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Book Reviews

First Folks and Vile Voyageurs

by Claire Mackay, Bill Dickson, illus.

If you think Canadian history can’t be fun, think again. Here comes Claire Mackay’s rollicking, irreverent version of Canada’s early centuries, from prehistory to the exploits of Samuel de Champlain (“Sam the Tripper”) and Etienne Brûlé, allegedly cooked and eaten by the Huron: “That day the specialité du jour was Etienne – brûlé.” There are Crabby Chronologies: “1604: Guillaume des Champs is the first European to practise medicine in the New World. (He didn’t practise enough – thirty-five people die of scurvy).” There are articles from mock newspapers like The Bratthild Banner: Greenland’s Grooviest Gossip Gazette, complete with the birth announcement of Viking baby Snorri: “The darling little pillager is welcomed by all.” There are charts and lists (“Fashions from the First Folks”), a simple introduction to native languages, and fascinating facts (“Canada is the only country with continuous birth records dating back more than 300 years”). Why “Vile Voyageurs”? Well, the title “had to be alliterative (look it up) and all the other suitable ‘v’ words – venturesome, vainglorious, victorious – were too darned long to fit on the cover.” There are bad puns and wordplay, cheeky asides to the reader, and fun at the expense of everyone.

Bill Dickson’s cartoons enliven almost every page and complement the text perfectly. Although the Mackay-Dickson wit wears a bit thin after a while, this is hardly a book to be read at one sitting. It is for dipping into, for reading aloud, for pillaging by teachers on long afternoons. Crammed with information but delightful in its delivery, this book will be a hit with its target audience.