Wanted: Books written by or about contemporary Native Americans.
Needed: Books that include contemporary Native American children presented without stereotypes or clichés.
Every child needs to see their own people and their own experiences in the books they read: yet in the United States less that 5% of children’s books published are written by or about Native Americans.
All young people need books that describe contemporary children who are Native American, not just historical accounts as though Indian children lived “past tense”, only a long time ago. The following books have “real” characters and engaging stories that include traditional celebrations continued in contemporary ways – with food, family, dance.
Secret of the Dance by Alfred Scow and Andrea Spalding (Orca, 2006);
Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson, illustrated by Annie Patterson (Charlesbridge, 2003);
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (HarperCollins, 2000);
The Butterfly Dance by Gerald Dawavendewa (Abbeville, 2001);
Powwow’s Coming by Linda Boyden (University of New Mexico Press, 2007);
Little Coyote Runs Away by Craig Kee Strete (Putnam, 1997);
When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron (Tricycle Press, 2007).
With each of these books, if one asks, “Is this how an American Indian child would want to be perceived?” I think the answer is, “Yes.”
For Older Readers:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney (Little Brown, 2007);
Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001);
Bowman’s Store: A Journey to Myself by Joseph Bruchac (Lee & Low, 1997);
Eagle Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Puffin Books, 1997);
Rattlesnake Mesa: Stories from a Native American Childhood by EdNah New Rider Weber, photographs by Richela Renkun (Lee & Low, 2004);
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (Harper & Row, 1968 – new reprint edition, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010).
In every area of the curriculum – art, literature, sports, science, government and politics – include contemporary Native Americans. For example, in sports, one of the greatest American athletes of the past century was Jim Thorpe. But how often is his biography included in a list of American athletes? Joseph Bruchac, whose work reflects Native American traditions as well as his own Abenaki Indian heritage, (more…)
Little Brother has just come home from school with a sunflower seedling, which he is certain will grow into an enormous flower… fingers crossed. In the meantime, it seemed the perfect opportunity to pull out the special story of Me and Mr. Mah by Andrea Spalding and beautifully illustrated by Janet Wilson (you can see some of the illustrations in the PaperTigers Gallery).
Set in Canada, this is the story of a young boy, Ian, whose world is turned upside down by his parents’ separation. He has moved with his mother to a city and his new, temporary home has nothing growing in the backyard – but there is a gap in the fence, and through it he catches a glimpse of a thriving vegetable garden. The owner of the garden, the elderly Mr Mah, has spotted him too and pushes some sunflower seeds through for Ian to plant. Gradually they become friends. They garden together, they share stories and they show each other their special boxes: Ian’s filled with sweet-smelling straw and the toy tractor just like his father’s; Mr Mah’s a beautiful Chinese lacquer box containing special memories from his much longer past. The sunflowers grow and Ian gathers seeds to take to his new home: he’s about to move again. Why, then, does he come across Mr Mah’s special box in a secondhand store some time afterwards?
This is a heart-warming story about friendship across generations, with a tiny reminder of the importance of keeping promises. Ian had become so caught up with new friends and activities once he’d settled into his permanent home, that he’d let his promise to visit Mr Mah slip. Fortunately, Mr Mah is all right but Ian gets enough of a fright not to take their friendship for granted ever again.
And one part of the story resonates particularly at this time, when we celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month:
“Once Mr Mah and I went for a walk through the Chinese cemetery. He told me there used to be a bone house, where the long-dead Chinese waited for their families to raise the money to send their bones back to China.
“Do they do that now?” I asked.
Mr Mah shook his head. “No. We are Canadian. We stay here.”
The new issue of PaperTigers features many books that focus on Asian Pacific Heritage Month and it would be great to hear if there are any you would recommend for reading aloud to young children too.