Dave’s work has received positive critical attention since he started writing professionally. Take a look at some of the reviews!
When We Were Alone:
…Robertson handles a delicate task here admirably well: explaining residential schools, that shameful legacy, and making them understandable to small children. It’s a dark history, and the author doesn’t disguise that, but he wisely focuses the grandmother’s tale on how, season by season, the students use creativity, imagination, and patience to retain their sense of identity. A beautifully quiet, bold strength arises from the continued refrain “When we were alone” and in how the children insisted on being themselves. Flett’s gorgeous, skillful illustrations have a flattened, faux naïve feel to them, like construction paper collage, a style that works perfectly with the story. She nicely contrasts the school’s dull browns and grays with the riotous colors surrounding Nókom and gets much expression from her simple silhouettes.
Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression.
Stories of life at residential or boarding school are ones that Native people in the US and Canada tell each other. In Canada, because of the Truth and Reconciliation project, there’s an effort to get these stories into print. I’m glad of that. We haven’t seen anything like the Truth and Reconciliation project in the U.S., but teachers and libraries need not wait for something similar to start putting these books into schools, and into lesson plans.
When We Were Alone is rare. It is exquisite and stunning, for the power conveyed by the words Robertson wrote, and for the illustrations that Flett created. I highly recommend it.
Debbie Reese (American Indian’s in Children’s Literature)
Julie’s Flett’s illustrations are impeccable. The contrast between the colourful and bleak illustrations perfectly match the narrative. The relatively small size of the book makes it perfect for sharing with younger children.
When We Were Alone addresses the topic of residential schools and, just as importantly, aspects of Cree culture and language. There is such gentleness about When We Were Alone that makes it an appropriate book for the even youngest of readers. Simply put, this is a much-needed book.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson, CM Magazine (teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay)
This quiet story is one of love and resistance during the decades-long era of oppressive residential schools for First Nations children in Canada. While spending the day with her grandmother, a contemporary girl has several questions, beginning with, “Nókom, why do you wear so many colours?” Nókom answers by telling her granddaughter that at the residential school she was sent to as a child, students wore colorless uniforms. She goes on to say, “Sometimes in the fall,
when we were alone…we would pile the leaves over the clothes they had given us, and we would be colourful again. And this made us happy.” As the title of the book suggests, Nókom and the other students found strength in quiet moments when they could be alone. Through descriptive language and an effective use of repetition, Robertson describes the seasons of Nókom’s resistance (“Sometimes in the spring, when we were alone… Sometimes in the summer, when we were alone…”). Flett’s collage illustrations, with their simplicity and earthy colors, are soulful and gentle; the double-page spreads of the children enjoying nature are particularly beautiful. This is an Indigenous story (the illustrations show a White person only once, and only from the back); the cover image of two Cree girls smiling out at us celebrates this. Readers unfamiliar with the history of Indian residential schools may need some background in order to get the most out of this story, but all readers will connect with how Nókom lives in celebration of colors, her long hair, her language, and, most of all, her family.
Alia Jones, The Horn Book Inc.
Robertson’s straightforward yet poetic text (“…at the school I went to, far away from home, they cut off all our hair. Our strands of hair mixed together on the ground like blades of dead grass”) makes this deceptively simple book accessible to roughly first grade and up, and Flett’s delicate collages encapsulate the mood of every page turn. Descriptions of the enforced bleakness of life at boarding school, as children were dressed mono-chromatically, punished for speaking their own languages, and prevented from seeing their family members, are reflected with appropriately bleak renderings; in the rare moments children can snatch alone, splashes of color and vibrancy emerge.
Perhaps most noteworthy about When We Were Alone is how it elegantly balances three separate narratives: life at home, in the community; life at a dehumanizing “school”; and, brief snatches of humanity and happiness in the face of that colonial force. As important as it is to teach children the truth about race and colonialism in history, there is a danger of instilling in them a narrative in which Native peoples are necessarily victims. When We Were Alone honestly presents a history that attempted to victimize Cree children–and then counters it with a narrative of survival, humanity, and community. A first purchase for every children’s collection.
Allie Jane Bruce, Reading While White
Will I See?
Absolutely unforgettable! Will I See? addresses the topic of violence against women with beauty and power. The black and white images are realistic, but there is also a dreamlike quality to them. Swaths of red add a dramatic flair, implying violence and death. Will I See? has a strong emotional affect and is best suited for teens and older readers.
Will I See? is beautiful, powerful and dramatic, skillfully addressing a topic of immense importance. Violence against women is underreported, and those who do bring charges are often attacked again by the public. Will I See? would make an excellent addition to a junior high or high school reading list. It makes a great starting point for discussion. It is also a graphic novel that would be good for parents to share with their daughters.
For me, the most powerful part of this story was the pure, honest nature of the interactions between May and her kookum. The day-to-day fears of a parent-figure, expressed strongly and clearly, but with a hint of regret that in order to best protect her granddaughter, she has no choice but to instill a healthy fear. All too often, stories that involve violence against women fail to express this grief-stricken acknowledgement of the tragedy of reality – Will I See? hits that mark better than anything I have read in recent memory.
Will I See? adds to a short list of comics that address the seemingly endless issue of violence against women – and one of the only ones I am aware of that focuses particularly Indigenous women. The need for these stories, combined with the masterful, hauntingly beautiful artwork make this a must-have title, not only for libraries, but for anyone – meaning, everyone – who works with those most at risk for violence.
This book is so powerful. I almost wish it were longer, because it’s so short–but really, how could anyone handle that? My heart beat so fast reading it, the fight or flight response almost kicking in, because my reaction to this was so visceral.
The premise of this graphic novel is that a teenage girl, May, is being led by a stray cat to find unique and meaningful trinkets along her walk home. At her house, her grandmother helps her to make a necklace of her findings. Unknown to her, the found items are from other Indigenous girls and women who have been kidnapped and probably murdered. Some dark forces are at work, but when May encounters her own trial with the darkness, she finds strength from her necklace and the items’ previous owners.
David Alexander Robertson got his point across. He wanted to bring attention to Indigenous girls and women going missing in Canada, and boy, did he! I will be looking up information on this happening and doing anything I can from here. And GMB Chomichuk’s illustrations are so incredibly affecting! I was terrified a portion of the time reading this because the combination of words and illustrations was so strong, and I just had to focus on something else for a minute. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes graphic novels that are gritty, nonfiction, or emotional. Or to everyone, because it’s that good!
Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story:
David Robertson is one of the most important voices working in Canadian comics today. His graphic novels are beautifully realized stories that bridge many divides, helping youth, and all Canadians, learn more about our First Nations’, and our country’s, history. Betty is a wonderfully crafted graphic novel that deserves all of our attention.
Jeff Lemire (Essex County, Justice League)
The murder of Helen Betty Osborne is one that haunts us; as Indigenous people, as women and as Canadians. It is difficult to read through the tears but this story, written with such love by David Alexander Robertson, is a gift. It is an offering of remembrance, resistance and resilience. This is Betty’s true spirit: one that dances as bright as the Northern Lights and the hope that carries on.
Rosanna Deerchild, Cree, poet, broadcaster
When the government turns its back on social crisis, it is crucial that we use art to alleviate the pain and cultivate awareness. Thank you for this book.
Tanya Tagaq Gillis
Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story will break your heart! Betty’s tragic story seamlessly connects to the present day, and is a must read for young people today. David Robertson and Scott Henderson weave these horrific details with immense compassion and gentleness. We are left knowing more. We are left knowing how to start doing more.
Katherena Vermette, author
The Evolution of Alice:
If it weren’t for this program (On The Same Page 2016), I don’t know know that I would have read The Evolution of Alice and MY GOODNESS: what a book! I tell everyone about it and about how it ripped my heart out, tore it into tiny pieces, page by page, and then meticulously put it back together into a wholer, more heartful heart than I had before. What an extraordinarily novel. I cried, and then recommended it to my mom, who’s also a librarian, and she cried, too. So: thank you. Thank you for introducing this Albertan to that book.
Sabina Iseli-Otto, Librarian
So many Manitobans have, like a character in an early chapter, only sped by reserves on the highway. Inviting us into a rich community of characters, which stretches deeper than the headlines most of us associate with reserve life, Robertson is doing a service to everyone who calls Manitoba home.
And crafting an engaging story of one family’s recovery from loss — at a time when indigenous peoples are increasingly flexing political, economic and cultural muscle in this country — is a gift for everyone hoping for a better future for our divided country…
Amazing review of The Evolution of Alice in the Winnipeg Free Press. Click to read the full review here.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a writer for CTV Winnipeg
Is it a spoiler to give away a pivotal plot point even if it happens really early on — say on page 23 — and you really want to talk about it?
Yes, I guess it is. So I won’t reveal the “unthinkable loss” mentioned on the back of David A. Robertson’s beautiful new book, The Evolution of Alice.
Robertson’s build up to this event is a captivating slow burn with just a hint of foreshadowing. You might likely even guess what is going to happen — but you will still be devastated when it does.
Fantastic review of The Evolution of Alice on CBC. Click to read the full review right here.
Joanne Kelly, CBC news
Pulsing at the heart of this novel are the warmly rendered inflections of storytelling voices like Gideon’s, at once reflective, vivid, and vernacular. And at the novel’s core, the broken but ultimately healing rhythms of Alice’s “evolution” – her cycles of loving and suffering, of her family’s living, dying, and ultimately hoping to live anew — bring contemporary experience on the reservation and in the big city achingly, joyfully, and always pungently alive.
Neil Besner, Professor of English, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, The University of Winnipeg
I felt I was holding my breath as I read, because of the great sorrow, mysteries, wisdom, and love in this book. Beautifully written, and such memorable characters!
Dora Dueck, award-winning author of THIS HIDDEN THING and WHAT YOU GET AT HOME
In The Evolution of Alice, Winnipeg writer David Robertson has crafted an important and contemporary story. Introducing us to Alice – a single mother living on the rez, who suffers an unthinkable loss and then has to reconstruct her life – Robertson writes feelingly of casual cruelties and everyday kindnesses. The novel follows multiple points-of-view, tracing overlapping, sometimes unexpected connections of family and community, but it is held together by Robertson’s own voice, which is immediate, unflinching, and emotionally generous.
Alison Gillmor, culture columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press
After senseless tragedy, young mother Alice is pushed to the edge. Held together by her friend, and unlikely hero Gideon, Alice wanders through her evolution with remarkable grace. Her sadness is palpable, and her story is raw and biting, yet somehow soft and gentle too. There is hope in Alice. You will love her and her young daughters, but mostly, you will love the fierce way she loves them.
Robertson weaves seemingly separate points of view in to a chorus of voices that sing our lost ones home. The Evolution of Alice is a story that uplifts, a tragedy not unusual but freshly told, and a read that will echo long after you’ve put it down.
Katherena Vermette, Governor-General–award winner for North End Love Songs
Tales From Big Spirit:
Through eye-catching illustrations and easy-to-understand text, young readers get a glimpse at the incredible strength and courage of some of Canada’s Indigenous people of the past. David Robertson has once again created a series that takes the reader on an exciting journey through time. Robertson’s Tales from Big Spirit graphic novel series is a must-have for all schools.
Renée McGurry, Aboriginal Education Teacher, St. James-Assiniboia SD
The graphic novel Stone offers a powerful message through image and word, and will engage readers in an historical and insightful story that illuminates the conflict that challenged Canada’s very core, and continues to concern us as a Nation today.
David Booth, Author, Educator, OISE/Univ. of Toronto
The gifted talents of author David A. Robertson and illustrator Scott Henderson make the reading of Stone comparable to watching a fascinating ‘mini-movie’…It captures us emotionally and immediately. This is our story. Healing lies in knowing our past, not just of our lives, but also the distant past of our ancestors. The interweaving movements from present to past to present are like waves of cleansing waters in to the present, and back out to that distant past. It’s mesmerizing.
Beatrice Mosionier, Author, APRIL RAINTREE
Scott Henderson’s bold illustrations are graphic in the best sense of the term, richly complementing David Robertson’s terse retelling of the all too familiar residential school system story. In this stark but revealing form, black and white do seem the best colours for this bleak narrative with its inescapable message. And yet the possibility of a family’s or a community’s saving warmth and hope is everywhere apparent, even if it is thwarted or suppressed for a time, or for generations.
Neil Besner, Professor of English, University of Winnipeg
Communicating the history of Aboriginal people in this country is challenging. Dave Robertson’s graphic novels take advantage of an important means of communicating that history to Canada’s youth, especially Aboriginal youth, who have gravitated to this genre. The story of Edwin, James, and Lauren is powerful and disturbing, and is told – and shown – effectively. It’s an important story touches many Aboriginal families. Dave tells it well, and Scott Henderson’s handsome artwork makes the reader sit up and take notice. The Pact makes the important point that reconciliation is about respect…and self-respect is where it starts. A good story is worth telling, and when told well, is worth reading. Especially this one.
Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The Life of Helen Betty Osborne:
This is a phenomenal novel that is written and presented in a way that tells the story in a manner that youth and all ages are able to relate to. You are compeled to learn more and are touched by Helen Betty. The story is told in a respectful yet moving way that strikes a chord with the reader, allowing for truth and understanding to pave the way to a new tomorrow without this type of atrocity ever occuring again.
Kimberley Puhach, Parent, Ecole Guyot
The graphic novel brought to life a real story that is too important to be forgotten. The manner in which it was presented showed how Betty lived and provided many opportunities to discuss injustices in the world, most importantly in our own backyards.
Amanda Tetrault, Grade 8 Teacher
Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story:
With the 7 Generations series, David Robertson and Scott Henderson burst onto the Canadian graphic novel scene with beautiful storytelling, scenes of brutal honesty, and messages of truth. With Sugar Falls they do it again, narrating a graceful and unforgettable story of resilience and power.
Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba
…does an excellent job of handing difficult material. It’s important for youth to understand the struggles that Aboriginal people have faced in order to survive and to read survival stories. This is based on a true story and the main character, Betsy, is definitely a role model. I would include this book in my classroom at the secondary level. Whether or not you choose to include this material depends on your own ability to navigate the policies in your district regarding difficult material in the classroom and your own comfort level…
Full Review Here.
Starleigh Grass, Educator, South Interior, BC