________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 14. . . . December 8, 2017


The Sockeye Mother.

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson). Illustrated by Natasha Donovan.
Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press/Portage & Main Press, 2017.
32 pp., hc., eBook & PDF, $23.00 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55379-739-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55379-740-1 (eBook), ISBN 978-1-55379-741-8 (PDF).

Subject Headings:
Sockeye salmon-Life cycles-Juvenile literature.
Sockeye salmon-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.
Gitxsan Indians-British Columbia-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Digital Review Copy.



Miso’o, or sockeye, are one of the many species of salmon that call Xsan home. Although all species are valued, the Gitxsan prefer the flavour and number of sockeye that return to their spawning grounds every year. The cultures along Xsan, otherwise known as the Skeena River, flourish and shape their existence around the life cycle of this keystone species*. Little does this small sockeye fry know that its life cycle not only nourishes the people and the other beings along the watersheds, it is the whole reason the forests and landscapes exist. * A keystone species is one on which other species in an ecosystem depend.


The life cycle of the sockeye salmon is presented in this nonfiction picture book through the words of a Gitxsan writer and the paintings of a Métis illustrator. A vital resource for the Gitxsan, the salmon is briefly described in three sections from newly hatched fry in the early spring, through the late spring journey of second year smolts down the Skeena River to the ocean, to the return of the mature sockeye in August when they spawn and die. The adults provide food for people, bears and other animals, and their carcasses nourish the forest. On the final pages of the book, the author offers details of his Gitxsan ancestry and culture, and a sketched map shows the environment of the Skeena River area.

     The direct language includes a few Gitxsan words, e.g. for the seasons: wihlaxs is the Black Bear’s Walking Moon, or early spring; lasa ya’a is the Spring Salmon’s Returning Moon, or late spring; lasa lik’i’nxsw is the Grizzly Bear Moon, or fall spawning time. Putting all the Gitxsan words in italics would have highlighted them for the reader. New vocabulary is defined in inserts, e.g. “saliferous means containing lots of salt”. The language is mostly accessible for the target audience with the exception of one term, “innuendos” which could have been replaced with a simpler choice.

     The stunning, over sized images of salmon and grizzly on the cover are repeated throughout the book. The bright animated figures flow across double page spreads to create an impression of motion along the river. The bold orange/red and green salmon stand in brilliant contrast to the black of the rushing river, and a blend of blue/green used for the background (and end papers) of waving fronds of water weeds. One huge image of the grizzly eating a salmon almost leaps off the page in an impressive display of the reverence with which these animals are held.

     The Sockeye Mother will be a terrific addition to the titles already in the marketplace about the salmon story which is of such importance to west coast Indigenous people.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

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

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