When working on their picture book, Be a Good Ancestor, sisters Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince-Astrope grounded the text in the teachings they learned as children growing up in the Lake Babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en. The book, published by Orca Book Publishers and illustrated by Carla Joseph, encourages readers to consider the far-reaching effects of their actions and behaviours.
Shortlisted for this year’s Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, the stunning picture book has been on the bestsellers list since its May 2022 release.
Leona Prince spoke to Q&Q about why she believes Be a Good Ancestor has resonated so deeply with readers of all ages.
What inspired Be a Good Ancestor?
The inspiration for the book came from an idea that Gabrielle had. I was on my way to Prince George to attend our mother’s birthday and had stopped at a Tim Hortons in Vanderhoof. As we were heading back out to continue our journey on the highway, Gabrielle texted me and said that she had heard the phrase, “be a good ancestor.” She was working in her office and all of her colleagues had gone for lunch and she was alone. She was puzzled, to say the least. She checked her headphones and couldn’t explain where it came from. I got my daughter Ella to read the text and immediately got her to call her auntie. Gabrielle said, “This could be our next book!” We quickly started brainstorming what [the phrase] meant to us, and the text in Be a Good Ancestor is a reflection of the teaching that we were brought up in. We started with our teachings around water because of how sacred it is to our people.
Can you talk about what it was like to work with your sister on Be a Good Ancestor?
It has been wonderful to share this experience with my sister. I feel that since the book is grounded in our Ancestral Dakelh knowledge, it is fitting that this book was not written in isolation.
Whether it be nature, community, or oneself, Be a Good Ancestor moves from the micro to the macrocosm. Why was it so important to share this message with young children?
I believe books are seeds that are planted. They create an environment where ideas can flow and grow. It is important because we need the next generation of youth to understand their place in this world and their responsibility to it. Just as a drop of water becomes life, children become the success of our future. It is vitally important that children understand this role and take up their rightful places as future stewards of our home, Earth.
Be a Good Ancestor has been on the bestsellers list for 61 weeks. What does that feel like?
We didn’t realize this right away and the significance of it! We were on our way to the Vancouver Writers Fest last fall, and the volunteer that picked us up from the airport asked us how it felt – we had no clue it was a bestseller at that point. It is truly humbling, and we are grateful every day that the message we hoped to pass on is finding its way into the lives of so many people around the world. We had only hoped that the words would be brought to life and that it would be received in the best way possible, and find its way to our youth.
Why do you think readers have connected so deeply with Be a Good Ancestor?
I think because it gives us hope in a time of so much uncertainty. It also shows us that small changes can have big impacts and that we can make shifts in our everyday lives and do our part. They also connect with Carla Joseph’s beautiful and striking illustrations. She breathed life into the words that we wrote through her incredible skill with a paintbrush, and we will forever be thankful for her artistic vision.
Can young readers expect more writing from you?
I am happy to report that yes, they will be able to read more from us in the future. I have a children’s book coming out in fall 2024, and we are co-authoring another book to be published by Orca in 2025.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
l to r: Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince-Astrope.