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11 children’s books that celebrate Indigenous people and culture

Fascinating stories for readers of all ages

Three children's books against a blue background. Credit: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) / Roaring Brook Press / Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

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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

The cover of What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman.
Credit: The Royal British Columbia Museum / Reviewed

There’s power in learning about ancestral languages.

Ages: 5+
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.

Get What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman from Amazon for $18.43

2. The Ghost Dancers

The cover of Ghost Dancers: A Novel.
Credit: University of Nevada Press / Reviewed

This previously unreleased novel highlights reservation life.

Ages: 13+
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.

Get The Ghost Dancers from Amazon for $28.00

3. Red Dove: Tell Truth to Darkness

The cover of Red Dove: Tell Truth to Darkness.
Credit: Gatekeeper Press / Reviewed

An adventurous historical fiction that kids will love.

Ages: 8+
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.

Get Red Dove: Tell Truth to Darkness from Amazon for $13.99

4. Black Sun

The cover of Black Sun.
Credit: Gallery / Saga Press / Reviewed

A pre-colonized sci-fi fantasy that will keep you reading all night.

Ages: 14+
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.

Get Black Sun from Amazon for $11.99

5. The Night Watchman

The cover of The Night Watchman.
Credit: Harper Perennial / Reviewed

Louise Erdrich uses her own family’s legacy to tell an epic story.

Ages: 14+
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.

Get The Night Watchman from Amazon for $12.72

6. Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me A Story

The cover of Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me A Story.
Credit: Inhabit Media / Reviewed

A loving story about grandparents passing down family tales.

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.

Get Grandfather Bowhead, Tell Me A Story from Amazon for $14.19

7. Come Home, Indio: A Memoir

The cover of Come Home, Indio: A Memoir.
Credit: Street Noise Books / Reviewed

This illustrator cartoonist depicts his spiritual journey to Standing Rock.

Ages: 14+
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.

Get Come Home, Indio: A Memoir from Amazon for $14.99

8. My Heart Is a Chainsaw

The cover of My Heart Is a Chainsaw.
Credit: Gallery / Saga Press / Reviewed

A horror take on being an outcast on a reservation.

Ages: 14+
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.

Get My Heart Is a Chainsaw from Amazon for $17.29

9. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

The cover of Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story.
Credit: Roaring Brook Press / Reviewed

A delicious treat of a tale the entire family will enjoy.

Ages: 3+
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.

Get Fry Bread from Amazon for $12.68

10. The Firekeeper's Daughter

The cover of The Firekeeper's Daughter
Credit: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) / Reviewed

This young adult mystery was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick.

Ages: 14+
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.

Get Firekeeper’s Daughter from Amazon for $10.23

11. We Are Water Protectors

The cover of We Are Water Protectors.
Credit: Roaring Brook Press / Reviewed

An urgent warning for citizens to be mindful of the environment.

Ages: 3+
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.

Get We Are Water Protectors from Amazon for $14.38

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