By Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey, illustrated by Nancy Baker. Tilbury House Publishers, 2021. 32 pages. $18.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 6–8.
The First Blade of Sweetgrass is simply heartwarming. The simple tale of a young girl going out with her grandmother to learn the traditional art of harvesting sweetgrass from the marshes for basketmaking, it melds the enchantment of the natural world with deep principles such as tradition, ecological responsibility, mindfulness, and cultural legacy.
Illustrated in the soft earth tones of the sweetgrass meadows of Maine’s Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, this book is grounded in the Indigenous traditions of the region. The two authors are active citizens within the Wabanaki Confederacy. Suzanne Greenlaw works to restore Wabanaki ecological stewardship practices throughout Maine, while Gabriel Frey is an award-winning Passamaquoddy basket maker, artist, and cultural knowledge keeper. Together, they taught illustrator Nancy Baker of the ecology and cultural importance of sweetgrass.
Little Musquon’s grandmother teaches her two lessons to begin harvesting sweetgrass from the marshes:
Do not pick the first blade, so there will never be a last blade for future generations.
Sweetgrass has a shiny green tassel and blades and a purple stem, and it gives itself to you. If it does not give itself, it is not sweetgrass.
But it is only when Musquon learns to slow down, pay attention, and connect with the ancestors who picked sweetgrass before her that she is able to follow in their footsteps.
For Indigenous children, the book offers a deep affirmation of tradition and connection to ancestry. For non-Native children, the book offers a rare and sweet experience of the land and its gifts from a more mindful, respectful, relational perspective. It is an invaluable gift in these days of virtual reality and nature deficit disorder.
Phila Hoopes is a freelance copywriter for a regenerative business, a permaculture practitioner, and a spiritual edgewalker. She lives in Baltimore, Md., where she is a member of Homewood Meeting.