Indigenous Authors & Stories for Children

November is Native American Heritage Month, and the Lenni-Lenape are the original people of the region – historically named Scheyischbi or Lenapehoking – having arrived here over 10,000 years ago.

Native voices have historically been kept out of the publishing world but, thanks to the continuing efforts of Indigenous scholars, advocates, and authors, there are more books available than ever before. AICL, founded by Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) is an invaluable resource for honest reviews, questions about books or authors, and insights into children’s and YA literature featuring Indigenous peoples.

Here are a few of our favorite recent picture books, chapter books, and nonfiction titles for children by Native authors.

PICTURE BOOKS

Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, by Danielle Greendeer (Mashpee Wampanoag, Hawk Clan) Anthony Perry (Chickasaw), and Alexis Bunten (Unangan & Yup’ik)

In this Wampanoag story told in Native tradition, two kids from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe learn the story of Weeâchumun (corn) and the first Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving story that most Americans know celebrates the Pilgrims. But without the Wampanoag who already lived on the land where the Pilgrims settled, the Pilgrims would never have made it through their first winter. And without Weeâchumun, the First Peoples wouldn’t have helped. An important picture book honoring both the history and tradition that surrounds the story of the first Thanksgiving.

Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!, by Art Coulson (Cherokee)

Bo wants to find the perfect container to show off his traditional marbles for the Cherokee national holiday. It needs to be just the right size: big enough to fit all the marbles, but not too big to fit in his family’s booth at the festival. And it needs to look good! With his grandmother’s help, Bo tries many containers until he finds just the right one. A playful exploration of volume and capacity featuring Native characters and a glossary of Cherokee words.

Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me a Story, by Aviaq Johnston (Inuit)

Bowhead whales are the longest-living mammals on the planet, living over 200 years. In this heartwarming story, a grandfather bowhead recounts to his young grandcalf all the beautiful, amazing, and surprising things he has seen in his lifetime, all while assuring the little calf that there is nothing more wondrous than the love a grandfather has for his grandchild.

When We Are Kind, by Monique Gray Smith (Cree, Lakota, & Scottish)

What does it mean to be kind to your family, your elders, your environment, and yourself? In simple, repetitive language, this gentle book explores how behaving with generosity toward others makes us feel happy in return. Whether by helping with laundry, walking the family dog, sharing with friends, or taking food to our elders, we learn that the gift of kindness involves giving and receiving.

Little Moar and the Moon, by Roselynn Akulukjuk (Inuit)

Moar has always loved autumn – playing outside with his friends, feeling the weather get colder – but there is one thing about autumn that really worries Moar: the moon. The days become shorter and the moon, with its creepy face and eerie smile, seems to be looking down on him before he can even get home from school! So, one day, Moar is determined to get home before the moon appears in the sky. But there are so many fun things to do on the way home, he may just run out of time!

Powwow Day, by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)

When River first wakes up on powwow day, she feels a surge of excitement before remembering that she is still recovering from being sick and can’t dance this year. Will she ever dance again? Dressed in her jingle dress and matching moccasins, River longs to join her family and friends in the Grand Entry procession and is sad that she can’t feel the drum’s heartbeat. Watching her sister, cousins, and friend dance, River’s heart begins to open and she realizes that they are dancing for the Creator, the ancestors, their families, and everyone’s health… including her own.

I Sang You Down from the Stars, by Tasha Spillett-Sumner (Inninewak & Trinidadian)

As she waits for the arrival of her new baby, a mother-to-be gathers gifts to create a sacred bundle. A white feather, cedar and sage, a stone from the river… Each addition to the bundle will offer the new baby strength and connection to tradition, family, and community. As they grow together, mother and baby will each have gifts to offer each other.

Tasha Spillett-Sumner and Michaela Goade, two Indigenous creators, bring beautiful words and luminous art together in a resonant celebration of the bond between mother and child.

CHAPTER BOOKS

The Used-to-Be Best Friend (Jo Jo Makoons, Book 1), by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn – about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)

This collection of intersecting stories by both new and veteran Native writers bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

Native families from Nations across the continent gather at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In a high school gym full of color and song, people dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. Young protagonists will meet relatives from faraway, mysterious strangers, and sometimes one another (plus one scrappy rez dog).

They are the heroes of their own stories.

Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young (Navajo)

When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer, with no electricity or cell service. Still, he loves spending time with Nali and with his uncle Jet, though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him.

One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds someone extraordinary: a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story – a Water Monster – in need of help.

Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to support Uncle Jet in healing from his own pain.

The Barren Grounds (Misewa Saga, Book 1), by David A. Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation)

As a First Nations kid whose whole life has been lived in one white foster home after another, Morgan feels little reason to get excited about anything. Two months in to her new foster home placement, she inherits a new foster brother, Eli, a young Cree boy who spends his time quietly drawing in his sketchbook. After a blowup with their earnestly well-intentioned foster parents, Morgan and Eli shelter themselves in the attic, where a drawing in his pad seems to come to life, creating a portal into the wintry Barren Grounds of Misewa where the passage of time is different from in Winnipeg. After Eli disappears into this world, Morgan is determined to go after him to bring him back. When she finds him, they discover that the Misewa community of animal beings needs their help to survive the White Time.

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story, by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee)

Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Featuring nonfiction support material, a glossary, and reader response questions, this Girls Survive story explores the tragedy of forced removals following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

A Snake Falls to Earth, by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache)

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries.

And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

NON-FICTION

Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman, by Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) with Nancy Mays

When Sharice Davids was young, she never thought she’d be in Congress. And she never thought she’d be one of the first Native American women in Congress. During her campaign, she heard from a lot of doubters. They said she couldn’t win because of how she looked, who she loved, and where she came from.

But everyone’s path looks different and everyone’s path has obstacles. And this is the remarkable story of Sharice Davids’ path to Congress.

Beautifully illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, an Ojibwe Woodland artist, this powerful autobiographical picture book teaches readers to use their big voice and that everyone deserves to be seen, and heard! The back matter includes information about the Ho-Chunk written by former Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer, an artist note, and an inspiring letter to children from Sharice Davids.

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)

Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.

Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan trace Ross’s journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the book highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition), by Anton Treuer (Ojibwe)

From the acclaimed Ojibwe author and professor Anton Treuer comes an essential book of questions and answers for Native and non-Native young readers alike. Ranging from “Why is there such a fuss about nonnative people wearing Indian costumes for Halloween?” to “Why is it called a ‘traditional Indian fry bread taco’?” to “What’s it like for natives who don’t look native?” to “Why are Indians so often imagined rather than understood?” and beyond.

Updated and expanded to include dozens of new questions and new sections, including a social activism section that explores the Dakota Access Pipeline, racism, identity, politics, and more! Adapted text for broad appeal in a style that is consistently thoughtful, personal, and engaging.

Native Americans in History: A History Book for Kids, by Jimmy Beason (Osage Nation of Oklahoma, Eagle Clan)

From every background and tribal nation, native people are a vital part of history. This collection of biographies for kids explores 15 Native Americans and some of the incredible things they achieved. Kids will explore the ways each of these people used their talents and beliefs to stand up for what’s right and stay true to themselves and their community.

This book of Native American history for kids teaches them about becoming a leader like Sitting Bull and Tecumseh, staying strong like Maria Tallchief and Jim Thorpe, and fighting for change like Deb Haaland and Suzan Harjo.

One Land, Many Nations, Vol. 1: Cherokee Nation and Pueblo of Laguna, by Traci Sorell (Cherokee) and Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo)

The continental United States is one land, but within its borders are many nations – sovereign Native American nations whose citizens have dual citizenship. In Volume 1 of this series, authors Traci Sorell and Lee Francis IV take readers on a contemporary tour of their respective nations. Readers learn the history of their people, famous citizens, traditional stories, as well as details about tribal life today – including their systems of government, education, and commerce.

Find these books and more on display in the Youth Department this month.

Happy reading!

Melanie Bruchet, Youth Services Librarian

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