Intro: Native Children’s and Young Adult Books

Interior art from Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Interior art from JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

Mvto for your interest in Native books for young readers! Please be sure to prioritize books by Native/First Nations authors and illustrators as well as recently published titles.

The selection of children’s and young adult books with Native characters and themes has improved dramatically since I was a kid. We have a lot more to pick from than the largely inaccurate biographies of Sacagewea and Amonute (Pocahontas), far better stories than the stereotyped tales of “savagery” on the prairie.

Although we still need much more representation, this is a time for hope and celebration!

A rising generation of Indigenous writers and illustrators is creating respectful, authentic, and entertaining books that reflect their kids and communities to young readers.

Display of Native children’s-YA titles at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont. Photo by Cory McCarthy; used with permission.

How To Help

  • Vote for more quality Native/First Nations children’s-YA books by purchasing them or checking them out of your local library.
  • Request that your library order Native/First Nations books that aren’t available.
  • Donate Indigenous books for young readers to teachers for their classroom libraries.
  • Ensure that the personal libraries of children and teens include quality Indigenous books (and make sure they have access to others at their libraries).
  • Educate yourself and your children and teens about today’s Native people and tribal Nations.
  • Advocate for accurate, integrated representation of Native peoples, contemporary issues, and history in school curriculum (through books, Native speakers, films, and more).
  • Encourage and support Native storytellers, authors, and illustrators.
  • Talk to your local booksellers about stocking and promoting Indigenous-created children’s-YA books.
  • Honor our commitment to the education of Native children and teens.
  • Honor our commitment to the education of all children and teens about Indigenous peoples and tribal Nations.
  • Read and share books by Native authors and illustrators as well as related teacher/librarian resources.

A Reflection

Reading Louise Erdrich to My Son by Rachel Cloues from Rethinking Schools. Peek: “[G]rowing awareness and intolerance of institutionalized racism…along with the continued publication of more diverse perspectives in books for both children and adults…encourage all of us to think more critically. The stories we choose to tell children have great power to frame their understanding not only of history, but also of our present times.”

Visit Indigenous Reads Rising, regularly updated by We Need Diverse Books.