________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover Neekna and Chemai.

Jeannette C. Armstrong. Illustrated by Barbara Marchand.
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1994/2008.
42 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-894778-56-5.

Subject Heading:
Indians of North America-British Columbia-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Gail de Vos.

** /4


All things big and small move in a big circle; even the times we call winter, spring, summer and fall. One always comes back to winter as each year starts again. Winter is preparation time. It is during the moons of winter that we make clothing, tools, baskets and weapons for the next season. It is time to get things ready for the coming seasons. It is the same with those things we cannot see, but which are there just the same. Can you see a song? Can you see the wind? No, but when a person sings, you can see his smile. When the wind blows, you can see the flowers nod their heads.

internal art

This illustrated book is divided into four chapters, each focussing on one of the seasons in the life of the early Okanagan First Nations people, the first inhabitants of the southern interior of British Columbia and northern Washington. Armstrong has created two young girls as the protagonists of her story. The adventures of the two friends, along with the observations of Neekna in this first person narration, shape the rather didactic text. A major character and influence in the lives of the young girls is the elder, Tupa (great-grandparent) as she tells them stories and teaches lessons to become responsible and vital members of their community. On the final page of the book, Neekna realizes that these stories and teachings, and those told by the other women, are the essential ingredients in the education of her people. "I knew now why my Tupa, my grandma, and my mother knew so much. They were told stories by their old ones, just like I was being told. Someday, I would tell my grandchildren the very same things and they would tell their grandchildren." The book reinforces the traditional respect for elders as well as for all natural elements in their environment from the land itself to the living things that inhabit it.

     The water colour illustrations by Okanagan artist Barbara Marchand are straightforward, colourful and complementary to the storyline, adding a few elements not addressed in the text, itself. This is the third reprinting of Neekna and Chemai. It was first published in 1984 and then republished in 1991 with new illustrations. This second edition was reviewed by Patricia Fry for CM in October 1992. I have not seen the first two editions, but the proofreading error pointed out in Fry's review has been eliminated.

     Recommended for elementary school collections on First Nations people in British Columbia that do not have the earlier editions.


Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of eight books on storytelling and folklore.

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