Friday, April 20, 2007


Several weeks ago I wrote about Richard Van Camp’s novel, The Lesser Blessed, which I recommend for YA readers. Today I want to call your attention to his picture book, What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? It joins Jingle Dancer and The Good Luck Cat as my favorite picture books by and about American Indians.

Published in 1998 by Children’s Book Press, it is beautiful, funny, and engaging. Van Camp’s style of writing, paired with George Littlechild’s art make for an irresistible read.

You’ll learn about the Dogrib people (First Nations, Canada)...  Where they are, some of their words, and, life in the Northwest Territories. It is that life in the Northwest Territories that the book opens with:

Today it is forty below
in my hometown of Fort Smith
in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
It is winter and I am cold.
Not even my long johns and parka
can help me today.

It is so cold the ravens refuse to fly.
My dog, Holmes, refuses to bark.
My dad’s truck, which we call
the “Green Death,” refuses to start
and I cannot go outside.

Lively and rich, isn’t it? And funny! It continues that way, throughout the book. I love reading this book, feeling Van Camp's words, and studying Littlechild's illustrations. Get a copy, and, look, for example, at the page where Van Camp talks about being half Indian and half white, and how Littlechild illustrates that line. Lots to think and talk about!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Putting Lucy Pretty Eagle to Rest," by Barbara Landis

A character in Anne Rinaldi's white-washed portrayal of American Indian Boarding schools is Lucy Pretty Eagle. In our extensive review of Rinaldi's book, we provide some information about Lucy Pretty Eagle.

A newly published book, Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, edited by Clifford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc, includes a chapter titled "Putting Lucy Pretty Eagle to Rest." It is written by Barbara C. Landis, of the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rinaldi's book is set at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Carlisle. Barbara is one of the eight co-authors of our review.

Teachers interested in developing or revising lesson plans about American Indian Boarding Schools will find Barbara's chapter useful, particularly as they engage questions regarding what an author does when creating a character, how/why an author might use a real person as a character in a book, how that character's family (in this case tribal nation, and American Indians) might feel about that use, etc.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jodi Picoult and Native Mascots

My daughter and I read aloud to each other, something we've done since she was little (she's now a senior in high school). Last week we picked up Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper and started reading.

One of the characters in the novel is a lawyer named Campbell. On page 116, he says:

  • I'm remarkably calm, really, until the principal of Ponaganset High School starts to give me a telephone lecture on political correctness. "For God's sake," he sputters. "What kind of message does it send when a group of Native American students names their intramural basketball league "The Whiteys'?"
  • I imagine it sends the same message that you did when you picked the Chieftains as your school mascot."
  • "We've been the Ponaganset Chieftains since 1970," the principal argues.
  • "Yes, and they've been members of the Narragansett tribe since they were born."
  • "It's derogatory. And politically incorrect."

Reading that passage gave me pause.

Obviously Picoult knows something about mascot issues. I looked up her website, and on the Q&A page, there is a question about her research. She says she is meticulous about it, and mentioned that, for Vanishing Acts, she "went to the Hopi reservation to attend their private katsina dances." So now, I'm curious about that book, and have many questions about her trip to the Hopi reservation, and what/why/how she used what she learned in the book. The mascot material in My Sister's Keeper is fine, but the subject matter of Hopi dance.... I'm not sure. If anyone has read that book and is willing to share, please do!

[I was reading aloud to Liz while she worked on a pictorial beading project. A few weeks ago, the guest artist at UIUC's Native American House was Teri Greeves, whose beadwork is internationally acclaimed. If you want to see some of her work, go here. It is not what you'd expect when you hear "Native beadworker."]