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Bibliographic Data:

Budhos, Marina. 2006. ASK ME NO QUESTIONS. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978416903512
Plot Summary:
Nadira is a fourteen-year-old girl whose family is from Bangladesh but living illegally in the United States. In the wake of 9/11, as the government becomes stricter on immigration laws and anyone can be suspected of terrorism, life gets much harder. Nadira’s family quickly gets torn apart, and her father gets detained at the Canadian border after trying to seek refuge. Her mother stays behind, and she and her sister move back to New York to try and graduate from school and make their parents proud. Nadira, meanwhile, is struggling to find her own identity in the shadow of her successful sister and her family hardship. While the policy of illegal immigrants at her school is to “ask me no questions,” the sisters soon discover perhaps the key to this massive miscommunication is allowing their voices to be heard.

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:

In the wake of 9/11, the Muslim community was changed greatly. The U.S. government cracked down on illegal immigrants, especially those of the Muslim faith. Muslims all over the United States were forced to register and carry their papers at all times or risk deportment, jail time or fees. The Patriot Act allowed businesses and homes to be raided without explanation and individuals to be held for questioning without specific reasoning. It was, and still is, a challenging time for the Muslim community, especially for those residing in America illegally.

Nadira’s story is about regaining her voice. As an overweight, average student, Nadira always felt overshadowed by her successful sister, Aisha, who is up for valedictorian of her school. When her father gets detained and her mother chooses to stay and support him in Vermont, the girls are left on their own to figure things out. While Nadira’s sister loses hope and begins to give up, Nadira gains the confidence that she needs to help her family and their immigration status.

ASK ME NO QUESTIONS is a story about hope, perseverance and family. The protagonist struggles with many of the same issues that all fourteen-year-old school students struggle with: social issues, academic mediocrity, jealousy and weight. This makes her a character that is easy to relate to, no matter what her ethnicity or religion. The complexities of the sisters’ relationships are familiar to anyone with siblings. They are real, and they are common.

Mixed in with these commonalities are the cultural markers of the Muslim and Bengali community.  The names are authentic (Aisha, Nadira, Rahman, and Hossein, for example), the foods and clothing are culturally appropriate, and Budhos even includes Bengali words and phrases interwoven into the text to assure authenticity, and even some phrases allow readers access to the language.

Nadira’s is a perspective on complex multicultural America. It’s about political struggles and internal struggles. It’s about being heard and having a voice and being seen. Nadira explains, “we’re not the only illegals at our school. We’re everywhere. You just have to look. A lot of the kids here were born elsewhere – Korea, China, India, the Dominican Republic. You can’t tell which ones aren’t legal. We try to get lost in the landscape of backpacks and book reports.” While after 9/11 the “invisible people became visible” this same cultural diversity is what makes America unique and what set the foundation for the American Dream. As Aisha stands at the podium giving her valedictorian speech, she acknowledges that missed dream. “We could hope for a future here. And then they took that hope away.” Budhos’ text is a step in the long climb to getting that dream back. Hers is a story about hope, determination and equality. Overall, it’s a story about individuality and how one can hope to overcome hatred and adversity by standing up for yourself and for the people who are most important to you.

Review Excerpts:

“Readers will feel the heartbreak, prejudice, kindness, and fear.” (Booklist)

“
Fiction and nonfiction have been written in response to the incidents of Sept. 11, 2001. Few, however, are from the viewpoint of immigrant teens affected by the aftermath of the attacks.” (Library Media Connection)

“The message drives the story here; the motivations of the characters are not always clear, and the ending may strike some as a bit tidy. But the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers’ attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear.” (Publishers Weekly)

Kirkus Best Children’s Books, 2006

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2006

Connections:

Conduct your own research on the immigration laws in the United States. What changed after 9/11?

How do you feel about immigration? Hold a discussion with your class about the recent changes that have taken place and discuss what you think should happen in the future.

Other books by Marina Budhos:

  • HOUSE OF WAITING. ISBN 978064129221
  • REMIX: CONVERSATIONS WITH IMMIGRANT TEENAGERS. ISBN 9781556356100
  • THE PROFESSOR OF LIGHT. ISBN 9780399144738
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Bibliographic Data:

Gantos, Jack. 2007. I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374399412

Plot Summary:

I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA is the fourth story in a series of books about Joey Pigza. Joey is obviously, still the quirky protagonist, with his oddly mature perspective and his excitable demeanour. In this instalment, Joey’s father comes back to woo his mother and convince her to remarry him, despite the fact that they’re still married. He’s won the lottery, reinvented himself, changed his name to Heinz and bought a dilapidated roadside stand that he is convinced will be a successful bustling-bee-themed restaurant. Joey’s exciting life adventure continues as it spirals wildly out of control and he tries desperately to keep his identity and figure out who Joey Pigza really is.

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:
Jack Gantos’ novel is wildly comical and quirky, however it is also extremely depressing and tragic, pointing out the flaws of family life, social workers and school systems.  Joey is a self-aware, strong sixth grader. He is well aware of his ADHD and his ability to control it or let it spiral out of control. In fact, the novel begins with Joey’s own characterization: “You know me,” he says. “I always have to have something on my mind or something in my hands, otherwise my mind chases off in one direction and my hands go in another. This is how trouble starts for me.” And he’s right. When his father comes back, convinced that he has become a new man, Joey loses what little routine he has, and his troubles begin.

Joey is a loving and trusting son. He listens and tries to follow even the strangest directions. He doesn’t argue when told to throw away all of his belongings, drop out of school, flip burgers and advertise in a bee costume on the side of the road on a hot day. However, he remains true to himself and his identity, despite his parents’ plea to start a new life with a clean slate. In fact, for most of the book, he remains strong and stands up for himself and his name. Joey is also perceptive and thoughtful. He understands his mother’s fragility and the quirkiness that their re-marriage entails, and he fails to notice that his mother cares more about her own life, her shopping and her failed marriage, than she does about her son, his successes and his schooling.

While the relationships between him and his father are evident throughout the book, the more complex themes of forgiveness, trust and identity are important ones. When his father initially comes back, Joey is hesitant. Even with the instance of his mother, and after seeing her happiness shift, Joey is unconvinced of his father’s good intentions, and he finds it hard to forgive him. With all the quirky and crazy experiences, Joey finally hands his father a small letter: his Christmas gift. It reads, “Freddy forgives you for everything. All of it. Even stuff he doesn’t know about. Even stuff he hasn’t imagined.” While he feels better temporarily, he learns too quickly that even with forgiveness, sometimes people can’t change and great disappointment can be inevitable.

Joey’s quirky character and his bizarre perspective are the perfect pathway to discussing difficult subjects. While Joey’s situation is extreme, it is intentionally so. He is easy to relate to, and the extreme nature of his situation can open the discussion for more realistic events in students’ lives at home. I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA gives a voice to the students in special education, the students with ADHD or with dysfunctional families or identity questions. The novel is a conversation starter that can begin with a laugh and end in a discussion. Joey’s story mirrors those of many children, torn by the failed relationships of their parents and subject to more of the complexities of adult relationships than they are ready to handle. While covered by a comical mask, Joey’s story is real and the themes are all too familiar.

Review Excerpts:

“Another wild ride–over serious terrain.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Joey’s internal struggles… all the more poignant through Gantos’ compassionate and sometimes humorous reading.”  (Booklist, starred review)

“Gantos tells the tale with unfailing humor, delicious wordplay, and many hilarious scenes.” (School Library Journal, starred review)

“Joey… is an impossible, contradictory, glorious creation.” (The Boston Globe)

School Library Journal, Best Books, 2007

Connections:

Do you think your name contributes to who you are and who you have become?  Why or why not?  Would you change your name if you could?  What would you change it to and why?

Jack Gantos’ website has a variety of teacher’s resources including a discussion guide for I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA. Check out the resources there and lead a discussion with your class about some of the key themes of the book.

Other books by Jack Gantos:

  • JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY. ISBN 9780374336646
  • JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. ISBN 9780374399894
  • WHAT WOULD JOEY DO? ISBN 9780374399863

Bibliographic Data:

Polacco, Patricia. 2009. IN OUR MOTHERS’ HOUSE. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN 9780399250767

Plot Summary:

Meema and Marmee are two loving parents who adopt a multicultural family. The story begins with one of their daughters narration: “They told me how they had walked across dry hot deserts, sailed through turbulent seas, flew over tall mountains and trekked through fierce storms just to bring me home.” As the pages continue, their multicultural family grows.  They remain strong, and despite one family’s closed-minded nature, they remain surrounded by the love and acceptance of their community. Ultimately, they live happily with their neighbors until they grow old and the children marry and have families of their own.

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:

Patricia Polacco’s IN OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE is a true celebration of diversity. The story is clearly centered on Marmee and Meema, a lesbian couple who adopt their children. Marmee and Meema are both professionals with kind eyes and bright smiles. They make sure to explain to their children that they are loved, and they raise kind and intelligent children.

Their children, also, are pictures of diversity. Their three children all are from different backgrounds: an African American daughter, and Asian American son and a redheaded daughter with glasses and a quirky smile. Meema comes from a large Italian family, and their neighbourhood is profoundly diverse: the McGuires, the Goldsteins, the Brooks, the Yamagakis, and the Abdullas all come to the block party and run their booths with their own cultural foods and traditions.

Every fairy tale needs a wicked witch, and in this case, the enemy is Mrs Locker. “I don’t appreciate what you two are!” she says at the neighborhood block party. And when the children ask why, Meema responds profoundly. “She’s full of fear, sweetie. She’s afraid of what she cannot understand: she doesn’t understand us.” When the prejudice neighbor leaves, the whole neighborhood hugs.

The illustrations also add to the multicultural connections. The characters, even in their simply outlined and colored paintings, are filled with personality, and the expressions are clear and endearing. The whole neighborhood is full of diversity. Body shapes and skin colors and clothing are all unique and represent the individual personalities of each character. When the mother-daughter tea-party comes, the mothers even done their fancy dresses with smiles. In preparation for the party, even the young brother is wearing a yellow dress and looking very unhappy, but mildly amused.

As the mothers grow older, the children marry and grandchildren arrive. Each child marries into a heterosexual relationship with partners that look strikingly similar to them; perhaps that is where the utopian dream stops. However Polacco makes it clear that Meema and Marmee lived out their lives loving each other. Eventually, “they passed away within a year of each other,” and their son lives in the house with his family. “The walls still whisper our mothers’ names.”

IN OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE is a multicultural utopian ideal. While it may seem a bit over the top, it is a good starting point to inspire conversation and help readers understand that families can share common core values of love, happiness and appreciation for diversity. Though the real world can be quite different, individuals are able to form their own utopia, surrounding themselves with love as much as possible and building the foundation to stand up to the Mrs Lockners of their lives and concentrate on their own happiness and their own dreams.

Review Excerpts:

“The energetic illustrations in pencil and marker, though perhaps not as well-rendered as in some previous works, teem with family activities and neighborhood festivity.” (Booklist)

“The nostalgic adult tone and dearth of actual plot severely limit the child appeal of this well-intentioned story played out in Polacco’s recognizable illustrations.” (Horn Book)

“The distillation of hate into a single character undermines the reality of systematic oppression faced by same-sex couples; furthermore, the flash-forward narration depicting each child grown and married into heterosexual, mono-racial unions ironically presents this family as an anomaly. There is a desperate need for books that present queer families as just another part of the American quilt, but this title, despite its obvious good intentions, doesn’t do it.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2010.

Connections:

Talk to your family about their origins. Where did your great great grandparents live? What were the traditions in their homeland?

Do you think that the neighborhood in the book is realistic? Why or why not?  Would you like to live in a neighborhood like this?

Have a look around Patricia Polacco’s website. Pick a few of her books to read about.  Which ones would you like to read? Why or why not?

Patricia Polacco’s website includes a video that addresses some of the complex issues in IN OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE. Watch the video on the website and discuss your reactions with a your family or a friend. (http://www.patriciapolacco.com/)

Bibliographic Data:

Lin, Grace. 2009. WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. New York: Little, Brown and Co. ISBN 9780316043304

Plot Summary:

Minli is a creative and inspired young girl, whose family works hard every day in the rice fields of their village in the valley of the fruitless mountain. Her family is poor, and despite their hard work every day, they are hungry and sad. Every night, Minli’s father shares beautiful stories of Chinese folklore with her, keeping her from being “dull and brown like the rest of the village.” She finds inspiration in the story of the “Old Man of the Moon,” and she decides to find him in order to bring happiness and riches back to her village. Her journey is full of fantastical findings, and before long she realizes that she wants to return home, bringing with her the happiness that her village was previously lacking.

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:

While routed in classic Chinese folktales interwoven together and full of mythical cities, talking animals and friendly dragons, Minli’s story is one with deep thematic roots. Her story is about happiness, family and being content with what one has.  While Minli begins the story sad and upset at the poverty of her family and village, once she buys a magical goldfish, she believes her fortune has changed, because the seller claims “goldfish means plenty of gold. Having a bowl of goldfish means your house will be full of gold and jade.” While the goldfish does not bring typical riches back to her family, by the end of the text, they all understand that “joy had been in [their] home like a gift waiting to be opened.”

While readers of all cultures and ages can enjoy the book, Lin’s text is full of cultural markers. Characters have traditional names such as Da-A-Fu, Ma, Ba, Minli and Loa Loah, and the locations in the book are quintessentially Chinese. The City of Bright Moonlight, the Fruitless Mountain and the Jade River all are named in traditional Chinese fashion.

Lin also illustrates the text, and the characters physical appearance and attire are varied and accurate. Additionally the landscape and the land are beautifully illustrated in vibrant full-color, and readers will enjoy the eight full-page illustrations that break up the text and provide visual access points for younger readers. Visually, the book is stunning, with the unique chapter fonts and illustrations with the varied stories complementing each other as the text continues. It is truly a joy to read, flip through, and enjoy.

The book ends with Lin’s notes about her own experiences growing up. She explains that she struggled with acknowledging her Asian heritage, and that she rediscovered that interest later in life by listening and learning about folktales. This author’s note not only adds authenticity to her text, but it also provides an opportunity for readers to make connections with their own cultures and could inspire them to reconnect with aspects of their own lives that are rooted in generations of cultural experience.

Review Excerpts:

The author’s writing is elegant, and her full-color illustrations are stunning. Minli’s determination to help her family, as well as the grief her parents feel at her absence, is compelling and thoroughly human.” (School Library Journal)

“With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin’s own full-color drawings open each chapter.” (Booklist)

Newbery Medal Honor Book, 2010.
Notable Book for a Global Society award winner, 2010

Connections:

Grace Lin’s website is full of useful information and even contains a blog by the author herself. Have a look at her blog, and then write a well-crafted comment that highlights your questions about the book or her blog.

Did you know that there is an activity book for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON? Check out the Activities page on Grace Lin’s website and download your copy.  Pick a few activities to try out with your class and/or your friends!

Other novels by Grace Lin:

  • YEAR OF THE DOG. ISBN 9780316060028
  • DUMPLING DAYS. 9780316125901
  • DIM SUM FOR EVERYONE. ISBN 9780440417705

NEW CAT by Yangsok Choi

Bibliographic Data: Choi, Yangsook. 1999. NEW CAT. Ill. by Yangsook Choi. New York: Frances Foster Books. ISBN 9780374355128

Plot Summary:
Mr. Kim runs a tofu factory in the Bronx, and New Cat is his faithful feline friend. Rescued by Mr. Kim from the animal shelter when he first moved from Korea, New Cat and Mr. Kim share their morning routine at the tofu factory. Even though New Cat is not supposed to go into the production room, one day the rats are posing a threat to the factory, and New Cat tries to save the day. Sneaking into the production room, New Cat is faced with fiery disaster, but thanks to her conveniently tipping a watery bucket of tofu over, New Cat saves the factory and reunites with her beloved Mr. Kim. “New Cat was very happy to go back to her office life, where she could watch to make sure that Mr. Kim was still making the very best tofu in all of New York City.”

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:

Choi’s text is as simple as her illustrations. In this sensitive story about a man and his beloved cat, Choi creates an endearing cultural tale with a universal theme that any pet-lover can understand. Mr. Kim “had needed a friend as much as [New Cat] had,” and they became the best of friends.

Choi’s paintings are simple and effective. While they are fairly flat, each picture includes humorous details at close look. The picture frames on the desks of the tofu factors, for example, mirror almost exactly the position of New Cat in each frame. This also contributes to New Cat’s role as the protagonist of the story. Mr. Kim plays a secondary role, as New Cat is featured on nearly every page. From his smug look at the desk of the president on the first page to a sly half-smile at the end, New Cat is far from the adorable feline that most would consider heroic. Rather, his quirkiness and his suspicious red-eyed looks highlight the special relationship that New Cat and Mr. Kim have.

Choi brilliantly weaves the Chinese language into the text, in one quirky and clever way. New Cat greets Mr. Kim with a friendly “Mi-yao” in the morning. While there is no direct Chinese translation for these words, “yao” is a Chinese word, and it provides a humorous cultural authenticity to the text. The naming of New Cat also provides a reference point for the language barriers of new immigrants to America. “When he brought her to work, people said, ‘Oh, you got a new cat!’” While New Cat may not be a typical name selection for native English speakers, Mr. Kim’s enthusiasm about the name is adoring and allows readers to share in the simple joys of atypical name selection.

The tofu factory also provides a clear cultural culinary context for New Cat and Mr. Kim. In fact, the heroic moment is centered on fun facts about the food. “The fire couldn’t get past that big pile of tofu on the floor,” the firemen say. “’Oh,’ said Mr. Kim. ‘That makes sense. Tofu is mostly water.’”

NEW CAT also includes a note at the end about the author’s experience with tofu. She explains that the cry of “Fresh tofu! Fresh tofu!” used to wake her up in the morning when she was growing up in Korea. She shares anecdotes about the food and her personal and cultural connections with the food.  This addition not only increases the cultural and culinary authenticity, but it is likely to inspire readers to try foods from other cultures and expand their taste buds for meals in the future. Choi ends the book with a clear and simple message: “Enjoy your tofu!” she says.  And perhaps readers will!

Review Excerpts:

Younger children will relish the firefighters and their tangle of hose, and the details and perspectives will amuse readers of all ages. The clarity and economy of text and pictures are beautifully suited to reading aloud.” (School Library Journal)

“Choi’s tale is unique and refreshing in its setting and subject; in the pictures, she mixes soft colored surfaces with hard black lines and abrupt angles to vivid effect.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Connections: 

Explore Yangsook Choi’s website.  (http://www.yangsookchoi.com/). Try to coordinate a school visit program with your school district.

Read another book by Yangsook Choi. You can find a great list with reviews on her website at http://www.yangsookchoi.com/books.html.

Host a tofu party! Look up great recipes using tofu and enjoy learning about the process of making it. What would a tofu factory really look like?

EMMA’S RUG by Allen Say

Bibliographic Data:  

Say, Allen. 1996. EMMA’S RUG. Boston: Houghton Miffin Co. ISBN 9780395742945

Plot Summary:
Emma is an artist. The young girl stares at the small white rug that her grandmother gave her at birth, and “copies” the images that she sees on the seemingly blank canvas within its fabric. Throughout her childhood, Emma holds the rug like a security blanket, infatuated with its folds and patterns and the textures that are all-but invisible to everyone else. While others praise her art and she collects art awards and accolades, Emma insists that her work is nothing special, and that she only draws what she sees. When her mother decides to wash the rug one day, Emma is horrified. Her artistic angst leads her into a deep depression, until she realizes that inspiration is everywhere, and she doesn’t need her security blanket to find her artistic way in the world.

Critical Analysis / Cultural Markers:

EMMA’S RUG, though at surface value is about a child, a rug and her art, goes far beyond the simple anecdote. Emma’s story is about the loss of security, the importance of rebirth and never giving up. Even at Emma’s darkest childhood hour, when her artwork stops and her world is destroyed, the readers is reminded of the essential elements of the ebb and flow of life. To a younger audience, Emma’s story is the realization that security continues after blankets and creativity exists beyond the comforts of crayons and colors. To a mature audience, Emma’s story is about rebirth and rediscovery: of the role of tears in journey to rebirth. To everyone, it serves as a simple reminder that art and inspiration can be found in the simplest things.

Allen Say’s artwork is simple, with hard lines and distinct colors. Say’s artwork tells Emma’s story, while Emma’s paintings have a life and style of their own. These two roles are distinct and essential. While her imagination is awash with watercolours and imagination, Say’s narrative art is almost photographic. Emma’s expressions, anguish and relief capture her emotional journey as she discovers that creativity and inspiration can come from the magical world around her.

Emma is an Asian-American child with straight, black hair and rosy cheeks. Additionally, Asian animals such as the tapir and the pangolin are the subjects of her drawings. However, the story of EMMA’S RUG is void of many other cultural markers. This, in fact, demonstrates the universality of the story. While it is a story that has an Asian-American protagonist who draws Asian animals and who physically looks Asian, the story itself is about a child’s growth and development both artistically and emotionally. It is the universal story of growing up, giving up on childhood comforts, and finding that there is inspiration for art, life and imagination in unexpected places. The world can truly become a blank canvas waiting to be filled with the imaginings of a child.
Review Excerpts:

An impressive creation, to be appreciated on many levels.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Adults, certainly, will make the connection between the tabula rasa of Emma’s rug and the projections of her imagination. Readers who do not see all the subtlety of this story may still be delighted by the watercolors.” (School Library Journal)

Say gives Emma respect. Every outsider will feel her lonely concentration and her strength.” (Booklist)
Connections:

Read Allen Say’s acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal, available on his website.  Do you see anything that may connect to Emma’s Rug?  Where do you think that Say gets his inspiration?

Think about Emma’s experience with creativity. Do you ever see art in unexpected places?  Go outside and keep track of your inspirations. When you’ve explored a lot, pick your favorite memory and draw a picture.

Other books by Allen Say:

  • THE BICYCLE MAN. ISBN 9780395506523
  • HOW MY PARENTS LEARNED TO EAT. ISBN 978039442357
  • TEA WITH MILK. ISBN 9780547237473

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk, selector. 1989. DANCING TEEPEES: POEMS OF AMERICAN INDIAN YOUTH. Ill. Stephen Gammel. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 9780823407248

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.

Review Excerpts:

“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)

Connections:

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.