Skip to main content

Echoes and Wolves: The Imagination of Katherena Vermette, by Alexis, 19

I have been going through a bad time, and looking for (any)things I can connect with. I have piles of library books next to my bed, and I picked up two this afternoon that I had looked at when I first checked them out, but didn't really get into. Something told me to hold on to them rather than quickly returning them. I'm glad I did.

I became aware of Katherena Vermette, a Metis writer from Treaty One territory, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, when Debbie Reese first wrote about her graphic novel series, A Girl Called Echo. I totally related to the first volume, Pemmican Wars, which my library purchased with *Friends of Indigo* funds. I am a Florida Seminole citizen, so this isn't my Indigenous history. Unlike Echo, I have a really close relationship with my mom, Gail. But Echo's story drew me in. Vermette's imagination sparked my imagination. Here's my review of Volume 1. I couldn't wait for Volume 2 to be released.

A Girl Called Echo, Volume 2: Red River Resistance taught me a lot of history I'd never been told. This is the description from the publisher:

"Picking up where Pemmican Wars left off, Red River Resistance sees Echo Desjardins adjusting to her new home, finding friends, and learning about Métis history. One ordinary afternoon in class, Echo finds herself transported through time to the banks of the Red River in the summer of 1869. All is not well in the territory, as Canadian surveyors have arrived and Métis families, who have lived there for generations, are losing access to their land. As the Resistance takes hold, Echo fears for her friends and the future of her people in the Red River Valley."

The words and graphics (by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk) flow really well, like in Volume 1. I love seeing Echo's bedroom, which reminds me of mine. Music is still a major part of her life, and we see posters on her walls, including The Ramones and Pearl Jam, and the playlists on her phone. I'm thinking I might recreate one of the playlists and listen next time I read Red River Resistance. I like Echo's new school friend, Micah. I think there's ambiguity and the reader can decide if Echo is falling asleep and dreaming or slipping into past events in Metis history. Is it her age and vulnerability that is making the transitions possible? Her visions run parallel to what she's learning in school. This is a progressive school with good teachers.

I wish there had been more with her mom in a treatment facility. I really thought there would be. She does make a connection with her foster mom when she wakes up from "a nightmare." They awkwardly embrace. I am glad to see the teacher Mx. Francois again, who is fat with a cool bowtie and suspenders. "They're pretty tough," Micah says to Echo. They organize a Indigenous bake sale; one of Vermette's details that effortlessly creates an authentic environment for Native kids and shows other kids we do many of the same things they do.

A quick Google search shows that Volume 3, Northwest Resistance, is set to be released in 2020. That's exciting! How often do Native girls get to see themselves in an ongoing graphic novel series? Echo is punk not mainstream which makes her more interesting. Vermette may be trying to reach girls in foster placement, but her character's alienation makes sense to a lot of us. It echoes and echoes.

I also have a picture book by Vermette with illustrations by Julie Flett, who has done so many books we love. The book, The Girl and the Wolf, is something I haven't seen before.

Let me start at the end with the Author's Note:
This is a completely made-up story. The girl in her red dress and the wolf who isn't really scary came to me when I was reading a lot of European fairy stories.
This I like! An Indigenous writer admitting borrowing from European stories and spinning her own tale. This is very different from White authors appropriating "traditional" Indigenous stories and passing them off as real rather than made-up.

There has been good discussion about Indigenous writers misusing traditional "stories" or beliefs from their or other Tribes or Nations, with or without permission. I don't think that's what's happening here. I think this is a creative vision by an author (and illustrator) putting their own twist on the familiar (in many cultures) story of girl and a wolf.

The story begins:
The girl ran through the bush while her mother picked berries.

But this is not a story of familial bonding and natural innocence, like Julie Flett's Wild Berries. That book reminds me a little of McClosky's Blueberries for Sal.

In The Girl and the Wolf, a girl loses sight of her mother in the woods. "Every thing got quiet and dark. The girl felt cold and scared. She didn't know what to do." Then:

Out from between the trees, a tall grey wolf with big white teeth appeared.
I know you're thinking Little Red Riding Hood. The girl is wearing a red dress. And then there are those teeth. But it doesn't go like that. There is definitely some menace: "His wolf breath was hot and stank of meat." But there is also companionship and guidance, which doesn't appear in any of those European fairy tales I've read. The words and illustrations--which are spare, direct and essential on each page--pace the story perfectly and draw you in. I was taking deep breaths and turning the pages slowly.

When she is reunited with her mother carrying berries, her mother smiles and says, "Real wolves can hurt people, but I've heard old stories about wolves who help lost children too." Do you have a story like this in your community, Tribe or Nation? If so, I'd like to hear if you believe this was handled well.

As for me, the mood reminded me of dreams I had as a child and meaningful encounters I've had with animals that I don't wish to share here. Vermette has a talent for showing girls' private worlds. The places we belong and where we find ourselves lost.

At the end, the girl tells everyone about her adventure and "That night she tied tobacco in a red cloth and left it at the bush's edge. Because she didn't know a better way to say thank you."

I don't know a better way to say thank you to Katherena Vermette but to leave this review for her and others to find.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Welcome to Indigo's Bookshelf!

We are a group of Florida Natives--Miccosukee, Seminole, Black, Latinix, queer and disabled--from the ages 12-20, who are passionate about kidlit and yalit.

We believe in the power of books to reflect, entertain and enrich our lives from the time we are young ones. We enjoy books in digital and bound copies, with texts and/or graphics.

We have experienced the bitter disappointment and danger of widespread Native misrepresentation, theft, cruelty and lies in books for all young readers.

This blog is dedicated to reviewing Native #ownvoices. To us, that means books written from an inside perspective by Native authors, with proper research, respect and authorization, first and foremost for young Native readers, but also to educate other young readers and their families.
We join our elders in calling to replace harmful, stereotypical texts in libraries, schools and homes.

This blog is named after our friend Indigo, a Q2S sixteen-year-old who took her own life in 2018
 Her beauty, courag…

WE ARE GRATEFUL, Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, Review by Alexis, 18, Eduardo, 18 and Ashleigh, 13

We have read this book many times since it was published in October 2018. It is a feast for the heart, eyes, voice and mind. Since we think it is a major work, that has already been awarded (and should receive further awards) and many of us have read and discussed it, we decided to do a group review.

Alexis: I heard a lot about this book before it was released. I was instantly intrigued by the concept of it and by the cover. The bright, distinctive artwork, the font of the title and, of course, the title in Cherokee and also in the Cherokee syllabary. I read it very quickly the first time. Probably because I was filled with expectation. I immediately thought it was beautiful and a much fuller book, with more information, than I had expected. I also thought the words and illustrations were a perfect combination.

Eduardo. You know I'm a wannabe filmmaker, so, yeah, I immediately recognized that the book was the whole package. Author and illustrator worked perfectly together. I really …

For Your Consideration, Part 2, by Alexis, 18

Now that I am working in a library as Page and talking to librarians and following Native and kidlit Twitter, I am also looking at "mock" award blogs for ALA 2019.

A little while back, SLJ's HEAVY MEDAL: A Mock Newbery Blog had what I thought was a very ugly review of Jewell Parker Rhodes' GHOST BOYS. I did meet Ms. Rhodes when she visited our library and schools. She was nice. I have read books by her, like SUGAR, which I liked. I have not read the one being discussed. I haven't looked for other criticisms of the book. Even the blog title made me grit my teeth. "Powerful, Gripping, Important, Timely--but is it distinguished?"
To me, "distinguished' is a word like 'articulate." It's coded White people talk for something IPOC don't have and have to work harder to achieve. Something we're not expected to innately have or be. So I pricked up my ears. Reading the comments was even worse. 
I don't want to discuss it all here…