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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Indigenous Education

Treaty Week falls in November. Some boards have dedicated the whole month to Indigenous Education in order to extend learning beyond residential schools and Orange Shirt Day. These books help support this initiative.

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


Book Cover Treaty Words

Treaty Words, For As Long As The River Flows, by Aimee Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson, is a gem of a book. It may be small in size but it carries a big message. A grandfather and his grown daughter return to the river to watch the ice melt. They light a fire and listen. They hear bird sounds, insects crawling, and trees popping with spring sounds. As the fire burns, they remember the sacred treaties: the original treaty between earth and sky; the treaty between humans and animals; the treaty with the Queen. This book will undoubtedly provoke a reflection on the meaning of "treaty." (Grades 3-6)


Book Cover Go Show the World

Kids will love Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, by Wab Kinew, illustrated by Joe Morse. This big, beautifully illustrated book showcases 13 Indigenous heroes. Its rhyming text and a powerful refrain—“You are people who matter/Yes, it’s true/Now go show the world what people that matter can do”—is accompanied by faces both familiar and new. “We’re like John Herrington/—in space, no, wait, Mars/We’re like Carey Price standing/tall against the charge.” These portraits will plant seeds of curiosity that may lead to further research. There are short biographies at the back with an author’s note explaining Kinew’s inspiration for the book. (Grades 3-6)


Book Cover Journey of the Midnight Sun

The true story of a collaboration between a Muslim community in Inuvik and an organization in Winnipeg is written by Shazia Afzal and illustrated by Aliya Ghare in Journey of the Midnight Sun. When Inuvik Muslims are without a mosque, the Winnipeg workers transport a mosque by truck, encountering challenge after challenge. Engineers must widen bridges, lift power lines and maneuver narrow roads in order to make the last barge before the river freezes. (Kindergarten to Grade 4)


Book Cover The Honour Drum

The Honour Drum: Sharing the Beauty of Canada's Indigenous People with Children, Families and Classrooms, by Cheryl Bear and illustrated by Tim Huff, explains many aspects of Indigenous world view, values and culture. Each page gives straightforward information, addressing stereotypes, such as how traditional clothing is not a costume and that not all Indigenous people have powwows. Each page includes three discussion questions. This is a great resource for parents and teachers. (Kindergarten to Grade 6)


Book Cover Kiviuk and the Mermaids

Kiviuq and the Mermaids, by Noel McDermott, illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas, is a dark, dramatic tale of a hunter who encounters a mermaid (tuutaliit) demanding Kiviuk chase her. Her anger escalates as she claws at his qajaq (kayak), almost drowning him. The violent struggle continues when she returns with several more mermaids. Kiviuk escapes onto the ice but doesn’t sleep well that night. The last page leaves the reader with and question: “What do you think he dreamt about?” (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover Nimoshon and his Bus

Nimoshom and his Bus, by Penny M. Thomas, illustrated by Karen Hibbard, is a sweet little portrait of a beloved school bus driver. This one teaches Cree words, with one or two on each page. “In the morning, Nimoshom would greet the kids. He would say, ‘Tansi!’ Tansi means hello.” The story features a day-in-the-life of Nimoshom: picking up kids, getting presents from the students, and telling them silly stories. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Nanabosho and the Butterflies

Nanobosho is an Ojibway trickster and protector. Joe McLellan has written a series, including Nanabosho and the Butterflies, Nanabosho and How the Turtle Got Its Shell, Nanabosho Steals Fire, The Birth of Nanabosho and more. In Nanabosho and the Cranberries, the hungry trickster fails to reach the big red berries on the bush. He sees hundreds of them in the water, but they fall through his fingers each time he plunges his hands into the lake. At night, the berries disappear. He falls into the lake, hitting his nose on the bottom. When he comes up to tell his story to the animals, his swollen red nose makes him look like the clown that he is. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Where Did You Get Your Moccasins

Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? by Bernelda Wheeler, illustrated by Herman Bekkering, has a distinctive black-and-white-sketch illustrative style and a funny ending. It’s a conversation amongst children at school, beginning with a child asking the title’s question. “My kookum made them,” is the answer. What did she use? “Leather.” Where did she get the leather? The main character describes the process of tanning a deer in a simple, child-friendly way. The final pages: “Where did you get the beads?” “The store!” (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cvoer I Can't Have Bannock

I Can’t Have Bannock But the Beaver Has a Dam, also by Wheeler and Bekkering, follows a similar pattern. Wheeler’s second book is a conversation between mother and child, beginning with “Can I have some bannock?” No, the mother answers. The oven is off because a beaver chewed a tree, knocking down the electrical line. The hydro worker/Dad then appears working on a pole to fix the problem, with the final image of a beaver reading this book, munching on some bannock. It includes a recipe for the bread. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Two Pairs of Shoes

In Two Pairs of Shoes, by Esther Sanderson, illustrated by David Beyer, a little girl is given a pair of black patent leather shoes from her mother for her eighth birthday. She goes to show them to her blind grandmother, who also has a pair of shoes to give—beautifully beaded moccasins she has made. “From now on you must remember when and how to wear each pair,” she tells her granddaughter—an ending that begs a discussion. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Dragonfly Kites

The Songs of the North Winds Series, by Tomson Highway, feature Cree brothers, Joe and Cody. In Caribou Song, illustrated by John Rombough, or Brian Deines (there are two versions), the brothers play accordion and dance to call forth the caribou and suddenly find themselves in the middle of a stampede. In Dragonfly Kites, illustrated by Deines or a more recent edition with illustrations by Julie Flett, the boys, who lack human playmates, are seen playing with the tundra’s natural creatures. Their favourites are the dragonflies, which they tie a string to and run behind as if they are kites. The third book in the series, illustrated by Deines, Fox on the Ice, is about the day the sled dogs, along with Mama and Joe, take off after a fox. (Kindergarten to Grade 3).


Book Cover Missing Nimama

Missing Nimama, by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, is a deeply sad, moving story told in two voices. One, of a little girl, being raised by her grandmother, experiencing the first day of school, learning about her culture, getting married, having a child and joining the campaign to make people aware of lost Indigenous women. The other voice is that of her dead mother, mourning the loss of all these defining moments in the daughter’s life. There are some resources at the end to help readers continue to learn about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women. (Grades 3-6)


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.

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