Historical Fiction: American Indian Heritage (Grades 6-12)

The historic novels on this list will take middle and high school readers back in time to the days before European explorers arrived in North America, to the French and Indian War, and to the early days of the Trail of Tears. These titles are highly recommended for literature and Social Studies discussions.

Daughter of Suqua

Illustrated by: Paul Micich
Age Level: Middle Grade

"It is 1905, and Ida, 10, lives with her parents and grandmother among their people, the Suquamish, on an island off the coast of Washington. The story revolves around their struggle to maintain their identity; first as a family, and second as a tribe when the U.S. government resettles them on allotted lands and enrolls their children in 'American' schools. Readers will identify with Ida's need to be with her friends and family and her despair over being sent away to a white boarding school.


Product Description: Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo's quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Age Level: Young Adult

Throughout World War II, in the conflict fought against Japan, Navajo (Diné) code talkers were a crucial part of the U.S. effort, sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code that used their native language. They braved some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and with their code, they saved countless American lives. Yet their story remained classified for more than twenty years.

Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner (Pathfinders)

Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: Danny Blackgoat is a teenager in Diné (Navajo) country when soldiers burn down his home, kill his sheep and capture his family. During the Long Walk of 1864, Danny is labeled a troublemaker and given the name Fire Eye. Refusing to accept captivity, he is sent to Fort Davis, Texas, a Civil War prisoner outpost. There he battles bullying fellow prisoners, rattlesnakes, and abusive soldiers until he meets Jim Davis. Jim teaches Danny how to hold his anger and starts him on the road to literacy. In a stunning climax, Jim aids Danny in a daring and dangerous escape.

Danny Blackgoat, Rugged Road to Freedom (Pathfinders)

Age Level: Middle Grade

Danny Blackgoat, a Diné (Navajo) teenager, was taken to a Civil War prison camp during the Long Walk of 1864. He escaped in volume one of this series, but in the second installment, he must still face many obstacles in order to rescue his family and find freedom. Whether it is the soldiers and bandits who are chasing him or the dangers of the harsh desert climate, Danny ricochets from one bad situation to the next — yet his bravery doesn't falter and he never loses faith.

Gardens in the Dunes: A Novel

Product Description: Young Indigo is ripped from her tribe, the Sand Lizard people, by white soldiers who destroy her home and family. Placed in a government school to learn the ways of a white child, Indigo is soon adopted by Hattie and her husband, who undertake to transform this complex, spirited girl into a "proper" young lady. Bit by bit, and through a wondrous journey that spans Europe, Brazil, and the Southwest, Indigo bridges the gap between the two forces in her life and teaches her adoptive parents as much as, if not more than, she learns from them.

Her Land, Her Love

The first novel in a sweeping epic of one determined Navajo family’s efforts to persevere during the Long Walk, blends history, romance, conflict, culture, and family in a finely crafted story that is a true work of passion.

Hidden Roots

Age Level: Middle Grade

Hidden Roots tells the story of 11-year-old Sonny, a shy boy whose father's sudden rages are becoming more and more frequent. The love of his fragile mother, the support and protection of his Uncle Louis, and an unexpected friendship with a librarian help Sonny gain the confidence to confront hidden family secrets and discover the truth about his Native American roots, and the people in his family's past who tried to destroy their heritage.

House of Purple Cedar

Age Level: Young Adult

"The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville." Thus begins Rose Goode's story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. It's a world where backwoods spiritualism and Bible-thumping Christianity mix with bad guys; a one-legged woman shop-keeper, her oaf of a husband, herbal potions, and shape-shifting panthers rendering justice. Tim Tingle — a scholar of his nation's language, culture, and spirituality — tells Rose's story of good and evil with understanding and even laugh-out-loud Choctaw humor.

How I Became a Ghost (A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story)

How I Became a Ghost (A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story)
Age Level: Middle Grade

Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, renowned author Tim Tingle tells tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book's opening line, "Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before," the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac's talking dog, Jumper.

Indian No More

girl with brains standing in front of a city and a mountain

Regina Petit's family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. But when the federal government signs a bill into law that says Regina's tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes "Indian no more" overnight -- even though she was given a number by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that counted her as Indian, even though she lives with her tribe and practices tribal customs, and even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations.

Last Child

Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: Rosalie's biggest problem has been the constant tug-of-war between her white half and her Native American half. She even has two names: she is Rosalie to her Scottish father and Last Child to her Mandan mother. When a steamboat carries smallpox into Rosalie's world in 1837, however, the name Last Child takes on a new, tragic significance, and Rosalie must fight her way into adulthood against all odds.

Longwalker's Journey: A Novel of The Chocktaw Trail of Tears

Illustrated by: Tony Meers
Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: In 1831, ten-year-old Minko Ushi is part of the forced removal of his Choctaw people from their homeland in Mississippi to Indian Territory. Minko's father decides to travel ahead by foot, taking Minko and his beloved pony, Black Spot, with him. As he walks hundreds of miles across Arkansas Territory through howling snowstorms, Minko learns that his people are much like his stubborn little pony: They may suffer, but their spirit will never be broken.

Morning Girl

A peaceful, tropical world is the setting for this simple yet rich glimpse into the lives of a young sister and brother. Morning Girl and Star Boy grapple with timeless, universal issues such as experiencing simultaneous anger and love toward family members and the quest to discover the true self. Not until the epilogue do readers discover that the story takes place in 1492 and that the strange-looking visitors Morning Girl welcomes to shore are not as harmless as they may appear.

My Name Is Not Easy

"Luke's Iñupiaq experience of leaving his home near the Arctic Circle in 1960 to journey with his two younger brothers to the Catholic sponsored Sacred Heart School is based in large part on Edwardson's husband's memories of boarding school…Nothing is familiar to Luke and his fellow students; the terrain, the food, the language are strange, and their struggle with feelings of homesickness and alienation is heart-wrenching.

Outcasts of River Falls

Product Description: After the death of her father, Kathryn must go to live with her Aunt Belle in Alberta. But a shock is in store for this well-bred young Toronto lady. Arriving at the town of Hopeful, Kathryn is horrified to learn her new home is a group of shacks called River Falls, a Métis community. When a mysterious stranger is framed for a crime he did not commit, and Aunt Belle becomes involved, Kathryn must use all her resources to prove their innocence — and challenge the deep-seated beliefs of an entire community.

Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery

Illustrated by: Beverly Bringle
Age Level: Middle Grade

"Based on actual events in 1833, Rising Fawn tells the poignant and triumphant story of a young Choctaw girl swept up in the chaos of the Indian Removal to the West. When she is rescued by a soldier and left with a white family in Memphis, Rising Fawn is thrust into a new world away from her people and old way of life. Through the mystery of ceremonial fire, she discovers how to survive without abandoning her heritage.

Secret History of the Cherokees: A Novel

Product Description: The stunning saga of the Cherokees fills these pages with remarkable historic events and larger than life heroes and villains. The authors of this historical novel delve into richly described scenes with such unforgettable characters as Sequoyah, Sam Houston, Rich Joe Vann, the Beloved Woman Nancy Ward, John Ross, Stand Watie, and the outlaw Tom Starr, as well as historic backdrops including the Trail of Tears, the inter-tribal murders that followed in the wilderness of Indian Territory, the American Civil War, and the Cherokee's enslavement of African captives.

Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic (Arctic Moon Magick)

In this adventurous novel set in the ancient Arctic, a wandering Inuit hunter named Kannujaq happens upon a camp in grave peril. The inhabitants of the camp are Tuniit, a race of ancient Inuit ancestors known for their shyness and meekness. The tranquility of this Tuniit camp has been shaken by a group of murderous, pale, bearded strangers who have arrived on a huge boat shaped like a loon.

Spirit of the White Bison

Product Description: The great plains of North America was once home to great herds of bison. The Aboriginal peoples who lived there revered the bison and relied on them for food, clothing, and shelter. Into one of these great herds, Little White Buffalo was born in the 19th century. In this heartfelt story by the author of the classic In Search of April Raintree, Little White Buffalo retells her life — a life that coincides with the devastation of the bison, destroyed by hunters and the coming of the railway.

Sweetgrass Basket

Age Level: Middle Grade

Mattie and Sarah are two Mohawk sisters who are sent to an off-reservation school after the death of their mother. Subject to intimidation and corporal punishment, with little hope of contact with their father, the girls are taught menial tasks to prepare them for life as domestics. How Mattie and Sarah protect their culture, memories of their family life, and their love for each other makes for a powerful, unforgettable historical novel.

The Porcupine Year

Age Level: Middle Grade

The struggle to survive provides the exciting action in this sequel to The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, which takes place in 1852…Omakayas, now 12, feels the anguish of displacement as her family, driven from its beloved Madeline Island by white settlers, endures violent raids in the freezing winter and comes close to starvation in its search for a home. — Booklist

The Storytellers' Club: The Picture-Writing Women of the Arctic

"(T)his novel captures the world of the Inupiaq of Alaska…The book is set in the 1920s, but the tales are from the women's youth, around the late 1800s. The stories range from the everyday — favorite recipes — to legends of giants and spiders that live among the people. They are lessons in history, both because these are women who never learned to read and write, and because they record the history of the Alaskan Indians.

The Winter People

Age Level: Middle Grade

In a Quebec village during the French and Indian War, 14-year-old Saxso, an Abenaki, is caught in a struggle of survival and rescue when his mother and sisters are kidnapped during a massacre raid by the English Rangers…Through Saxso's own words, Bruchac leads readers through the boy's pursuit to save his family. He is also depicted as religious, with beliefs that are a mixture of Abenaki and Christian teachings. An excellent complement to Native American or French and Indian War units with high discussion potential. — School Library Journal

Toronto at Dreamer's Rock & Education is Our Right (Two One-Act Plays)

Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: In these two plays, Drew Hayden Taylor delves into the past and speculates about the future as he examines the dilemmas facing young Native Canadians. "Toronto at Dreamer's Rock" is a moving portrayal of a teenage boy who is torn between the traditions of his people, which he only vaguely understands, and the lure of modern life.

Waterlily (New Edition)

Product Description: When Blue Bird and her grandmother leave their family's camp to gather beans for the long, threatening winter, they inadvertently avoid the horrible fate that befalls the rest of the family. Luckily, the two women are adopted by a nearby Dakota community and are eventually integrated into their kinship circles. Published after Deloria's death, this novel offers a captivating glimpse into the daily life of the nineteenth-century Sioux.

When Thunders Spoke

Illustrated by: Oren Lyons
Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: Norman Two Bull is a modern and savvy fifteen-year-old Sioux who lives on a Dakota reservation with his parents. He is impatient with, if not faintly contemptuous of, the "old ways." Encouraged by his grandfather, Norman makes a perilous climb to the top of a sacred butte, searching for agates where Indian boys had once gone for spirit visions. There, unexpectedly, he finds an ancient relic with the power to make strange things happen — and they do! When Thunders Spoke is a haunting story whose strength often lies in what is not said.