As National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month continues, I bring to you more books today as promised in my earlier post here. Today’s set of books for Native American Heritage Month features books set in Canada and Alaska. Two of them are based on true stories while the other is a sweet read that offers a glimpse into the journey to and of motherhood
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3 Wonderful Children’s Books for Native American Heritage Month
When I Was Eight
Title: When I Was Eight
Author: Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
Illustrator: Gabrielle Grimard
Length: 18 pages
Genre: Children’s fiction/Canadian History, Diverse Reads (9 years, and up)
Publisher: Annick Press; 2nd edition (June 30, 2020)
Description: Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.
This is an unflinchingly honest story of the trials Inuit and other indigenous children had to face in residential schools. While the book is an adaptation of Fatty Legs for younger audiences, it still is a heart wrenching read. It is a story of destruction and determination, of abuse and hope, of separation from loved ones and of strength of character. I appreciated that the author’s narrative does not speak down to readers and loved Gabrielle Grimard’s warm illustrations which do a wonderful job of conveying Olemaun’s emotions throughout.
While it is certainly a serious read with many dark moments, it is also an important read. Everyone will glean a lot from the book; the importance of education, to not give up on our dreams, and to stand up for ourselves. It will definitely have readers curious to learn more about the culture and history behind this, and on a lighter note, to want to read Alice in Wonderland (like the protagonist did).
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Title: Sweetest Kulu
Author: Celine Kalluk
Illustrator: Alexandria Neonakis
Length: 36 pages
Genre: Children’s Poetry/Canada book, Native American Books, Diverse Reads(Baby – 3 years, and up)
Publisher: Inhabit Media; English edition (April 1, 2018)
Description: “Dream a little, Kulu, this world now sings a most beautiful song of you.”
This beautiful bedtime poem, written by acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describes the gifts given to a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic.
Oh my sweetness! From that adorable cover you see to the illustrations within and the story itself, this book is the sweetest!! As I turned the pages, I could feel those thoughts and wishes all the creatures of the world and nature itself in its many forms bestows upon little ones; from the snow bunting’s wish for believing in oneself to the Arctic char’s gift of tenderness.
It took me back to the time my teens were but babes, and our wishes for them. It also reminded me of lullabies and rhymes in Tamil, Hindi, and Kannada (various Indian languages I grew up speaking) that are so very similar. One such rhyme starts with the line “kaakka kannukku mai kondu vaa” (Tamil) and translates to “crow, bring kohl/eyeliner for the eyes.”
Back to this book, the illustrations are simply stunning and filled with details that we can all feast on; while the sweet narrative is heartwarming and full of thoughts and wishes any parent will have for their child.
A wonderful gift for new and expecting parents.
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Title: Benny’s flag
Author: Phyllis Krasilovsky
Illustrator: Jim Fowler
Length: 32 pages
Genre: Children’s Books /Native American Books, Diverse Reads(4 – 8 years, and up)
Publisher: Roberts Rinehart (November 5, 2002)
Description: Benny was an Aleut Indian boy living in an Alaskan mission home many years before Alaska became a state. One day his teacher told the class about a contest to to make a flag for Alaska. That night the boys and girls of the mission house made many designs for the flag. A month later the teacher announced: Children, the flag contest is over. From all over Alaska children sent in designs for the flag. And Benny’s design has won the contest! Benny’s Flag is a true story.
I remember reading about a similar story in another book – Raise the Flag – and recall thinking it will be nice to have picture books for such stories. I did not realize that there was one already at the time – this one is for Alaska (and might have been in that book though I can’t recall that now) – while the story I talked about earlier was for New Guinea’s flag. This book is based on the true story of how Alaska’s flag came to be what it is today. Through both the illustrations and the narrative, it gives readers, young and old, a peek into life at the mission home for Benny and life in Alaska as well. We see how Benny came up with his winning design and it might inspire readers to try to design something similar.
Note: the featured edition of this book is a new print and illustrated by Jim Fowler. The original edition is from 1960 and illustrated by W.T. Marks. While the format is more like a chapter book sans chapters with black and white illustrations, it looks wonderful too.
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And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, have you read any of these books? If yes, would love to hear your thoughts on them. If not, how about any other similar books? I would love to hear your recommendations too. Do you have anything similar to the sentiments expressed in Sweetest Kulu in your culture?
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