Book Review: Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau

I picked up the novel Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau to read for the Toronto Public library challenge. Even though it is suitable for the category of a book written by an indigenous author, I chose it to be a book that is under 200 pages.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Blue Bear Woman is the first novel in Quebec written by an Indigenous woman. The story of a young Cree woman’s search for her roots and identity, this is also the author’s debut novel, originally published in 2007, and it will be her second book to be published in English. The novel has been described as a “texte de resistance”, showing contemporary Indigenous life and the impact on the Cree of the building of the Eastmain dam in northern Quebec, posited as “virgin” territory, yet which has actually been part of the Cree traditional territory since time immemorial. In search of her roots, Victoria takes a trip to the country of her Cree ancestors with her companion, Daniel. It is a long journey to the north along the shores of James Bay. Colours, smells, and majestic landscapes arouse memories that soon devolve into strange and haunting dreams at night. In bits and pieces, uncles, aunties, and cousins arrive to tell the story of Victoria’s family and bring with them images of her childhood that are tinged both with joy and sadness. Guided by her totem, the Blue Bear, she returns home to make peace with her soul, as well as release the soul of her great-uncle, a hunter who has been missing in the forest for over twenty years.

My thoughts:

The novel, for me, was an interesting one in that it showed me a culture that I am not too familiar with. It was for this reason that I was eager to read the story.

However, I found the beginning of the novel to be confusing when the character Victoria moves from the present to the past; and from the dream state to reality. Often I was unclear as to what state she was in and found myself rereading paragraphs to clarify the story in my head.

I also found the writing of the text choppy at times. I remembered that the novel had been translated from French and have wondered whether the fluidity of text was lost in translation. There are moments in the novel when the text does flow beautifully thus cementing my thought that the translation may not always have been sophisticated.

This short novel gives a snapshot of Cree traditions and their way of life. Mention is made of the alcoholism that is rampant on the reservations, as well as the teenage pregnancy issue. The story is not an easy read despite it being short as the topics referred to in the novel and its format means the reader has to take time with the words.

Blue Bear Woman contains pockets of beautiful imagery – especially the second half of the novel which encouraged me to feel emotional. It is for this reason that I gave the novel three stars instead of two.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 8th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Music Monday: Picket Songs

One of the things that is keeping us warm on the picket line is music. The current music teacher at our school has compiled a Spotify playlist of songs which she plays through her speaker during the 3 hours we are on the picket line. Fight Song by Rachel Platten is one of the songs that is often played:

Stop classics have been added to the playlist like Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop:

And, of course, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey:

Her playlist has many songs on it that we enjoy. And the best thing is that the music keeps us going, the dancing keeps us warm, and the camaraderie helps the time pass a little faster.

What song would you suggest we add to our playlist?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Weekend Coffee Share: A Strange Week

If we were having coffee, I would admire the falling snow with you that I see through the window. I enjoy it when the snow falls as the world seems to be quiet and at peace. In a little while, I will need to go out and do my weekly grocery shopping and I will enjoy the walk because not much snow has fallen and I will not struggle too much with the shopping cart. Yesterday sidewalks were cleared so walking is made a little easier.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the week was strange because I taught for only three days of the week. On Thursday and Friday, the elementary teachers in Ontario, Canada walked out of the classrooms to protest the changes that the government are proposing to public education. Yesterday I posted a summary of my experience which you can read here.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I planned and wrote yesterday’s post early in the morning. However I was having some issues with uploading my photos I managed to publish quite late in the day so many of you will have missed my summary. For some reason, the comments weren’t open – which I have now rectified. I love having the comments open on my posts as conversation is what I enjoy most about blogging.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that on Wednesday after school I went to a teacher’s evening at the textile museum. We were given a tour of their new textile exhibit which features the printing on fabric in the past by the indigenous peoples in Canada. I enjoy these evenings as they are informative and I enjoy seeing the creativity of people when they work with fabric. My intention is to work on a post this week so that I can share with you some of my favourite pieces.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this weekend I am recovering from being outside in the cold (and the below 0c temperatures) for 4 hours two days in a row. My throat is scratchy and I am coughing. I am trying to recover quickly as the upcoming week brings with it more picketing – unless the government moves towards the bargaining table. We do not have any hopes though that this will happen.

If we were having coffee, I wish you a wonderful day and the best week.

What would you tell me if we were having coffee?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Eclectic Ali and the Weekend Coffee Share)

Two Walkouts in a Row

Despite the cold temperatures this past week, the teachers working in Ontario, Canada participated in walkouts to protest against the cuts to public education that the current government is proposing. On Thursday, the walkout was province-wide and included the 83 000 teachers that work for school boards across Ontario. Teachers bundled up and made their way to their designated picketing site.

My school was instructed to meet outside the constituency offices of Vincent Ke. We milled around on the sidewalk outside for a while but the cold drove us to walking. We spent the time walking up and down a section of Sheppard Avenue East. Not only did the walking warm us a little, but it also helped to pass away the time of our three hour shift.

When my shift had ended, I walked another 15 minutes to the subway station to get home. While on the train, I could feel the tingling in my toes as they slowly started to warm up. Getting off the train was difficult and, during the walk home, I constantly thought of the warm drink and meal I would be having. Once home, it took me the rest of the afternoon to warm up.

Yesterday it was our turn to take part in the rotating walkout action. My colleagues and I joined up in front of our school and walked the short bit to Yonge street. We had received permission to picket on the main street so that we could get more exposure – our school is in a small side street that is quiet during the day.

As we were standing on the corner, we were covered in snow. However, the group did not let the cold get them down – the music teacher had brought with her a speaker and prepared playlist which encouraged us to move to the music. We were also shown a lot of support from the community. The coffee and sweet treats given to us by parents were welcomed – the hot coffee arriving at an opportune time as it warmed my frozen fingers.

As of this morning, we have heard no notification that the government is going back at the bargaining table and more walkouts are planned for next week. I would rather be in my classroom teaching my students – but this issue is too important.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book of the Month: January 2020

I am a little late with my monthly wrap-up. With all that has been going on in my work life, my routine has been a little skewered. 😦 As I have finished reading my first book for February, I thought I had best do my wrap up post before posting the review of my completed read.

During the month of January I managed to read 7 titles:

  1. Courtney Alameda & Valynne Maetani Seven Deadly Shadows – Young Adult Fantasy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars
  2. Rebecca Raisin The Little Bookshop on the Seine – Women’s Contemporary Fiction ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4 stars
  3. Lamar Giles Not So Pure and Simple – Young Adult Contemporary ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4 stars
  4. Christina Lauren Twice in a Blue Moon – Romance ⭐️⭐️2 stars
  5. Martin Michaud Never Forget – Police Procedural ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars
  6. Abbi Waxman The Bookish Life of Nina Hill ⭐️⭐️⭐️3 stars
  7. Karen McBride Crow Winter ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars

The title of my favourite book kept shifting as I read more books during the month. After reading Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda & Valynne Maetani, I was sure that this amazing fantasy novel would remain my best read. However, Never Forget by Martin Michaud was just as good, though a different genre. After reading Crow Winter by Karen McBride, the novel immediately took first place as I knew it would be my favourite.

This debut novel touched me to the core in unexpected ways. The imagery used was beautiful; and I loved seeing the growth and development of a young woman as she overcomes her grief for her father and connects with the cultural traditions of her ancestors. The story also has a sub-story as colonialism is referred to. The Anishnaabe group are seen as grieving over the loss of their culture; and yet there is hope as the young people turn back to the ways of the past and the Europeans living on the traditional lands attempt to make restitution. If you are interested in reading more about my thoughts on this novel, you may find it here.

Many of the books I read in January were good choices and I look forward to seeing what February will bring me.

What was your favourite read in January?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Grateful for Principal's Support

If you have read my recent posts, you will know that the teachers in Ontario, Canada are in a strike position. Today, all 83 000 members of the elementary union (k-8) are walking out of schools to show support for the following: small class sizes, maintaining the current kindergarten model, and protesting cuts to special education for children with needs. We are picketing this morning in rotations of three hours no matter what the weather. This morning it is snowing (with chances of sleet) and the temperatures are below 0c. I know the ice, snow, and cold are not going to be pleasant.

Yesterday in our mail boxes, all teachers received a package given to us on behalf of our principal. I could not help but feel emotional when I picked it up. The package shows her care and support – so important at a time like this. Included in the package were some snacks and – most important – hand warmers. These will definitely come in handy for today’s below 0c temperatures.

I am certainly grateful for the support of our principal, and of the admin staff in general. It means so much to have their support and to know that we, the teachers at the school, do not have to butt heads with those people who supervise us from day to day.

What are you grateful for this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

The Final Task

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

En mass, the acolytes drew the attention of passersby. Daniel noticed the expressions of those he passed: fear, disdain, sometimes envy. He lifted his head proudly. He believed fully in the tenets of the Leader and knew that in the apocalypse to come, both his soul and body would be saved.

The final task before complete acceptance into the cult was to spread the message and bring more people into the fold. The young acolytes went where they knew best: the local teen hangouts. Here, the search for self could be directed towards a man striving to be a demi-god.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post was inspired by Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle. The challenge asks for bloggers to write a story in 100 words or less in response to the photo prompt.)

Teaser Tuesday: My Dark Vanessa

Yesterday I picked up a new read – one of the ARCs I received from the last Harper Collins event that I had attended. There is a lot of excitement about the debut novel of Kate Elizabeth Russell titled My Dark Vanessa. The blurb intrigued me as the novel is the story of a woman who was targeted by a sexual predator (her teacher) when she was a teenager.

The inside flap of the book contains the following quote:

“It’s just my luck,” he said, “that when I finally find my soulmate, she’s fifteen years old.”

I am interested to see where the author takes this story. So far the writing is perfectly pitched.

Would you open the pages of the novel to read?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book Review: Crow Winter by Karen McBride

This year I am attempting the reading challenge of our city’s library. One of the themes is to read a book written by an indigenous author. I had seen on Twitter an extremely positive mention of Crow Winter by Karen McBride so when I saw a copy on the library shelf, I picked it up quickly.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Nanabush. A name that has a certain weight on the tongue—a taste. Like lit sage in a windowless room or aluminum foil on a metal filling.

Trickster. Storyteller. Shape-shifter.An ancient troublemaker with the power to do great things, only he doesn’t want to put in the work.

Since coming home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, Hazel Ellis has been dreaming of an old crow. He tells her he’s here to help her, save her. From what, exactly? Sure, her dad’s been dead for almost two years and she hasn’t quite reconciled that grief, but is that worth the time of an Algonquin demigod?

Soon Hazel learns that there’s more at play than just her own sadness and doubt. The quarry that’s been lying unsullied for over a century on her father’s property is stirring the old magic that crosses the boundaries between this world and the next. With the aid of Nanabush, Hazel must unravel a web of deceit that, if left untouched, could destroy her family and her home on both sides of the Medicine Wheel.

My thoughts:

I did not think that I would enjoy this novel as much as I did! There are moments when the writing is so exquisite that I had to savour the sentences. I came to empathise with Hazel Ellis, the main character, as I read of her struggling to overcome her grief. In addition to being a beautiful story, Crow Winter showed me a part of the Anishnaabe tradition. The folklore of the tribe is woven into the story and the learning, for me, was integrated with my enjoyment of the story.

Crow Winter is a story about grief and how it is overcome. The grief mentioned by the writer, however, is not one dimensional. We read of Hazel’s grief for her father; but we also see the grief experienced by a group of people at the loss of traditional lands, as well as a culture which is slowly being forgotten by the younger generation. The novel does give a message of hope, though, on the grief experienced on all levels.

During the novel, the main character (Hazel Ellis) grows as a person. She finds the way to heal and, while healing, to connect with her ancestral traditions. It is for this reason that I say the story is one of hope – hope that the younger generation will find a way to connect with the culture historically practiced by their people. Through the character of Hazel, the writer also suggests that turning back to one’s roots does make a person stronger and more whole.

Crow Winter is a story that resonates with your soul. It is an #ownvoices story in that the main character finds the strength to speak out and express what is inside of her being. This diverse read shows the reader the beauty of a culture indigenous to Canada.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 7th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Music Monday: Sweet But Psycho

Currently there is a song on my Zumba playlist that my students are enjoying with me three times a week. They like that they know the song and many have asked their parents at home to play it so that they can practice the dance. The song is Sweet But Psycho by Ava Max.

I enjoy the tune too as it is catchy and the Zumba dance matches the song perfectly. Now that I no longer play the song while cooking because I know its rhythms, my daughter has started listening to it from time to time. There are times when they do enjoy the music I am playing 😀

What song are you currently dancing to?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020