One of my favourite times of the day is reading to my daughter, age 9, before she goes to bed.
Recently we have become captivated by the “Our Canadian Girl” chapter book series. This is a series of books geared towards children ages 8-12. Every series of four books stars a girl set in different places and times in Canadian history. Though the girls may be bound by the conventions of their time, they are free spirits who don’t like following the rules, making them easier for today’s youth to relate to them.
I love these series for introducing ways of living and ideas that are unfamiliar to children in a way that they can understand them.
These are the series that we have been reading so far:
1. The Angelique series
The series starts in 1865. In book 1, “Buffalo Hunt”, Angelique is a 10-year-old Metis girl living in the Red River Valley, who is participating for the first time in a buffalo hunt. Angelique is allowed to do the job of looking for the beaded gloves that mark her father’s buffalo kills, traditionally a boy’s job.
My daughter loved this book, and asked if we could recreate the buffalo hunt this summer. So we have started to make the bags that carry the buffalo meat in them, although using scraps of material instead of the buffalo hide.
Book 2, “The Long Way Home”, in which Angelique saves their family’s buffalo runner, Michif, the skilled horse used in buffalo hunts, was also very popular with my daughter.
2. The Ellen series
The first book is set in the “dirty thirties” of the depression, and the series continues into the time of WWII.
In “Hobo Jungle”, book 1, set in Vancouver, Ellen and her family have been forced to move in with her grandpa, and Ellen is wishing for a whole lot of things that are no longer available to her: ice cream cones, a new dress, even her own bedroom. But when she meets Will, one of the out of work men who rides the rails in order to find odd jobs, she begins to see the world in a different light.
My daughter could not understand why Ellen would be afraid of using a wringer washer. I don’t think that she has ever seen a wringer washer being used, so I introduced her to the machine.
The most thoughtful and thought provoking discussion came when we were reading book 2, “The Wishing Time”. World War II has started, and one of their new classmates, Marjorie, has had to flee Shanghai, China due to the Japanese invading. Things come to a head during Hallowe’en when Ellen’s best friend Amy, a Japanese Canadian, wears her kimono, and bad memories return for Marjorie.
My daughter proclaimed this the least favourite of the series we have read so far, but I still like it, because it is set originally in Toronto and then the Kawarthas, areas more familiar to me. It allowed me to introduce, for example, something I think all Canadians should experience, the haunting cry of the loon. Check out the following video.
Though these books aren’t new–some books are already over ten years old–they will hopefully continue to captivate generations to come.
My daughter has learned so many things about Canadian and world history, geography, and social conventions through the “Our Canadian Girl” books. I have too!
We voted–yes it was very democratic–to next read the Rachel series, set in Nova Scotia in 1793 about a girl who has escaped slavery in South Carolina. Then we want to read the Penelope series, which is set in Halifax in 1917 during the Halifax explosion. Eventually we hope to read them all.
And I hope that you will check them out and enjoy them as much as we have. Let me know in the comments below if you plan to or if you already have, and what you thought.