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We need to read books by Native American authors all year round. We need to turn to books by Native American authors to support various themes, as a prelude to many different types of lessons, and as bedtime stories even in mid-July. However, November is Native American Heritage Month, and it’s also one of the prime times of year when misinformation and whitewashing of Indigenous history is rampant in the United States. As we fight “Pilgrim and Indian Dress Up Day” in elementary schools, and balance the family themes of U.S. Thanksgiving against the knowledge that we’re also celebrating the beginning of the colonization of Native Land, picture books by Native American authors are more important than ever.
Currently, the book world is also blessed with more and more picture books being published by authors native to North America. Some titles struggle fiercely to correct commonly accepted lies told in social studies classes. Others share insights into beautiful traditions and communities. And then there are those that are just beautiful stories told from a perspective that you need. All in all, more insightful, beautiful and truthful stories are published in libraries and bookstores every year. Because our understanding of history is often rooted in the impressions we get from movies, television and books, this gift from Native American authors is so important. Below I have eight titles you shouldn’t miss.
We’re Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac
Let’s begin with a powerful book that addresses a misstep in modern education. Many students fail to understand that Native American tribes are a part of modern life. Reading books by Native American authors is a good place to start, and We Are Still Here! presents past, present and future victories and struggles faced by Native Americans.
Still This Love Goes On by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Julie Flett
Based on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song of the same name, Still This Love Goes On is a beautiful promise that those we love will be with us forever. A powerhouse of an illustrator, Flett uses bold and muted colors together to create a stunning memory book.
Finding My Dance by Ria Thundercloud and Kalila J. Fuller
This autobiographical picture book follows Ria Thundercloud’s dance journey. Ria is a talented dancer who studies many different disciplines but most of all enjoys the expressiveness of indigenous dance. Familiar concepts such as feeling different and finding comfort in family are emphasized, and the illustrations are captivating.
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Powwow Day by Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight
In Powwow Day, River has been feeling isolated and sad since his illness. The worst part? She can’t dance at the powwow like she does every year. With a little help from her community, River is able to enjoy the great time, even if it looks a little different. Information on the history of the powwows is included.
Forever Cousins by Laurel Goodluck and Jonathan Nelson
Kate and Amande are more than cousins — they’re best friends. When one of the girls moves out of the reservation, both are devastated. The real test comes when it’s time for the family reunion, and both are relieved that distance hasn’t changed their love! Forever Cousins is a symbol of the forced separation that Indigenous families have historically had to endure and celebrates all the ways families stay together even when separated.
Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, Alexis Bunter and Garry Meeches Sr.
Several people have pointed out that this book fills an important gap, and I wholeheartedly agree. This story, narrated by a grandmother telling the story of “first Thanksgiving” from Wampanaog’s point of view, adds important depth to the often-reused and most-shared story. This book celebrates Weeâchumun (corn), Keepunumuk (harvest), and focuses primarily on the Wampanaog people. I am adding more than one copy to my school library.
Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman by Sharice Davids, Nancy K. Mays and Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
This picture-perfect autobiography follows Sharice Davids, one of the first Native Americans in Congress and the first LGTBQ+ congresswoman to represent Kansas. Packed with informative background material and beautiful illustrations by Ojibwe Woodland artist Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, this little book packs a punch. Readers leave with the important message that no matter where they come from, what they look like, or who they love, they can make a difference.
Josie Dances by Denise Lajimodiere and Angela Erdrich
Josie is preparing for her first dance at the powwow and there are so many things that have to come together to make this go well. Luckily, she is surrounded by the love of her family, her community, and her ancestors. This lavishly illustrated book will captivate children and adults alike as we get a glimpse into the beautiful ritual of the powwow and Josie’s first dance.
Looking for more books by Native American authors? Check out 9 Indigenous and Native American Picture Books You Can Read Right Now or 8 Children’s Books Featuring Indigenous Characters in Latin America. Happy reading!