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A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom

by Tim Tingle
illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
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American Indian Library Association (AILA) 2008 Award for Best Picture Book
Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book
American Library Association Notable Children's Book 2007
Oklahoma Book Award for Best Illustrations, 2007
Oklahoma Book Award for Best 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
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

Reading is Fundamental

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10-digit ISBN1-933693-20-7
13-digit ISBN9781933693200
Also Available InHardcover
Page Count40
Product Dimensions8.5" x 11" x 0.25"
Publication DateMay 1, 2008
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
*Starred Review* Gr. 2-4. 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). Jennifer Mattson
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 12, 2006 
full review >>
School Library Journal
Grade 2-6–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 and beautifully illustrated.
Publishers 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
...a very moving story about friends helping each other and reveals a lesser-known part of American History: Native Americans helped runaway slaves...While, this is a picture book; it would make a wonderful read-aloud for middle elementary students.
full review >>
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