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