Creating the National Mosaic: Multiculturalism in Canadian Children's Literature from 1950 to 1994

Article excerpt

Miriam Verena Richter. Creating the National Mosaic: Multiculturalism in Canadian Children's Literature from 1950 to 1994. Cross/Cultures 133 Readings in Post/Colonial Literatures and Cultures in English. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2011. Pp. xx, 354. US$101.

In Creating the National Mosaic: Multiculturalism in Canadian Children's Literature from 1950 to 1994, Miriam Verena Richter asserts that "multiculturalism is a ... core component of Canadian national identity" (xiii). Believing that few would challenge this statement, Richter views the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act (CMA) as completing the "establishment of a multicultural way of life" (xiv). The subject of her study--presumably more controversial--is how Canadian multicultural children's literature has not merely reflected but has actively contributed to the construction of this identity Nesting her analysis of seven novels in a thorough and valuable examination of the particularities of Canadian national discourse and the development of government policy with regard to children's culture and literature, Richter proposes that children's literature published between 1950 and 1994--that is, shortly after the introduction of Canadian citizenship in 1947 and six years after the passing of the CMA--also proves that the "passing of the CMA was a recognition and confirmation of an already existent mode of life" (301). For most of her study, she restricts herself to examining the representation of multiculturalism in fiction and does not address the question of whether Canadian multiculturalism "'works' in everyday life" (xx). As she notes, a national mythology is different from reality. Nevertheless, when she refers to "an already existent mode of life" (301) and writes that "an overall national Canadian identity does exist" (31), it is easy to lose sight of her intended focus on the social construction of identity.

Richter invokes a definition of multicultural literature that allows her "to cover all novels that deal with racial or ethnic minority groups living in Canada and that were written either by members of the respective group ... or by authors representing the mainstream of society" (51). However, her focus on seven novels by five authors makes her conclusions hard to assess, and her claim that a "literary genre" (xx) of Canadian multicultural children's fiction exists is further weakened by the absence of a comprehensive bibliography. The Primary Bibliography of 36 titles that she provides includes titles such as Anne of Green Gables that clearly exceed the boundaries of the "new genre" (303) that she is examining. As a result, when Richter claims that no Canadian children's novels on immigration were published in the 1960s (159), that "since the mid-1980s no new aspects were introduced into the literary treatment of immigrants" (159), and that multicultural fiction published in the 1980s most likely received fewer reviews than multicultural fiction published in the 1950s because there were more multicultural children's novels published in the 1980s than in the 1950s, the reader must take her word for it.

The ideology underpinning Canadian multiculturalism is foregrounded by Richter's numerous exclusions. She excludes children's fiction "featuring First Nation and Inuit protagonists ... [because] these two groups are not immigrants" (160), concentrates on Anglo-Canadian books because "strong parallels between Anglo-Canadian and pan-Canadian identity exist" (34), and notes that while all of her novels are set in cities, she could find no children's fiction on immigration set further east than Ontario. Addressing the depiction of class, she sets aside issues of gender because "they are not central to the question of national identity" (52). This omission is admittedly puzzling given that six of the seven novels that she analyzes are authored by women, depict female protagonists, and, in two instances, are narrated by daughters clearly distressed by the behavior of their mothers; yet like Richter's other exclusions, they reveal how Canadian multiculturalism is conventionally understood. …