St. John Valley

Acadian children can now learn about their culture in a coloring book

GRAND ISLE, Maine — A community’s effort to keep local tradition alive has resulted in the distribution of a collaborative coloring book to area schools. 

The Acadian Coloring Book was researched and created over five years by the Greater Grand Isle Historical Society and celebrates the Acadian culture in the St. John Valley region of Maine and New Brunswick. A total of 2,500 copies of the book were made and primarily distributed to local schools in an effort to educate the younger generation about their family histories.

The Greater Grand Isle Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating, preserving and sharing the history of Grand Isle, Lille and surrounding communities. The group preserves artifacts, collects histories and houses their collection in the former rectory of St. Gerard parish and is open to the public. 

The book contains 43 pages of original artwork by former historical society member Leah Cook and details the daily life and beliefs of Acadian families from the 1930s to today. Captions on each page are written in Franglais, a mixture of French and English used by Acadians and Québécois living in the St. John Valley. 

Cover of the Acadian Coloring Book by Leah Cook. Courtesy of Leah Cook

The Greater Grand Isle Historical Society created a sponsorship campaign to donate free copies of the books to all of the local school kids. Local businesses and individuals donated most of the printing costs for the schools when only a few of the pages had been drawn, Cook said. 

In addition to the help from locals, the book had received funding through grants from Maine Community Foundation, Maine Humanities Council, Maine Arts Commission, and the Maine Acadian Heritage Council.

This has really been a community project all the way,” Cook said.

Cook said she moved to Grand Isle in 1994 after her family had purchased an old farm. Living on the farm, Cook said she and her family started farming potatoes the old fashioned way: picking them by hand. She attended school in The Valley until she left to join the Peace Corps, attended college in Oregon where she obtained a degree in biology, and even drove tractor trailer trucks for her father. 

Delivery of The Acadian Coloring Book to Fort Kent Elementary School and Valley Rivers Middle/High School on May 27. From Left: Gerald Soucy (GGIHS), Ben Sirois (Superintendent), Robby Nadeau (Fort Kent Elementary Principal), Leah Cook (artist, GGIHS). Courtesy of Greater Grand Isle Historical Society

Upon moving back to Grand Isle in 2015, Cook said she became involved with the Greater Grand Isle Historical Society when a project they were working on, building a bread oven, piqued her interest. As Cook got involved, she said she had mentioned a project she had seen while she was in the Peace Corps where small, remote villages made coloring books detailing traditional carving styles and distributed them to schools. 

“It was a way to connect the grandparents’ knowledge to the children,” Cook said. “I said we could probably do something like that right here in The Valley. Every cultural organization is talking about the same thing: how do we preserve and promote heritage, culture and language?” 

The original plan for the coloring book contained 6-12 pages with simple line drawings, but after reaching out to the community in an attempt to crowd-source ideas for the book, Cook said there was a list of nearly 100 different topics to explore. Topics that came up the most were about food, social traditions and chores, Cook said. 

From there, Cook started interviewing people in their 80s and 90s and discussed their lives as children in The Valley. 

“I also talked to people who are raising families today because we wanted to connect both generations so that everyone would see their experiences reflected in it,” Cook said. 

Delivery of the Acadian Coloring Book to Madawaska Elementary School and Madawaska Middle/High School on May 27. From left: Wayne Anderson (Madawaska M/HS Principal), Leah Cook (artist, GGIHS), Giselle Dionne (Assistant Superintendent), Lise Pelletier (Madawaska Elementary Principal), Gerald Soucy (GGIHS). Courtesy of Greater Grand Isle Historical Society

Once the pages were drawn, Cook said the last part was to include the text on each page. Again, Cook turned to the community, sending out the English captions and asking people to put the text into their own words, in French or Franglais. 

“With what they gave me, we created the final text,” Cook said. “It was a kind of custom blend to help non-fluent speakers learn from context clues so that you don’t lose the plot while you’re reading in two different languages all mixed together.”

While the book was distributed to local schools, Cook said it is not specifically targeted at any particular age group. The book’s pages have a very detailed style which resembles more of a children’s illustrated book than a coloring book, Cook said. 

“We want people to know about it far and wide,” Cook said. “We got it out through the schools but the historical society also has copies available for sale so that’s something people can go to our website and Facebook page to see what that deal is.”

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