• Helping Kids Rise

Great Children's Books by Indigenous Authors to Add to Your Bookshelf Today #Ownvoices


Illustration by Michaela Goade for the book WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom

The books we read should represent the diverse world we live in. Unfortunately, finding quality children's books featuring Indigenous characters (without negative stereotypes and false narratives) can be hard to do. There needs to be more representation in the publishing industry. HarperCollins Children's Books recently announced a new imprint to help bridge the gap. Heartdrum is a new Native focused imprint led by award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), and Rosemary Brosnan, Vice President, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books. Heartdrum launches Winter 2021. It's a step in the right direction.


In the meantime, we've collected a list of wonderful books to help you celebrate the stories and voices of Indigenous authors and illustrators. Check them out below.



Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth's water from harm and corruption--a bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade.


Water is the first medicine.

It affects and connects us all . . .


When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth

And poison her people's water, one young water protector

Takes a stand to defend Earth's most sacred resource.

Purchase: Bookshop




The Cherokee community is grateful for blessings and challenges that each season brings. This is modern Native American life as told by an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.


The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

Purchase: Bookshop








A family, separated by duty and distance, waits for a loved one to return home in this lyrical picture book celebrating the bonds of a Cherokee family and the bravery of history-making women pilots.


At the mountain's base sits a cabin under an old hickory tree. And in that cabin lives a family -- loving, weaving, cooking, and singing. The strength in their song sustains them through trials on the ground and in the sky, as they wait for their loved one, a pilot, to return from war.


With an author's note that pays homage to the true history of Native American U.S. service members like WWII pilot Ola Mildred Millie Rexroat, this is a story that reveals the roots that ground us, the dreams that help us soar, and the people and traditions that hold us up.

Purchase: Bookshop







This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other's well-being in their everyday actions.


Consultant, international speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens.

Purchase: Bookshop




When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.

Purchase: Bookshop









"Dream a little, Kulu, this world now sings a most beautiful song of you."

This beautiful bedtime poem, written by acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describes the gifts given to a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic.

Lyrically and tenderly told by a mother speaking to her own little Kulu; an Inuktitut term of endearment often bestowed upon babies and young children, this visually stunning book is infused with the traditional Inuit values of love and respect for the land and its animal inhabitants. A perfect gift for new parents.

Purchase: Bookshop





Told in lively and powerful verse by debut author Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family, vibrantly illustrated by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal.


Fry bread is food.

It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time.

It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation.

It is shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

Fry bread is us.

It is a celebration of old and new, traditional and modern, similarity and difference.

Purchase: Bookshop




Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father's warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders' school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read. Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

Purchase: Bookshop




The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.


International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.

Purchase: Bookshop





A young Lenape Indian girl observes and reflects on the small, important ways her family today, and her ancestors generations before, celebrate the cycle of seasons.

Today when a Lenape Indian girl ventures to the stream to fish for shad, she knows that another girl did the same generations before her. Through the cycle of the seasons, what is important has remained: being with family, knowing when berries are ripe for picking, listening to stories in a warm home. Told by Traditional Sister and Contemporary Sister, each from her own time, this is a book about tradition and about change. Then and now are not so very different when the shadbush blooms.

Purchase: Bookshop



(Grade Level 9-12) When Louise Wolfe's first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It's her senior year, anyway, and she'd rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper's staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director's inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students -- especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou's little brother, who's playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey -- but as she's learned, "dating while Native" can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey's?

Purchase: Bookshop






(Grade Level 7-9) Spanning more than 400 years, this classic bottom-up history examines the legacy of Indigenous peoples' resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.


Going beyond the story of America as a country "discovered" by a few brave men in the "New World," Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity.


The original academic text is fully adapted by renowned curriculum experts Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, for middle-grade and young adult readers to include discussion topics, archival images, original maps, recommendations for further reading, and other materials to encourage students, teachers, and general readers to think critically about their own place in history.

Purchase: Bookshop







Your turn! Which books would you add to this list? Let us know.



MORE RESOURCES:

American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books. The AICL publishes analyses of children's books, lesson plans, films, and other items related to the topic of American Indians and/or how we this topic is taught in school.  https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com


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