Song for the Ancient Forest

I’m enjoying all of the local educators coming in and sharing their love and mastery of their craft.  Kathy Nielsen is a legend among Juneau educators, especially those of us with ties to (and a deep love and passion for) the Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy program.  I had never thought of using picture books in a secondary classroom, I tend to focus more on how I can get students down to the elementary classroom to volunteer, role model, and hopefully be inspired enough to pursue education degrees (it’s worked twice so far…).  Now my brain is really working on how I can collaborate with the classrooms and bring them into the high school classrooms to read picture books, along with a story from Haa Shuka (which they did in Lingit during their graduation ceremony and it was PHENOMENAL to say the least!)  So those are a couple of general ideas already working in my head, but I’ll focus on the book I chose next.

I milled around the book collection for a bit and ended up reading ‘Song for the Ancient Forest’ by Nancy Luenn.  This book was about Raven having a dream and foreseeing the forest getting destroyed, but he learns a song that he can sing to tell the story and hopefully stop it – but has to find someone who can understand him.  Eventually a little girl understands the song and she becomes the voice of reason.  Telling her father he needs to quit cutting down the trees, and he eventually tells the “owner of the trees” that they need to stop and come up with new technologies so they can save the forest.  The story has a good moral, and it would be easy to relate to a social studies classroom when discussing westward expansion, exploitation of resources, respecting environment and nature, and the need for new technologies.  Looking at the rubric, I would give it 3’s except for the “Authority”, the author is non-native from Washington, the book hovers closer to the surface representation of culture.

Though the story was good, with applicable lessons, and good realistic illustrations/scenes – it didn’t have the same impact or carry the same weight as ‘Secret of the Dance’ did.  I picked up ‘Dancing on a Sealskin’ at the last-minute and couldn’t put it down.  The author, Barbara Winslow, is not a Native author either, but with 10 years of teaching experience in Alaska villages you could feel the culture alive in her book.  I enjoyed how so many values were illustrated visually and throughout the language of the book.

I personally wish we could have spent some time talking about how to critique a book for its authority, or identifying books from non-Native authors.  After the recent fight against the Reading Wonders Curriculum here in Juneau, expressing our concerns about the watered down ‘Historical fiction’ on Boarding Schools and other Native events, it was a great insight and analysis into the curriculum selection process and the system we had to navigate to get them out of the classrooms.  In case you missed that or want to read an article about it, check out the link below.  And in terms of acknowledgement and ownership, I think it’s important to note that it was one our Alaska Native teachers that first spoke up against this curriculum which led to the formal complaint… sometimes we can hack away at the racism embedded in our school systems… but to say it’s a fight is definitely an understatement.

Juneau Schools To Replace Controversial Texts With Local History

2 thoughts on “Song for the Ancient Forest”

  1. Thanks for sharing more background on the Reading Wonders books – getting that context further deepens the importance of books with a powerful and honest message like “Secret of the Dance.”

  2. Thank you for sharing the link about challenging the curriculum in the Juneau school districts. The article reminded me about how Ernestine Hayes said things haven’t really changed enough. I’m glad to see that some changes are being made and I am hopeful we will be able to continue these efforts.

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