Sunday, November 19, 2006

Jingle Dancer

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The Plot: Jenna (a modern girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent) wishes she could be a jingle dancer like her grandmother. She studies a video of her grandmother dancing; and then, to get the jingles needed for her dress, visits various friends and relatives, asking for a few jingles. She borrows just a few from each, so that their own dresses remain able to jingle; and by borrowing from many, is able to make her own dress.

The Good: Jingle Dancer works on many levels. As mentioned below, it shows a modern Native child; it also shows traditions, such as a powwow and jingle dancing, balanced with modern ways (a cousin is a lawyer, the video of grandmother.) It's a mirror for people of the culture; and a window for people outside the culture. Meaning, a Native child sees him or herself in the text, which is valuable; while a child who isn't Native learns about another way, another tradition, another culture in a way that is fun, and is also valuable.

This is also about sharing; because the only way Jenna can achieve her objective is to go and ask others to share their jingles. It's not about taking, because Jenna only takes a little, less than what she needs -- but that's because she's going to several people, not just one. And she leaves behind enough jingles that the ones who give don't suffer for it by doing without.

The Puppet Show: The puppet show went very well! In terms of the kids who were doing the puppet show, they said that it was one of the easier ones that they had done in a while. (We had three kids, but no more than 2 puppets appearing onstage at any time.)

The audience loved it; by the time Jenna was up dancing at the end, there was one little boy in the front with the biggest smile on his face. Thanks to Cynthia, we also had signed bookmarks for everyone who attended, and an autographed book (Indian Shoes). The little girl who won the raffle for the book was very excited.

Blogger has been acting up, in that I cannot post pictures. I can direct you to my flickr account, where I've put the photos. Should Blogger change its mind and allow me to post photos once again, I'll add some.

The Origins of the Puppet Show:

As I mentioned earlier, Debbie Reese made the suggestion of using Jingle Dancer as a play.

Before you think that Debbie and I hang out every morning having coffee discussing picture books and the like (which would be cool), what happened was this. At MPOW, the teens put on a puppet show. They write the script, design puppets and props, and put on a show. Sources for the shows include picture books, chapter books, short stories, just about anything. We wanted to do something for National American Indian Heritage Month.

Thanks to the Oyate website, the book Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children,* Debbie's postings at Child Lit and her own blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, as well as other places that I don't recall, I knew enough to know that there can be problems with how Native stories were collected and retold and are currently told; and I knew that sometimes the best intentions go wrong when not researched both well and with respect.

And, not being up to the level of research to find a picture book that could work for a play and then do the needed research, I reached out to the expert and emailed Debbie to get her input. She recommended two books, Jingle Dancer and Cheryl Savageau's Muskrat Will Be Swimming.

The teens read both and selected Jingle Dancer. What both books shared is that they are about modern Native children. Why is this important? Because it shows children (and adults!) that Native people aren't a people who lived a long time ago and are now gone, a story from the past; they are people who are here, today; and both include Native culture. In Jingle Dancer, Jenna wishes to be a jingle dancer at the upcoming powwow and finds a way to make that wish a reality; in Muskrat Will Be Swimming, Jeannie is teased by others, then finds strength in her heritage when her grandfather tells her about his own childhood and shares a traditional story.

The mother of one of the teens assists by sewing the final creations. She is also doing a project with a local Girl Scout troop that includes puppets. So the puppet show is now being used with that troop. When it gets back to the library, it will also be available for the other branches in my system to use.

* Please note that Through Indian Eyes was published in 1998; a follow up was published in 2005, A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Both are must-reads for people working with children.

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