One year it was eighty quarts in one day from that single garden patch. Even now, almost fifty years later, it still seems impossible that many berries were picked. Those strawberries were carefully washed more than once and trimmed. They were used in jams, pies, shortcakes, frozen to be enjoyed in winter and shared with family and friends.
This task was accomplished on a sunny, blue-sky day with a balmy breeze. The only sounds were from birds, insects, and quiet comments from a fellow picker. Once in a while, a berry found its way into our mouths. There is nothing sweeter tasting than a freshly picked strawberry. All my memories of berry gathering are times shared with family, but the most breathtaking depiction of familial berry gathering shines in Berry Song (Little, Brown And Company, July 19, 2022) written and illustrated by Michaela Goade, a member of the Tlingit Nation and Caldecott Medalist. Through her luminescent illustrations and eloquent words we are conveyed to another place and time.
On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea,
Grandma shows me how to live on the land.
From the water herring eggs are found nestled on hemlock branches, seaweed along the shore is plucked, and salmon is gathered in nets near a falls. Venturing from the water, the grandmother and her grandchild move to the forest. It's time to pick berries.
The berries are singing to them. As they begin to gather the berries, they sing out the different berry names. They continue to sing for the berries and any bear in the area. Grandmother and child know the land speaks to them as they speak to it.
As they work, the land communicates to them through their sensory experiences. They, in turn, express their thanks. This relationship between the land and the people is one of stewardship and provider. It has been honored from generation to generation and will continue into the future.
The child knows we are not separate from the land or the sea. We are intrinsically linked. At home, the gathered berries are cooked into delectable goodness, some consumed immediately and others to be savored later. Outside the seasons are shifting. Years pass and that granddaughter goes into the forest again, her little sister holding her hand.
With a single sentence, author Michaela Goade takes us into a wonderful world, a world full of the blessings given to people by our seas and land. Sentence by sentence, each one like the verse in a mantra spoken through time, our relationship with our beloved planet grows stronger. Her words sing out an acknowledgement, affection, and deep appreciation in a timeless and timely tribute. Here is a passage.
The forest sings to us,
through misting rain
and whoosh of wing,
the sweet smell of cedar
and the tickle of moss.
We sing too, so the land
knows we are grateful.
When you look at the front, right side, of the open dust jacket, it looks as though the berries and leaves have the grandmother and her grandchild in a loving embrace. The grandmother openly welcomes this as her granddaughter relishes it. The color palette shown here is just a hint of the beauty that follows within the pages of this book. The berries here are varnished. To the left of the spine, on the back, different berries and leaves frame a depiction of the sea and land cloudy with mist. There we read some of the words to the berry song---
On the book case, the back portion to the left of the spine is identical to the jacket. The front of the case is different. It is here we can see how the berry song is passed from one person to another person. The grandmother on the jacket has been replaced with an older version of her granddaughter. Next to her, with eyes closed, is her younger sister, contented and committing the berry song to memory.
On the opening and closing endpapers against a deep blue, green and black blended background, artist Michaela Goade has featured, between the two sets of endpapers sixteen different berries with their foliage. Each berry is labeled with their Tlingit name and more common name in white. On the opening endpapers is A Note To The Forager citing the wisdom of only selecting foods you know are edible and to do so with
an experienced adult.
On the title and verso pages is a double-page picture of the entire area, a bird's eye view through mist. On the left in the upper portion we can see their home. Along the bottom edge, we are close to berries. Throughout the book, these two-page and single-page images are rendered
in watercolor and mixed media.
Several of the double-page visuals show more than one activity. Many of the single-page illustrations are framed by a liberal amount of white space or flora. All the images are a resplendent depiction of what the grandmother and her granddaughter are doing at any given moment, but are also an invitation to readers to observe the world surrounding them.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. The color palette reflects the sun dipping toward the horizon. Warm and rusty rose covers the view at the top of the page of land and sea. Bald eagles rest and fly on the right side. On the left side on a hilltop in glowing yellow and green hues sits the grandmother and granddaughter, full berry bowls next to them. The grandmother holds her granddaughter close as they look at the vista before them. The scene is replete with flora native to the area. Along the bottom are berries with their leaves. To join them there would be a great gift, but just seeing this image is enough.
This stunning book, Berry Song written and illustrated by Michaela Goade, is a reverent ode to the land and sea and its bond to us. At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to Tlingit life, island life, and Michaela Goade's experiences picking berries. She also discusses three paired phrases used in this story---
We speak to the land
as the land speaks to us.
We take care of the land
as the land takes care of us.
We are a part of the land
as the land is a part of us.
I know you'll want to have a copy of this book in both your personal and professional collections. With every reading its elegance grows.
To learn more about Michaela Goade and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name. Michaela Goade has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can view the book trailer.