Stand Like A Cedar
Nicola I. Campbell | Highwater Press (Winnipeg, 2021)
$19.95 | 40pp
During the current pandemic, many of us have rediscovered the joys of reading, and especially the pleasures of reading aloud with our children and grandchildren (readings sadly too often on FaceTime or Zoom).
Many families will be on the hunt for new children’s books this year, and just in time for that search B.C. author Nicola I. Campbell has published a lovely new work, Stand Like A Cedar.
Campbell, the award-winning author of Shi-shi-etko, Shin-chi’s Canoe, Grandpa’s Girls and A Day with Yayah, tells simple stories of families exploring the natural world in this tender little book. Beautifully illustrated by Carrielynn Victor (like the author, descended from Indigenous ancestors) the book invites the reader along on these journeys of discovery, as the characters walk, paddle, observe and learn to “stand like a cedar.”
The closing lines read:
“We are Indigenous. / We love to run, paddle our canoes, dance and play. / When we need to remember our promises, / we stand like cedar trees / hands raised to the sky. / We are grateful for all living things.”
But Stand Like A Cedar is more than an exquisitely illustrated picture book, and more than a tender evocation of the joys of nature and family. It is a celebration of Indigenous language, allowing the reader (or young listener) to learn a few words and phrases from languages that have been spoken on Indigenous territories for millennia. The book introduces us to elements from a few of the 34 distinct language groups that flourished in what we now call British Columbia and provides a glossary and guide to pronunciation.
None of this apparatus is cumbersome or over-earnest. While the book has important points to make about the rich treasures of meaning and reference that lie in every language, and implicitly argues that we should all be concerned with preserving and renewing the Indigenous languages that have been driven to the edge of extinction by Canadian colonialism, these points are made elegantly and in the context of a story and illustrations that will appeal to both children and adults.
Every human language embodies the lived experience of the people who speak it, and when we force languages to die we destroy the distinct world views and unique poetries of those tongues. Stand Like A Cedar is both a reminder of those losses and a lovely act of resistance against such colonial erasure.
Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He looks forward to reading this book and others to grandchildren and great-grandchildren in person again someday. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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