Stolen Words

Stolen Words / kimotinâniwiw itwêwina

By Melanie Florence
Gabrielle Grimard (Illustrations)
Dolores Sand (Translation)
Publisher: Second Story Press; Dual language (English & Cree) edition
Publication Date: September 17, 2019


This is a very poignant story, a story of a little girl asking her grandfather how to say a certain word in his Cree language. However, he is saddened because he does not remember his language, it has been stolen from him as a young boy. This story introduces to young readers the brutality of Native Canadian history, though in a profoundly artistic way, of their residential school system which was created for “the purpose of removing Indigenous children from the influence of their own culture and assimilating them into the dominant Canadian culture, ‘to kill the indian in the child’” (Wikipedia).

“Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends.”

“How do you say ‘grandfather’ in Cree?”

The story and the artwork/illustrations blend harmoniously to create this beautiful yet emotional tale. The story takes you into an emotional roller-coaster ride from a happy, care-free day after school, to an anguishing moment when the grandfather retells his story of younger days. The most haunting image depicts sad, young Cree boys in residential school having their words taken away from them portrayed as a bird flying out of their mouths and it being locked up in a cage by the white man.

Stolen Words Children's Book
“They took our words and locked them away”

The little girl comforted her grandfather by giving him the dreamcatcher that she had made and presenting him with a gift the next day. She gave him a book, a book that consisted of the words he had lost. As he turned the pages, he whispered the words and they “felt familiar in his mouth.” And, as though they have been imprisoned within the pages, the words broke free from their cage as he uttered them once again.

I loved this book. I love books that are bilingual in that they tell the same story in two different languages. In the United States, we can learn something from this narrative. Where, with at least 350 languages are spoken (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015), I believe that it is important to integrate these languages in our schools and our daily lives, especially in children’s books, because they tell the story of our cultures and the history of how we became a nation presently.

Images copyright: Melanie Florence and Gabrielle Grimard, Second Story Press. I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #KimotināniwiwItwêwinaStolenWords #NetGalley

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