Stephanie Wichlacz – Children’s Librarian, Virginia Public Library

There were so many great speakers and topics discussed at Spotlight on Books but I think I’ll highlight our Skype visit with Debbie Reese. Debbie is the creator and updater of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature – she’s also very active on the YALSA listserv which made me familiar with her work before I knew she was making an appearance at this conference (over Skype). Debbie was featured early in the conference and was a good indicator of issues we talked about with her and other presenters like Anton Treur – Native Tribes and peoples as they are represented in books.

Debbie had a very nice set-up in that she highlighted 5 steps librarians and teachers can take to make sure that their book collections are representing native nations and peoples in a correct and welcoming light. Step 1 was recognizing your “problematic favorites,” in other words, recognizing that books like Arrow to Alaska and Little House on the Prairie contain images and representations of Native Americans that are damaging and incorrect. Step 2 is to increase your personal knowledge of native nations and peoples – this way you can recognize harmful representations in books and media AND recognize when representation is done right. She gave several good examples of books – I was pleased to find our library already had some of them!

Step 3 & 4 combined (she is still working on her bullet list) indicated that once librarians and teachers are well informed they should take a look at their book collections. I think most striking to me about this was when she said that Native American tales are often put in folktales, but that creation and religious native tales should properly be in the religions section – which blew my mind because this is completely correct. She did mention it can be hard to tell which books should be moved, and even which books are accurate enough to be considered folktales or fiction. It looks to be a tricky topic but I am so glad she brought it up. At the very least I’ll be thinking of this in the future when I look at my own library’s collection!

I think having several speakers talk about native nations and peoples made me more aware of my gaps in knowledge about this subject – I hope in the future to be more aware and improve how our library adds books on this topic and to make the library more welcoming to native children and parents looking for books!