Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Peoples in November: Kid Lit Heroes by Jan Godown Annino

First Peoples in November: Kid Lit Heroes by Jan Godown Annino

If you are around young readers who could benefit from some myth-busting about the heritage & culture of North America’s first peoples – and isn’t that a lot of kiddos? - I’ve found some accessible, expert resources.

The creators of the four sites here deserve hero status for more than one reason.

Notably, in their forging ahead with an important unsung job, the pushback sent their way surprised me when I first came across it in researching a book for kiddos. Since it’s thought that there are thousands of misconceptions about the hundreds of Native tribes in the Americas, it’s a bit of a gulp, to grasp why some folks, even writers intent in interpreting a First Peoples story for students, don’t want to catch up to speed.

Here then, I would like share a selection of some of the sturdy groups & individuals who tirelessly make the effort to send out a nuanced, more complete, message of North American tribes’ culture & history.


Our family’s favorite history museum.

Not just because of the sublime recipes & meals we savor in front of the mesmerizing waterfall wall at its main Washington, D.C. location. But it’s true that sometimes we head to the cafeteria first, before visiting galleries in this building that is itself a work of art.

I treasure the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for its celebration of living artists, for a vibrant sense of humor & an emphasis on how enrolled tribe members live in the moment, today. As a collections buff, the pull-out drawers of artifacts are also jaw-dropping.

And through the years we feel enriched from listening to Kevin Gover (Pawnee), the esteemed director, speak in the museum auditorium & also in the entry atrium as a rainbow pierced through to us from a sky window. He frequently says that he hopes the museum is a fun place for children to visit. From our experience, it is.

Your older students who are artists and members of Tribes should know about NMAI opportunities.

If you have time to take away one lesson from the museum website, where collections are available to view online, or from a visit in person, I hope it is that every library and school reference shelf deserves to hold the NMAI title, DO ALL INDIANS LIVE IN TIPIS?

“Are dream catchers an authentic tradition?”

“Do successful casino tribes help out poor tribes?”

“What is a Tom-Tom drum?”

“Why is there still poverty on some reservations?”

This isn’t a book that shies away from interesting questions. Or from a chuckle.

Your students’ reports will be enhanced by their reading of this book's evocative Qs and As. And your responses in family conversations or class discussions will shine as a result of lessons gleaned. NMAI is a Smithsonian-affiliate & located in N.Y.C. , with research & other materials in suburban Washington, D.C. & also it offer its most prominent, cliff-suggesting profile, on Our Nation’s Lovely Mall close to the U.S. Capitol.


An affiliate of the American Library Association, this group is most publicly known for deciding the annual American Indian Youth Literature Award.

So of course that list is a guide to collection building for your home shelf or school or public library. The site also offers valuable research links. Also, you may want to let any tribe-affiliated student or adult you know, who is thinking about library service, about this site’s scholarship links and student membership opportunities with the American Indian Library Association.


Dr. Debbie Reese may be the most important children’s literature specialist critically writing today on kids’ books that deal with depictions of tribe history, culture, & individual tribes or members’ characteristics & similar topics. Her site is American Indians in Children's Literature.

Stories written for young readers by non-Natives are usually intended to supply information by way of telling an entertaining story. Dr. Reese shares how easy it is to misrepresent, misinterpret or simplify to the point of silliness, complex details. Her site offers links to quality literature from valued primary sources, that is, created by literary & visual artists who are enrolled members of Tribes or who have proven deep connections to the topics, such as longtime residency with tribal peoples.

I felt fortunate to have met Dr. Reese (Nambe Pueblo, Upper Village/Yates Family) at an American Library Association national conference, where we were each appreciating a storytelling panel hosted by noted author Tim Tingle (Choctaw).


In writing for children about Seminole Tribe of Florida elected leader Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, who was also a nurse, newspaper editor, a memoirist & a visual artist working in fabric/textiles, who had to wrestle alligators to help provide for her family, I wanted to attend one of Oyate’s workshops. But they were held in California & I couldn’t get there from way east in Florida. However, I was greatly benefited by reading reference books they created or endorsed. If you are in easy distance of an Oyate presentation, lucky you. In the meantime we can all visit the comprehensive titles list & website & order books from Oyate. Keep in mind that unlike AICH, this site is about literature for all ages, so for example, although it lists many picture books, many other books listed are suitable for adults.

This non-profit organization, co-founded by the poet and librarian Doris Seale (Santee/Cree/Abenaki),  provides important references, such as THANKSGIVING, A NATIVE PERSPECTIVE and also, HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE, A GUIDE TO EVALUATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR ANTI-INDIAN BIAS.

Oyate also offers important music CD's.

Here is a literacy poster you may like:

image copyright Tulsa City-County Library, through the courtesy
of the blog, American Indians in Children's Literature/Dr. Debbie Reese

If today's topic endures with you as it does with me, you may further appreciate knowing:
TALENTED author Cynthia Leitich Smith's list of recommended picture books from Tribe authors or illustrators, at a site where many other great American Indian/Native American links are listed. I especially like her picture book, JINGLE DANCER.
POEMS resources, to share with young students, that are written by First Peoples/American Indian
authors, starting with a few titles at my Bookseedstudio site.


  1. Jan: I am thankful to learn new information from your excellent post today. Your description of the National Museum of American Indians, makes me want to take a field trip! Do All Indians Live in Tipis? is a book I must read. What a great opportunity for you to meet Dr. Reese. Hopefully, someday you can attend an Oyate workshop. Finally, I like the Literacy Poster that you created. ~Suzy

    1. Appreciations to you, Suzy, for this great comment.

  2. Great info to know. I'd love to take my kids to that museum on a field trip.

    1. Thank you Tina. We all hope you reach this way, some day soon!

  3. Love that DC museum! This is such an important post, Jan. I am sharing this w/ several FB groups. TY.

    1. Glad you are a visitor at the National Museum of the American Indian, Kathy. And, appreciations for your sharing these resources.
      Thanks for your lovely comments.

  4. #1 on my list for my next trip to DC.