________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 14 . . . . December 9, 2016


When the Trees Crackle With Cold: A Cree Calendar : PĪSIMWASINAHIKAN.

Bernice Johnson-Laxdal & Miriam Körner. Illustrated by Miriam Körner.
Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-927756-84-3.

Kindergarten-grade 5 / Ages 5-10.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4




Feather-Moulting Moon

    When the waterfowl's feathers
        float in the summer breeze,

            we smoke fish
                nikaskāpaswānānak kinosēwak

                    at summer camp.

While the Gregorian calendar, i.e., January 1-December 31, is the calendar that enjoys the most widespread use today, it is not the only way of structuring a year. Another approach is that of the lunar year, the period of 12 lunar months (354.367 days). In When the Trees Crackle With Cold, Johnson-Laxdal and Körner present a traditional Cree moon calendar. Each month is treated via two pages with one page bearing the month's text, supported by two small illustrations, while the facing page contains Körner's full-page, full-colour illustrations. As can be seen in the above excerpt, the text begins with the name of the Gregorian calendar month. Below it is the Cree name, written in the northern Plains Cree y-dialect, of the corresponding lunar month. The English prose that follows describes an activity that would likely (and traditionally) occur during this month. What is unclear is whether or not the Cree translation is of the entire English section or just the bolded words.

      Körner's illustrations are an essential component of this book, and she has placed her work in a contemporary Northern Saskatchewan setting. For example, in the above excerpt, July found "we" at "summer camp", but this was not the recreational setting that many urban children may attend/be sent to during summer holidays. Körner's "summer camp" is a temporary lakeside "working" camp in which an entire family camps out while collectively catching, cleaning and smoking fish for later use. Her detailed illustrations invite repeated viewings and contain within them mini-stories calling for release by imaginative readers.

      Bernice Johnson-Laxdal certainly has the credentials for co-authoring When the Trees Crackle With Cold, as she "is a First Nation Cree language and culture teacher with over twenty years of teaching experience." [Promotional piece] Miriam Körner, although originally from Germany, is now a neighbour of Bernice's in Potato Lake in Northern Saskatchewan.

      The "Introduction" notes that:

In Northern Saskatchewan, the Cree people were spread over a vast area and the moon calendar differs according to the region. In the northern territory of the Woodland Cree, for example, the season of freeze-up comes earlier and winters are longer. In the regions of the Northern Plains Cree and Swampy Cree further south, break-up comes earlier and summers last longer.

      The "Introduction" also explains that there are three dialects of Cree that are spoken in Northern Saskatchewan and that the y-dialect, which is spoken in Johnson-Laxdal's home community, was selected for this book. However, to be inclusive of these different versions of Cree, there are plans to create "e-books with audio recordings of the Cree words spoken by the Elders in th- [sic], n-, and y-dialects…."

      Three pages of end material include a guide to "CREE CONSONANTS & VOWELS", a "CREE MOON PRONUNCIATION GUIDE", and an illustration of the six seasons of a Cree calendar year, which sees Break-Up being inserted between Spring and Summer and Freeze-Up being found between Fall and Winter.

      When the Trees Crackle With Cold is not just an informative glimpse into how another culture has structured its year, but it is also an invitation to reexamine "our" own year. For instance, what new names might a school student, a professional hockey player or a farmer give to the months of the year, and would their year have fewer or more than four seasons? Early Years and Elementary school libraries, as well as public libraries, should add this book to their collections.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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