Monday, November 22, 2021

"Debbie, can you recommend some books about Thanksgiving?"

I get a lot of email during October and November, from people who are growing in their awareness that children's books about Thanksgiving:
  • Misrepresent historical facts
  • Stereotype Wampanoag people
  • Erase the Wampanoag people by failing to name them (defaulting to the general "Pilgrims and Indians" or "Pilgrims and Native Americans") 
Invariably, the books as a whole depict a happy gathering. Some people want "the other side of the story" or what they imagine as a "balanced" depiction of "the First Thanksgiving." 

That might seem a reasonable thing to want, but it limits our presence to the past tense. You might be surprised to learn that a lot of Native people tell stories about how this or that person was shocked to learn that we are still here. 

With their stories in mind, I offer something other than "books about Thanksgiving." I recommend books written by Native people. The topic is unimportant. What is important is that you--the adult reading the story--can use present tense verbs to talk about the author and book you have chosen to read. Using these books, you are interrupting the massive ignorance out there in so many people (the shock on learning that we're still here). 

Choose Josie Dances.  When you read it, you can say "Josie Dances is written by Denise Lajimodiere and illustrated by Angela Erdrich. Both of them are citizens of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe." 

As you read it you can point out the parts of the story that show readers it is set in the present day. You could draw attention to the page that talks about how Josie's family worked all winter long, to get her ready to dance. I especially love this page, of a woman at a sewing machine: 

There are a lot of terrific books you can use! I won't list them here. Instead, I recommend you spend time with the book lists we've got at AICL's Best Books page. It means stepping out of that quest you're on for a book about Thanksgiving. It means re-orienting yourself. It means thinking hard about the holiday itself. I think it also means that you care about your children or students and what they get from you. 

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