CCBC 2012 Pick, Best Books for Kids and Teens!
Globe & Mail - Chosen as one of Susan Perren's top 10 children's books of 2010!
"Starkly simple, beautiful illustrations embellish an enchanting alphabet book that pays homage to Métis culture, especially its endangered language."
Globe & Mail - Susan Perren, Review
It's not always the case that a work of art and a "teachable moment" intersect but, most happily, they do in Julie Flett's remarkable Michif/English alphabet book.
Flett, a Métis artist living in Vancouver, introduces her book by noting, “Languages are precious; they capture the very essence of a culture. The exceptional night-sight of owls is akin to the insight that language offers in understanding a culture.”
Once spoken by hundreds of thousands across the Canadian Prairies and the northern United States, Michif, the language of the Métis people, is now endangered. Métis elders in scattered parts of North America may still speak the language, but the young are largely monolingual English speakers. Recently, an awareness that the impending death of Michif will result in the dying out of Métis culture has resulted in a renewed interest in learning the language.
Julie Flett’s alphabet book, an important step in this direction, will be enjoyed by anyone with a burgeoning interest in letters and language.
A is for “Atayookee!” (Tell a story!); B is for “Li Bafloo” (Buffalo); M is for “Mawishow” (He/she is picking berries); V is for “Li Vyalon” (Fiddle) and Z is for “Lii Zyeu” (Eyes).
All the other letters of the English alphabet are present and accounted for here except q and x, for which there are no sounds in Michif. Flett’s choice of object or expression and her illustrations for each give her book a lovely sparkle.
Her two-page paintings accompanying each letter are simple, crisp and elegant and seem to tease out what is essential in, or intrinsic to, for instance, owl, leaf, snow, barley or rain.
This book is shortlisted for the 2010 Governor-General's Award for Children's Literature - Illustration.
TimeOut New York Kids - Picture book pick
"The gorgeous, bilingual ABC book Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet introduces kids—and, likely, parents—to the language and culture of the Métis people of North America. Digitally enhanced silhouettes rely on a simple, striking palette that illustrates words in the Michif language, a combination of native Cree and Salteaux, plus French (a pronunciation guide at the back may or may not help with some of the tongue-twisty vocabulary). A single word may convey an entire sentence (”M” is for “Manishow,” which means “He/she is picking berries”), or be so close to English as to be almost guessable, even without the accompanying picture (”B” is for “Li Bafloo,” or “the buffalo”). If the bilingual format is a bit much for kids just learning the alphabet, poring over the images is its own reward. Look for clever details like a wolf sticking his tongue out to catch “la pwii” (rain), or the bear hiding behind a tree, hoping for a taste of “la galet” (or bannock, a type of flat bread). Field trip idea: Consider pairing a reading with a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian.
"In Owls See Clearly at Night, Julie Flett’s beautiful and elegant illustrations eloquently describe the Michif alphabet. Each letter’s vignette is thought-provoking, depicting elements of the natural world in an illumination of meaning. The letters appear deceptively simple at first glance, but in fact each contains its own mysterious, lyrical story." - Tough City Writer
"To illustrations composed of dark silhouettes and color highlights in mostly pale tones placed within large empty spaces, Flett matches 24 (there’s no “q” or “x”) alphabetically arranged single words in an endangered Métis tongue paired to English equivalents. Spoken by only about 1,000 people today, Michif mixes French with Cree and other Native American languages, and its roots are often more evident from the words’ pronunciations than their spelling: Diloo (water), La Niizh (snow), Lii Zyeu (eyes). Though the art has a somber air that isn’t always appropriate—the two girls dancing la jig look like they’re about to break into tears—it does convey images and feeling evocative of the northern climes in which the Métis live. A bear peers from behind a tree at la galet (bannock) as it cools on a stump; a wolf gazes at a bucket collecting sap for li siiroo (syrup). A thorough pronunciation guide and lists of further resources cap what will be, for nearly all children, a horizon-broadening introduction to a distinctive American culture. (introduction) (Picture book. 7-9)"
Good Minds - "Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer: L'Alfabet di Michif, Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet is the long-awaited children's picture book written and illustrated by Julie Flett, illustrator of Zoe and the Fawn. The author draws inspiration from her Metis heritage and has created a beautiful and engaging children's alphabet with a twist. All the letters are taken from words in the Michif language. The language developed as a combination of French and Cree or Ojibwe. This uniquely Canadian development does not contain the letters Q and X and the author/illustrator respects this fact. The book begins with an invitation drawn from the word, Atayookee, Tell a Story. The letter B is represented by Buffalo and readers see a buffalo on the plains with a bird riding on its back. The illustrations are digitally manipulated and use simple silhouettes and ample use of white space. The viewer is instantly drawn to the key feature of the art that corresponds to the Michif term. During further exploration of the image one sees playful additions as in the page representing the letter G, La Galet, Bannock. Sitting on a stump outdoors is a teapot and pan of Bannock but hiding behind a tree is the outline of a creature hoping for a taste. Each image and letter is a new experience for the young child and the adult reader. The afterword provides adults with a brief pronunciation guide for Michif and some historical information about the language known as Michif. This book should engage adults and young children alike with its gentle images and simple message of celebrating Metis people and the environment."
Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer: L’Alfabet di Michif / Owls See Clearly At Night: A Michif Alphabet
Simply Read Books, 2009.
Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet Book, Métis illustrator Julie Flett’s debut as an author, shows the artist’s commitment to her heritage. A result of the mingling of First Nations (mostly Cree and Ojibwe) and European cultures (mostly the French and Scots peoples), Michif has a long, rich history as an oral language, but its writing systems are fairly new. With this book Flett carries us along on a very unique alphabet journey.
From the introduction we learn that the Michif language, once spoken by thousands in Canada and the US, is now in danger of disappearing (as are so many of the minority languages of the world). Sadly, today very few Métis children speak or even understand it.
Owls See Clearly At Night introduces readers to the fact that the letters “Q” and “X” don’t exist in the Michif language, and that “whole sentences can often be expressed by a single word.” Fittingly, the book opens with A is for Atayookee!, which means Tell a Story!: a perfect nod to the oral history of the language and to the central place that oral storytelling has always had in the Michif culture.
Flett’s art – digitally manipulated hand-made drawings – displays her preference for clean lines and her superb use of white space. The elegant and reduced color palette lends itself beautifully to her shillouette figures amidst smaller colorful details, such as the two girls wearing dark moccasins, with tiny red and blue flowers on them, doing the jig in the letter J forLa Jig / Jig. A perfect example of the artist’s feminine and lyrical style is the illustration for letter C, Lii Chiiraañ / Northern Lights, which shows the silhouette of a girl with black hair blowing in the wind, facing a beautiful northern light sky. We can’t see her face, yet we know: she is in perfect harmony with her environment.
A pronunciation guide for vowels and consonants and a list of useful websites and books on the history of the language are included. Author’s notes at the back acknowledge the help of, among others, Métis language activist, Elder Grace (Ledoux) Zoldy. In a race against time,Owls See Clearly at Night represents an essential step in the direction of preserving and transmitting the Michif language to future generations. Kudos to Julie Flett for this very important contribution!
April 2010, Paper Tigers
Owls See Clearly at Night is a beautifully illustrated rendering of the Michif alphabet and Métis culture. Michif and English words appear alongside elegant illustrations by Julie Flett, a local author as well as a member of the Métis Nation. Michif, the language of the Métis people, is a blend of Cree and French. Once spoken by thousands of people across the Prairies of Canada and the Northern United States, Michif could potentially disappear within a generation. This alphabet book is an attempt to help preserve the language as well as introduce young and old alike to the unique Michif language. Just a word of warning: You may be tempted to take the book apart and frame the illustrations. - Stika Book Review
Vancouver’s Julie Flett presents a Michif (the Cree/French/Gaelic language of the prairie Métis) alphabet book in Owls See Clearly at Night (Simply Read, 56 pages, $18.95, ages 3+). Flett’s art of paint, ink and collage — a mixture of traditional and digital —is austere, elegant and highly evocative of the landscape and culture whence it comes. Each letter represents a Métis word and its English translation. A visual and linguistic delight.
Short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration, Owls See Clearly At Night is a bilingual alphabet book, with Michif, not English, being the book's primary language as Michif words are used to illustrate the letters of the alphabet.
Concerning Michif, an "Introduction" explains that:
The Métis culture, a mixture of First Nations (mostly the Cree and Ojibwe peoples) and European (mostly French and Scots people), have gone through many transformations since it began. The mingling of cultures resulted in the Michif language that is a unique blend of Cree (N'hiyaw'win) and French (Français) with some Saulteaux.
The Introduction goes on to explain that, while "Michif was once spoken by thousands of people across the Prairies of Canada and the Northern US," it is now an endangered language and is spoken only "in pockets of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Alberta, Montana, and by other Métis communities spread across North America." According to the Introduction, "there has been a recent resurgence in interest in learning Michif and other Métis languages." Owls See Clearly at Night can be seen as a contribution to that revival attempt. To support the book's Michif language learning aspect, a "Vowel Pronunciation Guide" and a "Consonant Pronunciation Guide" are found at the book's conclusion, along with a page labelled "Resources" which is directed at those who want to learn more about the Michif language.
For those who are English speakers and have no interest in learning to speak Michif, it is most important to note that this alphabet book omits the letters q and x. Originally, Michif was just an oral language, and when attempts were made to represent the sounds of Michif in a written form, it was discovered that the letters q and x do not really represent any of the sounds heard in Michif. The introduction also clarifies that "whole sentences can quite often be expressed in one word in Michif, whereas in English this requires two or more [words]" as can be seen in the letter M:
He/she is picking berries.
Alphabet books are most often thought of as the stuff of preschoolers who are still learning the letters of the alphabet, their upper and lower case forms, and the sounds associated with the letters. Owls See Clearly At Night is clearly not such an alphabet book as it provides only the upper case form of just 24 letters of the English alphabet, and there are no sound connections between the letters and the English word(s). As can be seen in the Michif examples in the excerpt above, the focal letter of the alphabet does not necessarily appear as the first letter of the Métis word.
So, given its "shortcomings" as an alphabet book, why should you purchase Owls See Clearly At Night? If your school or library is in Western Canada, it is highly likely that you have some Métis children in your community, and they deserve to see their heritage represented in your collection. And, as the GG Award Committee pointed out, the illustrations are outstanding in their quiet simplicity. Each of the 24 letters is represented via a pair of facing pages with the lefthand page being given over to the very brief text. The facing page contains a spare, limited palette two-dimensional illustration which sometimes spills over onto the text page. The things/activities being illustrated are drawn from Métis culture, and so readers will see scenes from nature that include buffalos, pheasants and wild roses or items from Métis daily life, like canoes, moccasins and bannock. Illustrations also portray children engaged in activities such as jigging, picking berries and sledding.
"Honourable mention also goes to Julie Flett for Owls See Clearly at Night: a Michif alphabet This is a unique linguistic and visual treat. Flett's striking illustrations are deceptively simple. The use of silhouettes with bright spots of colour, create compositions that are striking in their beauty and elegance. They convey a connection with the natural world and also a sense of loss and isolation. This book has a subtle, gripping power. " - CLA, 2011 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award
Ottawa, Family Living, Spring 2012
This is not your traditional bilingual ABC. Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet is an illuminating guide to an endangered language, once spoken by thousands in the Prairies and northern US. Julie Flett, herself a Metis, has provided an introduction to a way of life only now being appreciated. Her exquisite minimalist illustrations won a major award. I agree with the jury who commented, "Each page could be framed and hung."