Tag Archives: Janelle Bailey

The Monday Book: BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Today’s Monday Book comes from Janelle Bailey, an educator from Wisconsin

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

a beautiful book! I have had this on my shelf since a former student gifted it to me years ago after it had been required reading for her for a college course at the University of Minnesota. I picked it up at least one other time and tried to start it…and was unsuccessful in “getting into it.”

And then something propelled me to suggest it for a book club reading for April, and it was selected…and then, as things sometimes go, I heard Ms. Kimmerer on public radio just a couple of days later, and as soon as we announced it as the April book, a book club friend responded that Ms. Kimmerer is speaking this next week in a local to her lecture series; I’m going! (Because going places virtually these days is such a wonderful opportunity to be included elsewhere. LOVE that!)

So, I then proceeded to read this book for last night’s book club meeting. And it is NOT a quick read. And that is NOT a bad thing. This is a long, dense, thoughtful book…quiet and poetically beautiful in its stories and the tellings of them, and Kimmerer’s heart and mind are working on restoring the people’s relationship with the land and its non-people, and she has just a beautiful way with the words and urging she does with readers to see what is wrong–even, perhaps, with their individual practices–in hopes of reconnecting the masses to a reciprocal relationship with not just sweetgrass but allllllllllll that sweetgrass represents here, that which grows naturally and in a system that worked…before humans got involved and manipulated it and/or dismissed that the relationship was supposed to be mutual, not just one of exploitation and/or destruction.

Kimmerer shares also reflection on some of her teaching experiences, the opportunities she has seized to share her wisdom and understanding with young people, how enriching it is to watch them grow back into a new understanding of and better appreciation for the land and its products. I really enjoyed watching those revelations unfold; take away all of the difference in subject matter between her courses and the ELA courses I taught, even, and I was reminded of how much valuable learning comes into play just from the necessary relationship building between students and teachers, the classroom management and teaching style that develops a classroom culture, a set of inside jokes and understanding and valuable exchange between teacher and student and among students present and engaged. It’s a beautiful thing. (And if you haven’t heard me say it before, I’ll mention again here: I miss my classroom and students…all of them, though it was not COVID or the pandemic but a change of job that made that happen.)

All that Kimmerer presents here about returning to a peace of restored relationship with nature, and its avenue being along the lines of the indigenous and native people is heartwork as well as mindwork and physical labor and making changes to how we do some things, and I value all that she says and how rationally she presents it. I will very happily plant the Three Sisters myself this spring…and have already made a batch of Indian pudding for dessert one evening last week. Kimmerer has touched me in all sorts of rich, thoughtful ways. And I am grateful for her and her sharing of all of this wisdom here.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections

Janelle Bailey’s Monday Book

518IrDgn2hLAs an English teacher for 25 years, I assigned a lot of reading to a lot of kids! One of them from a few years back recently messaged me on Goodreads to start a conversation about her own reading and mine; she also made a recommendation to me of something she’d really enjoyed. I saw it as not only fair but wonderful, to have a former student “assign” me some reading.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne was the book she recommended, and I am not disappointed to have taken her up on it, even though Lee Child’s cover blurb of “sensationally good psychological suspense” may have made me less likely, rather than more, to pick it up on my own.
The main character, Helena, is the product of an unusual–criminal, even–pairing. Her father kidnapped her mother at age 14 and literally “took” her for his wife; they lived together in seclusion in the northern woods of the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, north of Wisconsin) and had then raised Helena there. His parenting practices are extremely questionable, yet Helena sure has little for comparison, given the circumstances. Her mother is not a lot better at it, given her young age, inexperience, and limitations placed on her by her “husband” and their lifestyle.
The novel begins, though, many years later, when Helena’s father escapes from prison. And oh, what tangled ways it moves from there, both in the current search as well as the revealing of the back story of Helena’s childhood and upbringing, chapter by chapter working through both time periods and also braiding in allusive excerpts to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale by the same title.
While some elements are completely dark and violent, others are homey, even–such as how Helena makes her living (I’ll let you learn for yourself by reading the book), and it doesn’t dwell but moves; it’s got a good share of hope and forgiveness and light.
Whether you are one who’d grab the first thriller you saw or one who would not…possibly at all, I think you’ll find the good writing and great storytelling here to be well worth your reading time.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing