Tuesday, February 06, 2018

NAHM 2017: Children's books

My interest in children's books is a fairly recent development, starting with an interest in the art. As I began to have more experience reading to children that interest deepened, because I started to see whole new levels of effectiveness when pitted against the attention span of a two year old.

Once that became a thing, wanting to fold children's books into the special reading months was also an obvious next step, similar to adding in the comic books. Sources could have been more difficult, but I have a sister who teaches kindergarten, and constantly has to take additional classes for job development.

She came back from one with a handout, I believe intended for librarians: "Your Patrons Need Diverse Books: The Care & Keeping of a Diverse Collection", with nine pages of resources for finding diverse books. These are primarily groups, usually with web sites, that give awards to books in various categories.


And somewhat less awesome, because it does not appear to be online anywhere, which I fear will disappoint some readers.

Still, it is a good resource for me, and something that I will slowly work my way through.

They are not all specifically children's books. Actually, I will probably not check out all of them. I support diversity in BDSM and erotica on principle, but they're not really my genres. Still, it's good that someone is paying attention to diversity issues.

I will probably check out the Coretta Scott King Book Awards soon, probably closely followed by the Schneider Family Book Awards and the Asian Pacific American Awards for Literature. For today, I want to focus on four books honored by the American Indian Youth Literature Awards, awarded every two years for the "best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians" in the categories of Picture Book, Middle School, and Young Adult:


Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story, by Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Illustrated by Sam Sandoval.

The author credit was interesting in that the book was written according to a traditional telling. There was someone who wrote it, and who gets credit inside, but the general impression is that story belongs to the people.

The lack of embellishment makes the telling a little stiff, and Frog getting eaten by Snake just happens, without any extra meaning or point in it. However, the story is part of a larger curriculum with other materials on traditional methods of fire management and so can be used really well.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Illustrated by Ellen Beier.

In the waiting rooms of pediatricians there were always stories about being selfless and being rewarded, and I liked them then. Here it hurt me a little. She is rewarded for being willing to give up the coat that she needs, and in a way that makes sense, but I think too many years of giving things up has made me unable to view this through the eyes of a child.

Even if I didn't love the first two stories, the artwork was beautiful, and the stories have value. But I like the next two better.

A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King. Illustrated by Gary Clement.

I love the update of bringing Coyote (and other animals) into the modern era, and having them baffled and intrigued by a mall. Coyote behaves exactly as he should, and there is a lesson and there is humor, and there is some sweetness for all that.

Little You by Richard Van Camp. Illustrated by Julie Flett.

I loved this one so much that I kept going back to it and finding new details.

It is essentially a very simple book, with short rhymes singing the delight of a new child as the pictures show her growing and being adored by her parents. Despite the simplicity of the words, the joy in familial love is so strong that I can imagine children who have aged into more sophisticated reading still enjoying it. It is very well-done.

Beyond that, the book is such a triumph of representation. The family appears to be Native American,  with brown skin and black hair and wearing non era-specific contemporary clothing. None of that should be distracting or alienating for non-Indigenous readers, and no one would blink if the family were white.

But it is an Indian girl, and she is adored and beautiful and prioritized, who means the world to her parents, and that is a priceless image. It is easy to forget how many missing and murdered indigenous women there are, and how hard it can be to even get justice pursued. I don't want to be thinking about murder when I am reading a children's book, and I am not exactly, but the background knowledge is there, and seeing this little girl cherished was important to me.

The other books are fine, but Little You is a treasure.

And I only found it because the American Indian Library Association gives awards.

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