Saturday, April 09, 2011

Do you read CYNSATIONS? And have you read JINGLE DANCER?

Yesterday I was at Urbana Free Library (my local library) and was happy to see Cynthia Leitich Smith's new novel, Blessed, on the TEENS NEW FICTION shelf. See it on the third shelf? It is Smith's third gothic fantasy. The first one was Tantalize. Next was Eternal. It debuted at #5 on the New York Times best-seller list. The reviewer at The Bloomsbury Review said that "Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rick for teen readers." Pretty cool, eh?

I'm glad Cynthia's gothic novels are well-received. She is a terrific writer. She's one of my favorite authors. Get her books! And read her blog, Cynsations. It is a great place to read about authors, new books and general news about literature for children and young adults.

Cynthia is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the author of one of my favorite books, Jingle Dancer. It is the book I wish I had when my daughter (Liz, who is now in her 20s) was dancing for the first time at home (Nambe Pueblo)...

Shown here on the left is the cover of Jingle Dancer. It is the story of a young Muscogee girl named Jenna who wants to do the Jingle Dance at the upcoming powwow. Family members help her get ready. Getting ready means learning the dance and her regalia ready. Note that I didn't say "costume." A lot of people think we wear costumes to do these dances. Like a Jewish prayer shawl, the items we wear are worn at a specific time for a specific purpose.  With the help of her family, Jenna dances at the powwow.

If you're looking for romantic or noble Indians who wear feathers 24/7, you won't find them in Jingle Dancer, and you wouldn't find them in my house either. That sort of thing is stereotypical and gets in the way of seeing us as people of today who---like other people---have ways of doing things that are specific to our heritage and yet, live lives like other people of the present day. Most of the time I wear shoes I buy at the mall, but that doesn't make me less-Indian because I'm not wearing moccasins.

Back in 1994, we were getting Liz ready to dance for the first time. "We" is primarily the women in our family: my mom, my sister's, and my nieces, but it also includes men who help us get items we don't have within our own families. Liz was three years old. It was right around this time of year (spring). I remember that period with great warmth. Those are powerful memories! It was the first time we were both dancing. Two of her older cousins, Berna and Brooke, also danced that day.

Over on the right is a photo of Liz at the end of that day. (Note: We were doing a ceremonial dance that is best thought of as prayer-in-motion. It wasn't dancing for fun, or to entertain anyone, or to perform for anyone, either.) Liz is standing in front of our kiva (like a church). She's danced many times since then and we often tell the story of the day. When she was in elementary school during the mid to late 90s, I'd go in to her classrooms and the two of us would tell part of the story there. It would have been cool to give her teachers a copy of Jingle Dancer, but it came out in 2000.

As we're all aware, the economy is hitting us in many ways. People are being furloughed and laid off, and budgets for buying books are almost nonexistent in many schools. If you've got $20 to spare, get a copy of Jingle Dancer and donate it to your local library.

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