Monster of the Week

Monsters are often inspired by real animals. Whether it’s a spider, a bat, or the snake, these creatures have terrified humans for millennia. So much so that people have become instinctually afraid of these creatures, so it is no wonder that many of the evil monsters we read about have some arachnoid, serpentine, chiropteran (bat-like) characteristic. The monster of the week is no exception: the Grootslang.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the actual Boomslang snake, which resides in sub-Saharan Africa. The Grootslang likewise has its origins in South Africa, specifically from the Zulu and Xhosa. Whereas the Boomslang means “tree snake,” Grootslang (also a mix of Dutch and Afrikaans languages) means “great/awesome/giant snake.”

The Grootslang has many similarities to a traditional dragon in that it is large–elephant-sized according to some legends–and desires precious stones. These creatures also inhabit watery areas such as swamps, rivers, and lakes. Incredibly strong and intelligent, it was said to be one of the first creations of the gods. The gods learned from their mistake of created such a powerful creature, so they didn’t make anymore like it. So, coming across one is rare, unless you’re searching for gemstones in a cave near a large body of water.

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Diverse Literature Part 1

As a teacher, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to read and discuss with students some excellent books by incredible authors. Living in New Mexico and next to the Navajo Nation, I tried to find novels that would appeal to my Native students. Here are a few selections to get young people started on the path of reading and learning about the many cultures in the U.S.

Native American Novels

Code Talker

Written by Chester Nez of the Navajo/DinĂ© Nation, this book goes into great detail about the discrimination he faced as a young Navajo boy attending a boarding school to his time as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific. If you’re at all unfamiliar with the story of code talkers, this book will enlighten you to the incredible journey Mr. Nez had and how the code created by these courageous Navajo men helped the U.S. win the war in the Pacific. I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Chester Nez, Samuel F. Sandoval, and Thomas H. Begay speak about their time in the Marines. Bravery, honor, and nobility only begin to describe these heroes. Several lied about their age so they could join the military and service this nation at a very desperate time. For more information please read the Navajo Times article, “Remaining Code Talkers Honored.”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

My first exposure to Sherman Alexie, a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-American, came in 2003 when I read his darkly humorous short story “Indian Education.” The piece is filled with nods to reservation life as well as Junior’s desire to assimilate but also hold onto his Native heritage. These themes are developed much deeper in his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. “Indian Education” PDF is available online and can be found with a simple Google search. Give it a read and you will get the general premise of Alexie’s novel. For another of Mr. Alexie’s books, check out his The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This contains other short stories relating to life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Hearts Unbroken

A more modern take on Native life and from a young woman’s perspective, Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a poignant look into young love and the unforeseen hurdles a person of color may face, especially in a school where the thread of prejudice has been woven through the community over generations. This novel is currently available on Kindle for only 99 cents. Ms. Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and has another novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name coming out in February 2021.

How I Became a Ghost

Tim Tingle, a member of the Oklahoma Choctaw Nation, takes a more historical look at the prejudice and racism Native Americans faced in the 1830s with Trail of Tears. Although only 160 pages, this novel is powerful and heartbreaking. How I Became a Ghost will be/is part of a series written by Mr. Tingle. Like the previous authors, he has other great contributions to Native American Literature for young people.

Monster of the Week

Just last week, I wrote that I would not get political on the website. I hold to that idea, however, times demand a reaction, a response, to the recent and tragic death of George Floyd. This is why I’ve chosen a real life monster this week.

It is cliche now to state that monsters are real and blend in with the rest of humanity. Sometimes, they are the one who should be protecting us from said monsters.

I have several friends in law enforcement. They are good people who work to serve and protect. As a teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of working with student resource officers who make an actual difference in a student’s life. Not because the SRO brought the hammer down and punished the kid, but because he/she took the time to understand the situation this child was in and acted compassionately.

With that said, reforms are desperately needed. Too many young people of color have died tragically and unnecessarily at the hands of police officers using their power to menace and intimidate. Perhaps one of the most impactful statements I’ve heard over the last few day has been “Good cops don’t let bad cops get away with it.”

Black lives do matter, and a fundamental systemic change is needed to make sure that these lives are not taken because of police brutality, gang violence, poverty, and a myriad of other systems put in place to minimize an entire segment of our population.

I don’t consider this post political for simple fact that this is about humanity, dignity, compassion, and justice. These should be traits that appeal to both sides of the aisle. In America–a democratic-republic, the land of the free, a beacon of liberty–we have to do better. We have to be intolerant of abuse and support the just cause.

The monster of the week is not just the man who helped murder George Floyd; it is all racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate.