“Bob had been a slave and had never learned to read words. But he could look at the ground and read what animals had walked on it, their size and weight, when they had passed by, and where they were going.” page 7
Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, New York, 1998.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 0.5 points) .
One expedition of a cowboy named Bob Lemmons, famed for his ability to bring in herds of wild mustangs solo.
As a young reader I acquired a childish interest in the West. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was from Laura Ignalls Wilder (and yes, I now know how problematic that was, and our kids read Louise Erdrich instead). In adult life, I’ve been learning just how very much was wrong, or omitted, from my early education. Even so, it was surprising to learn that the common all-white image of cowboys were actually roughly a third Hispanic and that one in four cowboys was African-American.
Luckily there are several diverse books about this, so I can share a much more accurate and sensitive culturally appropriate portrayal of the West with our kids. Since we love Jerry Pinkney, of course this was our first title.
“But I had no idea, even in my wildest dreams, that the very language those bilagdanaa teacher tried to erase – the way you wipe words from a blackboard – would one day be needed by important white men.” page 27
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2005.
Historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile: 910L .
AR Level: 6.4 (worth 9.0 points) .
This novel follows fictional narrator Ned Begay through his life, focusing particularly on his experiences as a Navajo code talker.
The framework of this story is that it is a story that a grandfather is telling to his grandchildren. This idea is presented in the introduction and mentioned sporadically throughout the novel as well as in the final chapter. I was a bit iffy about this device, but Bruchac used it beautifully.
“The Wampanoag culture is a living culture. Today there are many Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.” p. 37
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters, Photographs by Russ Kendall.
Scholastic, New York, 1996.
Informative fiction, 40 pages.
Lexile: 680L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 0.5 points) .
The story of a Wampanoag boy in the 1620s. While others in this series follow an imaginary day in the life of a recorded person, this book aims to show what daily indigenous life was like at the time and place of the Plimoth settlement.
It was with great relief that I found and read this book. Diverse books about Thanksgiving are in short supply, and it is one of the holidays always in demand from both families and teachers.
Before reading it, however, I was sorely disappointed in many of the reviews. Quite a few people made basic errors despite having supposedly read the book. Some confused the time period, assuming it takes place in the present day. Others confused the location, assuming that this one story about the Wampanoag people in what is now Massachusetts/Rhode Island represents an entire continent of indigenous peoples.
The errors in reviewing made it very difficult to determine if I should buy this, so to clarify – this is very clearly a book about Wampanoag life in the 1620s. The one confusion I could see is that a specific date is not given on the title page. However there are four pages of notes outlining the historical and geographical setting so even a cursory glance should clarify when and where this book is set.
“To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.” page 4
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrate by Erwin Printup, Jr.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1997, originally published by Lee and Low, 1995.
Picture book, 24 pages.
Lexile: AD520L ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 3.3 (worth 0.5 points) .
NOTE: There is another book by the same title but subtitled “The 1621 Harvest Feast.”
A children’s book adaptation of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address by Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp.
This is one of those books that gives the lie to publishers who say they can’t find qualified Native authors and illustrators. Already back in 1995, Lee and Low had Cayuga/Tuscarora painter Erwin Printup, who not only has a degree in fine arts, but also provides gorgeous, culturally appropriate illustrations for this title. In fact, we were so taken with this book that I went searching for other children’s books illustrated by Printup. But it seems that he was also underemployed, because all I found was a few anthologies he was included in.
While this is a handy alternative for librarians to give parents and teachers who insist on Thanksgiving books, truly this book could be read at any time of year. As Swamp explains in his can’t-miss author’s note, not only is the Thanksgiving Address read at every gathering of the Six Nations, it’s also taught to children as a morning thank you.
“Mollie was one of the last people to see Anna before she vanished.” p. 8
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017. Originally published Doubleday, 2016.
Nonfiction, 377 pages including notes and bibliography.
Lexile: 1160L .
AR Level: 8.8 (worth 14.0 points) .
Through an unusual turn of events, in the 1920s the Osage people became astonishingly rich. Unable to stomach an autonomous American Indian tribe, the United States government appointed “guardians” who would watch over their every purchase, and white settlers moved in to the area with ridiculously overpriced goods and services. And then came the murders. Many were focused around one family, and the FBI eventually got involved in their case.
Normally I read books about more Northern tribes because that’s where we live and travel most often, but after passing through Oklahoma, the Osage interested me. If you are looking for a book about the Osage, this one keeps coming up, so when I saw it at Target I decided to give it a try.
“Phiona had never read a chess book. Never read a chess magazine. Never used a computer. Yet this girl was already a national champion.” page 132
Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers.
Vintage Canada, Penguin Random House, Toronto, Canada, my edition 2016, originally published 2012.
Nonfiction, 232 pages.
Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a place where children were learning to play chess. Initially motivated more by a free daily meal, she soon found she had a gift for chess which might propel her out of the slums of Katwe, Uganda.
Normally I am very strict about always reading first before seeing any movie based on a book. In this case both my family and I really wanted to see the film, so I did watched before reading the book. Sometimes seeing the movie version first can color the interpretation of the book.