Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

Cover art by Nicole Neidhardt; cover design by Molly Fehr

ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum, 2021). Ages 8-up. Also published by HarperCollins Canada.

A collection of intersecting stories and poems set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

Read an excerpt of ANCESTOR APPROVED from Heartdrum/HarperChildren’s, brochure pages 24-43.

Featured contributors: Joseph Bruchac, Art Coulson, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Carole Lindstrom, Rebecca Roanhorse, David A. Robertson, Andrea L. Rogers, Kim Rogers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Monique Gray Smith, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, Erika T. Wurth, and Brian Young.

Audio Edition Voice Actors: Kenny RamosDeLanna Studi (HarperAudio, 2021):

Published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books.


Depending on the title, Cynthia’s books may be found from Native bookstores like Birchbark Books and Native Arts and Red Planet Books and Comics, her local independent BookPeople in Austin, other terrific Texas bookstores like Blue Willow Bookshop and Brazos Bookstore, retail sites supporting indie bookstores like BookShop (Affiliate), IndieBound and (audio books), brick-and-mortar chains like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, and online retailer (Author Central).

A portion of the royalties will be donated to the Native Fund at We Need Diverse Books.

Awards and Honors


“With exceptionally strong writing throughout, and appended with glossary, author notes, and acknowledgements, this makes an appealing choice for those just learning about contemporary Indigenous life as well as readers well-versed with the powwow circuit.” —Booklist, starred review

“A groundbreaking Indigenous anthology for young people. Readers can join the fun in this collection of 18 contemporary stories and poems about loving families from various parts of the U.S. and Canada who travel to meet, dance, sing, socialize, and honor Native traditions at an intertribal powwow.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “…a wonderful introduction to the included authors’ work and a persuasive encouragement to seek out more Indigenous stories.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “…this uplifting assembly affirms the vitality of Indigenous life today and offers accessible situations and characters to all young readers.” —Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness, starred review

“…like being wrapped in a family hug. While telling stories of the many wonderful Native Nations, it demonstrates the important role family plays. Through each story runs the beauty, resilience, and kindness of Native culture. Each author shares a story that honors their background and gives a glimpse into the wonderful world of the powwow.” —Sally Sue Lavigne, The Storybook Shoppe, Bluffton, SC for Indiebound

“[Kenny] Ramos narrates the boys’ stories in a lively and youthful voice, capturing their nerves and excitement over joining the festivities. [DeLanna] Studi expresses the energy and emotions of the girls and is especially skilled at portraying older loved ones. Both smoothly narrate words in multiple Indigenous languages.” —AudioFile

“…a thoughtful and sometimes funny celebration of a celebration, and whether kids are veteran powwow-goers or new to the experience, they’ll long for the convivial warmth of the festivities.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“All libraries should make room on their shelves for this collection of Native-voiced stories.” —School Library Journal

“This anthology offers readers a variety of images of Native children while also introducing them to vocabulary from several different Indigenous languages, compiled in an appended glossary. According to Rogers’s poem: “A powwow is / friends and family / …a way to remember those / who’ve passed on / …a place for belly-laughing / …healing / and soul-soothing,” and this volume reflects all of those elements and more.” —Horn Book Magazine

“Much of American children’s literature has for too long relegated Indigenous people and their stories to the category of historical fiction…shines a long overdue spotlight on a joyful aspect of Native life in America today.” —BookPage

“The collection’s strength is the rich variety of contemporary Indigenous experience, families and culture it portrays.” —Toronto Star

“What made them especially poignant is how they are focused on Indigenous joy above all else. These stories certainly talk about pain and intergenerational trauma, but their focus always comes back to the sense of friendship, family, and community that comes fiercely alive when Native peoples get the chance to gather.” —Pine Reads Review

Cover Thoughts

Cover Reveal: ANCESTOR APPROVED by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. PEEK: “The story behind Ancestor Approved is truly one of community and collaboration, much like the intertribal powwow reflected in the book…Nicole Niedhardt’s gorgeous, dynamic cover draws its inspiration from Jessie, the protagonist of Kim Rogers’s short story, ‘Flying Together.'”

Author Insights

“The contributors joined efforts—by text message, email, and an online message board—to create this engaging collection of interconnected stories, poems, and visual artwork centered on a two-day event, including the characters’ preparations and journeys home.”

Build Your Stack: Unapologetically Me! Characters Who Are Confidently, Courageously, and Proudly Themselves by Aliza Werner from NCTE. PEEK: “To live out loud and love the pieces of yourself is not without struggle. It’s the human way. From our first breath on our first day, we are born into boxes, stickered with labels, and tethered to constructs that confine and constrain. Let’s dream. What if we waited for each new human to tell us who they were before we decided for them?”

Authors Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith and Kim Rogers on ANCESTOR APPROVED from Cynsations. PEEK from Kim: “When editor Rosemary Brosnan told me that Jessie would be featured on the cover, I was shocked and delighted. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a Wichita character illustrated anywhere.”

A Book Invites Young Readers to the Powwow by Laura Simeon from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “It’s important that we get to know characters whom we can see as friends and whom we can identify with as representative of shared parts of ourselves.”

Episode 436 (Podcast): Curating a Middle Grade Anthology of Intertribal Stories: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Gabriela Pereira from diyMFA Radio. PEEK: “In this episode, Cynthia and I discuss… What elements are important to include when writing specifically for Middle Graders and how MG is distinct from YA. Why it’s important to create an inclusive feeling  of a ‘we’ not ‘me’ book within diverse literature.”

Heartdrum Authors Panel Discussion featuring Christine Day, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Brian Young moderated by Celeste Trimble for Tucson Festival of Books. CYN NOTE: Video presentation.


Looking for companion books for ANCESTOR APPROVED? Consider these two children’s titles, which relate to stories in the collection.

Two of the characters, Ray Halfmoon and his grandfather, from “Between the Lines” by Cynthia Leitich Smith were first introduced in INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002)(Heartdrum, 2021).

POWWOW DAY, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Charlesbridge, 2022) takes place before Traci’s short story, “Secrets and Surprises,” and features characters from the same family.

Media Buzz
By Susan Montgomery Parade leaders at the opening of the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow March 17, 2012 in Ann Arbor, MI.

8 of the Best Indigenous Middle Grade Novels by Ashlie Swicker from Book Riot.

ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS from Wonder World Book Café podcast. PEEK: “In this middle grade book, readers will relish a collection of 18 short stories and poems all from different Native authors. Each piece is written from the author’s own lived experiences and imagination.”

16 Books for National Native American Heritage Month from K-12 Talk at W.W. Norton & Co. Honored to spot a few of my books and Heartdrum titles in such lovely company.

Building Bridges: Tween Books Exploring Anti-Racism from Frederick County Public Libraries.

Summer Round Up of Recommended Early and Middle Grade Reads by Arpita Ghosal and Sayak S-G from SesayArts Magazine. PEEK: “an energetic and engrossing collection that deserves a place on home and classroom bookshelves. It will invite re-readings and inspire readers to look for the work of these authors as well as more Indigenous stories.”

These 21 Realistic Books Offer Teaching Insights by Kasey Short from MiddleWeb.

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Month from CBC Radio Canada.

Top Ten Short Story Anthologies by Kasey Short from Nerdy Book Club. PEEK: “These approachable books provide an opportunity for teens to explore various authors and writing styles and choose if they want to read one, a few, or all the short stories.”

Build Your Stack: Unapologetically Me! Characters Who Are Confidently, Courageously, and Proudly Themselves by Aliza Werner from NCTE. PEEK: “To live out loud and love the pieces of yourself is not without struggle.”

First Contenders: The Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Reading List…So Far by Steven Engelfried from School Library Journal.

The Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Spring 2021 from Publishers Weekly. PEEK: “Using the framework of an intertribal powwow and detailing aspects of Native culture alongside universal themes, 17 Indigenous authors craft stories… as a ‘sampling of the many rising Indigenous voices who are changing children’s literature for the better.'”

Native Literature for Kids and Teens from BookRiot. PEEK: “…set during the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The collection includes contributions from Eric Gansworth, Kim Rogers, Tim Tingle, Monique Gray Smith, and more.”

Book Review: Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Ro Menendez at MG Book Village. Peek: “It is uncommon to find plots in middle grade novels where kids are seen by the adults in their family and community as individuals worthy of respect.  This respect was shown by action in this anthology: the adults in these stories not only validated by not only listening to what kids had to say but also by taking their feelings into consideration when it was time to act.”

Coming Soon: 14 Diverse Books That Make Us Excited for 2021 from Colorful Pages. PEEK: “In a high school gym full of color and song, people dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. Young protagonists will meet relatives from faraway, mysterious strangers, and sometimes one another (plus one scrappy rez dog). They are the heroes of their own stories.”

Celebrating Heartdrum Launch from the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. PEEK: “We’re talking about a collection wherein the hero of one story might appear as a secondary character in another one. Each can stand alone, but in reading them all, kids will glean added layers of resonance.”

Incredible Middle Grade Book Releases To Look Out For In 2021 from The Nerd Daily. PEEK: “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.”

2021 Preview: Most Anticipated Children’s Books from BookPage. PEEK: “…this anthology edited by the imprint’s co-founder, children’s author Cynthia Leitich Smith… features contributions from the likes of Rebecca Roanhorse, Joseph Bruchac, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth and more.”

Books for a New Year & New You from ColorLines. PEEK: “‘Ancestor Approved’, edited by author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), is an anthology of children’s stories from across Nations and generations…”

New Kids’ and YA Books: Week of February 8, 2021 from Publishers Weekly. PEEK: “Using the framework of an intertribal powwow, 17 Indigenous authors craft stories that explore themes such as ethnic identity and ancestry. The middle grade volume earned a starred review from PW.”

Indigenous Peoples Booklist from The Children’s Book Council. PEEK: “The CBC has gathered Indigenous & Native Peoples titles from books submitted to the CBC for our Goodreads Diversity booklist to create a great starting point to read more diversely.”

Add These February Book Releases To Your Kids’ Must-Read List from The Toy Insider. PEEK: “…intersecting stories by both new and veteran Native writers, set at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. …stories of hope, joy, and resilience that showcase the strength of Indigenous communities and Native pride.”

19 Anticipated Books That Have Finally Been Released For You To Read from BuzzFeed. PEEK: “Some of the best authors today (including Rebecca Roanhorse, Joseph Bruchac, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, and Leitich Smith herself) provide stories, which are an absolute joy to read.”

Educational Resources

In addition to elementary and secondary schools, ANCESTOR APPROVED is widely taught in higher education, including Central Michigan University, Greenville College, Illinois State University, Minnesota State University (Mankato), The University of Montana, Trinity Christian College, University of Arizona, and University of Central Oklahoma.

Contributor Dawn Quigley does a reading of “Joey Reads the Sky” for World Read-Aloud Day 2021. Advance to 43 minutes, 46 seconds or watch the whole group (they’re amazing!).

Let’s Talk! With Cynthia Leitich Smith by Sophia Hou from Time for Kids.

5 Indigenous People You Should Teach Your Kids About from Parents Together.

Indian Education for All: Your Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Powwows by Dr. Murton McCluskey from Montana Office of Public Instruction. PEEK: “A powwow is a gathering where Native American dancing, singing and celebration take place. There are several different powwows that take place throughout the country; however, this booklet will talk about powwows in general and, more specifically, about powwows along the northern tier of the United States.”

How to Have a Powwow in a Pandemic by S.I. Rosenbaum and Arigon Starr from The Nib.

How to Make Pucker Toe Moccasins from the Thomas Gilcrease Museum of American History and Art.

Read Across America: ANCESTOR APPROVED Questions for Discussion or Reflective Writing from the National Education Association. PEEK: “Sharing ANCESTOR APPROVED exposes students to multiple Native tribes and can help build their understanding that Native American does not refer to one group of people but the people who make up the more than 500 Native Nations and active thriving cultures in the United States.”

ANCESTOR APPROVED: a recommendation from Teaching Social Justice with Children’s Books. PEEK: “Universally relatable emotions are brought to life in stories that carry readers all the way to Michigan to experience a powwow themselves.”

Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day with Teaching Ideas for ANCESTOR APPROVED from Mary Ann Cappiello from School Library Journal. Peek: “One of the marvels of this collection is that the stories are intersected, not separate. Seemingly minor characters from one story are the protagonists of other stories. Map the relationships between the various characters as they meet one another in different stories. Who is related to whom? Which characters get to know one another?”

Heartdrum Educator Guide by Andrea Page (Lakota) from HarperCollins

SEE ALSO: Literary Analysis Questions and Teaching Guide for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Between The Lines,” created by Lyn Fairchild Hawks at Success Story.

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Native American Children’s and Young Adult Books from CYALR.

Diversifying Your Classroom Books Collection? Avoid These 7 Pitfalls from Kara Newhouse from KQED. PEEK: “…seven pitfalls to avoid when deciding what to leave in and out, accompanied by more than 50 title recommendations based on conversations in this piece to help kickstart the journey.”

Feb. 2021| 9780062869944/0062869949 | Heartdrum | Hardcover | MG Anthology | 272 Pages | Ages 8-up