September 03, 2011

Proud to Be a Blacksheep

Navajo children's book inspires young girl, increases confidence

By Rae OwenEvery once and a while a book comes around that changes somebody. For a young Alexis Saenz that book is Proud to Be a Blacksheep written by Roberta John.

The book focuses on a young Navajo girl Shundeen who goes to school off the reservation and ultimately feels like an outsider. She must find a way to retain her culture while trying to find a way to fit in. The book is written in both Navajo and English.

This is Johns second book, her first was Red is Beautiful, and both books deal with issues of acceptance. The inspiration for her second book came years ago when she was out educating the community about the pros and cons of gaming. During that time she interviewed a professor who was also a medicine man.

"Before I interviewed him he let me sit in one of his classes," said John. "And he made all of his students introduce themselves to me and there was only one guy in the class and when he introduced himself he said, 'well I'm just the black sheep of my family' and we all laughed. And then the instructor said, 'you know that's really not that funny, because your all thinking you should look down on him, but you should look up at him.' He said in the Navajo culture we look up to the Blacksheep as the leader of the herd, they are always the wisest one and know how to find their way back home, you should always look up and be proud to be a Blacksheep. And that always stuck in my head for years."
How the book affected someone:This message transcended space to California when it reached 10-year-old Alexis Saenz.

Saenz wrote in her letter, "You're book Proud to be a Blacksheep gave me confidence to be proud of who I am. I am Native American just like Shundeen...right after I read your book I went to my Navajo grandma's house and talked to her a lot about cultural things, like Pow-wows, Navajo food, Navajo dancing and famous Navajo people. 'why do you want to know so much about this?' she asked. 'you never did this before.' It helped me accept who I am I replied it's amazing what a book can do for a person. Now I just want to shout out to the world who I am."
Comment:  For more on Native children's books, see Absolutely True Diary's Variant Covers and Young Healer Wins Children's Book Award.

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