Hopi children’s books at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Photograph by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

This past summer I took my family to Walnut Canyon National Monument in northern Arizona. When we entered the visitor center gift shop, my girls immediately ran to the shelves with children’s books and “oohed” and “aahed” over the glossy pages with colorful illustrations. At least half of the books in the gift shop were for young readers, and some of them were on the Hopi.

At Walnut Canyon, park officials mostly had books about the Hopi that non-Hopi people wrote. One of these books was Heather Irbinskas The Lost Kachina. While The Lost Kachina was written by a non-Hopi, the book was illustrated by Hopi artist Robert Albert (Sahkomenewa) from Moencopi. There was at least one Hopi-authored children’s book on the shelves, namely Michael Lomatuway’Ma’s The Magic Hummingbird, which he co-wrote with Ekkert Malotki, a non-Hopi linguist. There are other Hopi-written children’s books that park officials did not include in the  shop such as Polingaysi Qoyawayma’s The Sun Girl and Emory Sekaquaptewa’s (et. al.) Coyote and Little Turtle: Iisaw Niqw Yongospnhoy.

For the past several months my friend and colleague Debbie Reese from Nambe Pueblo has encouraged me to write a children’s book on the Hopi. Debbie authors a very successful blog titled American Indians in Children’s Literature. On her blog she critically examines children’s books about American Indians  and challenges authors to portray Native people in accurate and respectful ways. If you are not familiar with Debbie’s blog, be sure to visit it at the following address: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

My post is not intended to critique the books in the Walnut Canyon gift shop. Sahkomenewa’s illustrations in The Lost Kachina are quite remarkable, and I assume that he would not illustrate a book on the Hopi that he did not approve of himself. Perhaps one day I will take up Debbie’s challenge and write a children’s book of my own. We certainly need more Hopis today writing and illustrating children’s books. And we need more publishers, school librarians, teachers, and even federal park officials to make Hopi authored books available to children.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

6 thoughts on “Hopi children’s books at Walnut Canyon National Monument

  1. Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

    I think you should write children’s books, perhaps on running. The key is you know what is appropriate about Hopi culture to share. Just need to find a good illustrator for what you write. This would be an important contribution.

  2. Phil—It is the rare author who can select his/her illustrator. Most typically, authors don’t even know who the illustrator is, and vice versa. There is generally no communication between them.

    Native artists, be they graphic or performing artists, find themselves in the awkward position of doing illustrations/performances they’re not happy with. Their choices aren’t good. Do the problematic work or do none at all. If you (Matt) know Sahkomenewa, you could ask him about his experience as an illustrator.

    It would be way-cool to have a book by YOU illustrated by HIM.

  3. Writer not illustrating their own work is true for the big publishers. If you self publish for a niche audience you can do both. I do both, but have a nice set up in my work that affords me the opportunity. I love Hopi art. My people are European and Cherokee. Here is a current piece I have up in a t-shirt contest at threadless.com. (It is very outside the norm of their image content) I create this from outside the Southwestern Native Culture of my own upbringing. But I am a huge fan with reverence and respect for your art. I hope this is enjoyed.I doubt it will score high at Threadless, due to that community not being quite educated on Native American Art. If you like, feel free to vote it a 5 and pass around to other’s who may appreciate. Who knows, it may get a print.

    Also, if you’d like to see some of my illustrations for print, look here. I have been working this year on a Latino series with professional storytellers. Perhaps there is somewhat I could help you with illustration.


    Or, enjoy this video…
    Quetzalcoatl: Food for the People
    The password to view the video is: CHSKLS

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