LEWISTON, Idaho — Ten-year-old Glory Sobotta’s favorite part of becoming a published author was writing about Appaloosa horses and the way she describes them in her poetry.
The fifth-grader is one of many Lapwai Elementary students who contributed to six different bilingual books about the Nez Perce Tribe and its culture. The books were recently published with grant funding and distributed during a book-signing event in Lewiston.
The six books with varying topics were each written and illustrated by different grade levels, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. Sobotta’s topic relates to the difference between the seasons.
D’Lisa Pinkham, a Lapwai Elementary teacher, said the books are about creating cultural responsiveness within the school’s curriculum. That effort began when the teachers invited University of Idaho faculty member Margaret Vaughn to help them address language arts – an area they felt needed improvement.
Vaughn led the Lapwai Elementary teachers in a two-day writing workshop last October. Pinkham said teachers also attended workshops throughout the year.
Pinkham said the teachers were initially just trying to purchase culturally responsive literature, but Vaughn helped them get a grant to create their own. They received the grant in May and the students worked on the books during summer school with six teachers.
“It took a lot of planning and dedication from the teachers,” Pinkham said.
While there is a lot of literature written about the Nez Perce people, Pinkham said much of it isn’t written by or for members of the tribe. That in turn perpetuates incorrect information, she said.
“There’s a lot of books written about Nez Perce culture, not many by our own,” she said.
To overcome the misinformation, Pinkham said several members of the tribe and community were brought in to talk to students. Tribal elders shared the language, songs, history, art and various other traditions.
“Before the children could begin writing these books, they needed a strong foundation,” Pinkham said.
The books all include some Nez Perce language designed for specific grade and reading levels, Pinkham said. The kindergarten book is all about the Nez Perce language numbers, and the first-grade book has a mix of both English and Nez Perce terminology. The remaining four books are completely translated and can be read in English or Nez Perce.
“We had some elders come in with the Nez Perce language instructors and they did a lot of work to make sure we correctly translated and honored our language,” Pinkham said.
The second- to fifth-grade books were also books of poetry. At the end of each poem, students addressed the cultural importance of places selected as the setting for the poems.
“All of this comes from within them, and that’s how you begin to be culturally responsive,” Pinkham said.
Sobotta said deciding on her topic was a tough choice, but she ultimately selected Appaloosa horses because she loves horses.
“I like that they listen to me and when I gallop it’s fun and it’s fast and they don’t buck me off,” Sobotta said. “They’re trained really well and it just makes me trust them.”
Sobotta wrote a three-stanza poem about how her family carries on the Nez Perce culture through Appaloosa horses. Sobotta, her grandmother and mother all have horses. Her poem was set at Wallowa Lake in Oregon because her people used to live there, Sobotta said.
She also painted a watercolor illustration of a horse in the sunset to accompany her poem. Sobotta said she was excited to share her work with the people who attended the book-signing event.
“I think it’s cool because a lot of people get to know me,” she said.