Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Buffalo Bird Girl

Author/Illustrator: S. D. Nelson
Publisher:  Abrams Books for Young Children (October 1, 2012)
Source: Personal Copy
Read Aloud Level: 2nd to 5th grade
Independent Reading Level:  3rd to 6th grade
Biography * Native American History * Women's History

Description from GoodReads:
This fascinating picture book biography tells the childhood story of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839. Through her true story, readers will learn what it was like to be part of this Native American community that lived along the Missouri River in the Dakotas, a society that depended more on agriculture for food and survival than on hunting. Children will relate to Buffalo Bird Girl’s routine of chores and playing with friends, and they will also be captivated by her lifestyle and the dangers that came with it.

Using as a resource the works of Gilbert L. Wilson, who met Buffalo Bird Woman and transcribed her life’s story in the early 20th century, award-winning author-illustrator S. D. Nelson has captured the spirit of Buffalo Bird Girl and her lost way of life. The book includes a historical timeline.

My thoughts on this book:
Over the past several years, I have discovered that many educators do not fully grasp picture books.  They may see them as something that could be used as a read aloud during a thirty minute library session with older students but may not grasp how a picture book can be used effectively as part of classroom instruction.  As I was reading Buffalo Bird Girl, I realized that this beautifully illustrated and written narrative biography of a Hidatsa girl would be overlooked by many teachers.  Whereas a teacher may give more attention to this book and Buffalo Bird Girl's story if it was formatted as a chapter book, the beauty of the illustrations are best conveyed in a picture book format. 

Nelson shares the story of Buffalo Bird Girl who was born in the 1830's into the Hidatsa tribe on the Great Plains.  The story is told from her perspective and describes her typical experiences growing up in a tribal community.  Children learn about the way the Hidatsa community members lived, the kinds of food that they ate, clothes they wore, the games that the children played, how the males of the tribe would protect women and children, and ways they celebrated.  Illustrations are compromised of acrylic paintings and black and white photos of Hidatsa tribe members from the early part of the twentieth century performing daily tasks or of items that would have been part of their lives.

Nelson provides extensive author notes at the end along with a timeline and select bibliography.  Buffalo Bird Girl is well written and would be an excellent resource for a classroom or school library.  Look for Buffalo Bird Girl at your local library or independent bookstore. 
About Stephen D. Nelson:  
S. D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas. He is the award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including Black Elk’s Vision, Gift Horse, Coyote Christmas, and The Star People. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Visit him online at

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