This month we’re excited to chat with author Laurel Goodluck, whose Rock Your Mocs is out now. Laurel was a 2019 WNDB mentee, paired with award-winner author Traci Sorell; and is a 2024 mentor. We chatted with Laurel about her new book, her thoughts on book bans, and much more.
Tell us about Rock Your Mocs.
I weave “heart themes” through all my books, and “culture as strength” is one of these themes that leap out on every page in Rock Your Mocs. Previously, I ran a Native teen leadership program. A huge focus was highlighting the students’ culture as an asset that can give them comfort and strength as they explore their identity. As a writer, I wanted to continue this theme in my stories.
Rock Your Mocs celebration perfectly fits my mission as a writer. I want Native children to see themselves in this modern world as their whole selves. When I was a child growing up in the suburbs of California, I would sometimes not feel comfortable sharing my authentic self, as I would get teased about attending powwows, wearing beadwork, or knowing my culture.
So, Rock Your Mocs is an anthem to kids everywhere to rock their culture in any way they choose by showing their pride, strutting their style, and honoring new and old traditions as they step into the future!
Tell us about Rock Your Mocs Day.
Rock Your Mocs Day began in 2011 with a young woman, a teen at the time named Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye, from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, declaring that moccasins shouldn’t be saved only for ceremonies and powwows. What if Indigenous people could show their Native pride and use them as everyday wear? She chose November 15, during Native American Heritage Month, as a day for Native and First Nations people to wear moccasins.
Rock Your Mocs Day is important because it celebrates our tribal cultures through our unique moccasins. Native people can express themselves while allowing the world to see that Native people are still here in this modern world. Unfortunately, according to a 2015 report in Theory and Research in Social Education, 87 percent of state history standards do not mention Indigenous people after the year 1900. This discrepancy perpetuates stereotypes of Native people.
Rock Your Mocs Day steadily grew in popularity when Jessica involved Emergence Productions to spread the celebration across the United States, Canada, and worldwide. Schoolchildren and adults began to wear their mocs on November 15. Eventually, the organizers selected an entire week in November for Rock Your Mocs events. This year, it is November 12 – 18.
I’ll be forever grateful for being guided by Traci Sorell in 2019 as a mentor through WNDB in the Picture Book category. With Traci’s support, I honed my craft. The year was life changing as I connected with a person who deeply understood all I faced as a diverse Native writer. Traci shared all her valuable resources and introduced me to like-minded creatives and allies. I felt like I was launched and ready to soar after this valuable year.
I hope to be a good listener to my mentee this 2024 year. I’d like to hear their goals and help them explore their writing mission, which can drive their craft and path. I’ll share my stages of creating a picture book, from developing ideas, building the ideas into a story, structuring, writing, and then re-writing and re-writing!
I look forward to making this new connection, sharing resources, and introducing them to good people and organizations in the industry.
You attended a WNDB Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive. Tell us about your experience.
Some specific conferences and organizations lift diverse writers in this industry, and the WNDB Native Children’s & YA Writing Intensive is one of them. I attended in 2021 during COVID-19, so the sessions were online. It was an exciting event because it brought together Native creatives from all over the nation. As unique as our tribes are, so were the creatives gathering. This intertribal perspective brings new ideas and approaches distinctive to where we live or from the tribal homelands we originate from.
I had two manuscripts that I was working on at the time. One in particular was challenging because I had two voices in the main story. I was creating a traditional picture book story with a main character and three inciting incidents. And I had a lyrical concept book streaming through. I hadn’t realized I was telling two stories until my critiques with legendary editor Rosemary Brosnan and author and curator Cynthia Leitich Smith from Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperChildren’s centering on Indigenous stories.
They both advised me to write the concept book. I did, and two weeks later, Rock Your Mocs was born. I submitted it to Heartdrum and edited some more with Cynthia and Rosemary. I cherish my relationships at Heartdrum as I learn so much from them. Still, more importantly, this first groundbreaking imprint emphasizes the present and future of Indigenous peoples and allows the culture and strength of young Native heroes to be front and center in all their publications.
Families are one of those “heart themes” I discussed above. Large, big, and boisterous families seem to make it in my stories. Families are more than the father, mother, and siblings in Native culture. So, I write about intergenerational families living together—the family connections to our aunties, uncles, and dozens of cousins. I write about community members who become family because of the mentorship they naturally offer in a Native community, whether they live on or off the reservation.
These families are based on my life experience growing up and were passed on to my children as their family structure. It is also based on our Native traditional family structure. I am Mandan and Hidatsa from the prairies of North Dakota and Tsimshian from a rainforest in Alaska. My ancestors would be proud of the tradition of the large family built on clans and societies to raise our children. While we have been flexible and adapted to changing times, these values have stayed intact. The large family and community structure continues to form identity and shape responsibility. I hope all Native children read my stories and realize they can rely on this structure and cherish it as they grow up.
Your book was recently part of the books held from circulation in Brandywine, Michigan. What can readers do to help fight back? What do you wish the general public knew about book bans?
I was stunned when I learned Forever Cousins was banned (AKA, held from circulation) in Brandywine, Michigan. I never dreamed a sweet book about two loving cousins navigating moving away from one another could get banned. But realistically, the specific book content is not the reason it was banned. I am sure the president of the school board never even read the book. I’m sure his tactics stem from his fear of the changing diversity demographics in the United States— AKA the browning of America.
When I heard that conservative PACs (Political Action Committee) backed the president of the Brandywine School Board, I took my energy and focused on what was happening in my community by volunteering. My good friend Ronalda Tome-Warito is running for Albuquerque Public School Board. She is Diné, and there has never been a Native on our school board. Ronalda is running in District 2 against a school board member financially backed by Mothers of Liberty, another conservative group not concerned with our students’ education.
I encourage readers to learn about your school boards and local government in your community. Who are these people on your boards making these decisions for our children? Are they backed by conservative PACS and censoring our libraries? Most importantly, vote, volunteer, and donate if you can.
Laurel Goodluck writes picture books with modern Native themes that reflect Native children’s cultural experiences and everyday life, showing they have a unique and powerful perspective. Her books include Forever Cousins, Rock Your Mocs, She Persisted: Deb Haaland, and Too Much. Laurel was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, coming from an intertribal background of Mandan and Hidatsa from the prairies of North Dakota and Tsimshian from a rainforest in Alaska. She received a BA in psychology and an MA in community counseling and family studies from the University of New Mexico. Laurel began writing by crafting a curriculum for community advocacy involving Native teen leadership and later for children newly diagnosed with mental health challenges. Laurel lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her Navajo husband, where they raised two children who are also bent on storytelling. You can find her on Instagram at @LaurieGoodluck.