Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review of Jameson's Zoe and the Fawn

Zoe and the Fawn (2006). By Catherine Jameson, illustrated by Julie Flett. Penticton, BC, Canada: Theytus Books.

Little Zoe and her dad are feeding their horses when Zoe is captivated by a fawn lying under an aspen tree nearby. Dad takes a picture. Zoe wonders where the fawn’s mother is, and Dad suggests they look for her. They walk through the spring landscape, spotting a series of creatures that Zoe suspects could be the fawn’s mother: a flicker, a rabbit, and a rainbow trout. No, Dad tells her each time, that is not the fawn’s mother. Finally, they turn around and head back. Again they see the flicker, the rabbit, and the trout, and this time Zoe is the one asserting, “That is not the fawn’s mother.” When they arrive back at the aspen tree, there is the fawn – with its mother. Dad snaps another picture. The horses are glad to see Zoe and her dad.

Jameson tells the story of this Okanagan father and daughter with relatively simple English vocabulary, with some repetitive phrases that invite children’s participation during read-alouds. She also incorporates the Okanagan (Syilx) animal names in parentheses.

Utter ignorance of how to pronounce those words sent me to the Okanagan Nation Web site. (There's no pronunciation guide in Jameson's book.) There I learned that the language is nsyilxcən, and that in July 2018, the Okanagan Nation general assembly adopted the Syilx Okanagan Language Declaration expressing the people’s commitment to the “protection, revitalization and advancement” of their language. There’s something both loving and powerful in that declaration. I was grateful that the info about it included comments from some of the Okanagan leaders who were present. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: “This is an international standard of nationhood. Forty-five years ago, the majority of our people were fluent, sadly that’s not the case anymore. This Declaration is a public expression of intent to stay together. This Declaration contains our laws on how we care take our culture and everything that represents. Without the language it’s impossible to undertake these tasks. It’s at the core of our being, there’s no question.” And Chief Byron Louis stated that the Declaration was “the most significant document I have ever signed.”


So – those animal names Catherine Jameson uses in Zoe and the Fawn back in 2006 have important context. They hint at a language preservation effort that was surely underway back then, and that has lasted, as the Okanagan Nation language Web site suggests, “a long time”. I went to the Web site looking for a pronunciation guide and found a people’s commitment to their language and all that it has meant and can mean to them.

Though my wish to be able to say the words in Jameson’s book is important to my non-Okanagan self, my pronunciation/ambition is not what will preserve the language. In fact, it’s beside the point. Those words are there for the Okanagan parents, elders, teachers, and children who use the book. And I hope they do – it was a BC Book Prize Honor Book some years ago. But Zoe and the Fawn also works for anyone who wants to share or hear a story of a child and her dad encountering the natural world. You don’t have to know those nsyilxcən words to “get” the book. But just seeing them on the page is a healthy reminder that there’s a whole world – worlds, really – of knowledge and speech and understanding out there that we don’t usually think about. (And you can find out more about nsyilxcən from links on the Okanagan Nation web page.)

I like Zoe and the Fawn a lot. The English text is highly readable and engaging for kids who are still learning to read English – and for younger ones, who will enjoy chiming in on the repetitions. Julie Flett’s illustrations (which I believe are cut paper plus pen-and-ink) capture Zoe’s sense of wonder, the beauty of the awakening world of spring, and the essence of the creatures Zoe and Dad encounter. The fish are especially lively, and Flett has a knack for including cool things that aren’t in the text – like the turtle who joins Zoe on one page, or the activity in the pond where the trout resides. Being married to a photographer, I found Zoe’s dad with his camera to be a nice touch. And Zoe’s quite expressive and adorable in her green coat and orange boots.

Zoe and the Fawn: highly recommended!

-- reviewed by Jean Mendoza


Ava Jarvis said...

Thank you for the review. This book sounds awesome! I'll try to see if I can get my local library to buy a copy.

Unknown said...

This book sounds wonderful! I immediately went to order a copy for my library, but the publisher is out of stock! So sad.