Creative Collaboration Leads to Success for Indigenous-focused Picture Book
When Elder Myles Charles told author and illustrator Miriam Körner a story about gathering eggs with his grandson on an island on Lac La Ronge, Miriam knew it would make a wonderful picture book for young readers. The problem? Despite her earlier success as an author-illustrator, it was unlikely that an established traditional publisher outside of Saskatchewan would take a risk on a hyper regional book like this. And Saskatchewan does not have traditional picture book publishers. However, with funding from Creative Saskatchewan’s Book Publishing Grant, Charles and Körner were able to approach Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing (a hybrid publisher) to bring the project to fruition.
Miriam says that the book, named Seagull Island—kiyāsko-miniscikos, and its early success is an indicator that there is a real appetite for regional books like theirs.
“It’s already been picked up by libraries across the country, so it’s really exciting to see that this book with a very strong regional focus is of interest nationwide.”
As the title implies, the text is written in both English and the TH-dialect of Cree, commonly known as Woodland Cree. The goal is to showcase a story that exemplifies the Woodland Cree language and culture while also connecting the content to a Saskatchewan school curriculum that is increasingly more interested in Indigenous stories and perspectives.
Körner says that the book creation process was intensely creative from the jump, involving multiple rounds of edits, working with Cree language experts, and continually checking in with the project’s stakeholders to make sure that the written story was faithful to the orally told story of a grandson out with his grandparents.
Her advice to creatives looking to follow in their footsteps is two–fold. For one, follow your passion.
“Don’t try just to write a story because it feels like you want to write a story, but find what you really care deeply about. And I think that what I care really deeply about is the connection to the natural world and other teachings I received from the Elders or from the land itself.”
And on the publishing side, Körner’s wisdom is to focus in on how to bring people into the process who are industry professionals.
“I would say, make the story the best that it can be and don’t save on paying editors or paying an illustrator that knows what they’re doing. Because that’s what in the end is going to sell the book, it’s not your good intentions, it’s the quality of the book.”
With all those hurdles to production, Körner and her collaborators are thankful for not just the fact that the book could go to press with the financial support it received, but also how that funding can contribute to others taking a similar path.
“The financial risk is too high and publishing expenses too big to venture out totally on your own. So, with the Creative Saskatchewan funding taking over 50% of the production costs, the agency really contributes to a vibrant literary and art community.”