Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Sequoyah and His Talking Leaves: a Play about the Cherokee Syllabary by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin, illustrated by Siri Weber Feeney
The play is narrated by two historians and is set in the southern United States sometime between 1809 and 1820. In the opening scene, Sequoyah, an illiterate metal smith, notices some of his friends looking at an newspaper, which he refers to as a talking leaf because of the writing on it, which his friends refer to as marks and believe were given to the white man by the Great Spirit.
There are two historians who introduce things or provide the reader with some important background information and just generally move the action along. We don't know a lot a actual facts about what it was like for Sequoya while he worked on his written Cherokee language, but the historians also differentiate fact from inference.
Not all Cherokees thought the invention of a written language was a good idea. Sequoyah meets with resistance from some Cherokee Conjurers who think he has been possessed by a demon, or shed-leh. Enemies burned down the hut he worked in, along with all he has accomplished up until then. Sequoyah, his wife Sally and daughter Ayoka set about trying to reconstruct what they could of his syllabury and eventually had a total of 86 sounds that represented the Cherokee language. It was long before literacy spread among the Cherokee people, thanks to Sequoyah and his syllabury.
In the end, the historians tells us that Sequoyah wrote a book, took it with him on a trip to Mexico where he died of old age. They think that perhaps the book was buried with him. Just imagine what this very intelligent, clever man might have written about his life and his invented written language.
Sequoyah and his Talking Leaves is a play with14 characters and perfect for kids in a grades 3 and 4. The writing is easy to understand, fact and inference are clearly defined and the back matter has a list of words to know, as well as books, websites for further investigation into the life of Sequoyah in particular and the Cherokee Nation in general. But keep in mind that this is a short play intended to introduce young readers to Sequoyah and his achievement, and encourage a more in-depth exploration and appreciation of his life and of the Cherokee Nation. In fact, you might want to read Sequoyah's biography on the website of the Cherokee Nation
I wasn't 100% positive that Sequoyah and his Talking Leaves was a true nonfiction book, but according to the NYPL, it is listed in their catalogue that way. This play is also part of a series called Setting the Stage for Fluency, designed around Core Learning Standards to help students engage more with the text, both written and illustrated.
This play is recommended for readers age 8+
This play is an EARC received from NetGalley
This is book 2 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy