June 21 is Canadian Aboriginal Day, and to celebrate, here are five of my favourite Canadian Aboriginal children’s books.
Richard Van Camp creates an elegant, heartfelt expression of the profound love and joy a new baby brings. Illustrated by the incredibly talented Canadian illustrator Julie Flett (who you’ll see again and again on this list), this board book features an Aboriginal family, but does not refer specifically to any one group or culture. Gentle, soothing and lyrical, Little You would make a beautiful gift for any new parents or caregivers.
Another joyous board book, this time from author Monique Gray Smith and illustrator Julie Flett, My Heart Fills with Happiness celebrates the simple every day experiences that can fill our hearts with happiness. Smith refers to Aboriginal experiences, like the smell of fresh bannock and listening to traditional drums, as well as the universal pleasures that unite us all, like the feeling of the sun’s warmth on our faces, and seeing our loved ones. Once again, the text refers to Aboriginal culture and features Aboriginal characters, but does not reference a specific cultural group.
If you’re sensing a bit of a theme here you’re not mistaken – I love Julie Flett, as both an author and an illustrator, and you’re going to see her mentioned quite a few times in this feature. Wild Berries follows a child and his grandmother as they collect wild berries in the woods. Together they encounter, observe, and share the traditional names of different plants and animals that live in the forest. This is a bilingual picture book, available in English and two different Cree dialects.
Did I mention I’m a fan of Julie Flett? I think I might have mentioned it… I really appreciate and admire her fresh, understated illustrations – they make her stories both timeless and incredibly modern. This is a bilingual alphabet book, sharing words in English and Michif, the endangered language of the Metis people of the prairies. Michif is so threatened that it may disappear entirely within a generation. Flett provides additional information on Michif and Metis culture, which is a good starting point for individuals interested in learning more about this endangered language.
Like Wild Berries and Owls See Clearly At Night, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox is based in a specific Aboriginal culture, in this case the Anishinaabe culture. In this introduction to the Anishinaabe totem tradition, children are introduced to different totem animals and their meaning and significance. In the illustrations, children wear animals masks representing different feelings and traits, while minimal poetic text connects the animals to Anishinaabe tradition. A beautiful, poetic introduction to a complex, timeless culture.