Wolastoqi woman releases first children's book, plans for Indigenous language versions

It took Gail Francis of Negotkuk (Tobique First Nation) years to turn an idea into her first children's book.

But, all that work comes to fruition when she releases it Monday.

Moonbeam is a culturally–based children's book about how a pre-contact Indigenous family names their child. Moonbeam is told the story of her naming while the family waits on another newborn baby in the village to be named.

Francis is a former educator and now an autism resource consultant. She wrote the story of Moonbeam over fifteen years ago. 

But bringing the book to life wasn't without its hurdles.

Francis teamed up with her niece, Tara Audibert, an animator and filmmaker, who would provide the illustrations. But the publishers they approached had a different idea. 

"One of the barriers for my aunt publishing this with a formal publishing house was that they all were like 'We're going to provide you with an illustrator, you can't bring your illustrator'." Audibert said. 

"Tara had captured the essence of Moonbeam, I really didn't want another illustrator" Francis added.

Audibert didn't understand why so many publishers would walk away from a story by an Indigenous woman - illustrated by an Indigenous woman. She said there are probably only a handful in the field in the country.

Tara Audibert/submitted

The aunt-niece duo then decided it was time to move in another direction with Moonbeam.

"She put it into publishers and then got some rejections" Audibert said. " Then I said that I've self published my own works and we could just do this."

And that's what they did. 

Audibert created a logo and helped her aunt start her own publishing company. Francis Books was born with the intent to release Moonbeam. 

Francis found one of the benefits of self-publishing is that she has the power to have the book translated into the two Indigenous languages of New Brunswick: Wolastoqey and Mi'kmaq.

"When I started school I didn't know in English, I had to learn English" Francis said. "When I see the kids coming into school now it's the opposite. They're speaking English and trying to learn their language in school, so it's been a flip in terms of when I started my education."

Francis thinks it is important to recognize the Indigenous languages of each region. New Brunswick being the only officially bilingual province, she thinks that Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqey should be added to the official languages as well.

Tara Audibert/submitted

Moonbeam already has Wolastoqey words sprinkled throughout the book, including terms of endearment such as "t'us" (daughter). But, Francis said a full translation could be used as a teaching tool for a language at risk.

"If we could have the language out there available to them, so that there's resources out there that they could utilize" Francis added.

Francis said she has already had a few organizations and schools purchase several copies of Moonbeam to be used in their literacy programs or classrooms.

Francis has plans to release a sequel to Moonbeam and wants the character to become the Wabanaki version of Franklin, the popular children's book series about a turtle. She hopes that she and Audibert can animate the story in the future, as well.

Francis and Audibert will be having a book launch event for Moonbeam on January 27th at the ARM Book Nook in Miramichi from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM.