In the second installment of October’s MTYT, Deborah Dimmett and Angie Hoffman continue to share a sampling of children’s books written by Native American authors who bring to the young reader a deeper understanding about Native American traditions and perspectives. In particular, the theme this month provides a view into the cycle of life of young native women. In For a Girl Becoming, the reader follows the journey of a young girl through all the stages of her life as she comes into adulthood with the love and support of her family.
ANGIE: I remember when this book first came out, I wanted to read it because it reminded me of the days my daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughter came into this world. I was there to see two of my granddaughters born, as well as my great granddaughter. Watching the transformation of these beautiful children was an amazing process. Seeing all the stages the baby goes through to be born and then finally laying eyes on her is an unforgettable experience. After the birth, they go to their mother’s and father’s house along with all the history, traditions and attributes of that particular family embedded within their DNA. When my own children were born, my grandmother made cradleboards for all of my four children. The tradition was passed down to my aunt Serina, who continues on the tradition of making cradleboards to this day.
Prayers, singing, the first breath of life. These are the tales of happiness and life lessons of a girl’s journey through birth, adolescence and adulthood. As a native nation we come together as one to offer recognition, affection, and guidance to help her advance through the many achievements and occasions to come in her life. All the while, emphasizing to her how profoundly she is treasured and adored by her family. We remind her of the gift of breathing, walking, running, laughter, tears, dreams and the best gift of all–breaking and putting oneself back together. Life is so precious, we must learn to appreciate everything. Of course, our journey has tests that are full of tears, kindness, anger, jealousy and failure. Part of the transformation is having the knowledge to get back up again because both the girl and the woman are strong and part of a whole.
DEBORAH: I agree with Angie that Joy Harjo and Mercedes McDonald have created a beautifully written and illustrated book about growing up and the coming of age of a young Native American girl. It is really interesting to hear about how Angie connected with the story. Whereas, I was not able to relate to the story beyond the appreciation of the elegantly written and painted retelling of a mother’s account of her daughter growing up. This could be due to my different cultural background but also because I never had younger siblings or children myself. Coming from a predominantly-western, non-Native American cultural background, I can certainly speak to its value beyond my initial response, particularly in the elementary classroom. What a wonderful way to engage children in thinking about how they have been raised and the important messages their caregivers have given them throughout their young life. Some interesting insights and connections could also be made by having children compare and contrast their experiences with those described by Harjo. And, in doing so, they will have a perfect opportunity to learn about their first years of life as they interview their parents about each of the stages Harjo describes.
In closing, For a Girl Becoming is unusual in that it is one of the few children’s books whose intended audience is Native American children and one in which is expertly crafted by a Native American author and illustrator.
Title: For a Girl Becoming
Author: Joy Harjo
Illustrator: Mercedes McDonald
Publisher: University of Arizona Press
Date Published: October 15, 2009
This is the second installment of October’s issue of My Take/Your Take. You can find the first installment here. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!