Congratulations to Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) on the publication of Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day, illustrated by Tara Audibert (of Wolastoqey and French heritage)(Heartdrum/HarperCollins, Sept. 19, 2023), third in the Jo Jo Makoons chapter book series. From the promotional copy:
Oh, snow day, snow day, what a very fun no-school day! Jo Jo Makoons is back in the third book in this favorite chapter book series, and she’s planning the very best version of the winter Olympics that her Ojibwe community has ever seen…
Jo Jo Makoons has noticed that the family members she loves most—Mama, Kokum, and even her cat, Mimi—all have their own ways of being healthy. So when Teacher says that their class will be learning about healthy habits, Jo Jo is ready to be neighborly by helping everyone around her be healthy too.
After a snowstorm shuts down her Ojibwe reservation, Jo Jo uses her big imagination and big personality to help both Elders and classmates alike. Because after all, being healthy means being together!
Take a look back to her first Cynsations interview in 2018, when she talked with Traci Sorell about her debut novel.
This is a watershed year for the release of Native young adult novels.
From Eric Gansworth’s Give Me Some Truth (Scholastic, 2018), the follow-up to his If I Ever Get Out of Here (Scholastic, 2013), and Tim Tingle’s Trust Your Name (7th Generation, September 2018), the fourth in his No Name series, to the upcoming Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, October 2018), I’m pleased to feature a newcomer to the age market, Dawn Quigley.
Her debut novel, Apple in the Middle (North Dakota State University Press, 2018), features Apple, a teen whose mother, from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, died due to complications from her birth.
Raised by her white physician father and stepmother in an affluent suburb of the Twin Cities, Apple has never had contact with her mother’s family.
The story focuses on Apple’s experience during an extended summer visit with these unknown relatives on the tribe’s reservation located near the Canadian border in what is now north central North Dakota.
What first inspired you to write for young readers?
As I was writing some poetry I found myself sharing my frustrations of how many non-Native authors were creating books which were stereotypically shedding negative light onto Native culture. Here was my inspiration, my poem, and my call for the Native world to not let others tell our stories for us:
I am tired of seeing Indians portrayed as victims in literature.
I am tired of how Natives are dripping with alcoholism in your books.
And I am tired of images of
violently abused and
Native people, arise!
We have, and are still, climbing the mountain of injustice;
Carrying our history on our back as we tread to the top to see the vision our ancestors told us of.
But, instead of glimpsing at the majestic vista,
Too often we must listen as writers plunge our People back to the desolate valleys again.
But you only show the darkness, shutting out the light of hope, and resilience; condemning the beacon of a better tomorrow to melt away.
We Natives have lived in nightfall, but revel in the sunrise of tomorrow.
We, at times, hibernate for a season, but awake in springtime of life.
Native people, arise!
Our stories, like of old, must reflect the balance between darkness and light; between the highs and the lows; and between this world and the next.
Our history has been one of
and historical trauma.
This must be remembered. This should be told.
But we also know the beauty of our culture; the history which we hold tight; and the values we pass down seven generations.
So why, when we only have our imaginations to limit us, do we as Native writers and storytellers allow them to present only our darkness to the world?
Why do continually let them tell our tales?
Native people, arise!
Where are the heroic characters in our modern Native fiction?
There are too few Indigenous writers who shine the light on our culture.
But I am greedy. I want more.
Why don’t we write about our success –
Not success as the world may see it, but in our Indian way?
Tell us about your grandmother’s quilts.
Tell us why your sister worked two jobs and went to night school for her college degree.
Tell us the time when your grandfather’s teaching touched your life.
Just tell us.
Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?
My greatest challenge was that I had no idea how to write a book!
In teaching middle school English and reading for most of my 18 years, I spent countless hours reading YA books for my students to select read-aloud and classroom novels.
I fell in love with reading books that could transform my students.
I began writing letters to the editors of our local newspapers, then wrote full commentary essays. I gained a lot of confidence each time something was published.
Next I branched out to poetry.
But to write a book, this was the challenge. I took a few courses at a local writer’s loft on how to sell and promote books, but not on the actual task of writing.
I would use favorite sections of a book to learn how the author crafted dialogue, the climatic parts, etc. Then I wrote roughly two pages a day for some time until I had a finished book! I didn’t outline my story at all, and this is something I will do in the future: begin with a rough frame.
What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?
The best moment was when I actually finished the book! I felt like a five-year-old wanting to run out and say, “Look, Ma, I wrote a book!”
Then the down side was trying to learn how to pitch and query editors and agents for my Apple in the Middle. I got many “bites” and asks for partials and fulls and also rejects, but it was one editor from North Dakota State University Press who made my writing career when the first line in her letter back to me was: “I love Apple. I love everything about her world.”
Suzzanne Kelly loved my Native coming-of-age book, and this, so far, has been another great moment. My book has just come out, so I’m doing readings, signings, et cetera. I know I’m only beginning!
As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story?
I taught in K-12 grades for over 18 years, and it was challenging at times to find books and materials that reflected Native people respectfully.
As a Native teacher, I wanted to show the positive aspects of our culture. I knew that I have lived and seen these beautiful Native aspects and began to educate myself and my peers that there are books out there, but we all need to put in the effort to find, read and evaluate them.
I began this book because of a beckoning voice I kept hearing: Tell them the stories.
My first instinct was to push it away. How could I write a book? Who was I? But I felt this book was to be a legacy for my children to hear about my Turtle Mountain grandparents and what they taught me-and are still teaching me today even though their footprints are no longer on this Earth, but in my soul. And like many Native people who are storytellers, I knew that the best way to share history and life lesson is through the telling of tales.
As I was in the middle of the book, I started to wonder if this was meant to be more than just a family tale, but instead a way to let non-Native people peer through the keyhole to get a glimpse into our world. A world that is a beautiful one, but also a world that is many times misunderstood.
Heartdrum Native American Heritage Month Celebration! Dawn Quigley will be featured at the Heartdrum authors panel, along with Laurel Goodluck (Mandan-Hidatsa), Kim Rogers (Wichita), Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), and Brian Young (Navajo). The free event will be at 12:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4 at the Austin Public Library, 710 W. César Chávez St. in Austin, Texas. For more information, please visit BookPeople‘s event page.
Dawn Quigley, Ph.D. and citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, ND, is an assistant professor at a Midwest university Education Department. She taught English and reading for 18+ years in the K-12 schools along with being an Indian Education program co-director. In addition to her debut coming-of-age Young Adult novel, Apple in the Middle (NDSU Press), “Joey Reads the Sky” in Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, the chapter book series Jo Jo Makoons: The Used to Be Best Friend (book #1); Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants (#2), Red Bird Danced (forthcoming novel-in-verse), and Native American Heroes (Scholastic Books). Dawn has over 30 published articles, essays and poems. She lives in Minnesota with her family.
Best-selling author Traci Sorell writes inclusive, award-winning historical and contemporary fiction and nonfiction in a variety of formats for young people. She is a two-time Sibert Medal and Orbis Pictus honoree and award-winning audiobook narrator and producer. Her first five books have received awards from the American Indian Library Association. Other accolades include Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, International Literacy Association’s Social Justice Literature Award Winner, Reading The West’s Picture Book Winner, and many Best-of and Notables lists. In 2023, she shares Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series, a Kirkus Reviews starred nonfiction picture book biography illustrated by Arigon Starr, and Mascot, a middle grade fiction novel-in-verse co-authored with Charles Waters.
A former federal Indigenous law attorney and policy advocate, Traci is a Cherokee Nation citizen and first-generation college graduate. She lives with her family within her tribe’s reservation in northeastern Oklahoma.