Berry Song

Illustrated by Michaela Goade

“We take care of the land… as the land takes care of us. Gunalchéesh, I say giving thanks.”

Berry Song is a beautifully illustrated picture book of a young Tlingit girl taking us through the Alaskan island she lives on with her grandmother as her guide. The girl and her family go fishing, picking berries, and making food. They live in connection and reciprocity with the land, water, air, and their ancestors. Grandmother teaches the girl how to sign to the forest, the waters, and all creatures and how to hear their songs too, “so the land knows we are grateful”. Throughout the book, a “berry song” is repeated, naming the numerous types of berries found on the island: “Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Nagoonberry…”. At the end of the story, the girl will take what she has learned from her grandmother and pass it on to her little sister. The book ends with a resource guide in which Goade shares more detail about the book’s setting (the Tongass National Forest in Sheet’ká, or Sitka, Alaska), the importance of berries to Tlingit people, and a call for combatting the climate crisis. Goade stresses the urgency in learning about unsustainable human practices, engaging in political activism, and learning from Indigenous peoples leading the way. The end pages include a pastedown and flyleaf double-page spread featuring illustrations of berries with both Indigenous and English names, for example, Kanat’á, or blueberry.

An #own voice book by Tlingit author and illustrator, Berry Song is a great starting point to engage in conversations about Indigenous Worldview, epistemologies, and environmental practices: especially Indigenous land care, permaculture practices, foraging, local food, food sovereignty, and, of course, berries! Introducing names from the Tlingit language, the book identifies 8 types of tléiḵw, or berries, harvested by Tinglit at different times of the year. The book’s focus on Indigenous peoples’ practices of producing and harvesting their own food—in ways they have done for generations—is one central theme. It highlights how sustainability requires biodiversity, and how both are central to the achievement of environmental and climate justice. Another theme is how these practices emerge from the Indigenous Worldview in which “We are a part of the land … as the land is a part of us.” The core values of kinship, care, and reciprocity are shown as rooted in ancestral and place-based knowledge that enables Indigenous peoples to create sustainable lives in harmony with their local ecosystems. The actions that are shown in the book also model attitudes and practices we can adopt in our lives. As Goade writes in the conclusion of the resource guide, “In many places around the world, Indigenous peoples are leading the way in protecting our planet. I encourage you to find out whose traditional territory you call home, learn about their history and the issues they are facing today, and seek ways to engage.” The importance of preserving and celebrating Indigenous languages, cultures, and ways of knowing is highlighted through every aspect of the book as central to building a just, sustainable ecological civilization.

©2023 ClimateLit (Amanda Golat)

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022

Pages: 32

ISBN: 9780316494175

Audience: Ages 4-7, Ages 8-13

Format: Picturebooks

Topics: #ownvoices, Ancestral Knowledge, BIPOC Protagonist, Berries, Biodiversity, Climate Justice, Earth Care, Ecological Civilization, Environmental Justice, Food, Food Sovereignty, Foraging, Hunter-Gatherers, Indigenous Environmental Practices, Indigenous Epistemology, Indigenous Land Care, Indigenous Worldview, Interconnectedness, Local Food, Native Plants, Permaculture, Place-Based Knowledge, Sustainability