Native Nonfiction

Recommended! Native Nonfiction
A list prepared by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
American Indians in Children's Literature
(Date created: April 17, 2021; Last update: Oct 15, 2023)

One of the frequent questions we receive is about nonfiction. I'm pleased as can be that so many librarians are looking critically at their shelves and removing old, outdated nonfiction. It scares many of them because it means empty shelves. Levine Querido released a young readers edition of Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask in 2021. Laid out in question/answer format, you will find it helpful as you strengthen what you know about Native peoples. The beadwork is by Jana Schmieding. The book title works well for a list of recommended nonfiction!

The category "nonfiction" is blurry. In some libraries, Kevin Maillard's Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is shelved in picture books rather than nonfiction but it won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal in 2020. We include it in our list and hope that you'll be able to purchase two copies--one for your picture book shelves, and one for the nonfiction shelf. Many books about American Indians are shelved in the 970s, but they could be in other places, too, if you have that flexibility in your library. To push against the white default in catalog systems you can bring Fry Bread forth when you do library programming on Food, especially one on bread! Or, if you do an event on families, use it then. The point is that for every Native-authored book you bring into your library, talk with library staff about the multiple ways you can use the book, year-round (you can use it in November for Native American Heritage Month but use it at other times, too).  Another example is We Are Water Protectors. It won the 2020 Caldecott Medal and is cataloged by some people as fiction, but the author (Carole Lindstrom) views it as lyrical nonfiction. 

This stand-alone page is our effort to help librarians put books on those shelves. We are not making distinctions between age of reader. We think picture books can and should be read by everyone. And many books marketed for older readers can be used with younger readers. 

We will add to the list whenever a new book is published, and when we come across one we haven't seen before. I prepared and uploaded the initial list on April 17, 2021. For books added after that, we'll insert an "added on" date note. Some feature Native people, history, or culture and some include it in a way we find exemplary.

Edit on March 5, 2023:
A question we get is about age of a particular book. Collection development guides suggest that you look at the publication date and if the book is five years old, the suggestion is to remove it. If you did this right now in 2023 you might remove books published in 2018. We strongly urge you not to use that rule with books written by Native writers. Take a look at books we are recommending below. If you went the 5-year route, you'd be removing some excellent books, like Art Coulson's biography of Jim Thorpe! Some of the books we list below may be out of print. We hope that you have access to funds that allow you to purchase used copies.  

Single Titles

Barnes, Wiley and Aaron K. Long. (2014). C is for Chickasaw. White Dog Press.

Boochever, Annie and Roy Peratrovich. (2019). Fighter in Velvet Gloves. University of Alaska Press.

Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale. (2014). Dreaming in Indian. Annick Press.

Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale. (2015). Urban Tribes: Native American in the City. Annick Press.

Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale. (2017). #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. Annick Press. 

Coulson, Art. (2018). Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated The Army. Illustrated by Nick Hardcastle; Capstone Press. 

Coy, John. (2019). My Mighty Journey: A Waterfall's Story. Illustrated by Gaylord Schanilec. Minnesota Historical Society Press. 

Cutright, Patricia. (2021). Native Women Changing Their Worlds. 7th Generation. 

Davis, Sharice. (2021). Sharice's Big Voice: How a Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman. Harper Collins. 

Day, Christine. (2021). She Persisted: Maria Tallchief. Philomel Books. 

Denetdale, Jennifer. (2008). The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile. Chelsea House.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, Jean Mendoza, and Debbie Reese. (2019). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. Beacon Press.

Engleking, Jessica. (2020). Peggy Flanagan: Ogimaa Kwe, Lieutenant Governor. Illustrated by Tashia Hart. Wise Ink Creative Publishing.

Ferris, Kade (2020). Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher. Ilustrated by Tashia Hart Wise Ink Creative Publishing. 

Flett, Julie. (2014). We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers. 

Flett, Julie. (2017). Black Bear, Red Fox: Colours in Cree. 

Fortunate Eagle, Adam. (2010). Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School. University of Oklahoma Press. 

Haayk Foundation. (2019). Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax. Illustrated by H. Y. D. Lang. Sealaska Heritage.

Harjo, Suzan Shown. (2014). Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States & American Indian Nations. National Museum of the American Indian. 

Herrington, John B. (2016). Mission to Space. White Dog Press.

Jordan-Fenton, C. and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. (2010/2020). Fatty Legs: A True Story. Illustrated by L. Amini-Holmes. Annick Press.

Loew, Patty. (2015). Native People of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 

Lindstrom, Carole (2020). We Are Water Protectors. Illustrated by Michaela Goade. Roaring Book Press.

Maillard, Kevin Noble. (2019). Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Book Press. 

National Museum of the American Indian. (2018). Do All Indians Live in Tipis? (second edition). National Museum of the American Indian. 

Newell, Chris. (2021) If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving. Illustrated by Winona Nelson; published by Scholastic.

Ortiz, Simon J. (1977/2017). The People Shall Continue. Illustrated by Sharol Graves; published by Lee and Low.

Pelletier, Mia. (2014). A Children's Guide to Arctic Birds. Illustrated by D. Christopher. Inhabit Media.

Rendon, Marcie. (2013). Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life. Photographs by C. W. Bellville. Minnesota Historical Society Press. 

Robertson, Sebastian. (2014). Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. Illustrated by A. Gustavson. Henry Holt and Company.

Robertson, Joanne. (2019). Nibi Emosaawdang/The Water Walker. Second Story Press. 

Robertson, Joanne. (2020). Nibi is Water, Nibi Aawon Nbiish. Second Story Press.

Sorell, Traci. (2018). We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. Illustrated by F. Lessac. Charlesbridge.

Sorell, Traci. (2021). Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer. Illustrated by Natasha Donovan. Millbrook Press.

Sorell, Traci. (2021). She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller. Philomel Books.

Sorell, Traci. (2021). We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know. Charlesbridge.  

Sorell, Traci and Arigon Starr. (2023) Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series. Kokila.

Tayak, Gabrielle. (2009). IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas. National Museum of the American Indian. 

Treuer, Anton. (2021). Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask. Levine Querido Press.

Tudor, Aslan and Kelly. (2018) Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock. Published by EagleSpeaker.

Weiden, David Heska Wanbli. (2019). Spotted Tail. Illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk. Reycraft Books.

Wilson, Diane. (2020).  Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector. Illustrated by Tashia Hart. Wise Ink Creative Publishing. 

Series (Note: some of these are listed as single titles above but for those interested in series books, we are including them here.)

Huson, Brett D. "Mothers of Xsan" series illustrated by Natasha Donovan includes The Grizzly Mother, The Sockeye Mother, The Eagle Mother, and The Frog Mother. Highwater Press.

Keoke, Emory Dean. "American Indian Contributions to the World" series published in the 2000s includes five books: Food, Farming and Hunting; Trade, Transportation, and Warfare; Science and Technology; Medicine and Health; and Buildings, Clothing, and Art. 

"My World: Young Native Americans Today" published by the National Museum of the American Indian includes Meet Lydia: A Native American Girl from Southeast Alaska, Meet Mindy: A Native American Girl from the Southwest, and Meet Naiche: A Native American Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area. 

"Native Trailblazers" series includes Native Defenders of the Environment, Native Writers: Voices of Power, Native Women of Courage, Native Musicians: In the Grove, Native Men of Courage. 

"She Persisted" series includes books about Deb Haaland, Wilma Mankiller, and Maria Tallchief. 

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. "A First Americans Book" series, published by Holiday House from 1993 to 1996. Illustrated by Ronald Himler, titles are tribally specific and include The Sioux, The Nez Perce, The Seminoles, The Hopis, and The Cherokees. 

"We Are Still Here" series from Lerner consists of over ten books, including Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition and Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters.

Reference Books 

There are two excellent encyclopedias, both published in the 90s, both infused with the work of Native scholars, and with accurate information and viewpoints of Native peoples. Both have entries written by Native scholars, political leaders, and tribal leaders. Each entry is supported with "for further reading." Order each one for your library. When a class is doing a particular research project, look it up in both encyclopedias. See what the entry says, who wrote it, and what their sources were. Look for additional items by the author of the entry, and look for their sources, too. The two encyclopedia's are:
  • Davis, Mary B. (1996) Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Hoxie, Frederick E. (1996) Encyclopedia of North American Indians. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
These books are also excellent and teachers/librarians/students will find them helpful.
  • Francis, Lee. (1996) Native Time: A Historical Time Line of Native America. New York: St. Martin
  • Champagne, Duane. (1994) Chronology of Native North American History. Detroit: Gale Research
  • Champagne, Duane. (1994) Native America: Portrait of the Peoples. Detroit: Visible Ink Press


Celeste said...

Thank you for this! I use your site all the time when evaluating fiction books, but have felt at a loss trying to update my nonfiction section on Native Nations.

Ashlin Edmisten said...

Thank you so much for this post. We have been going through out nonfiction collection and have used AICL to cross reference our titles. Many of them have been assessed as "not recommended." We have had difficulty replacing those titles. Thank you again. - Ashlin Edmisten, Youth Services Manager, Ashe County Public Library

Unknown said...


I came here looking for the same thing as I am a big fan of yours. I am a first year elementary teacher-librarian after having taught fifth grade and US History for years. I am about to start the weeding our collection of Native nonfiction books (a long overdue process) and I am having incredible difficulty finding replacement books. The books I plan to weed are informational nonfiction as opposed to narrative nonfiction and focus on the history and cultural of specific nations, tribes, or cultural regions. They are books that support our newly adopted history curriculum, which has a chapter on Native Cultural Regions. Unless I am missing something, and I acknowledge it's likely, I'm thinking there is massive area of need for informational NF books that would qualify for AICL approved list. Do publishers know this? One wonders...


Irene Fahrenwald said...

I just saw an ad from Bellwether Books about a 2023 nonfiction series in which each book presents one Nation. Has anyone seen a review of these, or seen them in person? The Bellwether web page gives no indication regarding writers/editors.

Irene Fahrenwald, Lower School Librarian
The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools