Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NEA's "Native American Booklist"

A friend wrote to ask me about NEA's "Native American Booklist." (Update: Wed, Oct 31, 2007... Here's the link to the booklist: Native American Booklist.)

I visited the site. There are 61 books listed, in three categories: Grades K-4, 5-8, and 9 and up. I recognize and would agree with many--but not all--of their recommendations.

Some of the books they recommend are ones I have recommended on this blog. Some examples are the books by Richard Van Camp, George Littlechild, and Joy Harjo.

Some books on NEA's list are problematic. The books by Tony Hillerman, for example, ought NOT be on such a list. They're entertaining, best selling books, but his use (misuse) of Native ways is pretty awful.

Rather than say more about the books on the list, I think it important that I recommend a reference book that provides Native perspectives.... Half of the books on the NEA list are reviewed in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Published in 2005, A Broken Flute includes reviews written by Native scholars, writers, teachers, and parents. It has---literally---hundreds of reviews.

I am a former schoolteacher. I know how little time teachers have to seek out, for example, a Native perspective on books they want to use in their classrooms. I also know that, due to the dismal support for education in this country, teachers use their own money to purchase the things they use to teach America's children. Knowing these things, I highly recommend that you spend $35 on A Broken Flute. It is available in paperback from Oyate.


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5 comments:

jpm said...

before you mentioned it, I wasn't aware of this list. It does have some gems -- and some good-sized problems.

I'd be interested to know if teachers or librarians are recommending Bruchac's "Skeleton Man" for high school and up; my impression is that it's for a younger age group.

Also, I hope someone will comment about using Tom King's "Green Grass, Running Water" with high schoolers. I've read it multiple times and find its complexity mesmerizing. I feel the same way about Leslie Marmon Silko’s "Ceremony". But both my sons had powerful negative reactions to Ceremony (sad me!!) when required to read it in high school, and I wonder how high school students in general might respond to the similar shifts in time and “dimension” (for want of a better word) that are so much a part of Green Grass, Running Water. There’s a lot of backstory needed to really “get” some of what’s going on, just as seems to be the case with Ceremony. Are the teachers who might assign GGRW prepared to … well, to prepare their non-Native students before they try to dig into the book? I would think that another King novel, Truth and Bright Water, would be more accessible (though it sure has its own complexities and ambiguities, while the humor is much darker & the sorrow and anger much closer to the surface).

jpm said...

before you mentioned it, I wasn't aware of this list. It does have some gems -- and some good-sized problems.

I'd be interested to know if teachers or librarians are recommending Bruchac's Skeleton Man for high school and up; my impression is that it's for a younger age group.

Also, I hope someone will comment about using Tom King's Green Grass, Running Water with high schoolers. I've read it multiple times and find its complexity mesmerizing. I feel the same way about Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. But both my sons had powerful negative reactions to Ceremony (sad me!!) when required to read it in high school, and I wonder how high school students in general might respond to the similar shifts in time and “dimension” (for want of a better word) that are so much a part of Green Grass, Running Water. There’s a lot of backstory needed to really “get” some of what’s going on, just as seems to be the case with Ceremony. Are the teachers who might assign GGRW prepared to … well, to prepare their non-Native students before they try to dig into the book? I would think that another King novel, Truth and Bright Water, would be more accessible (though it sure has its own complexities and ambiguities, while the humor is much darker & the sorrow and anger much closer to the surface).

k8 said...

I was a teaching assistant in a class that used Green Grass, Running Water (side note: postdoc fellow Tol was the lecturer). If I remember correctly, I had to spend almost as much time unpacking all of the Melville references for students so that they could "get" some of the jokes as the rest of the backstory/issues. We did read it later in the semester, though, so certain culturally relevant aspects of the text had been addressed earlier in the semester. This isn't to say that students completely understood and accepted it, but they had been introduced to it.

In many ways, though, I think that facing texts that radically challenge our expectations is good for us. Sure, it creates a greater teaching challenge, but it's worth it. I like it when my students' are disturbed or made uncomfortable by any text. It gives us so much to talk about.

jpm said...

Thanks, K8, for relaying your experience teaching GG/RW! Wish I could have been there. Those Melville references were pretty prominent! I agree that it is good to encounter texts that challenge one's expectations. My concern was that my sons, who had been above-grade-level avid readers for years both took such an active dislike to Ceremony, which I had found to be such a well-told, if complex, story. They were somewhat younger and less experienced than the students you encountered in Tol's course. Maybe their teacher (a thoughtful, relatively progressive guy) needed you there to help students unpack some of it. ;-) I suppose that mainly what I was sayig was that even when a book is selected for a list like the NEA's (and even if we like the book a lot) it takes some kind of specialness sometimes to enable students in high school English classes to come around to appreciation -- and in college classes, too.

k8 said...

The novel was assigned at the end of the semester, so students already were introduced to non-linear narratives. That isn't to say that they were comfortable with them, but it helped.

High school really is a completely different animal. With all of the standardized testing requirements, I don't know how teachers can find time to deal with any novel in depth, let alone one that might come from a non-European cultural tradition (that is, one students probably aren't as familiar with).