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Massy Interviews / Teoni Spathelfer

On Saturday, June 18 at 2pm, join Heritage HouseMassy Books, and author Teoni Spathelfer for the Vancouver launch of Abalone Woman, the third book in the Little Wolf series.

At the event, Spathelfer will celebrate the power of First Nations storytelling, presenting a story told with powerful imagery and symbolism, addressing themes such as racism, trauma, and family unity through relatable, age-appropriate narratives.

The launch will be hosted at the Massy Arts Gallery, at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

This event is free + open to all of our community, and registration is mandatory.

This interview is part of Massy Voices, an ever-evolving collection of book launches, exclusive interviews, and artist talks that celebrate community voices and the stories they carry. Click here to know more.

Click here to register for the event

Click here to purchase Abalone Woman (Little Wolf series / #3)

Click here to purchase White Raven (Little Wolf series / #2)

Click here to purchase Little Wolf (Little Wolf series / #1)

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To celebrate Spathelfer’s vision on children’s literature and approach to First Nations and Indigenous storytelling, Rafael Zen interviews the writer for Massy Books, discussing how it feels to write about cultural heritage, racism, trauma, and family unity.

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Teoni Spathelfer / Literature to help children see the beauty in all cultures

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Rafael Zen – Abalone Woman is said to be appropriate for readers between the ages of 4 to 8. What are the challenges of writing for young readers about themes such as cultural heritage, racism, trauma, and family unity? Is there a concern about what they can/will understand?

Teoni Spathelfer – The age group of 4-8 year olds is not one I chose. It is one of the options that a book fits into when being listed for publication for children. From the moment I started writing this series I always saw it as a book that children and their families, children and their caregivers and children and their educators would share together. In my mind these stories were meant to be shared with all ages and with children and people of all colours and ancestries.

Being a mom to 3 children I have always felt it is possible to share topics with children in age appropriate ways and did this with my own family, who are now all grown up. It is never too early to start teaching children about cultural heritage, racism, trauma and family unity; these topics can be scary to broach if you haven’t had any experience with them.

If your family has experienced racism, it is not shocking to share these stories with them. I like to leave room for healing from this trauma and share inspiration with children and the adults around them that racism is a choice and we can choose to not share and accept it. For me it is exciting to find ways to make these topics relatable to children.

At the end of the day it is so much more fun and interesting to appreciate all cultures!

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RZ – In this new story, a frightening dream inspires a character named Little Wolf to preserve her Indigenous culture and to teach her daughters + their classmates to be proud of their heritage. Who is Little Wolf as a character? Did you have a real inspiration – someone you were writing about? And why do you think children will identify with this story and accept this poetic dreamy journey?

TS – In the dream sequence it is not the creature that unexpectedly appears that is scary. It is the reactions of the humans that is scary. On many levels this dream is how we can react to people that are different from us, if we let our fear or insecurities take over.

The whole series draws from three generations of the women in my family, my Mom, myself and my 3 daughters. Little Wolf is a blend of these 3 generations, but mostly she is me. My hope is that First Nations children and all children can relate to Little Wolf in the many experiences she has.

Some may see themselves loving nature and animals, howling at the moon, adopting a rescue dog or making a life changing move with their family or they may know what it’s like to be left out of activities at school and or to be bullied or to have experienced racism.

A grade 3 class just wrote to me about how they connected with the book and one of the girls said “ she felt Little Wolf needed more respect.” Children often see injustice and if we can help guide them through that experience it can change their lives for the better.

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RZ – Being a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, what are the images and symbols you bring into your own literature? And could you talk about the importance of local publishers to publish Indigenous children literature?

TS – I mostly grew up with the urban Heiltsuk side of my family and our extended family was also important to my Mom. Mom connected us to our community through visits, family and community reunions, cultural activities and her stories, our stories. She was so proud of our people and had a connection to dreams.

Dreams are important in First Nations culture. I feel I inherited this from her. Being First Nations has also given me a huge appreciation of all cultures, belief systems and faiths.

It is a huge benefit to our society that book publishers want to publish First Nations and Indigenous stories for all ages. It is so important for our children to see characters that look like them or may have had similar life experiences to them in books.

It is also helpful for non-first nations and non-indigenous children to learn about experiences of first nations and indigenous children, it can expand their understanding of our culture and enrich their lives too.

When I wrote this series over 20 years ago there was an interest in First Nations and Indigenous stories but now there is a thirst for these stories and local publishers can be a huge part of delivering these stories to the public.

What we are seeing now is the expansion of a great relationship between story tellers and publishers!

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RZ – In Abalone Woman, Little Wolf worries about the world her daughters will inherit. Is this a concern you share with the character? When parents buy this book for their children, what lesson about the world are they introducing them to?

TS – As a mother Little Wolf wants her children to know about the injustices of the residential school system and about racism felt by First nations people and people from other cultures. She also wants her children to see the beauty in all cultures and feel inspired by this and to celebrate our differences! The world can be a great place if we shape it that way. This is how I brought my daughters up.

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RZ – Could you share with us one passage from the book – that you think encapsulates the message from Abalone Woman? Why this passage?

TS – I need to share 2 passages!

“After the feast, a magical and warm wind danced through the crowd and brought the breath of the ancient ones. In it, the Elders heard a new name. They honoured Little Wolf’s wise and brave heart by renaming her Abalone Woman.”

For me, this scene represents a magical and powerful part of our culture. Being in the big house when this magical warm wind carries a new message feels timeless and it brings a reward for a brave and wise heart that values differences in humanity. It could happen during a current or past moment.

To be given a new name or to inherit a name is so rooted in our cultural ways and is a practice that continues to this day.

“The following week, when Abalone Woman returned to the school, each of the children had brought something that represented their culture.”

My hope is that when children appreciate and celebrate their own culture that this will make it easy for them celebrate other cultures as well!

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