Monday November 21, 2016

How Melanie Florence turned the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women into a children's book

Melanie Florence says children have the capacity to understand dark issues, which is why she wrote Missing Nimâmâ.

Melanie Florence says children have the capacity to understand dark issues, which is why she wrote Missing Nimâmâ.

Listen 10:22

More than 1,100 Indigenous women and girls in Canada have disappeared or died violently. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers and aunts who will never come home to their families... and their stories that spoke to Melanie Florence.

She set about writing a children's picture book that imagined one of those stories: a mother, the daughter she's left behind and the loving relationships between three generations of women in that family. The book is called Missing Nimâmâ and it won the 2016 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.

On writing a dark children's book

Luckily there are some publishers who embrace darker subjects, because they feel like you don't need to talk down to kids. These are subjects that you can introduce to children if you do it right.

I think it's important to understand that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They're on social media a lot of the time and they see things we might not expect, and I think those topics are better coming from parents.

Writing mothers in the story

As a mom, I was writing it to my own daughter. I was thinking of the main character, Kateri, as my daughter. But that made it difficult, because I had to put myself in the place of not seeing my child grow up. I tried to think, "What if this were me? What if that was my child?"

The mother is missing and that's a really dark subject, but I also really wanted the book to be a love story between three women. The grandmother is this amazing woman who has raised a daughter, who is now gone, and she's stepped up to the plate to raise her grandchild. She loves this girl and she loved her daughter. This family dynamic was really important to the story.

Melanie Florence's comments have been edited and condensed.