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Monthly Book Reads > June Picture Book 2013 Discussion: The Secret of Your Name by David Bouchard

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Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 492 comments Mod
Hello everyone! This month's winner for the June monthly picture book read is The Secret of Your Name Proud to Be Métis by David Bouchard by David Bouchard. Please feel free to discuss about what you liked or hated about this book!

message 2: by Manybooks (last edited Jun 01, 2013 05:28AM) (new)

Manybooks I hope all of you have the chance to read and to enjoy The Secret of Your Name: Proud to Be Métis. It is a book I strongly recommend to anyone, both children and adults, and especially to those of you interested in the culture and history of the Métis or First Nations. Here is my review, and I think you can tell from it that I totally loved and still love this book, this poetic vision of what it is like to be Métis.

I am not sure wether I can find the words to adequately describe just how much I loved and was moved by The Secret of Your Name, how both David Bouchard's intense, poetical text and Dennis J. Weber's evocative illustrations spoke to me, how they drew me in, how I felt like I was part and parcel to the author's intimate and moving account of what it is, what it feels like to be Métis. Hauntingly, metaphorically beautiful, emotionally powerful (and heartbreaking at times), I would consider both the English and the Michif texts equally compelling. While I (unfortunately) cannot read or really comprehend Michif (although I was able to figure out quite a number of the French Canadian words in context), I did listen to both texts on the accompanying audio CD, and even though I was only able to grasp, to understand a few words of the Michif text, I did feel the same sense of emotion, of haunting intimacy and poignancy that I experienced reading and then listening to the English text; both texts entered my heart and soul utterly and completely.

The Métis of Canada are the only mixed-blood people on earth recognised by every level of government as being a nation (they have their own language, song and flag). However, the Métis' path to that official recognition has been one of hardship, denial and lies. In the aftermath of the North West Rebellion of 1885 (the Riel Rebellion), the Métis of Canada were manipulated, deceived and robbed of their pride and much of their culture. In David Bouchard's excellent foreword, he describes in evocative detail how many of his and other Métis' grandparents were humiliated and pushed into denying their native ties in favour of their more "acceptable" European bloodlines. Many Métis are now searching for their past, are only now stepping forward to say (to dare to say) that they are proud to be Métis, that they are proud of both their First Nations and European heritage.

Bouchard's text is therefore not only a proud declaration of his Métis heritage, of his First Nations and European background. It is also (and maybe even primarily) an emotional, heartfelt apology to his First Nations (Native American) grandmothers (Bouchard's Nokums), that no one ever spoke of them, that their traditions, their lives, their very names were considered shameful, less worthy, that their stories, songs and cultural traditions are now quite unknown to him (as they likely are to and for many Métis). I cannot even begin to describe how this apology has tugged at my heart and the multiple emotions it has engendered and continues to generate. Besides the joy of discovery (Bouchard's discovery and embracing of his First Nations roots) there are also feelings of incredible sadness and, of course, righteous and deep anger at the fact that the First Nations traditions of the Nokums were perceived and approached in such a prejudicial and bigoted manner.

The poetic narrative of The Secret of Your Name is textually dense, descriptive and quite sophisticated (the English text, I cannot say much regarding the Michif text, except that I found and find it powerful, as well as a compelling and joyful symbol of cultural survival). Although the text reads easily enough, it does demand both attention and maturity from its readers. I would therefore consider The Secret of Your Name suitable for children above the age of nine or ten; there is no upper limit, this is also a book for adults (in fact, adults might appreciate this book more than many children). That being said, Bouchard's word choices are not overly complicated, and Dennis J. Weber's accompanying artwork does much to assist with comprehension, making The Secret of Your Name perhaps even suitable for slightly younger children (ages six to eight), if the text were being read with or to them.

Métis artist Dennis J. Weber's accompanying artwork is so wonderfully evocative, so descriptively and boldly gorgeous that I can only describe it with one small, but powerfully effective word, "wow!" His full-page oil paintings reflect the same haunting quality, the same sense of loss, longing, of undeserved repression and imposed "shame" that is shown in Bouchard's narrative. Louis Riel was actually Dennis J. Weber's first cousin five generations removed, and Weber feels that his own mother was made to feel ashamed of her Métis culture and heritage; he dedicated the paintings in The Secret of Your Name to his mother (who died in 1991, two years after the Métis were officially recognised as a nation).

If you decide to read this book, I strongly recommend that you also listen to the accompanying audio CD. Hearing the texts (David Bouchard himself reads the English text, the Michif text is read by Norman Fleury) is an amazing, emotional and simply wonderful experience, and the fiddle music by Métis musician John Arcand is not only a real musical treat, it pays homage to the fact that music was and is an important part of Métis culture and life. Also, if you speak and understand French, you will probably be able to figure out at least some of the Michif text by listening to it on the audio CD. I believe that you will likely be able to discern more of the French Canadian words by listening to the Michif text than by actually trying to read it, as the French words used in Michif are not spelled like standard French; they are spelled quite phonetically. I know that I was able to understand more of the spoken Michif, the written text was quite difficult for me (I did manage to figure out some of the French words in the written text, but I definitely understood more of the French words used in Michif when I listened to the text on audio CD). Very, very highly recommended for anyone, this is one of the most poignant and evocative books I have read in a long time.

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