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20 Books by Indigenous Authors to Ignite Gratitude for Storytelling

with emi aguilar from @IndigenizingArtsEd

In many Indigenous cultures, storytelling is a central artform in moving cultural teachings and knowledge systems forward. Knowing this, it makes sense that Indigenous authors are at the forefront when it comes to weaving stories together that enrapt young readers.

This month, I have partnered with Madison Reading Project to recommend 20 books written by Indigenous authors that will ignite gratitude for the art of storytelling. These recommendations are sorted into four categories: picture books, early chapter books, middle grade, and teen/young adult.

These categories are merely meant to help readers select texts based on reading level, and not based on content. All of the books recommended here are important texts for all young people, families, and classrooms to read together.

You will find a mix of nations represented here, as well as content and identities. I hope that these books ignite gratitude for Indigenous storytellers and the abundant diversity of teachings that exist across Indigenous communities.

Picture Books
Just Like Grandma By Kim Rogers (Wichita)

Great for ages 3-8 with beautiful illustrations by Cree-Métis artist Julie Flett, this book honors the special relationship between a grandchild and grandmother.

Stand Like a Cedar By Nicola I. Campbell (Nłeʔkepmx, Syílx, Métis)

At the center of this story is a celebration of the relationship between a family and all of creation. Learn important teachings and words in Nłeʔkepmxcín and Halq’emeylem along the way. Recommended for ages 3-8.

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson (Anishinaabe)

This is an important story for all ages, which celebrates a grandmother who is also a water protector. It is a story of the responsibility we all have to protect Mother Earth for future generations.

Little You by Richard Van Camp (Tłı̨chǫ Dene)

A story for newborns and very young ones to celebrate their life, this book is available in English, Bilingual Plains Cree/English, Spanish, French, and Anishinaabemowin.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation)

Celebrate this delicious and staple food through the power of senses and verse. A fun read for ages 2-6.

Still This Love Goes On by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Piapot First Nation)

Written by the iconic Buffy Sainte-Marie, this book is meant to be sung or spoken. Sheet music is provided to help make this an interactive experience for all ages.

Berry Song by Michaela Goade (Tlingit, Haida)

A story that celebrates the beloved kinship between the land and the Tlingit, readers learn how harvesting traditional food sources strengthens relationships between all relatives. Ages 3-8.

Giju's Gift By Brandon Mitchell (Mi’kmaq)

The first graphic novel in a series for young readers, this is an adventure story that reminds us of our place in the world. Told primarily through imagery. Ages 6-8.

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk (Inuk)

A beautiful bedtime story for little ones, a mother recounts to her baby all of the gifts that the lands, waters, elements and animals have blessed them with. Ages 0-4.

Early Chapter Books

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)

Centered around a fun and high-spirited 7-year-old who never has a dull moment, this is a laughter-filled read for ages 6-9.

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)

A collection of stories and poems told from various intersecting characters at a powwow, this anthology celebrates an important time in many Native communities – powwow season! Recommended for all ages.

She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller By Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) and Chelsea Clinton

Based on the life of the first woman Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation, this is an excellent choice for classrooms and families alike. Ages 6-10.

Middle Grade

Healer of the Water Monster By Brian Young (Diné)

Pulling from the Navajo creation story, this is an inspiring story about a young Navajo boy and the lengths he will go to in order to help the ones he loves. Ages 8-12.

Indian No More By Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua), Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation)

Centering a young Umpqua girl as she and her family navigate traumatic policies set forth by the U.S. government, this is a relatable read for children working to understand their place in the world. Inspired by true events. Great for ages 8-12.

The Raven Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw Brett D. Huson (Gitxsan Nation)

Told through beautiful graphic novel-style illustrations, this story weaves Gitxsan science and culture to ignite a love of learning through story. Recommended for ages 8-11.

The Gift of the Little People by William Dumas (Rocky Cree)

A story about resilience and cultural pride, follow Kākakiw on an adventure to bring medicine to save his people. Ages 9-11.

From the Roots Up by Tasha Spillett (Cree)

This graphic novel centers a Two Spirit character, Dez, as she navigates her identity while dealing with the grief of losing her grandmother and being moved into a group home.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa)

Centered around a young Ojibwe girl in 1847, this story flips the script to offer a Native child’s perspective on colonialism as white people encroach on their land. Recommended for ages 8-14.

Teen/Young Adult

Firekeepers Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Chippewa)

This is the Indigenous heroine mystery novel we have all been waiting for. Told from the perspective of Daunis Fontaine, a young Anishinaabekwe, brilliant scientist and loyal friend, teens and adults will not be able to put this one down.

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet By Jen Ferguson (Métis)

Filled with emotional depth alongside secrets that twist and turn, this story centers a Métis girl as she navigates complex family and adult dynamics.

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story By David A. Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation)

Based on the true story of Betty Ross (Cross Lake First Nation), this is an important read for all families and classrooms to learn about true American and Canadian History. This story honors the power and resilience of Indigenous communities, and the capacity for words to keep us alive.

About the author:

emi aguilar (Coahuiltecan) is a two spirit arts educator and community organizer based in Central Texas. She runs the Instagram platform, @ IndigenizingArtsEd, where she offers resources and learning opportunities for educators and adult learners on undoing settler-colonial culture.


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