When I was a child, most teachers’ idea of a good literature depicting the Native American experience was Hiawatha’s song and The Last of the Mohicans. And in case you didn’t know, neither Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nor James Fenimore Cooper were members of a Native American tribe. Fortunately, we have come a long way in the decades since, and there are many great books written by and about the indigenous peoples of this continent. To celebrate American Indian Heritage Month in November, we’ve picked out some of our favorites.
Much like the many tribes that have inhabited North America, there is a wonderfully diverse range of books available for children on Native Americans. We are not talking about historical fiction romanticizing how a few intelligent Indians helped the white man to conquer their ancestral land. There are historical fictional tales here, but they have so much more truth when written by their own people. There are picture books for young readers that link contemporary life with ancient traditions. There are poems that weave the present and the past, the real and the mythical. And there are some inspiring true stories too.
Whether your child has Ojibwe, Inuit, or Choctaw blood or not, these stories will have some power over them. They will transport young readers and listeners, and in doing so, they will banish the idea (still so often perpetuated in pop culture) that Native Americans are just obsolete ghosts from a tragic past.
As Thanksgiving approaches, people often start to bring back these Eurocentric views, telling the story of the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims. Some schools still encourage children to dress up as “Indians” with feathered headbands for the occasion. But if they’ve read books from those other perspectives, they’ll have a head start in seeing the Native Americans for who they really were and are, not just diners with an interesting fashion sense.
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