First Nation children's books and resources for schools and homes


The Christmas Coat won the Picture Book award from the American Indian Library Association (AILA).
Native American Heritage Month: Children's Books for Your Black Friday Shopping List
ICTMN Staff 11/23/12

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and with Native American History Month winding down, now is a great time to combine the two with some recommendations that do double duty: They not only educate children about American Indian heritage but also make great gifts!

We recently profiled books that adults can read to learn more about Native American Heritage Month. Now it's the kids' turn. The best source for such books would be the website American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL), which has a year-round list of books that are great for teaching children about Turtle Island's Indigenous Peoples. Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo, Upper Village, New Mexico), who runs the website, has selected the books and separated them into four age categories. Below are some samplings from each of AICL's four lists.

Top Board Books for Babes, for the toddler-and-under set, is chock full of picture books that showcase art, teach the alphabet as well as Native languages and illustrate tribal legends. There is something for everyone in this list, starting with Baby Learns about Colors, by Beverly Blacksheep (Salina, 2003), one of an eight-book bilingual series in Navajo and English featuring a baby girl and her growth "in a tribally specific context," Reese writes. The series teaches in the same fashion about animals, seasons, senses, time, weather, counting and even laughing.

There's also I See Me, by Margaret Manuel, (Theyfus, 2010), which contains blank lines below the English photo captions for someone to fill out using any language.

Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Art (2010, Garfinkle Publications, no author listed) is a board book with illustrations by First Nations artists. There's also one about counting, Learn to Count with Northwest Coast Native Art.

Moving on to Top Ten Books for Elementary School, we find an array of books, sampled below.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood (Holiday House, 2011), by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, won the Picture Book Award from the American Indian Library Association earlier this year.

Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, tells about how fire traveled from the animals in the land above to the people on the earth below via the trickster Coyote, who teamed up with Grizzly Bear, Wren, Snake, Frog, Eagle and Beaver to stole the precious flames from Curlew, the keeper of the sky world.

The Good Luck Cat (Harcourt Children's Books, 2000), by Joy Harjo, Muskogee Creek, tells of the relationship between a girl and her cat. The author herself came out this year with a grown-up memoir, Crazy Brave.

Next up is Top Ten Books for Middle School, including volumes by the likes of Joseph Bruchac and Louise Erdrich.

The Birchbark House (Hyperion Press, 1999) by Louise Erdrich lets Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl who lives on an island in Lake Superior around 1847, tell her own story and that of her people in a book that The New York Times said was akin to the classic Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Erdrich recently won a National Book Award for her adult novel The Round House. She owns Birchbark Books, the famed Minnesota shop.

Indian Shoes(HarperCollins, 2002) by Cynthia Leitich Smith, introduces us to Ray, a Cherokee-Seminole boy who lives with his Granpa Halfmoon in Chicago. The vignettes describing his adventures with moccasins, in a wedding and a neighbor's pets to paint a comprehensive and entertaining picture of urban Native life. Also on the list is Rain Is Not My Indian Name, which Leitich Smith also wrote.

High Elk's Treasure(Holiday House, 1995), also by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, tells Lakota history through the adventures of Joe High Elk, a young Lakota who finds a historical treasure hidden by an ancestor after the Battle of Little Big Horn. "This book includes realistic characters and exciting adventure with which all children can identify, while at the same time presenting contemporary Lakota life," says one reviewer on

Finally we get to the Top Ten Books for High School, which is of course topped by Sherman Alexie'sThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been both praised and vilified, the latter most notably with its inclusion two years running on the American Library Association's (ALA) list of most-challenged books.

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today(Harper Teen, 2005) is an anthology edited by Lori Marie Carlson whose anecdotes-from a checkout line at the supermarket, a rowboat at dawn on a freezing lake and an ice hockey game-bring alive the American Indian experience of today.

For some history,Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative(Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1983), recounts the life of the great-great-grandmother of the author, Ignatia Broker, Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

These are among those that the AICL considers to be essential reading for children and youth who want to know more about American Indian history and heritage. The full lists are available at the AICL website.



Reading children the classic 'The People Shall Continue' by Simon Ortiz will pave the way to a sound education about the events leading up to and following the so-called First Thanksgiving.

Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children's Books That Set the Record Straight

Debbie Reese11/19/13

It's November, a time of year that many parents, teachers, and librarians look forward to giving children books about what is commonly-and erroneously-called "The First Thanksgiving." Others seek books that counter the narrative of Pilgrims and Indians warmly sharing a meal together, and still others want to avoid that disingenuous feel-good story altogether and provide children with books that are about indigenous people, books that provide insights and knowledge that are missing from all too many accounts.

Your local bookstore probably has a special shelf this month filled with books about "The First Thanksgiving." In most of them, Native peoples are stereotyped, and "Indian" instead of "Wampanoag" is used to identify the indigenous people. When the man known as Squanto is part of the stories, his value to the Pilgrims is that he can speak English, and he teaches them how to plant and hunt. The fact that he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain-if mentioned at all-is not addressed in the story because elaborating on it would up-end the feel-good story.

But there is an antidote to these books, and it goes beyond volumes that merely counter the feel-good tale. There are a multitude of works by Native writers who tell stories from their experience and history. While Thanksgiving is a good time to grab people's attention about Wampanoag-European interactions, it does not need to frame the story. These books give a far more nuanced, and accurate, account of Indigenous Peoples. They will set children and adults alike straight on what really happened around the time of the so-called First Thanksgiving, and what Native life is like today.

1.The People Shall Continue, by Simon Ortiz (Children's Book Press, 1977)

The starting point for this picture-book poem, illustrated by Sharol Graves, is not 1492, nor is it 1621. The story begins the moment that "all things came to be," when "the People were born." This provides an immediate departure from the typical re-telling of creation stories by non-Native writers, who tend to cast our stories in a romantic and mystical realm.

Right off the bat, Ortiz tells us that the People differ in how they came to be.

Some say, "From the ocean."
Some say, "From a hollow log."
Some say, "From an opening in the ground."
Some say, "From the mountains."

As the poem progresses, the People start talking about strangers who seek treasure, slaves and land. Across the continent, the People fight to protect themselves.

In the West, Pope called warriors from the Pueblo and Apache Nations.
In the East, Tecumseh gathered the Shawnee and the Nations of the Great Lakes, the Appalachians, and the Ohio Valley to fight for their people.

In the Midwest, Black Hawk fought to save the Sauk and Fox Nation.
In the Great Plains, Crazy Horse led the Sioux in the struggle to keep their land.

Osceola in the Southeast, Geronimo in the Southwest, Chief Joseph in the Northwest, Sitting Bull, Captain Jack, all were warriors.

The People signed treaties, and many were moved. Their children were taken to boarding schools.  Throughout, parents told their children:

"You are Shawnee. You are Lakota.
You are Pima. You are Acoma.
You are Tlingit. You are Mohawk."

Through the years, the People kept their stories alive. Then, they realized, it was the powerful forces of the rich and of the government that made not only them but also others suffer: Black People, Chicano People, Asian People, and poor White people. Ortiz ends with a call to all Peoples to ally against forces that seek to destroy the humanity within each of us.

We must ensure that life continues.
We must be responsible to that life.

With that humanity and the strength
Which comes from our shared responsibility

For this life, the People shall continue.


2.Muskrat Will Be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau (Tilbury House Publishers, 1996)

Set in the present day, this book is about a young girl being taunted by schoolmates. Her grandfather helps her cope with bullying by telling her their Skywoman story, which is part of the creation story of the Haudenonsaunee.

3.First Americans, series by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (First Americans Books, various years)

This picture-book nonfiction series, similar in scope to Ortiz'sThe People Shall Continue,consists of eight books profiling the Apache, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Hopi, Iroquois, Seminole and Sioux. Each one begins with a creation story and concludes with present-day information about each tribe and its people. In each, Sneve provides information about leaders, past and present.

4.Indian Shoes, Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002)

This easy-reader chapter book is about Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy, and his grandfather, who live in present-day Chicago.Indian Shoesis one of six stories in the book. Sprinkled with humor and warmth, each story is rich with details about Native life. Being set in Chicago, it makes clear that Native people are part of today's America, and that some of us-be it by choice or other circumstances-live away from our homelands.



5.The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich (HyperionBooks for Children, 1999)

Another chapter book, this one about the Ojibwe people and their early encounters with whites who were moving into their homelands. An award-winning book, it launched a series that now has four books in it:Game of Silence(2005),Porcupine Year(2008), andChickadee(2013). The fifth book, not yet published, is titledMakoons.

RELATED:Native American Heritage Month: Children's Books for Your Black Friday Shopping List

Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, Debbie Reese holds a doctorate in Education and publishes American Indians in Children's Literature