12 Kids’ Books That Celebrate Native Stories
November is National Native American Heritage Month, making it no better time to add one (or heck, all 10) of these wonderful children’s books to your collection. These bookshelf-worthy tales showcase Indigenous characters, stories, authors, and illustrators. After all, diversity in kid lit is incredibly important...even for the youngest of book lovers. Board and picture books featuring different faces, cultures, and narratives allow some children to see themselves on the page—and give others a chance to explore the world beyond their own experiences, which is a cornerstone of building empathy.
Through these 10 children’s books, you and your tykes are invited to learn about modern-day Native American and First Nations families, enjoy Indigenous folktales, discover history, and celebrate rich cultures.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
In this award-winning children’s book, author Kevin Noble Maillard (a member of the Seminole Nation) shares the many reasons fry bread is so much more than a tasty staple of Native American cuisine. With simple and sweet words and pictures, readers enjoy a cheerful and sensory-filled celebration of fry bread’s place in Indigenous culture, representing art, history, a sense of home, and more. There’s also a detailed author’s note giving more context and reflection...plus Maillard’s own family fry bread recipe, which offers a great opportunity to take the story off the page and into the kitchen! (Ages 3 to 6)
Written by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, and Joe Wilson, illustrated by Daniel Sousa
Based on the acclaimed animated short of the same name, Kapaemahu tells the story of four mythical māhū figures who sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii to share the gift of science and healing with the people of Waikiki. (Māhū is a Hawaiian term used to characterize someone who embodies both the male and female spirit.) According to this Indigenous Hawaiian legend, the islanders then created a monument of four boulders in their honor, which were laden with healing powers. Written in both English and Olelo Niihau, this gorgeous book is not only dreamy to look at, but a dreamy read-aloud. (Ages 4 to 8)
Written by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder,
translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain
Bowwow Powwow is a joyful and engaging book that introduces little readers to the wonder of the powwow, a traditional Native American ceremony filled with singing, dancing, and feasting. In this story, Windy Girl and her dog Itchy Boy eagerly take in the sights, sounds, stories, and traditions of an end-of-summer powwow. Then, when Windy falls asleep, the powwow comes alive again...this time in her dreams and filled with dogs! This playful, award-winning book by Brenda Child, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation, introduces Indigenous culture—and great storytelling—to all children. Plus, the story is told in English and Ojibwe and features historical notes that add insight. (Ages 3 to 7)
Still This Love Goes On
Written by Buffy Sainte-Marie, illustrated by Julie Flett
Buffy Sainte-Marie is an award-winning Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter, composer, social activist—and author. Her lovely children’s book—stunningly illustrated by fellow indigenous artist, Julie Flett—has been described as a love letter to family, home, and Indigenous traditions. At its heart, Still This Love Goes On is all about missing our loved ones…and the unwavering hope that we’ll all seeing each other again. Kids will love that sheet music of the beloved song is included, along with a note about what inspiration the song, the book, and the illustrations. (Ages 3 to 7)
Little You and We Sang You Home
Written by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett
Award-winning Little You is exactly what a board book should be: Simple and downright lovely. Here, Richard Van Camp, a member of the Dogrib nation from Canada’s Northwest Territories, paired up with Julie Flett, who’s also Indigenous, to deliver a tender ode to precious new babies and parental love. The sweet story (and perhaps even sweeter modern and minimalist artwork) lets your precious bundle know how special they are to you. Van Camp and Flett collaborated again to create We Sang You Home, another gem of a board book that continues to shine a light on the wonder new parents feel as they welcome a baby. (Ages 0 to 2)
We Are Water Protectors
Written by Carole Lindstrom, Illustrated by Michaela Goade
This powerful, uplifting, and award-winning picture book is essentially a poetic call to action for our youngest lovers of Mother Earth. Here, an Indigenous child—the Water Protector—shares why water is so very important to the past, present, and the future of the planet...and her people. The tale begins with the protagonist’s community fighting to stop the “black snake” oil pipeline that’s threatening their water supply—and their history—and goes on to illustrate how one body of water can impact the wider world. We Are Water Protectors, written and illustrated by Native Americans, shares a strong and compelling message about environmental abuses, but in a way that leaves little ones feeling empowered, knowing that they are “stewards of the Earth!” (Ages 3 to 6)
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac
This modern-day look at Native Americans follows a Cherokee family through each season, sharing the many things they’re thankful for, like hominy soup and corn husk dolls in the winter and crawdads in the summer. The award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is a warm and vibrant celebration of family and culture, written by Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation herself. Throughout the text, readers are treated to snippets of Cherokee vocabulary (otsaliheliga means gratitude, for instance), history, and values. The book and its folk-art-inspired illustrations are truly a beautiful way to impart the importance of gratitude on all children. As a bonus, the book contains a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary (symbols that represent language) for readers to explore. (Ages 3 to 7)
First Laugh – Welcome, Baby!
Written by Rose Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson
In Navajo families, a baby’s first laugh is a big deal. In fact, that anticipated giggle acts as a formal welcome into the family’s clan, spurring an official First Laugh Ceremony. In First Laugh—Welcome Baby! we meet an Indigenous family that’s anxiously waiting for their new cherub to offer up that coveted laugh...and they’re trying just about anything to get it! Through the text and illustrations, young readers will notice Native American words like nima (mom) and cheii (grandfather), plus traditional hairstyles, blankets, turquoise jewelry, and more. The story, co-written by Navajo native Rose Tahe and illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, also Navajo, is a light, fun celebration of a Native American tradition. The book’s endnote highlights even more traditional ceremonies that celebrate babies around the world. (Ages 2 to 5)
Rabbit's Snow Dance
Written by James and Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman
Written by a Native American father-son duo, Rabbit’s Snow Dance is more than just a silly read-aloud for kids. It’s a modern retelling of an Iroquois folktale all about the importance of having patience and listening to friends. In the story, Rabbit uses a traditional Iroquois drum, song, and dance in an effort to make the snow fall early...much to the chagrin of his fellow forest animals. Chaos ensues, but so do important lessons. Children adore the catchy chants and get to unravel the mystery of why rabbits have short tails! (Ages 3 to 5)
My Heart Fills with Happiness
Written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett
My Heart Fills with Happiness is a delightful board book written and illustrated by two Indigenous Canadians, featuring Indigenous characters throughout. Here, readers are invited to revel in the small things in life that bring joy and a cultural connection, like holding hands, singing, drumming, wearing moccasins for dancing, listening to stories, and the smell of bannock baking in the oven. (Bannock is another way to say fry bread.) This charming and vibrant board book is not only a quiet celebration of Native culture, but a story with a far-reaching universal message about how everyday comforts are often the things that buoy our spirits the most. (Ages 0 to 3)
Written by Celina Kalluki, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
In Sweetest Kulu, author Celina Kalluk, who is Inuit-Canadian, tells the story of all the animals and elements of the Arctic that gathering to greet—and bestow gifts upon—a brand-new baby lovingly nicknamed Kulu. (Kulu is a term of endearment in Inuktitut, an Indigenous language in North America.) The gifts, however, are not baby rattles and cuddly blankets. Instead, the newborn is presented with traditional Inuit values, like tenderness, believing in oneself, and generosity. The story and the dream-like illustrations of Kulu, for example, snuggling in the arms of a polar bear and wrapped in the lush green of the land, work together to create a lyrical, bedtime poem of sorts that shows how beautifully intertwined the Earth and all its living things truly are. (Ages 3 to 7)
Need more ideas for your kiddo’s bookshelf? Start here:
- 8 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy and Kindness
- Children's Books That Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Stories
- 9 Kids Books
- Kids’ Books That Explore Women in History
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