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The Wild Berries/Pakwe Che Menisu
by Julie Flett
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 7.5 x 8.25
PRICES: $16.95 Cdn, $15.95 US
HARDCOVER: 9781897476918

Children's Bookwatch

"Wild Berries" is a beautiful limited palate illustrated story in English with Swampy Cree vocabulary about a boy named Clarence gathering bluberries in the woods with his granmother. Clarence sees a spider, an ant, a fox and birds while picking blueberries. He does not see a bear, because his grandma checked for one firest. Clarence and Grandma love to eat all kinds of wild blueberries and they sing as they fill their buckets. When they are done, Clarence leaves an offering of blueberries on a leaf for the birds and animals to say thank you. The poignant spare illustrations in tones of brown, black, tan and red are perfectly balanced by the highlighted narration, with Swampy Cree  terms written in red. At the end is a Swampy Cree pronunciation guide and list of vocabulary words along with a delicious recipe for wild blueberry jam, with maple syrup and wild mind in it. "Wild Berries" is a treat for the senses as well as a portrait of hunting for wild blueberries. 


Horn Book:

“When Clarence was little, his grandma / carried him on her back through / the woods to the clearing to pick / wild berries / pikaci-mīnisa. / Grandma carried a bucket and sang.” Fast-forward about five years, and now Clarence follows his grandma with his own bucket and sings along with her. Each double-page spread introduces a single line of text describing the sights and sounds of a small moment—dropping berries in a bucket (tup, tup), finding a spider web (sh, sh), observing a passing fox (rustle, rustle). Each page of text also uses one word in a dialect of Cree (the “n” dialect, known as Swampy Cree), highlighted in red font. The translated word choices are interesting in that they are not always the typical nouns and adjectives but are sometimes verbs and phrases such as long time and so many, carefully selected to enhance the rhythm of the story. The muted earth tones of the watercolor and collage illustrations in browns, grays, and reds perfectly complement the quiet tone of the story, as they offer a sense of the natural world in which Clarence is at home. A pronunciation guide and glossary of Swampy Cree words are appended. kathleen t. horning


New York Times:


rom the Vancouver-based publisher Simply Read Books, “Wild Berries,” written and illustrated by Julie Flett, tells the story of a little boy, Clarence, who picks blueberries with his grandmother. Though the “tup, tup” sound the berries make as the boy drops them into his pail may recall the “kuplink! kuplank! kuplunk!” in Robert McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal,” this is a very different book. Flett identifies herself as Cree-Métis (of mixed Cree Indian ancestry), and key words in her story are transliterated from the Cree “n-dialect,” printed in crimson italics. Grandma is okoma; a fox is makesis.

The illustrations have an extraordinary, austere beauty that seems to show the influence of Flett’s training in textile design. Dark tree trunks stripe across a white sky, as if appliquéd on a quilt; the color of a rowanberry-red sun (like the red flannel of old patchwork) is seen again in butterflies, birds and poppies. The ground, which is sometimes blanketed in moss green, on other pages appears embroidered with thatched rows of yellow grass. “When the buckets are full, Clarence lays a handful of berries on a leaf” as a gesture of thanks to the animals. Observant knowledge of woods and wildlife, a sense of hard-earned bounty and a respect for traditional ways make Flett’s story both specific to her background and broadly appealing.


Publisher's Weekly - In a quietly perceptive story that includes a handful of key words translated into a Cree dialect, a child accompanies his grandmother into an airy, late summer forest to pick wild blueberries. "Grandma likes sweet blueberries ininimina, soft blueberries, juicy blueberries. Clarence likes big blueberries, sour blueberries, blueberries that go pop in his mouth." Throughout their excursion, Clarence and his grandmother observe woodland animals, including a spider ("kokom-minakesis") spinning its web, a fox ("makesis"), and birds ("pinesisak"). Flett (Owls See Clearly at Night), a Cree-Metis author/artist, offers loose watercolor and collage artwork that combines slate tones with red accents, including the grandmother's skirt, the birds' breasts, and a ubiquitous, low-hanging sun. Abundant white space creates a free and uncluttered landscape; the simple, concrete descriptions, reiterated through the use of Cree words ("Clarence and his grandma pick blueberries for a long time konesk"), provide a sense of composure and calm. Includes a recipe for wild blueberry jam and a pronunciation guide. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)


American Indians in Children's Literature - Flett's art is both--bold and spare--and so are her words. Together or apart, they exquisitely convey the relationship of Clarence and his grandmother and the simple act of being outside gathering berries. That alone would make this a stand-out book, but there's other things to note that make it exceptional. The Cree language sprinkled throughout is one. Another is the recipe for wild blueberry jam. And yet another is that Flett is Cree Metis herself.


Waking Brain Cells - Clarence has gone berry picking with his grandmother since he was a baby.  Now he is big enough to carry his own bucket as they walk and sing.  The two of them pick the berries, Grandma looking for the sweet ones and Clarence for the bigger, sour ones that pop.  They pick the berries and eat the berries.  Then Clarence looks around the woods and sees different insects, spiders, and a fox.  It is time to go home, they say thank you and walk back home together.

This book weaves Cree into the story, separating the words out and providing pronunciation information at the end of the book.  Even these few Cree words evoke a different feeling, a new rhythm that is powerful.  Flett tells a very simple story here about going out to pick berries in the forest.  Yet it is a timeless story, one the embraces wildlife, the environment, and giving thanks for the bounty of nature. 

Flett’s art is a beautiful mix of cut paper collage, texture and painting.  She manages to show the depth of the woods without darkness.  She uses bright colors that pop on Grandma’s red skirt and the red sun in the sky.  The grass is drawn in individual blades and the tree bark varies from paper art to marker lines.  Put together, it is a rich and beautiful book. Simply, powerful and honest, this picture book celebrates Cree and nature together. 


Book Wars Blog:

The sweetness and understated relationship between grandparent and grandchild is so wonderfully expressed in a time when grandparents are considered boring and unworthy of time for whatever reasons.