Cynthia Leitich Smith
Page Updated January 19, 2005

Authors and Illustrators

Shonto Begay

Joseph Bruchac

Louise Erdrich

LaVera Rose

Hendle Rumbaut

Cynthia Leitich Smith
(CLSCLR interview)


 Native American Themes in Books for Children and Teens

intro | contemporary | historical | native authors/illustrators | teacher/librarian resources | links

Overall, children's and young adult books with Native American Indian characters and themes have improved dramatically since I was a kid. We have a lot more to pick from than the Sacajewea and Pocahontas biographies, the tales of "savagery" on the Prairie.

Looking at those writers who've focused a significant portion of their work in this area, Native authors as well as non-Native authors with strong community ties (or those who did their homework), it's clear that there are some quality books now available.

However, stereotyped depictions persist. Contemporary settings are in short supply (and almost exclusively targeted at picture book readers). Certain well-known Nations like the Navajo (Diné) and Cherokee are highlighted while others don't appear to exist. Groups like Urban Indians are almost ignored. Few biographies focus on Native people known for their service to their own communities.

And Native authors and illustrators are represented in very low numbers (factoring out of the numberous books by Abenaki author-poet Joseph Bruchac, community representation is slight, especially in trade books).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Rain Is Not My Indian Name
by Cynthia Leitich Smith;
0-688-17397-7 (trade)

0-06-029504-X (library)
For example, I recently noticed a book about Muscogee Creeks at my local branch library. Flipping to the last chapter, I was surprised to learn that the author had stated the Creek Nation no longer exists -- especially given that it is one of today's largest Indian Nations. The book had been on the shelves for some thirty years, and it was the only resource available there to children researching the tribe.

Today, I opened a major publisher's fall catalog and cringed. Native American creation stories were marketed boldly as "mythology" on one page. The Christmas story was marketed as "fact" on another. Granted, there are Christian Indians, just as there are Native people of various religious beliefs. Each should be respected. But traditional Native religions are still practiced by many tribal members.  Would a publisher market Christian or Jewish beliefs as "myths"? I hope not. (This paragraph added 07/07/01).

These are big problems, but we're not helpless in dealing with them.

What We Can Do

We can vote for more quality children's and Y.A. books with Native American Indian characters and themes by purchasing them or checking them out of our libraries. (For that matter, we can advocate for more financing for our schools and libraries).

We can make sure the personal libraries of our children (and those we love) include quality books with Native themes (and make sure they have access to others at their libraries).

We can educate ourselves and our children about today's Native American Indians.

We can advocate for the accurate and integrated representation of Native American Indian peoples, contemporary issues, and history in school curriculums (through books, Native American Indian speakers, films, and more).

We can encourage and support Native American Indian storytellers, authors, and illustrators.

We can share stories inspired by our own Native American Indian communities and experiences.

We can honor our commitments to the education of all children, including Native American Indian children.

This is one of several pages on this site related to Native American Indian children's books. Please follow the links immediately below to visit the others.

A brief note on the terms "Native American," "American Indian" etc. I have spoken with members of the greater Indian community(ies) who have strong feelings in favor of certain language as well as with people who just don't care. Because the purpose of this web site is to offer information to a wide audience, both internal and external, about related children's books, we are currently employing both. This way folks looking on the web under one or the other will still find this information.

If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin is pleased to announce that Dr. Loriene Roy has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Tocker Foundation ( to support, "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything." The research program promotes reading at schools on or near Native American Indian reservations through building library collections and organizing reading promotion events. Twelve schools in seven states are currently participating in the project; new schools are added each August. Results to date indicate noticeable improvements in literacy scores for participating children.

CLSCLR note: we strongly support this program and encourage anyone who cares about literacy, achievement, and Native children to visit "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything."

intro | contemporary | historical | native authors/illustrators | teacher/librarian resources | links

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