Reviewed by Carrie MacKenzie
“Wampum: The Story of Shaylyn the Clam” by Zig Misiak with illustrations by Jennifer Bettio is a delightful and charming children’s book about a young Quahog clam named Shaylyn who becomes part of a wampum belt. Shaylyn’s tale began as the poem included at the beginning of the book and was expanded into this children’s story. Another unique aspect of this book is that it includes the legend of Hyenwah:tha’s introduction of first wampum written by Raymond R. Skye. Finally, Mr. Misiak includes a section of definitions and contributors. So it is almost like having four books in one. There is also a CD with the audio book and access to the E-book included.
The original poem is written in rhyming verse and told in the third person. Misiak uses words that are simple yet beautiful to convey a depth of meaning and feeling. The reader sees the respect and understanding Indigenous people have for nature and that to them change is to be embraced, not feared. The language of the poem is appropriate for children, who will love picking out the rhyming words.
Then there is the story. It is an evolution of the poem, expanding on all aspects of it. The reader sees even more clearly the esteem that Indigenous peoples have for Mother Earth and their knowledge of the natural world. The language makes you feel hopeful that while things may change, leaving behind a feeling of loss, there will be something just as beautiful coming out of that change. This is shown when Shaylyn’s transformation from clam to wampum is compared to the metamorphosis of a butterfly in even more depth. Again, the language is suitable for a young reader.
The third story told within this book is the legend of Hyenwah:tha and tells the story of how wampum belts evolved from condolence strings. It is beautifully told by Raymond R. Skye using language that is lovely and touching. It has a slightly darker tone than the poem and the story as it deals with a father’s grief over the death of seven of his daughters, yet the sense of hope is still there.
Lastly, there is the section of definitions and contributors. It is like a mini dictionary and an interesting read as well. It adds to the power of the other parts of this book with its wealth of information and explanations. It allows the reader to have a deeper understanding of some of the terms used that they might not have come across before. It also gives them a starting point for further research should they want more information on the various wampum belts and their meanings. Added to this section is a collage of pictures of various wampum belts with their names and information on where to find more information on each of them.
The illustrations by Jennifer Bettio are beautiful and charming and include the words of the poem. They are a perfect compliment to the story adding to its gentle and peaceful tone.
Zig Misiak is a Polish World War II refugee who came to Canada and considers himself a student of Indigenous culture and history. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to Canadians shared past, culture, and heritage. Jennifer Bettio is an artist working in painting, graphic design and photography.
This book would be a perfect addition to any library and will bring a smile to the face of readers of any age.
“Wampum: The Story of Shaylyn the Clam” by Zig Misiak, 2015. WWW.REALPEOPLESHISTORY.COM ISBN 978-0-9811880-8-9