Accurate Portrayals of Native Americans in Children’s Literature

August 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers has chosen Saltypie; a Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light, by Tim Tingle, as its 2012 Children’s Literature Honor Book.  For twenty years, this organization has promoted the work of Native American and Indigenous writers and strives to ensure that their voices are heard throughout the world.

Saltypie chronicles a fifty-year span of history of author, Tim Tingle’s family, part of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. This story delves into several significant topics for children: American Indian history, American history, resilience, and family bonding.  The story is told from the author’s point of view as a child and relates both the challenges and successes that have been faced by his family members, particularly his grandmother. 

This story, and others like it are very important when it comes to disspelling stereotypes for children. President John F. Kennedy wrote in his introduction for The American Heritage Book of Indians,

“For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all.” 

Books can function as both windows and mirrors–sometimes they allow the reader to peer into and gain better understanding of the different life of someone else, and other times, they reflect back familiar elements with which the reader can identify. Multicultural literature helps increase self esteem for children of minority backgrounds by allowing them to explore and understand their own culture and by showing them that they are not alone. At the same time, it promotes intercultural understanding and appreciation from those who are not of that culture.

Ask yourself, how would your child describe an Indian?  If words like teepee, war paint, feathered headdress, and moccasins come to mind, you’re going to want to explore this list of Native American Literature for Children.  These books, all available from our library catalog are either written by Native American and Indigenous writers, or are written in a way that accurately portrays the lifestyles and cultures of the people they are about.

Several other resources for locating and evaluating Native American literature for children and young adults can be found below:

  • Oyate
    Publisher and reviewer of books about Native Americans, particularly those aimed at schoolchildren.  “Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us.”
  • American Indians in Children’s Literature
    “Established in 2006, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.”
  • American Indian Library Association
    “The American Indian Library Association, an affiliate of the American Library Association, is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
  • Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers
    Wordcraft’s works to ensure that “the voices of Native American and Indigenous writers and storytellers – past, present, and future – are heard throughout the world.”

For more information about these and other FREE resources available @ your library®, call (813) 273-3652 or visit


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