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  • Adventurous Children:Creating a Canadian Identity in Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids
  • Alyson E. King

In 2004, the History Society launched a magazine for Canadian children called Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids™ in English, with a corresponding French version called Kayak: Navigue dans l’histoire du Canada™. The magazine can be found in school and public libraries across Canada, with a circulation of over 36,000, in French (30,000) and English (6,000) (CNW 2013). With a format that combines fiction and non-fiction picture-book-type stories, cartoons, and photographs, the magazine is colourful and full of adventurous Canadians of all ages and heritages. Storylines in the magazine focus on the experiences (often adventures) of children and teenagers from across the country at different points in Canada’s history. Through these stories, an image of Canada is portrayed which, in turn, helps to create a Canadian identity with which children can relate. The image of Canada and sense of Canadian-ness portrayed are complex in their use of stereotypical caricatures of what it means to be Canadian alongside considerations of the past and present diversity of Canada’s population. In addition, fantasy-style storylines, characters and talking animals are used as story-telling devices. Overall, the magazine has a dynamic feel, with bright colours, dialogue, drawings, and photographs, and a comic-book appearance.

There has been much written on what constitutes a Canadian identity, with no consensus or conclusion. I take a social constructivist perspective that what it means to be Canadian is something that is continuously evolving, and changes depending on geographic place, historical era, and personal background. In the case of Kayak magazine, adults, mainly men, are interpreting what it means to be Canadian and communicating that idea in ways that those adults believe will appeal to children.1 What is not known is how the child readers are interpreting and responding to that portrayal of Canada and Canadian identity. With a target audience of children aged 7 to 12 years, Deborah Morrison, president of Canada’s National History Society and [End Page 119] publisher of The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine, argues that Kayak is intended to speak “with the voice of the next generation and [be] unabashedly Canadian” (28); however, what constitutes being Canadian is not elaborated upon.

In general terms, identity is how one sees oneself. It is connected with the way the world is experienced in terms of its social, economic, political, and cultural influences. Although several researchers point to the need for further research on how self-identity is developed among children (for example, Carter 257; Corenblum 368; Agirdag 198) and to the debate over the nature of identity formation (for example, Brubaker & Cooper), the importance of childhood and adolescent experiences in creating identity is generally accepted. Cöté points to the interdisciplinary nature of identity formation: three interrelated levels of analysis are “(1) social structure, which can include political and economic systems; (2) interaction, comprising patterns of behaviour that characterize day-to-day contacts among people in socializing institutions like the family and schools; and (3) personality, which encompasses terms like character, self and psyche, including subcomponents like ego identity” (417). The narratives in Kayak reinforce, in particular, the first level of analysis by providing an interpretation of the history of Canada’s social structures. In addition, reading literature helps children to acquire the vocabulary needed to describe themselves, their family, and their friends; pictures and photographs provide similar tools to help visualize and categorize the people around them (Christensen & Aldridge 25-30; Roethler 95-96). For children who are developing their sense of racial-ethnic identity, the impact of images, photographs, and literature is perhaps even more important. As these children develop their sense of belonging to their racial-ethnic group (i.e. in-group belonging), they are influenced by not only their family and community, but also by representations in literature and popular culture (Corenblum 357-72). Indeed, Corenblum notes that “by age 11, racial-ethnic identity was chosen as being more important to [the children surveyed] than identities associated with the majority culture such as being a student, being a classroom member, or...