Happy National Native American Heritage Month! Because of the strong advocacy and voice of the Native American Community, each November we celebrate and honor the heritage and history of the first people of America with National Native American Heritage Month.

I have been meaning to create and publish Colorful Pages’s National Native American Heritage Month: 2020 Book List for the whole month. However, this has been a crazy month as a teacher between conferences, report cards, and ensuring a quality Native American Heritage Month for my own students/families. This year, my own Kindergarten class honored Native American Heritage Month by learning about Native American Environmental Activists during Ethnic Studies and centering Native American books during Reading. 

Either way, I do not believe it is ever too late to publish a book list centering Native American Heritage and History! While National Native American Heritage Month is officially November, this does NOT mean that, as educators, parents, librarians, and/or community members, we suddenly stop uplifting Native stories on December 1st. Therefore, check out our 2020 Book List that centers diverse books about Native American heritage and history

Our list has 14 Picture Books, 5 Middle Grade Books, and 6 Young Adult Books. Every book is written by an Indigenous author because I believe it is incredibly important to support #OwnVoices authors. Our list has a variety of books to show the breadth and diversity in Native American Heritage. From folktales to history to fiction conveying modern Native American experiences, each book is crucial in seeing windows and mirrors from the Native American community. 

Picture Books

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-7 years old

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 have used this book a lot in my own classrooms!

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-7 years old

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. 

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 3-5 years old

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. 

Stolen Words, by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

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

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

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. There are also copies that are bilingual with an indigenous language. 

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 9-12 years old

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. There is also a copy that is bilingual in English and Ojibwa. 

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

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.

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

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation

Age Range: 3-5 years old

Make sure to include Representation books in your Native American Heritage Month 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. There is also a copy in the Cree language and English. 

We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 3-6 years old

This beautiful picture book is about the Indigenous-led movement to protect the Earth and water. It follows a young Indigenous girl that talks about the “black snake”, which is a metaphor for the oil pipelines that her people and her are advocating against. Carole Lindstrom is Anishinabe/Metis and is a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indians. I read this in my classroom this last month and my students loved it! They were able to get the metaphor quickly especially when paired with Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock and very intentional vocabulary teaching. At the end of the book, there is a Water Protectors Pledge that has a beautiful poem where students can sign their name at the end. 

Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock, by Aslan Tudor and Kelly Tudor

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 9-12 years old

Like I said above, this is a great pairing with We Are Water Protectors. This picture book is written by Aslan Tudor, an eight-year old Native American Activist, and his mother. Aslan details his experience in the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. He tells about them advocating against the pipeline and shows that even children can stand up for what is right. I use this picture book in my classroom every year either to teach about activism from a youth perspective or specifically about Native American Activists and Environmentalists. 

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, by Kevin Noble Maillard & illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 3-6 years old

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story talks about a family tradition of fry bread. Each couple pages talks about what fry bread is and stands for. It also writes about a Native American family making fry bread. I love the diverse illustrations that depict a Native American Family enjoying making a fun food! Kevin Noble Maillard is a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell & illustrated by Frane Lessac

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration 

Age Range: 3-7 years old

We Are Grateful explains the Cherokee people’s saying, “otsaliheliga”, which they use to express gratitude. It talks about how the community reflects on gratitude, their experiences, and challenges throughout the year and season. This picture book includes a glossary and words written in the Cherokee language. The author, Traci Sorell, is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located. 

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, by Wab Kinew & illustrate by Joe Morse

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Depends on the person, but mostly Conversation

Age Range: 5-9 years old

In this picture book, Wab Kinew writes about historic and modern-day Indigenous Heroes from the US and Canada. Each hero has a few pages that describes their contributions to history in verse and has beautiful illustrations of them. Go Show the World includes Indigenous Heroes such as Sacagawea, John Herrington, Crazy Horse, and many others. In the back of the book, the writer and illustrator include mini biographies of each of the Indigenous Heroes. This is a perfect book to introduce a wide range of Indigneous Heroes to your little ones! The author, Wab Kinew, is indigenous and was originally from the Onigaming First Nation. 

Birdsong, by Julie Flett

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation & Exploration

Age Range: 3-8 years old

Birdsong is a picture book that explores intergenerational friendship and change. A young girl named Katherena moves to a new home. Her mom encourages her to visit their elderly neighbor, Anges. Katherena and Anges bond over shared passions. Accompanied with beautiful illustrations, Birdsong conveys the cultural value of intergenerational and elders while also interweaving Cree words throughout the story. The publisher also has a “Companion Guide for Teachers and Parents” that has a glossary and pronunciation guide for the Cree words as well as other activities and lessons. The author and illustrator, Julie Flett, is Cree-Metis.

Middle Grade Books

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz & adapted by Debbie Reese & Jean Mendoza

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 12-16 years old

This middle grade book is an adaptation of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza adapted this book for middle-grade and young adult readers. This book examines the history of the United States through the legacy of Indigenous peoples. It calls out the colonization and genocide that is often quieted in history classes. Remember, “Silence is Violence”, so use this book and others to call out the true history so that it never repeats itself. The original author, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, is the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international indigenous movement for more than four decades. 

Indian Shoes, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: mostly Exploration

Age Range: 6-10 years old

Indian Shoes is a collection of six interwoven short stories about Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy, and Grampa Halfmoon, his grandfather. The titles of the short stories are: “Indian Shoes”; “Don’t Forget The Pants!”; “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”; “The Accident”; “Team Colors”; and “Night Fishing”. This book is realistic fiction and provides a more authentic window and mirror into a modern Native family. Cynthia Leitich Smith, the author, is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Between Exploration & Conversation

Age Range: 8-12 years old

This is a great middle grade book centered around a young Native girl finding her identity and heritage. Edie, a 12-year old girl, has always been curious about her Native American heritage but, because her mom was adopted by a White couple, she has felt like she could never ask her parents for more information. However, one day, she finds a hidden box filled with letters signed by someone named Edith and pictures of a woman that looks so much like her. It is one of the first steps into her journey to find herself and her family’s heritage. The author, Christine Day, is an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe.

Indian No More, by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 8-12 years old

Indian No More is set in the late 1950s Civil Rights Era. Regina Petit, a ten-year old girl who is Umpqua, becomes “Indian No More” after the US federal government declares that Regina’s tribe no longer exists. Her family is forced to relocate because of a lack of jobs and Regina’s dad signs them up for the Indian Relocation Program. The family moves to Los Angeles where Regina works to keep her identity while facing systematic and interpersonal racism. The late author, Charlene Willing McManis, was of Umpqua tribal heritage and enrolled in the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The co-author, Traci Sorell, is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located. 

In The Footsteps of Crazy Horse, by Joseph Marshall III & illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 10-14 years old

This middle grade novel is an engaging intertwine of a fictional story of Jimmy McClean and the nonfictional history of Crazy Horse. Jimmy, a Lakota boy, learns about his Lakota heritage and his identity through his grandfather’s tales of the famous warrior. The author, Joseph Marshall III, was raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) tribe. The illustrator, Jim Yellowhawk, is a contemporary Lakota multimedia artist.

Young Adult Books

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, by Joseph Bruchac

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 12-15 years old

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.

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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

Age Range: 14-17 years old

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.

Apple in the Middle, by Dawn Quigley

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 14-17 years old

Apple in the Middle is a heartwarming, yet deep young adult novel that engages in issues of identity, racism, heritage, and death/grief. It follows Apple Starkington, a high school student, who lives with her White wealthy father in Minnesota. Apple’s mother, who was Native American, died in childbirth and Apple has never connected with her maternal side who live in the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe reservation. After dealing with constant racism and prejudice due to her identity and name, Apple’s father has her go to North Dakota for the summer. There, Apple meets her Indian relatives and finds herself and her heritage. The author, Dawn Quigley, is an enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.

This Place: 150 Years Retold, foreword by Alicia Elliot 

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 15-18 years old

This Place is a graphic novel anthology centered around Indigenous Canadian history and experiences, but still very relevant to US readers! The novel holds ten stories by Indigenous creators that retells the last 150 years of history through the eyes of Indigenous peoples. Each story is accompanied by a timeline and facts to root the reader in the historical aspects too. 

If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 12+ years old

Set in 1975, If I Ever Get Out of Here is the story of Lewis “Shoe” Blake and his life on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation. Lewis is not used to White people being nice to him, but then he meets George and they connect through their love of music. This book navigates the issues of poverty and racism in a way young people can see windows or mirrors. The author, Eric Gansworth, is an enrolled Onondaga and was born and raised at the Tuscarora Indian Nation, just outside Niagara Falls, NY.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: Young Adult +

This book examines the history of the United States through the legacy of Indigenous peoples. It calls out the colonization and genocide that is often quieted in history classes. Remember, “Silence is Violence”, so use this book and others to call out the true history so that it never repeats itself. The author, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, is the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international indigenous movement for more than four decades. 

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