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10 Favorite Native Children’s Books

By Halee Kirkwood

Guest blogger Halee Kirkwood is a poet and teaching artist in Minneapolis. They are a direct descendant of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, and a bookseller at Birchbark Books and Native Arts. Follow @bb_zhigaag on Instagram to keep up with their adventures.

In the past few years, there has been an explosion of children’s books written for and by Native voices. Native children’s books connect us to our past, help us make sense of the present, and feel hope for the future. Growing up a mixed-race Ojibwe kid, I rarely if ever saw faces and families that resembled my own on bookstore or library shelves. I have the lingering feeling that having these books when I was a child would’ve helped to build confidence and pride when I needed it most. I feel joy for the Indigenous youth of today who are able to see themselves and their nations more fully represented on bookshelves today. I hope it inspires more Indigenous youth to become writers and illustrators themselves!

1. You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith

Positive affirmations and images of Indigenous families abound in this title, dedicated to a journey of healing, respect, and building loving relationships in our lives. Author Monique Gray Smith knows just how to imbue her pages with warmth and love. 

2. First Laugh–Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe 

A Dine family welcomes a new baby to their family and clan in their celebratory, formal tradition—when the child gives their first laugh! This book is delightfully suspenseful in the most wholesome way.

3. Sharice’s Big Voice by Sharice Davids and Nancy K. Mays

Congresswoman Sharice Davids has an inspiring story to share about how she pursued her dreams and stood up for her people! This is a great book for children who need a strong, Indigenous, female role model.

4. We Are Still Here! By Traci Sorell

This is a book for readers who are looking for a broad overview of contemporary Native American history. This is a good book for parents and teachers to bring in for Indigenous People’s Day. 

5. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

This book earned the Caldecott Medal for a reason! These illustrations are both gorgeous and empowering, making a strong case for why we are (and should continue to) protect our precious water.

6. The Forever Sky by Thomas Peacock

Two brothers reckon with their beloved grandfather’s passing in this fabulously illustrated title. This book focuses on an Ojibwe cosmology of the spirit world, and will give you a new perspective on what the night sky and constellations can teach us about death, grieving, and love.

7. Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The virtues of patience, tradition, and lending a helping hand to your loved ones are major themes of this book. The dreamy, watercolor illustrations will fully immerse you in Jenny’s world.

8. When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson

Discussing the grievous injustice of boarding and residential schools will always be a tough subject, and David A. Robertson presents the issue in a manner that communicates the trauma these schools caused to Indigenous communities while also displaying how these children held on to their families, their traditions, and each other. A bright note of hope rings throughout.

9. Takoza: Walks with the Blue Moon Girl by Tara Perron 

This book is just the sweetest story about a grandmother passing on Dakota teachings and worldviews to her granddaughter. This book is a testament to the importance of intergenerational relationships and love, with a beautiful weaving of Dakota vocabulary throughout.

10. Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

This is my favorite children’s book we sell at Birchbark Books. This book shows all the different ways Indigenous families can look like, centered on the history of fry bread. This book will make you hungry!