Indigenous Voices Come to Light in Kid Lit

Publishers are working to rectify the under- and misrepresentation of Indigenous voices and history, with content that authentically represents both the historic and contemporary experiences of Indigenous people.


“When it comes to Indigenous peoples’ history, we have a lot of received stories that we have heard and grown up with, especially as nonindigenous people of a certain age,” says Amy Cox, vice president of marketing at Capstone. “And these stories get perpetuated as fact.”

Publishers are working to rectify the under- and misrepresentation of Indigenous voices and history, with content that authentically represents both the historic and contemporary experiences of Indigenous people. New books give Indigenous children the opportunity to see themselves reflected on the page; non-Indigenous children the chance to understand the people around them; and adults the opportunity to reconsider what they thought they knew.

In 2022, less than two percent of children’s books were by Indigenous authors and even fewer featured Indigenous characters. Capstone recognized the gap in the literature, particularly in early chapter books. The company tapped debut children's author Andrew Stark, an Ojibwa, to create one of the only early reader series on the market with an Indigenous main character—a character shaped by the author’s own experiences and culture.

While increasing Indigenous representation in publishing is a primary goal, it is not the only one. Of equal importance, says Teddy Anderson/Yeíl S’aghi, an adopted member of the Tlingit Nation in Canada and the founder and publisher of Medicine Wheel Publishing, is to create a safe space for Indigenous authors to share their stories authentically and to honor their diverse cultures and protocols in the company’s business practices.

With demand growing, publishers are increasing their commitment to bringing new and noteworthy titles by Indigenous authors to light. Read on for some of the best books out now or soon to be.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

“We’ve published in this area [Indigenous writers] before. But over the last several years, we have increased our offerings,” says Victoria Stapleton, executive director of school and library marketing for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group. The imprint is publishing three new titles from Indigenous authors in 2023 and is actively seeking more across all ages and formats, from picture books through graphic novels.

Indigenous Ingenuity: A Celebration of Traditional North American Knowledge by Deidre Havrelock (Saddle Lake Cree Nation, Alberta) and Edward Kay, May 2023, ISBN 9780316413336, is a middle grade nonfiction book about scientific discoveries and technological contributions that have come from Indigenous communities and creators. The entries are a mix of high science—for example, brain surgery and astronomy—and everyday items like rubber balls, toothpaste, and popcorn, to name just a few. The book also includes simple activities and experiments that middle grade kids can do safely at home.

An uplifting picture book for ages seven and up, What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me: Deb Haaland’s Historic Inauguration by Alexis Bunten (Aleut/Yup’ik), illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Diné), July 2023, ISBN 9780316430036, inspires Indigenous community pride. It’s about the impact that seeing Deb Haaland sworn in as Secretary of the Interior in her traditional ribbon skirt has on one little girl. “[The book] looks at how specific clothing—called regalia—expresses traditions, identity, and community,” Stapleton says. “It’s about how seeing someone sworn into office wearing a skirt that is specific to her community connects that little girl to it.”

When the Stars Came Home by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis), November 2023, ISBN 9780316592499, is a picture book for children ages three and up. Ojiig, an Indigenous child, moves from a reservation to a city without all the traditions and connections to nature that he is accustomed to having. To help bridge the gap between where they live and where they’re from, his family makes a special quilt. Each square represents some aspect of his family story. “When Ojiig wraps himself in the quilt, he is literally wrapping himself in family stories,” Stapleton says. “Any family reading the book together can appreciate that there are family traditions, associations, and maybe items that a child can take with them into the future that really ground them.”


Minnesota-based Capstone publishes content that makes learning inclusive, accessible, and exciting for pre-K to fifth graders. “Capstone has a strong history of bringing [diverse] representation to early chapter books,” says Amy Cox, vice president of marketing. “The gap in representation of Indigenous people in this type of book is even bigger; for young readers [Indigenous literature] hardly exists at all.”

In response to this dearth, Capstone conceived the “Liam Kingsbird’s Kingdom” series and asked Ojibwa author Andrew Stark to write it. “Andrew said there were no books about kids like him when he was growing up, so writing them for kids today means the world to him,” says Kristen Mohn, managing editor. “We relied on him to steer the series in the direction that he felt would be most meaningful and authentic,” adds Mohn.

The first four “Liam” books came out in January 2023. The 32-page books, illustrated by Emily Faith Johnson, have three chapters each and are written at a second- to third grade reading level. When Liam, a quiet but strong Indigenous third grader, starts a new school in Liam the Lion, ISBN 9781666395051, he worries about making friends...and explaining his cleft lip to his new classmates.

In Liam and the Pigeon, ISBN 9781666395068, Liam finds an injured pigeon while out for a walk. His mom teaches him that all life is valuable. “This is a lovely story about valuing animals and not dismissing even the smallest life forms,” Mohn says. “All of the books have ties to animals, because Andrew feels this is really important to his culture.”

Liam and the Worst Dog in the World, ISBN 9781666395082, finds Liam and his mom adopting the naughtiest dog at the local shelter. But they work through this challenge by offering the dog the extra love and training he needs to become the best dog.

Liam and the Forest Friends, ISBN 9781666395075, shows Liam witnessing some strife at home and turning to his imaginary animal friends that he’s drawn for reassurance. “It’s a subtle exploration of living through family dynamics that might be uncomfortable and ways to cope,” Mohn says. “Andrew came at these stories with a very adult perspective and did not talk down to the kids,” Mohn explains. “He just told some mature, sophisticated stories in a simple way.”

Four more "Liam Kingsbird’s Kingdom" titles will be coming out in January 2024.

Capstone’s PebbleGo (grades K–2) and PebbleGo Next (grades 3–5) Databases offer young students a safe and appropriate space for their first forays into online research. Each database comprises modules with multiple articles across broad subject areas including Animals, Health, Science, Social Studies, Biographies, U.S. States, and Indigenous Peoples’ History.

Each article has an accompanying audio version, narrated by a voice actor, with a read-along text-highlighting feature. PebbleGo is appropriate for beginning readers, while PebbleGo Next content is longer with more robust vocabulary, more details, and richer information.

Capstone continuously updates its databases to ensure that the information is current and correct. Nowhere is this truer than in the extensive overhaul the company undertook of the Indigenous Peoples’ History module (formerly American Indian History) in PebbleGo Next.

“We took a very close look at our Indigenous content to make sure that we’re representing it appropriately and accurately,” Database Content Director Anthony Wacholtz says.

Capstone partnered with Katrina Phillips, PhD, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and associate professor of Native American history at Macalester College, to review all the articles and images in the module to eliminate inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and stereotypes.

For example, PebbleGo has an article on the first Thanksgiving featuring the inaccurate storyline that’s been handed down for generations. “Now we have an article on the 1621 Harvest Celebration, which explains that some of the received story is true, but the idea that they [the Pilgrims and the Indigenous Americans] came together peacefully every year wasn’t exactly what happened,” he says.

Capstone also enriched and expanded the content to include additional coverage, for example, by introducing the subject of tribal sovereignty and specific interactions between Indigenous nations and settlers. “I don’t think a lot of kids understand that these Indigenous nations have their own sovereignty,” he says. Across the module, Wacholtz says they’ve also tried to specify which specific Indigenous nations were involved in various historic events and to provide detailed information on those individual communities.

“Indigenous people are still here,” Wacholtz says. “Dr. Phillips wrote an article to really emphasize that point.” Across the module, the company aimed to balance the history, worldviews, and origin stories of individual nations, with contemporary facts about Indigenous nations’ current federal recognition status and what that means.

PebbleGo Next’s updated Indigenous Peoples’ History module will launch for the 2023–2024 school year. Current subscribers will automatically receive the update when it’s released.

Medicine Wheel Publishing

Teddy Anderson/Yeíl S’aghi founded Medicine Wheel Publishing in Victoria, BC, Canada in 2016, after seeing Indigenous storytellers taken advantage of by some mainstream publishers. “We try to decolonize the power that exists in traditional publishing practices,” Anderson says. “Here, the author holds all creative control...and that creates authenticity.”

Ten years ago, Phyllis Webstad (Secwépemc) started the grassroots movement in Canada known as Orange Shirt Day—now a federal holiday—to commemorate Residential School (involuntary Indigenous boarding school) Survivors, their families, and the children who didn’t come home.

Webstad wrote Every Child Matters, illustrated by Karlene Harvey (Tsilhqot’in and Syilx), September 2023, ISBN 9781778540165, to teach students ages 6 to 12 about the history of the Residential Schools in Canada. “With this book, the children of today can learn the truths of this history and how they can play a part in making sure that every child matters," says Stephanie Scott, director at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

In Storyteller Skye: Teachings from My Ojibway Grandfather by Lindsay Christina King (Ojibway), illustrated by Carolyn Frank, March 2023, ISBN 9781778540066, for ages 6 to 9, the title character tells five short stories taught to her by her Ojibway grandfather, each with a unique message or moral. In one, a rabbit was told not to go down to the water, but he was a terrible listener and went anyway. After he fell in, he was given long ears, so he’d be a better listener. “It’s a story about storytelling,” says Kaitlyn Stampflee, publishing coordinator. “The author is a kindergarten teacher, and she wanted to bring the art of storytelling into her classroom.”

The Sharing Circle by Theresa “Corky” Larsen-Jonasson (Cree/Métis), illustrated by Jessika von Innerebner, September 2016, ISBN 9780993869440, is a story for readers ages 6 to 9 that shows how this Indigenous sharing circle is used to build community and resolve conflict. When two red foxes have an argument that fractures their community, an Elder teaches them when to speak and when to listen in a sharing circle. Eventually, the foxes set aside their differences. “This book teaches kids how to effectively communicate feelings in a really beautiful way,” Anderson says. 



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