In the third installment of October’s MTYT, Deborah Dimmett and Angie Hoffman talk about the picturebook Kinaaldá: A Navajo Girl Grows Up, which is written and illustrated by Monty Roessel. October’s theme is the cycle of life of young native women. This book provides the reader with an inside perspective of a young Navajo girl going through the Kinaaldá, the ceremony that signifies she has become a woman.
DEBORAH: Author and photographer, Monty Roessel, is a Navajo whose specialty is documenting contemporary Navajo life from a Navajo’s perspective. In this particularly well crafted rendering, Roessel documents the right of passage of a young girl becoming a woman in the Kinaaldá, a coming-of-age ceremony. The book takes the reader on a life journey with Celinda, a 13-year-old Navajo girl, who embarks upon a week-long celebration and preparation of becoming a woman. This momentous time begins one early morning in December when Celinda wakes up to finish a race, but not just any race.
This was her Kinaaldá race. It’s a race that Celinda begins as a child. When she crosses the finish line, from that moment forward she is an adult. (p. 9) Celinda’s journey, as symbolized by the race, is that transition that young Navajo girls make when they begin puberty and the sacred time in which they transition from girlhood to womanhood. Celinda not only must complete the race, she also must spend an exhausting evening in prayer and sitting with her legs stretched in front her as required. During her prayers, the corn cake she helped prepare cooks in a fire pit nearby. When Celinda finishes all parts of the Kinaaldá, she and her family take part in eating the corn cake to mark this important day.
Neither Roessel nor the publisher ever tell us if the story is fiction or nonfiction. However, his story is told in a documentary style that truly gives the reader the impression that it is an actual account of a real girl celebrating her coming of age. In addition, Roessel incorporates some of his most beautiful photographs to complement the text. The photos of Celinda and her family are set in the expansive Navajo Reservation that spans the northeastern part of Arizona as well as parts of New Mexico and Utah.
Roessel’s account of Celinda’s journey and transition is very informative and interesting to a non-Native American such as me who began reading the story with little knowledge about Navajo culture. However, the book holds much for young Navajo girls who anticipate either their own Kinaaldá or who simply want to be informed about an important spiritual tradition.
ANGIE: Kinaaldá is voiced by Celinda, who is participating in the Kinaaldá ceremony. She tells her experience as she goes through each event of Kinaaldá and through the photographs that enhance the telling of the story. The photographs portray the Navajo people’s way of life in honoring the coming-of-age ceremony and Celinda’s Kinaaldá. This ceremony is performed throughout the story by a Navajo young girl. One must be invited to witness this blessed event. It’s a privilege to be invited. An invitation must not be taken lightly because this ceremony is sacred to the Navajo people and the girl being honored will only have this ceremony once in her life.
Kinaaldá is a coming of age ceremony of a Navajo girl. The ceremony is two to four days long. Navajo people believe that the Kinaaldá is a way for young girls to comprehend what life will be like when they grow up. The author describes the different events of the ceremony from the perspective of the Navajo. He incorporates the meaning of the ceremony, the significance of the girl participating, the molding of the Navajo girl by the Godmother, and the prayers voiced by the Medicine Man and the Navajo people. He also emphasizes the importance of the running (for life) activity, which signifies a long active ‘healthy’ bountiful life, and how Celinda must endure and possess strength in order to complete the race. The creation of the cake signifies that her life as a woman has begun, through the steps of the cake creation and its completion. All of these steps show the significance of the ‘Changing Woman’ ceremony.
This story does support Native American children, especially young girls who are about to embark on their own coming of age ceremony. It identifies who they are as Native Americans and the pride of their tradition by taking part in the ceremony. Furthermore, the book gives the reader an inside view of how significant the ceremony and the experience of this girl changing into a woman is to the Navajo Nation. The author allows the reader to share in these real life experiences. Exposure to these traditions through the book Kinaaldá helps to broaden one’s understanding of other cultures. It breaks down arrogance, shallow perceptions and the barriers of prejudice.
The author wrote this book about the Navajo people because he has lived the Navajo life and knows the ceremony, Kinaaldá. Moreover, he specializes in writing and photographing contemporary Native Americans, especially the Navajos. Roessel works on special project documentaries of contemporary Navajo lifestyle. This is a quality piece of literature written for children because it provides insight of the ceremony, Kinaaldá, through the voice of a young Navajo girl who participates in this ritual and the photographs taken of the events. The quality of this literature is the story itself. The cultural explanation of the ritual is Native American. The above statement is the reason why this book, Kinaaldá, has been positively received and why it can be considered an authentic Native American book.
Title: Kinaaldá: A Navajo Girl Grows Up
Author: Monty Rosessel
Publisher: First Avenue Editions
Date Published: September 1, 1993
This is the third installment of October’s issue of My Take/Your Take. You can find the first and second installments on our site. Check back next week to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!