Notes From a Children's Librarian: Aboriginal Stories

Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks. 

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Book Cover Red Parka Mary

The little boy in Red Parka Mary, by Peter Eyvindson, judges his neighbour, Mary, with her missing teeth and unkempt grey hair, dressed in floppy moccasins and thick wool socks, four sweaters darned at the elbow and a Montreal Canadiens hockey toque. "Even though he was only seven someone had told him to be frightened of her." A relationship begins when Mary offers him some chokecherries. She ends up teaching the boy how to snare and skin a rabbit, how to sew leather, and how to line his moccasins with fur. The boy presents her with a red parka which moves Mary to give him the "biggest and best thing in the whole wide world." (Grades K–4)

Book Cover The Crying Christmas Tree

Kokom (grandmother figure) is also the guiding force in Allan Crow's The Crying Christmas Tree. Native traditions are woven into this simple tale set in Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay. Kokom brings home a tiny Christmas tree for her grandchildren and they toss it out, calling it scrawny. Elders loom large in all the books on this list. (Grades 1–4)

Book Cover Morning on the Lake

Morning on the Lake, by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, is divided into three sections: Morning, Noon, and Night. An Ojibway boy and his grandfather head out in the canoe to explore the wilderness in silence. In the morning they encounter a loon. At midday, the Great Eagle and at night, wolves. By nightfall, the grandson has learned about silence, strength, and wisdom—all essential when viewing such precious creatures. (Grades 1-4)

Book Cover Shi Shi Etko

Nicola I. Campbell has written two books that deal sensitively with the issue of residential schools. In Shi-Shi-Etko, the protagonist collects sprigs of hemlock, cedar, and kinnikinnick in her bag of memories to take with her. Shin-Chi's Canoe, the sequel, follows Shi-Shi and her little brother to school beginning with their grandmother cutting off their braids (before the school does, along with a headwash of kerosene.) This one offers a glimpse into school life: chores, prayers, lack of food, scoldings for not speaking English, rejection of native names, friendship with a non-native friend. The postscript holds some facts, such as: 80,000 people living today attended those schools. (Grades Preschool–2)

Larry Loyie, the author of As Long as the Rivers Flow, was one of those taken away from his family at age ten to go to residential school. He returned four years later to find he didn't fit in. He worked on farms and logging camps until much later in life, he taught himself English grammar and typing and became a writer. This novella captures the experience of camping, hunting, caring for an owl, tracking beaver and encountering a bear. The epilogue gives a snapshot of Larry's history, including his Kokom who was famous for shooting one of the biggest grizzlies in North America. The book ends before residential school begins. (Grades 4–7)

This Land is My Land, by the acclaimed artist, George Littlechild, is non-fiction. It showcases his paintings along with personal tales of issues faced by the Plains Cree, such as residential schools, growing up in a white family, being a native artist in an urban environment, the decreasing Buffalo population, the death of his alcoholic parents. In one painting, "The Mountie and the Indian Chief," the policeman is portrayed as a clown. His pictures are colourful and playful, inviting children into a discussion of native issues. The title refers to the irony of singing "This Land is Your Land" when he was young, not comprehending the idea of land ownership. "It's good medicine to laugh," Littlechild writes. (Grades 3 and up)

On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press in 2011.

June 25, 2014
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