Using the “A Girl Called Echo” Series to Spark Discussion in Your Classroom

Is the past ever truly behind us? In the A Girl Called Echo series, a thirteen-year-old Métis girl named Echo Desjardins finds herself immersed in the historical events that have shaped her identity. The series, written by Katherena Vermette with illustrations by Scott B. Henderson and colours by Donovan Yaciuk, follows Echo as she slides back and forth through time. Throughout the series, Echo is never sure where she’ll end up, or what will happen—but she knows it won’t be easy.

For young readers, Echo’s journey through each installment of her adventures is exciting, heartbreaking, and relatable. Blending historical events with contemporary issues affecting Indigenous peoples, this graphic novel series is full of potential for sparking classroom discussions and critical thought. Here are a few ideas for using the series in your classroom.

An Unintentional Time Traveller

We meet Echo in volume one of the series, Pemmican Wars. Echo, we soon discover, is a teenager of few words. As she moves through her world, we slowly piece together the struggles that hold her back, exhaust her, and leave her feeling voiceless. To cope with her loneliness, Echo uses music to retreat into her imagination.

Everything changes in the blink of an eye one day during Mr. Bee’s history class. Without warning, Echo finds herself in a very different landscape—and a completely different time period. Moments after Echo is transported out of her Winnipeg school, she finds herself in the middle of a buffalo hunt on the prairies of Saskatchewan. 

Questions for Discussion or Written Response:

  1. Looking at the cover, what do you think this story is about? How do you think the main character, Echo, is feeling?
  2. Have you ever felt like an outsider in a new place? How did it make you feel?
  3. Why do you think Echo would rather listen to music than spend time with the people around her? Have you ever done something similar?
  4. Are there any parallels between Echo’s present and her experiences in the past?
  5. What do you know about the bison hunt? Why was it so significant to the Métis of the North-West Territories?
  6. Why did the Battle of Seven Oaks occur? What reasons did each side have for getting involved?

Making Sense of Past and Present

As the series progresses into its second volume, Red River Resistance, Echo experiences contrasting hardships in both the past and present. Sliding between modern-day Winnipeg and a Métis community in the year 1869, Echo grapples with painful isolation in one time period and an endangered community in the other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the significance of the surveyor chains on the cover of Red River Resistance? What do you think will happen in this story, based on the cover?
  2. What differences do you notice between how Echo feels and acts when she’s with the Métis people of 1869, versus  at home and school in present-day Winnipeg?
  3. What connections are there between Echo’s life in the present day and the events of 1869?
  4. What do you know about Louis Riel? What did he and his followers want? 
  5. What did the Canada First Party want in the late 1800s? 
  6. What did Louis Riel have to do with the formation of the province of Manitoba?

Finding Strength in Identity

The third volume in the series, Northwest Resistance, is set for release on February 25, 2020. In Northwest Resistance, tensions ramp up on both sides of history, leaving Echo to contend with the horrors of colonialism—on top of the challenges that await her at home and school.

As Echo finds herself embroiled in battles between the alliances of the Métis and Canadian forces, her perspectives begin to evolve. Now with first-hand knowledge of the obstacles her ancestors have been facing for nearly two centuries, Echo begins to find the strength to confront the demons in her own life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. On the cover of Pemmican Wars and Red River Resistance, Echo is looking to the side, but for Northwest Resistance, she has turned to face us. Why do you think that is?
  2. What stood out to you when you saw what happened at Batoche?
  3. How does Echo change over the course of the A Girl Called Echo series?
  4. Why did the Métis of Red River move west after 1870? 
  5. What were the perspectives of different people in Red River in the 1880s? The Métis? The First Nations peoples? The Canadian military? 
  6. What do you think happened to the people of the North-West Territory after the Resistance?

Pre-order Northwest Resistance so you and your class can follow Echo on her adventures through time, and watch for the fourth volume in 2021. With its beautiful artwork and compelling storytelling, A Girl Called Echo will stay with your students long after the last page.

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