Diné writer wins American Library Association award for picture book

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
"Herizon" won the 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award for best picture book from the American Library Association.

FARMINGTON — When Diné writer Daniel Vandever was promoting his first children's book, he saw kids who struggle with language and literacy skills during various speaking engagements.

What he witnessed helped shape his second book, "Herizon," a wordless picture book that follows the journey of a Diné girl as she helps her grandmother retrieve a flock of sheep.

The book, which won an American Library Association award this month, promotes critical thinking and language development by having the reader create their own narrative derived from illustrations by Diné artist Corey Begay.

"Because there's no set language, which can be bias in a sense, they're always right in how they tell it or interpret it," Vandever said about "Herizon."

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The main character and her grandmother were based on Vandever's memories of being at his grandmother's sheep camp, where his female cousins tended to chores inside the home while he and his male cousins were outside herding sheep.

These actions maintained traditional gender roles, he said. But he wants "Herizon" to show female empowerment through the girl's journey, which is helped by a scarf she receives from her grandmother.

This illustration from the wordless picture book, "Herizon," shows the main character on a journey while retrieving her grandmother's sheep.

"I think that transfer of the scarf to the little girl is representative of intergenerational strength and knowledge," Vandever said.

The book includes an author's note, discussion guide and an explanation of themes and images depicted in the story.

Begay became involved with "Herizon" after Vandever approached him with the concept. They have known each other since Vandever worked on his first book, "Fall in Line, Holden!"

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Begay's colorful illustrations help drive the story's narrative and keep Vandever's vision of using no words intact.

It was important to work with someone whose strength is in their art, the author said.

"Herizon" won the 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award for best picture book from the American Library Association, the oldest and largest library association in the world.

"Herizon" is a wordless picture book that follows the journey of a Diné girl as she helps her grandmother retrieve a flock of sheep.

Vandever and Begay were not the only Diné recognized on Jan. 26 by the ALA. Winner for middle grade book was "Healer of the Water Monster," written by Brian Young and cover art by Shonto Begay.

Each year the ALA honors books and media for children and teens, including the prestigious Newbery, Caldecott, Printz and Coretta Scott King Book Awards.

The American Indian Youth Literature awards are presented biennially and "were established to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians and Alaska Natives," states the ALA news release.

Vandever took "Herizon" to several publishers but opted out of offers because they wanted to add text to the story, so he self-published the book in 2021.

Haystack resident Daniel Vandever has authored two children's books, "Herizon" and "Fall in Line, Holden!"

Self-publishing kept the value and integrity of the book in place and shows that Native Americans can write and produce their own stories, he said, adding the award was gratifying.

"I think in today's digital age, you don't have to do things a certain way or have to rely on certain individuals for you to get your voice out there," he said.

More information about Vandever and "Herizon" is online at www.southofsunrisecreative.com/herizon.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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