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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Indigenous Peoples and this Land

A list of great kids' books for Indigenous Education Month.

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


Book Cover Stand Like a Cedar

Stand Like a Cedar, by Nicola I Campbell, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor, is a kind of gratitude prayer for all that the earth provides, including traditional foods, fish, hunting grounds, all of this punctuated with a few simple questions: What do you see? What do you hear? The story is about being thankful for seasons, for the loon, paddling, birdsong and elders. It’s about connectedness to animal ancestors—the bear, for example, crawls into a cave to survive winter, just like humans do. It concludes with “When we need to remember our promises, we stand like cedar trees, hands raised to the sky.”

There’s a glossary at the back of West Coast Salish words used throughout the book, along with pronunciation guides. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Be a Good Ancestor

Be a Good Ancestor, by Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince, illustrated by Carla Joseph, is a directive, with each page beginning: “Be a good Ancestor…” The painterly, flowing illustrations capture a feeling of interdependence people have with such things as water, the land, beings that swim and beings that walk. It has a similar structure to the classic “the leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” song: “Be a good Ancestor with yourself/Children become adults/Adults become leaders/Leaders become Elders/ Elders become Ancestors.” It even urges us to be a good ancestor in our thoughts, in our words and in our feelings. (Kindergarten to Grade 6)


Book Cover On the Trapline

In the afterword to On the Trapline, by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett, the author writes: “Reconciliation is more than just healing from trauma. It’s connecting, or reconnecting, with people, culture, language, community.” As a grandson travels north with his grandfather to the old trapline, the old man’s relationship to the land is revealed. The boy says: “I see all kinds of things. Beaver dams, eagles flying overhead and paintings on rocks. I see the sun climb higher and shadows get shorter. I see blue water turn to black. That’s when Moshom’s eyes light up.” The Cree word for “home” is introduced on this page, and many other Cree words are used throughout. Grandpa shares his time in the residential school meant he had to hide his language. The illustrations’ soft tones leave the reader feeling they’ve gone on a calm, healing journey alongside the protagonists. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Encounter

For those who have relied on Jane Yolen’s Encounter to introduce the first meeting between Indigenous Peoples and European explorers, this book with the same title, provides a Canadian perspective. Encounter, by Brittany Luby, illustrated by Michaela Goade, is based on Cartier’s visit in 1534, with beautiful water-colour images showing a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisherman tentatively getting to know one another. Their connection to nature is seen through the eyes of various creatures witnessing the two men's commonalities. As the Fisher and the Sailor jump in the water to cool off, for example, a nearby crab comments on their dress, saying, “What fine figures…They each found a shell to suit them.” The story ends with Sailor returning to his boat, and each man hoping to meet again; however, history tells us that Sailor ends up taking far too much from Fisher. (Grades 1 to 6)


Book Cover The Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel: Stories of a Hoop Dancer, illustrated by Jessika von Innerebner, is written by internationally recognized hoop dancer, Teddy Anderson. (A bit about his story can be found in the front and back blurbs.) This book, with its cartoon-like pictures, tells a very simple version of the North American Indigenous values—how the medicine wheel with its four colours represents unity of all peoples, like a family. It reminds us to regard our elders, to use their knowledge, to pay attention to the earth and the balance that can easily be jeopardized if the one of the peoples (one colour) is removed. (Kindergarten to Grade 1)


Book Cover We All Play

We All Play, by Julie Flett, with its patterned text and alliteration, provides a kindergarten-friendly way to show we are linked to the animal world. “Animals hide and hop/and sniff and sneak/and peek and peep./We play too!” At the back are Cree words for each of the animals with a pronunciation guide. The Author’s Note tells how the concept of being united with nature is an intrinsic part of the Cree language. (Kindergarten)


Book Cover Turtle Island

Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People, by Eldon Yellowhorn, illustrated by Kathy Lowinger, is organized chronologically, beginning with the creation of Turtle Island. It moves through the Ice Age, to first contact with explorers, right up to today. The first chapter includes what myths tell us and what science tells us about the indigenous way of life throughout the centuries. Thought-provoking questions are interwoven with sections entitled “Imagine A Day in Your Life” (i.e. Imagine you are a buffalo runner; Imagine you are a cave artist.) It explores theories of how people first came to North America, and gives context to various civilizations across the continent, showcasing Indigenous innovations such as solar power, corn harvesting and rubber balls. There’s a fair bit of American content but this book also includes Canadian perspectives, such as information on the Great Lakes’ Haudenosaunee, as well as the Mi’kmaq and Anishinaabe. (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover What the Eagle Sees

Also by Eldon Yellowhorn, illustrated by Kathy Lowinger, What the Eagle Sees, Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal, begins with the Vikings’ point of view arriving in Canada. The chapters are also in chronological order, from the time of slavery to Columbus, from the formation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to Indigenous involvement in wars, including the War of 1812. Written in a way that asks the reader, how would you feel? it also provides sections with titles like, “Imagine… “ and “How do we know?” It describes ways in which Indigenous populations were assimilated and how traditions have since been reclaimed, as well as stories of key figures and elders who have had a lasting influence. More American content in this one but still an eye-opening read. (Grades 3 to 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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