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On Bullying, Books, and the Abenaki Language

Part 3 of my conversation with Shirly Hook, author of My Bring Up. Shirly is a citizen of the Koas Abenaki Nation and serves on the Council of Chiefs. She grew up in Chelsea, Vermont.

Shirly Hook at the Ethan Allen Homestead
Shirly Hook and George Peskunck Larrabee at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont.

There's a lot in your book about growing up poor, but you don't get all boo-hoo about it. I guess because, as you say, lots of people all around you were poor. But you also mention bullying, though you don't dwell on it—you say the only remedy was a tree and a book, or something like that. I'm not sure what my question is. Do you wanna jump in here?

We were very poor, like a lot of families during this time. When you were young, you didn't know there were rich and poor. That changed when you went to school. Most of the kids were like our family; there were others, however, that were rather mean. They used to make some of the kids cry. The bus was sometimes the worst. Kids hitting, calling you names, taking your lunch box, pulling hair. I was one of the lucky ones: One of the older kids would sit with me, and the kids left me alone. He was in high school.

I did read a lot of books, and still do. You can go anywhere in the world by reading. To sum it all up, it was what it was. Make a difference.

In your author's bio, you mention having a sense of humor. Is that how you stay so positive? Is it hereditary?

My daughter Amy helped write the bio. I do try to think positive. I learned it makes a difference in your life. Negativity can eat you up.

Did you know that an Abenaki chief was knighted by the French? Patrick told me. He read up because he knew a New Jersey car mechanic who was Abenaki.

Chief Assacumbuit, leader of the Maliseet Tribe of the Abenaki, was a faithful adherent of the French. He was knighted by Louis XIV, making him a member of French nobility. This was about 1706.

Is there an Abenaki language? Is it written down anywhere?

Yes, there’s the Abenaki language. There are a number of citizens that can speak it. One of them is George Larrabee. I love to hear his stories. If you speak in English, he will translate it to Abenaki. He’s in his eighties. I just saw him last weekend. The tribes are trying to teach the language to their citizens. In time it will happen.

Shirly and I will be at Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, Vermont, on October 20 (2 pm) to talk about books, writing, and the crazy stuff we did growing up. Shirly's book is available online in paperback and for Kindle.


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