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10 Beautiful Indigenous Children’s Books To Add To Your Library

Feb 1, 2017

For centuries, Indigenous peoples have honoured storytelling. There are stories of how things are made, how the animals came to be and how our people lived and traveled the land back in the day. There are stories of why the birds sang — about those who are tricksters and those who represent courage.

There are stories about Nokomis (Grandmother Moon), and Mishomis (Grandfather Sun) and stories meant to teach and guide. Stories were celebration, stories were art and stories were how we communicated from tribe to tribe. It was in this way, as storytellers, that we kept our history and traditions alive, long before the invention of ink and paper. Storytelling is how we survived.

It was verbal, passed down from one generation to the next. Today, these kinds of stories and the traditional ways to tell them remain — blood memory never goes away. We still share, create, conjure, elaborate, imagine and celebrate through storytelling. It’s how we strive to bridge gaps between differences in lifestyles and beliefs, where our pride and dignity as a people flourishes. Our family reads a lot at home. There is this glorious, growing abundance of Indigenous children’s book authors that I hungrily collect and stock in our library to enjoy at home whenever we want. These are some of our favourites written by celebrated Indigenous authors from across Turtle Island. Enjoy!

Sweetest Kulu (Celina Kalluk, Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis)

Recommended for new parents, babies and toddlers

A charming bedtime poem, Sweetest Kulu is about all of the gifts given to a newborn from the animals of the Arctic, told from the lyrical perspective of a mother speaking to her child — her "Kulu," an Inuktitut term of endearment for babies and young children. Kalluk is an acclaimed Inuit throat singer, all around lovely human and this is her debut book!

Book cover: Sweetest Kulu

What’s The Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? (Richard Van Camp, Illustrated by George Littlechild)

Recommended for grades K to 3

Welcome Song For Baby started our Van Camp love affair back when we were newbie parents; it continued with Little You and we’ve been adding his books to our personal library ever since. Few children’s authors can tackle the dark humour of being a mixed blood Indigenous kid, but Van Camp does it in What's The Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? with buckaroo grit and poetic spirit in this funny, magnificently illustrated piece that has sparked many a conversation in our home.

Book cover: What's the most beautiful thing you know about horses?

The Elders Are Watching (David Bouchard and Roy Henry Vickers)

Recommended for grades K to 4

With gorgeous artwork and lyrical storytelling (both done by Vickers), The Elders Are Watching is a powerful and stunningly beautiful way to impact little minds on the importance of the environment and respecting the wisdom and knowledge passed onto them from elders.

Book cover: The elders are watching

You'll Also Love: 3 Must-Read Children’s Books By Indigenous Authors

Rabbit and Bear Paws: Sacred Seven (Chad Solomon)

Recommended for grades K to 4

You can get the entire set of seven books on the Seven Grandfather teachings: courage, honesty, humility, love, respect, truth and wisdom. Or simply start out with one of my favourites, Respect, and take your kids on a journey with two brothers and their friend as they (humourously) learn the true meaning of these traditional values by copying the actions of each book’s featured animal or bird. The result is seven fun-filled stories as the three friends learn something about the natural world and important lessons along the way.

Book cover: Rabbit and bear paws: sacred seven

The Thundermaker (Allan Syliboy)

Recommended for grades K to 4

The Thundermaker was born from Mi’kmaw artist Syliboy’s spectacular mixed-media exhibit with the same name. Big Thunder shares the traditional teaching of making thunder and passes on this responsibility to his son, Little Thunder, to continue to provide for their people.

Book cover: The thundermaker

The Mishomis Book (Edward Benton-Banai)

Recommended for all ages

Created for people of all cultures, but especially for Ojibway and Native youth, The Mishomis Book is detailed introduction to Ojibway culture and the sacred Midewiwin teachings. Parents will appreciate the message that life should be centered on respect for all living things, vibrant community and a respectful relationship with nature.

Book cover: The mishomis book

Blackflies (Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Jay Odjick)

Recommended for all ages

I had to include this comical foray into blackfly takeover! Beloved children’s author Munsch collaborated with First Nations artist Odjick to tell a story shared with him by a First Nations family he met in Fort McMurray in 1996. It’s not even out yet, but word on the street is we can expect its release very soon!

Book cover: blackflies

You'll Also Love: 7 Kids’ Books Parents Love To Read Out Loud

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker (Robbie Robertson, Illustrated by David Shannon)

Recommended for grades 4 and up

Strikingly illustrated and vibrantly told, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker tells the story of Hiawatha, the legendary historical figure who helped form the great Iroquois Nation.

Book cover: Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Owls See Clearly At Night (Julie Flett)

Recommended for all ages (I will even look at this one on my own!)

Not your average alphabet book, Owls See Clearly At Night is a visually stunning journey through the language of the Métis, Michif. Flett also did the illustrations on Little You, the Van Camp book I mentioned earlier!

Book cover: Owls see clearly at night

When We Were Alone (David Alexander Robertson, Illustrated by Julie Flett)

Recommended for grades K to 3

This is a new one, and it’s one of many responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action — one of which is to begin education about the legacy of residential schools with children as early as kindergarten. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and merges exceptionally well into a story of empowerment and strength. (With the beauty of Flett’s art again!)

Book cover: When we were alone

Article Author Selena Mills
Selena Mills

Read more from Selena here

A multidisciplinary creative professional and artisan, Selena has over 10 years of experience writing and editing for acclaimed publications, B2B content creation, social management, brand building, design and VA services. Passionate about elevating Indigenous and FNMI stories, perspectives and voices in digital media, she strives to build bridges renegade style. When the chaos permits, Selena is an avid four-seasons permaculture gardener and a hobby “chef” who looks for other parents to revel (and or kvetch) in motherhood with. Clearly, she doesn’t like rules, most visionaries don’t.

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