Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Still This Love Goes On and Monique Gray Smith’s I Hope/nipakosêyimon offer parents and teachers excellent options for cheerful, lovingly illustrated Indigenous-authored picture books. They are well suited for reading – or, in the case of Still This Love Goes On, singing – aloud. The authors of both books have created opportunities for readers to engage with the text on a deeper level, whether that be through music, through the incorporation of Indigenous language, or by posing a question. These stories walk the line of cultural specificity and broad relatability, offering readers multiple ways to connect to the narrative.
Still This Love Goes On, illustrated by award-winning Cree-Métis author-illustrator Julie Flett, showcases Cree culture and lifeways. Flett combines landscapes, evocative depictions of animals, and images of Indigenous individuals and families. The collage-like illustrations carefully animate the lyrics of Oscar-winning Cree songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song on which the book is based. The back matter of Still This Love Goes On includes the musical score for the song, but even without musical accompaniment, the rhyming text of the book works especially well when read aloud and is perfect for bedtime reading. In addition to sheet music, notes from Sainte-Marie and Flett include reflections on how the book’s central theme – love – relates to the Cree language, even teaching readers how to say “I love you” and “We’ll see each other again” in Nêhiyawêwin, the most widely spoken Cree dialect, often referred to as Plains Cree.
Those interested in learning more about Nêhiyawêwin will find an excellent resource in I Hope/nipakosêyimon. I Hope/nipakosêyimon is a bilingual picture book in both English and Cree. (There’s also a French and Cree edition.) English and Nêhiyawêwin texts are featured simultaneously on each illustrated two-page spread. This presents the languages with equal weight, an important feature in a world that is still reckoning with settler colonialism and attempts to extinguish Indigenous languages. Children exposed to I Hope/nipakosêyimon will see Nêhiyawêwin given the same status as the two official languages of what is now Canada – a feature that is especially empowering for Cree readers.
Cree, Lakota, and Scottish author Monique Gray Smith’s care for the children reading the book is clear. The book outlines the hopes that adults have for the children in their care, then asks those children what hopes they have for themselves. Illustrator Gabrielle Grimard brings Gray Smith’s text to life with soft-edged depictions of children and adults. Grimard presents a diverse cast of characters, giving readers a chance to see a reflection of themselves and their experience in the book even if they are not Cree. The diversity of peoples in the illustrations means that not knowing Nêhiyawêwin is unlikely to be a barrier to entry.
Neither book comes with a pronunciation guide for the Nêhiyawêwin text included. Although there are resources available online to help with Nêhiyawêwin pronunciation, both books – especially I Hope/nipakosêyimon – would benefit from the inclusion of a brief pronunciation guide. This would help Cree language-learners, non-Cree readers, and children beginning to read by themselves as they work their way through the book. I Hope/nipakosêyimon is better suited for more advanced Nêhiyawêwin readers, as well as Cree parents and teachers who plan on reading to children to encourage their language learning.
I Hope/nipakosêyimon and Still This Love Goes On present Indigenous-centred views of universal experiences. This specificity, paired with the central themes of hope and love, give each work a broad appeal. They are excellent options for parents looking for something to read with their young children, and especially those looking for books by Indigenous authors.