Joy Harjo's For a Girl Becoming
Illustrated by Mercedes McDonald
Children's book review by Suzanne Edison.
For any age, including teens and adults
A picture book about a girl growing up
In my early 20’s I was searching for something to bind me to my ancestral roots, to something larger than myself, something that would ground me in “the big world.” I didn’t find it among my Jewish traditions, I had always felt most alive and at peace in the natural world.
Now comes Joy Harjo’s For A Girl Becoming, a song-poem to a girl child. As poet and storyteller, Harjo speaks like a shaman conjuring a blanket of protection around a baby girl's spirit.
Review continues below.
She sings, repeatedly extolling the gifts of plants and animals, all richly painted on pages opposite the words.
Along pathways of gold swirling through the text she weaves a mother or grandmother’s love (though it could be any parent’s love) through the natural world to the heart of the child.
This grandmother spirit speaks to the girl as she grows through childhood into adulthood, conveying mythological, spiritual and psychological ideas. She encourages her to remember where she came from and who her ancestors are.
Don't forget how you started your journey from that rainbow house, how you traveled and will travel through the mountains and valleys of human tests.
She reminds her that no matter how difficult life gets, how “treacherous” or sad or full of “wayward humans who will hurt you,” her family is always there for her. And I think she means more than just her immediate family, she is speaking of her tribe, the place and peoples she was born into.
These are mostly solemn prayers but in a down to earth moment that made me laugh, like any good mother, she exhorts her to "clean your room."
As parents and adults most of us know the perils, silliness, travails, grief and joys growing up entails. We don't know the particulars of our child's life but we always want them to feel connected to family, friends and their inner source of strength.
For a Girl Becoming welcomes a girl child into the world at birth with the hope that she will carry all the blessings bestowed upon her the rest of her life.
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