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Native American Studies Research Guide

The content of this guide was created by Joan Berman, Librarian Emerita

Native American Children's Literature


Joan Berman
c October 1998: updated June 1999; February 2002; January 2004; November 2007; December 2009

In my dual roles as Native American Studies Librarian and children's literature specialist at the Humboldt State University Library I am often asked to recommend "good" Native American children's books. I have prepared this bibliography as an introduction to a complex topic. I invite the reader to explore the selections, bearing in mind that although I have attempted to include the major works on the subject, I have also noted items of specific interest to the local, California community. This was initially prepared as an example of an annotated bibliography for my class, Professional Studies 180: Library Sources in Education, Fall 1998.

Caldwell, N., Kaye, G., & Mitten, L. (2007). “I” is for inclusion: the portrayal of Native Americans in books for young people. Program of the ALA/OLOS Subcommittee for Library Services to American Indian People, American Indian Library Association, American Indian Children’s Literature: Identifying and Celebrating the Good. This updates the 1992 bibliography; both are available on the American Indian Library Association website.

Caldwell-Wood, N., & Mitten, L. (1992). "I" is "not" for Indian: The portrayal of Native Americans in books for young people. Multicultural Review, 1(2), 26-33. The authors were president and secretary of the American Indian Library Association at the time this article was written; it is an adaptation of a program presented at the American Library Association Annual Conference in 1991. The selective annotated bibliography is in four parts: recommended titles, titles to avoid, guides to selecting books and sources of current reviews, and sources for books on Indians. This is an excellent, accessible introduction to the subject.

Charles, J. (1996). Out of the cupboard and into the classroom: children and the American Indian literary experience. Children's Literature in Education, 27(3), 167-179. This is a very accessible critique of the Indian in the Cupboard. The author, a professor of English Education, discussed the book in the context of six "myths" about American Indians. He then provides examples of four books written by American Indian people which can help to dispel these myths.

Dorris, M. (1993). Trusting the words. Booklist, 89(19/20), 1820-1822. In a very personal manner Dorris describes the dilemma he encountered when preparing to read the Little House books to his daughters. He had loved reading them as a child but had developed a different perspective in the years since he founded the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth College in 1972. This is the best explanation I have seen of the problems with the much loved Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

Hirschfelder, A. B. (1982). American Indian stereotypes in the world of children: a reader and bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. The purpose of this anthology is made clear by the following quote from the ERIC abstract (ED 225 785): "Created to try to shock people into realizing that a child's world is supersaturated with hundreds of images of savage, noble, lazy, or nonhuman Indians that obscure, misrepresent, and render trivial the rich cultures and histories of Native Americans, the reader is intended for early childhood, elementary, and secondary educators and general public." It serves as a marker of the situation in 1982.

Hirschfelder, A. B. (1993). Native American literature for children and young adults. Library Trends, 41(3), 414-436. In this survey article Hirschfelder provides both an excellent introduction to various issues and then highlights a number of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, published in the last decade which, in her opinion, "accurately depict American Indian cultural traditions." She closes with a caveat: "The heightened interest in Native American culture must be tempered with concern for acquiring accurate books that show respect for Native American traditions and histories."

"It is still that way": American Indians in children's literature. (1993). Berkeley, CA: The Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California. The ACL presents an annual institute on a topic in children's literature. This 55 page bibliography is from the March 1993 Institute. It includes a separate list of "Not Recommended" titles with a brief reason for each title.

Kuipers, B. J. (1995). American Indian reference and resource books for children and young adults (2nd edition). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. The main part of this book consists of annotated lists of recommended non-fiction arranged by Dewey Decimal categories. This would be an excellent place to turn when you are faced with an out of date collection in a school or public library and wish to recommend newer, more factually accurate and culturally sensitive titles. In addition, the introductory chapters go into depth on evaluation criteria and provide lists of reference sources and selected American Indian bibliographies.

LaBonty, J. (1995). A demand for excellence in books for children. Journal of American Indian Education, 34(2), 1-9. The author summarizes this article more effectively than I can. "The purpose of this paper is to discuss, from a scholarly viewpoint, the differences between demanding excellence in books for children and censorship. Books written expressly for children are judged by the criteria for literary and artistic excellence. Books with minority characters are held to an additional set of criteria for excellence. In the case of The Indian in the Cupboard trilogy by Lynn Reid Banks, objections to her books by American Indians is supported by the aforementioned criteria and is not an example of censoring a book because someone may not like it. The paper outlines why the historical and linguistic inaccuracies and the negative stereotypes of the Iroquoian characters in these particular books make them unacceptable for either required reading in the grade schools or as a read-aloud book."

Lehman, C. (1998). Gold Rush and genocide: what are we telling children about our bloody past? School Library Journal, 44(9) , 118-119. Against the background of the multi-year celebration of the Sesquicentennial of the Gold Rush in California it is most useful to have this thoughtful review of recent as well as older titles.

Leitich Smith, Cynthia. (2002). "A Different Drum: Native American Writing." Horn Book, 78(4), 409-12. In a recent manuscript this author, who maintains an excellent children's literature website with an emphasis on Native American children's books, deleted a piece of "old-time Indian humor" because non-Indians wouldn't get it. In this article she reflects on that decision: "In the aftermath, I'm wondering if cutting that joke was the right decision. And it's left me pondering a larger question: Is there any place in children's books for writing that reflects Native idiosyncracies? Or rather, if diversity of choice matters at all, does it only apply to diversity that appeals to the mainstream audience?"

Oyate On-Line (1999). http://www.oyate.org (10 June 1999) Oyate provides reliable information about and access to publications for children and teachers about Native peoples. Of current interest is the lengthy critical review of the "Indian" entry in Scholastic's Dear America series, My Heart is on the Ground.

Reese, D. (1996). Teaching young children about Native Americans. (ERIC Digest). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 394 744). ERIC Digests are brief summaries of a topic. They provide references for further study and they are themselves available on the AskERIC web site to be freely reproduced. This one suggests specific strategies teachers can use in their classrooms to counter stereotyped portrayal of Native Americans. It also lists some practices to avoid. This is a good succinct update to Hirschfelder 1982.

Reese, D. (1998). Field Notes: "Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian!" Horn Book, 74, 636-643. The author highlights 11 of the "very few picture books that simply tell stories about contemporary Native children." This is preceded by a poignant reflection on the experience she and her daughter have had in moving from a reservation to the University of Illinois, an area with a "very low Native population."

Reese, D. (2007). Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom. Language Arts, 84(3), 245-256. After a general discussion of the portrayal of American Indians in folktale picture books, Reese analyzes two retellings, Turkey Girl by Penny Pollock and Dragonfly’s Tale by Kristina Rodanus. Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, also maintains an excellent blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

Seale, D. & Slapin, B. (2005). A broken flute : the Native experience in books for children. Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press ; Berkeley, CA : Oyate. A companion volume to Slapin & Seale 1998, this title begins with essays on specific problem areas and moves to an alphabetical section of both positive and negative reviews of specific titles. It is an essential reference work.

Short, M. ([1969?]). The American Indian: A bibliography of childrens' books, material in the Humboldt State College Elementary School Library, Humboldt State College, Arcata, California. Arcata, CA: Humboldt State College. Obviously this bibliography is out of date. I have included it to remind myself that I need to decide whether it would be appropriate to revise and/or update it or if such a list is needed in the present environment of online catalogs.

Slapin, B. & Seale, D. (1998). Through Indian eyes: The Native experience in books for children (4th ed.). Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, University of California. This is the fourth edition of a classic work originally published in 1987 under the title Books without bias: through Indian eyes. It is required reading for teachers.

Stott, J. C. (1995). Native Americans in children's literature. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press. This book is valuable for its in-depth literary analysis of specific titles and authors, e.g., The Indian in the Cupboard, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, Paul Goble, Gerald McDermott, Scott O'Dell, Jean George, as well as genres of children's literature, e.g., picture books, retellings of folk tales, novels. It includes a useful appendix on incorporating Native stories in the language arts program complete with outlines for thematic author units. Stott also writes occasional articles on Native American children's literature for American Indian Quarterly.

Recommended Books for Children about California Indian Experience


Carolyn Lehman
c 2003

** California Indian author or illustrator
* Native American author or illustrator


London, Jonathan. Fire Race. Illustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle Books; 1993. In this Karuk story, Coyote and the other animals cooperate to steal fire from the Yellow Jacket Sisters so that the world will not be cold and dark. The illustrations are noteworthy for their geographical and cultural accuracy, with one exception--Coyote is wearing a woman's basket hat. There is an afterward by Karuk linguist, Julian Lang.

Santiago, Chioro. Home to Medicine Mountain. Illustrated by **Judith Lowry. Children's Book Press; San Francisco, CA; 1998. This story from Lowry's family tells how two boys at Indian boarding school figure out how to get home so that they can be with their family for vacations and ceremonials. The expressionistic illustrations use bright colors and bold strokes to bring to life the California natural landscape and the intense longing that leads the boys home.

**Norton, Jack. Natasha Goes to the Brush Dance. CARE, 496 Gold Court, San Andreas, CA. 95249 (fax 209-754-9218); 2000. Natasha is a young Yurok girl who prepares for and participates in the traditional Brush Dance with her best friend Rose. Contemporary cultural issues are included in this self-published picture book by historian and Hupa tribal member, Jack Norton. The author's understanding of children within the culture and the use of community photographs give this book the authenticity that most commercial publications do not achieve.


Margolin, Malcolm and Yolanda Montijo. Native Ways: California Indian Stories and Memories. Heyday Books, P. O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA 94709; 1995. Traditional California Indian life is described by Indian people themselves and illustrated through photographs and drawings. Care is taken in distinguishing among the different California tribes. While the intended audience is non-Indian school children, the respectful attitude is refreshing for all. There is a very short chapter that describes recent history (from white contact on) and present day life, although references to today's Indian people are made throughout the book.

Mayfield, Thomas Jefferson. Adopted by Indians. Heyday Books. The story of Indian Summer (see below) edited and illustrated for middle graders. This personal account (recorded in the earlier part of the 20th century) is a reminiscence in old age of Mayfield's childhood experience growing up in the Choinumne Yokut community in California's San Joaquin Valley. Strictly speaking, it is a white settler narrative, but it does give a view into Choinumne daily life before the genocide and shows variety in the relationships between Native residents and white newcomers at that time. The black and white illustrations give additional information about Chinomne material culture.

Smith-Trafzer, Lee Ann and *Clifford E. Trafzer. Creation of a California Tribe. Sierra Oaks Publishing, 1370 Sierra Oaks Court, Newcastle, CA, 95658-9791 (916-663-1474); 1988. Travis and Laura and their classmates hear Maidu stories from Grandfather.

**Yamane, Linda. Weaving a California Tradition. Lerner; 1997. This excellent photo essay about a contemporary Western Mono girl who is learning the tradition of basket making is unfortunately out of print. Look for it through your library. This book is unique for its authentic and positive portrayal of the daily life of a contemporary California Indian child.

**Yamane, Linda. The Snake that Lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains and When the World Ended... Oyate; Berkeley, CA. These are small press collections of Ohlone stories re-told by an Ohlone basket maker, historian and story teller. Both books contain some discussion of storytelling and translation. They acknowledge the original tellers.


**Lang, Julian. Ararapikva: Creation Stories of the People. Heyday Books; 1994. Traditional Karuk literature, language and lifeways are the focus of this bi-lingual volume by Karuk scholar Julian Lang.

**Lowry, Chag, editor. Northwest Indigenous Gold Rush History. ITEPP; phone: 707-826-5199, 1999. Oral histories collected by HSU students tell the impact of the Gold Rush on the native people of Humboldt County. Illustrated with historic photographs.

**Margolin, Malcolm, editor. The Way We Lived: California Indian Reminiscences, Stories and Songs. Heyday Books; Berkeley, CA; 1981.

Mayfield, Thomas Jefferson. Indian Summer. Heyday; 1993. This is the original taped (and edited) reminiscence of T. J. Mayfield. Unlike Adopted by Indians, Indian Summer gives a short picture of the violence that decimated the Choinumne and shows how Mayfield hid his childhood with the Indians out of fear of white violence. Excellent primary source material on the Gold Rush era.

**Wilson, Darryl Babe. The Morning the Sun Went Down. Heyday; 1998. A moving autobiography of a Pit River (Achumawe and Atsugewi) man's childhood in the mid-20th century, this book vividly reflects the strong bonds as well as the struggles of a California Indian family in the Hat Creek/Burney area.

* **Voices through the Ages. A Native American Anthology. ITEPP; Humboldt State University; 1999. This collection of student essays about growing up Native American was published on an educational grant.

Sources for Books on California Indian Experience:

  • THE BOOKHANDLER (Call 619-472-0471 for a print catalog of children's books related to California and U.S. History and Social Studies curriculum.)
  • Heyday Books (www.heydaybooks.com)
  • Native Authors (www.nativeauthors.com)
  • Oyate (www.oyate.org) Oyate distributes books by and about American Indian people as well as publishing a few titles of their own. Their site has many resources for helping readers determine accuracy and authenticity.