5 Children’s Books to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month! While we are intentional about highlighting the lives and contributions of indigenous people throughout the year, we take time this month to specially honor the people who live, or historically lived, on the land we now love. If you are just getting started, websites like https://native-land.ca/ allow you to find out which Indigenous People live, or historically lived, in your area. In Dade City, we live on the ancestral homeland of the Seminole, Tocobaga, Miccosukee, and Mascogo people. We would especially like to recognize the Mascogos, “descendants of escaped African slaves who joined with the Seminole Indians in Florida to form a new identity.” While today the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians still reside in Florida, the largest of the three federally recognized Seminole governments is based in Oklahoma. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma are the descendants of the 3,000 Seminoles who were forcibly removed from Florida to Indian Territory, along with 800 Mascogos (Black Seminoles), after the Second Seminole War.

While terms like “forcibly removed” and “stolen land” are not pleasant to think about — facing these uncomfortable truths is an important step in honoring the true history of the lands we live, love, and work on. However, when we are working with young children, a great starting place is through the present and using the vibrant culture of storytelling.

So when discussing Native American Heritage with your children, consider some of these high-quality resources that will help children learn about and celebrate Native American culture both now and throughout the year.

To help you get started, we have put together a list of children’s books written by Native authors about Native protagonists. Where possible, we have added links to indigenous-owned bookstores.

One wonderful resource for reviewing children’s books through a social justice lens is Social Justice Books, which critically reviews multicultural and social justice books for children. We have also included a section on books for adults as well to learn more.

Children's Books

She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper: Seminole Tribal Leader by Jan Godown Annino (Seminole)

Editor’s Synopsis: “She Sang Promise is the compelling and inspiring story of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, one of modern America’s first female elected tribal leader. With its lyrical, poetic text, and rich, vibrant illustration, this is a book to charm and amaze young readers.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was born in 1923, the daughter of a Seminole woman and a white man. She grew up in the Everglades under dark clouds of distrust among her tribe who could not accept her at first. As a child of a mixed marriage, she walked the line as a constant outsider. Growing up poor and isolated, she only discovered the joys of reading and writing at age 14. An iron will and sheer determination lead her to success, and she returned to her people as a qualified nurse. When her husband was too sick to go to his alligator wrestling tourist job, gutsy Betty Mae climbed right into the alligator pit! Storyteller, journalist, and community activist, Betty Mae Jumper was a voice for her people–ultimately becoming the first female elected Seminole tribal leader.

Lisa Desimini’s stunning folk-style artwork brings this gripping tale and the lush Everglades setting to life. The book has been vetted by the Seminole Indian Museum.”

Editor’s Synopsis: “Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles — daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.” This story takes the reader through all four seasons and introduces children to the individual beauty of each one. From cool breezes and falling leaves, to elders sharing stories and gathering spring’s first food, contemporary Cherokee culture is woven throughout the journey.”

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Tekaronianeken)

Editor’s Synopsis: “Giving Thanks is a special children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address, a message of gratitude that originated with the Native people of upstate New York and Canada and that is still spoken at ceremonial gatherings held by the Iroquois, or Six Nations.

A Native American writer and illustrator have combined their talents to produce this lovely and inspiring picture book based on the traditional Mohawk morning prayer, or “Thanksgiving Address to Mother Earth.” The graceful prose expresses gratitude for many of nature’s gifts, including: deep, blue waters, good foods, and twinkling stars. The attractive, colorful acrylic illustrations show a wide variety of scenes from sunrise to the glow of an evening campfire. The Kaniakehaka or Mohawk text is included at the end.”

Berry Song by Michaela Goade (Tlingit/Haida)

Editor’s Synopsis: “An Indie Bestseller!

Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade’s first self-authored picture book is a gorgeous celebration of the land she knows well and the powerful wisdom of elders.

On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea, a girl and her grandmother gather gifts from the earth. Salmon from the stream, herring eggs from the ocean, and in the forest, a world of berries.

Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry.

Huckleberry, Snowberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.

Through the seasons, they sing to the land as the land sings to them. Brimming with joy and gratitude, in every step of their journey, they forge a deeper kinship with both the earth and the generations that came before, joining in the song that connects us all. Michaela Goade’s luminous rendering of water and forest, berries and jams glows with her love of the land and offers an invitation to readers to deepen their own relationship with the earth.”

We All Play: kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

Editor’s Synopsis: “A BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, Washington Post, New York Public Library, Kirkus Reviews, Globe and Mail, Horn Book, and Boston Globe

STARRED Reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, The Horn Book, School Library Journal

From Julie Flett, the beloved author and illustrator of Birdsong, comes a joyous new book about playtime for babies, toddlers, and kids up to age 7

Animals and kids love to play! This wonderful book celebrates playtime and the connection between children and the natural world. Beautiful illustrations show:

  • birds who chase and chirp!
  • bears who wiggle and wobble!
  • whales who swim and squirt!
  • owls who peek and peep!
  • and a diverse group of kids who love to do the same, shouting: 

We play too! / kimêtawânaw mîna

At the end of the book, animals and children gently fall asleep after a fun day of playing outside, making this book a great bedtime story. A beautiful ode to the animals and humans we share our world with, We All Play belongs on every bookshelf.

This book also includes:

  • A glossary of Cree words for wild animals in the book
  • A pronunciation guide and link to audio pronunciation recordings”

Books for Older Readers

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Editor’s Synopsis: “As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.”

An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States by Kyle T. Mays

Editor’s Synopsis: “The first intersectional history of the Black and Native American struggle for freedom in our country, An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States also reframes our understanding of who was Indigenous in early America

Beginning with pre-Revolutionary America and moving into the movement for Black lives and contemporary Indigenous activism, Afro-Indigenous historian, Kyle T. Mays argues that the foundations of the US are rooted in antiblackness and settler colonialism, and that these parallel oppressions continue into the present. He explores how Black and Indigenous peoples have always resisted and struggled for freedom, sometimes together, and sometimes apart. Whether to end African enslavement and Indigenous removal or eradicate capitalism and colonialism, Mays show how the fervor of Black and Indigenous peoples calls for justice have consistently sought to uproot white supremacy.

Mays uses a wide-array of historical activists and pop culture icons, “sacred” texts, and foundational texts like the Declaration of Independence and Democracy in America. He covers the civil rights movement and freedom struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, and explores current debates around the use of Native American imagery and the cultural appropriation of Black culture. Mays compels us to rethink both our history as well as contemporary debates and to imagine the powerful possibilities of Afro-Indigenous solidarity.”

Editor’s Synopsis: “

The story of Native peoples’ resistance to environmental injustice and land incursions, and a call for environmentalists to learn from the Indigenous community’s rich history of activism.

Through the unique lens of “Indigenized environmental justice,” Indigenous researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker explores the fraught history of treaty violations, struggles for food and water security, and protection of sacred sites, while highlighting the important leadership of Indigenous women in this centuries-long struggle. As Long As Grass Grows gives readers an accessible history of Indigenous resistance to government and corporate incursions on their lands and offers new approaches to environmental justice activism and policy.

Throughout 2016, the Standing Rock protest put a national spotlight on Indigenous activists, but it also underscored how little Americans know about the longtime historical tensions between Native peoples and the mainstream environmental movement. Ultimately, she argues, modern environmentalists must look to the history of Indigenous resistance for wisdom and inspiration in our common fight for a just and sustainable future.”

For more resources to reflect on Indigenous sovereignty and honoring Native lands, check out these articles on Embracing Equity's blog:


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