Poet and teacher McLaughlin, after gradually connecting with his students at Red Cloud Indian School, provided them with creative-writing prompts that yielded sometimes-magical outcomes.
The Lakota people live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County, S.D., the second-poorest county in the country. An introduction depicts harsh conditions of high unemployment, poverty, disease and alcohol and drug abuse but also describes the strong cultural legacy of vibrant Lakota tales and the close ties among people. All of this is infused into the poems and brief tales of this anthology of work by children in grades five through eight. The pieces are divided into small thematic groupings. These include obvious ones like “The Natural World” and “Family, Youth, and Dreams,” but also unexpected ones like “Misery” and “Silence.” Kayla Matthews movingly describes in free verse the heartache “when you always seem to be getting dressed in black to go to a funeral” and is echoed by Derrick McCauley: “Silence is when I saw my mom for the last time.” Others are more upbeat: “Silence is the darkness of night when the moon shines bright and pine trees make the only sound,” writes Isaac Red Owl. Vivid, polychromatic illustrations by Nelson accompany the students’ evocative works.
A moving, fascinating glimpse across cultures, perfect to pair with Trickster (2010) by Matt Dembicki. (Anthology. 11 & up)