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Friday, August 2, 2013

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story. Written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson. Abrams, 2012. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"Work began early every day. I remember awaking to the comforting sound of a crackling morning fire. My grandmother and aunts would already be awake, preparing breakfast. I learned by watching and then by doing. A favorite breakfast for us children was hot corn porridge."

This is an intriguing and well-researched first person telling of Buffalo Bird Girl, who lived on the Great Plains near the Missouri River for the first years of her life in the 1830s. Using archival source materials, S. D. Nelson creates a book that is sure to inform his audience, while also captivating them with the many daily activities that were the life of the Hidatsa tribe.

The first photo is of a Hidatsa mother and her baby with a caption describing the time and the fact that Buffalo Bird Girl would have been carried in the same way. The photographs and fine art illustrations show her people as they go about living a traditional life, allowing readers to see them preparing food, tending gardens, scraping and tanning animal hides, making clothing and trading their corn for horses, their furs for new and luxurious items.

Buffalo Bird Woman's own words are used throughout its pages, after having been recorded in 1906 by a visiting anthropologist. As we read we are made aware of the many changes that were part of her life, and the affects that those changes had on they way she lived it:

"I am an old woman now. The buffaloes and black-tail deer are gone, and our Indian ways are almost gone. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I ever lived them."

Her generation was the last to live the traditional life that she describes, as her tribe was forced to move to a reservation fifty years after her birth. There is so much here to learn about that way of life. I was keen to know about their underground food storage and how that sustained them when food was scarce. There is so much to admire in this book. The author does an amazing job of blending photos, acrylic illustrations and black and white, detailed drawings to ensure that we learn as much as we can about the Hidatsa, the injustices they faced, their resilience and their legacy.

In back matter, the author uses extensive notes to help his readers understand the history of the Hidatsa people, a timeline, source notes and a select bibliography that is sure to be of interest to any reader wanting to know more than is shared here. The endpapers should not be missed.

To  learn more about S. D. Nelson, his work and his art...go to

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