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'I was really surprised by how kids connect to her': Author's first book a hit in Cree language class

Sonya Ballantyne wasn't taught how to speak Cree when she was a kid — so reading her new Cree children's book, Kerri Berry Lynn, in front of a bunch of Cree language students at Isaac Brock School in Winnipeg was a little nerve-wracking.
Sonya Ballantyne, reading her book, Kerry Berry Lynn in a Cree-immersion class at Rsaac Brock School in Winnipeg. (Anna Lazowski/CBC)
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Sonya Ballantyne wasn't taught how to speak Cree when she was a kid — so reading her new Cree children's book, Kerri Berry Lynn, in front of a bunch of Cree language students at Isaac Brock School in Winnipeg was a little nerve-wracking.

"There might be a little bit of difference in pronunciation," Ballantyne told the Grades 1 and 2 students. "If you guys want to help me, that'll help me out a lot." 
Kerri Berry Lynn is the first book written by Sonya Ballantyne. (Friesen Press)

As she read, the kids helped her pronounce some of the dogs' names in the book — Nikotwâsik, Nêwo, Niyanan — while Ballantyne teaches them the Cree word for great-grandmother, Chapan.

"When I was a kid, there wasn't a lot of books about Native people," Ballantyne said. "Even now, there's not many that are about kids."

Ballantyne is part of a new group of Indigenous authors hoping to change that.

Her book, Kerri Berry Lynn, is based on Ballantyne's sister. It's about a Cree girl from Misipawistik Cree Nation whose great-grandmother, or Chapan, gives her seven dogs. 

"I was really surprised by how kids connect to her," she said. "They think it's amazing that she had 14 [dogs] at the time of the story.

"It's just really cool to be able to teach kids that this Native hero actually existed."

The kids at Isaac Brock School are rambunctious — but ready to sit and listen to stories like Kerry Berry Lynn. (Anna Lazowski/CBC)

Colleen Omand, who teaches the K-2 Cree language class at Isaac Brock School, said it's still hard to find Indigenous children's books — but it's getting easier.

"They get really excited and happy, as you can see," Omand said. "They just want to be right up to the author."

As the children see themselves and the words they're learning outside of the classroom, Omand said the language becomes much more real and applicable to them.

"It's in the general public — it's not just in the classroom," she said. "They're able to see it out in the community as well."