New Brunswick

Trilingual book gives Wolastoqi kids an everyday story

One of the first trilingual children's books to include Wolastoqey has been delivered to elementary school children at Kingsclear First Nation.

A Pony Day, by New Brunswick author Hélène de Varennes, is written in French, Wolastoqey and English

The book is titled Une Journée Poney in French, Pemkiskahk'ciw Ahahsis in Wolastoqey and A Pony Day in English. (Submitted)

One of the first trilingual children's books to include Wolastoqey has been delivered to elementary school children at Kingsclear First Nation.

Unlike most books about First Nations in New Brunswick, Une journée poney! Pemkiskahk'ciw ahahsis! A pony day!​ is not focused on history or legends. 

It's the sweet, moment-in-time story of a grandfather and his granddaughter as she sets out to ride a pony for the first time. Every paragraph is written out three times: once in French, once in Wolastoqey and once more in English. 

"I had been talking to [my publisher] a lot about how children in First Nation communities don't have books that represent their everyday lives, don't have books that are simply a loving story about a family," author Hélène de Varennes said. 

"Children also need to see themselves in a book where they're happy and just having an everyday moment."

Ava Polchies, left, signs copies of the book. She helped portray a little girl who rides a pony for the first time. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

On Wednesday, de Varennes, her husband and illustrator Paul Lang, and the community members who portrayed the characters all signed copies of the book at Wulastukw Elementary School.

De Varennes said she leaned on elder Imelda Perley to translate the book into Wolastoqey, the language of the Wolastoqiyik or Maliseet people.

And she found members of the community to portray the characters for illustrations.

New Brunswick author Hélène de Varennes's book tells the story of a girl’s first pony ride with her grandfather. 0:36

The little girl is played by nine-year-old Ava Polchies and the grandfather was played by Ava's great-grandfather Billy Polchies, who is 80.

The little girl is going to ride a pony for the first time, but she's mystified by how that will happen. She wonders, can the pony fly? Does it need a steering wheel? Does it have a roof to protect me from the rain?

Ava said her favourite parts of the storybook were the girl's questions, portrayed in thought bubbles.

"The little drawings of me and what I'm thinking … little house, little pony, little steering wheel, yes, that is my favourite part."

Billy Polchies helped portray the character of the grandfather in the book's illustrations. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Her favourite part of the photo shoot was getting to ride the horse.

"I was really excited," she said.

Her great-grandfather said it was his favourite moment as well.

"I thought about me when I first started riding horses, and I loved it," he said. 

With files from Catherine Harrop

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