Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Publisher summary: Drawing from her experiences as an Indigenous scientist, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer demonstrated how all living things—from strawberries and witch hazel to water lilies and lichen—provide us with gifts and lessons every day in her best-selling book Braiding Sweetgrass. Adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith, this new edition reinforces how wider ecological understanding stems from listening to the earth’s oldest teachers: the plants around us. With informative sidebars, reflection questions, and art from illustrator Nicole Neidhardt, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults brings Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the lessons of plant life to a new generation.
My thoughts: I don’t know who had the idea to make this adaptation, but this book is a gift and we’re fortunate that people worked together to make this happen. Monique Gray Smith and Nicole Neidhardt have shared Robin’s words in an extraordinary way. They managed to maintain the message of the book while also making it accessible and visually appealing to a younger audience or even adult readers who appreciate fewer words with a larger font, more blank space, and beautiful images that support the text. This book carries so much meaning and love and I’m thankful that it is in the world for young readers.
Braiding Sweetgrass is about connection and being in relationship with the earth, plants, animals, and humans. It’s an inspirational book that is part memoir, part science text, and part love letter. If you’re thinking that the text is doing a lot, you are not wrong, but it’s never chaotic. The text, colors, and images are peaceful and encourage pauses and contemplation.
Readers begin with an introduction to sweetgrass and an invitation to remember our connection to the world and the beings within it. Throughout the book, there are quotes pulled from the text that are featured within a circle of sweetgrass. The first one really sets the tone: “Imagine how less lonely the world would be if we knew and believed that we didn’t have to figure everything out by ourselves.” Another explains about that honorable harvest is “to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift.” There are also small boxes that include definitions of key words like reciprocity or kin. Questions are also scattered around like, “What’s your first memory of being connected to all living beings? or “In what ways can stories be medicine?”
The reader is meant to think about the concepts in the book, but action is also strongly encouraged. When Kimmerer shares about trees that collectively fruit across the state, she explains that “all flourishing is mutual.” This is followed by questions about how to apply this to social justice and the current issues in our own neighborhoods. We have a responsibility to the earth and each other and are reminded many times through these pages.
One aspect of the text is about the contrasts between Indigenous ways of knowing and scientific (what is taught in typical US academic institutions) ways of knowing. Readers see how Kimmerer struggled with this in her college years and ultimately remembered how to learn from nature in a rich way. Native scholar Greg Cajete is referenced at one point. He wrote about Indigenous ways of knowing explaining that we understand something only when we have understood it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. The writings and stories in Braiding Sweetgrass show how to attend to all of the aspects and find the beauty in this world.
Speaking of beauty, the illustrations definitely help to express the wonders of our world and whether it be plants, animals, humans or anything else. They don’t just teach–many communicate healing and connection. Some are simple diagrams like when there is an eye and the parts are detailed, but others are art that illustrates a story or images that speak to the heart.
Recommendation: Get it now. I recommend this for any young person especially if you are interested in science and living beings. It’s also an excellent book for anyone who is feeling isolated or who is seeking connection. I think the words in this book can bring healing to readers and lead to healing in our world.
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Purchased
Visit the Lerner site where there is a download of the Thanksgiving Address illustration for download.
Watch the launch event with Kimmerer, Smith and Neidhardt here:
TeenLive Author Talk: Braiding Sweetgrass from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.
Watch a Kitchen Table Discussion with the authors and illustrator about the process of creating this book