Our Canadian Love Story. An Immigration Tale. Well, Sort Of.
I first heard about Linnie von Rekowsky (now calling herself Linnie von Sky) and her picture books in a store.
It wasn’t a book store, so I was intrigued.
The store representative heard that I owned an educational business and thought that Rekowsky’s books would be of interest. She said that Rekowsky writes about challenging topics, such as depression, bullying, and immigration. Yet, these books are for children as young as 3 years old.
Intelligent picture books for young children? Now, I was even more intrigued!
Rekowsky’s books are self published by her own publishing company and self marketed in Vancouver, which is a bold and an impressive achievement! As a business owner / entrepreneur, I respect anyone that tries to make their own success.
Finding copies of Rekowsky’s books isn’t easy! All are sold in small boutiques that I’d never been to and had problems finding.
The book I was most eagerly seeking was called ‘Our Canadian Love Story’.
I pursue books for kids about immigration in particular, because I think they are of particular relevance to the issues facing many newcomers to this country. I like using them with my students to help them share their experiences with the characters in the stories.
Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find such books, because most picture book authors are more interested in writing about bodily functions…
What would Rekowsky’s book have in store for me?
Although ‘Our Canadian Love Story’ is written by Linnie von Rekowsky, it is illustrated by Rebecca Wright – formerly Rebecca Bender, who had to change her professional name due to another children’s book illustrator ironically having the same name. It seems everyone’s changed their name for the production of this book!
The illustrations are beautifully done, and this is all the more remarkable considering that Wright was 19 years old and still in arts school. And, to be frank, considering this is a picture book, Wright deserves as much recognition (and her name in the same big print) as Linnie von Rekowsky. But, such are the privileges of self publishing.
Aside from the beautiful illustrations, another pleasing and interesting idea is the presentation. The book is presented with the story in two halves. On one side of the book, you have one person’s story. Flip the book over, and you have another person’s story. I really like this concept!
Nevertheless, beyond cute illustrations and a clever presentation, what I’m most concerned with is the topic and how it’s tackled.
A story about immigration is presumably a bold one… if it were a truly complete story of immigration.
‘Our Canadian Love Story’ tells the tale of two people immigrating to Canada.
The problem is that it only tells the tale of these two people’s immigration right up until the point that they land in the country; at which point, there is the ‘they lived happily ever after’ comment, or a similar equivalent. Hello? Where’s the rest of the story?!
Immigration really isn’t that simple – even if the author’s experience was (but was it really?!)
For many new immigrants to any country, including Canada, migrating consists of a series of tough challenges: language problems, bureaucracy, culture shock, employment issues, education/credential issues, money/expenses, loneliness, disconnect from relatives and friends, depression, loss of status, and so on.
All of these things generally lead to immigrants actually disliking their new home, before they finally accept that they have to change and become ‘Canadian’ in order to feel at home here (or they go back to their native country).
Having taught ESL students in Canada for many years, I know what the typical experiences are. I know how common it is for people to hide in cultural enclaves to protect themselves from the culture shock, and then to realise decades later that the cultural enclave is like a prison: you still don’t speak English, you haven’t adapted to the culture, and you’re potentially exploited by people in your own culture because they know that you have no other option but to work for them.
If ‘Our Canadian Love Story’ had tackled even one of these issues, I would have been happy.
Instead, I find that Linnie von Rekowsky’s book falls into the trap of lacking confidence in the potential intelligence of young children, and pandering to Canadian cliches about maple syrup and snow. I mean, come on, people don’t leave their home countries because of maple syrup! And, Canada’s not all sunshine (or snow) and rainbows, either. Even for people born and bred in Canada, it’s an uphill challenge – let alone for immigrants!
At Pear Tree, we present our students will challenging topics, regardless of their age. We don’t expect them to understand everything. Yet, we keep in mind that children are capable of surprising us with remarkably mature ideas and understanding for their young years. Only by being brave are you able to achieve these outcomes. As an educator experienced working with children in this way, it makes sense to take those risks. As an author without that experience, it’s easy to use big words like ‘immigration’ without really delving into anything intellectually challenging, and to shy away from those issues.
So, I would say that my overall feeling about ‘Our Canadian Love Story’ was one of disappointment. Oh… what could have been… (sad face).
I have a ray of hope for Rekowsky’s other books about depression and bullying, because I can’t see how she could possibly write a book about those topics without having to deal with those challenges.
Let’s wait and find out!
Reviewed by Paul Romani