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Heartbreakingly beautiful

Cover of Stolen Words
A review of Stolen Words by Melanie Florence
Gabrielle Grimard

Compared to other types of books, picture books are simple, short, and accessible -- but that doesn't make them any less impactful. On the contrary, sometimes the simplest stories hit the hardest. And this is definitely the case with Melanie Florence's Stolen Words.

It's one thing to learn about the injustice of the Indian residential schools -- those that abducted, assimilated, and abused Native children of the U.S. and Canada in the 19th and 20th century, in what we now recognize as a cultural genocide. But when I read this book about a family living in its aftermath, the understanding hit me like a wall. In this story, a child asks her grandfather how to say grandfather in Cree, only for him to answer, heartbroken -- "I don't know. I lost my words a long time ago." He explains how he lost his ancestral language in a Canadian residential school, with text that remains age-appropriate without sugarcoating, and haunting illustrations to match. Even on the book's cover, the grief is etched plainly on his face. When his granddaughter finds a way to help him recover what was lost, the joy and love between the two characters is palpable.

I absolutely cannot read this story without tearing up -- maybe because I'm in the process of recovering my own mother tongue. Coming from Melanie Florence, a celebrated Cree author who has included an extensive backmatter treating Cree words with the nuance it deserves, this book is a must-read.

--reviewed by Darvin

Nov 28, 2023