Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Muinji’j Becomes a Man

by Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe, Clara Dunn, illus.

A trip for supplies becomes an unexpected challenge of strength and courage in this novel for middle readers. This simple and gentle story by first-time author Mi’sel Joe, chief of the only recognized band reserve in Newfoundland, offers a glimpse of Mi’kmaq life in Newfoundland early in the 20th century.

The plot centres on the first trip young Muinji’j is making to the big city with his grandfather for much-needed winter supplies. When illness weakens his grandfather, Muinji’j nurses the old man, learns to sail the canoe on his own, secures the family’s immediate future by trading well for their furs, and returns from the city unscathed.

While characterization and true suspense are slight and Muinji’j’s encounter with the city is brief and underdeveloped, Muinji’j Becomes a Man touches on the beliefs, practices, food, and medicines of the sub-Arctic hunter-gatherer culture. Muinji’j’s world is one of time measured in moons, morning prayers, and rivers that sing songs and tell stories of ancient people. Clara Dunn’s black-and-white sketches provide a visual sense of the characters and their life on the land. A glossary of 10 Mi’kmaq words used in the story would have been more helpful at the start of the book rather than the end. With its curriculum-friendly themes (native people, coming of age, and intergenerational relationships), its emphasis on strong values (respect for elders and nature, trust, acceptance of responsibility), and a humorous “he smells-she smells” encounter, Muinji’j Becomes a Man has appeal for teachers, parents, and children alike.