September 14, 2017

Stolen Words

Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press
978-1-77260-037-7
24 pp.
Ages 6-9
September 2017

A young girl's simple request of her grandfather to learn how to say a word in Cree reveals much about the system that stole his language from him and so many Aboriginal children but more about the affection and courage of those who have the grit to ensure those words do not remain silent or withheld forever.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
It's evident from the words and actions of the seven-year-old girl and her grandfather that their relationship is a cherished one.  She is exuberant from her day at school, pleased with what she's made and learned, and comforted with his attention as he escorts her home, holding her hand and carrying her backpack.  But when she asks, "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" his response is a lesson in history and one muted with hurt and needless shame.  As his granddaughter continues to ask "Where did they take them?", "Who took you away, Grandpa?" and "Where did they take you, Grandpa?", her grandfather tells the history, heartbreaking in the capture of the Aboriginal children's words like a raven in the cage of Gabrielle Grimard's grim illustrations of the residential school.
From Stolen Words
 by Melanie Florence
 illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
But his hurt and lack of words does not deter the child's curiosity or compassion, and she brings home a worn book titled "Introduction to Cree" so that together they might speak the language of home and release the formerly imprisoned language.

Nôsisim, he whispered.
Granddaughter.
The word felt familiar in his mouth.
It felt like his home. His mother.

As the grandfather reconnects with his past and makes a new connection with his young granddaughter, I wept for his loss, his family, his struggle and his courage to take steps forward. It's an emotionally charged series of interactions and memories that are pure Melanie Florence.  They will astound readers and sadden them, while encouraging healing and learning without shame or anger.  Her words, thankfully not stolen, make for leaps forward for those whose language was pilfered from them as vulnerable children. Gabrielle Grimard's illustrations are similarly strong and soft, taking the reader into the intimate relationship between a grandfather harbouring hurts and a child wanting to help.

Melanie Florence took on the gut-wrenching issue of missing Indigenous women in her award-winning picture book Missing Nimâmâ which was divinely illustrated by François Thisdale (Clockwise Press, 2015) and similarly addresses the emotional trauma of the residential schools in stifling language.  While the generations after the residential schools are still affected by their inconceivable legacy, the healing will come through them.  The grandfather's words may have been stolen but his loving granddaughter is the means by which they will be restored.
From Stolen Words 
by Melanie Florence 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

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