December 01, 2020

Raven, Rabbit, Deer

Written by Sue Farrell Holler
Illustrated by Jennifer Faria
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
November 2020

At its heart, Raven, Rabbit, Deer is a story about a grandfather and young grandson taking a walk in the snow. But simple pleasures and company are often bigger than they might appear, and that can be said for Raven, Rabbit, Deer as well. 

Though it is understood that the little boy is in the care of his elder, it's obvious that it's the child who is directing this day. He plops his boots on his grandfather's lap to suggest they go for a walk and he holds Grandpa's hand to ensure the older man's safety. Still, it's what his grandfather has to share that makes their hike all the more mutual.
From Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illus. by Jennifer Faria
When they spot a raven, Grandpa tells the boy its name in English but also in Ojibwemowin, an Algonquian language. The boy takes note of the bird and what it looks like and the sounds it makes but just relishes making footprints and kicking snow. When they see marks in the snow different than their own, Grandpa says only, "Rabbit" and then "Waabooz" before the little boy is hopping.  And when deer appear in the woods, the child tries to count but, in mittens, it's near impossible. Fortunately, his grandfather can tell him that there are five waawaashkeshi.
From Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illus. by Jennifer Faria
Still, when they see the tracks of a bird, the child correctly repeats the word for raven. He is mistaken however–the tracks are of a much smaller sparrow–but it's another teachable moment.

Finally the two return home, the elder to watch as the little one plays in the snow, until they both come in from the cold for cookies, a read and a snuggly nap together.
From Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illus. by Jennifer Faria
Though Raven, Rabbit, Deer is culturally informative with its inclusion of Ojibwemowin, author Sue Farrell Holler has not created it as a picture book of vocabulary as much as a story of a touching inter-generational relationship. As grandfather and grandson walk and chat, they each give and take something different and yet together. The child finds everything about outdoors magical, recognizing the "snow shower that tickles my face and creeps cold down my neck" to trudging up the hill like tractors, making the letter "V" repeatedly with their boots, to the rabbit tracks that "look like two hot dogs with two marshmallows in the middle." The child sees the wonder of the natural world while the grandfather sees its reality, instead appreciating the wonder of his grandson's perspective. By focusing on the relationship and the sensory nature of that walk, Sue Farrell Holler makes Raven, Rabbit, Deer more personal and less informative than it could have been by another pen.

Similarly, debut picture book illustrator Jennifer Faria takes that heartfelt relationship and organic walk in a winter park and makes it into something warm and embracing. I defy young readers not to feel the cold and the damp of that walk and play and the glow of the hospitality of those cookies and fire. Using acrylic paint and coloured pencil, Jennifer Faria has given Raven, Rabbit, Deer a boldness of colour and shape but with an understated edge that complements Sue Farrell Holler's story and intensifies it.
In Raven, Rabbit, Deer, or gaagaagi, waabooz, waawaashkeshi as would be in Ojibwemowin, Sue Farrell Holler and Jennifer Faria have let us enjoy an outing with a grandfather and his grandson and feel the warmth of that harmonious connection between people and with place.

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Look for my interview tomorrow with author Sue Farrell Holler and illustrator Jennifer Faria about this new picture book.

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