American Indian Youth Literature Awards

Source: John Amundsen
American Library Association
at Cynsations

The American Indian Library Association has selected The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier; Free Throw and Triple Threat, both by Jacqueline Guest; and Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School by Adam Fortunate Eagle, as recipients of the fourth American Indian Youth Literature Awards.

The awards were announced at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, held Jan. 20 to Jan. 24 in Dallas, and will be presented at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, Calif.; June 21 to June 26.

The American Indian Youth Literature Awards were created to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations and Native Hawaiians. The winning and honor titles authentically convey the past and present of the American Indian experience. The awards are given in three categories—Picture Book, Middle School and Young Adult.

“We hope that these awards will raise the visibility of quality works by American Indian authors and artists,” said AILA President Sandy Littletree, “These awards help librarians, teachers and parents select quality books by and about Native people, titles that are accurate, non-stereotypical and honor the fullness of Native lives.”

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier and published by Holiday House in 2011 won the Picture Book award.

Sneve recalls a Christmas from her early 20th-century South Dakota childhood when her family awaited “Theast” boxes of clothing from New England, a common experience on western reservations yet today. Virginia learns lessons of patience, sharing, gratitude and privilege as she helps her parents sort the clothes for others in the reservation community when the boxes arrive at her father’s church just in time for Christmas. Beier’s warm, wintry and realistic illustrations of the Dakota reservation community and their own version of Christmas make this a beautiful book to be read year round.

Four titles were selected as Honor Books in the Picture Book category, including:

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson and published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2010;

Kohala Kuamo’o: Nae’ole’s Race to Save a King by Kekauleleana’ole Kawai’ae’a, illustrated by Aaron Kawai’ae’a, story by Walter and Luana Kawai’ae’a and published by Kamehameha Publishing in 2010;

Mohala Mai ‘O Hau = How Hau Became Hau’ula by Robert Lono ‘Ikuwa, pictures by Matthew Kawika Ortiz and published by Kamehameha Publishing in 2010; and…

I See Me by Margaret Manuel by Margaret Manuel and published by Theytus Books in 2009.

Free Throw (2011) and Triple Threat (2011), both by Jacqueline Guest and published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd. won the Middle Grades award.

These companion titles feature 13-year-old Matt Eagletail, a Tsuu T’ina basketball player coping with a new (non-Native) stepdad and five new stepsisters – the oldest of whom, 12-year-old Jazz, is also a basketball player. On top of that, he and his mother move with his new stepfamily to a town just off his reserve in Alberta, Canada, and Matt has to go to a new school and decide whether to try out for his new middle school basketball team. Although basketball fans will root for Matt, even non-sports fans will enjoy Matt’s adjustments with his new family and school, familiar issues of sibling rivalry, blending families, pride in his First Nations heritage and finding new friends via sports Internet chat rooms, who later come to visit from the U.S.

Two titles were selected as Honor Books in the Middle Grades category, including:

Jordin Tootoo: The Highs and Lows in the Journey of the First Inuit to Play in the NHL by Melanie Florence and published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd. (2011); and

Awesiinyensag: Dibaajimowinan Ji-Gikinoo’amaageng by Anton Treuer et al. and published by Wiigwaas Press in 2010.

Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School by Adam Fortunate Eagle and published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2010 won the Young Adult award.

Books and news stories about the demeaning experiences of indigenous children in Indian boarding schools and First Nations residential schools have been increasingly common.

Adam Fortunate Eagle, an Ojibwe activist and boarding school survivor, offers a different perspective on the boarding school experience. Told in the first person as if he was currently an elementary school student, but with an adult’s hindsight, Fortunate Eagle offers a rollickingly funny, realistic, warm and sensitive memoir of his and his brothers’ school days at Pipestone Indian Boarding School in Minnesota from 1935-1945. This is a wonderful book that pulls no punches but is also well-rounded and entertaining and great for reading aloud.

One title was named as an Honor Book in the Young Adult category:

Native Defenders of the Environment and other titles in the Native Trailblazers series by Victor Schilling and published by 7th Generation (2011).

Cynsational Notes

Guest Post: Illustrator Ellen Beier on The Christmas Coat from Cynsations. Peek: “Having gathered more material than could fit in the 32-page book, I set up a blog/website celebrating The Christmas Coat with recipes, coloring pages, meet the author and illustrator, and the making of the book (with more activities to come).”

Check out the English language and Hawaiian language versions of the book trailer for Mohala Mai ‘O Hau = How Hau Became Hau’ula.