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Native American Literature #2


Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer. Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 2000. ISBN: 0-688-16242-8.



Jingle Dancer is a children’s book about a Muscogee, or Creek, girl who gets herself and her dress ready to dance for the first time at the next powwow, a Native American social and spiritual event that includes dancing, drumming, singing, and eating.  Jenna needs four rows of jingles for her dress and during the course of one day she sets out to borrow them from four different relatives.

The story is written in a repetitive rhythmic style that is attractive to children.  This and the sound words used throughout the story make the story come to life just like a song. 

The story is set in contemporary times. It is about the transferring of tradition from one generation to the next.  Jenna and her Grandmother live in a modern home surrounded by relatives who live nearby.  They love and practice their traditional dance, the Jingle Dance.  This dance has been passed from generation to generation.  In fact, the author explains in the note at the end of the book that “Obigway and other Native women of Canada are often credited as the first jingle dancers”.

"This story is very much about reciprocity, sharing, and respecting elder women--a tribute to my grandmas and great aunties. It is often noted for featuring a professional Native woman character, Cousin Elizabeth, who is a lawyer, and for the fact that the illustrations include biracial Native people, such as Black Indians.”--Cynthia Leitich Smith

The illustrations are done in watercolor and using pastel colors that give the story a real life effect.  Each character has unique facial expressions that represent the characteristics of the Creek people accurately.  The clothing used by the characters tells us the importance that the jingle dress and other outfits used during a powwow ceremony have to Native Americans.  People dress in contemporary clothing at home and at work; however, they wear special outfits for their dances and ceremonies at the powwow. 

The illustrators, Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, are a married couple that belongs to different cultures.  They believe in respect for all communities; therefore, they put a lot into research in order to provide accurate information and avoid stereotypes about the culture they are illustrating. (Illustrator Interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith Resources)

Children of all cultures, especially dancers, will enjoy learning about the jingle dance.  Teachers can create a lesson in which they compare and contrast dances from different cultures.  They can concentrate on the steps, the dresses, and even the importance of the dance to the community. 



Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Cynthia Leitich Website., July 13, 2005.