Michael Redhead Champagne writes a book for young readers



Michael Redhead Champagne is an award-winning community organizer, public speaker, writer, volunteer and advocate – and now the multi-hyphenate Ininew can add a children’s book author to the list.

Champagne, 34, has written a children’s book called We need everyone, which will be released in September via HighWater Press, an imprint of Portage & Main Press. Illustrated by Tiff Bartel, the book invites children to identify their unique gifts and allows them to share those gifts. It’s like the title says: a strong, healthy and vibrant community needs everyone.

Champagne has motivated and inspired young people throughout his career, and he has wanted to write a children’s book ever since he wrote his first story, Mr. Big Face, kindergarten. But the book is more than an accomplished personal goal; it is also a logical extension of his previous work focused on youth suicide prevention, including serving on the Kids Help Phone Indigenous Advisory Board and the Kids Help Phone Texting Advisory Board .

Growing up in Winnipeg’s North End and as a member of the Shamattawa First Nation, he witnessed the challenges faced by Indigenous children and their families, as well as an epidemic of suicide that claimed the lives of many. too many children. But he also saw their gifts.

MIKE OFFER / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS

"I hope that with each page that is turned in this book, more light bulbs will light up in the hearts and minds of children," says author Michael Redhead Champagne.

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“I hope that with every page turned in this book, more light bulbs will light up in the hearts and minds of children,” says author Michael Redhead Champagne.

“The motivation for this is how can we reach out and talk to these young people who need encouragement, who need someone who is like them, or someone who has been through the things that they’ve been through, to tell them that it’s going to be fine and that they already have something in them that will make them better,” he says. “I want to celebrate, affirm and encourage the gifts of children, so that they never arrive there, because the average age at which an aboriginal child in Canada contemplates suicide is 10 years old.

“And so, I need to talk to these kids before they get to that age, say they’re gifted, and also talk to the adults and the mentors who are also looking after these kids and say, ‘You have a responsibility as someone who loves and cares for this child to make sure he knows he has a gift, and basically to water the seed’.”

Champagne is gregarious and lively — even on Zoom, he’s contagiously enthusiastic — and wanted to write a perfect read-aloud book. But when it came to sitting down and writing We need everyone, he thought it came off stuffy and robotic – nothing like his high-energy talks. And so, he imagined himself in front of an audience full of children and recorded himself talking.

It is therefore not surprising that We need everyone borrows an exercise he did at public speaking events with school children: how to identify your gift in three steps. Step 1: Identify three things you like to do. Step 2: choose one of these things. Step 3: In what ways can you practice and share your gift?


PHOTO PROVIDED

PHOTO PROVIDED

The word “gift” can come with pressure, which is why Step 1 intentionally makes no mention of gifts. “The first step is to just list the things you like to do,” he says. “I don’t ask them to think about what they’re good at.”

But invariably, he says, kids will write down one or two things they not only love to do, but are also good at. “And sometimes they look at the list, and they’re like, ‘Well, actually, I’m good at a lot of things,'” he says before smiling. “‘Oh fuck, you happen to have a lot of presents. You’re lucky’.”

We need everyone is populated by children of all shapes, sizes and skin colors, with different abilities and, of course, different interests and gifts. Champagne tapped Bartel, an award-winning Vietnamese multimedia artist based in Winnipeg, to bring his vision to the page.

As a mum to a 16-month-old daughter, Bartel, 35, has been reading her fair share of children’s books these days. “I think the representation has improved a lot over the last two years,” she says. “When I was growing up, I never saw anyone who looked anything like me, basically.

“It’s really important that kids can see themselves in books and feel like they’re seen and included,” she continues. “And that wasn’t very common when I was growing up – there were a lot of white kids only depicted in the books and not people of all abilities, or people of all genders. It’s cool to be able to help make children more enlightened understood.”


PHOTO PROVIDED

PHOTO PROVIDED

Champagne says working with Bartel has been a joyful experience. “She was really able, I think, to take my energetic personality and infuse it into the illustrations,” he says. (Champagne and her cat, Sushi, appear in the book.)

“She and I believe in the importance of representation. And I think part of what drew me to her works was that all of her works were always very diverse and represented many different communities that were not often represented.

Champagne hopes children will see themselves reflected in the pages of We need everyone and they find comfort and inspiration in its central message.

“I hope that with every page that is turned in this book, more light bulbs will light up in the hearts and minds of children to let them know that they already have within them, for their sake, a beautiful gift that the world needs.”

We need everyone is available for pre-order at portageandmainpress.com.

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Jen Zoratti

Angela C. Hale