Good books by African American authors
How do you know if a children's book you're about to share with your students accurately portrays the culture of its characters? Are there warning signs to look for? Are there telltale things that mark an outstanding multicultural book? To answer these questions, Instructor invited five children's literature specialists to give us their candid advice on selecting books about or related to Native Americans, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews, and Asian-Americans.
Within each section of this article, you'll find:
Our experts also helped us compile an extensive list of other multicultural resources for teachers and their classrooms.
By Peggy K. Ford
For centuries, Native Americans relied upon oral storytelling for entertainment and to keep alive information needed for survival and moral direction. Today, more Native Americans are preserving these legends, myths, and folktales in written form. Writers like Joseph Bruchac, Shonto Begay, and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve bring new life to ancient tribal stories and depict past and present Native American life with accuracy and grace.
10 Great Children's Books
Gluskabe and the Four Wishes retold by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Christine Nyburg Shrader (Cobblehill, 1995)
In this tale of the Wabanaki nations, four men each ask for a different wish from Gluskabe, the Great Spirit's helper, but only one learns that great gifts come to those who listen and take heed.
Ma'ii and Cousin Horned Toad by Shonto Begay (Scholastic, 1992)
Cousin Horned Toad gives tricky Ma'ii the coyote a lesson to remember when Ma'ii tries to get something for nothing in this Navajo tale.
In a Circle Long Ago: A Treasury of Native Lore from North America by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Lisa Desimini (Apple Soup Books, 1995)
This is an impressive collection of Native American tales, songs, and poetry from the Arctic North to the Florida Everglades.
Fire Race: A Karuk Coyote Tale About How Fire Came to the People retold by Jonathan London, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 1993)
How Coyote — with the help of Eagle, Cougar, Fox, Bear, Measuring Worm, Turtle, and Frog — captures fire is a dramatic tale of bravery and cooperation.
Beyond the Ridge by Paul Goble (Bradbury, 1989)
With beauty and simplicity, Goble captures the spiritual journey of a Plains Indian grandmother.
Katie Henio: Navajo Sheepherder by Peggy Thomson, photographs by Paul Conklin (Cobblehill, 1995)
In this nonfiction book, you'll follow Katie as she moves between her traditional Navajo world and the modern world of her great-grandchildren.
by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Paul Morin (Philomel, 1993)
In this story, young Jamie learns that death is a natural part of life when she realizes that her grandmother, even in death, is still near her.
he White Deer and Other Stories Told by the Lenape edited by John Bierhorst (Morrow, 1995)
Open your students' hearts and minds with these 25 stories from the Lenape, or Delaware, culture.
The Nez Perce: A First Americans Book by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Holiday House, 1994)
The author retells the creation myth of the Nez Perce Indians, who lived in what are now the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana.
Indian Winter by Russell Freeman, illustrated by Karl Bodmer (Holiday House, 1992)
In 1833, German Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss painter, journeyed up the Missouri River and spent the winter among the Mandan Indians. Russell Freeman draws upon the prince's diary and Bodmer's detailed paintings to create an incredible account of their adventure.
Peboan and Seegwun retold and illustrated by Charles Larry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993)
Glorious illustrations enhance this Ojibwa story portraying the transition from winter to spring.
Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis by Laurie Lawlor (Walker, 1994)
This biography for older readers is filled with Curtis's majestic photographs of North American Indians.
Meet Joseph Bruchac
Q: What do you suggest teachers look for when selecting Native American literature?
A: Seek out books that depict characters from a well-defined individual native nation — as opposed to generic Indians. I say this because there are popular books that were written without understanding these specific differences. For example, in Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles — which is a story of a little girl dealing with the death of her grandmother — descriptions and illustrations are totally incorrect for the Navajo culture. And no one in any Native American culture would call his or her grandmother "old one." Books like this are insensitive due to ignorance, not through intention — but it hurts just as much.
Keep in Mind
- Make available books that reveal today's Native American cultures.
- Be prepared to talk about the ways in which Native American cultures have influenced world culture.
- Talk about values Native American cultures share, such as respect, sharing, and reverence for living things.
- Avoid books that suffer from what Joseph Bruchac refers to as "The Dances with Wolves Syndrome" — books in which all Indians are noble and all white people are bad. Any children's book that builds up one culture at the expense of another ultimately keeps racial tension alive.
Michael Lacapa, Michael Dorris, Gayle Ross, Simon Ortiz, Vee Browne
By Gonzalo Ramirez
Growing up in a Spanish-speaking community in Texas, I remember reading stories such as Hans Reys's Curious George, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Although I loved these books, they did not speak to me — they did not celebrate the uniqueness of my culture.