For the holiday season: 9 books for children and young adults that don’t lie about American Indians

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

If we were were to dissect all the lies that appear every year in new books about the Native peoples of this continent, we’d be here for a week. Hard as it may be to believe, more published lies are still being told in the 21st Century about American Indians than spill from the lips and Twitter fingers of Donald Trump whatever subject he’s talking about.

For parents, grandparents, godparents, uncles, and aunts who want to give their young kin truthful, unstereotypical books to read about Indians, the search can be daunting. Lots of books with pretty pictures turn out to be mired in cultural and historical myth, one-dimensional characters, stereotypes, and a romanticized tone that undermines the effort that began in the late 1960s to overcome the plethora of misinformation about Indians with which popular culture and mainstream history have long submerged the reality, past and present, of the land’s first peoples.

For help navigating the available young people’s books on American Indians, you can’t go wrong by spending some time at American Indians in Children’s Literature, a fantastically detailed blog established a dozen years ago by Debbie Reese, a tribally enrolled woman at Nambé Owingeh, also known as Nambé Pueblo in New Mexico. Reviews of books—some of them extremely comprehensive—are an informal seminar in themselves. If you’ve got the time (and the cash), another good source for finding worthwhile reading is A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (Contemporary Native American Communities) and its accompanying Through Indian Eyes. The drawbacks to these is that they are expensive, were both produced in 2003, and have not been updated, as far as I can discern.

If you’re in a hurry, I’ve created a short list of good choices for you:

Crossing Bok Chitto, written by Tim Tingle (Choctaw) and illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cherokee) 2006. This picture book was originally a story in Tingle’s anthology, Walking the Choctaw Road. Stories that dramatize the intersectionality of oppressed peoples are the ones I like most, and this certainly qualifies. The Bok Chitto River of Mississippi, aka Bogue Chitto, in the early 19th Century marked the boundary between the Choctaw Nation and the rest of Mississippi with its plantations and slaves. In Tingle’s story, the Choctaw, one of five tribes that whites of the time called “civilized” because they lived in towns, construct a stone path below the surface of the Bok Chitto, a pedestrian causeway. The path is used by black slaves to cross over into freedom on the Choctaw side. An enslaved black girl tells a Choctaw girl that her mother is going to be sold, and the Choctaw guides her entire family to make their escape.