Remember started its life as a poem published in 1983 by the esteemed poet Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation and former U.S. poet laureate (the first Native American to hold that title). Caldecott Award–winning illustrator Michaela Goade (Tlingit Nation) gives Harjo's poem new life in rich and beautifully layered illustrations.

Endpapers are the first point of real study when I open a picture book. Here, the front endpapers feature dark purple and black swirls, glowing white tips of wings, and a dusting of fine white specks. Is this a view of the universe with stardust falling off feathers? Are we witnessing the birth of the universe? Will we see more of the mysterious white-feathered wings? The title page continues the imagery, but after a page-turn, we are rewarded with a glimpse of the white-winged creature, Raven. Raven, from the traditional Tlingit creation story, first released the stars, moon, and sun into the universe. In Goade's watercolor, gouache, and colored-pencil illustrations, Raven is represented as part traditional formline art and part soft, swirly white feathers.

Goade explains formline art in her end note. Formline design is an art style used by many Indigenous nations along the Pacific Northwest coast and is representative of Southeast Alaskan Native culture, including the Tlingit Nation. Characterized by lines of varying widths and thicknesses, formline is a design motif typically used to render animals, creatures, and other designs using ovoid and U-shapes to create harmony and symmetry. It is immediatly recognizable, and it is an intentional way that Goade incorporates Native design elements into the larger book. Readers will gain much from the artist’s note at the back of the book, which, along with Harjo's author's note, is well worth reading for a deeper understanding and appreciation of Tlingit culture and art forms.

As Raven soars above the land, we "remember the sun's birth at dawn" and then moonrise "and the giving away to night." The color palette shifts from warm oranges and vibrant magenta to a rich red and we are brought into a family where generations of women welcome a new baby girl. As she grows up, the girl is encouraged to remember with gratitude, her mother, father, and the ancestors who came before. The girl is now our guide in the world of the poem.

Every illustration in the book is a double-page spread maximizing the detail and beauty of each illustration as it interprets and illuminates the phrases of the poem. These double-page spreads allow Goade to share an expansive spread of the universe, scenes of humans, animals, and plant life in harmony. One extraordinary page zooms into a close-up of the girl’s eyes, one eye reflecting the sun, the other the moon, exquisitely accompanying the line "Remember you are the universe."

Another favorite is one of the girl and her mother sitting on a warm brownish red earth with beautiful leaves and plants all around. The girl’s hand reaches out to touch the earth; roots from her hand extend deep into the earth (or the other way around!) connecting her to the earth.

A few pages later, we are in the sea — deep green with ocean life swimming and circling — the girl, barely visible, is shown in silhouette swimming near the surface. The white sparkles (or stars or dust or mitochondria) are everywhere. Creation and the circle of life continue.

The girl continues growing: in another striking spread, we see her joyful, surrounded by her community, wrapped in ceremonial Kiks.ádi Herring Robes: they are sea-green and teal robes that feature herrings, herring eggs, and shells, while one central robe features the storied Herring Rock Woman. Goade notes on the copyright page that the robes "illustrate our connection to the land and each other." 

The final pages show the girl watching Raven fly in front of the sun. Behind her, drummers, dancers, elders in ceremony and prayer, the universe, animals, the trees are all present in movement — and stillness — with one final word: "Remember."

How could we not?

This exquisite book encourages us to remember, in honor and with joy, gratitude, and a deep relationship with the powerful, generous, beautiful universe all around us. I hope that the Caldecott Committee had the time, given how many books they read, to soak in, breathe in the beauty and wisdom of this gorgeous book and give it further accolades and Caldecott love.

[Read The Horn Book Magazine review of Remember]


Allison Grover Khoury
Allison Grover Khoury

Allison Grover Khoury is a librarian at Wish Charter School in Los Angeles. 

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