In Their Own Words: What Native Author Dawn Quigley Wants You to Know

In our limited weekly series "In Their Own Words," we will be featuring Kara Stewart's exclusive book reviews, as well as interviews with Native creators. This week, Stewart speaks with Dawn Quigley about her brand-new chapter book series, "Jo Jo Makoons."

In my August 2020 article Strategies for Teaching Seven Native-Centered Books to K-12 Students, I spoke of a contemporary renaissance of recently published Native-centered books. We are now on the cusp of, if not already diving into, that long-awaited phenomenon. Thankfully, agents, editors, and publishers have become increasingly aware of the need for accurate, lived-experience-driven Native books for all kids.

This past year brought trauma and tragedy to many, and to our Indigenous Nations in particular. But within that trauma and tragedy, in our Indigenous Nations, hope sprouted and resilience carried it forward. Storytelling seeds the heart of Native cultures. Storytelling teaches and strengthens us. It brings us belly laughs; it slices our souls.

I share with you here some not-to-be-missed Native chapter book, middle grade, and young adult releases from 2020 and 2021—their fully unfurled words have blossomed into leafy vines of expression of our hope, strength, and resilience. In further gift to us, each author offers their own heartfelt words about their book and their journey to bring it from seed to fruit.

*Note: HarperCollins's Heartdrum imprint, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, was officially launched in Winter 2021. This groundbreaking imprint, the first Native imprint among major publishers, features a wide range of Native authors’ works that all young readers can enjoy, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country, and on the strength of young Native heroes.

Chapter Books

QUIGLEY, Dawn. Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend. illus. by Tara Audibert. Heartdrum. 2021. ISBN 9780063015371.

Jo Jo Makoons is a hilariously relatable first grader with a little more edge to her than most chapter book heroines. She has unique interpretations of the world, and kids and adults alike will appreciate that Jo Jo tells it like it is, whether it involves Mimi (her cat best friend), Fern (her school best friend), or her teacher. She learns to navigate friendship and the grown-up world with the help of her mother and kokum (grandmother). She has some serious, and seriously funny, lapses in judgment along the way but never loses her audacious spirit.

This fun chapter book seamlessly includes Jo Jo’s Ojibwe culture with a sense of community and caring, language, and laughs, and is the start of a promising series!


Photo by Tadpole Photography

What is the main takeaway you would like readers to get from reading this book?

I taught for 18 years in K-12 and most of it was focused on literacy. It’s so important for early readers to have many opportunities to see respectful Native American representation in schools and libraries. The main takeaway I hope all readers get reading the "Jo Jo Makoons" stories is to see contemporary Native characters who are showing the vast diversity within Indian Country. Also, humor and tradition will be included. So many elements! It’s an exciting time to be a Native author!

What do you wish I would ask you about your book? What would you like to say about the finished product, the creation, or the publishing process?

One of the incredible happenings in Native kidlit is Heartdrum, the new Native-focused imprint of HarperCollins publishing house. It’s the project Cynthia Leitich Smith dreamed up, along with We Need Diverse Books (WNDB). It’s a fantastic, incredible partnership with Cynthia and HarperCollins editor Rosemary Brosnan. Most importantly, all the authors, illustrators, and voice actors are Native.

The first book in my series, Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend, came out May 11, and is about a spunky seven-year-old Ojibwe girl who interprets the world in her own unique way. It will be the first chapter book series with a Native American character as the center star. I describe the series as "Junie B. Jones," set on the rez.

Kara Stewart (Sappony) is a Native Educational Equity Consultant, reading specialist, and writer. She has served many years on the Sappony Tribal Council and the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She was the 2020 United Tribes of North Carolina Indian Educator of the Year and has been a literacy coach and teacher in the public schools for 23 years with a focus on literacy and culturally responsive teaching about Native people. She was the 2014 Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor Award winner for her picture book manuscript. 

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