This is news? It is if you’re reading The Boreal Express, dateline 1524. And to kids being force-fed from tedious textbooks, the Express itself might just be the best news this term. It’s a new teaching aid — a “newspaper” that reports the highlights of history as though they were current events. Thoroughly researched and aimed at current teaching programs yet with a breezy, gently humorous style, the Express is a sort of historical Live-In.
Six years ago a group of Trois Rivières high-school teachers started Le. Boréal Express and have since formed a company. Clarke, Irwin is now publishing the first Englishlanguage edition (so far, mainly a straight translation) for schools across the country at $5 a year. Each of the first 10 issues, one per school month, will cover a selected year from 1524 to 1690.
Like any good contemporary paper, the 12-to-l 6-page tabloid has something for everybody: local and foreign news, sports, entertainment, a women's page, and cartoons. In issue No. 1, a domestic crisis rates the banner line: OVERPOPULATION: A WORLD PROBLEM (in Stadacona, an influential Indian chief “who has asked to remain anonymous” fears Canada’s 220,000 people will soon run out of food). From Paris, an “exclusive” interview describes Magellan’s recent voyage and reaches a wide-eyed conclusion: “The world really is round.” An item out of Nuremberg assures
everybody that, contrary to certain irresponsible astrologers, the world isn’t going to end tomorrow. And in London Sebastian Cabot is reportedly out of work; so why, demands the Express, doesn’t Henry VIII hire him to discover some “new lands”? After all, look at his father’s record — and the Express slides smoothly into a recap of John Cabot’s exploits.
There’s an angry letter to the editor from Ferdinand Columbus, because the powers-that-be aren’t naming the New World after his father. There’s a review of Erasmus’ latest book: a recipe for roasting Iroquois corn: a needlework column (“We present today a poncho pattern from the Sioux, monarchs of the western plains”); a do-it-yourself bit on making tomahawks and moccasins (“Everyone will want to sport his own tomahawk in the nexi battle”) and a science feature on the Mayan numbering system (which just happens to resemble New Math). In the classified ads, a man in Hispaniola wants to swap two healthy slaves for a good horse. For all you sports fans out there, there’s a blow-by-blow account of how the Mohawk team “massacred the Onondagas in a stirring lacrosse contest.” And Francis, King of France, invites all readers “to the Chateau de Blois to visit the recently completed northwest wing. Drinks will be served.”
Who cares if the 16th-century prose style sometimes lapses into such modern colloquialisms as “boobed” and “conned”? Apparently educators don’t. Clarke, Irwin’s first sample mailing to 20,000 schools immediately began drawing 15 to 20 subscriptions a day. And when a Toronto radio station reported on the Express, the publishers began hearing from parents as well.
“Sign me up!” said one harassed mother. “I’ve got nine kids — maybe this will get them interested in school!”
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