Give a Native Child the Gift of Reading

American Indian children could benefit greatly from the gift of reading this holiday season. The statistics on Native high school students who must enter remedial English upon entering college are alarming. Reading is the foundation of every course in college. Strong reading skills lead to strong writing skills, and both are the basis for success in not just English class, but chemistry, biology, engineering, and more.

Reading is another way to pass along stories—and Indians are born storytellers! Introducing books and reading to Native children at a young age is a simple solution to introduce a child to the love of storytelling and reading.

Do you know a child who could benefit from the gift of reading this holiday season?

If so, take a book, wrap it, and put it on or under the child’s bed so it is the first thing he or she sees in the morning. The book doesn’t have to be new. Why not share one of your old favorite books with a child?

Or, if you are Native, create your own book with paper and ribbon. Why not write down one of your tribe’s creation stories or winter stories on paper and tie it together with ribbon and present it to a child. If you know your tribal language, you can write it in that language, introducing a child to his or her language if you haven’t already done so. You can also write the story in English. I made my niece a book ten years ago, hand-written and illustrated and stapled together, and she still keeps it in her collection of treasures. When you create a book with traditional stories you are giving a child a precious gift–the gift of your people’s stories.

If you choose to buy a book, two recommended children’s books for this time of year are “Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story” by M. Scott Momaday. The story is about a young mute named Tolo who shares the spirituality of the mountains and meadows with his grandfather. After his grandfather dies, Tolo plunges into loneliness, only to be empowered by wild creatures to transcend his sorrow to understand the Christmas spirit. Another beautiful story, titled “The Give-Away: A Christmas Story in the Native American Tradition” by Ray Buckley relays the story of the true meaning of giving through the eyes of wild creatures and the creator: denying oneself so that another may have a better way.

Offer to read the book aloud together. Reading aloud reinforces memory, pronunciation, and the love of reading. It’s that easy—and lots of fun!

Happy reading and happy holidays from the American Indian College Fund!

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