Kid’s Reading List! Texas Tales

To complement our new Texas! exhibition, we have created a book list for you and your kids to read. In today’s blog we talk about two books by Tomie dePaola.

Few American artists are more beloved than Tomie dePaola.   Tomie and his work have been recognized with the Caldecott Honor Award (awarded annually to the most outstanding picture book for children), the Newbery Honor Award (awarded annually to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and the New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award of Living Treasure.  And few elementary school picture books have been read by more students than dePaola’s Legend of the Bluebonnet and Legend of the Indian Paintbrush.  dePaola’s simple drawings and the unique messages his books convey make them popular with teachers and parents, too.

De Paola wrote the Legend of the Bluebonnet twenty-eight years ago, but the story is as special now as when it was written.  She-Who-Is-Alone is a Comanche Indian living in Texas many years ago.  She is called She-Who-Is-Alone because everyone else in her family had died because of the drought.

In hope of breaking the drought, the tribe’s leaders said that the Great Spirit wanted tribe members to sacrifice their most prized possession.  She-Who-Is-Alone only had one possession, a doll her grandmother had made from buffalo skin.  The face was decorated with the juice of berries, and beautiful blue flowers were on her head.  The doll was all she has left of her family.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ruthieonart

In the night She-Who-Is-Alone slowly crept to the fire and threw her most prized possession into the flames.  When the ashes grew cold She-Who-Is-Alone threw them into the wind.  In the morning she could not believe what she was seeing. The hills were covered with beautiful blue flowers—the same color blue as the doll’s feathers.

Soon it started to rain and the drought was broken.  The tribe members changed She-Who-Is-Alone’s name to One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People, and every spring the bluebonnets bloom to remind us of the sacrifice of one special young girl.

Little Gopher is the central character in the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Unlike the other boys, Little Gopher did not like to run, ride and play; his special talent was painting.  When he went to the hills to contemplate becoming a man, Little Gopher had a dream.  The vision told him to find a white buckskin and keep it.  One day he would paint a picture “that is as pure as the colors in the evening sky.”

Indian Paintbrush Washington Cascades
Creative Commons License photo credit: B Mully

Although he found the buckskin, Little Gopher could not find the right colors. However, one night a voice told him to go on top of a hill the next day at sunset. The voice said, “Because you have been faithful to the People and to your true gift, you shall find the colors you are seeking.” The next evening, Little Gopher found paintbrushes the colors of the sunset all over the hill, and he painted his masterpiece. When he returned to his tribe, Little Gopher left the paintbrushes behind.

The next morning the paintbrushes were all over the hills and had turned into beautiful flowers.  Little Gopher became known as “He-Who-Brought-the-Sunset-to-the-Earth.”  Being true to yourself and using the talents you have been given are wonderful messages for children.

Hopefully, all Texas children will become familiar with The Legend of the Bluebonnet and The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and want to learn more about the stories unique to our state. With a state as big as Texas, there is so much to learn, and a great place to begin is at HMNS’ new exhibit, Texas! the exhibition, open now.

May Book List: Hispanic Culture

One of the best ways for children to learn about different cultures is through literature.  When children read about other cultures, their respect for that culture grows as their knowledge of it increases.  And, when children see themselves in books it enhances their self-esteem and helps them develop pride in their culture.  In addition to learning about the Hispanic experience, children’s books about our southern neighbors are colorful, insightful and just plain fun.  Three of my favorites are described below.

Lois Ehlert’s “Moon Rope” (Un lazo a la luna) is an adaptation of the Peruvian tale “The Fox and the Mole,” and her fascination with pre-Columbian art is readily visible in the collage illustrations which reflect Peruvian culture.  Written in both English and Spanish, this is the story of a fox who wants to climb to the moon on a rope of grass.  He convinces his friend the mole to go with him, but the mole returns to the earth where he stays to this day. What happened to the fox?  Can you see him in the moon? 

Creative Commons License photo credit: James Gagen

Author-illustrator Tomie dePaola’s books are easily recognized for their bright colors, simple lines and wonderful stories.  DePaola has the distinction of having been honored by the American Library Association with both the Newbery Honor Book Award (the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and the Caldecott Honor Book Award (the most distinguished American picture book for children.)  “The Legend of the Poinsettia” follows dePaola’s incredibly successful “The Legend of the Bluebonnet” and “The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush,” legends familiar to every schoolchild in Texas. 

In “The Legend of the Poinsettia,” Lucida’s family lives in the mountains of Mexico.  One day near Christmas, Padre Alvarez visits her family and asked Lucida’s mother to weave a new blanket for the figure of Baby Jesus in the Christmas procession.  The blanket is a gift to the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. After buying the finest yarn, Lucida’s mother becomes sick and has to live with relatives until she recovers.  Lucida tries to weave the blanket, but the yarn becomes hopelessly tangled.  On Christmas Eve Lucida hides because she has no gift to give, but an old woman tells her, “Any gift is beautiful because it is given.”  Lucida gathers green weeds, places them around the altar in the church and kneels to pray.  Instantly, the end of each weed becomes tipped with a flaming red star, and the weeds outside the church are transformed, too.  The people of the village call the brightly colored flowers “La Flor de Nochebuena” – the Flower of the Holy Night – the poinsettia.  Lucida’s simple gift is a part of our Christmas traditions today.

Gary Solo is a well-known Hispanic author of both books for children and young adults.  The picture book “Too Many Tamales” celebrates family love at Christmas.  Maria and her mother are making tamales for Christmas Eve dinner.  While kneading the masa, the temptation becomes too great for Maria, and she tries on her mother’s special ring before she returns to making the tamales.  A few hours later aunts, uncles and cousins arrive and the children go upstairs to play.  Maria suddenly remembers the ring and knew it must have been baked into one of the 24 tamales.  The cousins ate all the tamales, but found no ring, so Maria had to tell her mother what she had done.  All’s well that ends well, and Maria’s Aunt Rosa reminds everyone that the second batch of tamales always tastes better than the first!

A Native American Kiva 
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dave Boyer

Plan a visit to the McGovern Hall of the Americas on the third floor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  This incredible hall has examples of Native American life from the Arctic to the Amazon.  You will learn about life in a kiva, see a collection of kachina dolls, discover the importance of the jaguar to the cacao fields, witness an ancient ball game played by the Aztecs and so much more!  After reading about Hispanic culture, you will experience it for yourself.