Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review - Juji'jk: Mi'kmaw Insects

Juji'jk: Mi'kmaw Insects
by Tripartite Forum Culture & Heritage Education Committee
illustrated by Gerald Gloade & Evangeline Dedam
Date: 2019
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The English language is noun-based, referring to people, places, and things. Juji'jk, an illustrated bilingual guide to bugs and insects in Atlantic Canada, showcases the beautiful verb-based Mi'kmaw language. Featuring vibrant artwork and concise, fascinating descriptions, Juji'jk will have you searching out "the one that looks like a little owl" (moth) and "the one that sings before she bites you" (mosquito).

Created to promote and preserve the Mi'kmaw language, this book includes a pronunciation guide, a Mi'kmaw-English matching game, and an abridged version of the Smith-Francis orthography.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Oh, dear. What a disappointment this one was! It's such a shame when books like this aren't of great quality. The goal of promoting and preserving these languages is laudable. But when a non-fiction picture book is so chaotic, confusing, and unpleasant to look at, it kind of works against itself.

This is presumably for children, and yet it starts off with a wordy note explaining that, while English is a noun-based language, Mi'kmaw is a verb-based language. It then goes on to say that, if a Mi'kmaw word doesn't create a visual image, it is "contaminated or corrupt". This is ironic, considering that some of the words included in this book don't immediately create a visual image (at least, not in my mind).

The next thing we're treated to is one of the most confusing pronunciation guides I've ever seen, based on the Smith-Francis Orthography (which is probably not something that the audience for this book knows anything about). The very first letter is A, pronounced as in "amen". Now, I've heard that word pronounced as both AY-men and AH-men, so the pronunciation guide isn't off to a very good start. It just gets more confusing from there, as we're apparently supposed to be able to hear a difference between the O sound in "also" and "go", as well as subtle variations in the sound of letters like L, M, and N. It appears that we need a linguistics degree to read this book... and we haven't even gotten to the main part yet!

The bulk of the book is pictures of insects paired with Mi'kmaw words, their English equivalents, and definitions. I had no idea how to pronounce most of those words, and I wasn't about to flip back and forth to that pronunciation guide (especially on a digital ARC). But, guess what? You don't even need to. There's a pronunciation guide for all the words at the end of the book. Why those pronunciations weren't included on the actual pages with the words is beyond me; that seems like the logical place to put them.

Some of the Mi'kmaw words are very descriptive. Nismisqanaw is the word for "cocoon", and it means "comes from something that looks like dry skin". Other words, however, are much more vague. Mimikej is the word for "butterfly", and it simply means "the beautiful one". (That doesn't exactly create a visual image in my mind. Has that word been "contaminated"?) So it's a mixed bag. Then again, the book completely abandons the format on the page for spiders. So focused is it on telling us the singular and plural for the Mi'kmaw terms that it completely leaves out the definition! Awo'kejit means "spider"... but there's nothing to give me that visual image that's apparently so important.

The illustrations are pretty weak. There are credits for many of the images, so I'm not sure what the illustrators actually did here. The pictures are a combination of drawings and photographs, so there's no real cohesive look to the book. There's also a rather scary page that shows a woodlouse and a June bug depicted as the same size as a beaver!

The last few pages are taken up with blank pages for notes and sketches, an English/Mi'kmaw term matching game, and the pronunciation guide for all the words in the book (which, as I said before, really needed to be incorporated into the main text). Out of 40 pages, only 26 contain the actual illustrated Mi'kmaw words.

When I read a book that purports to teach an aspect of language to young readers, I expect that book to be clear, engaging, and fun to read. This book is, unfortunately, none of those things. I expect that it will have the most value for children who are actively learning the Mi'kmaw language, who will have someone who can help them with pronunciation and can, hopefully, tell them what awo'kejit actually means (I still don't know)!

Thank you to NetGalley and Nimbus Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

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