Stephen Leacock was Canada’s best-known author and the English speaking world’s most-celebrated humourist from 1910 through to the mid-1920s. Today he is widely regarded as the founder of Canadian humour. Of his over 50 books, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town has proven to be Leacock’s most-renowned. Over a century after its release, this collection of interconnected short stories about small-town Canada has never been out-of-print. As well, it lives on through creative re-invention: the CBC aired its second television adaptation in 2012, and a version illustrated by Seth was released in 2013. Mordecai Richler may have best-explained the book’s longevity when he said in 2000 that Sunshine Sketches is “as much good honest fun to read today as it was when first published.”*
Because Sunshine Sketches is so well known, it has been and continues to be the subject of innumerable magazine articles, blog posts, and academic studies. However, for a book that has so-permeated Canadian culture there is a conspicuous shortage of educational resources dedicated to it. Teachers looking to use Sunshine Sketches in their classroom only have a few forgotten learning guides and a 1960 McClelland and Stewart educational issue to support their work. Sunshine Sketches: The Learning Resource aims to fill this void.
Sunshine Sketches: The Learning Resource is guided by an understanding that when Stephen Leacock wrote Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town he was engaged in more than just a good-natured satire of the quintessential Canadian small town. Leacock—as a public intellectual and the head of McGill University’s Department of Political Economy—was intensely interested in concepts of classic liberalism, democracy, and individual freedoms. As such, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town can be seen as Leacock’s examination of how Canadians navigate relationships between the individual, the community, and the state. This makes Leacock’s book an ideal way to incorporate discussion about laws and governance into English Language Arts classrooms. As Sandra Stotsky, Education Professor Emerita of the University of Arkansas said, “Histories about our laws and political systems become lively through literature.... We gain a much deeper understanding of the meaning of our civic culture when we read the literature that came from it.”** From elections to prohibition to stock market scams, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is surprisingly relevant today. It can help us understand the roots, benefits, and limits of Canada’s liberal democratic tradition: where we have succeeded and where we can do better.
Using the Ontario Grade 11 Canadian Literature and Saskatchewan English Language Arts 30 curricula as guides, Sunshine Sketches: The Learning Resource is designed just as much for teachers looking to approach an individual sketch or two from the book as it is designed for teachers looking to teach the book in its whole. Each chapter has background information, reading questions, and activities for deeper consideration. In this guide, all page references for Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town are cited in-text and link to the 2010 New Canadian Library version. Because Leacock’s book is in the public domain, it can also be found for free in many formats, including digital text from Project Gutenberg and an audio version from LibriVox.
Of course, no learning resource is perfect. Because teachers are the professionals closest to the actual learning taking place in classrooms, PLEA encourages feedback on this or any other of our resources. Drop us a line. Teacher insights are always helpful, always appreciated, and always improve future publications.
Full resource in PDF
* Richler, Mordecai. “Spend a Few Hours in the Town of Mariposa,” National Post (Toronto), 25 March 2000: B8.
** qtd. in Chatlani, Shalina. “Is literature the answer to tackling poor civics curriculum?” Education Dive, 19 December 2016, www.educationdive.com/news/is-...