As many of you may already know, our featured novel for January is Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle. If the novel is new to you, be sure to check out our Book Review and Educator’s Guide. In discussing the book through comments here on the blog and our book group meeting, a common theme continues to arise: Hurricane Dancers is a great way to teach an alternative point of view to the commonly presented ‘discovery’ of the Americas. Sadly, there aren’t many great children’s or young adult books out there that do this. So, for today’s En la Clase post, I thought I’d share another book that also provides an alternative narrative to the discovery story: Michael Dorris’ Morning Girl. Below, I’ve included a link to the pdf of our Educator’s Guide on Morning Girl–just scroll to the end of the post.
I first read about Morning Girl in Bill Bigelow’s article “Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Recent Children’s Books on the Columbus-Taíno Encounter” from the teacher’s curriculum guide Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Bigelow writes, “Of all the children’s books reviewed here, the novella by the late Michael Dorris, Morning Girl, most effectively re-centered attention on the people who were here first, those so thoroughly neglected in the traditional canon” (p. 65).
Morning Girl takes place just before the 1492 arrival of Columbus and his companions in the Caribbean. Through the story of a Taíno brother and sister, Star Boy and Morning Girl, Dorris gives us one possible vision for what Taíno life may have been like in the period before conquest and colonization. While Dorris’ book is one of the few that provides any kind of fictional representation of the Taíno, it’s not without some drawbacks. As Bigelow points out, Dorris does tend to perpetuate stereotypical gendered norms with his portrayal of Star Boy and Morning Girl. Dorris paints a beautiful picture of a close-knit family that really listens to each other. Yet, he seems to contrast this with a distant or almost non-existent community. I’m afraid Bigelow is correct: “Oddly, Dorris has invented a society of enormous individual freedom, but a freedom largely cut off from the broader community. . .In this respect Dorris shares the common commercial multicultural ailment: failing to imagine a world fundamentally different than contemporary U.S. society” (p. 66). I mention these issues not to discourage anyone from using the book, but as a suggestion for some things you may want to discuss in further depth if you use the book in your classroom. In fact, many of the above-mentioned flaws may be excellent discussion starters to really unpack student notions around gender or the role of family and community relationships. I still think Morning Girl is an excellent book to use in the classroom, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a work of fiction to accompany a unit on Columbus or indigenous groups in the Caribbean. I found Dorris’ book to be beautifully written. He provides rich visual imagery that communicates an awareness and connection with nature that many of our students today are rarely exposed to.
The novel can be used in a variety of ways—as a read aloud novel, small group guided reading, or as a whole-class guided reading novel if you have enough copies. It is a short book (only 74 pages), so it could easily be read in a week or two depending upon how much time you devote to the activities and guided reading questions. The book is divided into nine chapters. The chapters alternate between the sister’s point of view and the brother’s point of view. Because of this, it makes the most sense to read two chapters in one sitting.
Previously, we had included a series of activities for use with Morning Girl in our thematic guide Rethinking Columbus. We have taken those activities and adapted them slightly to create an Educator’s Guide for Morning Girl. Click here to access the pdf of this guide.