________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Jenneli’s Dance.

Elizabeth Denny. Illustrated by Chris Auchter.
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2007.
44 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-894778-61-9.

Subject Heading:
Métis-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-6 / Ages 6-11.

Review by Janice Foster.

***1/2 /4


When it was Jenneli’s turn for show and tell, she stood up in front of the class with her new shoes. The kids in the class thought they were pretty and Jenneli felt special. She told her classmates that the shoes were given to her by her Grandma Lucee and explained what the shoes were for. A boy named Jack raised his hand,

“You got shoes for JIGGING?” he smirked. Jenneli could hear a few snickers. “What do you need THOSE for? It’s not like you’re running a race or anything!”

Readers of all ages will recognize the main character in Jenneli’s Dance. Jenelli is the child who doesn’t seem to excel at anything, the child who feels as if she isn’t good at anything. She is often the victim of bullying and teasing. Jennelli is shy and feels different from the other children at school. Her hair and skin are darker, her eyes are an unusual colour, and the bannock in her lunch is different from the bread in the other students’ lunches. She is also certain that other students are not even aware of her favourite music; fiddle music. No wonder Jennelli deals with low self-esteem.

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     Fortunately for Jenneli, her beloved Grandma Lucee teaches her the Métis Red River jig and instills in her a love of her Métis culture and heritage. Grandma’s entering her into a jigging contest at the Lakeside Fair causes Jennelli to feel scared but also excited. When she shows her classmates her dancing shoes, the students become interested in jigging, and Jennelli has the opportunity to show them how to do the steps which they discover are not as easy as they look. On the day of the contest, Jennelli has to rely on her own connection with the music to make the step changes. Not only does she dance well, but she wins the contest. For the first time, she discovers that she is good at something and that “being Métis made her feel like there was something special about her after all.”

     Jenneli's Dance is a story that illustrates the importance of recognizing and appreciating each other’s differences. It highlights the need to expose children to a broad range of skills, talents and cultural traditions in order to develop that appreciation of differences.

     Author Elizabeth Denny cleverly weaves her Métis heritage into a story that provides a realistic reading experience for the reader while presenting some interesting background on the Métis culture. While the story’s bullying hints at racism, the text focuses more on the lack of respect for the individual differences among peers.

     Although too lengthy for the early primary grades, the well-spaced, easy-to-read text is appropriate for young readers. The story lends itself to a shared reading experience for all elementary aged children in order to discuss the topics of self-esteem and cultural differences. Illustrator Christopher Auchter, a Haida artist and animator, provides full-page, colourful illustrations that accurately complement the text. His unique and expressive style of caricature drawings provides humour and interest to the story. A full-page explanation of the Red River jig at the end of the book provides historical information on this Métis tradition.

     Jenneli’s Dance, published by the indigenous publishing house Theytus Books, is a useful addition to enhance any school or public library’s cultural collection.

Highly Recommended.

Janice Foster is a recently retired teacher and teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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