Monday, March 07, 2022




The Frog Mother (Mothers of Xsan series)
Written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw/Brett D. Huson (Gitxsan)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis) and Hetxw'ms Gyetxw
Published by Highwater Press
Published in 2021
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

How I wish we could see a series like Mothers of Xsan for every part of the continent: local ecosystems from Indigenous perspectives! Hetxw'ms Gyetxw, Natasha Donovan, and Highwater Press have come up with a set of richly illustrated informational books about essential animal inhabitants of Xsan, the traditional homelands of the Gitxsan.  

Here's what the publisher says about the book I'm reviewing today, The Frog Mother:
To the Gitxsan of Northwestern British Columbia, Nox Ga’naaw is a storyteller, speaking truths of the universe. After Nox Ga’naaw, the frog mother, releases her eggs among the aquatic plants of a pond, the tiny tadpoles are left to fend for themselves. As they hatch, grow legs, and transform into their adult selves, they must avoid the mouths of hungry predators. Will the young frogs survive to spawn their own eggs, continuing a cycle 200 million years in the making?

Book four of the Mothers of Xsan series follows the life cycle of the columbia spotted frog. Learn about why this species is of special significance to the Gitxsan and how Nox Ga'naaw and her offspring are essential to the balance that is life.

This is a "short & sweet" review, listing four reasons AICL recommends this book.

Reason #1 to recommend The Frog Mother: The deep and detailed sense of place. 

The author writes about something he knows well: the creatures, environments, and seasons of the homeland of his Indigenous Nation. 

He grew up there, in what's currently called inland British Columbia, and learned much of what he knows about the animal inhabitants from elder relatives with both observational and cultural knowledge. (From email communication with the author, 2/2022.) Here's a quote from the book: "As the Gitxsan have borne witness since time immemorial, there is a delicate balance of food for all living in their realm. Nox Ga'naaw and her offspring are an integral piece of this balance that is life." "Since time immemorial." Those are potent words about presence and stewardship!

Reason #2: The illustrations 

Natasha Donovan's lively, engaging illustrations are essential to the full impact of the book. And take a close look at each page. Integrated into the depictions of Nox Ga'naaw's life stages, you're likely to see formline images of frogs and other figures. That's the work of the author, placed there to show that the events depicted have spiritual and cultural significance for the people, beyond what might be observed by Western science. 

Reason #3: Use of Gitxsan language and knowledge

Seeing words from the Gitxsan language with the English text supports young non-Indigenous readers' awareness that Indigenous languages exist, and have value and purpose. The author refers to animals by their Gitxsan names as well as English identifiers. He uses Gitxsan words for times of the year, which are also listed on a page in the back of the book, along with three paragraphs of information about the Gitxsan and an illustrated map of the region. 

Reason #4: The entire series.

The Mothers of Xsan series is based in Indigenous knowledge, but also incorporates what could be called the language of science; many pages include textbox definitions of words like "juvenile" and "overwinter." 

Each of these books has deepened my understanding of the ecosystem of the region. Beyond that, I'm reminded of how much impact humans have on what lives around us, and how responsible we are for making our own lives sustain the systems we inhabit. So many young people I know are looking for this kind of understanding, but mainstream society seems built on distancing people from their environments.

Other entries in the series are: The Sockeye Mother, The Grizzly Mother, The Eagle Mother, The Wolf Mother. And due out in 2022: The Raven Mother.

Reading this set of books makes me hope other Indigenous writers and illustrators will collaborate to tell about about the ecosystems of their homelands. The knowledge that could be offered is desperately needed.