When the people of the Shinnecock Indian Nation greet each other, they say “Aquay” which means “I see the light in you”. This phrase is a great reminder that when times get dark and we begin to lose hope, each of us carries a light within that is able to shine through the darkness. “If only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be,” as Amanda Gorman once said. Here are some recommendations for young adult fiction and non-fiction with a Native American / Native accent. What is rare and special about these stories is that they share the unique attributes of Indigenous culture that exist beyond stereotypes and speak more to the beliefs and identities of the people portrayed.
“Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Novel Collection” by Matt Dembicki
This is the first graphic anthology of Native American folklore and trickster tales adapted in comic book form. One of the main advantages of Trickster as an anthology is that readers have the flexibility to choose what they want to read without needing to feel pressured to read the entire graphic novel from start to finish. Trickster is a cunning creature or being who disturbs the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself in the process. These Native American tales are rich in life lessons, humor and beautifully represented through illustrations. Must read.
“7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga” by David Robertson
David Robertson does a superb job of storytelling through this graphic novel. Readers who have struggled with depression or suicide can relate to the main character’s struggle. The power of this story lies in the author’s ability to explore past events with events in the present to better assess how the characters got to where they are. Their trauma is heartbreaking, but Robertson skillfully mixes the story of yesterday with that of today, in such a ruthless way that readers may wisely consider how their choices today will influence generations to come.
“Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Pioneers – Edmonia Lewis” by Jasmine Walls
Based on a true story, “Seen” tells the story of American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, who was of Ojibway origin and of Afro-Haitian descent. She grew up learning to make baskets and moccasins from her Ojibwa aunts, who would later raise her and her brother after their parents died. As a woman of color, she refused to let racism interfere with her pursuit of education or sculpture. Eventually Lewis would become a much sought after sculptor who created an astonishing 3,015 pound solid marble sculpture depicting (and aptly named) “The Death of Cleopatra”. Walls’ bold writing helps readers learn who the sculptor was and where his passions existed. The graphic novel format also helps usher in the story by keeping the historical facts interesting but succinct.
Jasmine Parker is the Youth Librarian at the Ferndale Public Library. For more information or to suspend any of these titles, visit fadl.org.