Thursday, April 05, 2007


Boozhoo, Come Play With Us is a terrific board book. Published in 2002 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this board book for toddlers is comprised of photographs of Native kids at the Fond du Lac Head Start, with two lines of text on each page.

At the top of the first page is "Boozhoo, Whitney." In the center of the page is a photo of Whitney, and beneath it is "Boozhoo means hello."

This pattern continues throughout the book. At the top of every page is "Boozhoo, (name of the child in the photo)" Below each photo is a line of text.

Here's two pages from inside:

The inside cover is a note that says "In an effort to develop culturally appropriate materials for our children and families, the Fond du Lac Head Start Program dedicates this book to the many children of the Fond du Lac Reservation."

Inside the back cover is a pronunciation guide for the Ojibwe words used in the book. And, the back outside cover is a collage of all the children shown in the book. The text at the top reads "Gigawaabaamin means" and at the bottom, "see you around."

An outstanding board book, I got my copy from Oyate for six dollars.

Maybe this book can help teachers displace the erroneous and ubiquitous "HOW" as the way Indians say hello.

Note, 6/25/2012: You can also get the book directly from the Fond du Lac Tribe

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beverly Slapin's Review of Janet Ruth Heller's HOW THE MOON REGAINED HER SHAPE

[Editor's Note: This review used by permission of Beverly Slapin, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]
Heller, Janet Ruth, How the Moon Regained Her Shape, illustrated by Ben Hodson. Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2006. Unpaginated, grades 1-3

Every time I say (or even think), “This is the stupidest book I’ve ever read,” along comes something even worse. Cosmic justice, maybe. Punishment for using hyperbole. 

From the jacket copy:
From the days of early humans, people have used folklore to explain why events of nature occur.
No. Oral stories are not just any old things made up by an individual on a whim; they are told and retold for many generations to document scientific and historical events, and to teach children and adults respect for the environment and their responsibilities in stewardship for the land. Teaching stories also contain lessons about safety, courage, and proper behavior.

From the jacket copy: 
Influenced by Native American folktales, this fascinating story explains the phases of the moon, while providing a life lesson for children as they observe how the moon was able to overcome adversity and build self-confidence.
No. There is no such thing as a “Native American folktale.” There are Hopi stories, Lakota stories, Abenaki stories, Anishinaabe stories. Stories belong to specific Native nations, or clans, families, or individuals within those nations. Moreover, I sincerely doubt that there has ever been an oral story about the moon “overcoming adversity and building self-confidence.” Certain elements of creation, such as Moon, Sun, Wind, Water, Fire, Earth, are sacred. They don’t overcome adversity because there is no adversity for them to overcome. They don’t build self-confidence because the need for “self-confidence” is a European-American cultural marker.

From the jacket copy:
After the sun insults her, the moon is very hurt and disappears—much to the chagrin of rabbits who miss their moonlight romps.
No. Sun and Moon do not behave that way towards each other; rather, in oral stories, their relationship with each other and with Earth are complementary. Although rabbits have been seen to romp, they mostly come out at dusk to mate and look for food. As prey animals with non-stereoscopic vision, lagomorphs tend to be pretty serious.

From the jacket copy:
With the help of her many friends and admirers, the moon regains her self-confidence until she is back to her full size.
No. The whole idea that Moon looks for wisdom among humans is disconnected from anything it purports to be based on. Even Disney, whose animal characters are pretty damned anthropomorphic, doesn’t have them coming to humans for “self-confidence.”

The artwork, if you really have to call it that, was done with acrylic paints, handmade papers, wallpaper, pencil crayons, gesso, ink, and glue on watercolor paper. The result is some kind of faux-Pueblo design elements (Moon looks kind of like Kokopelli without his, uh, flute) and the Indian characters (“Round Arms,” a kind of zaftig woman, and “Painted Deer,” a kind of artist who paints his face and wears feathers standing straight up) appear to have been executed by an Indian wannabe on happy pills.

I guess it could be said that “author,” “artist,” and “publisher” would have had to have astronomical chutzpah to bring this thing out. No, wait! Stop! I didn’t say that! What I meant was: “This is a pretty bad book.”

—Beverly Slapin

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reader's Theater: Cynthia Leitich Smith's INDIAN SHOES

"Reader's Theater" is growing in popularity in school classrooms. In one form, a story from a favorite book is written up like a script. Children are assigned parts, and they read from the script. It adds to their experience with the story.

Over the weekend, I read Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations and saw that a colleague, Sylvia Vardell, has written a reader's theater script based on a story in Cynthia's book, Indian Shoes. The script is called "Don't Forget the Pants." It has three speaking parts: Ray, Grampa Halfmoon, Jonah, Best Man, and the Narrator.

I love Indian Shoes. The book is actually six short stories about Ray, a Cherokee-Seminole kid who lives in Chicago with his grandfather. Smith weaves in things that will have special appeal to kids in Chicago. Ray and Grampa, for example, "rode the rattling elevated train to Wrigley Field and watched the Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals," but it also tugs on kids who know life in Oklahoma, where Ray's Aunt Wilhelmina is.

And, it provides the opportunity to talk about why Ray lives in Chicago instead of Oklahoma... For readers unfamiliar with Native history, there was a government program in the 1950s designed to break-down Native culture by moving families to the big city. Called "Relocation," American Indians were were promised job training and "the American dream." But like most government programs designed to assimilate American Indians, it feel short. Families were more or less on their own. Support was non-existent, conditions were harsh. As a result, Native families came together in all the major cities where they were relocated, forming American Indian Centers. There's one in Chicago. You can visit their website and learn about it here.

(Note on Sylvia Vardell: She is a professor at Texas Women's University. Her blog, "Poetry for Children" is a great resource for poetry for children and young adults. Her entry on March 24th, for example, included teaching strategies. (Note: she doesn't blog specifically about American Indian poetry.)