Tuesday, November 28, 2023

AICL's Year In Review for 2023


American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share our annual year-end list of books we want you to know about. We'd like multiple copies of them to be in every classroom, school, and public library. (Download AICL's 2023 Year In Review pdf if you wish.)

Our emphasis is books by Native writers and illustrators whose Nations are on the continent we know as North America. Most are ones that came out in 2023. In some way, they've touched our hearts as parents of Native children or as former school teachers who want children to have accurate and honest books about Native peoples. 

For each book, we list the Tribal Nation of the author/illustrator and we encourage you to use that information when reading the book. For example, in the picture book category you'll see A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers. We encourage you to introduce the book by saying something like:

"This is A Letter for Bob. It is written by Kim Rogers, an enrolled member of the Wichita Affiliated Tribes. The illustrations are by Jonathan Nelson. He's Diné." 

You'll modify that according to the way you're using the book. The main point is that we want you to be tribally specific. That means you specify the author and illustrator's Tribal Nation. If possible, show students the websites of the author/illustrator and of their Tribal Nations. 

Now, it is important to say a few things about claims to Native identity. In October of 2023, Native people in the US and Canada were shocked to learn that an iconic singer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, is not Native. People who follow Native news media know that–in the past few years–there have been several expose’s of individuals who assert a Native identity and use that identity in their professional or academic work. It touches children’s literature, too. In 2023, we withdrew our recommendations of books by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joseph Bruchac, Marge Bruchac, James Bruchac, and Art Coulson (click on their names for details). One way that investigations of such claims begin is by someone noticing that the ways a person asserts that identity shifts over time in problematic ways. The shift may be in the tribal nation(s) being claimed, or by shifts in language used to make the claim. 

Sometimes, however, a change marks an effort to be more accurate. Using Debbie as an example, she used to say “Nambé Pueblo” but now says “Nambé Owingeh” because “Pueblo” is an externally imposed word, while Nambé and Owingeh are Tewa words (Tewa is the language spoken at Nambé). She also says she is “tribally enrolled” because she meets the requirements at Nambe to be included on the tribal census. Her father and grandmother are enrolled at Nambé. Her mother is from Ohkay Owingeh; her mother’s father is from Hopi. Debbie does not list either one in her email signature line because she grew up at, and is enrolled at, Nambé. In a biographical statement, she might include both because they are part of her life and experiences as a Native woman. She would have a lot more to say about Ohkay Owingeh because she spent a lot of time there as a kid and very little time at Hopi.  

In some cases, the membership or citizenship requirements of a person’s Nation mean that a person’s child cannot be included on a tribal census but they are considered part of the community. We encourage you to read Christine Day’s note in We Still Belong. Her main character cannot be enrolled in the Nation her mother is enrolled in. 

There are hundreds of Tribal Nations, which means there are hundreds of ways in which a person’s nation decides who its citizens are. We are not suggesting that there is a single ‘best’ way of stating a Native identity. Indeed, we learn more about Native identity each year. This year, we learned that some Tribal Nations issue ‘descent’ cards to children of family members who–like the character in Christine Day’s book–can’t be enrolled in their mother’s Nation. Many Nations have moved away from “blood quantum” requirements to lineage. We encourage you to read an interview that NPR did with Elizabeth Rule (she is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and her book, Indigenous DC, is on our list this year in the Crossover section).

You will also see “not Native” because there are non-Native writers (like John Coy and Debby Dahl Edwardson who are on last year’s list, or Charles Waters on this year’s) whose writing includes Native content or characters in respectful ways. Several books on this year’s list also are illustrated by non-Native artists.

Before moving on to our list, we want to note that claims – like the one made by Buffy Sainte-Marie – have a harmful impact on Native people who were disconnected or removed from their Native families and communities. Across North America, there are Native people trying to find their way home. It is not an easy process. For many it is full of obstacles put there by agencies that sought to destroy Native Nations. When false claims are called out, people who are trying to find their families and those who are trying to build relationships with their families may feel vulnerable and fearful of being challenged about their search. That vulnerability is an unseen harm done by false claims. 

In our list you will find an author’s Tribal Nation in parenthesis after their name. We use an author’s identity as they name it (and the spellings/capitalizations of their personal names) on their own website (sometimes we write to them to ask for clarification). If they do not have a website, we use what their publisher uses.  We are happy to make edits as needed! Let us know.

Though our list is organized by age/grade levels, we encourage you to use picture books with readers of any age, and we want every teacher and librarian to read all the books. They are far better than the books most people read in their childhood. These will help you understand who Native people really are. We welcome your questions and comments about these introductory paragraphs, or the books we list, below.

And join us in celebrating the growing number of books we list each year!* Many win awards, and the range of what we’re all able to read is outstanding! Across genre, format, and author/illustrator’s Tribal Nations, Native literature is something to pay attention to!

Comics and Graphic Novels 

Cohen, Emily Bowen (Jewish and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation). Two Tribes, illustrated by the author. Heartdrum (2023). US.

Van Camp, Richard (Thlicho Dene), The Spirit of Denendeh, Vol. 2: As I Enfold You in Petals, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson (not Native) and Donovan Yaciuk (not Native). Highwater Press (2022). Canada.

Van Sciver, Noah (not Native), Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend includes an introduction by Lee Francis (Pueblo of Laguna), stories and art by Marlena Myles (enrolled Spirit Lake Dakota), and a postscript by Deondre Smiles (citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe). Toon Graphics (2023). US.

vermette, katherena (Red River Métis),  A Girl Called Echo Omnibus, illustrated by Scott Henderson (not Native) and Donovan Yaciuk (not Native). Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Board Books 

Taos Pueblo Winter, illustrated by Leonard Archuleta (Taos). Seventh Generation. US. 
Taos Pueblo Spring, illustrated by Frank Rain Leaf (Taos). Seventh Generation. US.
Taos Pueblo Summer, illustrated by Janell Lujan (Taos). Seventh Generation. US.
Taos Pueblo Fall, illustrated by Deanna Autumn Leaf Suazo (Taos). Seventh Generation. US

Picture Books 

Barrett, Elizabeth S. (Red Lake Ojibwe). Mashkiki Road: The Seven Grandfather Teachings, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe). Minnesota Historical Society Press (2022). US.

Bunten, Alexis (Unangan and Yup'ik). What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Diné of the Kiiyaa'áanii Clan). Christy Ottaviano Books (2023). US. 

Cooper, Nancy (member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation), Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe, member of Wasauksing First Nation). Owl Kids (2023). Canada.

Dupuis, Jenny Kay (Member of Nipissing First Nation). Heart Berry Bling, illustrated by Eva Campbell (not Native). Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Goodluck, Laurel (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian), Rock Your Mocs! illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (member of the Chickasaw Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Greendeer, Danielle (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Citizen, Hawk Clan), Anthony Perry (citizen of the Chickasaw Nation), and Alexis Bunten (Unangan and Yup'ik). Keepunumuk: Weeachumun's Thanksgiving Story, illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. (tribe). Charlesbridge (2022). US. 

Harjo, Joy (member of the Mvskoke Nation), Remember. Illustrated by Michaela Goade (enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). Random House (2023). US. 

Janicki, Peggy (Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation). The Secret Pocket, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor (a descendant of Coast Salish ancestors). Orca Book Publishers (2023). Canada.

Lindstrom, Carole (Anishinaabe/Metis and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior. Illustrated by Bridget George (Bear Clan from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation). Roaring Brook Press (2023). US.

Lindstrom, Carole (Anishinaabe/Metis and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.) My Powerful Hair, illustrated by Steph Littlebird (member of Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes). Harry N. Abrams (2023). US.

Newell, Chris (citizen of Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township). If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving, illustrated by Winona Nelson (member of Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa). Scholastic (2021), US. 

Rogers, Kim (enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes). Just Like Grandma, illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). Heartdrum (2023). US. 

Rogers, Kim (enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes). A Letter for Bob, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Diné). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Sapiel, Minquansis (Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nation). Little People of the Dawn, illustrated by Minsoss Bobadilla-Sapiel (Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nation). Black Bears and Blueberries (2023). US.
Sorell, Traci (enrolled citizen, Cherokee Nation), Powwow Day, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (member of the Chickasaw Nation). Charlesbridge (2022). US.

Sorell, Traci (enrolled citizen, Cherokee Nation), Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series, illustrated by Arigon Starr (enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma). Kokila (2023). US.

Early Chapter Books 

Buckley, Patricia Morris (Mohawk). The First Woman Cherokee Chief: Wilma Pearl Mankiller, illustrated by Aphelandra (Filipino and Oneida ancestry). Random House Books for Young Readers (2023). US.

Day, Christine (citizen of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe). She Persisted: Maria Tallchief, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2021). US.

Goodluck, Laurel (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian). She Persisted: Deb Haaland, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2023). US.

Quigley, Dawn (enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe). Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolatoqiyik). Heartdrum (2022). US.

Quigley, Dawn (enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe). Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolatoqiyik). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Sorell, Traci (citizen, Cherokee Nation). She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2022). US.

For Middle Grades 

Anselmo, Anthony (Sault Ste Marie Band of Ojibwe), The Spirit of the North Wind. Black Bears and Blueberries (2023). US.

Coombs, Linda (member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah). Colonization and the Wampanoag Story. Crown Books for Young Readers (2023). US.

Day, Christine (Upper Skagit), We Still Belong. Cover art by Madelyn Goodnight (citizen of Chickasaw Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Hobson, Brandon (Cherokee Nation), The Storyteller. Scholastic (2023). US.

Hopson, Nasugraq Rainey (tribally enrolled Inupiat). Eagle Drums. Roaring Brook Press (2023). US.

John-Kehewin, Wanda (Cree), Hopeless in Hope. Portage and Main/Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Martinez, Lorinda (Lok' aa' Diné'e). Running With Changing Woman. Salina Bookshelf (2023). US.

Waters, Charles (not Native) and Sorell, Traci (Cherokee Nation), Mascot. Charlesbridge (2023). US.

Young, Brian (Diné). Heroes of the Water Monster. Cover art by Shonto Begay (Diné). Heartdrum (2023). US.

For High School

Boulley, Angeline (enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Warrior Girl Unearthed. Cover art by Michaela Goade (enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). 

Dimaline, Cherie (Metis Nation of Ontario), Funeral Songs for Dying Girls. Tundra Books (2023). Canada.

Graves, Byron (enrolled member of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe), Rez Ball. Cover illustration by Natasha Donovan. Heartdrum (2023). US.

Mosionier, Beatrice (Metis), In Search of April Raintree, 40th Anniversary Edition. Foreword by katherena vermette (Metis); afterword by Raven Sinclair (Cree/Assiniboine/Salteaux, Gordon's First Nation). Portage and Main/Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (citizen of the Muscogee Nation). Harvest House. Cover art by Britt Newton (citizen of the Muscogee Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Crossover Books (written for adults; appeal to teens/young adults)

Blackhawk, Ned (Western Shoshone), The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of US History. Yale University Press (2023). US.

Powers, Susan. A Council of Dolls. Harper Collins (2023). US.

Rule, Elizabeth. Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation's Capital. Georgetown University Press (2023). US.


*AICL differs from review journals like Horn Book or School Library Journal. Publishers send them books. At AICL, some publishers send us books, but for the most part, Debbie and Jean buy books themselves, or check them out from a library. It is just the two of us, talking with each other about books. There are some we haven’t yet read and they will–no doubt–be on next year’s list.


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