The literature of the aboriginal people of North America defines America. It is not exotic. The concerns are particular, yet often universal.U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo
For November, Upper Elementary students are reading books by Native American authors for the UE Book Club. The stories describe events in the history of North America from the perspectives of Native American children. The students chose one or more books from the list below. Any one of these books will make a great Fall Break read for your older child (or for yourself!). To find recommended lists of books for children of all ages by Native American authors, follow the links at the bottom of this post.
Chickadee, written and illustrated by Louise Erdrich, is the fourth book in the Birchbark House series, which follows the stories of an Ojibwe family through a hundred years in the Northern Midwestern United States and Canada. In this book, we meet Chickadee and Makoons, eight-year-old identical twins whose lives are full of fun and happiness until Chickadee is stolen from his home and family to work as a servant for his white kidnappers. Chickadee escapes and he and his family face dangerous journeys across Minnesota to find each other. Chickadee is guided by the spirit of the bird that is his namesake—small and mischievous, powerful and brave. This is a beautiful story, full of adventure, sorrow, courage, tradition, joy and humor.
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac. This is the story of 16-year-old Ned Begay, a fictional character who represents the Navajo men and boys who worked for the U.S. military in World War II, during a time when Navajo children were routinely taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools where they were made to unlearn their language and culture. Many Navajo boys were secretly recruited from these schools precisely for the language they were being trained to forget. They used their native language to communicate on behalf of the U.S. military during the Pacific Theater. Navajo, indecipherable by the Japanese, was the “code” that helped saved many lives in the war.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle is the story of ten-year-old Isaac, a Choctow boy whose family is forced by the U.S. military to leave their home in Mississippi on the Trail of Tears. Isaac, like so many others, dies on the harrowing journey to find a new home. The story is told from Isaac’s point of view, after his death. As a ghost, Isaac finds community among other ghosts and living elders who are able to communicate with him. With their help—and the help of Joseph, the panther boy and Jumper, a Choctow-speaking dog—Isaac works to rescue Naomi, a Choctow girl who has been taken prisoner by white soldiers. How I Became a Ghost is inspiring, rich with tradition and full of suspense.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall, III tells the story of an eleven-year-old Lakota boy, Jimmy McClean and his maternal grandfather, Nyles High Eagle. Jimmy is bullied on his reservation because he inherited his last name, as well as his light skin and blue eyes, from his white paternal grandfather. To help Jimmy find confidence, Nyles takes him on an adventure, following the footsteps of the great Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, who defended Lakota territories against the U.S. federal government. As they travel through South Dakota, Nyles tells Jimmy (and the reader) stories about the life of Crazy Horse and inspires Jimmy to find pride in himself and his true Lakota heritage.
A Stranger at Home: A True Story, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes. This is the sequel to Pokiak-Fenton’s first memoir, Fatty Legs. This book tells the true, heartbreaking story of ten-year-old Olemaun (Margaret) Pokiak’s return to her Inuit family in the arctic after two years of living in a residential school in Canada, where she was forced to take a new name, practice a different religion and lose her native language. When she returns home, Margaret’s family does not recognize her and Margaret discovers that she no longer knows how to live with them. She struggles to relearn everything and to find her sense of self and belonging.
Recommended children’s books by Native American authors:
First Nations Development Institute’s recommended reading list for Native American Children’s Literature.
American Indians in Children’s Literature, curated by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo.
Native Languages of the Americas’ list of American Indian Children’s Books and Literature.