Tuesday, June 15, 2021

From Indian Two Feet to Fry Bread

Tuesdays at TWT!
When I was a scrawny first-grader with a long blonde braid that swung back and forth across my back as I skipped down the hallway, I checked out an Indian Two Feet (cringe, right?!) book from my school library. For some reason, I fell in love with Indian Two Feet. I checked out every book in the series. I read them again and again. I made my two best friends play Indians with me at recess in a clover patch that we decided was our tipi. I always pretended to be Indian Two Feet (I used to marvel at my oldest daughter's bossiness, but looking back at my childhood play, nearly everything was my idea, and I always played the main parts), while my poor friends played the parts of Indian One Foot and Indian Three Feet (face palm). (Apparently we used up all our creativity imagining that clover patch was a tipi...)  

I couldn't tell you anything about what happened in those books now, although the name was obviously enough to make me terrified about what I'd find when I Googled them. (I found some read-aloud videos of one, and while the story isn't actually as problematic as I'd feared, the original illustrations are atrociously stereotypical, and not much better in a newer version.) But for some reason, my heart and mind were completely smitten with the idea of American Indians after I read those books. (It's entirely possible that these books may have been one of my first encounters with the fact that Native Americans even existed, and I know I wasn't alone.)

As soon as I finished all the Indian Two Feet books in our school library, I wanted to read every book about American Indians I could get my hands on! Fortunately, I was grade levels ahead in reading, with a mom who was passionate about reading, so when I wanted to read about something, I had more than the typical access to materials. I quickly moved on from Indian Two Feet (thank goodness) to devour a wide array of historical fiction, collections of traditional stories, biographies, and informational non-fiction. I researched Tecumseh for my 3rd grade biography assignment and ended up presenting my project in front of the whole school. I'm probably the only kid who ever read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (~ 500 pages) and A Sorrow In Our Heart (~ 800 pages) in their entirety before even becoming a teenager. (Sadly, I now recognize that even so much of that wide reading was problematic, mis-informed, embellisheddeficit-minded, or too anchored in the past.)

Luckily, my parents fostered my desire to learn in more ways than just with books. We attended powwows where I got to ask questions, hear traditional music, taste delicious foods, view beautiful artwork, and even participate in dances. (Powwow culture is VERY welcoming to visitors and a great way to learn about traditions! It's not weird if you aren't tribally enrolled; public powwows welcome everyone and the people are happy to share with you!) We visited countless museums, historic sites, and cultural centers. We attended every educational program we could find. I learned and learned, and slowly, the stereotypes so easily acquired gave way to a more accurate understanding of various tribes, their unique histories and cultural traditions, and some awareness of modern tribal life. More accurate books were published, and I started learning to discern reliable sources and problematic portrayals. 

When I got a middle school assignment to write to a famous author, I wrote to Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki author who sent me back a beautiful art print from one of his books. My 35 page senior thesis for AP Lit (I lost a few points for going over the recommended guidelines of 15-20 pages... but I was so excited!) explored themes and symbols of modern American Indian identity in works such as Ceremony and House Made of Dawn. My dad signed me up as a founding member of the National Museum of the American Indian when it opened, and I've learned so much from our trips there and the articles in the member magazine. 

Now, I'm so thankful to be able to share incredible books like Cradle Me and Fry Bread with my daughters and my students; books that show the beauty and resilience of modern American Indians with tribal specificity and cultural accuracy, and a sense that these people are still here. I'm thankful for tribally enrolled citizens who educate on social media and high-quality internet resources that make it possible to access information (and ensure its accuracy) more easily. From home this past year, I've learned about various tribal languages and history from amazing tribally enrolled members across the country through incredible virtual museum and library events.

And the more I learn, I realize there's just so much more to learn. My reading list and my Twitter feed grow. 

I also realize how uncommon this learning is for so many Americans. What would I know about American Indians if I hadn't done my best to learn about them for my whole life? What do most Americans know? Some stereotypes brought on by problematic childhood books. Great big holes in history classes, with a few quick sidebar notes that usually serve to further stereotypes. The impression that American Indians lived a long time ago, and/or in the West. Racist mascots and catchphrases that are so engrained in popular culture that it's easy to think they're ok, just like those old books. Even some recently published books (that you'd hope would be high quality) turn out to be problematic

When I Googled Indian Two Feet (and watched the read-alouds to see what it's really like), I was dismayed to find so many positive reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. Too many reviews mentioned being excited to find a favorite childhood book to share with children, the beauty (?!) of the illustrations, and even using it to teach kids about American Indians (!!!!). 

We have to get this right. We, on this stolen land, need to to filter out the stereotypes, inaccuracies, romanticizations, and omissions and find the real stories of the people who were here long before us, and the people who are still here now. We can do better, especially with all that is available to us in this moment. We must do better.

I'll miss being able to share so many of my favorite childhood books with my girls, but I'm more grateful that they'll have access to books that affirm, honor, and accurately portray these important cultures. Please join us. 

Rainbow Girl enjoying the back pages of Cradle Me. 
She loves to point to each cradleboard and say either the name of the tribe or what the baby is doing (from the earlier text of the book).

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The girl and her mama

Tuesdays at TWT!
 "Can we read girl and her mama?" Rainbow places a chubby little hand on my knee and gazes up expectantly, locking her blue eyes onto mine as if she's trying to channel maximum cuteness.

"Ummm, which one?" There are way too many books that fit this description.

"Girl and her mama! It's new! It's a present..."

"Ummm..." New? Is there a story about a girl and her mom in one of the most recent issues of one of their Spanish magazines? I want to figure out what book she wants, but I can't come up with one...

"The name is a song?" She crinkles her eyes.

"OH! Yes! Your Name is a Song! I got that for Sis for her birthday! You want to read Your Name is a Song?" I got that for your sister because her name is beautiful and often mispronounced, but sure, of course!

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" she squeals in increasingly high registers as she hop-gallops in place in excitement. I pull her onto my lap and she runs her tiny fingers across the front cover. "There's the girl! And mama!" She spins halfway around to gaze up at me again with that crinkly smile. "Like Mama and [her name]!"

"That's right, honey bun, just like Mama and you." I give her a squeeze and kiss her hair.

She loves the cover & all the illustrations! <3

Settling back against me in her floppy reading position, she narrates the wordless first pages herself. "There's the kids, playing. There's the girl. She's not playing." Then she happily points out whenever the mom and girl are together, little finger shooting out in delight. "There's the girl! There's the mama!"

When the names come, she tries out the first few, grinning and wiggling as if savoring them in her mouth as we tap our feet to their rhythm together. "Olumide! Kotone!" She smiles when I pat her chest and tries out "Ahlam", then giggles when I poke her in the belly for Ngozi. 

The singing part gets her cackling and squealing as we sing "Miizzz Annnnnndersonnnnnnn," Bawawawab!", and "Kooooraaaaa Jalimuuuuuso" together. 

After we read it, she demands to see the video of the author pronouncing the names, which we'd watched after the first time we read it. "Hear the names, on Mommy's phone?" She tries out a few more names as we listen, and often interrupts to ask, "The girl? the girl?" When Kora Jalimuso comes, I point it out and rewind so we can hear it again.

That night, as she talks herself to sleep in her crib, I can hear her trying out names from around the world. "Bilqisss! Ju-long!"

And a couple mornings later, when I can't quite figure out what she's saying in a singsong voice in the monitor, I'm astonished when I realize that she's singing, "Koooraaa Jalimuuso" to herself. 

Nearly every day since, she's toddled over at some point to ask again. "Can we read... the name is a song?! It have the girl and her mama!"

And every time we read it, she interacts with it in nearly the same way: loving the pictures of the girl and her mom and connecting them to us. (One day, she even points out to me that the girl and her mama have matching flowers on their bags!) Trying out the new sounds in her mouth. Dancing and wiggling, smiling and giggling. Delighting in the rhythm, the musicality, the pride, the joy, and the beauty of kids of different colors and names with different sounds. 

Definitely music to the ears of this mama and her girl. 

Kora Jalimuso's name song moment!
(the explanation for this name in the back matter just takes it up another level!)

Thank you, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, for such a beautiful story honoring and lifting up the children (like my students and Rainbow's big Sis) who are tired of their names getting "stuck" in others' mouths. Thank you, Luisa Uribe, for bringing so much beauty into the illustrations, from the vibrant body language to the matching flowers my 2yo noticed before me, the hair details, and the whispered thread of"salaams" stretching between the girl and her mama's mouths before school. I'm grateful to see my girls delighting in a book that is so rich in so many ways. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Dancing dream

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!

Nearly 4 years ago, when she was just 2, Sweetie fell in love with the Irish dancers at our town's Irish Festival. I've always loved the music and dancers too, but she was absolutely mesmerized, even as far from the stage as we sometimes were. She stood on my lap, clapping, bouncing, and pointing. 

Sweetie at 2 years old, clapping to the dancers

When I set her down, she started dancing immediately, and over the next few days (weeks, and months), we were astonished to see how much detail she'd picked up as she watched. She pointed her toes, she kicked up her legs, she brought her foot to her knee. On the car ride home, she started asking for "Irish songs" and then wanted the one I already had on my phone "again!" and "again!", causing me to download more songs in a weekend than I usually do in months. I figured it would be a phrase that she'd outgrow in a few weeks, but by the time the next festival rolled around the following year, she was dancing in an unmistakably Irish style anytime she heard music (and plenty of music-less times)!

That summer, at 3, she self-taught-Irish-stepped her way around every dance floor at the festival, to the delight of all the musicians on stage and all our fellow festival-goers. One local band even invited her up to the stage to dance with them, but she couldn't quite figure out if that was really ok. We scoured the festival program and tried to hit every dance show we could!

3 years old, dancing in front of the dancers

Most thrilling for her, she got to participate in an Irish dancing lesson from a local Irish dance school at the dance floor in the children's area. That did it. She started telling everyone she was an Irish dancer! 

her first "lesson" / first time dancing "on stage" <3 

This was definitely not a phase. Whenever she met someone new, she'd declare that she was a dancer and break into something that definitely resembled a jig enough that the new person would grin and say, "Oh yeah, Irish! I see!" Thankfully, the spring she turned 4, the local Irish dance school decided to add pre-beginner class sessions for kids as young as 4, so she finally got to start learning real steps instead of making them up! All summer, she practiced her jig steps: "cross over, up, back-two-three-four", until it was finally time for another Irish Festival. Now, she knew the teachers and some of the "big dancers" from her school, so we targeted their shows on the program and she spent her weekend waving wildly and pointing to the dancers she knew. Now, she was starting to talk about someday dancing on the stage.

4 years old, waving to her teachers as they danced on stage!

We spent every waking minute of the festival weekend watching dancers, and we signed her up for the 3-day mini-camp at her dance school the week after the festival.

1st mini-camp, she's the one in the air on the right!

Now that she was an official student of the dance school, we got to attend their ceili (Irish dance event) in February 2020, where we all learned to do reels just before the world shut down.

ceili reel!

In August 2020, we danced at home to a livestream "festival" with footage from previous years and Sweetie moved up to real beginner level, earning a practice uniform and real ghillies (soft shoes)! All this school year, her little sister frolicked around her in our family room as she did her lessons on Zoom, finally looking like a real Irish dancer, but with nobody to see her. 

Zoom lesson, in her practice uniform!

This past weekend, nearly 4 years after that festival when she fell in love with the dancers, her dance school had an outdoor recital, right on one of the stages used during the festival! 4 years of dreaming, pretending, and practicing, and now here she was, in a beginner performance uniform, doing the cutest two-hand jig (with masks and no hand-holding) that has ever been performed. 

3rd from the left (with her leg way up)!

in her uniform, watching the older dancers, still dreaming

After the beginners danced, the school even surprised them by calling them back up on stage to receive "first recital" medals, which she insisted on wearing the rest of the day. "I want everyone to know I'm a dancer and I got a medal!" she declared. 

What a pleasure it is to watch as a dream dances in your child's heart!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Eagle wonder

Tuesdays at TWT!
Bright blue smocks hunch over bright clipboards on raised knees, patterned pants perch on seat cushions to stay out of the muddier-than-I'd-hoped grass. Little hands carefully craft numbers, words, and drawings. Big eyes peer out of raised binoculars. 

"When scientists study a special animal, they write down what it's doing at different times. Let's write the time, a few words, and a sketch to show our big idea! A sketch is not a careful art picture with lots of details, it's a quick drawing to help us remember an idea." I take a deep breath through my mask. Writing in D'Neilian letters (which I just learned this year from Sweetie's remote kindergarten classes) while holding a portable whiteboard with one hand is hard, and I try to strike a balance between being neat and not taking excruciatingly long. "It's about 11:25, and I want to remember that we can see one eagle sitting in a nest. We don't know if it's the mommy or daddy because they look the same. You can copy my words or write your own."

A little voice pipes up. "It's the mommy, because mommies take care of the nest!" 

Perfect. Watching eagles, busting stereotypes. I crinkle my eyes. "Actually, the mommy and daddy eagles take turns! One is always near the nest, but it could be either the mommy or the daddy. The other one is probably out looking for food, and then they'll switch! Just like how maybe different people in your family take turns helping you, cooking the food, and taking care of the house!" 

This one eagle has been sitting in the nest for the 20 minutes our troop has been here, and while I'm glad it gave us a chance to start our meeting and get settled, I hope it will do something different soon, or our observation log won't be very interesting! We might have to draw a more detailed picture of what we see, but I'm hoping we'll get some activity, like our family has seen before, so we can make a real log.

our Daisy Girl Scout troop observing the bald eagle nest (up in the center tree),
photo credit: one of the troop moms

My mask clings to my face for a minute as I take another deep breath, trying to project my voice as much as possible without yelling to hold the attention of the 7 wiggly kindergarteners spread in a socially distanced, together-but-too-far-apart circle on the bank of the pond. "Now I'm going to tell you a story about how people helped make the world a better place for bald eagles!" 

"I love stories!" The closest girl on my left crinkles her eyes above her bright magenta mask. 

"When I was your age, bald eagles were endangered. I never dreamed I'd be able to see one in the wild!" I talk about overhunting, DDT, and too-thin eggs. Their eyes are wide. 

Suddenly, a little arm reaches out, pointing at the treeline behind me. "LOOK!" 

I turn around in time to see majestic wings spread out, flap a few times, and glide to the parents' favorite nearby perching tree. A chorus of "WOWWWWWW!"s echoes around me. I pop up my binoculars, and 7 Daisies scramble to do the same. "This is a great time to really see the whole eagle! Isn't it beautiful?" Just as I get my binoculars perfectly in focus, a white stream shoots out from the eagle's bottom. "Did you see that?! It pooped!!!" I giggle, and 7 Daisies do too. They keep giggling. 

"Let's write that in our log!" More giggles. 

At first, I write and sketch about the eagle flying to the tree, then I glance at the giggly girls. "We should probably add that it pooped, right?!"

Once the giggly scientists have mostly settled and recorded our delightful observation, I get out the graph I made to illustrate the story of the eagle population's incredible recovery. I've never taught a lesson that was interrupted in quite this way before! "Ok, so I'm going to tell you the story of how people worked hard to make the world a better place for the eagles when they figured out how much they were in trouble!" I walk around the inside of the circle to show each girl the graph up close, then talk them through the highlights of the amazing success story. Just as I finish, the second eagle comes back, cruising into the nest. Perfect timing! I'm used to adjusting my teaching on the fly, but leading a lesson outside to socially distanced kindergarteners about an active animal doing unexpected things behind my back is a whole new level of multitasking and responsiveness.

"Look! See, the two parents are taking turns!" We all scramble for binoculars again. "This one's probably going to feed the baby now!" Sweetie and I have been able to see the baby pop up to be fed before, but unfortunately, the baby stays buried in the bottom of the nest this time, and whichever parent this is goes far down to meet it. We make another notation in our logs, and I point out that we won't write anything about the baby since we can't actually see it, even though we know it's there. 

eagle observation scientists!
photo credit: the same mom

We've barely finished that entry when the parent that was perched on the tree takes off, circling around us several times, regal black against the bright blue sky. "It's putting on a show for us!" The other moms and I are scampering, pointing, and gasping as much as the girls. We're all mesmerized. 

I could stay here all afternoon, and they seem like they could too, but our time is up, so we scurry to record one last log entry, sing "Make New Friends", and do our imaginary, socially-distanced friendship-squeeze-from-far-apart. I tuck the whiteboard under my arm, pick up my bag of extra materials, and remind them to try to look where they step since the ground is so wet. They follow me through the meadow like a family of little ducklings, mostly missing the biggest puddles and patches of mud. 

"WE SAW THE EAGLES!" Little voices screech with excitement as they run to the parents who came to pick them up. "We saw the mommy and daddy! In the nest! And they flew!"

"Thank you so much! I learned A LOT about eagles!" proclaims one of the moms who'd stayed the whole time to help. 

"Yes! I learned SO MUCH!" another chimes in.

"I'm so glad they put on such a show for us!" I reply, and I feel like I'm soaring right up there with the one that circled over us. God is so good.

I need to work on remembering the tails on my D'Neilian l's, but it's not too bad for a HS teacher, right? And I guess I didn't need to be worried about how active the eagles would be!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Spring song

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!

chirp chirp chirp                                    who's hiding here?

thweeeeet thweeeeeet                           a flash of red & yellow on midnight black:

                    redwing blackbird on a soft cattail!      


chirp chirp chirp                                     a favorite feeder friend,           

chickadee dee dee                                  cute little cap, named for his song,

                    little voices shout: black-capped chickadee!

coo coo                                                    who could it be?

coo ah coo, coo coo                                 mourning dove's sweet song

coo ah coo, coo coo                                 gentle and low

chatter chatter tweet                                not all songs are easy                             

twitter twitter cheep                                but the chorus is so joyful...

buzzzzzzz flutter zip!                            Dragonflies! Bumblebee!              

                            Don't forget the bugs!

It feels like summer today! We enjoyed a bike ride and lots of time in the backyard, surrounded with plenty of sweet songs in both places!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Majestic parenting

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!

a dark blob

stunningly huge against the thin branches

constructed carefully,

even lovingly?

a dark shape on top

perching, nodding, surveying its territory,

leaning towards

a much smaller lump

a great wing flaps

then unfolds, reaches, stretches majestically

hooked beak forward,

sharp talons hanging,


"Look, look! It's flying!"

outstretched wings

seem to scrape the cerulean sky, but

the regal silhouette 

leaves no mark

with eyes and mouths open wide

we gaze upwards in awe

watchful mom or dad:

soaring circles never stray too far,

then glide gracefully

to a nearby branch

giving a little space

but staying just close enough:

that's love

I grew up seeing bald eagles at our local zoo and learning how endangered they were. I never dreamed that I'd be able to take my daughters to see real wild bald eagles at their nest at all, let alone that the nest would be right across the street from their school! (The nest is the huge blob in the tree above my older daughter, and one of the parent eagles is the smaller blob in the tree above my younger daughter.)

One eagle has always been sitting in the nest (with at least one baby) whenever we've visited, but yesterday it was a treat when the parent suddenly took off and delighted us by circling right above us for several minutes before landing in a nearby tree! We also got to see both parents as they switched shifts, with one flying away to hunt while the other one stayed near the nest!

Friday, April 16, 2021

para Adam y todos los demás


I blog in Spanish on Fridays. If you don't read Spanish, feel free to copy this post's url into Google Translate and experience the magical imperfection of machine translation!

13 años. 7o grado. 

Aficionado de las películas de Disney / Pixar. 

Manos vacías, escuchando, obedeciendo.

Adam Toledo.

Muerto. Matado. Fusilado. Asesinado. 

13 años. Menor que mis estudiantes.











y más...




llenos del orgullo, el poder, y la sabiduría

de civilizaciones magníficas:

los maya, náhuatl, taíno,

mandinka, kongo,

asirios, kurdos, beréberes...

mis estudiantes



llenos de esperanza y sueños,

tristeza, desafíos, desesperación.

valientes, fuertes,


jactándose, pavoneándose, bromeando,

o encerrándose 

para proteger 

sus corazones,

sus emociones, esperanzas, y sueños. 

mis estudiantes


A veces, arrogantes.

A veces, derrotados. 

A veces, animados, alegres, 


A veces, enojados, frustrados, 


A veces, toman decisiones sin pensar.

Se meten en líos. Se equivocan. Se distraen.

No consideran las consecuencias. No prestan atención. 

Pero también tienen ideas que cambiarán el mundo.

Aprenden, crecen, superan obstáculos.

mis estudiantes


¿Y qué van a hacer

si algún día, 

(si ya se fusilaron a un niño escuchando,

si ya se asesinaron a un muchacho obedeciendo,)

qué van a hacer

mis estudiantes multilingües

si un policía que no entienden

les pide hacer algo que no entienden

en un idioma que no entienden, 

o que les es difícil entender 

en un instante de terror?

¿Qué pueden hacer

si el policía sólo ve 

su piel?

¿Qué pueden hacer

si el policía 

no tarda 

apenas un segundo

en disparar?

¿Qué pasarán a sus sueños,

sus esperanzas, sus futuros,

si son asesinados 

en menos tiempo que tardan en traducir 

un pensamiento?