Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Canadian Living Book Review: Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence

I thought Esther Averill's Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence was special when I first opened it last year. Now that we have read and narrated it in our homeschool, I think it is my very favourite Canadian living book (so far) for the elementary years.

Is it written by a single author with a passion for her subject?
Esther Averill clearly communicates a deep interest in Cartier's story. In several places she quotes Cartier's logbooks directly.

Does it have ideas, not just facts?
There were many connections with the other books we have been reading about this time period. There was also discussion of the motives of kings and explorers. Averill presents these as they were without either glorifying or excusing them.

Is it well-written?
The writing gets five stars from me! It is beautifully written, and my children were completely engaged. They narrated well, and remember details several months later.
I must also mention the gorgeous black and white maps and illustrations from Caldecott winner Feodor Rojankovsky. They add immensely to the appeal of the book.

Is it inspiring?
Cartier's interests and observational skills are illustrated in several quotes from his own logbooks. His sense of purpose and his leadership skills are seen very clearly, particularly in contrast to Roberval in the latter part of the book. At the same time, Averill does not play down Cartier's act of claiming the new land for France, though she does place it in context, calling it "a practice common among European explorers." That was good food for discussion at our house!

For what age group would this book be a good fit?
I think this book is perfect for lessons in grades 1-3, and (like any living book) interesting for all ages. We used this book over one term with a grade 1 and 3 student. This was a fairly fast pace, and some may wish to take it a little slower. (You can see my schedule at the bottom of this post.) I read it aloud to my children, and beyond replacing the word "Indians" with "First Nations" (or a specific tribe name), I did not have to edit anything out. In addition to the history, it covers a fair amount of Canadian geography, from Newfoundland down the St. Lawrence to Hochelaga (Montreal).

Where can I find this book?
Sadly, the edition I have is out of print, but it's worth checking out at the library or keeping an eye out for at used book sales. I noticed on that there is a print on demand edition available that is fairly affordable. I'm not 100% sure if this edition includes Feodor Rojankovsky's beautiful artwork, though I expect it does (usually these editions are facsimile copies of an old book). You can also borrow it online at

Bonus: A One-Term Schedule for Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence
Most of the time, I did three 20-minute lessons per week. I agree, that is pretty heavy, but keep in mind that I used only this book to cover this time period in Canadian history. I did not use a Canadian history "spine" during this term. My purpose was to co-ordinate my Canadian studies with Ambleside Online Year 3. Because of that, I planned to cover the years 1509-1598 in Term 1, 1598-1685 in Term 2, and 1685-1759 in Term 3. If you are using this book for a Year 1 student only, I definitely recommend slowing it down and taking two or three terms to finish it. In my case, I decided to do this with my Year 3 and 1 students together, and I don't regret that. Also, keep in mind that when you add a book into the curriculum (AO in my case), it is essential to take something else out. This replaced This Country of Ours for my Year 3 student, and Our Island Story for my Year 1 student (I decided to start with Canadian history instead of British with him.).

Here is my 12-week schedule. Where I stopped in the middle of a page, I included the words to end with.

Week 1: pp 3-12
Week 2: pp 15-22 "...glossary of them."
Week 3: pp 22-29
Week 4: pp 33-41 "...may still be felt."
Week 5: pp 41-48
Week 6: pp 49-56 "...league away."
Week 7: pp 56-64
Week 8: pp 65-71
Week 9: pp 72-78
Week 10: pp 81-90
Week 11: pp 91-100 "...Indian language."
Week 12: pp 100-108

I hope you find this book and read it in your home! It is a delight.