Our Book Choices for Native American Heritage Month

Ah, October… The start of the marathon of holidays and celebrations and themes that takes us to the new year. While I posted our favorite titles about gratitude/thankfulness and the Thanksgiving holiday last week, they actually still haven’t made it onto our front-facing shelves yet. Instead, we’re taking the first half of November to focus on reading about Native Americans, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, which takes place in November.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Heritage Month is

“A time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.” (from the NCAI website)

To that end, here are the books we’ve been reading this month! Publishers recommended age ranges are noted after each mini-blurb, and as usual, all links are Amazon Affiliate links for purchase. Many thanks for your considerations of making purchases to benefit my little hobby!

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My Heart Fills With Happiness / Ni Sâkaskineh Mîyawâten Niteh Ohcih by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett — Though this book comes in an English-only board book version, we bought (yes, bought, because we loved the board book from the library that much!) the version written in Plains Cree AND English. This is the sweetest story about things that make our hearts happy, and my favorite part about it is how much it connects my children to Native American children, as aside from cooking bannock, my girls can relate to everything that fills the narrator’s heart. While I love books that highlight diversity, I also love books that help my children recognize that despite diversity, we all have lots in common, too. Board book age range 1-3, bilingual age range 3-5.

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Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal — While many books on this list focus on the history of indigenous peoples, Fry Bread is a modern-day Native American story. New in 2019, this intergenerational tale celebrates the American Indian tradition of making fry bread, first believed to have been made more than 150 years ago but still cooked and celebrated today. Be sure to check out the lengthy Author’s Note about fry bread, but maybe read this part on your own instead of with small children. Maillard also includes a recipe for Fry Bread. Ages 3-6.

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac — A wonderful own voices book that teaches readers how the members of the Cherokee Nation express and celebrate gratitude year-round. Sorell also provides readers with Cherokee vocabulary, meanings, and pronunciation, as well as an Author’s Note and information about the Cherokee syllabary, created by Sequoyah in the early 1800s. Ages 3-7.

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You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustatrated by Danielle Daniel — Simply written and stunningly illustrated, this is a gentle ode to the support families and friends give to each other. Be sure to take time with both the dedication and the Author’s Note about the Indian Residential Schools. This is also available in an English/Cree bilingual edition. Ages 3-7.

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When We Were Alone by David Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett — Narrated by a young girl, Robertson shows a conversation between girl and grandmother, a conversation centered around grandmother teaching the girl about her time in a residential school. Though the topic is certainly dark, Robertson handles it very gently, as a real grandmother might when broaching it with her young granddaughter. Ages 4-8.

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Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu — Have you ever watched your parent or grandparent do something really neat and set your heart on doing it yourself? Jenna watches her grandmother dance to the powwow drum and decides she’s going to jingle dance, too… and she doesn’t let the fact that they can’t possibly order and receive the rolling jingles she needs for her dress in time. Ages 4-8.

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At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre — Loosely based on the life of Ola Mildred Rexroat, the only Native American female pilot to fly in World War II, Sorell gives us a short but tender story of a family separated by war, waiting for their pilot to return. Sorell gives us insight into the life of this Cherokee family, as they work to keep on while the pilot flies. This one might make you tear up and is perfect not only for Native American Heritage Month, but also Veteran’s Day. Ages 4-8.

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Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina by Maria Tallchief and Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley — Many of us know and celebrate Misty Copeland, but Maria Tallchief’s story is also worth knowing. Born on an Osage Indian Reservation, Tallchief grew up in a time when women were forbidden to dance, as was “the white man’s way.” Her family made great sacrifices, however, so that she could dance… And dance she did! Ages 5-8.

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The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz, illustrated by Sharol Graves —  Originally published in 1977 and reissued in 2017 with a special Author’s Note, this story (written in poetry form of oral traditions) tells the history of the indigenous peoples in North America. Starting “many many years ago,” continuing through European settlement and culminating with a message about the struggles of many of America’s diverse groups, this is a powerful read for older elementary students. Ages 8-12.

What books do you read with your children to teach them about and celebrate Native Americans and indigenous peoples?

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