Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce

I enjoy reading biographies, especially when they are about important figures from history who may or may not be well known.  I recently found the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist... Red Bird Sings for short... by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.   Red Bird Sings is a sophisticated picture book packed full of detailed information and some primary sources about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša, a Native American woman who sought equality and justice for others.  Red Bird Sings would be a good book for upper elementary students.  Read on to learn more about Zitkala-Ša, her interesting life, and how she used her voice to help others.

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Disclosure: Affiliate links to Amazon are included in this post.

Story Summary from Amazon

"I remember the day I lost my spirit." So begins the story of Gertrude Simmons, also known as Zitkala-Ša, which means Red Bird. Born in 1876 on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota, Zitkala-Ša willingly left her home at age eight to go to a boarding school in Indiana. But she soon found herself caught between two worlds—white and Native American. At school, she missed her mother and her traditional life, but Zitkala-Ša found joy in music classes. "My wounded spirit soared like a bird as I practiced the piano and violin," she wrote. Her talent grew, and when she graduated, she became a music teacher, composer, and performer. Zitkala-Ša found she could also "sing" to help her people by writing stories and giving speeches. As an adult, she worked as an activist for Native American rights, seeking to build a bridge between cultures. The coauthors tell Zitkala-Ša’s life by weaving together pieces from her own stories. The artist's acrylic illustrations and collages of photos and primary source documents round out the vivid portrait of Zitkala-Ša, a frightened child whose spirit "would rise again, stronger and wiser for the wounds it had suffered."

🍎 Title: Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist
🍎 Author: Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce
🍎 Illustrator: Gina Capaldi
🍎 Date: November 1, 2013
🍎 Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
🍎 Pages: 32

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Who was Zitkala-Ša?

Zitkala-Ša was a Native American who had several names. Her Lakota name was Red Bird, but the missionaries insisted she use the English name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. Zitkala-Ša was a writer, editor, translator, teacher, musician, orator, and political activist. She was also a wife to Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin and mother to Raymond Ohiya Bonnin.  Zitkala-Ša was a VERY busy and accomplished woman!

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Vocabulary Mini-Lesson

Zitkala-Ša was a writer, editor, translator, teacher, musician, orator, and political activist.  Do you know what those words mean?  You probably know whats some of the words mean, but what about the others?  Where can you look up their definitions?  Dictionary?  Glossary?  Online?  Take a few minutes to find the definitions of these words to better understand what kinds of jobs Zitkala-Ša had.

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

What is Zitkala-Ša known for?

Zitkala-Ša was accomplished many things throughout her life.  Some of the things she was well known for include:
  • writing the first Native American opera 
  • co-founding the National Council of American Indians 
  • writing five books of Native American legends, stories, and folktales
  • earning a scholarship and attending college at a time in which women did not often attend college
  • learning how to speak English and Latin in addition to her native language
  • learning the violin and piano and playing in orchestras
  • becoming a music teacher
  • publishing articles in newspapers and magazines
  • writing and giving speeches
  • helping her mother when her mother became ill
  • being an activist for the issues that were important to her
  • using her voice and influence to help others

Language Arts Mini-Lesson

This is a generalized list of what Zitkala-Ša was known for.  Use your inferencing skills.  As you read this list again, brainstorm a list of adjectives that would describe the character of Zitkala-Ša.  For example, Zitkala-Ša went to college and earned a scholarship so we know that she was intelligent and determined to do well.  Zitkala-Ša wrote stories and an opera so we know she was creative.  What other adjectives can you come up with?

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Where did Zitkala-Ša live?

Zitkala-Ša lived in a lot of different places throughout the United States.  She didn't stay in one place for very long. Here is a list of where she lived:
  • 1876: Zitkala-Ša was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  She lived there until she was eight years old.
  • 1884: When Zitkala-Ša was eight years old, missionaries went to the reservation she lived on and took her and several other children to White's Indiana Manual Labor Institute, a residential school in Wabash, Indiana.  While she was there she learned to speak, read, and write English.  Zitkala-Ša was not allowed to speak her native language or practice her native customs.  While she was there, the missionaries changed her name to Gertrude Simmons.  Zitkala-Ša was not allowed to use her real name.
  • 1887: Zitkala-Ša returned home to live with her mother on the reservation.
  • 1891: Zitkala-Ša went back to White's Indiana Manual Labor Institute.  She studied piano and violin as a student there, then became the music teacher when the school's music teacher resigned.
  • 1895: Zitkala-Ša graduated from the Institute and went to college.  She received a scholarship and attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.  
  • 1897: Zitkala-Ša moved to Boston, Massachusetts.  She studied and played violin at the New England Conservatory for music.
  • 1899: Zitkala-Ša took a job as a music teacher at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  
  • 1901: Zitkala-Ša's mother fell ill, so Zitkala-Ša moved back home to take care of her.
  • 1902: Zitkala-Ša fell in love and married Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin. They moved to the Uintah-Ouray reservation in Utah.
  • 1916:  Zitkala-Ša and her husband moved to Washington, D.C.
  • 1938: Zitkála-Šá died on January 26, 1938, in Washington, D.C.  She is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Geography Mini-Lesson

Zitkala-Ša moved around a lot!  Pull out a map of the United States.  Find each of the cities Zitkala-Ša lived in.  Mark them with push pins.  Then take some yarn or string and track Zitkala-Ša's journey from one city to the next.  How many places did she live in?  How many places did she live in more than once?  Use the scale to help you measure distance with the string or yarn.  About how many miles do you think she traveled in her lifetime?

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

When did Zitkala-Ša live?

Zitkala-Ša was born in 1876 and died in 1938.  She was 61 years old.  During her lifetime, Zitkala-Ša witnessed several historical (and some pop-culture) events:
  • 1876: The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
  • 1878: Thomas Edison starts his electric company.
  • 1886: Coca-Cola was invented.
  • 1886: Statue of Liberty is dedicated.
  • 1890: Wounded Knee Massacre
  • 1892: Ellis Island opened to immigrants.
  • 1898 to 1899: The Spanish-American War
  • 1903: The Wright Brothers fly their plane for the first time.
  • 1906: San Fransisco earthquake
  • 1912: The Titanic sinks.
  • 1914: The Panama Canal opens.
  • 1914 to 1918: World War I
  • 1920: The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
  • 1920: The NFL started.
  • 1923: The Walt Disney Company was founded.
  • 1923: Mount Rushmore carving began.
  • 1927: Charles Lindburg few across the Atlantic Ocean from New York City to Paris.
  • 1928: Mickey Mouse and sliced bread were invented. 
  • 1928: The stock market crashed, marking the beginning of The Great Depression.
  • 1931: The Empire State Building was opened.
Are these the only significant events that happened during Zitkala-Ša's lifetime?  Of course not.  I just selected some of the ones that children would recognize and/or be interested in.  They'll learn about the others as they get older.

Timeline Mini-Lesson

A timeline is a linear graph that shows the order of important events in a story or in history.  These events are always arranged in order from the oldest to the newest.  Take a large piece of paper and draw a line from one end of the paper to the other, going the long way across it.  You can choose events from Zitkala-Ša's life or from the events that took place during her lifetime.  Select 10 events to add to your timeline.  Mark the line you drew with 10 tick marks evenly spaced, one for each event.  At each tick, write down the event and the year it happened.  Make sure the events are in chronological order!

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

How did Zitkala-Ša make a difference in the lives of others?

Zitkala-Ša was passionate about helping people and fighting for equal rights and justice for women and other Native Americans.  She was a political advocate for the citizenship of Native Americans, the right for women to vote, the reformation of the boarding school system, preserving the cultural identity of Native Americans, investigating the exploitation of Native Americans, recording the oral stories and history of her tribe, and working to ensure better healthcare and education for all Native Americans.

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Why do we need to remember Zitkala-Ša and her accomplishments?

Journaling Mini-Lesson

Now that you've read Red Bird Sings and learned the who, what, where, when, and how of Zitkala-Ša, it's time for you to do some reflecting and ask yourself why people need to remember her and her accomplishments.  Record your thoughts and opinions in your language arts journal.

Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Extend Your Learning

Zitkala-Ša was a fascinating woman and has been the subject of biographies, documentaries, articles, and even Youtube videos. Here are four videos about Zitkala-Ša you may find interesting:

Watch the trailer for Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša.


Watch this PBS video biography about Zitkala-Ša.


Listen to a song from her opera The Sun Dance.


Listen to Impressions of my Indian Childhood Part One by Zitkala-Ša (audio only).


Learn about the life and accomplishments of Zitkala-Ša in the biography Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce.

Wow... you learned a lot about Zitkala-Ša in this blog post today... and there is still more to learn!  What are your initial thoughts?  Do you think you have room in your curriculum to read Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša with your students?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.



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5 comments:

  1. What a great book for older children to read! These kind of issues are so important.

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    Replies
    1. I agree 100%! We need more books like this so important and influential people don't get buried by history.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with me. I will share with my daughter, she will appreciate your post as much as I did.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome! I hope your daughter enjoys Red Bird Sings too!

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  3. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful review with Multicultural Children's Book Day and for your support of our holiday! I was glad to learn about Zitkala-Ša. I had not heard of her before.

    ReplyDelete

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