Moms become authors in Ottawa book-writing workshop
“You made my dream come true”
When Deborah Tagornak considered the Inuktitut children’s books she wanted to write, she knew she’d have to gather an expert advisory group for guidance and inspiration.
She found them in her own house—daughter Jaclyn, five, son Samuel, seven — and in Repulse Bay: daughter Victoria, 23.
“My children come first before anything,” said Tagornak, who grew up mostly in Repulse Bay, but now lives in Ottawa. “I dedicated these books to my family. I include them in every project. This was a great opportunity to do that.”
That opportunity came in the form of a workshop called Parents as Authors offered by the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre in spring 2010.
Eleven parents, whose children attend programs at the centre, participated in the eight-week workshop and produced 15 English-Inuktitut picture books which are geared toward pre-schoolers and young children. Those books were finally published this year and delivered to the centre in March.
“To see each and every author get their own book and the excitement around it, that was the best part,” said Lynda Brown, the OICC’s family literacy co-ordinator who obtained $215,000 over two years from National Aboriginal Head Start to offer the program and publish 250 copies of each book.
“Several cried and hugged me when they got their book. They said, ‘You made my dream come true.’”
The books cover a wide variety of topics from learning to count and identify colours to the changing seasons and waiting in line for one of Ottawa’s signature pastries: the beavertail.
Aside from the books which feature photographs, most were illustrated by Ottawa-based artists Norman Igloopialik and Rob Nicholson, Brown’s husband.
Brown said it was difficult getting parents interested in the program at first so she did everything possible to remove barriers: workshops would be held on Sunday afternoons, she told them, with free transportation, food and childcare.
Brown also assured them that facilitator Cindy Andersen would help guide group discussions on what to write about, how to write it and what the books might look like—their colours, textures and style.
A few brave souls decided to sign up, figuring they had nothing to lose, and none were disappointed. The program was so successful in building confidence and skills, there’s now a long waiting list of potential participants for future workshops.
“I was so inspired, I wrote three books myself,” said Brown.
Mary-Ann Appa Mark, who grew up in Iqaluit, now lives in Ottawa and works at the OICC as a cultural pre-school teacher. She wrote Qanuiliugaksat Silami or Things to do Outside, featuring her five-year-old daughter Mary.
“She was my inspiration for the story,” said Appa Mark, 26, who decided to write about the four seasons because most of the northern books she has read focus on only one, usually winter or summer.
“So I already had my character. I just had to think of the topics, what she likes to do in certain seasons, so that made it easy,” she said.
Mary was thrilled when she saw the finished product. “She would always come with me to the workshop so she knew what was going on,” Appa Mark said. “When she saw the book, she loved it. She was amazed.”
Appa Mark said she enjoyed every minute of the workshop and is proud of what she produced, especially because it contributes to Inuktitut literacy, something she feels strongly about.
“It’s so important to keep our language, and pass it down to the next generation, and the one after that.”
Tagornak wrote three books: My Body, My Cat Mitten and Samuel’s Family.
“It was really fun to bounce ideas off each other,” said Tagornak, a health care researcher. “I also enjoyed working with the illustrator, trying to decide what worked when you pieced it all together.”
Tagornak said the books helped to honour her late father Abraham Tagornak, an Inuktitut teacher and Anglican lay minister in Repulse Bay, who died five years ago.
Though he understood that a modern education was necessary for Inuit to get jobs and be self-sufficient, still Abraham cherished his language and culture, she said, and instilled in his children a commitment to their use and preservation.
He was constantly writing stories on an old Inuktitut typewriter, she said, and making homemade Inuktitut books using his own illustrations.
But she didn’t always appreciate his passion. Tagornak remembers sitting at home with her father after school when she was a child, learning to read and write Inuktitut, while her friends played games outside. The family still has some old reel-to-reel recordings of Inuktitut question-and-answer games Abraham played with the children.
“Today, I’m fortunate to be able to follow what he’s done,” she said. “He’s my role model, my inspiration.”
Copies of the books were sent to each of Canada’s other 128 Aboriginal Head Start programs along with a workshop facilitation manual, written by Andersen, and a video which includes footage from the workshops and interviews with authors.