Tuesday, November 30, 2021


 Nenaboozhoo and the Elk's Head
Nenaboozhoo miinawaa Adik Odishtigwaan
Written by Dr. Giniwgiizhig (enrolled, White Earth) and Niizhobines (Ojibwe)
Illustrated by Anna Granholm
Published by Black Bears and Blueberries
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Status: Highly Recommended

Nenaboozhoo is a prominent figure in the Anishinaabe traditional stories that have been published over the years. He appears in several picture books published in the past couple of years. I hope to review all of them eventually, but today I'm taking a "short and sweet" look at just one: Nenaboozhoo and the Elks's Head/Nenaboozhoo miinawaa Adik Odishtigwaan

Here's my quick summary of the story:

Nenaboozhoo tricks an elk into lending him a beautiful bow and arrow, and then kills the elk for food. The trees that witness this treachery let their displeasure be known, but Nenaboozhoo is quite pleased with himself. Before long, though, he gets his comeuppance, as he often does, showing listeners how NOT to act. 

I'd recommend this story for upper elementary age children, and older. 

First reason to recommend this book: Native people are involved at all levels of its publication. It's an Ojibwe traditional story retold in a collaboration between Dr. Giniwgiishig (a school principal) and Niizhobines, an Ojibwe elder and storyteller. It's bilingual, in English and Ojibwemowin. And the publisher is the Native-owned non-profit Black Bears and Blueberries. 

Second reason:  The book has a mission. Initially the story was part of the Indian Education Curriculum for Red Lake (MN) School District #38. The front matter includes this dedication:

This endeavor is for our children so that they will know who they are and where they come from and to learn our language so they will be strong and proud that they are Anishinaabe and stand up and lead and succeed.

There's another statement in the front matter of this book and several of the others mentioned under my Reason 4, below: "The stories in these books are told only when snow is on the ground and a tobacco offering is made." This tells the reader that even though this story and others like it are engaging, the sharing of them is important enough that there's a protocol for doing so. They were never intended just for amusement.  

Third reason: Kids who aren't Anishinaabe can engage with and learn from the book, too. Just seeing Ojibwemowin in print can affirm for them that specific Indigenous languages exist and have value -- Native people don't just "talk Indian". Like many traditional stories, this one is an opportunity for considering how to treat others, and how a person's self-centered actions can have uncomfortable consequences.  

Fourth reason to recommend Nenaboozhoo and the Elk's Head: It's just one of several bilingual English-Ojibwemowin books published by Black Bears and Blueberries that belong in classroom libraries. They include:

  • by Dr. Giniwgiishig and Niizhobines -- Why the Bear Has a Short Tail; How the Boy and the Rabbit Helped Each Other; Nenaboozhoo Steals Fire; and When the Boy Was Made into a Whirlwind.  
  • by Liz Granholm -- Rabbit and Otter; Rabbit and Otter go Sugarbushing
  • by Tara Perron -- Animals of Nimaamaa-Aki (Dakota version is Animals of Kheya Wita)

You can find out more about the bilingual books put out by Black Bears and Blueberries on their Web site. 

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