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Native Americans in Children's Books

Blog

Native Americans in Children's Books

Debra Jacobs

Indigenous characters rarely appear in children’s literature. When they do (or when white or animal characters dress up as Native Americans for Halloween, for example, as in Popcorn by Frank Asch), they often show up as stereotypes, with feather headdresses, war paint, and fringed clothing. Seldom do we see distinctions drawn between the 562 Native American tribes and their variety of languages, customs, histories, and ways of life.

Begin now to include stories in your collection (or from the library) with Native children as the lead characters, and to educate your children about the rich diversity and cultural practices of native tribes.

To do this, here are two book recommendations:

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When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger and Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden, is for older preschoolers with longer attention spans. A beautiful picture book, it tells the story of Lenape traditions in the past and their continuation in the present. Each left-hand page shows the young Lenape narrator’s ancestors tapping trees for sap, picking berries, telling stories, and more; each right-hand page shows the narrator and her family in the present, carrying out those same traditions.

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Hungry Johnny, by Cheryl Kay Minnema and illustrated by Wesley Barringer, tells the story of a young Ojibwe boy who likes to “Eat, eat, eat!” His grandmother teaches him the traditions of his tribe, making him wait until the elders eat first. In a loving context, he learns about patience and respect.