Indigenous summer reading: 3 picks by graphic novelist David Robertson

Thomas King and Joseph Boyden make the cut for David Robertson's summer reading list.

Author of The Helen Betty Osborne story champions Thomas King and Joseph Boyden

Graphic novelist David Robertson shares his top 3 picks for some summer reading. (Supplied)

In this on-going summer series authors, celebrities and CBC personalities share their favourite indigenous books, the ones they want to read this summer and the ones they think everyone should read. 

David Robertson is an award-winning graphic novelist and storyteller who is an advocate for educating youth on indigenous history and contemporary issues. Here are his picks:

A fave: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Thomas King wrote Green Grass, Running Water. (HarperCollins Canada)
Maybe it's an obvious choice, but when something's your favourite, what are you going to do?

I remember reading this book and marveling at how it took this incredibly complex idea and made it relatable and engaging. And that's important, too, when you're discussing indigenous mythology and traditional beliefs and practices.

Green Grass, Running Water made Thomas King one my heroes (I know, get in line Robertson), and it was just a great piece of literature.   

Lately when I've been reading, my selection has been very deliberate. I have only sought out, and read, amazing literature. Stuff that I've heard is great. I do the same with movies, but that's a whole other article.

A recommendation: I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

"I Heard the Owl Call My Name" is a best-selling 1960s book. (Penguin Random House)
Last year, I read a book called I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven and it knocked my socks off.

It is a short and simple novel, but again grappled with some tough ideas that are still relevant today. The book is about a young vicar named Mark who's sent to a First Nations village in British Columbia. The man has no clue about indigenous culture, and, what's more, he's unknowingly dying from an unnamed terminal illness. Unbeknownst to Mark, he's been sent there to learn about life as he dies.

Pretty heavy, sure, but how the book unravels the beauty of a culture from a non-First Nations perspective is brilliant. The relationship between Mark and the village becomes reciprocal as he is accepted as one of the tribe, and it all comes from an openness to give and receive knowledge. 

What a concept, eh? (That's me being so Canadian). 

To read this summer: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Finally, as my search for great literature continues, we come to the book I want to read. Tough call.

This year I've made it a point to binge-read Miriam Toews' works, as one would watch, say, House of Cards. I'm almost done, too.

Joseph Boyden wrote The Orenda. (Penguin Group)
I've decided, then, to delve into the works of Joseph Boyden, starting with his most recent book first, The Orenda. I've had the pleasure of meeting Joseph and he's a straight-up genuine guy, and he was gracious enough to read and review my latest graphic novel, Betty.

Most importantly, though, from what I've heard about The Orenda it's a work I would love: a book that teaches history in a challenging way, and does so by investigating different perspectives of that history. We need to do that more, think about how we view others and how others view us, and make efforts to take that knowledge and build stronger relationships.

Literature plays a big part in that kind of social change. Try out the books I've mentioned and play your part.

Happy reading!


David Alexander Robertson, of Irish, Scottish, English, and Cree heritage, is a graphic novelist and writer who has long been an advocate for educating youth on indigenous history and contemporary issues.