Berry Song

Michaela Goade's authorial debut, Berry Song, is a celebration of nature and an enchanting heritage story.

As Berry Song begins, the young Tlingit narrator is in a boat with her grandmother, who demonstrates skills for living off the land: "Together we pull hemlock branches from the salty ocean, heavy with herring eggs like tiny stars," and so on. Afterward they approach an island forest, where "the berries sing to us, glowing like little jewels." Their song--"Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry./ Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry"--begets variations that become the book's refrain. Throughout Berry Song, the narrator affirms the necessity of singing: as a way to thank--"Gunalchéesh"--the land for its generosity, to remind ancestors that they're not forgotten and to honor "the future, so that all will hear and all will know this beautiful berry song."

Berry Song may strike young readers as not quite like any picture book they've seen before. Working in watercolor and mixed media, Caldecott Medalist Goade (We Are Water Protectors; I Sang You Down from the Stars) re-creates the majesty of what her author's note explains is Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Pages are awash in vegetation and woodland creatures, and both realistically proportioned and outsize berries. Goade balances her story's earthy and spiritual elements in dexterous visual experiments with light and shadow. In an astonishing image reinforcing the relationship of humans to the earth, the girl has what appears to be an ocean skirt, tree branch fingers and hair made of leaves, flowers and animals; as she says to her grandmother in the facing text, "The land is a part of us." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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