November is National Native American Heritage Month. I am eternally grateful to people like Dr. Debbie Reese, whose blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, has reviews and writing on Native writing, problematic phrases and stereotypes, and advocacy and activism. I am grateful for authors like Nancy Bo Flood, Joseph Bruchac, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, whose work has introduced me to the realities and beauty of Native culture. I commit to expanding my reading horizons, and the horizons of the kids in my life, by promoting Native literature at every opportunity.
The Horn Book has a list of comprehensive links dedicated to Native American Heritage Month, as does Lee and Low’s blog. Teen Vogue has an article on avoiding offensive stereotypes and being a better ally to indigenous people. The National Native American Heritage Month website has a wealth of information, including a calendar of events; links to exhibits and collections including the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives. The First Nations Development Institute has comprehensive resources, including printables, largely produced by and for Native people. The American Indian Library Association (AILA) is an affiliate of our national organization, the American Library Organization, and advocates for the information- and library-related needs of Natives. The AILA distributes information about Native culture to the library community, and works to develop programs that will improve Native library, cultural, and information services in school, public, and research libraries on reservations (from the AILA website).
Some books to read and add to your collections follow.
Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More, by Cynthia O’Brien,
(Oct. 2019, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 9781426334535
This encyclopedia features over 160 Native American tribes, organized by location: Arctic and Subarctic; Northeast; Southeast; Plains; Southwest; Great Basin and Plateau; Northwest Coast, and California. Each section includes maps, timelines, and a traditional story from the region’s people, along with profiles of each tribe and biographies on key Native Americans in history. The photos are gorgeous, and the information is comprehensive. There’s a glossary, index, list of federally recognized tribes, and list of consultants who contributed to the book.
There’s no reason not to have this available to your library kids. I have a collection of books by tribe, by nation, that’s helpful for my younger kids, but this is an invaluable resources for my middle graders and middle schoolers. I hope NatGeo expands on this and works on other indigenous peoples, including Central and South American peoples.
The Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture has a starred review from Booklist.
Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith,
(Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142
After breaking up with her insensitive boyfriend, a Native high school senior focuses on her school year and advocating for her younger brother, who lands a key part in the school production of The Wizard of Oz, when a group of parents react to the play’s diverse casting by promoting hate speech and putting pressure on local businesses that support the play. A strong #ownvoices story with an outstanding heroine, Hearts Unbroken is unputdownable reading. Read my full review here.
First Laugh Welcome, Baby!, by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson,
(Aug. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580897945
I adore this celebration of life and family. The First Laugh Celebration is a Navajo tradition where a child’s first laugh marks their entry into the physical world from the spiritual one. First Laugh Welcome Baby is a lyrical story about a family’s wait for that first joyful laugh and the celebration that follows. Navajo words and images fill the pages and invite us readers to spend time with a family as they welcome their new baby into their lives. When I read this at storytime, parents are delighted by such a wonderful way to rejoice. Read my full review here.
We Sang You Home, by Richard Van Camp/Illustrated by Julie Flett,
(Oct. 2016, Orca), $9.95, ISBN: 978-1-4598-1178-2
This board book, by Canadian First Nations author and illustrator Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett, is a poem to a child from loving parents who use a song to tell their child how much they are loved. The story is a beautiful illustration of what we, as parents and caregivers, give our children, and what we receive from them: “We sang you home and you sang back… As we give you roots you give us wings / And through you we are born again”. It’s such a simple, powerful book, with gouache paintings and digital college illustrations that put every feelings about loving a child into words. We Sang You Home is in my regular storytime rotation, and always receives a great reception.
Soldier Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Shonto Begay,
(Aug. 2016, Charlesbridge), $16.95, ISBN: 9781580897020
Recommended for ages 10+
A 13-year-old girl struggles with her part white, part Navajo identity while coping with her sister’s deployment shortly after attending a memorial service for a Native member of her community. By caring for her sister’s semi-wild horse, she discovers a well of inner strength and learns about herself. A novel of family, identity, and loss, Soldier Sister Fly Home is an incredible book. Read my original review here.