Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Lea Thomas

Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Lea Thomas, illustrated by Maya McKibbin (9781773214481)

Swift Fox is nervous. Her father is taking her on a long drive to meet her aunties, uncles and cousins. She will learn more about being Mi’kmaq. Her father assures her on the drive that she has all she needs already inside her; she is already Mi’kmaq. It’s how she walks, talks and thinks. Swift Fox just gets even more nervous. Swift Fox is greeted warmly by her family. They unwrap a red bundle, preparing to smudge, but she doesn’t know how to. They assure her that she does know, since it’s part of who she is. But it’s all overwhelming for Swift Fox, who bursts into tears and runs outside to hide. She keeps hidden until she starts to smell the familiar smell of the bread her father makes. Then another cousin arrives, he is just as scared as Swift Fox is. Suddenly Swift Fox can help someone else, and it gets her to go back inside with her cousin and show him things as she learns too.

Thomas has written a very personal book that reflects her own upbringing off of the reservation. In her Author’s Note, she explains the impact of the residential schools on Native cultures and languages. Still, their identity survived. Just like Swift Fox, Thomas continues to learn about her Mi’kmaq identity. Readers of all backgrounds will be inspired by Swift Fox and her transformation of her fear into an energy to help someone else.

McKibbin’s illustrations center on the warmth of Swift Fox’s two families, both her mother and sister and then her large extended family through her father. She captures the characters’ complex emotions on the page, allowing readers to really feel Swift Fox’s butterflies, her fear, and then her inspiration to move ahead.

A powerful book about identity and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Annick Press.

Review: Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett (9781771644730)

In the spring, a girl moves with her mother from their seaside home to one in a field of snowdrops. They have a nearby neighbor who the girl gradually gets to know. When they first move, the girl doesn’t want to draw anymore. She does love to draw and her neighbor also loves to create things, pottery in her case. As the two start talking, the girl starts to think about creating things again. As autumn arrives, the neighbor shows her what she is working on, and the girl shares some Cree names for phases of the moon, inspired by the pottery. Winter is harder for the elderly neighbor, even with salmon soup shared between them. When she becomes bedridden, the girl uses her art to create a space ready for inspiration and healing.

Flettis, a Cree-Metis author, has won many awards for her work. Here she creates a story of the disruption of moving and the discovery of another artist who inspires new ideas. The inter-generational friendship is lovingly depicted, offering a web of support where each of them takes turns showing the other care when they need it most. The entire book has a gorgeous quiet to it that allows space for creativity to thrive.

The illustrations are simple and rich. The landscapes are filled with gauzy, haze that softens the hillsides, the sky and the moon. Against this softness, the characters stand out clear and bold.

A beautiful and inspiring picture book about art and friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

Review: This Place: 150 Years Retold

This Place 150 Years Retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold (9781553797586)

In a graphic novel format, this book tells the story of 150 years of indigenous history in Canada. The book begins with the story of Annie Bannatyne, the daughter of a wealthy store owner and a Metis-Saulteaux woman. Angered by racist comments published by Charles Mair, Annie literally horsewhips him in public, inspiring a young Louis Riel. There are stories of First Nation chiefs continuing their tribes’ traditional ways, despite them being forbidden by Canadian law. Other stories tell of the damage of residential schools. There is the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the best sniper in North American history, and how his heroism in World War I was not enough to get the Canadian government to treat him as a human being. There are stories of children taken away, of families broken, of great heroism and deep connection to traditions and to the land itself. The book ends with a science fiction look at native people in space and a message of hope for change.

Told by various First Nation authors and illustrators, this book is simply incredible. At the beginning of each story, the author speaks about their inspiration and then a timeline is given that shows how little progress was made in Canada. Information is shared in the timeline that allows the stories to be more focused but for readers to learn about more historical points. As the history grows shockingly modern, the events remain just as searingly racist as those before the turn of the century. Still, the message here is one of strength, resilience and resistance. It is about standing up, insisting on being seen, and demanding to be heard. There is hope here in each of these heroes.

One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

i-am-not-a-number-by-jenny-kay-dupuis

I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland (InfoSoup)

Based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, this picture book captures the experience of First Nations people in Canada being sent to boarding schools. Under threat of fines and jail time, First Nation parents were forced to give their children up to the government. When Irene is taken to her new home, she tries to never forget her real home, her parents and their way of life. Irene is called only by a number at the school and told to scrub the brown off of her skin. Her hair is cut off. She is punished when she speaks her native language by a nun burning her hands. Irene is eventually allowed to return home for the summer, where she continues to have nightmares of her time at school. Finally, her parents decide to hide the children rather than sending them back.

This is not a picture book for preschoolers, rather it is ideal for elementary-aged children closer in age to 8-year-old Irene in the story. The horrific treatment of First Nation children is shown with real clarity. The use of Irene’s own voice to tell the story makes it personal and much more painful. While there is a lot of text on the pages, the book reads well and the text is straightforward and necessary to explain the loss of culture and the darkness of the boarding schools.

The illustrations by Newland are almost like painted photographs. They show the family losing their children, the stern nuns, and the punishment scene is carefully captured afterwards in terms of pain and emotion rather than depicting the punishment itself. There is a feeling of constraint and loss in the images of the boarding school and then freedom when the children return home.

A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.