This latest in Rappaport’s Big Words series highlights Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee girl who grows up to become “the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation.”
The opening text and accompanying illustration immediately place readers in “rural Oklahoma” on the Mankillers’ farm, where Wilma spends her early years in her “family of eleven.” Although poor in material wealth, the Mankillers are “rich in love and community,” and Wilma is raised with the understanding of Gadugi, the Cherokee “philosophy of helping each other.” When a new government policy relocates Wilma’s family into urban life in San Francisco, Wilma experiences the threat of acculturation. Yet despite that danger and other challenges during her early adult years, Wilma finds a new community at the Oakland Indian Center and creates opportunities to help other Native people until she finally returns to Oklahoma, where she goes on to accomplish her most memorable work. Rappaport has produced a thoroughly researched biography enhanced by Mankiller’s own words, and though it’s heavy with text, readers should find that Choctaw artist Kukuk’s detailed scratchboard and watercolor illustrations provide visual balance. The combined effect gives readers a sense of intimacy.
A solid resource for a classroom or school library about a phenomenal Cherokee woman that feels a bit like flipping through a family photo album. (author’s note, illustrator’s note, important events, pronunciation guide, resources) (Picture book/biography. 6-8)