An important component of Native American cultures are storytelling traditions. The books highlighted in this post serve to start readers on the path to finding more about each culture and the storytelling tradition as a whole.

Bears Make Rock Soup and Other Stories
Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe), Illus. by Lisa Fifield

Traditionally, storytelling involves lengthy stories by contemporary standards, so Erdrich's book is perfect for readers that need shorter versions. Each story is contained on a single page and has a watercolor painting to accompanying it.

Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois
Joanne Shehandoah (Oneida) & Douglas M. George (Mohawk), Illus. by John Fadden (Mohawk) & David Fadden (Mohawk)

Nine traditional stories from the Iroquois nation, including the Iroquois creation story.



The books in this post discuss historical representations of Native cultures, as well as more contemporary portrayals. Accurate representations of the Native American experience not only improves a library collection, it also helps reach audiences by using an authentic voice. It can lead a reader to seek more information about the culture or history of a Native nation.

Historical Fiction:
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom
Tim Tingle (Choctaw), Illus. by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cherokee)

Tingle tells the tale of a Choctaw girl that befriends a slave, living across from her community on the river Bok Chitto, in 1800s Mississippi and how the Choctaw help outwit the owners of the plantation.

Crazy Horse's Vision
Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Illus. by S.D. Nelson (Lakota)

The story of Curly, the boy who would grow up to be Crazy Horse.

Michael Dorris (Modoc)

A novel for older children, Guests is a Thanksgiving story told from the point view of Moss, a Wampanoag boy in the early 1600s.

Contemporary Fiction:

Fox on the Ice
Tomson Highway (Cree), Illus. by Brian Deines - Bilingual (English & Cree)

The first book in trilogy about Joe, Cody, their parents and dog, recounting their adventures in northern Manitoba. (The other books in the trilogy are Caribou Song and Dragonfly Kites)

Red Bird
Barbara Mitchell, Illus. by Todd L.W. Doney

Kate, a Nanticoke girl living a large city, attends a powwow with her family on the Nanticoke tribal lands in Delaware, and readers are able to experience the powwow along with her.

Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Ojibway), Illus. by Brian Deines

The wonder and excitement of the SkySpirits (Northern Lights) are showcased through the eyes of two Ojibway sisters.

Fox Song
Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Illus. by Paul Morin

A helpful book about dealing with the loss of a grandparent, Bruchac's book frames the story within the Native experience.


History and Informational Books

Having accurate history and informational books in your collection ensures that the Native American experience is not told through stories or historical representations. The following books are excellent additions for this purpose.

Dzani Yazhi Naazbaa' / Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home: A Story of the Navajo Long Walk
Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie (Navajo)

Parsons-Yazzie books helps shed a sensitive light on an often overlooked part of Native American history and introduces the topic for further historical research by both young and old students.

Children of Native America Today
Yvonne Wakim Dennis (Cherokee) & Arlene Hirschfelder

Covers 26 Nations, grouped by region (starts in the Northeast and travels geographically clockwise, ending up in Alaska).

Photo-Essay Series:
My World: Young Native Americans Today
published by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
4 books that highlight the commonality between both Native and non-Native children, as well the uniqueness of each family, community and cultural tradition.:

Meet Naiche: A Native Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area
Meet Mindy: A Native Girl from the Southwest
Meet Lydia: A Native Girl from Southeast Alaska
Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma

(Another great series is We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today, by Lerner Publications. 12 books total in the series.)


ABC & Counting Books

One of the ways to evaluate children's literature is ensure portrayals of Native Americans are not stereotypical or used in a derogatory manner. Traditionally, ABC and counting books have fallen short on this mark. Highlighted below are an ABC book and a counting book that portray Native Americans in a positive manner.

Navajo ABC: A Diné Alphabet Book
Luci Tapahonso (Navajo) and Eleanor Schick, Illus. by Eleanor Schick

My Arctic 1, 2, 3
Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak (Inuit), Illus. by Vladyana Krykorka



Using the guidelines provided previously, let's start looking for quality children's literature by beginning with poetry.

Did You Hear Wind Sing Your Name?: An Oneida Song of Spring
Sandra de Coteau Orie (Oneida), Illus. by Christopher Canyon

Orie uses Oneida symbols and traditions to create a cycle of the seasons and the approach of Spring, in particular.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
Jake Swamp (Akwesasne Mohawk), Illus. by Erwin Printup (Cayuga/Tuscarora)

This book of poetry draws on Iroquois tradition to showcase the good morning message that is used to greet the day.

Songs of Shiprock Fair
Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), Illus. by Anthony Chee Emerson

Tapahonso uses a combination of text and poetry to describe the experiences of a young girl attending the largest Navajo Nation fair in Shiprock, NM.

When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans
Available from the National Musuem of the American Indian

A collection of contemporary poetry written by children of the Ojibwe, Lakota, Omaha, Navajo, Cochiti/Kiowa, O'odham, Yaqui, Hopi, and Ute Nations.


Native Authors

To find Native Authors, two great websites exist.

The first is from the Internet Public Library (IPL) and has provided a way for librarians and educators to find information on authors, titles, and tribes. For each author, there is tribal information, awards, online resources, and a bibliography.

Children's & YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith also has a section on Native Authors on her website.

4 popular Native Authors include:

Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)

  Joy Harjo (Creek)

Photo by Paul Emmanuel
Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe)

Photo by Chase Jarvis
Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene)


Is This An Accurate Portrayal: Some Guidelines

Using information from Oyate and articles by Naomi Caldwell and Lisa A. Mitten, it's possible to evaluate children's literature to find accurate portrayals of Native Americans in historical and contemporary settings.

  • In picture, counting, and ABC books are "Indians" represented negatively - i.e. does "E" represent "Eskimo" and "I" present "Indian"? Are "Indians" counted? 
  • What stereotypes are present? Natives Americans not portrayed as human beings living in complex and accurately represented societies are probably being portrayed as a stereotype.
  • How is history distorted or not distorted? Does it reflect the genuine experiences of Native Americans or does it reflect a "victory" or "conquest" by Europeans?
  • How are the lifestyles depicted and what dialogue is used? Are women and elders represented positively and an integral part of society?
  • Are there positive role models for Native American children? 
More extensive and thorough suggestions can be found in the following articles:


First Thing's First: Resources on the Web

  • The American Indian Library Association "addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives" and is affiliate of American Library Association. The website contains links to publications, resources and activities. The winners of the American Indian Youth Services Award are also listed.
  • The most prominent blog for children's literature resources is Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature. Started in 2006, Reese's intent was use to blogging as a way to disseminate research information not readily available to school teachers, parents, and librarians working with children. Reese also states that she uses her website to "share a lot of information that I think will help readers learn about and understand the 500+ federally recognized Native Nations in the United States". An extensive website with years of archives, it can be a little overwhelming for those seeking to quickly find children's literature that accurately portrays the Native American experience in children's literature. The critical analysis of the literature is insightful and Reese's blog is a must bookmark for future reference.
  • Oyatea Native American/American Indian advocacy and education organization, is the go-to website for purchasing quality Native American literature. Oyate reviews children’s literature and "advocate for Native Americans/American Indians to be portrayed with historical accuracy, cultural appropriateness and without anti-Indian bias and stereotypes". In keeping with this mission, Oyate provides information on books to avoid and their evaluation criteria.
  • Children's & YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith maintains a personal website that has quite a few resources for finding Native American literature. It is easy to navigate and is subdivided into topics: Native American authors and illustrators, contempory, historical, and teaching resources.