Elan, Son of Two Peoples
by Heidi Smith Hyde; illus by Mikela Prevost
32 pages; ages 8-10
Kar-Ben publishing, 2014
The year is 1898 and Elan has just turned 13. In his home of San Francisco he has chanted from the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. Now he is on the train with his family, heading to Albuquerque. There, in his mother's ancestral home, Elan will take part in the Pueblo ceremony celebrating his coming of age.
On the mesa Elan reads the Torah again. He wears the prayer shawl that his mother has woven, with symbols from both cultures: a Star of David, the Ten Commandments, a stalk of corn, an oak tree. Later, dressed in a tunic and leggings, he and his father follow the elders into the ceremonial kiva. He emerges later, with his face painted yellow and covered with eagle feathers. With others, Elan flaps his wings and pivots in the Eagle Dance.
What I love about this book - besides the soft sandstone colors of the paintings - are the words Elan's mother says when she gives him the prayer shawl: "Remember, you are the son of two proud nations whose roots are as sturdy and deep as this oak tree." I also love the historical notes at the back of the book. While many East European Jewish immigrants settled in New York, some headed west. One of those adventurers, says the author, settled in New Mexico, opened a trading post, and married an Acoma woman. They celebrated their son's coming of age in both cultures.
Many cultures celebrate coming of age for young women as well as their young men. Here is a video of the Mescalero Apache coming-of-age ritual.
I realize this book is fiction, but it's so nicely grounded in history and culture that it would be a great book to pair up with an informational text on different cultures or coming of age celebrations. For some more traditional nonfiction head over to the Nonfiction Monday blog. Review copy provided by publisher.