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  • Kim Bogren Owen

Native American Heritage Month: Celebrate with Books

What does the term Native American bring to mind for you? Drums? Teepees? Thanksgiving?

In November, schools study Native Americans through Native American Heritage Month and Thanksgiving, however, Native Americans are often portrayed in stereotypes in our textbooks and media. To counteract these biases, the following books show Native Americans as vibrant participants in our nation today and in the past.

These books depict Native Americans after the arrival of Europeans, and help break the stereotype that Native Americans either no longer exist or still live as they did in the past. After reading the books:

  • Share that there are 567 tribes with distinct cultures living in the United States.

  • Share that tribes are sovereign nations.

  • Share that tribes have different languages that many still speak.

  • Talk about your own family history, and what traditions you have kept alive to stay connected to your ancestors and why that is important to you and others.

  • Research what tribes live and influence your area. If you discover that tribes were relocated, learn why and where they went.

  • Talk about the ways Native Americans helped the first Europeans settle into this land.

  • Research the many contributions Natives Americans made and make to democracy, food, and sports.

  • Visit the following websites or blogs for more ideas to celebrate this month and learn more about Native Americans: Native American Heritage Month, American Indian College Fund, or "Native American Heritage Month: 6 Tips for Educators, Parents" by Sarah Sunshine Manning.

  • Find recipes with foods native to this continent and the first peoples on the First Nations Development Institute’s website and add one to your Thanksgiving feast.

  • Include books and information about Native Americans throughout the year.

Baby Learns about Colors by Jessie Eve Ruffenach (board book) - This lovely bilingual (Navajo/English) board book explores colors through common objects in baby’s life. Simple text and drawings make these books very appropriate for even the youngest infant while allowing toddlers to learn about the concepts introduced in the book. One of a 6 books series that includes Baby Learns About Animals, Baby’s First Laugh, and Baby Learns to Count.

Mama, Do You Love Me? By Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee (board book)- As toddlers are apt to do, a young girl explores her independence and tests to see if her mother’s love has any boundaries. Set in Alaska, there are references to the animals and life in the Artic. Children and their parents will relate to the questioning toddler and a parent’s unconditional love.

Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews and Ian Wallace- For the first time, a girl goes alone under the ice while the tide it out to gather mussels. Once she has filled her bucket, she begins to explore but must hurry back once the tide turns. After she returns from under the ice, she tells her mother it was the last time she would go there for the first time. A wonderful book about the pride children feel as they begin to take steps towards independence.

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle- In this tale from the Choctaw tribe, a young girl and her mother help a family of slaves escape. This story presents a glimpse into the past while providing an image of cross cultural respect and understanding.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith- Jenna wants to dance the jingle dance during the upcoming powwow, but her grandmother does not have the jingle bells she needs so it she will not be able to dance with jingle bells. Showing initiative, Jenna goes to various friends and family to borrow the bells, sews them on her dress with her grandmother’s help, and dances to honor those who shared with her. A wonderful story of both determination and gratitude.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing by James Rumford- Telling the story of Sequoyah’s journey to invent an alphabet for the Cherokee language, this bilingual book (English and Cherokee) tells of his struggles to that alphabet. This story is a great lesson for how negative events can lead one to the successful path.

Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac and Greg Shed- If you don’t get to any other of these books right away; make sure you read this one this Thanksgiving. I even read it to my 12 year old. The book provides an overview of Squanto’s life from his upbringing to his kidnapping to his work as a translator and advocate for peace and cooperation. The subjects brought up are worthy and important for even a young child to reflect on in this honest portrayal of a person and events important to the founding of our nation.

As always, I hope you find these books enjoyable, and they help both you and your child learn more about Native Americans. As always, feel free to share with credit to Words Reflected and Kim Bogren Owen on Facebook, your website, or in your newsletter. Please add your recommendations for books with Native American characters in the comments since we can never have too many books!

(This blog uses the Amazon affiliate program so when you click on the title and purchase through Amazon, you are supporting us! If you don't purchase through these links, please, be sure to support your local, independent bookstore or find them at your library!)

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