Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

Stolen Words

Melanie Florence, Author

Gabrielle Grimard, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationship, Grandfather, Indigenous history, Cree language, Residential schools, Healing

Opening: She came home from school today. Skipping and dancing. Humming a song under her breath. Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends. 

Synopsis: As a young girl skips down the street clutching her grandfather’s hand, she asks him, “How do you say grandfather in Cree?” He is sad that he can not remember. He tells her he lost his words a long time ago. He shares with her how he was taken from his family to a residential school for Indigenous children where they were not permitted to speak their native language. The girl sets out to help him find his native language again.

Why I like this book:

This is a warm and touching intergenerational story about a devoted granddaughter who is determined to help her grandfather remember his lost Cree language. Melanie Florence’s story will make you teary as the girl lovingly discovers a way to help him remember and begin to heal.

Florence’s language is simple and has a beautiful rhythm to it. But it delivers an emotional punch as readers learn about how the girl’s Cree grandfather was taken from the loving arms of his family and put into a Canadian residential school. He was forced to forget his language and culture.

Readers will be moved by Gabrielle Grimard’s tender and emotive watercolor illustrations. She captures the sadness in the grandfather’s face and the love and joy of the granddaughter as she springs into action to help him remember.  The illustrations of the words being stolen from the children are very symbolic and powerful.

Florence wrote Stolen Words in honor of her grandfather. She never had the opportunity to talk with him about his Cree background. The story she wrote is about the healing relationship she wishes she had been able to have with her grandfather.

Resources: This is an excellent book to talk with children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

I Am Not a Number

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Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Authors

Gillian Newland, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Native people, Indigenous children, Residential schools, First Nation, Canada

Opening: The dark figure, backlit by the sun, filled the doorway of our home on Nipissing Reserve Number 10. “I’m here for the children,” the shadowy giant said, point a long finger at me. “You! How old?”

Synopsis: Eight-year-old Irene and her family live together on Nipissing First Nation, until the day a government agent arrives and takes Irene and her two brothers away to live at a residential school, far from home.  Her parents have no choice, or they will sent to jail. As the kids are put in a car, her mother tells Irene, “Never forget home or our ways. Never forget who you are.”

At the residential school the girls and boys are separated. Sister Mary tells Irene that she is not to use her name and she is assigned a number. She is 759. Sister Mary cuts her long locks of hair and gives her a grey uniform to wear. Irene is confused, frightened and homesick. There are so many rules. When she speaks to another girl in her native language she is punished. Every day at the school is gloomy and filled with routines: prayers, breakfast, chores and studies. When summer break arrives, Irene and her brothers are sent home. When she shares how they have been treated with her parents, they vow never to send their children back to the residential school. Will they be able devise a plan to keep their children from returning?  Where will the siblings go?

Why I like this book:

I am Not a Number is based on the true story of co-author Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, an Anishinaabe women who was born into a First Nation community in Northern Ontario. It is profound story that offers a penetrating look at how Indigenous children were taken away from their families and put into residential schools run by religious groups and forced to forget about their language, customs and heritage. It isn’t an easy subject to broach, but the story is told with sensitivity and the language is age-appropriate for children. The authors have written an important teaching tool for both Canadian and American children about this injustice. This happened to Dr. Dupuis’ grandmother in 1928 — not so long ago. Gillian Newland’s illustrations are beautiful and moving. Her tones are subdued and elicit a lot of emotion. Excellent collaboration among the authors and illustrator.

Resources: There is a special section at the end about the real-life Irene and her family with photos. There is information about the Residential Schools System with photos. This is an excellent book to teach children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. 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.

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education.  Jenny’s interest in her family’s history drew her to co-write I am Not a Number.

Kathy Kacer is well-known for her children’s books about the Holocaust, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser and The Magician of Auschwitz.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Migrant

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Maxine Trottier, author

Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator

Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press,  2011, Fiction

Suitable for: Ages 4-8

Theme:  Migrant workers, Mennonites, Mexico and Canada

Opening/Synopsis“There are times when Anna feels like a bird.  It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.  Her family is a flock of geese beating its way there and back again.”  Anna is the daughter of a special group of Mennonite migrants from Mexico that travel to Canada to work in the agricultural fields each spring.  Anna  wonders what it would be like to stay in one place, to have her own bed, to ride her own bicycle.  Anna sometimes feels like a jack rabbit without a burrow, a bee and not a worker bee, and a kitten sharing a bed with siblings. Most important, she wonders what it would feel like to be a tree with firmly planted roots so that she could watch the seasons pass and never have to be uprooted when spring and fall arrive.

Why I like this book:  Maxine Trottier has written a very unique and whimsical book about a little girl who wants to live somewhere permanently.   Trottier’s text is simple and lyrical.  Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are beautiful and have a sense of humor –even the geese wear prayer caps.  Migrant has won of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2011.  I have written many newspaper articles over the years about migrant workers, the hardships, and the challenges for the children.  But, I never knew the story about the Canadian Mennonites that moved to northern Mexico in the 1920s with the hope of farming and finding religious freedom.  They maintained their dual citizenship, which has allowed them to return to Canada each spring to work in the agricultural fields planting and harvesting crops.  It is difficult for them to earn a living in Northern Mexico due to droughts during the summer months.  Some find jobs in industry.  Life is hard life for these peace-loving Mennonites, especially the children.  Many speak Low German.   They wear plain clothing, and the women and girls wear white caps and the men wear hats.  They cling to their old ways and peace-loving traditions.  There is background information on the Low-German Mennonites from Mexico in the back of the book.