The First Blade of Sweetgrass

Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey, illus. by Nancy Baker. Tilbury House, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-88448-760-9
Emphasizing the importance of conservation and tradition in Native culture, married authors Greenlaw (who is Maliseet) and Frey (who is Passamaquoddy) expertly craft a sweet story that centers a Wabanaki grandmother and granddaughter. At a salt marsh, dark-haired Musqon’s grandmother teaches her how to harvest purple-stemmed sweetgrass, as her own grandmother once taught her. “Our people have been coming here to pick sweetgrass for generations,” says Grandmother; “we use it in ceremony as well as baskets. Sweetgrass is a spiritual medicine for us.” Musqon initially struggles to pull the right blades in a sea of identical-seeming grasses, but by taking her time, “get[ting] to know” the plant’s specifics, and connecting with nature and her ancestors, she discovers the secret—and does her part to make sure “there will be sweetgrass here for the next generation.” Baker’s earth-toned illustrations feature soft edges, subtle colors, and braided sweetgrass borders, while lyrical text renders experience in evocative sensory prose (“the thin whine of mosquitos grew distant”). The result is a deeply personal, thoughtfully detailed account. Back matter includes an authors’ note with information on basket-making and a glossary of Passamaquoddy-Maliseet words. Ages 6–8. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 06/10/2021
Release date: 08/10/2021
Genre: Children's
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