Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2024) Featured Review: The Spirit of Denendeh, Vol. 1: A Blanket of Butterflies by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson, and Donavan Yaciuk

  • The Spirit of Denendeh, vol. 1: A Blanket of Butterflies
  • by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk
  • Highwater Press
  • Publication Date: September 6, 2022
  • ISBN-13: 9781774920404

In Fort Smith, NWT in Canada, a Japanese man from Nagasaki, Shinobu, finds his family’s samurai armor at a museum, but the sword is missing. He makes an attempt to reclaim the sword from a local criminal, “Benny the Bank,” but is left for dead after a brutal fight. A young Dene boy, Sonny, brings Shinobu back to his Ethsi (grandmother in Tłı̨chǫ) and the two save his life. As he heals, Shinobu learns about Dene culture as well as a way to retrieve his sword without more violence. 

This graphic novel, while short in length, does an excellent job of conveying historical fact, action, and the importance of reconciliation and restitution. Within the story, the history of the atomic bomb on the Dene Tłı̨chǫ and other Indigenous Canadians is explored as well as the impact it has to this day, augmented by an essay at the end of the book. Based on the real-life story of samurai armor found in the Northern Lights Museum, this story explores one possibility for the armor’s presence. Back matter in the book presents a likely theory of the armor’s origin relating to Canada’s history toward Japanese Canadians in World War II. This graphic novel is not all history, though, and action sequences are enhanced by the addition of color in this new edition. The heart of the story is the representation of Dene Laws with regards to respect and love; Shinobu’s sword is not returned through the use of violence, but rather through respect and empathy, even between enemies. 

This graphic novel should do well with readers of other Dene graphic literature, such as Kwändǖr by Cole Pauls or the collection of Indigenous stories, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Fans of the historical manga, The Elusive Samurai by Yusei Matsui, will also enjoy the present-day portrayal of samurai history found here. Finally, this is an excellent resource to share with teens who want to learn more after watching Oppenheimer, as it provides an Indigenous perspective of the history and harm of the atomic bomb that teens may be unfamiliar with.

-Rachel Johannigmeier

Other Nominated Titles

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The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination.

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.