Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Recommended! With joy! BOWWOW POWWOW, written by Brenda J. Child, translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder

Due out on May 1 of 2018 is an absolutely terrific book, Bowwow Powwow written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe). The story she tells was translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation), and Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) did the extraordinary illustrations.

Here's the description:

Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. Windy can tell such stories herself–about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. 
When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle's stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow. 
This playful story by Brenda Child is accompanied by a companion retelling in Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain and brought to life by Jonathan Thunder's vibrant dreamscapes. The result is a powwow tale for the ages.

Frankly, there's so much I love about this book that I'm not sure where to start!

Direct your eyes back up to that cover. That's Windy with her uncle, in his truck. Right away, I am grinning. See, when we were kids, my dad had a white truck, but my little brother's favorite color was green, so my dad took his truck to one of those discount paint shops (ummm.... I suppose a lot of you are going, 'what is that'? but some of you know EXACTLY what I mean) and had it painted green! And we all went everywhere in that truck. Our dogs, did, too. Sometimes they were up front in the cab, and sometimes they were riding in the back, just like Itchy Boy is on the cover. What I mean to say is that the cover for Bowwow Powwow has an immediacy that Native kids are gonna respond to. It is, in other words, a mirror of the life of a Native kid.

Moving beyond the cover, I can tell you how much Native kids who do every thing with their dogs are going to like it. By every thing, I mean Every Thing. For Windy, that includes fishing (the page of ice fishing is hilarious) or, curling up together for the night, like she does with Itchy in this bit I'm inserting below... Or I can tell you that parents and teachers helping kids learn Ojibwe are going to like it. I love seeing Indigenous languages in kids books!

Or I can tell you that kids who go to powwows are going to love it. That illustration of Windy sleeping launches Bowwow Powwow into a dream sequence that I adore. At that point in the story, Windy is at the end of a very good powwow that is going on, late, into the night. She's fallen asleep, listening to a drum.

She dreams of the elders who teach her, and the veterans who are in the Grand Entry, and the traditional dancers, and the grass dancers, and the jingle dancers, and the fancy dancers... but they're all dogs!

I cannot say enough how perfectly Jonathan Thunder's illustrations capture each one of those dancers, in just the right moment. That just-so tilt of the head, or the arm, or a knee... 

On their way to the powwow, Windy's uncle told her about dances that came before the powwow. As they drive, he's passing along some oral history about dancers going from house to house, singing "we are like dogs." And, the people in the houses gave them gifts of food, or maple sugar candy, or beads. The dance is about generosity, about sharing. In the back of the book, there's a note about that particular dance and how it was misunderstood and misrepresented by anthropologists who erred in calling it a "begging dance." We Pueblo Indians have a similar problem. Outsiders didn't understand a dance we do that includes a sharing of foods and other items. One outside writer, in particular, wrote a children's book where she misrepresented it as a food fight like you see in a cafeteria. Outsiders. Ugh.

I can tell you that those of us who know something about sovereignty are going to spot something in here that's gonna make us say "YEAH" (it is the license plate on the truck).

What I mean is this: there's many points in Bowwow Powwow where the words or art tell us that this is an #OwnVoices story! The three people who gave us this book know what they're doing. I highly recommend it for every school and public library. I know--I'm going on a bit about its significance to Native readers--but non-Native readers will enjoy it, too. It is tribally specific, and it is set in the present day, and it beautifully captures Ojibwe people. Pardon my corny "what's not to love" --- because this book? It is an absolute delight! Head right on over to the Minnesota Historical Society's website and order it!


Ava Jarvis said...

This makes me smile. ^_^ I'll check to see if I can get my local library to order this book. Maybe they are already cool and know, which would be awesome.

Jennie said...

Thank you for this review! Pre-ordering this for my early childhood library's collection now.

Unknown said...

This was a very helpful review. The book looks beautifully written and illustrated. I love that the storyline introduces children to a culture that they may know little to nothing about. I also love that children of American Indian heritage have a story that they can identify with and that celebrates that heritage. The inclusion of the close relationship between the child and her dog will make it relatable to many and adds a fun detail that will keep young readers following the fun.

Sam Jonson said...

Here's a news article about the book, its author, & its illustrator that I just found. It was published back in June (a few months after this review was posted): Miscast 'begging dance' sparks children's book written in Ojibwe and English
And I must add: this book is also a very good antidote to many of those white-authored books that insensitively portray Amerindians as anthropomorphic animals!

C. Nicholson said...

To clarify are dogs allowed at the arbor during Ojibwe powwows?
We have been told frequently by announcers, arena directors, and elders that dogs have their own special ceremony and are not to be close to the powwow grounds. If you bring a dog it needs to stay at your camp.
Thanks for your help!

Kim said...

Hi Debbie,

I read your review of Bowwow Powwow and have just (extremely belatedly!) finished reading the public library's copy in preparation for deciding whether or not to order a copy for our library.

Like you, I enjoyed the book, but my collection development decisions have been indelibly shaped by Slapin, Seale, and Gonzales' How to Tell the Difference, Slapin and Seale's A Broken Flute, and your blog (among others), so I'm still struggling with my initial gut reaction to the illustrations of dogs in powwow regalia (I suspect that's why I've let this decision slip down my to-do list for so long).

By way of explanation, the library where I work has books like Grossman and Long's Ten Little Rabbits shelved in a separate "Not Recommended" section (inspired by your blog) for teaching purposes. I want to be clear on what differentiates books like that from Bowwow Powwow in terms of the illustrative content (both for my own continuing development as an aspiring accomplice/ally with Indigenous peoples, and also so I'm prepared to respond to future pushback we may get from patrons questioning our curatorial choices for the collection).

Here is my thinking so far -- I welcome comments/discussion about anything I may have missed or misunderstood (as a cisgender white settler woman).

Illustrative content in Bowwow Powwow is appropriate and acceptable, whereas that in Ten Little Rabbits is not because:

-the text and pictures are created by cultural insiders with intimate knowledge of the subject matter (and what is appropriate/inappropriate);

-context is provided for Windy Girl's dream of dogs in regalia (the pre-powwow song that includes the words "we are like dogs," and the author's note);

-no one is being counted, or otherwise objectified/dehumanized (the dogs are distinct individuals in accurately represented regalia, and they're also contextualized as part of a contemporary girl's dream);

-the story takes place in the present, with human and animal characters rooted in contemporary cultural practices (rather than random animal/Indigenous characters situated in a non-contextualized, indistinct past);

-other points I may have missed??

Just thought I'd post this here to help clarify my own thinking (and see if you or others can help me push it farther). Thank you for all of your help with collection development over the years!