Correcting a Kindergarten Deficit (As Requested By An Almost-First Grader)

How Raven Made The Tides

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).

The Girl Who Helped Thunder Thumbnail CoverFor example:

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.

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*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! 🙂

20 thoughts on “Correcting a Kindergarten Deficit (As Requested By An Almost-First Grader)

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  3. I am about to have a girl, so I definitely am starting to think about these issues as well! My mom always at the end of fairytales used to say ‘they lived happily ever except for on Sundays when she cleaned house.’ She was worried I would think that marriage=happy all the time etc.

    1. Awww, congratulations! It’s interesting to think about how the stores we read as kids affected our developing notions of gender roles. What I like about these folktales is that they send a message that complements what I’m teaching my children.

  4. Your kids are lucky to have you as a mother. 🙂 Mine didn’t read to me, nor did she buy me books. I had to beg for them. She liked magazines, preferably about wealthy people and how they wasted their money. She was always showing me articles about how the 1% lived. It’s no wonder she and I didn’t get along.

    1. Thanks, Theo. I’m trying to be the best parent I can be, but it isn’t easy. It’s been particularly rough these past few weeks because of work obligations. I’m sorry that you had a strained relationship with your mother, but I’m glad that you still managed to develop your literary talents despite those challenges.

  5. This is very cool! The way the tales are rather gruesome makes me think of how the Disney-fied fairy tales I grew up with differ SO MUCH from the originals. I’m glad your girls are exploring Native American culture, that is fantastic.

  6. I am glad the girls had such a fun time at camp! I grew up on Native American mythology as my dad was really into it and shared his love of the various mythologies with us. The stories can be quite scary, but I think you are doing it the best way–reading the stories with them and discussing them as you go.

    1. Thank you! I was really impressed that my girls didn’t want to stop reading, even though they were scared. I was also impressed by the questions they asked and their responses to my answers about the themes in those stories. They’ve grown up so much! Reading with them is one of my favorite parts of parenting. 🙂

  7. Jaclyn

    Sounds like an adorable camp experience, and I’m glad that the twins were inspired to read some different books as a result – tough as the material might be. It also sounds like you handled the difficult material really well with them. That’s something I’m already thinking about for when my little one is older.

    I was thinking about you and #WeNeedDiverseBooks this weekend. E got the book “Cordouroy” for her birthday, which was one of my favorites as a child. As I was reading it to her (6 times in a row, haha) I realized that Lisa, the little girl in the story, and her family are people of color. It’s not part of the story at all – Lisa is just a kind little girl who loves her bear – and I don’t remember ever noticing Lisa’s skin color as a child. (I was way more interested in Cordouroy’s explorations of the department store than I was in anyone’s skin color.) reading it as an adult, I loved realizing that here is a “diverse” book that is not at the same time screaming LOOK AT THESE CHARACTERS SO DIVERSE! but just showing people living their lives and being kind to others. I think you’d mentioned having a hard time finding diverse characters in books (and I know other bloggers/tweeters have) and I was thrilled to stumble across diversity in an old favorite.

    1. I remember Corduroy! I can’t recall whether I noticed the racial background of the characters when I was a kid, which probably means that I didn’t. I’ll have to pick up a copy for my kids (thank you for mentioning it!). It’s nice when children’s books don’t draw too much attention to racial differences, but I’ve wondered whether the subtlety diminishes the impact (which isn’t as much of a concern with picture books like Corduroy as it is with middle grade chapter books without pictures).

  8. I’m glad they had such a great time at camp! And I am impressed at how worldly your six year olds are! I used to read similar folklore stories in the monthly Highlights kids magazine.

  9. I remember arts camp being a blast. I’m glad your girls had fun.

    Fairy tales are so tough. I have a collection from my childhood that I pulled out when David was little but I had forgotten how scary they are. Now that he is almost seven, I think he handles them a bit better.

    1. Thanks! Who knows whether they’ll continue to perform in shows at school (when the opportunity arises), but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. The program this summer really helped their self-confidence.

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