Kate’s Review: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan”

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Books: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” (The Six Seasons Vol. 1 & 2) by William Dumas, Leonard Paul (Ill.), and Rhian Brynjolson

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, August 2020 (Vol.1) & September 2022 (Vol.2)

Where Did I Get These Books: I received eARCs from the publisher.

Where You Can Get These Books: WorldCat (1) (2) | Portage and Main Press (1) (2) | Indiebound (2)

Book Descriptions:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”: In 1993, the remains of a young woman were discovered at Nagami Bay, South Indian Lake, Manitoba. Out of that important archeological discovery came this unique story about a week in the life of Pisim, a young Cree woman, who lived in the Mid 1600s. In the story, created by renowned storyteller William Dumas, Pisim begins to recognize her miskanow – her life’s journey – and to develop her gifts for fulfilling that path. The story is brought to life by the rich imagery of Leonard Paul, and is accompanied by sidebars on Cree language and culture, archaeology and history, maps, songs, and more.

“Amō’s Sapotawan”: Rocky Cree people understand that all children are born with four gifts or talents. When a child is old enough, they decide which gift, or mīthikowisiwin, they will seek to master. With her sapotawan ceremony fast approaching, Amō must choose her mīthikowisiwin. Her sister, Pīsim, became a midwife; others gather medicines or harvest fish. But none of those feel quite right.

Amō has always loved making things. Her uncle can show her how to make nipisiwata, willow baskets. Her grandmother can teach her how to make kwakwāywata, birchbark containers and plates. Her auntie has offered to begin Amō’s apprenticeship in making askihkwak, pottery.

What will Amō’s mīthikowisiwin be? Which skill should she choose? And how will she know what is right for her?

Reviews: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me eARCs of these books!

We are on our second week of my month long HighWater Press Blog Series, and we shift from traditional graphic novel to look at the first two books of a Middle Grade historical fiction series called “The Six Seasons” by storyteller and asiniskaw īthiniw Knowledge Keeper William Dumas. These books are part of a greater project known as the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, which hopes to work towards preserving Indigenous languages and knowledge bases of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, or Rocky Cree. Honestly it sounds like a fantastic project (read more HERE), and part of it is this series, with the first two books being “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, and the second being “Amō’s Sapotawan”. Both books follow teenage girls who are going on journeys of self discovery, while also teaching kids about life and culture of the Rocky Cree before significant European contact.

I’ll start with the first in the series, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, which follows a teenage Rocky Cree girl who is learning the ways of becoming a midwife. As her family group an community is preparing to journey to a communal gathering, Pīsim is trying to determine if she has the skills and drive to be a midwife. As the community travels to the Spring Gathering, stories are shared, bonds are strengthened, and Pīsim finds herself having to use her skills and knowledge in an unexpected situation. I really loved watching this young woman connect with those around her and hear the various stories that everyone tells, and how she rises to the task of delivering a baby on her own when she and her uncle and pregnant aunt are separated from the rest of the group during a storm on the water. But what stands out the most in this book (and similarly in “Amō’s Sapotawan”) are the rich and intricate details about all types of aspects of Rocky Cree life and culture. We get translations of various vocabulary, maps of the water that Pīsim and her family are traveling upon for the Spring Gathering, and various facts about life for the Rocky Cree during this time period. I was very, very enthralled by the great information and how detailed it was, and my former historical society employee heart was all aflutter. There is such good information in this book, and it’s incredibly accessible to the audience it is catered towards. I really enjoyed seeing the story of Pīsim come into her own.

“Amō’s Sapotawan” is another story about a young girl, though this time it is in summer and this time we follow Pīsim’s sister Amo. In this story, Amō is a teenager who is trying to decide on her mīthikowisiwin, her craft that she wishes to hone, as her ceremony to celebrate that gift, or her sapotawan, is about to happen. Coinciding this is the berry picking that the community does in the summer, as well as an ever present threat of wild fires that tend to kick up during this time of year and that can drive a community to have to flee on a moment’s notice. As Amō contemplates what she wants to choose, she experiences fairly typical moments in what the culture and life was like for the Rocky Cree, though there are, admittedly, some significant beats that may help drive her to choose her ultimate gift. I liked this story a lot as well, and like Pīsim’s story before there were a lot of great notes and facts interspersed within the story.

In terms of the artwork, the stories are accompanied by two different artists and two different styles. Leonard Paul provided the art for Pīsim’s story, while Rhian Brynjolson did for Amō’s. I think that of the two I preferred that of Paul, as that kind of style just speaks to me more, but they are both aesthetics that match the tales at hand pretty well, and I think that they would both connect with a middle grade audience as they read these books.

The importance of knowing the life and culture for the Rocky Cree pre-significant European contact can’t be stressed enough given the genocide Indigenous and First Nations peoples were (and still are) subjected to, and I think that these books by William Dumas are such rich resources and tools to help preserve this knowledge, and very necessary. I greatly enjoyed both “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” as great information resources and coming of age tales.

Rating 8: Incredibly rich in detail, historical notes, and culture, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” are both great introductions to Rocky Cree history and culture as well as gentle, heartwarming stories about finding oneself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and Amō’s Sapotawan” are not on many Goodreads lists, but I think they would fit in on “Indigenous Children’s Literature”.

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