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Multicultural Literature
Jingle Dancer
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Good Luck Gold: And Other Poems
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Real Heroes

Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith.  2000. Jingle dancer.  Illustrated by
     Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.  New York: Morrow
     Junior Books.  ISBN: 0688162411.

 

          This contemporary story has a suburban setting but draws on Native American tradition as we learn of Jenna’s dream to dance like her Grandma Wolfe and perform at the next powwow.  Jenna is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and lives in Oklahoma in an intertribal community.  She watches a videotape of her grandma bounce stepping in a jingle dance.  Grandma says Jenna can dance but there isn’t enough time to order the tin jingles required to make her dress “sing”.

          Jenna has a plan and visits her Grand-aunt Sis who no longer dances, Mrs. Scott who makes and sells fry bread, her cousin Elizabeth, a lawyer, and her Grandma Wolfe.  She asks each if she can borrow one row of jingles from their dresses to sew onto her dress and they are happy to comply.  Jenna dances at the powwow with pride and the story exclaims, Grandma Wolfe “warmed like Sun”.

          Beautiful water color pictures accompany each page in this picture book and expand the text depicting the jingle dance itself as well as native dresses and costumes, artifacts, foods, jewelry, and moccasins.  Close inspection of the powwow depicts the crowd in the background with faint images of past native ancestors in full regalia.  Significant to the story is the four rows of bells sewn onto Jenna's dress.  Four is considered a sacred number to Muscogee and other Native Americans.  All of these cultural pieces are woven into a story of a girl living in a setting very much like any home U.S.A. with television, furniture and cars, giving the reader a modern perspective of Native American life.

          The author extends the story in notes at the end of the story and the glossary.  The customs of the powwow including the jingle dance, its meaning, the costuming and purpose of the jingle noise sounding like “rain falling on a tin roof” (Smith), add to the authenticity of the story.  The author also intersperses mention of native foods such as fry bread and Indian tacos and uses language reminiscent of Indian legend, “as sun fetched morning”, to note the time of day.

          This book was awarded Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Selector’s Choice of 2001 as well as being named to the 2001 2X2 Reading List for Texas Library Association (Smith 2004).  It integrates traditional Native American customs with an up-to-date setting and emphasizes the importance of family and community.  Leitich Smith says, “Jenna is helped to bring together her regalia by beloved members of her intertribal community and then dances for them.  Reciprocity, sharing, and respect are the core values.” (Amazon.com)

Amazon.com.  About the Author.  Available from http://www.amazon.com.  Accessed 11
     July 04.
 
Cynthia Leitich Smith.  2004.  Awards and honors: Children's books by Cynthia
     Leiich Smith.  Available from
     July 04.