The stereotype-smashing graphic novel Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (AH Comics, 2015) has been anointed, taking its place on the School Library Journal’s prestigious Best Books list for 2015.
It was chosen for its ability not just to entertain, but also enlighten.
“Moonshot is a wonderful teaching tool,” said Pamela Vanderberg, Métis, Native Studies teacher at East Northumberland Secondary School, in Brighton, Ontario. “We need more up-to-date resources like this.”
School Library Journal is the world’s largest reviewer of children’s and young adult books, and when it speaks, schools and libraries pay attention. The publication has been eager to include books with indigenous authors and subject matter in its reviews and lists, according to editor Shelley Diaz. As such, the journal features articles on Native books by Nambe Pueblo scholar and critic Debbie Reese, among others. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse (Abrams/Amulet, 2015) by Joseph Marshall III also made the list.
After Diaz learned about Moonshot on social media, she contacted AH Comics, a small Toronto publisher, for a review copy. However, when she and other SLJ reviewers decided Moonshot was one of 2015’s best books, it was more than a nod to the usual definition of diversity, Diaz said.
“The book is so refreshing,” she said. “It shows us the diversity of the many Native tribal cultures, and it has an exceptionally diverse range of storytelling styles.”
Not only that, but also “the stories and the art—starting with the cover—are so arresting,” Diaz added.
Vanderberg’s ninth-grade students find it as inspiring as Diaz does.
“You need skill to put your imagination to work, and Moonshot’s writers and artists have that,” said Zach, who is Anishinaabe and plans to become a videogame designer. Reading Moonshot has inspired Devon, who is Tuscarora and writes and illustrates her own comics, to put more detail into her drawing.
Liam, whose family is Algonquin, wants to be a teacher and said he would use Moonshot in his curriculum. He liked its inclusion of origin stories from a range of Native cultures and suggested that graphic novels be created for additional population groups.
“It’s a great way to introduce children to culture,” he said. For a dose of cultural diversity of a different sort, AH Comics offers a similar book with Jewish stories.
Moonshot’s content is nuanced and avoids stereotypes, according to the students.
“It doesn’t portray us as savages,” said Zach, who noted that, importantly, segments include accurate language and cultural details for each featured community.
“Moonshot goes deep,” said Devon. “It’s the real stories, uncovered.”
That’s just what AH Comics president Andy Stanleigh was after when he put together an all-indigenous writing team, along with a mix of Native and non-Native artists, to create Moonshot.
“Some of the stories have never been told outside their communities,” Stanleigh said. “We sought permission of elders and cultural leaders in order to include them.”
Stanleigh chose the book’s editor, Hope Nicholson, because of her experience editing indigenous material, including the re-issue of Nelvana of the Northern Lights (CGA Comics/IDW Publishing, 2014), a comic book featuring an Inuit super-heroine of the 1940s. Nelvana, who pre-dated Wonder Woman, protected Canada during World War II with powers including flight, telepathy, invisibility and shape shifting.
Kelly Friesen has placed Moonshot on the classroom bookshelf for her Native Studies program at Gordon Bell High School, in Winnipeg. It has proven so popular that the school purchased additional copies for other classes and the library.
“It should be in every school library,” said Friesen, who heads the school’s humanities department.
Friesen’s school, like Vanderberg’s, has a large proportion of Native students. The exact number is not known in either case, because students self-identify, and history offers them plenty of indications that asserting Native ancestry might be buying trouble. Moonshot helps erase the stigma, according to Vanderberg.
“Presenting aboriginal culture and superheroes changes the paradigm,” she said.
Though Moonshot is aimed at teens, it is suitable for students of widely varying ages and reading levels, said Vanderberg. In the weeks ahead, her ninth graders will be reading the book to fourth graders.
“We need more books like this,” said Friesen. “I’m waiting for Moonshot II.”