________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 7 . . . . November 24, 2006


Famous Dead Canadians 2.

Joanne Stanbridge. Illustrated by Bill Dickson.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2006.
215 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 0-439-95729-X.

Subject Heading:
Canada-Biography-Humor-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

*** /4


Grey Owl was not the person he had pretended to be. He was Archibald Stansfield Belaney. Born in England in 1888 and raised by his prim and proper aunts, young Archibald spent a lot of time getting into trouble.

The worst trouble came when he was a teenager, working as a clerk in a lumberyard. One day he lit a package of fireworks. (Danger! Never, ever, play with fireworks!) He lowered them down the chimney of his supervisor's office and


Luckily nobody was killed or injured. But that was the end of that job!

Archie had always dreamed of living in the woods. After the fireworks incident, his aunts finally let him come to Canada, where he got a job in a Toronto department store. (Danger! Just kidding. Department stores are not usually dangerous.) A few months later he began to follow his dream. He boarded a train and headed for Northern Ontario.

During the war Archie was wounded in the foot, and after that he was often in pain. When the war was over, he went back to Ontario, but his troubles continued.. He was broke. He let his hair grow long, dyed it black and tied it in a ponytail. He started telling people that his father was Apache and his mother was Scottish.

His life became a tangle of lies.

As with Stanbridge's previous information book, Famous Dead Canadians, this book is written from the same premise: trips with Plumley Q. Norris in a big black taxi to a number of historical sites associated with famous dead Canadians. In this second installment, the professor has lost an important briefcase and requires the reader's assistance in locating it. The reader will help the professor find his briefcase, and he will help the reader with an assignment. The same chatty style and sketchy cartoons by Bill Dickson are used.

"Your young eyes might spot some clues that I overlooked. And I can help you with your research. I'll tell you about some famous and not-so-famous dead Canadians. Our journey will be quick and fun and mysterious. Your assignments will soon be written, and maybe - just maybe - we'll find that briefcase" (From the “Introduction.”)


     Although the 15 famous Canadians included in this title are not in chronological order, each life story of 10-12 pages does give enough background for a report. The pertinent information in "Just the Plain Facts About" at the end of each biography will also be very useful for researchers.

     Although there is no index, the table of contents is quite sufficient.

     The slightly offbeat titles for some of the past Canadians may also appeal. These include: "William Lyon Mackenzie King: Top Secret," "Radisson and Grosseilliers: Flip and Flop," and "Henry Hudson: From Bad to Worse." As with the first book, Stanbridge includes a cross-section of occupations, such as explorers, politicians, and doctors; and eventful periods of Canadian history, ranging from the late 1500s to the late 1900s, are featured in the 15 biographies. The lives of three other women of note, including Emily Carr and Mary Ann Shadd, are also examined. Others included are inventor, pilot and secret agent William Stephanson; Dr. Norman Bethune; Métis leader Louis Riel; and doctor and suffragette Emily Stowe.

     Useful informational references include the Introduction that gives some brief information about the premise of the book that acts as a bridge from the first title. At the end of the book, there is a "Famous Portrait Gallery" of the featured Canadians with amusing speech bubbles. For instance, for the painting of stranded Henry Hudson, it says, "What I need is a warm Hudson's Bay blanket." "Illustration Credits" and a "Selected Bibliography" round out the title.

     While Scholastic lists the book for 8 to 11-year-olds, it is difficult to determine the age level for which this book is really intended. The chatty style makes it accessible to these younger students, but would the lower end of that age range be assigned essays on famous Canadians? Furthermore, would they know enough about Canadian history to understand the humor? It seems that the content is aimed more at older students. Each entry is chock-a-block full of interesting details and doesn't gloss over the fallibilities of these famous persons. For instance, Grey Owl's four marriages - sometimes to more than one woman at a time - his drinking, and the "acquired" native heritage are all detailed. On the other hand, the frequent references to the lost briefcase, the black taxi, and class assignments may be off-putting to older students.

Oh, I hope we'll find my lost briefcase! Let's retrace the steps of my last Historical Excursion, which ended here in Regina, Saskatchewan.

I'll park the big black taxi in front of the T.C. Douglas Building, and while we search for the Lost and Found, I'll tell you about THE GREATEST CANADIAN. You're sure to write an essay that will make your teacher shout with joy.

     After all is said and done, possibly the real strength in this title is that it may be just the thing needed to get children interested in Canadian history.


Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005 and is now acting as a children's literature consultant.

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

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