Little Girl Gazelle

St├ęphane Martelly

Katia Grubisic

September 2020

A little girl gazelle leaps from page to page, asking hard questions about what is fair and right. She’s sleek and fleet, and the poetic language lifts her up, up, higher and faster as she whirls through the bold eloquence of the book’s illustrations, making colourful tracks, leaving her mark, finding her way, skimming and dancing through an unjust world.

Part fable, part metaphor, Little Girl Gazelle is an extraordinarily beautiful picture book focused on discrimination and equality, presenting parents’ subtle efforts to prepare their black gazelle child for “a world of lions.”


STÉPHANE MARTELLY is a writer, visual artist, and academic. Her numerous books include non-fiction, notably Les jeux du dissemblable: Folie, marge et féminin en littérature haïtienne contemporaine (Éditions Nota bene, 2016), poetry, and literature for children. Her picture book La maman qui s’absentait (Vents d’ailleurs, 2011) also illustrated by Albin Christen, won the prestigious Michel Tournier prize. Originally from Port-au-Prince, she has lived in Montreal since 2002.

ALBIN CHRISTEN is a Swiss artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. His exhibitions, prints, and publications reflect a hybrid of striking forms and intricate dreamscapes, often inspired by cultures from all over the world. He previously collaborated with Stéphane Martelly on the award-winning picture book La maman qui s’absentait.

KATIA GRUBISIC is a writer, editor, and translator. She was coordinator of the Atwater Poetry Project reading series, and was a founding member of the editorial board for the Icehouse Poetry imprint at Goose Lane Editions. Her own work has appeared in various Canadian and international publications. She has been a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for translation, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert award for best first book. Her translation of A Cemetery for Bees was a finalist for the Governor General Literary Awards in 2021.

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Format: Paper

Size: 9 x 6

Pages: 28

What they say
The message comes alive
Sarah Raughley, Quill & Quire

This past year has seen an explosion of discussion enter the mainstream about racial injustice and police brutality. Globally, Black Lives Matter protests and other anti-colonial movements have brought to public consciousness the uncomfortable conversations many Black parents have been having with their children for generations: that this is not a society created for them. In this world, they always have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Stéphane Martelly's Little Girl Gazelle, illustrated by Albin Christen and translated from French by Katia Grubisic, takes this multi-generational discussion and flips it on its head, using poetry and art to transform it into a message of encouragement and pride.

Little Girl Gazelle tells the story of a young Black girl running. She is warned by her father that she will always have no choice but do so. She is in a race, the book states, that "started without her." But her mother reframes the situation by highlighting her daughter's inner strength, explaining that even though she was born into an unfair society, she has the power to run, to fly.

This message comes alive in the book's use of full-page art and strategically placed poetry. Christen uses black-and-white images and depictions of ancient African art, contemporary technoloy, and modern society to show that this race indeed started long before the little girl was born. The illustrations show society as stuck in an endless cycle, with some members breezing through the race without having to use their own power. But that's not the case for the heroine, whose efforts and courage pull her through. As she runs, Christen adds petals of colour in her wake, breaking up the dreary black-and-white illustrations and highlighting her strnegh. 

Martelly's poetry shapes and contours with the artwork and matches the little girl's movements. At times, she seems to be chasing the verses, as if words themselves are part of the race. Some words leap ahead of the rest of their sentences. The text reinforces the fact that society is cruel and competitive, and some must use all their muscles, wits and courage to catch up, dodging harmful words along the way. But in the end, Martelly signals that her heroine's efforts are not in vain and words can't hold her back for long.

The book’s language is poetic, but not difficult, and will resonate with readers regardless of age. Christen’s final brush of colour signals the hope that one day society will change and this little girl and other gazelles will no longer have to run an unequal race, giving them the chance to enjoy the wonders of the world that are often missed while endlessly pushing and leaping forward.

January 2021, Quill & Quire

"a beautiful fable about discrimination"
Kate Lavut, Montreal Review of Books

How do you tell your child that she has to fight to survive in this world? How do you show her that she has to work twice as hard to succeed? Poet Stéphane Martelly does just that in Little Girl Gazelle, a beautiful fable about discrimination. The little girl’s father says she must learn to run because she will never have time to walk. Her mother tells her that she is a gazelle in a world of lions. Little Girl Gazelle runs through the book; she is wood among steel, hooves among wheels. Albin Christen’s striking black-and-white illustrations move us through the story past African masks and jungles of machinery. The only colours in the book are in the hoofprints of the running child, making the style of Martelly and Christen’s second book together remarkably distinct. Originally written in French and translated by Katia Grubisic, Little Girl Gazelle is the perfect story to explain discrimination to people of all ages.

November 2020, Montreal Review of Books


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