J.K. Rowling’s missteps with Native Americans and my We Need Diverse Books resolution for 2016

J.K. Rowling came under fire earlier this month for her portrayal of Native people and cultures in a series of online stories related to Harry Potter.

The collection focuses on the fictional history of North American magic as part of a larger project to expand the Harry Potter universe and its back stories. But the recent installment received fast criticism from Native Americans, who said Rowling treated them as magical creatures and a monolithic group.

The backlash speaks to the much bigger conversations to be had on how much and in what ways American Indians are represented in children’s literature. I touched on this subject briefly in my conversation with Pam Margolis, but I am by no means an expert. (But you know who is? Debbie Reese. Check out her blog.)

That’s why part of my 2016 We Need Diverse Books resolution is focused on books by or about Native people.

As I thought about my resolution back in January, I didn’t think upping the raw number of diverse books I read made that much sense, because I pretty much maxed out my reading time last year. But I did think about the breakdown of what I read last year and how I could mix it up. Continue reading

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Thinking critically about Columbus Day and American Indians in children’s books

As many kids across the U.S. enjoy a day off school for Columbus Day, I encourage you to visit and follow this blog: American Indians in Children’s Literature.

It is written by Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman from northern New Mexico. On the blog, Reese, who has been a school teacher and professor of children’s literature, critiques stereotyped portrayals of American Indians in kids’ books and offers better examples. It’s worth a read by any parent, teacher or librarian.

And if you are, indeed, a teacher, I also recommend you check out the Zinn Education Project for some different perspectives on Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day than we usually see in schools. Did you know that Seattle’s school board recently voted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day each year? The city council followed up with a similar vote the next week.

“Rethinking Columbus” is a volume for teachers, published by Rethinking Schools magazine.