Monday, October 15, 2012
Buffalo Bird Girl
by S.D. Nelson
available Oct. 1, 2012
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
It's been a banner year for children's nonfiction books. Last week, Louise and I shared a list of our favorite books from 2012 (so far), and I've already found another title to add to that list.
S.D. Nelson, author of Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story, has created another nonfiction picture book masterpiece. Buffalo Bird Girl is the true story of a girl from the Hidatsa tribe in North Dakota. Told in a first person narrative, Buffalo Bird Girls describes her daily life in Like-a-Fishhook Village in the 1800s. She is the the last generation of Hidatsa to live a traditional village life before the U.S. forced the tribe to move to a reservation in the 1880s.
The book begins with a detailed description of a Hidatsa earth-mound lodge built on the prairie. Nelson's acrylic paintings in muted colors and pencil sketches show readers what life was like in Like-a-Fishhook Village. The design of the book makes this more than a traditional picture book. Nelson incorporates photographs throughout the story. A series of color photographs show outside and inside views of an actual earth-mound lodge. Captions provide readers with more information about the selected photos. Black and white photographs show Hidatsa women skewering squash on a spit, harvesting prairie turnips, and using a buffalo bone to hoe the garden.
Buffalo Bird Girl learns about planting and harvesting corn from her grandmother and aunts. The girls play with handmade dolls as well as a tossing game made from buffalo hide. I was really interested to learn about the underground food storage system that Buffalo Bird Girl was responsible for digging. The storage area kept corn supplies dry all winter when the Hidatsa moved to the "wooded lowlands" to avoid the harsh weather conditions.
Nelson effectively uses quotes from interviews that writer, Gilbert Wilson, conducted with Buffalo Bird Girl in 1906. The dwindling buffalo population, conflicts with neighboring tribes, and the introduction of steamships to the area all contributed to the end of the traditional Hidatsa way of life.
Buffalo Bird Girl is an amazing book for a number of reasons. Nelson describes the injustices the Hidasta faced when they were forced off their land in a manner that young readers will understand. The rich, narrative nonfiction writing coupled with quotes from interviews will allow readers to see Buffalo Bird Girl's point of view. The text and illustrations work well together, and the extensive back matter (timeline, author's note, source notes, and bibliography) provide additional information about the topic. This is an excellent book for teaching children about point of view, Native American history, and our environment.
Visit S.D. Nelson's web site to view illustrations from the book: