USBBY Conference Report

USBBY Conference imageAt this amazing gathering of authors, educators, librarians, editors and publishers, we celebrated the Joy of Children’s Books. Mem Fox, Peter Sis and Katherine Paterson were three of the many guest speakers. Linda Boyden, author and storyteller, and myself shared a panel presentation: Celebrating Contemporary Native Americans in Children’s Books.

Here is my presentation outline – brief with readings from several children’s books, mostly by Native Authors: How I Became A Ghost  by Tim Tingle; The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Looks Like Daylight  by Deborah Ellis; and Buffalo Bird Girl by S.D. Nelson.

Five Main Points About Native American Literature

  1. We need more books about/ by Native Americans
  2. We need books with contemporary Native kids in today’s settings
  3. We need stories about individuals, free from generalizations and stereotypes
  4. We need to hear Native voices in books – all genres, anthologies, etc.
  5. We need books, nonfiction and fiction, told from Native perspective, especially about historical events that have been told inaccurately or not at all

The following is a copy of our handout (click here to download Word doc):

Celebrate Books about and by Native Americans, a List of Books, Awards, Publishers and other Resources

Nancy Bo Flood, Ph.D., author and educator
Linda Boyden, author, storyteller, teacher
USBBY-IBBY October 2013

Celebrate Books about and by Native Americans

In this list we have selected resources for children and young adults, including:

  • books that portray contemporary native characters as individuals not stereotypes;
  • books that accurately present Native American history – people, events, and legends;
  • publishers with a special interest in Native American books;
  • awards that recognize the best in Native American literature

First, some comments about evaluating books, looking for the presence of stereotypes, historical inaccuracies, or not presenting a Native American perspective.

Judge for Yourself! Here is from an evaluation guide prepared by Anselmo Ramon, Tohono O’odham, former Director of Native American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District, to help teachers become more aware of stereotyping. He defines stereotype as “…conventional, over-simplified identification based on a few exterior qualities.”

Be aware of :

  • stereotype “secondary stock characters,” such as physical appearance, e.g. raven black hair, tall and straight as an arrow. Or stereotyped cultural references such as “one with mother earth, seeker of visions…”;
  • portrayal of Native American cultures as simplistic or primitive;
  • speaking of Native people in the past tense;
  • slang references, such as “Indian-giver, savages, redskin, squaw, chief, or “How? Ugh…” and common sayings like “acting like a bunch of wild Indians.”
  • Identifying an individual as Indian or Native American rather than by their tribal affiliation, eg. We would not say, “Jenny who is white”, we would say, “Jenny who is Czech or from Iceland.” Similarly a Native may be Lakota, or Navajo. All Indians are NOT the same!’
  • cartoonish portrayals In picture books or graphic novels;
  • in textbooks, in every aspect of the curriculum, is Native American culture, history, knowledge, included? Look for inaccuracies, omissions, bias, ethnocentrism, e.g. from whose point of view is the text written?

Ellen Levine once said: “Rest on Truth for authority rather than taking authority for truth.”

Kazanzakis: “The only thing more real than truth is legend.”

Book List

General Background Books and Resources
  • Oyate is a “Native organization working to see that the lives and histories of Native people are portrayed honestly…for all children, it is as important as it has ever been to learn the truths of history.” Their work includes critical evaluation of books and curricula with Indian themes; conducting workshops, listing resources, and distributing teacher books and materials with an emphasis on writing and illustration by Native people.
  • A Broken Flute, The Native Experience in Books for Children. Edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin. 2005.
  • Through Indian Eyes, The Native Experience in Books for Children. Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. 1987. Contains thoughtful essays.
General References:
  • Lasting Echoes. An Oral History of Native American People.
  • Joseph Bruchac. 1997.
  • Extraordinary American Indians. Susan Avery and Linda Skinner. 1992
  • Many Nations, An alphabet of Native America, Joseph Bruchac. 1997
  • Children of Native America Today. Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Arlene Hirschfelder. Shakti for Children, Charlesbridge. 2003.
  • Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children, Caduto and Bruchac. 1994.
  • Native American Stories / Keepers of the Earth. Caduto and Bruchac.1991.
  • Keepers of the Animals. Caduto and Bruchac. 1991.
  • An Indian Winter, Russell Freedman. 1992.
  • Spider Spins A Story: Fourteen Legends from Native America. Edited by Jill May. 1997.
Re-Seeing History, Culture and Legends
  • Thanksgiving, a Native Perspective. Seale, Slapin, and Silverman 1995: an excellent place to begin with classroom curriculum and re-thinking.
  • 1621, A New Look at Thanksgiving. Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret Bruchac. 2001.
  • Black Elk’s Vision, a Lakota Story, S.D. Nelson,Abrams, 2010.
  • Code Talker: A Noel about the Navajo Marines of WWII, Joseph Bruchac, Dial, 2005
  • Lasting Echoes: An Oral History of Native American People, Joseph Bruchac, Silver Whistle, 1997.
  • Wounded Knee, Neil Waldman,Atheneum Books, 2001.
  • Sequoyah, The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, James Rumford, translated by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby, Houghton,Mifflin, 2004.
  • Crossing Bok Chitto, A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom. Tim Tingle. 2007.
  • Cherokee Indians, Native American series. Suzanne Morgan Williams. 2003.
  • Any of Caduto and Bruchac’s “Keepers” books (see books listed above)
Picture Books
  • Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw – recommended by Joseph Bruchac (This marvelous resource should be in every American school”).
The following weave contemporary and traditional:
  • When the Shadbush Blooms. Carla Messinger with Susan Katz. 2007.
  • Powwow’s Coming. Linda Boyden. 2007.
  • Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas, Linda Boyden, 2013
  • The Blue Roses, Linda Boyden, 2003, winner of Lee & Low New Voices Award, Paterson Prize & Wordcraft Circle’s Book of the Year.
  • The Butterfly Dance. Gerald Dawavendewa 2001
  • Meet Mindy, A Native Girl from the Southwest, My World: Young Native Americans Today series. Susan Secakuku. 2003.
  • The Unbreakable Code. Sara Hunter. 1996.
  • Navajo Year, A Walk Through Many Seasons. Nancy Flood. 2006.
  • Grandmother’s Pigeon. Louise Erdrich
  • Secret of the Dance. Andrea Spalding and Alfred Scow, illus. by Gait
  • Whale Snow. Debby D. Edwardson, illus by A. Patterson
  • Little Coyote Runs Away. Craig Kee Strete, illus by H. Stevenson
  • Cowboy Up, Ride the Navajo Rodeo, Nancy Bo Flood, 2013
  • The Hogan That Great-Grandfather Built, Nancy Bo Flood, 2014

Young people need books that describe contemporary children who are Native American, not just historical accounts as though Indian children lived “past tense,” only a long time ago. The following books have “real” individual characters and engaging stories that include traditional celebrations continued in contemporary ways – with family, food, music and even dance:

  • Cowboy Up, Ride the Navajo Rodeo, Nancy Bo Flood, 2013
  • Secret of the Dance – Spalding and Scow
  • Whale Snow – Debby D. Edwardson
  • Jingle Dancer – Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • The Butterfly Dance – Gerald Dawavendewa
  • Powwow’s Coming – Linda Boyden
  • When the Shadbush Blooms – Messinger with Katz
Historical Picture Books
  • Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path. Bruchac. 2004.
  • The Unbreakable Code. Hunter. 1996.
  • Navajo Long Walk. Bruchac and Begay. 2002.
  • Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home, A Story of the Navajo Long Walk. Yazzie. 2006.
  • Buffalo Bird Girl, A Hidatsa Story, S.D. Nelson, 2013.
  • A Boy Called Slow, The True Story of Sitting Bull. Bruchac. 1994.
  • Will Rogers, Frank Keating, illus. by Mike Wimmer. 2002
  • Zitkala-sa, Red Bird Sings
  • Dance in a Buffalo Skull, written by Zitkala-sa, illustrated by SD Nelson
  • Beauty Beside Me, Stories of My Grandmother’s Skirts, Seraphine Yazzie, 2012.
  • Salty Pie, Tim Tingle
Legends, Myths, Stories
  • The Flute Player, An Apache Folklore. Michael Lacapa. 1990.
  • The Magic Hummingbird, A Hopi Folktale. Malotki, Lomatuway’ma, Lacapa.
  • The Boy Who Dreamed of an Acorn. Casler/ Shonto Begay.1994.
Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gansworth, 2013
  • Eagle Song. 1997. Hidden Roots. 2004, Joseph Bruchac: * see for a complete list
  • Counting Coup, Becoming a Crow Chief and the Reservation and Beyond.
  • Native. Joseph Medicine Crow
  • Trailblazers: Native Athletes in Action!  Vincent Schilling. 2007
  • The Birchbark House. Louise Erdrich
  • Craig Strete: Death Chants, short stories. 1988. Powerful magical realism
  • My Name is Not Easy, Debby Dahl Edwardson, 2011 (Alaskan)
  • The Lesser Blessed. Richard Van Camp. 1996.
Historical Middle-Grade and Young Adult
  • Code Talker. Bruchac. 2005.
  • Jim Thorpe, Original All-American. Bruchac. 2006.
  • Keeping the Rope Straight: Annie Dodge Wauneka’s Life of Service to the Navajo. Carolyn Niethammer. 2006.
  • Indian Signals and Sign Language, Fronval and Dubois;
  • Indian Sign Language, Tomkins
Poetry and Anthologies
  • Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky, Poetry & Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, edited by McLaughlin, 20012.
  • Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming: Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens & Young Adults, edited by Annette Pina Ochoa, Betsy Franco, & Traci Gourdine, 2003
  • For a Girl Becoming, Joy Harjo illus by M. McDonald, 2009.
  • Tse’yi’ Deep in the Rock, Reflections on Canyon de Chelly, Laura Tohe, photographs by Stephen Strom. 2005
  • Looks Like Daylight, Deborah Ellis, 2013. (interviews with NA teens)
  • Skins, Contemporary Indigenous Writing, edited by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm & Josie Douglas
  • Native Trailblazers Series, edited by Kigafus & Ernst, Seventh Generation
  • Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson, 2005
  • Trickster, Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection by Dembicki
Authors to Know and Read
  • Joseph Bruchac – His websites include a wealth of resources including a listing of all books written/illustrated by Native Americans.
  • Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
  • Linda Boyden
  • S.D. Nelson
  • Sherman Alexie, also look at his adult novels, poetry, & movies
  • Simon Ortiz
  • Joy Harjo
  • Shonto Begay
  • The Delorias: Ella Cara, Vine Sr., Philip, and Vine Jr.: adult books
  • Erdrich sisters: Louise, Heidi
  • M.Scott Momaday
  • Luci Tapahonso
  • Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Michael Dorris
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Cynthia Leitig Smith: e.g. Jingle Dancer; Rain Is Not My Indian Name
  • Tim Tingle: note his new books: How I Became a Ghost; Saltypie, 2010 !!
  • Baje Whitethorne, Sr.: picture books: Sunpainters; Father’s Boots, etc.
  • Byrd Baylor (not Native American but her picture books capture the sense of desert and respect for life): Hawk, I’m Your Brother, The Other Way to Listen
Awards for Writers:
Publishers – a selection
  • Birchbark Books catalogue
  • Smithsonian: National Museum of the American Indian
Internet Sources

This list is neither inclusive nor without error. Please send your suggestions. Thank you!

Nancy Bo Flood

Linda Boyden