In search of more American Indian voices
By Karen MacPherson
November is American Indian Heritage Month. One way that we’ve celebrated for almost two decades is by hosting Eaglebear, who share stories, songs and dances from his Xicano and Apache heritage. This year, our program featuring Eaglebear will take place on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
Another way we celebrate each year is by putting up a display of books by and about American Indians and encouraging young readers to check them out. In the past few years, we’ve put more emphasis on finding and purchasing books by American Indians as opposed to books about them by authors of other races or cultures. This is both a reflection of the Library’s effort to mirror our local community’s wonderful diversity as well as the larger push for “#OwnVoices” within the children’s literature world.
The #OwnVoices movement calls for more cultural authenticity in children’s books, which means, for example, having more books about American Indians written by American Indian authors – not by authors of other races or cultures. There’s a good reason for this effort. One example: two of the best-known children’s books featuring American Indians are the 1975 Caldecott Medal winner, Arrow to the Sun, written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott, and the 1979 Caldecott Medal winner, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, written and illustrated by Paul Goble. Neither author, however, was American Indian, and in recent years, American Indian scholars have found major flaws in the way Native culture is presented in both books.
While children’s publishers are – after decades of stops and starts – now clearly making a determined effort to search out more authors of color and publish more culturally authentic books, there’s still a long way to go. The latest statistics from the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center show that, of the 3,700 children’s books the Center received from publishers in 2017, only 72 had “significant” American Indian/First Nation content or characters. And, of those 72 books, only 38 were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators.
However, there are some wonderful children’s and teen books by American Indian authors that have been published in recent years, and we are happy to purchase them for the Library. One great source of information about the best American Indian books for kids is the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, created and maintained by Debbie Reese, a children’s literature scholar and member of the Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico. Using Reese’s lists of recommended books, we are building our Library’s collection of #OwnVoices American Indian books.
Among our newer books by American Indians are picture books such as We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Bowwow Powwow by Red Lake Ojibwe author Brenda Child; the award-winning kids’ novel, How I Became a Ghost, by Oklahoma Choctaw author Tim Tingle; and #Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women, a collection of stories, poems and artwork by women authors of various tribes. These are just a few of the new books we have by American Indian authors. Come browse our collection and check some out!
This article appeared in the November 2018 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.