November is Native American Heritage Month! What better way to learn about and celebrate the culture of Indigenous peoples than through books.
There are stories for everyone, from preschoolers to middle school. Many of these stories can be enjoyed as a family, while others will spark important conversations about difficult events in American history. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s something for you and your child to enjoy.
It can be difficult to find high-quality Native American stories, especially those written by Native authors. This list compiles some of the most critically-acclaimed books by and about Native Americans.
Preschool Picture Books (Ages 3-5)
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
This is a lovely, simple book celebrating Native American cultural food. Not only does it celebrate the fry bread itself, but also uses the theme of familial love to show how food brings people together. It’s a cozy, happy story perfect to read as a family.
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child
Using a powwow as the setting for a fantastical story, this book celebrates Native American mythology and artistry. After enjoying the day filled with delicious foods, music, and dancing, a young girl falls asleep at a campfire and has magical dreams of dancing dogs and drum groups. It’s a lovely celebration of Ojibwe traditions and is written in English and Anishinaabemowin.
Awasis and the World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt
This story will remind young readers of other traditional fairy and folk tales. It’s about a young girl who loses the freshly made bannock bread she is supposed to deliver. She enlists the help of woodland creatures to help her make more bannock. This is another bilingual story, seamlessly weaving Cree words into a mostly-English text.
A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell
In this book, a young girl spends the day with her grandmother foraging for herbs and mushrooms. It’s a great story about a grandmother passing down her knowledge to her grandchild. It shows the importance of strong family bonds in many Native American cultures.
Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Kay Minnema
This book captures the difficulty of patience amidst the backdrop of an Ojibwe community celebration. Johnny is excited to eat the delicious foods his grandmother has prepared and finds it difficult to wait through a long Ojibwe prayer and for the elders to get their meals first. It’s a universal lesson of the importance of patience told through Ojibwe cultural practices.
Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Greg Rodgers
Many cultures have trickster stories and this book is a Choctaw take on the classic folk tale. Chukfi Rabbit is always trying to avoid work. While his neighbors build a house together, Chukfi Rabbit spends his day scheming to enjoy the feast that awaits after the hard work. But by the end of the book, he’ll discover that being lazy is hard work! This is a great folk tale for preschoolers.
Early Elementary Books (Grades K-3)
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence
This is a simple book that can introduce young children to the residential school system that forced Native American and First Nations people to assimilate and deny their cultural heritage. When a young girl asks her grandfather to say something in Cree, his first language, he says he is unable to because his words were taken from him as a young boy. His granddaughter sets out to help him rediscover his Cree language. This book does a great job presenting information about a difficult historical period in an age-appropriate way.
In this magical story, a young Yup’ik girl uses her abilities to turn the hard, flavorless crowberries of the Alaskan tundra into delicious raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries. The women of her village collect the berries the celebrate the Fall Festival.
Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story
In this folk tale, readers are transported to a long-ago time, when fire was only available to animals who lived in the sky. Coyote devises a plan to steal fire and together, he and his animal companions are able to bring fire to earth. According to a note at the beginning of the book, in storytelling tradition, this story is told only in winter when there is snow on the ground. Check out this book to enjoy in the coming months.
SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
This is another great book to enjoy in the winter. It’s about two Ojibwe girls who venture out into the dark winter night to witness the Northern Lights. It’s also a story about the beauty of nature in all seasons, even the dead of winter. The younger sister learns to appreciate the quiet and stillness of the night and the reward of the beautiful night sky.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia L Smith
This story is about a Muscogee girl who is excitedly preparing to dance at the next powwow. She wants nothing more than for her dress to make the clink-clink-clinking sound she hears when her grandmother dances. But her dress doesn’t have jingles sewn into it. How will her dress sing if it doesn’t have jingles?
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
In this Algonquin Cinderella tale, the Invisible Being comes to a village looking for a wife. But only she who can see him will be his bride. It’s a young girl with scars on her face and arms is the only one in the village who can see the Invisible Being, despite her spoiled sisters’ desire to be chosen as the bride.
Middle-Grade Books (Grades 4-8)
Squanto’s Journey by Joseph Bruchac
This is a must-read for families at Thanksgiving. Unlike the “traditional” story of Thanksgiving, this focuses on a more accurate and less rosy view of the history of the holiday. Squanto valued friendship and peace, helping the settlers in Plymouth through their first winter. The book also shares the heartbreaking story of Squanto’s capture and imprisonment in Spain. It would take many years for him to return to North America when he would find his people had been killed by diseases brought by European settlers. This book is great to read as a family. It can help foster discussion about the real consequences of European settlements on Native populations.
How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle
This is a supernatural story about a boy named Isaac who is forced to migrate along the Trail of Tears with his family. He is able to see the ghosts of the Choctaw people who died during the journey. Throughout the story, Isaac tells the reader that he, too, will soon become a ghost. This keeps the story emotionally intense as the reader braces for Isaac’s death. This book will foster discussion among readers about the struggles Native people faced throughout America’s history.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
Unlike many books on this list, this chapter book is set in the modern-day, a nice departure from Native stories set in the past. Edie wants to know more about her family’s Native American history. Her mother was adopted by a white couple and Edie believes she doesn’t have any answers about her heritage. But when Edie discovers a box of letters and photographs from a woman named “Edith” in the attic, she begins to wonder where she got her name. It’s a great exploration of identity.
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis
This book is set in 1957, amidst the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a story about Regina, a girl whose tribe is no longer recognized by the federal government. Without that distinction, the community struggles to find work, and Regina’s family moves from Oregon to Los Angeles. There, she faces racism while her father chases his American dream. Like “I Can Make This Promise,” it explores themes of identity, as Native people have their cultural heritage denied.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III
Jimmy McClean has a Lakota mother, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He inherited most of his looks from his white father. In this book, Jimmy goes on a trip with his Lakota grandfather, who tells him stories of his ancestors, including the leader Crazy Horse. He learns more and more about his cultural heritage throughout the store.
In the midst of the Great Depression, 12-year-old Cal Black and his father have been hopping trains since they lost their family farm a year ago. One day, Cal’s dad drops a bombshell: he’s a Creek Indian and is sending Cal to a government boarding school for Native American kids. Pop wants Cal will have food and shelter, but the conditions at the school are harsh. Despite the attempts to assimilate the students to American culture, Cal learns about his Creek heritage from the other boys at school.
Wilma’s Way Home: The Life of Wilma Mankiller by Doreen Rappaport
This is an illustrated biography of the first woman to be elected chief of the Cherokee Nation. Wilma Mankiller grew up in Oklahoma before her family was moved to California by the federal government. She worked to return to her homeland and fought for leadership roles in a time when it was difficult for women. This is a great biography for kids of all ages.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
This is a classic of children’s Native American literature, written by a prolific author. Louise Erdrich paints a picture of daily life for Ojibwa people during the 1840s. After surviving a smallpox outbreak, Omakayas lives on Madeline Island in Lake Superior with her adopted family. This book is the first in a series and perfect for fans of Little House on the Prairie. It has the same spirit, a simple, daily-life story that transports readers to another culture and time period.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
This is a fantasy novel based on Navajo mythology. When seventh-grader Nizhoni’s father disappears, she must begin a rescue mission. She can see monsters, including her father’s creepy boss who she believes has something to do with his disappearance. Now, they enter a series of trials to enter the House of the Sun, where the ultimate monster is waiting. This book is a part of Rick Riordan Presents, a diverse imprint by acclaimed author Riordan that aims to publish stories that celebrate a variety of cultures.
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