First Peoples Month: Kid Lit Heroes
by Jan Godown Annino
If you are around young readers who could benefit from some myth-busting about the heritage & culture of North America’s first peoples – and isn’t that every kiddo? – I’ve found some accessible, expert resources.
The creators of the four sites here deserve hero status for more than one reason.
Notably, in their forging ahead with an important unsung job, the pushback sent their way surprised me when I first came across it in researching a book for kiddos. Since it’s thought that there are thousands of misconceptions about the hundreds of Native tribes in the Americas, it’s a bit of a gulp, to grasp why some folks, even writers intent in interpreting a First Peoples story for students, don’t want to catch up to speed.
Here then, I would like share a selection of the many sturdy groups & individuals, who tirelessly make the effort to send out a nuanced, more complete, message of North American tribes’ culture & history.
National Museum of the American Indian
Our family’s favorite history museum.
Not just because of the sublime recipes & meals we savor in front of the mesmerizing waterfall wall. But it’s true that sometimes we head to the cafeteria first, before visiting galleries in this building that is itself a work of art.
I treasure the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for its celebration of living artists, for a vibrant sense of humor & an emphasis on how enrolled tribe members live in the moment, today. The pull-out drawers of artifacts are also mesmerizing.
And I have been fortunate to listen to Kevin Gover (Pawnee), the esteemed director, speak in the museum auditorium and also in the entry atrium, as a rainbow pierced a sky window.
Your older students who are artists and members of Tribes should know about NMAI opportunities.
If you take away one lesson from the museum website, where the collection is available to view online, or from a visit in person, I hope it is that every library and school reference shelf deserves to hold the NMAI title, DO ALL INDIANS LIVE IN TIPIS?
“Are dream catchers an authentic tradition?”
“Do successful casino tribes help out poor tribes?”
“What is a Tom-Tom drum?”
“Why is there still poverty on some reservations?”
This isn’t a book that shies away from interesting questions. Or from a chuckle.
Your students’ reports will be enhanced by their reading of the evocative Qs and As. And your responses in family conversations or class discussions will shine as a result of lessons gleaned. NMAI is a Smithsonian-affiliate & located on the Nation’s Mall close to the U.S. Capitol.
American Indian Library Association
An affiliate of the American Library Association, this group is most publicly known for deciding the annual American Indian Youth Literature Award.
So of course that list is a guide to collection building for your home shelf or school or public library. The site also offers valuable research links. Also, you may want to let any tribe-affiliated student or adult you know, who is thinking about library service, about this site’s scholarship links and student membership opportunities.
American Indians in Children’s Literature
Dr. Debbie Reese may be the most important children’s literature specialist writing on kids’ books that deal with depictions of tribe history, culture, & individual tribes or members’ characteristics. Her site is American Indians in Children’s Literature.
The stories written for young readers by non-Natives are usually intended to supply information by way of telling an entertaining story. Yet Dr. Reese shares how easy it is to misrepresent, misinterpret or simplify complex details. Her site offers links to quality literature from those valued primary sources, that is, created by literary & visual artists who are enrolled members of Tribes or who have proven deep connections to the topics, such as longtime residency with tribal peoples.
I felt fortunate to meet Dr. Reese (Nambe Pueblo, Upper Village/Yates Family) at an American Library Association national conference, where we were each appreciating a storytelling panel hosted by noted author Tim Tingle (Choctaw). She is a literacy advocacy hero
When I was writing for children about Seminole Tribe of Florida elected leader Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, who was also a newspaper editor, a memoirist & a visual artist working in fabric/textiles, I wanted to attend one of Oyate’s workshops. But they were held in California & I couldn’t get there from way east in Florida. If you are in easy distance of an Oyate presentation, you’ll want to sign up. In the meantime we can all visit comprehensive titles list & website & order books from Oyate.
This non-profit organization co-founded by the poet and librarian Doris Seale (Santee/Cree/Abenaki) provides important reference books, such as THANKSGIVING, A NATIVE PERSPECTIVE and also, HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE, A GUIDE TO EVALUATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR ANTI-INDIAN BIAS.