CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 6. . . .October 9, 2015
The Song Within My Heart.
David Bouchard. Art by Allen Sapp. Featuring the music of Northern Cree. Cree translation by Steve Wood.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2015.
32 pp. (Includes CD), hardcover & Web PDF, $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88995-500-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55244-377-4 (PDF).
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Gail Hamilton.
A story is a sacred thing
That should be passed from age to youth
I choose to share my best with you
That you might own and share them too.
And never use anotherís tale
Unless he knows and he approves.
And only then and then alone
Might you tell it to others.
And much the same, the beating drum
It echoes that which is your soul
You seek a rhythm that is true
Of all the secrets that are you.
So much of what the drummer feels
Is clear with every beat you hear.
He bears it all, he cannot hide.
Heís sharing what he is inside.
Based on Cree elder and artist Allen Sappís childhood memories of life on a reserve in Saskatchewan, The Song Within My Heart tells of a young boy who is getting ready to go to a pow-wow. Woven throughout the story is the boyís close relationship with his Nokum (grandmother). When the boy has difficulty understanding the message in the drumbeats and peopleís singing, his grandmother patiently teaches him how to hear and to see. She imparts valuable life lessons about the songs and stories within a personís heart and the importance of passing them down to future generations. Grandmother also implores him to listen to the subtleties in the songs of others so that he might learn their message.
Bouchardís lyrical text, with its thoughtfully chosen words, evokes a quiet, introspective mood. Interspersed with the story are onomatopoeic words echoing the drumbeats and the chanting rhythms of the singers at the pow-wow. This is very effective in that readers will almost feel transported to the site of the pow-wow.
Sappís paintings, covering a period of time from 1985-2002, depict scenes on the reserve. Several are of the pow-wow, but most are simple scenes taken from daily life - his Nokum making bannock, feeding the chickens or peeling potatoes while the boy draws at the kitchen table. Richly textured and infused with an almost radiant light quality, the illustrations, mostly rendered in primary colours with neutral backgrounds, are painted from various vantage points. Capturing moments in time, they reinforce strongly the simplicity of life on a reserve, the significance of the pow-wow and, of course, the love between grandmother and grandson. A few black and white family photographs. as well as a note from the artist, give readers glimpses of Sappís life and his beliefs.
The Song Within My Heart was first published in 2002 and was the winner of the 2003 Governor Generalís Literary Award for English childrenís book illustration. In this redesigned version, a CD is included with the narrative in both English and Cree, with musical accompaniment provided by Northern Cree, a renowned pow-wow group. Their drumbeats and chanting lend authenticity to the story and are at once both mesmerizing and powerful.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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