Check out some of the best Indigenous Peoples Day books for kids! Rather than teach Columbus Day, teach more about the Indigenous people and their struggles and their triumphs. Picture books are a great way to teach about almost any topic. These picture books for Indigenous Peoples Day are a great way to make this day more respectful to all native cultures.
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Check out the books:
Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martínez-Neal
This is the newest book on the list, and it immediately went straight to the top! The author Juana Martinez-Neal’s pedigree speaks for itself: Caldecott Honor, Pura Belpre Medal, Sibert Medal. With this book, though, she could finally claim the Caldecott Medal. Just looking at the cover you can see her unique style, but also note the handmade paper used to create the illustrations was with banana bark pulp.
Zonia is an Asháninka girl who lives with her family in the rainforest of Peru. Each morning, the forest calls her and teaches her. She greets each animal family she meets and takes the time to learn from them. This book reminds me of the books Encounter by Jane Yolen and We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom in that it focuses on Indigenous people and how the outside world affects them. So often, rainforest books focus on the impact of humans on wildlife and vegetation but forget about the native people who have lived in the rainforest for generations. This book is not sad, though. It’s bright and upbeat, inspiring children to stand up for their communities.
Astounding Details and Easter Eggs
What I love about Martinez-Neal is how intentional she is with almost every detail in her story. As mentioned previously, the illustrations were done on paper handmade from materials from the rainforest. The name of the protagonist Zonia is also a nod to the Spanish name for the Amazon rainforest “AmaZONIA.” A detail that many non-bilingual folks may not notice. The back material explains that Zonia was part of the Asháninka people of Peru and provides information about them as well as a translation of the book into the Asháninka language. It also explains the name of each animal Zonia encountered during her day in the rainforest.
This is a must-have book to add to any elementary school library and certainly for every primary grade classroom library. Whether you study the rainforest or are looking for a book to study for Earth Day, this book is a must-read. Even more so because this book is also available in Spanish titled La selva de Zonia.
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We Are Still Here! by Traci Sorell
Twelve Native American kids present historical and contemporary laws, policies, struggles, and victories in Native life, each with a powerful refrain: We are still here!
Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of relevant and ongoing. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native American people’s past, present, and future. Precise, lyrical writing presents topics including: forced assimilation (such as boarding schools), land allotment and Native tribal reorganization, termination (the US government not recognizing tribes as nations), Native urban relocation (from reservations), self-determination (tribal self-empowerment), Native civil rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), religious freedom, economic development (including casino development), Native language revival efforts, cultural persistence, and nationhood.
Encounter by Jane Yolen
When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492, he encountered the Taino Indians. Told from a young Taino boy’s point of view, this is a story of how the boy tried to warn his people against welcoming the strangers, who seemed more interested in golden ornaments than friendship. Later, the boy, now an old man, looks back at the destruction of his people and their culture by the colonizers.
We Are Water Protectors
Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption. An excellent story written by Native American author Carole Lindstrom in a very lyrical way.
This book won all of the awards and honors in 2019. Seriously, check the Amazon page for this book. If they put the medals on the cover, you wouldn’t see any of Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations. Told in lively and powerful verse by debut author Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family about fry bread.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
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. This book was written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. This look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.
When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy (her dog) attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers in their jingle dresses and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.
Thunder Boy Jr.
Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name…one that’s all his own. Dad’s name is big Thunder, but Little Thunder doesn’t want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.
But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name…Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.
This book does not come with an Author’s Note, but my lesson plan includes information from an interview with author Sherman Alexie about Native American naming ceremonies. DO NOT read this book and have your students choose their own Native American name.
Best Indigenous Peoples Day Books for Kids
Did I miss any great children’s books for Indigenous Peoples Day? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them! I’m always looking for new great picture books!