It was pure fandom that turned me onto these delightful readers. While browsing Netgalley, I discovered a title, Amik Loves School, by Katherena Vermette. Having recently finished her brilliant adult novel, The Break, I was keen to see what she would do with a picture book for kids. I read it on my ipad, but in the midst of my hectic life, forgot about it until I got a message on Netgalley. Alas the title had expired from my device. Luckily, our local library has copies so I put one on reserve.
When It arrived, I was enchanted. I reread it and discovered it was part of a series called The Seven Teachings Stories. I wondered about the rest of them and discovered they were available at a library near me. I headed off and found four of the series on the shelf where they all should have been. Owls bowels!* two of the books were not there. A librarian was able to find one of them, but no matter where we looked, we couldn't find the last in the series. We went through the children's indigenous collection and had a thoughtful discussion about what they needed to weed.
Once at home I sat down and started reading and making notes. I ended up having to babysit a fussy baby and when I calmed her down, read the rest of them to her. (She really is becoming a reader and happily sat in my arms while I shared them with her.)
You are probably wondering if I will ever get to talking about the books. I promise to start now.
The books show indigenous children in an urban setting living ordinary lives. Each book highlights a specific sacred teaching of the Anishinaabe. The different characters are named after the animal that represents each teaching. Listen to Katherena Vermette below to learn more about that.
The children's lives are connected through their culture; their school; their teacher, Mr Bee; and their cultural leader, Betsy. All of the books highlight the Anishinaabemowin language and even include a pronunciation guide at the end. They are stories about community, family, and friendship against a backdrop of Anishinaabe culture. The characters are surrounded by loving parents, grandparents, and other caring adults. The series is created for readers aged 5-10.
In The Just Right Gift, a Story of Love, Migizi searches for the ideal gift for his Gookom. The First Day, A Story of Courage, introduces us to Makwa as he goes to a new school. In Misaabe's Stories: A Story of Honesty, Misaabe learns that telling his own stories is enough. In Kode's Questions, Mashkode-Bizhiki (Kode) asks all the important people in her life about respect. In What is Truth, Betsy?, Miskwaadesi comes to understand her own truth in relation to her culture, family and friends. Amik Loves School: A story of wisdom, introduces children to the idea of residential schools. Singing Sisters: A Story of Humility, is the one book I couldn't find. I was able to preview it at the Portage and Main Press website. A young singer, Ma’iingan, has to come to grips with her younger sister also being a singer.
Irene Kuziw's realistic coloured pencil illustrations are soft and gentle, adding a welcoming warmth to the stories themselves.
These are books that belong in every school library since their messages are important for all children. A teachers guide is available if you want one.
*This expletive comes from Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood.