Friday, October 29, 2021

Highly Recommended! A Girl Called Echo, Volume 4: Road Allowance Era


A Girl Called Echo, Vol.4: Road Allowance Era
Written by Katherena Vermette (Red River Metis)
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson; Colors by Donovan Yaciuk
Published in 2021
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

This will be a "Short and Sweet"* recommendation of the fourth book in the "A Girl Called Echo" graphic novel series. Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk have teamed up again for another chapter in the story of Echo, a time-traveling contemporary Metis teen. 

Here are four of the many reasons to recommend it:

First: Katherena Vermette is Red River Metis, and her story is about Red River Metis people -- historical and contemporary -- in what is currently called Canada. Pivotal, and often traumatic, moments (such as the execution of Louis Riel, and government-sanctioned destruction of Metis communities) are given an Indigenous focus they don't receive in typical history classrooms. As with the previous Echo books, Vermette includes a timeline and other Metis-specific resources to deepen the reader's understanding of Echo's experiences when she travels to the past, and to help create a through-line to her current distresses. 

Second: Meeting one's forebears while time-traveling is a prospect that intrigues writers and consumers of speculative fiction. It may be presented as comedy (e.g., the Back to the Future films), or as drama (as in Octavia Butler's devastating Kindred). Road Allowance is primarily dramatic, though it has some very sweet, tender moments. I appreciate that Vermette keeps Echo from interacting directly with the major historical figures. That would have been a mess. Instead, what's foregrounded is the Metis: how they lived, what they hoped for, what they endured, and how the past may be present in a Metis child and her family, today. 

Third: One of my favorite things about this fourth volume is that it shows Echo and her contemporary family healing from whatever trauma led to Echo's mother being in an institution. Mother hugs daughter. Echo smiles big.  An ancestor tells her she is beautiful. A school friend listens to her expressions of anger and pain, and offers a helpful perspective. And Echo finds that she can decide when she will go to the past, and when she will go home.

Fourth: The story is thought-provoking even though Echo's far from the only fictional character ever to be what Vonnegut called "unstuck in time." For me, an especially lovely bit for thought lies in ways to think about the protagonist's name. Intergenerational trauma reverberates in Echo, at school and at home. She embodies the idea of "echoes of the past." But, when she interacts with her ancestors during their times, she also embodies what I think of as echoes of support or hope from future generations to the forebears who needed reasons to carry on in the face of racism, dispossession, betrayal, and genocide. 

We hope you'll share the whole series, including Volume 4: The Road Allowance Era, with middle schoolers and teens you know. Though it's set in what's currently called Canada, the Indigenous people didn't make the border, and the experiences on either side of it run parallel, when they don't directly intersect.

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Highly Recommended: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith; cover art by Floyd Cooper


Sisters of the Neversea
Written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)
Cover art by Floyd Cooper (Muscogee Creek Nation)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Heartdrum (HarperCollins)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today AICL is pleased to give a Short and Sweet Rec* to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Sisters of the Neversea. We recommend you get it for your children, your classroom, or your library. Here’s the description:

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.


A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

And here is our Short and Sweet Rec! 

Four reasons why AICL recommends Sisters of the Neversea 

First, the author is Native. Cynthia Leitich Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, telling us a story where the primary character is Muscogee Creek.

Second, Sisters of the Neversea shows readers who Native people are, for real. J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan have mis-informed generations of readers. His stories encourage others to play Indian in stereotypical ways, and the characters in his story that are meant to be Native (Tiger Lily) are straight-up stereotypes. We are nothing like the “Indians” in his stories. Smith’s take on Peter Pan pushes back on those stereotypes.

Third, Sisters of the Neversea includes Black Indians. Upon seeing Floyd Cooper's cover art, Smith writes that she thought "There you are!" With his art, she saw Lily as Black Muscogee. Later in the book, we meet Strings, a Black Seneca Indian from the Bronx. 

Fourth, Smith's author’s note includes several questions that she poses about the Native people in Barrie’s stories. “How did they get there?” she asks, and “Why were they described in hurtful language?” are two of them. Teachers who use the book in the classroom can draw attention to those questions and encourage students to ask similar questions about Native characters in other books they read.  

We hope you’ll get a copy ASAP, read it, and tell others to read it, too. When you’re at your local library, ask for it! If they don’t have it yet, ask them to order it. 


*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.