How Do Graphic Novels Get Made? The Making of “Northwest Resistance”

Northwest Resistance is the third volume in the graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo.

Written by Katherena Vermette, with illustrations by Scott B. Henderson and colours by Donovan Yaciuk, Northwest Resistance follows thirteen-year-old Echo Desjardins, a Métis teen who finds herself slipping back and forth through time. As Echo drifts between the modern day and the year 1885, the reader is drawn into the period’s conflicts alongside her.

Graphic novels are powerful tools for storytelling. Using a combination of illustration and text, graphic novels can highlight details like facial expressions, intensity of reactions, and pauses in conversation to create an immersive experience for the reader.

There’s no “right” way to make a graphic novel, since different publishers do things differently depending on their contributors and audience. HighWater Press has developed our process based on the needs of our readers and to address cultural, personal, and historical sensitivities.

Keep reading to find out how a graphic novel like Northwest Resistance is made!

What’s the difference between comic books and graphic novels?

Many people assume that graphic novels and comic books are worlds apart… but they share more similarities than you may think!

For instance, many graphic novels and comic books share similar art styles, and both vary widely in the topics and genres they cover. As a result, whether a title is a “graphic novel” or a “comic book” often comes down to author and publisher preference. 

The main difference is that graphic novels are typically published by traditional publishers, like HighWater Press, and they tend to contain a complete story arc. Comic books are typically published by companies that only publish comic books, and are often episodic.

Stage One: Concept and Plot Development

This stage is often the longest. On average, there are at least seven people involved with producing one of our graphic novels from beginning to end, which can mean a lot of back-and-forth and collaboration to finalize the concept and develop the plot.

It’s not uncommon for HighWater Press authors to be new to the format, which means close collaboration between the author and editor is often needed to develop the story into panels and to make sure the illustrations will accurately reflect the author’s vision.

At HighWater Press, we also have to consider historical details, personal anecdotes, and cultural sensitivities when we are developing graphic novels. Constant communication between authors, artists, and reviewers is vital to ensure the illustrations capture the author’s vision while being culturally sensitive and accurate.

Stage Two: Script Development

One of the biggest challenges with developing a graphic novel is helping our authors—who might be new to the format— write to the textual constraints of the style. Some aspects writers and editors need to consider when developing a script include:

  • Actions per panel: Illustrations are static, and therefore, only one action per panel is possible. Some movements are very difficult to show in static art, or might take too many panels, so an alternative must be found. 
  • Panels per page. Our books usually have about nine panels per page, but it’s important to mix it up to keep the reader engaged (and to keep the illustrator from having to draw the same thing over and over). 
  • Word count. To keep the text clear, we aim for fewer than 25 words per balloon or caption, averaging out to fewer than 50 words per panel. The art is just as important as the words; if there are too many words, then the illustrations might need to be revised to do that work instead. 
  • Speech balloons per panel. We try to limit each panel to three speech balloons or less, to avoid losing art behind balloons. We might also split up a larger chunk of dialogue into smaller sections, to better fit around the artwork.

We can see examples of how larger pieces of dialogue can be broken down into smaller, connected speech bubbles in this image of Louis Riel speaking in Northwest Resistance:

Stage Three: Character Designs, Cover Concepts, and Storyboard

At this stage, authors and illustrators discuss the story and get on the same page (pun intended) about character designs, layout, and cover concepts. 

To start, the artist will work with the author to create multiple concepts for character designs and covers and submit them to the author and editor, who choose the versions that are the best fit for the target readers. The author may have a specific idea for what a character will look like, or they may leave it up to the artist.

Echo sketch The level of detail in character designs at this stage varies depending on the artist; sometimes they’re fully inked and coloured, and sometimes they’re just sketches.

Below are examples of character designs for Echo, and early versions of inked and coloured character designs from Surviving the City, written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner and illustrated by Natasha Donovan.


We can see another example of how concept art can differ from the final versions by comparing these two covers from Pemmican Wars. On the left is the initial cover concept, and on the right is the final cover:



The artist will then create a storyboard, which consists of quick sketches of each page and panel. Creating these elements at this stage saves time on revisions later because they’re much easier to edit than when a panel has been drawn in detail. Often, the author will provide reference photos for the artist, particularly for details that are key to the story.

Stage Four: Pencils

When the storyboards and character designs are approved, the artist begins working on the “pencils.”

Pencils are the detailed sketches of the panels and pages developed during the storyboarding process. The author and editor review the pencils to identify any inconsistencies, like missing earrings or patches on clothing, to be corrected before the inking stage. 

For HighWater Press, because we’re working with Indigenous and historical content, the pencils and script may be reviewed by Indigenous community members, academics, and/or other subject matter experts.

This stage can take several weeks to complete, since revisions are part of the process. We review the pencils very carefully because revisions become much more difficult in the following stages.

Stage Five: Inks

The inking stage comes after the pencils have been approved by the author, the editor, and the reviewers.

In some cases, a different artist may be contracted to do inks for a graphic novel, but here at Highwater Press, our artists typically handle this process themselves.

Graphic novels often dig deep into a topic or theme, and that attention to detail is reflected in the illustrations. 

Since inks are difficult to change, mistakes or other revisions must be corrected before we move on to colouring.

Stage Six: Colouring

Next up is colouring the finalized inks. 

At this stage, we often work with artists who specialize in colouring. For example, the illustrations and inking for Northwest Resistance were done by Scott B. Henderson, while the colours were completed by Donovan Yaciuk.

Artists who specialize in colouring can use colour to draw the reader’s eye to a particular element. Colours play an important role in how the story is told and can create a mood or feeling that might otherwise be lost. 

We review the coloured panels carefully to ensure characters’ hair colour, eye colour, and other details are consistent from panel to panel. We also keep an eye out for details related to logic. For example, you don’t want sunlight streaming through a window if a scene is taking place at night.

We also pay special attention to the historical and cultural accuracy of colours, based on reference photographs and feedback from our reviewers. 

Stage Seven: Lettering

Lettering may seem simple, but don’t be fooled! This unassuming step matters more than you may realize. This is the stage when speech, thoughts, sound effects, and captions are added to the panels.

Balloon placement and lettering not only set the tone and pace of the text on each page, but must be included in such a way that they don’t obscure the illustrations.

Different balloon styles are used to emphasize differences in speech, like whispering or yelling. For example, we can see in the scene below that several villagers are yelling “no!” with varying volumes and intensities based on the colour and boldness of the text:

Stage Eight: Design

The design stage is the final stage before a graphic novel is approved for print. At this stage, all the pages are collected into one file and page numbers are added. The cover is finalized and then everything is sent off to the printers. The printers will send a printer’s proof to us. We use this proof to check that the colours and pages are correct. Once this proof is approved, printing begins, and there is no turning back. 

Pre-order your copy of Northwest Resistance today.

New to using graphic novels in the classroom? Teaching With Graphic Novels is a great tool to turn student’s enthusiasm for graphic novels into a teaching opportunity. Order your copy today.

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I Will See You Again: A Conversation with Lisa Boivin

Lisa Boivin

Lisa Boivin is a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation, an interdisciplinary artist, and a PhD student at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. 

While her artistic focus is primarily to use art as a pedagogical tool to bridge gaps between aspects of Indigenous cultures and worldviews and medical ethics, her upcoming title through HighWater Press, I Will See You Again, is an exploration of grief through art and storytelling.

To better understand the connections between her experiences, Dene culture, and art, we talked to Lisa about her creative process and about painting ideas that can’t be expressed through words.

1. You’ve stated that your use of plants and flowers is intended to represent connection with the land. Can you talk about this relationship and its particular importance to Dene people?

I do not speak for all Dene. I understand why a one size fits all answer about Dene land-based culture is desirable but I am not an expert. I only speak from my perspective as a single Dene person. I feel particularly connected to the land-based knowledge my father shared with me before he died, but many of those conversations are private. I think of things he said continually while I am creating images. 

I also make sense of the world I live in by looking to the land around me. For example, if I see an animal or a plant, I think about the stories my father told me. I consider what is their purpose and what can I learn from them? How are they teaching me to be a better human being?

2. In your TEDxUofT talk, you note that “in Dene culture, there are stories which cannot be contained with words.” Can you explain more about how Dene storytelling is enhanced and expanded through art?

Many things I paint cannot be held in print. There are stories to be told in person, and there are also stories I keep to myself, or that I share only with family members. There are elements in my paintings that I place in there just for us. I know they are there, and when my family looks at them, they know what the meanings are.  

3. The images in I Will See You Again feature bright, eye-catching colors. Why did you decide to explore feelings of grief and loss with such vivid palettes?

Initially I thought about how life begins and ends in the sacred dark. It is a peaceful dark that allows us to find ourselves. As we grow into our bodies, we discover the bright colourful world around us. I imagine the colours begin to fade as we leave our bodies, and we see new colors when we enter the spirit world. I also wanted my work to be recognized as Dene. I wanted the bright flowers resting on the black background to reflect the bright beading on rich black velvet.

4. In the book, your brother’s spirit is embodied by flowers and leaves. What significance do these artistic elements have for you?

Flowers represent many things in my illustrations: Medicine, sacred teachings, stories. In a way, I am interacting with the dead. I find that comforting. I am illustrating to understand how I feel about death. I use leaves to represent the cycle of life as they fall all over the pages of my book. Leaves must fall to make room for new leaves. Leaves must fall to remind us that we are alive.

5. You’ve talked about “using paint to create a safe space to heal.” How has creating artwork helped you to understand and share your personal experiences?

Many knowledges unfold in my images; intergenerational, spiritual and ancestral knowledges come to life as I am painting. I was one of those who was taken away. I was not raised with my culture. I learned many things about my culture when I reunited with my father and then he died. 

I am finding my way back in my illustrations. I am literally painting a safe space to heal. I Will See You Again is available on February 25, 2020. Pre-order your copy today.

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Give the Gift of These Great Reads

Looking for an inspiring gift for the readers in your life? This holiday, share amazing adventures and profound ideas that will stay with your loved one long after New Year’s Day. These best-selling titles make thoughtful presents for those who love to read, write, teach, and learn. 

Ensouling Our Schools

by Jennifer Katz, with Kevin Lamoureux and foreword by Ry Moran

Despite our best intentions, the school environment can prove to be stressful and isolating for many learners—and educators. In her career as an inclusive educator, author Jennifer Katz recognized the need for better ways to nurture students’ well-being and foster a sense of meaning and purpose. In Ensouling Our Schools, she provides practical methods for improving students’ mental, spiritual, and emotional health in schools while building critical thinking and analysis skills. The book also contains Indigenous approaches to mental and spiritual health contributed by Kevin Lamoureux, Education Lead at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Perfect for: Compassionate, innovative, and forward-thinking educators and school administrators


Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada

by Chelsea Vowel

If you’re a non-Indigenous Canadian, it’s unlikely that you’ve ever received a thorough education in the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In Indigenous Writes, author Chelsea Vowel opens a frank dialogue about many of the most misunderstood and under-taught concepts concerning Indigenous peoples. Vowel writes candidly about topics like the Sixties Scoop, Bill C-31, and treaties while addressing myths and commonly-confused terminology. Indigenous Writes should be required reading for anyone who wishes to respectfully teach, write, or speak about the contemporary issues affecting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

Perfect for: teachers, journalists, media professionals, politicians, parents, and anyone else who could benefit from a better understanding of what it means to be Indigenous in Canada


This Place: 150 Years Retold

by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel, illustrated by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm, with colour by Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk

You’ve never read a history book like this before. In this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology, Indigenous writers explore the past, present, and future of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada. This Place combines unforgettable imagery with emotional storytelling as readers journey through Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. The anthology illustrates how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

Perfect for: comic-book lovers, young adult readers, high school and post-secondary teachers, and history buffs


Catch a Fire: Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning

Edited by Matt Handerson

An energizing, highly-digestible read to inspire, challenge, and engage current and future educators. Project-based learning (PBL) is hardly a new concept, but Catch a Fire provides a fresh view into how schools and teams can make it their own. Each chapter is written by a different contributor, each offering valuable insights, actionable ideas, and achievable success stories. Readers will be left enlightened and motivated to find out how PBL can ignite a new passion for learning in their students.

Perfect for: passionate teachers and school administrators, aspiring educators



by David A. Robertson

In Ghosts, the third and final installment of The Reckoner Trilogy, things are looking grim for Wounded Sky First Nation. Cole Harper is dead, Reynold McCabe is at large, and the community is quarantined while Mihko Laboratories is launching full-force into biological war tactics. Meanwhile, people are missing, questions are going unanswered, and time is running out to save Wounded Sky. Who’s left to take up the fight?

Readers who couldn’t put down the Reckoner Trilogy books should know that this is only the end for now. Look for the debut volume of the graphic novel series, The Reckoner Rises: Breakdown in 2020.

Perfect for: young adults who love a great superhero origin story


The Grizzly Mother

by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Too often, science and storytelling are treated like two sides of a coin. The Mothers of Xsan series perfectly illustrates how scientific concepts are, in fact, a living part of the stories around us. The Grizzly Mother is the second book in the series, in which readers follow a family of grizzly bears through the forests of the Skeena River Valley. Through lyrical language and bold, colorful illustrations, young readers will learn about the Xsan ecosystem and its significance to the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia.

Look for the third book, The Eagle Mother, coming in April of 2020.

Perfect for: science and elementary teachers, parents, kids from ages 9-12


Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles (Second Edition)

The long-anticipated second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses builds on author Faye Brownlie’s acclaimed resource for teaching literacy. Brownlie’s unique approach to literary circles has made the first edition of Grand Conversations a must-have among educators. In the second edition, teachers can expect brand-new content that will challenge and engage students, build critical-thinking and response skills, and improve the confidence and competence of young readers.

Perfect for: elementary and high school teachers, aspiring educators, and reading tutors


Perception: A Photo Series

Artist KC Adams was inspired to create Perception after a racist comment by a local community leader’s wife went viral on Facebook. The images in the photo series critique harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples through the use of stark black and white portraits. Perception: A Photo Series contains the portraits, a foreword by Katherena Vermette, and a critical essay by Cathy Matthes in a sleek hardcover. This thought-provoking collection is excellent for guiding classroom conversations around stereotypes and prejudice. 

Perfect for: middle and high school teachers, activists, and lovers of socially conscious art.

Ready to stuff some stockings with some great reads? Find these great books at your local bookseller or order online for the new year.

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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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Social Justice in Art, Part Two: KC Adams & GMB Chomichuk

In part two of our Social Justice in Art series, we spoke with artists KC Adams and GMB Chomichuk. We heard their insights on creative collaboration, art as a means to start conversations, and taking risks in the service of important messages. You can read part one here.

KC Adams

KC Adams

KC Adams (she/her/hers) is a Cree/Ojibway/British Winnipeg-based artist. A graduate of  Concordia University with a B.F.A in studio arts, Adams has had several solo and group exhibitions, with work in many permanent collections throughout Canada and abroad. Adams was the set designer for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation production, and she has designed public art sculptures for the Winnipeg Forks South Point Project and United Way of Winnipeg. Her collection of portraits, Perception: A Photo Series, was published in book form in 2019. 

PMP: How did your photo series, Perception, evolve from idea to finished project? Perception: A Photo Series

KCA: I had been thinking about this art piece for 10 years prior to finishing it. I felt there was a need to create a work that showed the humanity of my community because we were mired in negative stereotypes. I knew it had to be a photo project, with community members as my inspiration, but that was the extent of the idea.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I read a Facebook post by Lori Steeves that was full of fear which translated into hateful words against my community. The moment I read the post, my photo project came to my mind and it was like a light bulb went on.

I needed to make art that could be shared on social media, because discrimination is a social problem. I couldn’t keep the work in a gallery space, where only a few hundred people would see it. I needed it to be seen by thousands, so we could start the conversation about racism.

PMP: The series made a big impression in Winnipeg and Lethbridge, where the images were installed in public places. Did you observe any reactions to your work that stand out in your mind?

KCA: I worked at Plug In ICA, and they had a billboard in the Osborne Village area where the Shoppers Drug Mart is now located. A couple times per year, a new billboard would go up, and it allowed the general public to have access to art. I loved that idea of accessibility; the opportunity to have viewers be impacted by art, no matter what their social standing.

In my mind, I had hoped that the Perception photos would also be placed all over Winnipeg, so people could see my work. I hoped it would get them to think about their own perspective on racism and stereotypes.

Urban Shaman Gallery heard my hopes, and they made it happen. Having my work on billboards, bus shelters, and posters was incredible. Everything that I had hoped about starting a conversation about racism towards my community is exactly what happened.

I have several examples of reactions to my work. The posters were hung up all around the University of Manitoba, and a friend who was teaching law invited me to meet some of her students. One of the students shared that, because of my work, he was able to have an honest discussion with his friends about hiring practices. His question to his friends was, if two equally qualified candidates were available for hire and one candidate was Indigenous, would they hire him/her? He said that it made several of them uncomfortable, some of them didn’t answer, but it got them thinking about their own prejudices.

I have another story of a friend that I bumped into at an art gallery opening. He felt that my work was perpetuating stereotypes, and that it hurt my community more than it helped. We had a healthy discussion. I told him that the work was about how each viewer has the ability to question their own personal responses to racism. His reaction, and the fact that the work got him to discuss racism, was a goal of creating this art project.

One of the most surprising reactions was how teachers have been using the work in their classrooms, and how it has inspired students to share their own stories of discrimination and isolation.

PMP: When we spoke to you in March, you quoted your friend Steve Loft who beautifully phrased how controlling one’s image as an Indigenous person is ultimately an act of liberation. Can you describe your emotional journey through the process of bringing art into the world that, to you, represents the reclamation of your culture and spirit?

KCA: I was nervous when I started this artwork because I was asking members of my community to put their image in my hands. They took a big risk. I posed, too, because I wanted them to know that we were all in this together—that I would take that journey with them.

What I didn’t anticipate was how empowered they felt by sharing their journey. They were proud to speak out against racism. Finally, our image was in our control instead of negative imagery and print typically found in information media.

Having my community in print in a positive light was always something that I had dreamed about. I am also an educator, and it has always been my goal to go into classrooms and inspire First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students to dream big. This work does this without me entering the classroom. Teachers across Canada are bringing this work into their classrooms, and the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students have responded by creating art that speaks about their own journey.

Art is powerful and can elicit change. I encourage everyone to embrace art, and in doing so, reclaim their spirit.

To discover KC’s full portfolio, visit her website at

GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk is an award-winning writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in film, television, books, comics, and graphic novels. His recent work includes illustrations for the graphic novel anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold, and Will I See?, a collaboration with writer David A. Robertson and singer/songwriter Iskwē. Other works include occult-suspense story Midnight City, science fiction epic Red Earth, and the all-ages adventure stories of Cassie and Tonk. He also hosts the Super Pulp Science podcast. His newest full-length graphic novel, Apocrypha: The Legend of Babymetal was featured by The Hollywood Reporter, The Nerdist, and Billboard Magazine.

PMP: You’ve contributed to a number of projects that address issues concerning Indigenous communities, including Will I See? and This Place. As a non-Indigenous person, how do you approach projects like this?

GMBC: Well, being invited is an important step. Whether you were born in the place you live or you come from somewhere else, I think we have a responsibility to participate in our local community. If you are going to participate in a community, you should try to use your skills in the most positive ways you can.

I make comics, and tell stories visually. The skills I have took a long time to develop, but to get here is only possible because I’ve had the safety and security to live in this community. Being a part of this community, I recognize that not everyone is born with the same access that I was. I have a responsibility to do more than entertain.

It’s an interesting position to be in because if I had been asked to write for this collection, I would’ve had to decline. These are not my stories to tell. But, I’m able to use visual storytelling to turn up the volume of another’s voice, and that feels like a thing I can do. I’m not here to speak for anybody, but to stand beside them—and hopefully, together, we can speak for ourselves.

PMP: You’ve illustrated for several graphic novels, including This Place. Is there something in particular about graphic novels that, to you, makes them a powerful medium for social justice? This Place: 150 Years Retold

GMBC: Comics are subversive in nature, in part because they are not considered literary by most people. They’re seen as “safe.” Your guard is down when you enter. Eventually, the words and pictures together do something special—they create memory and emotion in the space between them.

People who dismiss the power of comic storytelling should be wary. Consider the power and influence of advertising, which is a similar way of pairing words and pictures—message with emotion—and have a message stick. Ads want to sell you something, I want to sell you on your own ability to see and make meaning.

PMP: Can you describe the process you use to convey socially conscious messages through your art in a way that is both sensitive and impactful?

GMBC: It’s a group effort—from writer to editorial, the feedback of first readers and sensitivity readers. We do our best. You never know if you’ve done the right thing until after it’s out. All I can try to do is be as sincere in my commitment to supporting my collaborators as I can.

A surprising evidence of the impact of these books for me has been the amount of racism that has been on display to me. Bigots assume I will be their ally. I’ve also been shouted down by the same narrow-viewed people at comic shows for my willingness to be a part of projects like these. It shows me how far we have to go, how many more pages we have to make.

A culture and community is made up of its stories. The more we tell untold stories, the more chances we have to get a real picture of this place we live in.

In the end, I don’t answer to the public, or even the reading community. I have to answer to my kids and be an example to them.

To see more of GMB’s work and upcoming projects, follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @gmbchomichuk, and check out his podcast,

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Social Justice in Art, Part One: Natasha Donovan & Scott B. Henderson

Art has always been a catalyst for social change. Before a piece of artwork can make an impact on the world, artists must embark on a process of complex decisions, creative thinking, and skillful execution. In part one of this two-part series, we interviewed artists Natasha Donovan and Scott Henderson. Both have contributed artwork to convey powerful messages in works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, the Surviving the City series and the A Girl Called Echo series. We talked to them about how they choose projects, their creative process, and how graphic novel art can impact a social movement.

Natasha Donovan

Natasha Donovan (she/her/hers) is a Vancouver-born freelance artist and illustrator as well as a member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. She is the illustrator of the award-winning graphic novel series Surviving the City, and has had work published in the graphic novel anthologies, This Place: 150 Years Retold and The Other Side. She is the illustrator of the Mothers of Xsan children’s book series, including the award-winning first book, The Sockeye Mother, which was shortlisted for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.


PMP: Natasha, your artwork has appeared in socially-conscious works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, and series such as Surviving the City, and Mothers of Xsan. How do you decide which projects to get involved with?

ND: Luckily for me, I’ve stumbled into working with some exceptional editors who do an excellent job of reaching out to Indigenous creators and ensuring that many different voices are heard. My family and my professional background also play a role in driving my decisions—having victims of violence in my family and working for the International Journal of Indigenous Health were strong motivators to illustrate Surviving the City (volume 1 in the Surviving the City series), for example. 

PMP: Why was it important to you to illustrate the Mothers of Xsan series? The sockeye mother

ND: I am very much in love with the Pacific Northwest; nothing says “home” to me like dark grey skies and hanging moss and towering cedars. It’s a rich, interconnected ecosystem, but it’s also fragile—and endangered. I am so grateful to be a part of the Mothers of Xsan series because it gives me the opportunity to share my wonder at living here, and hopefully to contribute in some small way toward a sustainable relationship between humans and rainforest. 

PMP: In your view, how do books like the Mothers of Xsan series impact young learners?

ND: My favourite childhood books were the ones that taught me about the magic and joy that can be found in the everyday world. It’s my hope that the Mothers of Xsan sheds light on a secret world where salmon make epic journeys and grizzlies help the trees grow. This is a world that’s worth engaging with, loving, and protecting. 

To see what Natasha is working on now, follow her on Twitter at @natashamdonovan.

Scott B. Henderson

Scott B. Henderson (he/him/his) is an author and illustrator of many graphic novels, including The Chronicles of Era series, Fire Starters, the A Girl Called Echo series, select titles in the Tales From Big Spirit series, and select stories in This Place: 150 Years Retold. He also illustrated the Eisner-award nominee, A Blanket of Butterflies. In 2016, he was the recipient of the C4 Central Canada Comic Con Storyteller Award.

PMP: Scott, you’ve illustrated graphic novels like Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, A Blanket of Butterflies, and the A Girl Called Echo series. A lot of your work, including these titles, plays with time (either the past or future) to communicate socially conscious themes to readers. Can you offer some insight into the creative process when working on pieces like these?

SBH: With A Girl Called Echo, I worked with Katherena and Donovan Yaciuk (the colourist) to establish some rules or a theme. The modern-day scenes were to be more muted colours, while the scenes when Echo is in the past are more vibrant and have a more painterly style. It was to help elaborate on the disconnect that Echo had with the present day. Other times, I sometimes play with different border styles to distinguish between different time periods. With Echo, the modern-day scenes have more straight lines and rigid borders, while the past is a little more casual with (subtly) irregular borders.

PMP: How did you find out that A Blanket of Butterflies had been nominated for an Eisner Award?

SBH: I think I found out about the Eisner Award through the marketing team at HighWater Press. It was a pleasant surprise!

PMP: What do see as the role of graphic novels in affecting social change?

SBH: Humans have always been very visual creatures, and so graphic novels tie into this deep, long history. I think books and novels are deeply important as well, but for those just starting to learn a new topic, or that don’t have a lot of experience digesting these larger tomes, graphic novels are great for someone to jump right into a topic. 

We can perceive so much information visually at a glance. From that foundation, the reader can build on their knowledge and develop a more nuanced perspective. Also, visually, you can speak to so many people that maybe don’t speak the same language. The language of art can be more universal. 

Scott B henderson

To see more of Scott’s amazing work, visit his website at

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A Conversation with Faye Brownlie

Over the last several decades, Faye Brownlie has been an educator, a reading clinician, an author, and a keynote speaker. In January 2005, her expertise in literacy education and inclusive learning led her to write her acclaimed book, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles. With its focus on engaging learners and fostering a love of reading, Brownlie’s work has changed the lives of thousands of students. The principles in the book have taken her around the world; she’s travelled through Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia leading workshops and speaking at seminars and conferences.

Today, nearly 15 years later, the second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses is here! We caught up with Faye Brownlie to chat about her continued passion for literacy education and diversity, and what to expect from the new edition.

PMP: What experiences in your life lead to your passion for literacy education? 

FB: I grew up as a reader and began teaching junior high in a small, rural school. I imagined myself as spending time sharing books with kids and was very surprised to learn that not all my kids thought this was such a fabulous idea. I became compelled to ‘turn them on to reading,’ and I truly believe that we can and must create readers who read and choose to read, and writers who write and choose to write to communicate. Literacy changes lives—opening doors, lifting out of poverty, changing life expectancy. The impact of the stats is staggering. 

There are so many choices in what to read today. We have the resources to reach each learner. It is our challenge to find their interests and passions and match these learners with text they want to read and text they want to talk about or do something about.

PMP: Since Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses was first published nearly 15 years ago, do you feel educators are facing different challenges or many of the same roadblocks as they work to engage their students? 

FB: Perhaps our classes are more diverse in some parts of Canada. But in many parts of Canada, that diversity was there 15 years ago. We have been working on inclusion of all learners for a long time, and our immigration policies have welcomed new Canadians for many years. 

Diversity is often presented as a challenge, but I also think of it as an opportunity. The diversity of our learners—their backgrounds, their languages, their life experiences, their wide range of skills—all enrich our classroom community and are a reflection of our society.  

I don’t think of roadblocks in terms of engagement. That is not a term I would use. Learners want to be engaged; not being engaged is boring! Doing the same thing, at the same pace, with the same expectations is not a recipe for success. We can’t return to that pattern. Having choice and agency, the expectation to succeed, and the supports to help you succeed invites all learners to the table.

PMP: For educators who aren’t familiar with the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, what are some highlights from the second edition that you think will lead to exciting breakthroughs for new readers? 

FB: I think the structure of no roles, no limits on amount of reading, choice from a selection of texts, student-run conversations about the texts they are reading, and writing in reflection and response to their reading sets learners up for success and provides teachers with an easy-to-use format for teaching. It enables us to have more time for 1:1 conferences, to listen deeply to kids in conversation, to notice what mini-lessons will move the learning forward, and to deeply connect with our readers. 

Teachers will notice the addition of an early primary scenario, teachers’ work with co-created criteria for response journals and comprehension activities, an intermediate/middle years information text example, and a secondary example that extends into a social media format. 

Most exciting, if you haven’t tried this version of literature circles before, you will be amazed about the amount that your learners read, their engagement with text and with each other, and their excitement about reading.

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles launches today. Be one of the first to dig into this transformative resource by ordering your copy now!

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Three Teacher’s Guides for Leading Conversations on Indigenous Issues

Did you know we have teacher’s guides for many of our titles? These guides are a great help when it comes to tackling tough themes. If you’re a little nervous about discussing Indigenous issues in your classroom, these resources are worth checking out!

Each teacher’s guide below makes an excellent companion to its respective book. You can use these guides to ensure heavier topics are hitting the right mark with your students. Best of all, each of these guides is free.

A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry: For the Graphic Novel Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story is a graphic novel by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Scott B. Henderson that tells the true story of Helen Betty Osborne. Known to friends as “Betty,” Osborne was a young woman from Norway House Cree Nation who dreamed of becoming a teacher. One night, while Betty was walking home, four men abducted and murdered her.

Betty’s story is important, but it deals with mature themes that can be tricky to navigate in the classroom. A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry, written by Connie Wyatt Anderson, is a handbook for using Betty as a learning tool. Wyatt Anderson offers thoughtful tips for teaching the sensitive content in the book, including helpful discussion questions for constructive dialogue. Leaf through to the appendix to find suggested readings for further research-based student inquiry.

When We Were Alone: Parent/Teacher Guide

Written by David A. Robertson, When We Were Alone is a children’s book illustrated by Julie Flett. This beautiful picture book won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2017. The book explains the residential school experience in language young children can understand. In the story, a curious young girl hears from her kókom (grandmother) about the pieces of her identity that residential schools tried to take away.

The parent/teacher guide can help you lead small children through the book in a way that promotes critical thought. Inside, you can find age-appropriate talking points on Indigenous perspectives and residential schools.

Since students often learn best by doing, the guide contains in-class activities to help young readers understand the concepts in When We Were Alone. There’s even a Cree word list to help you teach your students the Cree words used in the book!

Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series

K.C. Adams’s acclaimed photo series, Perception, came out in book form earlier this year. The project first gained attention when Adams’s photographs appeared on bus shelters and billboards, and projected on buildings in Downtown Winnipeg. Each of Adams’s photos is a portrait of an Indigenous person that trades harmful stereotypes for statements of truth. The emotional expressions of her subjects, the stark black-and-white images, and the striking text invited onlookers to “look, then look again” at stereotypes about Indigenous people. Perception: A Photo Series collects a selection of Adams’s photographs into one book.

The Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series was written by Reuben Boulette for high school teachers. You can use the guide to empower teens to question harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people. This guide has ideas for teaching the painful topics the artist’s work addresses. As a bonus, each module has suggestions for assessing your students’ takeaways from Perception.

While these three books and their accompanying guides make great tools, this is only a short list. You can find many more titles for teaching Indigenous history and perspectives in our catalogue. Browse our full collection of free teacher’s guides on our For Teachers page—and don’t forget to bookmark it! As we release new titles, new teacher’s guides will be sure to follow.

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Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: Faye Brownlie on What’s New in the 2nd Edition

All kids should have the opportunity to fall in love with reading. Faye Brownlie’s acclaimed guide, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, has offered teachers a powerful set of tools for engaging young readers since its release in 2005. Now, the second edition is almost here, and it’s filled with new strategies and updated tools for today’s classrooms. We caught up with Faye to get her take on the new edition and give teachers a sneak peek at what’s inside.

Faye Brownlie on the New Edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses

“The response over the past 15 years to the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses has been overwhelming. I have been humbled and honoured by the feedback and success stories that teachers have shared, and am so pleased to present some of what we have learned together in this new edition.”

The Basics: Literature Circles

“I’ve made significant updates, but have remained true to what is unique to this approach to literature circles.

  • The groups are fluid.
  • Students have choice in what they read.
  • No roles. The Say Something strategy initiates and sustains the conversation.
  • No limits are placed on the amount read.
  • No leveled texts.
  • Responses to text are open-ended and reflective.
  • Formative assessment strategies are infused with the goal of creating readers who read.

This empowers kids to exceed expectations, foster curiosity, and develop better critical thinking and discussion skills.”

What’s New?

“Teachers can also expect much brand-new content. Here’s a sampling of what’s inside:

  • Michelle Hikida and Lisa Schwartz show us how to create communities of readers with literature circles in grades 1-3.
  • Lindsay Holliday shares her grade 6/7 readers ‘I can’ statements, created to support powerful response writing, and then extends this as they are guided by their co-constructed  ‘good, better, wow’ examples.
  • At Highland Park, the 4/5 team and I strengthen response writing with a modeling sequence that begins with an exploded sentence and students critiquing our writing.
  • Neetu Dhaliwal capitalizes on the power of social media and uses Snapcha
    t to create thoughtful, engaged discussion around student-selected quotes with grades 8-12.
  • The Kamloops Literacy Team presents a step-by-step, non-fiction version of literature circles called “inquiry circles.”

There are so many more exciting ideas—for self-assessment, personal reflection, and more integrated summative assessment! Read on, find a colleague (because it’s just richer and more fun to be collaborative), and find an idea that sparks your curiosity and is waiting to be personalized, by you, for your students.”

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses will be released on October 24th. Pre-order your copy today.

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Orange Shirt Day: Guiding Conversations about Residential Schools in the Classroom

September 30th is Orange Shirt Day—a nationally-recognized event to acknowledge the harm inflicted by residential schools. For educators, this day represents a special opportunity to engage young people in important discussions about residential schools and other structures of systemic racism. 

There’s no way around it; these conversations are hard. They’re painful, delicate—and necessary. So, where are we to begin?

We spoke to three prominent Indigenous authors to get their take on the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, and how educators can participate in creating a more equitable future for residential school survivors and their families.


David A. Robertson on the Origin and Importance of Orange Shirt Day

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and the author of several award-winning books for children and young adults, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for When We Were Alone. His work focuses on creating captivating works that reflect the cultures, histories, and contemporary issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada.

PMP/HWP: Where does Orange Shirt Day come from?

DAR: Orange Shirt Day originates from an experience of one residential school survivor that is common to many, that is the attempted elimination of cultural identity. 

A student, Phyllis Webstad, on her first day at residential school had her new orange shirt taken from her by school administration. We know today that Phyllis’s story is representative of the experiences many Indigenous children had while attending residential school, and we recognize it to both remember what happened, and honour survivors, but also to ensure we do not repeat history. 

I think, as well, we should use it as a day to keep our eyes and hearts open, because it is a history that is still happening, through systems like child welfare. Ultimately, Orange Shirt Day is a day of reflection and awareness.

PMP/HWP: You’ve written several books that address the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples. Your children’s book, When We Were Alone, also frames loss of identity through the school’s control over Nokóm’s clothing. Why do you think clothing is such an effective touchpoint for talking to young kids about residential schools?

DAR: You have to find ways for children to relate to Indigenous children who attended residential schools. If children can relate, they can empathize. And empathy is powerful. 

Any child can understand the expression of identity through the way that somebody dresses, or how they wear their hair. Any child, as well, can understand the impact of what it means to not be able to express identity. If I tell a child, in a safe environment, to imagine that the shirt they are wearing, perhaps a team shirt, is not welcome in the room, because in the room, only the shirt for one certain team is allowed, that child can understand the concept of assimilation. 

If I tell a child the same thing about their hair, they can likewise understand the concept of assimilation. It allows me to have a conversation with students about their individuality, the importance of their uniqueness, and how it might have affected children to not be able to express who they are. To have to be the same as everybody else. 

Kids can understand sophisticated concepts if we are able to meet them at their level, in an age-appropriate way.

PMP/HWP: Why do you think Orange Shirt Day is important?

DAR: I think it’s important because it is an entry point to have an important conversation. More than that, it brings people together to have that conversation. That coming together is an important step in the path to reconciliation. We cannot heal a broken relationship in a vacuum. We need to do it together, and we need to do it through listening, and sharing. 

What I don’t want to happen is for this conversation to happen on just one day, so a vital piece of this is to build on this day, by making each day one where we discuss reconciliation, in one form or another. Because that conversation will shape where we go tomorrow. 


Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse on Leading and Enriching Classroom Conversations on Orange Shirt Day

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse is an Anishinabekwe (Ojibwe/Odawa woman) from Sagamok First Nation and a full professor in the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Over the past 25 years, she has taught at all levels from elementary to post-secondary and published over 50 educator resources. Dr. Toulouse is a 3M National Teaching Excellence Fellow.

PMP/HWP: Do you have any suggestions for classroom activities teachers can try with their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day that support the message behind the event?

PRT: There are so many classroom activities that can happen on that day, such as KAIROS blanket exercises, Project of Heart events, and learning from local Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and getting out on the land. 

The key is to reach out to the Indigenous community and form a relationship that goes beyond the one day. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to fulfill our truthful relationships and responsibilities as caring two-leggeds. 

One of the primary activities is to engage in truth and reconciliation by finding out “who you are.” Being Canadian will be so much more meaningful when you can connect to your own ancestral stories of challenge and hope. This exploration of the past from a personal stance will give students and educators a greater appreciation for “why” Indigenous peoples are so connected to traditions, ceremonies, and the land.

PMP/HWP: You suggest inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper from a local Indigenous community to visit the classroom as an extension of learning. If an educator wished to do this but isn’t acquainted with an Indigenous Elder, what can educators do to respectfully make contact with a community?

PRT: Nearly every school board in Canada has an Indigenous Lead who has been entrusted with many roles in K to 12. These Indigenous Leads are the connection between educators and Elders, Metis Senators, and other Knowledge Keepers. 

There is so much diversity across the country in terms of the protocols in how to approach Indigenous resource peoples— the Indigenous Lead can assist educators with this. In the absence of an Indigenous Lead, contacting a local Friendship Centre or a local First Nation or a Métis organization is the best approach.

The gifts and the experiences shared by Indigenous Elders and Metis Senators with classrooms will leave a head to heart impact on the students—and this is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

PMP/HWP: How can educators continue to help young people understand the scope of residential schools beyond September 30th?

PRT: Orange Shirt Day is acknowledged once per year, but residential school survivors and their families live with the effects daily. This is why it is so critical to continue to implement the Calls to Action from the TRC and do so in relationships with Indigenous communities.

For me, Call to Action #63, “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” is foundational here. It’s one thing to offer classroom lessons on the history and effects of residential schools and quite another to truly feel the depth of these impacts.

The most respectful outcome is for school communities to take that additional step and do something about it. There needs to be action beyond acknowledgments.


Christine M’Lot on Making Progress Through Discussion on Orange Shirt Day and Beyond

Chistine M’Lot is an Anishinaabe educator and curriculum developer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Christine is the co-founder of Red Rising Education, and works to create Indigenous education resources for teachers. She has an extensive background working with young people in multiple capacities, including child welfare, children’s disability services, and Indigenous family planning. Christine currently teaches high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

PMP/HWP: In many Canadian schools, there are kids in the classroom who have been directly impacted by the intergenerational harms of residential schools. They might be sitting right next to kids who have no knowledge at all about this painful time in history. How can educators gently guide conversations about residential schools in a way that is constructive for everyone, and not harmful? 

CM: This is a very real scenario that most educators face while teaching about Indigenous topics. One thing that I’d like to remind teachers is that it’s important not to make any assumptions about the level of knowledge that Indigenous students may have about their histories or culture. I’ve definitely made the assumption that because a student is Indigenous, they must already know about residential schools or the direct impact that they had on their families and communities, but this has not always been the case.

   In my classroom, I try to ensure that our conversations around Indigenous topics are not always focused on the negative aspects of history. While learning about residential schools is hardly positive, I always make time to recognize the resilience and beauty in our communities. I think it’s important to show students examples of Indigenous resistance and political action that our communities partake in. It’s important to be mindful of not inadvertently showing Indigenous people as victims all the time but rather as people who continue to fight for equal rights in Canada. 

PMP/HWP: What are some discussion questions early years educators and middle/high school educators might ask their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day to keep the focus on healing?

CM: Some questions I like to ask my students include: 

  • How can we honour residential school survivors as a school and community? 
  • How can we ensure that the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten? 
  • What are some Indigenous theories and practices around wellness and wellbeing that we can utilize in our own lives?
  • How can we ensure that First Nations children get the same level of education and healthcare as the rest of Canadians?

PMP/HWP: Which resources would you recommend to educators to help them facilitate meaningful conversations about residential schools in their classrooms?

 CM: I would recommend the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Canada website as a great resource for teachers to learn about residential schools and gather teaching resources appropriate to their students’ grade level. You can visit their website here. 

I also recommend Red Rising Education for our authentic Indigenous educational resources. We created a special-edition magazine and accompanying unit plans to teach educators how to include Indigenous topics into their curricula. Our unit plans are centred around the themes of identity, community, land and water, and resistance. You can reach us by email.

For more information about Orange Shirt Day, including Phyllis’s story, upcoming events, and resources, visit the official website at


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