by Alberta-Rose Bear and Kathleen O’Reilly, Illustrated by Lindsey Bear
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9781988783826
Grandfather’s Reminder is a warm and relatively simple contemporary tale with an “oral storytelling-feel,” but it is an ambitious undertaking: aside from its gentle teaching about respect for the land and all it provides, the handsome illustrated children’s book is written in English, Plains Cree and Saulteaux, and contains an introduction to these languages, plus a glossary. Proceeds from the sale of the hardcover book go to the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council Education Fund.
Authors Alberta-Rose Bear and Kathleen O’Reilly immediately immerse us into the prairie landscape, and illustrator Lindsey Bear provides the colour and detail in full-bleed images that depict a chokecherry-picking family in the woods beneath summer-blue skies. Many of the illustrations are bordered in a floral beadwork design. It’s August, “well before the leaves started to turn colour” and “the foxtails waved gently in the wind.” The story’s narrated by a child whose grandfather lives nearby, and when this nimosôn (Plains Cree)/nimihšōmihš (Saulteaux) Elder arrives with “white buckets” for everyone, they follow him “behind his house towards the hill” where “behind the willow trees [there] were rows and rows of chokecherry bushes.”
Grandfather places an offering of tobacco before the bushes and says a prayer of thanks “in [their traditional] language” before the foraging begins. The young narrator notes a small scar on Grandfather’s arm, and he explains that it is his “‘reminder.’” This leads to his childhood story about picking chokecherries with his grandmother and extended family on “the alkali flats.” In his haste to reach the best berries, high on the bush, he fell, hurting himself and breaking a berry-loaded branch. His grandmother used the accident to teach him, as he explains, to “be happy with who I am and to always care for and respect Mother Earth, who provides us with what we need.” And as the practice of chokecherry picking has continued between generations of his family, the berries the grandmother and grandson deliberately returned to the earth from that broken branch populated chokecherry bushes for years to come.
I grew up in northern Saskatchewan and often heard the Cree language spoken, so it was fun to recall the rhythms of my youth and to try pronouncing some of the words, ie: paskwâwinîmowin (Plains Cree). The Cree Plains translation is by Solomon Ratt—associate professor of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature at First Nations University of Canada, originally from Stanley Mission; and the Saulteaux translation is credited to Lorena Cote—also a Language and Linguistics professor at First Nations University of Canada—and Margaret Cote, who was an educator from Cote First Nation. The book’s dedicated to “the Elders who share their stories of the land, ceremonies, and languages. And for all the children who continue to learn and carry on these teachings.”
Maintaining traditional languages is an important and honorable responsibility, and it’s undertakings like the publication of this group-effort story that encourage youth to learn—in such a fun way—more about “traditional teachings and values” while also learning vocabulary.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM