This is the second in a series of columns focused on children’s books.
“The First Blade of Sweetgrass” is a heartwarming tale of a young contemporary Wabanaki girl named Musquon who is excited to accompany her grandmother to the salt marsh where sweetgrass grows. Her grandmother explains that her grandmother had brought her here, too, when she was a young girl and taught her how to pick the sweetgrass which would then be made into baskets.
Her grandmother shows her how to find the sweetgrass amongst all the other salt marsh grasses. She shares how their people have been coming to this area for many generations and how important it is to leave the first blade she sees to grow for future generations.
As Musquon takes her first walk to the salt marsh alone, she worries about how she will know which of the grasses she sees are indeed sweetgrass. It is only when Musquon learns to slow down, pay attention, and connect with the ancestors who picked sweetgrass before her that she is able to follow in their footsteps.
This authentic Native American picture book story was written by Suzanne Greenlaw, a Maliseet mother, and Gabriel Frey, her Passamaquoddy husband, both active citizens within the Wabanaki Confederacy. Applying their rich experience as ecological stewards and cultural knowledge keepers as well as their artistic talents, this book blends the excitement of the natural world with deep multilayered principles such as the Indigenous traditions of the region, ecological responsibility, cultural legacy, mindfulness, and respect. This book also includes information about traditional basket making and a Wabanaki glossary.
Robin Wall Kimmerer (author of “Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants”) said, “Families will cherish this gentle story, as shiny as sweetgrass, which nurtures connections between people, plants, and place.”
“The First Blade of Sweetgrass, a Native American Story” by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey with illustrations by Nancy Baker. Tilbury House Publishers, c 2021. Grades 1-3.
Selected for the ALA Notable Social Studies 2022 List
Named to ALA Notable Children’s Books 2022
Doris Smith worked in the Bedford Public Schools from 1967-2001 as the elementary school librarian covering, at that time, all four schools: Center, Davis, Lane, and Page. She was later the fulltime librarian at the Lane School. She also worked for about five years as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts School Library Association. She continues to pursue her interest in art.