Board Books,  Children's Books,  Picture Books

Beverly Blacksheep’s Navajo Baby Boardbooks

I had a bit of a break there due to the end of my semester. I can officially say I am done with my first year as a MLIS student! Both semesters started out pretty “okay” but then at the end they both hit pretty hard. I know what I want to do still; that hasn’t changed. It’s been challenging, but I feel awakened to the needs of the book world overall, starting with our most impressionable citizens… the wee ones. I’m not always the “best” with little kids; don’t think of me as some kind of child whisperer. But I definitely see them as being the most desperate and at need when it comes to thoughtful and authentic multicultural books that will help to shape their worlds and make them the wonderful and contributive citizens that we need in our society and the world once they become adults.

I’m mixing things up and going to talk about another set of books that I found out about through my program. These board books explore the Navajo Nation (Naabeehó Bináhásdzo), which is the largest Native American tribe, not only in the United States, but specifically in Arizona, covering most of the Northeast portion of the state (about 27,000 square miles across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico), and a population of approximately 350,000 citizens. With that, it makes sense that our young people should have a familiarity or a basic understanding of this sovereign nation’s culture and possibly even some language.

The author and illustrator, Beverly Blacksheep, uses easy to understand English text and the according Navajo words above them. They are filled with beautiful images, including pastel colors and brilliants set against white backgrounds that should be easy for young readers and even babies to see. They follow a young Navajo girl as she learns about the world around her through time, seasons, weather, animals, colors, counting, her own senses, and of course, her first adorable laugh.

These books are an example of titles that are an “authentic depiction of the culture, which may not be as readily accessible to outsiders. But… contributes ‘a distinctive voice [and] a distinctive worldview’” (Ibid, 14 and Naidoo, 5). What is unique about these books is that the authenticity towards the Navajo culture is very evident, and it is meant for readers whose first language is Navajo, not to teach Navajo to non-Native speakers, which is obvious through the exclusion of any Navajo pronunciation guide. This book speaks loudly for Navajo families whose first language is Navajo as it offers them a piece of literature just for their world. That is why it is a useful tool as a glimpse into another culture for those outside the culture who have a “guide” such as a CD or a person who speaks Navajo and can pronounce the words correctly and explain the attire, items, and scenery in the pictures.

Activity Corner: For Native speakers or people, this would be best read out loud to familiarize themselves with both the Navajo and English words as well as the items and attire that they may or may not be familiar with, depending on whether they grew up on the reservation or if their family was very traditional or not. For non-Native people, this would be a good book to teach another culture of a people very important to the history of our country and due to it not including a pronunciation guide, buying the CD to go along with it and read the book while the adult and child turn the pages together would be a good interactive activity.

These books (and CD’s) would best be purchased through Native owned independent book publishers and book stores Salina Book Shelf or Oyate.

Note: Please see Debbie Reese‘s website, American Indians in Children’s Literature, as she is one of my inspirations when it comes to exposing both the rights and wrongs in children’s literature. She is an amazing spokesperson for both the Native community and all children in making sure that there is a balance of all cultures in children’s literature, but especially our First People. She is where I first heard of these books and I don’t think I would be as passionate about this topic or children’s literature in general for it had not been for her and her outspoken activism for children.

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