"The Barren Grounds" (Book One of the Misewa Saga) is David A. Robertson’s first novel in his new series. This Canadian novel belongs in the fantasy genre and seemingly takes some inspiration from C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. What sets this fantasy novel apart are the Indigenous themes that flow throughout its pages. Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous foster children are brought together through an adventure of a lifetime. When one of Eli’s drawings comes to life, both he and his foster sister use it as a window to enter a new world. Here they find a starving community of walking talking animals. They make it their mission to help save the land and their lives.
“The Barren Grounds” is filled with real characters and important themes. Not only does it remind readers of the importance of taking care of the land around them, it allows them to connect with an often marginalized demographic.
Recommended Age Group?
The publisher’s recommended age group is all ages. I would recommend 10 and up, as some of the themes are meant for older children. Not only does the main character Morgan struggle with her identity, she also struggles with being an Indigenous foster child. The characters in Misewa also go through immense hardship as a “white man” steals their source of food. The underlying messages are made clear through the story line, and the reader is left with a better sense of what makes the Indigenous culture so important.
Another reason that this novel might be better suited for ages 10 and up is the occasional mild language (dammit, oh my God, stupid, and crap). There are also some threats from the antagonist later in the novel.
This book is classroom approved, but most likely best suited for grades 7-8 and up. Keep in mind, this book includes some difficult, but important themes. To determine if this is the right novel for your students/children, I recommend a pre-read before beginning a full class read-aloud.
Not only will your students learn a great deal about Indigenous culture, it will open up doors to teaching a variety of connected mini lessons about Canadian Indigenous history.