Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jeanette Armstrong's DANCING WITH THE CRANES

[Note: This review is used with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without written permission of the author. Dancing with the Cranes is available from Oyate, a non-profit organization.]

Armstrong, Jeannette (Okanagan), Dancing with the Cranes, illustrated by Ron Hall (Okanagan/Thompson). Theytus Books, 2005, unpaginated, color paintings, grades 2-up.

Last year, Chi’ and her Temma had come to the lake to watch the birds, and the geese had come so close that they could almost touch her. But now Temma is gone, Chi’s momma is expecting a baby, and none of the birds pay any attention to her. And the sound of a loon especially makes Chi’ feel like crying. The cranes come back in their season, but Temma is never coming back. 

As Momma helps her see the continuity of birth, life and death, Chi’ begins to understand that the cranes that come back every year may not all be the same individual cranes, and like the song of the cranes, “her Temma would always be inside of her." 

Hall’s stylized acrylic paintings are a stunning complement to this gentle, but deep, little story. Full-color pictures in shades of blue, brown and green with red and yellow highlights alternate with text pages on solid colors that complement those in the illustrations. And a “cutout” on each of the text pages further lend continuity to the illustrations. Like the traditional faceless Indian dolls, the artwork allows the young reader to imagine the characters’ facial expressions. In three pictures, a small design on the front of Momma’s dress draws the reader’s eye to where the beginning of a baby is growing. And the picture of Temma dancing with the cranes is awesome in its simplicity and beauty.

—Beverly Slapin

Monday, October 23, 2006


If you read comments to AICL's blog posts, you'll see that Fuse #8 (that's Betsy Bird, of School Library Journal) posted this comment to the Oct. 11th, 2006 blog about Columbus Day:
"I'd just like to point out that I'm very very fond of "A Coyote Columbus Story" by Thomas King. If you haven't seen this picture book, you might do well to give it a glance."
King's book is terrific. My dear friend and colleague, Jean Mendoza, has an essay about it in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. The essay, titled "Goodbye, Columbus: Take Two," discusses A Coyote Columbus Story and Jane Yolen's Encounter.

A gifted writer, Jean deftly critiques both books. Yolen is a powerful name in children's literature, and she's written many excellent books, but as Jean points out, Yolen's attempt to give readers a Taino perspective on Columbus ends up blaming the victim.

King's book is a far better choice. Some of you know that Coyote is a trickster. In this story, Coyote is a girl. Here's part of what Jean says:
A Coyote Columbus Story is no finger-pointing lament. None of its characters slouch in defeat with body parts morphing into thin air, as does the narrator at the end of Encounter. The reader sees indignation, not stoicism, on the faces of the people being kidnapped.
Your school or public library probably has a copy of Yolen's book, but not King's. Order a copy of A Coyote Columbus Story and a copy of A Broken Flute and read Jean's essay. You will gain insights that you can apply to other books.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More on "I am part Native American"

On October 18th, I blogged about the phrase "I am part Native American." I will discuss the topic of Native identity in a series of posts. It is very complex, and filled with tension, but important. A statement claiming a Native identity is one that should be offered with a great deal of thought and care for several reasons.

One reason is the claim itself.

A lot of people say it, but, does the tribe they claim say it about them?

For example, I can say "I am Nambe Pueblo Indian" but I can also say "I am tribally enrolled." That means that Nambe claims me. They have listed me on the tribal census.

My family lineage was unbroken by any of the various efforts to assimilate American Indians into mainstream American society, and my tribe is among the tribes recognized by the US government. We are "federally recognized." You can read more about federal recognition at the webpage of the National Congress of American Indians.

I am what we call, in children's lit, an "insider" who can offer an "insider's perspective" based on a lived experience. I offer my critiques, reflections and reviews of children's books, teaching about American Indians, and playing Indian activities from a place of knowing that is enriched and informed by my experiences.

It is troubling to me when people say "I am Cherokee and I don't think there is anything wrong with dressing up like Indians at Halloween." In my experience, Cherokee people who are connected to their tribe generally don't say things like that.

My experience is that people who say "I am Native American and I don't see anything wrong...." are individuals for whom their claim to Native identity is based--not on their present day life--but on the great grandparent/ancestor situation. It seems to me that they are offering this claim to identity as a means to defend their use of what I feel is the inappropriate use or representation of American Indians.

As people charged with educating children and selecting books, we ought to pay attention to what we say and why we say it, what we claim, and why we claim it.

There's more to say about all of this another day. In the meantime, you may also want to read Oyate's statement on identity.

[Update, 12:54 PM, Oct. 23, 2006: Just above, I said "There's more to say about all of this another day" and I want to let you know that among the "more to say" is the idea of "federal" recognition, and "who can write" or retell stories about American Indians. ]

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Native-authored Plays on Internet Radio

Native radio is carried on the web by AIROS (American Indian Radio on Satellite). In November, we'll all have the opportunity to listen to three Native-authored plays that will be broadcast on Native Voice One. I don't know the suggested age for the listener, but think they are probably fine for YA audiences. Details below:

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with a Three Course Feast for the Ear

The Native Radio Theater (NRT) Project presents three original radio plays, produced at a National Audio Theatre Festival workshop in West Plains, MO in June, 2006. Melba's Medicine, written by Rose-Yvonne Colletta (Lipan-Mescalero Apache) features a Native Grandmother who hosts her own radio talk show and gives out sage advice. Super Indian by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo) is about an Indian with super powers and his side kicks General Bear and Diogi. THE Best Place to Grow Pumpkins by Rhiana Yazzie (Navajo) tells the story of a young girl who helps her grandfather fight his diabetes through a magical pumpkin patch. Funded by the Ford Foundation, NRT is a project of Native American Public Telecommunications and Native Voices at the Autry.

The hour-long special will be broadcast over Native Voice One (NV1) eight times during November. NV1--The Native American Radio Service distributes through the Public Radio Satellite System to Native American radio stations around the country. Listeners all over the world can hear it on the web at www.airos.org or www.nativeradio.org

Thursday, November 16 at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m. E.T.

Saturday, November 18 at 1 p.m. E.T.

Sunday, November 19 at 1 p.m. E.T.

Twice on Thanksgiving Day, November 23 at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m. E.T.

Saturday, November. 25 at 1 p.m.

Sunday, November 26 at 1 p.m.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

“I am part Native American”

In recent weeks there has been an increase in comments to my blog. For the most part, I’ve left the comments alone as a place for dialog among readers to take place. Periodically, I will respond to a specific comment or set of comments.

Today I want to respond to a recurring phrase, in which someone says “I am part Native American” and then goes on to make his/her point.

To those who say that here or elsewhere, I urge you to be specific. It is critical that people learn that the phrases “Native American” or “American Indian” are very broad, encompassing over 500 different tribes, each one different from the next.

A lot of people write to me, asking if they should use "American Indian" or "Native American" or "Indian" in their teaching. I write back, saying that best practice is to specify the tribe. If you're a teacher in New Mexico, best practice is to teach your students about the American Indians of New Mexico. Apache. Dine (Navajo). Pueblo.

Do your part in working responsibly to help everyone know more about who we are. Be explicit. State your tribe.