reads about Indigenous Americans — part two

Today I’ve got some more excellent titles that help raise our awareness and understanding of the First Nations/Indigenous Peoples in the Americas.

It’s the last day in a trilogy of posts: Yesterday’s post contained several history books for older children and adults as well as a number of picture-book-length biographies for a variety of ages.
On Monday I wrote about my efforts to grow in understanding of Native Americans, especially in relation to children’s literature.

I’ve got two sets of books today. The first discusses a particularly sorrowful topic — the forced removal of Native children from their homes to residential schools across Canada and the United States.

residential school in Canada
These are painful stories. It is especially grievous when children are mistreated and abused in the name of God, which occurred in many of these cases.
Every one of these titles comes out of Canada, so a big thanks to the authors, illustrators and publishers who are bringing us these stories. I’ve arranged them in order of emotional maturity required.

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Shi-shi-etko, written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave
published in 2005 by Groundwood Books

A young girl, apparently of the Interior Salish community, walks through the four days before she has to leave her family for residential school, soaking in all the goodness and beauty of her world. Gorgeous, moving, redolent with the richness of home and family, this book is accessible to children as young as 4 or 5.

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Shin-chi’s Canoe, written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave
published in 2008 by Groundwood Books

The sequel to the above title, this time a little brother is coming along to residential school as well.  This account spends half its time drinking in the love of home, and half its time managing the hardships and sibling-separations imposed at school.  It’s more direct in its treatment of the abuse than the first title. Ages 5 and up.

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When We Were Alone, written by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett
published in 2016 by Highwater Press

This account shines a poignant but triumphant light on the experience of residential schools as a grandmother explains to her inquisitive granddaughter why she wears such bright colors, grows her hair long, speaks in Cree, and spends so much time with her brother.  It’s grandmother’s way of reveling in all that was once taken away from her. Beautiful and courageous. Ages 5 and up.

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As Long as the Rivers Flow, written by Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden, illustrated by Heather D. Holmlund
published in 2002 by Groundwood Books

This considerably longer account portrays the joys and unique beauties of Larry’s years growing up in his Cree family in northern Alberta and ends with his heart-wrenching departure to residential school at age 10. A fabulous, piercing narrative for ages 8 and up.


I Am Not a Number, written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland
published in 2016 by Second Story Press

The most devastating of the accounts, this book opens as three siblings from the Nipissing First Nation are forcibly removed from their home and introduced to nine months of harsh, degrading cruelties at their new Catholic boarding school. It is so painful to read, yet in ends in triumph as their parents refuse to cooperate when the next school term begins. An afterword tells more about the residential school systems and the author’s grandmother on whom this story is based. Highly recommended for ages 11 through adult.


The second set of books today have contemporary settings within various indigenous nations.
It’s critical for the defeat of unhelpful stereotypes to see both the variety of cultures across the Americas, and to see Native peoples as still very much present, and not relegated to bygone history.
I wish I had an even wider range of nations represented today, but for various reasons, this is what I’ve got. There are a number of other titles reviewed elsewhere on my blog that fill in some of those gaps. Find them at the list here.

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Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, adapted from the memories of Donald Uluadluak, illustrated by Qin Leng
published in 2012 by Inhabit Media

This is the first of at least three Kamik stories in which a child interacts with his Inuit elders to learn the ins and outs of raising a sled dog properly. Delightful, fascinating, and a wonderful blend of the modern with elder memories. Inhabit Media produces many excellent titles from the Far North so look for them in your libraries. Ages 4 and up.

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Charlie and the Blanket Toss, written by Tricia Brown, illustrated by Sarah Martinsen
published in 2014 by Alaska Northwest Books

Celebrate the summer whaling festival with this Iñupiat community, learning about many traditions including the exuberant blanket toss. Ages 4 and up.

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A Walk on the Shoreline, written by Rebecca Hainnu, illustrated by Qin Leng
published in 2015 by Inhabit Media

Learn about the unique flora and fauna of the Arctic coast and the ways they have been used traditionally as a young Inuit boy and his Uncle walk from town to the family’s summer camp. Fascinating nature and culture lore for ages 6 and up.

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A Day with Yayah, written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Julie Flett
published in 2018 by Crocodile Books

Spend a day with an Interior Salish grandmother and her grandchildren in British Columbia. Listen as she passes down her knowledge of various plants and their unique purposes as well as her beloved native language (the name of which I cannot type because I don’t have the characters on my keyboard!) An afterword helps us understand why this passing down of elder knowledge and language is so important. A lovely read especially for those intrigued by herbalism. Ages 5 and up.

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Nipêhon/ I Wait, written and illustrated by Caitlin Dale Nicholson, Cree translation by Leona Morin-Neilson
published in 2017 by Groundwood Books

A gorgeous, minimalist account of one summer afternoon’s gathering of wild yarrow, accompanying three generations of Cree women. Written in English, in Cree with a Roman script, and in Cree syllabics. Includes a recipe for wild yarrow tea. Lovely for ages 2 and up.

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Bowwow Powwow, written by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, Ojibwa translation by Gordon Jourdain
published in 2018 by The Minnesota Historical Society Press

Ride along with Windy Girl and her beloved pup, Itchy Boy, as they head to the annual summer powwow. This is a brilliant, lively story blending the contemporary and traditional, the imaginative and real, told in both English and Ojibwa. A delight for ages 4 and up.

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Hungry Johnny, written by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Wesley Ballinger
published in 2014 by The Minnesota Historical Society Press

Johnny is a little Ojibwa boy whose tummy is rumbling hungry, yet he still needs to learn respect for his elders at the community feast. Relatable, vivid, fun for ages 3 and up. Better have a platter of cinnamon rolls handy when you read this one!

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Jingle Dancer, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
published in 2000 by Harper Collins

Jenna is a young girl from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma who is bursting with eagerness to participate in her first jingle dance at the powwow. But first she’s got to acquire enough jingles so that her dress can really sing. Wonderfully contemporary,  warmhearted, with an informative author’s note. A delight for ages 4 and up.

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac
published in 2018 by Charlesbridge

Follow a family from the Cherokee Nation through one full year and learn about their beautiful cultural emphasis on gratitude. You’ll also catch a glimpse of some annual celebrations and traditions unique to the Cherokee. The warmth of family, the delight in nature, and the importance of the Cherokee syllabary all emanate from this rich, vividly-illustrated account as well.  It’s a gem for ages 4 and up, and will pop up in my Thanksgiving recommendations as well.

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Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light, written by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson
published in 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press

This is the poignant story of a Choctaw boy in Texas and his growing understanding and admiration for his grandmother and her courage in the face of a lifetime of troubles and racism. An elegant, touching, and thought-provoking account for ages 6 and up.

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Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, written by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
published in 2006 by Cinco Puntos Press

This book doesn’t really belong in the “contemporary” category as it takes place in Civil-War-era Mississippi. But it’s too good to not include, with its historically-based story of how Choctaw people, as well as those of other nations, helped runaway slaves. A compelling and fascinating tale for ages 6 and up.

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Kiki’s Journey, written by Kristy Orona-Ramirez, illustrated by Jonathan Warm Day
published in 2006 by Children’s Book Press

Finally, a story from the Tiwa Indians of the Taos Pueblo reservation.  Kiki is an urban Indian girl, living in Los Angeles. She encounters distressing stereotypes at school, and doesn’t really understand her own heritage completely as she hasn’t been to the reservation since she was a baby. Now she’s heading there for spring break. She’ll be embraced by family and learn to love her heritage even as she makes her home elsewhere. An important, revelatory window into the lives of contemporary, urban Indians for ages 5 and up.

Find many more excellent Native American/First Peoples titles on my list here.