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The Rainbow, the Midwife, and the Birds: 4 Dene Tales

by Raymond Yakeleya; Samantha Gibbon; Rich Théroux; and Antoine Mountain (ill.)

clockwise: Raymond Yakeleya, Rich Theroux, Samantha Gibbon, and Antoine Mountain

The Rainbow, the Midwife, and the Birds: 4 Dene Tales is an illustrated anthology of stories by Dene author Raymond Yakeleya. They include traditional Dene tales, personal stories from Yakeleya’s childhood, and a biography of his Granny Harriet – a midwife who helped birth hundreds of babies. Yakeleya’s stories are specific and grounded in his own lived experience, while also managing to be universal in their depiction of what it’s like to grow up. His stories are a mix of wonder, questioning, delight, and horror, combined with the teachings of his Elders. This combination highlights the life of Dene people in the modern world while sharing traditional cultural teachings with readers.

The book has three illustrators – Rich Théroux, Samantha Gibbon (Métis and Nehiyaw Iskwew, member of the Métis Nation of Alberta and a descendent of the Peayasis Band), and Antoine Mountain (Dene). In addition to his abstract, pastel artwork – used for both “Bird” stories – Mountain also provides the Dene translations for the book. Gibbon’s Woodlands style, in contrast to Mountain’s soft lines, is concrete and brightly coloured, vibrantly illustrating “The Midwife and the Spring of Life.” Théroux’s more realistic style opens the book with a mix of digital art and traditional illustrations that play with light and colour to echo the magic of Yakeleya’s “Flight Through the Rainbow.”

Each story incorporates a wide range of Dene vocabulary – from “rainbow” to “reincarnation.” Words are repeated across stories to reinforce learning for readers new to the language.

While the inclusion of simple vocabulary and the visual format may make The Rainbow, the Midwife, and the Birds seem like an ideal read-aloud picture book, the stories are definitely intended for an older audience. One of Yakeleya’s stories, “The Slingshot and the Songbird” recounts the accidental killing of a bird in great detail, and “The Midwife” discusses a young child who is killed by a pack of dogs. This content may be too visceral for younger audiences.

Although at times disjointed because of its anthology nature, The Rainbow, the Midwife, and the Birds would work exceptionally well in an educational setting, where further exploration and conversation about traditions, family stories, language, and lifeways could be discussed. Yakeleya has an admirable ability to convey Dene history and culture while simultaneously emphasizing the present-day existence of Dene people. The variety of art styles featured in the book also speaks to the plurality of Indigenous cultures. It is an unusual but well-crafted addition to a growing body of Indigenous literature for middle-grade readers.


Reviewer: Allison Mills

Publisher: Uproute


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 40 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-98882-457-4

Released: March

Issue Date: April 2023

Categories: Children and YA Fiction, Kids’ Books

Age Range: 8–12