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for more good books,
visit the
American Indian Youth Literature Awards site

see our 2010 list

see our 2004 list

When selecting books to share with children of all backgrounds, it is vital to preview selections with a critical eye. Many seemingly warm-hearted books perpetuate subtle racial stereotypes or dominant-culture perspectives on history. If you have doubts about the appropriateness of a book, consult the invaluable reference guide Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale (American Indian Studies Center), or the website Not surprisingly, many of the best Native American kids books are written by Native American authors.

The following books are recommended for use with both Native and non-Native children. This list was prepared by Rob Reid, children's literature instructor at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and author of many guides to storytime and reading out loud.

Reading List menu
The Birchbark House The Birchbark House
Louise Erdrich
Hyperion, 1999
Ages 8 to 12 

Omakayas, an Ojibwa girl, lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. We follow her life throughout the seasons. There is joy but also hardship, especially after white traders bring smallpox to the island. This is the first in a wonderful series that includes The Game of Silence (2005), The Porcupine Year (2008), and Chickadee (2012).

American Indian Youth Literature Award
American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Read

Black Elk's Vision Black Elk's Vision
S.D. Nelson
Abrams, 2010
Ages 10 to 14

As a young boy, Black Elk’s visions were important to his people. This biography shows how they connected to the circle of life as he grew up. He became known as a healing medicine man. Black Elk fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn as a twelve-year-old and, later in life, had a role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices
Orbis Pictus Award

Buffalo Bird Girl Buffalo Bird Girl
S.D. Nelson
Abrams, 2012
Ages 9 to 12

Buffalo Bird Girl was a member of the Hidatsa people in the prairie land now known as North Dakota. “This name has brought me fortune, for the buffalo have a strong heart and the birds of the air have a good spirit.” In this biography, we learn Buffalo Bird Girl’s role in the community, the community’s life during the changing seasons, and how this way of life disappeared once she grew up to become Buffalo Bird Woman.

The Christmas Coat The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
illustrated by Ellen Beier
Holiday House, 2011
Ages 4 to 8

Virginia is the daughter of a minister in South Dakota. She needs a winter coat and is anxious for donation boxes from the eastern part of the country to arrive. She spots the perfect coat but has been taught to wait until others have been served. Unfortunately, her coat is taken before she has a chance to claim it. Her patience is rewarded on Christmas Eve. The story itself is inspired by the author’s childhood growing up on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

American Indian Youth Literature Award.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices

Crossing Bok Chitto Crossing Bok Chitto:
a Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom

Tim Tingle
Jeanne Rorex Bridges
Cinco Puento Press, 2006
Ages 8 to 10

Martha Tom, a Choctaw girl in the 1800s, crosses the river known as Bok Chitto. There is a secret series of stones just below the water’s surface that the Choctaws built. She meets a young African-American slave named Little Mo. Martha Tom and other Choctaw women help lead Little Mo’s family across the river to freedom.

American Indian Youth Literature Award
American Library Association Notable Children’s Book

Counting Coup Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond by Joseph Medicine Crow
National Geographic, 2006
Ages 10 to 16

Crow warriors were expected to accomplish four “coups” or dangerous deeds to become a chief. Joseph was able to accomplish this through his experiences in the U.S. Army during World War II while fighting in Germany. In this autobiography, Joseph also talks about growing up on a reservation in Montana and the hardships of attending a white Baptist school where he was taught to shed his heritage.

American Indian Youth Literature Award

Dancing Teepees Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Holiday House, 1989

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve collected (and contributed) thirteen original and tribal poems. The focus is on childhood experiences for American Indians throughout the years and includes titles such as “Zuni Corn Ceremony,” “Cradle Song,” “Dakota Elk Song,” and “Osage Prayer Before First Buffalo Hunt.”

The First Strawberries The First Strawberries: a Cherokee Story
Joseph Bruchac
Dial, 1993
Ages 4 to 8

This pourquoi story takes place when there was only one man and one woman in the world. The two quarreled and the woman left the man. The Sun sends down a variety of berries to slow her down. When strawberries appear and “glow like fire in the grass,” the woman stops to taste them. This allows her husband to catch up and reconcile with her. The strawberries remind us that "friendship and respect are as sweet as the taste of ripe, red berries."

Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of the Social Studies.

Giving Thanks Giving Thanks:
a Native American Good Morning Message

Chief Jake Swamp
Lee and Low, 1998
Ages 4 to 10

Many aspects of nature, including water, animals, trees, sun, moon, and stars are given due respect. The text is based on the “Thanksgiving Address” an Iroquois "message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants."

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Read

Guests Guests 
Michael Dorris
Hyperion, 1994
Ages 9 to 12

Guests by Michael Dorris. Hyperion, 1994. Ages 9-12.
Moss, a 17th Century Algonquin boy living in what is now Massachusetts, is angry that his father has invited white men to their annual harvest feast. He ventures into the forest, owing his grandfather a new story. He emerges from this short rite-of-passage trip with a more mature outlook.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices

Hidden Roots Hidden Roots
Joseph Bruchac
Scholastic, 2004
Ages 9 to 13

Eleven-year-old Sonny discovers family secrets that lead to the knowledge that his family is Abenaki and not white. Part of the reason for this hidden aspect is that the family fled what is known as the Vermont Eugenics Project, a forced sterilization project signed into law in the 1930s.

American Indian Youth Literature Award
American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School
Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices

Jingle Dancer Jingle Dancer
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Morrow, 2000
Ages 4 to 8

Jenna is a member of the Creek Nation in Oklahoma in contemporary times. This picture book shows her efforts to collect “jingles” for her dress so she can participate in the traditional jingle dance. She goes from house to house and collects rows of jingles from different women, including her grandmother, who ask her to dance for them.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices

Sacagawea Sacagawea
Lise Erdrich
Carolrhoda, 2003
Ages 9 to 12

This picture book biography follows the Shoshone girl who was kidnapped and then raised by the Hidatsa. Sacagawea was given in marriage to a French trapper. Sacagawea, her husband, and their son join the Lewis and Clark expedition from Missouri to the west coast. She turned out to be a valuable member of the group.

International Reading Association Choices

Sees Behind Trees Sees Behind Trees
Michael Dorris
Hyperion, 1996
Ages 9 to 12

Walnut has trouble becoming a hunter because of his poor eyesight. He is taught to develop his other senses and earns the name Sees Behind Trees. He then goes on a life-changing journey as a companion with an elder, Gray Fire.

American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School
International Reading Association Choices

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back:
a Native American Year of Moons

Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London
illus by Thomas Locker
Philomel, 1992
Ages 6 to 11

The thirteen scales on turtle’s back represent the thirteen moon cycles. A different name is given to each moon based on a variety of American Indian legends through a series of short poems.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices
International Reading Association Choices


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