Diversity in MG Lit #11 Indigenous and First Nations books
New data on the representation of diverse characters in children’s literature came out recently and once again the least represented group is Indigenous youth. I have found that a MG books in particular are in short supply as most of the books with First Nations characters are picture books. Here’s a round up of a few new books and one gem from a few years ago that will work particularly well for young readers.
This Place: 150 Years Retold Forward by Alicia Eliot, 2019
This is a collection of graphic novel short stories about the history of First Nations in Canada. I LOVE this book. It covers areas of history not mentioned in text books. The words and art are by First Nations creators. Each story comes with a short preface and a timeline to place the story in context. This was published to coincide with Canada’s 150 anniversary, so all the stories take place in Canada. But many of the issues raised happened in the US as well. For example the potlatch was outlawed in the US in the same time period and for the same reasons that it was in Canada. There is plenty here for both kids reading for pleasure and teachers looking to expand their knowledge of North American history.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, 2019
Fans of the Rick Riorden formula of hero story will love this new offering set in the American Southwest and utilizing the rich source material of Diné (also known as the Navajo) mythology. Sister and brother team Nizhoni and Mac Begay take on the inheritance of the Hero Twins, and along with their friend Davery, a biracial boy, undertake a series of heart-stopping trials. They reach the Sun God who gives them awesome weapons to defeat the monster who kidnapped their parents. It’s a fun read with a glossary in the back for the Diné words that are sprinkled through the text.
Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2019
Here’s a guide to US history through the lens of the Indigenous experience. It covers the full range from first contact through the recent pipeline protests. At 270 pages it’s more encyclopedia than narrative but it will be a valuable tool for teachers in adding context to the history they are teaching. It has been adapted from an edition for adults with real sensitivity to the needs of the young reader by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese.
1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M Bruchac, 2001
This lushly photo-illustrated book is a solid attempt to add some historical context and balance to the Thanksgiving story and is very useful guide for rethinking how the holiday is presented in the school context. Maps, timelines, recipes, and a bibliography give helpful context.
Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids by Deborah Ellis 2018
This gem of a book is a collection of interviews of Indigenous children ages 9 to18 in the US and Canada. Their stories are moving and diverse. The children are artists and athletes, able-bodied and living with disability, activists and survivors. They have much to say about living as Indigenous people today and they say it with candor and humor and sometimes sorrow. The book is photo illustrated and has an extensive list of resources in the back.
Rosanne Parry is the author of a 4 MG novels and the forthcoming A WOLF CALLED WANDER and LAST OF THE NAME. She is a bookseller at Annie Blooms and teaches in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State. She writes in a treehouse in her back yard.
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.