North American Indigenous Children’s Literature

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

In North American Indigenous children’s literature, storytelling is characterized by focusing on origin, cultural identity and traditional knowledge systems. Origin is often explained with the aide of animal characters, but these are not the only types of stories to use animals. Animals are also used to explain dilemmas when it comes to ethical and moral decisions. As originally told by the elders, these stories are embraced by members of the community as our way of knowing and being. Narratives are transmitted orally and by physical expression (body language, facial expressions, gestures, ect.) through songs, chants, ceremony, dance and ritualized storytelling.

North American Indigenous Children's Literature

In ethics, teaching and self-identity emerge intertwined in the everyday learning experiences of Indigenous children. The traditional learning process often involves trial and error. It also involves allowing children to attempt tasks without adult interference. By engaging in the trial and error process, it helps them develop their experiential backgrounds and critical thinking skills while emphasizing cooperative problem solving. Such skills and experiences are highly valued within every Indigenous culture. Examples of this trial and error type of learning can be found in the recommended titles below. Also found in these titles is the sacred, sometimes secret knowledge of Native American beliefs that is associated with traditional knowledge systems and historic experiences. In Indigenous children’s literature, this knowledge is expressed through relationships, places, ceremonies, spirituality and religion. All the descriptions are taken from the publishers’ promotional material unless otherwise noted.

As I Remember It, by Tara Lee Morin
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: (Not Specified)
This is the stark childhood and adolescence of Tara Lee, the protagonist of As I Remember It. But she triumphs over rejection and abuse, thanks to her indomitable spirit and the efforts of a pair of unique foster parents.

Cloudwalker, by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd with illustrations by Roy Henry Vickers
Publishing: Harbour Publishing
Age Level: 4-9
In this retelling of an Indigenous folktale, the creation of bodies of water is explained from the perspective of Astace, an adolescent Gitxsan hunter. (Description created for this post.)

How the Loon Lost Her Voice, by Anne Cameron with illustrations by Tara Miller
Publisher: Harbour PublishingAge Level: 4 and up
The famous northwest coast Indian myth, sometimes called “Raven Steals the Light” telling how Loon, Raven, and all the animals rallied to retrieve the daylight from behind its wall of ice after it was stolen by evil spirits.

Just a Walk, by Jorden Wheeler (Cree) with illustrations by Christopher Auchter (Haida)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 3-5
In Just a Walk , a young boy named Chuck goes for a simple walk that turns into a day of crazy adventure. Chuck encounters animals, fish and birds that lead him on a wild journey through their various habitats.

The Legend of the Caribou Boy, by George and John Blondin (Dene) with illustrations by Ray McSwain
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: All Ages
A young boy is having trouble sleeping at night. He is being called to fulfill his destiny, a destiny which lives on today in the traditions and culture of the Dene people and their relationship to the caribou and the land on which they live.

The Little Duck Sikihpsis, by Beth Cuthand (Cree) with illustrations by Mary Longman (Saulteaux)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 7-9
The Little Duck is a universal story that transcends cultural boundaries and leaves one with a lesson about the importance of self-worth.

Little You, by Richard Van Camp (Tlicho Dene) with illustrations by Julie Flett (Cree Métis)
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers Canada
Age Level: 0-3
A board book for the youngest children, celebrating who they are and who they could be.

Midnight Sweatlodge, by Waubgeshi Rice (Wasauksing)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Midnight Sweatlodge tells the tale of family members, friends and strangers who gather together to partake in this ancient healing ceremony.Each person seeks traditional wisdom and insight to overcome pain and hardship, and the characters give us glimpses into their lives that are both tearful and true.

The Moccasins, by Earl Einarson (Ktunaza) with illustrations by Julie Flett (Cree Métis)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: All Ages
This is an endearing story of a young Aboriginal foster child who is given a special gift by his foster mother. Her gift of warmth and thoughtfulness helps her young foster children by encouraging self-esteem, acceptance and love.

My Life with the Salmon, by Diane Jacobson (Namgis) with illustrations by Harold Alfred (Namgis)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: (Not Specified)
Diane “Honey” Jacobson’s latest book is an important comment about First Nations efforts to save the salmon and her personal youthful journey to find meaning and a sense of place in life.

The Old Man with the Otter Medicine, by George and John Blondin (Dene) with illustrations by Archie Beaverho
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: All Ages
The Old Man with the Otter Medicine tells of medicine power, the struggle for survival and an important part of the history and culture of the Dene people as it has been passed down through stories and legends for generations.

Orca’s Song, by Anne Cameron with illustrations by Nelle Olsen
Publisher: Harbour Publishing
Age Level: 4-9
Orca’s Song is the tale of the love between Orca and Eagle-Flies-High, and explains the origin of the killer whale’s song and exuberant dance.

People of the Land: Legends of the Four Host First Nations, adapted from traditional Indigenous stories
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: All Ages
Spectacular imagery adorns this fascinating anthology of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations stories and legends.

The Rabbits’ Race, by Deborah L. Delaronde (Métis) with illustrations by Virginia McCoy
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 9-11
The wisdom of the elder rabbits plays a pivotal role in the story which provides a valuable lesson for Joey and his classmates.

Raven Brings the Light, by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd with illustrations by Roy Henry Vickers
Publisher: Harbour Publishing
Age Level: 4-9
In a time when darkness covered the land, a boy named Weget is born who is destined to bring the light.

Raven Goes Berrypicking, by Anne Cameron with illustrations by Gaye Hammond
Publisher: Harbour Publishing
Age Level: 4-9
Raven is clever and tricky – and greedy. In this story, she persuades her friends Gull, Cormorant, and Puffin to pick berries with her, and tricks them into doing more than their share of work, for less than their share of food.

Raven and Snipe, by Anne Cameron with illustrations by Tara Miller
Publisher: Harbour Publishing
Age Level: 4-9
In this tale, the ever-wily, ever-hungry Raven visits the generous Snipe family, in the hope of getting lots of free food. When she gets a bit too greedy, however, she finds out the Snipes have a few tricks of their own.

The Two Sisters, by Pauline E. Johnson with illustrations by Sandra Butt
Publisher: Waterlea Books
Age Level: All Ages
The universal themes of Creation, courage, and peace run through this legend of two little girls who grow up to be courageous young women who help to bring lasting peace to their world.

Where Did You Get Your Moccasins?, by Bernelda Wheeler (Muscowpetung Saulteaux) with illustrations by Herman Bekkering
Publisher: Highwater Press
Age Level: 5-9
When a boy brings his moccasins to his city school, his classmates have many questions. They are enthralled as he explains how his Kookum made them.

Yamozha and His Beaver Wife, by Vital Thomas with illustrations by Archie Beaulieu
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: All Ages
A powerful medicine man, Yamozha is prominent in many Dene stories. In this legend, Yamozha forgets a promise to this wife and she transforms into a giant beaver.

Zoe and the Fawn, by Catherine Jameson (Syilx) with illustrations by Julie Flett (Cree Métis)
Publisher: Theytus Books
Age Level: 0-5
An adventure begins when Zoe finds a lone fawn in the forest and helps search for its mother.

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