Publication Date: December 19, 2021
The Principal Chronicles is a collection of humorous stories of one man’s childhood and career in Windsor and Essex County, Ontario.
Full disclosure: I am acquainted with David Garlick and his lovely wife, Linda, by way of the heritage advocacy scene in Windsor, Ontario. Though I think they’re delightful people, this will in no way color my review of The Principal Chronicles or the opinion that this book would make an excellent holiday gift for anyone in your life that enjoys an afternoon with a cup of tea, cozy blanket, and a good book.
When I started this blog in 2012, my intent was to review books with my dad. We never really synced our reading schedules and my dad, who will read 3 or 4 books at a time, often remembered books but not really specifics other than that he liked the book or didn’t. Sometimes I would catch him at a good time and include his input in the reviews. He was recently diagnosed with dementia and his memory has gotten hazy regarding what he reads if not discussed in the moment. I recently visited and we read The Principal Chronicles together laughing at the varied stories and talking about those anecdotes we found especially relatable. I usually call him “Dave” in my reviews but will refer to him as Dad in this review to avoid confusion.
Anyone can teach. It takes a special person to be a good teacher. Garlick begins his anthological memories by showing us the child that grew into that good teacher. The Principal Chronicles is sometimes fact, sometimes openly fiction, and frequently funny. The anecdotes are largely simply written and the sort of thing that you’ll tell friends and acquaintances at holiday parties in part or in full.
This author is clearly someone that has spent a lot of time around children as the patois is very natural. The flow of his narrative is clear, and the chapters follow a natural progression. There are anecdotes labeled openly as fiction. The Tornado of 1948 shows an insightful little boy who uses the faulty information that his brother (who is not as horrible as he seems in the story, Garlick tells us) has given him to navigate a teacher who isn’t as warm and fluffy as he might have experienced prior. The purpose of plot brings readers to a surprise ending that is very true of little boys talking in the dark and serves as a bit of a redemption for the antagonist and the older brother. That childlike insight makes sense earlier when you see parents giving their child the autonomy that would not be realistic these days but was once a normal routine. Dad remembers walking to the neighborhood store at 5 years old to pick up an item his mother forgot. My brother and I were not quite that young, but we weren’t much older when we’d each proudly present a nickel for a special treat.
Though it’s been a long time since I’ve read Jean Kerr (Please don’t eat the Daisies) or Erma Bombeck, I found Garlick’s style heavily reminiscent of the two authors. The anthological layout is mostly happy and mostly bright. When it does get a bit heavy, it is with purpose and serves as a mere retelling than as a sermon. One anecdote takes us post 9/11 and serves as a gentle reminder of the atrocities and that not everyone of a culture in the same. Another deals with bureaucracy in the school board with the good of the children in the balance and optics maybe or maybe not winning the day. Each chapter is short and self-contained making The Principal Chronicles a book easy to pick up and put down again if you’re reading in precious spare moments. As readers of this blog will know, my dad is quite the fan of the short and self-contained chapter. “Good coffee refill points,” he told me.
Despite being the memoir of an educator, The Principal Chronicles is a relatable read. You need not live in rural Amherstburg, Ontario to identify with that time of year when the mice come into the warmth of a building. That said, Dad and I agreed that neither of us had seen a turkey in the wild before I moved to the area, and he visited. One fateful Canadian Thanksgiving, a flock of turkeys gathered in our backyard not far from Western Secondary School surely plotting their revenge. You may gather, I am no fan of the wild turkey. They tend to be quite large birds and, unlike the Chef at Western, I can’t contemplate cooking one up. My father shared his own story of chasing a squirrel around the halls of Brunswick High School. The principal of that school employed a similar tactic to Garlick with much different results, but it prompted quite a bit of laughter when my mother suggested that the cafeteria missed an opportunity to serve Squirrel and Dumplings (not something she would ever eat).
I will admit to a bit of disappointment not to see much mention of Walkerville Collegiate Institute in The Principal Chronicles. The school is home of Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts, one of the region’s enhanced arts programs. Because of the band program (and later Visual Arts), my daughter opted to attend this school rather than the one in Amherstburg from which we live walking distance. Garlick was retired by the time Alex began her freshman year, but he and his wife made a point of attending the varied shows. Seeing this retired educator in the wild, it is evident the affection that the teachers and his former students hold for him. Walkerville is a great school filled with some vibrant personalities and I’m sure Garlick has several stories from his time at the school. Because of the nature of the truly wonderful and creative students of that institution, I’d like to think that it was the setting for Loneliness in G Minor, an especially beautiful anecdote in which Garlick encounters a student playing a violin after hours in the school foyer. This disappointment is mine alone, my father thought that the stories included were perfect and not including everything opens the author up to a follow
The Principal Chronicles is a joy to read and would make a great gift for that special someone in your life. Because I share and account with my father, I got the e-book version but it’s available in paper form from Amazon or at your independent bookshop. I know my local bookstore, River Bookshop, in Amherstburg has copies but if yours doesn’t, encourage them to stock a few. Well written and engaging, The Principal Chronicles is the right book for that special reader in your life.
Read an excerpt and buy The Principal Chronicles by David Garlick on