♦ In this contemporary story, an Indigenous tradition inspires hope in a young girl.
Powwow Day, a traditional Native American ceremony, arrives, but River is still recovering from an unnamed illness and feels too weak to dance. Dressed in her jingle dress and matching moccasins, she longs to join her family and friends in the Grand Entry procession. She hears the drums—“BAM. BAM. BAM. BAM”—and watches the elders enter the circle with flags and feathers. The fancy dancers “twirl and ribbons whirl,” while the “grass dancers sway and weave themselves around the circle,” but River can’t “feel the drum’s heartbeat,” and her “feet stay still.” The emcee calls for the jingle dress dancers to enter the arena. Although River needs the ceremonial healing dance, she can’t do it. Thankfully, River’s friend says she will dance for her. The rows of shiny cones on the dresses make music as the jingle dancers move: “clink, clink, clink.” The girls “dance for the Creator, the ancestors, their families, and everyone’s health.” Watching her sister, cousins, and friend dance, River’s heart begins to open and conviction enters her soul. She finally feels the drumbeat fully, but is it her time to dance? Goodnight’s vibrant, energetic digital illustrations capture the beauty and intricacy of powwow regalia as well as the unique atmosphere of a powwow gathering. Together, the artwork and text sensitively portray and celebrate a powerful ritual that upholds the culture, healing traditions, and creative spirit of Native American communities. No specific tribe is mentioned in the story, though the backmatter mentions the Ponca and Omaha tribes.
A heartwarming picture book about the roles of courage, culture, and community in the journey of personal healing.
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
♦ When River first wakes up on tribal powwow day, she feels a surge of excitement before remembering that there will be “no dancing./ No jingle dress competition for me./… I can’t dance like I could before I got sick.” Attending the powwow with family, River, portrayed with light brown skin and short hair in a marigold jingle dress, hopes to dance Grand Entry and the intertribal dance, but is fatigued, unfocused, and “can’t feel the drum’s heartbeat.” Yet, watching from a nearby seat as the dancers connect to “the drum,/ Mother Earth,/ and one another,” and witnessing family and friends participating in the girls’ jingle dance, she realizes: “They dance for/ the Creator,/ the ancestors,/ their families,/ and everyone’s health…/ including mine.” In sensory-focused lines, Sorell (We Are Still Here!), who is Cherokee, creates a resonant, hopeful tale about the healing power of community and tradition, deftly capturing the powwow’s essence. Textural digital illustrations by Goodnight (Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!), who is Chickasaw, focus on the event’s sights and its participants’ fluid movements, effectively conveying River’s sideline perspective and desire to dance with her community once again. Back matter offers more information about powwows.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
♦ Powwow Day has arrived but River is recovering from an illness and unable to participate in the pageantry and tradition of the day. Little River is aching to join her family and community in the dances but is unable to “feel” the drums and becomes discouraged at having to remain on the sidelines. Her family and friends help River reach the realization that they are dancing for their community, traditions, healing, and most importantly, for her. The author develops the plot by creating text that is rooted in feeling and emotional connection. As a Cherokee Nation member, Sorell infuses the story with information about various traditions and experiences. Chickasaw Nation member Goodnight provides exquisitely detailed illustrations that exemplify the meaning and importance of Powwow Day. VERDICT A tender and inspiring view of Indigenous traditions and how celebrating them can lead to healing and redemption.
—School Library Journal, starred review
A girl recovering from illness longs to participate in her tribal powwow in this vibrant picture book about acceptance and hope. Delicate feathers and fringe adorn brilliant gold, pink, and turquoise ensembles as River’s friends and family take part in various dances and competitions, but River is still not well enough to don her jingle dress and join them. As she watches, though, she is reminded that the music still lives in her heart, and that she will dance again someday.
In the lyrical Powwow Day, readers are welcomed into an uplifting “celebration of dance, song, culture, and community.” River wakes on powwow day full of excitement–until she remembers that, because she’s been ill, there will be no dancing and no jingle dress competition for her today. Still, she hopes at least to join in for Grand Entry at the start of the ceremony. She waits with the other girls as warriors enter the arena carrying flags, followed by elders heading up the long line of dancers. But her own feet are still. River watches “through wet eyes” as the dancers move “around the circle, all connected to the drum, Mother Earth, and one another.” It seems that River is the only one who “can’t feel the drum’s heartbeat.” An elder prays to the Creator that their “culture and language will stay strong, and that healing will come to those who need it”–like River.
She tries to dance again but isn’t able to take part in the intertribal dance, either. The competitions begin and “fancy dancers twirl and ribbons whirl./ Graceful grass dancers sway and weave.” Finally, River feels the drum beat inside her. She watches as her sister, cousin and friends step and turn with feathery fans and clinking cones. She sits tall as they “dance for the Creator, the ancestors, their families, and everyone’s health… including mine.” River, who can “feel the drum fully now,” stands and opens her heart–she knows she will dance again at the next powwow.
Traci Sorrell (At the Mountain’s Base; We Are Still Here), member of the Cherokee Nation, enhances her graceful text with back matter about powwows. Through River, the author neatly conveys the magic and allure of the dances themselves, along with the all-important sense of community and healing fostered by the celebratory event. Madelyn Goodnight (illustrator of Look Grandma! Ni, Elisi!), member of the Chickasaw Nation, uses dynamic layouts and a variety of viewpoints in her colorful digital illustrations to portray the vibrancy of the powwow. Expressive characters in their detailed dancing dresses are full of life and movement. Readers will likely find it easy to empathize with River’s sorrow as well as her hope for strength, for healing and to dance again. –Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger and children’s book author
Shelf Talker: Though River won’t be dancing in the powwow, she recognizes the healing power of her community in this lyrical and uplifting story.