Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, was the recipient of the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award. Published in 2006, it is one of the brightest spots in that year's picture books. It is set during the time when Choctaw's were forced to leave their homelands in Mississippi, and the relationship is between the Choctaw's and a Black family who, with the help of the Choctaw's, escaped the plantation and slavery. Tingle is Choctaw, and he's a storyteller. In an essay included in the book, he says:
“Crossing Bok Chitto is a tribute to the Indians of every nation who aided the runaway people of bondage. Crossing Bok Chitto is an Indian book and documented the Indian way, told and told again and then passed on by uncles and grandmothers. In this new format, this book way of telling, Crossing Bok Chitto is for both the Indian and the non-Indian. We Indians need to know and embrace our past. Non-Indians should know the sweet and secret fire, as secret as the stones, that drives the Indian heart and keeps us so determined that our way, a way of respect for others and the land we live on, will prevail.”
On November 1st, 2006, I published here Beverly Slapin's review of Crossing Bok Chitto. There was a brief---but fascinating and informative---series of comments to that post. I encourage you to read them.
When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Folktale from the Choctaw Nation. I read it aloud last weekend in my office (nobody there but me), thoroughly enjoying the story and opportunities to play with voice. The opening gives you an inkling of what I mean...
"Most everybody knows about the race between Turtle and Rabbit. But the Choctaw people tell the story differently. They say that the reason Rabbit couldn't outrun Turtle was that he wasn't racing a turtle at all. He only thought he was. It all took place on the day when Turtle grew feathers."
I love it. It joins Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross's The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale at the top of my list of traditional Native stories in picture book format. Why? There's no ambiguity in its origin or in its title or in its marketing... It's subtitle isn't "A Native American folktale." It is specific. This is a story from the Choctaw people.
But there's even more specificity in Tingle's subtitle. He uses the word "Nation" thereby conveying a fundamental piece of information about American Indians. When we use that word, we do because of legal relationships American Indians have with the United States government. We have nation-to-nation, negotiated, diplomatic relationships. That's more information than a teacher may want to impart to a classroom of kindergarten children, but it IS important information for the teacher interested in providing her students with stories about American Indians that come from Native people for whom the story is a living entity. For your reference, click here to visit the Choctaw Nation's website.
Back to the book.
It was favorably reviewed by the mainstream review journals, which is cool, but here's something wonderful...
It is available in a "Classroom Backpack" that includes 7 paperback copies of the book, and a CD of Tim reading the story. DO order a copy of the book, and consider getting the backpack, too. And, take a look at Tim's website. He does a LOT of school visits. Invite him to your school!
(Note to New Jersey librarians: I'll feature the book at my session there in April.)