Healthy Living in the North

First Nations books: Children’s books exploring the Northwest Coast

Library bookshelf

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge! When you are next searching, be sure to check out the collection of vibrant, beautiful books featuring local First Nations stories!

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge. The number of options available can be overwhelming. In British Columbia, especially in the North, we are lucky enough to have access to culturally diverse reading material to offer our children.

Where I live, books featuring the Northwest’s vibrant First Nations cultures provide an opportunity for members of these communities to share their culture with others. In addition, for First Nations children, having materials that feature their local culture allows them to see images they are able to identify with and relate to. While it is also important to expose children to topics and subjects outside of their culture (broad background knowledge is important to later reading comprehension) having relatable materials can be a great way to transmit important information to the next generation.

The problem? Sometimes these books are not quite at the level that we need for a particular child. Rather than writing them off, though, try adapting the books to make them “just right” for your child’s level of development!

Garfinkel Publications has published a lovely series of books about exploring the Northwest Coast. Titles include Where is Mouse Woman?, Goodnight World, and Learn & Play with First Nations and Native Art. The images in these books are beautiful and very eye-catching for young children. Many of these stories are great for toddlers as there are lots of labels and not too much text.

How to adapt for the older preschool child? Try describing the pictures in more detail, or have the child make up a story for the images on the page. The picture provides them with a topic and allows them to practice using different kinds of sentences. It also gives the adult a chance to provide additional information that might not be in the book.

One of my personal favourites featuring a Northwest story is the book Raven: A Tricktser Tale from the Pacific Northwest, by Gerald McDermott. This book is a recounting of a traditional Haida story of how the sun came to be. The story is beautifully written but can be a bit long for some preschool children. Try simplifying the story, sticking only to the key elements (this means you will have to preread and do a bit of planning). As your child grows, you can add in more of the story or choose just a few pages (whichever ones your child is interested in) to discuss.

The great thing about books is there are many ways to read them. Feel free to be flexible in your story time to make whichever books you like work for you and your child.


Learn more about Northern Health’s Speech and Language Program.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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Wordless picture books and pre-literacy

Grandmother reading to grandchild

Make book time even more valuable by reading with your child rather than to your child. Some of the best books to promote conversational book reading are actually books with no words at all.

In this day and age, every parent of a preschooler has heard about the importance of reading to his or her child. These moments between caregiver and child are an important first step in a child’s literacy journey. Before learning to read, a child has to develop a variety of skills in the following three areas:

  • alphabet knowledge,
  • phonological awareness, and
  • vocabulary and oral language.

Alphabet knowledge is the ability to name and distinguish the shapes of letters. Phonological awareness refers to knowledge of the sounds of language, independent of the letters. This includes tasks such as rhyming and determining what sounds a word starts or ends with. Finally, vocabulary and oral language refer to the number of words the child understands and uses, as well as their ability to understand and use different kinds of sentences. All of these skills can be developed through shared book time.

Caregivers can make book time even more valuable by reading with your child rather than to your child. Some of the best books to promote conversational book reading are actually books with no words at all. The last skill area mentioned, vocabulary and oral language, is especially easy to work on when using wordless picture books. By not having written words limiting you, the story can become anything you want it to be! A child’s imagination can take centre stage as they provide their own dialogue for the story. You can help them tell their story by providing them with a model (“I think …”) or sometimes a question (“What’s happening on this page?” “What might happen next?”) Simply describing the picture on each page can be a great activity to develop oral language skills.

Because there is no print, it can also be easier to work on phonological awareness as your child can concentrate on just the sounds and not the letters. Try to think of some rhyming words for pictures on the page.

Wordless picture books are a great way to enjoy a slightly different kind of story time with your child. By turning reading time into a conversation, you are able to better promote those essential pre-literacy skills.

Wordless books to explore!

  • A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog (by: Mercer Mayer); age level 0-3; reading level: pre-reader
  • Good Night Gorilla (by: Peggy Raithmann); age level 3-6; reading level: pre-reader
  • Find the Kitten (by: Stephen Cartwright); age level 2 and up; reading level: pre-reader
  • Good Dog Carl (by: Alexandra Day); age level 3-6; reading level: pre-reader
  • Pancakes for Breakfast (by: Tomie de Paola); age level 3-6; reading level: beginning reader
  • Inside Outside (by: Lizi Boyd); age level 3-6; reading level: beginning reader
  • Banana! (by: Jonathan Allen); age level 3-6; reading level: preschool

Find books at your local library!

Learn more about Northern Health’s Speech & Language Program.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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Language skills at an early age

speech and language skills

Getting your child off to a good start with strong speech and language skills in the first years of life are key to later success!

So how exactly do children learn to talk, anyway?

Writing almost 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus recounts the tale of the Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus, who ran the following experiment: prevent two children from hearing any language and, after the children stop their babbling, identify which language the children use to speak their first words. This language, he reasoned, would be the original language.

Fast-forward 2,500 years and we find ourselves in Speech and Hearing Month 2013.  What do we know now that the pharaoh didn’t? Among other things, we know:

  • Children are not born with a language, but with the ability to learn any language.
  • Babbling is a crucial part of language development.
  • Children need to be able to hear the language around them.

As the name suggests, speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) help children develop both their speech and their language skills. “What’s the difference?” you may ask.  “Speech” refers to the sounds a language uses – whether the sounds of English or Ancient Egyptian – and “language” refers to the message itself. Good language skills are key to a child’s ability to communicate – whether the child communicates with words, with signs or with technology. Audiologists assess a child’s ability to hear the sounds of language and determine how to help a child hear best in challenging environments like a noisy classroom. Both S-LPs and audiologists would have had much to say to Psammetichus.

Often, parents assume their child’s speech will just get clearer when the child gets older, that a child’s language skills will improve on its own, or that they may teach their children speech and language skills in the same way that they themselves may try to learn a second language. While it is true that some children may stop stuttering on their own or may correct certain speech errors without help, the reality is that not all speech and language problems are the same; many speech and language problems will not improve on their own. Early intervention is key in these cases, as research shows that speech and language delays can have significant, negative effects on both academic and social success. Early delays, untreated, can manifest later as reading or behaviour problems, even as anxiety problems or a lowered sense of self-esteem.  Getting your child off to a good start with strong speech and language skills in the first years of life are key to later success!!

So – how do children learn how to talk? By hearing language clearly, by developing the coordinated muscle movements needed for clear speech and by practicing language skills in an active way with caregivers on a daily basis.

Are you concerned about your child’s speech and language development? Don’t wait like Psammetichus did to see what happens! Contact a Northern Health speech-language pathologist for some friendly and helpful advice on how to give your child a strong start for future success!!

P.S. And which was the original language, you ask? Herodotus tells us the children spoke their first word in Phrygian at age two – a full year later than they should have started talking.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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