Kate’s Review: “A Blanket of Butterflies”

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Book: “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson (Ill.), & Donovan Yaciuk (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC and a print copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press | IndieBound

Book Description: No one knows how a suit of samurai armour ended up in the Fort Smith museum. When a mysterious stranger turns up to claim it, Sonny, a young Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy, is eager to help.

Shinobu has travelled to Fort Smith, NWT, to reclaim his grandfather’s samurai sword and armour. But when he discovers that the sword was lost in a poker game, he must confront the man known as Benny the Bank. Along the way, Shinobu must rely on unlikely heroes—Sonny, his grandmother, and a visitor from the spirit world. Together, they face Benny and his men, including the giant they call Flinch.

Will Shinobu be able to regain the lost sword and, with it, his family’s honour? Can Sonny and his grandmother help Shinobu while keeping the peace in their community?

Review: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me an eARC and print copy of this graphic novel!

So today I am starting an ongoing series that is going to happen through the rest of September. I was approached by HighWater Press, and imprint of Portage & Main Press that focuses on Indigenous stories and voices by Indigenous authors, and it was decided that I would read and review a number of their graphic novels and middle grade books. So for the next few Thursdays there will be a decided theme, and honestly I am so excited to talk about and amplify these stories. So thanks again to Lohit Jagwani and to HighWater Press for this amazing opportunity! We are starting this series with “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, an author that I am familiar with due to not only the graphic novel collection “This Place”, but due to the picture books “Little You” and “We Sang You Home”, both huge hits with my toddler. I was very excited to check this graphic novel out, as I like Van Camp’s stories, and I was VERY intrigued by the premise of a Japanese man traveling to Canada to try and get his family Samurai armor back.

The plot to “A Blanket of Butterflies” is pretty simple and straightforward. A Japanese man named Shinobu has tracked down a family heirloom of Samurai armor and sword to a small community in the Northwest Territory in Canada, but when he arrives to reclaim it the sword has been lost in a poker game to a local heavy and his underlings. After he confronts Benny the Bank, he is beaten to a pulp, and is taken in by a boy named Sonny and his grandmother. I think that in a traditional Western tale, there are certain expectations as to how this would go, and I myself had my own thoughts on how this was all going to come together. But what I really loved about this book is that Van Camp takes these expectations and turns them on their head, instead focusing on Shinobu’s healing at the hands of Sonny’s ehtsi, and the things that he learns from her and how it shapes the rest of the story. I really liked how Van Camp did a lot of showing versus telling, whether it be regarding Shinobu’s tattoo’s to imply his dark past, or to use metaphorical visions in reference to the NWT’s involvement in the Manhattan Project. And, again, I enjoyed the more introspective way that the final conflict is approached, and how the examination of connections across families and cultures and the power of both can show similarities that may make us think twice about succumbing to more violent outcomes.

The most interesting part of this story, howeer, was the extensive bits of notes left at the end, talking about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the modern and 20th century NWT, but also that of Japanese Canadians during WWII. I know a lot about the American Incarceration of Japanese Americans, but had no knowledge of the similar conditions of Japanese Canadians during this time. I really, really loved having the context there to explain how a Samurai armor and sword would be in a random possession of a Canadian person, and how the traumas of both Indigenous Canadians and Japanese Canadians intertwine a bit in this story because of colonialism, systemic disparities, and the Canadian government’s racist policies.

And finally, I really liked the artwork in this story. It has a realism to it, but it also has vibrant use of colors and tones, which makes it pop on the page.

Source: HighWater Press

I really liked this graphic novel. Richard Van Camp has a wide appeal across ages, and “A Blanket of Butterflies” moved me and explored other ways to solve conflicts for those who have been beaten down by conflict their whole lives. It was very enjoyable.

Rating 8: An informative but also moving story about connection, conflict, and shared thematic histories, “A Blanket of Butterflies” is a lovely graphic novel from Richard Van Camp.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Blanket of Butterflies” is included on the Goodreads lists “Canadian Indigenous Books”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native Peoples of the World”.

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