Interview With Southwest Writers

As a member of Southwest Writers, I was happy to give this interview about The Corn Whisperer

What is your elevator pitch for The Corn Whisperer?
In the book, written for children 7-10, young Charlie is apprehensive about visiting his grandfather who lives at a pueblo in New Mexico. However, Grandfather Joe is a storyteller. He tells Charlie ancient legends to help him live a better life in today’s world. And, as a result, Charlie and Grandfather Joe develop a close relationship.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they take away from it?
A realization that cultural myths and legends hold universal truths that apply to everyday life. In this trio of stories, the lessons are about becoming self-sufficient, accepting and valuing change, and forgiveness.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Southwest Writers.

The Corn Whisperer: Finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards

The Corn Whisperer has been named a finalist in the 2017 New Mexico/Arizona book awards in the following categories:

  • juvenile book
  • parenting/family issues book
  • young readers book

What readers are saying about The Corn Whisperer:

  • “This is a touching story about Charlie and his grandfather, both Native American, who bond after the storyteller, Grandfather Joe tells the boy legends from his childhood. It’s heartwarming to watch the boy grow in love and knowledge as their relationship develops.”  –Jan
  • “The well-researched and authentic stories are an easy read for children. Includes an afterword and sources.” –LWG
  • “Wonderful book that captures the feel of the Southwest and the feel of childhood. Houser brings care and warmth to these native-based stories of life close to nature.” –Robert

Have you read The Corn Whisperer? Add your review to the above on Amazon.


Growing My Own Corn

In addition to the books listed under Story Sources at the back of The Corn Whisperer, I found these two books to be quite informative and useful to the blogs on my website.
Coming from Midwestern corn farmers, the author weaves in personal antidotes with the history of corn. Fussell traveled through South America and across the United States researching this ancient grain and its impact on western civilizations. Ms. Fussell spent considerable time in the Southwest, documenting the role of corn in myth, religion, and culture.
According to the authors, in 1920 there were about 48,000 Native American farmers in the United States. By 1982, there were about 7,000 and today, even fewer.  Mirabal and Zink are making a concentrated effort to revitalize pueblo agriculture at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. They plan to grow corn in an effort to protect water rights at the pueblo and to start a movement to protect the traditions and religious practices related to corn.
This manual provides step-by-step guidelines for growing corn― the pueblo way―beginning with selecting the seeds through harvesting the corn. Included are songs for singing up the corn and calling for the rain.
After reading these books, I felt inspired to grow Indian corn myself.  On May 26th (the day following the New Moon) I planted corn kernels in three large pots on my patio. I’m enjoying tending the plants and watching their growth.

Kernals of Corn

Corn, a grain, is also known as maize. When Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, the people he called Indians were expert farmers. When he returned to Europe, Columbus reported the Indians grew “maize,” which sounded like the name the Indians used: Zea Mays.
But when the Pilgrims arrived in 1692 on the East Coast, the Pilgrims called the grain “Indian corn” to distinguish it from British corn, which meant any type of grain, especially wheat. The Indians taught the newcomers how to grow, harvest, and store corn, which literally kept the colonists from starving to death during the harsh winters.
Corn has the highest yield of any agricultural plant. For every grain planted, it returns 150-300 grains.
In 2015-2016, the world’s consumption of corn was over 40 million bushels. The United States led in corn consumption at 12,360 million bushels. China was second at 8,937 million bushels followed by Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and Canada. Other countries produced fewer bushels.
The states with the highest corn production were: Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota followed by Indiana, South Dakota, and Kansas.
As the population increases, there will be an even greater demand for this grain that evolved thousands of years ago.

The History of Corn

Corn is a grain, a member of the grass family―along with wheat, rye, oats, barley, and rice. Also known as maize, corn is one of the oldest grains found on Earth. Scientists have discovered tiny ears of corn, which they claim to be over 5,000 years old, in a cave in southern Mexico. Other scientists claim to have found evidence that corn is even older.

Corn’s ancestor has been traced to a plant named teosinte that still grows wild in Mexico. Indigenous people nurtured these native, scrawny teosinte plants, which produced stems with tiny grains. From each crop, they planted the best grains and―generations later―the plants began to resemble cornstalks with tassels and silks. The plants continued to evolve and, eventually, fertilized themselves. The pollen from each cornstalks’ tassel fell onto its own corn silks and traveled down each thread of silk to the cob to produce kernels of corn.
Ancient Native Americans in Central and South America found that these kernels could be stored for long periods of time and that eating these healthy kernels physically sustained them. Maize became their main food source.

Meanwhile, sometime prior to 2100 BC, maize made its way northward into the Southwest. The earliest evidence of corn being grown in this country was found in New Mexico and Arizona. Corn became a staple for the Anasazi, early inhabitants of the region. Growing corn may be the very reason some Indians settled down and formed pueblos―so they could grow corn.

But years of drought dried up the cornfields in the Southwest. And when the corn was gone, people moved. Now, unfortunately, less and less corn is being grown by descendants of its earliest native farmers.

In 2010, Robert Mirabel and Nelson Zink established Tiwa Farms at Taos Pueblo to revitalize pueblo agriculture and farm corn. According to Mirabel, the people have an important relationship with corn. Although corn fertilizes itself, it cannot re-seed itself. Corn depends on people to prepare the ground, plant the kernels, pull the weeds, and water the plants.

In turn, corn provides people with nutritious food and food products. Corn provides feed for livestock. And left in the field, corn serves as mulch for the soil. Cornstalks support the vines of beans and squash. Cornhusks are used in weaving and making dolls. Ornamental corn is used for decoration.

Mirabel says, “Grow some corn―it’ll change your life.”