November 02, 2015

Missing Nimâmâ

by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Clockwise Press
32 pp.
Ages 8+
October, 2015

Missing Nimâmâ is a stunning accomplishment in story telling, though a story that shouldn’t have to be told because no mother should go missing and be lost to a little girl who would grow up without her.  Reading Missing Nimâmâ (nimâmâ is Cree for my mother) is like exposing an wound and it hurts.

Missing Nimâmâ is told in two voices,  distinguished both on the page and with the font.  The first voice is that of Kateri, a young girl, who lives with her nôhkum (grandmother) and dreams and longs for nimâmâ who is one of the lost Indigenous women whose disappearances have been shamefully ignored.  The second voice, in italicized text, is an ethereal one, that of Kateri’s mother, who calls her daughter kamâmakos, her beautiful little butterfly, and who watches over her as she goes to school, is loved by her nôhkum, grows into a young woman, marries and becomes a mother herself.  With every milestone, Kateri wishes for her mother to be with her, occasionally sensing her spiritual presence, while her mother appreciates all that her daughter has become, reasurring her that,

I’m here, kâmamakos.
I’ve never left you. 
When you feel me with you, I’m there. 
You’re never alone.
Your mother is still watching over you.
(pg. 17)

But like far too many of the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, Kateri’s nimâmâ is only a spiritual presence in her daughter’s life and it will be years before Kateri will get the phone call telling her of her mother’s fate.  It is not a happy ending, and there are no happy endings for these women or their families.  But Melanie Florence still allows for Kateri and vicariously for her mother to find some happiness.

Missing Nimâmâ is heartbreaking.  It’s soulful and breathtakingly painful, and all the more so because of Melanie Florence’s free verse text. Never have I read free verse so aptly applied in a picture book.  Melanie Florence, an Aborginal writer, has demonstrated a powerful skill at creating rhythmic emotions with words.  The tugs at the heart are aching for the story they tell and the artistry with which François Thisdale tells it.

The matching of François Thisdale’s art with Melanie Florence’s text is wondrous.  As poignantly as he used mixed media (digital and drawn images) in earlier texts (The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012; That Squeak by Carolyn Beck, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015), François Thisdale fluidly bridges the concrete world of a little girl and her nôhkum with the ethereal one of her mother.  His choice of colours and the ability to enrich stark outdoor scenes of yards and forests and simply furnished indoor rooms create ghostly landscapes that epitomize the shadows of a girl's longing for her mother, a mother lost but never, never forgotten.

Missing Nimâmâ is a haunting story of lives lost and lived and shared, beautifully rendered in words and art.  Expect to see this one on award lists in the near future.

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