Once upon a magical time, a young rabbit named Weeskits hurried home to Kisoos—a town known as the Earth’s belly button—to deliver some thrilling news. Salamoo Cook, the Grand Chief of all rabbits in the world, was on his way to announce a mysterious contest. The prize? A year’s supply of all-healing waaskee-choos juice, fresh from spruce cones that have just fallen. Would Weeskits be able to help his brother Keegach win the juice to rid his wife of the dreadful manchoos? Grand Chief Salamoo Cook Is Coming to Town! is a laugh-out-loud riot of a tale by one of Canada's most celebrated writers, Tomson Highway. Illustrated by Delphine Renon, the musical picture book is accompanied by nine jazzy songs performed in Cree by Angel Baribeau, Moe Clark, Alexandre Désilets, and Coral Egan and the narrated story performed by Plains Cree actor Jimmy Blais. This multilingual children’s book will be published in hardcover format, with recordings available on all major streaming platforms, on September 1, 2023. Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s most renowned storytellers. As a celebrated author, playwright, and musician, his work shines a light on Indigenous people and culture. His plays, The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, are performed around the world. His memoir, Permanent Astonishment, won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. In 2022, he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Highway is also an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1998, Maclean’s magazine named him one of the “100 most important people in Canadian history.” Highway wrote the songs in a variant of Woods Cree (also known as Woodlands or Rock Cree), which is primarily spoken in Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. One of his goals behind writing Grand Chief Salamoo Cook Is Coming to Town! was to promote Cree literacy and create resources teachers and students can use in classrooms. Developed with Arden Ogg at the Cree Literacy Network, the story includes a Cree glossary and a free downloadable teaching guide with reading prompts, language resources and activity sheets for ages 7 to 9 and grades 2 to 4. “Applause for Tomson Highway’s new kids’ book Grand Chief Salamoo Cook Is Coming to Town. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has just enough Cree language to be warm and inviting for young learners, whether or not you speak Cree,” says renowned singer-songwriter and author Buffy Sainte-Marie. “The characters–all rabbits–are adorable, and in their humor, their attitudes, their silliness and their wisdoms, they reflect reserve realities many Indigenous people will recognize as home made special. The pictures and songs are just wonderful, and as an audiobook this is one more triumph for Tomson Highway and a gift to the rest of us.” Read our interview with Highway to learn more about the inspiration behind the musical story. What do you hope young readers will take away from Grand Chief Salamoo Cook Is Coming to Town? Language preservation is a large part of my work. It’s one of the reasons why I’m a writer today. My native language is Cree. All native languages are in danger of dying in Canada. There were more than 100 at one point, yet they’re dying every year. Many of them are dead already. Those of us who care about these things want them to live. In a larger sense, language preservation is like saving the birds. We don’t want birds to go extinct. Imagine Canada without the sound of a loon. It’s a classic Canadian sound. Canada would lose part of its soul if loons went extinct. It’s the same thing with languages. Native languages, in this country, or in any country, are part of its sonic environment. It’s part of our connection with the earth. We must each do our part in any way we can to preserve these languages. Cree is my native tongue, the first language I spoke when I came into this earth, so I feel it's my responsibility to do whatever I can to help preserve it. What made you decide to write songs in Cree? I had this Brazilian CD in my car, and when I drove my grandchildren around they’d ask me to play it over and over again. Before I knew it, they each had their favourite songs and they were singing in Portuguese. My grandchildren are French-Canadian, so I thought if this could happen with Portuguese, it could happen with Cree, too. Cree is a very pretty and amusing language, and it’s not harder to learn than any other language. But it’s ideal to learn a new language as a child. A lot of people have difficulty learning other languages, especially as they get older—it gets harder. That’s why I wrote these songs for children. Singing a language makes it much easier to remember. You feel it enter and become part of your body, and as it does, you feel more comfortable with it. When I was writing the songs, I sang one to my grandchildren, and after only hearing it once they were already singing along! There’s also joy in music that can’t be found any other way. It’s spiritual. It’s my hope that teachers will be able to use the songs in the classroom. That’s one of the problems with Cree education in schools: There’s not enough material for teachers. So I hope this will be a tremendous resource for them. And if I’m successful, I hope other people will follow suit so there can be more and more singing in Cree. The more people who learn it, the better chance it has of surviving. Grand Chief Salamoo Cook Is Coming to Town! Available September 2023 Preorder the book now! 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