June is Indigenous History Month in Canada. We have a long way to go in recognizing the rights of Indigenous people and acknowledging the truth about our violent and ugly past. My CTV Your Morning segment is a privilege and I strive to include a wide-range of books and creators on each list. This month’s list is dedicated to Indigenous stories and creators. I wish I had these books growing up, and I hope they become part of the Canadian literary canon.
Watch the segment here.
PICTURE BOOKS, Ages 3-7
Author Monique Gray Smith, a mixed-heritage woman of Cree, Lakota and Scottish ancestry, and illustrator Julie Flett, of Cree Metis heritage, have created a bright, joyful collaboration about happiness. Happiness is found in universal actions like holding the hand of a loved one, or in more culturally-specific actions, like the smell of bannock cooking. This book was selected as the 2019 TD Grade One Book Giveaway, meaning half a million students received a bilingual copy of this book, in either English and Plains Cree or French and Plains Cree. It is a modern Canadian classic and deserves a spot in our literary canon alongside other Canadian classics like Love You Forever.
Author Wab Kinew is a member of the Midewin and a professor, politician, performance artist and a father. He was inspired by Barack Obama’s picture book, Of Thee I Sing, and wanted to create a book that was focused on celebrating Indigenous people and their achievements for his own (and all!) children. This inspirational non-fiction picture book showcases a diverse group of 13 Indigenous people in the US and Canada- including well known and perhaps not so widely recognized figures- across various disciplines, such as sports, medicine, politics, and the arts. The book reads like a song, with the repetition of the phrase, “We are people who matter. Yes it’s true. Now go show the world what people who matter can do.”
There are lots of children’s books about identifying feelings or animals, but this picture book from Metis author-illustrator Danielle Daniel provides a fresh perspective with the introduction of the Anishinaabe concept of totem animals or clan animals. A note following the story provides greater history and context for further exploration.
The Mighty Muskrats mystery series has a retro Hardy Boys vibe to it. This is a perfect summer mystery featuring a group of cousins (affectionately called The Mighty Muskrats by the members of their community) who look into the disappearance of a visiting archaeologist. Author Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation and this book was the co-winner of the Second Story Press Indigenous Writing Competition. Look for more books in this series soon!
TEENS, AGES 12+
This graphic novel anthology explores the untold or forgotten histories of Indigenous people in Canada. Each short story, told in graphic novel form, is preceded by a letter from the creator outlining why they selected their particular story, and accompanied by a timeline that gives context for what was happening between the Indigenous people and the government at that time. This is an eye-opening and urgently necessary look at history and exactly the kind of book schools should be adding to curriculum. The graphic novel format makes it far more accessible and appealing to teens than a traditional textbook, and the stories within the anthology will resonate even with readers who may not have prior interest in history.
This is a contemporary YA novel that tackles a variety of issues revolving around family, racism, and resilience. Author Melanie Florence, of Cree and Scottish heritage, is no stranger to complex family stories, and deftly handles difficult but relevant subject matter in a way that teen readers will appreciate. She is particularly adept at portraying strong Indigenous women.
What books would you recommend?