Thursday, October 30, 2014

Between Earth & Sky

Legends of Native American Sacred Places
Written by Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by Thomas Locker
Bruchac, Joseph. Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. Ill. by Thomas Locker. San Diego, CA: Harcout Brace & Company, 1996. ISBN 0152000429

Plot Summary
This inspiring book consists of ten Native American legends spoken through poems. The majestic illustrations tell the story of sacred lands that the Native American cultures cherish. 

Critical Analysis
Bruchac provides readers with important background information about the book at the very beginning. It stresses the importance of the North American landscape that the Native American culture hold sacred. He also teaches readers that Native American cultures recognize seven directions, North, South, East, West, Earth (Above), Sky (Below), and the direction within all of us. In the back of the book is a map of North America with tribe names, separation of the continent, and symbols of some of the sacred places the Native Americans hold dear, like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. There is also a guide for pronunciations of words used throughout the book. At the end of each poem the direction it represents and the tribe are listed. This book screams authenticity for Native American culture. Bruchac's Abenaki-Native American ancestry plays a major role in the true essence and true meanings of his culture.
Locker's quiet yet magnificent illustrations of the lands were created with oils on canvas. He uses such detail that readers can view the markings and reflections of the trees, mist from the waterfalls, and sun rays through cloudy skies. The few illustrations with people have them dressed in a more traditional buck-skin with bows in their hands.

Review Excerpts
  • "Each tale is a model of economy, gracefully distilling its message, while Locker's landscapes capture the mysticism inherent in each setting." -Horn Book
  • "It is difficult to convey the beliefs of an entire people in one brief legend divorced from the rest of their tradition, yet these selections point to the richness possible in looking at the sky in a spiritual way." -School Library Journal
  • "Here, short, easy-to-understand legends are accompanied by full-page oil paintings in Locker's dramatic signature style." -Booklist
More books by Joseph Bruchac
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back [9780698115842]
  • The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet [9780698116474]
  • The First Strawberries [9780140564099]

The Christmas Coat

Memories of My Sioux Childhood
by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
illustrated by Ellen Beier
Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood. Ill. by Ellen Beier. New York, NY: Holiday House, 2011. ISBN 9780823421343

Plot Summary
It is extremely cold, snowy, and rainy in the South Dakota prairie as the Sioux children walk to school. Most of them have coats, gloves, and boots, but they are either too small or too big in size. As Virginia attempts to cover her arms and wrists, she daydreams of a red coat that has a hood, is warm, and fits. All the families are waiting for the "Theast boxes" full of clothing, shoes, and other necessary items that are sent by church congregations of New England. Being the daughter of the Episcopal priest of the village, Virginia and her family never receive first pick. It has been instilled in them that "The others need it more than we do." This is a heartfelt story that shows how thinking of others before yourself can bring rewards.

Critical Analysis
This story is written and illustrated with authenticity of the Native American culture. Sneve uses her own Sioux name, Driving Hawk for the main character's last name. While the characters first names are not unique to the culture, last names like "Brokenleg," "Buffalo," "Little Money," and "High Bear" represent Native American culture. Sneve uses the term "gumbo" several times throughout the story. This may confuse some readers, but if they use the context clues they will realize that "gumbo" is a description for the squishy sludge that the snow, rain, and dirt make. Another important term used in the story is "Theast." Sneve explains this word as meaning "The East." The Theast boxes are what the village anxiously awaits for their new hand me down clothes. Sneve's text accurately describes the characters feelings and emotions. 
This book is beautifully illustrated with watercolor and gouache. Bier uses every part of the page for her scenes. She provides excellent detail in the characters skin color, dress, and hairstyles. All the girls wear dresses or skirts and the boys wear overalls or pants with suspenders. The clothing and cracks in the school walls display the poverty of the village. The only time readers will see characters wearing a headdress is during the Christmas pageant to represent wise leaders and elders for the tribe.
This story is a wonderful addition of diversity to all school and public libraries. 

Review Excerpts
  • "Virginia's personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • "With its authentic portrait of a Sioux childhood and Christmas traditions (captured in watercolor and gouache illustrations) and its eventual happy ending, this is a quiet but affecting picture book." -Horn Book
  • "Based on the author's 1940s childhood on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, this richly descriptive narrative is well matched by detailed and expressive watercolors." -School Library Journal 
  • 2011 winner of the Youth Literature Award from the American Indian Library Association
More picture books about Native American culture.
  • A Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac
  • Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story by N. Scott Momaday
  • The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

A Novel by Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Ill. by Ellen Forney. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316013680

Plot Summary
This novel tells a fictional story of Junior, a teenage Native American growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He was born with many health issues and has therefore been picked on his entire life. He is determined to change his fate and receive a good education, so he leaves the reservation school and starts attending a predominantly white school in a neighboring farm town. Junior's story is about his desire to be better and achieve more, even though he has more than enough obstacles to deal with. Viewed as a traitor among his tribe, Junior tackles life with wit, humor, and perseverance.

Critical Analysis
This coming of age story will bring laughter and tears. Alexie has written this story from Junior's perspective, therefore causing readers to see things through his eyes. The text references Native American culture with words and phrases like "powwow," "deer-hide tepees," "half-breed Indian warrior," and "rez." Readers will take away the implication that many if not all Indian reservations are in poverty. This plays a major role of the story in the differences between Junior's two schools. While this is a fictional story, it brings to light the suffering and issues Native Americans around the US face in a modern world. Alexie writes about some of the discrimination of Native Americans in this book. For example, Junior recalls his dad being stopped three times in one week for "DWI: Driving While Indian." 
Ellen Forney's illustrations are simple pencil cartoons that are humorous and entertaining. Junior is a budding cartoonist, so Forney's illustrations are essential drawn by Junior. In one illustration, Junior is split in half, half "white" and half "Indian" with descriptions of each person he has to be. Some illustrations look like notebook paper that has been torn out of a journal and pasted in the book. One of these is a drawing of Junior's dad drawn with long dark hair to represent the culture of some Native American tribes. All illustrations represent modern dress and living of the Spokane tribe. The only exaggerations are drawn that way to represent the stereotype of Native Americans.
This is a great story of staying true to yourself and not letting people, culture, or society get in your way of your dreams. This is definitely a YA book with some questionable situations of going up as a boy. 

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner." -School Library Journal
  • "Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience..." -Booklist
  • "The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally-and hilariously and triumphantly-bent in this novel." -Horn Book (starred review)
  • Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature

More Native American novels for young adults.
  • Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative by Ignatia Broker
  • Waterlily by Ella C. Deloria
  • The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
Have students write about times when they did not fit in and how they overcame their challenges. Does it relate to Junior's story?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico!

Americas' Sproutings
Haiku by Pat Mora
Pictures by Rafael López
Mora, Pat. Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico!. Ill. by Rafael López. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2007. ISBN 9781584302711

Plot Summary
This book is a delicious collection of haiku that celebrates fourteen foods. The fourteen special foods highlighted in this book are all native to the Americas. 

Critical Analysis
Each haiku has a paragraph that describes where the food originated and how it was and is used mirrored on the left page. Did you know that peanuts are from South America, March is National Peanut Month, and they are not really nuts? That is just a piece of the interesting facts Pat Mora includes in this book. Readers will also learn that pineapples are called piña which means pinecone in Spanish.The title page includes a mini glossary of Spanish terms, acknowledgements, and the author's sources. 

Rafael López does not leave any piece of the page without color or illustration. His use of acrylic on wood panels creates a background texture that is unlike anything else. His illustrations cover two pages for each food and definitely enhance the impact of the haiku by representing a snapshot of where the food originates. Since the foods are from different parts of the Americas, each representation of the people is different. Not one person has the same skin color or eye shape. This is how the illustrator portrays the physical differences in people from Wisconsin, Texas, Maine, Mexico, Central American countries, and South American countries.

Review Excerpts
  • Teachers will find this a welcome addition to their social-studies units, but it should also win a broad general audience for its inventive fun-filled approach to an ever-popular topic: food." -School Library Journal
  • "This inventive stew of food haiku celebrates the indigenous foods of the Americas." -Booklist

More books by Pat Mora.
  • Book Fiesta!Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros (9780061288777)
  • A Birthday Basket for Tia (9780689813283)

The Lightning Dreamer

Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist
by Margarita Engle
Engle, Margarita. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist. New York, NY: Harcourt, 2013. ISBN 9780547807430

Plot Summary
This historical fiction novel is written in verse and takes place in the 19th century. The story is a fictionalized biography about Cuban abolitionist poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Tula lives during a time of slavery and arranged marriages. Her mother has forbidden her access to books because she does not believe books and knowledge are an attractive quality for women. During her struggles with her mom trying to marry her off, Tula escapes to a nearby convent where she engrosses herself in the library with poems written by José María de Heredia.

Critical Anaylsis
Engle's verses in this book are wealthy in smiles and metaphors, and bring about the emotions of the characters. Each verse is titled with the name of the character speaking in the text. The majority of are spoken by Tula, the main protagonist. This book will definitely enlighten readers on Cuban history, and how education and freedom for women and slaves was prohibited.

One theme of the story is fear. Fear for going against the rules and voicing opinions. Tula's brother, Manuel voices his fear for his sister wanting to stand up and speak the truth for women and slaves. By the end of hte book Manuel becomes inspired by his sister. "I'm shocked by my sister's/ independence, but also inspired./ If a woman can shed all the whims/ of tradition, then so can a man."

Engle does her novel justice by providing a plethora of historical background and notes before and after the story. She also has actual writings by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda after the story along with references and acknowledgments. The story itself is split up into five parts: Suns and Rays, The Orphan Theater, The Marriage Market, See Me as I Am, and The Hotel of Peace.

The only mention of skin color is when Tula talks about a newborn infant who is left at the orphanage, abandoned by it's mother. "When I gaze down at his black eyes/ and warm cinnamon-hued skin." This book is extremely powerful and shows how privilege comes from battles of all different types of underprivileged people throughout history.

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "This is the context for a splendid novel that celebrates one brave woman who rejected a constrained existence with enduring words that continue to sing of freedom." -Booklist starred review
  • "Engle adds another superb title to her lengthening list of historical novels in verse...This is a must-have for collections where Engle's other works are known and loved or for anyone in need of a comparative study to our own country's struggle with slavery." -School Library Journal
  • "An inspiring fictionalized verse biography of one of Cuba's most influential writers...Fiery and engaging, a powerful portrait of the liberating power of art." -Kirkus
  • Winner of the Pura Belpre Honor Award
  • VOYA Top Shelf for Middle School Readers 2013 list 

More books by Margarita Engle and Cuba.

  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom (9780805086744)
  • The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba (9780805090826)
  • Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (9780805089363)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mice and Beans

By Pam Muñoz Ryan
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Mice and Beans. Ill. by Joe Cepeda. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2001. 
ISBN 0439183030

Plot Summary
This is a charming story about Rosa María's week preparing for her granddaughter's seventh birthday. She has made her list and started working, but things keep disappearing, like napkins, piñata feathers, her favorite wooden spoon, and mousetraps. "No importa" she says, finds a solution and persists on. Rosa María has her mind set on one thing, a great birthday for her Little Catalina. What she doesn't know is that there is another party being planned in her house, and the missing mousetraps are involved.

Critical Analysis
Pam Muñoz Ryan and Joe Cepeda have created a delightful story with authenticity from the Hispanic culture. The cultural markers are displayed through the text and the colorful illustrations. Ryan sprinkles in Spanish words during the course of the story in words and phrases. "No importa" is the phrase that is repeated through the story, but she includes many other Spanish words like bolsa, pasteleria, frijoles, and fiesta.  To assist readers in translating the Spanish words, Ryan provided a glossary with pronunciation guide in the back of the book. The text does not seem to be stereotypical but rather authentic in the cultural aspects. Rosa María loves to cook for her big family and for the birthday party she is cooking enchiladas with rice and beans "no dinner was complete without rice and beans!" 

Cepeda's illustrations play a big roll in the joyful nature of this book. He uses a lot of bright colors and his depiction of Rosa María is unforgettable. Her character wears big red glasses, heels, and her hair looks like a blonde bee hive. The skin color of the characters are all slightly different, but they are nicely blended to create a tan look for the authenticity of the story. Hispanic culture consists of big families and the author and illustrator provide the reader with that experience in this book.

Readers get a little extra with this book because the back cover contains recipes for Rosa María's Rice and Beans. The book jacket was also very appealing with the blue and purple checkered background and several mice holding candy (from the piñata). On the inside is another recipe, but this one is for a Festive Story time. This book is very playful, fun, and a must read for lower elementary grade levels.

Review Excerpts
  • "Readers of this clever story will chuckle at the skillful collaboration between author and artist." -Horn Book Guide 
  • "The story is charming, but what makes it special is the quiet authenticity of the Hispanic characterizations. Cepeda's pictures are as good as the story, with bright, funny scenes depicted from human (looking down) and mouse (looking up) points of view." -Booklist
  • "Cepeda wraps up this festive volume by showing how the well-meaning vandals have put their loot to use by throwing a mouse party of their own." -Publisher's Weekly

More picture books by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
  • Nacho and Lolita (9780439269681)
  • When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson (9780439269674)
More picture books to celebrate the Hispanic culture.
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown (9780892392353)
  • Napí by Antonio Ramirez (9780888996107)