Happy (Almost) Indigenous Peoples Day! On October 14, 2019, we are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day here at Colorful Pages and in my very own classroom. This day used to be known as Columbus Day. However, Christopher Columbus is NOT a hero that should be celebrated because he has done so much harm to the Indigenous communities and many more. These injustices enacted on the Indigenous communities should be redressed during this day and beyond. Many Native people and allies have protested Columbus Day and, in response, various states, school districts, and organizations have rebranded it as Indigenous Peoples Day in response. So, ditch your lessons rooted in colonization and harm and help your students see the beauty and richness that lies within the Indigenous Peoples communities!

In order to help you participate in Indigenous Peoples Day within your home or school, I have composed a list of Ten Books By Indigenous Authors. It is very important to make sure Native people are the ones telling their own stories at all times, and especially during this day (#ownvoices). I have included three folktales, five picture books, and two chapter books. This will help you pick out what your specific home or school needs while also encouraging you to integrate Indigenous Peoples Day throughout your whole school day or week! Remember we are celebrating and learning about Indigenous Peoples past AND present AND future during this day.

Three Folktales

Folktales are an easy way to integrate Indigenous Peoples Day into your literacy blocks. They can be used to teach Common Core Standards, such as answering questions about key details, determining the message of a story, and identifying the feelings of characters.

(1) A Man Called Raven, by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by George Littlechild

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Richard Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib tribe in Canada and wrote this folktale picture book. His book, A Man Called Raven, is about two little boys who are told a story after an older man sees them hitting and chasing after a raven. The story tells the lesson of a man who mistreated a raven and then was transformed into one. The artwork is beautiful and you can see the strokes and hard work it took to illustrate this book. I will actually be using this story during the week in my own classroom!

(2) Baby Rattlesnake, by Te Ata; adapted by Lynn Moroney; and illustrated by Mira Reisberg

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Baby Rattlesnake is about a little rattlesnake who cries and cries until he finally gets his own rattle. Unfortunately, Baby Rattlesnake ends up scaring the wrong creature with it and has to learn how to use it properly. Lynn Moroney is of Chickasaw and Cherokee heritage and studied storytelling under Te Ata Fischer of the Chickasaw Nation.

(3) Rabbit’s Snow Dance, by Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac and illustrated by Jeff Newman

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Joseph and James Bruchac, proud Nulhegan Abenaki citizens, wrote this funny picture book about a Rabbit who loves winter and decides to make it snow earlier than normal with an Iroquois drum and dance. In this folktale, Rabbit has to learn about patience, seasons, and listening to others.

Five Picture Books

It is crucial to make sure students do not just associate Native people with folktales or “long ago”. These picture books will help you and your students understand more history of Indigenous people or explore the current parts of Indigenous communities.

(1) Stolen Words, by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

This beautiful story is about a little girl and her grandfather. The little girl asks her grandfather to say something in his Native language and the grandfather sadly tells her that his words were stolen from him. The picture book explores the trauma of the awful schooling system of stealing Native children away from their families in an age-appropriate way. Melanie Florence is of Cree and Scottish Heritage and was close to her own grandfather, which inspired the relationship in Stolen Words.

(2) When We Were Alone, by David A. Robinson and illustrated by Julie Flett

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

This is another wonderfully-illustrated picture book about the impact of residential schooling on generations. A young girl asks about why her grandmother, her kókom, has her hair long and wears beautiful, colorful clothing. The grandmother begins to explain that people took those things away from her when she was little, so now she wears them proudly. David A. Robinson is a member of the Norway House Cree Nation and a famous indigenous graphic novelist and writer. I will actually be using this story during the week in my own classroom!

(3) I Am Not a Number, by Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer; illustrated by Gillian Newland

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis, a proud member of the Nipissing Nation, and Kathy Kacer wrote I Am Not a Number. This picture book follows Irene Couchie as she is stolen from her First Nation and forced into a residential school (the Canadian term for “Indian Boarding Schools”). Irene’s story is a devastating one that will bring up strong emotions in any reader. However, no matter how hard it is to face this part of history, we MUST teach it to our students in order to redress it and make sure it never happens again.

(4) Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Ying-Hwa-Hu and Cornelius Van Wright

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

This is a more joyful picture book that explores the story of Jenna who loves the tradition of jingle dancing. Your students and you will be able to explore one piece of extensive Native culture. Cynthia Leitich Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

(5) You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Danielle Daniel

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Make sure to include Representation books in your Indigenous Peoples Day/Week observations and beyond! We want our students to realize that Indigenous People are still vital to our community and have well-established sovereign nations today! This picture book can help you do so! It is a short picture book that encourages the readers to show love in many different ways using Indigenous representation. Monique Gray Smith is of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent.

Two Chapter Books

I have included two chapter books for our families and educators with older students. Consider developing a whole unit surrounding one of these pieces or doing a book talk before putting copies into your own library!

(1) Code Talker, by Joseph Bruchac

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

This young adult novel is about the Navajo Code Talkers from World War II. It is a fictional story about Ned Begay, a Navajo sixteen-year-old, who enlists and becomes a code talker. As we mentioned before, Joseph Bruchac is a proud Nulhegan Abenaki citizen.

(2) Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation (with some Representation)

This young adult novel follows Louise Wolfe who is dealing with heartbreaks and crushes while navigating racism and prejudice against her Native community. I love how this book sheds light on the fact that often teens of color and Native teens not only have to navigate the high school drama, but also have to deal with the negativity of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. As we mentioned before, Cynthia Leitich Smith is a proud member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

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