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Victoria author Wendy Proverbs's tween book captures the pain of distance in the Sixties Scoop

Aggie and Mudgy brings an accessible, unconventional lens to local Indigenous author’s family history

By Emily Fagan
January 14, 2022
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria author Wendy Proverbs's tween book captures the pain of distance in the Sixties Scoop

Aggie and Mudgy brings an accessible, unconventional lens to local Indigenous author’s family history

By Emily Fagan
Jan 14, 2022
Capital Daily is part of the Trust Project
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria author Wendy Proverbs's tween book captures the pain of distance in the Sixties Scoop

Aggie and Mudgy brings an accessible, unconventional lens to local Indigenous author’s family history

By Emily Fagan
January 14, 2022
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Victoria author Wendy Proverbs's tween book captures the pain of distance in the Sixties Scoop
Wendy Proverbs is the author of Aggie and Mudgy. Photo: Matt Shannon (Submitted)

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Support is available to survivors and their families through the Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.

Wendy Proverbs has spent her whole life piecing together the story of her family—and in a way, the story she tells in Aggie and Mudgy, her debut novel. The Indigenous author was taken from her birth mother in the Sixties Scoop, and grew up without her birth family. 

Until, that is, one day in her early 20s, when her next door neighbour noticed a familiar-looking face in the Prince George Citizen: a young girl, who turned out to be Proverbs’s younger sister.

Proverbs spent years reconnecting with her siblings and finding out more about her birth mother, who had passed away in 1976. While completing her master’s degree at the University of Victoria in 2012, she received a memoir that held the story of her mother and aunt’s long journey of being brought to Lejac Residential School—a story that ultimately inspired the journey of the two fictional sisters in Aggie and Mudgy.

Since the novel, written for preteen kids, debuted in November, it has already gained recognition and acclaim across the country—CBC Books featured it as a highly anticipated read this fall, and public schools in Nova Scotia quickly approved Aggie and Mudgy for use in their curriculum. 

Lara Kordic, acquisitions and editorial director at Heritage House Publishing, believes the reason so many have embraced this book is the same as the reason it first caught her eye among dozens of other submissions: the authenticity, exemplified by having the book narrated by a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her long journey to residential school. 

“It was really such a beautifully written story with so many layers,” Kordic said. “​​The whole experience, that journey of being physically uprooted from your home, is a part of the residential school experience that we don't hear about very often.”

In the book, the two young sisters are brought by riverboat, mail truck, train, and steamship on a 1,600 km trip to reach the residential school.

For Proverbs, this trip—and the impact it had on breaking apart Indigenous families—was the part of her mother and aunt’s story that stood out to her the most. She wanted to focus on the sheer distance involved, and how the church and government intentionally used that distance as a tool to achieve their ends.

“There were no weekend visits, and the old ways were broken much more easily that way, because the family wasn't around,” Proverbs said.

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For young readers, the story of Aggie and Mudgy presents an accessible portrait of the real lived experiences the book is based on. Proverbs wrote the early drafts of the book as if she was telling the story to her own grandchildren—who at the time, were yet to be born. Now, she has two.

“It's for them to learn where part of their history is from, and it's also for other children out there who are adopted—whether they're Indigenous or non-Indigenous—but [are] just sort of finding their way home,” Proverbs said.

In recent years, Kordic has seen an increasing number of preteen books take on the subject of residential schools, after decades of books not approaching the subject. And through its use in Nova Scotia’s public schools and beyond, Aggie and Mudgy will bring even more of the context around residential schools to the forefront.

The experience of publishing her first novel has been a uniquely personal one for Proverbs. It was a big moment to share her family’s story and a decade of her own work with the world for the first time, and one that was not without challenges.

The cover of Aggie and Mudgy

“I just wanted to make sure that I was honoring my aunt and my mother,” she said.

“I didn't want their lives depicted in a way that would have been disrespectful—not only to them, but to their descendants. That was a bit of a responsibility on my shoulders.”

Through the book’s publication, she’s also been contacted online by members of her family she might not have reconnected with otherwise.  

“It's brought me back closer to my ancestral roots,” Proverbs said. “I know who I am.”

By telling the story of her family’s separation, Proverbs has found herself with a family larger and more deeply connected than ever before. She’s already at work on another story—this time, on adoption—that she hopes will continue to help readers find connection across difficult divides.

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