A new children’s book created by two women on Vancouver Island tells the story of an Indigenous girl navigating life away from home.
Little Wolf is the first in a trilogy of picture books by Heiltsuk author Teoni Spathelfer, featuring illustrations by Natassia Davies, who is Coast Salish.
Little Wolf is set to be released May 18 through Heritage House Publishing. Though it’s Spathelfer’s first children’s book, she says the transition felt natural to her as a longtime journalist and storyteller.
“What made this a little different was now it’s my story,” she tells IndigiNews in a phone interview.
“Basically the three books are really culturally-based, but also contemporary.”
The stories outlined in the three books are based on intergenerational experiences of women in her own family, Spathelfer explains. Little Wolf features a dedication to Spathelfer’s ancestors, mother, daughters, and grandchildren.
Spathelfer was born and raised on Vancouver Island and has also lived in Vancouver. She currently lives in East Sooke.
“I didn’t grow up in my traditional territory, but I did grow up connected to my culture through my mom,” she says. “She always did what she could to share stories with us and connect us to our culture in the city.”
In Little Wolf, protagonist Little Wolf moves with her sister and mother from their rural home into a big city, which isn’t named in the story, but the illustrations show areas in Vancouver.
Little Wolf must navigate her new home, including facing racism at her new school, but is able to stand up for herself and find ways to connect with her culture in an urban setting.
“For me, I know the majority of [Indigenous] kids don’t live on their band lands anymore, so I’m hoping that this book might be something that they identify with,” Spathelfer explains.
The book is targeted towards children between the ages of four and eight, according to the publisher.
Spathelfer says the inspiration for the series of stories came to her in a dream years ago that connected her with ancestral teachings and has stayed with her.
“I was so excited when I woke up from that dream, I had to write it all down right away. I just didn’t want to forget it,” she says.
“Once [book] number three is out and you read it and you reflect on the stories in book one and book two, you’ll see how important that dream is.”
In book two, which Spathelfer says is set to be released this fall, readers will be introduced to Little Wolf’s mother, White Raven, and her experiences in residential school.
In book three, which she says is due for publication in spring 2022, readers will meet Little Wolf as an adult — sharing knowledge with her own children.
Spathelfer says the stories are rooted in resilience, but it was important to her not to shy away from hard truths around racism and intergenerational trauma.
“I feel it’s never too early to talk with kids about racism,” she says.
“You can relate that to a bigger picture so that all kids can feel included and welcome … My hope for the series is that it’s received as being hopeful.”