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Cree parents and children staying at the MUHC Montreal Children’s Hospital will be able to read books in Cree thanks to a donation by Child and Family Services of the Cree Nation Government, a donation facilitated by the Cree Health Board.
The children’s books, with titles like "Mihkunisk, Taanite E Ihtaayin?" (Red Goose, Where Are You?) are written by Cree childcare workers, edited by Kevin Brousseau and illustrated by Abenaki-Wyendot artist Christine Sioui-Wawanoloath. The stories are told in Eastern James Bay Cree syllabics, Cree roman spelling, and English, making them an excellent tool for language learning.
The donation came about thanks to a decades long friendship between two doctors, Dr. Elizabeth Robinson from the Cree Health Board, and Dr. Patricia Riley, who recently retired from the Montreal Children’s Hospital. They first met in the early 70’s as fellow medical students at McGill University.
Dr. Riley is now volunteering with "Books for Babies," a program in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital that encourages parents to read to their hospitalized babies. Books for Babies had books in 29 different languages, but they had no books in Cree. This prompted Dr. Riley to reach out to her old friend Elizabeth at the Cree Health Board. Dr. Robinson knew about the Cree books and got in touch with the publisher, Child and Family Services of the Cree Nation Government. CFS operates the 19 child care centres of Eeyou Istchee.
A few emails and phone calls later, Melissa Rodgers, Pedagogical Advisor for CFS, loaded boxes of books into her car and drove 780 km from Mistissini to Montreal, on her way to an event in Ottawa. It was in recognition of the importance of reading and Cree language learning that Child and Family Services initiated the project to develop the book series. There are now 15 books in both Inland and Coastal dialects of Eastern James Bay Cree.
Studies show that reading to a baby helps the baby learn and improves memory. For parents of premature and fragile infants in the neonatal ICU, reading is a way that they can connect with their infant. Cree babies in the ICU need to hear their language and the voices of their family members, but sometimes it is hard for parents to break the silence. ‘I started to read and then the words came,’ is what one parent said about how the program helped her to bond with her newborn through the walls of the incubator.
Jan Lafrenière, founder and coordinator of "Lire-Imagine-Read" program at the MUHC, conducted research that showed that parents who read to babies in the ICU are more likely to keep the habit of reading to their children later on. This can help children develop a lifelong love of books and reading.
The books will be available to all Cree patients at the Glen site in the Family Resource Centre Library, down the hall from the gift shop on the ground floor of the Glen. The library is open during the day from Monday to Saturday.
For more information:
MHC Family Resource Centre of the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MHC) the pediatric hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC)
Resources on early literacy from the Canadian Pediatric Society