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Unusual Heroes: Canada’s Prime Ministers and Fathers of Confederation

by Shane Peacock

Unusual Heroes, by Shane Peacock, brings the stories of Canada’s founding fathers and 20 prime ministers to life for a young adult audience, filling a gap in resources on this subject for that age range. Short biographies chronicle the political and personal life of each person (all men, except for Kim Campbell). Peacock aims to make a possibly dry topic interesting and relevant by casting his subjects as offbeat characters who were heroic in creating this country, even if they were far from perfect in their private lives. Making politicians into heroes is a tough job in these cynical times, and Peacock’s portrayal of these men as complex individuals who drank too much, passed discriminatory laws, and lusted after power while serving their country, failed to convince me that the hero moniker is merited.

I was curious, too, why the subjects, and the particular history they embody, should be considered so unusual. Since all but one are white, middle- to upper-class men, their success stories seem not so extraordinary after all.

Peacock tries to make his text accessible by affecting a slangy writing style, incorporating “dude,” “cool,” and the much-overused “weird.” This style quickly dates the book and potentially alienates young readers, who are quick to dismiss failed attempts at hipness and easily recognize when they are being talked down to. This approach also walks a very fine line between being funky and being offensive: would the Métis community, for example, appreciate Peacock’s characterization of Riel as a “wild, rebel guy”? Unfortunately, this book does not include a bibliography to provide students with ideas of where else to learn about the people who helped put Canada together.