Saturday, September 04, 2021

What a Difference Thirty Years of Hard Work Makes

What a Difference Thirty* Years of Hard Work Makes
by Debbie Reese 

What did the children's books published in 1990--the ones about Native people--look like? How do they compare to the ones published in 2020? 

To get an answer, I did two advanced searches in WorldCat. I used "Indians of North America" as the keyword in both. I narrowed the search as follows:
Year: 1990 (for the second search, I used 2020)
Audience: juvenile
Content: fiction

The total hits for the 1990 search was 122; for the 2020 search, it was 105.  But look at the first ten hits in each search!

Crow and Weasel by Barry Holstun Lopez
The Legend of Jimmy Spoon by Kristiana Gregory
Brother Moose by Betty Levin
Sing for a Gentle Rain by J. Alison James
Ghost Cave by Barbara A. Steiner
Salcott, the Indian Boy by Melinda Eldridge
Big Thunder Magic by Craig Strete
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
Nessa's Fish by Nancy Luenn
Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend by Terri Cohlene

The Only Good Indians: A Novel by Stephen Graham Jones
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
The Brave by James Bird
The Barren Grounds by David Robertson
Call Me Floy by Joanna Cooke
The Train by Jodie Callaghan
The Range Eternal by Louise Erdrich
Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas
Molly of Denali: Berry Itchy Day by WGBH Educational Foundation
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

I don't think a single one of the books in 1990 are by a Native writer. In 2020, most of them are by Native writers (Kirkpatrick Hill is not Native)! Some are by major publishers; some aren't. Some are by well-known writers, and some are not. I'm not doing any analysis beyond those observations (I don't recommend, for example, The Brave), and I'm not going to look at the other hundred books in each search. (Note: I don't know why The Only Good Indians is on the juvenile list. That novel is not meant for children or teens.)

I'm just noting what a difference thirty years of hard work makes! If you are one of the people who pushed back on stereotypes and what we call, today, the whiteness of children's literature--either in daily work with your colleagues or in your writing--thank you! If you asked for books by Native writers, thank you!

It can be difficult to push back, but I think this brief comparison tells us a lot. It makes a difference. 

*Oops! The first draft of this post had "twenty" in the title.