I am very fortunate to be able to support and engage with a very diverse group of young children in my work, which includes children from different Aboriginal communities. I work in a neighbourhood with a large Aboriginal population, and have been privileged to explore and learn more about different cultures and traditions.
One of the challenges I often face when supporting Aboriginal children and their families is finding books that reflect their modern urban reality. The majority of the Aboriginal books available to us at the library at least are based in traditional stories and lore, which is important, but which doesn’t necessarily reflect the complexity of modern Aboriginal life. The children I work with need great books that will help them connect with their roots and explore their heritage, but they also need great stories that they can relate to on an everyday basis. Contemporary Aboriginal children play video games and basketball, watch TV, collect Pokemon cards and wear sneakers, a reality that’s rarely reflected in Aboriginal children’s books. While Aboriginal culture is rooted in centuries’ old traditions, it is far from stagnate, and Aboriginal culture is as much a part of the present and the future as the past!
This is one of the reasons why I love Chuck in the City by Jordan Wheeler so very much.
Chuck, like most kids, is an adventurer, whose insatiable curiosity leads him on some pretty wacky journeys! When Chuck and his mother head to the city to visit Grandma, Chuck knows he shouldn’t wander off on his own, but there’s just so much to see and do and explore! As he explores the city, Chuck makes some interesting new friends and experiences everything he possibly can, before using his quick wits to find his way home.
Now, should kids take Chuck in the City as an invitation to wander off on their own in an unfamiliar city? No, of course not, and depending on the situation you might want to have that discussion with the children you’re working with. But Chuck is just so irrepressible that I hope even the most stridently worrywart caregivers will find their inner sense of humour and see this story for the cheeky fun it is!
I really love the fact that Chuck’s grandmother lives in a condo in the city. Most of the children in my programs live in apartments, so they can easily relate to this urban setting that reflects their own community. While it is important to instil in young children a strong passion and deep respect for the natural world, most of my kids are more at home in the concrete jungle than the great outdoors!
Though I doubt one librarian’s voice will really make that much of a difference, I’ll make a call again for more Aboriginal children’s books. I would love to have stories about city kids who live in apartments and who take the bus or bike to their inner-city schools. Stories kids who are video game masters, and kids who love to bake cupcakes and frost them with green icing because only green icing is delicious (true story). The kids in my programs and I would thank you!
Author Jordan Wheeler is an award-winning Cree writer and screenwriter who lives in Manitoba.