She Persisted: Maria Tallchief

Indigenous People’s Day (Presidential Proclamation) Oct. 10, 2022

She Persisted: Maria Tallchief

Christine Day, Author

Alexandra Boiger and Gillian Flint, Illustrators

Philomel Books, Biography, Nov. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Maria Tallchief, Native American, Ballerina, Biography, Making a difference 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Inspired by the #1 New York Times bestseller She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger, a chapter book series about women who stood up, spoke up and rose up against the odds–including Maria Tallchief!

In this chapter book biography by award-winning author Christine Day, readers learn about the amazing life of Maria Tallchief–and how she persisted

Maria Tallchief loved to dance, but was told that she might need to change her Osage name to one that sounded more Russian to make it as a professional ballerina. She refused, and worked hard at dancing her best, becoming America’s first prima ballerina. Many famous American ballets were created for Maria!

Why I like She Persisted: Maria Tallchief:

Today is Indigenous People’s Day and I will celebrate by sharing the remarkable life of Maria Tallchief, written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), an Indigenous author. What a perfect pairing!  Maria was the daughter of a full-blooded Osage Indian father and a mother of Scotch-Irish descent. She was born in Oklahoma in 1925 and grew up on the Osage Indian reservation, where girls weren’t permitted to dance. Because of her own indigenous heritage, Day is able to give readers insight into many tribal customs.

As a child the sound of the beating drums filled Maria’s spirit and she moved to their rhythms. Her parents recognized her talent and didn’t stop her. And dance she did, overcoming many challenges along her way. Even though, she refused to change her name, she became America’s first prima ballerina. Little girls will be delighted to know she danced the Nutcracker and the Firebird, as well as many other important ballets. 

Day is particularly adept at showing how difficult it was for a Native American to achieve such success. Her story-like text moves along at a quick pace, relating important information that readers will find appealing. There are six chapters in the book. It is well-targeted for its intended audience. Make sure you check out the introduction from Chelsea Clinton. Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into Maria’s early life.

At the end, Day includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist” and follow in the footsteps of Maria Tallchief. Also check out the She Persisted Club page where readers can join and view a video with Christine Day. There is also a  downloadable guide. 

The She Persisted books are among my favorites to share, because they introduce emerging readers (6 to 9) to stories about girls who have big dreams and pursue them with passionate determination, no matter the challenges before them. In Tallchief’s case, her passion and dedication to her art carried her to the top and she ended up inspiring audiences — especially little girls — around the world. She was also a teacher and mentor to many.

There are 20 books about American women that have been released monthly from 2021 to 2022. They include Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Sally Ride, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, Sonia Sotomayor, Florence Griffith Joiner, Ruby Bridges, Clara Lemlich, Margaret Chase Smith, Maria Tall Chief, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey and Coretta Scott King, Temple Grandin, Mala Yousafzai. Marian Anderson, and Maya Lin, Rosalind Franklin and Wangari Maathai will be released in coming months. They may be purchased individually in paperback, or in a chapter book collection. And, they can be found in libraries. This entire series belongs in every school library.

Christine Day (Upper Skagit) grew up in Seattle, nestled between the sea, the mountains, and the pages of her favorite books. Her debut novel, I Can Make This Promise, was a best book of the year from Kirkus, School Library Journal, NPR, and the Chicago Public Library, as well as a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, and an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book. Her second novel, The Sea in Winter, was published in 2021. She also wrote the forthcoming She Persisted: Maria Tallchief, an early reader biography in a new series inspired by Chelsea Clinton’s bestselling picture book. Christine lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Visit Christine had her  website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle  website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues by Becky Villareal

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues

Becky Villareal, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, Dec. 27, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Exploring family roots, Multicultural, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mystery

Opening: Halito means hello in Choctaw, but I didn’t find that out for a long, long time. At least that’s how it seems when you’re still in school and having to go every single day of the year!

Synopsis: Gianna is a fourth grader who came to America from Mexico. She is very interested in exploring her family’s roots.  Her teacher announces that the class will celebrate Halloween with a Book March and students are encouraged to wear a costume that matches a character in a favorite book. Gianna wants to dress as a Native American girl to honor her favorite book, The Rough-Faced Girl. While she searches her attic for costume possibilities, she discovers an old trunk that is full of old family pictures of Mexico, passports, and memorabilia. She realizes how much she doesn’t know her family history. Her mama tells her that her father was a soldier at Fort Bliss in El Paso and was shipped overseas. He didn’t return and her mother never knew what happened to him. Gianna decides that she’s going to find out. With the help of the social studies teacher, she learns how to search information about her father on veteran’s sites. With her new best friend, Aponi, who is Native American and speaks Choctaw, she begins to learn about her friend’s culture.  Aponi helps Gianna with her search, which takes a very unexpected turn. Will Gianna find her father and solve the mystery for her mother?

Why I like this book:

Becky Villareal has written a captivating chapter book about a girl interested in researching her family roots, finding answers about her father’s disappearance and learning something more about her own identity. Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues is the second book in the Gianna The Great series. It teaches young readers about genealogy, history, solving a mystery and tolerance for different cultures.

Gianna Saldana is a curious, determined and kind-hearted girl. She befriends Aponi, the new girl who is shy and self-conscious. Both characters are from different family backgrounds. Gianna’s mother is a single parent raising her daughter alone. Aponi is from a very large family, many living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The story is original and well-crafted, the plot is realistic and the ending will surprise and satisfy readers. It is an adventure story with a fun mystery to solve. Villareal incorporates both Spanish and Choctaw words throughout the story. The illustrations are colorful and cartoon-like. Verdict: This 37-page book will engage readers and is an excellent recommendation for reluctant readers.

Becky Enriquez Villareal is the author of Gianna the Great series. She was born in Dallas, Texas in 1954 to missionary parents. She grew up in several different Texas towns including McKinney. For twenty years she has taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District. For the past ten years she has completed family research. The grandmother of three she enjoys writing and spending time with her family.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for children and parents to explore their own family history. Answer your kids’ questions about your childhood and family life. Encourage them to interview their grandparents and great grandparents about their memories of family history so they have a sense of their roots.  They may be surprised about what they learn.  Visit Villareal‘s website, where kids can print out a variety of family trees and fill in their own family information.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

*I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Mask that Sang by Susan Currie

mask-that-sang-518kxm1cjsl__sx346_bo1204203200_The Mask that Sang

Susan Currie, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Bullying, Native American heritage, Family Relationships, Orphans, Residential Schools

Opening: Faster, faster! Cass kept scrambling past garbage cans and over cracked pavement, although her legs were dead stumps and her lungs screamed. The boys were close behind her, the same four who chased her home every day.

Book Synopsis: When Cass Foster’s estranged grandmother unexpectedly leaves her house and savings to Cass and her mom, it’s just the thing they need to change their lives. Cass is being bullied at school, and her mom just lost her job—again—so they pack up and move in. With the gift come more questions than answers for Cass.  Why is her mom reluctant to live there? Why was this relative kept so secret? Why won’t her mother read the sealed letter from her own mother?

While exploring her new room, Cass finds an intriguing and powerful mask in a drawer and she is inexplicably drawn to it. A strange relationship grows between Cass and the mask; it sings her songs, shows her visions of past traumas and encourages her to be brave when facing bullies. When Cass finds the mask gone, her quest to get it back leads to an unexpected discovery about her family’s Cayuga heritage that will bring her and her mother into the arms of a community that’s been waiting for them.

Why I like this book:

Susan Currie works magic in this multi-layered novel, that culminates in a touching and spiritual tale about Cass and her mother finding their roots in a Native American community. It is a journey of discovery that is richly textured with themes of bullying, family relationships and finding “home” in a very tight and loving community.

The characters are diverse, believable, and memorable. Cass is spunky 12-year-old, who sprints home from school dodging bullies that shout insults about her shoes and clothing, call her names, throw objects at her and knock her to the pavement. She’s not sorry to say goodbye to her old school and apartment and move to her very own home and a start fresh at school. Mom is an orphan who never knew her mother.  She’s resentful and reluctant to accept the house and money her “mother” leaves her. Cass quickly makes friends with a boy named Degan Hill, who is a talented artist in her class. She discovers that Degan is Native American, when Ellis, a classroom bully, makes racial slurs. Cass finds a kindred spirit in Degan. She confides to Degan about the mask singing and telling her things. Degan tells Cass that the mask she finds is a “false face” that can have a good or evil spirits running through it. Their friendship grows and a trust forms between them. Change comes for all the characters.

Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this satisfying tale. The plot is engaging and well-paced with the right amount of tension to keep readers interested. It sheds light on a dark past in Canadian history. Cass is drawn to the mask she finds in her drawer. She is distraught when it is missing from her drawer. Even though the mask is gone, it continues to sing to her, encourages her to be brave, shows her visions of a past she doesn’t understand and leads her to its hiding place.  I like how the author brings the story full circle. This is an emotionally honest story filled with heart.

I urge you to check out a picture book I reviewed Oct. 21, I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. The story focuses on the Indigenous children who were taken from their families in the 1920s and put in “residential schools” where they were forced to forget their heritage.  It is a good companion book for The Mask that Sang.

Susan Currie is a winner of Second Story Press’ Aboriginal Writing Contest, resulting in this, her second book. Her first book was Basket of Beethoven, published in 2001. She has an MA in children’s literature and has been an elementary teacher for 17 years. Susan is adopted and after discovering a birth aunt a few years ago, she subsequently learned about her Cayuga heritage. The Mask that Sang grew out of her experience of discovering her roots.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.