Jingle Dancer

Summary: Jingle Dancer is a children’s’ book written by Cynthia Smith that tells of a young girl named Jenna, who is from Muscogee (or Creek) descent. She wants to dance in an event called powwow, a family tradition, but unfortunately, she does not have enough jingles to make her dress sing. So Jenna goes around and asks various woman to help her build up enough jingles until she finally does so. With the help of her grandma, they sew the jingles on her dress and she is finally able to dance in powwow.

Cultural Markers: Author Cynthia Leitich Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, so this book comes from an authentic source to Native American Culture. You can see cultural markers in the illustrations of the book as well. The skin colors of the characters are brownish tan and their hair is mostly dark, two physical features seen in Native Americans. The clothing during the ceremony is that of Native American culture. The amazing water colored illustrations give us an inside look at modern Native American homes. Long has lived the stereotype of Native Americans living in tepees. Here we can see that it is most certainly not true and we can see that they live in a modern day home with a couch, television, VCR, bookshelf, and other things. Regardless of the modern setting, you can still see the Native American influence in the illustrations. There are other cultural markers through the text and the story itself. The plot is about a girl wanting to dance at a Native American tradition, so it revolves around cultural heritage. Their are also some phrases that have Native American influence in the text. For example, the text says “as Moon kissed Sun goodnight..” and later on “as Sun arrived midcircle.” These all relate to the time of day in a Native American traditional sense. In the end of the book, there is an authors note that gives us historical information of the Muscogee Creek Nation and the Ojibway tribe. There is also a glossary at the very end with a few words used in the text that some people may have not been to familiar with.

Personal Reflection: This is truly a rare book that I recommend be in anyone’s collection. It is written by a Native American author and it is through the point of view of a young Native American girl who is about to reach a cultural milestone. There is also a strong relationship between Jenna and her grandmother which showcases a true sense of family pride within their culture.


Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Selector’s Choice for 2001
Named to the 2001 2 x 2 Reading List of twenty books recommended for children ages two through second grade by the Texas Library Association
Finalist, children’s/YA division, the Oklahoma Book Awards
Runner-up for the Storyteller Award from the Western Writers of America
Named a CCBC Choice for 2001
NEA Native American Book List
Featured in “Debuts That Deliver” (Book Magazine)
Featured title, Texas Book Festival
Featured title, GREAT BOOKS ABOUT THINGS KIDS LOVE by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, 2001)
Editor’s Choice, Library Talk
2002 Read Across Texas Bibliography (Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
Named among “Best Multicultural Children’s Books for Early Childhood Educators” (Montessori Life)
Suggested Title, Recommended Native Literature for Youth Reading Circles from American Experience: “We Shall Remain” (April 2009) from PBS.
Listed title, Talk Story: sharing stories, sharing culture: a joint project of the American Indian Library Association and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association.
Named to the Reading Is Fundamental 2011 Multicultural Books List

Review Excerpts:

Booklist: “The colorful, will-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story.” (Ages 4-7)

Horn Book : “The author is deliberately showing us, it would seem, that all Native Americans are not poor or live on rundown reservations. A useful portrayal of an important cultural event in a Creek girl’s year.” (5-9)

Similar Books: https://www.goodreads.com/book/similar/728289-jingle-dancer

Lesson Plans:  http://cynthialeitichsmith.com/kidbooks/kids_index/jingle/guide_to_jingle/

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer. Illus. by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 2000. ISBN: 0-688-16241


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