Winnipegger’s book drawing from Cree sky lore nominated for Governor General’s Award

A Winnipeg author has been nominated for a Governor General literary award for his latest book, which he describes as Narnia meets Cree sky stories.

David A. Robertson’s The Barren Grounds was nominated in the category of Young People’s Literature – Text earlier this month.

This isn’t the first time Robertson’s been honoured. In 2017, his picture book about the residential school legacy called When We Were Alone, won the $25,000 prize.

“It feels like the first time,” Robertson said on CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show on Sunday.

“It’s always really, really exciting to be nominated for any award. You know, the GG is a bigger one, so you just you feel a little humbled.”

The Barren Grounds, which is the first book in a trilogy, follows two Indigenous children who are forced away from their families and communities and are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg.

They each feel disconnected from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home. That is, until they pass through a portal into another reality called Askí.

The two children then have to go on a journey with two animals, a community-minded bear and a sassy squirrel, in order to save the world.

Robertson says he was directly influenced by C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, but also Cree constellation stories.

Before writing the book, Robertson read the research of Indigenous star lore expert Wilfred Buck, who is a science facilitator at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre and spoke with him directly,

“The message of [the Cree stories] and the richness of it really stuck with me, and so much so that I decided I needed to adapt it into a novel,” he said.

For Robertson, it’s not just about creating something new for teenagers to enjoy, it’s about passing down important stories.

“It’s kind of been fun to take those stories and try to find ways to weave them into a narrative, but also to keep them alive in a different format, in a different way to pass them down to future generations,” he said.

“I think it’s important to be able to do that because each of the stories has a really important message in the background … about land stewardship, climate change.”

What’s coming next?

The Barren Grounds is just the beginning. Robertson has two more books in the series coming down the pipe.

The second book, The Great Bear, is set to be on stands in September, and continues the story of the two foster kids.

“If The Barren Grounds was a Narnia-like, narrative inspired story, I would say that The Great Bear is more of a Back to the Future-inspired story,” Robertson said, referencing the 1985 time travel film starring Michael J. Fox.

The third book in the series is set to come out in the late summer of 2022.

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