CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 37 . . . . May 25, 2018
The "To Be Canadian" series currently consists of six titles: Be Who You Want to Be: Freedom; Create a Better Canada: Just Society; Fairness for All: Equity; Get Involved: Democracy; Opportunity for All: Inclusion; and Respect Our World: Sustainability.
On its website, the publisher, Beech Street Books, lists these books at "Grade Level 2-4". The "To Be Canadian" series is part of "True North", a branch of Beech Street Books that describes itself by the following:
Canadian students need Canadian books! True North are the books you need for primary readers seeking info on subjects taught in schools across the country. (http://www.beechstreetbooks.ca/)
The format seems right for Grades 2-4 – 24 pages with about 100 words per page, supported with full-colour photos – but the reading level and the concepts seem well above a Grade 4. For example, the first column of the Index of Fairness for All: Equity is: "Canadian Education Association, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canadian Race Relations Foundations, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Employment Equity Act".
A random sample analyzed on-line by five different readability methods confirmed that the reading level is Grade 8.
"To Be Canadian" may be useful to Grade 6-8 students who are looking for a brief introduction to some of the concepts, such as inclusion and a just society, in a Canadian context. But the coverage of each topic is only an overview without any supporting facts and limited references to sources of more information. Although the books are 24 pages, that page count includes the title page, glossary, additional resources, and the index. On a quick count, each book probably has a total of less than 1000 words of content.
If the concepts and the reading level were at a Grade 2-4 level, the format of these books would be perfect, but unfortunately there is a mismatch between content and presentation.
For the most part, the colourful photos, graphics and charts in these books add a great deal of interest to the books. The people in the photos are representative of the multicultural Canadian society. There is the occasional exception. For example, the cover photo of Create a Better Canada: Just Society includes a gavel. Canadian courts have never used gavels. Gavels are used in American courts.
More serious than a picture of gavel are the omissions and misleading information in the books. For example, Get Involved: Democracy states that "Canada's three territories are governed by the federal government". More accurately, the three territorial governments govern with powers delegated by the federal government.
Get Involved: Democracy also omits any mention of Canada's French heritage, instead stating only, "Canada was once controlled by the British". The same book later states, "Having two official languages shows that the government recognizes the ways different cultures can make a country whole." I'm puzzled by the connection the author is attempting to make.
Create a Better Canada: Just Society states, "In 1867 Canada separated from Britain". It also says, "July 1, also known as Canada Day, is the anniversary of Canada's independence from Britain. People celebrate with fireworks and parades". In fact, three colonies joined together to form the country of Canada in 1867, but the new country remained a self-governing part of the British Empire. To portray this as becoming independent from Britain is again misleading.
Each book includes two inquiry questions near the end of the book. For example:
Be Who You Want to Be: Freedom looks at rights and responsibilities provided by the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights. Some topics discussed include discrimination, diversity, culture, and immigration.
Create a Better Canada: Just Society examines the Rule of Law and the making of a just society. It includes a timeline of Women's Voting Rights in Canada.
Fairness for All: Equity includes an excellent description and visual image of the difference between equity and equality. This book includes a discussion of the pay gap between men and women. Unfortunately, the only reason it mentions for the gap is the greater role that women play in household and child rearing duties. "As a result, women are more likely to feel pressure to sacrifice their careers to allow more time for the work they do at home."
Get Involved: Democracy emphasizes the right and responsibility Canadians have to vote.
Opportunity for All: Inclusion looks at differences in abilities, gender, sexual preferences, race and religion. Past treatment of Indigenous Peoples is discussed, including residential schools.
Respect Our World: Sustainability discusses water conservation, composting, pollution, fossil fuels, renewable resources, and other ways to protect the natural environment.
Unfortunately, the good points of these books do not compensate for the errors and omissions. The largest problem with these books is the mismatch between the stated target audience, Grade 2-4, and the content and reading level at a Grade 8 level.
Dr. Suzanne Pierson is a retired teacher-librarian, currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.
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