The First Blade of Sweetgrass
The First Blade of Sweetgrass

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Annotation: In this Own Voices Native American picture book story, a modern Wabanaki girl is excited to accompany her grandmother for the first time to harvest sweetgrass for basket making.
Catalog Number: #287204
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Tilbury House
Copyright Date: 2021
Edition Date: 2021
Illustrator: Baker, Nancy,
Pages: 32
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-88448-760-1 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-9542-X
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-88448-760-9 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-9542-5
Dewey: E
LCCN: 2021935470
Dimensions: 26 cm
Language: English
Kirkus Reviews
While hunting for summer’s sweetgrass, a young Wabanaki girl learns patience from her grandmother.It’s Musqon’s first time to gather sweetgrass, and she’s excited. Her grandmother will use what they gather to make the baskets she will sell the following summer. As they walk together through the salt marsh, her grandmother explains, “It’s important to remember that we never pick the first blade of sweet grass we see. If we never pick the first blade, we will never pick the last one,” ensuring the sweetgrass will endure. But in Musqon’s excitement and haste, she pays no attention and grabs the first grasses she finds. With patience and love, Musqon is encouraged to think of how her ancestors had looked for sweetgrass. She learns to slow down and identify the different grasses until she recognizes the “sweet hay smell that was in her grandmother’s basket room.” As she considers what she has learned that day, she realizes that “perhaps next summer she could teach her younger sister…to pick sweetgrass.” Greenlaw (Houlton Band of Maliseet) and Frey (Passamaquoddy), a basket maker himself, pen a tender ode to a treasured tradition. Muted illustrations rendered in pastels on brown paper evoke the coastal Maine landscape and fit nicely with the tranquil pace of this lyrical tale.Quiet text shows how careful observation and the respect of nature can provide unexpected gifts. (authors' notes, glossary) (Picture book. 4-8)
Publishers Weekly
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 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.)
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly (3/1/21)
Kirkus Reviews
Reading Level: 2.0
Interest Level: K-3

Musquon must overcome her impatience while learning to distinguish sweetgrass from other salt marsh grasses, but slowly the spirit and peace of her surroundings speak to her, and she gathers sweetgrass as her ancestors have done for centuries, leaving the first blade she sees to grow for future generations. This sweet, authentic story from a Maliseet mother and her Passamaquoddy husband includes backmatter about traditional basket making and a Wabanaki glossary.

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