________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 13 . . . . March 1, 2002

cover First Folks and Vile Voyageurs. (Horrible Canadian Histories).

Claire Mackay. Illustrated by Bill Dickson.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2001.
169 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 0-439-98857-8.

Subject Heading:
Canada-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Ian Stewart.

* /4


In the four hundred years following the Viking voyages, nobody in Europe was too interested in wallowing across the wild, windy, western ocean in a little boat. For one thing, Crusades were hot, and the Holy Land was the place to be. Mobs of people got all lathered up and set out for the Middle East to convert the heathen to Christianity-- mostly slaughtering everything that moved, to prove how devout they were. And then there was that pesky Black Death, a really gross infection where your armpits and crotch swell up and your blood vessels burst, which every now and then killed a third of the folks in the known world.

What is Canadian history? Is it dull, dreary, drab, dross, or dramatic tales of daring and sometimes dastardly doings of adventurers, scamps and scallywags? Claire Mackay is out to prove to young readers that Canadian history is not of the boring variety. No, the First Nations peoples and European men and women who forged our nation could be as greedy, conniving, stupid and murderous as those who built the world's admired rapacious empires. They could also be heroic, saintly and magnificent. Whatever their character, the historical actors who walked the Canadian historical stage were people of action and determination who deserve to be seen as fully fleshed persons. This is all well and good. Elementary and middle-years teachers should be aware that there is more to history than what is written in conventional text books. They should be willing and able to introduce students to the other "truths" of history. There is certainly a place for books like Mackay's in school libraries and children's personal collections but definitely not Mackay's.

     Mackay warns her readers that her book is a "send-up," poking fun at everyone and sparing no sensibilities. This irreverent romp through Canada's past, from the ice age through Samuel de Champlain, reads like an over-extended, as well as dated, Monty Python skit. Unfortunately, Mackay's sense of historical irony is non-existent, and what is meant to be satirical send-up sinks into sarcasm and, arguably, unthinking racist attitudes. This is most damningly evident in the mocking of First Nations' spirituality.

Not Recommended

Ian Stewart, a teacher in Winnipeg School Division #1, is also a regular book reviewer in Canadian history and politics for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364