Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Part 1: I'm Thankful for Debbie Reese

...and Others Engaging in Scholarship on American Indians in Children's Literature

I'm thankful for Debbie Reese and her amazing blog titled "American Indians in Children's Literature." I'm thankful that Reese doesn't mind walking into Barnes and Noble to do a critical assessment of Thanksgiving children's literature. I'm thankful that Reese published an article in Indian Country Today titled "Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children's Books that Set the Record Straight," effectively highlighting some beautiful children's lit and offering them up as an "antidote" to the stereotypical depictions of American Indians in all too many Thanksgiving books for children. I'm thankful that Reese published another article in School Library Journal titled "Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians."

I'm thankful that Indian Country Today is discussing many ways in which children's literature is important in fighting stereotypes and oppression of American Indians. I'm thankful that Indian Country Today published this article titled "Native American Heritage Month: Children’s Books for Your Black Friday Shopping List," which is a great reference for more children's book "antidotes." I'm thankful that Indian Country Today published the article "Montana's Institutional Racism Behind Calls to Ban Alexie's Book." I'm thankful that this article's author Adrian Jawort reports that Sherman Alexie's award-winning YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was not banned. I'm thankful that Jawort asserts that students should have the opportunity to decide for themselves if Alexie's novel is relevant. I'm thankful that Jawort observes that much violence in literature taught to young adults in schools is not senseless, but educational, personal, and emotional; in the example he presents (Fools Crow by James Welch), the controversial literature is aptly educational about the history of violence against American Indians in the region.

I'm thankful that Sherman Alexie himself has spoken up about the availability of his books in schools, writing that the books banned in Arizona last year have now become "sacred documents."

I'm thankful that there are others compiling thoughtful lists of children's books about the American Indian experience, such as this group of parents from Red Lake Nation in Minnesota.

I'm thankful that the theme of the Children's Literature Association Conference in June next year is "Diverging Diversities," asking for papers that "consider the diversification of the genre--and its limits--both within the U.S. and internationally." I'm thankful that this theme creates an outstanding venue for scholars to talk about American Indians in children's literature. I'm thankful that the ChLA has created a sponsored panel titled "Authenticity, Artifacts, and Publishing Patterns in Multicultural Texts," which probes scholars to ask, "Are texts considered 'authentic' if they do not conform to common expectations regarding the representation of minority or foreign cultures? Do mainstream perceptions of 'authenticity' realistically represent 'other' cultural points of view? Does referencing quotidian cultural behaviors, which would not be noted by members of the culture itself, reflect a tendency to treat other cultures as anthropological subjects?"

I'm thankful that November is Native American Heritage Month. I really am thankful for this! It's problematic: Like Debbie Reese has said, teaching about any group shouldn't be relegated to one specific time of year. In addition, a friend of mine, who feels strongly about the Thanksgiving holiday glossing over the painful history of American Indians, said he found it insulting that Native American Heritage Month was in the same month as this controversial holiday. These are both great points! However, for children's literature especially, when we reinscribe the month of November as a month to learn about American Indians we have an opportunity to overturn and overtake stereotypical and harmful representations of American Indians in much mainstream Thanksgiving literature.

Visit the blog tomorrow and Thursday for parts 2 and 3.


  1. Knowing that the work I do on children's books is useful to others is very gratifying. Thank you, Kelsey!

  2. I am thankful for American Indians In Children's Literature also for Dr. Debbie Reese.

    Thank you for all these November & Thanksgiving posts.