In a 2018 School Library Journal article entitled, “Can Diverse Books Save Us?” 55% of the librarians surveyed reported that though authentic character portrayals of Native or Indigenous People were in demand, they were “hard to find” (see below).
Author Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) -- whose first picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, also came out in 2018 -- keeps track of children’s literature featuring contemporary Native life. With her generous permission, we are sharing the picture book section of the list she compiled of books featuring contemporary portrayals of Indigenous children and adults. Her list indicates the tribal identification of any Indigenous authors/illustrators included. We have also linked to each book's page in our collection, when possible.
Children's Picture Books Centering Contemporary Indigenous Children and Adults
compiled by Traci Sorell
** This is not an exhaustive list. Search for these creators online as many of them have several books about Native people, some of which are more historical (pre-1900) than contemporary. **
Annino, Jan Godown, illus. by Lisa Desimini, afterword by Moses Jumper, Jr. (Seminole)
Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was born in 1923, the daughter of a Seminole woman and a white man. She grew up in the Everglades under dark clouds of distrust among her tribe who could not accept her at first. As a child of a mixed marriage, she walked the line as a constant outsider. Growing up poor and isolated, she only discovered the joys of reading and writing at age 14. An iron will and sheer determination led her to success, and she returned to her people as a qualified nurse. When her husband was too sick to go to his alligator wrestling tourist job, gutsy Betty Mae climbed right into the alligator pit! Storyteller, journalist, and community activist, Betty Mae Jumper was a voice for her people, ultimately becoming the first female elected Seminole tribal leader.--publisher
Avingaq, Susan (Inuk) and Maren Vsetula, illus. by Charlene Chua
"Adventure begins when Grandma takes her two grandchildren out for a trip on the lake. After showing the kids how to prepare of a fishing trip, Grandma and the kids enjoy a day of jigging in the ice for fish. Grandma shows them everything they need to know to complete a successful fishing trip, from what clothes to wear, to how to drill and clear holes in the ice, to how to make a traditional Inuit jigging rod. By the end of the day, the kids have a yummy meal of Arctic char, and they have also learned everything they need to know to have a successful day on the lake."--Provided by publisher
Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), illus. by Liz Amini-Holmes
"As a boy, Chester Nez was taught his native language and culture were useless, but he was later called on to use his Navajo language to help create an unbreakable military code during WWII"--|cProvided by publisher
Campbell, Nicola I. (Interior Salish/Cree), illus. by Kim LaFave
When Shin-chi and his sister go off to his first year of Residential School in a cattle truck, she warns him of all the things he must not do. The days are long, he is very lonely and always hungry, but he finds solace down at the river with a gift from his father, a tiny cedar canoe. It seems like a very long time until the salmon swim upriver again and he can finally go home.
Shi-shi-etko, a Native American girl, spends the last four days before she goes to residential school learning valuable lessons from her mother, father, and grandmother, and creating precious memories of home.
Child, Brenda (Red Lake Ojibwe), illus. by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe)
When Uncle and Windy Girl attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Uncle's stories inspire visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers -- all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.--Provided by publisher
Coulson, Art (Cherokee Nation), illus. by Nick Hardcastle
In the autumn of 1912, the football team from Carlisle Indian Industrial School took the field at the U.S. Military Academy, home to the bigger, stronger, and better -equipped West Points Cadets. Sportswriters billed the game as a sort of rematch, pitting against each other the descendants of U.S. soldiers and American Indians who fought on the battlefield only 20 years earlier. But for lightning-fast Jim Thorpe and the other Carlisle players, that day's game was about skill, strategy, and determination. Known for unusual formations and innovative plays, the Carlisle squad was out to prove just one thing- -that it was the best football team in all the land.
Crowe, Ellie, illus. by Richard Waldrep
"A brief biography of Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, five-time Olympic swimming champion from the early 1900s who is also considered worldwide as the 'father of modern surfing'"-- Provided by publisher
Dupuis, Jenny Kay (Ojibwe) and Kathy Kacer, illus. by Gillian Newland
"A picture book based on a true story about a young First Nations girl who was sent to a residential school. When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from despite the efforts of the nuns to force her to do otherwise. Based on the life of Jenny Kay Dupuis' own grandmother, I Am Not a Number brings a terrible part of Canada's history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to"--|cProvide by publisher
Edwardson, Debby Dahl, illus. by Annie Patterson. Whale Snow (Charlesbridge, 2003)
Flett, Julie (Cree/Métis)
Clarence and his grandmother pick wild blueberries and meet ant, spider, and fox in a beautiful woodland landscape
Francis, Lee DeCora (Penobscot/HoChunk), illus. by Susan Drucker
Feeling frustrated when his first attempt to weave a basket fails, a Penobscot Indian boy receives help and encouragement from his grandfather.
González, Xelena (Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation), illus. by Adriana M. Garcia
Finding circles everywhere, a grandfather and his granddaughter meditate on the cycles of life and nature.
Herrington, John B. (Chickasaw). Mission to Space (White Dog Press, 2016)
Kirk, Connie Ann, illus. by Christy Hale
John Cloud, a Mohawk boy, lives in upstate New York, but he goes to visit his father who is working on the Empire State Building.
Lindstrom, Carole (Turtle Mtn Chippewa/Métis), illus. by Kimberly McKay
What incredible pluck! Why does young Metisse insist on playing her fiddle for Grandmother's birthday when everyone knows girls are supposed to dance and leave the fiddling to the boys? It could be because Metisse feels the rhythm of tradition in more than one way.
Maret, Sherri (Choctaw Nation), illus. by Merisha Sequoia Clark (Choctaw Nation). The Cloud Artist (Roadrunner Press, 2017)
Morrison, Kaylee (Muscogee Creek) and Nancy Smith (Muscogee Creek), illus. by Dorothy Shaw. Joshua and the Biggest Fish (Doodle & Peck, 2017)
Nelson, S.D. (Standing Rock Lakota). Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way (South Dakota State Historical Society, 2012)
"A biography of Native American Ira Hayes, a shy, humble Pima Indian who fought in World War II as a Marine and was one of six soldiers to raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, an event immortalized in Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph"-- Provided by publisher
Rendon, Marcie (White Earth Anishinabe). Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013)
Ortiz, Simon. (Acoma Pueblo), illus. by Sharol Graves
"The People Shall Continue was originally published in 1977. It is a story of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, specifically in the U.S., as they endeavor to live on lands they have known to be their traditional homelands from time immemorial. Even though the prairies, mountains, valleys, deserts, river bottomlands, forests, coastal regions, swamps and other wetlands across the nation are not as vast as they used to be, all of the land is still considered to be the homeland of the people"--Foreword
Robertson, David (Swampy Cree), illus. by Julie Flett (Cree/Métis)
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength. |cProvided by publisher
Robertson, Joanne (Ojibwe)
"This is the story of a determined Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin and her great love for Nibi (Water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi for future generations, and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men, and youth, have walked around all of the Great Lakes from the four salt waters - or oceans - all the way to Lake Superior. The water walks are full of challenges, and by her example Josephine inspires and challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water and our planet for all generations. Her story is a wonderful way to talk with children about the efforts that the Ojibwe and many other Indigenous peoples give to the protection of water - the giver of life"--|cProvided by publisher
Robertson, Sebastian (Mohawk), illus. by Adam Gustavson
"Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is known mainly for his central role in the musical group the Band. But how did he become one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time? Written by his son Sebastian, this is the story of a rock-and-roll legend's journey through music, beginning when he was taught to play guitar at nine years old on a Native American reservation"--Amazon.com
Santiago, Chiori, illus. by Judith Lowry (Maidu/Pit River)
Two young Maidu Indian brothers sent to live at a government-run Indian residential school in California in the 1930s find a way to escape and return home for the summer.
Savageau, Cheryl (Abenaki), illus. by Robert Hynes
A Native American girl's feelings are hurt when schoolmates make fun of the children who live at the lake, but then her grampa tells her a Seneca folktale that reminds her how much she appreciates her home and her place in the world.
Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Creek), illus. by Ying-Hwa Hu and Cornelius Van Wright
Tink, tink, tink, tink, sang cone-shaped jingles sewn to Grandma Wolfe's dress. Jenna's heart beats to the brum, brum, brum, brum of the powwow drum as she daydreams about the clinking song of her grandma's jingle dancing. Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family, and she hopes to dance at the next powwow. But she has a problem--how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?
Smith, Monique Gray (Cree/Lakota), illus. by Danielle Daniel
An evocative picture book intended to foster reconciliation among children and encourage them to show each other love and support.
Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk (Rosebud Sioux), illus. by Ellen Beier
Virginia and her brother are never allowed to pick first from the donation boxes at church because their father is the priest, and she is heartbroken when another girl gets the beautiful coat that she covets. Based on the author's memories of life on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
Sorell, Traci (Cherokee), illus. by Frané Lessac
Otsaliheliga is a Cherokee word that is used to express gratitude. Journey through the year with a Cherokee family and their tribal nation as they express thanks for celebrations big and small. This book presents a look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Tahe, Rose Ann (Diné) and Nancy Bo Flood, illus. by Jonathan Nelson (Diné)
The First Laugh Ceremony is a celebration held to welcome a new member of the community. As everyone—from Baby's nima (mom) to nadi (big sister) to cheii (grandfather)—tries to elicit the joyous sound from Baby, readers are introduced to details about Navajo life and the Navajo names for family members. --publisher
Tallchief, Maria (Osage) with Rosemary Wells, illus. by Gary Kelley. Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina (Puffin Books, 1999)
Taylor, Gaylia, illus. by Frank Morrison
Growing up in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York, isn't easy for George Crum. Picked on at school because of the colour of his skin, George escapes into his favorite pastimes--hunting and fishing. Soon George learns to cook too, and he lands a job as a chef at the fancy Moon's Lake House. George loves his work, except for the fussy customers, who are always complaining! One hot day George's patience boils over and he cooks up a potato dish so unique it changes his life forever. This spirited story of the invention of the potato chip is a testament to human ingenuity and a tasty slice of culinary history
Vandever, Daniel W. (Navajo)
At a very strict school in Indigenous Nation, everyone but Holden stays in line until they reach the door at the end of the school day.
Waboose, Jan Bourdeau (Ojibwe), illus. by Brian Deines
Two Ojibway sisters trek across the frozen north country to see the SkySpirits, the Northern Lights.