Chilchinbeto native publishes first children's book
By Shondiin Silversmith
Growing up on the Navajo Nation leaves everyone with a few stories worth telling.
At least that is how Ginny Sparks felt about growing up in Chilchinbeto, A.Z.., in the 1950s and '60s, which gave her enough adventure-filled memories to fill more than one children's book.
"I was born and raised in Chilchinbeto. I grew up in an era where there was no running water or electricity," Sparks said.
Sparks' first book, "The Adventures of Sunflower Girl: Grandmother and the Bull," is based on one such adventure that involved her grandmother, who lived near her in Chilchinbeto Chapter.
"When Sunflower Girl was a small child she and her grandmother went to visit some relatives who lived a few miles away. While they were walking they were charged by an angry bull and had to climb a tree to escape," reads an excerpt posted on www.sunflowergirlbooks.com.
"It looked like they would be in the tree for a long, long time until her grandmother had a serious talk with the bull."
The book is dedicated to Sparks' late grandmother, Ason Tsosie of Chilchinbeto.
Writing wasn't something she thought of doing earlier in her life, said Sparks, who is Tó'aheedlíinii (Water Flows Together Clan), born for Tó'ááhání (Near to Water Clan). She did not speak English until she was 7.
It wasn't until after she got married and had children that she began to tell stories about growing up on the rez.
Sparks started writing her book in 2008 after her daughter, Anjlui Ketcher, 31, suggested she should turn her childhood stories into a book.
"It was because of her encouragement, otherwise I would've never have thought of taking this artistic endeavor," said Sparks, 56, who lives with her husband Wynn in St. George, Utah.
Ketcher said she wanted her mother to write the books because she always had a gift for storytelling.
"I thought it would be a cute, fun idea for her to start writing story books," she said.
"It's from her perspective and her memory of something special she had with her grandmother and it's something that she still carries with her to this day."
"Seeing my mom finish this project brought tears to my eyes," Ketcher said. "I hope people enjoy it and read it. It's a beautiful book."
Sparks' own changing perspective helped push her to start writing, too. She said since she is part of the older generation now, she feels that if you don't write these stories down about your life then your children will possibly lose all those teachings.
"If we don't pass on some of these things they are going to die with us," she said.
But getting the book published took determination.
Sparks said as soon as she finished the transcript she sought out Salina Bookshelf in Flagstaff, the region's biggest publisher of children's books written in Navajo and English.
"They rejected my script and I started going out to other venues," she said. "Most other publishers have their own illustrators. I wanted to illustrate my own work but they weren't interested in that.
"It is such a personal story, most of those illustrators never set foot on the Navajo Nation and don't know what it is like. So I didn't want them creating a world they weren't familiar with."
With that in mind Sparks moved toward other publishing options and found Dog Ear Publishing, an Indianapolis-based company that offers a variety of services for authors who want to self-publish.
"Sunflower Girl" debuted in 2011.
"It was about a five year process, from the time my daughter put the idea in my head," she said, adding, "It's never to late to follow your dreams."
Sparks has been a registered nurse for the past 11 years and worked as an operating room technician for 22 years before that. Now, she admits, "It's getting down to the point that nursing is not fulfilling for me anymore."
"Since I'm approaching retirement age I wanted to approach something that would be more satisfying and I feel writing children's books is going to fill that artistic need," she said.
"The Adventures of Sunflower Girl: Grandmother and the Bull" is the first in a series of 15 books she is planning. Sparks said the next story will be titled "Kittens in a Tree."
Sparks said she doesn't want to stop with just books, and is hoping the books will spawn a corporation that produces related merchandise.
"There is nobody representing the Native American culture as far as dolls," Sparks said. "I would like to take Sunflower Girl in that direction. That is the ultimate goal."
"The Adventures of Sunflower Girl: Grandmother and the Bull" is available for $24.95 from www.sunflowergirlbook.com and other online bookstores.