Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wilma Mankiller - A Chief And Her People

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The story of the native people of America who were called 'The Indians' not to be confused with the people of India. My son was doing his Native American Report last week and his tribe was 'Cherokee'. While collecting information about the tribe, an acquaintance of Native American ancestry kindly lent me this book that she was reading at the time.

This is the autobiography of Wilma Mankiller, a Cherokee who is one of the most admirable women I have come across in person or in print. Not only did she rise to the post of Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, she went through numerous personal struggles and came out victorious each time. A person of unending will power, she says coming back to her family's roots was one of the things that helped her to get a better perspective on life. Her story is so enormous since it is not just her story but also that of the Indigenous people in this continent and is difficult to contain in a few sentences. She is well read and her experiences transcend race or creed and is a shining example of what can be achieved through personal power. Her name by the way is derived from a military title held by one of her ancestors. The book is sprinkled with Cherokee stories of old handed down through generations in addition to a closer look at the history of her people. The Cherokees originally lived in the southeastern US and were driven through what is referred as 'The Trail of Tears' in the 1800s to the west of Mississippi by the earlier administrations especially that of President Andrew Jackson. They lost millions of acres of land through inefficient or ambiguous policies designed just for that purpose. They also had their own internal struggles with the lose of culture and assimilation. Cherokee at present are the second largest Native American tribe in the US next to the Navajo.

Mankiller speaks of the 'Iroquois' and other native people who were here long before Europeans ever set foot in the Americas. How they always had their own government councils and culture and how the government to government treaties between the Indians and the settlers were rarely honored and the list goes on. It is said that the constitution of the Iroquois that existed long before is very similar to the US constitution and the main difference is that while the US constitution excluded women, the former had women as an equal constituent. A much more evolved society I guess. They also knew of the balance and harmony of nature that needed to be preserved for the good of mankind long ago, akin to present day environmentalists and conservationists.

Mankiller served as chief for 10 years and continues to this day in her efforts to help her people be aware of their own strengths and to help them know their roots. I feel like I have a barely half baked knowledge on the whole subject and so will not go further and will let you at least take up this book for an interesting window into the deep rooted and rich culture of the Cherokee people.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roald Dahl and other Children's authors/books

I simply don't know how I managed to skip this writer till I got here and watched a movie called 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' with my son. Came to know that it was based on the book by a guy named Roal Dahl and didn't think much more of it. Then came my son's birthday and guess what he got? A bunch of children's books authored by none other than Mr. Dahl! My son immediately finished reading 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and that was it. He was onto other peer reviewed interesting books by authors like Barbara Parks (Junie B Jones), Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid) and of course Star Wars and the ilk. We did get the kids stories from Panchatantra, Jataka Tales, TinTin, as many 'Amar Chita Katha' I could find in stores etc all of which my blooming reader devoured in no time.

He wasn't too much into chapter books that looked a little dull or long. My husband finished reading 'Swiss Family Robinson' from the Illustrated Classics with him and again that was that. But once we got the full set of the 'Treasury of Illustrated Classics' (which unfortunately seems out of print now) he had also reached the right time. We started him off with one chapter at a time which he just had to finish by himself before we got to the next day's turn. Sherlock Holmes was what started off the frenzy I think. Now he started scouring the house and of course the Library for books to read. So finally I was able to turn his attention to the 'Roald Dahl' books. This is when I also discovered how fun they are to read! My daughter who is into 'Panchatantra' stories, who then slowly drifts off to sleep while the reading is going on has started to sit back up to listen because the adventures are such fun. We are reading 'Danny The Champion of The World' now which I think is the best ever by Dahl! There are still more of his books (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, BFG etc) to finish and I can't wait for each.

One book that he had to learn in class was by actress Julie Andrews that is greatly entertaining is: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles . He also got me 'Death of Superman' from the school Library although he had already read it. Am I not lucky?:-)) I am glad we are past Arthur, Dr.Seuss , etc which are indeed great kid books (my daughter finds them very easily laid out to read all by herself) but I wouldn't be able to talk much about with the kiddos. I do love Avatar stories. We have '1001 Arabian Nights' at home but it looked so bulky that even I couldn't bring myself to read them. My husband found some audio stories (storynory) online for long car trips which the kids enjoy a lot. It had 'Alibaba and the 40 Thieves' which was so popular with them that now I am on the lookout for a simple 'Arabian Nights' edition.

Speaking of car trips, all 4 of us -especially my daughter- love listening to the Laurie Berkner Band in car. She also loves to listen to old Yesudas classics:-) To my surprise, they are enjoying the 'Alice in Bibleland' stories that I had bought hoping to substitute for a mildly anchoring religious aspect we might not be able to provide here due to a busy life and the lack of extended family - read grandparents- around. Step into Reading books are no brainer buys for kids who are in various stages of learning to read. My son didn't take much to Magic Treehouse but I think my daughter might like them. Her all time favorite and first love is Arnold Lobel's Mouse Soup which happens to be one of her brother's favorites too. Well folks, I have some more children's books to gush about but I think it is time to step off the pulpit and let these permeate. Hope your kids will find at least one new author/book/genre here and will come to love them.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

P.E.T - a parent self help book by Dr. Thomas Gordon

I never believed in self help books. I always knew what was good for me. I used to take pride in the fact that having grown up in a large family with all kinds of people I knew all I could learn about people right at home. Wrong! I also hadn't accounted for the ones who were brought into this world solely by me and my husband and whose lives depend on us for nurturing. Living away from the cocoon of extended family makes this role more visible. For the record, I was raised in a household where there was no spanking and therefore needed to find something that will work like the untold chain of love, respect and discipline that existed in my childhood home. P.E.T (Parent Effectiveness Training:-)) didn't provide all the answers but it was a good reference.

Whenever I am in a dilemma I search for more information. This one book shone with wisdom and had effective ways to handle things that agreed with my policies. They have little examples. Some are extreme but when we know how even those can be handled wisely and peacefully then we build a certain confidence. I see that it is not very easy to adhere to everything the book says, but then we can adapt what we read and try to shape it into what works. It also helped to know that there are a large majority of new parents seeking similar insights into effective parenting. It talks of the strict households and the permissive households and shows a middle ground to do things more effectively. Even if you don't follow the book, it is a good read especially if you are the kind that sometimes wonders whether you are indeed providing the right environment for those sweet little bundles of joy that God entrusted to you. Read here for a rather critical review I found in Amazon that will provide another side. This wiki page gives some insight into the book's philosophy and this page gives more on the book. You can know more about Dr. Gordon who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize here.