Sunday, March 11, 2007

JOSEPH BRUCHAC


In my last Poetry Friday post, I wrote about Valerie Worth, one of my children’s poetry idols. In last Wednesday’s post, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I mentioned a number of awards bestowed upon another children’s literature idol, Joseph Bruchac, the author who was the guest speaker at the winter dinner meeting of the Massachusetts PAS North Shore Council of IRA. I had tried for three years to arrange for him to address our membership. The wait was worth it. Joe Bruchac made a wonderful presentation.

Here are some of the reasons why Joseph Bruchac is someone who I admire for his work and respect for the kind of individual he is. The following five paragraphs were taken from my introduction of Joseph Bruchac at the PAS North Shore Council Meeting:

Historical fiction can be a wonderful vehicle for helping children to understand history, to truly get a flavor and a feeling for what different periods of the past were really like, to develop an understanding of how people lived their daily lives, of what they believed, of political intrigues and wars, of how innocent people’s lives can be ruined or destroyed because of actions taken by their governments. But we should be vigilant in providing our students with different perspectives of history. We should make sure to give them both—or many—sides of the story.

Joseph Bruchac has written some fine works of historical fiction: The Winter People, Arrow Over the Door, and The Code Talker—to name three. One of the things I appreciate most about his works of historical fiction is that he includes extensive author’s notes with background information for his readers. His books also give us another side of American history. They give readers a Native American perspective. A perspective of my country’s history I didn’t get when I was in school.

Of Abenaki heritage, Joseph Bruchac has dedicated his life to bringing us stories with historically accurate depictions of American Indians. Books that we can read with our students, books that do not stereotype Native Americans, books that we can share with children in addition to—or maybe instead of—perennial favorites like Brother Eagle, Sister Sky; The Sign of the Beaver; and the Little House books that may stereotype or misrepresent those who were here before the Spanish and the Pilgrims.

Joseph Bruchac has also been dedicated to conserving Native American oral legends and myths. His wonderful retellings of these tales are great to read aloud in the classroom—tales like The First Strawberries, How Chipmunk Got His Stripes, and Raccoon’s Last Race—the last two of which he co-wrote with his older son James. The author of more than one hundred books, Mr. Bruchac has written for people of all ages. He has also published books in a variety of literary genres in addition to historical fiction and Native American tales—poetry, nonfiction, biographies, contemporary realistic fiction, and fantasy.

Having been a classroom teacher, a school librarian, and now an instructor of a children’s literature course—I have often been asked who my favorite children’s authors are. Yes indeed, Joseph Bruchac is one of my favorites—but he is more than that. He is the children’s author I have the utmost respect for—not just because he is the recipient of so many awards, not just because he writes for people of all ages, not just because he writes so well in so many literary genres—but because he is a man of substance who writes from his heart, from his beliefs…because he writes from the life lessons he learned from his Grandpa Jesse who helped raise him…Grandpa Jesse who was an Abenaki Indian who never finished grade school but who was kind and understanding and wise and an exceptional role model. I respect Joseph Bruchac because he is a grandson who honors his grandfather’s memory through his work. I respect him because of his lifelong commitment to sharing stories about a people who have too often had little voice in our society and who need—and deserve—to have their stories heard.

PAS North Shore Council Meeting (March 7, 2007)

David McPhail was the featured speaker at the PAS North Shore Council fall dinner meeting last November. I felt like kicking myself the morning after our event for not having taken notes during Mr. McPhail’s wonderful presentation. I learned my lesson. I brought a notebook with me on Wednesday evening so I could jot down all the interesting things Joseph Bruchac would say during his talk.

You’ve heard about people who can’t walk and chew gum. Well… I’m the kind of person who has trouble listening intently and writing at the same time. I really didn’t want to miss a word he said. He is such an exceptional repository of information about American Indians, their culture, and their history. (I apologize, too, for my photographs. They aren’t the best quality.)

I was able to record some of the interesting topics from his talk and from the responses he gave to questions from the audience. I am not going to use quotations marks—but I will use italics in some cases to show that I am paraphrasing his words because I am not the best note taker.

Joseph Bruchac had this to say about those who want to be writers: If you want to write…write. If you want to be read, rewrite. He had another suggestion for writers: Write from your heart, write about what you believe in, write about the things you care about.

When asked who his favorite authors were, he said there were so many he couldn’t name them all—but he did mention four: Terry Pratchett, Louise Erdrich, Gary Snyder, and William Stafford.

He told us that many of his books are years in the making and how much he feels indebted to other Native Americans who have related their stories and old tales to him. He talked about an American Indian named Swift Eagle, a man who knew Jim Thorpe, who told him stories about Thorpe. (Recently, Joe published two books about Thorpe—JIM THORPE’S BRIGHT PATH, a picture book biography that was illustrated by S. D. Nelson, and JIM THORPE, a book for older readers, which is written in the voice of Jim Thorpe.)

Joseph Bruchac talked about his book CODE TALKER and the residential boarding schools for Indians, including Carlisle, that Native children were compelled to attend—schools where they were taught menial trade skills; schools where children could be severely punished for even speaking one word in their Native tongue; schools whose philosophy was “Tradition is the enemy of progress.” Schools that felt they had to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

He spoke about the Vermont “eugenics program” that began in the 1930s. This state sponsored program sterilized people, many who were Abenaki Indians, who were believed to be unworthy of procreation. The program was considered a model by German scientists of that time.

1933
With the help of Prof. Perkins, Vermont Governor Stanley Wilson signs into law “An Act for Human Betterment by Voluntary Sterilization,” seeking to control the population of the “feeble-minded.” “Henceforth it shall be the policy of the state to prevent procreation of idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons,” the law read in part. Two years later, an almost identical law is passed in Germany. (Taken from the website of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity at the University of Vermont.)

Joseph Bruchac told us he feels that the stories we are told help shape us. He explained how people have two ears and one mouth so we should do twice as much listening as talking. He encouraged us all to dig out our roots and to find our buried history.

Joseph Bruchac is currently working on a documentary about Jim Thorpe for PBS.
March 8, 2007
Joseph Bruchac made a visit to my children’s literature class at Boston University. I was so happy that my students, most of whom are teachers or studying to become teachers, had the opportunity to listen and talk to Joseph Bruchac, one of the most highly respected Native American authors of children’s books. Following class, I had the distinct pleasure of dining and conversing with one of the most gentle, warm, and knowledgeable people I have ever met in my life.

A Few Words of Wisdom Gleaned from a Great Author

Listen. Observe. Remember. Share.


For Further Reading

Joseph Bruchac’s Biography

NEA’s Read Across America Author Interview with Joseph Bruchac

An Essay by Joseph Bruchac

Teaching Multicultural Literature, Workshop 3: Commentary by Joseph Bruchac

Article from Morning Earth Website (Includes a Poem by Joseph Bruchac)

Cynsations: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Interview with Joseph Bruchac about his Book CODE TALKER


A Sampling of Books by Joseph Bruchac






























Books Written by Joseph & James Bruchac and Illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey





RACCOON'S LAST RACE:
A TRADITIONAL ABENAKI STORY
Published by Dial Books, 2004








HOW CHIPMUNK GOT HIS STRIPES:
A TALE OF BRAGGING AND TEASING
Published by Dial Books, 2001

6 comments:

Nancy said...

Elaine,

This was a great post. Thanks.

It's very interesting to read about the Vermont Eugenics Program. One of my favorite old children's books actually takes a pro-eugenics stand, which is pretty disturbing today, but I bet was not nearly as shocking in the 20's and 30's.

Tricia said...

Hi Elaine,
What a wonderful visit you had. Thank you so much for sharing. The voice of Joseph Bruchac is one we so desperately need in children's literature. I hope he and his son continue to write and share with us the stories that have so long been forgotten.
Best,
Tricia

jules said...

That is a wonderful write-up. Thanks for sharing.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks, everyone!

I thoroughly enjoyed Joe Bruchac's presentations and our dinner conversations. I may even spend some time with another member of the Bruchac family this week. I will definitely write up a post for Blue Rose Girls if I do. And I hope my pictures will come out better this time!

Emmaco said...

Hi Elaine. Your post prompted me to check out my local library catalogue and to my surprise (I'm in Queensland Australia) there are several Joseph Bruchac books. They sound wonderful and I look forward to reading them. Thanks for the posts about Joseph and Jim!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Emmaco,

Joe and Jim are great people. Joe has written about 120 books--including several poetry books for adults. Both father and son have a passion for what they do. I believe American children should hear/read books told from an American Indian perspective.
Joe's book THE WINTER PEOPLE is required reading for the students in my children's literature course.

Nice to hear from someone who lives in the "land down under."
I hope you enjoy the Bruchac books.