read to understand… Indigenous People’s Day

Yesterday, in recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day,  I wrote about my on-going attempts to grow in my understanding of the history and cultures of Indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Today and tomorrow I’ve got a large selection of recommended titles for kids and their grown-ups.  I’ve decided to give only a short synopsis of each title in order to list a great many more than I usually do. I want to give you lots of choices!

I’ve grouped these titles into four categories:  general history for middle-graders through adults; biographies of distinguished Native Americans; stories of residential schooling; contemporary stories featuring Native Americans.

First up, a few general history titles which are fantastic resources for teachers, parents, homeschool families, or for hungry readers ages 12 and up:

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Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491, by Charles C. Mann
published in 2009 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
108 pages

This is a young reader’s version of Mann’s highly-praised book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  Mann corrects numerous misunderstandings and enlightens us about pre-European civilizations in the Americas in this fascinating account.

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Saga of the Sioux, by Dwight Jon Zimmerman
published in 2011 by Henry Holt and Company
188 pages + back matter

This is an adaptation for young readers of Dee Brown’s classic text, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Zimmerman greatly pares down Brown’s account, focusing solely on the Sioux. It’s a heart-wrenching, compelling story that will hopefully prompt teens and adults to read the entire, powerful original.

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Do All Indians Live in Tipis?:Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian
published in 2018 by Smithsonian Books
231 pages

This is not a children’s book, but a great resource for adults written in a Q&A format. Lengthy responses written by a variety of experts cover a wide range of topics both historical and contemporary. It offers pertinent, helpful insights into cultural practices, hurtful stereotyping, and common misunderstandings. An extensive list for further reading is included.

Next up, some picture book length biographies. Do your children know any noteworthy Native Americans aside from Squanto, Sacagawea, and Pocahontas? Break out of those confines with one or more of these. I’ve arranged them roughly in chronological order:

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Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, written by Robbie Robertson, illustrated by David Shannon
published in 2015 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Discover the real story of Hiawatha, the Peacemaker, and the Haudenosaunee people whose participatory democracy was a model for the authors of our Constitution. Takes place during the 14th century.  Ages 9 and up.

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Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender, written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
published in 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Read a stirring, revelatory account of this Lakota chief and his efforts to lead and protect his people during the last half of the 19th century. Ages 9 and up.

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Indian Boyhood: The True Story of a Sioux Upbringing, by Charles  Eastman, adapted by Michael Oren Fitzgerald, illustrated by Heidi M. Rasch
published in 2016 by Wisdom Tales

A much-abbreviated adaptation of Eastman’s title, Indian Boyhood, this is suitable for ages 4 and up. I read Eastman’s fascinating, original book to my kids when they were in elementary school and we all loved it, so use this as impetus to read the full account. This segment mainly takes place in the years just prior to 1862.

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Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer, written by Bill Wise, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
published in 2007 by Lee & Low

In 1897, almost 50 years before Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, Louis Sockalexis confronted racism and dazzled the sports world as the first Native American major league ball player. An inspiring story for ages 6 and up.

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Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, written by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson
published in 2004 by Lee & Low

A resonant story of Thorpe’s childhood and stunning athletic achievements at the Carlisle school, covering approximately 1887-1912, and perfect for ages 6 and up.  An afterword details his Olympics accomplishments and pro sports career. I’ve reviewed Bruchac’s lengthier bio of Thorpe for older readers here.

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She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, written by Jan Godown Annino, illustrated by Lisa Desimini
published in 2010 by National Geographic Books

Discover this extraordinary woman who pursued knowledge, fought discrimination, served the Seminole people through nursing and political office, raised four children, oh, and wrestled alligators to boot. Spans 1923 to the present, for ages 6 and up.


Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers, Volume One, edited by Arigon Starr
published in 2016  by Native Realities

A fantastic collection of graphic/comics style accounts which cover contributions of men and women from multiple nations including Cherokee, Choctaw, Kiowa, Creek, Comanche, and Caddo, during World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. I learned so much from this book. Requires a bit of background knowledge of these wars to fully appreciate. Ages 11 and up.

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Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story, written by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
published in 2018 by Albert Whitman Company

A beautiful account of one of the original Navajo code-inventers and code-talkers who massively helped the U.S. to victory in World War II. Accessible to ages 6 and up.

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Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story, written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
published in 2006 by Lee & Low

This is the story of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, who was one of the marines photographed raising the flag on Iwo Jima. It includes his tragic turn to alcohol as an attempt to cope with life after the war, and resultant early death. An honest, poignant story for ages 8 and up.

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Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story, written by Sebastian Robertson, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Meet one of the guitarists from The Band who toured with Dylan as he went electric in 1965 and went on to win many prestigious awards for his songwriting. Great, upbeat story for musicians ages 10 and up.

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Mission to Space, written by John Herrington
published in 2016 by White Dog Press

Commander John Herrington, of the Chickasaw nation, leads us on a photographic tour of his trip on the  space shuttle Endeavor to the International Space Station. An exciting, brief glimpse of Native Americans in the sciences, for ages 3 and up.

Tomorrow I’ll have the remaining two categories of books so please come on back and bring a friend!

To find other Native American books previously reviewed on Orange Marmalade, see my list here.