Native American Themes
in Children's & YA Books

introduction

Cynthia is a member of the Muscogee-Creek tribe.Overall, children's and young adult books with Native American Indian characters and themes have improved dramatically since I was a kid. We have a lot more to pick from than the Sacajewea and Pocahontas biographies, the tales of "savagery" on the Prairie.

Looking at those writers who've focused a significant portion of their work in this area, Native authors as well as non-Native authors with strong community ties (or those who did their homework), it's clear that there are some quality books now available.

However, stereotyped depictions persist. Contemporary settings are in short supply (and almost exclusively targeted at picture book readers). Certain well-known Nations like the Navajo (Diné) and Cherokee are highlighted while others don't appear to exist. Groups like Urban Indians are almost ignored. Few biographies focus on Native people known for their service to their own communities.

And Native authors and illustrators are represented in very low numbers (factoring out of the numberous books by Abenaki author-poet Joseph Bruchac, community representation is slight, especially in trade books).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Rain Is Not My Indian Name
by Cynthia Leitich Smith;
0-688-17397-7 (trade)
0-06-029504-X (library)

For example, I recently noticed a book about Muscogee Creeks at my local branch library. Flipping to the last chapter, I was surprised to learn that the author had stated the Creek Nation no longer exists — especially given that it is one of today's largest Indian Nations. The book had been on the shelves for some thirty years, and it was the only resource available there to children researching the tribe.

Today, I opened a major publisher's fall catalog and cringed. Native American creation stories were marketed boldly as "mythology" on one page. The Christmas story was marketed as "fact" on another. Granted, there are Christian Indians, just as there are Native people of various religious beliefs. Each should be respected. But traditional Native religions are still practiced by many tribal members.  Would a publisher market Christian or Jewish beliefs as "myths"? I hope not. (This paragraph added 07/07/01).

These are big problems, but we're not helpless in dealing with them.

What We Can Do

This is one of several pages on this site related to Native American Indian children's books. Please follow the links in the sidebar to visit the  others.

A brief note on the terms "Native American," "American Indian" etc. I have spoken with members of the greater Indian community(ies) who have strong feelings in favor of certain language as well as with people who just don't care. Because the purpose of this web site is to offer information to a wide audience, both internal and external, about related children's books, we are currently employing both. This way folks looking on the web under one or the other will still find this information.