This summer, we sent our six-year-old twins to an arts camp, one with a performing arts component that we hoped would encourage our quiet little girls to emerge from their shells. Not only did the camp achieve this goal—performing on stage was their favorite part of the summer**—but it also exposed them to culturally diverse material that, apparently, they hadn’t experienced anywhere else.
Most of the performances were improvisational, but the final show was a choreographed rendition of How Raven Made The Tides, a Native American myth from the Pacific Northwest. After the show, which was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, my daughter M. remarked, “In Kindergarten, we read mostly rhyming books, not much mythology, and definitely nothing about Native Americans,” prompting my sisters to buy her a copy of The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales during an outing at Barnes & Noble later that afternoon.
As I’ve discussed in Racial Diversity: The Pros and Cons of Subtlety and other posts on this blog, I am a strong proponent of introducing children to diversity through literature (in addition to real life experiences). It looks like my inclusive reading preferences have already rubbed off on my daughter, who has turned out to be more similar to me in personality than she is to anyone else in our family — including her twin. I don’t have to nudge her towards these selections; she demands books that feature diversity.
So, of course, we’ve been reading Native American folktales over the last few days, a story or two at a time, which is all we can accomplish because of the lengthy discussions each story inspires.
The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales is a collection of Native American stories divided by geographic region.*** Some tales are easy for my daughters to process, while others present more challenging themes, including ones that even I have trouble reading in literature (as I discussed last week in Reasons to Avoid a Beloved Classic).
When the stepmother in The Blind Boy and the Loon (Inuit) blinded her stepson with rotten whale blubber, one of my daughters cried.
When the father in Why Owl Lives Away from the People (Wiyot) starved his children, my other daughter gasped, and when he burned his wife’s legs with a stick from the fire, they both screamed, “Why would he do something like that?”
But, as hard as it was to read about these atrocious behaviors, my daughters wouldn’t let me put the book away, no matter how many times I offered to read something else with them. They wanted to know how these stories ended, and I acquiesced because avoidance isn’t a strategy I often take in parenting. For previous posts on where I draw the line on what is appropriate/inappropriate for my children, see How Do You Talk To A Child About The Holocaust? and Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older.
In this case, it was easier for me to indulge their curiosity because, after reading ahead, I knew that these folktales weren’t graphically violent and that, ultimately, the moral at the heart of each story was exactly in line with what we are teaching them: abuse, neglect, and greed are wrong.
My daughters aren’t too young for those lessons.
*The main picture is a still from a video of the performance (hence the poor quality of the image–which is just as well because I don’t want the other children to be identifiable). S., in the long-sleeved white shirt, was a raven, and M., in the green shirt, was a crab.
**Clay was another class they particularly enjoyed. Our basement is now a museum of children’s art after nine weeks of art camp!
***The Girl Who Helped Thunder And Other Native American Folktales is a collection of stories retold by James Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Stefano Vitale. It does not contain the tale my daughters performed. We have a xerox copy of How Raven Made The Tide, which I will scan and keep forever! :)