Blogger Abby Johnson

Evaluating Native American Books

It’s November. Depending on your community, this may be a time when teachers and patrons were clamoring for books about Native American nations. I blogged earlier this month about Thanksgiving books, and now the holiday is over and Native American Heritage Month is drawing to a close. As books come back onto your shelves, it’s the perfect time for evaluating Native American books in your collection. Here are some areas to take a look at.

2007 Powwow; Verizon Center; Washington, DC, National Powwow 2007.
2007 Powwow; Verizon Center; Washington, DC, National Powwow 2007. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, accessed via WikiMedia Commons and used with permission.

First, check out this post from the ALSC Public Awareness Committee from 2018: Thanksgiving Under the Microscope. Librarian Alexandria Abenshon makes some great points and suggestions for critically evaluating your collection. As you’re investigating, make sure you touch on these areas:

Books About Native American Nations

Here in Indiana, we have many teachers doing units on local indigenous peoples this month. As you’re evaluating Native American books, take a look at your nonfiction sections. Do your nonfiction books include information about the tribes today? Are the illustrations accurate and culturally specific? Do they include bias that depicts Native Americans as savages or victims? If they’re lacking, you might consider this list of vetted nonfiction titles and series compiled by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza of American Indians in Children’s Lit. You may also want to check out Native Knowledge 360, a project from the National Museum of the American Indian. NK360 includes resources for educators like lesson plans, answers to frequently asked questions, recorded trainings, and more. You may especially find this checklist helpful as you evaluate your books: Worksheet for Selecting Native American Children’s Lit.

Native American Folktales

You’ve pored through your 900s, now turn to the 398s as you’re evaluating Native American books. Check out Debbie Reese’s article Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom (Language Arts, January 2007) – opens a PDF for more on this. Her article includes criteria that indicate authenticity, as well as red flags that indicate bias.

The Thanksgiving Myth

In my community, Thanksgiving books are probably the most sought-after holiday topic. Many of them perpetuate the harmful myth of the “First Thanksgiving”. Check out this article by Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin: Deconstructing the Myths of the “First Thanksgiving” for more about this. Check your picture books and holiday collections to see if you have books perpetuating the Thanksgiving myth on your shelves. Every year, our options for replacing these offensive books grow, so now’s the time to evaluate your collection. What can you weed and replace with better books?

Don’t Forget Columbus Day

Take a look at your Columbus Day books and Christopher Columbus biographies to see if they romanticize Columbus’s relationship with indigenous people or fail to mention genocide. More recent books being published acknowledge that Columbus Day isn’t a celebratory day for everyone.

Books by Indigenous Authors

How’s your collection of books by indigenous authors? Remember for next year, these make a wonderful display or book list in November alongside a Thanksgiving display (or any time!). If you haven’t checked your collection lately, now’s a great time to evaluate and start to beef it up if you need to. Not sure where to start? Check out the American Indian Youth Literature Award to find authors and publishers to seek out and add.

What else?

What other areas would you recommend checking? Happy collection maintenance!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, IV. Collection Knowledge and Management.

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