modern native americans in children's books, today's native americans in children's books

Contemporary Native Americans in KidLit and the Kid Lit Blog Hop

Since reading about Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and hearing pushback by Debbie Reese that contemporary life of Native Americans was not included, it got me thinking. While the premise of Children of the Tipi was to document life in the bygone buffalo days, she has a point. I asked PickyKidPix about Native Americans and her perception was that they disappeared along with the buffalo. That was shocking to me! She’s in 6th grade!! When Nancy Bo Flood tweeted me with book suggestions, everything fell into place.

suggestion, include books about today’s Native Americans – POW-WOW’s COMING, THE HOGAN GREAT-GRANDFATHER BUILT

I’m searching for more contemporary books for kids and teens about today’s Native Americans. Can you please help me out with your great suggestions? Thanks so much!!

Powwow’s Coming by Linda Boyden

Powwow’s Coming provides children with a foundation for understanding and celebrating the enduring culture and heritage of American Indians. Boyden’s exquisite cut-paper collage and engaging poem visually place readers within the scenes of a contemporary Native American community while offering a thoughtful look at powwows and their meanings to the Native participants. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

The Hogan That Great-Grandfather Built by Nancy Bo Flood
A story of one multigenerational Navajo family that works, plays, eats, sleeps and shares their lives together in around their family hogan. It is a charming story of how the youngest children’s lives are intrinsically linked to their home and family. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins…or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes — like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident. This collection of interrelated stories is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes with wit and candor about what it’s like to grow up as a Seminole-Cherokee boy who is just as happy pounding the pavement in windy Chicago as rowing on a take in rural Oklahoma. [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]


Cynthia Leitich Smith has a list of contemporary Native American chapter books and picture books and I’ve highlighted a few of them.

The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo (Creek), illustrated by Paul Lee

Aunt Shelly says that Woogie is a good luck cat. As he survives one scrape after another, her analysis seems to be right on target. But one day when he doesn’t come home, we wonder if this good luck cat’s ninth life has run out. This is a delightful look at the friendship between a cat and a young girl. And it’s — yahoo! — a children’s picture book with Indian characters wherein Native culture isn’t the main focus. Of course, it’s wonderful to have children read accurate, respectful books that touch on Indian themes; however, they should be balanced with charming stories like this one that depict daily life. [picture book, ages 4-up]

A Walk to the Great Mystery: A Cherokee Tale by Virginia A. Stroud (Cherokee-Creek)

Dustin and Rosie take a walk with their Grandma Ann, a Cherokee medicine woman, and gain insight into the Great Mystery. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Skysisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Ojibway), illustrated by Brian Deines

Big sister Allie and little sister Alex bundle up, venture into the night, encounter a deer, dance beneath the stars, and watch the northern lights. Lovely. [picture book, ages 5 and up]

Eagle Song by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), illustrated by Dan Andreasen Danny

Bigtree encounters racism when he moves from the Mohawk reservation to the city. However, Danny is inspired by the Iroquois hero Aionwahta and by his own father to choose peace. [easy chapter book, ages 8-up]

The World in Grandfather’s Hands by Craig Kee Strete (Cherokee)

Jimmy struggles to adjust after the death of his father and moving from the pueblo to his Grandfather Whitefeather’s house. Strete’s characters are complex and his themes are multi-layered. Most notably, the story incorporates the U.S. government policies that recently led to the unauthorized sterilization of so many Native women. Without romanticizing, he touches on much of the sadness tied to the Indian way of life and explores the strength, humor, and community ties that weigh in the balance. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]

Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek)

Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his. It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now, Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white Kansas community, Rain decides to face the world again—at least through the lens of a camera. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)

Molly’s parents are gone, vanished. She needs to find answers and a way to go on. But Molly has been taught well of her Mohawk traditions. She understands the importance of dreams. She knows to take them seriously. This very scary contemporary Native American novel is a must read and a scary one at that. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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

modern native americans in children's books, today's native americans in children's books

Welcome to the 38th Kid Lit Blog Hop where twice per month (the 1st and 3rd Wednesday) we continue to develop a dynamic and engaged community of children’s books bloggers, authors, publishers, and publicists. So, you are always more than welcome to join us by popping in a post and hopping around to meet some of your fellow Kid Lit bloggers and authors!

Happy Hopping everyone and enjoy the Hop!


REMINDER: Children’s Book Week ~ Kid Lit Giveaway Hop 2014

We also want to invite you to participate in the Children’s Book Week Kid Lit Giveaway Hop 2014 (May 12 to 18). Are you a children’s book or teen literature blogger, an author, a publisher, or a publicist looking to share copies of a fabulous book? Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews are joining forces to provide you with the opportunity to take part in a Blog Hop featuring links to giveaways for fabulous children/teen’s books, gift cards, cash, or other prizes. What better way to celebrate Children’s Book Week?



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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Thanks for letting us know about these books. I lived in Arizona for 4 years and really developed an appreciation for Native American history and culture and it is nice to see more books for young readers about that.
    Alex Baugh recently posted…The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda WoodsMy Profile

  2. What a wonderful resource! Thank you for sharing…this list is invaluable!

  3. Julie

    Love it! But I have a few more recommendations:

    Shin Chi’s Canoe and Shi Shi Etko – by Nicola Campbell

    Two beautifully illustrated books that describe the residential school system from a child’s point of view.

    Flight of the Hummingbird and The Little Hummingbird – by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

    Gorgeous Northwest Coast contemporary art, and a story meant to send an environmental message. The Little Hummingbird is directed at younger readers.

    Also, I know it’s caused controversy in the US, but Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is one of the top 10 YA titles of all time. The overall messages about identity, perseverance and hope are too good to miss for a couple non-gratuitous sexual references.

  4. As an inner-city elementary school teacher I taught poetry reading and writing to my students using Native American (poems and songs), Japanese (haiku and free-verse poetry), Chinese poetry, African-American (for example, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright), Latino (contemporary, e.g., Gary Soto, “A Fire in My Hands”), as well as poets such as Robert Frost, Harry Behn, Charlotte Zolotow, Eve Merriam, Nicki Giovanni, and many others.

    Examples of Native American poetry books I used are: (1) THE WINGED SERPENT: AN ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN INDIAN PROSE AND POETRY (1946) edited with an introduction by Margot Astrov; (2) WHEN THE EARTH WAS YOUNG: SONGS OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN (1978) collected with photographs by by David Yeadon; and, (3) AMERICAN INDIAN POETRY (1934) edited by George W. Cronyn.

    Pay attention to the publication dates, yes, long ago and far away, but these books describe the lives of Native Americans through their poetry, prose, and songs. You get to see the world through their eyes, how they think, feel, and experience things, and their reverence for Nature/the natural world and the animals that inhabit it.

    The benefits of teaching, for example, Native American poetry, was the way my students connected to the content and structure of these visceral and thought-provoking works–it was amazing to see and really affected their own poetry writing, creativity, and thinking.

    Although you’re talking about Native American writings, I have to add that the haiku was another direct connection to the kids’ worlds and their everyday lives. Not all of haiku is about nature, many of the poems are about human nature (western haiku as opposed to Japanese haiku), brief psychological tales that conjure up mind-pictures, feelings, thoughts, and real-life experiences in a few lines and a bunch of syllables–and the students, from 2nd to 6th grade, wrote some phenomenal haikus of their own, many published in children’s literary journals. There is a plethora of illustrated haiku books for children as well as haiku anthologies (for adults but can also be used with kids) that you can find on Amazon.

  5. You always have the most wonderful posts! I love the cover to Sky Sisters and am adding Rain is Not My Indian Name to my daughter’s summer reading list. Thank you for sharing these on the hop!

  6. Ann

    Great book list! I like the idea of reading contemporary stories. Not sure when I’ll get around to it but I also want to read Alexie’s book.
    Ann recently posted…Company on My WalkMy Profile

    • Hi Ann,
      Alexie’s book is on my list too! I think I even bought a copy a while ago! My kids need to have some of these books lying around so that they realize what Native Americans are like today since we don’t really know many or come into contact with any beyong Plimoth Plantation.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Why Kids Should Keep Up with Science NewsMy Profile

  7. Cool! Great choices! I think everyone should check these out! I know I will! 😀
    Erik ThisKidReviewsBooks recently posted…Book review! Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron ReynoldsMy Profile

  8. Renee @ MDBR

    Thanks for putting together this list Mia! It’s interesting because I imagine that the literature available in the States differs significantly from what is available in Canada although there is probably a dearth here as well. Great resource! Pinning!! thanks for linking your post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
    Renee recently posted…Blog Tour Launch, Review & Giveaway ~ Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble by D. Robert PeaseMy Profile

    • Hi Renee,
      I would love to add Canadian titles as well!! Thank you for any suggestions if you run across any. I will keep adding to the list! I think you do a better job in Canada then we do in the United States to promote Native American culture including books and contemporary role models.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Why Kids Should Keep Up with Science NewsMy Profile

  9. Toni

    Check out Jingle Dancer – I can’t remember who the author is, but it’s an awesome book regarding Native American dancing and the kids who participate in it.

  10. Yeah, there is not enough Native American influence in our culture. We have nothing in our library – yet. Thanks so much for this list. As usual, it’s awesome!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…How to Properly Support your Partner during their Weight Loss Journey and Why Ultimatums DO NOT workMy Profile

  11. Christy

    I really liked the book Rain is not my Indian Name. I’ll have to check out some of the other books. I blogged recently about a book, Melanie Bluelake’s Dream, that tells of a (fictitious) contemporary native Canadian.
    Christy recently posted…Melanie Bluelake’s DreamMy Profile

  12. Wow! What a great point about contemporary Native Americans and also one I never thought about. Thanks for the fantastic list, as always, and for hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    Cool Mom recently posted…A Kickstarter Song, a Hero’s Guide, a Staff, and a Blog Hop?My Profile

  13. This blog post came out before I was an author sponsor for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and I just discovered it while doing a search. Please consider The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, an award-winning YA urban fantasy trilogy about a teen environmentalist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage. Juniper is a strong female character that you will enjoy getting to know.

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