[Monday Reading] Decolonizing Encounters and Reclaiming First Nations Views Of Their Natural Environment in Picturebooks for Children


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

Encounter (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Brittany Luby Illustrated by Michaela Goade
Published by Little Brown Books For Young Readers (2019)
ISBN: 0316449180 (ISBN13: 9780316449182) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

In this picturebook, award-winning historian Brittany Luby, of Anishinaabe descent from Canada, reimagines what a random, unexpected encounter could be like between a French explorer, Jacques Cartier, and a native inhabitant in what is now called Gaspe Bay in North America. In this fictional, reconceptualized version of the encounter, the French explorer is “Sailor” while the long-haired, brown-skinned inhabitant of this pristine bay is “Fisher.”

Rather than perceive each other immediately as a threat, they were more curious about each other’s clothing, language, food. I appreciated the way other creatures had been anthropomorphised in the narrative, and the contrast between the animals’ astute observations of how these two men are similar despite their outward appearances, and how the two men were thinking of just how different they are from each other.

The highlight of this story is the powerful Author’s Note and Historical Note towards the end, explaining the idea behind the creation of the story:

I wrote Encounter to provide an alternative view of Cartier’s visit. This peaceful encounter does not forgive Jacques Cartier for his violent actions. Instead, it reminds us that violence is a choice. It also shows us that everyday people, like Sailor, can participate in systems that hurt others.

This alternative story is a reshaping of what could have been, the possibilities afforded us through every encounter we make, and the choice to make subsequent encounters non-violent, as we all try to live with and respect each other.

Snow Angel, Sand Angel (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Lois-Ann Yamanaka Illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky
Published by Make Me A World (2022, first published 2021) ISBN: 0593127382 (ISBN13: 9780593127384) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Claire and her brother, Timbo, were asked by their teacher, Mrs. Kurokawa to create a diorama about the seasons as part of their school lessons. Claire was randomly assigned the season she most dreaded: winter. She lives in a tropical island, Hawaii, and has never seen snow in her life. How could she possibly create a diorama about snow?

Her father, however, told her that there is snow in Hawaii – and that he would take the family to Mauna Kea after the storm to witness and touch real snow; except it isn’t the kind of snow that Claire was expecting.

Rather than soft, fluffy, and powdery like clouds, the snow was more like blocks of ice. Instead of actual mittens, these tropical children had to make do with old socks; and an old beach towel cut in half for their scarves. It does not resemble anything that Claire has seen on movies or read on books about snow or winter at all.

I could understand Claire’s grumbling, being a tropical girl myself. Snow has been romanticized by people who never have to deal with the muck and grime snow creates afterwards; not to mention the shoveling that needs to be done when it gets several inches high. I am more used to floods from monsoon rains, but like Claire, snow is alien to me.

I appreciated Claire’s parents’ forebearance as they demonstrate how snow can be legitimately experienced and appropriated by tropical islanders, without necessarily having to pontificate about it. Instead they had fun in creating a sand angel while lounging around on the beach – a tropical version of a snowman that is distinctly theirs. In a flash, Claire realizes the beauty of all that she has, right there, in her own backyard.

It is amazing how much of our views are shaped by a very colonial lens, and that shifting our gaze to fully appreciate the beauty of all that we are is vital to reclaiming our hybrid identities.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 83/84 out of target 100

August 22, 2022 at 06:32AM Myra Garces-Bacsal