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At the Heart of It: Dene dzó t’áré by R. Taniton & M. Willett

Taniton, Raymond and Mindy Willett.  At the Heart of It: Dene dzó t’áré.  Markham, On:  Fifth   House, 2011.  Print.

Indigenous author Raymond Taniton is a member of The Sahtugot’ine, or the “people of Great Bear Lake”.  In At the Heart of It, Taniton invites readers into his world.  We meet his family, see the Sahtu Region where he lives, meet the elders in the community, learn how to make a traditional hand drum, learn some games and read some of the stories.  The stories are particularly important.

This book is the most recent in Fifth House’s “The Land is Our Story Book” series, all co-authored by writer Mindy Willett. Taniton concludes this volume by saying, “The land is our storybook. It is our school, our library, our church. It is where we learn our stories and where we discover who we are as true Dene people. The land is at the heart of it all”.  And in this book Taniton and Willett do succeed in helping us to understand “the land”.

This is a picture book, an educational book and a celebration of what it means to be Satugot’ine. Tessa Macintosh’s photographs are used throughout. The top of each page has a border image of the beaded toes of twenty-one moccasins. Often a large image will form the background of a page with text and other images superimposed.  For example, for the story “The Lake is the Boss”, the background is an image which looks out through the mouth of a cave.  The story is about a giant wolf that lived in the cave. The text, along with smaller images of the island that the wolf became when he turned to stone, is superimposed on the cave photograph.  The images and text, taken together, form many lessons for young people.  The stories provide metaphorical and philosophical lessons, but the book also provides practical lessons, such as the illustrated steps to making a drum.  As a whole, the book celebrates Raymond Taniton’s family, the Sahtugot’ine people and their way of life.   Highly recommended for elementary school and public libraries.

Highly Recommended:  4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.