Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the July edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).
My Q&A this month is with Katherena Vermette and Julie Flett, creators of the new picture book The Girl and the Wolf, published by Theytus Books, a First Nations-owned and operated publisher of Indigenous North American voices.
Katherena Vermette, a Métis writer from Treaty One territory in Manitoba, is also the author of novels for adults (The Break), poetry (North End Love Songs), and graphic novels (A Girl Called Echo) in addition to several other picture books.
Julie Flett is a Cree-Métis illustrator and author of children’s books whose previous titles include When We Were Alone, Little You, My Heart Fills with Happiness, and Wild Berries. She lives in British Columbia.
In a starred review of The Girl and the Wolf, Kirkus Reviews described the book as “A tale about knowledge, power, and trust that reminds readers we used to speak with animals and still do — it already feels like a classic.”
I’m giving away a copy of The Girl and the Wolf to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want to be the winner, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on July 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Katherena Vermette and Julie Flett.
Chris: Anyone accustomed to picture books where the wolf character is a villain from the get-go, or is revealed to be one by the end of the story, is in for something entirely different with The Girl and the Wolf.
What books or stories influenced — positively or negatively — the way you each portrayed the wolf in this book?Katherena: Well, the most obvious influence is the Little Red Riding Hood stories — no matter what the version, the wolf is always the bad guy. Same with many Western faery tales, the wolf symbolizes the unknown and roams the shadowy, dangerous woods.
Conversely, in a lot of the traditional Indigenous stories — the ones I know from Inninew and Anishnaabe traditions, anyway — the wolf is a teacher, a helper, and like a friend/sidekick figure.
Julie: I was so happy to work with Katherena on The Girl and the Wolf. I’ve always loved folk and traditional stories, many from my own community, Cree and Métis stories, and other stories adapted from oral traditions, including western stories; Russian folk stories of Baba Yaga, Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf; Grimm’s collections; Perrault’s Bluebeard and others. Some of those stories influenced the tension in the artwork.
That said, it’s a very different story. There is no villain, though the tension is connected to something just as real and scary: being lost. As Katherena points out, in a lot of our traditional stories, the wolf is a teacher, helper, friend, or sidekick. The text and pictures portray the wolf as just this, the helper.
In this story, it’s not that we’re uncovering a villain, we’re uncovering the helper, the one who connects us to our inner resources.
Chris: I know there will be librarians and other educators reading this who are going to be excited to connect The Girl and the Wolf to those traditional stories — or to set the stage so that kids can make those connections themselves.
As far as other contemporary stories, and contemporary storytellers, whose work have you loved lately? What authors, illustrators, or specific books for young readers have you been enthusiastically recommending recently, and why?
Julie: Focusing on illustrated books, all fairly current, here are a few that I recommend as a start:
- May We Have Enough to Share (Orca Book Publishers), written by Richard Van Camp and with photographs by the Tea & Bannock collective
- Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock (HighWater Press), written by Dallas Hunt and illustrated by Amanda Strong
- Red River Resistance (A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 2) (HighWater Press), written by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, and color by Donovan Yaciuk
- This Place: 150 Years Retold (HighWater Press), foreword by Alicia Elliott; written by Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel; illustrated by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm; and color by Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk.
- We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac
- Una Huna? What Is This? (Inhabit Media), written by Susan Aglukark and illustrated by Danny Christopher and Amanda Sandland
And here are a few great Indigenous children’s picture book resources:
Katherena: What a beautiful list, Julie! Thanks for putting that together. I wholeheartedly second all those recommendations.
Leaves my job pretty easy. My inspiration was from old faery stories from Europe but mostly, traditional stories from this place. Traditional storytellers are absolute treasures. I highly recommend seeking out (and paying honourably) local traditional storytellers. They will blow your minds!