Reconciliation is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately, but it can be hard to explain it to our children. We can give them the dictionary definition about “the restoration of friendly relations,” or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s version, which is “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.” While the Commission’s definition goes onto call for acknowledgement, atonement, and action, neither definition really explains what that looks like.
This is where books, like You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith or Residential Schools: The Devastating Impact on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Findings and Calls for Action by Melanie Florence.
Residential Schools by Melanie Florence (James Lorimer, 2016) is filled with pictures, facts, and personal stories about the schools. The book goes into detail about life before the schools, the way children were taken from their parents, what happened at the schools, and the residual effects these individuals and communities experience. It’s a great book for anyone who wants to learn about our country’s history, because the only way for us to acknowledge the harm that was caused is to know what actually took place. For ages 12 to 17.
Encounter by Brittany Luby and illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tundra, 2019) is a fictional story about a meeting between an Aboriginal man and a sailor from Jacques Cartier’s expedition. These two men notice their differences—especially the difference in languages—but all of creation reminds them that they both share many similarities too.
Luby wrote Encounter to create a new way of looking at the arrival of Cartier—a version where he did not discover North America, but visited it. She does not want her story to forgive Cartier for his actions, but to remind us that there were friendly meetings and that our actions (good or bad) are a choice. For ages 2 to 6.
Dragonfly Kites by Tomson Highway and illustrated by Julie Flett (Fifth House, 2016) is a bilingual book that is written in both English and Cree. The story is about two Cree brothers and their summer trips in Northern Manitoba. Cody and Joe don’t have access to electronics while they are exploring so they make up their own games and choose different animals to be their pets, including dragonflies. For ages 4 to 7.
Another bilingual book is A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell and Julie Flett (Tradewind, 2017). In this book a family gathers mushrooms and other plants. Along the way their Yayah or grandmother teaches them and her readers to speak N?e?kepmxcín, which is one of the languages of the Interior Salish peoples. For 4 to 7.
There are other ways we can help heal the wounds of the past. We can learn about and appreciate Indigenous art and culture, and we can change our own actions to hold each other up. You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Danielle Daniel (Orca, 2017) breathes life into the ways we can change our behaviours. It shows children how they can stand with other people by singing with them, being kind to them, listening to them and more. But it also reminds us that this is a cyclical relationship, because by doing these things we actually hold each other up. For ages 2 to 6.
Sockeye Silver, Saltchuck Blue by Roy Henry Vickers with words by Robert Budd (Harbour, 2019) teaches children the colours of the West Coast. This book is filled with magnificent illustrations by Indigenous artist Roy Henry Vickers, that will cause children to pause on every page to look at all of the details on the pages that seem quite simple at first glance until the light catches the pages just right and reveals the hidden images. For ages 0 to 2.
I Am Dreaming Of…Animals of the Native Northwest by Melaney Gleeson-Lyall and illustrated by many First Nations and Native artists (Native Northwest, 2017) introduces children to different animals of the Northwest like ravens, otters, and eagles with stunning traditional images. For ages 0 to 2.
I hope these books help you and your children learn about and appreciate Indigenous art, history, languages and cultures. And for those of you who are curious, almost every author and illustrator in this month’s list are Aboriginal.
Christina Van Starkenburg is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. You can read about their adventures at thebookandbaby.com.