Wednesday, May 04, 2011

From Then to Now

I love book launches. My favourite kind of party. It always floors me when I tell a non-academic friend that I'm going to a book launch and he or she makes a face. I do admit the launches I'm invited to that don't feature anyone I know or a book I'm likely to read are less appealing, though I still like to get invited. Partly because it makes me feel like a real academic--grad students have inferiority complexes. Partly because it is a great book alert system.

This week I'm thilled to be going to the book launch for Chris Moore's new children's history, From Then to Now.  I am looking forward to catching up with Chris in person, and I intended to buy the book in any case. Kids books are the best, and good kid's histories few and far between.

Though I do wish Chris had taken my advice and that he and his illustrator had done a graphic history book, which I think would be a terrific medium for introducing kids to history. When I was in high school, we used a graphic history of France in my French class one year. I think it was written for primary students in France. It had the Sun King on the cover, and I remember the pictures and the stories to this day.

The downside of the Sun King book, as I recall, was its extreme chauvinsim (in the original sense). I like the global, inclusive focus of From Then to Now:
From Hammurabi to Henry Ford, from Incan couriers to the Internet, from the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower, from Marco Polo to Martin Luther King, from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great, from boiled haggis to fried tarantulas – this is no less than the story of humanity.
But just as important is the emphasis on chronology. Something the history curriculum in Ontario is sorely lacking, as well as the kind of history as story focus of the French history for little kids, is any sense of when things happen: as my friend Donna points out, kids go from the middle ages to pioneers without any sense that anything went on in between. Now I can see the curriculum designers may have wanted to stay away from linear Whiggishness, but some kind of temporal context or time-line is the essence of history. I hope there are many kids who are given copies of From Then to Now by their parents and grandparents--for their sakes as well as Chris's pocketbook.

PS:  Chris's interview with Erin Knight of OpenBook Toronto about this book is up today here.
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