Book Review: Stolen Words by Melanie Florence & Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Book Review Children Family

As a young girl, my grandmother would speak to us grandchildren in Spanish. She would always ask us to respond to her in the same language. It was her way of preserving home for us. Later I found she was in a rebellion against losing her mother tongue. She grew up in the generation where Spanish was not allowed in public or private schools.

Her hands swelled with blisters when the nuns would ask each child to extend their hands over the desk only to be met with a whip-like slap of a yard stick. English was the only language allowed. The educational system was determined to eradicate the words of the generation which carried Spanish in their bones if they had to beat it out of them.

I don’t remember if my first language was Spanish or English. What I do know is I’ve always been able to read, write, and speak in both languages. I can weave them together like a basket weaver makes baskets to carry the fruit of our labor. That labor has been me birthing a generation that no longer holds Spanish in their bones nor on their skin.

Stolen Words is a powerful account of a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather to say something in his mother tongue of Cree, he cannot remember how. He shares with her how it was stolen. Without glossing over the reality of what assimilation costs us, Florence maintains truth while keenly aware of her audience.

The story ends on a hopeful note when the granddaughter helps the grandfather remember his words with a book her teacher helped her obtain. Together, we too learn a few Cree words. My favorite illustrated page is the one with the words flying in the wings of birds released from their cage in the Cree book.

This book is educational, truthful, and dire in preserving the heritage of indigenous people like the Canadian tribe of Cree. I highly recommend it be read to children at any age. It is sure to be a classic.

I was provided a free e-book copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

From Second Story Press:

About the Author

Melanie Florence is an award-winning writer of Cree and Scottish heritage. Her book Jordin Tootoo: The Highs and Lows in the Journey of the First Inuk to Play in the NHL was chosen as an Honor Book by The American Indian Library Association. Her first picture book, Missing Nimama, won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. She is also the author of Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and several YA novels, including The Missing. Melanie lives with her husband and two children in Toronto.

Melanie wrote Stolen Words in honor of her grandfather, whom she was close to as a child. Melanie never had the chance to speak to him about his Cree heritage, and this story is about the healing relationship she wishes she had been able to have with him.

About the Illustrator

Gabrielle Grimard uses various media to research and create the illustrations for a book, but her favorite aspect will always be color. She uses mainly watercolors, gouache and oil. She adds a touch of wooden pencil for the details. She has illustrated dozens of books and has been nominated for several awards. She lives in Montreal, Quebec.

*Featured image from Second Story Press.

Stolen Words releases on September 5, 2017.