November is Native American Heritage Month. Typically, this means that the internet is flooded with underwhelming and endless lists of books highlighting “Indians and Pilgrims” – using this as the only opportunity throughout the year to discuss indigenous peoples of the US, and typically through a distorted lens.
We’re taking a different route, one that will celebrate the lesser-told stories of individual cultures and stories among Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
A brief aside: There are amazing educators out there who are debunking, challenging, and critiquing how to teach Native American Heritage Month in the classroom. A few of them offer resources that we wanted to put at your fingertips: Check Your Curriculum? Are Native Americans in the Past Tense? by Zinn Education Project; Some Thoughts About Native American Month and Thanksgiving by Debbie Reese of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog; and the Rethinking Columbus guide from Rethinking Schools. These are just a few. As you find others, please add them to the comments below.
Since we at Vamos a Leer have been engaging in this conversation every November for the past few years, we’ve compiled other resources that may be useful to you. You might consider checking out our content on teaching about Indigenous Peoples, as well as our related materials on Rethinking Thanksgiving. And finally, you might refer, too, Reading Roundup of “10 Books About Indigenous Peoples of Latin America” – some of which we’ll cover in more depth in this month’s reviews.
We begin our reviews this month with the children’s book, The Princess and the Warrior, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This title is an Illustrator Honor Book of the 2017 Pura Belpré Award and a Commended Title for the 2017 Américas Award, among others.
In this book, Tonatiuh tells his own version of the legend of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, which are the two volcanoes southeast of Mexico City. Tonatiuh recounts the legend of how these volcanoes came to be, but adds his own twist to this well-known Mexican story.
The book is a love story about the beautiful princes Itza, who falls in love with a warrior, Popoca. Itza’s father, the emperor, prefers that Itza marry a powerful tlatoani, or ruler, rather than a simple soldier. However, he concedes that if Popoca is able to defeat Jaguar Claw of the neighboring area, with whom they have been at war, Itza and Popoca can marry. Although Popoca fights bravely and eventually triumphs over Jaguar Claw, a twist in the plot leads Itza to believe that Popoca has actually been defeated. In her grief, Itza drinks a special octli (fermented beverage) and cannot be awoken. Popoca, grief stricken, lays her on a bed of flowers and remains by her side throughout time. And that is how the two volcanoes came to be. As Kirkus Reviews writes, it’s a story “equal parts melancholic and transcendent – a genuine triumph.” Continue reading