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Whether it’s the tale of the trickster coyote from the Navajo tribe or the turtle who cracked its shell from the Cherokee, there are so many Native American stories that elders and parents have passed down to their kids. These stories have often celebrated traditions — or even tried to curb naughty behavior.
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As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November, we want to shout out five must-read books for young children written by Indigenous authors. All of them share the joys of Native life, including cooking, dancing and protecting our precious resources.
And, of course, parents are encouraged to read these Native stories to their kids any time of year.
Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Maillard, $12.68
This adorable book aimed at kids ages 3 to 5 shares a modern Native American story about the popular pan-Native food fry bread. Author Kevin Noble Maillard, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation, writes in simple but powerful verse that fry bread is more than just a meal. It’s also a symbol of family togetherness and traditions celebrated by tribes across the country.
We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, $15.99
Defending one of Earth’s most sacred resources, one little girl decides to take a stand against a “snake” determined to poison her people’s water. We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinaabe/Metis/Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) and aimed at kids ages 2 to 7, won the 2021 Caldecott Medal and earned the top spot on the New York Times best seller list.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, $13.29
Written in a mix of English and Cherokee, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), shares how the tribal community is grateful for the many blessings — and challenges — that come with each season. The book, aimed at kids ages 3 to 7, offers definitions of each Cherokee word as well as the complete syllabary, created by Sequoyah more than 200 years ago.
Bowwow Powwow, Brenda J. Child, $17.95
When Windy Girl falls asleep after a powwow she attends with her uncle and dog, Itchy Boy, she dreams of all the tasty food, gorgeous jingle dresses and talented dancers — but in her dream, they are all dogs. As the dancers make their way to the Grand Entry and drummers sit in the drum circle, they magically all have paws and tails. And they all celebrate the wonder of the powwow. Written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Band of Chippewa), Bowwow Powwow is aimed at kids ages 3 to 7.
Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $8.99
In Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee (Creek)), Jenna wants to dance the jingle dance at powwow just like her Grandma Wolfe. But with four rows of musical jingles missing from her dress, how will she be able to? Jenna has to get creative. Aimed at kids ages 4 to 8, Jingle Dancer shares the importance of tradition and community.
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If you enjoyed this story, read about children’s books by Latinx authors.
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