Meeting new people isn't easy. For Amik the beaver, the character at the heart of Nancy Cooper's picture book Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome (Owlkids Books, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley) a visit from cousins is an exciting occasion.
But for her little sister Nishiime, the lively and unfamiliar visitors, even family, send her into hiding. As Amik searches for her sister in the woods, each animal she meets is glad to see her – because beavers like Amik are a helpful presence for countless creatures. A fish thanks Amik for digging muddy channels that fill with water and let them travel, while a deer thanks her for felling trees and thereby providing snacks of the tastiest, highest leaves.
Each animal is introduced with Anishinaabe names and an eye to Indigenous perspectives that honour the interconnectedness of the natural world and the ways in which community members support one another. At the same time, the search for the shy and impish Nishiime entertains readers, who will spot her peeking out of the background of Amik's exploration. Celebrating Indigenous language and storytelling—and of course, the industrious beaver itself—Biindigen! is a gently funny, relatable adventure story about helping one another, overcoming shyness, and the magic of the natural world that will charm young readers and adult caregivers alike.
To celebrate Biindigen!'s forthcoming publication in March 2023, we asked Nancy to take on our Dirty Dozen challenge, where writers share 12 unexpected facts about themselves.
She gave us a dozen great details, from helping us discover what "mudlarking" is to mentally whisking us to her peaceful and sprawling property outside Haliburton, where walking the land teaches her something new each time.
The Dirty Dozen with Nancy Cooper:
1. Biindigen! is my second children’s book. My first one is called The Trading Tree/E Meshkwadooniged Mitig and it is published by Indigenous Education Press.
2. At my day job, I work with First Nation librarians from all over Ontario.
3. I was 14 when I was published for the first time. I wrote a poem about Terry Fox and it was published in the Timmins Daily Press.
4. I lived in four towns in Ontario by the time I was 10 years old. Kapuskasing, Matheson, Moosonee, and Timmins.
5. Last year my whole family lived in Canberra for 3 months. My wife was on a sabbatical, and I was able to work remotely. My work days started at 4:30a.m. Australia time. I got to watch the sun rise from behind Mount Ainslie every morning.
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6. I’m lucky to be able to own 300 acres of land near Haliburton, Ontario. My favourite thing to do is walk on the land. I always see something I’ve never seen before or learn something new every time I go there.
7. I lived in Saskatoon for a year about 17 years ago. I loved the city and especially the prairie. Don’t let anyone tell you the prairie is boring, it is such a beautiful part of the world.
8. When I was 21 I traveled to Europe. When I was in London I accidentally ended up on an episode of Candid Camera.
9. Last summer I got to visit London. The best thing I did there was go mudlarking! [Editor's note: mudlarking is the process of searching muddy river banks for items of value.) I got to pick up pipe stems that were over a hundred years old and pottery shards (they are called sherds over there) from Roman times.
10. The farthest north in the world I’ve been to was Cape Dorset, Nunavut, and the farthest south in the world was Aukland, New Zealand.
11. I was five when I first learned how to skin a muskrat.
12. I’ve collaborated with some kick ass illustrators as a writer. Shout out to Fallon Simard, Chief Ladybird, Joanne Robertson, Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, Bridget George, and Moe Butterfly.
Nancy Cooper is from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation in southern Ontario. She grew up all over northern Ontario, and her favourite place to be is out in the forest seeing and learning new things. Nancy lives in Toronto now and loves to spend time with her twin sons, her wife, and their poodle Joy.