Gabrielle Grimard is a French Canadian author and illustrator who makes her home in in the province of Quebec. She is the illustrator of When I Was Eight and Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, two picture books about a young girl's experiences of residential school. As soon as I saw her name on this title I knew I had to read it.
It is the exquisitely written and illustrated story of Lila, a young girl who has had to move to a new city. She is looking forward to making new friends. Then on her first day, Nathan, one of the boys makes fun of her crying,
"A crow! A crow! The new girl's hair is dark like a crow!!"
Each day Nathan adds on to this refrain; disdaining her dark skin and then her dark eyes.
And 'Lila's heart grows as heavy as three stones."
As a result, she tries to cover up who she is and ends up friendless except for a crow who caws to her on her way home from school.
When Lila finally celebrate her 'crowness' she is magnificent. She is accepted and befriended by the rest of her classmates.
This is a book about being different and learning to fit in by claiming who you are. It is a necessary addition to a school's aboriginal collection even though the text makes no direct reference to Lila's heritage. It's there in the illustrations revealing to us a fragment of the experiences of urban indigenous children.
It would be interesting to pair this with The Crow Boy by Taro Yashima and compare the two stories.
My only real complaint about this narrative is that there are no adults in it. I am left wondering why teachers and other school personnel don't intervene to stop the name calling. On the other hand, I hope books like this one, will remind all of us to be more mindful about what can go on behind our backs, and that we are responsible for setting up the kinds of communities where this kind of behavior just doesn't get started.