Celebrating American Indian Heritage Month, Part II
More good books! Last week I shared my excitement about two outstanding picture books, Red Bird Sings, the story of Zitkala-sa and also Birdsong, created by Julie Flett, Cree-Metis. Her words are spare and her gentle images seem to flow across the page.
Now for more books that celebrate many aspects of the cultures and accomplishments of a variety of Native Americans.
For the young athlete, the picture book biography of Jim Thorpe will inspire and encourage. Jim Thorpe was one of the greatest athletes ever and the story of his early life is amazing. Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path was written by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by S.D. Nelson. In 1912 the king of Sweden shook Jim’s hand at the world’s Olympic Games after Jim had captured two gold medals. Many had said it was impossible for a Native American to capture any gold medals, but Jim placed first in two of the Olympics’ toughest events, the decathlon and five-event pentathlon.
This picture book shows the hardships experienced by Native American students at boarding schools, hardships that included not using their own names, their own language, or their own traditional knowledge. Most terrible of all, forced separation from their families and homes. Children who are new to this country will appreciate the tough and often lonely experiences of young Jim Thorpe. For other books written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson see his website and take a look at the author, Joseph Bruchac’s website. His books number over 300!
Jonathan Nelson, Navajo, continues to share his illustration talent in Forever Cousins, written by Laurel Goodluck. This picture book touches upon the historical situation and continued impact of the Indian Relocation Act but with a universal theme familiar to many children: will my favorite cousin and friend forget about me when I move far away? Jonathan’s illustrations are fresh, jun, contemporary, and engaging. Children everywhere will relate to the emotions stirred up when change means saying “goody-bye” and then a long time later, “hello.”
Jonathan previously illustrated First Laugh, Welcome Baby, written by Rose Ann Tahe and myself, Nancy Bo Flood. The First Laugh Celebration is unique to the Navajo (Diné). This tradition is a child’s first formal welcome into a family and clans. The celebration expresses the parent’s hope that their child will always be find and caring. Laughter is celebrated as an important, healthy, and healing aspect of the human spirit. Join the fun of each family member trying to make the new baby laugh.
Tim Tingle, Choctaw, has authored a number of books that tell a variety of stories about his heritage. In the haunting story of Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, Cherokee, we learn that if a slave could escape across the Bok Chitto river to the “other side,” they were free. The slave owner could not follow. That was the law. In this book a young Choctaw girl who knows how dangerous it would be for her to cross to the “white side,” crosses anyway. She wants to pick blackberries on those bushes where the berries hang sweet and heavy. The story continues. We keep turning pages to learn if the seven slaves who are runaways being chased will find their way to the river and safely cross it … led by a Choctaw “angel” walking on water. Read this book. Yes, it will haunt you in a wonderful way.
I am running out of words but before I do, I remind you of another moving picture book:
For some middle-grade and YA recommendations, please stop by next week as we move into November, Native American Indigenous Literature month with recommendations to keep you read great books all year!