Before any author can begin to put pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard, there must first be an idea.
When grade five and six Kanehsata’kehró:non students started brainstorming material for a short story in January, Rotiwennakehte School educator and author Isabelle Larouche knew this was a tricky leap the group of young minds would successfully surmount.
“The challenge at first was that the story had to be set in a school and that there had to be a mystery,” explained Larouche. “As soon as I let students discuss ideas, they immediately came up with a ghost story.”
As class was still held virtually at the time, students eagerly took part from across their screens in the conception of the story that appears in the third edition of the acclaimed series Les petits mystères à l’école set to hit bookstores on September 8.
“Le mystère de la zone” is a tale filled with intricacies of ghosts haunting the hallways and classrooms of Kanesatake’s very own Rotiwennakehte School.
“Who better to imagine and write a story for youth than the youth themselves?” said Larouche. “Many famous Quebecois authors are contributing to this book, but I know that we will still stand out with our story.”
The teacher noted that this is all the more true as the collaborative story also includes Kanien’kehá:ka elements promoting and celebrating the children’s identity.
As first-time authors, the group of students faced an additional hurdle: writing a story in French.
“Despite French being the third language for many of these students after Kanien’kéha and English, I knew I had extremely creative students,” said the educator. “I told myself this would be a good oral activity to do, where we could share ideas and then build the story altogether.”
While Larouche took the lead on the writing component, it was students who put their minds, talent and imagination on the idea board used to guide words.
“The fact that they put their hands to work for me was not only a way for them to further learn French, it was also about them learning to express themselves and knowing that if they have stories to tell, that it’s possible to share them with everyone,” said the author.
Although Larouche has been pursuing a full-time career in writing since 2007, she expressed that her return to Rotiwennakehte at the beginning of the pandemic was nothing short of a comeback to her true love.
“Teaching in Kanesatake has always been, to me, this beautiful experience,” said Larouche who previously taught Kanehsata’kehró:non youth from the mid 1990s to the year 2000.
“Today, many of the students I teach are the children of those who I taught back in the 90s.”
As the children’s book hits the stand next week, students will have earned their first collaborators title and Larouche expressed that she will have had the honour to write about a community she holds so dearly.
“People often raise eyebrows when they hear about Kanesatake, which is so unfortunate because there are so many beautiful things and wonderful people here,” she said. “This was a personal objective of mine – to show that Kanesatake is a beautiful community and make sure the community shines through.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door