As our celebration of Black History Month comes to a close, I thought of sharing with you Patricia McKissack’s delightful picture book entitled Mirandy and Brother Wind. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Mirandy and Brother Wind was a recipient of the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Author Award in 1988. The cover of the book shows little Mirandy in her braided pigtails and graceful stance.
“Spunk” is written all over Mirandy’s face, and readers will absolutely love her. She is reminiscent of other beloved spunky heroines such as Lauren Child’s Lola, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Ian Falconer’s Olivia, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, just to name a few.
Mirandy and Brother Wind follows the simple story of Mirandy trying to capture Brother Wind so she could be his partner to the junior cakewalk competition. She was determined to win and hoped to achieve that by dancing with the Wind. Grandmama Beasley told Mirandy,
“Can’t nobody put shackles on Brother Wind, chile. He be special. He be free.”
Mirandy was not one to give up so easily. She tried to come up with different methods to catch Brother Wind. Whether or not she succeeded, I would leave it to you readers to find out.
Cakewalk: Tracing Its Roots and Meaning. Mirandy and Brother Wind touches on different subject matters for primary learners. These include seasons, weather, dance and music. In the author’s note, Patricia McKissack writes,
“First introduced in America by slaves, the cakewalk is a dance rooted in Afro-American culture. It was performed by couples who strutted and pranced around a large square, keeping time with fiddle and banjo music. As the dancers paraded by, doing flamboyant kicks and complicated swirls and turns, the elders judged them on appearance, grace, precision, and originality of moves. The winning couple took home a cake.”
On a more serious, sociocultural note, cakewalk is more than just a dance. I stumbled upon an article on the web that discussed dance and American consciousness.
“Its origins in slavery and the plantation south, the Cakewalk was the sole organized and even condoned forum for servants to mock their masters… [It] mocked the aristocratic and grandiose mannerisms of southern high-society. Much bowing and bending were characteristic of the dance, which was more a performance than anything else.” (Source: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug03/lucas/cake.html)
Dance As A Medium of Expression. When I read about the historical background of cakewalk, I was reminded of the Philippine folk dances. If memory serves me right, folk dances were taught in middle school and high school as part of the curriculum in Physical Education.
In my research, I came across 2 dances that may be likened to the cakewalk. In an online article by eHow, several Philippine folk dances were mentioned. One of these is called the “Maglalatik.”
“Performed by men wearing coconut shells attached on their chests, backs, thighs, and hips, the “Maglalatik” of Binan, Laguna is a mock war dance demonstrating the fight between the Muslims and Christians over a prized coconut meat called latik.”
The second folk dance called “Tinikling” is closer to the cakewalk than the “Maglalatik” was. According to Ating Lahi dance choreographer Danny Motos,
“In the Castillian-influenced and formal Estudiantina dance, the girls wear high-heels and carry floral umbrellas while the boys wear top hats and canes… It is an aristocratic type of dance that is intended to mock the “high-society” types.” (Read the entire article here.)
The Cakewalk Dance.
To give you an idea, here’s a short clip featuring some cakewalk dance moves.
Additional Resources for Educators.
Here is a list of lesson plans and activity guides for Mirandy and Brother Wind:
Activity guide by Random House – A pdf file containing activities for various picture books that relate to different subjects.
Story Stretchers for the Primary Grades by Shirley C. Raines and Robert J. Canady – Gives you access to different activities on children’s books. Mirandy and Brother Wind can be found on page 80 and it includes activities for storytelling, reading, art, cooking, music, and writing.
Rainy, Windy, Snowy, Sunny Days: Linking Fiction to Nonfiction by Phyllis J. Perry – Like Story Stretchers, this is another collective activity guide on different children’s books. It includes a discussion guide and a multidisciplinary activity. Mirandy and Brother Wind can be found on page 45.
Lesson plan provided by Pattonville School District – includes discussion guide for students to share their thoughts about the book.
Mirandy and Brother Wind
by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (1988)
Book borrowed from the Chula Vista Public Library.
Book photos taken by me.