I am beyond excited to share news about a picture book project that is near and dear to my heart.
In 2010, while in Inuvik, Northwest Territories researching Polar Winds, I was introduced to legendary pilot, Fred Carmichael. While Fred is a humble, practical, get-things-done kind of guy who wasn’t too sure about spending a lot of time talking to a nosy historian (me), he’s incredibly kind and patient. He’s also a Gwich’in Elder and former President of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and no stranger to sharing wisdom, stories, and his extensive knowledge of business and flying. After reading through a copy of my first book, For the Love of Flying, he seemed to think that I might be okay. Maybe.
I featured him in Polar Winds in 2014, and got to know each other better when I nominated him for Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2016. He was the first Indigenous pilot to be inducted into the CAHF – something that was long, long overdue.
I also got to know his wife, Miki O’Kane, who is Fred’s biggest fan – and not afraid to nudge him to use his life’s work and hard-won accomplishments to inspire others. She and I teamed up to lovingly bully him into working on a book so kids in the North – especially Indigenous ones – could see themselves reflected on library shelves, and so that people in the South could learn more about the Western Arctic. Miki and Fred received a grant from the NWT Arts Council to work together, and we were off to the races!
In April 2019, I had a wonderful visit with Fred and Miki (and their dog, Shadow) at their home in Inuvik. We spent so much time talking, walking, looking at photos, going to the Muskrat Jamboree, flying in and around the area (in Fred’s Cessna on skis), and visiting with friends and family from Aklavik to Tuk. It made me appreciate them and the Mackenzie Delta even more.
Then we got down to work on turning Fred’s incredible flying career into a nonfiction picture book that combined his life story with the months of the year. Sam Swenson, my Alis the Aviator editor at Tundra Books, helped come up with that framework, and I think it works so well. We also have been working with Gwich’in and Inuvialqtun language experts to include their terms for each month, which is exciting. Fred was born and raised in Aklavik (and on a trapline in the bush around there), and Gwich’in and Inuvialuit are the two main original Indigenous groups in that area – along with a now diverse population of folks from all over. Highlighting and celebrating Gwich’in and Inuvialuit cultures and languages was really important to all of us, and it just so happens the United Nations declared the Decade of Indigenous Languages kicks off this year.
We also wanted to bring in an artist who knew and appreciated this area culturally and geographically. Fred and Miki introduced Sam and I to Audrea Wulf ,who grew up in Inuvik and is Inuvialuit. We are so lucky and grateful that Audrea (who now lives in B.C.) agreed to come on as illustrator.
This collaboration, that now spans multiple time zones in Canada (from Pacific to Mountain to Eastern to Atlantic!), and is set to create a beautiful, inspirational, and perfectly-timed book. It will be a dream come true to share it with the world in Fall 2023.