Majagalee: The Language of Seasons is a picture book that explores from a Gitksan perspective the four seasons on the northwest coast of what is currently British Columbia. Along with the contributions by Wet’suwet’en and Dakelh photographer Toonsa Jordana Luggi, Shawna Davis, the book’s author and illustrator, employs beadwork and hand-cut paper designs to bring her words to life.
Davis, who is Gitksan and Nisga’a, begins by contextualizing her use of beadwork as an expression of who she is – of her identity as an Indigenous person. Davis uses Majagalee to underscore the strong relationship between the Gitksan, the Nisga’a, and the land they come from. She incorporates Sim Algyax, the Gitksan language, throughout the book, along with pronunciation guides for each word. Her simple, evocative poetry is culturally specific, rooted in a deep love of the land and the people around her but it’s also relatable to readers of different backgrounds. The lyrical verse in Majagalee makes it an ideal read-aloud book.
The highlight of Majagalee is undoubtedly Davis’s intricate beadwork. It is combined with hand-cut paper, seasonal foliage, photographs, and even food to illustrate her poems. Each tableau is intricately tied to the text as Davis explores each of the seasons, focusing not only on nature and the land around her but also on the interconnectedness of the lives of the people and other living beings that share our world. Majagalee is in many ways a love letter – or love poem – to Davis’s home, the land, and the people she treasures.
Majagalee is an elevated concept book. It introduces readers to the seasons, the plants and animals of the Northwest Coast, Sim Algyax, Indigenous art, and the importance of all these things to Gitksan culture. Despite its apparent simplicity, Majagalee is a complex and brilliantly constructed book. It will appeal to Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers alike, and for teachers and parents, it serves as an outstanding example of a book that demonstrates the ongoing presence and beauty of Indigenous cultures in what is now known as Canada.