Image Credit: American Indians in Children’s Literature
American Indians in Children’s Literature
I first came across Debbie’s work several months ago while searching for information about Native American stereotypes. A search led me to her site, Images of Indians in Children’s Books, which contains some interesting stereotypical images and the stories behind them. This really intrigued me because I had been studying similar images from Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. When I found Debbie’s Children’s Lit site, it was really helpful to hear such in depth critiques and especially on a topic that isn’t widely accessible, online or off. I hope you’ll stop by and check out all of the resources and articles that Debbie has put together and continue to learn more about both common stereotypes and useful resources for correcting those misrepresentations. I’m sure the interview and links below will inspire you to learn more and dig deeper into this issue, as they have for me. Also tune in to the Is That Your Child? podcast on Thursday, November 17th at 7:30 pm for Michelle’s LIVE audio interview with Debbie.
What motivated you start American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) and what do you hope to achieve?
As an academic, I was required to write chapters and articles that would appear in the sorts of places that would get me tenured at a Research I university. I knew, however, that for teachers and librarians, time is precious, and I also knew that most of what teachers buy in terms of resources comes out of their own pocket. To meet their needs, I started sharing my research via the blog.
Through my work on the blog, I hope to help people find better materials on American Indians. I also hope they’ll set aside the old, romantic, classic, and popular materials that inaccurately portray who we were, and who we are.
What have you learned from your experience of writing on AICL? What are your goals for the future or what changes and/or additions would you like to see for AICL?
I’ve learned that people will make better choices if they have the information to make those better choices. The depth of resistance to change is something else I’ve learned. You’ll see a lot of comments, for example, to my critique of TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR…. Teachers say they’re going to use it anyway. They take time to tell me they’re going to ignore what I provide. That seems kind of arrogant and mean spirited, and, unprofessional, too!
AICL will evolve into a website. Right now it is a blog, and I’ve manipulated the template as much as I can in order to make it look more like a resource than a blog. There is a certain prejudice against blogs. They aren’t taken as seriously as websites. And, a lot of schools have filters that block librarians from looking at blogs while at work. So—it will evolve into a website in the next year.
I’ve been reading AICL for a while, but I still have so much to catch up on. What articles would you recommend for those who want to gain a better understanding of topics you approach?
Actually, I’m going to turn that back on you! What pages have you found to be most useful? I’d love to know what you think your readers will benefit most from reading.
Ok, I’ll take that challenge and here are a few links to posts that I think offer some great learning opportunities. There is definitely a lot more to explore, but I hope this short list will help readers to see some of what is available on your site and from other online resources that you’ve contributed to.
- Stereotypes, Children’s Books, and the Mental Health and Well Being of ALL Children
- Review of Ann Rinaldi’s MY HEART IS ON THE GROUND
- Where is your copy of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE?
- Indigenizing Children’s Literature
- Native Americans and Thanksgiving
- American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving
- “Focus On” column at School Library Journal (Nov 2008)
- BASIC SKILLS CAUCASIAN AMERICAN WORKBOOK, by Beverly Slapin and Annie Esposito
- Children’s books and American Indians & Liz Reese’s MSA Program at Uni High
- Tag – Resource for Teachers
- Archives - A sample of some Lit reviews
Resources from Debbie elsewhere on the web:
- Teaching Young Children about Native Americans
- A Native Blogger in Pursuit of Educating About American Indians
- Goals for writing and reviewing books with Native American themes
- Proceed with Caution: Using NativeAmerican Folktales in the Classroom
- Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls
On AICL, you publish analyses of American Indian representations in children’s books, lesson plans, films, etc. What are the most common misrepresentations that you’ve come across and what can we (authors and/or consumers) do to prevent these types of depictions from arising again and again?
The lack of knowledge that American Indians are part of the present day, that we are sovereign nations, and that there are significant concepts such as “federally recognized” and “tribally enrolled.”
What advice would you offer to those who are teaching history and cultures of American Indians in public school settings? Besides AICL, what resources are available to public school teachers and professors?
I link to a lot of resources. I think teachers and librarians will be able to remember my site and look to it for resources. With November as “Native American Month” a lot of teachers are looking for materials to use. They’ll find a lot at my site, but I also encourage them to visit websites of tribal nations rather than mine or information from Encyclopedia Britannica. A tribe web site is a primary source, while an encyclopedia is secondary (if that).
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
The traditional clothes we wear are not costumes. Just like a prayer shawl is not a costume. The clothes we wear are specific to our own tribal nations. I don’t, for example, wear the traditional attire of the Plains people.
Last, don’t do Thanksgiving reenactments with young children! Doing that glosses over a long history of tension between American Indian Nations and European ones that came here.
Debbie Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. A former elementary school teacher, she taught American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois prior to beginning work on a Master’s Degree in Library Science at San Jose State University. Her articles are published in Horn Book, School Library Journal, and books about children’s literature.
Read her critiques and learn more about AICL:
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