Thursday, October 30, 2008

Native American Lit.: Jingle Dancer

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2000. Jingle Dancer. Illus. by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publisher. ISBN: 9780688162412.

Jenna dreams to jingle dance in at the tribe's next powwow like her grandmother. However, her dress does not have the important tin jingles to make it tink-tink when she bounce-steps. Through the help of her mother, great-aunt, grandmother, and other women, she slowly, row by row barrows and sews enough jingles to make her dance regalia sing.

Contemporary set Jingle Dancer is a great picture book about girl who is the member of the Muscogee (Creek) and who is of Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe)decent and dreams of participating in a powwow dance like her grandmother does. Cynthia Leitich Smith's narration is wonderfully descriptive yet simple that the story is easily understood by young readers. One element in particular, Smith creates transitions like "As Moon kissed Sun good night" and "As Sun fetched morning" in the story to replaces expressions like "That night" or "The next morning" is beautifully done and will make readers see the stages of the day different.

Through the narration as well as the illustrations, the story is rich with cultural markers. There is mention of dishes made by Native Americans such as flatbread. Jenna's Great-aunt Sis tells her a traditional story of a ball game where Bat who was able to win ball by flying in the air and catching the ball in his teeth. The characters are all female, who are important and respected in Native American culture. Finally there is also an emphasis on the number four, which is an important number in the culture: Jenna needs four rows of jingles for her regalia and there four women who let her barrow a row for her regalia.

However, the most important aspect in the cultural markers is the combination of both the traditional and contemporary way of life. The story is urban set. Jenna wears blue jeans and sneakers. Her cousin Elizabeth is a lawyer and wears a suit. Jenna and the women in the story live in houses or apartments with regular looking furniture. Jenna watches TV like all children.

This combination of traditional and urban life is wonderfully seen in the warm and soft illustrations. Filling the pages, readers will see Jenna and the women, who have light tan skin and dark brown hair, wearing blouses, skirts, jeans and t-shirts, suits, but they will also see the traditional dresses and moccasins that are worn at powwows. There are also other Native American traditional items that are quietly sitting the the backgrounds such as a traditional basket on a table in Grandma Wolfe's house and a dream catcher in Cousin Elizabeth's apartment. There is also barrettes and bracelets that have a traditional design that are worn by Great-aunt Sis and Mrs. Scott.

At the end of the book Smith provides an author note that explains Jenna's Native American background as well as the tradition of the Jingle Dance and other elements that are seen in the story. There is also a glossary that explains what flatbread, Indian tacos, and a what a powwow is.

Well-written story and colorful and subtly detailed illustrations, Jingle Dancer is a culturally rich story that exhibits the importance of family and one cultural traditions in a contemporary, non-stereotypical setting.

This contemporary Native American tale highlights the importance of family and community through a young girl's dream of joining the dancers at the next powwow. Jenna is a girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. She has practiced the steps for the jingle dance by following her grandmother's moves on a video. Now she must get enough jingles (traditionally made of tin, aluminum, or gold canning lids rolled into cones) to sew on her dress to make a satisfying "tink, tink" as she dances. The way Jenna gathers her jingles (borrowing enough to make a row, but not so many that the lender's dress will "lose its voice"), and her promise to dance for the women who cannot dance for themselves illustrate the importance of family and community ties. The colorful, well-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story. A note explaining Jenna's heritage and a brief glossary are appended. Connie Fletcher Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Kindergarten-Grade 3-Without enough tin jingles to make her dress sing, how can Jenna be a jingle dancer just like Grandma Wolfe at the next powwow? She borrows one row from Great-aunt Sis, whose aching legs keep her from dancing; another from Mrs. Scott, who sells fry bread; one from Cousin Elizabeth, whose work keeps her away from the festivities; and a fourth row from Grandma, who helps Jenna sew the jingles to her dress, assemble her regalia, and practice her bounce-steps. When the big day arrives, the girl feels proud to represent these four women and carry on their tradition. Watercolor paintings in bright, warm tones fill each page. In scenes where she is dancing, backgrounds of blurred figures effectively represent both the large audience and the many generations whose tradition the gathering honors. Seeing Jenna as both a modern girl in the suburban homes of her intertribal community and as one of many traditionally costumed participants at the powwow will give some readers a new view of a contemporary Native American way of life. An author's note and glossary tell more about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Ojibway origins of jingle dancing, and the significance of the number four in Native American tradition. This picture book will not only satisfy a need for materials on Native American customs, but will also be a welcome addition to stories about traditions passed down by the women of a culture. Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2000

Read more picture books by Native American author Joseph Bruchac like The First Strawberries.

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