Where do you start to make a basket?
You’ll never look at a basket the same way again after listening to Lee DeCora Francis. Did you know that Wabanaki baskets begin as ash trees that have to be cut down and pounded with big mallets, just to create the strips of ash that are woven to make the baskets? That the sweetgrass that is often used has to be harvested at just the right time? That baskets can be shaped like sea urchins, whole ears of corn, and blueberries? That you start at the bottom to make a basket? The skills and traditions associated with the art of basketry are fun to learn and fascinating.
In 2013, Lee DeCora Francis, Penobscot tribal member, teacher, and author of Kunu’s Basket, visited grades 3 and 4 in Washington and Hancock County to describe, demonstrate and discuss basketry and its importance to her people. She visited Trenton and Tremont Elementary Schools on MDI and the Rose Gaffney School in Machias.
With Lee’s guidance and Kunu’s Basket as the portal, students learned about the Native American skills of weaving and basketry through hands-on activities and discussions, and gained a deeper appreciation of the Penobscot people.
Lee also talked about her personal history and the inspiration that led her to write Kunu’s Basket. She engaged children in a discussion of Penobscot culture, past and present. Students also participated in a beginner basket weaving activity, challenging their dexterity and perseverance, and learned how to prepare materials for a museum exhibit.
In Kunu’s Basket, Lee Francis has shaped a charming story about a Wabanaki boy that explores themes common to all children: difficulty attempting a new task; wanting to do something “by myself”; and having to be patient to try again and again before getting it right.
Following Lee’s visits, students exhibited their work at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor and at the Porter Public Library in Machias.
Island Readers & Writers provided each participant with a copy of Kunu’s Basket, signed by Lee. This program was supported by a grant from the Maine Community Foundation.
Lee DeCora Francis comes from both the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She is a teacher at the Indian Island School on Indian Island in the Penobscot River near Old Town, Maine. Kunu’s Basket is her first book.
For Francis’ ancestors, baskets were a form of artistic expression, a source of income or a way to carry items from here to there. She said: “I’m very passionate about who I am. I’m passionate about who our people are, our homeland, our history. Everything about us is extremely important to me.”
Asked why she chose to write a children’s book, Francis said it’s because children are her life. When she refers to her “kids,” she’s not just talking about her sons, she’s talking about all the children in the Indian Island community she has taught over the years.
IRW creates worksheets to supplement the books we bring to life in the classroom, and provide these worksheets to teachers and students to use in preparation for their school visit. Here is a worksheet link for one of Lee’s books: