When we say “contemporary” in children’s-YA literature, we usually mean realistic fiction. We’ve very recently been blessed with an uptick in speculative fiction and fantastical realism in Native books for young readers, so you won’t find a separate bibliography for them but a few are sprinkled in. Please seek out and support both those titles and books reflecting more day-to-day modern life.
This bibliography is drawn from books published between 1995 and 2021. While some award-winners and bestsellers are included, part of the goal is to feature underappreciated gems. SEE ALSO Ongoing Coverage of Native Books at Cynsations, Home and Classroom Teaching: Native American Children’s Teens’ Books & Resources, and Native American Children’s and Young Adult Book Bibliographies and Educator Resources.
APPLE IN THE MIDDLE by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe)(North Dakota University Press, 2018). Fifteen-year-old Apple Starkington struggles to find how she belongs at school and at home. It isn’t until Apple spends the summer with her grandparents on the Turtle Mountain Reservation that she starts to connect to her family and her culture. By doing so, she finds acceptance and healing. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Stephani Eaton. More on this title from Cynsations.
THE BARREN GROUNDS by David A. Robertson (The Misewa Saga, #1)(Puffin, 2020). Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Disconnected from their culture and each other, they struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them. Ages 10 – up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
DREAMING IN INDIAN: CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN VOICES edited by Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, 2014). Divided into four sections, ‘Roots,’ ‘Battles,’ ‘Medicines,’ and ‘Dreamcatchers,’ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media. Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, DREAMING IN INDIAN refuses to shy away from difficult topics. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
EAGLE SONG by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) with pictures by Dan Andreasen (Dial, 1997). Danny Bigtree encounters racism when he moves from the Mohawk reservation to the city. However, Danny is inspired by the Iroquois hero Aionwahta and by his own father to choose peace. Ages 8-up.
ELATSOE by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache), illustrated by Rovina Cai (Levine Querido, 2020). Imagine an America very similar to our own, but shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Seventeen-year-old Elatsoe (“Ellie” for short) lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect façade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT INDIANS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK: YOUNG READERS EDITION by Anton Treuer (Ojibwe) (Levine Querido, 2021) Question and answer-style non-fiction book exploring a wide variety of topics for both Native and non-Native young readers. Ages 12-up.
FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)(Henry Holt, 2021). After witnessing a shocking murder, Daunis Fontaine agrees to go undercover for the FBI to root out the corruption in her community. The search for truth is more complicated than she imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. Ages 14-up. Look for the Netflix adaptation.
HEALER OF THE WATER MONSTER by Brian Young (Navajo), cover by Shonto Begay (Navajo)(Heartdrum, 2021). Brian Young’s debut novel, inspired by Navajo beliefs, features a seemingly ordinary Navajo boy who must save the life of a Water Monster—and help his uncle suffering from addiction—by discovering his own bravery and boundless joy. Ages 8-up.
HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee)(Candlewick, 2018). The story of two teen journalists, covering the controversy around the diverse casting of their high school musical. It’s also a romance between those two teens, a Native girl and Arab-American boy, trying to figure out themselves, each other and a world that often doesn’t make sense. Ages 14-up.
THE HEART OF A CHIEF by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)(Dial, 1998). Chris is an eleven-year-old Penacook (Abenaki) boy, living on a fictional reservation in New Hampshire. He is facing a new school, a possible new casino on a tribal island as well as his father’s alcoholism and the issue of Indian sports mascots. Ages 8-up.
I CAN MAKE THIS PROMISE by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), cover art by Michaela Goade (Tlingit, Kiks.ádi clan, Steel House)(HarperCollins, 2018)(Heartdrum, 2020). Young Edie, who’s mother was adopted by a white couple, learns more about her family history and connects with her Native heritage. Ages 8-up. More on this title from Cynsations.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE by Joseph Marshall III (Lakota), illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk (Lakota)(Abrams, 2015). Jimmy McClean, a Lakota boy, takes a journey with his grandfather in which he learns ore about their heritage, especially the story of Tasunke Witko (Crazy Horse). Ages 8-up.
JO JO MAKOONS: THE USED-TO-BE BEST FRIEND by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe), illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqiyik)(Heartdrum, 2021). The first chapter book series about a spunky Ojibwe girl who loves who she is, written by American Indian Youth Literature Honor-winning author Dawn Quigley. Ages 6-up.
#NOTYOURPRINCESS: VOICES OF NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN by Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick, 2017). In powerful voices that speak across the ages, Indigenous women offer poems, essays, interviews and art that reflect their experiences. Ages 12-up.
RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), cover by Natasha Donovan (Métis)(HarperCollins, 2001)(Heartdrum, 2021). Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his. It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now, Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white Kansas community, Rain decides to face the world again—at least through the lens of a camera. Ages 10-up.
THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day (Upper Skagit) (Heartdrum, 2021). Ballerina Maisie Cannon works to rebuild her strength after a knee injury as she struggles to find her joy and where she fits in her blended family. Ages 8-up.
SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), cover by Floyd Cooper (Muscogee )(Heartdrum, 2021). Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship? Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children. A boy who calls himself Peter Pan. Ages 8-up.
SKELETON MAN by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)(HarperCollins, 2001). Molly’s parents are gone, vanished. She needs to find answers and a way to go on. But Molly has been taught well of her Mohawk traditions. She understands the importance of dreams. She knows to take them seriously. Ages 10-up. Look for more books in the series.
SUPER INDIAN by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo)(Wacky Productions, 2012). Hubert Logan was an ordinary Reservation boy until he ate tainted commodity cheese infused with Rezium, a secret government food enrichment additive. Known as Super Indian, Hubert fights evil forces who would overtake the Reservation’s resources and population. Assisted by his trusty sidekicks Mega Bear and Diogi, they fight crime the way they know how—with strength, smarts and humor. Ages 12-up. More on this title from Cynsations. Compiled from promotional materials.
SURVIVING THE CITY, VOL. 1 by Tasha Spillet (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis)(Portage and Main, 2018). Graphic novel about Native teens tells a story of kinship, resilience, cultural resurgence, and the anguish of a missing loved one. Ages 12-up. SEE ALSO SURVIVING THE CITY, VOL. 2: FROM THE ROOTS UP by Tasha Spillet (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis)(Portage and Main, 2020). Also known as the DEBWE series.
THE WINDOW by Michael Dorris (Modoc)(Hyperion, 1997). This story features an eleven-year-old Rayona Taylor, a character featured in two of Dorris’ novels for adults, A YELLOW RAFT IN BLUE WATER, and CLOUD CHAMBER. Ages 8-up. The novel is probably best appreciated by readers of all three works; however, THE WINDOW is a step toward growing into the other two.