Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton – A Book Review

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Slyvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”

by Jeanne Pelletier, Sylvie Sara Roy, and Wilfred Burton

Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute Press

Reviewed by B.D. Charles

C$25.00 ISBN: 9781926795898

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”, is the story of Jeanne Pelletier as told by Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton, published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute Press. Throughout the course of this book, the reader learns that Jeanne Pelletier is an accomplished Métis woman and a revered member of the Métis community in southern Saskatchewan. Roy and Burton begin Jeanne’s story by highlighting the fact that she began her career as the first female Métis Jig dance caller in the 1970s, a time in which the dance callers were exclusively men and the community was difficult for women to traverse. Roy brilliantly showcases the life experiences and work of Jeanne’s career and rise as a prominent dance caller and Métis educator in Saskatchewan. The book recounts Jeanne’s experiences of reviving the Métis dance to the children in her community and by extension other Métis values such as community, culture, and respect. The book also acts as a vehicle for Jeanne to tell her story and pass on some of the knowledge that she has gained through her career.

The recounting of Jeanne’s work is supplemented throughout the book by testimonials of her former dance students and community members, all of whom praise the dance caller for the substantial impact that she’s had both on their personal lives, as well as the academic and social climates of the Métis community in Saskatchewan. As a Métis myself, I feel lost at times, as if my culture is fuzzy or foreign to me. Reading the life experiences, knowledge, and not to mention the wealth of Métis Jig steps found in this book gave me an overwhelming sense of peace to see research of this caliber and this level of care being invested in my culture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Métis culture and the significance that the jig has to the culture. Anyone who has seen the Métis Jig performed live knows that it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring dance, but after reading Jeanne’s explanations of the cultural significance of the dances, I will now appreciate the dance that much more as a story and celebration of my culture. It is also worth mentioning that entire dance sequences are written out to follow with Jeanne’s notes, and the book includes an instructional DVD.

I had heard recently from an older Métis gentleman that the Métis community in Saskatchewan is somewhat dormant but works as recent as this and of this quality are direct evidence of the contrary. The Métis community is alive and well, this opportunity to learn more about my culture filled me with an abundance of belonging and pride.  I am not sure of all the ways that I can thank the incredibly talented team that went into the creation of this cultural gem, but I can start with, “Miigwetch et merci”.

 

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Soapbox Stories Presents: Second Cousin Once Removed – A Book Review

“Second Cousin Once Removed”
by Bryna Barclay
Published by Burton House Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00
ISBN: 9780994866943

“Second Cousin Once Removed”, written by Byrna Barclay and published by Burton House Books is an incredibly graceful read and a testament to the pure talent of this Saskatchewan author. The novel is a sequel to “House of the White Elephant”, which in itself was a critically acclaimed novel and the winner of the Whistler/Tidewater Award for Best Fiction in 2016. My estimate is that the sequel will draw equal acclaim, as it is a masterfully written historical fiction brimming with Saskatchewan culture, driven by an intelligent plot and an engrossing narrative.

The story follows Jesse Emma Burtonwood, a woman of East Indian descent living in Prince Albert, SK, and is in the midst of mourning the loss of her husband. The story begins in 1953 and follows Jesse as she traverses life in Canada, and forms a relationship with John George Diefenbaker during this tumultuous time in both her life and in Canadian politics. Much of the story also follows Jesse’s granddaughter, Annika Robin, a woman living in Saskatoon, SK. Throughout the story, Barclay masterfully crafts both of these characters in such a way that is wonderfully unique, yet easy to follow. As Jesse and Annika face challenges such as prejudices commonly held in Canada during the time period and constrictive traditions for women living in a new era, the reader can vividly feel their frustrations, emotions, and insecurities in a tangible way. That is not to say that Barclay’s novel is doom and gloom, as the book has a rather eccentric tone, it reminded me of “Still Life with Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins in some places.  At other times, it felt as if I were reading soulful poetry or song lyrics during the course of this novel. This held especially true in my mind during the segments in which Annika and her distant lover exchange letters, not only were the letters exquisitely written, but the narratives that unfold from them tell a story within themselves.

Not only is this novel a perfect guide to how descriptive writing should be done but is also a total time capsule of the period that it is set in. If you or someone that you know is a fan of Saskatchewan history or culture, I would argue that this book is worth the read just for that aspect alone. Everything from the locations and careers of the characters to the brands and even some of the slang are used naturally in this novel. The references all feel like they belong in the plot, and not as if they are shoehorned in just for the sake of having them.

In conclusion, Bryna Barclay proves once again why she is the acclaimed Saskatchewan author that she is. Jesse Emma and Annika Robin are complete delights as characters, crafted in the rarity that is such a unique story built in a familiar setting. This novel is truly a work of art.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation – A Book Review

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation”
by Jeanne Martinson
Published by Wood Dragon Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$21.99 ISBN: 9780968537022

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation” is written by Saskatchewan-native Jeanne Martinson, a renowned speaker, author, and management trainer. Published by Wood Dragon Books and distributed by Martrain Corporation and Personal Development, this national bestseller is designed as a guide for employers, organizations, managers, or those interested in navigating their workplaces in a more positive manner. The content of this book pertains to many of the challenges that the average Canadian faces in the workplace. These include diversity/bias, toxic people and environments, harassment, conflict, and much more.

Similar to one of Martinson’s other bestsellers, “From Away: Immigration to Effective Workplace Integration”, this book begins with an in-depth analysis of what diversity is, and how it may affect communities such as the average Canadian workplace. The most interesting portion of this chapter, in my opinion, is Martinson’s analysis of the factors that shape a human being’s “us vs. them” mentality, and how easy it is for us to distort information to cater to our biases. If you have an interest in human behaviour or psychology, I would recommend this book based on this chapter, alone. Martinson then moves into the “Understanding” portion of the book, which details a number of cultures, traditions, gender identities, and histories within Canada. This assists the reader with more contexts of the many factors that can make a workplace diverse, albeit difficult to avoid misunderstandings. At its core, diversity is a fantastic value for a work setting to have as it results in a variety of worldviews being brought forward. However, this diversity can also yield a fair amount of conflict simply through minor misunderstandings. In the “Reconciliation” and “Synergy” components of Martinson’s book, she brilliantly provides the reader with a plethora of techniques and strategies that one can use to navigate these challenges. I must admit that when I began this book, I had thought that a read regarding the workplace would be a dreadfully dry one. What I had found instead were incredibly applicable strategies that anyone can use to re-evaluate their own biases, provide others with more empathy, and to use the diversity in their lives as a positive factor.

Martinson had stated near the beginning of the book that her intention was to allow the reader to view themselves and their workplaces with new eyes. Personally, she succeeds with that intention from this reader. Whatever your workplace setting may be, there is something for all to gain within this book. All you have to do is pick up a copy to start working and living in a more resourceful and positive setting.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

“The More Things Change: A Case Study to Introduce Information Technology Ethics” (A Book Review)

“The More Things Change: A Case Study to Introduce Information Technology Ethics”
by Donna Lindskog
Published by Benchmark Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00 ISBN: 9781927352373

“The More Things Change: A Case Study to Introduce Information Technology Ethics”, written by Donna Lindskog is a thought invoking exercise in technology ethics that manages to also be an entertaining experience along the way. The story follows Carol McIsaac, a brand new employee of MTS, working as a programmer analyst. Set in 1979, Carol and her friends, Jeremey and Susan, transverse the new world of technology using keypunch machines to write code. Although the technology used throughout this story is archaic by today’s standards, the ethical dilemmas found within are very much relevant to today’s professional and technological climates. The issues that Carol faces include plagiarism, fraud, sexual harassment, racism, basic incompetence, and a plethora of other debatable ethical dilemmas. The book also provides a detailed appendix of all the information that an IT enthusiast needs in order to act ethically and responsibly in a professional setting. This includes a Code of Ethics, generously provided by the Canadian Association of Information Technology Professionals (CIPS).

In our world of net neutrality, Russian bots, micro-transactions, deleted emails, and private information being stolen by social media conglomerates, the topic of information and technology ethics has never been more relevant than it is right now. Lindskog’s fabulous case studies invoke the reader to truly reflect on the ethical use of technology, data, and information in a professional setting, and arguably for personal use, as well. The case studies in this book are separated into 11 chapters that each explores different ethical topics but also come together to form a cohesive, entertaining plot. Throughout the story, the reader can see how the choices of the characters and the company lead to somewhat catastrophic results. The book also provides discussion questions for each chapter at the end of the book. I must admit, these discussion questions brought me back to review each chapter a few times, as I had completely missed some of the questionable actions or decisions made by the characters. It made me think, “If it is that easy to overlook unethical practices in a case study written exclusively about ethics, what am I missing in my day-to-day life?”

I would highly suggest this piece to anyone with an interest in computers, technology, and information, as well as to employers to utilize as a useful training resource for their IT professionals. Lindskog’s extensive background in IT, and her passion for the field truly shines through in this document. Before reading this piece, I never knew that it was possible to smile and think about the difference between acting ethically and acting professionally at the same time.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Lena’s Story: The D-Day Landings (A Book Review)

“Lena’s Story: The D-Day Landings”
by Patricia Sinclair
Published by DriverWorks Ink
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$12.95 ISBN: 9781927570463

 

“Lena’s Story: The D-Day Landings”, written by Patricia Sinclair, illustrated by Wendi Nordell, and published by DriverWorks Ink is a fantastic work of historical literature for young readers that is both beautifully crafted and exceptionally informative. The book cleverly educates the reader about the D-Day landings and World War II through a narrative of a young girl speaking with an elderly neighbor named Lena, who is about to move away. Like many real Canadians, the young girl in this story learns about the battle of D-Day and the history of World War II from elderly people in the community that either fought directly in the war or were alive during that time period. As I am writing this, Remembrance Day is approaching, and I cannot help but be reminded through this story that World War II and all of its horrors really did not happen a long time ago.

Lena tells the girl, and through a frame narrative the reader about what she remembers of that fateful day, June 5th, 1944, as Lena learns about the battle so does the reader. During Lena’s story, the reader will notice that some of the terms that she uses are in bold, this provides a neat method to teach the young readers new vocabulary and terminology about the war and the military. It is not just the terminology that is informative, but the entire book. As an adult reader, this book introduced me to new vocabulary and facts about the battle that I did not previously know. Upon finishing the book, I was impressed by the sheer attention to detail and the adherence to research that went into the information found in the story, and it gave me more confidence that what I had just read was truly legitimate. There is something for everyone to learn in this novel.

The simplistic yet powerful descriptions of the battle written by Sinclair are also brilliantly matched in tone and imagery by Nordell’s illustrations. The pencil sketches in the book give impact to the words, and the style is mature enough that a young reader would not feel as if they are reading a “baby book”. The writing found within this novel would also act as a great introduction to literary devices such as metaphors, similes, onomatopoeias, and the aforementioned frame narrative for young readers.

In conclusion, Sinclair’s novel is a fitting read in this season of Remembrance. As if the content of “Lena’s Story: The D-Day Landings” was not a respectful tribute to Canadian veterans on its own, a donation of the book’s sales is made to the Royal Canadian Legion. I cannot recommend this book enough both as a tribute to our veterans and as the perfect gift for the budding history buff in your family.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

The Spoon Asylum: A Book Review

“The Spoon Asylum”
by Caroline Misner
Published by Thistledown Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$15.95 ISBN: 9781771871556

The Spoon Asylum, written by Caroline Misner and published by Thistledown Press is a fun and thoughtful piece of historical fiction that lets the reader laugh, while also reflecting on the ugly parts of Canada’s past that modern Canadians do not like to think about.

Set in the 1930s at the peak of the Great Depression in the small Ontario town of Davisville, The Spoon Asylum follows the story of young Haven Cattrell, a precocious seventeen-year-old boy who is struggling find his identity and is hungry to prove his worth as a man to his family and to the world. While working as a farmhand on his grandmother’s farm, Haven comes across a vagrant who is looking for work in exchange for some food and shelter, although the man is met with downright hostility by his grandmother, Haven cannot help but be enthralled by the man, and even more so by his harmonica and the sweet music that he plays through it. This exchange with the mysterious vagrant inspires Haven to go into town in search of work, himself. Perhaps this decision was the product of youthful pride, or perhaps to allow Haven to enter a piece of his father’s world, who like many Canadians at the time was also a desperate drifter in search of employment.

Haven’s noble journey is soon sidetracked by the brash, soaring melodies of a trumpet. It is here that Haven meets Wetherby Moss, an African-American jazz musician working as a cook with his son Jude, who is also a musician, for a prestigious girl’s camp near Haven’s home. The camp is run by Miss Nokomis, a “real Ojibwa priestess” who oversees the camp with a stern grasp and is not all that she appears to be.

The novel continues to follow Haven’s summer working with the musicians and learning to play and love jazz music with the help of his two new, dear friends. It is not just of jazz that Haven learns at this camp, but also of the sad, unjust treatment that African Americans of his time suffered. Haven, being the naïve boy that he is, does not understand how his friends could be subject to such treatment. As Haven learns of the implications of racism, he also traverses the uncertainty and pain of love and heartbreak as the reader watches him develop into a young man.

Misner crafts this story with dialogue that is chock-full of wit and intellect. Despite its heavy topics, it was a book that made me laugh out loud on several occasions. In addition to this, I found it to be quite a light read, with perfect pacing and a coherent storyline never bogged down by unnecessary details or pedantic writing. It is a book that both the twelve-year-old and the sixty-year-old in your family can both enjoy equally. In conclusion, The Spoon Asylum is Canadian historical fiction at its finest and a beautifully crafted story from start to finish.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings (A Book Review)

“The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings”
by Victor Carl Friesen
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$25.00 ISBN: 9781988783222

The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is the latest publication from legendary Saskatchewan poet Victor Carl Friesen and his fourth collection of poems and accompanying paintings, both of which produce warm, nostalgic, and detailed recollections of the beautiful nature found in Saskatchewan and of life on the farm.

Printed in July of 2018 and published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, this riveting collection of fifty-five poems is separated into two portions that each illustrates different themes in the author’s life. The first section, titled “A Burgeoning”, is comprised mainly of descriptive, traditional poetry that, as mentioned, describes the natural phenomenon and rural life in Saskatchewan. The latter section, titled “The World Illuminated”, is far more abstract and delves into the emotions, opinions, and outlooks on life of the author. In both segments, Friesen showcases his uncanny descriptive abilities that immediately transport the reader to the bountiful natural beauty found in Saskatchewan. While reading such poems as “A Leaf in the Wind” or “Spring’s Regalia”, I was reminded of times being out in the fields while hiking or hunting, appreciating the beauty of rural Saskatchewan, myself. Through Friesen’s words, I could clearly see the fields, the deer, and the grouse. I could feel the crunch of yellow leaves under my feet and felt the sweet scent of autumn in my nose.

On the surface, many of the settings that Friesen covers may seem mundane, but through his brilliant, quirky, insightful wordsmithing and incredibly detailed paintings to complement them he animates these times and places to life. In my opinion, this is best showcased in the poem, “A Bird of His Own Feather”, in which Friesen engages in a one-way conversation with a simple crow.  Most Saskatchewanians would view crows as a dime-a-dozen, but Friesen instead comments on their mischief and their undeniable essence to Saskatchewan winters.

To conclude, The Steeps of Time: Poems & Paintings is an extraordinary piece of literature that belongs in any poetry or art fanatic’s collection. Through both the pen and the brush Friesen has truly immortalized the beauty found in our great province. I hope that whoever reads this piece next gets even half of the enjoyment I did from it, and that it inspires them to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our natural world that Friesen sees.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM