Historical Fiction

Recommended! Historical Fiction
A list from American Indians in Children's Literature

Editors note: A version of this page was first published at AICL as a post on August 13, 2020 and is being updated and edited, today (May 14, 2021) as a page listed in the AICL menu below our logo.

On August 3, 2020, Debbie received an email from a teacher looking for historical fiction. The teacher wrote that teachers in her school use Island of the Blue Dolphins and she doesn't want to use it (or others like it) because she's learning about flaws in popular and classic and award-winning books. What, she wondered, would we recommend? 

Teachers may be looking for a book set in their location, about a tribal nation near their school in the past, or the present day. That is a terrific idea but the publishing industry has a long way to go for us to be able to find a book set in the past for every one of the tribal nations. A good option, though, is for you to tell your students there is no good book to use for that nation, and that they can write to publishers to encourage them to publish writers of that particular nation. If our list below does not have the nation you're looking for, please submit a comment and we'll see what we can find. 

In the meantime, I recommend you use a book about another nation, set in the time period you're looking at, instead of something like Island of the Blue Dolphins. Most people hone in on the main character in that book, but if you shift your gaze to the historical period, it was a time of invasion and exploitation. Families of Aleut hunters were held hostage by Russians who needed the skills of those hunters in order to make money as fur traders. An alternative, then, is to tell students that O'Dell's book misrepresents that period of history so that your students become more knowledgeable about how books misrepresent history and people, and then give them a different book about invasion and  exploitation that still focuses on the resilience of a main character. Two excellent options are The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, and Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story by Andrea L. Rogers. 

We'll add to this list over time. We are organizing it in a way that we hope is helpful: chronologically. As you'll see when you scroll down, we're listing books by decade but also have a final category for books that are volumes that span a wide range of years. 

But what would our end-year be?! 

We enjoyed talking about it because the definitions vary. A book set in the 1970s doesn't feel like historical fiction to Debbie (those were her teen years). But how does that book feel to a teen reader, today? Read Write Think (a project from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association) defines historical fiction as 30 years in the past. In the third edition of Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, Sylvia M. Vardell writes that historical fiction "is set at least one generation in the past." But, she also says, "that bar is movable as time keeps moving on" (page 191). With that in mind, we're including books set in the 1970s and we welcome your thoughts! And book suggestions, too.  


How I Became A Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (Oklahoma Choctaw). Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press. 

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story by Andrea L. Rogers (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2020 by Capstone Press.


The Birchbark House (and subsequent books in the series) by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe). Published in 1999 by Hyperion Books for Children.


Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2013 by 7th Generation. 


I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation) and Kathy Kacer. Published in 2016 by Second Story Press.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford (not Native) and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Black and Muscogee). Published in 2021 by Carolrhoda Books. [Added to this list on May 21, 2022.]


At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish). Published in 2019 by Kokila Press.


Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua, enrolled in Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) with Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books/Tu Books. 

My Name Is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (Salish). Published in 1997 by Douglas McIntyre. 


My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson. Published in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish.

House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press.


If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ, (enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eel Clan). Published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.

Books that Span a Wide Range of Years

Saltypie by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press.

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish), Kristina Bad Hand (Sicangu Lakota & Cherokee), Roy Boney (Cherokee), Johnnie Diacon (enrolled member Mvskoke Nation), Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo), Geary Hobson (Cherokee-Quapaw/Chickasaw), Jonathan Nelson (Diné), Renee Nejo (Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians), Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo), Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), Theo Tso (Las Vegas Paiute).  Published in 2016 by Native Realities.

This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing), Sonny Assu (not specified), Tara Audibert (Maliseet), Kyle Charles (member of Whitefish Lake First Nation), GMB Chomichuk (not specified), Natasha Donovan (member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia), Scott A. Ford (not specified), Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), Scott B. Henderson (not specified), Ryan Howe (not specified), Andrew Lodwick (not specified),  Brandon Mitchell (Mi'kmaq), Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inuit-Cree), Sean Qitualik-Tinsley (not specified), David A. Robertson (member of Norway House Cree Nation), Niigaawewidam James Sinclair (Anishinaabe, St. Peter's/Little Peguis), Jen Storm (Ojibway, Couchiching First Nation), Richard Van Camp (member of Tlicho Nation), Katherena Vermette (Métis), Chelsea Vowel (Métis), Donovan Yaciuk (not specified). Published in 2019 by Highwater Press. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this list! I am working on a power and perspective unit for my 4th grade class and was able to use this list to create a great text set. I actually started off looking for a copy of Cheyenne Again and a review led me here. Thank you!
-Maggie Hammond