From the Algonquian to Wampanoag tribes, Native American nations are rich in history. Though not always portrayed accurately or authentically in children's literature, there are many books for kids that do shine a realistic light on the past and present of this expansive culture.
The titles on this list are great conversation-starters that offer a glimpse into the cultural heritage of Native Americans — from communities and customs to influential individuals — along with a look at modern day living.
1. Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters by Rina Swentzell is part of the We Are Still Here series. Your kids will view beautiful photography that gives a look into the lives of some modern Pueblo people who make pottery. This series also includes Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave and Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition.
2. Imagine viewing the Northern Lights in person. Your children will get to see the view through the eyes of two Ojibway sisters in SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose. The girls are treated to the SkySpirits and mesmerized by what they witness. After reading, your kids may be interested in drawing or painting the Northern Lights.
3. In Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light by Tim Tingle, your kids will follow a family as they try to incorporate their past with traditions of the modern world. Travel back 50 years and meet Saltypie's grandmother, and then journey forward with Saltypie's family as they encounter new people and places.
4. John Herrington, a Chickasaw, takes us into space in his book, Mission to Space. Herrington was the first Native American to travel to space. In the book, he describes events from his journey becoming an astronaut to visiting the International Space Station.
5. The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter provides an interesting introduction into how the Navajo language was used to create code in World War II by the U.S. government. Your children can even try code-cracking themselves by tackling the codes at the back of the book.
6. Your kids will learn about a Hidatsa woman who lived in the Great Plains in Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson. Buffalo Bird Girl was born in the 1830s. Through photographs and detailed illustrations, they will learn about what life was like during this time period for the Hidatsa tribe. Included are insights into their community villages and challenges they faced, such as a smallpox epidemic.
Let this book list be the tip of the iceberg for exploring the many Native American tribes and their rich contributions to our lives.
Here are a few questions to discuss with your children after reading each book:
- What did we learn about this subject, person or tribe from the book?
- What questions do you still have about this subject, person or tribe?
- Is this story from the past or present?
- Where could we find more information about this subject, person or tribe?
As you seek out more books about Native Americans, look for books that are accurate, titles that include modern and historical people, and stories that feature a variety of tribes. This will help your kids learn about the many tribes and ancestry of the first inhabitants of our lands.