Friday, November 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: THE RANGE ETERNAL by Louise Erdrich

The Range Eternal
Written by Louise Erdrich
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Published by University of Minnesota Press
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

When I was a little girl on our reservation (Nambé Owingeh), I sat by my grandmother's wood stove and watched her cook and tend the fire in her stove. In The Range Eternal we see a mother and daughter standing at their stove, making soup. 

Here's a photo of that page. Look at the bottom right corner. See that dark rectangle next to that circle? That rectangle is a slot for a tool that lets you lift that circular cut-out of the stovetop so you can put wood right underneath that spot, to make the spot extra hot for your cooking. My grandmother would put a slice of bread just over that rectangle. As the bread toasted, a rectangular shape would emerge on my bread. I don't have a memory of talking about that rectangle. It is just something my grandmother did to my toast. In another spot on the stove, she used a copper bottom one-cup measuring cup to make my oatmeal. It is such a warm memory! 

But--there's also some scary memories, too. The ceiling of my grandmother's house was boards supported by beams. Those beams had once been trees. My grandfather cut the trees down, then cut the branches off, and then peeled the bark away, leaving a rough beam. In my childhood imagination, some of the spots where the branches had been cut away formed scary-looking faces. The nearness of my grandparents chased those frights away. 

Childhood imagination and the warmth of memory permeates The Range Eternal. The little girl standing with her mother by the stove imagines a Windigo, and deer, and bear, and horses, and the buffalo you see on the book cover. Time passes and the arrival of electrical wires means the stove is moved out of the house and an electric one takes its place. But--it is missed. More time passes and the little girl grows up and still, as an adult, feels like something is missing. One day she sees a Range Eternal in an antique store and knows what was missing. It is the stove. So, she gets it. The closing pages show us the woman and her children by their Range Eternal. 

It is a marvelous story that I absolutely adore! The Author's Note gives us something, too. The Range Eternal of this story was her grandmother's stove. Her mother talked about that stove, with affection. The illustration with the note is by Dr. Angela Erdrich--Louise Erdrich's sister. It is of their mother, standing in front of a Range Eternal. Dr. Erdrich's art adds layers of warmth to the story told in The Range Eternal. 

I've clearly made a personal connection to The Range Eternal. For me, it evokes a lot of memories. We had electricity in my grandmother's house but we did not have running water or gas, yet. Both would come before I was ten years old. Though they made life easier in some ways, other things are lost. Those things hold powerful feelings. On a low table, my grandparents had buckets of water that they'd get from the river each morning. I'd go with them, sometimes. In the wintertime, we'd have to chip away at the ice. Next to the buckets was a dipper to scoop water for cooking and cleaning. Sometimes, though, I'd drink right from that dipper.  Where is that dipper, now? 

I'd best bring this reminiscing to a close and say -- get a copy of The Range Eternal. First published in 2002, I'm thrilled that the University of Minnesota Press brought it out again. It is part history, part family story, and very Native. Spend time with it and your own memories!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Recommended: In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok

In My Anaana's Amautik
Written by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Lenny Lischenko
Available in English and Inuktitut
Published by Inhabit Media
Publication Year 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

A while back, Victoria J Coe tweeted that Teresa Peterson's Grasshopper Girl is a "huggable book." What a great descriptor -- some books are just that! And we need those, in these strange times when hugging people we love can actually be dangerous. 

Another example of a book you might want to hug is In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok (Inuit). It offers peaceful illustrations of an adorable baby in snuggly situations, with loving word-images about the comfort and joy of being carried and cared for. What's more huggable than that? 

The book begins with a two-page illustration of a child's hand reaching toward a large sun that shines brightly over an Arctic landscape (by Lenny Lischenko, not Native) and these words:
In my anaana's amautik, I feel warm. The warmth of her skin feels like sunshine, keeping me safe from the cold. I love being in my anaana's amautik.
"Amautik", pronouced "a-MOW-tick," is defined in the brief glossary as "a pouch in the back of a woman's parka where a baby can be carried".

Every page of text begins with the words "in my Anaana's amautik," followed by sensory images of something the child loves to do, and ends with "my Anaana's amautik." That repetition makes it easy for toddlers or preschoolers to chime in when their adult pauses there in reading, once they're familiar with the book.

Some of the imagery is rooted in a specific environment: "Her breathing feels like ocean waves gently rolling in and out." But many images have a more universal feel, and are always linked to the natural world: "Her scent reminds me of flowers in the summertime."  It's a love poem, really, about caregivers and their little ones. 

In My Anaana's Amautik shows us how a baby's fundamental and lasting sense of security and well-being is woven from sensory experiences large and small. Family members, like the mother in the book, often provide such comforts without even thinking about it. (I'm smiling right now, remembering that one of our "grands" says they would sometimes "forget" their favorite blanket at our place, so we would mail it back to them. When they open the package, "It smells like Grandma's house.")

But worries can keep parents and caregivers from being "in the moment" with little ones: "Am I doing enough? Am I doing something wrong? Am I giving my baby a chance at a good future?" 

Where do we find our own sense of security as adults, as people with responsibility for generations to come? The mother in In My Anaana's Amautik is right there in the same experiences the baby is having, though from a different perspective. To me, this says that as adults, we can find and accept the comfort available in what the earth offers us: warm sunlight, rolling waves, lovely sounds, objects soft to the touch, a tender new life. We often overlook such things, take them for granted. But when we allow ourselves to be in the moment with them, maybe we can touch that sense of security, of being gently hugged and cradled in an amautik.     

In her 2016 review of  We Sang You Home (by Richard Van Camp), Debbie wrote of "feeling loved by words" or "loved by a book." For so long, there were no books that showed Indigenous children receiving such loving care.  In My Anaana's Amautik joins We Sang You Home and other titles like Grasshopper Girl and My Heart Fills with Happiness in putting unconditional familial love at the center. (And Inhabit Media makes it available in Inuktitut as well as English -- more love for Indigenous languages, and Indigenous kids.)