November is Native American Heritage Month. I know you’ve been waiting for this all year. The rest of the time Indians are invisible, right? Not. Whether you have an Indian heritage or are just interested, check out these books – and a movie!–any day of the year.
Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki
This is almost a first: a Native American graphic novel! This book combines the words of Native American storytellers from many nations with the artwork of a number of cartoonists, to tell tales of the tricks of Coyote, Rabbit, Raccoon and more.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This is Alexie’s first book for young adults. Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, is a geeky cartoonist on the Spokane rez. After he punches a teacher, the teacher surprisingly advises him to leave the rez and go to an all-white high school where he will have a better chance of making it in life (Alexie did the same thing). There, Arnold faces racism, disconnection, and the fact that he really belongs to many tribes. School Library Journal says: “Poetic, deeply funny, politically incorrect, slightly naughty, and heart-wrenching.” Can you resist? You can also listen to it on CD.
Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming: Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults
edited by Betsy Franco
These poems and stories from across the US are written by talented writers you can identify with, whether you’re an Indian or not.
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson
This book is a collection of short stories for teens by some of the best American and Canadian Indian writers today, like Joy Harjo, Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich and Greg Sarris.
This awesome movie, based on Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, starts out with two Indians on the rez heading out in their car, only in reverse—it won’t run in any other gear. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “It’s funny because it’s true” (I guess. I was never a Spokane Indian. It sure seems true).
Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Rain is a 14-year old girl whose best friend is killed in an accident. She shuts herself off from everybody and doesn’t want to do anything, until the local newspaper asks her to take photos for a story about a Native American Youth Camp. Rain is of mixed race (part Indian) and becomes interested when prejudice and racism come out in her town. This book is described as both “tender and funny,” which should make the grieving part bearable.
Offsides: A Novel by Erik E. Esckilsen
The hero of this story is Tom Gray, a Mohawk kid who moves off the rez to a new town. Influenced by his Mom, he refuses to play for the new school’s soccer team because it’s called the Warriors, and has a stupid mascot. To show the coach, he starts a new team made up of the freaks and geeks who are his supporters. The climax comes when the two teams face off for a game.
The Crying Rocks by Janet Taylor Lisle
Joelle is adopted. She doesn’t look like her parents or the other kids at school, and the stories she’s heard about what happened to her as a little girl don’t make a lot of sense. Then one day, a boy in her Spanish class points out that she looks like a picture of the Narragansett Indians on the wall of their public library. Gradually, Joelle finds out who she really is, and who her people are.
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris
I’ve never forgotten this powerful story about Rayona, a half-black, half-Indian girl, her mother Christine, and her “grandmother,” Aunt Ida. I bet you won’t either.
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
A classic. You’ll learn a lot that was left out in history class. Also listen to it on an MP3 player.
Beyond our Borders
Some people forget that North American Indians have brothers and sisters in Mexico and Central and South America. These next two books are about Mayan Indian girls from Guatemala, who manage to escape the attacks by Guatemalan soldiers which occurred during the Civil War of the early 1980’s.
Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen
When the soldiers come to her village, Gabriela Flores is a 15-year-old girl who likes to climb trees. On her quinceañera, her brother is taken away. In the days following, other family members and friends are massacred before her eyes. After her village is destroyed, she and her sister begin to walk to a Mexican refugee camp. It is there that she helps her sister begin to heal. This book does not spare the US in assigning responsibility for what happened, nor does it spare the reader graphic details.
Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino
If you want to read a similar story without so many horrifying details, try this one. As in Tree Girl, there’s a happy ending, when Tomasa and her family find refuge in the US with the help of the Sanctuary Movement.
Vaughn Harrison is interested in reading about Native Americans any day of the year