Yvonne Wakim Dennis

Yvonne Dennis at Bank Street Books, NY, NY

Children of Native America Today

A Bit About Me and my Writing

Growing up, I craved the musings of adults and never passed up an opportunity to listen to their stories even if it was from the next room with my ear pressed against the door! Elders always seemed to have more time for me that most other adults did and were usually pleased to have such an attentive audience. So I had the fortune to learn many things about the world that others my age missed. I retold these stories, often embellishing them with elements from my imagination or bits and pieces I had read. I wrote and wrote and wrote, secretly filling up notebooks and keeping narratives on just about everyone in my circle. My literary acumen was not always appreciated! However, I won awards, particularly for my creative non-fiction, and took it as a spiritual affirmation that I was on the right path. I always thought that I would be a writer when I grew up, but I got busy with life and trying to be the best parent, community member and global citizen I could possibly be - so much to do and so little time. I am grateful that I found by way back to my love of writing.

Most of my published books and curricula have been in contemporary American Indian/​Indigenous/​First Nations cultures. I have published some historical works, but I find it uncomfortable writing about people who are not around to defend themselves. In my experience, editors often dismiss non-Eurocentric historical sources like oral traditions, wampum belts and winter counts to name a few. I also write about cultural diversity, drawing on my own multicultural background for many ideas. I am American Indian and Arab and am lucky to have lived and worked in diverse neighborhoods. My passion and commitment to give back to the Earth is evident in all that I write. I don't consider myself an activist, but rather it is a way to express gratitude for what we call, The Great Life.

The current trend of “dumbing down” to kids in children’s books is appalling and frustrating. As a child, my family did not have television. Instead, I was trusted to read anything and everything (except comic books and Modern Romance!), and look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary. I used the same approach with my son, who has grown up to be an avid reader; sharing and discussing books has turned out to be a wonderful way of staying connected to him. Today’s kids should be challenged by attention-grabbing literature and respected enough to understand a variety of ideas and information. I am also outraged that books and popular culture still perpetuate stereotypes about Indigenous peoples as well as folks of African, Latino, Arab, Asian descent and others from “unpopular” ethnicities, religions, gender and sexual orientation. I feel compelled to expend valuable writing time addressing these gross injustices.

I am a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, which helps maintain discipline with all my writing, especially unsold works that don't have deadlines! I am also a multicultural consultant and workshop facilitator. For fun (and therapy), I host the Native Women's Powertime Circle, a safe environment where we play, cry, and heal by writing our memories and points of view. I am also the Education Director for the Children’s Cultural Center of Native America, which provides accurate cultural programming for school groups and workshops for educators: http:/​/​www.childrensculturalcenterofnativeamerica.org/​

Selected Works

Children's Nonfiction
Winner of the 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Gold Medalist in Activity Books and the 2010 Independent Publishers Silver Award for Interactive Books. Hands-on activities, games, and crafts introduce children to the diversity of Native American cultures and teach them about the people, experiences, and events that have helped shape America, past and present.
Kennedy Center Multicultural Book Honoree, 2005; The Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2004; International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society, 2003. This award-winning book highlights 26 contemporary Native groups.
Winner of the 2008 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Gold Medal in Multicultural Non-Fiction and the Bank Street College "The Best Children’s Books of 2008." This children's non-fiction multicultural book highlights diversity in the United States.
Adult Nonfiction
A realistic and diverse guide to teaching about today’s Native Americans.
A manual for anyone interested in telling the truth about American Indians.