Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Highly Recommended: MII MAANDA EZHI-GKENDMAANH / THIS IS HOW I KNOW, written by Brittany Luby; illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley [and a note about translators]

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh
This is How I Know
Written by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe descent)
Illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe, member 
of Wasauksing First Nation)
Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere (Anishinaabe 
from M'Chigeeng First Nation)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh)


Hidden in the dense branches of the spruce tree in my back yard, a mother cardinal sits on a nest. We've peeked in on her and the hatchlings a couple of times, but then I come inside and look online for videos of cardinal nests. Watching videos rather than the nest in our yard gives this cardinal family the safety that my presence must surely interrupt. From afar, I watch as the male and female cardinals fly here and there, gathering food that they then take to the nest. 

I think that a combination of spring flowers, a growing vaccinated population, and the life in that tree are impacting the warmth I feel as I read Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh (This is How I Know). 

"This is how I know" is a refrain that structures Luby and Pawis-Steckley's picture book. On the title page we see the full title, in Anishinaabemowin, and then in English. That ordering of language is on the cover, too, and is what you'll see on every page. 

I want you to notice, on the title page, the names of the translators: Alvin Ted Corbiere, and Alan Corbiere. They are a father and son from M'Chigeeng First Nation. For this and every book, I'd like to see the names of translator's on the cover. Individuals who speak and write an Indigenous language are--for many--more significant than the story a book tells. I don't mean to cast a shadow on this book. I like it very much, as the "Highly Recommended" tag demonstrates. I'm speaking more to book designers who make decisions about what goes where, in books they publish.

During the pandemic, many tribal nations made sure that those who speak their language were among the first to receive Covid vaccines. Though the US and Canadian governments tried very hard to eradicate us in every way, we resisted--and we resist, now. Across tribal nations, language programs are thriving because of people like the Corbiere's who translated this book. So--editors/designers--I hope you'll revisit your treatment of translators. 

Now, back to the book! The Cooperative Children's Book Center at the School of Education, Wisconsin-Madison selected it for their Book of the Week on April 26. 

It begins with these words near the bottom of a page, surrounded by white space:
Aaniish ezhi-gkendmaanh niibing?
How do I know summer is here?
Facing those words is a large illustration of blueberries. Over the next pages, we learn about the things the child and their grandparent see that tell them summer is here. Gorgeously illustrated pages follow. We see Loon, Luna Moth, Bumblebee, Screech Owl, and a stunning sunset with texture and depth. Beneath that sunset, we read:
Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh niibing.
This is how I know summer. 
Turning the page, we're again in a white space as we begin a new section where the child and their grandmother will see the things of fall. And again, for winter, and then for spring. On those pages for spring, there's a seagull and a robin, sitting on the eggs in their nests. 

As I began this review, I recognized the illustrator's name. Two days ago when I wrote about Angeline Boulley's Firekeeper's Daughter, I talked a bit about Sharice Davids and her book, Sharice's Big Voice, due out soon. I mentioned the illustrator for her book. It is the same person who did the illustration's for Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know. Looking at their website, I see outstanding work that has a lot more detail than I see in this book and wonder about the decisions that went into these. Take a look at his site! 

Order a copy of Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know for your classroom and library, and ask for it at your local bookstore and public library. 

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