By Stephanie Greene, published in ReaderKidz, March 3, 2013
This month, ReaderKidZ is proud to welcome, Nancy Bo Flood. She’s the author of many books including Sand to Stone, The Navajo Year, Warriors in the Crossfire, No-Name Baby, and most recently, COWBOY UP! Ride the Navajo Rodeo, (WordSong 2013).
This exciting collection of vivid, energy-packed poems about one day in the lives of Navajo children saddling up to ride the rodeo, accompanied by beautiful photographs by Jan Sonnenmair and short descriptions of how the rodeo works, also includes facts about the various competitions, and a list of resources for further exploration. Ready to rodeo? Cowboy up!
I was the oldest girl of eight kids – two sisters and five brothers. Sometimes my challenge was surviving. For example, when I was little I wanted to be a mermaid. I tried lots of spells and magic tricks but nothing worked. One day when I was with my five brothers at the lake, I decided that if I stayed under water long enough I’d learn how to breathe like a fish. How hard could it be? Two of my brothers offered to help. They would hold me under until I started breathing, which would be evident when they saw bubbles breaking the surface.
After that near-drowning experience I gave up my dream of turning into a mermaid and focused on my next most important wish – to have a horse. A beautiful white horse. My parents said no. Absolutely not. One night I actually dreamed I did find a beautiful white horse outside our back door and I walked clear across our small town to my grandparent’s to tell them. All of this really did happen, only I was sleep-walking, and unfortunately, there was no horse. But the power of imagining was something I’ve never forgotten.
I could be anything if I could imagine it – a mermaid swimming in the city’s public pool or a wild horse with my cousin, galloping across fields and racing through ditches as big an any wild river. I imagined and then I wrote about it, making it into a story. I was there right in that story without any danger of drowning. Or usually no danger of drowning. I was writing the book, Warriors in the Crossfire, which takes place on an island in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene two boys canoe across the reef to hunt turtle. I wanted readers to feel they were in that deep ocean and were about to be attacked by a shark….well, to write it, I had to do it. So I paddled my kayak over the reef, slipped into the cold dark ocean, and felt absolute terror. Fine. Now how to get back into my kayak? Just like my main character, Joseph, it wasn’t easy. Not until I looked below me and saw a reef shark – a real one – circling. I was so scaredI nearly walked on water! I flipped myself right back in my kayak!
When I moved to the Navajo Reservation, I was surprised to see horses everywhere and learned the people loved their horses. I watched as kids practiced all the skills important to being a top-notch cowboy or cowgirl. I wanted to be one too. For me that was as impossible as breathing under water but I could watch, imagine and then write as if I were that girl racing her horse around the barrels – even be that kid getting ready to ride a wild steer. The feeling of being in an arena, racing after a break-away calf, being on that bucking sheep or steer, bronco or bull – that’s what I wanted to share with readers.
I will admit I had a few close calls. I couldn’t figure out how to describe those BIG Brahma Bulls – how powerful and ornery-looking they are. So I walked over to the rodeo corral where bulls were circling, snorting and pawing. I climbed the corral fence to get closer. One of those bulls glared at me, kicked up a cloud of dust and charged at the fence. I had a new respect for anyone who had the courage to ride one!
Did I like school? Depending on my teacher, I loved school. Unless it was boring. Doing math sheets was boring. Fridays meant taking a spelling test and if you didn’t get at least 90%, you had to write each spelling word one hundred times. I pretended I was a mermaid – everyone knows that mermaids do not need to spell.
Did I have a best friend? Marti Watson Garlett and I were best friends. She could sing and I could tap dance. We both invented stories and had bicycles and took imagined adventures everywhere. Every summer we spent a week at my grandmother’s house in the country. We did a lot of things we weren’t allowed to do at home, such as stay up late, watch TV, eat a whole watermelon – the center part. One night we dared each other to run all the way around the house, yard and barn. Alone. There was no moon, no street lights, it was pitch dark. Being outside in the dark was as scary as being alone in the deep dark ocean.
What would I be if I wasn’t a writer? I am a teacher, hopefully not a boring one. When students write, I don’t pay any attention to spelling. But what I really would want to be is a rodeo rider. Me and my horse would race across the arena, around every barrel with the fastest time. Champions! And if I couldn’t be a rodeo rider then I would be a mermaid, the kind who can breathe under water.