1. Grand Avenue: a novel in Stories

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Reviews of Selected Titles and Suggested Pre, During, and Post Reading Activities
1. Grand Avenue: A Novel in Stories by Greg Sarris
Sometimes reality socks you in the chest and leaves you gasping for breath. You wonder how something could hit you so hard. A trip down Grand Avenue packs that kind of punch. Here live the disconnected and ignored, bouncing around like overheated particles, searching for peace and love. Grand Avenue weaves the lives of ten Pomo Indians together into a tapestry that is simultaneously horrifying and beautiful. It is the story of the young and the old coming to a crossroads, getting lost, and struggling to find each other again. It is the story of men and women, and the relationships that can be both graceful and turbulent. It is the story of weakness and strength, and how one can be mistaken for the other. It is the story of extracting poison, a weed mistaken for a flower, after it has been planted and sowed.
Pre-Reading Activity

In no less then 250 words, have students describe their neighborhood as though to a friend who has never been there. If students live in the country have them describe the surrounding area. Challenge students to get detailed, and talk about the look and feel of the area. Students must describe the whole neighborhood, and not just their house. Have students include a map in which all aspects of their written description are shown.

During-Reading Activity

In no less the 250 words, have students describe Grand Avenue as though they lived there. Students can pick any one of the characters from the book. Just like when they described their neighborhood, have them describe the way Grand Avenue looks. Have students also describe how their character sees the neighborhood. Have students include a map in which all aspects of their written description are shown.

Post-Reading Activity

Have students write a comparison and contrast paper about their descriptions and maps of their living area with Grand Avenue. How are the two places similar, and how are they different? How does the way a place looks affect the way it feels? How are the people who live on Grand Avenue misjudged due to the way they look and where they live? Some say that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Why do people sometimes judge a book by it’s cover? What are the pros and cons of doing that?

2. My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling
Seepeetza only wants to be Seepeetza, but the new world she’s headed to has no tolerance for Indian names. In 1950s Canada, Seepeetza must attend Kalamak Indian Residential School, where she will from that point on introduce herself as Martha Stone or receive the strap. Most of the year Seepeetza lives in a Catholic boarding school. While there, she suffers harsh discipline from the Sisters and bullying from other girls. She longs for the security and happiness she feels at home. Seepeetza is only fourteen, but she must find a way to survive in a world that forces her to deny all that comes natural to her. In the absence of her parents Seepeetza is at the mercy of adults who rule with fear. She finds herself taking on many of the changes of adolescence alone. She struggles with concepts of right and wrong in an environment with little fairness and compassion. This is the story of courage in the face of one of the greatest loses in Native American history, the loss of childhood and identity.
Pre-Reading Activity

Have students write a three paragraph persuasive letter to the principal explaining why they like or dislike school. Students may also include a mix of things they think are good or bad about school. They must explain no less than three things they like or dislike, and they must portray their reasons with a respectful voice. Remind them that if they are trying to persuade someone, they will loose their audience if they don’t represent their points with respect.

During Reading Activity

  1. Have students write at least ten questions they would use during an interview with an elder who went to an Indian boarding school. If possible bring in an elder who is willing to speak about their experiences in the boarding schools. For extra credit, students may interview someone that they know who went to a boarding school, and write a summary of the interview. The summary should include major ideas or themes discussed during the interview, but also what students thought about this elder’s experience. Did their elder’s experience affect how they viewed their elder; how they view school today? What did they learn from the interview, and how will they apply this knowledge to bettering themselves?

  2. Have students write a three page essay discussing what their culture means to them, and how would it be damaging to them and their family if it were taken away.

Post Reading Activity

In my case, the principal of Two Eagle River School, Clarice King, went to Haskell Institute, a boarding school in Kansas. After visiting my classroom and discussing her experience with the students, I had students write a thank you letter to her. This was a positive thing for the students because it gave them a better understanding of someone in the school that they typically see only if they are in trouble. Many of the students spoke with newfound respect for her.

In the future I would like to further this post reading experience by having them revisit their first letter about what they liked and disliked about school, and then ask them to consider how much school has changed. Who was responsible for that change? How did the past educational experiences of those who contribute to the school influence the school today. I would like them to answer the following question in particular: Knowing what you know now about boarding schools, and the experiences of your elders, do you have anything that you would like to add or change to the letter you wrote at the beginning of this lesson?
3. The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle by Adam Cvijanovic
This story is told in the spirit of what it was like to attend school in the East as a Sioux learning the ways of the white man. Thomas Blue Eagle is not a real person, and neither are any of the other characters, however, the events that happen in the book are based upon historical facts. The book chronicles Sioux lifestyle before the presence of the white man, and how the white man brought change to the land. It also gives an accurate representation of what it was like to attend Carlisle Indian School. The uncommon illustrations paired with a thoughtful portrayal of Sioux culture, make this book remarkable.
Pre Reading Activities

Have students make before and after drawings of what Native American culture was like before white settlers, during the influx of white settlers, and after white settlers.

During Reading Activities

As students read the book, have them write down as many facts as they can about Sioux Culture. What kinds of things did the Sioux practice traditionally? What did the Sioux believe about the earth and the animals?

Post Reading Activity

Students can create their own illustrated ledger book about their experiences in early childhood. They can highlight life changes and learning experiences.

Students may also add to Thomas Blue Eagle’s story by telling what they think happened to him after he returned home to his family. In addition to elaborating on the ending, they must also draw pictures of what they think happened next.
4. Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
This is the story of two old women who find they are capable of much more than they realized, and perhaps much more than they would have liked to admit. The women become controlled by their old age and do not force themselves to do things to assist their tribe. It seems that they will continue to live this way until the tribe decides to do the unthinkable, leave the old women to die in the wilderness so that they are not burdened by their demands during a harsh famine. The old women are shocked into action. They must either survive or die in this unforgiving land, and if they do survive, how will they ever reunite with, and forgive their people. Based upon an Athabascan Indian legend, this story can inspire us to do more than we are asked, to survive, and to heal.
Pre Reading Activity

Athabascan Indians lived in the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska. Before reading the book have student read about the Alaskan terrain, and why it is so difficult to live there. Students can look up one survival technique used in the artic terrain, and in one paragraph describe how to use it, and when to use it. Students should write as though they are an expert on this technique and are sharing it with someone who must know it in order to survive in the artic.

During Reading Activity

  1. As they read students can make a timeline of what happened during the two old women’s journey beginning with the moment that their tribe decided to leave them behind. Students must include at least ten main events. This can be continued until the end of the book when the women are reunited with their tribe.

  2. Students can also write a one page journal entry from the perspective of one of the two old women, either Sa’ or Ch’idzigyaak. In their journal students must include how being left behind made them feel, and why it was tough from the unique perspective of the woman they chose to portray.

Post Reading Activity

Once they are finished with the book students can write a 200 word e-mail to a younger sibling, or a younger person in their life. In their e-mail they must explain why it is important to listen to their elders. Their letter should reflect major themes that are present throughout Two Old Women.

5. Sitting Bull by Catherine Iannone
This is the story of Sitting Bull, a Lakota chief, warrior, and medicine man. His story begins as a young boy, Hunkesni, before his bravery earns him the right to bear his father’s name Sitting Bull. From here the story follows Sitting Bull through many deeds that earn him respect and admiration among his people. He is a spiritual leader as well as wise beyond his years. As white settlers invade Lakota territory, Sitting Bull shows his strength by adamantly refusing to sign treaties he does not understand, and knows will not be kept. He fights General Custer and his men at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He flees to Canada and becomes a star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This story of his amazing life and tragic end is a testament to how passionately he lived.
Pre Reading Activity

Have students write a one page speech discussing their heritage. Students must describe their culture, and state where their ancestors come from? Students will present their heritage in class. Students may bring in any special object that represents their culture, or dress to represent their cultural traditions. Teachers should participate as well to model taking pride in cultural heritage.

During Reading Activity

While reading about Sitting Bull students can look up Lakota culture on the internet. Give students some web site examples from which to begin their research. As they are searching have students completer the following:

  1. Give at least three Lakota values concerning life.

  1. Give at least three virtues the Lakota believed a person should uphold.

  1. Give one example of a Lakota tradition.

  1. Where were the Lakota originally from?

  1. How did the Lakota survive?

Post Reading Activity

Sitting Bull was a warrior and leader among his people. The world has changed a great deal since Sitting Bull lived, but there are still things that we can do today to improve the world by being a warrior and a leader. We owe it to past warriors to live in their spirit. Have students write a five paragraph letter to Sitting Bull discussing how they can be warriors and leaders in today’s society.

6. Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cassidy Rain Berghoff lost her friend six months ago. As time passes, the relationship that she felt she had with him becomes more confusing to her. She is torn about pursuing her life in the same way that she used to, and she cuts herself off from the little town she calls home. Her family is letting her deal with this at her own pace, but Cassidy soon finds that she must deal with her latent emotions head on as controversy arises around her aunt’s Indian Camp. She is also forced to face living again with the prospect of becoming an aunt. Cassidy ultimately has to decide how involved she wants to get in Indian camp, whether or not to face the issues surrounding her best friends death, and what kind of an aunt her niece deserves. This is a unique story about healing and finding oneself.
Pre Reading Activity

Some say a picture is worth a 1000 words. In the book, Cassidy is a passionate photographer. She carries her camera with her where ever she goes. Have students take photographs of each other. Develop them in black and white, just like Cassidy does, and give the students the photos of themselves. Students must then write a journal entry discussing what the photo reveals about them. Challenge students to write at least 200 words about the picture (They can feel lucky that the word limit didn’t match the idiom).

During Reading Activity

Cassidy has to deal with a great deal of loss. Everyone can relate to having lost someone in either the emotional or physical sense. Have students write a poem, a song, or a dedication to someone the loved and lost.

Post Reading Activity

Have students draw an outline of themselves on large construction paper. This will be their collage/self portrait assignment in the spirit of the main character’s personal revelations. Students must fill in their outline with words and photographs that reflect how they see themselves. Once students finish, have them write a paragraph about how they were trying to portray themselves.

7. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Here are the diverse and interwoven stories of Indians living on and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. Alexie stirs together anger, bitterness, and pain with hope, forgiveness, and love. Each story gives unique perspective on Indian life. Alexie chronicles the estrangements among modern and traditional Indians, men and women, young people and elders, and Native and non-Natives. He poetically describes the distances between people, and lovingly connects each character to one another.

Pre Reading Activity

Have students research the Spokane Indian Reservation where most of the scenes in this book take place, and their own Flathead Indian Reservation. Have student compare and contrast the two. They can use actual facts and personal experience to describe the similarities and differences of the two reservations?

During Reading Activity

Have students pick a character from the book and complete a character analysis of him or her. Do they like the character, and why or why not? Do they have anything in common with the character, and what?

Post Reading Activity

Have students watch Smoke Signals, a film based upon the story of Victor and Thomas from the book. Students may write reviews of both the book and the movie, and finally give viewers and readers a recommendation whether or not they should read the book, watch the movie, or do both.

8. The Business of Fancy Dancing by Sherman Alexie
This is a collection of short stories and poems. Alexie writes from the perspective of a Spokane/Coeur D’Alene Indian from Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His writing is revealing of himself, the reservation, and of the ways people distance themselves from one another. His language is simultaneously humorous and heart aching.
Poetry activities with The Business of Fancy Dancing

  1. Begin each class day by selecting one of Alexie’s poems to read aloud in class, and always ask for student volunteers. After the poem has been read invite student into a reader response discussion of the selected poem.

  • Did they enjoy the poem? Why or why not?

  • What meanings or interpretations can you get from the poem

  • Was there any specific line or lines from the poem that you enjoyed?

2. Have students write a found poem from one of the short stories in the book. Students can pick and choose random words or phrases from the book, and create the own poem. This idea was inspired by Dr. Marian McKenna.

3. Students can write a jumping off poem or story. Using the ideas or themes from a selection in this text students can write their own short story or poem.

No matter what activity I do with the poems, students would always have some form of short writing to do each day in response to the poem that we read.
9. Flight by Sherman Alexie
Zits, an Indian foster teenager, has seen his share of violence and hatred. Orphaned as a young boy, he has since been in and out of various foster homes, and the cops know him by name. It seems his life is on a fast track to loneliness and despair until it all culminates in one immense act of violence. In that moment, just as he is about to do the unforgivable, Zits is swiftly transported into the body of an FBI agent, where he is a participant in another act of violence without his control. He continues his body transferring time travel at the most pivotal moment in each body. He becomes an Indian boy present and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, an Indian tracker leading soldiers to take revenge, and his own father. He has little control as he is cast through a kaleidoscope experience full of different ways people hate, regret, lust, and die. He ultimately returns to his own body at the very moment of his own violent act, and must decide what to do now that he has seen the true impacts of the evil of men.
Pre Reading Activity

Have students write a one page journal entry about where they would like to time travel to and who would they want to be in that time. Students should discuss why they chose the time and the person they did. Then ask them to describe what difficulties they believed this person faced, and what could they learn by living in their shoes. Students do not have the option to change the past.

During Reading Activity

Have students select a historical moment where violence occurred. Have them describe this moment as thought they were there in a two page journal entry. What did they see, hear, and smell? What happened, and who was hurt? Who committed the act of violence? Ultimately, is there anything to learn from the moment that they chose where violence occurred?

Post Reading Activity

In a three page persuasive essay to a person of their choice, have students discuss how acts of violence creates more violence.

10. Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie

A serial killer is stalking and killing white men in Seattle. The killer is believed to be Indian because he scalps his victims and leaves owl feather’s behind to mark an omen of death. The whole city is beginning to feel the racial tension.

Marie, an Indian activist, is the only Native American in her Native American Literature Class taught by a man who has no real understanding of the culture. She feels isolated and angry at the ignorance she sees in her teacher. John Smith is an adopted Indian who has no knowledge of where he comes from or who his parents really are. Essentially a lost soul, he struggles to find himself in a world where no one seems to really see each other. His adoptive parents fear for their son amidst the incited rage of the city. They become more and more afraid by what they hear on the news. They search for John, but he will not meet with them.

The violence quickly intensifies. An Indian man is attacked walking alone at night by three men wearing masks. Then a homeless couple is nearly beaten to death by the same masked group. As the body count increases so does the hatred and the blame. Soon it seems that there is no one that can be trusted, and everyone lives in fear of what will happen next.

Rationale for not including this in my high school classroom
I do not think that I could utilize this book in my classroom. Though this novel is fast paced and hard to put down, it was also a difficult for me to read in some aspects. At times I felt that the main character, John Smith, was too distant. I found his situation easy to relate to, but I found it hard to understand him. His character frequently frustrated me. I also felt that most of the white people portrayed in the book weren’t empathetic, or were clueless, or physiologically damaging to the Native American characters. Every character was difficult to like for me. The only character I liked was Marie, and she wasn’t the center of the story. I realize that I am coming to this book from a non-Native perspective, and that my students might really affiliate with a book like this. My concern is that I want to be able to portray every book that I bring in to class with appreciation and understanding. If I didn’t have this experience with this book it would be best if I didn’t teach it. I couldn’t stop reading it because I wanted to find out who the killer was, but I had a very difficult time with the characters. Also, I felt that this book might be a tad to adult for my classroom. I would recommend it to a student for a personal read.
11. Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

This is a collection of short stories written from the perspectives of Native Americans on the reservation. Like other collections by Sherman Alexie, Ten Little Indians portrays Indian life with honesty and soulful affection. There is humor woven throughout the text, which, at times can be painful.

Activities With the Text

A drama activity would be nice to use with one of the stories from this text. I recommend choosing Lawyer’s League. It’s about a tenacious man, with Native American and African American heritage named Richard, who’s brilliance and ambition drives him to work in politics. He then becomes acquainted with a group of lawyers at a lobbyist’s convention. The climax of the story occurs when he is playing basketball with them and one of the lawyer’s becomes insecure about his own game because Richard is such a superior ball player.

This would be an exceptional short play that could be done in the classroom, or for the whole school. If done in the classroom, assign roles for students, and have them rewrite the scenes in the book as short sections of dialogue. If done for the school, have students audition for plays with a prewritten script.
How do these texts benefit the literacy development of my students?
I think that there are a great deal of Native American students who feel isolated in classrooms today, even on reservations. I have heard many of my students say that their teachers didn’t like them in the public schools, or that their teachers said racist things. There was a time when I first starting teaching at Two Eagle River School, that I thought these comments, though believed by the students, were overreactions to incidents where the student very well could have been wrong. In truth there are many incidents where students are wrong, but they blame it on someone else because they are too proud, too irresponsible, or plainly stated, they are teenagers. Though young people can victimize themselves, I soon realized that I was being irresponsible and proud too. My students were sharing something with me that they felt to be true, and I wasn’t listening. I didn’t really believe that things were as bad as they said they were. As I really got to know my students and my community, I realized that there is still a great deal of ignorance and stereotyping of Native Americans. These perceptions are still having an impact on children. When I thought more about it, I realized that I came into my position not knowing a great deal about Native American culture. Then I wondered how many other teachers were in the same boat, and they chose to do nothing about; they didn’t feel they had to. To many people there is no problem to fix. That thought scared me because I’ve lived in Montana my whole life, and I’ve definitely seen and heard a lot of ignorant things about Native people by those I have respected. I have to admit that I had stereotyped racists to be National Rifle Association members, who drove extended cab trucks, and had Confederate Flag bumper stickers. The truth is that racism is much more evil than that. At least racists that fit the stereotype are easy to spot. There are many adults who work with and mentor youth who everyone respects, but still pass their learned biases to the younger generation. I was naive to think that didn’t happen anymore.
When I began teaching, I quickly realized that many of my students had little exposure to quality, authentic works written by Native American authors. I made this startling realization after I had almost been completely defeated by my the hundredth time I had heard a student say, “I HATE TO READ.” I just couldn’t figure it out. Then I saw Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part Time Indian, and I thought I would try that in class. I offered an extra participation point to students who wanted to read out loud, and before I could weep tears of joy, my students were reading aloud pages at a time; giving smoldering glares to anyone, student and teacher alike, who interrupted my class during reading time. Clearly, this shows the ability for Alexie’s work to engage even the most reluctant reader, but I also realized that the Native American Literature that my students were exposed to wasn’t meeting their expectations. It also occurred to me as I went to various Indian Education conferences, that there is a way that teachers should introduce Native American literature, and that probably wasn’t getting done very well. I remembered reading Native Literature just during the Thanksgiving holiday, and I am not even ten years older than my students. Things are changing, I know, but I don’t think that we have completely actualized in the public education system. Despite multicultural legislation, there are still teachers who don’t know how to include multicultural material in the classroom.
Though I still have a long way to go, I have come a great distance from where I was. The books that I have included here offer authentic, contemporary, and traditional, Native American perspectives. I have tried some of these texts in class, and had positive interaction from all of my students. These texts offer my students the mirror they need to see themselves, to take pride in who they are, to know that there is a voice out there like theirs that is valued and cherished. These texts offer literacy and hope. I haven’t heard I HATE READING, in a long time.
How do these texts address content concepts and content learning?

The texts and the lessons I have included meet the following Montana state standard for literacy:

Content Standard 1

Students construct meaning as they comprehend, interpret, analyze and respond to literary works.

Content Standard 4

Students interact with print and nonprint literary works from various cultures, ethnic groups, traditional and contemporary viewpoints written by both genders.

Content Standard 5

Students use literary works to enrich personal experience and to connect to the broader world of ideas, concepts and issues.

House Bill 528, the Montana Indian Education for All Act, is a revolutionary initiative that states: "Every Montanan...whether Indian or non-Indian, be encouraged to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner" (Montana HB 528, 1999).
This bill makes Indian education not only what it should be for Indian students, but what it should be for all students. Such legislation is even more pertinent in a school like Two Eagle River School, “schools enrolling high numbers of Indian students should allow for active utilization of tribal resources and materials. Schools could adopt school improvement models that place tribal resources, languages, and materials central, not peripheral, to the curriculum standards” (Indian Education for All Resources, 2007).

Where do I go from here?

After nearly three years at Two Eagle River School, I feel like I am making huge strides with my students. Together, we have built a relationship of respect and appreciation for one another. I admire and care about them deeply. They make me very proud and hopeful for the future. Not everyone does something that they love, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do just that. It is this love for education, my students, and my own personal growth that keeps me striving towards my own actualization. I will never stop learning as an educator, and I hope that through my own diligence that my students are inspired to do the same.

Alexie, S. (2007). Flight. New York: Black Cat.
Alexie, S. (1996). Indian killer. New York: Warner Books.
Alexie, S. ( 2003). Ten little Indians. New York: Grove Press.
Alexie, S. (1992). The business of fancydancing. Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press.
Alexie, S. (1993). The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight in heaven. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press.
American Booksellers Association. (n.d.). Announcing the 2009 Indies Choice Book Award winners! Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://news.bookweb.org/6759.html
American Indian Library Association. (n.d.) Working to improve library and information services for American Indians. Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://www.ailanet.org/default.asp
Biography of Sherman Alexie

Retrieved from author’s website April 21, 2009 http://www.fallapart.com

Goebel, B. A. (2004). Reading Native American literature. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.
Hadaway, N. L.; McKenna, M. J. (2007). Breaking boundaries with global literature. Newark: International Reading Association.
Hirschfelder, A. B. (1993) Business Library. Native American literature for children and young adults. Retrieved April 23, 2009 from http://findarticles.com
Iannone, C. ( 1998). Sitting Bull: Lakota leader. New York: Franklin Watts.
Indian Education for All Resources. Retrieved April 4, 2009 from http://www.montana.edu/4teachers/instcomp/indianed.html
Kiley, B.; Frizzelle, C. (2008). The Stranger Genius Awards 2008: Throwing wads of cash at local artists since 2003. The Stranger. Retrieved April 20, 2009 from

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the_stranger_genius_awards_2008/Content?oi d=668985
Matthaei, G. (2005). The ledger book of Thomas Blue Eagle. West Palm Beach: Lickle Publishing Inc.
Montana House Bill No. 528 1999 Retrieved April 24, 2009 from http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/billhtml/HB0528.htm
Montana Big Sky Country: The Official State Travel Information Site

Retrieved April 20, 2009 from http://indiannations.visitmt.com

PEN New England. (n.d.) Awards: Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://www.pen-ne.org/awards/hemingway_award.html
The Horn Book: Publications about books for children and young adults (n.d.). 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for excellence in children’s literature. Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://www.hbook.com/bghb/current.asp
Sarris, G. (1994). Grand avenue: A novel in stories. New York: Penguin

Smith, C. L. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Sterling, S. (1992). My name is Seepeetza. Toronto, Canada: Groundworks

Books/Douglas Macintyre.

Wallis, V. (1993). Two old women. Seattle: Epicenter Press.

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