age range: 4 – 7 years
topics / themes: home, family, belonging, Native communities
Laurel Goodluck’s website
This matter-of-fact yet poignant story brings that [family] bond to vivid life. A sweet story of friendship, family, and community.
— Kirkus Reviews
The story is a familiar one, but Goodluck, who has an intertribal background of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian, weaves in cultural details that bring a cheerful freshness and situate the cousins fully within both their family and their Native experience.
— Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Forever Cousins is tribally specific. Both, the author and illustrator, are Native. The story is set in the present day. It can–and should be–read year-round (not confined to a heritage month or day). It is getting a ‘highly recommended’ label from me, but my enthusiasm for the book is much more than a ‘highly recommended’ label conveys. With this story and the note, Goodluck and Nelson give teachers or parents information that they can carry with them when they close this book and choose another one that features Native people. They see us as people who live in a city or on a reservation. They can see us as people whose identities and lives as Native people are central to who we are, and who share the same sorts of joys and fears that kids of other cultures do, too. Forever Cousins is one of the best books I’ve read. I’m delighted to read it, to write about it, and to recommend it to everyone.
— Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature; Highly Recommended
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Please tell us about your book.
Thanks for talking about Forever Cousins, Caroline. I remember my first SCBWI-NM conference in Albuquerque, where I met you. I thought I’d be on my way if I could have an ounce of your confidence and skill of craft. Thank you for your inspiration!
Laurie, that is truly one of the kindest things I’ve ever been told. I have been so impressed watching your career take off these last few years. Thank you for sharing your first book with my readers!
Forever Cousins is my debut picture book with award-winning illustrator Jonathan Nelson (Diné), published by Charlesbridge on October 4, 2022. It has been named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. It was an honor to be selected and realize that editors read my story before it was published and found it worthy of a “best of list.”
In Forever Cousins, Kara and Amanda are cousins who grow up together in the city as best friends, but then one of them moves back home to the Rez (reservation). The cousins are sad and miss each other throughout their year apart. Then, it is time for the family reunion; each wonders if her cousin will be happy to see her and if they will remember how to be together again.
The modern-day story also highlights how Native children navigate a sense of belonging in the city and the Rez. The common thread of a strong and loving family and culture ties them together no matter where they live.
This contemporary story also resonates with all children who experience loving best-friend relationships that endure and inevitably change.
What inspired you to write this story?
First, I am a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and an Alaskan native citizen of the Tsimshian Nation. I am inspired to tell modern Native-themed stories that reflect Native children’s cultural experiences and everyday life, showing Native children that they have a unique and powerful perspective. Most of my forthcoming books reflect universal themes all children can relate to, such as friendship, prominent families, special days, intergenerational love, misunderstandings, etc. While a couple of my books are themed entirely on Native culture, this can open up new perspectives for non-native readers.
Like most writers, my childhood experiences inspired Forever Cousins. I was lucky to grow up in a very close family and a community full of cousins who were best friends and grew up like sisters and brothers. Like my sister and me, most of my cousins were born in the city (suburbia) in California; in contrast, our parents were born in our tribal homelands, also called our Nations or reservations (Rez in the story).
I wanted to show how our dedicated family, full of love and strong cultural traditions, kept us bonded through life changes. I also felt it necessary to deliver that Native children can have two equally essential communities that we consider “home.”
Could you share with readers a few interesting tidbits about your writing process with this book?
Oh, my goodness, where do I start with my writing process on this book? First, I was very new to writing. I was still learning the craft and busy taking online courses at Storyteller Academy. I also had a mentor through We Need Diverse Books, who was so helpful in steering me towards a new community of Native kidlit writers/illustrators and conferences. I attended Kweli, The Color of Children’s Conference in New York City, and a Native Writing Intensive workshop. All this support improved my confidence, forwarded my craft, and helped me tune up my picture book writing. An editor at Charlesbridge asked me to submit my manuscript, Forever Cousins.
I wrote and edited Forever Cousins during the first year of Covid, and I still wonder how I accomplished this. I worked full-time at my husband’s medical office as a Practice Manager. Simultaneously, I was educating myself, staff, and patients on Coronavirus. We eventually closed our office at the end of the year, and I had two more of my picture books acquired.
It took me a whole year to escape this manic mindset and learn I could take a breath and be a full-time writer as my only responsibility. My husband misses his office and patients, but after a lifetime of endless doctor hours, he deserves the enjoyment of retirement.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
How to introduce an unfamiliar setting is a great question. As a new writer, I didn’t want to explain my culture, yet all readers should be able to understand the story. I asked myself, where do I draw the line?
I needed to keep true to my goal of portraying Native people in modern settings. And Native people’s culture is part of their everyday life. So, I didn’t need to do any cultural explaining, but I needed to intertwine culture into the story as naturally as we do in real life. I intended to show and not tell.
Next, I want the adult reading the book to access the story’s inspiration. The deeper meaning stems from my family and tribal history. I realized the power of backmatter. Eighty percent of Native American history curricula in the schools do not go past the 1890s, so modern Native history is critical to relay. As Native people, we’re often thought of in the past and not living here in the present, yet our history is American history.
The back matter in Forever Cousins explores the federal government policy of assimilation that brought Native families from their homelands to the city. Today over 80% of the Native population lives in the city away from their homelands. It was another devastating U.S. policy to shrink Native land further by removal to erase our culture.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are several topics that Forever Cousins will make a perfect fit for the classroom—first, exploring the elements and emotions when a friend or family member moves away. The students can identify how Kara and Amanda handled the separation, then further brainstorm and discuss other strategies to support this life event.
In the story, Kara and Amanda write to one another on postcards to stay in touch when they’re far apart. Teachers can utilize postcards as a writing exercise.
The cultural aspects of the book also provide many lessons for the classroom. The family is from the Hidatsa Nation, so that students can learn about the modern life of the tribe today and its history. There is also a ceremony in the book where students can explore the meaning and implications of keeping a family connected.
The most essential is the back matter in Forever Cousins. It identifies that modern Native history is not shared in educational curricula, thus leaving out actual events, such as the Native American Relocation Act in the 1950s. Students must learn all history, and new Native writers bring history to the classroom with our children’s books.
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