Remember encyclopedias? Hardcover books with glossy, colourful pages. In my nerdiest moments, I had a great time flipping through them and learning random factoids about Elizabethan drama, far away places and whatever other topic catches my attention. Wikipedia is a much more efficient way to research, but there’s a certain charm in an encyclopedia’s glossy presentation of information.
Reading Vivien Bowers’ Hey Canada! reminded me of that experience. The story is simple: Gran takes nine-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Cal on a road trip across Canada. They visit all the provincial capitals, and learn about each one’s history and points of interests. It’s a fun, informative introduction to Canada for 7 – 10 year olds, a wonderful book for parents to read with their children to teach them about this country. As a recent immigrant myself, I would recommend this book to other immigrants, particularly those with children. Written in clear, easily accessible language and filled with photos of Canadian landmarks, Hey Canada! is a great way for a family to learn about the country together.
I enjoyed reading the facts and looking at the photos. I remember being in elementary school, and studying the dialects, cultural traditions and top industries of various regions in the Philippines. I imagine Canadian school children have studied the same about the various provinces. Hey Canada! is a great resource for this. I assume the plant and bird at each province’s chapter heading is the official plant or bird of the province (i.e. the osprey is the official bird of Nova Scotia and the mayflower the official plant), and I like that this was taught via a simple illustration in the chapter heading.
I liked the historical comic strips for a similar reason. Having not grown up studying Canadian history, it was fascinating to see small glimpses of each province’s history. For example in the chapter on Quebec, we see the British attack Quebec City in 1759, and the final panel shows the present-day Plains of Abraham as an idyllic park. I now want to visit the area, and perhaps read a bit more about this history.
The Find It! boxes are also particularly interesting as a teaching tool. It lists highlights in the chapter, and so, especially for parents reading with their children, it helps make the reading experience a bit more interactive. The only thing I didn’t like was that the list items sometimes referred to illustrations or text. Since they referred to highlights of the province, I would have preferred them to have referred to actual photographs. As well, and this admittedly is partly because I’m lazy, but I would have also liked the images to have labels, just so if I’m flipping through the book, I can immediately see what an image is, without having to search the entry.
Cal’s Tweets seemed designed to make the book seem more contemporary. Unfortunately, other than being labelled a tweet and, I’m assuming, consisting of less than 140 characters, it looked and sounded just like a regular Cal factoid rather than a tweet. I think using @ mentions, hash tags, and perhaps even formatting it to look like a tweet (with photos being labelled Twitpic or Instagram, and the Reply, Retweet etc buttons) would have helped these be more tweet-like. That being said, the primary appeal of Hey Canada! is its classic format, and the tweets just stand out as incongruous with everything else.
Hey Canada! is also very narrative in style, along with being informational. Gran and the kids joke around a lot, and there’s even a subplot about Cal’s hamster. The humour is very gentle, geared towards younger children and mostly about Gran’s singing and Alice’s snoring. It’s light family entertainment, and again, good for children or families reading together. With Canada Day coming up soon, it’s a great time to take an imaginary trip across the country with your whole family, and Hey Canada! is a fun way to do just that.
Thank you to Tundra Books for providing me with a copy of this book.