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Children’s Books Teach Diabetes Awareness

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“Mr. Eagle, what is wrong with you?” the little boy Rain That Dances asks the great eagle when he comes across the bird sitting on a stump. “Why didn’t you fly away when I got close to you?”

The eagle’s surprising reply: “I am just too tired and sad because of all the things I see as I fly around this great land.”

Rain That Dances presses for an explanation, and the eagle reminisces about a time when the boy’s people were very active. “Hard work and being active was a way of life for everyone,” the eagle says. “Now as I fly around, I do not see the children playing and moving around like the Old Wise Eagle used to see. Children are also eating foods that are not so good for them. That makes me sad.”

So begins the Eagle Books, a series that teaches American Indian children about good health. Published by the Native Diabetes Wellness Program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the stories—Through the Eyes of the Eagle, Knees Lifted High, Plate Full of Color and Tricky Treats—talk about the benefits of exercise, eating healthy and getting back to a traditional Native diet.

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With diabetes and other health problems being major concerns to American Indians, author Georgia Perez, Nambe Pueblo, an educator with the Native American Diabetes Project at the University of New Mexico and formerly a tribal community health representative, was inspired by telling stories to her three grandsons, according to the book jacket.

“When we began with the story and then talked about diabetes, we found that the children listened intently,” Perez wrote in the introduction to the series.

She teamed up with Janette Carter, a physician working with American Indians, who helped Perez tailor the health education to the cultures of the people they were trying to reach. Starting with children’s education was a way to instill healthy habits at a young age and get children to communicate the messages to their families and communities. Illustrations by Patrick Rolo (Bad River Band of Ojibwe, Wisconsin) and Lisa Fifield (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, Black Bear Clan) are rich and textured.

The takeaway is that the answers lie within American Indians’ own history.

“In my vision, your people hold the answers,” the eagle says to Rain that Dances. “They just have to think back.”