At Thanksgiving time, all over the country, children in the early grades will learn the story of the Mayflower. Unfortunately, the most common version of this tale privileges the views and contributions of White Pilgrims and erases the experiences of the original inhabitants of our land.
One way to honor Native peoples – and to trouble the narrow, whitewashed version of our history frequently taught in schools – is to read books by and about America’s indigenous communities. Here’s a list of picture books to get started.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorrell (Cherokee) – This lyrical book is perfect for Thanksgiving. Sprinkling Cherokee words into the English text, author Traci Sorrell traces Cherokee traditions through all four seasons, intertwining expressions of gratitude and love.
My Heart Fills with Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith (Cree, Lakota), illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Metis) – In this low text board book, an unnamed narrator names all the things that fills them with joy, including dancing, singing, and listening to stories. The illustrations cleverly incorporate Native American traditions. For example, the illustration for dancing features a child wearing traditional clothes. The story ends by giving children the opportunity to express their gratitude, which is perfect for Thanksgiving.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band) – A celebration of Fry Bread, a dish cooked and eaten across Native nations, and invented due to necessity. The text’s repetitive, rhyming structure is fun for kids to hear and for parents to read, and each verse is more poetic than the last. The end of the book features extensive background information on each page, and a recipe for fry bread.
Birdsong, by Julie Flett (Cree-Metis) – A little girl moves to a new home and befriends an elderly neighbor. As the seasons change, the two become friends, bonding over their love of art. When the neighbor grows sick, the little girl learns how to care of her. A beautiful homage to intergenerational relationships perfect for a celebration of family.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin, by Duncan Tonatiuh (Mixtec) – In this book that code switches between English and Spanish, Charlie, who lives in an urban center in the US, exchanges postcards with his cousin Carlitos, who lives in rural Mexico. While the countries are very different, the boys have more in common than they imagined. Another celebration of family that is far and near.
We Sang You Home, By Richard Van Camp (Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation) – When a child is born, their parents find so many ways to express their joy, and to shower their new baby with love. The book seamlessly incorporates ancient traditions with the timeless experience of welcoming a new child into the world.
We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinabe/Metis), illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) – A gorgeously illustrated story of the Native American activists who successfully fought to protect their water sources from a pipeline project. An inspiring celebration of past and future activism, and a wonderful opportunity to express both gratitude and responsibility for the earth.