Heart Berry Bling: Navigating Life’s Complexities through Indigenous Children’s Literature by Jenny Kay Dupuis
Indigenous children’s literature is a powerful tool for exploring complex themes and subjects in storytelling. From identity and resilience to healing and culture, the messaging in these captivating stories can help young readers navigate the complexities of life and experience joy. However, for authors who specialize in this genre, the challenge lies not only in writing captivating stories but also in delivering messaging that resonates with their audience. Through my experiences of writing Heart Berry Bling, we will explore some themes and subjects that make Indigenous children’s literature so unique and important.
Heart Berry Bling is a children’s book that tells the story of a young girl named Maggie, who makes her first-ever beading project – a pair of strawberry earrings – while visiting her granny. However, she finds it more difficult than she expected. Granny shares her story of how beading helped her cope with the pain and stay connected to her Anishinaabe culture after she lost her First Nation status and was forced to leave her community. Maggie discovers from her granny’s teachings that beading is a journey that sews together memories and life lessons, including perseverance and persistence. She also learns to celebrate her Indigenous heritage through the art of beadwork.
As I contemplated writing Heart Berry Bling, I tapped into my own lived experiences. These experiences included spending time with my grandmother who lived in the city and immersing myself in the art of beadwork along skilled community members. I weaved together historical, contemporary, and cultural contexts to create a story line that would resonate with them. Above all, I aimed to relate the story of how First Nations women in Canada felt the impacts the Indian Act, a law that stripped their Indian status if they married someone without First Nation status. In contrast, First Nations men faced no such restrictions, leading to the unjust treatment of thousands of women, including my family and me. The repercussions of this law left us vulnerable for many years until the legislation was eventually changed.
As an Indigenous author and educator, I also considered how to transform my string of ideas into a story that would be appropriate for young readers. Heart Berry Bling serves not only as a story but also a teaching tool that teaches young readers about important histories, life experiences, and knowledge.
Firstly, it can be challenging to talk about laws with young readers, but it is needed to further their understanding of Indigenous peoples and their lived realities. So, I made the decision to use specific writing techniques often used in picture books to make complex issues more approachable and understandable. In so doing, I created a conversation between two relatable characters, an Anishinaabe grandmother who lives in the city and her granddaughter Maggie. I broke down the complicated ideas underlying the Indian Act into more manageable chunks of information to make it easier for young readers to understand. To illustrate the historical context of the Indian Act, I also chose to portray how First Nations women have worked to overcome its effects and how it has affected just one family out of thousands in the present time. Using these techniques increases the likelihood that the readers will connect with the topic matter.
Next, I wanted to share with young readers the significance of forming connections and the lessons in self-care and caring for others that are conveyed through the text. Incorporating the teachings of the strawberry, also known as the heart berry, was crucial to the narrative, especially in the context of Granny’s journey to cope with her painful past and discover coping mechanisms, so she could share her experiences of finding Indigenous joy in beadwork with her granddaughter.
To achieve this, I considered the concept of Indigenous joy. It’s based on Indigenous peoples’ past and present lived experiences as well as their resiliency, resistance, and pride in cultural identity. This idea celebrates the richness and power of Indigenous cultures and in interactions with one’s family, community, and the world around them. So I used a positive narrative structure that included elements of Anishinaabe culture, such as details about the beading process, lessons on the strawberry teachings, which reflect the values and beliefs of the Anishinaabe people.
Indigenous children’s literature has the power to inspire and educate young readers, while promoting the understanding of Indigenous histories and cultures. Heart Berry Bling is an example of how these stories can be used to teach important life lessons and histories in an engaging way that resonates with readers. By incorporating specific writing techniques, Heart Berry Blingoffers a valuable learning experience that can inspire young readers to embrace their own heritage, consider ways to overcome challenges, and look for ways to find joy in their lives.
JENNY KAY DUPUIS (she/her/hers) is a sought-after public speaker, best- selling author, educator, and accomplished artist whose focus is raising awareness about Indigenous realities. As co-author of the award-winning children’s book I Am Not a Number (A Bank Street Best Children’s Book, An ALA Notable Children’s Book, A CCBC Choice Book), Jenny Kay shared her granny’s experiences at a residential school in Canada. A certified teacher and learning strategist, Jenny Kay holds her Bachelor of Arts in History and Visual Arts, Master of Education in Special Education, and Doctorate in Educational Leadership. She is a member of Nipissing First Nation and lives in Toronto, Ontario. Follow her on social media @jennykaydupuis.
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