Sunday, November 27, 2022



Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, 
Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present

Written by Adrienne Keene (Cherokee)
Illustrated by Ciara Sana (Chamora)
Published by Ten Speed Press
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza

I am so happy to have this book, which does even more than its cover indicates. In a world where Native people still are so frequently treated as invisible, or as stereotypes, Adrienne Keene (co-host of the podcast All My Relations) provides realistic, positive pictures of Native lives. Some years back, I wrote here about a time my young grandson sang at the top of his voice about "500 brave Native Americans" -- mis-hearing the lyrics to an old whaling song, and leading me to wonder if we could in fact find solid information for children about 500 notable Indigenous people. Since that time, a few new books have been published about Native folks who aren't 19-century military leaders. This is one, and I've already given a copy to my grandson's family.

This is one of our "short and sweet" reviews -- a quick look at why we feel enthusiastic about a book.

Reason #1 to recommend Notable Native People: Thoughtfully-chosen one-page bios.

The sketches are brief and reader-friendly but substantial about Native people who have had (are having) a positive impact on their communities and the wider world. Fifty of them!! Plus a bonus of 15 even shorter bios of additional Indigenous notables! This feels like such a gift to young people who want and need to have dozens of Indigenous "leaders, dreamers, and changemakers" lighting the path as they decide what to make of their own lives. Many of the bios incorporate direct quotes from the subjects -- letting them speak for themselves.

Reason #2: Balanced representation, including representation of Black Native and LGBTQ+ people. 

Adrienne Keene explains that her process of selecting people to be in the book was collaborative. And she went over the final list with community members and friends to ensure that it was inclusive. As a result,

"The people in this book represent a small slice of the Native experience, balanced across the three broad cultural groups of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Kanaka Maoli, as well as various gender identities, ages, locations, tribal affiliations, and work." 

You can read more of what Adrienne Keene says about working on the book here.

Reason #3: Sections that highlight key issues affecting Native people.
In several places, the text shifts focus from individuals to ongoing issues that have affected Native communities and the 50 notables. These summaries of such topics as "Settler Colonialism 101", "Who Belongs?" and "Representation Matters" give context to the Native lives being discussed. Great info for readers!

Reason #4: The illustrations.

Using photographs to illustrate biographies lets readers see a person as they were in a given moment, but sometimes photos don't age well. Many of us can remember seeing a photograph of someone famous, and feeling distant from the subject because of outdated hair style, clothing, glasses, or other superficial aspect of appearance. And if the bio is about someone who lived before cameras were used, a photo won't be available. So Ciara Sana's portraits, which are expressive, warm, and pleasing to the eye, engage readers and (I think) extend the life of the book in ways that might not be possible with photographs.

Librarians and educators: Put multiple copies of this book on your shelves, and encourage young people to find out even more about the 50+ notable Natives on its pages!