Contemporary Native Literature

On November 12th, I attended a webinar hosted by Lee & Low Books about contemporary Native American children’s literature and educational resources. The guest speakers were Traci Sorell, author of Indian No More, and Carla Messinger, author of When the Shadbush Blooms. For the first part of the webinar, Sorell and Messinger talked about the meaning behind their books. Sorell’s book Indian No More is based on a true story about a 10 year old Umpqua girl and her family being forced to relocate to a different reservation after their tribal rights are terminated in the 1950s. Messinger’s book When the Shadbush Blooms discusses the past and present lives of the Lenape people. When discussing the importance of her book, Messinger provided a shocking statistic showing how 40 percent of Americans think that Native Americans do not exist or are extinct. For this very reason, Sorell and Messinger believe it is important to read children’s books that highlight the present lives of Native people.

During the second part of the webinar, Sorell and Messinger gave some tips on what to look for in Native literature. As mentioned previously, books should show that Native people are real people who are living and tie in elements to show how they are just like you. Next, you should examine the connection between the author and illustrator to the subject matter. If the author or illustrator is not Native American or not part of a specific tribe, then the story they tell may not portray the culture and traditions of a certain nation or tribe accurately. To avoid this issue, Sorell and Messinger recommend purchasing and reading #ownvoice books, which are books written by authors from underrepresented groups about their own experiences. Another important element to look for is to make sure that the Native characters in the books you read reflect reality and not just stereotypes.

For the last part of the webinar, resources for Native American educational content were provided. Messinger has a website that celebrates Lenape culture and contributions of Native Americans. She provides a variety of activities for children and resources for teachers and parents. On the teachers and parents resources page, there are several articles that address topics like why having Native people as mascots is not okay and culturally responsive curriculum. It should be noted that Lee & Low Books also provides teacher’s guides for all of their books, including teacher’s guides for When the Shadbush Blooms and Indian No More. Another resource to look into is the American Indian Library Association, which is a nonprofit organization that library services and programs and gives out literature awards to honor the writing and illustrations of Native Americans and Indigenous people of North America. 

If you would like to view this webinar, please click here.




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