Indigenous Authored Books

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Indigenous authored books for youth being published in the U.S. and Canada have grown from only 6 in 2002 to 38 in 2018. Although having over ten times the number of Indigenous children’s books published is an exciting and promising amount of growth, this number only represents 1% of the total number of children’s books published. This unbalanced number does not reflect the 1.5% of the U.S. population and 4.9% of the Canadian population that have Inuit, Métis, First Nations, and Native American heritage, not to mention the low numbers of Central and South American Indigenous peoples in North America who choose to report as Hispanic without reporting Indigenous heritage.

Indigenous Authored Books Listed in the Article

Many teachers, librarians, parents and readers do not know about the incredible children’s books created by Indigenous peoples around the globe, as they are often not supported by large publishers’ advertising budgets, school district adoptions and Hollywood adaptation promotion. Because consumers aren’t being spoonfed information about new and upcoming kids’ books by Indigenous authors, it is up to us to follow reviewers, bloggers and others to stay current on the topic. Debbie Reese’s prominent blog American Indians in Children’s Literature seems to do the lion’s share of promoting Indigenous North American literature, as well as Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website and blog, which offers considerable resources for locating and learning about Indigenous children’s literature as well as books by others.

In this post, I’d like to share an additional strategy for following Indigenous children’s literature on a global scale: following smaller scale and international book awards. Book awards are an excellent way to discover high quality children’s literature.

The AILA Awards, The Burt Award and the Daisy Utemorrah Award are specifically for Indigenous authored literature for youth. Other book awards to give attention to focus on Indigenous literature in general and occasionally these awards are given to writers for youth. Also, Indigenous literature for youth might win a general children’s literature award. Location specific book awards are another category of awards where I often see Indigenous children’s literature receiving awards.

The American Indian Library Association’s American Indian Youth Literature Award has honored books by and about Indigenous peoples North American biennially since 2006. Beginning in 2020, the award will be announced on the same stage as the American Library Association Youth Media Awards, and I imagine this will bring a higher level of awareness to the winners of that award than there has been in the past. I attended the AILA awards ceremony while attending ALA Midwinter in Seattle this year. While it was an intimate and heartfelt evening at the Seattle Public Library and felt like warmth and revolution, it deserves the level of attention, live streaming watch parties and book sales spikes that the “Oscars of children’s literature” receives.

The Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Young Adult Literature is an excellent place to begin looking for books telling Indigenous stories that are less likely to end up on book lists in the United States. Up until now, this award has only had one category: English language Indigenous YA literature. However, this year there will also be an award for books in Indigenous Languages from Canada written for youth. Submissions must include an English translation, but this translation does not need to be published. The Burt Award also has categories for African YA literature as well as Caribbean YA literature.

Magabala Books, an Aboriginal Corporation with a focus on Indigenous Australian Publishing, in partnership with Western Australia Premier’s Book Awards, sponsors the Daisy Utemorrah Award an unpublished manuscript of junior or YA fiction by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writer. Magabala books is intentionally trying to nourish a new generation of Indigenous writers for children. Because this is the inaugural year for this award, the winning manuscript by Kirli Saunders is not yet published but will be in 2021.

In awards for Indigenous literature in general, Canada’s Indigenous Literary Studies Association has an Indigenous Voices Award. This award is for writers whose tribal membership is from lands claimed by Canada. This award is not specifically for children’s literature, yet has given awards to children’s literature authors. Recently, Joanne Robertson won for The Water Walkers. Similarly, Canada’s Anskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival gives awards to Indigenous authors for writers for adults and youth.

The Taiwan Literature Award, administered by the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, includes a Mother Tongue Award for aboriginal languages, Taiwanese and Hakkanese. Also, the Taiwan Indigenous Literary Awards administered by the Republic of China Ministry of Education, recently awarded Ljumeg Patadalj of the Paiwan for their retelling of Cinderella, with the hopes of inspiring young people to be interested in studying their native language.

Also, in Australia, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award gave Tony Birch their top award for Indigenous writing in 2016 to Tony Birch for his adult/YA crossover Ghost River.

Of course, general children’s literature awards sometimes give awards and honors to Indigenous authors and illustrators. This year, the Sibert Award for non-fiction, a part of the ALA Youth Media Awards, awarded an honor to Tracy Sorrel for We are Grateful: Ostaliheliga, illustrated by Frané Lessac. This marvelous bilingual title also won the National Council of the Teachers of English Orbus Pictus Award Honor this year.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults has a number of winners and honor books highlighting Maori stories and histories. Last year’s winner of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year was to Maori/European Gavin Bishop for his book Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story. Recently, Te Haka a Tānerore by Raina Kahukiwa, highlighting Māori performing arts, was honored.

Finally, highlighting just one of the geographic/place specific awards where one can find Indigneous writers, the High Plains Book Award in Montana, United States, has awards for Indigenous writers as well as awards for Young Adult fiction. There are many state, regional and local awards that we can look to for place based book awards.

Most of these awards have email lists, Facebook pages and other ways to keep current on Awards long lists, short lists and winners. Following book awards helps us to keep the conversation about Indigenous literature for youth current and strong, and helps us advocate for the use of these excellent books in schools and libraries around the world.

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