Today is Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
The following books for kids give a more realistic and less Eurocentric view of Native Americans. A good year-round source for critical evaluation of literature as it relates to Native Americans, is the American Indians in Children’s Literature website.
The People Shall Continue, by Simon Ortiz (Children’s Book Press, 1977) is a poem with pictures that starts the story from the beginning of Creation, then progresses to the point where the People meet strangers who are looking for treasure, slaves, and land. The book concludes with the People’s realization of the importance of keeping their stories alive in order to preserve their humanity against the forces of those who are driven by greed and power. When reading this with children, ask them to list reasons why the Natives might have been afraid of the Europeans, why they might be angry with those who settled on their land. Ask the kids to imagine how they might feel if they were forced to move away from a place that they loved.
Set in the present, this is a story of a girl whose grandfather tells her a Seneca creation story that illustrates the importance of knowing who you are and staying strong when you face criticism and teasing from others. This is a good story to address children’s fear of being different, and sensitivity to others who are different. The publisher’s website has a “Teachers Take Note” page that includes Native American animal tales, art activities, and links to tolerance websites.
First Americans, series by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (First Americans Books, various years) includes The Cheyennes, The Iroquois, The Seminoles, The Apaches, The Nez Perce, The Hopis, The Navajos, The Cherokees, and The Sioux. Each book begins with a creation story and concludes with present-day information about the tribe and its people.
Sneve is a Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux Tribe). She has written a number of other books about Native Americans, as well. Her latest book is The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood (Holiday House 2011), which was named in the Smithsonian Magazine’s Best Children’s Books of 2011.
Indian Shoes, Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002) is an easy chapter book, meaning about 2nd grade level. There are six stories in the book, each one set in Chicago, about a Seminole-Cherokee boy and his grandfather. This is a good book to illustrate the fact that not all Natives live on reservations.
Louise Erdrich is a well-known Native writer who has published a number of books for adults as well as for children. The Birchbark House (HyperionBooks for Children, 1999) is a chapter book early encounters between the Ojibwe people and the white settlers who were moving into their lands. This award-winning book is first in a series of books that also includes Game of Silence (2005), Porcupine Year (2008), and Chickadee (2013). The fifth book, not yet published, is titled Makoons.
Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is a traditional tale for children, featuring the tricster, Coyote, a common character in Native American stories. In this tale, Coyote teams up with Grizzly Bear, Wren, Snake, Frog, Eagle and Beaver to steal fire from Curlew, the keeper of the sky world.
For the very youngest children, there are a number of appropriate books, including Baby Learns about Colors, by Beverly Blacksheep (Salina, 2003), one of an eight-book bilingual series in Navajo and English about a baby girl and her growth “in a tribally specific context.” You can find other recommendations for very young children here.
Tomorrow, I will post some recommendations for teens. 🙂