NATIONAL INDIGENOUS HISTORY MONTH
Sharing More Than a Book
Sprig Library passes on Indigenous stories and languages.
The stories kids read help teach them about the world around them, instill lessons, and spark passions for new interests and ideas. But what would a child learn if there were no storybooks about their culture or in their language? For many Indigenous children, this is the reality—but that’s something Sprig Library is trying to change.
The iPad app is full of traditional stories, told in English, Mi’kmaw, and Tsuut’ina, made accessible to kids and families with interactive illustrations, cute characters, and customized reading options. Kids can follow along as Antle the moose goes to a Powwow, as Aliet the bear gathers medicine, or as Pikto’l the beaver learns to fish.
Each of the stories is available in multiple languages, in different reading levels, and with the option to read the story alone or have it read to you. Kids can even select a text-free option, where they take over and tell their own tale, following in the Indigenous oral storytelling tradition.
Creating a reading app that would speak to Indigenous families in so many important ways took a lot of collaboration with First Nations communities. Sprig Learning, the developer behind the app, has partnered with Indigenous schools and communities to make a number of educational apps as part of a broad in-school learning program that helps kids—both Indigenous and not—with oral language development and literacy.
And Library was no exception: Sprig looked to a group of teachers, principals, elders, literacy specialists, and the educational organization Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey to create stories similar to those that have been passed down orally from generation to generation. An elder from the community even narrates the tales.
It was important to Sprig to develop an app that could be used by families on an iPad at home. “Given our colonial history in Canada, we have many parents who are not speakers,” says Jarrett Laughlin, CEO and founder of Sprig Learning. “So they’re able to have the Read to Me function, look at the vocabulary, talk about some of the structures and the language itself. It’s those opportunities to learn along with their child.”
Blaire Gould, executive director of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, played a major role in developing the stories in Sprig Library. She shares that there are a lot of subtle but significant cultural lessons built into the books, like the importance of family, our relationship with the land around us, and a respect for elders.
“You’ll see on the beaver book, the headband of Pikto’l is not quite as adorned as his grandfather’s similar-looking headband, because certain pieces are acquired through age,” she explains. “You earn them throughout your life as a sort of rite of passage.”
The hope is that these details might start conversations among kids and their parents or teachers, helping to not just revitalize the language and advance literacy but provoke interest and pride in their culture.
Because, as Indigenous peoples have always known, the stories we tell can shape children and communities, from generation to generation.