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Multicultural Literature For Children and Young Adults
Native American Literature

There is no death;
only a change of the worlds.
Beyond the Ridge

Goble, Paul. Beyond the Ridge. 1993. New York. Aladdin. ISBN 0689717318

Beyond the Ridge, is a folktale based on the customs of the Plains Indian people. The story is about the death of an old woman and her spirit's journey to the next world. The old woman lies in her bed at the beginning of the story. She has been there for many days. Village medicine men have done all they could for her. Her husband, daughter, and grandchildren have gathered around her side. The woman hears a voice saying, &"Get up! They want you over there. Your mother is calling you." The old woman gets out of her bed and follows the voice away from camp. As she climbs the hill she notices that she is wearing her favorite dress and moccasins. As she climbs she passed the flora and fauna native to plains. Once she reaches the top of the ridge birds, crows, deer and buffalo greet her at the top. At the top of the ridge the illustration change for subdue earth tones as she leave the word she knows, to blues, yellows and oranges as she enters the spirit world. The ridge leads the woman down a gentle slope. Back in her village she hears her family crying, she wanted to turn back to tell them there is no need to cry. But, voice is still calling her. She looks down into the valley and sees her mother walking toward her with open arms. Her mother looks young and happy. Behind her she sees her father, grandparent, and all the other people that have died long ago. The old woman feels strong again she wants to run down the path into the valley.

The narrator takes the reader back to the old woman"s village where her family mourns her death. The women in the village wash the old woman"s body braid her hair and paint her face with red paint. They place beside her things she enjoyed in life. Finally she is wrapped in a buffalo robe that she painted. They tie it tightly no one will see her face again.

Paul Goble is one of the few non-native writers who writes and illustrates books about Native Americans with an authentic voice. In his notes from the author;he explains how the Plains Indians use the story to explain life after death. Goble's choice of color shows the earth in tones of browns, tans, and greens, once the old woman reached the top of the ridge yellow, blues, and oranges are added to the plains landscape. Showing the difference between life on earth and the spirit world. Following the traditions of the Lakota Goble drew faces without expression or features. Goble said that he once asked a Lakota doll maker why she made them without facial features. She told him the children that play with her dolls give the dolls their own personality, not the maker.

The text contains several passages in italics on life and death written by Native Americans. It is a beautifully retold story of how a family and culture face the death of a loved one.

Bruchac, Joseph. Hidden Roots. 2004 New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 043935580

Hidden Roots, is a story about 11 year old Harold who lives with his mother and father in upstate New York near the Canadian border during the early 1960s. Harold is a loner like his mother. Not having friend's makes it is easier for his family to keep secrets that could harm is family while his mother tries to hide years of physical abuse from his father. His father (Jake) is angry because he works long hours at the paper mill never bring enough money home to support his family, chemicals the mill is poring in to the Hudson. and machine Number Three that will rip off a man's arm if their not careful. Then there is Uncle Louis who only visits when Harold's father is at work, teaching him the wonders of the Adirondack wilderness.

Hidden Roots is work of fiction but the event Bruchac writes about have happened to his own family. At the end of the book Harold learns from Uncle Louis that he is really his mothers father making him his grandfather. Then he tells him about his families heritage, " to start off with, the Lester's, your family, we ain't French. We be Indians, Abenaki, and Mohican, mostly, there rightly is some French in there. His grandfather tells him about his grandmother Sophie how she died in Vermont. Then he begins to tell Harold about the Native American sterilization program known as the Vermont Eugenics Program of the 1930s. Grandpa Louis shares with the reader the events that caused many Native people living in the Vermont area to deny their identity and pass for white to avoid government regulation to destroy their race.

Bruchac using the genre of historical fiction tell the story of his people. In his author"s notes he compares what happened to the Abenaki people to the Jewish Holocaust. The practice of human eugenic was carried out in the United States before Germany, event that has been skipped in our history books. After reading Bruchac's endnotes I had to re-read the book searching for clues to the true identity of this family. There were very few cultural markers, except for Uncle Louis what lived off the land and taught Harold about Nature, and Jake concern with the Hudson River. If a people is trying to blend into the day-to-day life in mainstream America would they cook food native to their culture or would they are distant themselves from foods, celebration or any action that is stereotypical of those people? Hidden Roots an outstanding work of American History, and the history of the Native people of Vermont and the horrific genocide on a people enforced by the United States government.

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow that runs across the
grass and loses itself in the sunset.
Beyond the Ridge

Bruchac, Joseph. Crazy Horse's Vision. 2000. New York: Lee & Low Books. ISBN 1880000946

In Crazy Horse's Vision, is a picture book biography of the legendary Lakota warrior ,Crazy Horse. In the Lakota culture the name a boy is given at birth is not the child's name forever. Later when the boy performs a brave or important deed, he earns an adult name. Crazy Horse's childhood name was ,Curly he was named after his curly hair. At a young age Curly was seen as a leader among his people if he was taming wild horses or hunting buffalo. As young boy he witnessed the U.S. army soldiers brutally attack against his people for no reason. This attack trouble Curly, what could he do to help his people if the soldiers attacked again. Curly embarked on a vision quest without the traditional Lakota preparations. After many days in his vision he sees a figure on horseback riding untouched through a storm of bullets. His father interprets his vision telling him that the man on horse back is the man he will become, and his destiny to defend his people against the U.S. Army. After three years Curly's father decides to give him his adult name because of the vision he gives Curly his own name "Tashunka Witco", in English is Crazy Horse.

Joseph Brunch award winning author is a decent of the Abenaki tribe, part of the Lakota Nation and S.D Nelson is also a member of Lakota (Sioux) Nation. Both provided the reader with and outstanding picture books about one of the greatest warrior of the Lakota Nation. Nelson's notes explain the colors and technique he choose the use in this book. His drawings are two-dimensional in the traditional ledger books style of the Plains Indians. The ledger books style began at the end of the 19th century when the United States Government forced native peoples off their land onto reservation. Many of the Plains Indian leaders were put in prison because of their resisted against the government. While they were in the prisons they were given books that were intended for bookkeeping to draw in. The artist used pencils, pens, and watercolors to create bold expressionless figures. He also discuses the meaning of the colors he used to the Plains Indians: red represents the east where each day begins, yellow represents the south, summer and where things grow, blue the color he used for Crazy horse represents the sky, and its connection with the spirit world. Brunch in his endnotes gives the reader a brief history of the Plains Indians resistance against the U. S. Army.

Tink, tink, tink. tink.
sang cone-shaped jingles sewn to
Grandma Wolfe's dress.
Cynthia Leitch Smith

Smith-Leitch, Cynthia. Jingle Dancer. 2000. New York: Marrow Junior Books. ISBN068816242X

Jingle Dance is a wonderful picture about Jenna, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who lives in Oklahoma. One day Jenna is watching a videotape of her Grandma Wolfe performing a jingle dance. Jenna decides that she wants to dance in the upcoming powwow. Grandma Wolfe is concerned that there isn't enough time to mail order the tin needed for rolling the jingle. Without the jingles Jenna's dance will not sing. After watching the tape and practicing her steps Jenna decides to visit her Great-aunt Sis's, " As Sun Fetched morning, and Jenna dances east."The story Smith has written contains the language and rhythm of a modern legend. At Great-aunt Sis's house she tells Jenna a traditional Muscogee Creek story about a bat. As she finished the story sunlight shines through her window in her bedroom landing on Aunt Sis's jingle dress; too long quiet. Jenna asks could she borrow enough jingles to make a row on her dress. Aunt Sis is happy to give Jenna a row of jingle since her legs " don't work so god anymore". Jenna carefully puts the jingle in a special bag. Before she leaves Aunt Sis asks Jenna to dance for her at the powwow, Jenna says she will. Jenna ask for only one row of jingles, "not wanting to take son many that another dress would lose its voice." Jenna continues down the street to a neighbor who gives a row of jingles because she will be selling fried bread and Indian tacos at the powwow, next is her cousin that is a lawyer who will not be dancing at the powwow because she will be working on a case. Jenna needs only one more row of jingles she asks her grandmother who also lends her the jingles.

Smith a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has written one of the few picture books about a contemporary Native American child living in an urban area like many of the books readers. Incorporated in the text is the history of jingle dancing, foods and language of the Muscogee people. The author's endnotes provide the reader with historical information about the Creek Nation and a glossary of terms used in the story. The illustrations are lively watercolor illustration. For the illustrators not to be Native American the authentic of hair texture and skin tone is realistic.

Dorris, Michael. Sees Behind Trees. 1996. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 078602243

Sees Behind Trees is a coming of age story about Walnut a near-sighted Native American boy. Walnut practices using his bow and arrow with his mother every day. Walnut is not able to hit the moss his mother throws in to the air. No matter how hard he tries he I will never be able to pass the skill test using the bow and arrow that will prove he is ready to receive his new name and become an adult. One day while his mother is throwing moss in the air he tells her to wait because a humming bird was flying past. To his mother astonishment the birds flies past. She asks him how could he see the bird when he could not see the moss she throws in the air. Walnut explains how he can hear sounds before they are near. After that day Walnut and his mother go into the forest for him to tell her what he hears forgetting to practice shooting with the bow and arrow. The day of the bow and arrow test arrives; Walnut is afraid that he will not pass the test embarrassing his father. Walnut's uncle has learned of his ability to see beyond what is in front of him invents a new contest to called, "see what can't be seen" Walnut's other sense earn him the name Sees Behind Tress. Because of his ability to see beyond what is right in front of him. Gray Fox an elder in the village asks him Walnut to escort him back to the land of water that he found many moons ago, he is sure that Sees Behind Trees, will be able to find what he has not for many years. The begin their journey to find the Land of Water along the way encounter strangers, unanswered question, lost dreams, and unanswered question.

Even though Michael Dorris is an acclaimed Native American author I found that it lacked many of the cultural markers that would have given the story authenticity. The description of the land and Land of Water provide the reader with strong images of the topography, however, the reader cannot identify where the story actually takes place or the time period. The only clues gives is that the area must be located near the ocean. The second cultural marker that was missing was the identity of the tribe that Walnut belonged to.

Sees Behind Trees is a beautifully written story about a young boys coming of age, that overcomes a disability winning the respect of his tribe, but it also lacks the strong cultural markers that give the Native people in the story their unique identity for the reader.