Sure, June is National Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. But with Indigenous literature undergoing a renaissance in Canada, there are plenty of titles to last you year-round. Here are a few for younger readers to get you started.
Wolverine and Little Thunder
By Mi’kmaq artist and writer Alan Syliboy
Nimbus Publishing, $22.95, ages 4-8
A creation story but, even more importantly, this is a story of a wonderful friendship between Little Thunder and his trickster friend, Wolverine. When the two go eel fishing – their favourite thing to do – on a summer night, they inadvertently awaken a giant eel that’s almost too big to catch. But catch it they eventually do, not only providing food for the winter but using its enormous skin to make the first canoe. Traditional teachings underpin the story that Syliboy tells, but it has luminous illustrations that will enchant young readers, paintings that draw upon the Mi’kmaq petroglyph tradition but with an added depth of colour that make this story truly magical.
The Owl and the Two Rabbits
By Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Marcus Cutler
Inhabit Media, $16.95, ages 4-8
Inuk writer Nadia Sammurtok’s delightful new take on a traditional Inuit story from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut has wonderfully rambunctious illustrations by Marcus Cutler. When two little rabbit sisters decide to go play on the tundra, even though they’ve been warned not to, trouble is quick to follow! They’ll make a delicious-tasting dinner for a hungry owl and his wife unless they can find a way to escape. How they manage to trick the owls will keep young readers on the edge of their seats in this engagingly suspenseful story.
The Girl and the Wolf
By Métis writer Katherena Vermette
Illustrated by Cree-Métis Julie Flett
Theytus Books, $19.95, ages 4-8
A fantastic reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood with a wonderfully surprising twist. When a little girl finds herself lost in the woods, cold and frightened, she doesn’t know what to do. That is, until she meets a tall, grey wolf. But as she, and young readers, discover, rather than trying to trick her, this wolf knows that she is far more resilient than she imagines and helps her to find the strength to find her way back to her mother. Vermette’s gentle poetic text, which draws on traditional teachings, is beautifully enhanced by Flett’s stunning pictures.
By Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Inhabit Media, $16.95, ages 4-8
This new work draws upon Inuit writer Avingaq’s childhood memories to create a rich and moving story about how small things can make a tremendous difference in children’s lives. Although Susan’s family doesn’t have much, they do have a pencil, which fascinates Susan and her siblings – her Anaana (mother) uses it to write letters to people in other camps and it’s kept in the qulliq, where she stores her most important things. But when Anaana goes to help deliver a baby, Ataata, their father, decides to let the children draw pictures with it, to their great delight. But what will Anaana do when she sees the pencil that she takes such good care of whittled down to almost nothing? Avingaq’s childhood is beautifully evoked in this charming story about the need to take care of our belongings.
The Case of Windy Lake
By Michael Hutchinson
Second Story Press, $10.95, ages 9-12
The first book in his Mighty Muskrats Mystery series is a fine debut. The winner of the Second Story Press Indigenous Writing Contest, Misipawistik Cree writer Hutchinson completely makes over classic mystery series like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins, as he propels us into the lives of the Mighty Muskrats, four very clever cousins – Sam, Otter, Atim and Chickadee – and their lives on the Windy Lake First Nation. He manages not only to create a delightfully suspenseful mystery that, of course, the fabulous four solve when a well-known archaeologist working for the local mining company goes missing, but he also seamlessly addresses issues that are key to Indigenous people and their lives – the importance of protecting the land, traditional teachings and the value of community. He’s able to fully evoke the uniqueness of the Windy Lake First Nation community without ever detracting from the puzzle that our young sleuths are focused on.
Those Who Dwell Below
By Aviaq Johnston
Illustrated by Toma Feizo Gas
Inhabit Media, $13.95, ages 12+
The compelling sequel to Johnston’s novel Those Who Run in the Sky, which won the 2017 Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature and was a 2017 Governor-General’s Literary Award finalist. Johnston beautifully blends a portrait of the traditional Inuit life on the land with Inuit mythology and folklore to create a novel that will grab young readers from the first page. Having returned home from the spirit world, Pitu is engaged in training as a shaman for his village at the same time that, as a leader-in-training, it’s his responsibility to ensure that his village is well cared for. He’s learning to walk the fine line between the real world and the spirit world when he’s called upon to help a nearby village where the people are starving. This leads to Pitu going into the ocean to meet Nuliajuk, the sometimes vengeful goddess of the sea and protector of its creatures. Will Pitu survive this quest? Johnston not only effortlessly mixes fact and fiction but has also created in Pitu a character that young readers will care deeply about – good thing, since there’s a third book in the works.
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