A small girl in Alberta spends time with her grandmother whom she refers to in Blackfoot as Naaahsa. Her grandmother is an artist and together they use their imaginations to create – beading, cooking, storytelling, and painting. For her grandmother, who once attended residential school where she was forbidden from speaking Blackfoot, creating art is how she lifts her spirit. One day, grandmother takes her granddaughter to Ottawa to attend the opening of her exhibit at the National Gallery. Her granddaughter takes note of the fancy hotel, the pastries at the market, and the enormous spider resting outside the gallery. She is proud of her grandmother and wishes to follow in her footsteps. More than that, she is simply happy to be with her grandmother and to feel so loved.
Children will be drawn in by Hali Heavy Shield’s illustrations. Bold shapes and soft colours bring a quiet magic to the story. A cat leaps over a goldfish bowl, a small girl in a patterned dress paints a rainbow as big as herself, and two children hold each other close outside the stark walls of a residential school. This story is deceptively simple. Readers will feel the safe and comforting presence of the narrator’s grandmother and her strong connection with her granddaughter as they cook and sing and paint, conjuring something out of nothing each time.Nevertheless, this is also a story with depth, about maintaining connection to the past through a spoken language – Blackfoot. At residential school, a defiant whisper in Blackfoot says so much: “Kitsiikákomimm. I love you.”
That art can act as a common language of connection underpins Shield’s story. Young children may be inspired to use their own imaginations to create something new.