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School’s Out: Holiday Reading for Your Young Charges

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School’s out for the holidays, and some youthful leisure time is upon us. But that’s no reason for kids to stop learning. So This Week From Indian Country Today has compiled a list of books to both entertain and educate those restless young adults, as today’s teens are called. Culled from the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, the website of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark Books bookstore in Minneapolis, and other sources, the titles range from new releases to the tried and true.

In Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection (Fulcrum Publishing, 2010), editor Matt Dembicki has paired Native storytellers with various artists to compile 21 illustrated folktales. The result was named this year as a notable book by the Association for Library Service to Children. Though Dembicki is not Native, the storytellers in this 232-page tome are.

An adolescent summer reading list wouldn’t be complete without Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, reprint edition 2009). Originally published in 2007, the book is the semi-autobiographical but overall fictional tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit. Arnold is a 14-year-old, artistic Spokane Indian who is bullied at his reservation school but makes friends and plays basketball upon transferring to an elite white off-rez school. He takes away lessons on community and Indian identity when his two worlds collide as he faces his old classmates on the court. “It represents all-that-is-good,” writes Debbie Reese, Nambé Pueblo, keeper of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature and an assistant professor in American Indian studies at the University of Illinois. “I recommend it, and I give it as a gift. It is astounding on so many levels.” Diary won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in 2007. Likely adding to its cachet was its designation as the number two entry for 2010 on the American Library Association’s annual top 10 list of books causing the most consternation in their communities. Diary came under extensive fire for its language, racism and sexual content, the Associated Press reported in April.

Reese also recommends Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel). It is, she told Indian Country Today Media Network, a “way cool” story about a Native vampire that was a Quill & Quire Book of the Year in 2007.

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Reese further encourages young readers to try Cynthia Leitich Smith’s vampire trilogy. Although the books are not Native-themed, the author herself is Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and her work feeds directly into the current Gothic craze. The first, Tantalize (Candlewick Press, 2007), marked Leitich Smith’s debut in this genre and introduces teen character Quincie Morris, who must turn the new chef of her family’s vampire-themed restaurant into a culinary dark lord before opening night. Eternal (Candlewick Press, 2009) focuses on Miranda, a newly minted high school vampire, while Blessed (Candlewick Press, 2011) brings the cast of the first two books together.

In addition, Leitich Smith has written “three terrific Native-themed books,” Reese said, two of them of potential interest to young adult readers: Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).

From the website of Birchbark Books, the store owned by Louise Erdrich and her sister Heid, come several titles, including a series from Louise Erdrich herself. The Birchbark House, published by Hyperion in 1999, was a finalist that year for the National Book Award for young people’s literature, and The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005) won the 2006 Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction. The Porcupine Year, which came out in 2008, also from HarperCollins, is the third in the series.

For a fictional take on an often-overlooked nonfiction topic, Reese recommends Joseph Bruchac’s Hidden Roots (Scholastic Press, 2004), which delves into the world of forced sterilization in the 1930s. She also suggests Bruchac’s Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two (Dial Books, 2005) which takes readers into the world of the Navajos who helped the U.S. defeat Japan in World War II. The hero is the fictional Ned Begay, a 16-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker.

Class dismissed! Start reading!