I am participating in the "10 for 10" event and posting my list of ten picture books for elementary school classrooms. Each book on my list is about American Indians, and, each one is by a Native writer. Each one is also tribally specific. By that, I mean that the story is in some way (by identity of character, setting, or the plot) rooted in a specific tribal nation. (Note: A few weeks ago I posted a list of ten elementary level books that I recommend. This list is slightly different because I did not want to duplicate authors.)
Reflect and Refine's subtitle is "It's not what we know, it's what we're willing to learn." Research studies demonstrate that most Americans know very little about American Indians, and, a lot of what Americans think they know is rather biased, outdated, stereotypical, and just plain wrong. A lot of people love "Indian lore" and "Indian stories" and "Indian mascots" and the like, but a lot of that is not actually rooted in American Indians. A lot of it is an interpretation by someone who is not American Indian. Simon Ortiz (one of his books is listed below) wrote about what people take from us when they take only some semblance of our traditional stories and turn away from embracing us as people who struggle with racism, injustice, poverty, appropriation...
Children---be they Native or not---deserve accurate and reliable information about American Indians. I believe the books I recommend her can help you give that information to children. And in so doing, you'll be picking away and picking apart some of the biased, outdated, stereotypical, and just plain wrong information that children pick up in books and popular culture.
Bruchac and Ross open and close this story in a terrific way. By that, I mean that the first page of the story grounds it in the home of a Native family. Looking at their furniture and clothing, it is clear that this is a family living in the present day. That seemingly simple opening and closing tells children that American Indian people are part of today's America. We didn't vanish.
Campbell, Nicola. Shi-shi-etko
A lot of students in my courses (and people in general) think that children should be sheltered from difficult aspects of the past or present. When they say that, I wonder what children they are talking about. Every child's life is not as innocent as we might imagine or wish it to be. Better to be honest, I think, than ignore things like the fact that American Indian and First Nations children---some as young as four years old---were forcibly removed from their families and taken to boarding schools far from their homes. These schools were designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Nicola Campbell's book is about one young girl's departure from her home. It is a powerful story.
A tribal publisher! Hurray! I often tell teachers that their best source of information about a tribe is that tribe's internet site. Some tribes are now publishing children's books. Beaver Steals Fire is terrific for two reasons. The story is good, but, it begins with a page of information from the tribe itself, and, a request, too, about what part of the year the story should be told and why.
Harjo, Joy. The Good Luck Cat
One of my favorite books, this story about a cat and its nine lives, but, each turn of the page (in text and illustration) grounds the story in a Native home. In my list, it comes closest (I think) to being a universal story.
Lacapa, Michael. Less than Half, More than Whole.
When I first read this book, I was in graduate school. It holds a special place in my heart because it is the first book I read (I was more than thirty-years-old by then) that included Tewa words (Tewa is the language we speak at my home village, Nambe Pueblo). It was the first book that reflected my world. Sadly, Michael Lacapa passed away and this book is no longer in print. Because of his contributions to children's literature, there is a picture book award named after him. I have served on that award committee.
A lovely book! Back in graduate school, I thought we needed books that would show past and present in a side-by-side format. That is precisely what When the Shadbush Blooms does. A Native family, moving through the seasons..... Doing the same things, but in different time periods. This is a gem.
Simon Ortiz is one of our most esteemed Native writers. He's read his work at the White House, and he's doing a lot right now, working in schools in Phoenix. The Good Rainbow Road is about community, tradition, and sustenance of both. It is about looking back, and looking forward, too. And, its in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Keres.
A delightful story for a snowy winter day! It includes Passamaquoddy words, and there's a companion audio for it available, too.
I've written about this book a lot. It is the one I recommend most often, because in a beautiful, yet matter-of-fact way, Smith tells us the story of a little girl who is going to do the Jingle Dance for the first time at an upcoming pow wow. Her family helps her, just the way that we got my daughter ready for her first dance when she was three in 1994. I would have loved to give her a copy of Jingle Dancer back then...
Tim Tingle's book is about two different peoples helping each other in time of difficulty. It is a remarkable and beautiful story from one of America's dark periods.
Two sisters, outside, playing in the snow, looking at the sky... Waboose gives us all a beautiful story that reminds us of what it is to play in the snow, but with the added dimension of Native identity.
Several of the authors listed above have more than one picture book, so it was tough to select only one of their books. Please consider adding more of their books to your collections.
Updated Oct 27 2014 by adding images of all book covers.