CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 12 . . . .February 8, 2008
The Little Duck = Sikihpsis.
Beth Cuthand. Illustrated by Mary Longman. Cree by Stan Cuthand.
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1996/2006.
28 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
Cree Indians-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-9.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
Every day the little duck would fly over the camp. Every day the little duck wished that he was tall and handsome like those Cree men.
Theytus Books is establishing an admirable reputation as a leading publisher of quality First Nation books for young readers. The Little Duck = Sikihpsis is a worthy addition to the Theytus collection. The Little Duck = Sikihpsis is essentially a Cree Ugly Duckling story, and it will appeal to young children and their parents.
Little Duck lives all alone in a muddy swamp close to a camp of Plains Cree People. When he observes the Crees' beauty and grace, the lonely duck decides he would like to be a Plains Cree dancer. He decorates himself, weaving bright green leaves into a wreath to wear as a headdress. The little duck also ties cattail leaves to his tail feathers and paints his face and chest with clay and salt. "If he couldn't be tall, at least he could be handsome," the little duck figures. Unfortunately, when the duck begins to dance, he constantly finds himself trampled beneath the feet of the other dancers. "I'll never be a Cree," the little duck cries. "I'll always be lonely."
The Little Duck = Sikihpsis is an engaging story with almost universal appeal. Because the desire to fit in with one's surrounds is of importance to most people, the story transcends cultural boundaries and should not be thought of as being a story only for First Nation People. Rather, regardless of our cultural backgrounds, the book contains the important message that we should be striving to improve our sense of self-worth.
The Little Duck = Sikihpsis was originally published in 1999. I am delighted that Theytus has provided the book for CM review because it is a quality publication. The book won a 2007 IP: Independent Publisher Book Award bronze medal and, in my opinion, is worthy of such recognition and acclaim.
Mary Longman's illustrations have a pastel-like appearance. Longman has chosen a stunningly bright colour palette, and it makes for interesting and eye-catching artwork. Although the duck protagonist is described as a little mud duck, the bird depicted in the illustrations is actually a Surf Scoter, which is a large sea duck. I have occasionally heard Northern Shovelers and American Coots referred to as mud ducks, but I do not think of Surf Scoters as mud ducks, and so I do wonder at why Longman elected to depict the protagonist as a Surf Scoter. This is, however, my only criticism of the attention-grabbing illustrations.
The text is presented in English and in Cree. 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. Beth Cuthand is the author of the English text. Cuthand is a Cree writer. Although it is not explicitly stated, I expect that her story is likely the retelling of a traditional Cree story. Stan Cuthand provided the Cree translation. At the end of the book, there is also a double page spread of symbols. I wonder if those end pages are a more traditional, non-English, rendition of Cree writing. I would have liked to see Theytus include some explanation of these symbols.
Theytus Books publishes quality books for children, and all concerned should be proud of their efforts with the production of this book. I recommend The Little Duck = Sikihpsis. This book is one that parents will enjoy sharing with their young children over and over again.
Gregory Bryan, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, teaches literacy education and children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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