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Chapter One 4 min read

Indigenous storybook creators inspire childhood literacy

Chapter One's original stories illustrate Indigenous themes while improving literacy in high-needs communities.

Chapter One believes “it all starts with literacy” – and that’s why they start early, delivering literacy support to high-needs children at the ages they need it most.


The Canadian charity provides 1:1 tutoring and e-learning solutions to students in kindergarten to grade 3, as well as a free online Global Library housing stories and materials that celebrate diversity. With plans to expand from coast to coast to coast, Chapter One currently offers programs in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon. In 2022-23, 1,700 children received 1:1 support through Chapter One. Their efforts have been effective – seven out of 10 students who received high impact tutoring achieved phonics benchmarks by the end of kindergarten, compared to 32 per cent in a control group.


Chapter One storybooks


CWB’s partnership with Chapter One


CWB began partnering with Chapter One (then called Innovations for Learning) in 2021 to eliminate barriers children face in their early years and provide opportunities to build the foundational skills needed to thrive. Since then, CWB employee volunteers have delivered over 900 online reading sessions to children, including many remote and fly-in communities. 

In addition to reading volunteers, CWB’s support includes funding for 1:1 high impact tutoring, as well as partial funding to develop original Indigenous storybooks that are co-created with the Indigenous communities they serve. The stories focus on advancing Indigenous priorities, perspectives, and world views. Available to anyone through Chapter One’s Global Free Library, they explore themes identified by Indigenous education leaders.  


Meet the Indigenous storybook creators


Each book is brought to life by Indigenous writers and illustrators. Here we sit down with two of them: Emily Côté, who wrote and illustrated Wise like a Beaver, and Alex Peechow, who illustrated Brave like a Bear



Emily Côté: Drawing wisdom from beavers


I’ve illustrated around 15 books for Chapter One, but this was the first one where I illustrated and wrote the story. I’m glad I accepted the challenge!


I always liked drawing as a kid, and I just never stopped. I love illustrating children’s books. You can draw goofy scenes and cute characters, while at the same time conveying deeper messages through a kid-friendly lens.


Wise like a Beaver is about a family of beavers and how they work together to get ready for winter. Beavers symbolize wisdom in many Indigenous cultures. They’re also adorable and smart, so they’re a perfect animal to engage kids. I hope readers take away some interesting facts about beavers as well as the message of the importance of teamwork, not giving up, and being aware how your decisions affect other people and the environment around you.


About five years ago, my dad was looking into his ancestry. We always knew we were French, but he discovered he has some Métis ancestors. Working on Chapter One books has been a great opportunity for me to learn and explore different aspects of Indigenous culture through art.


I'm proud to be a part of the Chapter One program and grateful to explore my own identity through stories that are written and illustrated by other Indigenous people and about different Indigenous communities across Canada. It's been a lucky experience and I love that it’s also helping kids with literacy.” 





Alex Peechow: Finding courage through bears


“Brave like a Bear is the first book I’ve illustrated. My background is graphic design. Graphic design is about solving a problem, whereas illustrating is telling a story. And so, I didn’t know if I could do it. Imposter syndrome set in. I wasn’t used to drawing in colour. I really hadn’t drawn in Indigenous style before. But I set about learning, exploring, and experimenting and it opened a world of possibilities.


On my way to meet with Chapter One to discuss the book, I sketched out a few panels during a 12-hour flight. It was then that I realized, wow, I can do actually this. My advice for anyone trying something new is don't aim for perfection, aim for completion. There are a lot of us who try to make things perfect, yet perfect is impossible. And when you’re putting your art out into the world, you just have to let it go. Let your art do what it was meant to do – and let it impact others the way it was meant to impact them.


Brave like a Bear is about how mother bears protect their cubs. Indigenous teachings say people can look to mother bears to learn how to be brave. The message I hope readers will take away from the book is one of their mom or parent as a hero. My mom is my hero. Growing up, I remember her as a single mom of five kids in Saskatchewan walking through the snow in –34C weather to get to her classes. I was 14 years old and thought she was amazing. I still do.


My gift to society is to showcase my artistic talent and make a difference to others. I’m honoured to be involved in Chapter One’s work to improve children’s literacy. And if one day I have a kid, maybe I’ll be like, let's go read Daddy's story. Today, people I've grown up with tell me they’ve read Brave like a Bear with their kids. It’s surreal, and I’m still a little overwhelmed by it – and it’s also exciting.”  




Contact Chapter One to get involved with your work team


The online reading volunteers program connects schools receiving Chapter One’s 1:1 high impact tutoring and families with corporate volunteers recruited from the companies that sponsor the initiative. Volunteers spend 15-30 minutes reading with the same child each week. Reach out to Chapter One to learn more.