once and a while a book comes around that changes somebody. For
a young Alexis Saenz that book is Proud to be a Blacksheep written
by Roberta John.
book focuses on a young Navajo girl Shundeen who goes to school
off the reservation and ultimately feels like an outsider. She must
find a way to retain her culture while trying to find a way to fit
in. The book is written in both Navajo and English.
is Johns second book, her first was Red is Beautiful, and both books
deal with issues of acceptance. The inspiration for her second book
came years ago when she was out educating the community about the
pros and cons of gaming. During that time she interviewed a professor
who was also a medicine man.
I interviewed him he let me sit in one of his classes," said
John. "And he made all of his students introduce themselves
to me and there was only one guy in the class and when he introduced
himself he said, 'well I'm just the black sheep of my family' and
we all laughed. And then the instructor said, 'you know that's really
not that funny, because your all thinking you should look down on
him, but you should look up at him.' He said in the Navajo culture
we look up to the Blacksheep as the leader of the herd, they are
always the wisest one and know how to find their way back home,
you should always look up and be proud to be a Blacksheep. And that
always stuck in my head for years."
that defining moment it was years before John actually put that
idea into a book, and the inspiration came after witnessing how
children interacted with one another.
were always asking me when I was going to write my next book,"
said John. "I hadn't really thought about it, but one day I
heard these kids teasing another kid for being a Blacksheep and
so I figured I would write a story about a little girl who is part
of the Blacksheep clan. She's viewed by her parents as an outcast,
and she is the only Navajo in her class. And every summer she would
go back to the reservation to visit her parents, and one time she
doesn't listen to her grandfather, and she goes to the canyon and
gets hurt. She has a little black lamb names frosty with her, and
her grandfather tells her a story about how to never be ashamed
about who she is."
message transcended space to California when it reached 10-year-old
wrote in her letter, "You're book Proud to be a Blacksheep
gave me confidence to be proud of who I am. I am Native American
just like Shundeen...right after I read your book I went to my Navajo
grandma's house and talked to her a lot about cultural things, like
Pow-wows, Navajo food, Navajo dancing and famous Navajo people.
'why do you want to know so much about this?' she asked. 'you never
did this before.' It helped me accept who I am I replied it's amazing
what a book can do for a person. Now I just want to shout out to
the world who I am."
named as a child's favorite author was a great experience for John.
named me and I said, 'are you kidding me? You just made me the happiest
person ever'" said John. "I wrote her a letter back, but
I don't know if she got it yet. I told her in the letter when she
comes back to the reservation to let me know and then I could drive
out there and meet her and her grandmother. You ever know the impact
your books are going to have on people."
this is only the second of Johns' books, there is a specific message
she wants to come through in all her books, and that is to never
be ashamed of who or what you are.
I talk to the little kids about my books I always tell them don't
be ashamed of who you are, or what color you are, or what you look
like," said John. "And people will always tease you, but
never be ashamed about who you are."
would like that message to continue into the next book she publishes.
want to write a book either about a young Navajo boy or two brothers",
said John. "In my head I'm just trying to figure out what issue
I want to deal with. I feel like my books deal with contemporary,
issues but have to deal a lot with Navajo teachings and values of
how you use Navajo philosophy and values to heal and educate and
empower our young people."
Salina Bookshelf, founded in 1994, is an independent publisher of
textbooks, children's picture books, reference books, and electronic
media in Navajo and English. These dual language materials captivate
young and old readers alike. Many books include an audio CD narrated
in Navajo and English for use in the home or classroom. Authentic
depictions of Navajo life, both contemporary and traditional, are
portrayed throughout the entire collection of materials offered.
These resources have broad appeal in classrooms, adult centers,
libraries, and homes to teach the Navajo language and culture.
The book can be purchased at