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Junior Award Winner

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Isabel EvansFollow


My research investigates representations of Indigeneity in twentieth century American children’s literature. As part of my methodology, I examined children’s books that include Indigenous characters or iconography, like feather headdresses or moccasins, coded as “Indian” in the dominant American imagination. This enabled me to interrogate hegemonic understandings of the “Indian” among non-Native people in the United States, who, until mid-century, saw Indigenous peoples, paradoxically, as both non-human threats to American progress and as the “first Americans.” These assumptions permeated popular children’s books like Two Little Savages (1903) and Little Leo (1951), which both present the “Indian” as an identity that can be assumed by non-Native people to construct and perform “Americanness.” In opposition to this history, my research centralizes books by Native creators that celebrate Indigenous cultures and continue oral storytelling traditions in written form, such as Old Indian Legends (1901), Old Father, the Storyteller (1960), and Lucy Learns to Weave (1969). I also focus on the influence of the Indian Life Readers (1940-1949), a series of twenty-two bilingual books in English, Diné Bizaad (Navajo), Hopi, Lakota, and Spanish intended for Indigenous children. Though they seek to preserve Indigenous languages and uplift young Indigenous artists, the Indian Life Readers also participate in the federal government’s assimilationist project, since they were published by the Education Division of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to promote English language acquisition in Federal Indian Schools. As such, the Indian Life Readers serve as a powerful case study for disentangling the arc of Native American children’s literature from a linear progress narrative. My research indicates that children’s literature represents ripe territory for unpacking the legacy of the printed word as a complex mechanism of colonialism and for Indigenous authors and their allies to reclaim the written form as a part of decolonization efforts.

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