For older readers, Sherman Alexie has written the story of the average teen in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. That is, if that teen is a gawky, artistic outcast who is routinely bullied, prone to seizures, and lives on a reservation. Although life on the "rez" is rough, Junior bands together with his aptly named best friend, Rowdy. But when he transfers to a rich, white school, he finds himself a different kind of outcast among his reservation friends and family. When tragedy strikes his family in the form of death and alcoholism, Junior must cope with loss along with the growing pains of a teen who is trying to find his identity. Alexie, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, using biting wit and plenty of humor to face down the complex realities of a kid growing up as a modern-day American Indian.
For more great children’s books by and about American Indians, check out Debbie Reese’s blog, “American Indians in Children’s Literature.” She is a tribally enrolled Nambe Pueblo teacher and children’s literature professor.
Author’s note: American Indian or Native American? Indigenous peoples or First Nations? You may have noticed that throughout these reviews, I have mostly used the term “American Indian.” This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “Native American,” but they are not without controversy. Whenever possible, I have used the author’s preferred term, and/or their accurate tribal affiliations. To learn more, read Amanda Blackhorse’s article “Blackhorse: Do You Prefer ‘Native American’ or ‘American Indian’? 6 Prominent Voices Respond.”
Sarah Stippich is a children’s librarian and the early literacy coordinator for the Free Library of Philadelphia.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu 2000 New York: Morrow Junior Books
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
By Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier 2011 New York: Holiday House
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney 2007 New York: Little, Brown & Co.