Children often learn about indigenous cultures from history but it’s just as important to know that indigenous cultures are still alive and strong in the modern day, too. Picture books like these show Native American and Native Canadian cultures incorporating tradition, culture, and language in the present day.
As I find more books, I’ll add to this list. Please comment if you have recommendations!
Present Day Picture Books About Indigenous Families
When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett
Narrated in a gentle way that children can understand, you’ll read about when the girl’s grandma (Nókom) had to live at a boarding school where her culture wasn’t permitted Which is why, she tells her granddaughter, the grandmother chooses to wear so many colors, have long hair, speak Cree, and spend so much time with her family. Beautifully illustrated, this story shares information in a way that is truthful about the past yet focused on the present. It’s also a celebration of curiosity and a grandparent-grandchild relationship.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, translated by Gordon Jourdain
Windy Girl and Itchy Boy’s uncle shares stories with them as they all drive to the powwow where it’s a time for gratitude and family, singing and dancing. Windy falls asleep and dreams about powwows from the past — with dogs representing people. When she wakes, she notices the influences of history on the powwows of today. It’s a dual language story is also written in the Ojibwe language. I love the illustrations!
Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Grandma and Clarence have a tradition of picking berries together. “Grandma likes sweet / blueberries / ininimina, / soft blueberries, juicy blueberries. Clarence likes big blueberries, sour blueberries, blueberries that go POP in his mouth.” In nature, the two notice many things — an ant that tickles up Clarence’s leg, a fox, a spider, and birds. Many Cree words, part of the Algonquiana language family, are included throughout this sweet slice-of-life story about a grandma and boy. I love the simplicity of the text as well as the many sound words that give this book a sensory atmosphere.
Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Thunder Boy wants a name all his own, not just a littler version of his dad’s name. So he begins brainstorming the best name, all the while figuring out who he is. The story is humorous and playful while placing importance on knowing yourself.
We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac
“Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude,” begins this celebration of the seasons, traditions, and family. As the families spend time outdoors and indoors, you’ll notice how gratitude encompasses all aspects of life from enjoying a feast for the Cherokee New Year to elder’s sharing stories to kids making corn-husk dolls to even saying goodbye to soldiers serving our country. Each season is written in English and in Cherokee. The pictures are vibrant and colorful. It’s a lovely book honoring Cherokee culture.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
MUSCOGEE (CREEK) / OJIBWAY (CHIPPEWA / ANISHINABE)
I like this modern-day story about a girl named Jenna wants to have a jingle dress and dance in the powwow just like her Grandma Wolfe. Jenna borrows rows of jingles for her Grandma and three other women dancers which, when she dances, makes her proud to continue their legacy. Readers will notice the traditional powwow dance sharing space with a modern life.
Grandmother’s Dreamcatcher by Becky Ray McCain, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Kimmy’s dad and mom are in Chicago while Kimmy stays with her grandmother. Her grandmother teaches Kimmy about dreamcatchers to help her keep away bad dreams. Relatable and comforting, this story shows one way to help with separation anxiety.
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