Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians | Focus On

From Louise Erdrich's Chickadee to Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here, the books on Debbie Reese's list of titles by Native and non-Native authors, and the accompanying digital and multimedia resources, will enrich and strengthen your library's collection on American Indian cultures and peoples.

At a conference held at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in the early 1990s, James Ransome was asked why he had not illustrated any books with American Indian characters. His response, in short, was something to the effect of, “I haven’t held their babies.” He captured what it means to really engage with a people whose history and culture are not one’s own. In SLJ’s November 2008 “Native Voices” column, I featured only books by Native writers. In this column, I’ve made an effort to include non-Native authors who have succeeded in forging the meaningful bonds to which Ransome alluded.

In writing about a culture that is not one’s own, it is imperative to be able to make those connections. Good intentions are not enough to provide the history or perspective of Native peoples. Book research is not enough. Visits to reservations aren’t enough, either. Real relationships with American Indians are vital in order to avoid romanticizing or denigrating various groups through stereotypical ideas and characters.

Eric Gansworth’s young adult novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here, exquisitely exemplifies what I’m talking about here. His main character, Lewis, is Native. Lewis knows about tribal sovereignty and he knows his tribe’s history. Through Lewis and his relationships with others, readers can expand what they know, too, and develop a broader perspective. Such perspective opens the door to cross-cultural understanding and empowers young people to select literature that accurately reflects the lives of American Indians.

Though the Common Core and the idea of multiple viewpoints are put forth as new, teachers and librarians have been searching for multiple viewpoints for a long time. Some have been able to separate the good from the stereotypical, but growing a critical mass of individuals who will select books like the ones described here takes work. Order them. Read them. Study them. Librarians are a powerful group. With your help, we can all be better informed and allow readers make truly meaningful connections.

Board Books

BLACKSHEEP, Beverly. Baby’s First Laugh. Salina Bookshelf. 2003. Board $7.95. ISBN 978-1-893354-40-1. Available from

PreS-K –Who will be the first to make baby laugh? The bilingual text (English and Navajo) and quiet, yet stunning, illustrations are centered on Navajo culture and feature a Dine (Navajo) family. Other titles in this series of story/concept board books (numbers, colors, animals, seasons and more) include Baby Learns to Count and Baby Learns About Colors.

HIMANGO, Deanna. Boozhoo, Come Play with Us. photos by Rocky Wilkinson. Fond du Lac Head Start. 2002. Board $5.95. ISBN 978-0-9709443-1-3. Available from

PreS-K –In this winning combination of words and images, each page features contemporary photos of children at the Fond du Lac Head Start. The photos are paired with “boozhoo,” which is a common Ojibwe greeting, and a short sentence related to the picture, for example, “Agindaaso means red.”

SLIER , Debby . Cradle Me. photos. Star Bright Books. 2012. Board 6.95. ISBN 978-1-59572-274-4.

PreS-K –Each page features a Native baby in a cradleboard specific to her tribal nation. Some smile, others sleep peacefully. Beneath each photograph is a line for writing in the word for the expression or activity shown on the page (e.g. sleeping, yawning, frowning) in another language. A brief explanatory note about cradleboards is included.

VAN CAMP , Richard . Little You. illus. by Julie Flett. Orca. 2013. Board $9.95. ISBN 978-1-4598-0248-3.

PreS-K –A contemporary Metis child and his family are shown as the child grows from infancy to toddlerhood. Joy in life and the world about them are lovingly depicted in spare, but evocative text that is paired with Flett’s exquisite mixed-media illustrations.

WINDSOR , Paul . Good Morning World. illus. by author. Garfinkel. 2012. Board $10. ISBN 978-1-55476-285-9. Available from

PreS-Gr 1 –Readers are invited to call out an exuberant “Good Morning!” to the creatures around us, e.g., “Good Morning busy beaver building your dam.” The artistic style and creatures reflect the author/illustrator’s Haisla Nation in the North Coast region of Canada. Adults can invite listeners to explore differences between locale and artistic style.


EDWARDSON , Debby Dahl. Whale Snow. illus. by Annie Patterson. Charlesbridge. 2003. RTE $15.95. ISBN 978-1-57091-393-8; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-57091-394-5.

K-Gr 2 –Through the teachings of his grandma, family, and community, a young Inupiaq boy develops his understanding of traditional ways of life and how deeply the culture is shaped by his community’s coexistence with whaling and the environment. The watercolor palette effectively captures the cold of the northern landscape and the warmth of the people. An Inupiaq edition is available on the author’s website,

ERDRICH , Louise . Chickadee. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Harper. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-057790-2; lib. ed. $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-057791-9; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-219007-9.

Gr 4-8 –In this, the fourth book in the “Birchbark House” series, Omakayas is now grown and the mother of eight-year-old twin boys, one of whom is kidnapped. As Chickadee and his family try to find one another, Erdrich eloquently imparts Ojibwe stories, history, and knowledge, and, as in the previous books, her own illustrations add charm to the stories.

FRANCIS , Lee DeCora. Kunu’s Basket: A Story from Indian Island. illus. by Susan Drucker. Tilbury. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-88448-330-4.

K-Gr 2 –With the help of his caring and patient grandfather, Kunu, a contemporary Penobscot boy, overcomes his struggles to learn how to make the baskets Penobscot men have crafted for generations. In the process, he learns a bit about Penobscot history, too. Illustrations are gentle in tone, reflecting the relationship between Kunu and his grandfather.

GALVAN , Glenda . Chikasha Stories, Volume One: Shared Spirit. illus. by Jeannie Barbour. Chickasaw Press. 2011. Tr $36. ISBN 978-1-935684-04-6.

Gr 2-4 –Why do skunks smell bad? The answer, from the Chickasaw perspective, is conveyed in one of five traditional stories presented with text in English and Chickasaw. Whimsical illustrations rendered in vivid colors invite a chuckle as the stories unfold. Notes from the author, illustrator, and people who provided the Chickasaw text provide insights into the publication of the series, which includes Chikasha Stories, Volume Two: Shared Voices (Chickasaw, 2012). A third volume was published in October 2013.

JORDAN-FENTON , Christy & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Fatty Legs: A True Story. illus. by Liz Amini-Holmes. Annick. 2010. Tr $21.95. ISBN 978-1-55451-247-8.

Gr 4-8 –Olemaun, an eight-year-old Inuit girl, begs to go to boarding school to learn to read. Once there, she realizes the education provided is meant to strip Native peoples of their cultures. Margaret’s autobiography and its sequel, A Stranger at Home (Annick, 2011), include photographs of Inuit and school life along with dark-toned acrylics that reflect the somber realities of the boarding schools.

NELSON , S. D. Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way. illus. by author. South Dakota State Historical Society. 2012. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-0-9845041-6-9.

K-Gr 5 –Nelson takes readers through a day in the life of Lakota children. Like any kids, they wear jeans and sneakers as they ride a yellow bus to school, but their traditional Lakota ways are part of that day, too. Nelson’s distinctive style of illustration blends the realistic here-and-now with representations of the spiritual dimensions of Lakota life.

NELSON , S. D., retel. Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story . illus. by reteller. Abrams. 2012. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0355-3.

Gr 3-6 –With a mix of photographs and interpretive artwork, Nelson’s biography of Buffalo Bird Woman (1839-1932) is a comprehensive and unflinching look at how the Hidatsa people and their nation were impacted by Native and non-Native nations, while still being mindful of the book’s audience. Notes provide teachers with information to supplement the content.

SNEVE , Virginia Driving Hawk . The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood. illus. by Ellen Beier. Holiday House. 2011. RTE 16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2134-3.

Gr 1-4 –Sneve offers a look into how her childhood was infused with traditional Lakota ways, but enriched, too, by the Episcopal church on her reservation. From the toys in Santa’s bag to the setting for the autobiographical story, Beier’s research is evident in the detail of her outstanding illustrations.

TINGLE , Tim . Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light. illus. by Karen Clarkson. Cinco Puntos. 2010. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-933693-67-5.

K-Gr 5 –Tingle shares his family history and their experience with racism. Clarkson’s illustrations quietly capture the sadness and joy of Tingle’s words as he recounts how his grandmother lost and eventually regained her sight. The story and the author’s intimate and heartfelt notes provide multiple opportunities for readers to move from darkness into light.

ULUADLUAK , Donald . Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story. illus. Qin Leng. Inhabit Media. 2013. pap. $10.95. ISBN 978-1-9270-9511-9.

Gr 1-4 –How to train a puppy, or what not to do when training a puppy, is the theme of this delightful picture book. From his grandfather’s stories, Jake learns what his pup must be taught as it takes its place as a sled dog in an Inuit community. Leng’s exquisite and lively illustrations capture the exuberance of puppyhood.

Middle School

DEMBICKI , Matt, ed. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. illus. Fulcrum. 2010. pap. $22.95. ISBN 978-1-55591-724-1.

Gr 5 Up –Twenty-one traditional stories by Native storytellers are included in this far-ranging collection whose contributors include acclaimed storytellers Tim Tingle and Joseph Bruchac. Biographies for contributors are included and can be used to identify the tribe from which each story originates. A breadth of style in the illustrations adds to the volume’s unique qualities.

EDWARDSON , Debby Dahl . My Name Is Not Easy. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5980-4; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4778-1629-5.

Gr 7 Up –Perseverance is at the center of this novel that highlights commitment to place and family and reveals a government program through which Alaska Natives were injected with radioactive iodine. Based on the experiences of the author’s husband, this is the story of an Inupiaq man who attended Catholic boarding school as a youth.

GANSWORTH , Eric . If I Ever Get Out of Here. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-41730-3.

Gr 6-9 –Through an exquisite use of Beatles music, Gansworth connects with readers on multiple levels in this story of Lewis, an Onondaga teen, as he develops a friendship with George, a white teen from a nearby Air Force base. The family and community of both characters figure prominently throughout.

GUEST , Jacqueline . Triple Threat. Lorimer. 2011. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-55277-690-2; ebk. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-55277-691-9.

Gr 6-8 –A Native boy, his white stepsister, and his friend who is paralyzed from the waist down and plays basketball from his wheelchair comprise the “triple threat” on a team in a summertime league. Competition and perseverance are the themes in this fast-paced novel.

McCALL , Guadalupe Garcia . Under the Mesquite . Lee & Low. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-60060-429-4.

Gr 6 Up –Lupita’s Aztec heritage is very much a part of her life in this contemporary novel about a Mexican American family in Texas. Spanning the teen’s high school years, the story is beautifully told in free verse as Lupita and her family persevere in the face of economic adversity, cultural differences, and the cancer that strikes Lupita’s mother.

McLAUGHLIN , Timothy P., ed. Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School. illus. by S. D. Nelson. Abrams. 2012. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0179-5.

Gr 5 Up –“Silence is the loudest noise I ever heard,” is one line from this outstanding collection of poems and stories written by Lakota middle school students. From the foreword by Lakota writer Joseph M. Marshall III, to the student’s work, and Lakota artist S.D. Nelson’s brilliantly evocative illustrations, each page provides insight into the tribe’s history and culture.

SIGAFUS , Kim & Lyle Ernst . Native Writers: Voices of Power. 7th Generation. 2012. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-0-9779183-8-6.

Gr 7 Up –Teachers assigning author studies of Native writers will find much value in the 10 unflinching biographies in this volume. Selected works for each author demonstrate the breadth and range of their writing. Sidebars and photographs enhance the volume, which is similar to others in the “Native Trailblazers” series.

STARR , Arigon . Super Indian: Volume One. illus. by author. Wacky Productions Unlimited. 2012. pap. $24.99. ISBN 978-987-09-8595-2.

Gr 7 Up –In this funny graphic novel set on a fictional reservation, Starr hits all the right notes in three stories introducing Hubert Logan/Super Indian and a cast of characters who poke fun at stereotypes and personalities (like the ever-present anthropologist). Two “Real Super Indian” pages about Osage ballerina Maria Tallchief and Sac and Fox Olympic medalist Jim Thorpe are a bonus.

TINGLE , Tim . How I Became a Ghost . RoadRunner Press. 2013. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-1-937054-53-3.

Gr 7 Up –The ghost is Isaac, a Choctaw boy who dies on the Trail of Tears, yet continues to interact with Joseph, another Choctaw boy who is a shape-shifter. Tingle’s historical novel normalizes Choctaw spirituality, presenting it as part of the fabric of life of those who lived, died, and were killed on the Trail of Tears of the 1830s.

High School

BIGELOW , Bill & Bob Peterson, eds. Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Rethinking Schools. 2003. pap. $18.95. ISBN 978-0-942961-20-1.

Gr 9 Up –An update of the 1991 edition, this volume provides opportunities to revisit the ways in which Christopher Columbus is taught and presented in school and society. Includes poems, essays, and songs by several Native people, including writer N. Scott Momaday, political leader Suzan Shown Harjo, Native studies professor Cornel Pewewardy, and songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

BRUCHAC , Joseph . Killer of Enemies. Lee & Low/Tu. 2013. RTE 19.95. ISBN 978-1-62014-143-4.

Gr 9 Up –In this fascinating postapocalyptic page-turner, the 17-year-old Apache heroine has gifts similar to those of her namesake, Lozen, a Chiricahua Apache woman who fought alongside Geronimo. Generations later, Lozen and her family maintain the Apache ways that guide her as she fights to protect her family.

ERDRICH , Louise . The Round House. HarperCollins/Harper. 2012. Tr $27.99. ISBN 978-0-06-206524-7.

Adult/High School –Sovereign nation status, racism, and perseverance are the prominent themes in this exceptional novel told from the vantage point of Joe, an Ojibwe boy whose mother has been raped. Set in 1988 in North Dakota, this is an especially timely story as society considers legislation on violence against women.

TINGLE , Tim . House of Purple Cedar. Cinco Puntos. Jan. 2014. Tr $21.95. ISBN 978-1-935955-69-6; pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-935955-24-5.

Gr 9 Up –Rose, a young Choctaw woman of the late 1800s, looks back on a dark episode from her childhood when the racism and fear that paralyzed a town are faced down by the steadfast confidence her grandfather has in the goodness of people to overcome hate. Told with superb storytelling and unforgettable characters.

TOHE , Laura . Code Talker Stories. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 2012. pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-933855-74-5.

Gr 9 Up –Using their native language, the Code Talkers helped win World War II. Inspired by her father, who was a Code Talker, Tohe presents biographies and interviews with 20 Navajo Code Talkers and their descendants. Culturally specific details, such as the clans to which they belong, Navajo language, and photographs of the Code Talkers add depth to their stories.

VAN CAMP , Richard . The Moon of Letting Go: And Other Stories. Enfield & Wizenty/Great Plains Publications. 2009. pap. $19.95. ISBN 978-1-926531-00-7.

Gr 9 Up –“Show Me Yours…” is a heartwarming story about members of a community adding depth to their relationships by sharing pictures of themselves as babies, and “The Moon of Letting Go” is a chilling page-turner. Infused with contemporary people of the First Nations, this is a riveting and deeply satisfying collection of short stories set in the Northwest Territories.

WILSON , Daniel H. Robopocalypse. Doubleday. 2011. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-385-53385-0; pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-0-307-74080-9.

Gr 9 Up –A sci-fi thriller set in the near future pits humans against robots that have turned against humanity. A familiar plot with a smart analysis of technology and its limits, but with an added twist: the Osage Nation figures throughout the story and their sovereign nation status gives them an edge.

Debbie Reese is the editor of American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Digital picks


Anompa: Chickasaw Language Basic. Chickasaw Nation. Thornton Media. 2011. Version: 1.1. iOS, requires 3.2 or later. Free.

Gr 3 Up –Common words (snow) and Chickasaw-specific words and phrases (“The Chickasaw people will dance, until the world ends.”) are shown in English, with the Chickasaw word or phrase presented in print and audio. Content is arranged in over 20 different categories, two of which are hymns and videos.

Bramble Berry Tales-The Story of Kalkalilh: Book One. Rival Schools Media Design. Loud Crow Interactive. 2013. Version: 1.2. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. $2.99. Android, requires 2.3.3 and up. Version 1.0. $2.99.

PreS Up –Lily and Thomas visit their grandparents in this captivating storybook. While there, their grandfather tells them a traditional Coast Salish story about Kalkalilh. The text and audio can be read and played in English, French, Spanish, or Squamish, and interactive features provide background for the Squamish information in the story.

Navajo Toddler. Isreal Shortman. tinkR’labs 2011. Version 1.5. iOS, requires 4.1 or later. Free.

PreS Up –Uses cartoon graphics and audio to teach Navajo words for items specific to Navajo people (Navajo rug) and commonplace items (television) in the following categories: Numbers, Food, Body, Animals, Colors, Hogan, Clothes, and Phrases. Provides option to play a game that tests learning of the words and phrases.

Ojibway. Ogoki Learning Systems. Darrick Glen Baxter and Arlene Mousseau. 2012. Version 1.4. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Free. Android, requires 2.0.1 and up. Version 1.0. Free.

Gr 3 Up –Provides information about Ojibway people in four categories: Language, Syllabics, People, and Maps. The Language category has 13 sections that show buttons with English words or phrases. The Ojibway translation is provided in audio. In the Maps category, users can view a map of North America, changing it to view International Borders, Ojibway Territory, and Ojibway Indian Bands/Nations.


Chickasaw Kids. Chickasaw Nation. (Accessed 9/23/13).

K Up –An interactive tour of the Chickasaw White House, listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, provides information about Chickasaw history, culture, and language through games, activities, and videos. Some (coloring sheets) are geared for young children while others (biographies) are better suited for older children.

Infinity of Nations Culture Quest.National Museum of the American Indian. (Accessed 9/23/13).

Gr 5 Up –“Explore the Object Gallery” focuses on headdresses of 10 different tribal nations with a zoom feature for viewing intricate detail. “See Contemporary Native Art” features five pieces of art with pop-ups that provide detail about specific aspects of each. “Play Infinity of Nations Culture Quest” invites users to travel to 10 locations and earn a badge for visiting.

We Shall Remain. PBS. (Accessed 9/23/13).

Gr 7 Up –Broadcast in 2009, the five episodes of We Shall Remain begin with the Mayflower and conclude with the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. Entire episodes are viewable online along with additional videos and materials. Especially important to the series is the feature on “Sovereignty” in the Native Now tab.

Media picks

By Phyllis Levy Mandell

For Librarians and Teachers

Great Native American Warrior Chiefs. DVD. 25 min. Worldwide Academic Media. 2011. $29.95.

Gr 6 Up –This information-packed film presents brief biographies of familiar Native American chiefs, such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo, as well as lesser-known leaders such as Red Cloud and Mangas Colorades. The narrative is sympathetic to the Native American plight, documenting treaties broken and mistreatment at the hands of white men, incluing the massacre at Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears.

Great Native American Leaders. 4 DVDs. 15 min. ea. New Dimension Media. $49 ea.

Gr 3-8 –Four programs—Chief Joseph and the Nez Pierce Indians, Crazy Horse and the Lakota Sioux, Geronimo and the Apache Indians, and Quanah Parker and the Comanche Indians—portray Native American leaders via dramatic reenactments, and in their own words.

A History of American Indian Achievement. 4 DVDs. 4 hrs. Prod. by Centre Communications. Dist. By Ambrose Video. 2008. $129.99 ser.

Gr 7 Up –Provides a chronological look at the tribes, their cultural complexities, leaders, and achievements. Historical and contemporary footage, photos, tribal artwork, and graphic representations are utilized to present the history of Native Americans from the years before European contact through contemporary military heroes, athletes, artists, and statesmen. The biographies of American Indian leaders such as Tecumseh, Black Hawk, Chochise, and Sitting Bull are excellent.

Trail of Tears: The Cherokee Legacy. DVD. approx. 2 hrs. Prod. by Rich-Heape Films. Dist. By Library Video. 2006. $34.95.

Gr 7 Up –Narrated by James Earl Jones, the documentary explores President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma in 1838.

We Shall Remain: America Through Native Eyes (American Experience Series). 3 DVDs. 7:45 hrs. Prod. by Native American Public Telecommunication for WGBH Boston. Dist. by PBS. 2009. $49.99 ser. Includes: After the Mayflower; Tecumseh’s Vision/Trail of Tears; Geronimo/Wounded Knee.

Gr 7 Up –The series offers a multifaceted look at Native ingenuity and perseverance over the course of more than three centuries beginning with the Pilgrims and highlighting events and leaders through the Wounded Knee debacle. Superb cinematography features footage of tribal regions, reenactments, and still photography.

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Rachel Sayet

So excited to see this up on the ICONN website. Thanks for the dvd and app list. We are certainly missing some of these in the Mohegan Library.

Posted : Sep 18, 2014 02:08

Debbie Reese

Pleased as can be to see this online! For additional resources and book reviews, please visit my website, American Indians in Children's Literature, located at

Posted : Nov 05, 2013 10:55



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