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BOWWOW POWWOW by Brenda Child Illustrated by Jonathon Turner Translated by Gordon Jourdain…2020 MN STAR OF THE NORTH nominee

Originally written in the Ojibwe language, Bowwow Powwow is an explanation of the basics of what a powwow is and an idea of why it holds such a revered place in Ojibwe culture–past and present.  The illustrations are beautifully done in jewel tones, which have a relaxing, calming effect on the reader.

Our main character is a young girl called Windy Girl.  At first I thought it would be a story about her and the puppy she finds on the first double-page spread, Itchy Dog. Unfortunately, a promising beginning with these two characters fades away after the first few pages.  There really is no story here.  It’s a few pages about a girl who finds a dog, who barks a lot.  The following pages are mostly expository information about the history of powwows and what they look like today.

There is no relationship aspect to any of the story–not between Windy Girl and her uncle, Windy Girl and her grandmother, not even between Windy Girl and Itchy Dog.  This entire picture book could just as easily have been a paragraph in a textbook.

I believe that knowledge and history are most effectively passed on through story and Bowwow Powwow doesn’t have enough of a story structure to balance the facts in the book.  I think it would be hard for a young reader listening to this book to come away with any new or vivid images or ideas about the Ojibwe culture–which is complex and beautiful and extremely interesting.  If you’re desperate for an explanation of powwow and plan on using this book as only one element of a unit on Native American, or Ojibwe, culture in a classroom it could be a useful tool.  I’m disappointed that I can’t recommend this picture book on its own.

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