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Veronica, Dear Canada: All Fall Down

History and Pop-Culture are two words that can be contradictory. Often times, historians disvalue books, movies and tv shows, etc. for their lack of historical accuracy, but we do enjoy them as well. I believe it is important to have historical facts as accurate as possible in pop culture but it should not detract from the enjoyment of the story. In saying this I do not excuse the gross misrepresentation of facts in historical pop-culture, but I understand that storylines need to flow and some details can be adjusted if acknowledgments are made that it is based on history but is fictional.

Many historians became historians because they were inspired by a story that pushed them to do further research and explore a historical topic. I was inspired my father’s love of history and always wanting to learn more. We visited Fort Edmonton park every few years and it was the highlight of the summer. In between visits, I would get my history fix from the series Dear Canada. The Dear Canadaseries are historical fiction in a diary format. They are written for girls 9-12 years of age. The books cover many topics of Canadian History. Dear Canadamakes history interesting and enjoyable. I think that academic history is missing some of the fun and enjoyment present in the series. The academic stories can become boring as more facts pile up and the narrative is lost.

Books are immersive, the characters come to life in your head and you are able to interact with them in a way not available to you through movies or tv. Many children enjoy books; though more video games, tv shows and movies are put in front of them every day. As a lover of books and an early childhood educator, I believe it is important that children have less screen time and more story time. As adults, we are role models to children and we need to encourage and model behaviour that is healthy for the mind and body; as parents, teachers, caregivers, etc. it is our job to ensure children are prepared for life and are able to succeed. In today's age of technology, it is impossible for children to avoid screens, whether tv, computer or tablet; there is no need to worry that they will not develop the necessary computer skills to be successful in their future. However, children are missing out on the incredible knowledge and skills available to them through reading. We need to encourage the reading of more books.

Books about history (or other topics that aren’t just for enjoyment) are great for children because they become multi-functional. Children can read topics they are interested in and gain the analytical skills needed for their future as well as gaining new vocabulary and expanding their imaginations. The Dear Canadaseries are examples of books that are not just enjoyable but teach a lesson at the same time. The Dear Canadaseries are historical fiction diaries that attempt to teach girls about history in a fun, interesting and engaging manner. Each book has a different historical event and time period as the main theme. Some books are set before confederation with topics like the War of 1812, Rebellions of 1837 and the Gold Rush of 1862 while other cover post-confederation topics such as the World Wars, the Polio Epidemic and the building of the railroad in BC. There are over thirty books in the series and the most recent book is the diary of an aboriginal girl in a residential school. Every book is enhanced with pictures, diagrams and maps at the end. They also include a Historical Note that gives more information about the event and clearly states the diary is fiction but is based on the real events and experiences. The books also have acknowledgements made by the author. For this analysis, I will focus on Dear Canada: All Fall Down,The Landslide Diary of Abby Robertswritten by Jean Little.

All Fall Downis the story of Abby Roberts. We learn about her and her family from Abby’s diary entries. The story begins in Montreal and Abby’s father has just died in a work accident. The family is forced to move to Frank, in the District of Alberta, to help Abby’s uncle and aunt who have just established a hotel. The people of Frank are mostly welcoming and the family easily assimilates to western life. When the slide happens Abby and her family survive, though her brother is trapped and not found right away. Abby contemplates the concept of history after her brother says they are a part of history since they survived the slide. She agrees that they are part of history because of the slide but she also “believes history has peaceful days as well as disasters”. I have to agree with Abby, history is every day.

All the Dear Canadabooks are written by authors, not trained historians. However, this is the nature of literature. As historians, we want our work to be done by trained professionals and writers would expect the same. While they may not be trained, the writers of these books do extensive research and some are able to write about family or personal experiences. Jean Little and All Fall Downare a great example of the effort the authors make to bring authenticity to their writing.

Jean Little is not a historian but she is a great writer. Little has written over fifty books and won man awards! She often writes about her own life experiences or takes inspiration from her family’s stories. Little has lived most of her life blind and worked with children with disabilities before her writing career became successful. She often writes her characters as children with disabilities or family members with. In All Fall Down, Abby’s brother, Davy, is a “mongoloid”; he has Downs Syndrome. The use of “mongoloid” throughout the book, although now politically incorrect and ignorant, is accurate to the time as the term was commonly used in the early twentieth-century to refer to children with Downs Syndrome. The characters in the story urge Abby’s mother to put the boy in an institution, which was very common practice for parents of children with disabilities at the time. Little’s experience led her to be able to give authenticity to the character of Davy as well as Abby, being a primary caregiver for her little brother.

When she wrote All Fall Down, Little travelled to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and did research. Little met with Monica Field, one of the most knowledgeable interpreters at the centre. Field helped Little with information, questions and even read the manuscript. Little used an expert and visited the site she was writing about. She got other information from the internet but got most of her information from “The Frank Slide” by Frank Anderson and Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass edited by Diana Wilson and Frank Slide by J. William Kerr.

Little includes so many little details that add authority to her writing. In the diary, Abby says she will not write about the weather in her diary because she thinks it is silly. Later in the diary, she does talk about how windy it is in Frank; Little writes in the acknowledgements that she truly had no intention of writing about the weather in the diary until she herself visited Frank and felt the raging wind of the Crowsnest Pass. At the end of the diary, Abby writes about a few of the miraculous stories of survival. Little had Abby include details about Charlie, he was a real mining horse. He survived the slide but was trapped for a few days, he survived by eating part of his harness. When he was found emaciated, the miners fed him oats and apples, a big feast. He died shortly after as the food was too much for poor Charlie after starving for days. Another incredible story is that of Mr. Chouquette. He was on the west side of the slide but survived. He climbed over all the fallen rock and warned a westbound incoming train from Lethbridge of the slide, saving hundreds of people. These incredible stories are true and Little’s extensive research allowed her to add them in seamlessly. All Fall Downis an example of a good historical fiction because it has a historical foundation.

Dear Canadais such a great resource for young girls. I found the diaries very relatable when I read them as a girl. I could empathize and experience the history which made reading them so much more enjoyable. Abby states that she feels like a historian writing down the events of the slide but also of her life, albeit it fictional. Dear Canadaworks because it is based on history but includes engaging narratives that entice young readers to learn more. Scholastic Canada has provided four guides for using Dear Canadabooks in the classroom. I think I would use Dear Canadain a classroom to help inform students about life in the past as well as provide a jumping off point for further discussion and discovery of Canadian history.

Dear Canadais such a great series. I believe it really is a fun and engaging way for girls to learn about history, especially Canadian history. I would not quote these books at an academic level but they are perfect for their intended audience. The basis of fact makes them reputable. Little and other authors do their best to research a topic before writing about it. Little exemplified this by flying across the country to visit the historic site. Overall, I think Dear Canadaare well-rounded books that deserve recognition as historical fiction done right.

Bibliography

Bergman, Brian. “100thAnniversary of Frank Slide Disaster.” Historica Canada. Accessed April 14, 2018, from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/100th-anniversary-of-frank-slide-disaster/#top.

Little, Jean. Dear Canada: All Fall Down, The Landslide Diary of Abby Roberts. Toronto: Scholastic Canada. 2014.

Mary Rubio, "Jean Little.” Historica Canada. Accessed April 12, 2018, from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jean-little/.

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