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Red Shirt, Delphine. (1999). Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 146 pp.

Grade Range: 10-12

Genre: nonfiction

Summary and Critique

    In Bead on an Anthill, Delphine Red Shirt narrates her own experiences and those of her friends and family while living on the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1960s and 1970s. Intermingling the past with the present, her stories show her increasing awareness of the connections and differences between her world and the world of her ancestors. She describes tribal ceremonies, life inside the Pine Ridge Reservation, and events in her childhood.

    This easy-to-read memoir, with its vivid images and depictions of Lakota traditions, offers readers a unique insight into a young girl's journey growing up on the Pine Ridge reservation and assimilating herself into contemporary American culture. Students will appreciate this woman's account as she navigates through her childhood, valuing traditions but also learning to accept a world where Lakota is not the native language.



    Friends and Enemies


    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Individual vs. Society




Author/Illustrator/Editor Information

    Delphine Red Shirt is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and an advocate for Native American rights. She began writing about Native American culture and traditions in the Indian Country Today newspaper. Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood is her first work. Her second novel, Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter, depicts Lakota women and their use of oral tradition to pass on knowledge.

    For more information on Delphine Red Shirt: Provides biographical information about Delphine Red Shirt and her writing. Provides biographical information, criticism, and a bibliography of related sources.

Media Connections


    American Indian Collection: The Winds of Change (1992) A documentary about choices facing Native American youth and how they live in the middle of two different worlds.

    Where the Spirit Lives (1989) Like so many other young Native Americans during the late 1930s, Komi tries to resist assimilation when she is forced to attend an Anglo boarding school.

    Real Women Have Curves (2002) A first generation female Mexican American struggles between her parents'traditions and her own ambitions. This film is a good example of family relationships and cultural identity.

    Stand by Me (1986) Four adolescent boys negotiate their places in the world and develop a greater sense of self while on an adventure in search of a missing boy.

    Indochine (1992) Elaine, a French colonist, and her native adopted daughter Camille live in Indochina in the 1930s. Camille journeys through harsh conditions to find the man she loves. The film addresses mother/daughter relationships and land rights.

    Portraits of Children (1997) Twelve children from America, Ireland, and England share their understandings of the world.

    Smoke Signals (1998) Victor and Thomas, two adolescent boys living on a reservation, travel to acquire the ashes of Victor's father.


    500 Nations (1995) – This mini-series describes the history of the Plains Indians of North America.

    Full House (1987- 1995)- A television series that shows parent- child relationships and the lives three young females growing up in a non-rational family setting.

    Music/Audio Recordings

    "Best Imitation of Myself." Lyrics by Ben Folds. From Ben Folds Five. Passenger, 1995. (questioning identity and change)

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Zitkala-Sa. (2003). American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 268pp. This collection of memoirs, retold stories, poetry and non-fiction features the writing of Zitkala-Sa, a Dakota Sioux Indian. The content of her stories are similar to Bead…, but she offers different perspectives from an earlier time.

    Allen, Paula Gunn (Ed). (2003). Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature 1900- 1970. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 282pp. Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Sioux, provides a dense collection of short stories and excerpts from longer pieces written primarily by Plains Indians. Essays in this work can be used to provide information about being torn between two worlds and negotiating identity.

    Bruchac, Joseph (Ed). (1983). Songs from this Earth on Turtle's Back. New York: Greenfield Review Press, 294pp. Fifty-two Native American poets share their poetry. Numerous poems address nature, family relationships, and tradition and its role in a culture.

    Silko, Leslie Marmon. (1977). Ceremony. New York: Viking, 262pp. Tayo, a young Native American, returns to the Laguna Pueblo after being imprisoned during WWII. He attempts to better understand his culture and traditions while coping with the horrors of being a prisoner of war.

    Angelou, Maya. (1969). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 246 pp. Maya Angelou relays her memories growing up in the 1930s.

    Cisneros, Sandra. (1991). The House on Mango Street. New York: Knopf. 128 pp. Esperanza, a young girl growing up in the Latino area of Chicago, describes her childhood and adolescence through a series of vignettes.

    Jimenez, Francisco. (1997). The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press. 134 pp. Francisco, the son of a migrant worker, describes his experiences moving from one camp to another. The touching stories of endurance portray the importance of family relationships.

Teaching Ideas

    (1) "Settings and Maps" Students select six to eight important events or places in the character's life. Then they write down a direct quote for each one and explain the significance in a few sentences. Students then create a key with numbers so later they can correlate each event with an area on their map. Students should draw the character's journey on a poster and illustrate each event or place using drawings, paint, or photographs from magazines. Since the main action of Bead on an Anthill is set on or near the reservation, drawing and illustrating a map helps the students place these event together and in chronological order.

    [Summarized from "Settings and Maps" by Ray Chaplin in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. October 2003. p. 2.]

    (2) "Exploring Cultures through Writing" Begin the activity by telling students how different cultures have different values, goals, and practices. Present specific examples or have students give their own. You can bring in different magazines to help initiate interest and to stimulate conversation. Students should then create a cluster map with the place of focus (i.e. the mall) in the center circle. Related circle/topics could include types of people who go to that place, the values of those people or that place, etc. Students should create as many bubbles as possible before selecting an angle from which they want to write their story. After determining an audience and plot, students can begin writing their short stories.

    [Adapted from "Exploring Culture through Writing" by Garth Sundem in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. April 2003, p. 2.]

    (3) "The Stories That Make Us Who We Are" Have students brainstorm a list of stories about their families that have been told repeatedly by family members. Perhaps give the students an example about your own family. Students can then jot down notes about the stories or develop paragraphs about several of the stories. Have students share the stories in small groups or with the entire class. Students should reflect on why the stories are meaningful to their families and what the stories say about their culture(s). This activity is a good introductory activity to Bead on an Anthill.

    [Adapted from "The Stories That Make Us Who We Are" by Therese M. Willis in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. August 2001, p. 2.]

(Review written by Audrey Adcock and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)