Beautiful, Stunning, Peaceful and Glorious

The Woodland Art Illustrations of Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

Photo credit: Meg Wallace

Beautiful, stunning, peaceful and glorious are just a few of the words used to describe illustrator Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley’s [Anishinaabe] two books in the third edition of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books:

  • Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know, written by Brittany Luby [Anishinaabe, published by Groundwood Books, 2021
  • Thunder and the Noise Storms, written by Jeffrey Paul Ansloos [Cree] and Shezza Ansloos [Cree], published by Annick Press, 2021.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Joshua and share these snapshots of his extraordinary journey into children’s book illustration—his favourite scenes from the two books in From Sea to Sea to Sea—and what’s next. (A lot!)

From Google Doodle to Illustrator of Children’s Books

Joshua’s Google Doodle (June, 2019) celebrated the jingle dress and the power of Indigenous women.

The Google Doodle was seen by millions across North America, including literary agent Jackie Kaiser who approached Joshua with the question of whether he had ever considered illustrating children’s books and encouraged him to explore the works of celebrated Indigenous picture books illustrators, Julie Flett [Cree/Métis], whose work he has come to admire for “its simplicity and use of earth tones.”

(Other illustrators who Joshua shouts-out, who are also in the second and third editions of From Sea to Sea to Sea, are Michaela Goade [Tlingit]—“I love her colour palettes and detailed illustrations. She’s able to tell a story in such a beautiful and unique way”—and Maya McKibbin [Ojibwe, Yoeme, and Irish] with her “Really fun style, there’s so much life in their characters.”)

Quickly, there was the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book by Sharice Davids, who was elected as one of the first two Indigenous women to serve in the United States Congress in 2019. That book is award-winning Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman by Sharice Davids and Nancy K. Mays (HarperCollins Publishers, 2021).

Joshua’s next two books—those featured in the third edition of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books—were set closer to home, especially Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know.

Favourite Scenes: Bringing the Woodlands Arts Style to Children’s Books and Celebrating Intergenerational Relationships

When speaking to his favourite scenes in the books featured in this collection, Joshua mentions how this spread from Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know—set in the fall season brings memories of home, and time spent in his home community of Wasauksing First Nation on the Great Lakes.

“This fall scene, of all seasons, with the shadows creating ambiance and atmosphere, shows the freedom of the outdoors.”

We also see how beautifully a modern interpretation of Woodland Arts style works for children’s books with Joshua noting the “strong lines, bright colours, and bold characters depicted in two-dimensions.”

Similarly, the story of Thunder and the Noise Storms also spoke to Joshua as it shares an appreciation for interconnections—between the generations—and with land, culture, and community.

This scene from Thunder and the Noise Storms depicts the grandparent and child relationships that is so valued in Anishinaabe culture: “For the Anishinaabe, there are four stages of life—child, youth, adult and Elders. The Elders have a strong role in the raising of children and teaching.”

Here, Thunder’s Mosom is encouraging him to listen to the sounds of nature surrounding them. Thunder says: The windsong made me happy. I could feel the song on my skin.

Joshua also noted the “magical feel to this spread with the leaves blowing—and the depiction of the healing elements of our natural world.”

What’s New… and Next

Joshua has a new book, just released this spring:

  • Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome, written by Nancy Cooper (Owlkids Books, 2023)

And two soon to be released:

  • Mnoomin maan’gowing / The Gift of Mnoomin, written by Brittany Luby (Groundwood Books, Fall 2023)
  • Stitches of Tradition: Gashkigwasso Tradition, written by Marcie R. Rendon (Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2024)

Joshua is also illustrating—and writing—two books, including a baby book (Groundwood Books, 2024) and a picture book (Little Brown, 2025).

Thank you, Joshua!

Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibwe artist and a member of Wasauksing First Nation. His art aims to reclaim and promote traditional Ojibwe stories and teachings in a contemporary Woodland style. He has held several solo art exhibitions across Turtle Island. Joshua lives both in Wasauksing First Nation and in Vancouver.

Please check out Joshua’s website and Instagram to enjoy more of his work.

Contributed by Patti McIntosh

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