Jingle Dancer

A modern tale of a young Muscogee girl

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

What is Jingle Dancer about?

From the text: "Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family, and she hopes to dance at the next powwow. But she has a problem - how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?

This read aloud is designed and intended for a 5th grade classroom.

What is the literary merit of this book?

"Jingle Dancer" was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and named to the Reading is Fundamental Multicultural Books list in 2011.

From Publisher's Weekly: "Smith, a mixed-blood member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, convincingly juxtaposes cherished Native American tradition and contemporary lifestyle in this smooth debut. Watching a videotape of Grandma Wolfe performing a jingle dance, Jenna is determined to dance at an upcoming powwow. But she lacks the cone-shaped, tin jingles that are sewn on to dancers' dresses as part of the regalia. The girl walks down a suburban sidewalk lined with modern houses as she sets out to visit her great-aunt, a neighbor, a cousin and Grandma Wolfe, all of whom lend her jingles for her dress. Smith's language consciously evokes legend. For example, "As Sun caught a glimpse of the Moon" indicates the time of day; and Jenna is careful to borrow only a limited number of jingles, "not wanting to take so many that [another's] dress would lose its voice." Van Wright and Hu's (Jewels) lifelike renderings capture the genuine affection between Jenna and these caring older women. Their easy integration of Native and standard furnishings and clothing gracefully complement Smith's heartening portrait of a harmonious meshing of old and new."

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a New York Time's best-selling and award winning children's/Young Adult author whose childrens' books focus on the contemporary lives of Native American children.

She is a member of the Muscogee-Creek Nation. She writes books loosely based on her experiences from childhood. Smith is a graduate of the University of Kansas.

Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu are a husband and wife duo that have worked on a number of prolific children's books, working primarily in the watercolor medium.

The pair take pride in illustrating multicultural books for children so that more children may hear their voices within the stories told. Other books illustrated by this pair include: "Alicia’s Happy Day/ El Dia Mas Feliz De Alicia", "American Slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis And Clark", "I Told You I Can Play!", and "The Legend of Freedom Hill".

"Jingle Dancer" is relevant to a classroom because...

  • • This book portrays the Muscogee Nation with complete accuracy, as the author is a member of the tribe. Because Smith has used some of her own experiences as a basis for her writing, the characters appear more genuine and "real".

    • The entire book is about a cultural celebration unique to Native American tradition - jingle dancing.

    • "Jingle Dancer" honors the traditions of the Muscogee Nation.

    • Jenna interacts with multiple members of her family/tribe in a respectful manner,

    • The only characters in the book are also a part of the Muscogee nation.

    • This book allows for reflecting on cultural traditions found within a student's own background.

    • Smith invokes the poetry found in many of the stories told in Native American folk tales.

    • Meets generally accepted criteria for the genre

    • The book is current and students should easily relate to the young girl in the story because of her interests, clothing styles, and home life.

Procedures for the read aloud

Two words

Powwow - a social gathering held by many different Native American communities

Burrowing - advance into or through something solid by digging or making a hole.

Interactive Activity

  • Dramatization

Talking Notes

  1. After reading the book, go back to the words "powwow" and "burrowing".
  2. Ask students, "what do you think these words mean? How do you know?"
  3. Tell the students the definitions of the words.
  4. Say, "we are going to act out these words so that we can better understand them. Has anyone seen a powwow?" If a student has, invite them to come up and demonstrate how a person would act at a powwow. If not, proceed to next step.
  5. Say, "I will demonstrate how a jingle dancer may behave at a powwow." Demonstrate the dance moves and the chanting.
  6. Ask students to stand in a circle and dance around the "fire" like they might at a real powwow. After a few seconds, thank them and ask them to return to their seats.
  7. Ask for a volunteer to demonstrate the word "burrow". Ask students to mimic what that student has done.
  8. Ask, "why might the author have used the word 'burrowing' when talking about the messy closet? Is that a stronger word than digging?"
  9. Invite students to discuss what else may happen at a powwow, using evidence from the text (ex. people watch the dancers, people sell Indian tacos)


Why was this book selected?

The students have been learning about Native American tribes and customs, particularly in the Southwest. The students have only learned about historical Native Americans, though, and I thought it might interest them to know more about contemporary tribes.

What were the strengths?

The students were able to pick up on the style of writing quickly, and were able to pinpoint what time of day was being described in the examples given in class. They had never heard of a pow wow, and were intrigued to hear about the celebrations that took place during the ceremonies.

What would I do differently?

The students were not very excited to act out a pow wow dance, so I ended up showing them a video of jingle dancers instead. I would choose a book that had more challenging vocabulary so that a different type of activity could be utilized.

implementing multicultural children's literature that is culturally and linguistically diverse relative to my elementary students has helped me...

realize that ethnicity is not the only facet of culture. I was originally making my decision to read this book based on the lack of "minorities" in the classroom without taking into account the backgrounds, traditions, and past times of the students in the class. It is important to cover a broad range of topics from a broad range of cultures because every student should see themselves reflected in the classroom. Paying attention to and including their culture lets the students know that we, as teachers, care about them and want them to enjoy spending time at school.