Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
In 1812 in Indian Territory, two boys forge a friendship over hunting, fishing and survival of their families. James’ family runs the trading post at Fort Wayne, living right outside the walls of the fort. Anikwa’s family, members of the Miami tribe, has lived on this land for generations. Now two armies are heading right to Fort Wayne to battle, the Americans and British will meet for a critical battle. The question becomes whose side the Miami will be on when the battle occurs. But even more deep is the question of whether the friendship between the two boys and their two families can survive this battle and the losses that it brings.
Frost has mastered the verse novel, creating a work that functions as beautiful poetry with profound depths and also as a complete novel. Frost puts a human face on history in this novel that tells the story of a major battle in the war of 1812. By the time the soldiers arrive, readers care deeply for both boys and their families. So when the destruction starts, the wounds are real and the losses far beyond numbers. The poems show readers the beauty of the landscape, the bounty of the land, and all that is possibly lost afterwards.
Frost writes from both boys’ points of view in alternating poems. So the lifestyle and losses of both families is shown from their own points of view. Anikwa’s poems are done in a poetic form that creates a pattern on the page. Frost explains in her notes at the end that this is to mimic Miami ribbon work. Without knowing this while reading, I could still see the square form of James’ poem representing the fort and the home he lived in next to the motion-filled form of Anikwa’s poems that exuded nature.
An exquisite verse novel that fills history with real people and war with real loss. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Clarence has gone berry picking with his grandmother since he was a baby. Now he is big enough to carry his own bucket as they walk and sing. The two of them pick the berries, Grandma looking for the sweet ones and Clarence for the bigger, sour ones that pop. They pick the berries and eat the berries. Then Clarence looks around the woods and sees different insects, spiders, and a fox. It is time to go home, they say thank you and walk back home together.
This book weaves Cree into the story, separating the words out and providing pronunciation information at the end of the book. Even these few Cree words evoke a different feeling, a new rhythm that is powerful. Flett tells a very simple story here about going out to pick berries in the forest. Yet it is a timeless story, one the embraces wildlife, the environment, and giving thanks for the bounty of nature.
Flett’s art is a beautiful mix of cut paper collage, texture and painting. She manages to show the depth of the woods without darkness. She uses bright colors that pop on Grandma’s red skirt and the red sun in the sky. The grass is drawn in individual blades and the tree bark varies from paper art to marker lines. Put together, it is a rich and beautiful book.
Simple, powerful and honest, this picture book celebrates Cree and nature together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
This is a lovely new picture book version of Fatty Legs that will share Olemaun’s story with younger readers than the original chapter book. It follows Olemaun from her time with her nomadic family through her attending the “outsider’s school.” There her hair is chopped short and her warm parka is replaced with thin and scratchy clothing. Her name is even changed to Margaret. Margaret wants most to learn to read, but the school is much more interested in getting the children to work hard rather than teaching them. Margaret has a difficult relationship with one nun in particular who makes a point of humiliating her regularly. In the end though, Margaret does learn to read all on her own.
This is a story that works really well as a picture book. I really enjoyed both Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home that were chapter books, but this younger version simplifies the story and keeps its quiet power. As with the earlier books, I remain in awe at the strength that it took for Margaret to survive in the school and also the courage it takes to keep on telling her story.
Grimard’s illustrations echo the beauty of the Arctic but also capture the dullness and darkness of the school. The nun character radiates scorn and anger on every page she appears in. Margaret is shown usually isolated, but also as radiant in her resiliency.
A powerful look at residential schools on Native populations, this picture book version belongs in most libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Annick Press.
The American Indian Library Association has announced the winners of their 2012 American Indian Youth Literature Award. It is their fourth set of awards which are given in the even years.
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