by Kathleen Adamson, September 24, 2021
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii, Sara Florence Davidson and Richard Davidson, Illustrated by Janine Gibbons, HighWater Press, September 27, 2021, 40 pp., $21.73
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii is a tour de force.
Written by Sara Florence Davidson, it is based on memories of her father Robert Davidson Jr’s memories of fishing with his grandfather Robert Davidson Sr. Tsinii is grandfather in the Haida language. The book’s balanced ‘away and back again’ structure is the ideal container for the story, which is rich with well-chosen, suggestive details. And Janine Gibbons’ illustrations provide an ideal ocean for the boat of the story to travel on.
The book is a simple story of a young man who goes fishing with his grandfather in the morning and returns in the evening. But at every step of the way, their movements are intertwined with the natural world around them. Travelling with the tide, they fish for halibut, using methods that the boy’s grandfather has taught him. Returning with the catch, they prepare their two fish on the beach, to be cooked by naanii, the boy’s grandmother. The narrative has a calming quietness to it, one of the books great pleasures. But its relatively still waters run deep.
Sara Florence Davidson has written widely on decolonizing education and integrating Indigenous knowledge into education.
Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii is a children’s book, but it involves many ideas that Sara Florence and Robert Davidson have articulated in the past. Their 2018 book, Potlatch as Pedagogy, is directed at educators. It describes nine sk’a’da, or principles of teaching and learning, through the framework of Haida knowledge that Robert Davidson received from his family and community, in situations like the story in Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii. Some of these principles are translated as Learning Emerges from Strong Relationships, Learning Emerges from Authentic Experiences, Learning Occurs through Observation, and Learning Occurs through Contribution. These same sk’a’da are then described from a ‘pedagogical’ perspective. The fact that many Haida cultural and artistic practices have survived the ravages of settler colonialism at all is a sombre testimonial to the power and integrity of the sk’a’da. And Davidson underlines this here.
Janine Gibbons’ illustrations provide an excellent counterpoint to this story. Using cool colours like gray, green, and blue as the base for the book’s setting, Gibbons builds the forms of the land and the boat with deep browns, punctuated with the occasional burst of yellow, on a seagull’s beak, a halibut’s back, or on the surface of a cup of hot coffee. Strong brushstrokes and a confident use of black line give structure and energy to the illustrations. Her use of perspective has a cinematic quality that perfectly captures views from the boat—the surrounding waters, the halibut, the bottom of the boat, tsinii himself. For those interested in further examples of her work, Gibbons has illustrated three other books, in the Baby Raven Reads series produced by the Sealaska Heritage.
Evocative and full of care, this beautiful book is an inspiring testimonial to the power of family relationships and the natural world.
Kathleen Adamson is a musician, composer, academic, and community activist based in Montreal, Canada.
Other reviews by Kathleen Adamson
Marcus Aurelius: No abstracted ponderer July 8, 2021