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Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Criteria for analyzing Alaska Native Children's Literature

By Jennie McLean

Is this book truthful and respectful? Would anything in this book embarrass or hurt a Native child? Is anything in this book stereotypic thinking in a non-Native child?

NAME OF BOOK and published: BIRD GIRL

ISBN NUMBER: ISBN 0 - 06 - 097727 - 0

GRADE LEVEL & GENRE:
4TH GRADE & UP
ALASKA ATHABASKAN INDIAN LEGEND, FORKLORE
This book is a chapter book, 223 pages.

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT AND WHERE IT COMES FROM?

This is a novel about a young girl, Bird Girl who does not want to marry and conform to her tribe's traditional of woman and she leaves the tribe. The young man in the novel is Dagoo and he is a dreamer who loves to go on long walks around the country instead of learning the deep cultural traditions of his people. Daagoo also leaves his tribe in search of the legendary Land of the Sun.

WHAT REGION OR TRIBAL GROUP IS THIS BOOK PORTRAYING?

This story takes place in Alaska right below the Arctic Circle near the area where Fort Yukon now is. This is the Doyon Region.

FRONT COVER OF BOOK AND ILLUSTRATOR:

The front cover is different yellow colors and shows a large sun with a bird symbol in the center of it. The illustrator of this book is James Grant who also did the illustrations for Velma Wallis' other book Two Old Women. James Grant is an Athabaskan Indian from the village of Tanana and was adopted and raised in California. After he grew up and went to college he returned to his people's country and now is a well known artist in Alaska. His pictures in the book depict the Athabaskan Indians very well. Because he is from Alaska and knows the Indian people his drawings of the people and the region in which they live are very real and alive. He does an amazing job at drawing through out this book.

INFORMATION FROM BOOK SELLERS SUCH AS AMAZON OR OTHERS ON WHAT THE BOOK IS PORTRAYING:

AWARDS GIVEN FOR BOOK: No awards given for this book.

AUTHOR: Velma Wallis

Good points: Velma has written this story from memories and storytelling that she heard as a young girl growing up in Fort Yukon. With her mother's permission she has written this story of long ago when her family was living a rich and strict Indian cultural tradition.

Bad points: Reading this book I did not see any bad points in writing.

ILLUSTRATIONS:

Good points: James Grant is an Athabaskan Indian from Tanana, Alaska. His drawings and sketches in black and white depict the culture from where this story takes place. I really can get a good feeling for what it was like back in this time with the way that James drew the pictures of the country and the people and their clothing.

Bad points: No bad points in the pictures. They are pretty accurate for how The Athabaskan Indians dressed then.

Information about Illustrator: In the back of the book it has a write up, "About James Grant".

"An Athabaskan Native born in l946 in the village of Tanana, Alaska, James L. Grants Sr. was adopted and raised James G. Schrock in Southern California. Drafted into the U.S. Army in l967, he was stationed in Europe, where he studied the masters. Later he attended Chaffey Junior College in Alta Loma, California, then returned to Alaska to study the Native Arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Besides pen and ink drawings, his art includes sculpture, mask making, and oil painting. He currently lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

INFORMATION FROM AN ELDER FAMILIAR WITH THIS TIME AND PLACE?
I did not talk to any elders about this book.

PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS IN BOOK: could they sound out the words by showing it in parentheses ( ).

Some of the words were in Gwich'in language and some of the names were hard to pronounce. If they were in parentheses it would make it easier for people reading this book to read it more accurately. For a teacher who is not familiar with this language it would be very helpful because this book would be a great read alound.

LOOK AT PICTURES:

Properly illustrating what the book is about and the people that it is portraying. James Grant did an excellent job of illustrating this story.

LOOK FOR STEREOTYPES:

Look at both the writings and pictures to see if they are stereotyping the culture which the book is about. I really did not see any pictures or writing that depicted stereotyping. In this culture long ago they did use bow and arrows and in this story that would be accurate not stereotypical.

LOOK FOR LOADED WORDS:

Are racist adjectives used to refer to Native peoples? Is language used as to insult Native peoples? Is the language respectful?

I did not see where the author portrayed the Athabaskan people incorrectly. Because the author is also Athabaskan Indian she portrayed the people in this story I think better than if it were a person who only read about these people.

LOOK FOR TOKENISM

Are Native people depicted as stereotypically alike, or do they just look just like whites with brown faces? Are they depicted as genuine individuals?

When I was reading this story and I came to the different pictures in the book they really gave you a feel for what the Inupiat and the Athabaskan people looked liked and their lifestyle. On page 139 it shows Bird Girl and Turak struggling with each other. They are shown in garments that both their cultures would wear. Also their faces depict how each comes from different people, they are depicted as genuine individuals.

LOOK FOR DISTORTION OF HISTORY

Is the time and place of the history in the story correct? Does it depict the right clothing, language, and way of life for that time and place in history? Is the U.S. government only "trying to help"?

Are there Native heroes who are admired because of what they have done for their own people? Are they elders shown as people that were greatly respected by the community?

I think that this story correctly depicts this time in history.

LOOK AT THE LIFESTYLES

Are Native cultures presented in a condescending manner? Are there paternalistic distinctions between "them" and "us"?

Both the Inupiat and the Athabaskan are distinct in their own way of living culturally. This story correctly tells about how both cultures lived long ago. Velma is very good at describing the lifestyles of both cultures.

Are the Natives in the book respected and does it show respect for the complexity of their societies, values, religions, morals and connection to past and present?

In this book Velma tells about some of the old ways that are no longer practiced now but are very alive and vivid long ago. I remember my mother telling me that long ago in her village the young women has their mates chosen for them.

LOOK FOR STANDARDS OF SUCCESS

Are the Natives portrayed as a helpless and less of a person compared to a priest, teacher, or other non Native person that seems to know what is "good for them" (the Natives).

The standards for success in this story are real. Long ago the people had a hard time finding food in the dead of winter.

LOOK AT THE ROLE OF WOMEN, MEN AND ELDERS

Do the women do all the work? Are the men lazy? Are the elders treated with respect or are they looked upon as a burden to the people? Are the customs of the elders valued?

Long ago everyone in the tribe had to contribute to the survival of the tribe. The older women did most of the sewing and the younger women learned from them. The men in the village trained the younger men to hunt and survival skills essential for the survival of the tribe.

LOOK AT THE EFFECTS ON A CHILD'S SELF-IMAGE

Is there anything in the story that would hurt or embarrass a Native child? Are there one or more role models with whom a Native child can identify? Are the children encouraged to succeed by their elders and parents?

In this story Velma writes about how the two peoples would fight sometimes over there different hunting grounds. Some parts of this story are hard to stomach but William L. Hensley explains them in the foreword and Velma explains in the afterword. I think that because of some of the strong violence in this story Velma explains this part of the book well so that the reader has a greater understanding of how it was long ago.

OVERALL VIEW OF THE BOOK AND RATED BETWEEN 1 - 10

I would rate this book between a 7 - 9. I really enjoyed reading this book. I really love adventure books and non-fiction. This book is not non-fiction but it is of a legend of stories pasted down from long ago to the younger children. I like how the book tells about the changing of the people. That is why we live the life we do now because of change. If we did not change a little where would we be today.

The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.

The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified August 14, 2006