Happy Native American Heritage Month! Meant to post this earlier but had the worst time finding this book in the mess that is currently my household, the result of two busy working adults and three small children who can make an outsize mess.
Anyhoo, my eight year-old twins’ school recently asked parents to sign up and buy a diversity read book for the third grade students, shared between classrooms. Being an overachiever, I bought several, but was so intrigued by this title that I bought myself and the kids a copy with the Plains Cree (y-dialect) translation included. I’ve been reading enough work by American Indian authors lately that their different languages continue to fascinate me, even as I wish I had enough time to apply myself to learning any of them in addition to the French and Arabic I’m already working on. This book has both the original English text and the Cree translations on the same two-page spreads, with a brief pronunciation guide in the back for the key Cree words used in the English.
Language is the focus of this children’s book in more ways than one. The story itself is a tale within a tale, as a young girl comes home from school and innocently asks her grandfather how to say “grandfather” in Cree. His hesitance to answer leads him to eventually explain how he doesn’t speak the language, having had it beaten out of him as a child taken away to residential school. The story is told in age-appropriate language, and has a heartwarming end as the little girl decides to help bring back what was stolen from her grandpa. It’s an immensely moving tale based on actual North American history.
Helping convey the emotional heft of the story are Gabrielle Grimard’s wonderful illustrations. The line art is both beautiful and evocative, particularly in the more metaphorical spreads, with soft, gentle colors that grey out when referencing the past.
Perhaps most importantly, Stolen Words is a wonderful message of hope, that while colonial governments and systems did terrible things to the native inhabitants, today’s peoples are working together to restore what was once thought lost. It’s also a cautionary tale of the toll that cultural erasure takes on its victims: people don’t all, or even mostly, magically transform into happy little drones eager to conform to the invading culture’s norms.
I read this story with Theo, my most reluctant reader, who enjoyed it, but that might mostly be because I read it to him and didn’t ask him to read it to me. Still, having him enjoy a book is always a win in my, er, book.
Stolen Words / kimotinâniwiw itwêwina by Melanie Florence & Gabrielle Grimard was published September 17 2019 by Second Story Press and is available from all good booksellers, including