Teachers are always looking for books to pair with required units of study. Most students in the 3rd or 4th grade study the indigenous cultures of their region. Quality picture books by indigenous creators are few and far between so I was thrilled to find Peace Dancer and Orca Chief by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd.
Both books are traditional stories from the village of Kitkatla in British Columbia. This is the home town of the authors. Roy Henry Vickers is an artist and writer and Robert Budd is a historian. Roy holds a leadership position within his tribe. They belong to the Gitxaala Nation which is part of the larger language group known as the Tsimshian. Kitkatla is on the coast of British Columbia just east of the Islands of Haida Gwaii.
Peace Dancer is a traditional tale about the fate that befalls the people when children fail to respect a crow. It’s a flood narrative, which is interesting because so many ancient cultures have some kind of flood story. It gives the explanation for why a peace dancer is so important in a potlatch ceremony. In the author note, Roy Henry Vickers explains that he is the peace dancer for his community.
Orca Chief is also a story about the importance of respect for the natural world. In this story a group of disrespectful fishermen are taken under the sea to visit the Chief of the Orcas. After the fishermen apologize the Orca Chief forgives them and shows them ways to find many good things to eat–herrings, oolichan, and crabs.
Both books have stunning illustrations, combining a mainstream modern painting style with traditional formline art to represent the fish, birds and animals. They are vividly colored and brilliantly produced on the highest quality paper. If Vickers and Budd were Americans and therefore eligible, they would be contenders for the Caldecott with each of these books.
This week is small press week and it’s worth noting that these books are published by Harbour Publishing, a small independent publisher in British Columbia. They have been publishing the work of Vickers and Budd for many years. The pair has a new board book out this year called Hello Humpback.
When you are looking for diverse titles–especially by indigenous writers and artists–don’t forget the small presses.
One of the things I love about PNBA is the opportunity to meet small press publishers and see work by emerging artists and and Indigenous story tellers. By far the most distinctive work I saw this year was a graphic novel called Red: a Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. He is a visual artist and storyteller from Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands)
The story is done in graphic novel format but it’s totally unique in using the formline art style to create a variety of curvilinear panels. The formline style of art is what you typically see on totem poles in the pacific northwest. The unusual shapes give the narrative a uniquely flowing character which suits the story well as it shifts across time and space following the character of Red and his sister who begin the story as orphans taken in by a village on Haida Gwaii. Raiders come to the village and take Red’s sister away. Years later when Red is the leader of his community, he hears news of his lost sister and hatches a rescue and revenge plot that goes horribly awry. The story is based on Haida oral tradition and conveys important cultural values around the futility of anger and revenge.
The other thing that makes this book unique is that the pages work in codex form but they can also be taken out of the book and put together in a large mural in which the curved borders of the manga panels join together to form a large cohesive work of art. A photograph of the joined panels is in the back of the book so that you can see how to assemble it.
If you are a comics fan you’ll be intrigued by this story. If you are school librarian you should know that the panels include a few images of nude males. The images aren’t sexual in nature and are completely appropriate in the context of the story. If you are looking to increase the diversity of your graphic novel collection RED a Haida Manga is a great choice.
Ever wondered how you get from killer idea to finished book? YA author Taylor Brooke leads this months League meeting where we’ll take a look at crafting a sturdy premise and finding just the right voice for your novel. The League of Exceptional Writers is a free mentoring program sponsored by the Oregon Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators and hosted by the Cedar Hills Powell’s Bookstore. We meet every second Saturday at 2pm from October to May. Avid readers and writers ages 8 to 18 are welcome. Please share the poster below with your friends, your school and your library.
One of my favorite things about being a bookseller is seeing hundreds of new picture books every year. There is so much talent in the picture book field and such creativity, I find it very inspiring. I’ve had my eye on one illustrator though who’s work I first saw in a modest little book called Fox’s Garden two years ago, and again in the stunning wordless book The Snow Rabbit last year. The artist is Camilee Garoche and she has a such a unique style it catches my eye every time.
She works in cut paper which is a style I’ve loved ever since my first glimpse of Nikki McClure’s work. But Garoche goes so much further. She cuts a paper scene, embellishes the scene with additional drawing and coloring. Then she lights the scene adding the element of shine and shadow, and then photographs the whole thing. The overall effect is completely enchanting with a depth I haven’t seen in other work.
She’s got a new picture book this year illustrating a song by Laurie Berkner. It’s called Pillowland and I can’t wait to introduce it to families at Annie Blooms Books who are looking for a unique bedtime story.
I’m so thrilled to announce that my next book, A Wolf Called Wander, will be published by Anderson Press of the UK. It will be a fully illustrated middle grade novel inspired by the life of Oregon Wolf 7. The official announcement will be made when the publisher has selected and illustrator, and the book will be out sometime in 2019, but I couldn’t wait to share the news and thank the many people who helped me get here. My wonderful agent Fiona Kenshole of the Transatlantic Agency arranged the deal. My brilliant friends, Cheryl Coupe, Michael Gettle-Gilmartin, Barb Liles, and Cliff Lehman, have been with me every step of the way.
I’m particularly grateful for an opportunity at the Fishtrap Summer workshops to take a totally unique outdoor writer’s workshop on the absolutely gorgeous and extremely challenging Zumwalt Prairie. I learned and listened and walked and smelled and tasted and imagined my way into a wolf’s point of view in some of Oregon’s most spectacular wolf habitat. Nature writer Gary Ferguson (Land on Fire) was my mentor in that transformative week. Many thanks to him and to the Fishtrap organization who have been nurturing strong western writing for many years. The pictures are Oregon Wolf 7 and his newest group of pups in their new home ground in the Rogue River watershed.