Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cheryl Savageau's MUSKRAT WILL BE SWIMMING


One area of my research is the analysis of American Indian folktales that are marketed as picture books for children. I submitted an article on that topic to Language Arts (a journal for elementary school teachers). It will come out in their January 2007 issue.

The article title is "Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom." It features in-depth analysis of two picture book folktales: Turkey Girl by Penny Pollock and Dragonfly's Tale by Kristina Rodanas.

In the multicultural fervor, we seem to think that folktales are the best way to go. It might be, if the folktales were accurate in their presentation of Native cultures, but as I demonstrate in the article, it isn't easily done and the final products can be deeply flawed.

I strongly urge teachers and librarians and parents to get books that are about modern day Native people. Those that incorporate elements of traditional culture can do a lot to help children know that Native people are still here---that we didn't vanish.

An excellent example is Cheryl Savageau's book Muskrat Will Be Swimming. It is about Jeannie, a modern day Native girl whose family lives by a lake in what is called a "shanty town" and how she feels about being called a "Lake Rat" by kids in her school who live in "big white houses uptown." One evening when she is feeling especially blue about being called a Lake Rat, her grandfather tells her the traditional Haudenonsaunee creation story about Skywoman. In the story, Muskrat (a lake rat) brings earth up from the bottom of the lake to put on Turtle's back so the Woman who fell from the sky would have a place to stand. This moment with her grandfather strengthens Jeannie.

Read more about Muskrat Will Be Swimming at this site: www.tilburyhouse.com. Today (July 6, 2006) it is featured in the top left corner of their website.

1 comment:

rindambyers said...

I wanted to share here how I once at a writers for children conference heard an illustrator talk about how she wrote and illustrated an "authentic" Native American folktale. I felt really bad when she casually mentioned that she had gotten the story driectly from a old Native American woman because it wsa very clear that this was not going to give credit to the original storyteller NOR any equal share of royalties from the book. I felt very ashamed at that moment to be a writer for children, felt very badly. I knew that the older lady had given this illustrator the story as a gift. It seemed to me that it would have been most appropriate for the illustrator to then give back to that older lady by sharing the credits and the money of the finished book. Later, I felt better after seeing another book in the bookstore, a diferent Native American story, different tribe, and the author/illustrator shared the credit and the royalties with the tribe. I thought that was really a wonderful thing to do, a truly thoughtful, respectful thing to do.