________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 15 . . . . March 16, 2007


Nokum is My Teacher.

David Bouchard. Paintings by Allen Sapp. Singing and Drumming by Northern Cree.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2006.
32 pp., pbk., $24.95.
Accompanied by an audio CD.
ISBN 0-88995-367-8.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4


I love the way you teach me

Through your stories and your songs.

I don’t need books to learn, do I?

Please tell me, am I wrong?

A young Aboriginal boy turns to his grandmother—his Nokum—to convey his disillusionment with the school system of the “white world,” where the answers are not found in the “the wispy, tender birch” or “on a snowy path in darkness on a starlit night.” Nokum patiently allows the boy to express his frustrations before she gently and humbly leads him toward recognition of the value of “white world” learning. With Nokum’s help, the boy sees how school learning need not be at odds with—but rather, augment—the knowledge he derives from his traditional Cree lifestyle.

     David Bouchard is firmly established as one of Canada’s finest storytellers, and he further enhances his reputation with this book. Bouchard’s awareness of the tensions between the boy’s school and home lives is indicative of deep understanding. It is also likely reflective of his own Métis heritage. Learning to read can be challenging enough, but far more so when one sees little purpose in the pursuit. Bouchard skillfully captures the sense of disillusionment and irrelevance that many children attach to the task of learning to read.

     Allen Sapp’s oil on canvas illustrations are richly textured and lend much to the lyrical text. Sapp is a Cree Elder, and his exterior winter scenes are especially powerful in capturing the harshness of the northern winter and in reflecting the hardiness required of a People who for centuries have survived in such challenging surroundings. The paintings represent a subtle means of adding weight to the boy’s argument about the quality of his traditional learning.

     In the copy that I am reviewing, the textual pages are divided into two columns, with the text in one column presented in English and, in the other column, in the Cree language. Even for English-only readers such as me, the presence of the Cree text adds to the appeal, authenticity and educative potential of the book. The publisher’s note states that the book is also available in a French and Cree combination.

     Further adding to the value of the purchase, a bilingual English and Cree audio recording is enclosed. The Compact Disc contains a reading of the story in English, then Cree, to the accompaniment of the aboriginal drumming group, Northern Cree. Northern Cree have recorded 27 CDs and have twice received nominations for a Grammy Award. Their participation in this collaboration caps off what represents the fruit of some of Canada’s finest creative talent. 


Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children’s literature classes in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

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

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