Own Voices Native American Books
November is Native American Heritage Month, so it’s a great time to celebrate Native voices & remember that Native peoples are not just a part of history but an important part of the present and an essential part of our future. Below are wonderful new Own Voices Native American books for children that celebrate Indigenous history and culture, from picture books and an early chapter book to YA non-fiction.
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of some the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Own Voices Native American Books
Enjoy these Own Voices Native American books for kids!
Finding My Dance is a beautiful picture book by internationally renowned dancer Ria Thundercloud. In this strikingly illustrated book, Ms. Thundercloud relates how she began dancing in powwows at an early age then trained in other styles like jazz and ballet. Despite her successes, she often felt like an outsider, but her indigenous culture always helped comfort and inspire her. A wonderful story to spark conversations about persistence and how honoring our heritage can help ground us even as we venture out into new endeavors.
Keepunumuk is a masterful retelling of the Thanksgiving story from the Wampanoag perspective. I was lucky enough to interview the authors for Multicultural Children’s Book Day recently, and I was impressed by their thoughtfulness and attention to the larger issues of telling such an important American story. All of the authors and the illustrator are indigenous, including a lead author who is Wampanoag. The result is a completely reimagined look at the first Thanksgiving, told in a Native tradition. This is a gorgeous and important work, a must have for any classroom or home.
The Hawaiian and English bilingual tale Kapaemahu reclaims a Native Hawaiian legend about the Healer Stones and four spirits who traveled to Hawaii centuries ago to share their healing arts and cures. This story was not only ignored, it was actively suppressed. The legend showcases the inclusivity of native Hawaiian culture, which has embraced the dual nature of the four spirits, who embodied both male and female. These gentle healers were honored by the grateful Hawaiians with a monument of Healer Stones. These were honored for centuries but then forgotten and even buried after colonization. This story, and the animated short film on which it is based, honor that history of inclusion and acceptance.
The children’s biography Wilma Mankiller is part of the wonderful She Persisted chapter book series, which also includes a fabulous biography of Maria Tallchief, member of the Osage nation and America’s first prima ballerina. The new Wilma Mankiller biography is by one of my favorite authors, Traci Sorell (see my review of We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know). She gave a preview about this new book when I interviewed her on an IG live for Multicultural Children’s Book Day earlier this year. Wilma Mankiller is the fascinating story of the first woman Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. As always, Sorell is an expert storyteller, weaving the thread of Mankiller’s life into the broader picture of Cherokee history and the evolution of the movement for Native rights. I love the little details, like how the chapter titles are also given in Cherokee. The book empowers young readers to honor Mankiller’s legacy of service and persistence through, for example, practicing gadugi, the Cherokee value of working together. A wonderful book for older children.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Life in Native America is the Young Readers Adaptation of the New York Times bestseller of the same name, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. It takes at its focal point the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, often seen as the “end” of Native cultures in the US. Through in depth research, including interviews with Native Americans from all walks of life, Treuer convincingly shows that Native Nations did not end at this painful point in history but were able to continuously adapt to meet each new struggle. Trained as an anthropologist, Treuer gives us a sweeping view of history, but one interwoven with personal stories, including his own story of growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota. He includes an unflinching look at his own shame of his rez childhood, and how he sought to distance himself from it at an elite university, only to rediscover its strength and beauty. An important read to give older students a more nuanced understanding of American history and an appreciation for the resourcefulness and resilience of Native Nations, in the face of seemingly impossible odds.