Family Stories: American Indian Heritage

These books about American Indian/Alaska Native families span a wide range of time periods and places. They include non-fiction photo essays as well as beautifully illustrated storybooks and offer a sense of the importance of family and community within Native traditions.

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Native families from Nations across the continent gather at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Edited by award-winning and bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith, this collection of intersecting stories by both new and veteran Native writers bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride. Created in partnership with We Need Diverse Books.

Birchbark House

Opening in the summer of 1847, this story follows an Ojibwe family through four seasons; it focuses on young Omakayas, who turns "eight winters old" during the course of the novel. In fascinating, nearly step-by-step details, the author describes how they build a summer home out of birchbark, gather with extended family to harvest rice in the autumn, treat an attack of smallpox during the winter and make maple syrup in the spring to stock their own larder and to sell to others. — Publishers Weekly

Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters

Illustrated by: Bill Steen
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

A beautifully illustrated short work on the life of a family of potters from Santa Clara Pueblo. The book follows Gia Rose as she and her relatives drive to the mountains to dig for clay; prepare it for working; and fashion pieces that are then polished, sanded, and fired. In addition to the many large, full-color photographs, there are maps of the area and of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico. — School Library Journal (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition

Illustrated by: John Madama
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

For the Wampanoag Indians (the descendants of those who greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620) in Mashpee, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, the clambake is more than just a many-splendored outdoor dinner; it is a traditional ceremony of their people. Twelve-year-old Steven Peters, grandson of the author, learns from Peters the history and traditions of their people, including the creation of a special clambake. — School Library Journal (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Come and Learn With Me

Illustrated by: Tessa Macintosh
Age Level: 6-9

"Sheyenne is from a small Dene community in Trout Lake, North West Territories. Readers will learn about diverse activities during harvest time, such as preparing moose meat and the hide, making birch bark containers, gathering plant medicine, singing songs, and telling stories…Sheyenne leads an enjoyable journey as she shows readers her community of teachers — her family — while she learns about her language and culture." — CM Magazine (The Land Is Our Storybook)

Cradle Me

Age Level: 0-3

Product Description: The rich Native American tradition of carrying babies safely, comfortably and close to their mothers in cradle boards endures to this day. Cradle Me celebrates Native American families and shows how they carry their babies and, with a fill-in-the-line feature, enables readers to translate the words to write their own language.

Dancing with the Cranes

Illustrated by: Ron Hall
Age Level: 3-6

Product Description: Dancing with the Cranes gives an understanding of birth, life and death. Chi's momma is soon to have a baby, but Chi is having a hard time being happy about it. Chi misses Temma (her grandma), who has passed away. Chi's momma and daddy help ease the pain of losing Temma and help Chi to understand life and death as a part of nature. Chi soon finds herself feeling comforted, knowing Temma will always be a part of her and looking forward to the new baby who will be a part of their lives.

Eagle Song

Illustrated by: Dan Andreasen
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Danny Bigtree's family has moved to a new city, and Danny can't seem to fit in. He's homesick for the Mohawk reservation, and the kids in his class tease him about being an Indian — the thing that makes Danny most proud. Can Danny, drawing on his Mohawk heritage, find the courage to stand up for himself?

Earth Daughter: Alicia of Acoma Pueblo

Age Level: 6-9

Alicia, a member of the Ácoma Pueblo in New Mexico, learns the art of pottery from her parents in this photo essay from George Ancona. Follow Alicia throughout the entire process of making pottery, from shale collecting in the canyon to the formation and decoration of pots.

Fort Chipewyan Homecoming: A Journey to Native Canada

In this photographic essay, 12-year-old Matthew Dunn takes a trip to Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, Canada, to learn about his Chipewyan, Metis, and Cree heritage. His visit to relatives coincides with the community's celebration of Treaty Days, commemorating the 1899 agreement that gave the Chipewyans hunting and fishing rights as well as reservation land. Each year the people gather for games, dances, sports, and feasting. — School Library Journal (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition

Illustrated by: Joe Allen
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

For almost 20 years, author Sally M. Hunter and her Hochunk family have processed corn in the backyard of their city home. The labor intensive tradition has been a curiosity to her neighbors in St. Paul, so this book, writes Hunter, "will solve the mystery of what those Indian neighbors have been doing in the yard all these years."…It carefully explains the importance of the Winnebago food tradition, adding Hochunk words and related stories. — Oyate (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition
Illustrated by: Juana Martinez-Neal
Age Level: 3-6, 6-9

What is fry bread? It’s food, shape, sound, art, history, and more — so much more. It is a tradition shared by a member of the Mekusukey Seminoles. A varied group of children and elders are depicted contributing to the recipe as the text describes its complex role in American history. Additional information is appended to create a book that can be used in both simple and complex ways.

Video bonus: See Juana Martinez-Neal talk about her illustrations for this book in our preview of our new interview with her! 

Gray Wolf's Search

Age Level: 3-6

In this wonderful original tale, a young boy is told by his uncle, the village shaman, that his role in their clan and tribe depends on his finding and getting to know a very important person. Gray Wolf journeys through the woods and seashore around his home and through the seasons for a full year in the course of his search. Through conversations with his brothers and sisters in the woods and waters — Bear, Eagle, Whale, Beaver, Owl and Wolf — Gray Wolf makes a wonderful discovery about the value of each and every one of us.

I Sang You Down from the Stars

I Sang You Down from the Stars
Illustrated by: Michaela Goade
Age Level: 6-9

As she waits for the arrival of her new baby, a mother-to-be gathers gifts to create a sacred bundle. A white feather, cedar and sage, a stone from the river . . .Each addition to the bundle will offer the new baby strength and connection to tradition, family, and community. As they grow together, mother and baby will each have gifts to offer each other. Tasha Spillett-Sumner and Michaela Goade, two Indigenous creators, bring beautiful words and luminous art together in a resonant celebration of the bond between mother and child.

Jingle Dancer

Illustration of a young girl jingle dancing
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English

Jenna wants to dance in the powwow as her grandmother and other women in her family have. But she wonders: will she have enough jingles to make her dress sing? As Jenna finds a way to collect the jingles she needs, she learns more about her family and the traditions they have upheld across generations. Traditional and contemporary activities come together in this appealing, clearly illustrated story of a modern girl and her background, based on the author's Muscogee (Creek) heritage.

Related VideoCynthia Leitich Smith talks about "Jingle Dancer"

Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma

Illustrated by: Katherine Fogden
Age Level: 6-9

Readers will get to know Christopher, an eleven-year-old Osage boy from northeast Oklahoma. Join Christopher and his family at the annual I'n-lon-shka Dances on the Osage Reservation and meet his grandmother, who works at the Osage tribal museum. Learn the stories of Christopher's ancestors, those who hunted buffalo and lived in hide-covered lodges — and those who first learned to drive cars and pilot airplanes. (My World: Young Native Americans Today)

My Heart Fills with Happiness

Illustrated by: Julie Flett
Age Level: 0-3

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails

Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails
Illustrated by: Vladyana Krykorka
Age Level: 6-9

When Kataujaq's mother dies, her grandmother tells her the legend of the northern lights: the souls of the dead are engaged in a lively game of soccer, just as they did when they were living. Watching the northern lights brings comfort to Kataujaq as she thinks of her mother playing soccer in the sky. A beautiful story honoring Inuit traditions and recommended for children struggling with loss.

On Mother's Lap

Illustrated by: Glo Coalson
Age Level: 3-6

Sitting on his mother's lap, a young Inuit boy cheerfully gathers his belongings until he, some toys, his puppy, and a blanket are all crowded together in the rocking chair. When his baby sister cries, the boy claims there is no room for her, but Mother proves him wrong, and the threesome settle comfortably in the chair. Soft illustrations depict a cozy scene and a loving family. — The Horn Book

Owl in the Cedar Tree

Haske, a Navaho boy, is torn between the past of his people's rich, self-sustaining culture and a present that opens up new possibilities. His parents propel him in one direction, his grandfather in another, his teacher in still another. The boy has a secret wish, but its fulfillment seems beyond reach. At night he listens to the hoot of the owl in the cedar tree and wonders if good fortune or bad is in store. This beautifully written story finally supplies the answer.

Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life

Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life

Product Description: Marcie Rendon follows Sharyl and Windy Downwind and their children as they travel from their home on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota to powwows all around the region. At ceremonies and in daily life, Windy and Sharyl celebrate Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture by teaching their children traditional skills, dance steps, and lifeways, all part of the circle of community and the seasons and life.

Salmon Summer

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Every summer, the salmon return to spawn in the streams of Kodiak Island, Alaska, and nine-year-old Alex, a native Aleut, comes here to fish with his family as his ancestors did. Bruce McMillan lived with Alex's family at their fishing camp on Kodiak Island and captures the natural beauty of the Alaskan island and the intense bond of family and tradition.

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light

Illustrated by: Karen Clarkson
Age Level: 6-9

Looking back to his childhood, Choctaw storyteller Tingle introduces his capable, comforting Mawmaw (grandmother); recalls his shock as a six-year-old at realizing that she was blind (possibly, he learns, as a result of a racially motivated assault in her own youth); and recounts a hospital vigil years afterward when she received an eye transplant…A lengthy afterword provides more details about Tingle's family and Choctaw culture, and offers much to think about regarding American Indian stereotypes. — Booklist

Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer (We Are Still Here)

Illustrated by: Catherine Whipple
Age Level: 6-9

Shannon lives in Minneapolis with her grandmother, sisters, and cousins and is a fancy shawl dancer…A bit of tribal history and culture relevant to the events described, excellent full-color photographs and maps, and further reading lists make these titles essential purchases for school, public, and tribal libraries. — School Library Journal (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Skeleton Man

Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who's taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There's one thing Molly does know: she needs to find some answers before it's too late.

Sky Dancers

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 6-9

"In her first work of fiction for children, Kirk introduces the generations-old connection between the Mohawk people and steelworking. John Cloud, who lives on a reservation, misses his father and uncle during their weeks working construction sites in Manhattan. John's first visit to the city brings both strange sights ('There were traffic lights where John thought trees should be') and deepening pride when he witnesses his father's agile figure high atop the incomplete Empire State Building." — Booklist

Songs of Shiprock Fair

Illustrated by: Anthony Chee Emerson
Age Level: 6-9

The oldest fair in the Diné (Navajo) Nation is held annually in Shiprock, NM. This story follows young Nezbah through the event, from the excitement of waking on the first morning to the last moment of the festivities when her father carries her, tired and happy, into the house. The illustrations are done in a lively folk-art style in vibrant colors evocative of the Southwest. — School Library Journal

Sweetest Kulu

Illustrated by: Alexandria Neonakis
Age Level: 0-3

Product Description: This bedtime poem, written by internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describes the gifts bestowed upon a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic. Lyrically and lovingly written, this visually stunning book is infused with the Inuit values of love and respect for the land and its animal inhabitants.

The Butterfly Dance

Age Level: 6-9

This story chronicles one important day seen through the eyes of a young Hopi girl named Sihumana, or "Flower Maiden", who is a member of the Rabbit Clan and winningly portrayed as a rabbit. After going with her grandfather to greet the sun and bless the day, Sihumana travels with her family to another village to take part in the traditional Butterfly Dance, performed late each summer in order to bring rain to the dry lands of the Southwest. (Tales of the People)

The Grizzly Mother

bear peeking out of bush
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

To the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia, the grizzly is an integral part of the natural landscape. Together, they share the land and forests that the Skeena River runs through, as well as the sockeye salmon within it. Follow mother bear as she teaches her cubs what they need in order to survive on their own.
The Mothers of Xsan series uses striking illustration and lyrical language to bring the poetry of the Xsan ecosystem to life.

The Return of Skeleton Man

Molly thought she'd put her traumatic past behind her when she escaped from Skeleton Man last year. She rescued her parents and tried to get her life back to the way it used to be. She thought her family would live happily ever after and just be normal again. She thought wrong. Skeleton Man is back for revenge — but this time Molly is ready. In this long-awaited sequel to the award-winning Skeleton Man, Joseph Bruchac revisits his most terrifying villain yet.

The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code
Illustrated by: Julia Miner
Age Level: 6-9

John, a young Diné (Navajo), is frightened to leave his lifelong home on the reservation and move to Minnesota with his mother and new stepfather. The boy's grandfather assures him he'll be all right since he has an "unbreakable code," the Diné language. The man goes on to tell the story of how he and other Dinés were recruited by the Marines and developed a message code based on their native language that helped the U.S. in the Pacific during World War II. — School Library Journal

Thunder Boy, Jr.

Illustrated by: Yuyi Morales
Age Level: 6-9

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

We Feel Good Out Here

We Feel Good Out Here

Julie-Ann is a Gwichya Gwich'in from Tsiigehtchic in the Northwest Territories. She is a Canadian Ranger, a mother of twin daughters, a hunter, a trapper, and a student. Julie-Ann shares her family's story and the story of her land, observing, "The land has a story to tell, if you know how to listen." A glossary of Gwichya Gwich'in words is provided. (The Land Is Our Storybook)

Whale Snow

Illustrated by: Annie Patterson
Age Level: 6-9

Amiqqaq is home with his grandmother when fat flakes begin to fall. She refers to the precipitation as "whale snow," which occurs when a whale has given itself to the people of their Alaskan village. Soon Amiqqaq's father comes in to announce the kill, and then takes the boy to see the great beast. Before long, Amiqqaq begins to understand the true spirit of the whale, as members of his community come together to celebrate and prepare its different parts for use. — Booklist

You Hold Me Up

Illustrated by: Danielle Daniel
Age Level: 6-9

This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions.