Native American Picture Books for All Year Long

November is National American Indian Heritage Month, which celebrates the culture, history, heritage, and contributions of Native peoples to the formation and growth of the United States. To celebrate, I gathered five facts about this celebration and made a list of picture books to read this month and all year long.

Five Facts about Native American History Month

  1. A Senecan Indian, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, was one of the first advocates of American Indian Day (how it was called back then).

2. On September 28, 1915, Rev. Sherman Coolidge issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day and asking for the recognition of Native Americans as citizens (Native Americans finally became US citizens in 1924).

3. In 1916, New York became the first state to celebrate American Indian Day.

4. President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution establishing November as National American Indian Heritage Month in 1990 (yep, all that time passed).

5. It is also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner

A pregnant Native American woman expects the birth of her baby. As she waits with patience and love, she gathers precious items for the baby’s sacred medicine bundle to accompany him during his life. She collects a plume, sage, cedar, and a stone, and each item has a meaning connected to the baby’s identity.

Award-winning author Tasha Spillett-Sumner belongs to the Inniniwak Nation, and I Sang You Down from the Stars is based on their belief that babies choose their parents. It also portrays how they prepare sacred medicine bundles for their babies and relate to their identity, traditions, and territory. The illustrations of award-winning Michaela Goade are stunning and otherworldly. It is a gorgeous celebration of motherhood and identity.

Publishing Year: 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: 640L

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

Nokomis tells his granddaughter that “we come from water,” but a black snake threatens to destroy the land by polluting the water. After paying close attention to her grandmother’s story, the Native American girl takes courage to defend their land and Mother Nature from the black snake.

Inspired by the protests of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Carole Lindstrom wrote the inspiring children’s book We are Water Protectors. It is a call for this generation and the following ones to protect Mother Nature from human-made environmental disasters. Michaela Goade‘s powerful and magical watercolor illustrations bring alive the indigenous peoples’ plea to protect the environment. We are Water Protectors is a New York Times bestseller and a 2021 Caldecott Medal winner.

Publishing Year: 2020
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: 510L

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

Fry bread is food, family, history, culture, art, and nation. An award-winning picture book by Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an ode to Native American identity through the many meanings of fry bread. More than anything, fry bread is a unifying staple food among the diverse and numerous Native American tribes. Juana Martinez-Neal, an award-winning Peruvian American illustrator, did the sweet, expressive illustrations.

The back matter includes a detailed fry bread recipe and an author’s note discussing Native American history of resilience in the face of opposition. Also, it has information about the origin of modern Native American cooking and fry bread. Fry Bread won the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Medal. It is a 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor Winner.

Publishing Year: 2019
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: Not Yet Rated

Encounter by Brittany Luby

Sun wakes up Fisher, a Stadaconan, and Sailor, a European. Unexpectedly, Fisher and Sailor meet in the same bay. After a bit of hesitation, they have a peaceful encounter and a fun day together. Although they are different, they have many things in common.

Brittany Luby’s Encounter is based on the first expedition of French colonist Jacques Cartier to North America. The back matter includes an author’s reflection and a historical note about the actual encounter. Michaela Goade’s mixed-media illustrations are beautiful as usual.

Publishing Year: 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: Note Yet Rated

Bowwow Powwow (ALA Notable Children’s Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) by Brenda J. Child

Windy Girl enjoys listening to her Uncle’s stories about the past and the powwow. One of her Uncle’s stories reminds her of her new dog, Itchy Boy. One night, Windy Girl falls asleep in the middle of a very good powwow, and her dreams take her to a special powwow.

Bowwow Powwow is a bilingual picture book written by Brenda J. Child. It honors the song and dance of the Ojibwe tribes. Jonathan Thunder did the bold digital media illustrations, and Gordon Jourdain did the translation.

Publishing Year: 2018
Publisher: The Minnesota Historical Society Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: Not Yet Rated

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson

A girl notices her kókom is different while helping her in the garden. Her grandmother wears colorful clothes, has long braided hair, speaks in Cree, and spends a lot of time with her brother. After asking her grandmother why she is different, she learns about her past attending a residential school for indigenous kids.

In the award-winning book When We Were Alone, David A. Robertson shows children the indigenous people’s experiences while attending residential schools. It is an intense subject about a dark episode in history, but Robertson’s serene storytelling touches the spirit and is suitable for children. Julie Flett‘s collage illustrations are simple but evocative. When We Were Alone comes in a bilingual Cree/English Edition, too.

Publishing Year: 2016
Publisher: Highwater Press
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: 600L

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jenna, a modern girl of Muscogee and Ojibway heritage, dreams of being a jingle dancer like Grandma Wolfe and wants to dance in the next powwow. Grandma Wolfe says she can dance, but there is not enough time to order the tins for the rolling jingles for her dress. So, Jenna turns to the women in her family and community to solve her problem.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is an award-winning writer of the same heritage as Jenna. Jingle Dancer celebrates the Native American tradition of jingle dancing from past generations to modern generations and the power of community. Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Haw Hu‘s realistic watercolor illustrations successfully blend Jenna’s life in the suburbs with the traditions of her ancestors. An author’s note talks about the author’s heritage, jingle dresses, and the meaning of number four among Native Americans. The back matter also includes a glossary.

Publishing Year: 2000
Publisher: Morrow Junior Books
Ages: 4 – 8
Lexile: 650L

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.

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