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Julie Flett’s picture books honour her aboriginal heritage

An illustration of a child and an adult man in a boat looking at a school of fish

Little You, Julie Flett

Julie Flett is a Cree-Métis author and illustrator whose titles include the Governor General’s Literary Award–nominated Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet/Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer: L’alfabet di Michif; Little You (text by Richard Van Camp); and, most recently, Dolphin SOS (written by Roy and Slavia Miki) and We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers.

Flett, who works primarily in collage, is “influenced by the warm, muted colours and tones and the simplicity” of children’s book illustrations from the 1960s and ’70s, as well as Inuit printmaking and paintings.

Last May, her 2013 picture book Wild Berries/Pakwa Che Menisu was selected as the 2014–15 title for the First Nation Communities Read campaign, which also saw Flett receive the inaugural Aboriginal Literature Award, sponsored by the Periodical Marketers of Canada. Wild Berries is published in two editions: a bilingual English-Cree dialect version from the Cumberland House region and one in a Cree dialect from Manitoba’s Norway House region.

“It was such an honour to be selected from the shortlisted titles,” says Flett. “For all bookmakers working in indigenous languages, and from a culturally authentic place, the selection and promotion of the selected titles are an important acknowledgement.”

Vancouver-based Flett has already begun touring in support of the program, with stops in First Nation communities across Ontario. After one reading, audience members shared their own berry-picking stories. “I met so many creative, inspiring, and tremendously welcoming people,” says Flett. “I realize now how important author and artist visits to First Nation communities are – for both the book creator and the community.”

Recently, she was selected to create the poster for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2015. The theme of the event, which runs May 2–9, is “Hear Our Stories: Celebrating First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Literature.”

The Concordia graduate is also busy with book projects, including a follow-up to We All Count called Colours of the Woodlands, and illustrations for a forthcoming poetry and story collection. Her distinctive images will also grace a new edition of Tomson Highway’s 2002 children’s novel, Dragonfly Kites, coming from Fifth House Publishers next year.

“I love illustrating for others as much as I enjoy working on my own books,” says Flett. “Ideally, I’ll continue to have a balance of both.