Summer reading can help slow down the “summer slide,” a term educational researchers use to describe the loss of academic skills over the months that kids aren’t in school. With the following books, parents can put the brakes on that slide, and give their kids’ identities a boost.
Below are some outstanding books by Native writers. Buy them if you can, or ask for them at your local library. Librarians want to know what readers want to read. Far too many books by Native writers aren’t reviewed in the review journals librarians use to select books. You’ll be helping them by asking for these books.
Let’s start with a road trip story. Joseph Marshall III’s In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse (Harry N. Abrams, 2015) has a lot going for it. First off, it’s set in the present day. The main character, Jimmy, is Lakota. But, he has blue eyes and light brown hair because his lineage includes people who aren’t Native. That means he gets teased for his looks. In steps his grandpa, who takes him on a road trip. As they drive, Jimmy learns about Crazy Horse, but he also learns that Native people have different names for places. One example is the Oregon Trail. Jimmy’s grandpa tells him that Native people call it Shell River Road. Marshall’s storytelling is vibrant and engaging, and the perfect tone for kids in middle school.
You can’t miss with Arigon Starr’s Super Indian (Wacky Productions Unlimited) stories. She’s got the inside track on telling it like it is. Or, could be, if eating commodity cheese could give you super powers. In other words, every panel of Starr’s comics is a reflection of Native life, and she brilliantly pokes at the uber popular Twilight books and movies, and testy issues like blood quantum. There’s a ka-pow to this super power series (two volumes at this point) that will have you and your kids laughing out loud.
Richard Van Camp’s A Blanket of Butterflies (HighWater Press, 2015) is riveting. This graphic novel opens with a boy who looks to be in his early teens, standing in front of a samurai suit of armor in a display case in his tribe’s museum. That suit is going to be returned to its original owner, but the sword is missing. That launches this fast-paced story in which Van Camp provides us with an opportunity to think about museums and who owns items in them.
For your older kids, take a look at Moonshot (Alternate History Comics Inc., 2015). In it, you’ll find a collection of short stories by Native writers, told in graphic novel format. There is a wide range of voice, style, and tribal nation. Getting to know the writers in this collection can lead readers to other works by Native writers whose stories are in Moonshot.
We must not forget your younger kids. For many Native people, berry picking is part of our summer activity. In Julie Flett’s Wild Berries (Simply Read Books, 2014), a little boy named Clarence and his grandma are out picking blueberries. They sing as they go. And of course, they eat some berries as they gather them. Clarence sees a fox, and a spider web, and, an ant crawls on him at one point. A huge plus is that you can get and read the book in English, or in Cree.
Many of you will be going to gatherings of one sort or another. Check out Cheryl Minnema’s Hungry Johnny (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014). In it, a little boy—named Johnny, of course—comes home and spies a plate of sweet rolls on the counter. He heads straight for that plate, but his grandma stops him, saying “Bekaa, these are for the community feast.” Bekaa is Ojibwe for “wait.” Waiting is tough on Johnny. He’s got to wait while the elders at the feast pray, and then he’s got to wait for them to eat first. Will there be any rolls left for Johnny? Minnema’s use of Ojibwe and English is great. A lot of families talk to each other using a mix of their Native tongue and English. And that feast is like ones so many Native kids go to all the time.
One last suggestion is Marcie Rendon’s Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life (Carolrhoda Books, 1996). It is a nonfiction photo essay about a family on the powwow circuit. Rendon’s words, coupled with photographs by Cheryl Walsh Bellville, are a delight. Those of you who go to summer powwows know exactly what it’s like to be out there, but being able to give your kids a book that reflects what you’re all doing: priceless.