Posted in Historical Fiction, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Remembering Green: Spirit triumphs over assimilation

Remembering Green: An Ojibwe Girl’s Tale, by Lisa Gammon Olson/Illustrated by Lauren Rutledge, (Sept. 2020, Eifrig Publishing LLC), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1632332707

Ages 5-8

Wenonah is a young Ojibwe girl from northern Wisconsin. She seeks out her great-grandfather to talk. She’s upset; the chimookomaan school – the white school – she’s forced to attend has cut her hair; forbid her from speaking her language; and won’t even let her use her real name, telling her that she must now refer to herself as Evelyn. Set in the early 1900s, during the period where Native American children endured abusive forced¬† assimilation efforts that attempted to erase Native history, Remembering Green is a powerful story of remembering. Wenonah’s great-grandfather has wisdom in his words as he speaks about fear of the unknown, which motivated the U.S. government’s actions, and he leads Wenonah on a walk through nature, reminding her to “remember the green”: remember her people, remember their connection to the land, and remember who she is. A glossary and a word on the Indian residential schools make up the back matter. A strong supplemental text on a dark period in U.S. history, Remembering Green is a good addition to collections but should not be considered an #OWnVoices work. The artwork is bright, with natural greens and browns dominating the scenery. Wenonah and her grandfather have beautifully expressive faces, with their eyes communicating volumes.

Remembering Green is part of Eifrig Publishing’s Tales of Herstory series, a series of books that feature different American historical periods from girls’ perspectives. The book was a successful Kickstarter and has been reviewed by School Library Journal.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

National Native American Heritage Month

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
Ages 8-12

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
Ages 13+

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
Ages 5-8

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
Ages 0-3

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.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Hearts Unbroken is strong, smart #ownvoices YA

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142

Ages 13+

High school senior dumps her jock boyfriend when he makes disparaging comments about Natives in front of her. You see, she’s Native: Creek nation – Muscogee – to be precise. She shakes off his badmouthing and focuses on the school year: she’s on the school newspaper staff and she’s paired with Joey Kairouz, the new photojournalist. Her brother, Hughie, is a new freshman at the same school, too, and lands a coveted spot in the school play: he’s going to be the Tin Man in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Not every parent is thrilled with the diverse casting, though: a group calling themselves Parents Against Revisionist Theater starts lodging complaints and pressuring local businesses against supporting the play. Hughie and other actors of color start receiving anonymous hate mail. Battle lines are drawn throughout the student body and faculty. Joey and Louise try navigating a relationship while they work on the paper together, but Louise’s worries about “dating while Native” may cause more hurt to Joey than she expects.

Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant. She’s no simpering heroine – the book starts with her breaking up with her boyfriend for disparaging Natives, and she never looks back. Cynthia Leitich Smith creates such textured, layered characters and educates readers on Native life and language, giving me an even deeper respect for #ownvoices work than I already had. She gives Louise and her family challenges both common and unique: Louise has a bad breakup; she is self-absorbed and isn’t a mindful friend when her friend Shelby needs her; she works through her feelings about sex and when she will be ready. Louise and her family also deal with racism and whitewashing among their own neighbors and classmates. Hughie agonizes over discovering that L. Frank Baum, who created the wonderful world of Oz, so rich in its own diversity, was a virulent racist who published pro-genocide editorials surrounding the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read, but it’s real, and she transfers this ache and this anger to her characters, giving them big decisions to make on their own while educating readers, too.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who, like Louise is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides a Mvskoke/English Glossary to help readers with some of the phrases that appear in the book, and an author’s note that talks about parallels between Louise and herself, and the writing of Hearts Unbroken. Dr. Debbie Reese has a fantastic write-up of Hearts Unbroken on her page, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

An absolute must-add to your YA collections. Read a sample chapter and the author’s note on the Candlewick page.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is quietly powerful

soldier sister_1Soldier Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Shonto Begay, (Aug. 2016, Charlesbridge), $16.95, ISBN: 9781580897020

Recommended for ages 10+

Thirteen year-old Tess is struggling with her identity. As someone who’s part white and part Navajo, she feels too white when she’s on the rez, but she’s called “Pokey-hontas” and “squaw” at the white school she attends in Flagstaff. Her older sister, Gaby, whom she adores, has joined the military in order to get money for college; when she comes home to tell Tess that she’s being deployed – shortly after Tess and her family have attended a memorial service for Lori Piestewa, a member of their community and the first Native American woman to fall in combat – Tess is devastated. Gaby asks Tess to take care of her stallion, Blue, while she’s gone; it’s a challenge, to be sure, as Blue is semi-wild and doesn’t gel with Tess, but over the course of the summer, Tess learns more about herself from Blue than she could have imagined.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is a quietly tender novel about family, identity, and loss. Lori Piestewa, whose memorial service opens the story, was a real-life soldier who was killed in Iraq and was a member of the Hopi tribe. From Lori’s tale, Ms. Flood spins the story of Tess and Gaby and Native American identity. Their grandfather is a veteran, a World War II Code Talker; they live in a community of proud warriors, descended from warriors. Tess is frustrated as she tries to embrace a cultural identity: but which culture to identify with? Her grandmother is a guiding force here, as is Gaby, who loves and reassures her younger sister, even from a world away. Blue, the stubborn and half-wild horse, teaches Tess patience and helps her recognize her own inner strength throughout the book.

The book includes notes and a glossary on the Navajo language, a note honoring Lori Piestewa and her service, and a reader’s group guide. Writing prompts are available through the publisher’s website, as is a link to a seven-page excerpt.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It is a beautiful story and an important addition to all bookshelves.

Nancy Bo Flood was a research psychologist and studied brain development at the University of Minnesota and the University of London before writing books for children. Additional books include recognized and award-winning titles, such as Warriors in the Crossfire (Boyds Mills) and Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo (WordSong).