best native american books for kids

Top 10: Native American Children’s Books (ages 2-16)

Best Native American Books for Kids

I had the privilege of meeting two Native Americans at the NMSDC (National Minority Supplier Diversity Council) Advanced Management Education Program at Kellogg a few weeks ago.  While I was there to learn about entrepreneurship, I couldn’t help but query them about the Native American children’s literature they grew up.  The upshot is that there is very little and the really good stuff is not well known.

I had to dig on the internet and ask my “go to” librarian for books that portray the experience and tell the story of the Native American people.  Of course, there is not one story but many.  These books help to depict a portion of their story and I would urge you to share these stories with your children so that their stories are not lost and their rich history becomes mainstreamed.  It was both an education and a great pleasure for me to find and read these stories include Abernaki, Iroquis, Mohawk, Lakota, Navajo, Cheyenne, Creek, Cherokee, Potowatami, and Sioux Native Americans. I hope you enjoy them too.

p.s.  Here are more Top 10 Lists for Native Indian Children’s Books from Debbie Reese, renowned scholar in this genre.

Top 10:  Best Native American Picture Books

Top 10:  Native American Middle School Books

Top 10:  Best Native American Young Adult Books

p.p.s.  Admittedly, I am on a mission to promote one of my favorite authors, Joseph Bruchac.  I have a post about him here.

10.  Malian’s Song by Marge Bruchac

Malian is an Abenaki girl during the mid 18th century and this is a fictionalized account of the true story of  how the Abenaki people survived an attack by the English conducted by Major Robert Rogers which destroyed their village.  Their story which was  preserved through oral history stands in direct contrast to Roger’s journal accounts.  To learn more about the Abenaki people who lived in New England and Southern Canada, click here.  [picture book, ages 6-10]

9.  Dreamcatcher by Audrey Osofsky

A sweet picture book depicting the Ojibway Indians of the Great Lakes and their traditions including  warding off bad dreams using dreamcatchers created from nettle-stalk twine stained dark red with the bark of wild plum.   [picture book, ages 2-6]

8. Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac

Curly, as Crazy Horse was known as a young boy due to his curly hair, is portrayed in this picture book by Bruchac as a leader even as a young man.  He became both a great leader for the Lakota people (also known as Sioux) and one of the most famous Native Americans in history.  [picture book, ages 5-10].

7.  Night of the Full Moon by Gloria Whelan

In 1840, the Potawatomi people were rounded up and forced from their land.  While visiting her Potawatomi friend Fawn and mistaken for one of the tribe, young Libby Mitchell is forced to go too.  This is the sequel to Next Spring an Orieole. [illustrated chapter book, ages 6-10]

6. Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The author is a mixed-blood member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and this is a gentle tale about a contemporary Native American girl who turns to her family to help her find her dancing voice via rows of jingling ornaments on her special dance costume for the powwow.  [picture book, ages 2-6]

5.  The Warriors by Joseph Bruchac

Anyone who loves lacrosse which was sacred to the Iroquois should read this book.  Set in contemporary Washington D.C., Jake has left his Iroquois reservation and entered a boarding school.  Lacrosse is the bridge that crosses both worlds for Jake, but is it enough?  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

4. Eagle Song by Joseph Bruchac

I discovered Joseph Bruchac today at the library thanks to my “go to” library in the Children’s Room.  When I told her I was having trouble finding stories about the experience of Native Americans (versus non fiction about their customs), she told me about Joseph Bruchac who is a talented and prolific writer of over 70 books both chapter and picture that reflect his Abernaki Native American culture.  This is a great story about a contemporary boy struggling to straddle two cultures, American and Mohawk.  It’s also a perfect level for a reluctant boy reader.  [chapter book, ages 6-10]

3. Death of the Iron Horse by Paul Goble.

Lest you think that all these stories are of the Native American as a victim of forced relocation, this picture books depicts them as the brave warriors they also are.  On August 7, 1867, a Union Pacific freight train was derailed by the Cheyennes who rightfully saw the “Iron Horse” as a threat to their way of life.  The Civil War was over and the war against the Native Americans was both uneven and nearly over.  Paul Goble is an important voice and illustrator of Native American stories and his gorgeous illustrations make every book a real treat.  Two other books to read include The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses and Buffalo Woman. [picture book, ages 6-12]

I just happened upon The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses while cleaning out my bookshelves.  This won a Caldecott Medal which is for best illustrations.  Lushly illustrated and deserving of its Caldecott win, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses is a retold tale based on a Navajo song about his horse and a dream from Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux.

2. Soft Rain:  A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen

In 1838, the Cherokee people were forced to relocate from North Carolina to the West.  It is a long and dangerous journey and Cornelissen portrays this vividly through the eyes of Soft Rain, a nine-year-old girl.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

1. Code Talker:  A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

A gifted story teller and a descendant of the Abenaki people, Joseph Bruchac is a prolific author of more than 70 books that reflect his heritage.  Code Talkers is about the Navajo Marines, the unsung heroes, of World War II.  The Navajos both developed an unbreakable code (all other codes were broken by the Japanese) and risked their lives in battle to transmit messages that used their native language. [young adult, ages 12-adult]

Photograph from Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Native American, Portraits Against Amnesia Rhode Island School of Design Museum


To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

best native american books for kids

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. History Wholesale

    We also like music, and the children play our piano also the guitar and tin whistle. History Wholesale

  2. Good morning,

    I am Pueblo Indian, a former schoolteacher, currently a professor in American Indian Studies, and, I study children’s books. I’ve been publishing a blog/resource called American Indians in Children’s Literature for about five years. I invite you and your readers to visit the site. There, I talk about popular, classic, best-selling books, and lesson plans, and movies, and… anything that in some way informs how Americans think about (and portray) American Indians…

    Marge’s book is terrific, as are Joe’s (they’re brother/sister). I think his HIDDEN ROOTS is one of his best books. You’ve got Goble on your list, and Gloria Whelan, too, neither of which I recommend.

    I’ve written for Horn Book, and School Library Journal, too. Please do visit my site.


    • What a great resource you are. Thank you! I have added your blog to my blog roll for children’s literature. I will check out Hidden Roots. Thanks also for your comment. This is my first foray into Native American Children’s Literature and it’s been a great learning experience for me.

    • I am hoping that Debbie Reese will agree to create a Top 10 list for me on the American Indian Children’s Books she likes.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge