Navajo author and illustrator wins Native American Children’s Literature Award for his book “Herizon”
Through Jenna Kunze
Daniel Vandever, Diné, believes that the future is female, indigenous and from the generations that preceded her. Vandever, along with artist Diné Corey Begay, won the American Indian Youth Literature Award for their book Herizon, which follows a Diné girl’s journey across the Navajo Nation to herd her grandmother’s sheep. the award honors Indigenous writers and illustrators for the best work that portrays Indigenous peoples “in the fullness of their humanity”.
Both men said Indigenous News Online they drew on personal experiences to bring the story to life: Vandever of spending his summers in Haystack, New Mexico, helping his grandmother herd sheep, and Begay of remembering the landscape of northern Arizona and its exaggerated colors around which he grew up.
“I remember being out in the pasture with my male cousins, where a lot of the female cousins stayed home to clean the house and do the dishes,” Vandever said. Indigenous News Online. Today, the United States has its first-ever female Indigenous cabinet member, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo). “As an uncle with several nieces, I wanted to write something that could inspire (and) speak to this movement away from the kitchen, so to speak,” he said.
It aims to show the importance of indigenous knowledge and the transfer of skills and values from one generation to the next.
As a former educator, Vandever was very intentional in his decision to tell the story without words to reach young readers. The book includes talking points throughout and a cultural key in the back for readers to learn the importance of sheep farming, the meaning of a Navajo bun, and more.
Certain details, such as the depiction of an intergenerational family unit and the decision to give the girl’s magical scarf a deep red, were meant to be thought-provoking and spark conversations, Vandever said. These two details were specifically a nod to the Indian Child Welfare Act and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“With ICWA, there is often a misunderstanding of what the family unit is,” he said. “I thought that might be a good place to start talking about…normalizing that kids often live with their grandparents or in a household with their grandparents.”
He said the book is wordless to let readers interpret and discuss the story for themselves.
“I think this book is written by me, so to speak, but it’s really written by anybody, in a sense,” he said. “What is their story ?”
Begay, who got his start as a graffiti artist, first collaborated with Vandever on their first book, published in 2017, Get in line, Holden!. The story follows a young Navajo boy through his day at boarding school.
He said this book was an opportunity to honor Diné mothers, sisters, nieces and grandmothers. He illustrated the book with bright colors and a landscape that are characters themselves.
“A lot of these landscapes are from anything I’ve seen on Navajo Nation,” Begay said. Indigenous News Online. “It’s not just random colors. These are colors that I have seen in the landscape before. I just stare a little longer than most people.
The book was self-published by Vandever’s company, South of Sunrise Creative. Vandever said the publishers suggested he put words to the book, which ultimately encouraged him to self-publish.
“I took it as a task to keep the process authentic and to keep my message uncompromising,” he said. “I think it just proves that we not only have stories to tell, but we have stories that we can create, package and deliver on our own, without anyone else altering what that story might be. “
To order a copy of Herizon, visit https://www.southofsunrisecreative.com/.
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