This week we’re reading three fantastic picture books with characters who act bravely in the face of fear.
The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Francois Thisdale (Fifth House Publishers; ages 6-9) centers on First Nation Anishinaabe cousins who bravely pursue their aspiration of being good Trackers despite fears of the Windigo.
The author, who is First Nation Anishinaabe of the Ojibway Bear Clan from northern Ontario, describes the Windigo as follows:
“There are many stories of the Windigo from Native tribes. The Windigo is feared and respected by Anishinaabe peoples. It is said that the Windigo can transform itself into human or animal shape and can walk on the wind in the icy northern wilderness. Its giant spirit will hunt for Native people who are lost in the frozen winter bush! Strange unexplained sights and sounds come from the dark forest at night. It is the Windigo.
Many stories are told to keep children away from dangers of winter blizzards and to stop them from wandering away. Protection from Windigo is the strength and love of family. This love is powerful enough to scare thew Windigo away and keep you safe.”
After Uncle shares the story of the Windigo, Tom and Will find it difficult to sleep and when they hear strange noises in the night they know it is the Windigo. Strange scratches outside their window the next morning drive them to set of in pursuit, just as good Trackers would do. As they find Jack pine branches stripped of their needles, the boys are terrified but push forward. An eerie sound leaves them convinced of the Windigo’s approach but to their surprise (and great relief!) the source of these sounds is actually a young moose trapped in the deep snow. The cousins bravely rescue the moose, and return home to their Uncle with a Windigo story of their own to share.
Gorgeous illustrations and suspenseful writing fully engross the reader and have my kids sitting on the edge of their seats every time. This emotional engagement makes it a perfect read for discussing the concept of bravery, while the story’s details provide wonderful cultural education. And as a fun bonus, the endpapers show different animal tracks that you can spot throughout the book—just like good Trackers!
Does Frankenstein Get Hungry? by John Solimine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers; ages 5-8) is a fun and clever approach to tackling fears of monsters.
Lying in the dark, a young girl finds herself imagining ghoulish things creeping around her room. In an effort to find sleep, she bravely confronts her fears with a series of questions that put each monster into a humorously mundane context, such as eating lunch at school, flossing, and sharing toys with their siblings. The fear-deflating effect is completed with colorful, light-hearted illustrations.
My kids love this book because they find it hilarious. I love that it empowers kids to bravely confront fears by changing their thoughts—a fantastic life skill! Overall, it’s an excellent addition to the Halloween season.
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos Press; ages 2-7) is the story of how a young Choctaw girl helped a slave family escape to freedom.
This book is written by a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and provides this historical context:
“There is a river called Bok Chitto that cuts through Mississippi. In the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears, Bok Chitto was a boundary. On one side of the river lived the Choctaws, a nation of Indian people. On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free. The slave owner could not follow. That was the law.”
Martha Tom is a young Choctaw girl who disobeys her mother and crosses Bok Chitto in search of blackberries. In doing so, she comes across a group of slaves secretly worshiping in the woods and sparks a friendship with a boy named Little Mo. Martha Tom shows Little Mo the secret to the Choctaw’s crossing of Bok Chitto—a bridge of river stones placed just below the water’s surface. When Little Mo’s mother is sold, he remembers the bridge and urges his family to pursue escape. And with the help of the Choctaw women they cross and disappear into the night in what, to the onlooking white guards, looks like a mystical event of slaves walking on water with angels to their freedom. The book then closes with a note from the author on the modern Choctaw people and Choctaw storytelling.
As the author notes in the book’s closing, “Crossing Bok Chitto is an Indian book, written by Indian voices and painted by an Indian artist.” It is a powerful story and beautiful window into the Choctaw oral tradition, which preserves this important piece of history. This is a book every American child should read. Not only to remember the injustice done to Native and African Americans, but to celebrate their cultures, courage, and perseverance.