This inspiring book tells the story of how an eighteenth century slave used the legal system to gain freedom for herself and many others. The narrative uses the word “owned” in many different contexts to explore the ideas of freedom and slavery: we read about people owning property, owning slaves, owning a sharp tongue. In the story, Mumbet realizes that she herself owns her thoughts, thoughts that lead her to  a brave act which no one else has yet attempted.  The narrative voice is direct, impassioned, and triumphant–just like the story!

The “Author’s Note” in the back is fascinating to read. It tells where the information the book is based on came from, since Mumbet didn’t leave any writing–couldn’t write! It talks about things we don’t know about Mumbet, about the law that prompted her to act, and about her legacy today.

The paintings illustrating the book are beautiful. A beautiful book to read anytime of year, not just in February!

Mumbet’s Declaration of Indpendence by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Alix Delinois. Carolrhoda: 2014.

Red Bird Sings  It’s only 32 pages long, but this biography of a Native American artist and activist is dense and wordy, coming in at over 3500 words. It’s obviously not targeted at the youngest readers. I hope older readers won’t dismiss it out of hand, though, because it uses its primary sources in really innovative ways. As the “Author’s Note” explains:

We have adapted three serialized semiautobiographical stories she wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in the early 1900s…we have woven additional primary and secondary sources into the text. We have reworked her language.

The book isn’t an autobiography, but the first person narrative voice has authority, coming from Zitkala-Ša’s own writings, that usually is missing from first person nonfiction picture books. I love the innovative ways the authors used the primary sources (and that they turst us enough as readers to tell us about what they’ve done!).

Each spread of the book, each with a new title and date, tells a different incident from Zitkala-Sa’s life, almost as if each spread is a new chapter. The book opens with the dramatic story of how she lost her braids. The final spread tells about her work as a lobbyist in DC, working to improve the lot of Native Americans.

This little-known hero deserves to be better known.

Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American, Author, Musician, and Activist, by Gina Capaldi and Q. L. Pearce. Carolrhoda Books: 2014.