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Books & Beyond

Rethinking Native American Stories

By Lisa T.
November 17, 2020

It’s time to rethink the portrayal of Native Americans in history and contemporary culture. There are 574 distinct federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native Villages in the United States.  All nine of the federally recognized tribes in Oregon have their own stories to tell. Here is a link to all of the Oregon Tribal websites

Debbie Reese, PhD, a tribally enrolled Nambé Owingeh scholar and educator, recommends that we seek out books that are tribally specific, written by Native authors, and use the present tense to describe Native Nations. Below we share some wonderful books by Native authors. We’ve selected a few picture books that offer diverse perspectives on the contemporary Indigenous experience, some historical fiction for middle grade readers, and some alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving storybooks. It can be hard to let go of cherished childhood stories, but these new books offer opportunities to learn more about our history and to have thoughtful discussions with our kids. 

PICTURE BOOKS: CONTEMPORARY STORIES

Bow Wow Pow Wow by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe)
Join Windy Girl and her dog, Itchy boy, as they attend a powwow, where they watch the dancers, eat tasty foods, and join family and friends around the campfire.

Fry Bread Book Cover

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation, McKusukey band)
E
xplores Native American heritage, dispels stereotypes, and depicts contemporary Indian family life and culture through the lens of fry bread.

Johnny’s Pheasant by Cheryl Minema (Ojibwe), illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Metis)
Johnny spies a pheasant which he believes is sleeping and his Grandma fears is dead, but they learn they were both wrong when the pheasant departs, leaving behind a gift.

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
Inspired by indigenous-led movements across North America, this book calls upon us to protect and respect our earth and water.

MIDDLE GRADE: HISTORICAL FICTION

I can Make this Promise by Christine Day (Upper Skagit)
Follow Edie, a Seattle 7th grader, as she tries to uncover family secrets after discovering a box of old photos in the attic, a contemporary story that reveals a family’s hidden history.  

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua heritage, Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde) and Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation)
In this autobiographical novel, ten-year-old Regina and her family move to Los Angeles after their Umpqua tribe, along with all Oregon tribes, is terminated.

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story Story by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee)
Mary and her family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in 1838. She survives much hardship on the 1,000 mile journey to the new Cherokee Nation Territory.

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers
edited by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo)
A diverse group of Native creators contribute to this graphic anthology about “Code Talkers” from various tribes who made contributions to  both World Wars.

GIVING THANKS

A Day with Yayah by Nicola Campbell (Interior Salish), illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Metis)
Nikki spends the day with her grandmother foraging for edible wild plants.  At the end of the day, they prepare a meal and give thanks.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul
This anthology explores a wide range of ways to be grateful with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including many indigenous authors.

We are Grateful by Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation)
Journey through the year with a contemporary Cherokee family as they celebrate and give thanks.

When we are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Diné)
Spare illustrations and text remind us that when we are kind, we are grateful and aware of our interconnectedness.

Looking for more books on thankfulness? Anna’s blog post, Growing Gratitude, has wonderful book suggestions and ideas for cultivating gratitude.

Want to dive deeper into history? Check out An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza adapted from the adult book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This adaptation for young readers of Dunbar-Oritz’s National Book Award winning title recounts the history of the United States from an indigenous perspective.