Thursday, October 30, 2014

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

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