Young audiences looking for new stories have something to look forward to in April thanks to dynamite and Curiosity ink holder (the family entertainment component of Grom Social Enterprises, Inc.) Thunderous DecMontana Poet Laureate ML smoker is described as “the story of a modern teenager’s journey to connect with her indigenous culture”, offering the young reader an authentic and creative account of voices that are not always the center of attention. It is also an opportunity to crush the stereotypes that preceded it.

Smoker’s co-author on the graphic novel is Natalie Peterse, also a poet and freelance publisher. Art is by Dale Deforest and the cover is Oriol Vidal.

Smoker chats with The Beat before the book debut.

Deanna Destito: Why is a story like this so necessary right now, especially for young readers?

ML Smoker: Diversity in literature is so important to developing a new generation’s understanding of the lives and experiences of different groups of people and communities. We need to be honest and accurate when talking about the complexities of history, race and identity – AND who has had the power to speak about these complexities over time. A story like Thunderous is part of the Native American narrative being reimagined and rewritten from our perspective and our truth. And it’s a contemporary story that hopefully helps break down some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about native people that are so prevalent in media, literature, and education, in particular.


Destito: What or who inspired the characters and plot?

Smoking: Certainly pieces of my own experience and that of my family and others are inspirational for the characters and the overall story. For example, I was partially raised by my grandmother and also helped raise nieces and nephews. And of course, being an Indigenous woman – my culture, my heritage, my history and the work as an educator that I’ve dedicated most of my life to – all of that has an impact.

Also, Natalie and I have children that we thought of when developing the story, as they belong to the primary age group of our audience. We thought about them a lot. We threw ideas at them which were sometimes greeted with enthusiasm, other times not so much!

Destito: How does this format compare to other forms of writing that you are more familiar with?

Smoking: Natalie and I are both trained poets – we have our Masters in Creative Writing from the same university where we met. Poetry is, for us, a very personal form of exploration and self-expression. In writing this type of content, we had to both continue down this path while knowing that we were (hopefully) speaking to a larger truth. In this situation, it was especially important for us to carefully consider the dialogue between our characters and also what the characters had to say or speak versus what would be shown through the illustrations.

Destito: What was it like working with Natalie as well as the art team?

Smoking: I wholeheartedly believe in collaboration, the power it can bring to any situation, and so working with one of my best friends to tell a story like Thunderous to life has been a gift. The pandemic has certainly provided Natalie and I with an opportunity to bond even more, as we’ve mostly maintained a quarantine bubble with our kids. We made the best of a difficult situation, as many of us had to, and writing this story was a beacon of hope – although we shared both laughter and tears throughout. long. The art team took many of our suggestions that we incorporated into the drafts of the story and really did an amazing job bringing it even more authenticity and vibrancy. Dale is truly an outstanding illustrator. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We are sure his work will inspire more young people to dive into their own art.

Destito: Did you play a role in the color palette and how does it pop or work well with the narrative you’re trying to tell?

Smoking: We didn’t directly advise on the coloring process, other than some of the obvious things like playing a role in the creation of these characters and their characteristics, descriptions, etc. But the whole creative team was great at working together, and each of us contributed our best. to this book. Colorists Adriano Augusto, Lisa Moore, and Omi Remalante Jr. did an amazing job capturing the vision we had in the writing process and then taking the art of Dale Deforest to the next level.

Destito: What can readers of all ages learn from reading this book?

Smoking: This story is linked to aspects of traditional Lakota storytelling that are important and we hope these will come through for all readers. Aiyana feels and feels and thinks, as many of us have in our lives, of being insecure and uncertain of herself, until finally being open to this who comes to her. If readers walk away from the book and learned something new about Native Americans, the Lakota in particular, through Aiyana’s journey, that would be wonderful. And if Indigenous children somehow see themselves reflected in the pages, even better.

Thunderous will debut alongside Independent Book Store Day, a national celebration of independent bookstores taking place on Saturday, April 30.


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