Saturday, February 23, 2013

Love Story

JANICE:  We recently received a letter from a teacher in Pocatello, Idaho, that brought back warm memories of a school visit Tom and I made a few years ago. It turned into a love story between a boy who did not like to read and a book, between an author and illustrator and a reader, and between two cultures.

 Never could I have imagined what would happen when I answered a letter from a fifth grade Shoshone boy in Pocatello named Samuel. He said our three books about Young Wolf "are the first ones I loved." Could we please write another?

Yes, we could. We called the next book Son of Spirit Horse and dedicated it to Samuel as a surprise.

Then it was our turn to be surprised. Through Samuel's teacher, Kaye Turner, we were invited to Pocatello for an author-illustrator visit to schools in the city and on Fort Hall Reservation. There we met Samuel, his parents, grandmother, and great grandmother, matriarch of the family.

As a culmination to our visit we gave a public presentation at Idaho State University. Samuel invited the tribal spiritual leader to play the drum and sing tribal songs as an opener for our program. After explaining the meaning, LeeJuan sang a song in Shoshone, paced by his drum, asking the Creator to bless the education of their young people and keep them on the "good road."

There is still hatred and prejudice between the Shoshone and whites in Idaho. Sadly, the Fort Hall Reservation had the highest suicide rate in the country. I had been told that the Shoshone never shared their language with whites. It is the only thing we have not taken from them. To ask how to say a word in Shoshone is to risk offending.

I decided to take the risk. After the drumming and songs, I began by saying "good evening" in every language I know bits of - Japanese, Italian, Greek, Spanish, French, German - as a way of introducing my theme of learning from other cultures rather than clashing with them. Then I asked if anyone knew how to say good evening in another language. LeeJuan spoke up and taught me the Shoshone words right there on the spot.
Todd (Father), Syrina (Mother), Samuel, Janice, Tom

So, here's to Samuel's future. May he stay on the good road. He did not like to read and now he does.  It is a thrill to be part of such a transformation. And it is a thrill to connect with another culture.