Navajo stories

A children’s book author wins the American Indian Youth Literature Award.

Published on Show Me Mizzou August 25, 2022
Story by Mara Reinstein, BJ ’98

portrait of Daniel Vandever

Courtesy Daniel Vandever

Picture it: A recent Mizzou grad is logging hours in a Pfizer call center in St. Louis. He begins to doodle on scrap pieces of paper nearby. Those scribblings lead to sketches, which lead to an acclaimed illustrated children’s book, which leads to another one.

By 2022, Daniel Vandever, BJ ’09, is a freshly minted recipient of the American Library Association’s American Indian Youth Literature Award. “It was quite the surprise!” he says.

Vandever, a Navajo from Haystack, New Mexico, originally set out to inspire his young nephew and nieces with stories about important social topics set in “Navajo Nation.” But he quickly became aware of the opportunity at hand. Noting the dearth of contemporary Native American stories, “I realized the books could be a positive tool in starting discussions and working toward change,” he says.

His first effort, 2017’s Fall in Line, Holden!, was set in a boarding school and promoted individuality amid assimilation. His new book, Herizon, focuses on how females can use intergenerational strength to empower one another. It’s wordless and completely visual “because I noticed when I’d do readings in schools that a lot of kids were intimidated by literacy,” he says. “This way, nothing will be misinterpreted.” Vandever, who earned a master’s degree in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico, also worked in the community for a decade as a teacher and communications director at Navajo Technical University.

Although he just moved from New Mexico to Arizona, he points out that he’s never leaving his roots. “It’s part of our culture that you always return to where your umbilical cord is buried,” he says. “So I always believed it was my destiny to go back and help my people.”

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