I’m always looking for great books to read with my daughter. And while I’m glad for her to be reading whatever the next free book is from Chick-fil-a (gotta love Library Mouse), I try to choose books that will help her to understand how to live well in her community and in the world around her.
It happens that right now I am reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace as part of our Liturgy of Life reading group. In it he discusses the way that American life interacts violently with the natural world (strip mining, landfills, pesticides . . . ). He points to the traditional Native American lifestyle as a contrast,
The American Indian, who was ignorant by the same standards (that is the standards of formal education), nevertheless knew how to live in the country without making violence the invariable mode of his relation to it; in fact, from the ecologist’s or the conservationist’s point of view, he did it no violence. This is because he had, in place of what we would call education a fully integrated culture, the content of which was a highly complex sense of his dependence on the earth.
We have a lot to learn from the traditions of this culture. Not only were the Native Americans the first Americans, making them an essential part of our own history, but the way that the Native Americans understand the world has a lot to teach us in modern day America. And while I know very little, there are some great kids books that introduce this culture to young readers (and where their parents can learn a few things too) in a beautiful way. Here are some of our favorites.
Doesn’t Fall Off His Horse, by Virginia A Stroud
This is our absolute favorite. The illustrations are beautiful and the ideas of independence and community, are challenging and inspiring.
The Legend of the Indian Paint Brush, by Tomie dePaola.
DePaola has several books which retell Native American tales. We love this one, another great one is the Legend of the Bluebonnet (though it is a bit heavier and the spirituality is a bit more difficult to explain) it is a fun to look at the world around us (Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets are both common Texas Wildflowers) and imagine the ways that it has been understood by past peoples.
The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor.
Baylor has a series of beautiful books. This one is about how every creature lives and waits and depends on the same rain and sun and earth to live.
The Gift of the Sacred Dog by Paul Goble
Goble also has several books about different aspects of Native culture. Beautifully illustrated with wonderful stories. This one is about how the horse first came to be part of Indian culture.