“I think it’s a curse to be an adult and to have lost the gift of being silly and being playful and flirting with the magic of everyday grace,” says acclaimed Northern author Richard Van Camp.
“With my baby books, that innocence that’s inside of me that I’ve never let go of…and that sense of play that I have with everyday life, I finally get to honour the world for that precious gift.”
Van Camp’s third baby book does just that, by giving a gift to a new generation of little ones.
Told in short, rhyming stanzas, the poem that forms Little You praises babies with lines like “You are mighty, you are small” and “You are life and breath adored.”
Van Camp says it is a reflection of the part of his being that lives to play.
“With my adult work, I write about what breaks my heart, and I love writing sensual work and funny work when it comes to my young adult stuff and my adult stuff, but when it comes to the baby books, the gift that Fort Smith has given me is I’ve always been able to hold on to my innocence and my playfulness and just be silly,” he said.
“It makes people happy, and if I’m making people happy, then I’m happy.”
The book, published by Orca in Victoria and illustrated by Julie Flett, was born out of a Pearl Jam concert last year in Edmonton when singer Eddie Vedder asked the thousands of fans in the audience to sing Happy Birthday for his daughter. At that moment, Van Camp said the poem came in a flash.
“I just felt this rush of love for the world and for humanity, and it just came like a prayer and a chant and a wish,” he said. “Actually I thumbed the entire book out in probably 27 seconds on my phone.”
The publisher immediately loved it and put Flett to work on the warmly coloured illustrations that show a small child surrounded by nature and the love of his or her parents.
“It’s the first time we did a baby book with an illustrator and it’s the smartest thing we ever did,” Van Camp said. “Everyone’s so proud of it.”
One thousand copies of the book have been sent to the NWT Literacy Council to give to babies across the territory, as was done with Van Camp’s past two baby books, Welcome Song For Baby and Nighty-Night.
“There are very few books for babies and young children by Northern authors, so this is great,” Helen Balanoff, executive director of the NWT Literacy Council, said in an email. “Richard has long been a strong supporter of the Literacy Council and we have done a number of projects with him.”
Little You will also receive its official Northern launch at the upcoming NorthWords writing festival in Yellowknife at the end of May, where parents and their babies will be invited to a short gathering and sing-along and sent home with signed copies.
The book will also be handed out through the Inuvik and Stanton Territorial hospitals, as well as through the Fort Smith midwifery program.
Books for BC Babies purchased 5,000 copies of the book to distribute around the province, too, and SET-BC is translating it into braille.
And as an additional gift to Northerners, the book is also being translated into Cree, Chipewyan and South Slavey by the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC).
“This is about Fort Smith creating its own curriculum and literature and having it translated into the languages of the territory,” Van Camp said.
Along with Little You, Van Camp has a graphic novel on traditional justice, called Three Feathers, forthcoming. Done with burgeoning 24 year-old artist Krystal De-Neiva Mateus, a Diamond Jenness High School graduate and former French monitor at JBT School in Fort Smith, the book is another initiative of the SSDEC.
The graphic novel is slated for publication in 2014 and will be published in South Slavey, Cree and Chipewyan, as well as English.
He is also in the process of writing another volume of short stories in his neverending thread of tales involving unmistakably Northern characters and themes, complete with streaks of the supernatural, moments of violence and the cushion of sensuality. That work is tentatively called Night Moves.
He’s also begun work on another graphic novel called Wheetago War, which connects back to the apocalyptic tales that open his latest short story collection, Godless but Loyal to Heaven.
With those projects and more involving films and writers-in-residence programs underway, Van Camp is as busy as ever, but says he’s no longer in a mad dash for success.
“One of the things about the last few years is I’ve been so blessed with The Lesser Blessed and Godless but Loyal to Heaven and Little You and all the translations, and what I’m doing at the age of 41 is I’m actually giving myself permission to just take it easy,” he said. “I’m not in a rush to sell Night Moves; if my publisher wants it for 2015, that’s fine.”
These days, Van Camp is more excited about helping others, especially Northerners, launch their own careers.
“Twenty years ago I was so hungry to get my voice out and finding my way in the world, and now at 41, my focus now is more on mentoring – that’s what makes me happy – for literature that is going to impact our communities in the Northwest Territories. That is my greatest pride and joy right now.”2 comments