Monday, April 12, 2021

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith, editor

First, I was attracted to the cover illustration, which I think is great. Then, I was attracted to the title, thinking it was going to be a collection of family history stories (because of the word Ancestor in the title). What it is, however, is a collection of 16 contemporary short stories and two poems that are centered around the University of Michigan powwow that is held each year at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan (except 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19).

The stories begin with a poem called "What is a Powwow?" by Kim Rogers who writes that it is about family, friends, and remembering those who have passed on, it is also dancing in regalia made with love, and eating fry bread and corn soup, and healing and soul-soothing. And these are just some aspects of what you will find in the stories that follow. 

One of the things I really loved about this collection is the way they connect to each other. Characters show up in different stories. For example, there is a story called "Joey Reads the Sky" by Dawn Quigley. Joey's mom sells the World Best Fry Bread and this fry bread stand also briefly appears in "Bad Dog"  by Joseph Bruchac and "Between the Lines" by Cynthia Leitich Smith. One of my favorite stories is called "Rez Dog Rules" by Rebecca Roanhorse, about a dog named Ozzie with no master who travels to the Powwow with Marino. Marino is hoping to sell his silk screen T-shirts celebrating Native identity and culture to help out his grandma. At one point, Ozzie wiggles into a T-shirt that says Ancestor Approved on it and becomes a walking advertisement. The story is told from Ozzie's point of view, and he briefly appears in "Flying Together" by Kim Rogers, "Brothers" by David A. Robertson, "Wendigos Don't Dance" by Art Coulson, "Senecavajo: Alan's Story" by Brian Young, "What We Know About Glaciers" by Christine Day, and "Between the Line"s by Cynthis Leitich Smith. Connecting the stories to each other like this gives the reader a sense of continuity and the sense like they are also there, to the point where I could feel the beat of the drums as the dancers danced. And I could most definitely taste the fry bread, one of my favorite things about having lived in Arizona for a while.

The stories are varied, ranging from lighthearted to very serious. There are a number of different nations represented, including Ojibwa, Choctaw, Cree, Cherokee, Navajo, Haudenosaunee, and Abenaki, and there is a smattering of words in the various Native languages throughout. I was also stunned by the impressive descriptions of the regalia that is made and worn by the dancers. By the end of the book, I had developed a much deeper appreciation for the importance of Powwow than I had had before, mainly because these stories were so informative about them. And yes, anyone can go to a powwow, just learn what the etiquette is if you are not Native.  

Back matter includes Notes and Acknowledgements for each story and the poems, and a Glossary of all the Native words used in the stories and the Nation they belong to. This is followed by short biographies of the different writers.

Ancestor Approved is a wonderful collection that introduces young readers, as Cynthia Leitich Smith writes, to "the diversity of the intertribal Native and First Nations community, of each Indigenous Nation within it, and of young Native heroes." I was so happy to read this and discover they are perfect for middle grade readers because so often anthologies like this are geared toward young adult readers and, believe me, these are stories not to be missed. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+ 

1 comment:

  1. I've got this checked out right now! Love the premise - glad to see you've given it a great review.


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