Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith


Jenna loves to listen to the tink-tink-tink of the cone shaped jingles on her Grandma Wolfe’s dress. She loves practicing the traditional  bounce-step while watching a videotape of Grandma Wolfe jingle dancing. Jenna wants to follow in the footsteps of generations of women in her family and dance at the next powwow. All she has to do is figure out how to make her dress sing with enough jingles.

Genre - realistic fiction
Text Structure -picture book
Lexile Level  -650 L
Themes - Muscogee(Creek)/Ojibway Nation traditions, jingle dancing, importance of traditional regalia, intergenerational relationships, self-knowledge, love and pride,

Rings of Culture represented -

Ethnicity: Muscogee/Ojibway
Age: 7-10
Gender:  girl/woman
Socio-Economic: working/middle class
National: USA

Why it’s VABBulous -  

  • This Leitich Smith story is about present day Native Americans life/experiences, which challenges stereotypes, misconceptions and misrepresentations of Native Americans.

  • Young Native American girls will be validated/affirmed by Jenna doing everyday things, like talking with a cousin/grandma, and making preparations for a special event.

  • The story validates/affirms that Native Americans are not a monolith(there are over 500 Native nations each with distinct lives/experiences), by focusing on  traditions/celebrations specific to the Muscogee/Ojibway nations.

  • Validates/affirms the significance of women, and inter-generational relationships.

  • Validates/affirms/builds/bridges that contemporary Native women have many roles/jobs,  i.e. the grandmother who is Jenna’s caregiver, the neighbor Mrs. Scott who is an entrepreneur,  and Jenna’s cousin Elizabeth who is an attorney.

  • Subtle, but important details that bring attention to deep culture elements, such as relationship to nature, ideals of child rearing, attitudes towards elders, concept of self, and problem solving roles.

Ideas for CLR -

Set it Off (Into the Text)

1. Inner-Outer Circle


  • What is one of your favorite family or community traditions/events?   
  • What is your favorite occasion to wear something special for?
  • If you could participate in any community/family event or celebration what would it be and how would you participate/celebrate?
  • What is your favorite dance for a celebration?
  • What is a talent/skill or tradition that was passed down to you from an older relative/caregiver?
  • What ways have you helped  to make a family/community event special, fun or memorable?

       Keep in mind students who might have home/family situations that make answering this             question difficult/triggering, and choose a version of the prompt that is appropriate.

The Get Down  (Through the Text)

1. Read Aloud

  • Teacher Read + Jump In Choral Read - Teacher reads aloud, and instructs students to "Jump In" chorally for certain lines in the story,  for instance the words/lines that repeat like "Jingle(s)" and "May I borrow enough jingles to make a row?"

2. Campfire Discussion + Roll 'Em

  1. Divide students into groups of 4-5 and give each group several sticky notes and a campfire sheet (blank sheet of paper, or object representing campfire)
  2. Provide students the discussion questions (see below)
  3. Students use a Moment of Silence to write their responses to the prompt on their sticky note. (Approx 60 seconds)
  4. Each student places their sticky note around the “campfire”.
  5. Each student takes turns reading aloud someone else’s sticky note, providing each person in the group and opportunity to agree, disagree, respond to it.
  6. Repeat until each sticky note has been read and discussed.  
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Why is doing the Jingle Dance so important to Jenna?

How is each woman in Jenna's life an important role model for her?

Explain if  Jenna is a good problem solver and why?

What things do you have in common with Jenna?

What is your favorite part of the story and why?

Will Jenna be nervous or confident doing her Jingle Dance and why?

What traditions in your culture/community are similar to powwows or Jingle Dancing?

Who in your family/community can you go to for advice/to get help with solving a problem?