Updated booklist for Indigenous Peoples Day

It's Indigenous Peoples Day! We urge you — today and all year — to seek out and share books respectfully representing and honoring the multitude of indigenous North American peoples and cultures. For an extensive resource by both a cultural insider and a children's literature scholar, please visit Debbie Reese's website American Indians in Children's Literature (and in particular her "Best Books of the Year" lists). The American Indian Youth Literature Award, presented every two years, is another source for excellent children's books by and about American Indians.

Below are reviews of many of their selections, recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. Board books were recommended in our quarterly "Board Book Roundup" column.

We welcome your suggestions as well!

Board Books

inhabit_inuit toolsA series of three word books by Inuit-owned publisher Inhabit Media — Inuksiutiit / Inuit Tools, Miqquliit Tariurmiutat / Marine Mammals, and Ukiuqtaqtuup Uumajungit / Arctic Animals — follows the same basic structure. On each verso page appears an image of an animal or object; Animals and Mammals offer stunning stock photos of creatures in their natural arctic habitats, while Tools uses clean-lined illustrations on brightly colored backgrounds. Each recto page identifies the animal or tool in Inuktitut, followed by the word's transliteration into the Latin alphabet and English translation. Tools doubles as a counting book. (Inhabit Junior, 2015)

Cradle Me

In Cradle Me — a book tailor-made for babies (who love looking at other babies) — Debby Slier introduces eleven infants from different Native American tribes, safely and (for the most part) happily secured in their cradleboards. Each of the photos by  Marilyn Angel Wynn and others is accompanied by a single word describing the baby’s actions or emotions. The culturally specific and the humanly universal are both depicted here. (Star Bright, 2012)

smith_my heart fills with happinessIn Monique Gray Smith's lyrical text for My Heart Fills with Happiness, First Nations children relate their favorite simple pleasures: spending time with loved ones, smelling baking bannock, making music, dancing, enjoying nature, and listening to stories. Their simple declarations of joy — in a handlettered-looking font on textured cream backgrounds — contrast nicely with Julie Flett's rich-hued gouache and digital collage illustrations depicting these moments on facing pages. The setting and characters are specific, and welcome; the emotion is universal. (Orca, 2016)


Picture Book Fiction and Nonfiction

alexie_thunder boy jr."I HATE MY NAME!" complains Thunder Boy Smith Jr., a.k.a. Little Thunder: a nickname that "makes me sound like a burp or a fart." As he considers new names, the pictures let us into his world and his dreams. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie a 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book honor book is both funny and real, and Yuyi Morales's illustrations (made from "the remains of an antique house") give the family great specificity. (Little, 2016)

bruchac_rabbit's snow danceIn Rabbit's Snow Dance: A Traditional Iroquois Story, James and Joseph Bruchac retell a pourquoi tale that the elder included in two previous collections (Iroquois Stories and The Boy Who Lived with the Bears). This version differs significantly — and, unfortunately, there's no source note. Shorter sentences and more patterning and repetition make this a good preschool read-aloud. Jeff Newman's watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations' classic mid-twentieth-century style echoes Simont, Hurd, and Weisgard. (Dial, 2012)

capaldi_boy-named-beckoningIn 1871, five-year-old Wassaja, a Yavapai Indian, was kidnapped then sold to a sympathetic photographer, Carlo Gentile. Renamed Carlos Montezuma, Wassaja became a doctor and advocate for Native Americans. In A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero, as well as using other sources, Gina Capaldi effectively adapts an autobiographical letter Montezuma wrote to the Smithsonian in 1905. The text is ably supported by sidebars, photos (many by Gentile), and Capaldi's textured paintings. Bib. (Carolrhoda, 2008)

erdrich_range-eternalIn The Range Eternal by Louise Erdrich, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher's swirling paintings reflect the warmth emanating from a Native American family's wood burning stove, which is both the literal center of comfort and security in their household and a symbol of the fading open "range" outside their door. Arresting images of meals cooked and cold nights endured nicely balance the story's mystical elements to deliver a poignant message about preserving the past. (Hyperion, 2002)

flett_wild berries Clarence and his grandma go berry-picking in Julie Flett's Wild Berries / Pikaci-Mīnisa. Each double-page spread describes the sights and sounds and also uses one word in a dialect of Cree (the "n" dialect, known as Swampy Cree), highlighted in red font. The muted earth tones of the watercolor and collage illustrations perfectly complement the quiet story. A pronunciation guide and glossary are appended. (Simply Read, 2013)

highway_dragonfly-kitesTomson Highway’s bilingual English/Cree story Dragonfly Kites / Pimithaagansa (originally published in 2002) has been reissued with new illustrations by Julie Flett, an artist of Cree-Métis ancestry. Brothers Joe and Cody live in the far north, their summer home a tent on one of Manitoba’s many hundreds of lakes. For hours the boys follow the dragonflies they fly on strings like magic kites, until finally they set them free — only to find them again in their dreams. The text has an graceful simplicity, evoking the deep pleasure of brothers at play in a serene, remote setting, and the art enhances those qualities. The elegant page design cleanly incorporates the English and Cree texts. (Fifth House, 2016)

nelson_greet-the-dawnAt dawn, buses take kids off to school while pictographic images of buffalo and men on horseback fly through the sky. Throughout the day, the interactions of people, animals, earth, and sky are celebrated in modern poetic language with traditional songs in Lakota and English. S. D. Nelson's Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way is a pictorial testament to a way of life that still survives in South Dakota. (South Dakota, 2012)

ortiz_good-rainbow-roadIn a time of prolonged drought, two brothers are dispatched across perilous terrain to seek help from the spirits of rain and snow. While not folkloric in origin, the story and pictures of author Simon J. Ortiz and illustrator Michael Lacapa's The Good Rainbow Road are suggestive of the Native American Southwest. The story is presented in both English and Keres, the language of the Acoma people; a Spanish version is appended. (Arizona, 2004)

David Alexander Robertson's When We Were Alone is a quiet story is about love and resistance during the decades-long era of oppressive residential schools for First Nations children in Canada. A contemporary girl asks her grandmother several questions; Nókom answers by discussing the residential school she attended. Through descriptive language and repetition, Robertson describes the seasons of Nókom's resistance. Julie Flett's collage illustrations, with their simplicity and earthy colors, are soulful and gentle. (HighWater, 2016)

robertson_hiawatha-and-the-peacemakerWith Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, music legend Robbie Robertson, of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage, retells a traditional story. The Great Peacemaker, with the help of Hiawatha, unites five warring Iroquois nations. The story is quite dark and complex, as the chiefs struggle to overcome their anger at past violence. David Shannon's dramatic paintings show the Peacemaker standing stoically, surrounded by chaos. A musical CD is included. (Abrams, 2015)

rodgers_chukfi-rabbits-big-bad-bellyacheWhen Ms. Shukata Possum needs a new house, her animal friends pitch in in exchange for a meal afterward. Lazy Chukfi Rabbit feigns illness and secretly hoovers the meal's homemade butter until he's really sick. Readers of Greg Rodgers's Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale will enjoy following Chukfi's attempt to evade detection. Leslie Stall Widender's illustrations finesse the humor in this Choctaw trickster tale, which is told with confiding informality. (Cinco Puntos, 2013)

tingle_crossing-bok-chittoChoctaw storyteller Tim Tingle teams up with Cherokee painter Jeanne Rorex Bridges to tell the story of a little girl who crosses the Bok Chitto river and befriends a group of slaves in Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom. The naive style of the art, with people often looking directly at the reader, works well with the mystical story, and the climactic moment where slaves cross the river to freedom is spine-tingling. (Cinco Puntos, 2006)



Younger Fiction and Nonfiction

king_coyote-solstice-taleFirst Nations author Thomas King (A Coyote Columbus Story) demonstrates his characteristic iconoclastic humor in A Coyote Solstice Tale, an anti-consumerism story in rhyme. A little girl drops in on Coyote at Christmastime. Setting out to bring her home, Coyote temporarily falls under the spell of excessive consumption at the mall. Gary Clement's dryly humorous cartoon illustrations in pen-and-ink and watercolor wash put Coyote's emotions on full display. (Groundwood, 2009)

santiago_home-to-medicine-mountainIn Chiori Santiago's Home to Medicine Mountain, which is based on a true story, Benny Len and his brother, mixed-blood Native Americans in northern California, are sent to boarding school in southern California in the 1930s. The school, where the students are forbidden to speak their Native languages, doesn't provide transportation home for the summer, but Benny's brother finds a way to get them back. Forthright paintings by Judith Lowry enhance the story, which is moving and informative. (Children's, 1998)

rendon_powwow-summer-2In Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life, author Marcie R. Rendon's Anishinabe heritage and in-depth knowledge about her people and the powwow allow her to present authentically this cultural event from the perspective of one Anishinabe family. Photographs by Cheryl Walsh Bellville capture the traditional and contemporary lives of the family. (Carolrhoda, 1996; new edition University of Minnesota, 2013)

tapahonso_songs-of-shiprock-fairIn plain, declarative prose, Luci Tapahonso details the events of the Navajo Nation's annual Shiprock Fair as experienced by one girl and her family. What the narrative of Songs of Shiprock Fair lacks in story line it more than makes up for in an abundance of sensory details and a theme of strong family and community bonds. Anthony Chee Emerson's intensely patterned paintings are marked by a bold geometry that looks both solid and comfortable. (Kiva, 1999)


Intermediate Fiction and Nonfiction

bruchac_talking leavesIn the nineteenth-century culture of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) nation, wives could initiate divorce by asking their husbands to leave their houses. That is precisely what Uwohali’s mother did, and his father, Sequoyah, moved out, subsequently remarrying, and working on his now-famous Cherokee syllabary. When Sequoyah returns to Uwohali’s village, he’s viewed with suspicion; thirteen-year-old Uwohali, however, sees a father he would like to know. Although the particulars of Joseph Bruchac’s Talking Leaves occur two hundred years ago, the universality of fitting into a blended family and looking for love and acceptance from a once-absent father feel strikingly contemporary. (Dial, 2016)

red bird singsRed Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist, Gina Capaldi and Q. L. Pearce's picture-book adaptation of three of Zitkala-Ša’s semiautobiographical stories (first published in the early 1900s), begins with the Native American girl’s 1884 enrollment in a Quaker-run boarding school. Music, along with oratory skills, rekindled her ancestral spirit and prompted a life devoted to Native American rights. Sheet music, maps, and photographs are thoughtfully incorporated into Capaldi's acrylic illustrations in this emotion-stirring biography. (Carolrhoda, 2013)

curry_wonderful-sky-boatThe history and culture of the Southeastern indigenous peoples have been infrequently conveyed in children's books, but the twenty-seven stories in Jane Louise Curry and James Watts's collection The Wonderful Sky Boat: And Other Native American Tales of the Southeast are familiar as well as new. Curry provides a quick history of each of the sixteen peoples with whom the stories originated. Readers will find enticing images and bits of mystery in this felicitous collection, and many storytellers will find at least one new story for their repertoires. (McElderry, 2001)

The Birchbark HouseFocusing on seven-year-old Omakayas, Louise Erdrich paints a detailed portrait of Ojibwa life in the mid-nineteenth century in her series-started The Birchbark House. Along with descriptions of household tasks and customs, Erdrich crafts images of tender beauty while weaving Ojibwa words seamlessly into the text. Her gentle spot art throughout complements this first of several stories that "attempt to retrace [her] own family's history." Look for sequels The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year, Chickadee, and Makoons. (Hyperion, 1999)

cowboy upCowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo invites readers to experience a Navajo Nation rodeo. While focusing on adult competitions (bronco riding, steer wrestling, etc.), author Nancy Bo Flood doesn’t ignore the roles children play. Double-page spreads feature some combination of free-verse poems, narrative accounts of events, and snippets of the announcer’s dialogue: “Ladies and gents, give a big warm welcome to our youngest competitors.” Well-chosen photographs by Jan Sonnenmair accompany the readable text. (Boyds/Wordsong, 2013)

jordan-fenton_fatty-legsOlemaun, an Inuit girl, is eager to learn to read; she volunteers to attend a church-run residential school and suffers terribly as a result. Told in a strong, clear voice, Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's Fatty Legs has the urgency of a survivor's tale. Illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes accompany this blunt autobiographical narrative about the indigenous experience of Western indoctrination; black-and-white family and archival photographs and an afterword are appended. Olemaun's story continues in follow-up A Stranger from Home. (Annick, 2010)

In author Joseph Marshall III and illustrator Jim Yellowhawk's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, Jimmy McClean is Lakota, but his father is half-Scottish and Jimmy is blonde and blue-eyed. His grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, helps Jimmy understand his native heritage on a modern-day road trip inspired by Crazy Horse's life. Although Jimmy's questions and comments are a clunky device for Grandpa to recount historical and biographical information, the Lakota author offers an authentic voice. Bib., glos. (Abrams/Amulet, 2015)

mclaughlin_walking on earth and touching the skyTimothy P. McLaughlin's anthology Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School presents profound, expressive, and hauntingly honest voices of Lakota youth on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Moving pieces are presented by theme: Natural World; Misery; Native Thoughts; Silence; Spirit; Family, Youth and Dreams; and Language. This attractive book includes bordered pages, S. D. Nelson's Lakota-themed art, and eloquent notes from the editor introducing each section. (Abrams, 2012)

Living from approximately 1839–1932, Buffalo Bird Woman of the Hidatsa people experienced the significant changes in Native American life on the Great Plains. Incorporating quotes taken from her interviews with anthropologist Gilbert Wilson, S. D. Nelson meticulously recreates incidents from her childhood in the first person in Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story. Glowing acrylics, pencil drawings, and archival photographs illustrate the biography. An extensive author’s note is appended. (Abrams, 2012)

S. D. Nelson's handsome biography Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People combines the story of Sitting Bull's life with a brief history of the Lakota people in the nineteenth century. Sitting Bull episodically narrates his own tale in the voice of a respected elder reminiscing about the past. Quotes from Lakota culture, Sitting Bull, and his contemporaries create informative subheadings. Illustrated with Nelson's ink and colored-pencil drawings and archival photographs. Timeline. Bib., ind. (Abrams, 2015)

horse and the plains indians In The Horse and the Plains Indians: A Powerful Partnership, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent describes Native American lifestyles in the era of dog-drawn travois, then the astonishing explosion of culture that came with the arrival of horses. Simple, precise language and clear organization help readers fully engage with the material, which is enhanced by William Muñoz's sweeping photographs, historical plates documenting turn-of-the-century Plains Indians, and art from both white and Native sources. (Clarion, 2012)

sterling_my-name-is-seepeetzaSeepeetza is a Canadian Indian girl who, since the age of six, has been forced by government regulations to attend a Catholic residential boarding school; now in the sixth grade, she is inspired to keep a diary of life at school as well as of the rare vacations when she is allowed to return home. Consistently told in the voice of a child, Shirley Sterling's My Name Is Seepeetza keeps its ironies off the page, allowing readers to see what Seepeetza sees for herself. (Groundwood, 1992)

tingle_how i becameIsaac is alive and well at the start of Tim Tingle's How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story, which begins in the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi in 1830. But soon there is Treaty Talk, followed by the arrival of Nahullo (white) men, and the Choctaw must begin their journey west. Tingle, a Choctaw storyteller, relates his tale in the engaging repetitions and rhythms of an oft-told story. (RoadRunner, 2013)


Older Fiction and Nonfiction

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianIn Sherman Alexie's 2008 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior makes the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to an off-rez high school where he's the only Indian. Though short, nearsighted, and disabled, he joins the basketball team, which leads to a showdown with his home team. Junior's inimitable and hilarious narration is intensely alive with short paragraphs, one-liners, and take-no-prisoners cartoons (expertly depicted by Ellen Forney). (Little, 2007)

bruchac_killer-of-enemiesA deadly assassin with extrasensory powers, Lozen (named for an Apache-Chiricahua warrior-woman forebear) takes out genetically modified superbeasts; her family is being held hostage to ensure her continued service. Joseph Bruchac devises ever-more-dangerous battles for his protagonist in the increasingly suspenseful Killer of Enemies. What really makes the narrative vibrate is Lozen's sardonic voice, capturing both gallows humor and a very human vulnerability. Lozen's story continues in sequel Trail of the Dead. (Lee/Tu, 2013)

carlson_moccasin-thunderIn anthology Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (edited by Lori Marie Carlson) powerful, provocative stories about and for older teens feature contemporary Native Americans in a variety of intense situations, many of which involve sex, drugs, and alcohol. Some writers are well known, such as Louise Erdrich and Joseph Bruchac. Others are less familiar, such as Linda Hogan and Lee Francis. All contributors write with singular vision and intensity. (HarperCollins, 2005)

my name is not easyDebby Dahl Edwardson sets her ambitious novel My Name Is Not Easy in 1960–1965 Alaska, primarily at a Catholic boarding school drawing indigenous children from all over the state. She juggles a large cast of characters and addresses a host of issues, from racism to the institutional abuse of Native Alaskan children to the ingrained animosity between students of different indigenous heritages. The story is powerful and poignant. (Cavendish, 2011)

ellis_looks like daylightIn Looks like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, Deborah Ellis interviews Native American and aboriginal children and teens, ages nine to eighteen. Whether heart-wrenching or uplifting, each first-person narrative is compelling, insightful, and moving. Introductory matter sheds painful light on the historically horrific treatment of North America’s indigenous peoples, as well as the challenges they face still. An extensive list of charitable and informational organizations is appended. (Groundwood, 2013)

gansworth_if i ever get out of hereLewis Blake, from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in 1970s upstate New York, is beginning seventh grade at a mostly white junior high, and he's tired of not fitting in. A friendship with newcomer George helps Lewis cope with loneliness and bullying. But does it constitute a betrayal of his world? Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here is an engaging, authentic story with depth and heart. (Scholastic/Levine, 2013)

charleyboy_dreaming in indianIn Mary Beth Leatherdale and Lisa Charleyboy's dizzyingly eclectic anthology Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, forty-six contributors, clearly identified by tribe or background, present poems, paintings, drawings, etc. Some reflect the theme of contemporary Native life; others simply depict Indian people following a variety of pursuits. The book lacks a coherent design, with myriad competing elements, but perhaps that's the point: that Native Americans are "tremendously diverse peoples with tremendously diverse life experiences." (Annick, 2014)

smith_rain-is-not-my-indian-nameFourteen-year-old Rain, of mixed Native American heritage, is devastated by her best friend's death. She comes out of her self-imposed seclusion to shoot photos for a local newspaper feature on a summer youth program for Native Americans in her Kansas hometown. The engaging first-person narrative of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name convincingly portrays Rain's grieving process and addresses the varying degrees of prejudice she encounters. (HarperCollins, 2001)



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Pauline Ts'o

Well, since you asked, I would, ahem, humbly offer my picture book, "Whispers of the Wolf" (Wisdom Tales Press, 2015) for consideration. It received a starred ALA Booklist review and was a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards winner in the Children's Picture Book category, as well as a Skipping Stones Honor Awards winner for Multicultural and International Books. It is set among the pre-contact Pueblo Indians. I hope you enjoy it!

Posted : Oct 14, 2017 01:34

Debbie Reese

Oh, hey--just a note of clarification. I do not recommend the Capaldi books about Carlos Montezuma or Zitkala Sa. And, I haven't read the books by Flood, Patent, or the Curry/Watts edited volume either. Otherwise, yes! Some good books there!

Posted : Oct 10, 2017 12:18



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