As more Native-authored books enter the market, children have more opportunity to experience diverse and fact-based representations of Native culture.
“Today, parents can reach for books by Native writers and illustrators that accurately reflect who Native people are,” says Debbie Reese, a Nambé Pueblo educator who launched the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog in 2006. “Their books are tribally specific, and most are set in the present day.”
Reese says she’s “excited to hear from teachers who are using these books in the classrooms,” but collection development, she cautions, requires legwork. It’s not “simply adding to the collection. It includes taking outdated, inaccurate, and stereotypical materials out of the collection.”
Stacy Wells, a member of the Choctaw Nation and a youth services librarian in Southlake, Tex., advises, “The number one thing to look for when collection building for Indigenous resources is the authority of the work. Was the book written by an Indigenous author? Did the author consult within the community they wrote about? Second, read professional reviews if available. What do they say about the story? Does the review hint at romanticism of Native people? Or to bias or stereotype?”
Collection builders can also seek out award-winning books, especially those judged by a knowledgeable committee. For instance, “The American Indian Youth Literature Awards prioritize authenticity from the outset by having winners selected by American Indian librarians,” says Allison Waukau, who is Menominee and Navajo and president of AILA. “Awards like AILA’s help bring attention to Indigenous voices and stories, ensuring that their perspectives are acknowledged and valued.”
Here are a few resources that can help educators and librarians evaluate Native literature:
- American Indians in Children’s Literature: Reese now coedits the blog with curriculum specialist Jean Mendoza, who worked with Reese on the young readers adaptation of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. The site’s offerings include book reviews, opinion pieces, and news of Indigenous children’s books.
- American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Award: Since 2006, biennial awards and honors have recognized “the very best writing and illustrations by Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America.”
- How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias
- WNDB Indigenous Reads Rising: An initiative of We Need Diverse Books, the recently launched website offers best practices articles, book lists organized by age category and topic, and resources for Native writers and illustrators.
- Worksheet for Selecting Native American Children’s Literature