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Friday, March 23, 2018

Stolen Words, written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. Second Story Press, 2017. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"He looked down at her sadly. I don't remember, he answered. I lost my words a long time ago. A frown clouded her face. How do you lose those words, Grandpa? she asked. They took them away, he answered. She thought for a moment. Where did they take them, she asked."

What can you tell your granddaughter when she asks a question you should be able to answer, but cannot. Grandpa does not remember the word for grandfather in the language of his people - Cree.

How does he tell her the story of his life without confusing her. She is only seven. When he says he can't remember, she doesn't understand how he could 'lose his words'. Her questions are so heartfelt. Her grandfather gently answers the questions she asks, hoping to help her understand. He explains that he and the other children were punished for using their own words ... until they could no longer remember them.

His sadness is unmistakeable and his granddaughter does her best to soothe him. Following that conversation, she decides to find a way to make things better. At school the following day, she is helped to find something very special.

"She stopped in front of him and took a deep breath.
Tanisi, nimosom, she said. His eyes widened. 
She smiled brighter than the sun.
I found your words, Grandpa, she said."
From her book bag she produces a paperback  copy of Introduction to Cree. What a wondrous gift it is!

Ms. Florence's text is a comforting way to share with younger readers the losses felt by those who were forced to attend Residential Schools as children. Gabrielle Grimard's emotional renderings of the intergenerational relationship, and the sad circumstances of Nimosom's childhood add substance to the text. Using sepia tones for scenes from the past and more colorful ones for the present make for memorable, touching moments.

It is a story of love and hope about a subject that has relevance for all, and fully impacts readers. It will be a long process for Grandpa to recover what has been lost, but it is an unforgettable beginning.

If you are looking for other books for young readers, you might try:

When We Were Alone (Highwater, 2017)
Shi-shi-et-ko (Groundwood, 2005)
Shin-Chi's Canoe (Groundwood, 2008)
When I Was Eight (Annick, 2013)
Not My Girl (Annick, 2014)

and for older readers:

Fatty Legs (Annick, 2010)
A Stranger At Home (Annick, 2011)

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