Music and Dance: American Indian Heritage

When she writes of her childhood, America's first prima ballerina Maria Tallchief says, "I was born with music that flowed through my body as naturally as blood in my veins." It's a wonderful image to keep in mind as you read about the musicians and dancers who keep their own traditions alive and who draw inspiration from their ancestors, as Tallchief did.

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
Age Level: Middle Grade

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.

Bowwow Powwow

Illustration of dog in a pickup truck
Illustrated by: Jonathan Thunder
Age Level: 3-6

Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. Windy can tell such stories herself–about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything.


Age Level: Middle Grade

This photo essay takes readers on a visit to a powwow but does so from an insider's perspective. Braine packs a lot of information into this slim volume, including a preface in which she gives an excellent personal talk on why she loves powwows and what they mean to many American Indian people today. She goes on to explain how they started, when and where they are held, and what one can expect to see there. — School Library Journal (We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today)

Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle

Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle
Illustrated by: Kimberley McKay
Age Level: 6-9

"Young Metisse may think she has two left feet when it comes to dancing, but her hands know how to coax beautiful music from a fiddle. If only everyone would understand. Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle is a funny but feeling story of a girl who has to challenge tradition to prove that she can fiddle with the best. Carole Lindstrom's thoughtful story is warmed and brightened by Kimberley McKay's vivid illustrations." — McNally Robinson

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"

Lakota Hoop Dancer

Kevin Locke, a member of the Lakota nation who lives on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota, performs the hoop dance all over the world. He learned the intricate, demanding dance as a young man, and for him the dance is one way to keep Lakota traditions alive. Readers will learn where Locke lives, how he makes his costumes and his hoops, and why the hoop is an important symbol to many American Indians. — Booklist

Native Musicians: In the Groove

Product Description: From the melodic sounds of a classical guitar or the wailing of an electric guitar to country music and punk rock, these musicians deliver. They offer a wide selection of musical styles as diverse as the music industry itself. Read about the lives of these outstanding performers who represent the fresh new sounds from Native Americans and Canadians today. Featured musicians and groups include flutist Mary Youngblood, Canadian country recording artist Shane Yellowbird, Four Rivers Drum, and Crystal Shawanda.

Niimiwin: Everyone Dance

Age Level: 3-6

Join the children of Fond du Lac Head Start as they celebrate the Ojibwe culture through the ancient tradition of the Powwow. This book gives the reader a look at the Powwow from preparation through to the Grand Entry, the dancing, the feast and an invitation to Native and non-Native alike to "see you at the next year's Powwow." — Birchbark Books

Pepere Played the Fiddle

Age Level: 6-9

Youngest readers and listeners are invited to this 1940s-era house party of fiddling, spoon-playing, feet-tapping and dancing. In English with Michif words sprinkled throughout, Pepere Played the Fiddle is a celebration of Métis life and culture. — Oyate

Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life

Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life
Illustrated by: Cheryl Walsh Bellville
Age Level: Middle Grade

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.

Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story

Illustrated by: Adam Gustavson
Age Level: Middle Grade

Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is known mainly for his central role in the musical group The Band. But how did he become one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time? Written by his son, Sebastian, this is the story of a rock-and-roll legend's journey through music, beginning with the songs and stories he learned from his mother's family as a child on a Six Nations reservation north of Toronto.

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)

Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina

Illustrated by: True Kelley
Age Level: 6-9

Maria Tallchief shares the story of her childhood and path to becoming America's first prima ballerina. Growing up on the Osage Indian reservation, Maria was a gifted pianist and dancer, but at the age of twelve, her father told her that she must choose between dance and music. Maria chose ballet, changing the course of her life and the face of classical ballet in America.

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 Drum Calls Softly

Illustrated by: Jim Poitras
Age Level: 0-3
Language: Cree, English

An elegant addition to any personal, academic, or community library Native American Studies collection, The Drum Calls Softly is an impressively presented picturebook co-authored by David Bouchard and Shelley Willier and superbly illustrated with beautiful paintings by Jim Poitras. The theme drawn from the drumming ceremonies of the Northern Cree and enhanced with the inclusion of an audio CD featuring singing and drumming by Cree performers. The lyrical text is bilingual and features both the original Cree and an English language translation.

We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Cherokee community celebration
Illustrated by: Frané Lessac
Language: Cherokee

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this award-winning look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.