Children's Review: We All Play

In a note at the back of We All Play, the Cree-Métis author/illustrator Julie Flett writes that when she was growing up, "my dad shared a lot about our relationship to animals and to each other, including the land, plants, beetles, the earth, wind, water, and sky." We All Play is a picture book showcase of that reciprocity. It stars cavorting kids and animals keen to illustrate the idea that, as Flett puts it, "we are all connected, living in relationship and in care to one another, in kinship"--or, to use the Cree word the author provides, wâhkôhtowin.

"Animals hide and hop/ and sniff and sneak/ and peek and peep." So begins a trio of animal-centered riffs that conclude with the refrain "We play too!/ kimêtawânaw mîna." The illustrations corresponding to the refrain show kids carrying out the human version of the animal actions demonstrated on previous pages, as when a picture of three bears romping in the snow segues into one of children in winter gear sledding on a hill.

After all that rollicking, who wouldn't be tuckered out? Quite understandably, the book's concluding action-verb-packed riff ("Animals rustle and roost/ and nudge and nuzzle/ and yip and yawn") ends with a sober pronouncement: "And slowly, side by side, animals fall asleep./ We do too. nîstanân mîna.../ zzzz." For the animals' big snooze, Flett gives them all a double-page curtain call in which, as sharp-eyed readers will note, even the bats who turned up in an earlier spread make an inverted appearance.

Flett (Birdsong; Johnny's Pheasant) delivers her customary clutter-free layouts, ensuring that the reader's focus will be squarely on the gamboling or otherwise occupied children and critters. All creatures are set against off-white backdrops harboring a contextualizing detail or motif. A goose and some goslings traipse through green clover. Kids relax in a pile of leaves. A bobcat rolls on a patch of ground dappled with paw prints. At the back of the book is a list of the featured animals' names in both English and, in singular and plural form, Cree, as well as a basic pronunciation guide for the Cree words. The animal-names list also includes the "younger, smaller, cuter" form of every creature's name in Cree. But let's be clear: as far as "cuter" goes, all of Flett's critters would qualify. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Shelf Talker: This jubilant picture book uses gamboling animals and kids to illustrate the Cree concept of wâhkôhtowin, or the kinship among living things.

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