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Honoring Native Americans in Literature

Well chosen children's literature is an effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and teach cultural respect

"There are plenty of "good" books -- well-written, exciting, from respected authors, much-loved by their readers, with well-developed characters -- that are inaccurate, stereotypical, fanciful, or just plain dehumanizing in their depiction of the Native characters," write Naomi Caldwell, Gabriella Kaye and Lisa Mitten in I is for Inclusion

Yet curriculum writers Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw say, "... with the possible exception of classroom visits by American Indian people, excellent children's literature is the most effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and help children focus on similarities among peoples as well as cultural differences."

How can parents, teachers and caregivers know which books to choose?  In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Burke Patch presents this sampling of books for kids, which accurately portray Native American culture and history.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace
The embellished story of the first Thanksgiving is put into more accurate context, looking at the lives and perspectives of both the English colonists and the Wampanoag people.

The Butterfly Dance by Gerald Dawavendewa
Flower Maiden has practiced for weeks, but she still is nervous about performing her first butterfly dance.

Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond by Joseph Medicine Crow
In this 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner, Chief Joseph Medicine Crow tells his life story.

Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac
This is a fictionalized account of the Lakota boy who became the leader and defender of his people.

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle
Martha Tom, a young Choctaw, crosses the Bok Chitto River while berry picking, encountering hundreds of plantation slaves longing for freedom. This is another 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost
While helping with her family's sled dogs and struggling to fit in, twelve-year-old Willow learns of her history and heritage as an Athabascan in Alaska.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Jenna works to find enough bells so that she can be a jingle dancer, just like Grandma Wolfe.

Navajo Long Walk: The Tragic Story of a Proud People's Forced March from Their Homeland  by Joseph Bruchac
Shedding fresh light on a tragic chapter of American history, this book documents a shameful episode in the 1860s, when U.S. soldiers forced thousands of Navajo to march 400 miles from their homeland to a desolate reservation.

Meet Naiche: A Native Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area by Gabrielle Tayac
This book introduces Naiche, a Maryland boy of Piscataway and Apache descent, looking at his family, the history of his tribe, and traditional ceremonies and customs still observed.

The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
In the sequel to her award winning books The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, Erdrich continues the story of Omakayas, a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family on an island in Lake Superior in 1850.

The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale by Joseph Bruchac
When cornmeal is stolen from an elderly couple, the others in the Cherokee village drive off the thief, creating the Milky Way in the process.

Tallchief, America's Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief
This picture book autobiography traces the early life of a prima ballerina of Native American descent.

Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin
When Little Zoe falls from his family's sled, the animals keep him safe until his father returns to find him.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London
Young Sozap learns from his grandfather that like the thirteen scales on a turtle's back there are thirteen moons in a year, each with its own name and story.  

The books in this list are available from Fairfax County Public Library.

For more information and additional titles, see the American Indian Library Association (AILA) website and American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) blog.

Chris Anderson November 29, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Hmmm....no stories of inter-tribal warfare, inter-tribal slavery, various barbaric rituals, societal crime and punishment mores, or any of the "realities" of human beings. Are these stories any better at depicting "reality" than the Hollywood stereotypes?

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