Storytelling is an important part of Native American traditions. So, to celebrate Native American Heritage Month this month, families can read stories by and about Native Americans.
One of the important things that books do is provide windows and mirrors, said Sheri Boggs, youth collection development librarian at the Spokane County Library District. That means readers are able to see into other experiences and cultures in some books, while in others they see reflections of their lives. And, a book might provide a mix of both.
The picture book “Fry Bread,” for instance, “shows the positive aspects of food and family,” Boggs said.
“That’s something that’s universal to all of us, especially in November with Thanksgiving. Having a feast together … that’s a universal thing,” she said.
As a book buyer for the library, Boggs strives to find books that are told by the people of that culture, she said. It’s a challenge sometimes, but she says she’s heartened that publishing companies are making progress.
She also relies on information from Native American writers and scholars to make informed decisions on books to offer at the library, especially American Indians in Children’s Literature, a site that offers critiques of books new and old.
This time of year, Boggs said she sees lots of requests for Thanksgiving books from decades ago “that don’t have accurate depictions of the Native Americans involved in that story.”
It’s fine to read those beloved books, Boggs said, but families need to have conversations that put them in context.
And, not every book a child reads about Native Americans needs to address serious issues, she said.
“It’s important for kids to learn the truth of the history, but it’s important also for them to see joyful, happy families,” she said.
Here’s a selection of books based on recommendations from Boggs, as well as booksellers at Auntie’s Bookstore and Wishing Tree Books:
“Baby Speaks Salish” by Emma Noyes – An educational picture book by a local writer and artist who’s a member of the Sinixt band of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
“Bigfoot and Lightning Bug” by Donnell Barlowe – This picture book is based on stories the author remembers from her grandmother.
“Fry Bread” by Kevin Noble Maillard – This award-winning picture book depicts modern Native American family life.
“We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom – A picture book inspired by indigenous-led movements across North America to protect water.
“Brave” by James Bird – A middle grade story about a boy with OCD and his move to the reservation to live with his mother.
“I Can Make This Promise” by Christine Day – This middle grade novel delves into the history of family separation.
“Race to the Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse – Middle grade book from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint focuses on Navajo mythology.
“Elatsoe” by Darcie Little Badger – A YA murder mystery set in a contemporary version of the United States where Native American traditions are honored.
“Apple: Skin to the Core” by Eric Gansor – This YA memoir-in-verse takes its title from a common slur in Native American communities for someone who’s “red on the outside, white on the inside.”
For more book recommendations, visit the library and shop websites, or talk to a librarian or bookseller.