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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

When We Were Young

Editor: Stuart McLean
Originally Published: 2004

When We Were YoungI bought this book at the beginning of this month and have been spending some time every few days reading a story or two from it. Edited by Stuart McLean, this is a selection of short stories (or excerpts of novels) by Canadian authors about children and childhood – including stories by Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood and L.M. Montgomery. The main characters range in age from when they are quite young to when they are in their teens. The collection gives a variety of times and places to look at from the late 19th century the mid-20th-century, all across the country. While this book does span a large time range, it don’t contain any stories that take place in the current day and time. In a country where there is such diversity in different provinces, and where there has been so much change over time, it was interesting to read selections from all these different places and different times.

The first thing I did when I got home with this book was read Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, a (more recent) classic of Canadian literature. Written in 1979, this story was then made into a cartoon short by the National Film Board of Canada that most Canadian schools show to students. This is one of the few story books that I remember from when I was a kid. While never a hockey fan (Shock! Can a Canadian NOT be a hockey fan?! Is the world going to end?!), I truly loved this story, but it had been years since I last had the chance to read it. Rereading it has reminded me of what a wonderful story it is, and why this is a Canadian classic. It epitomizes the love that most young boys have for our national sport. Add to that the fact that Carrier’s narration is so humourous, and yet completely conveys the emotions and frustrations of a young boy stuck in a Maple Leafs sweater when what he really wanted was a Montreal Canadiens sweater, and you get a story that can be enjoyed and appreciated at all ages, whether you are a hockey fan or not.

Another highlight from this collection was Timothy Findley’s War. I’m not a Findley fan. I read one of his books years ago, and I really did not enjoy it. (I’m wondering if I tried reading his books now, whether my opinion would be different.) Because I didn’t enjoy his stuff previously, I was pleasantly surprised with this short story. It’s about a young boy when he first learns that his dad has joined the army (during WWII). The boy’s emotions were so tangible: the betrayal that his father didn’t tell him (but told his brother), that his father won’t be around this winter to teach him how to skate, the fear that war is where people get hurt and die because of… Let’s just say that it had me in tears for a good portion of the story.

Overall this was definitely a good selection of Canadian literature about childhood and growing up. There were some authors that I was surprised weren’t included, there were some stories I didn’t enjoy, but for the most part it seems like this book shows a good variety of what childhood in Canada has and does mean. Definitely a book that should be added to any collection of Canadian literature.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 3:03 pm October 26, 2008.
Category: Short Stories
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