For your Mother’s Day celebrations this coming weekend, consider a gift of First Laugh, Welcome Baby!. Think of the discussions you might have with your friends and family about baby-welcoming traditions the world over (presented in the back matter of our book), but especially the Navajo tradition that focuses on laughter, kindness, and sharing. Karl Barth said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” For the Navajo, laughter is prayer and healing. When a baby first laughs, the child is then fully human. In the spirit of my co-author and friend, Rose Ann Tahe (Navajo / Diné), our book’s talented illustrator Jonathan Nelson (Navajo / Diné), and myself, may your Mother’s Day be a time for laughter and grace.
In March, I received a note from UNICEF USA, with my favorite video about access to clean water. I thought immediately of my poem in Water Runs Through This Book (page 40). Every time I read it, I feel a sense of how real it is for this child, these women, that water is life. For so many children walking for water means no education, no chance to learn, to rest, to play.
Walking for Water
Add up all the miles women and children in one country, one,
Walk for water,
Sixteen trips to the moon and back,
Nancy Bo Flood
In their note, UNICEF asked: “How long does it take you to get a cup of water? For Aysha, a 13-year-old in Ethiopia, it takes eight hours. Eight hours every day, Aysha walks on her own through the desert heat to find water for herself and her family.
“Waking before sunrise every morning, Aysha begins her solitary journey to the closest water source. After an eight-hour trudge, she returns to squeeze in whatever studying she can before starting on her nightly chores. This is Aysha’s life. There are no days off, there is no relief.
“Aysha is not alone in the burden of water.
“It is dangerous — girls must travel alone to remote water sources. It is oppressive — this is time that could be spent on education, working toward a better future. It is unfair. Across the world, many girls are carrying this water burden alone.
“Water is unfair, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Water is precious. Water is life.
TRY THIS: A LIMERICK!
There once was a fellow named Willy
Some people thought him quite silly
He put down a nickel
To buy a dill pickle
Slurp! It slid down to his belly.
Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? Word play has no rules!
Laura Elizabeth Richards wrote this silly wonderful rhyme years ago:
Once there was an elephant
Who tried to use a telephant
No, no I mean an elephone
Who tried to use a telephone…
Be silly (like Willy). You don’t have to slurp a pickle.
Try a limerick. Write one with a friend, laugh a little, giggle, piggle.
Choose two words: for starters, try moon and spoon.
Make a list of real and nonsense words that rhyme: doom, gloom, room, boom, ploon, groom, stoom, ploom,
Up in the sky is a round moon
Who tried to eat with pearly white stoom
No, no I mean a silver bright ploon
Who tried to eat with a delicate spoon
Dear me I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.
The only rule is—have fun! Poetry often makes us laugh!
From Sand to Stone
Ages ago, I began as a tiny grain of sand
At the bottom of the sea.
Millions of other sand crystals surrounded me.
The ocean’s water pressed
And pressed until
We cemented into stone…sandstone!
You began as one tiny cell, as small
As a grain of sand.
From one cell, you became two,
Now you are made of millions
Of connected cells.
From one tiny cell, you became
From one grain of sand, I became
by Nancy Bo Flood, from Sand to Stone and Back Again
Quote: Words of Desmond Tutu: “We are each called to take part in a great transformation. Our survival as a species is threatened by global warming, economic meltdown, and an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor. Yet these threats offer an opportunity to awaken as an interconnected and beloved community.”
Make a diamond poem. Choose two words about the earth, for example, DESERT and MOUNTAIN. Draw a huge diamond on a sheet of paper. Write one word at the top of the diamond; the other word goes at the bottom. For each word, think of two “descriptor words.” For Desert I chose “Dry” and “Desiccated.” For Mountain, I chose “Humongous” and “Forested.” Right across the middle, create two lines. Write five or six words for the top word (“desert”) and on the next line, write five or six words for the bottom word (“mountain”). Here is my diamond poem:
Crying and Healing. Water lets us weep.
Crying helps our bodies clean away stress. Our tears contain the chemicals produced by sadness or stress.
When Water Weeps
From my eyes
Flow down my face
This is how
— Nancy Bo Flood from Water Runs Through This Book
Or if you are a flamingo, a whale or an Indian elephant, your tears will excrete excess salt, minerals, or oils to keep your eyes clear and your body healthy.
The poem “When Water Weeps” has a simple structure: the first line has one “beat,” the second line has two; the third, three; and the middle line has four beats. And then the final three lines have decreasing number of beats: 3, 2, and 1.
Water invites us to forget our worries and simply “be.”
When you hear the splash
Of water drops
Fall into the stone bowl
You will see
All the dust
Of your mind is
Quote: Robert Frost: “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
What if you had to walk a mile for that glass of cold wonderful water…and when you finally got it, the water was warm, muddy, and with weird things floating in it? Yuck!
Over a billion people on our earth spend most of their day walking for water. Some, especially girls, may spend their entire life walking for water.
Add up all the miles women and children in South Africa walk
Sixteen trips to the moon and back,
—Nancy Bo Flood from Water Runs Through This Book
We need water. We are water. Over 70% of our bodies and our brains are water! Water is life. Not only to keep our brains alive, but also our world, maybe even other planets in this universe. Water gives us a sense of wonder, peace, and pleasure.
The Waves Continue
Me, on my little boat of beach,
Watch the sea
Curl, crash, collapse,
Kiss the shore
My footsteps wash away, disappear,
The waves continue
Sit somewhere outside, anywhere. Breathe, listen, feel. Close your eyes for a minute. Open them. Write down what you saw, heard, felt, thought. Keep writing until you empty your head out onto the page. Use these sensory words and your thoughts. Write a poem.
Native Readers Become Powerful Leaders
S.D. Nelson, Standing Rock Sioux, author, artist, and educator, taught middle-grade students in Flagstaff for 25 years. I’ve taught at Diné College (Navajo) during my 20 years of working with Navajo teachers. We both have observed again and again that children who have difficulty with reading have difficulty with school. The love of reading—and the skills needed for reading—begins at home when a child snuggles next to Mom, Dad, Grandma or an older sibling with a book or a magazine. Few public libraries and even fewer bookstores exist on many of the tribal nations. S.D. Nelson had an idea. His grandchildren love bringing home magazines from school, especially Highlights, and sharing them with family. Thus the idea behind Read at Home began.
In 2017-2018, our first year, Read-at-Home put every donated penny to work to provide subscriptions to Highlight’s High Five to over 350 preschool children at the Chinle/Canyon de Chelley, Many Farms, and Tsaille (Navajo Nation), and to another 150 Head Start children in Idaho at Fort Hall (Shoshone-Bannock).
We hope to continue to work with preschool teachers, parents, and children and respond to new requests from other Native American schools. Please help us. Every contribution goes fully to connecting children and their families with reading at home.
Want to help? Make a tax free donation. More information is available. Enjoy the delightful photos of children and families enjoying books together. Give a child a year of reading for only $15.00.
Checks, made out to Read at Home, Inc., can be mailed to:
Read at Home, Inc.
Attn: SD Nelson
1684 West Sherrie Drive
Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
Read at Home promotes reading for Native children, ages 2 – 6, with their families. We strengthen early literacy skills by providing high quality magazines to children at school and also offering parent-teacher information sessions. Magazines are given to the children to keep and take home to encourage literacy activities within families.
Read at Home, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Participating in the Poetry Rodeo is something I look forward to for months. You’ll see the joy on the faces of the poets taking part. Not only did we have fun, but we shared inspiration and important information about poetry with educators and librarians, encouraging them to use poetry in their work every day.
Some of the presenters at the Poetry Rodeo, from left to right: Nancy Bo Flood, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell (organizers), Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, April Halprin Wayland (photo: Holly Thompson)
From top left: Janet Wong, Sylvia Vardell, Margarita Engle, Juan Felipe Herrera, David Harrison, Jose Argueta (photos: Holly Thompson)
Such an astounding collection of poets! in the photo above. Clockwise from top left:
Janet Wong has journeyed from substitute teacher to director of labor relations at Universal Studios Hollywood to author of many popular poetry books for children. When she discovered that teachers would like inspiration for teaching poetry, she and Sylvia Vardell published the first e-book collection of poetry for children, Poetry Tag Time, and then formed Pomelo Books, which has published more than 12 books of poetry for use in the classroom, featuring more than 150 children’s poets, with Take 5 activities included.
Sylvia Vardell is a professor and author of the ALA bestseller Poetry Aloud Here, also Poetry People, Children’s Literature in Action, and the co-editor of The Poetry Friday Anthology series (for K-5 and for 6-8), as well as the first digital anthologies of poetry for young people, the Poetry Tag Time series, all in collaboration with poet Janet Wong. Vardell is also the poetry columnist for ALA’s Book Links magazine. A frequent speaker at conferences, Vardell chaired the NCTE Poetry Award committee and has served as a consultant to the Poetry Foundation. I hope you regularly read her blog, Poetry for Children.
Margarita Engle, trained as a botanist, has written a diversity of books: poetry, novels in verse, biographies, picture books. She writes from her heart and childhood memories, growing up in Cuba and then in California. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 National Young People’s Poet Laureate, and USBBY’s 2019 nominee for the Astrid Lindgren Award, the world’s largest children’s literature honor.
Juan Felipe Herrera, son of migrant farm workers, author of more than 30 books. In 2015, he was appointed the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Hispanic Poet Laureate. He is a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant, indigenous communities and at-risk youth.
David Harrison‘s first book for children (The Boy with a Drum), was released in 1969 and sold over two million copies. The first of his long list of awards came in 1972 when he received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories.
Jorge Tetl Argueta is a native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian. His bilingual “food picture books” are fun and full of energy, culture, and delicious food. Guacamole was chosen by NBC Latino as one of the top five poetry books for children during National Poetry Month!
Above, clockwise from top left (photos: Holly Thompson):
We attended, we read poetry, we got the bag! All attending teachers and librarians at the sold-out event, Poetry Rodeo, received a BAG of books! Donation of books from the publishers and also from the individual poets. Sylvia Vardell designed, ordered, and individually ironed on the Poetry Rodeo label on the outside of each bag.
What do you call a roomful of poets? Shouldn’t we have a contest for the official group name? Something like “an exaltation of larks”?
You take my photo and I’ll take yours!
Kathi Appelt, Nancy Bo Flood, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Bob Raczka
At a dinner hosted by Sylvia Vardell, university professor and driving force in the promotion of poetry for young people, we enjoyed good food, good conversation, and burgeoning friendships. In the bottom center photo, note that Nikki Grimes joined us for dinner wearing a handsome cowboy hat she borrowed from Jorge Argueta! (photos: Holly Thompson)
Look up each of these poets and read their wonderful poetry! Poetry Round-Up 2018 (photo: Holly Thompson)
Front row, left to right: Greg Pincus, Brod Bagert, Janet Wong, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Holly Thompson, Juan Felipe Herrera
Middle row, left to right: Sylvia Vardell, Bob Raczka, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Nancy Bo Flood, Kathi Appelt, Margarita Engle, Jorge Tetl Argueta, Liz Steinglass
Back row, left to right: Laura Shovan, Eric Ode, April Halprin Wayland, Ann Whitford Paul, David Harrison
Imagine standing next to a stack of 427 books.
Imagine reading them one at a time, begin in January and end in December.
Now choose the twenty-five best from all these different books—picture books, novels for young readers and older readers, fiction and nonfiction, and poetry.
How would you choose the best?
As a member of the ILA-Notable Books for a Global Society that is our task each year. What a wonderful job – reading books! What a tough decision – choosing the top twenty-five books that promote awareness of our membership in a global world and invite understanding across “lines of culture, race, sexual orientation, values, and ethnicity.”
- Accuracy and authenticity of the people depicted in terms of physical characteristics, social and economic status, intellectual and problem-solving abilities, and displays of leadership and cooperation
- Richness of detail concerning the group or groups depicted
- An approach that honors and celebrates diversity as well as the common bonds of humanity
- In-depth treatment of issues
- Depiction of substantive and authentic interaction among characters within and across groups
- Inclusion of members of a “minority” group for purposes other than tokenism or fulfillment of any type of “quota”
- Thought-provoking content that invites reflection, critical analysis, and response
- Uniqueness of language or style
- High quality as determined by evaluation in terms of generally accepted criteria for the genre
- Appealing format
- Enduring quality
Each year’s final list is presented at the CL/R-SIG’s session at the annual convention of the International Literacy Association (ILA).
Take a look at this year’s list and start reading. You will be turning pages and staying up way too late as you laugh, cry, and pause to think about the powerful stories in these books. Lists of books selected from each year can be found here.
For more information – or to apply to be a member of this wonderful committee – go to the Notable Books for a Global Society webpage.
A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from Percy Piestewa to tell me that her husband, Terry, a Vietnam veteran, had passed on.
Percy’s phone call meant so much to me. Terry and Percy welcomed me into their home when I was writing Soldier Sister, Fly Home, a middle-grade novel dedicated to their daughter Lori, the first Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil. During our several visits we laughed together, cried together, talked story together. Both Terry and Percy have done so much to heal others, to create peace, and to bring people together. They have welcomed everyone to their home without exclusions. Without judgments.
Terry’s gentle smile and kind words will be missed.
Arizona State Library has chosen Soldier Sister to become one of their audio selections for the Arizona Talking Book Library. They asked if I would do the reading because patrons prefer listening to the author. We started last week, and so far, it has been a very positive experience. I sure was nervous!
The audio book will be available nationwide through the Talking Book program. I am especially pleased about this because while working on Soldier Sister I came to know the Piestewa family. Mr. Terry Piestewa (on the right in the photo below) is a Vietnam Veteran. His eyes were damage during the war, and because of recurrent infections he has only one eye and can barely see light and shadows. He wanted to read Soldier Sister, Fly Home. Soon he will be able to listen to it.
How special that this book about families and deployment will be available to all, including veterans, who have diminished eyesight.
Recently, I visited Utah schools to talk about Water Runs Through This Book and the live-giving water cycle. It was a wonderful week!
A favorite moment: I was talking about why we need glaciers and ice caps at the poles (getting to the discussion about powering the water cycle) and I asked the second graders “What is important about the Arctic, the North Pole?”
Every child shouted out their answer with a big “I know this one” smile: “Santa Claus lives there!”
Veterans Day. Everyone has a part, helping or riding. Families prepare all week.
Veterans groom their horses so even the hooves shine. Soldiers from any war or conflict—both women and men—clean and polish tack, get uniforms out, and prepare to ride.
Before sunrise I fed the horses that would stay behind, old Chaco and Bandit. Extra hay for Bandit now, her sides already a little swollen. Good job, Blue. When Gaby comes home, a little foal—a part of Blue—will be here to greet her. Maybe he’d be a colt, a beauty like Blue.
I stood outside and looked across the mesa. It was still dark, but lights were on in most of the homes and hogans. Soon at each ranch, including ours, riders would mount their horses. Off they’d go, riding across the washes and arroyos, over sand dunes and rocky red paths, toward the chapter house, the official governing and gathering place of each community. Along the roads, families would be waiting and watching, eager to be the first to spot a horse and rider. Kids would put up hand-printed signs: Free coffee and doughnuts for veterans.
–From Soldier Sister, Fly Home.
“I believe that although cultures differ, the human heart does not.”
I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with my editor, Yolanda Scott, published by CBC Diversity. Thank you, Yolanda, for the opportunity to share how I came to write Soldier Sister, Fly Home, and why I think books like this are essential for our young readers.
“Let us meet on the bridge.” Tim Tingle, Choctaw, spoke about writing and sharing stories at the Tucson Festival of Books. He continued, “One can never ‘know’ another culture, just as one can never completely understand the experiences of another generation. But that should not stop us from sharing our perspective.”
Soldier Sister, Fly Home, is about walking the bridge between two worlds, Navajo and Anglo. The two sisters, Tess and Gaby, are bi-racial. They walk this bridge daily, between different cultures and generations. My hope is that readers will see through Tess and Gaby’s eyes – see the stark beauty of the high desert and deep canyons, feel the anger, fear, and confusion when one sister is deployed, and face the same hard questions asked by teens everywhere – who do I want to be? What can I control and what must I accept?
I agree with Tim Tingle that even if one does not “know” another culture, sharing one’s perspective is important and valid. The most important research is the experience of participating. Someone once said you don’t begin to know a culture until you hold their babies. I agree. I could not have written Soldier Sister if I had not lived on the Navajo Nation, comforted fussy babies, helped grind corn for a girl’s coming-of-age ceremony, sat in rodeo stands as mothers watched their youngsters race around barrels or cling to the backs of bucking bulls. And then as mothers we talked. I sat with students after class as they worried about discrimination, being bullied, about frustrations with parents and grandparents. I listened.
Another part of knowing a culture is sharing their grieving and honoring their losses. I was teaching in Tuba City for the Navajo College when the war in Iraq began. Many of my students were enlisting. The entire town became aware that Lori Piestewa was missing in action. Prayers were said; candles were lit, “to show Lori the way home.” But Lori did not survive. Lori Piestewa became the first Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil. The community held a memorial at the high school where Lori had recently graduated. Everyone was invited. Hundreds attended. I sat with Navajo, Hopi, Mexican-American, and Anglo, people who often don’t come together. People put aside differences, crossed that bridge, and gathered together to honor the life and death of this young woman.
As the story of Soldier Sister evolved I wanted to dedicate the book to Lori and to all women in the military who put themselves in harm’s way. I called Lori’s family to ask their permission and to meet with them. They welcomed me. After reading an early version of the book, Percy Piestewa, Lori’s mother, phoned and said, “The book is awesome. Beautiful. I like it very much.” Then she said, “There is something I would like changed in what you wrote about Lori. She was a member of the Hopi tribe, but Lori was mixed-blood, she was Hopi and Mexican-American. I would like that included.” Percy continued, “A wonderful part of this story that meant a lot to me is that the two sisters, they too were mixed-blood. Lori had trouble with other students at school. Sometimes it was hard for her like it was for Tess and Gaby.”
How do I know if I’m getting it right? One way is to seek the feedback of tribal elders and academicians, but most important for me are the unsolicited comments and smiles of the children. While reading from my book, Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo, at Many Farms Elementary, this little guy wearing a too-big tee shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, grinned and raised his hand. Then he said, “I am in your book.”
Less than 1% of the books published for children are about contemporary American Indians. Books invite readers to take a look and learn about American Indians today. They are not extinct nor are they the stereotypes presented in many movies and media. They play baseball, do homework, fight with their sisters, and worry about friendships.
That is why I wrote Soldier Sister, Fly Home. Every child should see themselves – their stories, their landscape, their people—in a book.
I also write for readers who have never met a Native American, or stood in the depths of a silent canyon, or had a sister or brother deployed.
Stories invite readers to leave the familiarity of their own shore, stand in the middle of that bridge, and see with new eyes. See new worlds and see themselves.
That is why I write.