|Special Edition 2018, Vol. 38, No. 4
IBBY Canada Special Edition Newsletter: From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books
In this special edition of the newsletter we zigzag across the country to mark the launch of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books, curated by IBBY Canada.
From board books to picture books for older readers, From Sea to Sea to Sea is a catalogue of 100 of the best picture books created over the past 25 years by Indigenous authors. The full catalogue is available here.
The titles in From Sea to Sea to Sea reflect the diversity of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures, languages, perspectives and experiences: from The Thundermaker by Alan Syliboy (Mi’kmaq) to Hello Humpback! by Roy Henry Vickers (Tsimshian/Haida/Heiltsuk) and Robert Budd … from Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story by Sebastian Robertson (Mohawk/Cayuga), illustrated by Adam Gustavson, to Fiddle Dancer by Wilfred Burton (Métis), illustrated by Sherry Farrell Racette (Timiskaming First Nation) … from Akilak’s Adventure by Deborah Kigjugalik Webster (Inuit), illustrated by Charlene Chua, to Just a Walk by Jordan Wheeler (Cree), illustrated by Christopher Auchter (Haida).
The creation of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books was initiated by IBBY Canada in 2016 in response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, and is in keeping with IBBY’s mission to support the right of every child to become a reader through the access to high-quality books.
The catalogue features books that explore the impact of residential schools such as Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe both by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave, When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree/Métis) and I Am Not A Number by Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland.
And there are also some of the earliest Indigenous picture books that are still currently in print: A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King (Cherokee), illustrated by William Kent Monkman (Cree), published by Groundwood Books in 1992; Arctic Stories by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka, published by Annick Press in 1998); and, I Can’t Have Bannock but the Beaver Has a Dam by Bernelda Wheeler, illustrated by Herman Bekkering, first published by Pemmican Press in 1984.
In this newsletter, please enjoy reading about the creation of some of the great books in the collection through articles featuring five of the authors: Nicola I. Campbell, Jenny Kay Dupuis, Penny M. Thomas, Aviaq Thompson and Richard Van Camp.
As well, please meet the Selection Committee and hear about their processes and their thoughts on the collection. Many of their “must read” books are by authors who are listed above.
What a wonderful gift it is to hear someone’s story. Much gratitude to all who were so generous with their time and contributions to this newsletter.
– Patti McIntosh, Newsletter Editor
The Importance of Indigenous Voices
Comments from Project Co-Chair & Author Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis (Nipissing First Nation)
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis, Project Co-Chair, brings a range of perspectives to From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books: avid reader, educator and author.
For Jenny, involvement in From Sea to Sea to Sea offered the opportunity “to engage and work with a diverse group of librarians with strong knowledge and a range of backgrounds and perspectives on Indigenous children’s literature.”
As Co-Chair, Jenny acted as a resource to the Selection Committee — and worked collaboratively with them on establishing the selection criteria and framework for the collection.
“We talked a lot about the importance of diversity: not just geographic — from sea to sea to sea — but also diversity in settings (traditional, historical and contemporary), cultural beliefs and values, language, imagery, protocols, and representation from 25 years of publishing.
“We talked a lot about the importance of representation and authenticity: selecting books told by Indigenous people; that reflect the voices and truths of Indigenous peoples.”
Diversity and authenticity in children’s literature were qualities markedly absent from Jenny’s early reading experiences.
Growing up in northern Ontario, Jenny recalls being taken to the city library by her father, who was himself a “big reader,” and being encouraged by him to explore literature but finding herself “really disconnected” from the books available for children and young people. She was disconnected from the imagery and from the narrative.
“I never saw Indigenous children’s books in the public library or in schools. There was no representation of Indigenous-authored stories. If there were Indigenous books, they were written by non-Indigenous people. They lacked diversity and authenticity. The cultural portrayal of the communities depicted in the stories was often misrepresented. When you don’t learn the history of your people and you don’t read their words, you inevitably begin to feel that you are less.”
So Jenny went around children’s books: she read a lot of self-published books from her community. And she read, as a youth, the now classic Halfbreed by Maria Campbell (University of Nebraska Press, 1973).
“The publication of Halfbreed had a huge impact. It was talked about a lot among groups in my home community and the city of North Bay. It was the first book I read that was written by an Indigenous voice, with respect, and shared a community’s history. As a young girl, it really spoke to me. It meant a lot to pick up and read a book authored by an Indigenous voice. It can change lives in ways that many of us cannot imagine. It means far more than just reading a diverse book.”
Jenny notes that today, as evidenced in From Sea to Sea to Sea, “there are many, many more Indigenous writers in Canada who are finding publishers and writing high-quality books. Educators and librarians are creating space for a range of Indigenous stories and experiences to be heard and explored.”
As an educator herself — and educator of educators and educator-librarians in her consulting work — Jenny encourages the use and promotion of literary resources that are from the various Indigenous communities and express that range of authentic community voices and perspectives.
One of the first children’s books that Jenny remembers liking in her early days as an educator was Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2000), published in the US. Jingle Dancer is about a young girl who wants to dance in the upcoming powwow, and how the strong women in her life — her aunt, her neighbour, her cousin and her grandmother — each contribute a row of jingles to her dress. Jenny says about the book: “The imagery and lessons of Jingle Dancer showed the dignity of the characters — and really portrayed a positive community experience. It was a story that I often shared with young people whose history was fractured due to acts of colonization. This story offered children an opportunity to reflect on history and begin their own journey to heal and reclaim their culture.”
“It is interesting to see in some of the more current books on the list, such as Nicola I. Campbell’s A Day with Yayah, and Penny M. Thomas’ Nimoshom and His Bus, the portrayal of the celebration of culture, strong inter-generational relationships, the passing of knowledge — and the reclamation of language.”
When Jenny became an educator, she committed to herself a “duty to share.”
She noticed several years ago that a piece was missing in school classrooms: the impact of the residential school system in Canada. She thought it was important that students hear a true story — and that it was essential that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the community start learning about and sharing the truth.
Jenny had her own family experiences to draw upon.
I Am Not a Number (Second Story Press 2016), co-written with Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland, shares the lived experience of Jenny’s granny, Irene Couchie, who, in 1928 at age eight was taken, along with her two brothers, from her family by an Indian Agent and forced to attend Spanish Indian Residential School in northern Ontario.
Told in first person by eight-year old Irene, I Am Not a Number deals directly with the abuse and shaming — of her identity, language and of her skin colour — that she suffered over the course of one year at residential school. It shares Irene’s determination that she never lose her identity despite being forcibly removed from her family and community and re-named #759. In the book, Irene says to herself: I am not a number. I am Irene Couchie, daughter of Ernest and Mary Ann Couchie. I will never forget who I am.
It also shows the determination of her father that Irene and her brothers never return to residential school after their summer break. He says to the Indian agent who has returned in the fall to take the children: Call the police. Have me arrested. You will NEVER. TAKE MY CHILDREN. AWAY. AGAIN.
Like so many others, Jenny grew up not knowing about her grandmother’s experiences in residential school: “There was a lot of silence. I didn’t really know much about my community’s history growing up. It was never formally taught in schools. And no one in my home community talked openly,” says Jenny.
But she had a lot of questions about what happened, and when she was 14 or 15, her grandmother told her about her experiences at residential school.
As an educator, Jenny is very committed to sharing community stories, such as her granny’s, and raising awareness of Indigenous histories and their impact today. Says Jenny, there is “so much value in helping to create spaces that are led by Indigenous voices; that truthfully share Indigenous realities and hopefully spark deep, meaningful conversations in families and communities for change.”
I Am Not a Number was on the national best-seller list for 36 weeks, and received the 2018 Hackmatack Award, 2018 Red Cedar Award, 2017 Diamond Willow Award, was a 2018 Silver Birch Award Honour Book winner, was selected as one of CBC’s “150 Books to Read for Canada 150,” and was selected as a book everyone in their generation should read by Matthew Yu, 2018 cast member of Canada’s Smartest Person Junior. Matthew said, “Our generation is inspired to look into the future, but we should never forget the past.”
I Am Not a Number is currently being translated by Dr. Muriel Sawyer, Geraldine McLeod and Tony Fisher into Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe) in the Nbising dialect; the dialect of Jenny’s granny, Irene Couchie. The community-based translation initiative is part of a reconciliation process to bring the story home to be translated and also shared in support of language revitalization and maintenance.
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and is a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, writer/researcher, artist and keynote speaker who works supporting the advancement of Indigenous education, the arts and literature. She lives in Toronto.
The Selection Committee: Creating the List
The Selection Committee for From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books was co-chaired by author and educator Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis (Nipissing First Nation) and IBBY Canada president Mary Beth Leatherdale.
The Selection Committee included:
• Patricia Knockwood (Fort Folly First Nation), Indigenous Services Librarian for New Brunswick and member of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Indigenous Matters Committee
• Joanne Schwartz, award-winning author and children’s librarian with the Toronto Public Library
• Allison Taylor-McBryde, Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia and children’s librarian at North Vancouver District Public Library
The Selection Committee began its work in December 2017. Over the course of 10 months, the Committee undertook a collaborative process with many conference calls. The process drew upon their own personal experiences with Indigenous picture books and collective goals related to authenticity, diversity, representation and the use of Indigenous languages — and focused the end goal of promoting the reading and sharing of books by Indigenous authors among Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and youth, their families, librarians and educators.
Each member of the Selection Committee brought their own lists to the process, which added up to hundreds of books. They then talked, shared, read, re-read and learned, making new discoveries and finding new perspectives in the process.
Selection Committee member Patricia Knockwood speaks to the hope that From Sea to Sea to Sea “helps librarians and educators improve their collections and helps create improved access for kids to these books.” Patricia also speaks to the importance of promoting representation through the collection: “I looked for titles that were contemporary, in present tenses, and show the positive family relationships. Plus, I looked for a wide representation of Indigenous peoples across the country. Indigenous kids need to see that there are titles that reflect themselves, their families and communities.”
For Selection Committee member Joanne Schwartz, it was important to include books that gave “a strong sense of place and a connection to the land in books such as Thomson Highway’s Caribou Song / Atihko Nikamon or in Rebecca Hainnu’s A Walk on the Shoreline or George Littlechild’s This Land is My Land.” Also, for Joanne it was important to capture the “…opportunity to showcase some of the early work published with the first Indigenous presses. Theytus Books and Pemmican Publications (both founded in 1980) were leaders in publishing Indigenous authors and illustrators. Their contribution to giving voice to Indigenous authors and preserving Indigenous stories is enormous.”
The final collection includes 81 Indigenous artists, 31 publishers and has 15 languages represented. The earliest book in the collection was published in 1984 — Bernelda Wheeler’s I Can’t Have Bannock but the Beaver Has a Dam (HighWater Press) and the latest are from 2017.
From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books may be a starting point for some readers — and a source of further inspiration for others. Selection Committee member Allison Taylor-McBryde says: “The collection shows the strength of the work being done. I hope it offers encouragement for people to expand their lists — and their reading. There is a wealth of beautiful work out to continue to discover…”
The Cover Artist: Julie Flett (Cree/Métis)
An Indigenous girl lies on her stomach in the grass, reading a book. This is the subject of the cover image for From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books, created by award-winning Cree-Métis illustrator Julie Flett. About the piece, chosen by Julie from her body of work, she says, “I think of the girl in the way I think of all of our community members reading our authors, feeling connected and represented. There is a peaceful feeling that goes with this, relief, a feeling of being home.”
Selection committee co-chair Mary Beth Leatherdale says that one of the reasons that they were drawn to Julie’s art is because of her prolific efforts to “bring Indigenous ways of knowing to the foreground” for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers.
“That’s where we can see that change is occurring,” Julie says, “when we can appreciate each other’s languages, stories and art.”
This idea is particularly relevant to the Indigenous picture book collection, as the committee hopes it will “foster the bridging of cultures for young children and youth, their families, librarians and educators.”
Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Orca Books, says that Julie is one of the people in Canadian children’s literature who does this best. He describes Little You, written by Richard Van Camp, and My Heart Fills with Happiness, written by Monique Gray Smith, as “Indigenous books, but with wider appeal.” Little You, Andrew says, is a “book about reconciliation for young children without mentioning it.” The joyful board book shows reconciliation in a positive light.
Andrew remembers that both Richard and Monique asked to work with Julie specifically.
Annalee Greenberg, editorial director of HighWater Press, recalls a similar experience when discussing possible illustrators for When We Were Alone, written by David A. Robertson. When Annalee first met with David, along with publisher Catherine Gerbasi, Julie was the unanimous number one choice.
In the Governor General Literary Award–winning picture book, a grandmother tells her granddaughter about her childhood in a residential school.
“The book was breaking new ground, in that it was tackling a very contentious subject for young readers,” Annalee explained. As part of the process, Julie and David connected over Skype. “Talking about that very difficult history in a way that young children could understand was a challenge, so it was important that David and Julie share their visions to make it work. It was a collaborative process throughout — from manuscript to final art — with Julie, David, myself. And Julie just got it.”
Of the cover art for From Sea to Sea to Sea, Mary Beth says, “Like all of Julie’s work, it’s without pretension — no fancy title or self-importance. Her artwork beautifully, gently and memorably celebrates what’s at the heart of this project — the readers. What a wonderful gift! I can’t imagine a better way to honour the Indigenous authors, illustrators and translators whose work appears in the collection.”
– by Emma Sakamoto
Uplifting: The Books of Nicola I. Campbell (Nłeʔkepmx, Syílx and Métis)
“Whether Nicola Campbell is writing from a historical or contemporary perspective, she sees through the eyes of a child, and speaks directly to the heart of the child, by focusing on emotions and relationships.”
Selection Committee Member, From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books
Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia and
Children’s Librarian at North Vancouver District Public Library
For Nicola I. Campbell (Nłeʔkepmx, Syílx and Métis), children’s books provide the opportunity “to teach and tell the truth from a place of strength in a way that honours culture, family, land and language. In Indigenous children’s books we have the opportunity to see characters truly uplifted.”
As a child, Nicola was a reader and she always wanted to be a writer, although she struggled with courses focusing on English literature. When Nicola was quite young, about nine years old, she became especially inspired by books she read by Indigenous authors, in particular, her aunt Maria Campbell’s beautiful children’s picture book, Little Badger and the Fire Spirit. At that time, Nicola told her classmates that she would become an author one day.
And she has.
Nicola I. Campbell has four books in From Sea to Sea to Sea: Shi-shi-etko, Shin-chi’s Canoe and Grandpa’s Girls, all illustrated by Kim LaFave, 2011; and A Day with Yayah, illustrated by Julie Flett.
Shi-shi-etko (Groundwood Books, 2005)
Shin-chi’s Canoe (Groundwood Books, 2008)
Shi-shi-etko and Shi-chi’s Canoe are books that the Selection Committee say express in gentle ways both the “trauma of the residential schools” experience — and the “beauty of the home” the children leave behind.
Nicola describes how Shi-shi-etko began in a Creative Writing for Children class at the University of British Columbia — and how her first years of post-secondary influenced its writing. Far away from her home and community, she was experiencing “culture shock” as she embarked on her university studies on campus.
She was also learning historic truths about the structure and scope of Canadian policies in regard to Indian residential schools in Canada and gaining new understandings of its impact on her own family and community.
“I grew up with family stories about Indian residential schools because two generations of my family were forced to attend. But I did not learn about the policies or understand the full impact until I began post-secondary, when I took courses at NVIT and UBC. Reading such a quote, ‘to kill the Indian in the child,’ as it was written within Canadian policy and realizing the tremendous impact these genocidal policies had all across Canada was absolutely heartbreaking. Particularly because every single school had a graveyard specifically for their Indigenous students.
“I remember trying to imagine what our Elders and those left behind must have felt when all the children had all been taken and how powerless and afraid they must have felt. Two generations of children were taken from my own family. I cried all through the writing of Shin-chi’s Canoe. I am truly grateful for Kim LaFave’s sensitivity in his illustration of these books at all stages, including presenting our early draft to an Indian Residential school survivors conference in Vancouver, BC.
“As children, our Elders managed to carry on in that unbelievably harsh environment at Indian residential school, without love. Despite the violence, abuse, cold, hunger and heartache they faced, they carried on.”
That strength is reflected in both Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe.
Nicola describes how there were a few elements that she knew would anchor Shi-shi-etko:
“I knew the character’s name would be Indigenous and would honour her Indigeneity. It was a long and careful process in naming the character Shi-shi-etko, which means ‘she loves to play in the water.’ I dreamed about the name, I phoned my grand-aunt and I visited Elders throughout my community. This process of honouring our protocols lasted until the final draft. But it was important to have the approval of my Elders.
“Then, it was also important that when the children’s names would change upon their arrival at Indian residential school. The biblical names they are given: David, Mary and John are names carried by my grandpa and two of his eleven siblings.
“And I knew that there would be a countdown prior to the first day of school because this was a memory that my Elders had shared, and something that I had also done as a child. Shi-shi-etko… “One, two, three, four mornings left until I go to school,” said Shi-shi-etko …
The time left to remember everything that gives strength before leaving home.
What is of ultimate importance, within all my work, is finding creative ways to root my stories and my characters within the land and their Indigeneity. Many of the narratives are as written and experienced by Indigenous storytellers. They share important truths of the despair and disempowerment that has occurred through the history of colonization, particularly in stories written for older audiences.
I feel that an important part of my responsibility as an Indigenous storyteller is to also share the next chapters of how we can collectively recover ourselves and our communities in order to achieve healing from the tremendous heartbreak and despair that has occurred. This is not an overnight thing. This is not something that we can just “get over.” The concept of truth and reconciliation is truly a journey for the country of Canada because so much of the country is still in denial. My goal through my stories is to open the minds and hearts of children to these truths. Because our children bring us healing and joy every day,
Nicola I. Campbell
Children asked Nicola about a sequel to Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe: they wonder what happened next? For Nicola, that sequel can be found through reading her following books, Grandpa’s Girls and A Day with Yayah, because Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi “grew and became our grandparents.”
Grandpa’s Girls and A Day with Yayah are represented as fiction, but they are indeed inspired by Nicola’s childhood memories of growing up surrounded by her Elders.
“In Grandpa’s Girls,” says Nicola, “I wanted to focus on a contemporary story that demonstrated empowered children — playing and having fun with their loving family.”
Grandpa’s Girls is a story of children visiting their beloved grandfather. In the story, we learn about his full life as “a veteran, a cowboy, a rancher and a businessman” — and about the deep familial bonds with the pictures on the wall and the aunties in the kitchen.
Grandpa’s Girls also introduces Nłeʔkepmxcín, the language of the Nłeʔkepmx (Thompson River Salish): “our grand-aunties and grand-uncles call us kids schmém’?t.”
The importance of language and culture is explored more in Nicola’s next book A Day with Yayah.
A Day with Yayah
It is truly qwámqwəmt, a beautiful day, in A Day with Yayah.
Even though the children don’t enjoy eating mushrooms, they love spending time with their Yayah, their grandmother. In this story, the children eagerly learn from their Yayah about wild foods, medicinal plants and gathering traditions. Over the course of the day, their Yayah teaches them about their culture through Nłeʔkepmxcín words.
The story is inspired by the time Nicola spent as a child with her auntie, who did not attend residential school and retained fluency in Nłeʔkepmxcín, the Thompson River Salish language.
Nicola remembers a childhood of time spent on the land with her aunties and Elders, harvesting traditional foods. The story shows how they were always learning simply by being in that environment: “We were always watching what the adults were doing, trying to understand what they were saying — and we always had a lot of questions. When we were spoken to in our language, we knew it was with love.”
Nicola I. Campbell is currently working on her PhD in Indigenous Literature and Storytelling at UBC Okanagan.
Family, Language & Storytelling: Powwow Counting in Cree and Nimoshom and His Bus by Penny M. Thomas (Cree-Ojibway)
Penny M. Thomas uses language as the focus of her picture books to highlight culture and Indigeneity. Both of her stories for young children revolve around Cree words
that signify important concepts and traditions. Embedding language in her warm-hearted, gentle stories creates a rich reading experience.
Selection Committee Member, From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books
Award-Winning Author and Children’s Librarian with the Toronto Public Library
To speak with Penny M. Thomas about the creation of her two books in the collection — Powwow Counting in Cree and Nimoshom and His Bus — is to learn about family, as well as a love of family, language and community; and how these picture books combine all those elements.
Powwow Counting in Cree (HighWater Press, 2013)
Penny tells the story of how Powwow Counting in Cree was not written with the expectation that it would be a published book. Rather, she wrote it for her children and her nephew as she was trying to teach them to count in Cree.
Penny learned Cree as a child by speaking with her grandmother; it was “their thing.” And Penny continued to study Cree in school but found her ability waning without consistent use and people to talk to.
The preservation of language is key to culture for Penny: “Words hold and transmit so much meaning. There are words in Cree that cannot be translated into English: expressions, medications and ways of describing things. There are so many different things that cannot be expressed except in Cree.”
For Penny, the setting of Powwow Counting in Cree allows the opportunity for children to learn both numbers from peyak (one) to mitataht (ten) — and also to develop an appreciation for culture and protocols of the powwow. Each scene in the book allows the chance to explore the people and elements of a powwow such as friends, teachings and blessings.
A favourite scene from the book for Penny is: Enawew, that means eight. Eight men drumming so great.
“It is such a powerful scene.” (Look at the expressions on the men’s beautifully illustrated faces …)
Nimoshom and His Bus (HighWater Press, 2017)
After the success of Powwow Counting in Cree, Penny was asked by her publisher HighWater Press to write another children’s book. She wanted to do a story that would allow the teaching of command words. Penny’s husband had a suggestion:
Nimoshom and His Bus was inspired her beloved grandfather who drove the school bus. The story opens with the introduction: Nimoshom drove a school bus. Sometimes he spoke Cree. Nimoshom means my grandfather in Cree.
The journey to school becomes a way for the children to learn 13 words and phrases, including tansi (hello), machi kisikaw (it is a good day), api (sit down) and ekosi (okay, that’s it, amen), which is said instead of good-bye.
Nimoshom and His Bus shows the children’s love of their school bus driver and vice versa.
The catalogue description for From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books refers to Nimoshom and His Bus as “… this perfect picture book” and “a joyful depiction of an Indigenous community.”
That joy is contagious and the book is really resonating with children. Penny tells the story of reading Nimoshom and His Bus to a very diverse group of kids at a school in Winnipeg. The children enjoyed hearing the story and also substituting the Cree words in the story into the languages of their grandfathers, including Punjabi, Ukrainian and French. “It was a really good experience for the children; sharing the words and sharing the love of family.”
A favourite spread for Penny in the book is the last one — Nimoshom was a good man. Ekosi. She says, “The picture even looks like him. It is a really good likeness.”
Penny M. Thomas lives in her home community of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba with her husband and five children, and works in psychology and family therapy. In her work, Penny uses storytelling and an approach called narrative therapy, a method that allows someone to shape their story in a positive, healing way.
Penny is currently working on a novel that will take the reader on a healing journey and will feature a benevolent hero from Cree folklore, Wisakedjak (Whiskeyjack), a hero she wished she heard more stories of when she was growing up.
Also, Penny has a few ideas for children’s books percolating: “I tend to wait to write. When I have the feeling that story is ready, when I think the ideas are done seasoning, I tell my husband I am going to go write; take care of the kids.”
The Positive in Everyone: What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston (Inuit)
“In What’s My Superpower, Aviaq Johnston writes a beautiful story about a girl who sees the positive in everyone and has a strong relationship with her mother.”
Patricia Knockwood (Fort Folly First Nation)
Selection Committee Member, From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books
Indigenous Services Librarian for New Brunswick
Member of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Indigenous Matters Committee
In the first scene of What’s My Superpower?, author Aviaq Johnston takes the reader to “a small town where winter is always longer than summer;” a place where the young girl in the story, Nalvana, “loved everything …”
For Aviaq, it was important to represent a contemporary Nunavut in What’s My Superpower?, her first children’s book — and share her experiences of growing up in a community where kids have the freedom and environment to play safely and imaginatively.
“If you go to small towns in Nunavut, you will see there are always lots of kids playing outside. Adults are very present in children’s lives but more in the background. As children, we played outside all the time … even those times of the year with 24 hours of darkness. It was really important to show in What’s My Superpower? that joy and freedom of growing up in these small communities, ” says Aviaq.
What’s My Superpower? was also an opportunity to take on some stereotypes: “People have these historical images of life in the North that even generations ago weren’t accurate.”
After the success of her award-winning young adult novel, Those Who Run in the Sky, Aviaq was encouraged by her publisher, Inhabit Media, to write a children’s book. Aviaq took on the challenge of writing in this new genre with a bit of uncertainty but inspiration soon came from two places.
The first was a video a friend posted of her daughter wearing a cowboy hat and flying with a cape saying: “I’m a superhero but I don’t know what my superpower is!” And the second was from Aviaq’s own childhood: “I felt I was not especially good at anything. I wasn’t good at sports and although I was good at school, lots of kids are good at school. So, I thought maybe being ordinary and good, and wanting to make people happy, would be a great superpower for children.”
For Aviaq, the response to the book has been amazing. In readings at schools and the Qimavvik Shelter in Iqaluit, she has found audiences of children really engaged in the story — and eager to share what their superpowers are: flying, drawing, kissing, learning … and reading.
Aviaq Johnston splits her time between Iqaluit and Ottawa where she tutors and works in student support at Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Aviaq has a new YA novel, Those Who Dwell Below, coming out in 2019. And, hopefully for fans of What’s My Superpower?, she will write another children’s book.
Origin Stories: Books by Richard Van Camp (Tłıchǫ)
Richard Van Camp is the author of 22 books, written over the past 22 years, including novels, graphic novels, collections of short stories — and children’s and baby books, including four titles featured in From Sea to Sea to Sea.
Richard’s titles in the collection include two of the earliest books: A Man Called Raven (1997) and What is the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses? (1998), both illustrated by George Littlechild. The two baby books are: Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns (2007) and Little You (2013), illustrated by Julie Flett.
At the Edmonton launch of From Sea to Sea to Sea Richard shared some of the origin stories from his books in the collection and shared that he “learned how to write when he learned how to listen.”
Working with Heroes — and Saying “Yes”
In the early 1990s, while living in his home community of Fort Smith, NWT, Richard received a phone call from Harriet Rohmer, founder of Children’s Book Press in San Francisco.
Harriet Rohmer congratulated Richard on The Lesser Blessed and said she was looking for “new voices” — and then she got to the point: “Do you have anything you could send down?”
Richard said: “Yes, I do have something …” and pulled out the manuscript for The Man Called Raven, which he had written at a workshop. Richard sent it down to San Francisco page by page from the fax machine at Home Hardware in Fort Smith — at a cost of $4.20.
Days later, Harriet phoned Richard back: “We love the manuscript. How’d you like to work with George Littlechild.”
George Littlechild was — and is — a hero to Richard. Richard first saw George’s positive imagery in the Health Canada posters commissioned and distributed when Richard was a teenager; posters that featured beautiful faces from the community: “I remember feeling good about myself when I first saw George Littlechild’s work. I could see myself.”
And then, about ten months later, another call came from Harriet. George was interested in doing another book with Richard; he was interested in honouring horses. Would Richard have anything about horses? Could he send it in five days?
Richard said, “Yes, I could …” though Richard was, at that time “a stranger to horses.”
There are no horses in Fort Smith, NWT. It is too cold.
But over the next five days Richard went to Elders, family and friends — including George Littlechild — and asked them the question: What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses? He received 12 different answers that revealed beautiful things about horses, and the people answering the question — and the experience of asking the question.
Five days later, Richard was back at Home Hardware, faxing the manuscript to San Francisco — at a cost of $4.20.
Baby Book Inspiration from a Daughter’s Birthday
(Eddie Vedder’s Daughter’s Birthday…)
Richard was first inspired to write baby books as a way of offering a passport or bridge into a culture: “They share a hope for humanity and create such empathy.”
Richard’s earliest baby book in the collection, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, was the official selection for the BC Babies program and was given, in 2008, to every newborn baby in British Columbia. Over 100,000 copies have been sold.
The inspiration for his second baby book in From Sea to Sea to Sea came from an unexpected place: a Pearl Jam concert in Edmonton.
Eddie Vedder had stopped the concert — and said that it couldn’t go on until happy birthday was sung to a very important little girl: his daughter. Eddie pulled out a cell phone and the crowd was patched in to California. The crowd joined in with Eddie and sang.
While people were singing, Richard pulled out his own phone and wrote a 50-word message to himself: Little you / little wonder …
Over the next few days, Richard went back and tinkered with the words he wrote; moving and changing the words in the message. And then he would move the words back.
There it was, inspired by a father’s love for his daughter, revealed at a Pearl Jam concert: Little You.
There are additional points of happiness from the creation of Little You: “I wanted to write something so beautiful that Julie Flett would consider illustrating it. That was a dream come true.”
And Orca Books liked it. But that’s another story.
Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tłıchǫ) Nation from Fort Smith, North West Territories. He is a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing, the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing BFA Program and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
Join the From Sea to Sea to Sea Celebration
What do you do when you’ve assembled a collection of 100 of the best books by Indigenous authors, many illustrated by Indigenous artists, available in Canada today? Share it! The IBBY Canada Communications Committee is hard at work on a social media campaign to encourage the reading and sharing of books From Sea to Sea to Sea. Each day a book from the collection will be featured on our social media channels. We encourage you to share these titles with your network using the hashtags #ReadIndigenous and #IndigenousPictureBooks and tagging @IBBYCanada.
IBBY Canada is also launching a Library Challenge, encouraging libraries to include all 100 Indigenous picture books in their collections. Participate in the campaign on social media using #LibraryChallenge and tagging @IBBYCanada.
In the new year, look for more digital goodies, including a webinar highlighting titles from the collection, Twitter chats with authors, as well as an enhanced digital catalogue that will provide links to publishers’ resources.
This month, the first of what we hope are many community events in celebration of the collection took place at Audreys Books in Edmonton. Picture book author Richard Van Camp (Tłıchǫ) and Colette Poitras (Métis), Manager, Indigenous Public Library Outreach for the Public Library Services Branch in Alberta, were on hand to talk about some of the board books and picture books in the collection. There was a book give giveaway and bannock served. What better way to celebrate!
Enjoy reading and sharing these wonderful books! If you’re interested in holding a From Sea to Sea to Sea event in your community bookstore, library, or school, please email me at email@example.com.
— Mary Beth Leatherdale, President, IBBY Canada
Edmonton Celebrates From Sea to Sea to Sea
The Edmonton launch of From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books was held at Audreys Books on November 22, 2018.
It was standing room only, with over 50 people in attendance who ranged in age from one month to seniors; all fans of Indigenous picture books.
The event featured a presentation by Colette Poitras (Métis), Manager, Indigenous Public Library Outreach for the Public Library Services Branch in Alberta, who spoke about her work to bring free, accessible library services to Indigenous communities throughout Alberta — and she spoke about her favourite books from the collection which are listed below.
The event also featured a special presentation by Richard Van Camp (Tłıchǫ), author of four books in the collection: A Man Called Raven; Little You; Welcome Song for Baby and What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses?
Merle Harris, IBBY Board Member and Regional Councillor for Alberta, offers her highlights from the event:
• Walking down the stairs to the event space in Audreys Books and seeing all the books from From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books displayed on the three sides of the landing.
• Watching people come down the stairs, stopping to look at the books, hurrying down to reserve a chair — and then going back up to look some more at the books. It was magical.
• Colette’s stories of the importance of Indigenous children seeing themselves in what they read. Her telling of her delight when she saw SkySisters in the bookstore in the CN Tower, the first Indigenous book she bought for her children.
• Richard’s stories about learning about his culture and the importance of listening and remembering. His reminiscences of how his stories came to him and how honoured he has been with his illustrators.
• Richard’s tests of the audience’s listening skills for the book giveaways. The amazingly engaged audience who listened and remembered and answered Richard’s questions to win books.
• The way Richard and Colette celebrated the other Albertans in the catalogue: Dale Auger and his daughter Neepin, Larry Loyie, and George Littlechild.
• The connections that were made between the people who were there, many of whom stayed talking until the store closed at 9:00.
A huge thank-you to Colette and Richard, all who came out — and to Audreys Books, especially Kelly, Liz, Levi and Danielle. Thanks also to Copy City who printed copies of the From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books catalogue on short notice.
Colette’s Picks from the Collection:
• Just a Walk by Jordan Wheeler (Cree). Illustrated by Christopher Auchter (Haida]. Theytus Books, 2009.
• Morning … on the Lake by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Nishinawbe Ojibway]. Illustrated by Karen Reczuch. Kids Can Press, 1997.
• My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith (Cree/Lakota]. Illustrations by Julie Flett (Cree/Métis]. Orca Book Publishers, 2016.
• The Rabbits’ Race: A Grandparents’ Day Story by Deborah L. Delaronde (Métis]. Illustrated by Virginia McCoy (Ojibway, French, English]. Theytus Books, 2009.
• SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Nishinawbe Ojibway]. Illustrated by Brian Deines. Kids Can Press, 2000.
• Wisahkecahi Flies to the Moon by Freda Ahenakew (Plains Cree]. Illustrated by Sherry Farrell Racette (Timiskaming First Nation]. Pemmican Publications, 1999. Reissued 2015, Pemmican Publications.
• You’re Just Right by Victor Lethbridge (Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation]. Illustrated by Ben Crane. Tatanka Productions, 2014.
Visit the IBBY Canada Facebook page to see photos from the event.
Many Thanks …
We’re absolutely thrilled to see From Sea to Sea to Sea go out into the world. This collection and beautiful catalogue wouldn’t exist without the enthusiasm and efforts of many, many people. Thanks to IBBY Canada board member Alice Moore whose idea of a collection showcasing Indigenous children’s literature got the project started in 2016. Huge thanks to the selection committee of Allison Taylor-McBryde, Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia and a children’s librarian at North Vancouver District Public Library; Patricia Knockwood (Fort Folly First Nation), Indigenous Services Librarian in New Brunswick and member of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ Indigenous Matters Committee; and Joanne Schwartz, award-winning author and children’s librarian with the Toronto Public Library. This trio of dedicated librarians spent countless hours reviewing hundreds of books, deepening their understanding, and writing annotations for the final selections. They’ve curated a wonderful collection and we’re extremely grateful. Special thanks to Julie Flett (Cree/Métis) who generously gifted her beautiful artwork for the cover and to librarian Camille Callison (Tahltan First Nation) for her counsel throughout development. We were extremely lucky to have a talented production team working on the project. Thank you to designer Andrew Dupuis, editors Kathleen Keenan and Claire Caldwell, and copyeditor Janet Clark for creating this stunning catalogue — and for your unwavering support for the project. It was an absolute delight to work with you! Of course, this collection wouldn’t exist without the amazing authors, illustrators, translators and publishers who have been creating Indigenous picture books in Canada for the last 25 years. Thank you for your wonderful books. Long may they be read!
— Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Mary Beth Leatherdale
IBBY Canada Newsletter
Editor: Patti McIntosh
Copy editor (English): Emma Sakamoto
Formatter: Trish Osuch
Banner Illustration: Martha Newbigging