________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


Goose Girl.

Joe McLellan & Matrine McLellan. Illustrated by Rhian Brynjolson.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican, 2007.
40 pp., stapled, $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-894717-44-1.

Subject Headings:
Geese-Juvenile fiction.
Cree Indians-Juvenile fiction.
Canada, Northern-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

***½ /4


"Sit here, Niskaw, this is my father's grave."

Mishoom fed Niskaw from the plate that they had brought.

"Eat this," Mishoom said, "for your ancestors. The geese have taken their spirits to the promised land. You will do their work now and the work of the geese. This is how you will help our people."

Mishoom took the tobacco from the plate and put Niskaw's hand on his. Together they placed the tobacco on the grave as an offering to their ancestors.

Pemmican Publications has published a number of books by Joe and Matrine McLellan in the Nanabosho series of books. The McLellans' latest Pemmican book, Goose Girl, is a departure from the Nanabosho series, but it retains the same First Nation story-telling focus. Fans of the Nanabosho books will be delighted with Goose Girl because the McLellans take their story-telling craft to a higher level in this book. The almost poetic text is written with a style consistent with an oral narrative. Together with Rhian Brynjolson's beautiful illustrations, the text enables one to liberate the imagination, freeing it to roam and explore the possibilities suggested by Goose Girl.

internal art

     In Goose Girl, a young Métis girl, Marie, loves to walk to the lake every evening to watch the Canada Geese. Marie develops a special bond with the geese. "They were her family. They were her friends. They were her babies," the McLellans write. Marie is taught that the geese carry the spirits of the departed to the land of promise. Recognising the special bond that Marie has with the geese, the Elders give Marie a new name, Niskaw. The new name enables Marie to share the teachings and the healings of the geese with Marie's people.

     Readers will be interested to see that Cree words and phrases occasionally are incorporated into the narrative, but these words are then repeated in English. For those unfamiliar with the language, the narrative flow need not be interrupted to try to pronounce the Cree words, but the presence of those words adds to the interest and educational value of the story. I feel the presence of the Cree words also adds to the authenticity of the story.

     Rhian Brynjolson's illustrations are an eye-catching feature of the book. The paintings include a mixture of almost photographically realistic images and symbolic, stylized depictions. To me, this subtle mixture is reflective of a blend of the Earthly and the spiritual plains, entirely consistent with that blend existent in the McLellans' writing. The artistic mixture is perhaps also suggestive of how thin is the veil that separates the terrestrial and the spiritual spheres in the lives of some people. Certainly, that veil seems especially thin in the life of the story protagonist, Niskaw. Text and illustrations also blend the natural and human worlds in an interesting manner, and it was with repeated readings that I was able to derive more and more from the book.

     I should also note that some of the Brynjolson paintings are suggestive of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. One suspects that Brynjolson has been influenced and/or inspired by their work.

     Pemmican Publications is to be congratulated on a lovely publication.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan lives in Winnipeg, MB. He teaches children's literature in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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