Running the gamut in subject matter from Christmas memories to boarding school, four books have won accolades from the American Indian Library Association (AILA).
This year’s American Indian Youth Literature Awards, announced during the American Library Association’s (ALA) January 20 to 24 midwinter meeting, honor The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood (Holiday House, 2011), by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, illustrated by Ellen Beier; Free Throw and Triple Threat (both published in paperback by James Lorimer & Co. Ltd., 2011), both by Jacqueline Guest; and Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010), by Adam Fortunate Eagle. All were singled out for their true representations of American Indian culture and life.
The awards were created four years ago “to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations and Native Hawaiians,” the AILA said in a statement. “The winning and [honorable mention] titles authentically convey the past and present of the American Indian experience.”
The goal of the awards, said AILA President Sandy Littletree in the statement, is to “help librarians, teachers and parents select quality books by and about Native people, titles that are accurate, nonstereotypical and honor the fullness of Native lives” and to “raise the visibility of quality works by American Indian authors and artists.”
There are three categories: picture book, middle grades and young adult. The picture book award went to The Christmas Coat. Based on Sneve’s experiences growing up, it tells the story of a chilly little girl wishing for a new winter coat on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Sneve is a recipient of both the Spirit of Crazy Horse Award and the National Humanities Medal.
Tied for the middle grades award were the classics Free Throw and Triple Threat, initially published in 1999 but rereleased in 2011. In both books, protagonist Matt Eagletail, 13, is a Tsuu T’ina basketball player learning to live with a new stepfather and five stepsisters; the oldest of these, 12-year-old Jazz, is also a basketball player. The boy learns to blend his First Nations heritage with his new home and circumstances off his Alberta reserve when the family moves elsewhere.
Fortunate Eagle’s Pipestone won the young adult award for its recounting, by an Ojibwe activist, of his and his brothers’ 10 years at the Pipestone Indian Boarding School in Minnesota. Its unique voice—that of an elementary school student infused with the author’s adult perspective—lends this memoir a funny, realistic, warm and sensitive tone, the AILA said: “This is a wonderful book that pulls no punches but is also well-rounded and entertaining and great for reading aloud.”
Several authors received honorable mention as well, including Indian Country Today Media Network contributor Vincent Schilling, for Native Defenders of the Environment (7th Generation, 2011) and other titles in the Native Trailblazers series, which were noted in the young adult category.
Also receiving honorable mention were, in the picture book category, Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness Into Light (Cinco Puntos Press, 2010), by Tim Tingle with illustrations by Karen Clarkson (honored last year by American Indians in Children’s Literature); Kohala Kuamo’o: Nae’ole’s Race to Save a King (Kamehameha Publishing, 2010), by Kekauleleana’ole Kawai’ae’a, illustrated by Aaron Kawai’ae’a and with story by Walter and Luana Kawai’ae’a; Mohala Mai ‘O Hau = How Hau Became Hau’ula (Kamehameha Publishing, 2010), by Robert Lono ‘Ikuwa and pictures by Matthew Kawika Ortiz; and I See Me (Theytus Books, 2009), by Margaret Manuel.
In the middle grades category the honorable mentions went to Jordin Tootoo: The Highs and Lows in the Journey of the First Inuit to Play in the NHL (James Lorimer & Company Ltd., 2011), by Melanie Florence, and Awesiinyensag: Dibaajimowinan Ji-Gikinoo’amaageng (Wiigwaas Press, 2010), by Anton Treuer and others. The awards will be presented during the ALA annual meeting in Anaheim, California, June 21 to 26.