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Native American Heritage Month

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Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story book
7.0
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Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard & illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Fry Bread is a modern-day Native American story focused on family gathering around food. New in 2019, this intergenerational tale celebrates the American Indian tradition of making fry bread, first believed to have been made more than 150 years ago but still cooked and celebrated today. Be sure to check out the lengthy Author’s Note about fry bread, but maybe read this part on your own instead of with small children. Maillard also includes a recipe for Fry Bread.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

Told in lively and powerful verse by debut author Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family, vibrantly illustrated by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal.

Fry bread is food. It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time. It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation. It is shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

Fry bread is us. It is a celebration of old and new, traditional and modern, similarity and difference.

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Birdsong book
6.5
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Birdsong
Written & illustrated by Julie Flett
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
We first read this one over the summer of 2020, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. A beautifully written story of intergenerational friendship, community, loss, and change, we travel over the course of a year with a girl, Katherena, who moves from the city to the country one spring. Katherena is an artist who loves to draw, but she has trouble finding artistic inspiration and drive after the move… Until she meets Agnes, her elderly neighbor on the next hill over… Agnes teaches Katherena about art and farm life, and Katherena returns the favor by bringing Cree culture and vocabulary to Agnes. You’re definitely going to want to read this one!
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8

A Best Book of the Year in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Horn Book.

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga book
6.3
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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Written by Traci Sorell & illustrated by Frané Lessac
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
A wonderful own voices book that teaches readers how the members of the Cherokee Nation express and celebrate gratitude year-round. Focusing on the Cherokee word used to express gratitude, ostaliheliga, we walk with the Cherokee people through the year, as they express their gratitude each season, celebrating their blessings but also reflecting on their struggles. Sorell also provides readers with Cherokee vocabulary, meanings, and pronunciation, as well as an Author’s Note and information about the Cherokee syllabary, created by Sequoyah in the early 1800s. Ages 3-7.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

The Cherokee community is grateful for blessings and challenges that each season brings. This is modern Native American life as told by an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

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My Heart Fills with Happiness book
6.0
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My Heart Fills with Happiness
Written by Monique Gray Smith & illustrated by Julie Flett
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Opening with “My heart fills with happiness when…”, readers are reminded that sometimes the most simple things in life are teh ones that fill our hearts with happiness. Beautifully illustrated and gently written, Smith and Flett have done an amazing job helping children find their commonalities with other children from different cultures, as their descriptions of what makes the child’s heart full with happiness are pretty universal. This is the sweetest story about things that make our hearts happy, and my favorite part about it is how much it connects my children to Native American children, as aside from cooking bannock, my girls can relate to everything that fills the narrator’s heart. While I love books that highlight diversity, I also love books that help my children recognize that despite diversity, we all have lots in common, too.
board book
Recommend Ages: 2-6

A board book that celebrates happiness and invites children to reflect on the little things in life that bring them joy.

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Sweetest Kulu book
6.0
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Sweetest Kulu
Written by Celina Kalluk & illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Written as a bedtime story, Kalluk’s debut picture book is a lyrical ode of love to a new baby and the nature surrounding the family. Through the book, Kalluk and Neonakis describe and show us the ways that nature blesses newborn babies through gifts, whether physical and tangible (such as the Snow Bunting birds that bring flowers and seeds) or more spiritual and emotional (such as the powerful, protective nature of the Muskox). This one is a new addition to my list in 2020, and it’s absolutely delightful! Be sure to keep this in mind for baby shower gifts.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

“This beautiful bedtime poem, written by acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describes the gifts given to a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic. Lyrically and tenderly told by a mother speaking to her own little “Kulu,” an Inuktitut term of endearment often bestowed upon babies and young children, this visually stunning book is infused with the traditional Inuit values of love and respect for the land and its animal inhabitants.”–

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  • When I Was Eight - Children's Lit Love -

    A great companion to When We Were Alone for older readers, this is a powerful true story of overcoming obstacles, of courage, of resilience, of achieving things other thought you couldn’t. But it is dark and hard to read, though an accurate depiction of Margaret’s experiences at her Native American residential school. Ages 6-9, but stick with the older end of that age range. This would also be a powerful introduction to the residential schools for even older audiences. Even older readers might opt for the chapter story memoir off of which this is based, titled Fatty Legs.

  • People Shall Continue - Children's Lit Love -

    Originally published in 1977 and reissued in 2017 with a special Author’s Note, this story (written in poetry form of oral traditions) tells the history of the indigenous peoples in North America. Starting “many many years ago,” continuing through European settlement and culminating with a message about the struggles of many of America’s diverse groups, this is a powerful read for older elementary students.

  • When We Were Alone - Children's Lit Love -

    Narrated by a young girl, Robertson shows a conversation between girl and grandmother, a conversation centered around grandmother teaching the girl about her time in a residential school. Though the topic is certainly dark, Robertson handles it very gently, as a real grandmother might when broaching it with her young granddaughter.

  • At the Mountain's Base - Children's Lit Love -

    Loosely based on the life of Ola Mildred Rexroat, the only Native American female pilot to fly in World War II, Sorell gives us a short but tender story of a family separated by war, waiting for their pilot to return. Sorell gives us insight into the life of this Cherokee family, as they work to keep on while the pilot flies. This one might make you tear up and is perfect not only for Native American Heritage Month, but also Veteran’s Day.

We Are Water Protectors book
5.0
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We Are Water Protectors
Written by Carole Lindstrom & illustrated by Michaela Goade
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Many environmental protection movements in America have been led by our indigenous peoples, and those movements inspired this gem! With a repeated refrain of “We stand / With our songs / And our drums. / We are still here” running throughout the book, we watch various individuals and groups of people protect the earth, starting with its water. Lindstrom includes a page of information about Ojibwe culture and water protectors, as well as Further Reading, a Glossary, an Illustrator’s Note, and an Earth Steward and Water Pledge in the back matter.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, Carole Lindstrom’s bold and lyrical picture book We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguarding the Earth’s water from harm and corruption.

Water is the first medicine. It affects and connects us all . . .

When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth And poison her people’s water, one young water protector Takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.

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You Hold Me Up book
5.0
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You Hold Me Up
Written by Monique Gray Smith & illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
This book stands out from the others on this list in that “thank you” or “thankful” or “thanks” aren’t mentioned anywhere in the story. However, I think this is a powerful reminder of being grateful for all that our loved ones, whether friends or family, do for us. Be sure to take time with both the dedication and the Author’s Note about the Indian Residential Schools. Ages 3-7.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions. Consultant, international speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about Reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens. Orca Book Publishers is pleased to offer this hardcover picture book as a dual-language (English and Plains Cree) edition.

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Jingle Dancer book
5.0
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Jingle Dancer
Written by Cynthia Leitich Smith & illustrated by Ying-hwa Hu and Cornelius Van Wright
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Have you ever watched your parent or grandparent do something really neat and set your heart on doing it yourself? Jenna watches her grandmother dance to the powwow drum and decides she’s going to jingle dance, too… and she doesn’t let the fact that they can’t possibly order and receive the rolling jingles she needs for her dress in time.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

The affirming story of how a contemporary Native American girl turns to her family and community to help her dance find a voice.

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The Forever Sky book
5.0
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The Forever Sky
Written by Thomas Peacock & illustrated by Annette S. Lee
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Many young readers will connect with the boys in this one, as their grandmother recently passed away and they miss her. Fortunately, their Uncle is able to share with them their beliefs that Nooko’s spirit lives on in the stars (hence, the “forever sky”). This is one you’ll read over and over again because of the illustrations. Each time I flip through it, I notice something else, such as repeated figures or images or the fact that the boys appear in present-day clothing in some illustrations. Peacock includes a Glossary (with pronunciation key) for the Ojibwe words used throughout the book.
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

“<em>Nooko’s</em> spirit is there in the stars,” says Niigaanii to his younger brother, Bineshiinh, as they sprawl in a meadow, gazing skyward. “Uncle said when <em>Nooko&#39: s</em> spirit left this world it went there.” Nooko was their grandmother, and they miss her. But Uncle helps them find comfort in the night sky, where all the stars have stories.<br /> Indeed, there are so many stars and so many stories that the boys spend night after night observing and sharing, making sense of patterns and wisdom in “the forever sky.” They see a moose, a loon, a crane, the Path of Souls, and so much more.<br /> One night, a beautiful show of lights fills the sky. Niigaanii explains that the northern lights are the spirits of the relatives who have passed on. The boys imagine different relatives dancing, lighting up the sky with their graceful movements. And then they see her: Nooko is one of the elders leading the dance. She has a message for them. One they can share with their parents and their uncle and everyone else who remembers her. One that lends power to the skies and brings smiles to the stargazers’ faces.

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Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes book
4.8
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Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes
Written by Wab Kinew & illustrated by Joe Morse
Thoughts from Children's Lit Love
Okay, so I have to be totally honest and say that I have a slightly hard time reading this out loud… The rhythm and rhyme don’t roll easily for me, and I debated leaving it off the list as a result. But, the information about indigenous heroes is just too good to pass up. You’re likely to have heard of some of these heroes, such as Tecumseh, Sacagawea, and Jim Thorpe, but many were new to our family. Kinew is a member of the Midewin and wrote this book (based off a rap song he wrote!) in order to inspire young children and remind them that “you’re a person who matters.”
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

“We are a people who matter.” Inspired by President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, Go Show the World is a tribute to historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes, featuring important figures such as Tecumseh, Sacagawea and former NASA astronaut John Herrington.

Celebrating the stories of Indigenous people throughout time, Wab Kinew has created a powerful rap song, the lyrics of which are the basis for the text in this beautiful picture book, illustrated by the acclaimed Joe Morse. Including figures such as Crazy Horse, Net-no-kwa, former NASA astronaut John Herrington and Canadian NHL goalie Carey Price, Go Show the World showcases a diverse group of Indigenous people in the US and Canada, both the more well known and the not- so-widely recognized. Individually, their stories, though briefly touched on, are inspiring; collectively, they empower the reader with this message: “We are people who matter, yes, it’s true; now let’s show the world what people who matter can do.”

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