Swift Fox All Along
Swift Fox All Along
“We were just about to smudge,” a man says, taking a braid of grass from the red bundle.
"Swift Fox, this is your uncle." Her dad smiles. “Go on. He’s waiting.”
The butterflies in her tummy grow into birds.
“But I don’t know how,” Swift Fox whispers.
“Sure you do!’ Her dad nudges her shoulder. “It’s who you are.”
Suddenly, Swift Fox’s cheeks feel wet. A whine escapes her throat. “If it’s inside me, why can’t I find it?”
When Swift Fox’s mother announces that her father is taking her to meet her Mi’kmaq relatives for the first time, she is filled with dread and anxiety. While her father insists that she will instinctively know how to smudge with her new aunts, uncles and cousins because “It’s who you are”, Swift Fox is filled with self-doubt and fear. Overwhelmed by the new faces and worry that she won’t know how to fit in, she leaves the house in tears and hides under the front porch. Swift Fox can’t quell her “belly full of butterflies”, but the familiar scent of bread with molasses that her father makes starts to beckon her back inside. The arrival of a cousin who also appears hesitant to meet new family gives Swift Fox the confidence to reach out to him and return inside together since “he looks like he has a belly full of butterflies too.” The duo participates in the smudging with the rest of the family as Swift Fox “leans in and pulls the smoke over her head, to her eyes, mouth, and heart. She knows that smell. Her butterflies fly away.”
Maya McKibbin’s delightful illustrations lend a playful tone to this somewhat serious topic. She expertly captures Swift Fox’s initial anxiety and uncertainty as it plays out on the central character’s face and in her body language. Swift Fox’s thoughts and memories are depicted via subtle white translucent images in the page backgrounds, giving the reader further insight into the turmoil she is experiencing. One can almost smell the smudging ceremony and fried bread as all of the reader’s senses are engaged via text and illustration.
Rebecca Thomas, who also grew up off reserve and is the child of a Mi’kmaq father, accurately captures the feelings of a child exposed to something new and unsettling and the internal conflict that results. Thomas includes very little Mi’kmaq language in her story, ensuring its accessibility. The author’s note at the end, describing her father’s experience at the Shubenacadie Residential School, is important information for future generations.
Swift Fox All Along is a touching and universal narrative as Swift Fox’s introduction to her indigenous family could just as easily pertain to a child of divorce meeting new family members, being introduced to a new culture, or any “new” situation which causes feelings of worry, insecurity, or self-doubt. This title should definitely be added to any list of recommended children’s books focused on indigenous life, family, tradition, feelings, anxiety, fear and self-regulation. Swift Fox All Along is also brimming with cross curricular applications for school use, including incorporation with science, social studies, history, language, and mental health.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian and author living in Prospect, Nova Scotia.