Quick Things You Need To Know:
- This collection includes books about modern (within a generation or so) Indigenous families from what we currently call Canada, the US & Mexico. That includes people who self-identify as First Nations, Indigenous Americans, American Indians, Native Americans, Chicanx & Latinx. But since I already have a collection for Inuit, that is over here.
- Normalizing, validating, and destigmatizing modern Indigenous families counters the harmful myth that all Indigenous people died off or assimilated after European colonization.
- For the below books, whenever an author mentions they are either enrolled, a member of, culturally raised in, or of that heritage, I’m counting them as an #OwnVoices maker. With a strong bias against folks claiming Indigenous heritage without being culturally raised within a specific tribe or nation. This is controversial, but for this purpose we’re looking for people with lived experience, not formal documents.
- Here’s the collection for Inuit culture and modern families
- And a collection about the modern impact of residential schools here.
Rough Book Notes
It’s not a coincidence that our favorite books are sanitized and whitewashed – both me and my partner were raised in a settler/colonist culture, and Indigenous storytelling styles require us to actively work and research them to understand what’s going on. So I’ll just be honest here and point out that I am waaaay out of my lane and these are all likely problematic.
Nevertheless, these are the books that the Earthquakes find engaging and the ones that spark curiosity to learn more about decolonizing and understanding Indigenous cultures.
- My Wounded Island – This is such an amazing book depicting how climate change disproportionately impacts Indigenous people in the North (which we can then extend the conversation to how it impacts people living in poverty, developing nations, people of color, etc.)
- smelly socks – musch – Q found this hilarious,a nd it’s a good way to normalize modern IG culture. dedicated to girl named Tina in the hay rver dene reserve, katlodeeche first nation. assertive kickass girls
- Nimoshom and his bus (Thomas) – cute! 7yo found it okay to sit through once but boring, 5yo kindergartener enjoyed it. I love this as an entry-level school bus book to familiarize ourselves with school bus drivers and subtle rules of how to behave on the bus, PLUS it introduces cree vocabulary in a sweet way. indigenous makers (Thomas is ‘of Cree-Ojibway background’ and ‘advocate for First Nations people’ (does not say enrolled). illustrator bio does not mention being indigenous at all. grandfathers, elders working, civil servants, school
- first laugh welcome, baby! (tahe)- modern indigenous life. family waiting for new baby to learn to smile. gracefully works in culture and heritage – grandmother wears turqoise necklace, covers baby with Pendleton blanket, blue cornmeal mush and salt cedar ash, names for siblings and mama (nima, etc). and visiting grandparents in Navajo nation. baby in little cradleboard, etc. would include this in indigenous heritage month collection, and would be validating for Navajo babies, but not sure we’d get much out of this, even if we had a newborn baby sibling who hadn’t learned to smile yet
Yo Soy Muslim – “Our prayers were here before any borders were,” referencing how Aztec temples were there before skyscrapers and colonists.
- Undocumented (Tonatiuh) (also Pancho Rabbit & The Coyote) – Issues with documentation and the hurdles that come with migrating wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t invade the land and slap borders right in the middle of perfectly natural seasonal migration paths that folks have needed to survive for thousands of years. Colonialism, man. The worst.
- Little you – van camp & flett – normalizing indigenous, babies, just parents cuddling and hanging out with baby and happy to hang out with baby. rhymes, simple baby/toddler board book. indigenous makers (van camp = Ticho Nation), Flett isCree-Metis, , normalizing, indigenous. Q can read it alone at 7, R2 is happy to read it once and then give it away as a gift. not much engaging to it for kids over 3. board books
- We All Count – flett – can’t get from the library but the book trailer is lovely. inclusion – how all creatures and everyone counts, we all take care of one another. counting book. bilingual cree/English, indigenous, board books
Still working on this as a concept – it’s an important idea to expand on the impact of white supremacy and colonialism, but I still haven’t quite found the perfect books to demonstrate it. Anyway – the idea is how violence and harm that happened to previous generations has an impact on modern generations. You get it.
The Gender Wheel – gonzalez – Repetitive and goes over hte heads of 6, so still have to wait longer. BUT it’s the best book to explicitly state the normalcy of intersex people, it’s a good concept and i love that we learn the history of how colonizing the US by white folks has created oppression and misunderstandings of gender. “500 years ago, peopl came to North America from Europe with their beliefs about how they thought the world should be. Many of their beliefs were linear and rigid. They boxed people in and kept nature out. As the newcomers took teh Americans for their own, they forcd people who had lived here for thousands of yeas to adopt heir beliefs about everything, icnluding bodies.” “If somebody didn’t fit into or act according to their belifs about GIRL and BOY, that person was considered wrong and bad. People struggled against thse beliefs. We lost many of our ancestors throughout this time.” definitely mandatory reading, try again with older kids, gender, intersex, colonization, whitewashing, chicanx history. tried it with R2 at 5 because he was interested about intersex genitals, but the illustrations aren’t clear enough.
The People Shall Continue– ortiz – this is SUCH a good book. Hard for Q o wrap his brain around the rhythm at first at 6.5, but we stop and discuss what the author is telling us in each page. solidarity, LFBC accomplices, i particularly like that it’s responsibility pan-indian, showing that different tribes ahve different creation stories, lifestyples, etc. but what brings them together is a few common themes of diplomacy, living in harmony with the earth,a nd fighing back against oppressors. also later they show how they recognize that black,brown, asian, and poor whites are also oppressed, and they feel it is their obligation to share their stories and join together with them in solidarity.so good! indigenous history, indigenous heroes (Popé-Pueblo &Apache nations, Tecumseh-Shawnee & Naitons of the great lakes, Appalacians & Ohio Valley. Black Hawk – Sauk & Fox Nation, CrazyHorse – Sioux,Osceola, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Captain Jack. indigneous makers are AcomaPueblo (ortiz) and decendant of Chief Tecumseh of Shawnee tribe & Chief Peter Graves ofRedLake Chippewa tribe,isamember of Absentee Shawnee Tribe(graves)
- 47,000 Beads – Adeyoh – While we’ve discussed discrimination against nonbinary and trans kids, we haven’t really harped on it because I don’t want my kids to be afraid that being trans will destroy their lives. So we haven’t actually read this book in person to the kids. The story is intended to be validating, and the illustrations really harp on pain and anxiety over the character feeling like they don’t fit in. But for kids who are going through this and do feel this way, it’s a lovely book. i’m pretty sure there’s a powwow in there (or maybe something else?) Generational trauma because if colonization hadn’t normalized binaries and stigmatized nonbinary & trans kids, the tension in this book simply wouldn’t exist.
Missing Nimâmâ – florence – So many content warnings. Not for everyone. validating book for girls whose mothers have gone missing/been murdered. has facts at the end about canadian women and the fact that no one is paying attention. in the end, she’s grown up and they find her mother (dead). on each spread, we read from her perspective as she grows up, and the voice of her mother. there’s anger, and sadness, and hope, and love in there. wouldn’t read it to my boys since it would FREAK THEM OUT that someone steals and kills mothers. but would work well for this particular indigenous trauma against women, first nations, violence against women, family constellations (raised by grandmother). creepy illustration is fine for this topic (although it’d be more accessible with a better illustrator) Some words in Cree.
Stolen Words – This book is not recommended by AICL because the author and illustrator are not enrolled and formally recognized by any tribe or nation, and they didn’t grow up culturally Indigenous. There are issues with it, including the obvious – such as the fact that this girls grandfather would be smart enough to hunt down his own dictionary to reclaim his language, and how unlikely it is for her local library to have a written native language dictionary. That said – this is an #OwnVoices story from a person with Indigenous heritage lamenting the loss of her culture and language (which was forcefully taken due to generational trauma and abuse in residential schools). It has a place, particularly for people who live in the margins between cultures, and those who are seen as ‘not enough’ by the standards of white culture and the community of their heritage. I lost my language (Catonese) early on when my parents separated and I was raised primarily by the white side of my family, and this book hits home in a similar way as ‘Drawn Together.’ If we’re using this story for metaphor, we look at it in terms of – new generations of BIPOC people whose culture has been erased and assimilated have the power to reclaim our heritage and take back what was taken away.
Tar Beach – wealth inequality, labor rights. discrimination. There’s lots to unpack in this book, but in one scene, we see how her father isn’t allowed in the union. in the story, it’s because her grand father wasn’t in the union, but in the end notes, specifies because he’s Black with Indigenous heritage, which is a good way to talk about how legacy policies are just white supremacy. references ‘half-breed indian’ and ‘colored’ to point out that this is what people who discriminate against her call her, but it’s not explicit that these are slurs and not appropriate now. So I’d be cautious in reading this. generational impact of racism & colonialism. takes place in Harlem NY
- sometimes i feel like a fox – daniel – Métis writer, simple book showing little girl as 9 different totem animals with adjectives for what they sand for. “Sometimes I feel like a raven, dark and mysterious. I am both messenger and secret keeper and help bring light from darkness.” book is “dedicated to metis and Aboriginal children who grew up never knowing their totem animal.” seems too old for R2 and too young for Q, not sure how to use this book, illustrations: eh. the butterfly one shows her with an afro which is… uhh. multiracial – negative review on AICL, from insider perspective, generational trauma
Kind of Meh Books
Not terrible, but we aren’t interested in reading them again
- You hold me up – gray smith – indigenous makers (gray smith “is a mixed heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent and is the proud mom of twins.” first nations. daniel doesn’t point out her ancestry in this one – probably got the memo that depicting herself as Indigenous in ’sometimes i feel like a fox’ was not taken well by critics. simple, best for infants and toddlers (0-4) but i have to admit the illustrations are so basic and meh that the kids just didn’t really love it. the principles are great, and it’d make a great board book if it’s ever printed in that version. as a picture book it’s underwhelming. mutual support & healthy emotional relationships
- Sweetest Kulu – Illustrations are adorable and I know this book is popular, with all the cute animals and links to nature, but my kids just will. not. sit. through this. it’s a basic baby shower gift. Not for kids above 3.
- Bowwow Powwow – illustrations are photoshoppy melty, but I can see how some folks can like it. more of a validating book for kids who already go to powwows than destigmatizing, it didn’t teach us anything about the real meaning and significance or goings-on at a powwow the way that i had hoped. “That night Windy Girl understood the powwow is always in moion, part old and part new, glittering and plain, but still wonderful, almost like a dream.” That said – it would be helpful to read before/after attending one. (I was dragged to one by one of my mom’s boyfriends as a kid and had no freaking clue what was going on. Would have enjoyed it if someone had paused to explain things a bit. Or maybe if I had attended with someone I didn’t loathe). bilingual (english, Ojibwe), indigenous makers. Child s Red Lake Ojibwe, Jourdain is Lac La Croix First Nation, Thunder is Red Lake Ojibwe, powwows
- Native American Twelve Days of Christmas – robinson (of choctaw & cherokee descent). most of it is tonge-in-cheek, playing up a pan-indian story, with tipis, moccasins, beaded bags, etc. without details within the story to explain meaning to them. silly book for Indigeous kids who celebrate Christmas, but would be severely problematic for settlers to read.
- Singing sisters – a story of humity – vermette. normalizes modern indigenous girls. thought hte colored pencil style illustrations would disengage Q at 5 but it was short and relatable enough that he enjoyed it. this was an issue for him where he sings but won’t let R2, and since we’ve read this book, he’s realized that he can sing WTIH HIM since us telling him didn’t work, this book did the trick? 4+ through elementary. great for showing how you can support and uplift each other rather than competing. Kinda simple and boring. metis
- Jingle dancer, – Dated illustrations. Lots of good cultural information but the underlying story just wasn’t engaging without lived experience. We’ve given no way to connect with the protagonist. have no idea what a powwow is, and it doesn’t get them excited about them, there is nothing to draw them into this story of a girl who wants to jingle dance at a powwow like her grandmother. Jenna main character is member of Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and is of Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. lives in a contemporary intertribal community in oklahoma. Author is a member of Muscogee nation.
- Wild Berries – flett – gorgeous. but unless we’re going berry picking, this isn’t engaging or have anything to do with what the LE know, so it’s not for us. blueberry picking, see spider web, fox, birds, ants. probably best for ages 2-4. some Cree (n-dialect/Swampy Cree) introduced. indigenous makrs (Cree-Métis), elders (Grandmothers), blueberry picking
- A Day with yayah – flett – can’t even begin to pronounce the words and vocabulary. would be great in a class, but not for a read aloud with no guidance. also kind of boring. grandma teaches them words and facts about plants they find. validating for indigenous, kind of lost for me as a settler. first nations. auhor is Interior Salish and Metis. illustrator is Cree-Metis. i feel like i’d need to take a class before i could read this aloud to my kids. doing otherwise actually feels pretty disrespectful. it’s cool though how grandmother/elder (Yayah) takes kids on a walk to forage for food and teaches them how to forage and what plants to look out for, along with th lessons on language vocabulary. can’t even type Nlaka’pamux (Thomson River Salish language) with my keyboard, but it’s considered endangered. perfect for elder collection since she’s smart, active, and actively contributing to educating the nxt generation . wildschooling, unschooling, nature, grandparents, indigenous (first nations). on local gathering, collecting food and providing it for family not just as a means to an end, but a process in itself and a way to reclaim and preserve their (First Nations/Cree) identity and family narrative. Gorgeous, but very slow and was hard to get the kids to sit through, food culture
- Building A Bridge – lisa shook begaye – author is white, married into Navajo Nation – wish she had hired a native illustrator. oh well. story is a really transparent allegory to building bridges, cooperation, and working together with people who seem different. centers on blonde white girl, moving to reservation and staring kindergarten. both girls are nervous about th first day of school, briefly shows how they are similar and different in getting ready for school on the first day. Anna is nervous and doesn’t feel comfortable walking onto a bus where no one looks like her. was great for discussing with Q waht it would feel like to be surrounded by kids who look nothing like him, and allowed him to reflect on what it mus feel like for kids who don’t look like everyon else at his school. “Nothing Anna’s mommy said prepared her for all the boys and girls who wer seatd in the school bus. They looked just like each other and none of them had blond hair or light skin like hers!” – this conversation made him feel really uncomfortable,a nd i wish th story had been mor fun and engaging to entice him to keep having this conversation. I wanted to talk about her imprssion that ‘they all looked the same.’ “I don’t think I’m going to have any friends here,” she thought. “I don’t like all ths different-looking people.” – would have loved to discuss how her first impression is that she doesn’t fit in, and her first instinct is to dislike them. teacher gives her and Juanita ‘magic blocks’ and we see how they each grab a color and happen to build the same exact structure. suspension of disbelief, okay – then we see how when they work together and mix the blocks, they can build something super cool togther. anna goes home excitd and happy, seeing herself as ‘us’ with juanita now. this whole book is just a bit clumsy, but gives us lots to alk about. wish it had been fun and a bit mor adventure to incite discussion. because so much of what this white girl says is racist, I’m okay with hte white author centering a white girl in this book, rather than appropriating the identity of an Indigenous girl. discrimination, cooperation, friendship, racism, girls, first day of school, conflict
- yetsa’s sweater – boring colored pencil versions of photographs, the kind Q and R2 have no patience for (or me, for that matter…just use a photograph). written by a white(?) lady who married a salish man and fell in love with cast salish knitters. story of a girl and her coast salish knitter grandmother and the girl learns how to make a cowichan sweaters, something native cowichan tribe created after being influenced by scottish settlers. goes through process of boiling, spinning, knitting. too boring for 5yo, but maybe for anyone interestd in knitting. british colombia canada west coast
- The good luck cat – harjo – normalizes indigenous girls of color (rferences powwow a couple times without going overboard.) I htink this would trigger anxiety and nightmares at 4 & 6 – the cat is put into several dangerous, rather tortuous situations, like getting stuck in the dryer. Which is a personal nightmare of mine so NOPE NOPE NOPE I CANNOT. is a GREAT resource to explain to kids why we don’t get the cat outside, as we see it hunting birds, getting into fights, getting attacked by dogs, almost run over, etc. would be good to help kids who don’ already take good care and caution to protect pets. BUT it works for endurance within the collection of stories on perseverance like salty pie. as a metaphor, stands for the way indigenous people have survived and endured despite colonization and continued attacks. and pets, indigenous makers, normalizing modern indigenous. approved by the broken flute.
Likely problematic – tokenism
I still don’t know enough about non-colonist culture to tell the difference between responsible normalizing of Indigenous characters and sloppy tokenism. So while these *seem* okay and the illustrations appear at first glance to be inclusive, something about them toes the line on including token Indigenous folks in there.
- Guess again – barnett – boh 3.5 & 5.5 wanted to read this over and over, in a multitude of ways. they took turns play-acting ignorance and being the one who is ‘right.’ we laughed and discussed and Q waned to ‘read’ it to the family on his own (reciting hings from memory). this was a REALLY funny, good book, despite how simple it is. bummer hte flaps are so weak, it would make a great bord book. probably one of our top 10 this year. SOOO much fun to read, even as an adult. interactive – flaps, silly, unexpected twists, delightful, viking, pirate, normalizing indigenous americans (grampa alan), knights, monsters (abominable snow monsters). Worth noting that Adam Rex has been previously called to ask by AICL and was a good sport about it, calling attention to his mistakes and apologizing for his work with Smekday
- silas’s seven grandparents – horrocks – family constellations, blended families. silas has four sets of grandparents (one set is a single grandmother). multiple characters appear to be indigenous, check to make sure that’s represented okay. one appears super squinty, I think they’re trying to make him asian. given the constellation of grandparents, he has to be at least multiracial and of indigenous heritage. Opa & Oma (german words) are a white lady and a south asian man, granny & grandad present as indigenous, nana presents as white or east asian, gramma and papa present as east asian and black. the main character, Silas, and his mother (father isn’t pictured) looks white. he sleeps under a dreamcatcher and goes in a canoe with his indigenous grandparents.
- Thunder Boy, Jr. Aside from the fact that Sherman Alexie, an #OwnVoices author has been rightfully meetoo’d and the illustrations depict a harmful stereotypical pan-Indian thing, this book is a fun read. What I want to draw your attention to, however, is the way Deb Reese criticizes Yuyi Morales’s illustrations BUT – Morales goes on to work harder toward responsible representation and the way Debbie & Yuyi boost and support each other on social media is the most joyous thing ever. Contains ignorant white stereotypes on indian names, and misrepresentation of drums, and the fact that it’s marketed toward white audience (centering whiteness), not a validating book, Alexie is often criticized as a sellout for not naming a specific tribe and playing into the idea that IA are monolithic.