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.
Dayeon and her Grandmother watch the sea in the morning from their house. Dayeon’s grandmother is a haenyeo, a woman who dives deep underwater to find abalone. Dayeon is scared of diving though. For breakfast, the two have abalone porridge and practice holding their breath. They both put on sunscreen and diving gear and head to the water. Dayeon plans only to pull treasures from the shore though. After her grandmother finds ten sea gifts, Dayeon agrees to try diving with her grandmother. They walk out into the water together, but during their first dive, Dayeon heads right back to the surface. On her second try though, she manages to hold her breath longer and notice the beauty of the sea around her. Soon though, the dolphins warn them of potential danger and they surface and get picked up by a boat. That’s when Dayeon gets her first sea gift.
Cho tells an engaging story that layers Korean tradition with the joy of grandmotherly love. The grandmother here is patient, allowing Dayeon to approach the challenges at her own pace, but also encouraging her to try again when she fails. Dayeon herself shows how an early scare can turn to triumph by facing your fears head on. These elements work particularly well when the challenge is something as large as diving for abalone in the deep sea.
Snow’s illustrations are full of light and steeped in color. The sky and sea are purples, oranges, blues on the page. In one amazing illustration, the characters walk to the sea through a field with mermaid shadows behind them.
A picture book about resilience, challenges and tradition. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
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.
Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Continue the story of When I Was Eight with this second picture book by the authors. The picture book versions follow two highly acclaimed novels for elementary-aged children that tell the same story at a different level. In this book, Margaret returns home to her native family from the outsiders’ school. Her hair has been cut short, she has trouble speaking the language of her people, and her skills are more suited to school than life in the Arctic. When her mother sees her for the first time, she exclaims “Not my girl!” and rejects her daughter. Slowly, Margaret begins to rebuild her old life and relearn the ways of her family and their traditional life. But it takes time to be accepted by her mother and to find her way around her newly reunited family.
The Fenton family writes all of their books from the heart, clearly creating a case for the damage of the white people and their schools on the lives of Native people and their children. This book serves as the other side of the story from When I Was Eight, demonstrating that even when children were returned to their families it was not easy to integrate once again into that society because of the changes wrought by the schooling system.
Grimard’s illustrations show the Arctic landscape, the way Margaret doesn’t fit in with her clothing or her ways. It also shows the love of her father, his patience and understanding and the slow thaw of her mother and her anger. Grimard captures these emotions with a delicacy and understanding of all of them.
Another impressive entry into the story of Margaret and her childhood, this book should be paired with the first picture book to best understand Margaret’s story. Appropriate for ages 5-7.