25 Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and More with Indigenous Protagonists for Young Readers Of All Ages

Since 1990, November has been designated National Native American Heritage Month in the U.S. Share these titles featuring Indigenous characters with young children, tweens, and teens this month and all year.

Since 1990, November has been designated National Native American Heritage Month in the U.S. Share these titles featuring Indigenous characters with young children, tweens, and teens this month and all year.



Picture Books 

Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome by Nancy Cooper. illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. Owlkids. ISBN 9781771475150. 
K-Gr 3–With a variety of Indigenous translators providing the correct tribal word for beaver (Amik is Anishinaabe, Amisk is Cree, Gopit is Mi’kmaq, Amicos is Algonquin, etc.), this story is about Amik and her little sister Nishiime, who are welcoming their beaver cousins from all over the country to visit. VERDICT Crayon bright and full of small lessons of hospitality, vocabulary, and adventure, this sweet story belongs on family shelves as well as among Indigenous collections.

Dancing With Our Ancestors by Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson. illus. by Janine Gibbons. Highwater Pr. ISBN 9781774920244. 
Gr 1-4–An unnamed narrator takes readers to a Haida potlatch, learning that this is a way for this Indigenous community to celebrate their heritage. VERDICT The message may not translate to the preschool crowd and will require further conversation about death, but this book will find a ready home in public library and elementary school library shelves in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, and anywhere looking to expand picture book knowledge of Indigenous cultures.

Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry & Alexis Bunten. illus. by Garry Meeches Sr. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781623542900. 
K-Gr 4–This picture book features a contemporary Wampanoag grandmother and her grandchildren. N8hkumuhs shares the story of the Three Sisters—Corn, Beans, and Squash—and the first Thanksgiving, known as “Keepunumuk” by the Wampanoag people. VERDICT A good choice for libraries striving to share Indigenous perspectives.

 Remember by Joy Harjo. illus. by Michaela Goade. Random House ­Studio. ISBN 9780593484845. 
PreS-Gr 3–Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation and the U.S. Poet Laureate, urges young readers to remember that they are of the earth, both indebted to and intertwined with the natural world. In an economy of perfectly chosen words, Harjo conveys the ancient Indigenous reverence for nature and the passage of time. VERDICT A significant work of children’s literature, this paean to nature and Indigenous culture belongs in every school and public library collection for years to come.

 The Secret Pocket by Peggy Janicki. illus. by Carrielynn Victor. Orca. ISBN 9781459833722. 
Gr 1-3–The author describes her mother’s experiences at a residential school for Indigenous children in Canada and how she used skills learned from her family to survive. Bare walls, wooden floors, and dull uniforms reflect the bleak circumstances the children are trapped in during the school year, while the time at home is shown in green, gold, pink, and red. VERDICT An age-appropriate telling by an Indigenous creative team of a tragic historical period.

 My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom. illus. by Steph Littlebird. Abrams. ISBN 9781419759437. 
K-Gr 4–“I can’t wait for my hair to grow” is the powerful opening to this book, which lays groundwork for this compelling story highlighting not only the significance of hair to Indigenous peoples, but also memory, generational trauma, and the power of healing. VERDICT This is an emotionally searing story infused with important historical and cultural information on the significance of hair to Indigenous cultures. Highly recommended for all library collections.

[Read: Native Narratives: Native Authors on Recent Gains in Children’s Publishing]

 When the Stars Came Home by Brittany Luby. illus. by Natasha Donovan. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316592499. 
PreS-Gr 3–A young boy, Ojiig, leaves his home to move to the city with his parents but struggles with all that he has left behind. Missing his grandparents and the more traditional way of life that grounded him in nature, particularly in the sky and stars, Ojiig and his family search for a way to bring the stars to his city life. Eventually, the resolution is found in the creation of a star blanket. VERDICT The solution does not come easily, and therefore resonates. Highly recommended.

A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers. illus. by Jonathan Nelson. HarperCollins/Heartdrum. ISBN 9780063044555. 
PreS-Gr 3–This is a letter to Bob, a family car, from a girl who feels that the car is part of her family, tying together events from their family history. She talks about seminal events in her family’s time line. The outings are common enough to help readers make connections to Katie as well as the family trips and gatherings, but specific enough so that modern Indigenous culture is allowed to shine through. VERDICT This would be a good choice for libraries needing mentor texts on family history or books showcasing modern Indigenous culture.

 Forever Our Home/kâkikê kîkinaw (Bilingual edition) by Tonya Simpson. illus. by Carla Joseph. Orca. ISBN 9781459837584. BL. 
PreS-K–Simpson’s debut picture book, written in both English and Plains Cree, is a tribute to her homeland in the prairies and plains. Adapted from a lullaby she wrote for her newborn son, the lyrical text highlights the wildlife of the area while affirming her family’s ancestral place in the land. VERDICT Essential for most collections, and with its wildlife-centric art, it’s also a perfect read-aloud for Earth Day.

 Powwow Day by Traci Sorell. illus. by Madelyn Goodnight. ­Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781580899482. 
PreS-Gr 3–Powwow Day has arrived but River is recovering from an illness and unable to participate in the pageantry and tradition of the day. Her family and friends help River reach the realization that they are dancing for their community, traditions, healing, and most importantly, for her. VERDICT A tender and inspiring view of Indigenous traditions and how celebrating them can lead to healing and redemption.

 Finding My Dance by Ria Thundercloud. illus. by Kalila J. Fuller. Penguin Workshop. ISBN 9780593093894. 
Gr 3-5–The artist known as “Beautiful Thunder Woman” chronicles her career, beginning with a jingle dress her mother made for her. She traveled across the country with her family dancing the “Pow Wow Trail.” Beautiful Thunder Woman explored other forms of dance, but found “classical dance is rigid and structured, while [her] traditional dance is more grounded and expressive.” VERDICT A warmly illustrated memoir of dance and culture, this will have broad appeal about using art for expression and to overcome difficulties.

 Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu & others. illus. by Daniel Sousa. Penguin/Kokila. ISBN 9780593530061. 
Gr 3-5Kapaemahu, a reference to the four healing stones found on Waikiki Beach, is a Hawaiian legend told through the eyes of its spiritual natives. The story’s opening pages highlight the journey that four Tahitians took to settle in Ulukou on Waikiki. Each of the four leaders—Kapaemahu, Kapuni, Kinohi, and Kahaloa—possessed a special healing power to help the island’s inhabitants. VERDICT This unique offering serves as a fine read-aloud in conjunction with a history lesson on Hawaii, its people, their language, and the colonization that occurred.



Transitional Books (Early Readers & Chapter Books)

Who Will Win? by Arihhonni David. illus. by author. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823449484. 
PreS-Gr 1–Written by a member of the Mohawk Nation, this beginning reader opens with a Native youth asking an elder to tell a story. What follows, based on a Native American tale, features a turtle and a bear racing across a stretch of ice. VERDICT This clever tale should find a place in most collections, especially given the lack of Indigenous voices and representation in the beginning reader format.

Snoozing Sun: Spirit Rangers by JohnTom Knight. Random. ISBN 9780593571033. 
K-Gr 2–A book based on a groundbreaking Netflix series. The Spirit Rangers are the spirit animal forms of three children: Kodi, Summer, and Eddy, who are Junior Park Rangers at Spirit Park. They transform into a grizzly bear cub, a red-tailed hawk, and a turtle, respectively, to help the park when there is trouble. VERDICT An early reader that catches young readers’ attention and becomes a doorway to legendary stories from marginalized communities.

Tâpwê and the Magic Hat by Buffy Sainte-Marie. illus. by Buffy Sainte-Marie & Michelle Alynn Clement. Greystone. ISBN 9781771645461. 
Gr 2-4–When Tâpwê, a young Cree boy, goes to stay with extended family on the other side of the reserve, his kohkom (grandmother) gives him a special gift: a hat made of feathers and woven porcupine quills with three bluebirds and three grass snakes living on top. She also offers a warning: Watch out for tricksters! VERDICT This episodic tale of a Cree boy and a trickster rabbit features interesting characters and a strong sense of place. A solid read-aloud choice for a general unit on tricksters.



Middle Grade

Chasing Bigfoot by Art Coulson. illus. by Frank Buffalo Hyde. Reycraft. ISBN 9781478875482. 
Gr 5 Up–Cherokee Nation middle schooler Maurice “Chooch” Tenkiller wakes up gagged and tied to a chair with a cloth over his head in a dank, smelly basement. He doesn’t know what happened or where he is. VERDICT An appealing addition to the growing body of middle grade fiction by and about Indigenous peoples.

We Still Belong by Christine Day. HarperCollins/Heartdrum. ISBN 9780063064560. 
Gr 5 Up–Wesley Wilder, whose family are members of the Upper Skagit Tribe, is about to have a big day. Not only is it Indigenous People’s Day, but her poem celebrating the occasion has been published in the school newspaper and will be discussed in her seventh grade English class. VERDICT A creative peek into the life of a relatable gamer girl who is finding her place in the social and emotional world of middle school while dealing with the ways Indigenous peoples are ignored and celebrated.

Tiger Lily and the Secret Treasure of Neverland by Cherie Dimaline. Disney. ISBN 9781368080460. 
Gr 3-5–Dimaline (The Marrow Thieves) provides vibrancy and substance to a chronically badly represented character in children’s literature—Tiger Lily. Her latest novel spotlights the titular tween as she utilizes her sharp wit and acuity to outsmart the devilish pirates who have captured her best friend, Sashi, in their hunt for everlasting youth. VERDICT Recommended for larger collections and where longer Disney books fly off the shelves.

[Read: Multitude of Stories: 13 Native Anthologies for Middle Grade Readers]

Rabbit Chase by Elizabeth Lapensée. illus. by KC Oster. Annick. ISBN 9781773216201. 
Gr 5-8–In this debut graphic novel, Aimée, an Anishinaabe nonbinary student, is visiting the Petroglphs with their school’s Indigenous Students Association to make offerings to the Paayehnsag, water spirits who trust only the young. VERDICT A moving graphic novel that touches on identity and cultural legacy, and representation that is sure to impact young readers.

Wiijiwaaganag: More Than Brothers by Peter Razor. Makwa Enewed. ISBN 9781938065224. 
Gr 4-6–Two boys meet at Yardley Indian Boarding School in Minnesota, each from a vastly different background, and learn about each other’s cultures as they form a deep connection. Although this is a work of fiction, Razor details the difficult life Indigenous students endured in government-run residential schools. VERDICT This in-depth, thoughtful novel would be a strong choice for a book report, or for civic and historical projects.




 Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley. Holt. ISBN 9781250766588. 
Gr 9 Up–Perry Firekeeper-Birch wrecked the Jeep and had to join her twin sister, Pauline, in a summer internship offered by their tribe to pay for repairs. VERDICT Perry’s dreams, desires, culture, traditions, and actions create a compelling narrative about one teen’s attempt to undo some of the injustices her community and people have faced. Strong first buy.

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta. Farrar. ISBN 9781250754851. 
Gr 8 Up–A timeless power struggle set against the ancient backdrop of Mesoamerica (historically southern North America to Central America). Indir is a Dreamer, part of a long line of seers who has been raised in the Temple of Night surrounded by her mother and aunts. Saya can also see what others can’t. The girls must fight for their own survival and the survival of their community in this intense duology opener. VERDICT This first book in a duology will be enjoyed by fans of Roseanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.

Visions of the Crow by Wanda John-Kehewin. illus. by nicole marie burton with lettering by Kiela Sibal. Highwater Pr. ISBN 9781774920459. 
Gr 7 Up–Damon Quinn may seem like a hard protagonist to like at the beginning of this story. As the story progresses, Damon starts to learn more about his identity. He learns that his mother is Cree, with family in Alberta, and his father, with whom Damon doesn’t have a relationship, is Métis. At the same time, Damon begins to have sleeping and waking dreams in which he visits his ancestors and learns even more about his Indigenous heritage. VERDICT A graphic novel recommended for teens interested in stories about social justice and the importance of family roots.

 Saints of the Household by Ari Tison. Farrar. ISBN 9780374389499. 
Gr 8 Up–A heartrending, contemporary debut novel about the repercussions of trauma and the healing power of family and art. The novel searingly depicts PTSD’s strong hold—how every aspect of life is dictated by the fear of where the next fist is going to land, and how living so deeply in that circle of pain permeates every aspect of one’s identity. VERDICT Violence can be inherited but so can love and forgiveness. This vulnerable and magnetic tale of brotherhood belongs on every shelf.

Creeboy by Teresa Wouters. Lorimer. ISBN 9781459416819. 
Gr 9 Up–Sixteen-year-old Josh prefers to be called Creeboy, the name he uses with the Warriors, an Indigenous gang headed by his incarcerated father and now run by his older brother, Darion, who goes by Razor. The book is written at a third grade reading level. VERDICT While it may require some handselling, the resentment and redemption narrative is strong and the action consistent. Recommended.

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