Contemporary Native American
Picture Books

contemporary Picture Books

traditional stories

MUSKRAT WILL BE SWIMMING by Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki-French Canadian), illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a Seneca traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) (Northland, 1996). When a young Native girl is called "Lake Rat," she is comforted by Grampa who both reveals how he was once called "Frog" because of his French-Indian heritage and shows how those intended insults are signs that the bullies don't appreciate the joy of the frog and wonder of the lake. Ages 4-up.

The Milky WayTHE STORY OF THE MILKY WAY, A CHEROKEE TALE by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) and Gayle Ross (Cherokee) with paintings by Virginia A. Stroud (Cherokee-Creek)(Dial, 1995). A spirit dog has been stealing the corn meal, and he can be driven away only with the combined efforts of a young boy, Beloved Woman, and the entire village. Read this book to find out why the Cherokee people call the Milky Way "the place where the dog ran." In "The Origin of the Story," Bruchac and Ross share how they came to know and be inspired by the story. Stroud's artwork depicts of Cherokee life in the early 1800s, after the coming of the Europeans and before the Trail of Tears. In a wrap-around, her illustrations show how Cherokee people today pass down their traditional stories to children. Ages 4-up.


BUILDING A BRIDGE by Lisa Shook Begaye, illustrated by Libba Tracy (Northland, 1993). Begaye is married to a noted Diné (Navajo) artist. On the first day of kindergarten, Mrs. Yazzie encourages Juanita, a Navajo girl, and Anna, a white girl, to work together to build a bridge of magical multi-colored blocks. The theme is cross-cultural bridge building. Ages 4-up.

CIRCLE OF WONDER: A NATIVE AMERICAN CHRISTMAS STORY by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)(Clear Light, 1993). Inspired by the author's first childhood Christmas in Jemez Pueblo, this is the story of Tolo, a mute boy who follows a man who seems to be his late grandfather. Ages 5-up.

FOX SONG by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), illustrated by Paul Morin (Philomel, 1993). A gentle story about the relationship of Jamie and her Granma Bowman and about Jamie's acceptance of Granma's death. A sweet story. Probably my favorite by Bruchac, who is no doubt the most published Native author of children's books. Ages 4-up.

THE GOOD LUCK CAT by Joy Harjo (Creek), illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000). Aunt Shelly says that Woogie is a good luck cat. As he survives one scrape after another, her analysis seems to be right on target. But one day when he doesn't come home, we wonder if this good luck cat's ninth life has run out. This is a delightful look at the friendship between a cat and a young girl. And it's -- yahoo! -- a children's picture book with Indian characters wherein Native culture isn't the main focus. Of course, it's wonderful to have children read accurate, respectful books that touch on Indian themes; however, they should be balanced with charming stories like this one that depict daily life. Ages 4-up.

JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Creek) and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000). Jenna, a Muscogee (Creek)-Ojibwe girl, is enthusiastic about wanting to jingle dance at the upcoming powwow. With time running short, she seeks the assistance of women of her contemporary intertribal community in bringing together the remainder of her regalia. A story of reciprocity and respect. Ages 4-up.

LESS THAN HALF, MORE THAN WHOLE by Kathleen Lacapa (Mohawk-English-Irish) and Michael Lacapa (Apache-Hopi-Tewa), who also is the illustrator (Northland, 1994). When Will calls Tony "only half, or less than half Indian," Tony tries to figure out what that means. With TaTda's (Grandfather's) help, Tony realizes that, like the Creator's gift of corn, he is whole. Ages 4-up.

A MAN CALLED RAVEN by Richard Van Camp (Dogrib) with pictures by George Littlechild (Plains Cree)(Children's Book Press, 1997). Chris and Toby go after a raven with their hockey sticks, but a mysterious man enters their lives and his story changes their view. Subtly features brothers of mixed Anglo-Native descent, one with brown hair and blue eyes, the other with darker skin, brown eyes, and black hair. Ages 5-up.

SONGS OF SHIPROCK FAIR by Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), illustrated by Anthony Chee Emerson (Navajo)(Kiva, 1999). All the joy, excitement, family love and creativity of the fair brought to life. A good book to settle in with. Ages 5-up.

SKYSISTERS by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (Ojibway), illustrated by Brian Deines (Kids Can Press, 2000). Big sister Allie and little sister Alex bundle up, venture into the night, encounter a deer, dance beneath the stars, and watch the northern lights. Lovely. (Waboose's previous book MORNING ON THE LAKE is also highly recommended.) Ages 5-up.

TWO PAIRS OF SHOES by Esther Sanderson (of the Pas Reserve, living in Winnipeg) and illustrated by David Beyer (Cree)(Pemmican, 1998). For Maggie's eighth birthday, she receives a pair of black patent shoes from her mother and a pair of moccasins from her Kokum (grandmother), who reminds her there are times and ways to wear each. Ages 3-up. Good for preschool. See Oyate for ordering.

A WALK TO THE GREAT MYSTERY by Virginia A. Stroud (Cherokee-Creek)(Dial, 1995). Dustin and Rosie take a walk with their Grandma Ann, a Cherokee medicine woman, and gain insight into the Great Mystery. Ages 4-up.

WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR MOCCASINS by Bernelda Wheeler (Cree-Saulteaux-Scottish-French) and illustrated by Herman Bekkering (Peguis Publishers, 1982 (now called Portage & Main Press).). A perfect picture book for introducing the balance of traditionalism and contemporary life to very young children, who will respond to the open-hearted questioning tone of this simple but well constructed story. Ages 3-up. Good for preschool. See Oyate or Good Minds for ordering.

WHITE BEAD CEREMONY: MARY GREYFEATHER GETS HER NATIVE AMERICAN NAME by Sherrin Watkins (Shawnee-Cherokee) and illustrated by Kim Doner (Council Oaks, 1994). With a strong emphasis on Shawnee language (including removable vocabulary flash cards) and fanciful illustrations, this book shows how Mary's family comes together to help her find a Native name. This same author-illustrator team also is credited with GREEN SNAKE CEREMONY: MARY GREYFEATHER LEARNS ABOUT HER NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE. These books are recommended for classroom use. Ages 5-up.