Where Wonder Grows by Xelena Gonzalez

Cover image for Where Wonder Grows

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

Cover image

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.

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Cover image

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (9780062872043)

All Maisie has ever wanted to do is ballet. All of her friends are in ballet with her, rather than attending her school. But Maisie hurt her leg a few months ago and has been unable to dance. She goes to school, spending all of her time alone there. She gets texts from her ballet friends, but often doesn’t feel like responding to them. Now her family is planning a trip to the coast, near the Makah community where her mother was raised. Maisie’s doctor has agreed that since she is healing so well, she can hike the wintry forest with her family, in fact, she may be able to start dancing soon! Spending the days together with her mother, little brother and stepfather though makes it tough. Maisie is optimistic that her leg will get better, but tired of being asked about it, especially as her leg starts to twinge more and more as the trip goes on. Maisie must face the question of what she is if she cannot be a dancer after all.

Day’s book is quiet and thoughtful. She builds a supportive family for Maisie, blended out of her mother and a loving stepfather who is unfailingly kind but also willing to set boundaries too. Her little brother serves a critical role in the book, often being the only person who can bring Maisie out of her sadness and focusing on her leg. The deep conversations Maisie has with her parents come naturally as part of the story and serve to reveal the adults’ backgrounds, Native history and give context to what Maisie is going through.

Maisie herself is a protagonist who is deeply focused on herself. She finds herself saying things to her parents that she regrets, treating her little brother poorly at times, and then trying to remedy it. She is full of a deep sadness and anger, even when she is optimistic about her future. The book is a study of a girl suffering a real loss of her dreams and coming to terms with that.

Wintry yet full of warmth and self discovery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Heartdrum.

The Brave by James Bird

Cover image for The Brave

The Brave by James Bird (9781250247759)

Collin’s compulsive need to count the letters in everything others say to him and say the number aloud makes it far too easy for bullies to target him at school. It also bothers his father. So when Collin is kicked out of another school, his father decides to send him to live with his mother, who he has never met. She is Ojibwe and lives on a reservation in Minnesota. Collin and his dog head across the county where he finds himself accepted and shown real displays of love for the first time in his life. Collin meets Orenda, the girl next door, who believes that she is transforming into a butterfly and works with Collin to find ways to battle his counting of letters. She lives in her treehouse, a space where Collins spends most of his time as he steadily falls in love with Orenda. But she is not sharing her own difficulties openly with Collin, who must figure out how to support her whether he understands or not.

Bird has drawn on his own Ojibwe heritage to write this debut novel. The book is a deep and rich mix of content that includes finding your real home, falling in love for the first time, and handling grief and loss. It is also about dealing with an OCD-like response, handling bullying, and discovering deeply who you really are inside and what you believe in. All of this is enriched by the Ojibwe culture that Collin experiences for the first time, allowing the reader to do the same by his side.

Bird’s writing is clear and strong. This novel creates a space for the character of Collin to really become himself, while experiencing some of the most important experiences in anyone’s life: love, grief and transformation. Collin himself is a marvelous character who is willing to dive right in and learn, open to new experiences and cultures.

This debut novel is full of courage and honesty. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (9781250203557)

Two indigenous book creators have created a picture book that celebrates the North American indigenous battles to protect our water. Water is the the first medicine; it is where we all come from and nourishes us in the womb and on earth. There is talk of a black snake that will spoil the water, poisoning it. The black snake had been foretold for many years, and now it is here. Courage is the answer to it and the willingness to stand up and insist that water be protected. Nature cannot speak for itself, so we must speak and fight on its behalf. We can all be water protectors.

Lindstrom has written a book that calls out to be shared aloud. She has used an effective refrain: “We stand/ With our songs/ And our drums./ We are still here.” The importance of standing up and of Native people being visible as modern members of our society is vital here. The call to action in this picture book is also clarion clear and incredibly empowering. This book explains to the youngest children what the protests on Native lands are all about and why they are vital to all of us.

Goade’s illustrations are done in watercolor that washes across the pages in waves, swirls, and skies. The colors are deep and dynamic, showing nature in all of its beauty and demonstrating page after page what we are fighting to protect.

Strong and important. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (9781626727465)

Told in a repeating format explaining all of the things that fry bread is, this picture book celebrates an iconic food in Native American families. Fry bread may be first and foremost a food, but it is also about family. In this picture book, a diverse Native family comes together to make fry bread together. Children of all ages participate in forming the bread and then listen together as it fries in the pan. Fry bread looks different depending on how long you fry it, tastes different depending on the recipe and the cook. It brings families together to celebrate their heritage, but also to realize where fry bread came from and how it relates to the massacres of Native peoples in the United States.

This picture book is about far more than a delicious family treat. Maillard looks at its connection to our nation’s history, the damage caused by the European invasion, and what fry bread means today. Much of the real detail of this is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, but even the briefer read-aloud part of the book offers this connection to children. The nuance of a food being both celebratory and yet also indicative of what happened to an entire people, is an important one. This is a celebration that Native Americans have survived and live on, continuing to gather, eat and celebrate.

The illustrations of this book are so warm and merry. They show a diverse group of family members gathering to cook together. There are all sorts of skin tones, hair and ages represented here, the air tinged with love and connection around them.

A beautiful and inclusive picture book that takes a deep look at food, family and history. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

 

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (9780062871992)

Released October 1, 2019.

Edie knows that her mother was adopted by a white couple, but the only thing she knows about her mother’s background is that she is Native American. Her mother won’t talk about her childhood at all. While looking in the attic with her friends, Edie discovers a box of old photographs and documents with a woman who looks a lot like her and has the same name! As Edie explores the documents, she realizes that her parents have been lying to her for her entire life. Even when she tries to give them a chance to tell the truth, they continue to avoid it. One of her best friends seems to be more interested in filming Edie’s story than in really supporting her, so Edie must figure out who she can really trust.

This is Day’s debut children’s book and it’s a very special one. Based on her own family history and the government’s role in separating Native children from their families, the book offers a glimpse into the heart wrenching loss of a child. Day also takes on the vital need for Native Americans to be portrayed fully in film, TV and the media.

With those big issues at play, it is to Day’s credit that this story stays firmly focused on Edie and her own journey to understanding her family and her culture. As the mystery of her name and her family is solved, readers will get to experience Edie’s first glimpses of her Native family. The stories are full of deep wounds caused by white government policies that damaged Native families for generations. Still, it is full of hope as well and the promise that healing can continue and justice can be found.

An important book about one Native girl’s journey to learn about her people and herself. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorrell

At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorrell

At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (9780735230606)

In a cozy cabin under a hickory tree, a grandma sits and weaves. She also worries. Her family gathers around her, singing. Their song tells of a woman in a battle, flying in a plane, protecting and defending. Their song sings of a dream of peace too. The family gathers together, wishing for her return. Told in the beautiful simplicity of a single poem, the words and the weaving work together to create something very special.

By the author of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, this book focuses on a fictional Cherokee family and is inspired by Native women who served in past wars and continue to serve in the military today. The Author’s Note tells of one Native woman who helped train male student pilots, risking her own life as she did so. She served as a cargo pilot during World War II and also as an air traffic controller during the Korean War.

The illustrations of this picture book truly weave the story together. Thread and yarn appear as borders to the images, linking and looping them together. The Native family  and the pilot are shown as strong women full of love for one another.

An important tale of female Native soldiers and the families who wait for their return. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Review: Awâsis And The World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt

Awâsis And The World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt

Awâsis And The World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt, illustrated by Amanda Strong (9781553797791)

When Awâsis accidentally loses her grandmother’s world-famous bannock as she is taking them to a relative, she starts to cry. When a duck hears her crying, the duck offers to help and gives her some tohtosapopimehkan or butter. A rabbit in the woods offers her some flour or askipahkwesikan. As Awâsis walks on, more animals offer her ingredients to make the bannock again. Readers will see a bear lingering nearby and wonder about what he is up to. When Awâsis returns home to her grandmother, she is still missing one key ingredient for the perfect bannock. Who will provide it?

Hunt skillfully integrates Cree words into his tale about a Cree girl, her grandmother and the animals who help her. In the author’s note, he also mentions that the story celebrates traditional indigenous storytelling methods and readers will notice the strong structure of the story and the way it reads aloud beautifully. A pronunciation guide and glossary of Cree words is provided as well as the recipe for world-famous bannock. The illustrations have a lovely softness to them that invites readers into a forest filled with helpful animals.

A marvelous picture book celebrating the Cree language, storytelling and food. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Highwater Press.