Crossing Bok Chitto (2006) - Cinco Puntos Publishing
In a picture book that highlights rarely discussed intersections between Native Americans in the South and African Americans in bondage, a noted Choctaw storyteller and Cherokee artist join forces with stirring results. Set “in the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears,” and told in the lulling rhythms of oral history, the tale opens with a Mississippi Choctaw girl who strays across the Bok Chitto River into the world of Southern plantations, where she befriends a slave boy and
The New York Times
“Crossing Bok Chitto,” by Tim Tingle, a story teller and folklorist, tells a tale with a happier ending, but its journey is no less a departure from the narrative of American uplift. In Mississippi, a Choctaw girl and a black slave boy join forces when his mother is sold: he knows how to become invisible to whites, she knows how to cross the river to escape them. They do not go north, to be with the enlightened white abolitionists. Instead, his family disappears into the fog - illustrated with a symbolic, almost Japanese simplicity, by Jeanne Rorex Bridges - and out of American bondage.
“In stories or in life, trouble comes,” Tingle writes; in literature for children, this is a lesson as old as the Grimms. But these realities cut deeper than any fantasy. Even young children recognize the Wicked Stepmother as an archetype. Will the children who read these books recognize the white people in them as the white people in their lives or in their own families?
- August 31, 2006
Tingle's first children's illustrated title, with paintings by Cherokee artist Jeanne Rorex-Bridges. For elementary-age students through adults, this story----a gripping tale of innocence and escape----reveals the seldom-discussed friendship between many Southeastern Indians and those held in bondage.
2007 Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book 2007 Skipping Stone Award
2007 Paterson Prize 2007 Anne Izard's Storytellers' Choice Award
2007 ALSC Notable Books for Children List 2007 Oklahoma Book Award for Best Children's Book
2006 Teddy Award from the Texas Writer's League 2006 Book Links Lasting Connections Selection
2007 Oklahoma Book Award for Best Illustrations
(Illustrator Jeanne Rorex-Bridges)
2006 Austin Public Library Award for Best Children's
Book from the Texas Institute of Letters
Bridges, a Cherokee artist making her children’s book debut, joins Tingle (Walking the Choctaw Road) in a moving and wholly original story about the intersection of cultures. The river Bok Chitto divides the Choctaw nation from the plantations of Mississippi. “If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free,” writes Tingle. “The slave owner could not follow. That was the law.” But Bok Chitto holds a secret: a rock pathway that lies just below the surface of the water. “Only the Choctaws knew it was there, for the Choctaws had built it,” Tingle explains. When a slave boy and his family are befriended by a Choctaw girl, the pathway becomes part of an ingenious plan that enables the slaves to cross the river to freedom-in plain view of a band of slave hunters during a full moon.
Bridges creates mural-like paintings with a rock-solid spirituality and stripped-down graphic sensibility, the ideal match for the down-to-earth cadences and poetic drama of the text. Many of the illustrations serve essentially as portraits, and they’re utterly mesmerizing-strong, solid figures gaze squarely out of the frame, beseeching readers to listen, empathize and wonder.
- March 13, 2006
Midwest Book Review
A celebration of diversity, acceptance, and unity.
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale Of Friendship And Freedom, by Tim Tingle and featuring illustrations by Jeanne Rorex Bridges is the inspiring tale of Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl. Following Martha Tom through her pursuit of blackberries in the deep forest, Crossing Bok Chitto will captivate young readers with vivid and colorful pictures as the young Native American girl stumbles upon a forbidden slave church and befriends one of its members. A welcome addition to school and community library picturebook collections, Crossing Bok Chitto is very highly recommended for all young readers as a celebration of diversity, acceptance, and unity in a remarkable production of expert authorship and invaluable illustrations.
- July 14, 2006
Bok Chitto is the river that cuts through Mississippi and serves as the boundary between the Choctaw Indian nation and the plantation owners and their slaves. Martha Tom, a Choctaw girl, is sent to pick blackberries. Her quest for blackberries leads her to cross Bok Chitto. She knows of a stone path just beneath the river's surface. As she discovers blackberries, she also discovers another people living in the woods--the slaves. Little Mo, a slave boy, leads Martha Tom back to the river and learns of her stone path; the two become good friends. When Little Mo's mother is sold and the family fears separation, Little Mo realizes he can help by using the stone path that Martha Tom has shown him. The other Choctaw Indians help lead Little Mo's family across Bok Chitto and keep the guards away by appearing as ghosts.
Tim Tingle, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, tells a very moving story about friends helping each other and reveals a lesser-known part of American History: Native Americans helped runaway slaves. The muted and soft illustrations done by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, a Cherokee ancestor, fit the story's time and place, particularly the river's muddiness. The notes at the end also provide useful information to learn more about the Native Americans in history and the background of the story. While, this is a picture book; it would make a wonderful read-aloud for middle elementary students.
School Library Journal
Dramatic, quiet, and warming, this is a story of friendship across cultures in 1800s Mississippi. While searching for blackberries, Martha Tom, a young Choctaw, breaks her village's rules against crossing the Bok Chitto. She meets and becomes friends with the slaves on the plantation on the other side of the river, and later helps a family escape across it to freedom when they hear that the mother is to be sold.
Tingle is a performing storyteller, and his text has the rhythm and grace of that oral tradition. It will be easily and effectively read aloud. The paintings are dark and solemn, and the artist has done a wonderful job of depicting all of the characters as individuals, with many of them looking out of the page right at readers. The layout is well designed for groups as the images are large and easily seen from a distance. There is a note on modern Choctaw culture, and one on the development of this particular work. This is a lovely story, beautifully illustrated.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Choctaw storyteller Tingle draws on bits and pieces of songs, traditional stories, and local histories to craft this legend of Native Americans helping African-Americans slaves to freedom. Martha Tom, a Choctaw girl, lives by the banks of Bok Chitto, a river in Mississippi that separates plantation land from Choctaw territory. If a slave can cross Bok Chitto, he or she is free by law, and the slave owner cannot follow. Disobeying her mother’s rule not to cross the river, Martha Tom traverses via a subsurface stone path and on the other side comes across a forbidden slave church meeting where she meets and befriends Little Mo, a boy who helps her find her way back to the river. Bonds between Martha Tom and Little Mo grow as Martha Tom attends the slave church services, and when Little Mo’s mother is sold, Little Mo enlists aid from the Choctaw. When the Choctaw women, carrying candles and wearing their white wedding dresses, step into the river, their angelic appearance causes the slave-hunters to held their fire as they watch Little Mo’s family walk, apparently on the water itself, to freedom.
Native artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges’ tranquil images of sienna-hued landscapes and people are imbued with an ethereal serenity undergirded by a fierce determination. She reveals character and emotional quality through full-frontal portraits that beckon readers to empathize through their imploring expressions.
Although the story has a legendary quality, young readers will appreciate the explanation of the reality, both in words and pictures, behind what appeared to the white folk as a mystical event. A brief note on the contemporary Choctaw nation and a longer one on Choctaw storytelling follow the text.
"Crossing Bok Chitto is an awesome story of survival, generosity, courage, kindness and love; enhanced by Jeanne Rorex Bridges’ luminous acrylic on watercolor board paintings on a subdued palette of mostly browns and greens."
his family. When trouble comes, the desperate runaways flee to freedom, helped by their own fierce desire (which renders them invisible to their pursuers) and by the Choctaws’ secret route across the river.
In her first paintings for a picture book, Bridges conveys the humanity and resilience of both peoples in forceful acrylics, frequently centering on dignified figures standing erect before moody landscapes.
Sophisticated endnotes about Choctaw history and storytelling traditions don’t clarify whether Tingle’s tale is original or retold, but this oversight won’t affect the story’s powerful impact on young readers, especially when presented alongside existing slave-escape fantasies such as Virginia Hamiltons’s /The People Could Fly /(2004) and Julius Lester’s /The Old African /(2005).