An Artful Allegory: “How the Cougar Came to be Called the Ghost Cat/Ta’n Petalu Telui’tut Skite’ kmujewey Mia’ wj.” Written by Michael James Isaac; illustrated by Dozay (Arlene) Christmas. Roseway Publishing, Black Point, NS. Bilingual (English and Mi’kmaw). $12.95.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines an allegory as “the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.” In his allegorical children’s book How the Cougar Came to be Called the Ghost Cat, Listuguj First Nations (located in Quebec) author Michael ‘Mickey’ James Isaac (now an elementary school teacher within the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board) powerfully alludes to his own experience growing up in the Euro-Canadian school system through his utilization of a cougar to represent himself; artist Dozay (Arlene) Christmas, a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), brings Isaac’s allegorical story to life through her vibrant illustrations. “Dozay has created and displayed her artwork at galleries and exhibits across the Maritimes, Ontario and the US.” In much the same way as Mickey Isaac’s title character Ajig (the cougar) is ordered by Raven not to speak nor eat like a cougar, becoming “gentle so that when you play with other animals, you will not hurt them.”Young Mickey Issac was forced to give up his Mi’kmaq language when he was an elementary-aged student. Why? Because, in his own words, Isaac states that “I had to stop speaking Mi’kmaq because it frightened the non-Mi’kmaq children and staff of St. Ann’s Elementary School.” Mr. Isaac rightfully argues that “like Aijig, the Mi’kmaq had to be civilized to the ways of Euro-Canadian society in order to be accepted. How the Cougar Came to be Called the Ghost Cat is about losing identity, having to sacrifice parts of yourself so that you may be accepted. The loss of identity and sacrifice of self is part of a struggle that continues to this day.” Just as Aijg finds it difficult to fit in upon his return to “the forest where cougars live,” many First Nations’ peoples find it equally challenging to fit back into their own society after having been assimilated by the Euro-Canadians. In his book, Isaac writes that “the cougars were quick to notice that Ajig looked like them but did not act like them. The cougars laughed and made fun of him, and told him to go back to where he had come from.” According to Mickey Isaac, “living in two worlds has a price. Often that price is the soul and the feeling of never completely fitting in. The desire to be welcomed and respected for our differences is the wish of all human beings. When people lose their identity, they disappear and fade away,” just as Ajig does when he becomes the Ghost Cat. Roseway Publishing’s parent company, Fernwood Publishing, prides itself on printing “critical books for critical thinkers.” Children’s book or not, Michael James Isaac’s How the Cougar Came to be Called the Ghost Cat delivers!-JM Heap, Amherst Daily News Book Review, 10 December 2010