CM . . . . Volume XX Number 13 . . . . November 29, 2013
Storyteller, author and educator Leanne Simpson has produced a valuable compilation of 21 tales from her Nishnaabeg culture, with all but one having been previously published. The one exception is a tale created by Simpson for her own children and which points to the importance of nourishing and protecting the land. I am writing this review after the first serious snowfall of the season, feeling that I am honouring the intent of the tales and the teller in following the established practice, for some people, in sharing the tales only in the winter. "The wintertime is a good time to do this [tell stories] because the spirits are farther away from the earth and there is less chance of embarrassing any of the beings that guide me through my life." (p. 5). Simpson explains, briefly, storytelling traditions among her people, including a note on the use of interchangeable gender terminology in the tales. For an example of this, please see the second excerpt, above, from the tale "Want".
Simpson's impetus for the collection, as stated in the introduction, "is to liberate a few of them from the colonial contexts in which they are too often documented – in which we see the marginalization and subjugation of female characters and spirits, a focus on hierarchy and authoritarian power, and an overly moral and judgmental tone." (p.3) She has effectively fulfilled her aim with stories that wander from the familiar, such as the pourquoi tale about the bat from the story of the ball game between the animals and birds and trickster tales, through to those that may not be as frequently heard outside of their traditional story circles. Demonstrated in the two excerpts above, Simpson has not couched the tales in antiquated or formal language but has incorporated the mainstream culture of today – popular culture mingled with pithy wisdom from the stories that embrace and embellish the teachings reflecting their established power for today's listeners and readers of all ages. The orality present in all of the offerings has the words and images rolling effortlessly off the tongue (and eyes), with the exception, perhaps of the Anishinaabe terminology liberally peppered in the tales and satisfactorily identified in a note after each tale. These terms are, for the most part, the names of animals, the seasons, and place names. The stories have been selected, honed and told by the author many times before they were written down and are presented with sly humour, respect and awareness of a long storytelling tradition continuing into the present. The stories vary in their length, their tone, their concrete presentation (several are structured as long narrative poems), and all are relevant to today, not only for the Anishinabe children but for all citizens of western society.
Sprinkled throughout the book are full-page black-and-white ink drawings which bring a sense of unity to the book. The stories are framed by the valuable introduction and the four pages of acknowledgements and two pages of resources for further reading at the end. My only quibble is that, while Simpson does acknowledge from the onset that she has heard and retold these tales numerous times, she does not offer specific sources for them but rather thanks the countless storytellers that have both preceded her and continue to keep the stories alive and fresh. The stories, as she explains in the introduction, "carry within them our political traditions and our most deeply held collective values", and the responsibility of the storytellers is to plant the seeds contained within the stories to nourish the children of today (p. 2). This is truly a gift in the making.
The Gift is in the Making is a book for all public library collections and middle school, junior high and high school collections.
Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and San Jose State University. She is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.