11 children’s books that celebrate Indigenous people and culture
Fascinating stories for readers of all ages
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In 1990, South Dakota was one of the first states in the country to declare that Columbus Day be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day. Even though South Dakota was the first state to encourage a more honest depiction of our country’s history, it certainly isn’t the last. Roughly 20 states have replaced Christopher Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
If you’ve been looking for a way to add more Indigenous voices to your child’s bookshelf, now is a great time to start. From children’s books to adult fiction and non-fiction, Indigenous authors are finding ways to share their culture with the masses. This list is a mix of books that range from children’s to young adult titles that the entire family can read. Some are perfect for early and middle-grade readers while others are ideal for young adult readers and adults.
1. What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman
Sti'tum'atul'wut Ruby Peter is what you consider an elder. She is wise and throughout her life, she has educated many on how to speak the Hul'q'umi'num' language. Affectionately known as "Aunty" to those in her community, this biography shines the light on the importance of elders and preserving culture amongst Indigenous tribes.
2. The Ghost Dancers
Adrian C. Louis was known for writing stories that would bring awareness to the seriousness of how poverty and addiction impact Indigenous people that live on reservations. In The Ghost Dancers, Louis tells the story of a man who is only half Indigenous and the struggles he faces in his community for not being “Indian” enough.
3. Red Dove: Tell Truth to Darkness
Set in the 1890s, this novel pairs imagination with historical references to create an action-packed adventure full of life lessons, empathy, and injustices. Even though the author, Sonia Antaki, is Egyptian, she has spent a large part of her life advocating for Native traditions and art. In this children’s novel, she tells the journey of 14-year-old Red Dove, who finds herself in Europe touring with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
4. Black Sun
This fantasy novel has everything from magic to complex characters and is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. It has some historical references to it and author Rebecca Roanhorse blends several Indigenous cultures like Mayans and Aztec customs to create a utopia Native society that’s brilliantly executed in under 500 pages.
5. The Night Watchman
Inspired by her own grandfather, Louise Erdrich’s book found itself on several best book lists in 2020. Her grandfather, similar to the main protagonist in her book, also made a living as a watchman while he fought for the rights of the Indigenous people living on reservations. While the novel serves as a fictional version of her grandfather’s life, the story still showcases the need to advocate and understand the Indigenous experiences in America.
6. Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me A Story
Ages: Newborn and up
You and your family will enjoy this book that is made for young readers and older loved ones. This is a vivid and charming story about a family of whales. The children whales ask their grandfather about the stories of the sea. The grandfather whale entertains the children whales by using the tall tales of the ocean to demonstrate lessons of life and love.
7. Come Home, Indio: A Memoir
Sometimes seeing is believing. For cartoonist Jim Terry, this graphic novel about his life includes the good, bad, and indifferent. Terry grew up in the suburbs somewhat disconnected to his culture. This powerful memoir illustrates his journey with battling alcoholism and activism.
8. My Heart Is a Chainsaw
If you love slasher plots and horror, this novel adds a thriller and suspenseful spin to some of the other fictional stories that depict Indigenous culture. Jade, who is the main character of this novel, navigates the world like she’s in a never-ending horror flick. If you love horror, this will be your new favorite page-turner.
9. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Kids love sweet treats and who can blame them? Food is delicious and sharing food with your loved ones is a true act of kindness. Fry bread is a tasty dish in Indigenous culture and is shared across many tribes. This book is a warm story highlighting how tasty the treat is and there’s even a recipe towards the end of the book. You and your family will be able to pay homage to a rich culture by trying it out yourself in your own home.
10. The Firekeeper's Daughter
Set in Michigan, Daunis Fontaine is a biracial girl who doesn’t fit in anywhere. After meeting a promising hockey player she starts to fall fast. Now she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, and she must summon the strength of the Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) to save her community—even though many of them do not accept her because she isn’t an enrolled tribal member.
11. We Are Water Protectors
This children’s folktale is suitable for anyone of any age. With its enchanting and vibrant illustrations and harmonious text, it will be hard to forget this book. It’s also a great tool to introduce serious topics such as climate change, and understanding why protecting our water resources are important for everyone around us. This book was inspired by the Standing Rock events in hopes that people will work together to fight against pollution and other destructive environmental concerns.
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