Monday, May 14, 2012

Non-Fiction Pick: Walking On Earth & Touching the Sky

Walking On Earth & Touching the Sky:
Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School
Edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin
Paintings by S.D. Nelson
Foreward by Joseph M. Marshall III, Sicangu Lakota
Abrams Books for Young Readers
80 pages with full color illustrations

Beautiful, vibrant, amazing, and poignant, the images, poetry and prose in this collection speak to the humanity in all persons. Native paintings contained throughout are touching and deeply moving. The students of the Red Cloud Indian School share their innermost thoughts and feelings about misery, silence, spirit, and dreams among their people and families. The editor lived at the reservation and taught at the school. In time, he gained the students' trust and understanding; they shared their work with him.

From student Julia Martin:


Silence is the loudest noise I ever heard. The wind blowing gently across the prairie grass. The horses galloping around the field, the birds flying quietly to the trees. Silence is the loudest noise I ever heard."

and from Isaac Red Owl:

"Silence is the darkness of night when the moon shines bright and the pine trees make the only sound, the sound of a hundred cars on the freeway. Then, when the wind stops, there are no more cars, just silence."

In the section titled Spirit, student Tia Catches writes with wisdom, "Words of Life and Death,"

"The words of life are words of joy,
but the words of death are sad and lonely.
And often, death is soft and peaceful,
and life is often stale."

The foreward explains that life on the reservation is often a fight. The students and families face poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence. The suicide rate is high, but still there is hope among the Lakota. Their paintings and their words will stay with the reader for a lifetime.

Several students voiced the need to write, the need to express their anger, resentment, and rage and at the same time, channel that energy for the good.

Two students voice their thoughts in Why Do I Write?:

from Dusty Black Elk:

"When I write, it comes from my heart. When I write from my heart, I do not want to stop. I want to write until I pop. When I write from my heart, nothing but the truth comes out. I can make up stories with my mouth, but not on paper. When I write, it's like a dream."

and from Christina Cordier:

"I write to get away from the world, to be on my own for just a little while. I write to get all my feelings into just one sentence. I write to remeber that day forever..."

My favorite piece in the collection expresses what I hold to be true of imagination and creativity. A haiku by Isaac Red Owl:

Will always exist for me
Never dies for kids"

From the foreward by Joseph M. Marshall III, he explains the significance of the students' work:

"Not only are the feelings and thoughts expressed intensely personal but they are also unique in that they reveal and represent the experiences of being Lakota in today's world."

This is a rare and important book not only for the Lakota but for all American people and scholars of American history. It is the fabric of our times and lives. This book should be in every non-fiction and poetry collection.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves history, art, and poetry. Highly recommended for all non-fiction collections and poetry collections.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

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