Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I Advocate for Books by Native Writers and Illustrators/Gallery of Native Writers and Illustrators

Editor's Note: Scroll down to see the photo gallery of Native writers and illustrators.

I spent an hour today in a twitter chat hosted by First Book. The chat was part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

In the chat I advocated for authors who are Native. 

Right away--as usual--a white writer posed a question about white writers, asking the First Read host if authorship of a book matters.

Not surprisingly, First Book said that authorship does not matter. Diversity of characters is what they're after. That's the answer you get from, I'd guess, every publisher.

I persisted, though, because I do think it matters. Here's why:

Just about every book a kid picks up has white people in it. And, just about every book is written and illustrated by a white author or illustrator. For literally hundreds of years, white kids have seen themselves reflected in the books they read, and they've had the chance to see people who look like them as writers and illustrators of those books. By default, they've been able to see a possible-self. By default, they could imagine themselves as the writer or illustrator of that book. It may not have been a conscious thing, but it was the norm. The default. The air they breathe. Every day.

I want that for Native kids. I want them to see books written and illustrated by people who look like them. I want them to be able to think "Hmmm... I could be a writer, too, just like Cynthia Leitich Smith!" or "Hey! I could be an illustrator, too, just like S. D. Nelson!"

I understand that white authors and illustrators feel threatened by my advocacy, but my advocacy is for Native children who deserve the same affirmations white kids get all the time. 

It is also important that kids who aren't Native see books written and illustrated by Native people. Why? Because there are far too many people who think we no longer exist. There are far too many people that think we were primitive people who grunted and ran around half naked. When reading or booktalking a book written by or illustrated by a Native person, the parent/teacher/librarian can say "Eric Gansworth is Onondaga." That two-letter word, IS, is a powerful one and communicates a great deal to kids. That parent/teacher/librarian can then say "The office for the Onondaga Nation is in New York."

I'm closing this post with a tribute to Native writers and illustrators of books I've recommended on AICL. That tribute is photos of them. They are in no particular order. I'll keep adding to this gallery, because I don't have time right now to be comprehensive. I'll do my best, and I welcome you to write to me to let me know to add someone I've missed. Each person's tribe is beneath their name. If there are errors, I apologize, and please let me know.

American Indians in Children's Literature
A Gallery of Native Writers and Illustrators

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Muscogee Creek
Image source: Cynsations

Michael Lacapa
Apache, Hopi
Image source: Northern Arizona Book Festival

Louise Erdrich
Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Image source:

Eric Gansworth
Image source: Milkweed

Nicola I. Campbell
Nlel7kepmx, Nsilx and Metis
Image source: The Word on the Street

Tim Tingle
Image source: My Very Own Book

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Lakota Sioux
Image source: Native Daughters

Richard Van Camp
Image Source: Zimbio

Arigon Starr
Image source: Starrwatcher Online

S.D. Nelson
Standing Rock Sioux

Beverly Blacksheep

Lee DeCora Francis, and her boys

Simon Ortiz

Cheryl Savageau

Donald Uluadluak

Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Nishnawbe Ojibwe

Daniel Wilson

Joy Harjo

Shonto Begay

Cheryl Minnema
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Wesley Ballinger
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Luci Tapahonso

Greg Rodgers

Marcie Rendon
White Earth Anishinabe

Ofelia Zepeda
Tohono O'Odham

N. Scott Momaday

Laura Tohe

Allan Sockabasin

Julie Flett

Richard Wagamese
Wabasseemoong Ojibway

Leslie Marmon Silko

Heid E. Erdrich
Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Deborah Miranda

Anton Trueur

John Rombough
Chipewyan Dene
James Welch
Blackfeet/Gros Ventre

Tomson Highway

George Littlechild
Plains Cree


kuwisdelu said...

Hi Debbie,

I'm an aspiring Zuni writer, and just recently discovered your blog. Thank you for your advocacy of Native writers, and all of your excellent reviews. Thanks to you, I now know I have so much reading material to catch up on. Maybe if I'd grown up reading more books written by authors like me, it wouldn't have taken me twenty years to be brave enough to start writing about my own experiences and heritage instead of the ambiguously white narrators that filled my childhood. I look forward to reading through your recommendations, and I'm excited about this campaign.

Thank you,

Ashley LaMar said...

This is great. I saw the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag trending and I couldn't agree more. Children need to be able to relate to authors, illustrators, editors and characters. It shows the possibilities for their lives.

Razzberry Jam said...


I have a small book website dedicated to science fiction and fantasy for teens and young adults of Color. While my focus is on providing books with diverse main characters and I don't have a problem with respectful White authors, I 100% agree that children should see authors and illustrators that share their background.

I would be grateful for suggestions of science fiction and fantasy books to add to my website, I'm always looking (and usually behind) to add more good books for our kids. My age range is 10ish to 25ish, and yes, I put that with the listings, along with parental warnings.

And if you don't mind, I'm going to add your blog to my resources page. Great job, great words, and keep up the good work!!

Ruth de Jauregui

Ann Leviton said...

I’m trying to find a book my mother bought me in the 1950’s. I’m now 68 years young. I loved horses and what I remember about the book was the setting in the Southwest featuring a young Native American Indian Boy, his horse which runs off and has an encounter with a mountain lion. It was beautifully illustrated! I remember a canyon, a rain storm. I don’t know the name of the book, or the author or illustrator. But it must have been published in the 1940s or 1950s. Any help you can provide in tracking down this book would be greatly appreciated.