One of my favorite things about being a bookseller is seeing hundreds of new picture books every year. There is so much talent in the picture book field and such creativity, I find it very inspiring. I’ve had my eye on one illustrator though who’s work I first saw in a modest little book called Fox’s Garden two years ago, and again in the stunning wordless book The Snow Rabbit last year. The artist is Camilee Garoche and she has a such a unique style it catches my eye every time.
She works in cut paper which is a style I’ve loved ever since my first glimpse of Nikki McClure’s work. But Garoche goes so much further. She cuts a paper scene, embellishes the scene with additional drawing and coloring. Then she lights the scene adding the element of shine and shadow, and then photographs the whole thing. The overall effect is completely enchanting with a depth I haven’t seen in other work.
She’s got a new picture book this year illustrating a song by Laurie Berkner. It’s called Pillowland and I can’t wait to introduce it to families at Annie Blooms Books who are looking for a unique bedtime story.
Writing about the ravages of colonial control over First Nations in the United States and Canada is difficult enough when addressing adults. It’s even more challenging when presenting material to the youngest readers. How to convey the seriousness and depth of pain without crushing the spirit of the child reader–it’s a huge challenge, and I admire any author who even attempts to take it on. Few come out with such a successful result as author Melanie Florence in her picture book Stolen Words about her grandfather’s forced enrollment in boarding school and the loss of his mother tongue. Ms. Florence tells the story of a young girl who innocently asks her grandfather how to say grandpa in Cree. He tells her about being taken away from home and punished at the boarding school for speaking his Cree language. Illustrator Gabrielle Grimard captures this beautifully representing the Cree language as a blackbird captured in a cage and locked away. It’s an image that conveys the sadness and brutality of the Canadian boarding school without presenting images too heart-breaking for young readers. The girl finds a Cree dictionary in her own school and brings it to her grandfather and the words on the page, again symbolically, take the form of blackbirds and fly free. It’s a simple tale–too simple for older readers certainly who need much more substance and a less tidy resolution. But for the youngest readers this is an important story of native language denied and ultimately regained, and a book well worth celebrating.
Stolen Words is published by Second Story Press out of Toronto, Ontario. It will be available in September of 2017. I wrote this review from an Advanced Reader Copy which I obtained at the independent bookstore where I work. If you are looking for more context as an adult reader I highly recommend They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars, and acclaimed author from British Columbia. She is a chief of the Xat’sull and her book is about her own experiences in boarding school. It’s not a read for the tenderhearted but it is very useful in understanding the depth of wrong that was done in Indian boarding schools across the Unites States and Canada.
I have little to add to what has been said so eloquently about the brutal events of the last week in Charleston. Only a small suggestion that if it is your lot to guide young children through this moment, if you are struggling for something uplifting to say to the children in your life, you might consider this short and graceful picture book as a starting point. It’s called Love Will See You Through and it’s written by the neice of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Williams. She shares what she’s learned from her uncle: have courage, attack the problem, not the person, trust in the power and endurance of love. It’s a place to start and one in concert with the values of the parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME.