DAVID A. ROBERTSON (he, him, his) is the 2021 recipient of the Writers’ Union of Canada Freedom to Read Award. He is the author of numerous books for young readers including When We Were Alone, which won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award, the McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People Award, and was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. His acclaimed YA series, The Reckoner, has won the McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People Award, the Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction, and the Indigenous Writer of the Year Award at the High Plains Book Awards. The Barren Grounds, the first book in the middle-grade The Misewa Saga series, received a starred review from Kirkus, was a Kirkus and Quill & Quire best middle-grade book of 2020, was a USBBY and Texas Lone Star selection, and is shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Award and a 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award. His memoir, Back Water: Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory, was a Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire book of the year in 2020, and was a finalist in three categories at the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards, including the McNally Robinson Book of the Year. His second picture book, On The Trapline, illustrated by Julie Flett, is due May 2021 and has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. A sought-after speaker and educator, Dave was award the Aboriginal Circle of Educator’s Award for Research/Curriculum Development in 2015. He is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.
Dave's Books, Podcast, and Selected Anthology Contributions
"David A. Robertson has written such a fine, beautiful novel. He manages to combine hard truths about our history with a Narnia-like fantasy, sweeping us into the world of the story while opening our hearts as well." --Susin Nielsen, author of We Are All Made of Molecules and No Fixed Address
"This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture." --STARRED REVIEW, Kirkus Reviews
“This is a book that is rich in its characterization, evocative in its descriptions, and skillful in its weaving together of traditions of the past and life in the present.” --CM Magazine
“[T]he treatment of Cree culture resonates, and the engaging characters and folklore ensure readers will look forward to the next installment.” --Publishers Weekly
“Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, this fantasy is very much its own tale of ruptured Indigenous culture, of environmental reciprocity and care.” --Toronto Star
“The Barren Grounds has a strong message about living with the earth and not taking more than you need.” --Toronto Public Library
Praise for The Barren Grounds
“When someone lives their life in a good way, the Haisla call them handsome people. David A. Robertson’s biography is the perfect example of someone who takes care with his words and speaks respectfully; he tackles identity and racism, family bonds and breaks, with nuance and honesty. The power of this approach makes Black Water an essential and timely book.” - Eden Robinson, bestselling author of The Trickster Trilogy
“Black Water is a deeply moving book about “[t]he experiences of one generation felt by the next, and the next after that… engrained in us through the stories we pass down as gifts.” David A. Robertson writes of kinship and his father with enormous care, heart, and courage.” - David Chariandy, acclaimed author of Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
“A story is a gift, and with Black Water, David A. Robertson is at his most generous. He shares, with candour and tenderness, a personal story of father-son love, deftly weaving it into a larger social and political history of loss, trauma, survival and resurgence. At once intimate and expansive, this is a story of healing and home.” - Rachel Giese, author of Boys: What it Means to Become a Man
“David A Robertson's memoir is rich in lore and insight and compassion. He explores Cree values and ideas and their richness and relevance in contemporary life. He does so by taking us through the story of one Indigenous family's journey through the twentieth century in Canada. We are faced with horrors and great loss, but also extraordinary warmth and heroics and a family who refused to ever be defined by anyone but themselves. A wondrous history lesson about love.” - Heather O’Neill, award-winning author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel
“This is the book I never knew I was waiting for but my whole body recognized when I read it. Black Water is mesmerizing, difficult, inviting, and tremendously gorgeous. It is a love letter about coming home. We are all better people because of the journey David took with his dad and I am forever grateful for having been allowed to accompany them. David A. Robertson is a treasure: kind, honest, and a master of storytelling. This is him at his best, and while I’m not sure we deserve him, we sure as hell need him.” - Cherie Dimaline, bestselling author of The Marrow Thieves and Empire of Wild
"An honest and moving memoir that builds an emotional crescendo . . . .A richly revealing account that is revealing yet respectful." - Galleries West
"A beautiful story of family and cultural ties remade anew." - Chatelaine
Praise for Black Water
"Each spread is compelling in its own way, offering remarkable depictions of resilience and the strong emotional ties within this family. An empowering and important story."
—Booklist, a starred review
"A quiet story…of love and resistance.… Flett’s collage illustrations, with their simplicity and earthy colors, are soulful and gentle…. All readers will connect with how Nókom lives in celebration of colors, her long hair, her language, and, most of all, her family."
—The Horn Book Magazine, a starred review
"When We Were Alone 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 Indians in Children’s Literature
"Wow! Beautiful, painful, and shining with truth and dignity. Bravo!"
—Richard Van Camp, Author
"Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression."
"When We Were Alone is one of our favourite picture books."
—CCBC’s Author’s Corner
Praise for When We Were Alone
"Memories are footprints in the sand. They're defined one moment, but gone the next."
From 'Black Water: Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory'
MY CULTURE IS NOT YOUR OR YOUR KIDS’ HALLOWEEN COSTUME
First off: this article is not intended as a guilt trip. Guilt doesn’t do anybody any good, and I don’t think people choose costumes, for themselves or their children, to be racist or offensive. The thing is, that doesn’t make it not racist or offensive. Even those of us who aren't racist can still perpetuate racism by the choices we make.
I THINK ALL CANADIANS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO TALK TO THEIR KIDS ABOUT MMIWG — HERE’S HOW
The history is hard; a lot of terrible things happened to thousands of children. How can you talk about it and not traumatize young readers? One of my nephews learned about residential schools a couple of years ago, and came home in tears. He thought he was going to be taken. We’ve asked teachers and parents to address these important issues, but haven’t prepared them to do the job they’ve been given. The calls for justice has a section for all Canadians. That’s you. That’s your children.
“NOT RECOMMENDED”: WHAT IT’S LIKE WHEN A SCHOOL BOARD REJECTS YOUR WORK
For 10 years, my books usually avoided controversy, although some of them dealt with heavy subjects. My picture book, graphic novels and young-adult novels met kids at their level because I worked with educators, Indigenous Elders and cultural advisers to ensure the content was accurate, age appropriate and culturally sensitive.
DAVID A. ROBERTSON WINS THE 2021 FREEDOM TO READ AWARD
Robertson is a Swampy Cree author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. He has published more than 20 books across a variety of genres including novels, children's books and memoir. He also hosts the CBC Manitoba podcast Kiwew. The award is given in recognition of work that is passionately supportive of the freedom to read.
THE PROLIFIC DAVID A. ROBERTSON ON RECONNECTING WITH HIS CREE HERITAGE AND PAYING TRIBUTE TO HIS FATHER
David A. Robertson has the house to himself. It’s a rarity for the 43-year-old father of five. His wife, Jill, has taken the family – Emily, 17; Cole, 15; Anna, 12; Lauren, 10; and James, 5 – to the beach, and Robertson has been using the time to work, his usual soundtrack of alternative rock on rotation in the background. (This week it has been the unlikely alt-rock crowd-pleaser folklore by Taylor Swift.)