________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 23. . . .February 19, 2010


Kawlija's Blueberry Promise.

Audrey Guiboche. Illustrated by Jim Kirby.
Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican, 2009.
40 pp., stapled, $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-894717-55-7.

Subject Heading:
Métis-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4



Kawlija was a seven-year-old Métis girl who had a huge imagination. She could speak Salteaux, Cree and Michif and also understand French. She spoke Salteaux to her dad and Cree to her mom. Life was always exciting and an adventure, but more so especially around blueberry time. The hardest part was waiting for her family to get ready.


Today, most Canadian adults expect little of most seven-year-old children other than that they go to school and play with their friends. Such was not the case for Kawlija who lived in the 1950s with her Salteaux father, Cree mother and her five-year-old brother, Chi-Jean, in the rural Manitoba community of Duck Bay. To make the money they needed to survive, the family followed a regular migratory cycle. Summer saw them travelling some 30 miles to the Kettle Hills via bush roads. There, the family lived in a tent and cooked over open fires. The adults' days were consumed by harvesting the wild blueberries in the Kettle Hills. Travelling via a wagon pulled by a team of horses, the family might take up to four days to reach their picking destination where they were joined by some fifteen other families. As well as picking blueberries in the summer, Kawlija's mother and father dug Seneca root. In the spring and fall, her parents worked at lumber camps, and in the winter Kawlija went to school while her father trapped.

internal art     Now that Kawlija has turned seven, her father says, "Mommy and I think it's time for you to learn to work with us and help us make money [by picking blueberries]." Kawlija readily agrees and tells her father that she will put aside her childhood behaviour of just eating the wild berries and that she will pick clean, that is, her boxes will have "no leaves, twigs or unripened fruit, but only 25 pounds of huge delicious, ripe dark blueberries." However, almost as soon as the family reaches their campsite, Kawlija forgets her promise and gorges on blueberries, and the next day, her first "official" day of berry picking, she again succumbs to temptation. Ashamed at her weakness, she confesses to her father who finds an age-appropriate solution.

      Unfortunately, the text of Kawlija's Blueberry Promise has a single typo, and it occurs at a critical point in the story's plot. After Kawlija's father has asked for her help and she has considered her response, Kawlija says:

"OK, Daddy, I promise. But does that mean I can't eat the blueberries?"

He looked at her and said, "Yes, he [sic] will. I knew you would understand, my girl. When you pick the berries, you will have to pick clean, too." (p. 19)

     When I first read this "Yes, he will" passage, I thought some text had been omitted and concluded that Kawlija's promise was that she would "pick clean." However, two text pages later, when I read about Kawlija's stuffing blueberries into her mouth, I realized that her promise was to pick the berries and not to eat them. At this point, I returned to p. 19 and recognized that the text should have read, "Yes, it will."

      A "Foreword" (which is accompanied by a partial map of Manitoba indicating the approximate locations of Duck Bay and the Kettle Hills) states: "This story is based on the true experiences of a Metis family from the community of Duick Bay, Man. in the 1950s." The foreword also explains that this activity of blueberry picking was not just part of a family's summer vacation campout, but, in fact, it formed an essential role in contributing to this family's annual income.

      Kirby's watercolour illustrations, which usually take up one page of each pair of facing pages, are acceptable, but they lack a certain vitality (although the omnipresent blueberries do look mouth-watering). Given that the book's contents are set some six decades ago, a more realistic, detailed illustration style might have more fully captured the feeling of the time period.


Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Editor’s note:
The publisher of Pemmican has informed CM that the typo noted in the review above has been corrected in a reprinting of Kawlija's Blueberry Promise.

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

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