Native American Heritage Month Kid Lit Review of “Native American History for Kids” by Karen Bush Gibson

This is another book in the terrific series of non-fiction histories for kids published by the Chicago Review Press. This one provides an unvarnished history of the native peoples in America, and the fate they met after the country was colonized by Europeans.

The author begins by noting that with 562 federally recognized nations or tribes, “there are a minimum of 562 histories.” She makes a point in this book to identify the specific nation about which she is writing for any one historical event, along with teaching us something of their cultures. There is a lot of information to impart, for as she observes in the preface:

“White men originally wrote American history because they were the ones in power. Unfortunately, they also wrote that history with cultural bias.”

Even in the latter half of the 20th Century, with all the emphasis on “political correctness,” she notes that incorrect and incomplete information is pervasive in books, television, movies, and society generally. She concludes her preface:

“Everyone has a responsibility to verify and correct information when possible. … We owe this to the Native Americans of all nations.”

Why? The rest of the book sets out to let you know.

The first two chapters are a bit geographically disjointed, because they recount what happened to Indians impacted by the early explorers, whose voyages took them all over in a nonlinear way. Most readers will recognize some elements of the history beginning with the third chapter, when Europeans settled on the eastern shores of America. But their recognition will fade quickly, because these are not the stories generally taught in school. Rather, it is a rather continuous succession of bad news. The Native population was decimated by the new Americans via diseases, expulsions, guns, treachery, and atrocities. Even so, the author doesn’t include reports of all the massacres that took place (how could she?), and she doesn’t include too many disturbing details about the horrific abuses that occurred during the worst of them (at Sand Creek, for example).

There are some bright spots along the way, such as the story of the legendary Jim Thorpe, an introduction to author Sherman Alexie, and an explanation of the unique way in which some Native Americans helped their country in the two world wars. Readers may have heard of the “Code Talkers” who helped send secret messages for the military during both wars. The book even includes a fascinating excerpt from the Navajo Code Talker’s Dictionary.

Jim Thorpe in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm

Like the other books in this series, this one includes 21 activities for kids that extend the lessons imparted in history to other subject areas, such as math, social studies, and science. There are instructions, for example, for designing a diorama of a trading post, making a totem pole, baking Arapaho Fry Bread, and creating a family tree. In addition to footnotes and sources, the back of the book has an annotated list of websites for additional information and a glossary.

Evaluation: This book is outstanding but exceedingly depressing. Nevertheless, it is a story that must be told, and one that all American children should learn. Besides the informative narration of the main story, there are plenty of photos and graphics and sidebars and boxes that mix it up and keep it interesting.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by the Chicago Review Press, 2010.


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3 Responses to Native American Heritage Month Kid Lit Review of “Native American History for Kids” by Karen Bush Gibson

  1. It is depressing to think of the way Native Americans were treated but we need to be more open about it. This book sounds excellent.

  2. This book should be in all American and Canadian libraries.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    Whenever reading about native american history I alternate between anger and sadness. Another one Gage needs to read. You do a great job in filling his library 🙂

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