‘Sisters of the Neversea’ features young Indigenous heroes
Through HarperCollins Children’s Books Staff
You’ve heard of Peter Pan, but have you ever read the classic 1911 novel of the same name by JM Barrie? Growing up I loved fantastic stories, but it never occurred to me to reach this one. His offensive portrayals of Indigenous characters were no secret, and my local library provided me with countless best books to read. That said, none of these best books featured young Indigenous heroes.
One of my goals is to provide Aboriginal children with the kinds of stories I wish I had the chance to read as a child. The latest is a medium quality fantasy novel titled Sisters of Neversea.
When it comes to children’s books, today’s publishing landscape is increasingly respectful, authentic and inclusive. A growing number of talented Indigenous and First Nations writers and illustrators are creating beautifully crafted books that turn the pages. In fact, the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books has partnered with HarperCollins Children’s Books on a new indigenous-focused print called Heartdrum, for which I am honored to be the curator. All we do is publish wonderful native books about native heroes that will appeal to both young native readers and anyone who loves a good story. After all, an Indigenous hero is a hero everyone should applaud!
More personally, I am also happy to have written contemporary and realistic children’s books like Jingle dancer, Indian shoes and Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Children. But as much as children embrace everyday life stories like these, they also yearn for sparkling magic, unexpected wonders, high-stakes adventures – a panorama of imaginary getaways. They are thrilled at the thought of storybook pirates, mischievous Merfolk and glittering fairies. They wish they could fly.
In Sisters of Neversea, I reinvented the world of JM Barrie to lovingly invite today’s young readers. It’s a new story – centered around half-sisters Lily Roberts (Muscogee Creek) and Wendy Darling (white British American) – that celebrates family, friendship and, of course, fairy dust.
As for the Indigenous characters on (and outside) Neverland, the monosyllabic dialogue, the stereotypes of Hollywood’s “old west” and the depictions of paper dolls that insulted Indigenous humanity are gone. Instead of, Sisters of Neversea presents modern and tribe-specific children. Lily, Wendy and their little brother Michael come from a bicultural, blended family in the suburbs of Tulsa, and more broadly, all of the indigenous children in the book are informed by the cultural values and wisdom of their elders. They come together as an intertribal community to take care of each other and try to save themselves and the lost children too. They show respect for the land, the sea and its original inhabitants. Girls and women are integral, their contributions valued, and in case you were wondering, they are not inclined to worry about the ailments of a certain flying boy who will not grow up.
No, Peter Pan doesn’t get a pass, and neither does JM Barrie. The balance sheet demanded by problematic narratives and the importance of taking care of them are perfectly integrated into the character of my villain. Its arc breaks down that dynamic thoughtfully, but also reframes it to ensure brighter days ahead.
It’s a glimpse for adults of the story behind the story, some behind-the-scenes glimpses of this storyteller, but I certainly don’t expect young readers to consciously understand all of this.
As for Sisters of Neversea himself: The book is an exhilarating fairy tale! A 21st century story that tells Indigenous children and their non-Indigenous friends that they are all welcome in the world of books. I’m excited to share that the novel has garnered star-rated reviews already, which is always encouraging, but I’m very honored by the feedback I received from an Indigenous educator who told me she couldn’t wait to share the book with her grandchildren. .
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