29 Must-Read Native American and Aboriginal Peoples Books for Kids & YA

29 Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

We know that history is often written by the victors, casting aside marginalized voices. This is one of the reasons it’s important to have American Indian books on your classroom shelves. The story of the United States is incomplete without listening to its history through the eyes of its indigenous people in their #ownvoices. Here are some stories, both true and imagined, written by and about American Indians. 

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Books with pictures

1. My Heart Fills With Happiness

by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julia Flett

My Heart Fills with Happiness

Get it HERE.

This sweet board book is written in both English and Cree. It offers young children grounding images of everyday things for which they can be thankful. This is a great way for young ones to learn about First Nations and different heritages. 

2. Shin-Chi’s Canoe

by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave

Shin-Chi’s Canoe _ 29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

This picture book, darker in tone due to tough subject matter, is about two boys of Canadian First Nations descent. The brothers are taken from their parents and enrolled in boarding schools where they are treated cruelly and forced to abandon their heritage. It covers a dark period in Canadian and American history, one that will prompt many important discussions. 

3. Bowwow Powwow

by Brenda J. Child and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder

Bowwow Powwow_ 29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

Windy Girl, her dog Itchy Boy, and her uncle attend a powwow. She watches the traditional dances and eats the traditional food, then falls asleep and dreams of another powwow, one where all the dancers are dogs like Itchy Boy. A companion retelling in Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain accompanies the text. 

4. Jingle Dancer

by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Ying-Hwa Hu and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright 

American Indian books: Jingle Dancer_29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

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Jenna can’t wait for the next powwow so she can be a jingle dancer just like her grandma. But there’s one problem – she doesn’t have enough jingles to make her dress sing! Soon, though, her friends and neighbors lend a jingle here and a jingle there and her dress is complete, as is her understanding of what it means to be part of a community. 

5. Sweetest Kulu

by Celina Kalluk and illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

Sweetest Kulu

Get it HERE.

Author Celina Kalluk is an Inuit throat singer. In Sweetest Kulu, a mother sings to her newborn Kulu about the animals of the arctic and the importance of stewardship. 

6. All Around Us

by Xelena Gonzalez and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia

All Around Us_29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

This gorgeous picture book has won numerous awards, especially for its exquisite illustrations. In this story, Grandpa talks about the cycles and circles of life and our place within them. 

7. The Water Walker

by Joanne Robertson with Anishinaabemowin translation by Shirley Williams and Isadore Toulouse

The Water Walker

Get it HERE.

This is based on the true story of Josephine Mandamin, a water activist. Josephine raises awareness for water by walking around the Great Lakes and other rivers and lakes. Ojibwe words are throughout the text and a glossary at the end is helpful for translations as needed. Author Joanne Robertson is AnishinaabeKwe and founder of the Empty Glass campaign. 

8. When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Folktale from the Chocktaw Nation

by Tim Tingle and Stacey Schuett

When Turtle Grew Feathers

Get it HERE.

This is a Chocktaw variation of the tortoise and the hare fable that children may already be familiar with. Some new characters are added to the story, but the boastful rabbit still loses the race and learns a lesson in the end. 

9. The Blind Boy and the Loon written and illustrated

by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and illustrated by Daniel Gies

The Blind Boy & the Loon

Get it HERE.

This is a retelling of an Inuit story about the creation of the narwhal. There is a clear moral for those readers, too. The author and illustrator animated the short film this book is based upon. 

Middle Grade Books

10. Touching Spirit Bear

by Ben Mikaelsen 

Touching Spirit Bear_29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

Cole Matthews is given two options as punishment for fighting – juvenile detention or a reform program called Circle Justice. He chooses Circle Justice and finds himself on a remote Alaskan Island. Here, he is mauled by a bear and nearly killed. Cole must grapple with his anger in order to learn some hard lessons in this coming of age story. 

11. How I Became a Ghost: A Chocktaw Trail of Tears Story

by Tim Tingle

How I Became a Ghost: A Chocktaw Trail of Tears Story _ 29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

Isaac is a young boy who does not survive his journey on the Trail of Tears. He becomes a ghost to help others along the way.

12. Coyote Tales

by Thomas King and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler 

Coyote Tales_29 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction American Indian Books for Kids

Get it HERE.

In this book, there are two coyote stories: Coyote Sings to the Moon and Coyote’s New Suit. We encounter familiar characters such as Old Woman, Moon, and Raven. Both stories are accompanied by whimsical illustrations that add to the fun. 

13. Apple in the Middle

by Dawn Quigley

Apple in the Middle

Get it HERE.

Apple’s Native American mother dies and that, plus a racial slur, causes Apple to turn her back on her heritage. It’s too painful. Then one summer, after a fight with her father, Apple finds herself staying with her mother’s relatives on the reservation for the first time. She learns a lot along the way about being true to who she is. 

14. Give Me Some Truth

by Eric Gansworth

Get it HERE.

Give Me Some Truth is narrated by two teens, Carson and Maggi, as they navigate their senior year on and off the reservation.

15. Three Feathers

by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Krystal Mateus

American Indian books: Three Feathers

Get it HERE.

Three young native boys vandalize their community and are sentenced to spend nine months on the land where they will learn humility and then can be forgiven. 

YA books

16. The Marrow Thieves

by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves

Get it HERE.

In this dystopian world, the planet has been all but destroyed by global warming. Native Americans are being hunted for their bone marrow after it has been discovered that their marrow will help the rest of the world recover the ability to dream. The teen characters on the run from the marrow thieves are layered and their plight is terrifying. 

17. Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

by Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Get it HERE.

In World War Two, Navajo men became code talkers, helping the US government communicate in an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language. This tells the story of Ned, who becomes a code talker and risks his life to serve his country. 

18. Talking Leaves

by Joseph Bruchac

Native American books: Talking Leaves

Get it HERE.

Sequoyah leaves his son to fend for himself. Upon his return, he is obsessed with strange markings. The village wonders if its witchcraft. Instead, as the people come to find out, Sequoyah has created the Cherokee alphabet. 

19. If I Ever Get Out of Here

by Eric Gansworth

If I Ever Get Out of Here

Get it HERE.

Lewis “Shoe” Black, who lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation, becomes friends with newcomer George Haddonfield, whose white family has moved to town. The two boys bond over music, but Shoe starts lying to George to hide his family’s extreme poverty.  

20. House of Purple Cedar

by Tim Tingle

House of Purple Cedar

Get it HERE.

Rose Goode tells the story of living in Oklahoma territory before it became a state. She tells the story of the arson of the New Hope Academy for Girls, a fire from which she escaped but 20 other girls did not. This is the true story of a Choctaw tragedy and the tribe’s ensuing response. 

21. My Name is Not Easy

by Debby Dahl Edwardson

American Indian books: My Name Is Not Easy

Get it HERE.

Luke relies only on his English name, not his Iñupiaq name when he and his brothers are sent to a boarding school where they are forbidden to recognize or honor their native culture in any way. At Sacred Heart School, a group of boys comes together in the Arctic from various backgrounds to tell their stories.

22. Rain is Not My Indian Name

by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Lori Earley

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

Get it HERE.

When Rain’s best friend died, she cut herself off from the world – until, that is, drama strikes her Aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp. Rain documents what she sees through the lens of her camera. She learns to let her guard down and become vulnerable again. 

23. I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

I Heard the Owl Call My Name

Get it HERE.

This tells the story of a remote village in the Pacific Northwest called Kingcome, or Quee by the natives. Kingcome is locked in a struggle between the old ways of totems and the tradition of potlatch and the new ways that are taking over traditional lifestyles.

24. The Smell of Other People’s Houses

by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock 

The Smell of Other People's Houses

Get it HERE.

This book is set in Alaska, a setting that is so evocatively described you can feel the cold air. It follows four teens running from their own problems – pregnancy, child abuse, running away. Together, the teens learn that family isn’t what you are born to, but what you choose. 

25. The Night the White Deer Died

by Gary Paulsen

Night the White Deer Died

Get it HERE.

Janet Carson, one of the few white teens in the New Mexican art colony where her family lives, has a recurring nightmare about a brave about to shoot a white-tailed deer across a pond. As Janet befriends Billy Honcho, the old town drunk, the message behind her dream becomes clear. 

Nonfiction books

26. #NotYourPrincess

edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

American Indian books: #notyourprincess

Get it HERE.

This is a collection of art – essays, poems, short stories, and interviews – about the experience of being a Native American woman. All content is written by native women, so all accounts are firsthand and #ownvoices. 

27. Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Naive American Voices

edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale 

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Naive American Voices

Get it HERE.

This is an anthology about the Native American experience through the eyes of those who live it. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes crushing, these stories will evoke introspection and reflection from readers. 

28. Fatty Legs

by Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton and illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

American Indian books: Fatty Legs

Get it HERE.

This is the true story of an Inuit girl who is sent to residential school and stands up to bullies. Margaret wants to read, no matter the cost. Her father warns her of the notorious cruelty of residential schools but agrees to send her. Once at school, Margaret is immediately singled out by the nun Raven, who sets out to make her life miserable. She refuses to allow her spirit to be crushed. 

29. A Stranger at Home

by Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton and illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

American Indian books: Stranger at Home

Get it HERE.

A Stranger at Home is a sequel of sorts to Fatty Legs. It picks up two years after Margaret has been in residential school. Her family comes to claim her, but her own mother doesn’t recognize her, and Margaret realizes she is now an outsider to the people she loves. 

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Veteran Legend

I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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