French school community in a dual-track or French Immersion school.

The second has probably been the uneven distribution and sales of French-language materials across the country; Quebec publishers and distributors have not been sanguine about the market outside their own province, in which they face a battle for the tiny French market between local and overseas entrepreneurs, refereed by the Quebec government. One result has been the establishment of publishers' and distributors' cooperatives; another, less generally known, has been the growth of large local operations that swallow up smaller enterprises in take over bids. The consequences of this change from the large metropolitan companies' monopoly may affect Quebec publishers' marketing strategies in the years to come.

A third possible cause of difficulty has been the uneven funding by school boards of new French Immersion programs, under which libraries are conceived of as instant collections to be bought once and for all, without systematic planning for future development. The real and changing needs of the curriculum have often been sacrificed to fill the shelves to impress parents and trustees. Teachers' and students' requirements are now coming to light after the initial funding has run out. Per capita funding has in most cases been abandoned, however, since it does not work for the French Immersion components of dual-track schools. But unequal treatment of the English and French sections of the library may lead to lack of solidarity among the staff.

Fourth is the fact that, although a growing market for French Immersion materials exists, the Canadian industry and writers to supply it do not, or at least, have not been encouraged to try to satisfy it by the granting of adequate subsidies, fellowships, etc. This is not to say that only by the exclusive use of Canadian French-language materials can the French Immersion program flourish, because many metropolitan French or other European materials are excellent aids to learning and education in the widest sense. However, it would seem to me that unless or until the quality and quantity of Canadian French materials for French Immersion rise to meet the growing expectations of teachers, students, and teacher-librarians in all types of schools, the Canadian cultural heritage we as educators wish to pass on to our children will lack a true Canadian French viewpoint. This aspect of culture can be obtained from Canadian French literature for children, as discussed by Michelle Provost (2) at the 1982 I.A.S.L. Conference.

Is this enough to demonstrate that teacher-librarians in French Immersion or dual-track schools have more to cope with than those with only a core French program, usually with token French language resources? Can Canadian Materials do anything to help them, in the way of providing reviews of French language materials in English?

The role of Canadian Materials has, until now, been to review all English materials produced in Canada, written by Canadians and/or about Canada, for young people from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary levels. These reviews are written by volunteers who are practising teachers, teacher-librarians, and consultants familiar with the curriculum. If the journal were to extend its scope to French-language materials from Canada, it would obviously be necessary to expand the pool of reviewers to appeal to a different clientele. The public library community in Ontario has recently been granted a free service of this kind: Selection (3), published by the Ministry in charge of public libraries (not the Ministry of Education, and not available by subscription to school libraries). But Selection is only in its infancy, and it must be extremely expensive to produce. This bilingual journal is an exception; most relevant reviewing journals, like Lured (4), Des livres et des jeune (5) and Choix (6) are in French only, since they are aimed at French-speaking schools and libraries. They are therefore not readily accessible to those teacher-librarians uncertain of their ability to make judgments about French-language materials. Canadian Materials could surely attempt to fill this gap by giving help to book selectors in school and other libraries across Canada.

In fact, the next issue of Canadian Materials will see the first of a series of columns about recent publications in French suitable for school libraries with French Immersion programs. The present writer will attempt to share some of the experience and knowledge gained over the last fifteen or sixteen years spent in the field, first as a teacher of French as a second language and a teacher-librarian in a French Immersion school, and currently as a library consultant specializing in the selection and use of French-language materials. The advantages accruing from my access to a catalogued and classified collection of the best five thousand inprint titles in French for kindergarten to Grades 8/9 are too valuable to be kept for the personnel of one large city school board. On the other hand, the operation of this centralized facility is so costly that its immediate benefits (such as bibliographies) cannot be given away to all comers. This series of columns may be the best way to show goodwill towards colleagues in classrooms and school libraries, as we try to encourage them to enjoy the original children's literature of Quebec (and Canadian French writers outside Quebec) in its current phase of growth and experimentation. There is no doubt of the importance and quality of this body of literature, judged by the highest standards. One has only to consult two recent bibliographies published in Montréal: one by Editions Ville de Montréal, compiled by Helene Charbonneau (7), and the other by Editions du Trecarre, under the direction of Raymond Turgeon (8). They are not exclusively (or even mostly) Canadian in content, but they provide themes and annotations to answer our need for recommended reading for recreational or "extensive" reading programs. We should add to these the lists of Canadian works published regularly by Communication-Jeunesse (9). All a columnist can do is to pick out titles that may not at first glance attract the inexperienced teacher-librarian, and to try to explain the differences and agreements in taste between young Canadians of French and English background. If you compare, for instance, what is a best seller in Quebec and the rest of Canada, very often the same titles in translation appear at the top of the list (e.g., Le matou, by Yves Beauchemin (10), and its translation, The Alley Cat (11)). The field is vast, from pre-school to Grade 13. (Ontario Academic Credits will demand of school libraries a wealth of reading materials in French that are both Canadian and of recent date).

A possible expansion of the scope of the column will be to include other media, i.e., microcomputer software, as well as the audiovisual materials that are so much in demand, as new and useful items appear on the market.


1. Angela Thacker. "Bilingualism and the School Library in Canada." SLIC 2 (Autumn. 1981), 15-19.
2. Michelle Provost. "Images of Canada in French Canadian Literature for Children. SLIC 3:3 (Spring 1983), 11-18.
3. Selection. Toronto, Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, Ontario.
4. Lurelu. C.P. 446, Succ. De Lorimier, Montréal, Quebec, H2H 2N7.
5. Des livres et des jeunes. C.P. 2152, Succ. Jacques-Cartier, Sherbrooke, Quebec, JIE 9X9.
6. Choix, La Centrale des bibliotheques, 1685 est rue Fleury, Montréal, Quebec, H2C ITI.
7. Helene Charbonneau and Ginette Guindon. Livres en languefran,caise pour les jeunes. Montréal, Editions Ville de Montréal, 1985.
8. Raymond Turgeon, and others. Romans et contes pour les 12 a 17 ans. Montréal, Editions du Trecarre, 1985.
9. La Selection annuelle de Communication-Jeunesse. 445 St.Francois-Xavier, Montréal, Quebec, H2Y 2TI.
10. Yves Beauchemin. Le matou. Montréal, Editions Quebec-Amerique 1981. (Paper, 1985). 11. The Alley Cat. (Translated by Sheila Fischman.) Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1986.
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