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Native American
Multicultural, Poetry and Literature for Young Adults

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Read one picture book by Joseph Bruchac.

Bruchac, Joseph. 1994. The great ball game. Illus. by Susan L. Roth. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-8037-1540-4.

This version is told from information of the Muskogee/Creek Indian Nation. While the story is told in many forms and from various parts of the country, this version comes from the Great Plains. The story itself tells of a Lacrosse-type game played between the animals and the birds to determine who was best, those with wings or those with teeth. The bat has both but finally was accepted on the animal team. The game lasted all day and into the night until the bat entered the game and got the ball from the birds and took it through the goals. The punishment for the birds was that they had to go south for six months out of every year. Authenticity is provided in the author's notes at the beginning which also included the information that the game was used by the people to settle arguments rather than going to war. Since animals and birds are used, the culture is introduced through the knowledge of another part of oral history that was passed down through generations to help explain bird migration. The illustrations are done in paper collage format and greatly add to the text for visualization and follow-up ideas. Students can then study migration and make their own paper collages to illustrate their understanding of the text. Even the background colors add to the text as the background changes to black for the night. This book is excellently done and is useful for both independent reading and read aloud.

Read one picture book by Paul Goble.

Goble, Paul. 1990. Dream wolf. Illus. by Paul Goble. New York, NY: Bradbury Press.
ISBN: 0-02-736585-9.

The story is based on the Great Plains Indians. Two children, Tiblo and Tanksi, wander away while the women are collecting berries. As night falls, they are lost and find a den to stay in for the night. Tiblo dreams of a wolf that comes and lays with them to keep them warm. The next day this wolf leads them back home. The story is well done and based on the respect of the wolf in the culture. I was disturbed by the illustration for a couple of reasons; 1) everyone is dressed in more ceremonial rather than daily clothing, 2) all the faces look the same. This story, as fas as I know, is a beautiful retelling of the wolf and its place in Indian lore. The wolf can be found talking in many of the tribes throughout America and is respected for his part in the balance of nature. Paul Goble places this with no particular tribe but has done his research and lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This means that he has exposure to major tribes to include Crow, Cheyenne and Sioux. From his home in the Black Hills, he has probably gotten knowledge from the Blackfoot tribe as well. Buffalo still wander some of the protected wildlife areas in South Dakota so I am willing to vouch for his authenticity except as it pertains to his illustrations.

Read one short novel for children by Michael Dorris.

Dorris, Michael. 1992. Morning girl. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN: 1-56282-285-3.

The author writes this book from his personal knowledge of the Modoc tribe on the Eastern coast in pre-Columbian times. The story alternates by chapters from Morning Girl and her brother, Star Boy. Through their daily experiences we gain knowledge of the culture of this tribe concerning the family, the community and their daily habits. We are introduced to their home construction, their appreciation for the land, and even their community do's and don'ts. While the book is fictional, I would term it a historical novel that fills in a missing piece of American history in that at the end of the story we are brought to the arrival of the first Europeans. This is a fresh angle on the discovery of Morning Girl's world rather than constantly hearing about the Pilgrims. This book leads the reader to understanding the existence of human life prior to the Mayflower or Columbus and the type of societies and communities that were here. We are also given insights into the spiritual world through the hurricane experience of Star Boy and the help he heard from his grandfather while holding on to the 'special tree' where people sat during important times. This book easily captures the imagination of the reader and could also be read aloud as a chapter book.

Read one picture book or novel by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2000. Jingle dancer. Illus. by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books. ISBN: 0-688-16242-8.

This picture book is about Jenna, a girl of the Muscogee/Creek nation, who wants to dance in the next Powwow. The reader shares her dream and the culture as she obtains the jingles from various women as is the custom and practices for her first Powwow. While the book describes the costumes and the deep meanings, it does not make it too cumbersome for the reader. The illustrations accurately depict the closeness of the family as well as the pride in family tradition within the tribe. The overuse of symbols is avoided and the story flows to its natural and heartwarming conclusion. This book beautifully portrays the contemporary family that has kept tradition alive and well for the entire family. The illustrations tie in well with the text on the pages thus making it a great book for read aloud. This book is a great tool to make the Creek nation become alive and real to young students and should, as a result, lead them into further study of other nations in modern day America.

Read one children's or YA book of your choice by a Native American author.

Alexie, Sherman. 1996. Reservation blues. New York,NY:Warner Books. ISBN: 0-446-67235-1.

This national bestseller tells about three Spokane reservation men who form a band and their mystical experiences and travels. Their hopes for success and getting famous are touching as well as frought with struggle. While the author has followed the reality of skin tone, named the tribe that is being portrayed, and brought in much of the beliefs of these people, I was disappointed with the book in that it also dealt with such things as drunken and violent behavior, loose sexual morals and the lack of acceptance between tribes. I felt that the reason this book was a national bestseller was that many readers will read it as an affirmation of their prejudicial views of tribal behavior. This book portrays much of the downside of those who are still on reservations. In my own experience, I found much of the description to be realistic, such as the living quarters and government food. I found the content to be such to limit this book to adult literature. The names of the characters were anglicized as well as many of the customs. The use of dreams and storytelling was enlightening in some instances to gain insight but this was lost in the negativity that I found in the total picture presented in this novel. The cover eludes to this book being a "comic tale of power, tragedy, and redemption among today's generation of First Americans." As for myself, I found nothing comic nor did I find any sense of redemption. I did find power struggles and tragedy throughout the text and basically came away angry with this presentation of a proud people.

Extra Credit

Appelt, Kathi, and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. 2001. Down cut shin creek: the pack horse librarians of Kentucky. New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN: 0-06-029244-X.

This book is a historical masterpiece giving details and experiences of the librarians who were hired through a WPA program during the Great Depression. This group went through hardships to bring reading materials to remote areas in Kentucky. The archive photographs add to the reality of the text and help students visualize the effort these women went through to bring education to their friends and neighbors. The photographs are well placed to go with the text and care has been taken to not overdo the hardships of the times. The authors brought together photos, interviews and research to bring this part of history alive for all readers. While the Kentucky program was not the only one in the country, it is one of the best for the amount of people that were reached as well as the conditions under which these women performed their duties. Their dedication and determination shows through in the pages of text and in the photographs which authenticate the book. This program reached young and old as well as those who were ill. The joy that the recipients expressed warms us all and helps us rededicate ourselves to the affect that reading can bring to many in the worst of times. This book can be used as a read aloud or for individual reading.