Sunday, September 21, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Carlson, Keith Thor, and Albert “Sonny” McHalsie (Stó:lo), I am Stó:lo! Katherine explores her heritage, photos by Gary Fiegehen, illustrations by Rachel Nicol-Smith. Stó:lo Heritage Trust, 1998, grades 5-up

As a school project about cultural heritage is planned, fourth-grader Katherine McHalsie is not happy when another student voices his thoughts about Native peoples based on a cowboy-and-Indian movie he saw on TV. So Katherine sets out to research her heritage.

In conversations and hands-on experiences with her large extended family and Stó:lo (Coast Salish) elders, Katherine learns about the importance of story, community, ceremony, history, and her ancestors. And she learns that everything—the trees, the fish, the land—is alive, everything has spirit, everything has volition, everything has purpose.

From learning history while watching her father transform a small piece of cedar into a carved sturgeon, to learning about keeping safe while listening to her brother relate a particularly scary story, to learning about traditional foods while helping her mother pick and clean stinging nettles, to learning about traditional fishing while helping her father mend a eulachon net, to learning about traditional basketry while helping an elder gather and split cedar roots, to learning about the responsibility that goes with being given a traditional name, to learning about the land and place-names while watching a gigantic whirlpool arise seemingly out of nowhere, Katherine learns about the Stó:lo people by living in the community, by listening to and working with her elders, and by, as her father tells her, “being Stó:lo.”

When she returns to school ready to present her report, Katherine is more confident about what she has learned and what she has yet to learn. She informs the class that she is not going to talk about “horses and buffalo,” but rather about “something that has special significance for me.” Unwrapping the carved sturgeon her father has made, she begins.

The engaging narrative is enhanced by lovely photos of Katharine and her extended family. Maps, archival photos, artwork, a glossary, and a key to the Stó:lo writing system all work together to complement the story and set it in time and place. In a lengthy preface well worth reading, Carlson relates the collaborative process by which I am Stó:lo! came to be; it’s an honest discussion by a non-Native author of how serious obstacles and ethical dilemmas were dealt with by the Stó:lo chiefs and elders who guided the project, and by the McHalsie family with whom he worked. Highly recommended.—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie... I am Sto:lo! is available from Oyate. Using their online catalog you'll find it in the section labeled Grades four & up.

1 comment:

Amber said...

This sounds great - thank you for the review. Katherine sounds like a very empowering character and I'm glad that she shows independence in researching her own heritage. It's so important for children to learn about their background and their roots. I think this book will be a great talking point for my neice and nephew!


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