Talking About If These Places Could Talk: Snapshots of Saskatchewan
When I was granted a one-year research sabbatical leave from the University of Regina Archives in July 2019, I was able to move forward with a project that’s been on my mind for several years. The objective of the sabbatical was to research and write a children's book and companion educator’s guide that would help kids connect with Saskatchewan archives and further develop their understanding of our province’s diverse history. The year was rich and the pace was vigorous as I worked to review the professional literature on youth outreach and archival/historical products designed for children, identify a theme and format for the book, and investigate publishing options. With support from a SCAA Professional Development Grant, I attended Canada History’s Historical Thinking Summer Institute, to help me frame my approach to packaging historical information for kids. I also took every opportunity to try to grow my understanding about Truth and Reconciliation to ensure that it informed all aspects of the project.
As my research progressed, I decided to centre the book on Saskatchewan places. This seemed to be a useful focal point given the tangible connections that many people have to land, buildings and/or other structures. I also knew that place would be an understandable concept for children of all ages and a topic that could be well supported by the records found in the archival holdings across the province. I contracted publisher Heather Nickel at YNWP and illustrator Wendi Nordell to help bring the book to life, and was grateful to receive a matching grant from Creative Saskatchewan's Book Publishing Production Program to make the project financially feasible.
Once all of these pieces of the puzzle came together, the archival research began in earnest. It was fun to be on the other side of the reference desk, visiting several archives and contacting others by phone and email. Consulting with people connected to the places was also an important part of the work. I’m so thankful to all of the strangers who answered my out-of-the-blue calls and questions with warmth and interest. Short-listing visuals for the book was no small task as I tried to find photos that would engage children, reflect the diversity of Saskatchewan’s people and places, and showcase the collections of as many archives in the province as possible. In instances where there were gaps in the archival record, Wendi’s artwork and materials from museum, library and private collections were used to help diversify the book’s content. In the end, just over 100 historic and contemporary images made it into the final publication.
When my sabbatical ended in July 2020, daytime demands meant that final photo citations, discussion of design options and copyright permissions became a late night enterprise. It was a big day when two pallets of the finished product, a 48 page hardcover book called If These Places Could Talk: Snapshots of Saskatchewan, arrived from Friesens Printers in late November 2020.
In the months since publication, I’ve been engaged with the new challenge of getting the book “out there” in a pandemic. YNWP listed the title with its established network of stores and online sellers and my house was transformed into a late-night marketing and shipping depot as I approached additional stores, set up a website to coordinate direct sales, and figured out the best way to pack and ship books. After many cold calls, gravel roads and detoured family camping trips, the book is now available in several gift, book, toy shops around the province. I’ve met some lovely people throughout this part of the process, and am grateful to every small business, fundraiser and the friends-of-friends who have helped me with distribution. It’s been nice to receive feedback on the book from children and their parents and teachers, and a happy surprise to hear that seniors are also enjoying it. I’ve also had the opportunity to do a number of classroom and community presentations and was honoured that the book was a featured title during Saskatchewan Book Week 2021, and more recently for a program of the La Ronge Literacy Hub.
Thanks to all of the SCAA members who supported and encouraged this project along the way. Your suggestions, collections and expertise have been appreciated beyond measure. I hope that as the book makes its way into classrooms, homes and libraries around the province, it helps to raise awareness and support for the important work that our small but mighty archival community does. Thank you
If These Places Could Talk SaskBooks Review - https://reviews.skbooks.com/if-these-places-could-talk/
If These Places Could Talk Facebook page - @sasksnapshots
If These Places Could Talk webpage & free educator’s guide - www.sasksnapshots.ca