This blog recently celebrated its 9th anniversary. In nine years I've learned a lot about children's literature that I didn't know going in. I've also met, virtually and in person, a great number of very smart folks who review and share books with kids of all ages from all kinds of backgrounds.
I mention this background because I don't jump lightly into conversations that are uncomfortable and that point out shortcomings in books that have received praise elsewhere. Case in point, the recent Mighty Girl book list Celebrating Native American & Aboriginal Mighty Girls for Native American Heritage Month. While there are very positive books on this list, books that show a range of Native American identities and experiences, there are also books that perpetuate ugly stereotypes and misconceptions.
I don't consider myself an expert in this area, but I listen and try to learn. I spend time in my methods course reviewing books with students to help them understand that as both windows and mirrors to lived experience, books must accurately reflect social identities. We read An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children's Books by Louise Derman-Sparks and How to Tell the Difference: A Guide to Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias by Beverly Slapin, Doris Seale and Rosemary Gonzales. I send them to read blogs such as American Indians in Children's Literature, a blog written by Debbie Reese that reviews and critiques children's and young adult books about native peoples, De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, a group blog that reviews and critique children's and young adult books about Raza peoples throughout the Diaspora, The Brown Bookshelf, a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, and others.
I have written a fair number of thematic booklists since the birth of this blog, though they all fall along the lines of science, math, and poetry. I am always excited to find lists written by others, hoping they will help me and my students find the best books for use in the classroom. I was excited to see the latest post from A Mighty Girl show up in my feed, but was disappointed when I looked critically at the list.
In order to move conversations forward about diversity in children's literature, we must be willing to listen to the voices from underrepresented groups when they tell us we're getting it wrong. We must be willing to set aside "classics" and old favorites when the information they present is inaccurate. Nowhere is this more problematic than when faced with a book sporting a Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz sticker.
I so wanted to leave this feedback for the author of the list, Katherine Handcock, at the Mighty Girl site, but couldn't find a mechanism to do that. I appreciate all that A Mighty Girl does to empower girls and affirm their place in this world. However, this list contains titles that contain stereotypes and inaccuracies that could actually be harmful and less than empowering. I hope everyone who visits will read this list with a critical eye. Stop by American Indians in Children's Literature and check out some of the reviews Debbie Reese has posted or linked to for books on the list she does NOT recommend, such as Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Mama Do You Love Me?. While you are there, check out Debbie's list of Best Books.
I hope the folks at A Mighty Girl will reconsider this list and think about replacing some of these titles with books that will truly empower Native American & Aboriginal mighty girls.
For more on this, read Debbie Reese's letter to Katherine Handcock.