Thursday, March 11, 2010

Begging to Go to School

She was already 13 when Betty Mae Jumper discovered that books could “talk.” She begged to go to school to learn to read and write and learn to speak English, too. This girl child from the Florida Everglades grew up to be a Seminole tribal leader, but she came close to not growing up at all.

SHE SANG PROMISE, The story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, by Jan Godown Annino, illustrated by Lisa Desimini. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2010.

As a young child, Betty Mae was almost thrown into the swamp to destroy her”bad spirits.” Fortunately, the family escaped to a safer place where Betty Mae grew up learning the ways and stories of her people, stories from when the animals could talk; stories like the Corn Lady, the Twins, How Little Dog Came to Be; stories of greed and stealth; stories she says showed the people how to live.

An eager student, Betty Mae learned quickly and well. She became a nurse, helped start a newspaper, interpreted in courtrooms and emergency rooms, and was elected one of the first female tribal leaders in modern times. She became a voice for her people as well as a protector of animal life in the Everglades. In her words, “Every living thing has a purpose and that’s not to make it dead.”

Author Godown’s prose flows into poetic phrases, almost a siren song to the word traveler. The illustrator's artwork is lush and deep as the night. Designed for 3rd and 4th graders, the book is a complete package: chronology, glossary, and bibliography. Readers of all ages will be lured into the Florida Everglades, unaware of how much they are learning about a multi-storied culture.

One more thing: Betty Mae could wrestle an alligator!

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