Jingle Dancer written by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Reviewed for Illustration
The illustrations in this book border on hyper-realistic in its artistry. The illustrators captured realistic features in what looks to be watercolor or perhaps a form of mixed media. To say the art om this book has merit is an understatement as every page is done with a clear understanding of both the media used and the subjects chosen for representation.
Each Illustrated page lined up perfectly with a special moment within the story. This is both an interesting choice and a touching one because each illustration showed the importance of not only the jingles Jenna needed for the dress but the relationships she had with the women not only in her family but in her community who danced before her. The illustrations portrayed a sense of togetherness within the culture even when the story’s main focus was te jingles for the dress or the jingle dance. The book also offers an author’s note in the back which further explains Jenna’s background and the cultural tradition of the Jingle Dress Dance. There is also a glossary for a few of the terms that may be new to those not native to the culture such as regalia or fry bread.
Each character depicted was unique in their qualities. No, two women were alike and yet they all had a cultural background in common. There was no evidence of stereotyping, prejudice, racism, or other forms of problematic views in the illustration nor in the text.
The culture was appropriately shown when it was time for the Powwow and Jenna’s jingle dance. The clothing, props, hairstyles, and dance choreography illustrations all seem to be culturally accurate. The illustrations showcase modern times and not stereotypical views of Native American culture. Traditional clothing is only used appropriately during the Pow-wow which is a time of cultural celebration that is depicted respectfully.
Cynthia Leitich Smith is a mixed-blood member and citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) nation. As such she is from within the culture. The illustrators are not from within the culture but they did a great job of illustrating it appropriately and respectfully.
I couldn’t find a thing to critique about this book nor could I find any valid critiques during my research. The book is well written and the illustrations are beautifully and accurately done. In fact, we only need to look at the honorable mentions and awards the book has received to see that this book is in fact a great addition to the We Need Diverse Books movement. It was the Oklahoma Book Award Finalist in 2001, Notable Children’s Trade Book in Field of Social Studies 2001, 2 X 2 Reading List (Texas Library Association) 2001, Storyteller Award finalist from the Western Writers Association 2002, CCBC Choice 2001, Reading Is Fundamental 2011 Multicultural Books List, Read Across Texas Bibliography list 2002, Michigan’s Reader’s Choice Award List 2002, Runner-up, the Western Writers Association Storyteller Award, Debuts that Deliver by Book Magazine, Best Multicultural Children’s Books for Early Childhood Educators by Montessori Life, Suggested Title, Recommended Native Literature for Youth Reading Circles from American Experience: “We Shall Remain,” PBS, April 2009, Recommended Title, GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, 2002), Listed Title, Talk Story: Sharing stories, sharing culture: a joint project of the American Indian Library Association and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, Featured Title, Native American Children’s Literature Reading List (First Nations Development Institute), Editor’s Choice, Library Talk
Upon my research, I felt the need to quote this review as it encompasses the true nature of what most reviewers felt was important about this book.
“The story, set in the present day, dispels the idea that Native people no longer exist. It also demonstrates that Native ways of being are part of the lives of Native children, families, and their nations, today.”— First Nations Development Institute (2016)
The combination of the story with the illustrations is overall of great quality and one that is not only recommended for libraries but for educational classrooms and personal libraries to introduce children to one of many Native American cultures. The author tells a touching tale of the importance of unity, tradition, symbols, and dance within modern-day Native American culture. I think the most touching part of the story was Jenna’s insistence on not taking too many jingles that the other dresses would lose their voices. This shows us as outsiders to the culture just how important those jingles are to not only the dance, or the dress, but to the culture and the ceremony or form of prayer that is the jingle dance. It was clear from reading regular reviews from people on websites such as Goodreads that this book also fits into #OwnVoices as many self-identified Native American reviewers both identified and found meaning within the pages of this book in both the story and the illustrations.
Top 5 Native / First Nations / American-Indian Illustrative Children’s Books
1. Jingle Dancer Written by Cynthia Leitich and Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Having reviewed this previously, I may be a little bit biased on this pick but I also think it would be remiss to not include it in my list. This book not only shows a modern view of an American Indian tribe but also shares a bit of their culture in a respectful and true to life way. Leitich is also from within the culture which is always something I look for when choosing diverse books, she is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. It was the Oklahoma Book Award Finalist in 2001, Notable Children’s Trade Book in Field of Social Studies 2001, 2 X 2 Reading List (Texas Library Association) 2001, Storyteller Award finalist from the Western Writers Association 2002, CCBC Choice 2001, Reading Is Fundamental 2011 Multicultural Books List, Read Across Texas Bibliography list 2002, Michigan’s Reader’s Choice Award List 2002, Runner-up, the Western Writers Association Storyteller Award, Debuts that Deliver by Book Magazine, Best Multicultural Children’s Books for Early Childhood Educators by Montessori Life, and many more that I feel to list them all here would be too long. It’s a great pick for all audiences and has a great message and cultural knowledge to share.
2. A Man Called Raven Written by Richard Van Camp and Illustrated by George Littlechild
What I love about this book is that both the writer and illustrator are from within the culture. They both belong to First Nations Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib Nation and Littlechild is from the Plains Cree Nation. I think it’s important when finding own voices that we also support artist from within the culture when possible and this book is an exemplary choice for that. The story is an interesting take on animal legends and folklore told to Van Camp from his Dogrib elders. The mystery and magic surrounding the story with the added colorful artwork are sure to capture the attention of any child. It received glowing reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Rethinking Schools, and The Midwest Book Review, among others.
3. The Star People: A Lakota Story Written and illustrated by SD Nelson
I have not read this book but during my research, the illustrations captured my attention. S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas. The Star People was Awarded the Spur Storyteller Award in the Illustrated Children’s Book category and many glowing reviews. It is a mystical story about remembrance and tradition told in the form of adventure. The illustrations are captivating and the little bit that I was able to read through previews was wonderful.
4. Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way Written and Illustrated by SD Nelson
Greet the Dawn won the Literary Classics award and it’s easy to see why. Nelson’s illustrations are colorful and capture the attention like no other. What’s most interesting about this book is that it has both Lakota and English translations for cultural songs. This book showcases a mixture of modern and traditional as it celebrates culture and the simplicity of greeting the dawn. Nelson’s inspiration came from traditional Lakota stories and the Lakota way of living in balance.
5. Stolen Words Written by Melanie Florence and Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Florence is of Cree heritage and her close relationship with her grandfather sparked her inspiration for Stolen Words. This story explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families and erased their cultures and languages. A little girl makes a dreamcatcher at school and comes home with lots of questions for her grandfather who sadly must admit that his language was stolen from him. The next day she returns with a book on Cree culture. Stolen Words, won the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, is shortlisted for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and was given a starred review by Kirkus, who listed it as one of the best picture books of 2017 to give readers strength.
- Cynthia Leitich Smith
- George Littlechild
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Shonto Begay
- Joseph Bruchac
- Melanie Florence
- Xelena Gonzalez
- Rose Ann Tahe
- Jonathan Nelson
- Cheryl Kay Minnema
- Traci Sorell
- David Robertson
- S.D. Nelson
- Richard Van Camp
- Carole Lindstrom
- Michaela Goade
- American Indian Youth Literature Award – https://ailanet.org/activities/american-indian-youth-literature-award/
- Cynthia Leitich Smith – https://cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit-resources/read/diversity/native-am/nat-lit/native_lit_picbooks/
- American Indians in Children’s Literature – https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/
- Talk Story – http://talkstorytogether.org/
- Critical Bibliography of North American Indians k-12 – https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED432424
- Oyate – http://oyate.org/index.php/resources/40-resources/books-to-avoid
- AILA – https://ailanet.org/
- Teaching Books American Indian Collection – https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?go=1&adv=title&culturalArea=AI
- #Native Reads Recommended Reading List by the First Nations Development Institute – https://www.firstnations.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Revised_Book_Insert_Web_Version_March_2018.pdf
- Modern First Nations & Indigenous North American Families Book collection – https://booksforlittles.com/unpolished-booklist/nationality/indigenous/modern-first-nations-indigenous-american-families/