A Must Buy and a Good Tale

By Herbert Kohl

The New Press Guide to Multicultural Resources for Young Readers, ed. Daphne Muse (The New Press, NY 1997) $60

Adopted by Indians: A True Story, Thomas Jefferson Mayfield (heyday books, Berkeley, CA 1997) $10.95

I have a small shelf of books that have been indispensable throughout my teaching career. Among them are The Funk and Wagnall’s Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, Eric Partridge’s etymological dictionary Origins, and James Trager’s The People’s Chronology, a year by year record of human events from the arts to politics and economics from prehistory to 1992. Now I have a new book to add to the shelf. It is the over-600 page The New Press Guide to Multicultural Resources for Young Readers edited by Daphne Muse. The guide provides over 1,000 sensitive summaries and reviews of books for young people. The books are grouped under these themes: Who Am I?, Who Are We?; The Family; Community/ Friendships; Cultural Traditions; Folktales, Fairy Tales and Legends; Newcomers Establishing Roots; Justice, Human Rights, Equity; and Building Cross-Cultural Relationships. Each section is subdivided into reviews of books relevant at different grades: kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade, and grades seven and eight. The reviews cover more than twenty ethnic, disabled, gay and lesbian, and multiracial communities.

Critical essays, classroom suggestions, and other educational resource materials are sprinkled throughout the book so that it has important pedagogical content as well as providing a cornucopia of books and other educational material one can use. There are lesson plans and suggestions for using multicultural books to illuminate all areas of the curriculum. Educators and scholars such as Sonia Nieto, Debbie Wei, Jack Zipes, Bob Peterson, Rosa E. Warder, and Joseph Bruchac have contributed essays, and there are dozens of reviewers proving that multicultural literature is alive and thriving. The editor, Daphne Muse has also written a series of small essays that orient the reader to the history and importance of multicultural literature in education.

The book is beautifully produced and even worthy of a coffee table. One of my favorite things about the book is the degree to which it includes titles from small presses that do not have the resources to publicize their books the way major publishers do.

It is very rare that I have found such good stuff and even rarer when I try to make a case to buy a $60 book. But what a Christmas or birthday present, a gift to the school resource library, an investment in the enrichment in one’s teaching and, if you have children or love young people’s literature, your own family and personal life.

I also have an addition to recommend to the Guide, one just published by heyday press in Berkeley, CA, which also publishes the journal Notes From Native America. It is Adopted by Indians: A True Story by Thomas Jefferson Mayfield. The title originally put me off — another white man romanticizing Native American life. But heyday press does such wonderful and respectful publishing that I read the book. It is a first person narrative of Mayfield’s growing up with the Choinumne people of California’s Central Valley, from 1850 when he was eight, until he was 20. It is an intimate, detailed, delightful book that is a portrait of what it was like to live free of European dominance. There are games and ceremonies, friendships and fights, all the rough and tumble, pain and joy of life — and all the blessing of a life free of oppression. The profusely illustrated book can be read in elementary school through high school and of course by those of us adults who love children’s literature. It tells an ordinary story beautifully and for that reason makes one all the more outraged about what horrors Europe has wrought upon Native peoples.