Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass

| Book Review

As a writer and scientist, upcoming Wild Ones national webinar speaker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is interested in both the restoration of ecological communities and the restoration of our relationships to land. Kimmerer’s work is a call to rediscover our role as participants in the natural world. She articulates a compelling vision: “a renewed sense of the ways that humans can be medicine for the earth, living as if we were ecological citizens, who return the gifts of the earth not just consumers.”

Keep reading to connect the dots between Dr. Kimmerer’s insightful perspectives in her books and her upcoming role as a speaker at the next Wild Ones national webinar.

“Imagine being raised in a culture where gratitude is the first priority.”

Page 92, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults

At a glance:
Titles: “Braiding Sweetgrass” and “Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults”
Author: Robin Wall Kimmerer
Published: September 2013 and November 2022, respectively
Cost: $10 to $40
Stars: ★★★★★

Book Review

Original review by Jen Medon, published in Wild Ones Summer 2023 Journal, updated and edited February 2024 by Wild Ones staff.

If you’re a Wild Ones member, I’m sure you’ve thought about how our culture and environment can benefit from a few changes. Both versions of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults expanded my worldview and detailed in a myriad of ways the gifts that the Earth bestows on us every single day. I cannot help but truly feel gratitude to plants and how they have shaped our world and I understand better how to show my appreciation. 

I read Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults (2022) and listened to Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) narrated by author Robin Wall Kimmerer. The audio version was 17 hours long / 384 pages and available through my library. The adaptation for young adults is 291 pages long. The audiobook clocks in at nearly 8 hours long and is narrated by coauthor Monique Gray Smith.

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults is separated into six sections, each with small chapters that include Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and what plants can teach us. The chapters are not very long and favor quality over quantity when it comes to information. I love how the young adult adaptation has a call to action at the end of every chapter. Some of the calls to action include ways to reflect on the chapter concepts (i.e., ceremony or what your gifts are), to encourage the reader to listen to the Thanksgiving Address with others, or to weave one of the Honorable Harvest principles into your week and reflect on what it made you think and feel. The young adults version also comes with incredible illustrations by Nicole Neidhardt. Some of my favorites were the Thanksgiving Address, Skywoman and Asters/Goldenrod. Key points for each chapter are beautifully illustrated inside a circle of braided sweetgrass. 

Skywoman Falling Illustration by Nicole Neidhardt

Braiding Sweetgrass is more of a personal narrative. Kimmerer conveys the journey to become a scientist and her insights as a mother. She also shares that she is not only a scientist but also a poet, which is evident in the beauty of her writing. The book explains what we can learn about social justice from plant communities. Wall Kimmerer has such a calm and soothing voice – whether she was sharing the story of Skyworld, describing how to weave baskets or reliving the magic of the Three Sisters – she paints a full picture thoroughly by describing sounds, tastes, sights, smells and textures. I certainly feel more connected to the Earth now. 

I did listen to the audiobook at 1.5x speed as the pace was a little slow for me. I plan to re-listen later in the summer while I’m working in my garden or walking in the forest preserve — anywhere I can be surrounded by asters and goldenrods.  

I recommend both versions – I imagine the young adults version will be a staple in classrooms and outdoor education programs; it’s perfect for summer reading! I think anyone who enjoys learning about history or science and feels strongly connected to nature will enjoy either version of Braiding Sweetgrass. I have so much hope knowing that future generations have this book to inspire reflections, conversations and activism surrounding plants, our culture and solutions for charge. 

Jen Medon has been a member of the Greater DuPage (Illinois) Wild Ones chapter since 2022. She works full-time in community corrections. She enjoys gardening, bowling and spending time with her dog and three cats. 

Want to hear more from Dr. Kimmerer? Join Wild Ones, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations and the UWO Inter-Tribal Student Council on Tuesday, March 19 as we present: “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” with celebrated ecologist, educator and author Robin Wall Kimmerer. Find out more

Mendon, J. (Summer 2023). Book Review: “Braiding Sweetgrass” and “Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults.” Wild Ones Journal, 36(2) p. 32.

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