Annette Bird Saunooke Clapsaddle’s novel came out in September, and it’s already in its second printing.
Her book, Even as We Breathe, has received rave reviews. Publishers Weeklycalled it “a lush debut, and “an astonishing addition to World War II and Native American literature.”
Since her novel came out, she has been doing virtual readings – at least three a week — at bookstores in New York and across the country. And she was interviewed recently by National Public Radio correspondent Neda Ulaby at her home in the mountains of western North Carolina. Click here to listen to the interview.
Honored While at Yale
We honored Ms. Clapsaddle with a scholarship in 2003 when she was an undergraduate at Yale. She earned a master’s degree at William & Mary and then returned to her hometown to work for her tribe, first as assistant to the principal chief and later as executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. She has taught English and Cherokee Studies for 10 years at Swain County High School, whose student population is 30 percent Native American.
She lives in Cherokee, N.C., the main town within the Qualla Boundary, home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to which she belongs. The Eastern Band was formed by the Cherokees who escaped being displaced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. When the federal government forced the Cherokees off their land and drove them west in what became known as the Trail of Tears, some hid in the mountains and remained. Later they reclaimed some of their land and reconstituted themselves as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“My Cherokee ancestors have been here, we would say, since the beginning of time,” she told NPR. “Other people would say over ten thousand years.”
A World War II Mystery
The novel is a mystery set at an upscale resort in nearby Asheville during World War II. The resort served as an internment camp for valuable prisoners of war, such as diplomats and their families. The main character is a teenage boy named Cowney, a Cherokee who is accused in the disappearance of a diplomat’s daughter. While Cowney tries to prove his innocence, he also attempts to unravel his complicated family history.
In writing her novel, Ms. Clapsaddle was determined to create characters her students might know in real life.
“For me, that’s what I set out to do, is give my students a story,” she told NPR. One of her students reported he never thought he’d see so much of himself in a character as he did with Cowney. She was deeply moved when he sent her text saying, “People just don’t write about people like us.”
That review is her favorite.
But here’s one of my own. Having just finished the book, I would say that it is more of a love story than a mystery. It’s a compelling love story that ends with an intense emotional impact. The story touched me in a personal way. I think this was not only because of the compelling characters and their fate, but also because of the author’s deeply felt connection with the locale of the story in the ancestral homeland of the Cherokees.
In a time of fear and uncertainty, Justis Lopez has found a way to become an ambassador for happiness.
Mr. Lopez and his partner in creativity, Ryan Parker, have built on the elements of hip hop to write a song to brighten children’s spirits while conveying a powerful message.
“Our song – ‘Happyvism’ – is centered on Black and Brown boy joy and the power and significance of self-love as a form of activism and radical resistance,” Mr. Lopez said.
Watch the music video performed by Lopez and Parker here.
Mr. Lopez received an Alma Exley Memorial Scholarship in 2015 when he was a student in the Neag School of Education at UConn.
Also a Happyvism Book
Lopez and Parker also have produced a children’s book on Happyvism. As Mr. Lopez said, “This book communicates the significance, necessity and power of embracing joy in the face of a world riddled with trauma and oppression specifically as it relates to Black and Brown bodies.
“Additionally, this book embraces the beauty and need for Black and Brown boy joy and emphasizes the fact that maintaining happiness about who you are and what you think, say and do in a world that consistently goes against the grain of your identity is a form of activism in itself. Hence: Happyvism.
“We expect to release the book in December,” he said. “The target audience is K-6 educators. We wanted to create a project for the little ones. It’s all new to us, but we are really excited to be working with Ivy (Horan) on this project.”
Music Video Goes to School
Ivy Horan, honored with an Alma Exley scholarship in 2018, used the music video in her second-grade class at Mayberry School in East Hartford.
“I had been thinking about ways to incorporate more music into my classroom,” she said. “The class was doing an activity about emotions when I remembered Justis’s Happyvism music video. I played it for the students once, and they were hooked. They loved the song. We played it three more times that day.
“After school, I reached out to Justis on Instagram to let him know that we loved his song and were excited for his book.
“I also wanted to thank him for just being such a positive force,” she added. “Justis said he’d like to send us some of their Happyvism books when they’re ready. I know my students are going to be super excited since they loved his song (and think he’s really cool for making a music video). I am excited to see how Justis’s project progresses, and I am looking for more ways to keep my students involved.”
When the books arrive, Ms. Horan can add them to her classroom library of multicultural books, which are helping her second-graders to affirm their diverse identities.
Congratulations to Ivy Horan and Justis Lopez on their creative collaboration.
When Ivy Horan was an elementary school student in Duxbury, Mass., she never saw books about people who looked like her.
Last summer, as she began to prepare for her first teaching position, she decided to provide a different experience for her second graders at Mayberry School in East Hartford.
She posted an appeal on Facebook and other social media for donations of books on multicultural topics featuring diverse people.
“I got the idea for this multicultural book project from reflecting upon my own K-12 schooling experience,” she said. “I realized that I never was exposed to diverse or multicultural books. This has been my motivation throughout my entire project: to ensure that my students are given more representative books than I was as a child.”
Ms. Horan received an Alma Exley Memorial Scholarship in 2019 as a student at UConn. She received her master’s degree in May 2020 and began her teaching career in September.
“I have collected more than 60 books that have characters from different backgrounds, races, cultures, religions, and with varying familial compositions,” she said. “I am working on finding as many different representative and diverse books as I can for my classroom library.”
Inspiring Diverse Students
This is relevant because all of Ms. Horan’s second graders are students of color. Her class includes students who are Black, Latino and mixed-race. A number are English-language learners, who speak Spanish as well as African languages.
Click here to visit the Amazon site to contribute one or more books to Ms. Horan’s classroom library.
“I am extremely thankful for the donations,” she said. “I received books from family members, friends, professors, and various people whom I worked with throughout my time at UConn.
“What was most surprising was that I also received books from a handful of old friends from middle school and high school whom I haven’t talked to in years. It was amazing to see how everyone, whether I have remained close to them or not, came out to support my project and me. I am forever grateful. Every book that I received is now in my classroom library.”
She began by posting a wish-list of books from Amazon. Down the road, she hopes to expand her outreach to find more programs or websites that could help her find more diverse books for her classroom.
Right now, because of Covid-19 guidelines, Ms. Horan is the only one who can touch the books. Because of this, she is using the books as “mentor texts” and reading aloud to her students.
Supporting the Curriculum
“I also use these diverse books in teaching some of my curriculum,” she added. “For example, last week we were doing a lesson on ‘taking notes’ with informational or nonfiction texts. We had been reading a book about sharks, but instead of continuing with that book, I used the book ‘Turning Pages: My Life Story’ by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Not only is this story about the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, it also aligned perfectly with our celebration and recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“So not only can I use the books as read-aloud, I can also use them within the curriculum. In the future, I hope to turn my classroom into a lending library where students can keep the books at their seats for a designated amount of time and do independent reading. But for the time being with Covid-19, this is my safest approach.
“My students love the books,” she said. “It has been really wonderful to see students making connections from their own lives to the books.
“For example, I have a handful of students who speak Spanish. When we read the book, ‘Mango, Abuela, and Me’ by Meg Medina, those students were really excited to hear some of the Spanish words they know. This engaged the entire class in a conversation about language and what other Spanish words they know, who in their family speaks Spanish, and how they learned Spanish.
“These multicultural texts have been a foundation to help my students and me have more conversations about diversity and connect the ideas from the books to our own lives.”
Ms. Horan takes seriously her responsibility to serve as a positive role model for her students. “I have a class that is all students of color, and I know I am making an impact by just being their teacher since I am a teacher of color,” she said.
“I create a safe, welcoming, and loving community for all students and foster a community of care within my room every day. And that, books aside, is what our students of color so often need with everything going on in our world today.”
Hearty congratulations to Ivy for taking the initiative in her first year on the job to create a welcoming classroom environment for her diverse students.
Ms. Horan’s Culturally Diverse and Representative Class Library
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
Carole Boston Weatherford
The Color of Us
Sanne te Loo
Kali and the Rat Snake
New Clothes for New Year’s Day
Where Are You From?
Yamile Saied Méndez
Ada Twist, Scientist
Uncle Jed’s Barbershop
Margaree King Mitchell
Mae Among the Stars
Too Many Tamales
The Jolly Mon
Jimmy Buffet & Savannah Jane Buffet
Priscilla and the Hollyhocks
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti
Whoever You Are
Tiger in My Soup
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti PLain
Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Bein’ with You This Way
Matt de la Peña
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice
Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard
Almost to Freedom
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Donna Jo Napoli
Carmela Full of Wishes
Matt de la Peña
Mechal Renee Roe
Michal Renee Roe
Matthew A. Cherry
Don’t Touch My Hair!
I Like Myself!
Just LIke Me
My Hair is a Garden
Cozbi A. Cabrera
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Kevin Noble Maillard
Grace for President
The Word Collector
Peter H. Reynolds
A Day’s Work
Naomi Shihab Nye
Ma’ii and the Cousin Horned Toad
Jeri Hanel Watts & Felicia Marshall
Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back
Joseph Bruchac & Jonathan London
Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)
Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard
Fatuma’s New Cloth
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors
The Name Jar
Mango, Abuela, and Me
I Am Enough
Under My Hijab
Thunder Boy Jr.
Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale
Ohana Means Family
This Is the Rope
Be the Difference: 40+ Ideas for Kids to Create Positive Change Using Empathy, Kindness, Equality, and Environmental Awareness
V is for Voting
What If We Were All the Same!
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
Andrew Davis Pinkney
A Computer Called Katherine
Counting on Katherine
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payme
Fight for the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story
Malala’s Magic Pencil
Martin’s Big Words
Child of the Civil Rights Movement
Paula Young Shelton & Raul Colón
Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America