Native American Heritage Month

Debbie Reese is my blogging heroine, my blogging role model.  If there’s one blog I wish my blog could be like, it’s Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature.  She was the model for what I wanted this blog to be like.  She says things people don’t always want to hear, whether it’s about Little House on the Prairie or Neil Gaiman.  She asks readers, librarians, and teachers to think critically about the messages in books and how these messages shape children and young adults and our cultural perceptions and conversations.  She does this in an uncompromising and personal manner that is also intellectual and incisive.  She sticks to her principles, challenges the status quo, and expects people to engage in informed debate.

Like I said: heroine.

Back in July, Debbie posted some recommendation lists for Elementary, Middle, and High school libraries.  I was not only happy to get these lists to help with my collection development, but knew I wanted to eventually use them in a display.

November turned out to be the perfect month.  Not only was it chance to put out another message about THE LESSONS OF THANKSGIVING (which, really, you’d think the “lessons of Thanksgiving” would be more centered around genocide and less centered around, say, turkey) to my patrons, but it was also Native American Heritage Month.  It was a perfect opportunity.

I used the main, lighted display case on our floor.  It’s hard to miss when you’re on our floor at all, you essentially pass it one way or another.  Using Debbie’s elementary list (and some other titles and authors in our collection, including a book that won an American Indian Youth Literature Award, given out by the American Indian Library Association, an ALA division) I decided to make a display featuring primarily picture books, since we all know those are ultra-pleasing for display.

I wanted to not only feature the books but make note of the fact it was Native American Heritage Month and that all the featured authors were Native writers, which is SO IMPORTANT.  There’s not a lot of other decoration in the case, partially because I wanted to avoid both generic and stereotypical “Indian” images and I was being wary of cultural appropriation.  Also, I wanted to fit as many books as possible, which took up display space. (which was THE POINT.)

Above each book, I made a small text box that mentioned what tribe each author/illustrator belonged to.  Onto pictures!  Click to make them bigger, of course.

Here’s the whole case:

And here’s the sign I created for the inside of the case:

Text: November is Native American Heritage Month!  Nationally November is set aside to celebrate and honor the contributions and accomplishments of the first Americans.  YOU can celebrate by sharing stories written and illustrated by Native people from tribes all over North America, by learning about their tribes, and by finding out more about the lives of Native children living in America today.  What will YOU learn?

And here are some close ups:

On this shelf: Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell, When Turtle Grew Feathers by Tim Tingle, and Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin

On this shelf: Navajo by Shonto Begay, Raccoon’s Last Race by Joseph and James Bruchac, and For a Girl Becoming by Joy Harjo

On this shelf: Sky Sisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose and  Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird by Joe Medicine Crow

On the bottom of the case are the four titles from My World: Young Native Americans Today. (a series which every library should own!)  The titles are: Meet Mindy: A Native Girl from the Southwest, Meet Lydia: A Native Girl from Southeast Alaska, Meet Naiche: A Native Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area, and (the award winner!) Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma.  In between them is one of my favorite titles: Do All Indians Live in Tipis? Questions & Answers from the National Museum of the American IndianAll of these titles are published by the NMAI.

I was really quite pleased with the display.

Little did I suspect that November would also be a time that teachers were readying units on Native Americans.  Literally less than two hours after I put the display in, a teacher came to the desk and asked for three of the titles out of the case!  She wanted Raccoon’s Last Race, When Turtle Grew Feathers, and Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird.  Her checking these books out gave me a chance to put MORE books in.  I replaced those titles with Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitch Smith, (which had just been returned from another patron that day!) Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac, and How Raven Stole Sun by Maria Williams.

Just last week, another teacher came and complimented the display and then checked out Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin.  I had a chance to talk to her about that and let her know that at Tilbury House website, you can listen to/download Sockabasin read the story in Passamaquoddy.  She was especially excited to hear that and told me she was going to use it in her class of first graders.

The idea that a class full of  small children in New Mexico will not just hear a traditional Passamaquoddy story passed down to Allen Sockabasin from his mother, but actually hear the Passamaquoddy language – I mean, aren’t stories like that the reason you wanted to be a librarian?  They sure are for me.

So, thanks to Debbie for always leading by example and inspiring me to try something at my library that not only promoted and highlighted the diversity of my collection but also (hopefully) gave my patrons something new to think about, which is my favorite thing of all.

That’s something to be truly thankful for.

2 thoughts on “Native American Heritage Month

  1. I have loved what I’ve read on your blog! Keep up the good work- I know how hard it is to keep posting on a regular basis, but please keep it up! My dream is to be a librarian- YA and/or Children’s. Keep it up and I look forward to reading more!

  2. I’m so behind on your blog. I’m wondering about the ways in which your library’s geographic and social location influenced your selection criteria for the case. It’s certainly important to be encouraging the children in Los Alamos to be thinking about native peoples from around our country (I’ll reluctantly admit that I sometimes find myself thinking of native cultures who aren’t from the Southwest as somehow less interesting or important than the ones in our region). But I also think that emphasizing Pueblo and Dinee/Navajo cultures and stories might in some ways de-exoticize them particularly and really all native cultures generally. Native cultures don’t only exist thousands of miles away in New England where you’ve maybe never been or really thought about, but Santa Clara Pueblo is like 20 minutes away from where YOU live. Hmmm.

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