Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer

As noted in my profile, I am from Nambé Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico. Several times a year, we dance. Pueblo dance is, essentially, prayer-in-motion. It is not entertainment, and it is not performance.

Twelve years ago, my daughter danced for the first time. She was three years old. I have many strong, powerful, beautiful memories of sewing her clothes, of finding the items we would need to get all the traditional clothing she would need together. We turn to others in our family and community to help. An important note: we do not wear “costumes.” We are not “dressing up.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s picture book, Jingle Dancer, resonates warmly with memories of my daughter’s first time dancing. I've referenced Jingle Dancer several times on this blog, but haven't given it the attention it deserves.

The protagonist in Jingle Dancer is not Puebloan; she is a Muscogee (Creek)-Ojibwe (Chippewa) girl named Jenna. In the story, Jenna’s family and community help her get ready to do the Jingle Dance.

The illustrations, by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, are just as important as the story. With each turn of the page, I smile, recognizing items that I see when I’m in my own home, or that of siblings or parents… Native art on the walls, a trunk used to keep traditional clothing.

It is apparent that author and illustrators collaborated on Jingle Dancer. Their book is a treasure, one that I love to share with friends, colleagues, students, and others who look for the best children’s books about American Indians. Several professional organizations and associations include it on their lists of recommended and notable books.

Too many children (and adults) think we no longer exist. Obviously, that is no longer the case. Some of us live on reservations, but like Jenna, a lot of us live in cities and towns across the country. Instead of teaching about Pilgrims and Indians this year, consider teaching students about American Indians as we are today. Start with Jingle Dancer.