Kiddosphere: Many Nations, Many Cultures: Books for National Native American Heritage Month

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For National Native American Heritage Month, I wanted to highlight outstanding books by Native American authors. If you’re looking for authentic representation instead of romanticized and/or stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans, these books should definitely be on your radar.

When someone mentions the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I try to tell them about the formidable The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich. Featuring a young Ojibwa girl named Omakayas, this is a moving and memorable coming-of-age saga.

Buffalo Bird Girl is a gorgeously told and illustrated story of Buffalo Bird Woman, a member of the Hidatsa tribe during a period of transformation (from hunting to agriculture) for the community.

Although I have many favorite Christmas books and find new ones to enjoy every year (looking forward to going through A World of Cookies for Santa) there are a handful of books that I try to reread every Christmas: Ramona and Her Father, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story, The Christmas Pageant (just took a peek at this one again and I had to resist the urge to read it through), and The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood. Based on the author’s childhood living on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, this is a beautiful portrayal of sacrifice and community spirit. I also love the illustrations of her community’s Christmas celebration, especially the Three Wise Men in native attire and the Native American dolls in Santa’s sack. (I’m trying to resist the urge to take home my favorite Christmas books and read them before the mad dash for the Christmas books begins.)

If you don’t know that Longfellow’s Hiawatha poem is full of errors, then you should read Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. This lengthy and powerful story of peace is a much needed tonic for troubled times, unforgettably illustrated by David Shannon. An author’s note gives further details on the story and on the Iroquois nation, including its impact on the Constitution.

Joseph Bruchac is one of the most well-known Native American authors of books for children/young adults. Jim Thorpe: Original All-American is an unusual biography in that it is told through Thorpe’s perspective; it also sheds light on some long-held inaccuracies about Thorpe. Other must-read books by Bruchac include A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull, Code Talker (a YA novel about the Navajo code talkers), Pocahontas and Rabbit’s Snow Dance.

I love Jingle Dancer for many reasons; it’s a heartfelt story about a young girl preparing for a very important life event, it’s joyfully illustrated, and it’s a contemporary story about a Native American child, of which we definitely need more!

America’s first prominent prima ballerina grew up on an Osage reservation in Oklahoma and was one of George Balachine’s stars. Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina is a simply told and vibrantly illustrated picture book biography that lends itself perfectly for a read aloud.

Thunder Boy, Jr. was one of the highlights of the 2016 publishing year; this darling father-son tale about a young boy wanting to establish his own identity is another deeply needed contemporary tale featuring Native American children. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and recent memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, are emotionally difficult yet unforgettable reads.

Finally, let’s end with one of my favorite YA historical fiction reads. When I’m asked for YA historical fiction recommendations, I often suggest “If I Ever Get Out of Here.” Set in 1975 (with copious attention paid to popular music at the time), this story of friendship between a young Tuscarora teen and a teen living on the nearby Air Force Base is a heartrending and gripping read. I cannot wait for Eric Gansworth’s next novel, out in 2018 (a contemporary tale, with music also playing a big part in the story).

For program highlights and staff suggestions for children and young adult readers, make Kiddosphere your source for all the latest on what to read and what to do for kids!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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