Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Drumming, Dancing, Dreaming

A memory of the drums remains.  A procession of men, of all ages, proudly and respectfully walks down the center of the arena.  The rhythm is maintained, steady and strong, like a beating heart.  There is no other sound but the drums.

Remembering a first powwow, whether you are young or old, is powerful.  Repeat attendance, stories read and stories told enrich the experience.  It is a time of singing, dancing, drumming, eating, renewing relationship bonds and celebrating family and new friends.  Bowwow Powwow Bagosenjige-niimi'idim (Minnesota Historical Society Press, May 1, 2018) written by Brenda J. Child, translated by Gordon Jourdain with illustrations by Jonathan Thunder honors these gatherings.

Bowwow! Bowwow! When Windy Girl saw a lively puppy barking at a painted turtle down by the lake, she knew she had found a dog that could make her laugh.

Itchy Boy, a great canine companion, barked at everything.  The animals in the woods and a minnow on the end of her line for bait attracted his attention. When Uncle's green pickup truck appeared Itchy Boy barked louder than ever.

Both Windy Girl and Itchy Boy knew a ride in Uncle's truck meant stories would be told.  For the girl, the tales of powwows were the best. Uncle told of a special dance performed before a powwow; the same song would be sung as the dancers moved from house to house.

We are like dogs.
We are like dogs.

As summer drew to a close a powwow was held.  Windy Girl and Itchy Boy enjoyed every minute.  She ate, listened and watched.  He romped with the other dogs. As the powwow continued into the night, the girl and dog fell asleep together.  Windy Girl dreamed.

Each tradition of the powwow was a part of her dream.  Each participant in her dream was a dog.  Tobacco was offered in gratitude, veterans walked in the Grand Entry, a group drummed and the dancers danced.  Each dancer moved through her dream wearing regalia specific to their dance.  The food stands were there too.  Itchy Boy's barking and an announcer's voice woke Windy Girl.  Now was the time for everyone to celebrate the past and the present together.

Like a circle, with no beginning and no end but having a center, the narrative written by Brenda J. Child focuses on the growing relationship of Windy Girl and Itchy Boy.  Her conversational sentences widen the circle to include the presence of Uncle, welcomed by both the child and her dog.  His stories of the past about the powwow and Windy Girl's present day experiences are beautifully depicted in her dream.  The repetition of the words she dreamed supplies a cadence like the beat of a drum.  Here are some of Brenda J. Child's sentences.

Fortunately, all children and dogs love to fall asleep under the northern lights while
listening to the steady heartbeat of a drum. 

Windy dreamed about the elders, who taught her to
offer tobacco to express gratitude, and to dance for
those unable to dance.

She dreamed about the grass dancers, treading the northern earth.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the joy shown on the faces of Windy Girl and Itchy Boy on the front is continued on the back.  A pack of eight other dogs race behind the truck.  They want to join Itchy Boy and his girl. The line of evergreens extends to the far left and northern lights swirl in the sky giving light to the constellation of the dog dancer on the front.  The painted turtle is a frequent presence throughout the book.

The opening and closing endpapers are ablaze with the northern lights.  Beneath the text on the title page a happy Itchy Boy is shown jumping. Most of the illustrations created by Jonathan Thunder span two pages.  His fully animated characters convey a full range of emotions; nearly all of them embrace finding joy in the moment.  If he is blending the past into the present it is set apart as if in a cloud of mist.

For the series of illustrations during Windy Girl's dream the background is done in hues of blue and green, mirroring the northern lights.  This canvas allows the dogs in the powwow to be prominently displayed.  It also leads us into the stunning two-page wordless picture near the end of the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the beginning of Windy Girl's dream.  She is remembering the elder's instructions.  We are brought very close to the scene.  Across both pages three powwow dancers are walking past the tobacco.  Two are already holding some in their fists.  The third, at the end of the line, is reaching into the container.  We can see portions of their regalia.  Behind them stars sparkle among faint lines in the sky.  We can see their arms and hands are not human.  They are the arms and paws of dogs, strong and sure.  This is our first insight into Windy Girl's dream.

As readers join Windy Girl and Itchy (and Uncle) in Bowwow Powwow Bagosenjige-niimi'idim written by Brenda J. Child, translated by Gordon Jourdain into Ojibwe, and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder we cannot help but feel the elation of joining a powwow and the respect given to the past and the present.  By including both the English and Ojibwe words of the story all readers are welcomed to this narrative.  (I carefully read several pages of the Ojibwe to my canine companion who listened with concentration.)  I would sincerely enjoy hearing this read aloud by two readers; one speaking Ojibwe and the other English.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.

If you desire to know more about author Brenda J. Child please follow the link attached to her name to read her university page.  Jonathan Thunder's website can be accessed by following the link attached to his name.  He also maintains accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Native America Calling Book of the Month hosts Brenda and Jonathan as they talk about this title.  Brenda and Jonathan chat on Minnesota Reads radio show.  Author Traci Sorell interviews Jonathan Thunder about this book on Cynsations, the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith.  I believe you will greatly appreciate this video interview with artist Jonathan Thunder which aired on June 24, 2018 on PBS.  This link provides many programs where Gordon Jourdain speaks about the Ojibwe. He is an educator at the Misaabekong Ojibwe Language Immersion program for Duluth Public Schools. (from jacket flap)

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