LS 5653 Module 4-Rain is Not my Indian Name

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain is Not my Indian Name. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. ISBN 006029504X

Cassidy Rain Burghoff has a patchwork heritage (Muscogee Cree-Cherokee, Scots-Irish, and Irish-German-Ojibway) but considers herself Native American. By her own words, her family is “St. Patty’s Day Irish and Bierfest German.” (p.73) However, how she views the world is shattered when, on her holiday birthday, her best friend dies.

The somewhat choppy narration (which includes excerpts from Rain’s journal) does a good job of leaving the interpretation to the reader. As Rain struggles with who she is as a person and as one of the few Native Americans in town, the reader is given a chance to see the confusion without knowing the conclusion. Despite the tear-jerking moments (or perhaps because of them), this 135 page book begs to be reread.

This modern novel shows the struggle of being proud of your heritage while not wanting to make a splash. At some point, one of those has to forfeit to the other.

There is great respect towards the Native Americans in the novel as well as nods to how they are typically viewed. For example, Rain buys a dreamcatcher for her unborn niece. Despite knowing the Ojibway boy she was buying it from, Rain still implied the dreamcatcher might be one of the “fakelore” ones that were made in bright colors without respect for the tradition.

One highly amusing and thought provoking moment that would be a good springboard for teens is near the end of the book. Rain and the journalist intern, the Flash, are discussing heritage and Indian Camp. During Indian Camp, the teens built a pasta bridge that Flash has been wondering about. When he asks Rain she answers simply, “Indians build bridges.” This confuses Flash. It doesn’t match with what he thinks he knows about Native American culture. Shortly after finding out Flash is Jewish, Rain finally admits that, “All I know about Jewish people, I learned from Fiddler on the Roof.” (pgs. 115-116) This opens the door for teens to explore what it really means to be a modern Native American, Jew, Irish American, or even native Texan. Views on heritage may vary from person to person, but everyone has some kind of heratige.


Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers Award-2001 (Winner)


Kirkus—“ Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself…Her response to Galen’s death is tied to her tentative explorations of her own mixed Native American and German/Irish heritage, her need and desire to learn photography and to wield it well, and the general stirrings of self and sex common to her age.”

Children’s Literature—“ What follows is a summer of turmoil and realization, in which Rain is forced to come to terms with the tragic events she has lived through, the world in which she lives and her sense of self. Smith (author of Jingle Dancer) portrays a protagonist with a genuine voice and an appealing sense of humor. Aunt Georgia’s red hair, Grampa’s notes from Las Vegas, pasta bridges and all, this rendering of a contemporary family of Native American heritage is wonderfully far from stereotypical “dreamcatchers, the kind with fakelore gift tags.””

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews .May 2001. (Vol. 69, No. 9). Accessed via CLCD at

Krishnaswami, Uma. Children’s Literature. Accessed via CLCD at


LS 5653 Module 4-Native American Book of Choice

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood. Illustrated by Ellen Beier. New York: Holiday House, 2011. ISBN 9780823421343

The Christmas Coat tells the story of Virginia, one can guess by the subtitle that this is most likely the author, one Christmas. A few things are spelled out for the reader, Eddie needs boots, Virginia needs a coat, and, as subtly noted by one sentence, they live on a reservation. In fact, these subtle explanations continue through the short book.

For many readers, the more noticeable nod to the Sioux is on the cover, where three boys wear feathered headdresses. However, up until the page where these boys actually appear, everyone wears sensible clothes (with the exception of one coveted fur coat). When the boys (who are playing the Wise Men in the Christmas pageant) do appear, the text states that “only the wise leaders and elders of the tribe could wear” the headdresses. In addition, there are things like dolls in traditional dress and the complexion and hairstyles of the people.

The Christmas Coat shows real life rather than what everyone supposes real life on a reservation must be like. It is a gentle nudge that reminds people that the Native American of Hollywood and the various Native American tribes in reality are very different.  It could be used as a springboard for a research project into Christmas celebrations, life on a reservation, or the Sioux people.  It could also be an incentive for older students to write a compare and contrast essay between how Native Americans truly live and how the movies portray them.


Choices -2012 (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)


Kirkus Starred Review—“ The story unfolds in a linear, matter-of-fact way reminiscent of the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, with school and family scenes and a strong sense of the main character’s emotions and family ties. Realistic illustrations in watercolor and gouache capture the snowy, flat landscape, the simple schoolroom and the crowd of children each experiencing something different at the holiday events. Virginia’s personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes.”

Kutztown University Book Review—“ Virginia, the author, tells of her early years on the South Dakota prairie when her father headed a congregation among the Sioux. Virginia needed a new winter coat and held hopes that the “theast boxes” from the East would contain a used red coat to kept her warm during the cold winter months. As the daughter of the Episcopal priest, she had to wait while the members of the congregation’s needs were filled before she was allowed to choose something for herself.”

Cardenuto, Nancy E.. Kutztown University Book Review. Spring 2012. Accessed via CLCD at

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. September 2011. (Vol. 79, No. 17). Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5653 Module 4-Joseph Bruchac

Bruchac, James; Bruchac, Joseph. Rabbit’s Snow Dance. Illustrated by Jeff Newman. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN 9780803732704

Rabbit’s Snow Dance is a colorful and fun retelling of the traditional Iroquois story, “Why the Hare has a Short Tail.” Rabbit always wants things right now. At the moment, he wants snow because he can leap on the snow drifts to get the leaves at the top of the trees. Even though it is summer, Rabbit sings his song and does his snow dance. Rabbit’s snow song (EE-OOO! Thump! Thump!) is repetitive and invites the children to follow along. However, Rabbit soon learns that not even a snow dance can change summer.

Newman’s watercolor images are just plain fun. While all of the animals look like cartoons, Rabbit’s design stands out. He looks more like traditional Japanese images of rabbits both in overall appearance and in a few very distinct poses.

While the book itself presents no backstory for the tale, on the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), Debbie Reese has a long quote from Joseph Bruchac that will be printed in subsequent printings explaining where he learned the story. In it he reminds the reader that with oral tradition it is hard to pinpoint the origin of the tale and as people move to different regions, the stories may change some. (Bruchac via AICL, 2012)

This would be a great place to start a research project for myths that cross various tribes and how they change.


Booklist—“ An impatient fellow (with a long, luxurious tail), Rabbit wants things when he wants them. And right now he wants snow the fact that it’s summer notwithstanding…The telling is sprightly, and Newman’s ink-and-watercolor artwork, which has the feel of Asian brushwork, makes an ideal companion.”

Kirkus—“ Drum in hand, he sings as he dances in a circle: “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” (It won’t take much coaching before listeners join in with this and other infectious refrains.)”

Bruchac, Joseph. Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature. December 11, 2012. Accessed at

Cooper, Ilene. Booklist. Dec 2012. (Vol. 109, No. 7). Accessed via CLCD at

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. October 2012. (Vol. 80, No. 19). Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5653 Module 3 Hispanic/Latino Book of Choice

Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. ISBN 9780375958380

Return to Sender is a realistic fiction novel told from two perspectives, the primary narrative that follows Tyler, and Mari’s letters.

Tyler is the youngest son of a proud Vermont farmer. Throughout the novel he struggles with what is legally right, what is morally right, and whether or not the two have to agree. The most obvious struggle is whether having illegal Mexican workers on the farm, without them Tyler’s family would have to sell the far, makes his family bad. However, another theme (one that crosses between the Mexican workers’ family as well as Tyler’s) is that of loyalty to family.

Mari is the oldest of three daughters and the only Mexican among her sisters. Mari, along with her father, two uncles, and absent mother, are all Mexican. Mari also has two major worries. She worries about immigration (called la migra by her family) finding and deporting her Mexican family, separating them from her two American little sisters, and she worries about her missing mother.

I started off saying Mari’s letters were her perspective. However, they are much more than that. Alvarez uses Spanish headings on the letters (such as 15 agosto 2005) as well as some interesting sentence structure to show that Mari is actually writing in Spanish. The letters are also justified, making them look decidedly different from Tyler’s sections.

Return to Sender explores not only the differences between cultures, but also the things that cross all boundaries. For example, both Tyler and Mari look to the stars to see their dead grandparent. While Tyler discovers he has two homes, the farm and his family, Mari has always known that, like the monarch butterflies and the swallows, her two homes are The United States and Mexico.

A large portion of this book focuses on immigration, mainly illegal due to the fear of la migra, but it also mentions legal immigration. From Tyler and Mari’s Spanish teacher, to a college girl who begins to date Mari’s uncle, legal migrants, and the discussion of legal immigration is threaded throughout the book. In fact, one old man, a very proud American, is reminded that his grandparents were immigrants from Italy. Considering how hot a topic immigration is today, this book would make a good conversation starter.


Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature-2010 (Winner)
Pura Belpre Award-2010 (Winner)


Booklist—“The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. But the young people’s voices make for a fast read; the characters, including the adults, are drawn with real complexity; and the questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.”

Kirkus—“Tyler wonders how he can be a patriot while his family breaks the law. Mari worries about her vanished mother and lives in fear that she will be separated from her American-born sisters if la migra comes. Unashamedly didactic, Alvarez’s novel effectively complicates simple equivalencies between what’s illegal and what’s wrong. Mari’s experience is harrowing, with implied atrocities and immigration raids, but equally full of good people doing the best they can.”

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. November 2008. (Vol. 76, No. 22). Accessed via CLCD at

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. December 2008. (Vol. 105, No. 7). Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5653 Module 3 Gary Soto Poetry

Soto, Gary. Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing. New York: Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 9780152063016

Partly Cloudy is a collection of love poems split into two viewpoints, that of a girl for the first half (titled “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs”) and a boy for the second (“A Boy’s Body, His Words”) that would most likely appeal to middle school students. A majority of the poems are free verse. While the subtitle, Poems of Love and Longing may seem to appeal more towards girls, the actual poems are universal (and not just because half are from a boy’s perspective).

Some poems are light, others silly, and yet others in that angsty-teenager area. That being said, none of them are extremely difficult to read. Most of the poems are straightforward (a tree is a tree, not a symbol of something else).

There is another way the poems in Partly Cloudy are universal, there is a surprising lack of cultural markers. For example, there is one poem with Spanish, “Barriers,” that clearly shows the potential difficulties of love between cultures, but in this case, the other culture is Japanese. There are several poems that speak of being poor, and while that could be a cultural marker there is no real way to say which culture it is portraying. In “Imagination” the boy narrating mentions he has a girl on the other side of town that he has to “skateboard thirty-three blocks,/Sixteen of which I’ll be terrorized/By pit bulls and thugs lurking/Like vultures on car fenders.” (81) While this clearly gives a picture of the boy and his relationship, it doesn’t necessarily denote a particular culture.

If anything, Partly Cloudy is a mirror. The reader will understand and interpret what is familiar into the spaces left in the slightly vague language.

Spotlight Poem


When she said no,
I took my loneliness to the river,

Frozen only a month ago.
Sunlight lit the first blossoms of spring

And made early March appear beautiful.
But it wasn’t for me.

I stared at the slow cargo of blossoms,
And the ripples that hurried them along.

I kicked sand that sprayed like salt,
And sighed a dozen times.

I noticed driftwood that resembled arms
And legs. That’s how I felt,

Lifeless, in other words.
You may laugh, but I bent over the river,

Adding to that ancient flow,
A young man’s sadness when a girl says no.


Since this poem discusses a different sort of loss (he was never actually with the girl), it would be interesting to encourage teens to write a similar poem, not necessarily about missing out on the guy or girl, but when something you expect to happen doesn’t. Another option is to encourage the teens to find a fallacy (like the driftwood in the poem, or having a bad day only to realize it’s raining outside) and write about it.


Paterson Award for Sustained Excellence in Literature for Young People—2009


Booklist—“ In rapid, clear free verse, young teens, both girls and boys, speak about falling in love the jealousy, loneliness, and hurt of rejection and breaking up, as well as the romantic bliss. The speakers are as varied as their hairdos, which include curls, straight locks, Afros, or green spikes; and the contemporary settings are diverse, too.”

Kirkus—“ The deceptively simple poems examine love from many angles in verses that are by turns funny and poignant.”

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. January 2009. (Vol.77, No.2). Accessed via CLCD at

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. February 2009. (Vol. 105, No. 12). Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5653 Module 3 Pat Mora Poetry

Mora, Pat. Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 978375945656

Dizzy in Your Eyes is a collection of teenage love poems that has both structured and free verse poems. The poems are always on the right hand page with the facing page either having a definition and explanation of the form of verse or some abstract art.

While some of the poems are silly, others approach love from a more serious angle. Perhaps the most refreshing view of love in this collection is that while many are about romantic love, there are also poems about things like familial or even the more generic love like loving animals.

The main cultural marker is language. While some bilingual poems lament misunderstanding between languages, others incorporate Spanish smoothly letting the reader understand just how comfortable the speaker is with the language. However, while language is the most obvious marker, several poems including “Mariachi Fantasy” include others. “Mariachi Fantasy” includes Hispanic music and clothing.

Perhaps the most powerful poem in the collection is the one that appears twice, back to back, at the end, “Ode to Teachers/Oda a las maestras.”Part of the power of this poem comes from the fact that Mora chose to put the English and Spanish back to back. Another thing to note is that, if read aloud, both translations flow well. This pair serves as a reminder that poetry itself is multicultural.

Spotlight Poem (excerpt)

My Song

So many memories,
and I’m still young.
So many dreams,
my song’s just begun.

Sometimes I hear
my private melody grow,
then the sound vanishes,
but returns, I now know.

I’ve heard my heart break;
wounded, I’ve felt alone,
but slowly I learned
to thrive on my own.

I want to keep learning,
to deepen my song;
in whatever I work,
may my best self grow strong.

It’s still the morning,
the green spring of my life.
I’m starting my journey,
family and friends at my side,
my song inside,
and love as my guide.


This poem continues in this matter, speaking of not only hardship and loss, but also joy and learning. The stanza starting “It’s still the morning,” is actually the refrain of the song. This is a great opportunity to encourage teens to write their own songs, whether they are ever actually put to music (perhaps in an open mic) or not. Often people don’t think of lyrics as poetry, so to some, writing a lyric may be less intimidating or embarrassing than writing a poem.


Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature-2011
Pure Poetry-2009 (Voice of Youth Advocates)


Booklist—“ Mora writes in free verse, as well as a wide variety of classic poetic forms including haiku, clerihew, sonnet, cinquain, and blank verse and for each form, there is an unobtrusive explanatory note on the facing page. The tight structures intensify the strong feelings in the poems, which teens will enjoy reading on their own or hearing aloud in the classroom.”

Kirkus—“ Mora explores the first love between a girl and a boy, the filial love between a daughter and her father, the fraternal love between sisters, the love of family, friends and teachers, picturing each variation as a strong force that strikes, blesses, empowers and beautifies the lives of the ones touched by its light. The poet’s voice is multifaceted: tender, humorous and joyful but also profound.”

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. December 2009. (Vol. 77, No. 24). Accessed via CLCD at

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. November 2009. (Vol.106, No. 6). Accessed via CLCD at