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

If That Was Your Best

If that was your best,
your best won’t do.

I’ve drank the dirtiest waters,
seen the lowest trenches.
Been cast out by the sisters and daughters,
and cast out by the wenches.
But I found me a girl,
a woman,
a friend.
Found the other part of me,
my beginning and end.

If that was your best,
your best won’t do.

I’ve been hooked on the tar, the smoke, the booze, and the toke.
I’ve done things to get them that I’m ashamed to admit,
I’ve chosen my people, outside the offsale and an inside a familial joke.
I’ve spent life as a quitter, but just could not quit.
But from the ashtray I rose,
When no one cared or supposed,
I now see life from the other side,
I see myself in the red eyes of bar-flies.
As the Bud Light Gallery grabs their 7th can,
and gossips about what a loser I am.

If that was your best,
your best won’t do.

Depression is not an Instagram post
of Lana Del Ray smoking a Marlboro Red,
depression is dirty clothes, a bedroom beyond repair, and a stained bed.
It is when everyone gives up on you. You are lost.
Your best nearly best nearly bested me,
My life was tedious as an old joke,
My life took an arrow to the knee.
But I am still here,
and am here to stay.
I will survive, I will thrive,
I will do what they say is impossible,
Like Goldblum’s female dinosaurs, I will find a way.
Nothing can hold me back,
especially not the word, “can’t”.

If that was your best,
your best won’t do.

 

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution” (A Book Review)

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution”
by Ann Travers
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$24.95 ISBN: 9780889775787

“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution”, written by Ann Travers and published by the University of Regina Press is an honest and enlightening review of the trials and struggles of growing up transgender in North America. The experiences contained in this book were gathered by a series of interviews with transgender kids and youth (individuals from a wide variety of ages, from 4 to 18) and the parents of trans kids in Canada and the United States between the years of 2012 to 2017.

As someone who is not transgender and knows relatively little about experiences of transgender people, I found this book to be an incredibly informative experience. This was in no small part due to Travers’ insane attention to detail and the obvious meticulousness that they poured into their research. Literature that is academic in nature has a tendency to be a little dry, somewhat hard to follow and littered with jargon. However, I did not find this to be the case with Travers’ work. In fact, I found it to be passionate, moving, and an intelligent review of the human condition. It is clear that Travers does not view their work as “a deliverable” or is driven by the self-back-patting ego that plagues the academic climate. The quality and quantity of the research, the commitment to ensure that the participants’ experiences are portrayed in an accurate manner, and the conviction embedded in the writing were all indicators to me of an author taking their work seriously, and with a great amount of respect.

The interviews contained in the book are dispersed and then utilized to provide a discourse on the experiences of either growing up transgender or raising a transgender child in five basic categories, these include transgender kids, schools, spaces, parents, and supportive healthcare. Of course, the information within is dissected and categorized further, and the result is a much-needed read for anyone who would like to understand the experiences of trans youth and the impact of socially enforced gender norms. Personally, I found Travers’ research on transgender youth in sport to be the most interesting segment of the book but can say with confidence that it is far more accessible than I had thought it would be. There is something for everyone to learn from and to be enthralled by.

I can admit that I will never fully understand the experiences of transgender people, and I realize that their challenges are significantly different from my own. However, thanks to all of the participants of this book, and to Travers’ excellent work representing them, I am much more educated on the topic than I have ever been before. Where I was expecting academic gender studies buzzwords, I found a gripping and seriously clever review of gender norms, politics, mental health, and much more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to understand gender better but does not know where to even begin.

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