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Sister Act

Local author team publishes the second in a children's book series that aims to preserve Mimbres culture and develop character.

By Donna Clayton Lawder


Twin sisters Carilyn Alarid and Marilyn Markel are excited about the release of their second children's book in a series of six, Talks All Day Has the Courage to Speak: Mimbres Children Learn Citizenship (Sunstone Press, $16.95). Yes, the authorial success is nice, but what the duo is really excited about is putting another tool in the hands of librarians, educators and parents that will entertain children, while teaching important lessons about developing good character traits and respecting other cultures.

Marilyn Markel uses a copy of her book, co-authored with
her sister Carilyn Alarid, to bring home the message
of  "respect" to a recent Summer Reading session
at the Silver City Public Library.

The sisters were born in Belen and raised in New Mexico, cultivating in them both respect for and connection to local native cultures, past and present. Markel currently lives on the upper Mimbres and Alarid lives in the mountains east of Albuquerque.

All six books planned for the series aim to help children grow up to be good citizens, respecting other cultures and the world around them.

"Our children's books focus on 'good character' education," Markel says, "following the guidelines of the 'Character Counts' program—a national program to teach children 'the six pillars' of good character." The first book teaches about respect; the second, citizenship; the third one, caring; and the others will follow suit with fairness, trustworthiness and responsibility.

Markel says the sisters started the series with the topic of respect "because that leads to all the others, and because of the Mimbres and archaeology connection—we wanted to teach about respect for people that lived in the past, too—a message of preservation of our cultural heritage."

Carl Daniel Condit, director of operations and sales at Sunstone, expresses the publishing house's enthusiasm for the book series. "Fred Rogers, of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' a good friend of the Press, always said that it was best to present one concept at a time," Condit says. "We feel that this series of books does this very well, and we see great value in presenting the concept of character in book form to young people in this way."

The sisters have found ways to use their books to deepen and facilitate their own work as educators. Alarid, with a master's degree in special education, is a behavior disorder specialist, a consultant with the Albuquerque public school system and a soon-to-be certified reading specialist. She wrote an adapted version of the first story for use in her special-education classroom to help facilitate communication between her students.

Markel is educated and trained in archaeology and recently designed and put together an outreach "archaeology trunk" program for the Gila Conservation Education Center (GCEC) in Silver City. The GCEC's "trunk program" is designed to provide trunks of artifacts, tools, information and other educational items on a series of themes—such as forestry, eco-awareness, ancient peoples, conservation—and make them available for local educators of all stripes and in all capacities to enhance their work with young people.

Markel also volunteers for a variety of youth and archeological programs, including preservation education and rock art recording for the Forest Service, and as a site steward in the New Mexico SiteWatch program. Currently pursuing a master's degree in history, Markel teaches about the increasing need to preserve our archaeological treasures through outreach programs.

For years, she has participated in children's programs, including the summer reading program through the Silver City Public Library and the Mimbres Region Arts Council's arts programs for youth. She recently used the first book as a springboard for a children's summer session she offered at the Silver City library, teaching the more than three dozen children in attendance about safe coexistence with bears through respect for their habits and habitat.

Published in 2004, Old Grandfather Teaches a Lesson: Mimbres Children Learn Respect (Sunstone Press, $16.95) is the first book in the series. It brings together two Native American traditions: the age-old practice of using a "talking stick" to encourage communication and avoid conflict, and the unique black-and-white painted pottery images used by the Mimbres Indians of southwest New Mexico. The story centers around four Mimbres children and a wise old Grandfather who helps them learn active listening skills, the value of sharing their individual talents, and the importance of respecting each other.

The illustrated scenes of everyday activity in both of their books, as depicted on the pottery bowls by Mimbres artists of a thousand years ago, bring the characters and action to life. The illustrations were based on images found on Mimbres pottery in museum collections and on the drawings of Harriet Cosgrove, who excavated in the Mimbres area in the 1920s.

Markel illustrated the books, with help from Alarid. The books, Markel says, are a collaborative effort, combining the sisters' interests and expertise.

In addition to being shared in the read-aloud fashion, the Grandfather book has value as a simple, factual reference work on the Mimbres people and other ancient Native Americans. The books will entertain younger children with their pictures and stories, and older children can also use the book as a reference to create their own Talking Sticks.

In Talks All Day Has the Courage to Speak, the sisters' new book, five Mimbres children empower themselves to become active, contributing members of their village.

The first book received positive reviews in New Mexico Magazine, the Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico Woman and publications, and is selling well at the Gila Cliff Dwellings gift shop and other local outlets, Markel says. The sisters' use of the history and art of the Mimbres people makes the books "of great interest" to readers in Southwestern New Mexico," Markel says.

You can purchase the books online or look for outlets for the books through the publisher, Sunstone Press, at www.sunstonepress.com.


Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.


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