As part of the amazing and incredible Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature, I was sent a review copy of Children of The Tipi: Life in The Buffalo Days, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and published by Wisdom Tales Press.
But before I get into my review, I have to say how pleased I am that I could play a (very small) part in #MCKlitDay. As a voracious reader (and with two school-aged kids) myself, I was already aware of the lack of multicultural books available. Then the blogger info sheet told me, “Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content.”
Yikes. It’s even more problematic than I thought.
Here’s more that I got from my blogger sheet:
The co-creators of this unique event are on a mission to change all of that. Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press want to raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity and to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries.
And now on to the review.
When I signed up to be a reviewer I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, or what book I might be sent. How cool to receive a quality hardcover book, filled with quotations from Native Americans and beautiful photographs, mostly historical, but some contemporary, as well.
I read through the book and was very moved by the quotes it contained, particularly the Living in Nature section. There was a quote from a Blackfeet Chief that read, “The land was put here by the Great Spirit. We cannot sell it because it does not belong to us. You can count your money and burn it within the nod of a buffalo’s head. But only the Great Spirit can count the grains of sand and the blades of grass. . .” As an historian, I appreciated the historical context that these quotes gave, and the map of the tribes at the front and back of the book helped me understand the geographical context, as well.
Then, I sat down with my Kindergartener and 3rd-grader, and we looked through the photos and read all of the quotes together, so I could get their feedback as well. They both rated the book at three stars out of four.
“I knew a lot of this from when we studied the Wampanoags and went to Plimoth Plantation,” my “I know everything already, Mom!” 3rd-grader told me. I pointed out that the book described Native Americans from a different time period and a different part of the United States. She nodded sagely but wouldn’t admit that there was any information in the book that was new to her. “But I thought the photographs were interesting and nice, and I liked the font they used,” my aspiring graphic designer added. And, after re-asserting she knew everything already, she asked wistfully, “But when will I be old enough to read the other books they sent you?” (Wisdom Tales sent me several other books for adults, also by MIchael Oren Fitzgerald. “Ha!” I thought. “She knows there’s more to learn, after all!”)
Meanwhile, my Kindergartener got a little squirmy while we read. Despite my efforts to help her understand, I think some of it was over her head. She did pay attention, though, especially while looking the photographs of girls with their dolls–”Just like me and my doll!” she said–and the contemporary full-color photographs at the end, which show boys and girls about her age in gorgeous traditional clothing. Those made her eyes pop.
And I made sure to pause at each page and talk about unfamiliar words, pointing out things in the photographs that were similar to and different from the way we live and dress today. This book lends itself to exploration with an adult’s help. I deliberately lingered on the quote I mentioned above, from the Blackfeet Chief, and asked what my kids thought it meant. They were puzzled. “Well, he’s saying that the land and nature is all part of God, and you can’t sell pieces of God, can you?” I explained, to their wide-eyed surprise. It’s the kind of revelation that I know will stay with them, giving them further food for thought as their understanding deepens of how our government has treated Native Americans.
I have so many positive things to say about this book, but the one thing I found missing was more explanation of the photographs and the people being quoted. Although I have a general knowledge of Native American history, it was hard for me to explain some of the things we were seeing and reading without a little more background information.
All in all, however, I am so glad we got to read such a well-made book! And now it’s time to share the “wealth”–to play a small part in diversifying my homogeneous little New England town, I will be donating Children of The Tipi to my local public library so more people can enjoy this gem. (Thanks to Becky Flansburg of Audrey Press, our fearless coordinator, for the suggestion!)