Tag Archives: Indigenous Peoples

PPBF – Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Monday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day when we celebrate the first inhabitants of these lands. I can’t think of a more Perfect Picture Book to read this weekend.

Title: Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Written By: Gloria Amescua

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: indigenous peoples, Nahua, Mexico, art, biography

Opening:

A girl stared at the stars sprinkling the hammock of sky. Like many other nights she listened to the whisperings of the ancient Aztecs in the wind. She heard their xochicuicatl, their flower-song. She listened as the elders repeated tales their grandfathers had told. Tales their grandfathers’ grandfathers had told: how sacred streams and mountains protect them, how the Nahua lost their land to Cortés, the conqueror, and to the Spaniards who followed him.

She was Luz Jiménez, child of the flower-song people, the powerful Aztecs, who called themselves Nahua—who lost their land, but who did not disappear.

Brief Synopsis: A biography of Luz Jiménez, a Nahua girl in Mexico, who became a model for several important artists and a teacher, and who thereby helped preserve her people’s culture.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Aztecs, from whom the Nahua people descend;
  • Luz Jiménez served as a model for many artists, including Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist known especially for his murals. Try recreating a mural by Diego Rivera;
  • Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day;
  • Check out the rich back matter, with its Author’s Note, Artist’s Note, Timeline, Glossary, Notes and Bibliography.

Why I Like this Book:

In this rich biography, readers learn the story of Luz Jiménez, a little-known indigenous woman who became the face of the Nahua people by serving as a model for many artists. She also realized her dream of becoming a teacher, by sharing the stories of her youth, native crafts, and the Nahuatl language with anthropologists and university students. I love that readers learn so much about traditional Nahua life and culture in this book. From the legends Luz grew up listening to, to the skills she learned as a girl, including grinding corn, twisting yarn, and weaving, readers experience Luz’s life in the early twentieth century.

Readers also experience this culture through Tonatiuh’s detailed and signature-style artwork that features side-profile humans and glimpses of Nahua legends in the landscape. He also shared in the Artist’s Note that he found inspiration in the “works of art for which Luz Jiménez modeled”.

We also learn, though, that the Mexican government required Nahua children to learn Spanish in school, as “the descendants of the Spanish who ruled the country” sought “to turn the native children into modern ones”. I found this tragically similar to the stories about residential schools for indigenous children in Canada and the United States.

In addition to learning so much about the Nahua peoples and their history in Mexico, readers also discover how young Luz had a dream, a dream to attend school and become a teacher. Although the school she attended was not one that included lessons about her native culture, and although she never taught children in her beloved home village, she did become a teacher – a guide to her culture and a university instructor sharing the Nahuatl language. I love how this shows young readers to hang on to their dreams, and to adapt them to life’s circumstances when necessary.

I also love how Luz broke with tradition, becoming a model for artists, to help preserve her native culture and traditions. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that Luz “never told her mother about her modeling work” as it “wasn’t something that Nahua women typically did.” Only by breaking norms did she preserve them – what an important action to discuss with kids.

I believe that Child of the Flower-Song People is a wonderful resource for classroom discussions. Note that it includes a reference to the death of Luz’s father at the hands of government soldiers, it has a fairly large word count, and it includes more historical details than many picture books. It clearly is targeted to the upper end of the picture book market.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she first learned of Luz’s story in a pamphlet announcing a symposium about her at the University of Texas. Although Amescua missed attending that symposium, the story stayed with her, and years later, she researched and wrote this picture book biography.

“Flower-song”, part of the title and an image that runs through the book, derives from the Nahuatl word for poetry, xochicuicatl, “the flower and the song”. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she uses “the term ‘flower-song’ to represent the Nahua spirit in Luz and the Nahua people.”

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – We Are Water Protectors

For the last Friday of National Poetry Month and Earth Month, I couldn’t think of a better book to choose as a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: We Are Water Protectors

Written By: Carole Lindstrom

Illustrated By: Michaela Goade

Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: water, #OwnVoices, Indigenous Peoples, ecology, social activism

Opening:

Water is the first medicine, Nokomis told me.

Brief Synopsis: When a black snake arrives and threatens the water sources, a young girl finds courage to rally her people to fight it.

Links to Resources:

  • Are you a water protector? How can you preserve and protect water in your community? Even simple actions like using less water to bathe or while you’re brushing your teeth, or cleaning up litter near a pond or river bank, helps;
  • Discover more activities in the Activity Kit.

Why I Like this Book:

As the many accolades attest, including winning the 2021 ALA Caldecott Medal, We Are Water Protectors is an exceptional picture book. Lyrical text that draws the reader in, a compelling problem that causes the reader to cheer on the brave main character, seamlessly blending the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans with the contemporary problem of saving the planet, this book would be a must read, even without Goade’s stunning illustrations. Starting with the words of a wise grandmother and scenes of a baby in utero, the text and the illustrations later in the narrative pan out to feature the entire earth, surrounded by animals, and the recognition that we “are all related.” And “we,” not just the narrator and not just her people, can stand together and be water protectors.

Back matter includes further information about water protectors, a glossary, and an Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge.

A Note about Craft:

After reading We Are Water Protectors, I felt encouraged and empowered to join the fight to defeat the black snake, and I think others will be determined to join the fight, too. How did Lindstrom call me and them to action? Using the immediacy of first-person point-of-view personalizes the problem and helps the reader experience the world, and the water problem, from her perspective.  Using the first-person plural “we” in the title and throughout the narrative, Lindstrom goes one step further and shows the reader how the problem affects all of us, and how we are all vital to the solution.

That Lindstrom’s lyrical text is paired with Goade’s illustrations that also draw on Native American imagery and culture renders this collaboration more than the sum of its parts.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!