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. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Highly Recommended: JOSIE DANCES, written by Denise Lajimodiere; illustrated by Angela Erdrich

Josie Dances 
written by Denise Lajimodiere (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)
illustrated by Dr. Angela Erdrich (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh)


I'll just say it: I love Josie Dances. That sense of love that readers experience with some books, is where I'll start. Why, I wonder, does this book give me that feeling? 

As I turn the pages to try to figure that out, I think it is the same things that I noted yesterday (May 3) in my review of Angeline Boulley's Firekeeper's Daughter. Those things: community, and women. Specifically, Native community, and Native women. To be precise: Ojibwe community, and Ojibwe women! 

Here's the description of Josie Dances from the publisher: 

Josie dreams of dancing at next summer’s powwow. But first she needs many special things: a dress, a shawl, a cape, leggings, moccasins, and, perhaps most important of all, her spirit name. To gather all these essential pieces, she calls on her mom, her aunty, her kookum, and Grandma Greatwalker. They have the skills to prepare Josie for her powwow debut.

As the months go by, Josie practices her dance steps while Mom stitches, Aunty and Kookum bead, and Grandma Greatwalker dreams Josie’s spirit name. Josie is nervous about her performance in the arena and about all the pieces falling into place, but she knows her family is there to support her.

The powwow circle is a welcoming space, and dancers and spectators alike celebrate Josie’s first dance. When she receives her name, she knows it’s just right. Wrapped in the love of her community, Josie dances to honor her ancestors.

In this Ojibwe girl’s coming-of-age story, Denise Lajimodiere highlights her own daughter’s experience at powwow. Elegant artwork by Angela Erdrich features not only Josie and her family but also the animals and seasons and heartbeat of Aki, Mother Earth, and the traditions that link Josie to generations past and yet to come.

As I sit here and read through the book again, I pause at what is (at the moment) my favorite page:

I carry memories of my grandmother sewing traditional clothes for us to wear for our dances at Nambé. She had an old sewing machine that was powered by her feet pushing a large pedal that made her machine work. Fascinated with the process, I asked her if I could try it. It isn't a clear memory but it seems she told me something like "this is not like your mom's sewing machine." She was right about that. My mom's sewing machine looked like the one in Josie Dances. She, too, sewed our traditional and everyday clothes. I sew them, too. And so does my daughter. She's made traditional dresses for her cousin's little girls. 

Josie and her family spend a year getting ready for her to dance. With each page turn, readers move through the seasons with them. Early in the book, we see the moccasins that Josie will wear--but without beads. On the page with the sewing machine, it is winter and we see the moccasins partially beaded. Turning the page we see Grandmother Greatwalker asleep (and covered with a beautiful quilt!), dreaming. Josie's name will come to her, in a dream. The next page shows us Josie and her mother picking spring berries. Then... it is time for the powwow and we shift from a seasonal framework to one that takes place over a day and night. First, we see people in t-shirts and shorts at the site where the powwow will be. Josie is wondering if she'll be dancing, after all. We see her in a night scene, lying down in a bedroll in her tent. Did all her clothing get finished? Did Grandmother Greatwalker dream of her name? She wakes the next day with messy hair. Glancing to the trees nearby, she sees an eagle. The answer to all her questions is yes, and it is conveyed quietly on this page:


With each year, I see more and more children's books with Native words in them. That's part of why I'm highly recommending Josie Dances. When Josie asks her mom to help her, her mom replies "Eya, nindaanis!" The glossary tells us that means "Yes, my daughter!" We have that same sentence structure several times. Josie asks her aunty if she will bead her cape; her aunty replies "Eya, ikwezens!" Josie asks her kookum (grandmother) if she'll make her moccasins and leggings, and she replies "Eya, noozhishenh!" And she asks a tribal elder (Grandmother Greatwalker) about her name, and hears "Eya, abinoojinh!" Lajimodiere's writing teaches us all a few Ojibwe words--and that's a terrific part of what we are offered in this picture book. 

I think what I'm trying to get at is this: the story given to us by Denise Lajimodiere and Angela Erdrich -- both, citizens of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe -- is so real, and so full of Native life and love. 

Denise Lajimodiere

Angela Erdrich

Josie Dances is published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. They've done several books that I highly recommend, including Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer, Cheryl Minnema's Hungry Johnny, Thomas Peacock's The Forever Sky, Art Coulson's The Creator's Game, and Brenda Child's Bowwow Powwow. If you don't have those yet, get them when you order copies of Josie Dances. 

Monday, May 03, 2021

Highly Recommended! FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper's Daughter
Written by Angeline Boulley (Enrolled member of the 
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)
Cover art by Moses Lunham (Ojibway)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh)


For months, now, people have been talking about Angeline Boulley's debut, Firekeeper's Daughter. When the cover art by Moses Lunham (Ojibway) was released, people talked about that. When Netflix announced it would be made into a film by the Obama's production company, Higher Ground Productions, there was a growing chorus of voices. And then there was even more, when it appeared on the New York times bestseller list! 

It's popularity is evident in the wait time at my local library. If I wanted to get an audio copy, I'd have one in 290 days; if I wanted the eBook I'd get it in 276 days. Of course, I had a personal e-copy, so won't be adding my name to the request list at the library.

I was elated to see the review from Publishers Weekly. It used the words "tribally specific." I think that is another "first" for Native writers. We've seen a few "firsts" recently. One is Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade's We Are Water Protectors winning the Caldecott Medal, and another is seeing their book and a new one--I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade--on the best selling picture book list at the New York Times, at the same time! Boulley's book was over on the young adult list!

When I read the phrase "half brother" in a review from one of the major review journals, I paused. Half brother? I didn't remember seeing that phrase. Was it in the book? The answer is no. Boulley did not use that phrase to describe Daunis's brother. He was, simply, her brother. Levi and Daunis have different mothers but for Boulley, that doesn't matter. I think it hints at the difference between a white point of view and a Native one, about family and the words used to describe family members.  

I'm thrilled that people like Boulley's novel. What it is doing in the world is important for everyone. People who aren't Ojibwe are getting an insider's perspective on Ojibwe life and people; Ojibwe readers are getting something they recognize. Take a listen to Red Hoop Talk, episode 48. When it starts, they bring up a map that shows Sugar Island, which figures prominently in Firekeeper's Daughter. 

Listening, I especially like that Boulley characterizes her book as a love letter to Anishinabe girls. When Boulley and Colleen Medicine (one of the hosts on the show; she's Ojibwe) talk about the ferry to Sugar Island and how it feels to be on Sugar Island, I think of going into, and being at similar places at Nambé--how liberating they are to us, as Native people of those places. Boulley talking about the audio makes me want to go right out and order it! 

Photo credit: Amber Boulley

She talked, too, about the team at Macmillan that works with her, and that found Moses Lunham. In August of 2020, Anishinabek News did an article about him doing the cover. Here's a paragraph:
Since the Woodland style is a story-telling art form, Lunham says it is well-suited to book covers. The images on the cover originate from the fire and the smoke that rises from it, he explains. With the protagonist’s last name being Firekeeper, it made perfect sense to start with a Sacred Fire, Lunham says.  From out of smoke come the bear, Daunis’ clan dodem, and the raven, the message-bearer who plays an important role in leading her “in the right direction,” the artist adds. The two animals “morph” into the butterfly, the main image and a symbol Lunham wanted to include as representing the young Daunis leaving childhood and emerging into adult life.
As I follow reactions to the book, I see that Native people talk about Native community in Firekeeper's Daughter. They see things that resonate with them. In particular, Native readers are talking about the women, especially the elders, in the book. I sure did! Reading the words of these Ojibwe women made me laugh and wince, too, as I heard echos of home (Nambé). Like the name Granny June gives to her dog! I laughed really hard at that part. And the elders using technology? That was awesome and made me think of my mom with her iPad!  

Though the novel is Ojibwe from start to finish, there are many places at which I nodded because they are so familiar. HUD houses. And the passages about tribal politics! I like that a lot. I hope non-Native readers hit a pause button when they read about tribal politics in Daunis's community, and that they learn about tribal governments. Native governments are rarely taught in schools, but Native kids know about them and non-Native kids should, too! Most tribal nations have websites with links to their page about their government. Here's the one for Boulley's tribe: Government (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

I like the ways that Boulley raises stereotypical thinking and then immediately bats them down. I won't elaborate. See for yourself.

I'll close with a link to another terrific moment. As far as I am able to determine, the National Congress of American Indians has not had an event that featured a children's or adult book, but they did it with Firekeeper's Daughter. Moreover, it included a spectacular team of Native women:

That image is a screen cap from Louise Erdrich's (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) public Facebook page. In the foreground (on the laptop) is Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and in the background is Erdrich. The NCAI event included Haaland, Erdrich, NCAI President Fawn Sharp (Quinault), and Representative Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk). Here's a screen capture from the 13:40 mark of the event, when Davids talked about reading Boulley's book:

In his introduction, Representative Dan Kildee noted that Davids has a children's book in the works, too! Illustrated by Joshua M. Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe) is due out on June 1, so keep an eye out for it and register for the launch:

Make time to watch the entire NCAI event. One of the topics Boulley and Erdrich discussed is about DNA, DNA testing, and enrollment. Erdrich told Boulley she was glad to see that part of the book. I wonder how that part is landing with people who think they're Native, and then provide their DNA to a company, thinking that is all it takes to be able to say they're Native?   

Watch the video. Spend some time on Angeline Boulley's website. And of course, get a copy of the book.Visit your library and ask them for it. 

One last note:  In her author's note, when Boulley names a Native person, she includes their tribal nation. This book is tribally specific, through and through.