Thursday, November 05, 2009

Native American History Month

In honor of Native American History Month, I'd like to tell you about several terrific children's and teen books centered around Native Americans.

Although I didn't warm to it immediately, Diamond Willow eventually became one of my most memorable reads in 2008. Willow is quite a remarkable young girl and on the verge of teendom, with all the confusion and changes that come with the teenage years. Her father's sled dogs are a big part of her life; while mushing to her grandparents' home, an accident reveals a heartbreaking family secret. It's a short yet hauntingly beautiful story.

The Year of Miss Agnes, also set in Alaska, is told through the voice of ten year old Frederika (otherwise known as Fred). A new teacher is no big deal to Fred; she's seen teachers leave, one right after the other, when they couldn't take the harsh life of 1940s Alaska anymore. Not that any teacher expected much of the Athabascan children, until Miss Agnes came, with her opera recordings and her talk of the children becoming doctors and scientists. This is a great story about community and the effect of a great teacher.

Joseph Bruchac is probably one of the best-known Native American authors (Abenaki) currently writing for children. I recommend all of his books, but particularly The Winter People (about the French-Indian War), his young adult novel, Geronimo, and Hidden Roots. My favorite Bruchac novel is Code Talker, a young adult novel about the Navajo code talkers of World War II. Too often, Native American history in children's books seems to begin with Columbus and end with the pioneers and Trail of Tears; it's rare to see children's or teen fiction dealing with any Native history other than those topics. Code Talker is an amazing read and a part of history that everyone should know.

It's important that children read books and learn about modern Native American life; Eagle Drum, about a young male powwow dancer, and Kinaalda, about a young girl's coming of age ceremony, are rich in beautiful pictures and detail.

For more information on Native American History Month, check out the official website and the Smithsonian Education site.

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