Q&As with IBBY Canada Friends

Colette Poitras: Librarian and Champion of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection

Member of the Métis Nation of Alberta; mother to two beautiful daughters; Manager of Indigenous Public Library Outreach, Municipal Affairs, Government of Alberta; Chair of the Indigenous Matters Committee, Canadian Federation of Library Associations; and, friend of IBBY Canada

Why did you choose to become involved in the launch of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection?

Merle Harris (IBBY Canada Regional Councillor for Alberta) approached me and I was super pumped to be invited to help launch the Indigenous Picture Book Collection. The fact that there are 100 beautiful, quality Indigenous picture books within this collection is wonderful and I love that I have the opportunity to help promote it.

What do you view as the value of the Collection?

Librarians throughout the country are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action. They are trying to create inclusive collections with titles that represent the full diversity of authentic First Nations, Métis and Inuit voices. It takes a long time to vet titles like these, stories which are told by Indigenous peoples and which reflect our own truths. Having this ready-made collection available to library staff, which is already fully vetted by a diverse committee of librarians makes it so much easier and quicker to ensure that the titles purchased for the collection will be of the highest quality and that they will fully reflect these authentic voices.

What were the key points you wanted to focus on during your comments at the launch of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection at Audreys Books in Edmonton?

Colette Poitras speaks at the launch of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection at Audreys Books in Edmonton in November 2018.
Growing up, the books I read never reflected my experience. While I am white-coded, many of my family and friends are not. I never really realized how much I craved positive diversity within literature and within the library until I had my own small children. I was on vacation with my children and we happen to stop at a gift shop. I spotted the book SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Kids Can Press, 2002). I was literally awestruck. Not only did the children look like they belonged in my family, the lifestyle they were experiencing was one that I, as well as my children could relate to. Within the book, the central characters — two Ojibway sisters — are wearing winter coats, playing in the snow and experiencing the northern lights. Being a young mother, I did not have a lot of disposable income, but I purchased this title on the spot. My children are now in their twenties, but I still have this book. I hope to read it to my grandchildren someday.

As Indigenous people, our voices have not traditionally been heard. If there were books about us, we were not always depicted in a positive way. It is wonderful that there are now more than 100 quality Indigenous picture books that have been published in Canada.

Seeing SkySisters for the first time was empowering for my children and myself. I would like every person, particularly people who do not see themselves reflected much in the main stream to have that feeling. It is also important for non-Indigenous Canadians to hear these stories that they have also been denied for so long.

Could you talk a bit about your involvement with the Indigenous Picture Book Collection post-launch?

I have the great privilege of being able to meet with Indigenous and non-Indigenous library staff and community members throughout my province, but also throughout the country. I recommend that folks review the Collection whenever they want to assess their own picture book collections or want purchasing recommendations.

When you’ve had the opportunity to talk to people about the Indigenous Picture Book Collection, what has the response been?

The response has always been very positive. Non-Indigenous librarians can be a bit intimidated when trying to select Indigenous materials. They want to make sure there is an authentic voice. Knowing that the collection is highly recommended and vetted is quite a relief to them. Indigenous librarians and particularly their young patrons are always excited to see the catalogue and browse through the wonderful titles. It uplifts us all!

Would you like to highlight one of your picks for the Indigenous Picture Book Collection you spoke of at the launch?

Honestly, each book in the Collection has wonderful qualities that offer a diverse array of experiences within the writing. These enable all audiences to learn more about the beauty and strength of Indigenous peoples and to learn more about the history, land, culture as well as current day experiences. The artwork is stunning and many of the titles include phrases or words in Indigenous languages, which helps in the important work language restoration/reclamation as well.

Edmonton Public Library: Frontrunner — Indigenous Picture Book Collection #LibraryChallenge

As part of the launch of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection, IBBY Canada issued, through Twitter, the #LibraryChallenge; a challenge to all public libraries in Canada to acquire all 100 books.

A long-time friend of IBBY Canada, the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) tweeted back:

At the time of the challenge, Edmonton Public Library had 89 of the 100 titles. EPL now has all 100 titles (including one on order) — and they have created a list that staff and customers can browse.

The Edmonton Public Library has partnered with IBBY through hosting the Silent Books Exhibition in 2015 and the Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence Program in 2016.

And EPL was well-represented at the November 2018 launch of the Indigenous Picture Book Collection at Audreys Books with Elaine Jones, Manager, Youth Services and epl2go; Jed Johns, former EPL Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations; and Tamara Van Biert, Manager, Castle Downs Branch and member of EPL’s Early Literacy and Family Services Team all in attendance.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Elaine Jones about how EPL has used the Indigenous Picture Book Collection, perspectives readership — and a few favourites from the list.

The fact that EPL had 89 of 100 of books from the Indigenous Picture Book Collection already available at the launch of the #LibraryChallenge is remarkable. Why is EPL’s collection so strong in this area?

Elaine Jones: EPL recognizes content created by Indigenous people as a priority. Budget is set aside to ensure new Indigenous titles are added on an ongoing basis. EPL’s Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations makes direct recommendations as to titles of interest. Our collection is a good representation of what is available from publishers, and our Collections Librarians are always searching for new material. If a particular title takes off, additional copies are ordered to meet community needs.

How has EPL used the Indigenous Picture Book Collection since the launch of the #LibraryChallenge?

Elaine Jones: The Manager, Youth Services shared the IBBY list with EPL’s Early Literacy and Family Services and Indigenous Services teams. Members of these teams took the list and created further resources to promote these titles to customers and staff and incorporated them into programming. For example:

• One of the members of the Indigenous Services Team created a list in EPL’s online catalogue to promote the list and allow customers to place holds on titles held at EPL. This list was also shared on our EPL Picks section of our website, in social media posts and customer eNewsletter.
• EPL staff selected titles from the IBBY list that are well-suited to sharing within EPL storytimes.
• EPL staff have further annotated the titles being used in storytimes, by adding ‘Resources and Tips’ for the pronunciation of words, background story and other details of interest about the story, language and culture. Staff worked with EPL’s former Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations to ensure the EPL storytime list represented a variety of Indigenous cultures.
• Members of EPL’s Indigenous Services Team have created three program plans based on the titles Wild Berries by Julie Flett (Simply Read Books, 2013), What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses by Richard Van Camp (Children’s Book Press, 1998)and What’s My Superpower by Aviaq Johnston (Inhabit Media, 2017). These will be offered at a number of library locations throughout Edmonton over the summer.

Do you have the sense of who the readership is for books in the Collection? You hear of more and more interest in Indigenous picture books — and I am wondering if EPL is finding that to be true?

Elaine Jones: There is interest in an authentic Indigenous voice in general from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. People are wanting to learn more about the Indigenous perspective and experience and there is more and more content being made available.

Our Collection Librarian responsible for acquiring our youth material finds staff and customers more frequently requesting and borrowing Indigenous titles. EPL is ordering larger quantities to meet demand particularly for the picture books.

There are many titles available and quite a few Indigenous publishers. The titles all are curated respectfully and created in accessible book formats of largely oral tales. Titles that are more slice of life stories are also very accessible and well told.

Do you believe there is value in initiatives such as the Indigenous Picture Book Collection in creating readership? And, more broadly, could you speak to the value of such initiatives to libraries?

Elaine Jones: It is essential to have Indigenous material featured by organizations like IBBY who can highlight these titles in a meaningful and powerful way. Canadians get a chance to explore the vast amount of high quality Indigenous picture books available in the market. Other than providing a beautiful list of materials to share, it lessens the tendency to be cautious about material that you may know little about. It enables libraries to easily share resources with customers. These lists represent the material vetted by the community and treats the subject matter with respect. When an organization or a publisher highlights these amazing works of art and life it also shows respect and credibility for the works.

Some of the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action include connecting reconciliation to education. Pictures books are a great way to introduce people to ideas and perspectives different from their own, especially children. Picture books have visual appeal and can be accessible to all ages and different levels of literacy and language.

Would you like to pick a few favourites from the Indigenous Picture Book Collection to highlight?

Elaine Jones: Some of our Library Assistants went through the whole list to create the BiblioCommons book list linking to our catalogue via epl.ca. These are some of their favourites:

• Andrew chose the book Sukaq and the Raven by Roy Goose and Kerry McCluskey (Inhabit Media, 2017).

• Roger chose Just a Walk by Jordan Wheeler (Theytus Books, 2009)

• Taryn chose the books Grandmother Ptarmigan by Qaunak Mikkigak and Joanne Schwartz (Inhabit Media, 2013) and Wild Berries Pikasi-Mīnisa by Julie Flett (Simply Read Books, 2013)

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