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Native American Lit


Bruchac, Joseph. Illus. by Susan L Roth. 1994. The Great Ball Game. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

ISBN: 0803715390

Ages 4-8


Joseph Bruchac re-tells this Muskogee Indian myth about why birds fly south for the Winter, and every day at dusk you can see a bat flying around to see if any animals may need their help in another game.


This story splits the animals up in an argument about who is better. All the winged creatures were on one side, and all those with teeth were on the other. But the bat had both wings and teeth, so he didn't know who's side he was on. The winged creatures decided he was an animal. The animals with teeth accepted him, but felt he was too little to play, so he sat on the bench for most of the game. While an Indian myth, the lessons available are universal. Let's not leave anyone out. Everyone has special gifts that add to life. There is a lot we have to learn from everyone.


For most of a very long game lasting well into the night, it looked like the birds were going to win. Crane was headed for the winning goal, but the bat flew up and caught the ball. Then he managed to fly through the goalposts, scoring the winning points for the animals with teeth. The animals decided that Bat should decide what the Birds' penalty would be. He suggested that they leave the area for six months of every year, and thats why birds fly south for the winter.


The Illustrations from Susan Roth set the scene for the action as it takes place.. She uses Collage art on each two-page spread. She opens with the two teams: birds on one side, animals on the other. While they discuss the issue of who is better, Roth has them on separate pages but not in any order. Once they decide to play, she has them line up  facing each other much like a lineup for a football game: those with wings on one side, those with teeth on the other. Each animal is well-drawn. During the daylight scenes they are drawn on a bright colored background. In the darkness, darker browns are used, and the bat is highlighted. The last two pages talk about the birds flying south and then, why bat always flies around at dusk.

Amazon Book Link with reviews by Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.

Bruchac's official website.

A brief biography of Bruchac.

AN Interview with Bruchac by Eliza T. Dresang.


Goble, Paul. 1990. Dream Wolf.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

ISBN: 0027365859 

Ages: Baby Preschool.


Paul Goble is an outsider who has spent years studying the Plains Indians. He tells this re-creation of the tale of connection between Wolf and the Indian people of the Plains. He has done the illustrations for this work as well.  Two young children, a boy and his sister are part of a camp that has been set up temporarily in a valley. They have followed the buffalo and are there to collect berries that they will save for the winter. The children, bored with berry-picking, sneak off and get lost. They spend the night in a cave where the boy (Tiblo) dreams of a wolf. In their travels trying to return to the village, they see the wolf and ask for help. The wolf leads them back to their camp, and is then honored by the tribe for his help. This story is a tale of kinship between some Plains Indian tribes and the Wolf as a guide for living.


From the title page on, every two-page spread is an illustration matching the text. Gobles art is very detailed in each illustration. There are 15 2-page spreads in the book. The visuals used to enhance the text include the set up of each scene in the story. First with the introduction of  blues and greens representing the forest full of squirrels, birds, and other animals all carefully drawn. The two children are on almost every page.


We watch Tiblo and Tanksi as they help with berry-picking, become bored and sneak away from the others. Goble's details even include the blankets with their different designs as they are laid out.  Tiblo and Tanksi climb into the hills, and Goble shows them with animals in the background. He has an eagle flying overhead, and bighorn sheep also on the hill.


As the sun goes down the hills are drawn in black with white outlines. Tiblo finds the cave and they spend the night there. Goble puts in animals of the night, both friendly and frightening. He includes an owl and a wild mountain lion. The night noises keep Tiblo and Tanksi inside the cave. These drawings may be reminesent of cave art drawings with the animals done in great detail and humans as stick figures rather than fully detailed; although Goble does include detail while depicting Tiblo and Tanksi.


During the following day the children meet the wolf who leads them home.  As they head back, their tribe sees them and everyone rides out to greet them.  They thank the wolf and honor him for his help. This myth may be used to talk about and explain the close relationships some tribes had with different animals. It highlights the idea that watching animal behavior can be a guide for human behavior as well.

Amazon's book link with reviews by Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.

Brief information on Goble and a couple of his illustrations.

More information and wonderful illustrations of Goble's works.

Possible Lesson Plans with Goble's Work.


Dorris, Michael. 1999. Guests. New York: Hyperion Press.

ISBN: 0786813563

Ages 9-12


In Guests, Michael Dorris tells a story about a once a year special day (the First Thanksgiving), and how lifes responsibilities can put everyone in an uncomfortable position.  Moss's father says On this day Moss finds out that life is much more complicated than he ever thought about. At the same time, his parents and the other adults who are setting up for guests, are concentrating on others even though they don't really want to.


Moss, a young Indian boy is at the center of this story. You see his concentration on self and the problems that caused.  In his boredom, Moss accidentally broke a family wampum belt, and the beads spilled, leaving the belt without a story. It will be up to Moss to replace the lost story and restore the spirit built into the wampum belt.  We learn that this belt was put together with care and spirit and Moss has let that spirit escape. It will be up to him to replace that story with one of his own so that his family will still have a story.


Moss decides that he must go on a vision quest to find a good story and to find himself.  He has been listening to the family talk about what might be important to take with you in the woods, but when Moss leaves, he makes a spur of the moment decision that has him entering the woods with nothing. Moss is not alone though. While wandering around he has found Trouble, a young girl with her own set of problems. Both of them are about to come to a realization in their lives. They were forced to listen to their own voices, and make some new choices for themselves. Moss meets the old woman Porcupine. She may be representing a wise-woman figure, as she is the one who forces Moss to think hard about himself and his actions; and Trouble talks to Moss about her situation and confronts her own voice in a similar way.


Dorris focuses on extended families and familial connections that span the past, present and maybe even the future. This respect for ancestors is a huge part of Moss's culture. Trouble and her sister Eggshell are a lot like two sisters in a story that many have been told. Trouble worries that she really is like Runaway Woman, and Eggshell is more like Boulder. While Runaway Woman left to race the wind, Trouble has to deal with how different she is from others her age, especially other girls. Her time in the woods with Moss gives her a chance to discuss her worries with someone else.


Moss surprises everyone including himself by the good deed he offers to do for Trouble.  When Trouble leads the way back to the village, they realize that their mini vision quest has gone unnoticed by everyone, and they can keep others from knowing that Trouble not only left the village, but dressed as a male in order to leave as Runaway Woman did. Moss gets her clothes, and he gives Eggshell a chance to talk her sister out of leaving for good.


The story ends with Trouble giving Moss a name of power, and Moss's mother giving Trouble the comfort she needs to be who she is. Meanwhile the adults along with Trouble and Moss must deal with the guests that they dont really want and dont feel comfortable with, but decide that this is something they must do.


The last sentence has a more conscious Moss thinking not about himself but about Trouble: "Trouble was a hunter and helped me find my story."

Amazon's Link includes reviews in Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal. Also includes a couple of reviews by children who enjoyed the book.

Interview with Michael Dorris by Daniel Bourne.

The Alan Review story on The Young Adult Novels of Michael Dorris. This article by Jim Charles is a must-read. It talks about Dorris' death.

Possible lesson plans using The Guests.

A few more reviews for The Guests.


Smith, Cynthia Leitich Ill. By Lori Early. 2001. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. New York: HarperCollins.

ISBN: 0688173977

Ages 9-12


A young girl who has cut herself off from the world is the center of this story. Her Mother is dead, her boyfriend is dead, her father is out of the country, and her grandfather is in Las Vegas. She is at home with her grandmother, her brother, and her brothers girlfriend Natalie. A lot of life experiences happen within this story.


Rain has a deep respect and connection to her grandparents and throughout the story she quotes her grandpa a lot. She has a great respect for him, and her connection with him remains even though he may not be at home now. Since he shares her love of photography one of her favorites is: a darkroom is like a magic cave, low on light, smelly. He also says that true artists shoot the highlights and the shadows because stories live in shades of gray. Color can hide the truth.


When Rain had been using her camera, she worked in black and white. Since the death of her boyfriend Galen she hasn't done much of anything with photography; but, it is a chance to take photos for a newspaper article, that pull her back into the world again. For Rain, this brings up all the old business of her life that she has tried to put aside.


Smith puts an incredible amount of issues in the story. She has a lot she wants to say about people and it all comes out as a natural extension of the story she is telling. She has a conversation about stereotypes and the questions people ask of each other, but it isn't just one-sided. Rain herself tells her writer partner Jordan who is Jewish, that everything she learned about being Jewish came from watching "Fiddler on the Roof."  Rain talks about some of the things she is always asked like: Are you legally Indian? How Indian are you? (Shes a legal card carrying Indian). What does it mean to seem Indian, as in you dont seem Indian to me. Smith has Rain comment on this: I figure it involves construction paper feathers, a plastic paint pony, and Malibu Pocahontas.


Smith has a variety of Indian references through out the story including explanations. Rain buys a Dreamcatcher for the baby from a very unlikely source. She visits one of the kids from the Indian camp and finds out that he and his brother run a business out of their home which happens to be a trailer. Rain also talks about a painting that her mother had hanging in the hallway: It was a painting of the Trail of Tears. 


Over the course of the story you find that Rain blames herself for Galen's death. She was so far removed from everything that she missed the rumors that had floated around. That she "had her sweater off." After finding this out she has to talk to Galen's mother, a person she has been trying to avoid during the whole story.


Smith does a great job of showing the connections with everyone in the story and talking about how much we don't know about each other, how little we know of other cultures beyond our own, and how many misperceptions this lack of knowledge causes.

Amazon's link includes Reviews from Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.
Smith's official homepage.
Review for Rain is Not My Middle Name.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Ill. By Cornelius van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu. Jingle Dancer. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

ISBN: 068816241X

Ages 4-8


A young girl dreams about Jingle Dancing like her Grandmother and sets a goal to dance at the next powwow. To dance, she needs to know the steps to the dance and she needs the dress with Jingles. This story highlights extended familial connections, gifts of reciprocity, and tradition.


Smith uses repetition to introduce the characters, who are all very different people with busy lives. Jenna asks for and receives the rows of Jingles she needs, and she agrees to dance for those who will be doing others things during the dance.


Smith makes sure the reader knows that these Indians are very different people who all live in different dwellings. Mrs. Scott lives in a duplex, Cousin Elizabeth has an apartment, and Grandma and Jenna live in a house.  The stereotypes of Tepees and poverty stricken reservations are pushed aside to let people know that Indians live in a multitude of different ways, just like everyone else.


Cornelius van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu have done the illustrations for this story using watercolors. From the title page to the opening of the story,  the illustrations are of individual items that will play a role in the story: the jingles, a healing pouch, and feathers. These are part of the regalia needed for the Jingle Dance.


The illustrations follow the text closely. The first few illustrations focus on Jenna and her Grandmother, showing their relationship, and Jenna's desire to dance the Jingle Dance the way her grandmother used to. She even watches a video of her grandmother so that she can get the bounce-steps exactly right.


We get to meet the people in Jenna's life in their environments. Each illustration sets the scene from Mrs. Scott's kitchen to Cousin Elizabeth's bedroom with books on the shelves, a small cactus plant, and plenty of card files for this lawyer. There is even a small rocking horse on the shelves in Elizabeth's room.


Just before the dance Jenna and Grandma spend time sewing the jingles on and attaching all the regalia so that each of their spirits are also part of the dress as well. Jenna dances at the powwow not only for herself, but for her grandma, Elizabeth, Mrs. Scott, and Great Aunt Sis. Her dance made them all a part of the event.*

Amazons Link with reviews from  Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.

Good information on Jingle Dancer.

Possible lesson plans using Jingle Dancer.

Interview with Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. They talk about how they work together and what their art backgrounds are.