14 inspiring children's books from Indigenous writers

If your family is looking for educational and inspiring stories, here are 14 great reads to check out.

The finalists for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award have been announced. The $50,000 prize is the richest in Canadian children's literature — awarded annually to the creators of one book for readers up to the age of 12.

Inspired by the diversity of the finalists for this award, CBC Books is putting together reading lists for the whole family. One of the 2018 finalists is Monique Gray Smith's Speaking Our Truth — a nonfiction book that details the history of the residential school system in Canada and its lasting effects on generations of Indigenous people living in Canada.

Here are 13 other inspiring books by Indigenous authors for kids and their families to check out. 

Picture books:

Nokum Is My Teacher by David Bouchard, illustrated by Allen Sapp 

Nokum Is My Teacher is a children's book written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Allen Sapp. (Rubicon Publishing/Red Deer Press/Dean Bauche)

Written by award-winning Métis poet and author David Bouchard and illustrated by Cree elder and Governor General's Literary Award-winning painter Allen Sapp, Nokum Is My Teacher is the poetic story about a young Indigenous boy who asks his Nokum (grandmother) a series of questions about the world outside of their community. Nokum gives her grandson an appreciation for his tradition as well as an understanding of how to fit into life off of the reserve — while still respecting the ways of his people. This children's book was the recipient of the Ânskohk Aboriginal Children's Book of the Year and was a bronze medallist for the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards in 2007.

Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave 

Shi-shi-etko is a children's book written by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave. (salishwrite.com/Kinder Books)

Shi-shi-etko is a young girl who has only a few days before she is sent off to a residential school. In the short time she has left, she soaks in the natural wonders of the world around her, from the tall grass to the tadpoles in the creek. Before she leaves, the child learns valuable lessons and wisdom needed in the trying times ahead.  

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel 

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox is a children's book written and illustrated by Danielle Daniel. (danielledaniel.com/Groundwood Books)

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox is a children's introduction to the idea of totem animals, a deeply rooted Anishinaabe tradition. In a series of short poems that are accompanied by illustrations of children wearing masks, the book explains the idea of identifying with a chosen animal. Written and illustrated by Danielle Daniel, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox also describes how totem animals can act as guides for people seeking to understand themselves and their place in the world better. 

The Moccasins by Earl Einarson, illustrated by Julie Flett 

The Moccasins is a children's book written by Earl Einarson and illustrated by Julie Flett. (poppytalk.com/Theytus Books/McKellar & Martin Publishing Group)

Written by Earl Einarson and illustrated by award-winning artist Julie Flett, The Moccasins is about an Indigenous boy who is given a gift from his adoptive mother. This simple story is built on themes of acceptance, self-esteem and love to depict a positive foster care experience. 

Coyote Tales by Thomas King, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler 

Coyote Tales is a collection of two fables by award-winning author Thomas King. (HarperCollins/Groundwood Books)

This children's book by award-winning novelist Thomas King tells two fables featuring the trickster Coyote. In Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote must get the Moon back into the sky after he insults it and causes Moon to plunge into a pond, sending the world into darkness. In Coyote's New Suit, the mischievous Raven insists that Coyote's brown suit is not the finest in the forest. Coyote then steals the suits of the other animals while Raven convinces the animals to steal clothes from the humans. Raven then suggests Coyote have a yard sale — which becomes chaotic as both the humans and animals show up looking for their lost clothes.

A Promise Is A Promise by Michael Kusugak and Robert Munsch, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka

A Promise Is A Promise is a picture book by Michael Kusugak and Robert Munsch. (Annick Press)

This collaboration between Guelph, Ont. children's author Robert Munsch and Rankin Inlet writer Michael Kusugak brings the Arctic to life for young readers. Featuring a protagonist named Allashua, A Promise Is A Promise takes readers on a journey below the sea ice, where they meet a frightening creature known as Qallupilluit. With its origins in the traditional stories told to protect children in Inuit communities from harm, the book was illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka and first published in 1988. 

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson

The Water Walker is a children's book by Joanne Robertson. (Second Story Press)

In The Water Walker, Anishinaabe author, illustrator, and water protection activist Joanne Robertson tells the true story of Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibwe grandmother who walks to protect Nibi (water) for future generations. Robertson includes an Ojibwe vocabulary and pronunciation page in the book, which she both wrote and illustrated. Mandamin is a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor's Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation and The Water Walker is a celebration of her commitment to protecting the planet. 

Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

Little You is a picture book written by Richard van Camp and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Julie Flett. (Laughing Dog Photography/McKellar & Martin Publishing Group/Orca Book Publisher)

In this board book for early readers, Tlicho Dene writer Richard Van Camp celebrates the strength and vulnerability of being small. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations from Cree-Métis author and illustrator Julie Flett, Van Camp's words speak to the power of being surrounded by family and community from a young age — and the importance of growing up knowing you are unconditionally loved. 

How Raven Stole the Sun by Maria Williams, illustrated by Felix Vigil

How Raven Stole The Sun is a children's fable retold by Maria Williams. (Abbeville Press)

Maria Williams and Felix Vigil's How Raven Stole the Sun is a beautiful retelling of a Tlingit story featuring a shape-shifting raven determined to free humans from darkness by stealing the stars, moon and sun which are kept under lock and key by a greedy chief. By transforming himself into the chief's baby grandson, the bird is able to trick the chief into releasing the light he has held captive, unearthing a new dawn for the people. 

Middle-grade books:

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

Fatty Legs is a children's book and memoir written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. (Annick Press)

As young girl living in the High Arctic, Margaret Pokiak was determined to learn to read even though it meant leaving her home and everything she knew behind. Despite her father's warning about the horrors of residential schools, Margaret makes the long journey south where she encounters the Raven — a hook-nosed nun who immediately dislikes Margaret. In a show of cruelty, the Raven gives Margaret red stockings instead of the grey ones the other girls receive, making her the laughingstock of the school. Margaret gets rid of the stockings and must teach the Raven a lesson about human dignity.

Speaking Our Truth by Monique Gray Smith 

Monique Gray Smith is the author of Speaking Our Truth. (Centric Photography)

This nonfiction book from Cree, Lakota and Scottish writer Monique Gray Smith is a young person's guide to concepts of colonialism, reconciliation, allyship and more. Using storytelling, personal testimony and age-accessible language, Speaking Our Truth helps readers young and old understand the history of the residential school system in Canada and its lasting effects on survivors today. Speaking Our Truth is one of five finalists for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award. 

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol

The Orange Shirt Story is a nonfiction picture book by Phyllis Webstad and Brock Nicol. (orangeshirtday.org)

Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30 is an annual opportunity for people of all ages to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors and their families by wearing orange. The event is inspired by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad's experience of being stripped of a brand new, orange shirt on her first day attending residential school when she was just six years old. Webstad's book, The Orange Shirt Story, shares what it meant for the writer to be deprived of her beloved clothing — and her sense of identity — at such a young age. 

YA books:

Good for Nothing by Michel Noël, translated by Shelley Tanaka 

Good For Nothing is a juvenile novel written by Michel Noël. (House of Anansi Press/Hurtubise)

Winner of the Canadian Children Book Centre's Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction in 2005, Michael Noël's Good for Nothing tells the harrowing story of how 15-year-old Nipishish is affected by his time in residential school. Told he is "good-for-nothing," Nipishish is kicked out of school and sent back to his home reserve in northern Quebec. But life there is difficult too — as Nipishish struggles to return to the life he left behind, while remembering little of the community's old ways. 

Sugar Falls by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

Sugar falls is a children's book by award-winning author David A. Robertson. (www.darobertson.ca/Highwater Press)

This graphic novel from Swampy Cree writer David A. Robertson and his frequent collaborator Scott B. Henderson is based on the true story of Betty Ross, an elder from Manitoba's Cross Lake First Nation. Adopted into a loving family at a young age, Ross was sent to residential school at eight years of age — and endured abuse while she was there. Sugar Falls recounts her journey in an age-accessible way, and highlights the role her father's teachings played in helping Ross to keep hope alive. 

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