Book Reviews

The Gathering Tree, a children’s book about HIV awareness

By Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden
Illustrations by Heather D. Holmlund
Published by Theytus Books of British Columbia

Reviews and feature stories from the following publications appear below in whole or in part. These reviews are of interest to educators, readers, librarians, booksellers, HIV/AIDS groups, friendship centres, universities and colleges, elementary and high schools, and many others. For more information, contact the authors at

BC BookWorld
BC Studies
Canadian Teacher
Chetwynd Echo
CM Magazine



BC BookWorld (Autumn 2005): Healing the Tiger

Tyler dreams of running marathons like his older cousin Robert.

So when Robert arrives on the bus for the annual First Nations gathering, wearing a cowboy hat and a big smile, eager for his daily run, it’s hard for Tyler to believe his favorite cousin is ill.

At 21, Robert has HIV. By speaking out he hopes he can encourage an awareness of AIDS among the First Nations community.

That’s the set-up for The Gathering Tree (Theytus $19.95) co-authored by Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden of Vancouver.

During an outing to the zoo, Robert tells Tyler and his little sister, “I’m just like this tiger…locked up in a cage…We both want to be free but we’re not.”

Robert further explains why he can never be away from the city and his doctors for long periods.

At the rural gathering, under the old tree that had welcomed his people for generations, Robert adds, “I thought I could run through life, winning trophies, partying, and that nothing would ever catch up with me.

“[But to heal] I had to tell the truth and be open to others.”

Later, when Tyler joins in an honor dance to support Robert, he suddenly understands that just be being part of the family, he’s helping Robert stay strong.

With illustrations by award-winning artist Heather D. Holmlund, The Gathering Tree was initiated by Chee Mamuk, an Aboriginal HIV/STI educational program.

Co-author Larry Loyie spent his early years living a traditional Cree life before being placed in residential school. He received the 2001 Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement and is the author of Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us), a play about residential school, as well as the children’s book As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood).


BC Studies: No. 150, Summer 2006

From Sea and Cedar to Concrete Sidewalks
A Review Essay of children's literature books

... two contemporary picture storybooks written by Vancouver resident Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden are unsentimental accounts of a First Nations way of life almost lost to the recent past and the grim reality of the present. As Long as the Rivers Flow (2002) and The Gathering Tree (2005) [note: misnamed as The Giving Tree in the review], written with a tough, factual honesty, share a core of hard emotional truth. As Long as the Rivers Flow is Cree playwright Loyie's autobiographical narrative of the last summer (1944) that he and his siblings spent with their extended family, living on the land in the bush near Slave Lake, Alberta. Ten-year-old Lawrence spends the summer learning traditional ways, modelling his family members' skills in hunting, fishing, and oral storytelling. Each activity, from the adoption of a baby owl to hearing the tale of his grandmother's shooting of the largest grizzly in North America, is a cultural act that binds him to his family and to his people's traditions. This connection abruptly ends when the children are taken away in a truck to residential school. In an epilogue, black-and-white photographs and flat, grim information describe these school years.

In The Gathering Tree (2005), published as a family story and an educational document by Theytus Books, a Penticton-based First Nations Press, an Aboriginal community listens to a young man who returns to tell them he has HIV. The healing ceremony is attended by children and elders, while the tone of the narrative avoids any heavy-handed didacticism. Heather Holmlund's acrylic paintings of place and portraiture add to the emotional realism and cultural appropriateness of both books.
-- By Judith Saltman


Canadian Teacher ((Winter 2006, p21): Book Review

The Gathering Tree tells the story of Robert, a young First Nations man, who comes home to his village to help his people understand the truth about HIV. Robert’s young cousins don’t understand why their friends are not allowed to play with them while Robert is visiting, and can hardly believe that Robert is sick when he looks so well. This beautifully illustrated book was created to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS among young people, in the hope that it will help them avoid becoming infected with this preventable disease. Factual information about HIV/AIDS is presented in questions and answer format at the end of the story.


Chetwynd Echo (Nov. 4, 2005): Library Briefs

November is once again, a busy month at your local library…you may want to pick up a good book or two. “The Gathering Tree” by award-winning author, Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden, is a new, and up-to-date resource book for schools and communities featuring the gently told story of a First Nations family who are dealing with HIV/AIDS.

This wonderful little book has been recently launched by Chee Mamuk, the aboriginal HIV education program of the BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the provincial Health Services Authority.
A second book by author, Larry Loyie, entitled “As Long As the Rivers Flow,” is an award-winning story of a boy's last summer in a traditional First Nations setting before being taken to residential school.
— By Fay Asleson, Special to the Chetwynd Echo, Chetwynd, British Columbia,



CM Magazine, Volume XIII Number 14, March 2, 2007

The Gathering Tree
Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden
Illustrated by Heather D. Holmlund
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2005/6.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $15.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-894778-42-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-894778-28-2 (cl.).
Subject Headings: HIV infections-Juvenile fiction. AIDS (Disease)-Juvenile fiction. Indians of North America-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Gail de Vos. ** / 4 Recommended

Read review



GEIST, Fall 2005, book review

The Gathering Tree by Larry Loyie (Theytus Books) was initiated by Chee Mamuk, an organization that provides aboriginal communities with culturally appropriate education about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and there is a long list of advisors at the back of the book.

The purpose of the book is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Native communities; with all these people involved one might expect the book to be heavy with important messages, but Loyie and his co-writer, Constance Brissenden, have created a simple, believable story about Robert, a young man with HIV who returns to his Native community to attend a gathering and to speak to his people about his disease.

The two children in the story learn about traditional Native culture while they learn about Robert’s modern disease. The story is illustrated with luscious acrylic paintings by Heather D. Holmlund that make you feel like you’re right there with the kids, beside the river, smelling the cedar boughs and eating fresh salmon.

— By Patty Osborne





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