Review: Absolutely True Diary Part-Time Indian

“Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. // I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” page 118

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Novel by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2007, my edition 2009.
YA realistic fiction, 230 pages not including extras.
Winner of many awards including a National Book Award.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 6.0 points)  .
NOTE: Due to content, this is not generally recommended for middle school students.

Junior is a Spokane Indian with a life from a Greek tragedy – medical woes, funerals, poverty, and picked on, he still tries to find the humor in life and look for the hope in his future in this semi-autobiographical novel.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian resized

Despite all the accolades, and my recent positive experiences of Alexie’s work, I did not expect to love this book the way I did.  Alexie seems mostly known for his literary fiction.  Diary is a YA book still interesting to the general adult fiction reader.  Unlike The Sun is Also a Star, which I might recommend to certain adults, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a teen coming-of-age story that I would recommend to almost any adult reader.  Arnold Spirit, Junior, is a Spokane Indian with hydrocephalus, a stutter, and a few other challenges, like dire poverty and 30-year-old textbooks.

Despite a life where the cards seem stacked against him, Junior perseveres, chasing his hope through tragic deaths and ridiculous logistics (how do you get to school 22 miles away when you’re incredibly poor and there’s no bus?  Answer: sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you walk.)

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Review: Mission to Space

“I am Commander John B. Herrington and I am Chickasaw.” page 4

Mission to Space by John Herrington.
White Dog Press, Chickasaw Press, Ada, Oklahoma, 2016.
Picture book informative non-fiction, 20 pages including glossary.
Not yet leveled.

John Herrington tells about space travel, including the preparations for what happened during his trip to space.  Since he is an enrolled tribal member of the Chickasaw Nation, his experiences as an astronaut are also viewed through the lens of his indigenous heritage.

Mission to Space

I had to get this after reading Debbie Reese’s review at AICL.  Not only did she strongly recommend it, but the pictures she shared from the book also had me convinced that this would be great for my students.  Many of them love space, and most are ill-informed about indigenous peoples, so this book would be a great way to interest and educate.  Plus, the book trailer was great too.

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100 Indigenous Books

Back in 2015, I started reading diverse.

In 2016, I got educated about #ownvoices (and started this blog).

What will 2017 bring?

I have some specific goals in mind.  Although the main focus here will continue to be children’s books featuring African Americans, I want to branch out into some other areas.

While my actual reviewing of said books is uneven, I read children’s books from most other groups even if they never make it onto my blog.  But even though I’ve been following Debbie Reese on and off for the past decade, I don’t do a good job reading indigenous books.  How can I expect my students to read the American Indian Youth Literature Award winners when I have not?

american-indian-youth-literature-award

Part of this is availability.  None of the libraries I work at have what I would consider a good Native collection, and the local public library is sparse as well, although they have been open to suggestions.  Mostly my power here has been negative, that is, removing outdated books with stereotypes or those that relegate Native culture to the past.

This is ridiculous given that I live in Wisconsin, where Act31 requires the teaching of treaty rights, three periods of Native American studies, and the inclusion of diverse reading materials.

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This year, I want to be more positive.  We made a start as a family by watching a few videos about modern natives and attending a powwow.

Now I am going to make a promise here: to read 100 books by indigenous authors.

I also have a goal of buying 50 of those 100 books.  We probably won’t keep all of them, so my thought is to donate some to libraries that don’t have them.  I would love to review all 100, but might just read some without reviewing them.

This is a massive undertaking, so I am not going to set a time limit.  Also, many thanks to my amazingly supportive partner, who’s willing to devote a large portion of our family resources towards this and other reading projects, and who selflessly gives up his weekend whenever I decide we need to educate the kids about something.

While I’m guessing most of the books I select will be Native American (and I’m hoping for a lot of Great Lakes area #ownvoices), I’m also going to include indigenous authors from elsewhere in this challenge, mostly Canadian, and likely some indigenous Australians as well.  I’ve already purchased a number of books.

For this challenge, I will be relying heavily on these lists, but I’m open to other sources.  Most of the books will probably be children’s or YA, but I’ll fit in some adult reads as well.

Anyone else want to give this a try?  (You don’t have to do 100 books!)

Awards You Might Not Know About

Book awards beyond the Newberry and Caldecott.

We’ve all heard of the Newberry and Caldecott Awards.  In fact, you might even have done a book report on one at some time in your childhood.  If you’re a savvy librarian or teacher, you might know about some of the other awards like the Giesel or Wilder Medals.

But did you know that there are many awards out there specifically for helping you find the best books and authors for a host of diverse groups?

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The Coretta Scott King Book Awards – 2016
There are four different categories.  This long-running award is probably the most likely to be seen on the shelves of your local bookstore.  The number of honors (vs. awards) seems to change yearly based on what is published.

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Schneider Family Book Award – 2016
“The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”  Both fiction and non-fiction are eligible but fiction tends to win more.  Categories are Children’s, Teens, and Middle School, and multiple books can win, but there are no honors.

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Stonewall Book Award – 2016  
Running since 1971, this award honors books relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender experience.  There are currently six categories including fiction and non-fiction for children, YA, and adults, and up to four books can be honored in some categories (it varies by year).

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Pura Belpré Award – 2016  
“The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”  There are winners and honors for authors and illustrators, fiction and non-fiction are mixed with fiction more predominate.

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American Indian Youth Literature Award – 2016   
These awards are given every two years to fiction or non-fiction books in the categories of picture book, middle grades, and YA. “Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.”

 

Of course, awards are not perfect.  Some years mediocre books win an award, other times modern classics are passed over (Amazing Grace) and don’t win any awards.  However, for parents, teachers, and librarians, these award lists can be a huge help as we try to find quality books in areas we might not be very knowledgeable in.

What major awards am I missing?  Does your local library buy the winners of these awards?