Brenda Child’s “Bowwow Powwow” is a sheer delight

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Review by Deborah Locke

Bowwow Powwow
By Brenda J. Child
Illustrated by Jonathan Thunder
Ojibwe translation by Gordon Jourdain
Minnesota Historical Society Press
May 1, 2018
Hardcover: 32 pages
Ages: 3 – 7 years

Windy Girl knows this for sure, and many of you know it’s true, too. She knows the best days of summer end with a powwow. Not only does a powwow present a good ending, but the hours leading to the powwow, spent with a favorite uncle and a joyful dog, are pretty great, also.

“Bowwow Powwow” is a sweet children’s picture book that tells the story of Windy Girl, her dog, Itchy Boy, and Uncle. Like the best picture books, this one is certain to spark a child’s imagination while also entertaining adults.

Author Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe) writes for an audience of children age three to seven, but her actual audience is ageless. Striking illustrations by artist Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) propel the story, which is also translated into Ojibwe.

The illustrations by Thunder and the book’s fanciful characters both confirm what American Indian children already know about a powwow, and will inform non-Indian children about these important gatherings of family and friends. Older readers will appreciate the childhood memories invoked, and the fine story-telling.

The story features Windy Girl who is paired perfectly with her noisy, loveable dog Itchy Boy. A favorite Uncle tells stories to Windy Girl from his boyhood, like the way powwows evolved. He takes Windy Girl and Itchy Boy to a powwow where Windy Girl watches dancers and eats tasty food from vendors. She falls asleep and dreams of a powwow where all the dancers are dogs.

This outcome is illustrated nicely on the book cover that shows Uncle driving a truck with Windy Girl in tow and Itchy Boy in the back. The shadow figure of a dancing dog appears in an upper corner. The truck is chased by a small herd of happy rez dogs.

Inside the book, Thunder’s northern-light inspired illustrations are just as striking. We see dancers reaching for tobacco to express gratitude, and to dance for those who can’t dance. We’re introduced to various kinds of dances, and a menu of powwow food, like fry bread, pop, and blueberry snow cones.

For the adults out there who haven’t attended a powwow lately, this little book will stir your memory and steer you to the nearest powwow summer calendar.

Perhaps the most valuable addition to this charming story is the Ojibwe language translation by Gordon Jourdain. Traditional Ojibwe speakers will appreciate that feature, which may stir others to learn their language.

In short, it’s tough to decide the best part of this book. The whole of it is simply remarkable, on many levels.

A book signing by Brenda Child and Jonathan Thunder will take place from 11am to 1pm on June 9th at Birchbark Books, 2115 W. 21st St., Minneapolis.