Plot Summary: DANCING TEEPEES: POEMS OF AMERICAN INDIAN YOUTH is a collection of poems that highlight the spoken word selections of the American Indians. The poems range from those passed on for generations to contemporary poets passing on the tradition of the spoken word to current generations.
Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:
The book begins with a quote from Four Guns, a Lakota tribal judge. It reads: “The Indian needs no writings; words that are true sink deep into his heart where they remain; he never forgets them.” Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s collection acknowledges the importance of the oral tradition and her attempt to eternalize these traditions in writing is understood in her explanation. Her book of collected poems encourages the universal understanding of these traditional tales. The poems range from oral traditions of the North American Indians to the contemporary tribal poets, however each has a common thread: youth. From “Dancing Teepees” by Calvin O’John, a Ute-Navajo to “The Life of Man is a Circle” by Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux, each story highlights an aspect of the universal theme of youth.
The collection allows for the reader to make connections to common universal experiences. The first poem is a reminder that “The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Sneve traces youth throughout the text from “a boy’s first lesson,” in “We Chased Butterflies,” to the sad farewells of life “Farewell, my younger brother! / From the holy places the gods come for me,” Sneve’s themes are universal and allow for important cultural connections to be made by readers across the cultures and around the world.
Gammell’s illustrations are diverse and consistent with the themes of each of Sneve’s selected poems. In the same way that the writing of each poem gives these oral tales permanents, his artistic rendition of each tale is equally representative of the documentation of oral tradition. His pencil or watercolour backgrounds represent a variety of contexts that complement each poem beautifully. His artistic style ranges with the poems, reflecting the important aspects of the Navaho, the Sioux or the Crow. Additionally, he highlights the theme of youth, both with the simplicity of his art and with the subject of each piece.
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s collection of poems provides readers with an opportunity to view a common theme from a variety of angles. The emphasis on the oral tradition opens the discussion to reader’s theatre and storytelling, and the common theme of youth and life enables important universal themes to be discovered and discussed. DANCING TEEPEES: POEMS OF AMERICAN INDIAN YOUTH is a fantastic collection to read cover to cover or flip through more casually picking out favorites to share with friends and family for generations.
“Together, poet/compiler and artist offer small but satisfying glimpses of some of the rich and varied Indian lore which–if abundant–has been mostly overlooked.” (Publishers Weekly)
“These poems concern the questions, dreams, and visions of American Indian children and youth.” (School Library Journal, starred review)
“Unique and Joyous.” (Booklist, starred review)
Pick your favorite poem in the collection and look at the origin of that poem. Look up other poems from that tribe. What common themes do you see?
Gammell’s illustrations are quite varied in this book. Look carefully at the illustrations. What commonalities do you see? Try to illustrate a poem using these characteristics. What did you choose to include? Why?
Other books by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve:
- THE APACHES. ISBN 0823412873
- THE CHICHI HOOHOO BOGEYMAN. ISBN 0803292198
- GRANDPA WAS A COWBOY AND AN INDIAN AND OTHER STORIES. ISBN 0803242743
- COMPLETING THE CIRCLE. ISBN 0803242263.