Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
15 Books To Share Stories Of Native American History And Experience With Kids And Teens
by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich -
I traveled in and out of the U.S. often during my childhood, but was in Silver Spring, Maryland, at four years old, in time to celebrate a “First Thanksgiving” with my kindergarten class. I remember the boys building a fort with those cardboard brackish-looking giant blocks, while us girls, as “Pilgrim women,” wore dresses and tore hunks of baked chicken into smaller bits for the big meal. I don’t know which is sadder: the fact that I, along with my (not that many) Black classmates were playing the roles of white colonizers in this theatre of the absurd, or that I don’t remember who played the Indians. I don’t even remember if anyone did; they are erased from my memory, as Native and Indigenous people so often are erased from the narrative of the American past, present, and future.

On Indian Country Today, Christina Rose writes, “Without guidance, too many teachers may celebrate Native American Heritage Month in the only ways they know how: paper bag vests and feathers, classroom pow wows, and discussions on who Indians were.” Many of us who celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday would be hard pressed to know who the Wampanoag people were and are, what the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Thanksgiving Address is, or that government policy forced “relocation” of Native Americans away from their productive farmland and the crops, like corn and pumpkin, that remain symbols of the Thanksgiving holiday today.

November, designated as Native American Heritage Month, offers an opportunity for all of us to become more educated about that complex history and current state of affairs. Like all stories, Native stories are not a single story of defeat, bows and arrows, or of “the past.” They include stories of joy, of cultural pride, of meeting everyday challenges, fun, and celebrations of family and friendship. Along with resources such as How To Tell The Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias, Vision Maker Media, A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, and American Indians in Children’s Literature, and the books below, we can begin to tell more complete and honest narratives of the rich and varied Native American story in the United States.

Picture Books

When the Shadbush Blooms
by Carla Messinger and Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden
A lovely celebration and affirmation of tradition and change, this story of a Lenni Lenape girl experiencing the joys of the seasons and remembering the ways that her ancestor did the same is timeless. Video, activities, and more inspired by the book can be found online.
(Ages 3+)
Dragonfly Kites
by Tomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett
This bilingual (English/Cree) story is a celebration of heritage, the power of imagination, the small joys of family life, and the beauty of the natural world. This second book in Highway’s Magical Songs of the North trilogy is “a loving portrait of a family in communion with their environment,” according to Publishers Weekly.
(Ages 4+)
When We Were Alone
by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett
This gorgeous story of a young girl who learns why her grandmother chooses to dress and speak in ways that celebrate her Cree heritage offers a narrative of resistance set in a boarding school experience. Kirkus writes, “A beautifully quiet, bold strength arises from the continued refrain ‘When we were alone’ and in how the children insisted on being themselves.” (Ages 4+)
Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina
by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley
This inspiring story of Maria Tallchief, who grew up on an Osage Indian reservation and went on to become a world-renowned prima ballerina, will appeal to any young reader with a passion (or two).
(Ages 5+)
Thunder Boy Jr.
by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Yuyi Morales’s exuberant illustrations alone are more than worth the price of admission on this one. The familiar story of a “Jr.” wanting to establish his own identity (when your dad is “Big Thunder,” you don’t necessarily want to be known as “Little Thunder”) feels entirely original when told with Alexie’s signature humor and heart. Readers will cheer as Little Thunder realizes that he has been, and will always be, his own special self. (Ages 5+)
The People Shall Continue
by Simon J. Ortiz, illustrated by Sharol Graves
The announcement of a new 40th-anniversary edition of Ortiz’s classic was welcomed by many, as this book’s clean, lyrical language and “unembroidered” art make it a valuable teaching tool and wonderful read-aloud. Serving as a counterpoint to common Thanksgiving tropes, young readers will gain perspective on the long history of Indigenous people in North America and the various ways in which they have endured despite European colonization.
(Ages 6+)
I Am Not a Number
by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland
Based on the experiences of Dupuis’s grandmother, I Am Not a Number tells a story of the boarding schools that the United States created to “civilize” Native children. The children were often punished for speaking their own languages, physically abused, and forced to give up their very identities. Kirkus writes that “I Am Not a Number is perfect to get the conversation about residential schools started with your children. It opens the door for them to ask questions about the subject and the story is relatable in a way they can follow.”
(Ages 7+)
Middle Grade

by Louise Erdrich
Set around the same time period as the ever-popular Little House books, the Birchbark House series has become a classic narrative in its own right. “I want people to enter into this world, and children especially to identify and enter into a world where they are among a Native American family. This family had its angers, trials, happiness, pains, heroism, desperation, and annoyances. You know, everything that anyone's family has,” said Erdrich in an interview. The award-winning Chickadee kicks off a new arc in this delightful series, featuring Chickadee, who has been separated from his twin and is on a quest to be reunited with his brother. Followed by 2016’s Makoons.
(Ages 8+)

Talking Leaves
by Joseph Bruchac
Raised by his mother and uncles, Uwohali is longing to reconnect with his father, Sequoyah, who returns to his community with a new family. Torn between loyalty to the family who raised him and his newfound passion to help his father preserve Tsalagi tradition, Uwohali comes of age in Bruchac’s vivid and history-rich tale.
(Ages 9+)

Super Indian Books
by Arigon Starr
Originally a series of radio plays developed and produced by Kickapoo tribe member Arigon Starr, Super Indian is a two-volume comic collection loaded with humor and love. “You can look at it as satire or parody — but underneath the yuks, it’s great to explore issues of identity, community and how Native folks are perceived,” said the author in an interview with Indian Country Media Network. Fans of both classic and modern superhero tales will devour these stories.
(Ages 10+)

Young Adult

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two
by Joseph Bruchac
“Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find,” writes Booklist in a starred review. Bruchac tells a masterful and inspiring tale of 16-year-old Navajo boy Ted Begay who, like many Native “code talkers,” used his language and culture to save countless lives, and became an American war hero.
(Ages 12+)

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices
edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
This award-winning and powerful collection offers readers a mirror and window into the lives and worlds of contemporary Native Americans, working in a variety of fields and with diverse areas of expertise. In a starred review, School Library Journal says that Dreaming in Indian “[e]ffectively presents honest portrayals of strong, hopeful, and courageous indigenous youth living non-stereotypical lives.” Charleyboy and Leatherdale teamed up for a second anthology, #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, that has been equally praised for its “stunning” visual and written content.
(Ages 12+)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney
I fell in love with Alexie’s National Book Award-winning title when it was first published, and ten years later this heartbreaking — and heartwarming — coming-of-age tale is as vibrant as ever. Arnold Spirit Junior’s experiences growing up on a Spokane reservation (like Alexie) are often hilarious and sometimes awful. Fourteen-year-old Arnold’s pain and eventual empowerment, particularly through writing and drawing, will resonate with all kinds of young readers.
(Ages 12+)

All the Real Indians Died Off (And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans)
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Tackling commonly held but false beliefs, such as “Columbus Discovered America” and “Sports Mascots Honor Native Americans,” Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker offer a deftly accessible resource that is a perfect companion to Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. It’s an adult title, but would complement any older teen’s exploration of Native American history.
(Ages 14+)

The Marrow Thieves
by Cherie Dimaline
This brand-new dystopian novel comes highly recommended by several of my librarian friends. The Marrow Thieves features a world devastated by global warming, whose inhabitants have lost the capacity to dream. Only the Indigenous people of North America have retained this ability, and predators are willing to kill for it.
(Ages 14+)

pictograph divider

About the author:
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is a mom, wife, sister, friend, and library-lover. She's also the author of 8th Grade Superzero and the forthcoming Two Naomis with Audrey Vernick. She believes in the power of a good book, a long walk, and a nice cup of tea (snacks optional but strongly recommended). Olugbemisola lives in NYC where she loves to teach writing, cook, do crafts in many forms, and needs to get more sleep. Find her online at and @olugbemisola on Twitter.

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2017 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2017 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!