By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache
One of the themes from my studies, animals, derives from Native American children’s books featuring animals and the encountered stories about ethical or moral behaviors contained within them. Many Indigenous American cultures honor and revere animals. The people know that animals came into existence before man and animals have long been prevalent on Mother Earth. When men came, Animals communicated with humans and they still do. Therefore, they are respected; animals are considered Spirit helpers. Each animal has qualities that are special and powerful and shared with human beings if the animal is respected.
Gregory Cajete* notes that approximately 75% of Native American narratives contain significant animals, evidencing the close relationship of Native People and animals. In addition, he asserts that relationships with animals have always been an important part of Native American spirituality. We are related and humans have a responsibility to animals. With Native people, animals have always been considered equal to humans and holding the same rights in terms of the perpetuation of species. For example, humans rightfully and respectfully ask permission of animals for doing things with them and to them. The connection between humans and animals is demonstrated in numerous ways in Native tradition and in Native stories.
Many Native people view their relationship to all living creatures as an important aspect of spirituality and view their reciprocal relationships with animals as sacred. Traditional Native American children’s books featuring animals often include animal characters as main characters with autonomy and discretion. These narratives are teaching tools for the listener and are related in a way that allows the listener to apply their embedded lessons to individual situations.
The following are Native American children’s books featuring animals as main characters.
Author: Michael Lacapa
Title: Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale
Full of beautiful, authentic drawing from an Apache, Tewa, and Hopi, Antelope Woman explores why the Apache “honor the antelope by never hunting or killing them. For out there among the antelope are Antelope Woman and her children and they are part of us. Now as we hunt, my son, we must be thankful to the creator, who gives us all things great and small and who teaches us to honor them all.”
Author: Ferguson Plain (Ojibwe)
Title: Amikoonse (Little Beaver)
Amikoonse, the little beaver, had always lived with the boy, his friend and had never known any other way of life. One day, while Grandfather is telling stories, an open front door presents an opportunity that he could not resist, and Amikoonse runs. Soon, Amikoonse finds himself lost in a world far different than the one he had known. With the help of Ol’ Owl, he comes to his own place of belonging.
Author: Joe Medicine Crow (Crow)
Title: Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird
Illustration: Linda R. Martin (Dine’)
Each spring, a water monster comes out of the lake to steal Thunderbird’s chicks. Determined not to let this continue, Thunderbird snatches up a human hunter, Brave Wolf, to help her foil the monster. With Brave Wolf’s creative thinking and Thunderbird’s contribution of some dry logs, a big pile of rocks, a freshly killed buffalo, and a rain shower, the monster is greeted by more than a few helpless chicks. Martin’s illustrations—especially of the monster getting its comeuppance—are perfect
Author: Donna Joe (Sechelt)
Title: Ch’askin: A Legend of the Sechelt People
Illustration: Black and white illustrations by Jamie Jeffies (Sechelt)
Like Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird, this book is evocative. Ch’askin, Thunderbird, has come to help the Sechelt people survive. Only when the people no longer look to him for help, he knows his work is done.
Author: John Blondin (Dene), as told by father, George Blondin (Dene), Translated into Dogrib by Mary Rose Sundberg (Dene)
Title: Ekwo’Dozhia Wegondi: The Legend of the Caribou Boy
Tribe/Ethnic Group: Dogrib/Tlicho
When a little boy has trouble sleeping at night, he realizes that the caribou spirit is so strong in him that he can no longer remain a human. But his connection to his human family is strong also, so he gives them the gift of the caribou when they are hungry.
Author: Joseph McLellan (Me’tis)
Title: Nanabosho: How the Turtle Got Its Shell
Illustration: Rhian Brynjolson
Tribe/Ethnic Gropus: Me’tis, Ojibwe
When Nonie, Billy and their grandparents go to the city to visit Aunt Matrine, they stop at a pet store in the mall and are saddened by the sight of turtles for sale. “Turtles belong in lakes and rivers,” says Mishomis, “not in stores. Kitchie Manitou did not create turtles to be owned.” In the story that follows, Nanabosho is a gift-giver, and as thanks for helping him find fish to eat, he gives Turtle the gift of a shell.
Author: Donna Joe (Sechelt)
Title: Salmon Boy: A Legend of the Sechelt People
Illustration: Charlie Craigan
This traditional story tells of how the relationship between the people and the salmon came to be. Because the people treat the salmon with respect, the salmon are “happy to come ashore each year and give their rich flesh to feed the people of the land.”
Author: Dovie Thomason (Lakota/Kiowa-Apache)
Title: The Animals’ Wishes
Illustration: Dee Willey
Tribe/Ethnic Groups: Haudenosaunee
A traditional Haudenosaunee story for beginning readers in which Maker allows the animals-to-be to have a say in their own features—but only if their wishes are good ones.
Author: Chad Solomon (Ojibwe) and Christopher Meyer
Title: Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws: Vol. 1; “The Sugar Bush”
Illustration: Chad Solomon
The protagonists in these Ojibwe-centric graphic novels are Ojibwe brothers dealing, in their inimitable ways, with their land-hungry new neighbors. Rabbit is a shrewd, cunning, headstrong kid who often confuses bravery with bravado. His younger brother, Bear Paws, is larger and stronger, gullible, and always ready to pull Rabbit out of a scheme-gone-awry. The two transform themselves into animals, try to get out of trouble and chores, and remember the old stories and that lead to traditional lessons they impart. In “The Sugar Bush,” Rabbit and Bear Paws encounter a troop of British soldiers who don’t speak Ojibwe and have no idea how to live on the land.
Author: Joseph McLellan (Me’tis) and Matrine McLellan (Ojibwe/Cree)
Title: Goose Girl
Illustration: Rhian Brynjolson
Tribes/Ethnic Groups: Me’tis, Ojibwe, and Cree
10-year-old Marie has a special bond with the geese, given to her for a purpose. Because of this bond, Marie becomes Niskaw and is charged with the responsibility of bringing the healings of the geese to her people. It becomes her life’s work to visit the sick and comfort the dying, and to call on the geese to take people’s spirits home.
Author: Allen Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy)
Title: Thanks to the Animals
Illustration: Rebekah Raye
Tribes/Ethnic Groups: Passamaquoddy
A bedtime story for emerging readers, Thanks to the Animals is a story of how all the animals of the forest come together to shield and protect a child lost on his way to his family’s winter home until his father can return to take him home safely.
Author: Lyz Jaakola (Ojibwe
Title: Our Journey
Illustration: Karen Savage Blue
Tribe/Ethnic Groups: Ojibwe
The beautifully rich, colorful paintings teach readers Ojibwemowin phrases of greetings and thanks.
Author: Delores Taken Alive (Lakota Language Consortium)
Title: Prairie Dog Goes to School
Illustration: Frantisek Valer
Tribe/Ethnic Groups: Lakota
Modeled to follow the classic Lakota tale “Turtle Goes on the Warpath,” this book follows a prairie dog as he goes to school. Along the way, he encounters many different animals, and finally the teacher at school, a bear, who counts and names all the students.
* Cajete, G. (2000). Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.
Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals, WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.