Written by: Chiori Santiago
Illustrated by: Judith Lowry
For ages: Upper elementary, ages 9 and up.
Language: English, some Indigenous words (unidentified tribe)
Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Residential Schooling, Resistance, Historical Figure, Historical Events, Family, Love, Native American Culture & Traditions.
Summary: This book is based on a true story, one of illustrator Judith Lowry’s ancestors. The story is about how Lowry’s father and uncle wanted to visit their family back home on Medicine Mountain, but were stuck at their residential school in Riverside, California. The tale takes place in the 1930’s, beginning in the fall when the main characters Benny Len and Stanley first arrive at their residential school, setting the stage that this is an important but difficult story to read. Benny Len and Stanley don’t like having to wear shoes or a scratchy wool uniform, and they don’t like being forced to speak English. In class, they are taught a completely Eurocentric curriculum and denied their cultural heritage and traditions. Both boys dream of their family and the stories their grandmother tells them of their ancestors as well as the food she would make them. Benny Len dreams and dreams of staying at his grandmothers house, and of the sacred bear dance that happens every spring. When summertime comes, the boys’ family doesn’t have enough to pay for tickets home so they must stay at the school and work. Stanley vows to think of a plan, and Benny Len is awoken one night by him. They have a plan, and must sneak out of the school! Stanley’s plan is to ride the rails back home to Medicine Mountain, back to their community and family. While they did have to go back to the school, every year they came home for the summer, and for the bear dance.
- How do you think the boys felt when they had to stay over the summer, and couldn’t go home?
- How would you resist having your culture taken from you?
- What would you like to say to Benny Len and Stanley?
Continuing the Conversation:
- We all live on stolen land, even though residential schools are now closed. What tribal land is your community on? How can we honor the original users of the land, and continue to appreciate it?
- Often it is not conveyed strongly enough that indigenous people still live today, and not all of them live on reservations. Learn more about the repercussions of residential schooling, the reverberations of which are still being felt today by indigenous families.
- Benny Len dreams of the bear dance, and of his grandmother. Learn more about the bear dance and other special ceremonies and traditions that are important to the tribes that occupied the lands you now live on.
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Chiori Santiago covered visual art, performance and music in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. Her articles and essays appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, Smithsonian, Latina, Parenting, World Art, American Craft, Pulse and many other fine publications. She worked as associate editor of the Oakland Museum of California’s publication; and was editor of Nikkei Heritage, the magazine of the National Japanese American Historical Society.
In 1998, Chiori published a children’s book, Home to Medicine Mountain, with artist Judith Lowry. The book earned an American Book Award and recognition from Stepping Stones magazine and the American Library Association.
Chiori won the “Maggie” Award for Best Column from the Western States Publishers Association for her writing in Diablo magazine, among numerous other awards. Chiori was a contributor to the book The Spirit of Oakland: An Anthology, and editor of the book Voices Of Latin Rock: Music From The Streets, an oral history of San Francisco’s Latin rock scene. Sadly, she passed away in 2007 from kidney cancer.
Judith Lowry and her brother were also destined to be globetrotters, following their dad to posts in Germany, Japan, Australia, and towns throughout the United States. A shy girl who expressed herself through art, Lowry won her first competition at age 6 for a drawing of a fantastic, Hieronymus Bosch-ish world populated by strange, vibrant creatures. Among her other influences were illustrations in May Gibbs’ books for children and paintings in European museums.
Instead of attending college, Lowry bowed to her parents wishes and got married, raised children, and worked as a hairdresser. Her artistic indulgences were limited to taking photographs at weddings and community events and teaching art. She settled in her father’s hometown of Susanville, CA. Encouraged to investigate Humboldt State University, she finally enrolled there. “I was in my 30s, and I felt like the oldest living co-ed in the world,” she recalls of her Humboldt years. “But I managed to graduate and distinguish myself in the art department.”
With a master’s degree in hand, Lowry found career success. Today she is among the most recognized Native artists in the country and one of only a handful representing California tribes, a fact she took seriously when invited by the Smithsonian to participate in Continuum 12, a series of solo shows by a dozen important contemporary Native artists.