MUSCOGEE NATION, Oklahoma – “Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high. Take a look. It’s in a book. A reading rainbow.” If those lyrics sound familiar, you might recognize them from the highly successful children’s television program “Reading Rainbow.” While the show has not been in production for several years, many have carried on its well-known legacy of providing educational programming that encourages reading.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Accessing Choices in Education Program continues this legacy through the Indigenous Readers Series. Now in its sophomore season, the series enlists educators, authors, and special guests to record themselves reading children’s books written by Native Americans. It is a modern format for modern Indigenous audiences.
Although this series is not broadcasted on television, it is accessible online. The program format is online videos that involve a Mvskoke language lesson, a history lesson, and the featured book. Illustrations from the book are seen through slides along with text read by a narrator.
Shannon Barnett is the MCN ACE Cultural Academics Specialist. According to her, the goal of the program is to be easily accessible for everyone that uses it.
“It’s made so that it can be done with students through email so that it can be viewed by their siblings and family because we want to encourage literacy at home,” Barnett said.
The series serves students from pre-K to eighth grade and is available to all Native American and Alaskan Native students living within the MCN reservation. At the end of each video, students are directed to take a survey which allows them to receive a free book bundle. According to Barnett, book bundles can either be mailed, picked up, or delivered to the student’s school site.
The book bundle includes the book read during the online video, an additional book, and items that encourage literacy.
Similar to “Reading Rainbow,” the Indigenous Reader Series has featured many narrators eager to serve the next generation of readers through storytelling.
“The first one that we did, we had the secretary of education, Kaila Harjo. She read our first book for us, Fry Bread,” Barnett said. “We also had our Mvskoke Royalty read last year, Claudia McHenry and Gabby Noriega.”
The series has featured books like “Joshua and the Biggest Fish” by Kaylee Morrison and Nancy Smith and “We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom. The former is Barnett’s favorite from the Indigenous Readers’ Series.
“Joshua and the Biggest Fish” features English text in yellow while Mvskoke words are highlighted in green, inviting the reader to pay close attention to the spelling and meaning. This story, in particular, features familiar staples of Mvskoke cultures, like fishing, irrigation, and sharing a community meal.
“We want to spark our students’ interest in guided and independent reading,” Barnett said. “Giving them access to maybe opportunities with not only Native authors and books but getting to know some of our dignitaries and people around our nation that are also getting to read and introduce themselves to our young Native youth.”
Anyone wishing to sign up for the Indigenous Readers Series can visit their website, mcnaceservices.com. Barnett said it is beneficial to visit the site to stay updated on services provided by ACE.
Reading continues to be revered on the reservation. When young Indigenous students listen to stories written by Indigenous authors, they may believe that “I can be anything.”