Looks Like Daylight

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Mirroring the themes in many of her award-winning fiction novels, Deborah Ellis’ non-fiction book “Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids” is a powerful portrait of the children often marginalized by our own society. A collection of personal stories written first-hand by forty-five First Nations youths from across North America, Ellis provides a forum for each individual to have their voice heard without restriction. As a result, we encounter a wide range of stories – from the genuinely heart-breaking to the absolutely inspiring.

As I am sure many of your will agree with, this book was emotionally heavy but so is the history of Indigenous peoples in North America. It’s a history that includes many atrocities and great oppression. There is valid reason for pain that resides in these pages but reading about rampant drug-use, suicides, and foster homes is just one side of the coin. There are also great moments of beauty including sacred cultural traditions, family strength, and redeeming spiritual faith.

Several of these stories have stayed with me: I think of Pearl and her Fancy Shawl dancing, Cohen eating homemade venison stew, and Tingo struggling to do homework on the floor of a small cheap motel. Yet, it is Miranda’s voice that I hear most often – whispering in my ear as I look out the windows at school or drive home at the end of the day. Living on a reserve close to Sarnia, Ontario, her community falls victim to the petrochemical plants on the edge of their land. Despite company assurance that there is no pollution, Miranda describes the effects of living so close to such environmentally dangerous factories: “Sometimes the air is hard to breath. It hurts my throat. Lots of people have coughs that never do away”. Understanding that the First Nations people are deeply connected to the environment, this takes on a greater level of tragedy and disrespect. Chemical workers wear head-to-toe safety gear as Aamjiwnaang children play in the grass just a few steps away in a place known to the rest of Canada as “Chemical Valley”. It’s a harrowing vision I can’t forget.

Although these are the stories of Indigenous youth, some of the experiences described are also ones that are sure to connect with many Intermediate readers: dealing with divorced parents, struggling with academics in school, and finding oneself. In her Author’s Note, Ellis comments that “statistics don’t tell us everything”, and these stories certainly encourage readers to look beyond numbers and think about the wide range of experiences and worldviews of these children.  A recommended read for our Grade 7 & 8 students (also a nominated title for the 2015 Red Maple Non-Fiction program).

The Night Gardener

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Next up on my 2015 Forest of Reading book list is The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.  This title is by far the one I’ve been most looking forward to since the Forest of Reading nominations were announced in the Fall.  The title, cover, and summary all grabbed my attention immediately and as I cracked open the book yesterday morning, I found my anticipation was indeed on the mark.  This book is absolutely fantastic!

In the style of an old-world fable or fairytale, The Night Gardener tells the story of two abandoned Irish siblings, Molly and Kip, and their experience working for the Windsor family at their creepy and crumbling English manor.  The family members are all thin, pale and sickly.  One day while cleaning the library, Molly is astonished to find a portrait of the smiling, healthy-looking family painted only a year earlier.  What could have happened to change the residents of this house in such a short time?  The siblings quickly learn that something is indeed quite off and begin to suspect that the large and unusual tree that is literally rooted to the house is somehow involved.

The language and dialogue spread across the pages of Jonathan Auxier’s book are intoxicating, often compelling you to continue reading way past your bedtime.  The writing is simply superb.  The author has created a fluid and fascinating gothic tale filled to the brim with mystery, fantasy, and emotion.  I am equally impressed with how well Auxier has weaved a truly dark and fascinating tale with the real-world exploration of difference between stories and lies and the difficulty we often have in deciphering between the two.

I have approximately 100 pages left to read and I am left with mixed emotions.  Although I am eager and excited to see how this tale ends, I am also met with great disappointment to know that the my fantastical journey with Molly and Kip is almost at it’s end.  As we all prepare to return to school tomorrow and the Forest of Reading programs begin start-up, I am anxious to know if Silver Birch readers at Bruce Trail will agree with my deep admiration for the book.  Time will tell…