Sunday, March 6, 2011

Toddler In Peril Becomes A Leader Of Her Tribe and Book Giveaway!

MARCH 6 Today's post provided by Jan Godown Annino

Toddler In Peril Becomes A Leader Of Her Tribe

To college sports fans, Seminoles are the strong kids using muscle for Florida State University. They wear garnet and gold colors.  And sometimes, they put on a dramatic black.

To me the Seminoles are today’s members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida & more important, they are the fabled ancestors of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida members. 

One unique tribal member of modern times who I wrote about for young readers is Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. 

In writing about her through SHE SANG PROMISE, I came to the story from outside the culture. A School Library Journal post that covers this outsider status.

This life story of a girl who survived death threats in the 1920s & faced discrimination throughout her life is recognized by the 2011 American Library Association Social Responsibilities Round Table’s Feminist Taskforce.

Another title from the ALA Taskforce in its annual Amelia Bloomer Project List, includes a 10 year-old author who was also a 10-year old divorced child.  Her book helps us understand that this situation isn’t unique & that volunteer attorneys make a difference in children’s lives every day.  Nujood Ali is already a leader of her people by her divorce action. I hope that if she wants to, she can grow up to be a leader of her people in an official capacity, as did Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.

When I open up a black drawstring Seminole patchwork bag & invite children to pull out a shed snakeskin, they connect with the idea that Betty Mae was born into the important Snake Clan.   She grew up to hear repeatedly, the oral history of two girl ancestors who escaped brutal treatment on the Florida portion of the Trail of Tears in a dramatic run across the peninsula.  This ensured survival of Betty Mae’s Snake Clan.  Children I present to also hear about the traditional matriarchic society of Seminole people.

The patchwork bag also holds a piece of wood carved into a model flat-boat, by tribal elder Bobby Henry. These boats were one key to the Seminoles’ superior shallow Everglades travel, compared to Yankee canoeists of the 1800s who paddled in  deep-V boats that mired in muck.  The Seminoles stood & poled their floating log barge.

A photographic postcard in my collection, of Betty Mae’s royal Seminole grandfather, further connects children to the Seminoles’ unconquered past.
Children take to their hearts the letter written directly to them by her son, poet Moses Jumper, Jr.  who gifts them with two special words.
Excitement about alligator wrestling & puzzled reaction to unfamiliar tonal sounds, such as a chant to accompany a traditional dance, are also keen parts of the uncommon visit with Seminole culture. 

As an outsider to the Seminoles, I’m forever grateful that Mrs. Jumper made an overture to me across a table of crafts at an Indian Festival in the early 1980s. 

I attended to write a newspaper story.   I stood at her table reading a newspaper that I plucked from a stack of them, folded near the crafts.  It intrigued me to find my familiar medium among the soft piles of folded patchwork clothing in rainbow colors that grabbed attention.  Seminoles are known for this original wearable art, worldwide. 

Photo  from the Florida
Women's Hall of Fame, a
project of the Florida
Commission on the
Status of Women
But, the Seminole people also wrote a newspaper?  My first ignorance.  Other blank spots in my education, missing pieces of the Seminole story, which is a key to the modern development of the state I moved to from New Jersey at age 13, were to begin to recede with my slow-forming link to Mrs. Jumper.  I cherish that our connection came through printed words that she brought that table, teaching me first with her newspaper that she edited.

As a barefoot child she survived death threats at her remote family camp.  Later Betty Mae begged her grandmother to be able to become literate at age 14. She received a formal education at boarding school in North Carolina, additional training in nursing in Oklahoma, & chose to return home to help her then-impoverished people, whom she loved. 

When she became the first woman elected a leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in 1967, there was less than $40 in the bank account, she told me.
This was about 18 years before the equally legendary Wilma Mankiller earned the job of principal chief of the Cherokee people.  Betty Mae Tiger Jumper served a U.S. President on an advisory committee & was an invited presenter at the American Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. in 1969. Her voice is heard on two Smithsonian folk music/storytelling CD recordings.  She was inducted into halls of fame, held an
honorary doctorate from Florida State University & earned many other honors.

In a long amazing life, some aspects most intrigue readers:
Why & how Betty Mae Jumper wrestled alligators 
Why she received death threats as a toddler & how she survived them
How a child who wasn’t literate at age 13, came to publish 3 books & edit two newspapers

Adults with an aesthetic interest marvel at the sewing of intricate geometric designs in cloth that mimic nature & carry names such as fire, lightning, & birds.

I am most lifted up by how a girl who didn’t read as a young child, valued the printed word after not enjoying the secrets of it during her first 14 years in South Florida. Please seek out her own writing in her collection of important stories that teach traditional ways & beliefs, LEGENDS of the SEMINOLES.

I also recommend her memoir for adults, A SEMINOLE LEGEND, written with my pal, ethno historian Patsy West, and published with the University Presses of Florida.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper set ambitious goals for a barefoot girl without a formal education until age 14.  And she met them: “ I had three goals in my life. To finish school, to take nurse’s training & come back and work among my people, & to write books.”

SHE SANG PROMISE: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader,
by Jan Godown Annino, with oil paintings by Lisa Desimini. Afterword letter from Moses Jumper, Jr.   National Geographic Children’s Books (subject- biography- title in alphabetic order)

Giveaway offer - a free copy of SHE SANG PROMISE: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader.   In a comment to this post, please share a well- regarded non-fiction title (providing the author name, illustrator, if applicable, publisher,  & year of pub.) This title will be for the elementary ages, about a First Peoples/American Indian/Native American topic.  Jan will select one recipient, but there will be two books given, one for you & one which you are asked to present to a library of your choice. Many thanks!


  1. I'm not sure if this is a well-regarded non-fiction title, or rather another little known story of a native child who does something remarkable. Benny's Flag by Phyllis Krasilovsky tells the true story of an Aluet boy living in an Alaskan Mission home who designs what will become the state flag of Alaska. It is a wonderful example of the power of one, and a reminder to children that they have a powerful voice.

  2. The insightful author Bird Baylor helped Native American children in Arizona reservation schools write down stories they had learned at home. First they talked about “how it feels to hear stories that are as old as your tribe and are told and sung and chanted by people of your own family, your own clan.” The result is AND IT IS STILL THAT WAY (Scribner, 1976). Miss Baylor’s commentary provides context, and the children--Navajo, Hopi, Papago, Pima, Apache, Quechan, Cocopah--offer the stories as “their gift to other tribes, to other children.” Some of the children chose to write, others to draw the pictures--all of them active participants in helping to preserve their culture.

  3. My public library would love to win a copy of Ms. Annino's book! We serve a rural, very homogeneous population and I'm always trying to add multicultural books to the collection to give our children some broader perspective. Plus this would work wonderfully with our summer reading theme!

  4. Not sure if it is a popular, let alone a well known title, but I like "Pocahontas:Princess of the New World" by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz (Walker & Company: NY 2007). It is beautifully illustrated and even includes a storytellers note that explains some of the myth behind what we know about Pocahontas.

  5. I'd love to be entered in the drawing - this sounds like a fascinating story! I am currently a library school student, but I'd love to be able to donate this book to the public library where I'm doing my practicum.

  6. Sounds like a very interesting story. I like your idea of the patchwork bag with intriquing visuals to entice the listeners.

  7. SHE SANG PROMISE is a glorious book - packed with history and culture presented in straightforward yet poetic language. Lisa Desimini's illustrations are colorful and striking as well. Having grown up in Florida, I was delighted to read about this amazing Seminole leader. Thanks to Jan Godown Annino for sharing her with us!

  8. The titles mentioned are new to me.

    Many thanks for sharing & I look forward to seeing if there are other titles suggested during the time of the offer, which extends during The Fourth Musketeer & Shelf-Employed's 31 days of celebration.

    I feel that Betty Mae Jumper, who I am sad to say passed away in January of this year, but after a full & adventuresome life, would have been pleased to know that readers are interested enough about her life path, to write about her in a forum such as this.

    Many many thanks for this fabulous web site & for the sharing of these thoughts at this post.

    It's a joy to look forward to each new essay & to read the comments they attract in this inaugural Kid Lit Celebrates Women's History Month site.

    I also love seeing the quilt come up each time.

    Lisa & Margo, I hope you can do this again next year!

  9. Thanks for sharing about this wonderful sounding biography!

  10. Thanks, Jan, and thank you for sharing your wonderful story and memories of Betty Mae Jumper. As for Margo and me, I hope we can arrange an annual celebration - much work but very rewarding!

  11. Thanks for this post. Finding works dedicated to Native American women isn't easy! I've been trying to find some for my own series this month.
    My school library does have Sarah Winnemucca : scout, activist, and teacher by Natalie M. Rosinsky.Publisher: Compass Point. The interested level on the book is grades 4-8

  12. As we come close to the end of our 31 days of inspired conversation about women & girls in children's literature, I'm checking in with everyone - before I head to a writing retreat.

    I'll pick the recipient after today.
    I expect to post that name here by the end of Friday, April 1, with my email for you to scoot along your postal address.

    Anyone else, please feel free to write me, also!

    It's been a joy to read all these comments & to know how many folks, both all the many readers & you kind reader/commentors, are interested in this potent topic.

    Be back here soon - many thanks.

  13. Many thanks for everyone's comments.
    It was a joy to review these many thoughts & to see the interest in the life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.
    It's good to have new titles to research & the selection goes to:


    So if Margo or Lisa know that person please send along contact info.
    Or if campbele returns to read this, please send me an email identifying
    yourself. Congratulations!

    Huge, enormous, gratitude to Lisa & Margo for their marathon this month. I hope you enjoy having a semblance of normal time back!
    I have to be honest & say my intention to read every post ran smack into reality of life, but I am eager to go back & catch the gems I missed & add comments that I didn't have a chance to make. I'm sure others are the same way. Plus, this is a resource to return to again & again.


    Jan Godown Annino
    jgaoffice (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. Hello. It's Jan Godown Annino again.

    It would be great to have an email from the poster named


    Then I won't feel like i'm late & can get the books in motion.
    Many thanks for your post campbele. And congratulations!

    Please write to me with your name & postal address & place
    KidLitWHM in the subject line.

    If you already wrote, but didn't have this blog in the subject line, it may have been deleted by mistake without being opened, as I didn't recognize it as being part of this event.

    My address is-

    jgaoffice (at) gmail (dot) com

    many thanks!

    ps S
    helf-Employed & The Fourth Musketeer, any tips you have on wrapping things up - much appreciated?