Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Cover image for Rez Dogs.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (9780593326213)

When Malian is at her grandparents visiting, Covid-19 brings everyone into lockdown. Malian lives in Boston with her parents usually and now she is on an extended visit on the Wabanaki reservation where her grandparents live. She works to keep her grandparents safe from the virus, keeping social services and the mailmen at the end of the driveway. She is helped by Malsum, a wolf-like dog who simply showed up one day and stayed. Dogs on the reservation are different than in the city. Malsum is his own dog, responsible for himself, though he does enjoy the attention and food that Malian and her grandparents give him. Malian’s grandmother’s fry bread is a special treat for everyone. This is a lovely look at how one family got through Covid by supporting each other.

Told in verse, this middle-grade novel shares oral storytelling traditions and celebrates the love of grandchild and grandparents. Bruchac is a celebrated Abenaki children’s author with hundreds of publications in his body of work. There is a wonderful sense of place throughout this book, showing the way of life on the reservation. The pace of life is slower too, partially due to the pandemic but also by choice.

Malian is a great guide to life on the Wabanaki reservation, since she lives a different lifestyle when she is in the city. She clearly shows the distinctions between the two ways of life, each with their own benefits and challenges. Malsum, the dog, is a character himself, guiding the humans around him through his body language, approval and defense.

A timely novel that looks at the pandemic and its impact on indigenous families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey

Cover image for The First Blade of Sweetgrass.

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey, illustrated by Nancy Baker (9780884487609)

Musqon accompanies her grandmother to the salt marsh where they are going to pick sweetgrass. The salt marsh is where the river meets the ocean. Her grandmother explains that she helped her own grandmother pick sweetgrass as a girl to weave into baskets and use in ceremonies. To Musqon, all of the grasses look the same, so her grandmother shows her what to look for to find sweetgrass among all the other grasses. She explains that they never pick the first blade of sweetgrass that they see, to make sure that sweetgrass continues to the next generation. When her grandmother tells her that sweetgrass has a shiny green tassel and blades with a purple stem and that it is easy to pick, Musqon is confident she can find it on her own. It isn’t until Musqon takes her time, thinks about what she is there to do, and really sees the salt marsh that she can find sweetgrass herself.

Written by a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Nation, this picture book is a gentle story of Native traditions shared with a new generation. The text of the book shares Passamaquoddy-Maliseet words in the dialogue of the characters. It takes the time, slowing us all down, to explain the importance of sweetgrass and how to find it. The moment when Musqon takes her own time and gives herself space is beautifully created.

Baker learned about sweetgrass for this book also the landscape in which it grows. She shows a delicacy with both in her illustrations, celebrating sweetgrass itself and also showing the beautiful landscape where the river meets the ocean.

A rich and vital look at sweetgrass and heritage. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Tilbury House.

We All Play by Julie Flett

We All Play by Julie Flett (9781771646079)

Children and animals both love to play. This picture book incorporates Cree words into the narrative. Animals play in the grass, hopping, sniffing, sneaking. They peek and peep. Children play too, leaping through the grass or laying down in it. Animals swim and so do children. Animals slide and rumble and wiggle, just like children sledding in the snow. Animals settle down, roosting and yawning, finally falling asleep. Children do too.

Told in very simple language, woven with Cree words, this picture book shows the connection the natural world and its value to children in particular. The Cree words repeat with the children themselves saying them, something that would be great to do in a story time when this book is shared. The illustrations show a diverse group of children playing outside, acting just like the animals. A glossary of Cree words is offered at the end of the book along with a list of the animals who appear on the pages.

A frolic of a picture book that speaks to the importance of outdoor play. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

Shaped by Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez by Anna Harber Freeman

Cover image for Shaped by Her Hands.

Shaped by Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, illustrated by Aphelandra (9780807575994)

Maria played in the fields while her parents worked, making clay bowls. When all of them cracked in the sun, she sought help from her Aunt Nicolasa who showed her the ancient Tewa way of making pots using clay mixed with volcanic ash and thanking Mother Earth for sharing clay with them. Maria practiced making pots for months before she was ready to have one fired with her aunt’s. Some pots don’t survive firing, so Maria was pleased when hers came out perfectly from the blaze. Maria grew up, married and had children, never stopping working with clay and pots. In 1908 an archaeologist asked if she could create a pot based on an ancient shard of pottery. Though Maria had never seen such a polished and black pot, she decided to try. After many attempts, her pot came out shiny and black. Maria was able to sell her pottery for the first time and soon they were selling as many as they could create, employing her entire family.

This picture book biography tells the story of an important Native American artist who served as a vital ambassador for the Tewa people and the ancient ways of making pottery. The book is written by one of Maria’s great grandchildren and an art teacher author. Their deep knowledge of Maria and art are evident on the pages with the details shared and the homage to Maria’s dedication for learning and teaching.

The illustrations glow with the sun of New Mexico, combined with deep blue skies and green plants. The illustrations are a stirring combination of the characters and beautiful landscapes full of sunset pinks, purples and oranges.

A lovely tribute to an important Native woman artist. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Albert Whitman & Company.

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty

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The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Shonto Begay (9780525645009)

Cody, a child living in the Navajo Nation, wakes up thirsty. The bucket in the kitchen is empty and so are all of the water barrels outside. This is the only water that Cody and his family have. Meanwhile, Darlene Arviso is getting ready to work. She has running water in her trailer, but many in the Navajo Nation do not. She climbs aboard the school bus she drives and delivers students to school. Then she heads to her other job. She fills the yellow tanker truck with water from the water tower and heads out onto the road once more. She drives many miles through the mesas, steep hills and valleys. Eventually, she reaches Cody’s home where she fills the water barrels. Over the course of a month, Darlene delivers water to over 200 families and then starts over again.

McGinty offers a glimpse into the story of one woman and her hard work that allows people on the Navajo Nation to survive without running water. At the same time, she also speaks to the hardship of lives lived without modern conveniences and the worry that can create in children like Cody. Throughout the book, Darlene is treated as the hero she is, a critical link to drinking water for families who ration it, using a fraction of what modern families tend to use.

Begay’s art captures the beauty of the Navajo Nation by showing many landscapes full of purple, blue and yellow light. Using watercolor washes to fill the background, he creates moments of worry, tenacity and joy as Darlene finally reaches them with water.

A powerful look at modern Navajos and the impact of community in the face of poverty. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley

Cover image for Jo Jo Makoons.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert (9780063015371)

Boozhoo! Welcome to a new chapter book series featuring an Ojibwe girl. Jo Jo has two best friends. There is Mimi, her pet cat, who may need to be saved from having to get shots. Then there is Fern, her school best friend, who has been acting a lot more distant lately. Jo Jo lives on the Ojibwe reservation with her mother and grandmother. Because Mimi must get shots soon, Jo Jo tucks her into her bookbag and takes Mimi to school with her. At school, they have to do a rhyming exercise that Jo Jo doesn’t get quite right. But when she tries to hide Mimi in her shirt and Mimi escapes, Jo Jo suddenly speaks in rhymes much to her teacher’s surprise. With Fern not being overly friendly, Jo Jo realizes she needs to start making new friends besides Mimi, so Jo Jo tries following her grandmother’s advice and being friendly to everyone. But its’ not that easy!

Written with a ton of humor that will have you laughing out loud, readers will immediately love Jo Jo with her unique view of the world. She’s a girl who thinks that her gym teacher’s name is “Jim” and doesn’t realize that words spelled alike sometimes don’t rhyme at all. Meanwhile, she is a great friend, a great artist, and just has to find her own unique way through life.

Quigley’s writing is just right for a chapter book. It pairs well with the illustrations which show Jo Jo and her series of misadventures through a few days in her life. From the chaos of Mimi in class to Jo Jo’s humorous art style to her attempts to be more friendly, all are captured in the images with humor and empathy.

A look the life of a modern young Ojibwe with plenty of giggles. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Heartdrum.

Treaty Words: For as Long as the Rivers Flow by Aimee Craft

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Treaty Words: For as Long as the Rivers Flow by Aimee Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson (9781773214962)

A girl sits on the bank of the kitchi sipi with her Mishomis. He has taught her how to sit still in nature and listen. He had lived on that land all of his life and though she lived in the city, it was here that she felt most at home. Every spring, he would head into the woods for weeks and call her when he returned. Then she would come and visit, spending time at the river with him, experiencing the world around them by watching and listening. As the sun broke up the ice on the river, he reminded her that they all have responsibilities to the land and water, and stories. Then he shared the story of the first treaty between the moon, the sun and the earth to create life. Treaties form the basis of all relationships, from relationships with wildlife to a treaty with the English crown where the land seemed to be owned. As nature continued to move around them and the seasons shifted, she could see what those treaties had created for them as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.

First, I must mention the small size of this book. It’s more like a field guide size, which is just right for reading at a river bank, around a fire, or curled together as a shared story. The book speaks directly to treaties, from the original treaty between sky and earth to the damaging treaties with the Crown. The importance of treaties to the Anishinaabe people, allowing them to understand their place in Creation, is emphasized here including the respect that is meant to be shown through a treaty. Anishinaabemowin words are used throughout the text, easily understood through the context in the sentences.

The art by an Anishinaabe illustrator embraces the landscape of the river and the hills. He shows them in changing light and season, creating beautiful yet simple vistas that cradle the text.

This small book speaks loudly about the understanding of Indigenous treaties and their deep history and meaning. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Annick Press.

Where Wonder Grows by Xelena Gonzalez

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Where Wonder Grows by Xelena Gonzalez, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (9781947627468)

When grandmother heads to her garden, her granddaughters know to follow her. They spread blankets on the ground and get their magic rocks. Grandma taught them that the rocks are alive with wisdom from the long time they have spent on earth, so they respectfully call them grandmothers and grandfathers. The rocks are used in the sweat lodge where they help send songs and prayers into the air and to ancestors. The girls ask about the rocks that can heal. Grandma shows the colorful crystals and shares stories about them. They look at rocks worn by the water and others that fell from the sky. The rocks remind them of their place in the world, of their brief time on earth, their connection to the stars.

Gonzalez writes in beautiful short sentences, showing the connection between the generations of a Native American family, between the group of granddaughters and their grandmother. It’s a book that slows down, lingering over the various rocks, telling their stories, explaining their importance and making space for some dreams too. There is joy here, a delight in time spent together in a lovely garden and in the rocks themselves and what they mean.

Garcia’s illustrations are unique and creative. She lights each illustration as if the family and rocks glow from outside and within. The colors are deep and evocative. The book moves from the brightness of daylight to night with its purples and more subtle light. It is beautiful and filled with portraits of the family members.

An inviting look at rocks, their mystical qualities and how they connect us all. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Cinco Puntos Press.

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (9780062869944)

Through a series of linked short stories and poems, readers get to join young Native people from across the United States and Canada as they converge in Michigan for an intertribal powwow. Written by new and familiar Native authors, these stories speak to the various ways that Native families and youth stay connected or find new connection with their cultural heritage. From the World’s Best Fry Bread to dancing in regalia to solving powwow mysteries to selling items from booths, this book invites readers to experience the powwow at different levels while also connecting to nature, ancestors and shared humor and tales.

The most impressive part of this collection of short stories and poems is that they are all so impressive. Each story has its own voice and point of view, featured characters and tribal connections, yet they come together in a remarkable way where they lift one another up. The stories have shared characters, including a dog who sells t-shirts, a girl selling raffle tickets and a young detective. These elements help tie the tales together, but it is the strength of the writing of each story that really makes the book work.

The final poem of the book takes the drum beat that has been happening throughout the book and shows the power of the powwow and the importance of the experience for all who attend. It’s the ideal way to wrap up a book that offers so much joy, connectivity and community.

One of the best short story collections for children ever, this belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Heartdrum.