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CROSSING BOK CHITTO

A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom

by Tim Tingle
illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
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Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book
American Indian Library Association (AILA) 2008 Award for Best Picture Book
American Library Association Notable Children's Book 2007
ALA—Book Links: Lasting Connections Pick, 2006
Texas Institute of Letters Best Children's Book of 2006
Texas Bluebonnet Master List 2008-09
Oklahoma Book Award for Best Illustrations, 2007
Oklahoma Book Award for Best Children's Book, 2007
Nominated for the 2008-2009 South Dakota Prairie Pasque Children’s Book Award
Teddy Award, Texas Writers League, 2005
Paterson Prize
Skipping Stones Honor Book
Anne Izard's Storytellers' Choice Award
2007 Mississippi Children's Book Selection
The New York Times says, “if history is meant to hold lessons for living, [Crossing Bok Chitto] offer[s] a more complex moral, and hope, for personal and cultural survival.”

Product Details

10-digit ISBN0-938317-77-6
13-digit ISBN9780938317777
FormatHardback
LanguageEnglish
Also Available InPaperback
Page Count40
Publication DateApril 1, 2006
Starred Review5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars - see reviews
RightsAll Rights Available
There is a river called Bok Chitto that cuts through Mississippi. In the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears, Bok Chitto was a boundary. On one side of the river lived the Choctaws. On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free; the slave owner could not follow. That was the law.

Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl, knows better than to cross the river, but one day—in search of blackberries—she disobeys her mother and finds herself on the other side. Thus begins the story about seven slaves who cross the big river to freedom, led by a Choctaw angel walking on water!

Crossing Bok Chitto will be an eye-opener for kids and adults alike. It documents a part of history that is little-known: the relationship between the Choctaws—members of a sovereign nation—and the slaves who lived in Mississippi during that time before the Civil War, before the Choctaws were forced out of Mississippi to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

In an essay at the back of Crossing Bok Chitto, Tim Tingle says:
Crossing Bok Chitto is a tribute to the Indians of every nation who aided the runaway people of bondage. Crossing Bok Chitto is an Indian book and documented the Indian way, told and told again and then passed on by uncles and grandmothers. In this new format, this book way of telling, Crossing Bok Chitto is for both the Indian and the non-Indian. We Indians need to know and embrace our past. Non-Indians should know the sweet and secret fire, as secret as the stones, that drives the Indian heart and keeps us so determined that our way, a way of respect for others and the land we live on, will prevail.”
Teachers: ALA's Book Links has named Crossing Bok Chitto as a Lasting Connections of 2006 book, one of the year's best books to tie into the curriculum. And don't miss the great teacher's resources we have like a guide to Crossing Bok Chitto.


Illustrations Copyright © 2006 by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. All rights reserved. Reproduction or copy of this image is not permitted without permission.
Booklist 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
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 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).
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 
full review >>
Publisher's Weekly 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
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 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
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 
Children's Literature
Box 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 Box 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. Tom 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, though the ending requires a somewhat large leap of the imagination.
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.
Multicultural Review
"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."
full review >>
Sapulpa Daily Herald
Artist features talents as illustrator in new book


Oklahoma artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges never thought that she would be a storybook illustrator. That is, until she was presented with a project that spoke to her on an artistic, historical and personal level.

“I always said I’d never do illustration,” Rorex Bridges said. “I didn’t think I could paint in the style that I thought the books needed. But this was such a great story, and really hit my fancy. I decided not to pass it up.”

The story that inspired Rorex Bridges is the written interpretation of a Choctaw folk tale by Oklahoma native and award-winning writer and folklorist Tim Tingle called “Crossing Bok Chitto.” It is a tale about the little-known historical relationship between the Choctaw Nation and the slaves who lived in Mississippi in the time before the Civil War. The story revolves around the friendship of a Choctaw girl named Martha Tom and a family of slaves that live on the other side of the Bok Chitto River. On the west side of the river, the Choctaw nation lived in freedom. On the east side of the river, plantation owners ruled the land and kept slaves. But the law of the time was that if a slave could cross the wide Bok Chitto river, they were free.

In “Crossing Bok Chitto,” the Choctaws had built a secret stone path through the river, just below the surface of the water. It is this secret bridge that connects Martha Tom with her friend Little Mo and his family and becomes part of a daring plan to escape after Little Mo’s mother is sold to a plantation in New Orleans.

What spoke to Rorex Bridges about this story was the connection between the Choctaw Nation and the African slaves, a subject matter that she frequently explores in her art.

“I have many paintings that deal with the relationship between the native people and the freedmen. There are so many mixed blood people out there, but often times they feel like they aren’t allowed to claim the other half of their heritage. I’ve had an overwhelming response from people about my paintings of native people and former slaves working and living together. They often don’t see their heritage in artwork.”

Rorex Bridges traces her own family ancestry back to the Cherokee tribe and has always felt a deep connection to Native American art. She currently resides in the hills of rural northeastern Oklahoma on part of the land on which she was raised, where she runs a successful art business with her husband, James Bridges. Rorex Bridges has made a name for herself nationally with her Native American-inspired artwork and many of her pieces can be found in museums and private art collections nationwide. And while the subject of the story lent itself perfectly to Rorex Bridge’s style of art, she was also was also drawn to the themes within “Crossing Bok Chitto.”

“I love to paint about human relationships and emotions, and it was those things about the story that drew me to it,” Rorex Bridges said. “The story also has a universal message about friendship, and the protection that a parent feels for their child that anyone can understand.”

Rorex Bridges’ signature portrait style of artwork with strong lines and rich earth tones perfectly complement Tingle’s story, which is written in the style of native storytelling, complete with traditional Choctaw songs.
- May 3, 2006 
El Paso Scene

“Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom” by Tim Tingle. Illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. This story of a young Choctaw girl who helps a slave family gain freedom by crossing the title river takes place before the Civil War and Trail of Tears. With both Tingle and Bridges having Indian heritage, the poetic words and meaningful pictures introduce young readers to some aspects of everyday Choctaw life, including their wedding ritual and even engineering techniques. Both of these details actually aid in gaining freedom for the slave family. Although this story takes place in the Deep South, it has plenty with which border residents can relate: the struggles and relationships between races and nations, a river that leads to freedom and self-reliance. The publisher even includes a brief account of today’s Choctaw Nation. Readers will soon discover it is about much more -- faith. As one slave family learns, faith in their family, faith in the help of friends and soon-to-be friends, and faith in the power of a greater good can overcome any boundary or bond.
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