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New initiative to help little ones learn

(COURTESY CHARLEEN SCHURMAN)

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A few years ago, Charleen Schurman and her friend Jody Jacobs were sitting on the porch having coffee when Jacobs lamented that there were no baby books in Kanien’kéha in the community.

“She (Jacobs) was telling me that she has two little granddaughters that are in the Language Nest, and she said, ‘I just wish I had some books that I could read to them in Kanien’kéha,’” said Schurman.

“And the types of books that they (small children) can handle, they’re going to get a paper cut if you just give them the regular books, so she expressed that it would be nice to have board books. So, I said, ‘isn’t there any in the community?’ and she said, ‘no, there’s not one that I know of.’ I said, ‘well let’s do it,’” said Schurman.

The women decided to submit an application for funding through the Kahnawake Caisse Populaire Community Development Fund in August of 2018.

“They offer funding for good community initiatives, and while the application was waiting to be considered, we sought out illustrators who we knew, who we thought might want to become involved and donate their time, to do the illustrations,” said Schurman.

“We got in touch with the Language Nest and asked them if they would do the translation.”

The women received the funding in November 2018. Schurman explained that 100 percent of the money went to printing. They were forced to use a broker from Ontario who had the books printed in China because there are no printing companies in Canada that print board books.

“Once we had solidified our core committee of people, we gathered, and we brainstormed about which nursery rhymes would be used and who would illustrate which book,” she said.

The illustrations and translation were done exclusively by volunteers. In total, three books were produced, each being a different nursery rhyme.

One book is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, another one is You Are My Sunshine, and the third is Itsy Bitsy Spider, entirely in Kanien’kéha, and suited for children 0-48 months. One thousand copies of each book were printed.

“One set of books is going to be given away free to each child in the community up to the age of four. It was what we wanted to do, and that was in our application. We are making good on that promise,” she said.

“The balance of the books can be purchased at the Kahnawake Library. The books are going to be available online, and there will be a couple of other places in the community that will be selling them as well.”.

The books were also dedicated to first-language speakers from the community, including the late Shirley Deer, the late Tiorahwáthe Gilbert and to Kateri Deer. for their contribution in passing on Kanien’kéha to the younger generations.

“When the prototype came in, we were in awe. I don’t know what we expected, but what we got was a professionally-bound book that you would buy in a bookstore, beautiful illustrations, the colours popped,” said Schurman.

“And then when the whole shipment came in, and we started to announce the launch and people were just excited and enthusiastic. It was an incredible feeling. I think Jody even burst into tears,” she said.

The drive-through book launch is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Karonhianónhnha School.

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