When The Trees Crackle With Cold: A Cree Calendar

10 May 2018

When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Calendar
By Bernice Johnson-Laxdal and Miriam Körner
Review by Michelle Shaw
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
$12.95 9781927756935

Winner of the recent Saskatchewan Book Awards Children’s Literature Award, When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Calendar is a beautifully written and illustrated narrative of the author’s Cree childhood in northern Saskatchewan.

Bernice Johnson-Laxdal comes from a large family of 14 children and grew up in the predominantly Métis community of Ile-a-la-Crosse, which is situated along one of Western Canada’s major fur trade routes.

From an early age Bernice was involved in her family’s traditional activities: gathering, growing and preparing food, hunting, trapping and making clothing. Most of these activities were (and still are) dependent on the seasons of the year.

The book beautifully combines story and image with Körner’s playful watercolors skillfully enhancing the simple word pictures. The narrative is based around the Cree calendar which consists of six seasons divided into twelve moons, which reflect the traditional knowledge of the natural cycle.

I found the concept so much more enriching for my soul than the traditional Western calendar! I loved the way each of the 12 moons reflects the natural world which is constantly growing and changing around us season by season. March, for instance, is the Goose Moon (niskipīsim) “when the geese announce the arrival of spring, and we clean up the yard with Mom.” June is the Egg-Hatching Moon (pāskāwihowipīsim), when “the young birds break their fragile shells, [and] we go on a picnic for the day.”

The book uses the y-dialect of the northern Plains Cree of the Ile-a-la-Crosse area where Bernice grew up. Plans are also underway for e-books with audio recordings of the Cree words spoken by the Elders in th-, n- and y-dialects.

Bernice Johnson-Laxdale has also written When the Trees Crackle with Cold: A Cree Seasons Activity Book.

Miriam Körner is a photographer, writer and illustrator, whose books include YA novel Yellow Dog and the picture book Li’l Shadd: A Story of Ujima which was written in collaboration with the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum and celebrates African-Canadian pioneer doctor Alfred Schmitz Shadd.

When the Trees Crackle with Cold was also a gold medal winner at the 2017 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.


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