________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006


William Lyon Mackenzie King: The Loner Who Kept Canada Together. (Canadian Prime Ministers Warts & All, #10).

Nate Hendley. Illustrated by Jordan Klapman.
Toronto, ON: Jackfruit Press, 2006.
57 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 0-9736406-1-8.

Subject Headings:
King, William Lyon Mackenzie, 1874-1950-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Politics and government-1921-1930-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Politics and government-1935-1948-Juvenile literature.
Prime ministers-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4

Reviewed from galleys.


After returning to Toronto in 1897, he wrote a series of articles for a newspaper, the Mail and Empire. His stories exposed the terrible working conditions in Toronto sweatshops (cramped factories where workers sewed clothes for pitiful wages). Picture yourself having to stitch clothing in the boiler room of your school, jammed in with dozens of other people. Now think about working there for 14 hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year, earning barely enough food and a crummy place to live. William soon returned to the United States to earn a second master's degree in political economy at the world-famous Harvard University.


Part of the planned 22-volume “Warts and all” series about Canadian Prime Ministers, this book chronicles the life and times of Canada's 10th Prime Minister. Comprised of nine chapters and an extensive timeline, it also includes a table of contents, an index, and a glossary containing thoroughly explained terms. At the bottom of the table of contents, there is a list of “Hot Topics” - social issues and controversies of King's tenure, plus their corresponding page numbers.

     Born in what is now Kitchener, ON, in 1874, King, a Liberal, was a trustworthy and highly respected negotiator, good listener and peacemaker, albeit a very dull man. Harvard educated, he created social programs, such as family allowance, unemployment insurance and old age pensions, as well as protesting sweatshops, deplorable living conditions in slums and the long workday (which he successfully changed from 12 hours to eight). A man of many “firsts,” he was Canada's youngest ever Deputy Minister at the age of 25 and the first Minister of Labour as well as the most educated and longest serving - 21 years in office - elected leader of an English-speaking country when he finally retired in 1948 at the age of 74. For a short time, he held a position at the Rockefeller Foundation as its Director of Industrial Relations, a post for which he was paid the princely sum of $20,000 per year, the modern day equivalent of a half million dollars. In 1918, he published a book, Industry and Humanity, the theme of which was the improvement of people's lives through social programs. King's terms of office were not without their problems. His government's part in the alcohol smuggling scandal, when customs officials accepted bribes in exchange for allowing liquor to cross the border into the United States, his refusal to help Conservative-run provinces with relief measures in the early 1930s, and the government's anti-Semitic policy which refused Jews entry into Canada during the Second World War, demonstrated serious errors in judgment. King's diaries reveal his lifelong struggle with loneliness. A “mama's boy,” he ended relationships if his mother did not approve of them, and he seemed close only to his three dogs, all of which he named Pat. His inability to empathize with others was, perhaps, the reason for his insensitivity to Jews fleeing from the Nazis or to the suffering inflicted upon Japanese Canadians by the Canadian government who resettled them in internment camps. Despite French and English divisiveness over conscription, one of King's greatest contributions was a united Canada. In his personal life, however, he was considered a dull person, King's fascination with secret séances and communicating with spirits made him a little more interesting to his fellow Canadians.

     Hendley writes fluently, without bias, and provides detailed information about the featured Prime Minister and the times in which he lived. Throughout the book are blue sidebars, timelines pertaining to the important events and dates covered in the chapter. A cartoon beaver, wearing a t-shirt with a maple leaf on it, occasionally appears in the book and gives additional trivia. Illustrations consist of original drawings as well as photographs. At the back of the book, there is a four-page timeline of world events that took place during King's lifetime (1874-1950) and a list of suggested books, web sites and places to visit in Canada for further study.

     A great addition to what promises to be an excellent series for young history buffs.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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