Friday, November 21, 2014

Authentic Reads for Native American Heritage Month

November is National Native American/ American Indian Heritage Month, which makes this a great time to highlight my favorite children's/YA books featuring Native American characters/historical figures:

I reviewed The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood last December;

I always look for Christmas books that depict the holiday in unique situations and settings, which is why The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood  is a huge favorite.  Being the daughter of an Episcopal priest is not easy, especially when Virginia is expected to let everyone else choose gifts before she does from donations sent to the Rosebud Sioux reservation. Virginia needs a new coat to get her through the harsh South Dakota winter, and is thrilled when she spies a lovely gray fur coat in good condition among the recent donations.  She is heartbroken when another girl, unfriendly to Virginia, picks the coat.  It looks like Virginia will have to make do with her old coat--until a special box arrives.  I adore this book; the Sioux face harsh conditions on their reservation, but they are a tightly knit family and community oriented culture.  Make sure you pay attention to the illustrations; I always look for the Nativity pageant with its Sioux culture influences (the Three Wise Chiefs), and the American Indian dolls in Santa's sack. 

I included Code Talker in my 2009 roundup of titles for American Indian/Native American Heritage Month:

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. 

Diamond Willow was also included in that post:

Although I didn't warm to it immediately, Diamond Willoweventually 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. 

Hooked was one of my favorite reads in 2013:

Finding good YA literature about contemporary American Indian characters is difficult, so this realistic story of a American Indian high school golf champ is a bright spot.  When Fred (short for Fredericka) is invited to join her high school's golf team, she immediately faces trouble from the other golf team members.  Not only are they resistant to a girl joining their team, but their prejudice against American Indians is also a barrier. As you can guess, strained relations between the (more wealthy) local Caucasians and the American Indians living on the nearby reservation are key elements to the story (which include a relationship between Fred and a Caucasian boy, which causes conflict and suspicion on both sides) and social issues faced by many American Indians (poverty and alcoholism) are introduced, but it also features positive relationships between family members and friends.  Fichera's follow up to Hooked will be released in May. 

As was If I Ever Get Out of Here:

Historical fiction featuring American Indian characters are often set during the western expansion era, so a YA novel with American Indian characters set during the 1970s is quite welcomed.  This friendship story set in a military upstate New York town in 1975 is gripping and enormously heartbreaking; the music of the era plays a big part of the story (a playlist is helpfully included).

We have several of the "--for Kids With 21 Activities" books--they are good resources for projects that involve making something for a history project. Native American History for Kids: With 21 Activities gives a wide overview of Native American history and includes instructions for making culturally-appropriate items.

Rabbit's Snow Dance is a cautionary tale about the dangers of wanting something too much. Rabbit loves snow and wants it to snow year round, even in the summer! Using an Iroquois drum and song, he makes it snow--aggravating his friends in the process.  This is a fun and fantastic read aloud!

Sweetgrass Basket remains one of the most striking children's/YA novels written about the boarding schools established for Native American children in order to fully assimilate them into Caucasian American culture. Told from the perspective of two sisters, this is an eye-opening and unforgettable read about a shameful part in American history.

Before we know it, the Newbery and Caldecott winners (along with many other children's/YA awards) will be announced. I have quite a bit more to read before I list my picks! Look to your right to find my picks so far (I don't list a title until I have completed it).

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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