“Your body remembers how to dance. Your ancestors have been dancing like this for generations.”
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Harper Collins 2021) is a collection of eighteen stories that are all connected by the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow, an intertribal event held in Anne Arbor, Michigan. Much like the authors of the individual stories, the characters are from many nations, and many are a blend of nations: Abenaki, Navajo, Cherokee, Cree, Ojibwe, Tuscarora/Haudenosaunee, Choctaw, Seminole, Lakota, Seneca – and more. The characters come from various backgrounds. Some of the children have never been to a powwow before whereas some have danced at this powwow for years. Some of the children were raised on reservations and others were raised by white foster parents. Some of the children have fancy regalia hand-made with love by family. Some are struggling in school and being bullied. Some are excelling in their studies. There’s military deployment. Cancer remission. A tornado. Poachers. And even a ghost. But the heart is still the beat of the drum and the sound of dancing, and it thunders throughout these very different stories until you can feel it pulsing, just under your fingertips.
My favorites of the bunch are:
Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Rez Dog Rules” (POV is from a dog who goes to the powwow with a t-shirt vendor)
Dawn Quigley’s “Joey Reads the Sky” (Joey struggles with reading English, but he’s found a familiarity and comfort in speaking and feeling Ojibwe)
Joseph Bruchac’s “Bad Dog” (Wendell is going for water for his aunt’s Navajo Taco stand when he meets an elder, Ktsi Mdawela -Big Loon – and Big Loon’s dog, Bad Dog)
Ancestor Approved can and should be enjoyed by any age group, but its sweet spot is 8-12 year old children. I’d love to see this collection build to include stories about and for teens and young adults. This is a perfect addition to any child’s bookshelf because much like a welcoming intertribal powwow, this collection embraces everyone.
Read this book.