Every kid deserves to see their traditions and culture reflected in the books they read. And every kid should have access to books about cultures beyond their own. Check out these must-read titles from Native American authors.
"We want to continue building culturally relevant curriculum in our schools by being intentional about what we teach with. We can go beyond land acknowledgments as a community and create a different narrative by centering Indigenous stories missing from our classrooms." —Mr. Yu, Elementary School teacher, OR
Every child deserves to see themselves reflected in the books they read. And every child should have access to books about cultures beyond their own. That's why we've compiled a list of must-read books that center Native American voices and highlight the heritage of Native peoples.
The Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom
How do you protect the water that your community and sacred land relies on? This is what a young girl named Winona aims to discover as she learns of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the harm it may cause on the environment and her people. That’s also when she meets The Water Protectors.
This engaging tale shows the reader the power behind people coming together, and is a page-turner for any young learner.
Tag along with a young Tlingit girl and her grandmother on a berry picking adventure in this story that is filled to the brim with lush illustrations of the Alaskan landscape.
Berry Song is a rich celebration of intergenerational relationships, cultural heritage – and our connection to the natural world and one another. You won’t want to put it down!
Key themes: Grandparent-grandchild relationships, nature, cultural preservation, family
We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell
This nonfiction picture book is filled with vivid depictions of how the Cherokee people celebrate every aspect of life — from food to family to festivals.
Filled with Cherokee words and pronunciations, this book can teach you more about the Cherokee culture.
Key themes: The connecting power of music, family, migration, biography
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,by Kevin Noble Maillard
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is a children's picture book about family heritage and traditions. In Kevin Noble Maillard’s debut publication, he tells this story about a Native American family cooking fry bread using lively and powerful verse.
The book also features a recipe to make your own fry bread.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Set at a powwow, this award-winning collection of intersecting stories all written by different Native writers immediately weaves you into the worlds of the diverse characters and lives unfolding on the pages.
Edited by bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ancestor Approved shines with hope and resilience through and through.
Key Themes: Intertribal experiences, Native culture, multiple perspectives, short stories
Rez Ball, by Byron Graves
Tre Brun knows what brings him joy. Happiness to him is a basketball in his hands as he plays on the Red Lake Reservation high school team. The same team his late brother once played on. But will he get his chance to represent his Ojibwe rez all the way to their first state championship?
Rez Ball is an intensely compelling coming of age story, worth picking up whether you are a sports fan or not.
Key Themes: Family, grief, coming of age, reservation life
Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief
Based on true events, this historical fiction novel tells the story of Maria Tallchief, America’s first Native American prima ballerina. According to Osage tradition, women are not allowed to dance. Fortunately, Maria’s parents believed in her talent and led her to make history.
Today, Maria Tallchief is admired for her courage, talent, and strength. This fascinating story will captivate and inspire all readers.
Key themes: Family relationships, finding your talent, overcoming obstacles
Two Roads, by Joseph Bruchac
In this Great Depression-era tale, a young Cal leaves life with his father, a WWI veteran, to join the unknown world of the Challagi Indian Boarding School.
Along with other Creek boys in the boarding schools, Cal discovers more of his Creek heritage after an unexpected turn of events.
Key themes: Family, culture preservation, coming of age
High School Books
The FireKeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Daunis Fontaine feels like an outsider in both her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She has already put her dreams on hold to care for her mother in the wake of a family tragedy — and now Daunis has just witnessed a shocking murder. One that she will soon be made to go undercover to investigate.
This vivid story is a complex, but beautiful tale of tribal life, finding identity, and the lengths one can go to protect your community.
Key themes: Family history, complexities of identity, community, magical realism
There There, by Tommy Orange
Journey to the Big Oakland Powwow of California in this a multigenerational tale of Native American heritage told through the eyes of diverse characters. With each chapter, the reader gets to know a new person and the unique relationship they hold with their Native American heritage and community.
Each character will capture the hearts of the reader and demonstrate just how much of a person’s journey lies below what we see on the surface.
Key themes: Storytelling, family history, complexities of identity, resilience
Where the Dead Sit Talking, by Brandon Hobson
This 2018 National Book Award Finalist follows a teenage Cherokee boy through his journey in the foster care system. Sequoyah must define and redefine home as he bounces from house to house in rural Oklahoma.