Growing up in northwestern Ontario, author Brittany Luby would hear things in history class that didn't line up with what she learned at home. She descends from the Anishinabeg, and "growing up I would hear about our peoples being 'discovered' or our territories being 'discovered,' " she says. "It was really confusing when I would go home and my parents would tell me: That's not actually how things happened."
In her new book, Encounter, Luby imagines the meeting of two men — Fisher and Sailor — on one day in 1534. The story draws from notes made by French explorer Jacques Cartier who let his crew go to shore on his first expedition to what is now North America. From an indigenous perspective, Luby imagines one of those sailors meeting a Stadaconan fisherman whose family has been living on that land and fishing in those waters for generations.
"I wanted to tell a story that showed that the Stadaconans were already here, and that they had knowledge that was valued and valuable in this space ..." Luby says. "I really just wanted to showcase that indigenous presence and cultural vitality."
The book is illustrated by Michaela Goade, who is of Tlingit descent."The sad fact is that for indigenous communities, accurate and respectful portrayals are either non-existent or woefully underrepresented," she says.
Luby says that when she saw Goade's vibrant, watercolor illustrations for Encouter, it felt like "the stars had aligned."
"It was a vision of the universe that resonated with me. ..." Luby says. "It was really important to approach this story with a sort of gentleness."
On wanting to tell a story about shared humanity
Luby: In 1534, Fisher and Sailor didn't know what we know today — they didn't know what was coming: That France would eventually use knowledge extracted from North America to colonize indigenous lands. ... I wanted to imagine what might have unfolded if two people had thought perhaps they were just spending this moment in time together. But the other thing that I really wanted to do was to highlight that Fisher and Sailor had a choice in how they interacted and we have a choice in how we choose to interact today. ...
I think we have a lot of work to do drawing attention to colonial violence that happened in North America. ... But I think we also need stories that remind us of our shared humanities. So people aren't just focused on trying to help or how to fix a problem — but instead, they're looking to their neighbor — just like Fisher and Sailor are looking at each other — and going: How can we get through this day together?
On the dreamlike quality of the illustrations
Goade: I work primarily in watercolor, and so my style sort of lends itself more towards imaginative, more magical landscapes, and I'm really deeply inspired by the natural world. ... I spent a lot of time on building up the landscape. ... There's lots of sweeping cliffs and coastal vistas, beautiful ocean views, deep rich forests, lots of jewel tones on sunsets and sunrises. The book follows the day so the sun tracks left through right throughout the story.
Luby: One of the things that I really love about Michaela's illustrations is they have this dreamlike quality and they're very calming. The color palette is so invi ting, and so beautiful. ... For both Michaela and I — because we're not Stadaconan and we're not of Iroquoian descent — this really is an indigenous re-imagining of a story we've inherited through the Western education system. And I think that the colors invite us into this dreamworld, in this dreamscape.
On the way Goade strove for accuracy in her illustrations
Luby: Whenever there was a question she would take a moment of pause. We would break from the creative process to go back and do some research. So when Fisher needed a pocket, we were like: OK, did the Stadaconans have pockets? ... Michaela didn't make assumptions when she reached something that felt unfamiliar. We paused, and we reflected, and we moved forward in the best way we could. ...
There is a part of the story where Fisher welcomes Sailor ... and he waves and one of the questions ... was, OK how would a Stadaconan wave in 1534? And we had no idea. ... So we decided to reframe the image in such a way that Fisher was shielding his eyes from the sunlight so that we weren't making assumptions or relaying information of what things should look like.
On creating a book that would invite critical thinking
Goade: The subject matter Brit chose to take on is rather complex for picture books ... [in] that it challenges readers to ask questions and to think critically about what we grew up hearing or learning. Negotiating this positive encounter — this day in the life that Fisher and Sailor share ... against the backdrop of a more historically complicated time. I think children are incredibly intelligent and often times smarter that we give them credit for. So I'm a huge advocate for books that can really foster that critical and creative thinking.
Samantha Balaban and Evie Stone produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
"Encounter" is the story of two men, Fisher and Sailor, on one day in 1534.
BRITTANY LUBY: It's a day we know Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, let his crew go to shore. And I wanted to imagine what happened when an ordinary gent bumped into a Stadaconan fisherman who had been using those waters for generations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's written by Brittany Luby, drawing from notes kept by Jacques Cartier on his first expedition to what is now North America. But in "Encounter," Luby tells the story of the peaceful, friendly meeting that could have been from an indigenous perspective.
LUBY: I'm of Anishinaabe descent. I was born and raised in northwestern Ontario. And growing up, I would hear about, you know, our peoples being discovered. And it was really confusing when I would go home and my parents would tell me, that's not actually how things happened.
So I wanted to tell a story that showed that the Stadaconans were already here and that they had knowledge that was valued and valuable in this space. So it's Fisher who knows how to eat the sunflower seed, and it's Fisher who knows where to swim. And I really just wanted to showcase that indigenous presence and cultural vitality.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been asking authors and illustrators how they work together or separately to bring stories to life. Luby worked with illustrator Michaela Goade, who is of Tlingit descent. They both say their pairing was a blessing.
MICHAELA GOADE: I think sometimes there's a sensitivity there when you're both from a shared experience. And even though I don't quite know at the beginning the details or the specifics of, you know, Anishinaabe or Ojibwa cultures or Metis or Cree or Upper Skagit, throughout the course of these books, I learned so much. And I formed these relationships and these bonds, and that's really something. And I'm very proud to be involved in these books.
LUBY: One thing that I really appreciated about working with Michaela and, I think, a sensitivity she brought to her reading of the text is that whenever there was a question, she would take a moment of pause to go back and do some research. So when Fisher needed a pocket, we were like, OK, did the Stadaconans have pockets? And in 1534, the Stadaconans were present on the territory. And when Samuel de Champlain, a later French explorer and colonist, came in the 1600s, the Stadaconan people were gone.
And so we turned to later Jesuit texts to get a sense of what other Iroquoian people would have dressed like. And we started looking at, you know, museum online image databases. And we're like, OK, he might not have had a pocket, but he might have worn a pouch. You know, Michaela didn't make assumptions.
GOADE: So I work primarily in watercolor. My style sort of lends itself more towards, you know, imaginative, more magical landscapes. And I'm really deeply inspired by the natural world. And any time that I can help, you know, sort of elevate the role of Mother Nature or, you know, feed my spirit or the spirit of others through my work is just a really big treat.
So you know, I spend a lot of time on building up the landscape. And this is on the eastern coast of Canada. And so actually, to my surprise, the landscape wasn't dramatically different from what I know in southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. There's lots of sweeping cliffs and coastal vistas, deep, rich forests, lots of jewel tones. The book follows a day. And so the sun tracks left through right throughout the story. And so it's just, you know, sunrise through sunset. And it's just a very rich, I hope, magical world.
LUBY: One of the things that I really love about Michaela's illustrations is they have this dreamlike quality, and they're very calming. The color palette is so inviting and so beautiful. And for me, it was important that we didn't have an ominous, scary story because, in 1534, Fisher and Sailor didn't know what we know today. They didn't know what was coming - that France would eventually use knowledge extracted from North America to colonize indigenous lands. Fisher and Sailor didn't know that Samuel de Champlain would build a French settlement in the territory in the 1600s. And I wanted to imagine what might have unfolded if two people thought perhaps they were just spending this moment in time together.
But the other thing that I really wanted to do was to highlight that, you know, Fisher and Sailor had a choice in how they interacted. And we have a choice in how we choose to interact today.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was author Brittany Luby and illustrator Michaela Goade talking about their new book "Encounter." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.