Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2000. Jingle Dancer. Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York, NY: Morrow Junior books. ISBN 0-688-16241-X
This is the story of Jenna and her quest to perform the jingle dance at the powwow. She learns the steps and movements of the dance from her Grandma Wolfe. Then she goes to various other family members and friends to obtain jingles that will give her dress a voice. The story ends with Jenna dancing at the powwow. The author also includes background information on the Native American tribes represented in the story as well as some history of the jingle dance, dress, and tradition. A glossary of terms is also included.
Though the story seems to lack a natural flow, it contains some nice imagery. The author’s personification of Sun and Moon help to mark the time and jingles that sing “tink, tink, tink, tink” give a “voice” to the traditional jingle dress.
While these personifications allude to a Native American influence, it is really the central theme of the jingle dance that gives insight into the Native American culture. The description of the dress and the dance movements tell the reader a little about a Native American tradition. The reader learns that tin is rolled by hand and then sewn on the fabric in rows to create the jingle dress. Each character the main character Jenna meets with also provides insight into the culture. We learn from Jenna’s grandmother, aunt, and cousin that dancing the jingle dance in the powwow is a tradition among the women of the family. We learn from Jenna’s great aunt that the family must be from the Muscogee Creek people since she tells Jenna a story from that tradition. We learn from family friend, Mrs. Scott, that some traditional foods are fry bread and Indian tacos.
Some of the information given through the story can seem a little trivial at first but the background information given after the story is quite insightful. It provides more in depth information on the actual Native American groups represented in the story and the history behind those groups and their traditions mentioned in the story. This extended information helps to round out Jenna’s story.
From Connie Fletcher (Booklist, May 15, 2000 (Vol. 96, No. 18))
This contemporary Native American tale highlights the importance of family and community through a young girl's dream of joining the dancers at the next powwow. Jenna is a girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. She has practiced the steps for the jingle dance by following her grandmother's moves on a video. Now she must get enough jingles (traditionally made of tin, aluminum, or gold canning lids rolled into cones) to sew on her dress to make a satisfying "tink, tink" as she dances. The way Jenna gathers her jingles (borrowing enough to make a row, but not so many that the lender's dress will "lose its voice"), and her promise to dance for the women who cannot dance for themselves illustrate the importance of family and community ties. The colorful, well-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story. A note explaining Jenna's heritage and a brief glossary are appended. Category: For the Young. 2000, Morrow, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 4-7.
From Jan Lieberman (Children's Literature)
Brum! Brum! Brum! Hear the sound of the powwow drum as the women dance with tin jingles on their dresses making a rhythmic tinkling sound. Jenna dreams of dancing at the powwow but with no jingles to sew on her costume, there would be no sound. With bouncy enthusiasm, she convinces relatives to loan her theirs from their now silent dresses to sew on her costume. Jingle Dancer describes this dance of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that is still performed today. 2000, Morrow, $15.95. Ages 4 to 8.
From Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July/August 2000 (Vol. 53, No. 11))
Jenna dreams about jingle dancing at the upcoming pow-wow, but she doesn’t have enough jingles (tin cones that ‘sing’ with each bounce-step) for her dress. Visits to her female friends and relations solve her problem, as the women lend Jenna the necessary jingles from their own regalia. Unable to dance at the pow-wow, each woman requests that Jenna dance for her, and Jenna does: “for Great-aunt Sis, whose legs ached, . . . for Mrs. Scott, who sold fry bread, . . . for Elizabeth, who worked on her big case, . . . and for Grandma Wolfe, who warmed like Sun.” This gently messagey family story is structured along the lines of a traditional tale, with Jenna as hero traveling to the four directions to gain her prize. The language, however, is stilted and somewhat formal, slowing the already deliberate pace. Watercolor illustrations show a modern Jenna and her loving circle of women in typical middle-class American housing, occasionally accented with a variety of American Indian art, such as baskets, moccasins, and the dance regalia itself. The human figures are disproportional (which is especially disappointing in the concluding images of Jenna dancing) and the compositions are somewhat static; still, the faces of the characters are often expressive and Jenna herself is a winning personality. Smith explains the importance of traditional dance regalia in an extensive author’s note. A short glossary is included.
This book would be helpful in teaching social customs, family relationships, and even occupations. It would also be useful in a lesson on personification as the book uses the sun and moon to help mark the sequence of the story.