Sacagawea for kids, but make it anti-colonial
September 16, 2023 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me kid-accessible books on Sacagawea that don't promote colonialism

My 10 year old is a Sacagawea fangirl and her class is currently learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Can anyone recommend me books on Sacagawea for middle grades that critique the usual colonialist narrative?

She's a good reader but short on attention span. Advanced concepts are fine, pictures and larger print are probably helpful. Comics and graphic novels are great.
posted by arrmatie to Education (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a book, but the wonderful podcast You're Dead to Me did an episode on Sacagawea back in 2021 that she might enjoy. Each episode of the show has one academic historian and one comedian, and the academic on this episode is Katrina Phillips, who is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:02 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm no expert in this, but it looks like there aren't many out there. The one I did find is this one called Sacagawea, which is written by Lise Erdich and illustrated by Julie Buffalohead, both Indigenous women who are likely to tell this story from an Indigenous viewpoint. Lise is the sister of author Louise Erdich. There's a storytime video on YouTube if you want to check out its perspective in advance.

Note that Birchbark Books, which is where I linked the book from, is owned by Louise Erdich, so if you decide to get it and buy it from there, you're supporting a Native-owned business too.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:04 AM on September 16 [6 favorites]

You could try calling with this question to either Lewis and Clark National Historical Park or Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. National Parks usually have gift shops with books. While Lewis and Clark is the obvious one, Knife River is focused on the lives of Northern Plains tribes and Sacagawea was living at Knife River when she encountered Lewis and Clark. Although she was traditionally believed to be Shoshone, Hidatsa historians have recently suggested based on oral history and DNA analysis that Sacagawea was of Hidatsa/Crow origin.
posted by Preserver at 10:54 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Dr Debbie Reese, in this guest review on her blog in 2021, is quoted as saying "that she doesn’t know of a decolonized children’s biography of Sacagawea ... I'd promote that (non-existent) book so much". Hopefully the one linked by urbanlenny, which was published after that post, will work for you. The guest post and other resources on Dr Reese's site might be useful too.
posted by paduasoy at 3:06 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Please stick to answering the OP's actual question.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:48 PM on September 16

Best answer: This may sound counter-productive - but maybe try checking out the actual Lewis and Clark journals themselves, and skimming them for the Sacagawea parts.

Allow me to explain.

1. They are fairly kid-friendly in terms of content and language. The biggest hurdle for a 10-year-old would be occasional arcane and "boring" language - that's why I'm suggesting skimming them for the "good parts".

2. The journals aren't that "Colonial" in terms of narrative. You do have the moments where Lewis and Clark discuss "making treaties" with the various tribes over the course of their travels, but over the course of the expedition this gets de-emphasized, largely because it's such a repetitive thing that happens (i.e., they go from discussing exactly what they did during each meeting to saying "we did the usual" or whatever); the emphasis is a lot more on exploration and the journey itself.

3. Sacagawea comes out GREAT in the journals. She's not a super-prominent character, but she comes across as being super-competent and a valuable member of the team; especially in contrast to her French-trapper husband, who was also along on the journey. (One of my favorite bits comes when one of the boats in the expedition capsizes, dumping a bunch of people and a whole lot of notes and sketches and plant samples into the river; Sacagawea's husband panics and flails and begs people to rescue him, meanwhile Sacagawea immediately starts swimming after all of the papers and supplies, trying to rescue them.)

4. There are genuinely funny bits in the journals - I literally laughed out loud at a couple bits (like the boat incident above, or another sequence of entries where this one white boat kept having bad luck happen to it - it sprang leaks, it capsized, it got washed down river overnight, etc., leading up to a night when they tried to guard against EVERY POSSIBLE PROBLEM before going to sleep, only to have a nearby buffalo come and SIT on it).

Sacagawea is a minor character, but the journals themselves are a surprisingly-enough fun read that it's worth at least checking it out of the library and looking up only "the Sacagawea parts".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]

I've used the book "I Am Sacagawea" by Brad Meltzer with my daughter. It's not perfect but it is better than a lot of things that are out there.
posted by cheese at 11:01 AM on September 18

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