AILA announces 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Awards

3 winning book covers

For Immediate Release
January 27, 2020

Philadelphia — Today American Indian Youth Literature Award winning titles were highlighted during the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards, the premier announcement of the best of the best in children’s and young adult literature. The awards are new to the ALA Youth Media Awards lineup and are administered by the American Indian Library Association (AILA), an affiliate of the ALA.

Awarded biennially, the American Indian Youth Literature Award identifies and honors the very best writing and illustrations by and about Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America. Books selected to receive the award present Indigenous North American peoples in the fullness of their humanity. Winners and Honor Books were selected in the categories Best Picture Book, Best Middle Grade Book, and Best Young Adult Book.

According to Lara Aase, 2020 AIYLA Chair, for this round of Awards, “there were more excellent books submitted than ever before, including some from major U.S. publishers. We chose books that appealed to the young readers we know, and we were thrilled to see writers address contemporary as well as historic and traditional topics, including everything from fry bread to forced adoption to finger weaving, Native women military heroes to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, traditional tattooing to high school romance to grizzly bears. Many of us grapple with issues of identity; we are grateful to see authors and illustrators represent the myriad identities of young Indigenous readers.”

The 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award winner for Picture Book is “Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim,” written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation), and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe), published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

In “Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim,” Windy goes to a Powwow with her Uncle and her dog Itchy Boy, and afterwards she falls asleep under the northern lights. She has a “weird and wonderful” dream about a Bowwow Powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, a drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, jingle-dress dancers, and fancy dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. The brightly-colored pictures evoke the sights, sounds, and tastes of a Powwow—“always in motion, part old and part new, glittering and plain, but still wonderful, almost like a dream.”

The committee selected five Picture Book Honor titles including:

“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” written by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band), illustrated by Juana Martínez-Neal (Peruvian-American), and published by Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan.

“Birdsong,” written and illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis) and published by Greystone Kids.

“At the Mountain’s Base,” written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Scots-Gaelic), and published by Kokila / Penguin Random House.

“We Are Grateful,” written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Frané Lessac, and published by Charlesbridge.

“Raven Makes the Aleutians,” adapted from a traditional Tlingit story and illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida, Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale clan, Brown Bear House) and published by Sealaska Heritage.

The 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award winner for best Middle Grade Book is “Indian No More,” written by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua/Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde) with Traci Sorell (Cherokee), cover art by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscogee Creek), published by Tu Books / Lee & Low.

In “Indian No More,” it is 1957, and as part of the Indian termination policy, the United States government has passed the Indian Relocation Act to assimilate Native Americans from reservations into urban areas. Ten-year-old Regina and her family have to leave the Grand Ronde reservation after the federal government tells them the Umpqua tribe no longer exists. Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight—even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations. Her family moves to Los Angeles, where for the first time, Regina faces the viciousness of racism. This story will resonate with modern Native American families, over 70% of whom now live in urban areas.

The committee selected two Middle Grade Book Honor titles including:

“I Can Make This Promise,” written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), with cover art by Michaela Goade (Tlingit, Kiks.ádi clan, Steel House), published by Harper Collins.

“The Grizzly Mother,” written by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (“Bret D. Huson,” Gitxsan), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia), and published by Highwater Press.

The 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award for best Young Adult Book is “Hearts Unbroken,” written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) and published by Candlewick Press. Louise is a high school journalist with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s ethnically inclusive approach to casting “The Wizard of Oz,” which has provoked backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. Long-held prejudices are laid bare and hostilities spread against teachers, parents, and students—especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions heighten at school, so does Lou’s romantic life—but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. Will she protect her own heart, or break someone else’s?

The award committee selected four Young Adult Book Honor titles including:

“Surviving the City,” written by Tasha Spillet (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia), and published by Highwater Press.

“Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing,” gathered and compiled by Angela Hovak Johnston (Inuk), with photography by Cora De Vos (Inuk), published by Inhabit Media.

“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People,” written by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza adapted from the adult book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, published by Beacon Press.

“Apple in the Middle,” written by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe, Turtle Mountain Band) and published by North Dakota State University Press.

Members of the American Indian Youth Literature Award are Chair Lara Aase, Hesperus, Colorado; Paulita Aguilar (Kewa), Santo Domingo Pueblo/Albuquerque, N.M; Cameron Becenti (Diné), Albuquerque, N.M.; Naomi Bishop (Akimel O’odham/ Pima Gila River Indian Community), Mesa, Ariz.; Vanessa ‘Chacha’ Centeno (Chahta), Sacramento, Calif.; Anne Heidemann, Mount Pleasant, Mich.; Erin Hollingsworth, Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Janice Kowemy (Laguna), Laguna Pueblo, N.M.; Sunny Day Real Bird (Crow Apsaalooké), Crow Agency/Ronan, Mont.; and Ofelia Liz Zepeda (Tohono O’odham), Stanfield/Tucson, Ariz.

2020 AILA YLA Brochure

The American Indian Library Association is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Members are individuals and institutions interested in the development of programs to improve library cultural and informational services in school, public, and academic libraries. AILA is committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and traditions to the library community. Learn more about the awards at https://ailanet.org/activities/american-indian-youth-literature-award/