21 books for kids and young adults to read for National Indigenous History Month
June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. In honour of this month, here's a list of great books for young readers to check out.
On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett
David A. Robertson and Julie Flett of award-winning picture book When We Were Alone fame team up again for On the Trapline. The picture book is a celebration of Indigenous culture and fathers and grandfathers as it tells the generational story of a boy and his grandfather.
On the Trapline is for ages 4 to 8.
Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett, and the YA book Strangers.
Flett is a Cree Métis author, illustrator and artist. Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little You, My Heart Fills with Happiness, We Sang You Home and Birdsong. Birdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.
I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade
I Sang You Down from the Stars is a story of birth and creation for younger readers. Using poetic language and watercolours, the picture book uses Indigenous creation stories and traditional teachings to celebrate nature and the bond behind mother and child.
I Sang You Down from the Stars is for ages 2 to 5.
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Tasha Spillett-Sumner is an educator, poet and scholar of Nehiyaw and Trinidadian descent. She is also the author of graphic novel Surviving the City, which won the $2,000 Indigenous Voices Award for works in an alternative format in 2019.
Michaela Goade is an American-born illustrator from the Tlingit and Haida tribes. Goade won the 2021 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in the book We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom.
When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
When We Are Kind is a picture book that walks children through simple acts of everyday kindness. It was created with the aim to encourage children to explore their feelings and to use kindness each and every day.
When We Are Kind is for ages 3-5.
Monique Gray Smith is a mixed-heritage — Cree, Lakota and Scottish — author who often writes and speaks about the resilience of Indigenous communities in Canada. She is also the author of the children's books Speaking Our Truth and You Hold Me Up, and the novels Tilly and Tilly and the Crazy Eights.
Nicole Neidhardt is a Diné visual artist and illustrator. When We Are Kind is her first children's book.
Hey Little Rockabye by Buffy Sainte-Marie, illustrated by Ben Hodson
Hey Little Rockabye conveys an important message about finding love and acceptance and shares a song about pet adoption. A puppy is looking for someone to love him. A young girl rescues the little dog and tries to convince her parents to let her keep him.
Hey Little Rockabye is for ages 3 to 7.
Buffy Sainte-Marie's long music career includes an expansive catalogue of music, art and work in activism. Hey Little Rockabye is her first children's picture book.
Ben Hodson is an award-winning illustrator of more than 20 children's books.
Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas, illustrated by Maya McKibbin
Swift Fox All Along is a picture book about a young girl connecting with her Mi'kmaq family, culture and identity. When Swift Fox is first introduced to her family, she feels like she doesn't belong. But she soon realizes she's not alone in feeling like an outsider and learns to embrace her identity.
Swift Fox All Along is for ages 4-7.
Rebecca Thomas is a Mi'kmaw writer living in Nova Scotia. She was the Halifax poet laureate from 2016 to 2018. She is also the author of the children's book I'm Finding My Talk, which is a poem responding to the iconic Rita Joe poem I Lost My Talk, and the poetry collection I place you into the fire.
Maya McKibbin is a two-spirited Ojibwe, Yoeme and Irish illustrator and filmmaker. Swift Fox All Along is her first picture book.
Nattiq And The Land Of Statues by Barbara Landry, illustrated by Martha Kyak
A ringed seal, known in Inuktitut as Nattiq, has returned to his Arctic home from his a long trek south in Nattiq And The Land Of Statues. His friends — a polar bear, caribou, raven, walrus and narwhal — gather to hear about the amazing sights he saw on his journey. The book also includes a glossary of Inuktitut words.
Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is for ages 3-7.
Barbara Landry is an author, poet and musician originally from Michigan. Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is her debut children's book.
Maata (Martha) Kyak is an Ottawa-based Inuit artist who has illustrated numerous children's books.
Stand Like a Cedar by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor
Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book about nature, animals and the wonder of the wilderness. It is an educational look at what it means to "stand like a cedar" and features the names of animals in the Nle7kepmxcín or Halq'emeylem languages.
Stand Like a Cedar is for ages 3 to 5.
Nicola I. Campbell is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis from the Nicola Valley in B.C. She is also the author of Shi-shi-etko, Shin-chi's Canoe, Grandpa's Girls and A Day With Yayah.
Carrielynn Victor is an artist and illustrator of Stó:lö, Coast Salish & settler heritage from the XwChí:yóm (Cheam) community in B.C.
We All Play by Julie Flett
We All Play is the latest picture book by Cree author and artist Julie Flett. Through colourful illustrations, We All Play explores an Indigenous perspective as it celebrates nature and how we are all connected. We All Play includes a glossary of Cree words for wild animals and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book.
We All Play is for children up to the age of 7
Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little You, My Heart Fills with Happiness, We Sang You Home and Birdsong. Birdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.
This Is How I Know by Brittany Luby, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere & Alan Corbiere
This Is How I Know is a vibrant story poem about an Anishinaabe child, her grandmother and a look at the wonders and beauty of the natural world.
This Is How I Know is for ages 3 to 7.
Brittany Luby is an academic and children's book author. She is the great-granddaughter of Chief Kawitaskung, an Anishinaabe leader who signed the North-West Angle Treaty of 1873.
Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibway multidisciplinary artist from Ontario, whose family is from Wasauksing First Nation.
Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere are Anishinaabe from M'Chigeeng First Nation. The father and son duo translated the Anishinaabemowin text for the book.
We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin
We Dream Medicine Dreams tells a touching tale about the dreams of a little girl and how they connect to her Indigenous ancestors. While her grandfather falls ill, the little girl dreams of Bear, Hawk, Caribou and Wolf to learn more about what it means to have lived a good life.
We Dream Medicine Dreams is for ages 6 to 8.
Illustrating colonization: Painting the link between history and poor health outcomes for Indigenous patients
Lisa Boivin is an interdisciplinary artist and PhD student at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at University of Toronto and a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation. She is also the author of the YA novel I Will See You Again.
The Train by Jodie Callaghan, illustrated by Georgia Lesley
In this book, a girl named Ashley meets her great-uncle by the old train tracks near their Nova Scotia community. The Train is a story of the legacy of residential schools in Canada as her Uncle explains his experience and loss of identity. The book is a story of remembrance, hope and reconciliation.
The Train was a finalist for the 2021 Silver Birch Express Award.
Jodie Callaghan is a Mi'gmaq author and storyteller from the Listuguj First Nation in Gespegewa'gi near Quebec.
Georgia Lesley is an artist and illustrator based in British Columbia's Cariboo region.
Little Wolf by Teoni Spathelfer, illustrated by Natassia Davies
Little Wolf tells the tale of a major life transition as a young Indigenous girl and her family move to the city. The girl learns to make sense of her new surroundings and, with the help of her mother, she makes connections with the human and natural world. Little Wolf is the first in a trilogy.
Little Wolf is for ages 4 to 8.
Teoni Spathelfer is a radio journalist and author who is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation from coastal B.C.
Natassia Davies is an artist and graphic designer from Victoria and is of Coast Salish ancestry.
The Frog Mother by Brett D. Huson, illustrated by Natasha Donovan
The Frog Mother is a story about prey and predators in the wild. It's a story about survival, as the tiny tadpoles birthed to Nox Ga'naaw, the frog mother, must fend for themselves in a pond — and continue the circle of life by growing to adulthood and having tadpoles of their own.
The Frog Mother is for ages 9 to 11.
Hetxw'ms Gyetxw, also known as Brett D. Huson, is a writer from the Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia.
Natasha Donovan is a Métis illustrator originally from Vancouver. Her sequential work has been published in the This Place: 150 Years Retold comic anthology and the Wonderful Women of History anthology.
Treaty Words by Aimée Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson
Treaty Words is a book for ages 10 and up about the importance of understanding an Indigenous perspective on treaties. The book looks at the first treaty, the one between the earth and the sky. Sitting on the riverbank, a man sits with his granddaughter to teach her the power of silence in nature — so that she might learn her standing in the world.
Treaty Words is for ages 10 and up.
Aimée Craft is an Anishinaabe Métis lawyer and author from Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. She is an associate professor at University of Ottawa and a leading researcher on Indigenous laws, treaties and water.
Luke Swinson is a visual artist and illustrator with Anishinaabe roots from Kitchener, Ont. He is a member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
The Shaman's Apprentice by Zacharias Kunuk, illustrated by Megan Kyak-Monteith
Based on a short film of the same name, The Shaman's Apprentice is a tale of a young shaman learning their craft. When someone becomes sick in the village, the shaman in training must face and defeat the spiritual and physical challenges before them.
The Shaman's Apprentice is for ages 9 to 12.
Zacharias Kunuk is a Canadian Inuk producer, director and author. He is notable for his film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first Canadian dramatic feature film produced entirely in Inuktitut.
Megan Kyak-Monteith is an Inuk illustrator and painter based in Halifax. Growing up in Nunavut, in a community and family grounded heavily in art and traditional crafts, Kyak-Monteith's interest in art started from a young age.
The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson
The Barren Grounds is the first book of a new middle-grade series by David A. Robertson. It is set in Winnipeg where two Indigenous kids, Morgan and Eli, are placed in a new foster home. The pair feel out of place and disconnected in their new surroundings — until they uncover a secret portal in the attic that opens up to a magical reality. The frozen barren grounds they find set the pair on a mission of survival and self-determination.
The Barren Grounds is for ages 10 and up.
Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett and the YA book Strangers and the memoir Black Water.
The Power of Style by Christian Allaire
The Power of Style is a YA nonfiction book about the power of fashion. Christian Allaire is a Ojibwe fashion and style writer who has always had a passion for looking good. In The Power of Style, Allaire highlights the need for diversity and representation in fashion — and examines topics such as cosplay, make up, hijabs, and hair to show the intersection of style, culture and social justice over the years.
The Power of Style is for ages 12 and up.
Allaire is an Ojibwe author who grew up on the Nipissing First Nation reserve in Ontario. Allaire is the fashion and style writer at Vogue.
The Case of the Burgled Bundle by Michael Hutchinson
The Mighty Muskrats of Windy Lake First Nation — Cousins Sam, Otter, Atim and Chickadee — are back for another middle-grade adventure. In the third book in the series, the kids gather to find out what happened to a missing e treaty bundle — and how to get it back to protect the reputation of Windy Lake. Along the way, the cousins learn more about themselves and their history.
The Case of the Burgled Bundle is for ages 9 to 12.
Michael Hutchinson's Mighty Muskrats Mystery series reflects diversity within Indigenous communities
Michael Hutchinson is a novelist and member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Ottawa and works at the Assembly of First Nations. He is the author of The Case of Windy Lake and The Case of the Missing Auntie.
Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert
Jo Jo Makoons is an early chapter book series featuring an energetic young Ojibwe girl named Jo Jo who loves who she is. Jo Jo lives on an Ojibwe reservation with her family, including mom, her kokum and her cat Mimi. In Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend, the titular character discovers that Fern, her best friend at school, just might not want to hang out anymore — and Jo Jo must learn how she can make more friends.
Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend is for ages 6 to 10.
Dawn Quigley is an author, poet and academic. She is of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.
Tara Audibert is a New Brunswick multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, cartoonist, animator and podcaster of Wolastoqey/French heritage. She was a contributor to This Place, an anthology of comics featuring the work of Indigenous creators as they retell the history of Canada of the past 150 years.
My Indian by Chief Mi'sel Joe and Sheila O'Neill
My Indian tells the story of Sylvester Joe, a Mi'kmaw guide who helped William Epps Cormack across Newfoundland in search of the last remaining Beothuk camps on the island in 1822. The historical fiction novel tells the story from an Indigenous perspective with the goal of reclaiming Sylvester Joe's identity and legacy.
My Indian is for ages 12 to 14.
Mi'sel Joe is the author of Muinji'j Becomes a Man and An Aboriginal Chief's Journey. Mi'sel Joe is considered the spiritual chief of the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador and has been the district traditional chief of Miawpukek First Nation since 1983, appointed by the late Grand Chief Donald Marshall.
Sheila O'Neill is an author, drum carrier and member of Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. She is a founding member and past president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network.
A Is for Anemone by Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers
A Is for Anemone is by the duo of Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers. The picture book celebrates the alphabet, animals and imagery of the West Coast by way of vibrant illustrations.
A Is for Anemone is for ages up to 7.
Vickers is a carver, painter and printmaker from B.C. He is the co-author of the children's Northwest Coast Legends series, which includes Raven Brings the Light in 2014, Cloudwalker in 2015, Orca Chief in 2016 and Peace Dancer in 2017.
Budd is the co-author of the Northwest Coast Legends series and the author of Voices of British Columbia and its sequel, Echoes of British Columbia.