Little House on the Prairie companion
May 28, 2016 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I've started to read my childhood favourites to my children. This week we started Little House on the Prairie, which is still wonderful but.... Pretty culturally insensitive. We're glossing over some bits, and having some good talks about the First Nations being displaced by the settlers, but....

I'd love our next book to compliment the settling experience, but from the point of view of the First Nations people. Any ideas of books a 6 year old could love? In general, any book recommendations of books to compliment other classic Eurocentric kids books?
posted by Valancy Rachel to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely The Birchbark House and its sequels by Louise Erdrich!
posted by northernish at 7:17 PM on May 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

People of the Crimson Evening is an old book about a Tohono O'odham family written at about the reading level you're looking for, and it's free online at the Open Library. The author was a well-known professional anthropologist from a school of thought that sometimes focused on imagining pre-colonial traditions rather than understanding historical change, and that's a weakness of the book.
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:49 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's going to be really, really tough to find what you're looking for.

Native Americans have a grand storytelling tradition, but for most of their history it has been oral not written. If my memory is correct, none of the indigenous people of North America had a written language prior to the arrival of Europeans. Complex spoken grammars yes, but not writing. (Sequoyah created the Cherokee syllabary in the 1820s.)

That said, as American Indians were taught English by early settlers, some began to write. But not many. I think the first books from natives were (auto-)biographical, and some cover the sorts of experiences you're after, but I don't know of any aimed at children. Here's a bibliography of Native American literature.

So yeah, your best bet is probably something along the lines of Erdrich's Birchbark series. I've never read it, but I've read and enjoyed several of her books for adults. These won't relate her first-hand experiences -- and I'm betting her prose will get a bit flowery for a six year old -- but her work comes from an authentic place.
posted by jdroth at 7:54 PM on May 28, 2016

You might find the site American Indians In Children's Literature helpful. They have a "Best Books" section.
posted by gudrun at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are several awesome books out there told from First Nations/indigenous perspective (often by indigenous authors). I'll try to come back with more titles later, but to start you off the Dear Canada series has several books on things like the Red River Rebellion and Residential Schools.
posted by saucysault at 8:27 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, have a look at this list from the Canadians Children's Book Centre, who sponsor the First Nations Communities Read Award each year. Talking to your local public librarian, especially if you have a significant Indigenous population in your community, will also give you some ideas.
posted by saucysault at 8:41 PM on May 28, 2016

Last comment tonight...Strong Nations publishing Out of BC has an excellent (but no means comprehensive) catalogue of fiction for children by Indigenous authors.
posted by saucysault at 8:50 PM on May 28, 2016

As a child, I devoured the Little House on the Prairie series, but always felt super fucked whenever I read the chapters about how "the only good Indian was a dead Indian" and then Pa's weird mixed feelings about being driven off his land. Settler-colonialism can definitely be dealt with a lot better...

But I think my feminist and subaltern narrative loving ways were planted from reading The Royal Diaries and Dear America series. They are official Scholastic series, and are first-person historical-fiction, narrative diaries situated from a young girl or woman's perspective during a particular period of time. A lot of them have disclaimers that they come from oral history traditions, but for the sake of the book format, it is rendered into diary form. I thought that was really thought-provoking as a child.

The two Royal Diaries series selections that I would recommend for this case, is Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts - Rhode Island, 1653 and Anacaona, Golden Flower. The first title is during settler times while the second is pre-colonial. Both of them use narrative devices combined with oral histories and discussions of their particular contexts, but with all of the fleshed out thinking and yearnings of the young girls/women that they are. Here's a interview regarding the writing process for Weetamoo, The latter title is written by Edwidge Danticat, who is a hella amazing Haitian-American writer. Neither of them are perfect, but they are very good, and I'm still very fond of them.
posted by yueliang at 11:08 PM on May 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

N'thing Erdrich's Birchbark books, in fact I passed them to a young niece this last Christmas for exactly this reason, to show her an alternative viewpoint.
posted by easily confused at 12:25 AM on May 29, 2016

The Birchbark series was infact written as a counter to Little House on the Prairie, Louise Erdrich's mother was a Native American and she wanted to write about her people's history.

Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature offers a critical examination of all children's literature about Native Americans, and she is always a good place to start to understand the issues about how Native Americans are portrayed in various books.
posted by momochan at 6:29 AM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thanks! I have a lot of books to buy. I've read some of Louise Erdrich's adult fiction, so I'm intrigued to read her children's stuff. Even though it's a different area than little house, I'd love to read up on some more BC/ Canada centred stuff, as that is where we are located.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:08 PM on May 29, 2016

Update: A month later. The Birchbark House has been a huge hit in my house but [SPOILER ALERT] one of my kids basically lost it at the untimely death. It took us by surprise, and I'll admit I cried while reading, which didn't help. It's a wonderful read, but I'd urge other parents to read ahead to not start bawling while reading.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 8:18 PM on June 29, 2016

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