Three of the Athabasca communities had their first-ever author tour at the schools in January.
David A Robertson is a well-known and award-winning Indigenous author and graphic novelist who has written over 25 books for little kids up to adult, including the middle grade Misewa Saga series and the recently released Theory of Crows, both of which have made steady appearances on Canadian bestseller lists. A sought-after speaker who travels around the world, David is also the Editorial Director of a new imprint with Tundra books that will focus on publishing Indigenous writers and illustrators.
“We are very excited to partner with the Athabasca Denesuline Education Authority to bring David Robertson to talk to the kids about reading, writing and illustrating,” says Kristy Jackson, Director of Marketing & Communications at Athabasca Basin Development. “David is an accomplished author and we purchase many of his books each year for our Santa in the North program. We look for ways to give back to our shareholder communities, and this opportunity to help encourage literacy was a great fit for our program. Many thanks to Dave who was a real trooper – we packed his tour schedule pretty tight and even ended up driving eleven hours from Black Lake back to Prince Albert! It was a fantastic tour and quite an adventure.”
Author visits can be more difficult for schools in remote northern communities to participate in. The tour was planned to take place over the space of four days, with Rise Air providing administrative support coordinating the schedule to make it work and the Athabasca Education Denesuline Authority coordinating on the ground travel, audio visual, hotels and other details.
“The timing of this tour couldn’t have been better. Each year in on February 5, our schools honour and celebrate Thanadelthur, a Dene woman known as the Peacemaker who negotiated an important peace treaty in the 18th century,” says Carol Mitchell, Elementary Literacy Coordinator for Athabasca Denesuline Education Authority. “David wrote a graphic novel about her story that we use in our classrooms, and many of the students are also familiar with his other works. This was a fantastic initiative to encourage literacy and writing in Athabasca schools, and it was exciting to see the kids connect with him. We’re so thrilled to be able to partner with Athabasca Basin Development to provide an opportunity like this to our students.”
David, who is a member of Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, started his tour on January 23, first visiting the schools in Fond du Lac, then Hatchet Lake, then finally Black Lake. “I was really happy to get a chance to go present to Indigenous kids in isolated communities,” says David. “I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in the third grade, but when I was younger, there weren’t very many books for kids by Indigenous people that featured Indigenous characters. I wanted to help change that, because I think it’s important that kids see themselves in stories, and tours like these are why I love doing what I do.”
David spoke to three groups at each school, tailoring his presentation to different age ranges. Sometimes David read from picture books, and sometimes David talked to students about writing and illustrating. Each talk ended with a book giveaway prize draw that included a personalized autograph for the winning students.
“I was really blown away by the amazing artwork I saw in the schools,” David said. “I see professional illustrator portfolios all the time, and so much of the artwork in the north that I saw was easily at that level. I think it’s so important to increase Indigenous participation in the publishing industry to share our important stories and hopefully tours like this help by letting students know that there are careers like writing and illustrating that can be done from anywhere.”
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