Friday, October 23, 2009

Muskrat Will Be Swimming

Title: Muskrat Will Be Swimming

Author: Cheryl Savageau

Illustrator: Robert Hynes

Suggested Age Group: Ages 4-8

Awards: Skipping Stones Book Award for Exceptional Multicultural and Nature/Ecology Books, Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year(Prose- Children’s Literature), Wordcraft Circle Mentor of the Year

Publisher, Year: Tilbury House Publishers,, 1996

Continent that the book addresses: North America

As an immigrant bringing up my children in fatherland, I often struggle between 'being a Roman in Rome’ and establishing culturally consistent values. In a way I am blessed. I live in the Silicon Valley where my children get to see a large Indian community that they can identify with. They go to a school that truly values diversity. Though complicated in many ways, we always have the choice of going back to motherland.

I was thinking along these lines and it suddenly struck me like a thunderbolt – what about Native American people? Living like aliens in their own land, they face the same issues any immigrant faces. At the crucial age of 5 or 6, when a child’s thinking is expanding from ego-centrism to more concrete logic and reasoning, the Native American children go to school. Is it a culture shock for them? Is the peer group conducive for building self-esteem? Are they exposed to conflicting cultural messages? Is the peer judgement too cruel for these children? How do they deal with it?

Questions, questions and more questions! Most of which are answered in Muskrat Will Be Swimming. Jeannie is a young 6-ish year old girl who loves living with her family around a lake. Other children at school tease her. They call her LAKE RAT. Jeannie unsuccessfully tries explaining how much fun it is to swim in the lake, to watch turtles lay eggs and to catch dragonflies. So Jeannie finally gives up.

There is one wise man or woman who imparts wisdom at such situations and Muskrat Will Be Swimming is no exception! Jeannie’s grandfather makes her realize that one cannot change what family or culture they are born in to, but it is up to the individual to realize their true potential an rise up to the occasion. ‘Even if you are a rat, you have a specific role in this universe’ says the wise grandpa.

Cheryl highlights the lifestyle of Native American people throughout the book. I am quoting couple of my favorites.

..none of the kids have clothes passed down from two sets of cousins. All their clothes are brand-new clean, not clean from hundreds of washings, faded and soft like mine.

So I don’t tell them about the fish we catch and eat at big fish-frys mid-summer under the stars. I figure they’d tell me food is supposed to come from the supermarket. So I just get quite and don’t say anything.

I grew up listening to made up stories about everything under the Sun from my dad and aunt. I read my first children’s book when I was 9-10! So story-telling tradition followed by the Native American has a mystic pull that I simply cannot resist! Plus the beautiful illustrations and the priceless message, I consider this book a value addition to my bookshelf….. Hmmm…..let me correct that, to my children’s bookshelf :)

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Tharini said...

Wow. It takes a lot of self esteem and confidence for a girl to handle it in as diginified a manner as this girl has. I want to read this book.

And its so true..Native Americans are in pretty much the same position as we are in, in a land that originally belonged to them. I never quite looked at it that way.

Anusha said...

oh wow. such a powerful theme.
looking for it in my local library right now.
great pick, UTBT.

Meera Sriram said...

Truly a gem. I like it when you connect our lives and reality to the idea of the book or story -m it makes much more sense as to why we are drawn to that with this one you just did:)

Praba Ram said...

wow - what lovely coverpage drawing! A profound multi-cultural one, UTBT! Tales such as these have a far-reaching impact... certainly hits home! :-)

utbtkids said...

Tharini: We are doing UN day at school and coming soon is North American immersion day. Planning for it spurred the thought that these people are aliens in their own land.

Kodi's Mom: Do you know the sad part? The whole City of San Jose lib system had one book and they couldn't track it down. I called them every day for the past one week and bugged them. Finally they requested it from another county library but weren't hopeful cos again there was only one copy. So I had to BUY the book from Amazon and got it shipped over night :(

Meera: What you said is very true. When a book connects to our lives, it just clicks.

Choxbox said...

Another lovely pick UTBT!

Anusha said...

UTBT: My library system (the largest in WA) has exactly one copy, that cannot be checked out. sad, indeed.

utbtkids said...

Thanks Choxie.

K's mom: Sad ain't it? This book has a five star rating in Amazon, has been featured in blogs dedicated to disseminating information and resources about Native Americans, but still why this deficit, beats me.

Poppins said...

Immigrant or not, explaining your differences to others is always a difficuly task, for even adults, let alone kids!

All these books have me drooling - I can only hope I find atleast a few of them here!

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