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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1828- Richard Van Camp: When We Play Our Drums, They Sing / Monique Gray Smith: Lucy and Lola

Presented as flip book of novellas, Richard Van Camp's When We Play Our Drums, They Sing and Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola are both part of a "Journey Fourward: Novellas on Reconciliation" series.

In Richard's book, a preteen boy name Dene Cho has gotten at trouble at school and has been assigned to meet a local elder to learn about his Dene culture. This is somewhat up his alley however as he is very proud of his culture and in fact, it was a cultural misunderstanding that led to his trouble in the first place. He is quite angry about such trouble, especially given the way his people have been treated by schools in the past. He is also very concerned that things have not gotten any better. There's a sense that this has come at the right time in his life. While his anger is undeniably justified, where he goes next, how he uses this anger, could set the tone for the rest of his life. Thankfully the elder he befriends is patient and with the aid of stories and drumming, sets Dene Cho on a path of teaching and leadership.

I questioned if Dene Cho's character was just precocious or whether or not Van Camp's depiction was too heavy-handed. I also question if I'm in any position to judge how much subtlety another culture's messages need. In any case, I found the character of the school principal more personally provocatively. He's white and has a lot to learn about the local culture. On the other hand, he's been there for 27 years, which shows at least some dedication, and his assignment for Dene Cho (complete with an invitation to invite Elders into the school to help teach the staff and students) suggests it's not too late for him.

Monique Gray Smith's Lucy and Lola involves a set of preteen twins who are staying with their Kookum (grandmother) over the summer while their mother is off at school studying to pass her bar exam. They are upset at first to be away from their mom for so long, but thankfully their grandmother is a patient teacher and lets them know they are loved. They also meet up with their mother again for a brief but emotional reunion. It is then that the three generations discuss residential school ramifications and moving forward. Smith balances the heavy (but important) messages with a sweet and often funny subplot involving a pug.


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