If you are a kindergarten teacher, you probably love quality picture books. You probably love browsing the shelves of bookstores to find books that are perfect for your classroom library. And you probably love stocking your shelves with books in which your students will find delight, amusement, and connections! This collection of picture books by Indigenous authors was a pleasure to curate because I love beautiful picture books. That November is Native American Heritage Month prompted me to put this post together now, but these books can (and should) be enjoyed throughout the year.
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When selecting books to include in this post, I looked through many beautiful titles by Indigenous authors. There is a world of beautiful literature by Native American and First Nations writers for you to peruse and collect—making your classroom library richer and more diverse. I chose the following books because they are perfectly appropriate for kindergarten!
Each book in this collection has beautiful, eye-catching illustrations, relatable subject matter, and engaging text. The books I chose depict contemporary scenes featuring children doing the things children do—playing, dancing, cooking, listening to stories, and spending quality time with family members.
6 Books by Indigenous Authors to Add to Your Classroom Library
Here are the books! For each, I will give a little description, offer ideas for extension activities, and link to where you can purchase the book. Many of these books include author’s notes at the end, some extensive. I recommend reading these beforehand so you can be as knowledgeable as possible about the subject matter when sharing the books with your students.
When I first read Berry Song by Caldecott medal-winner Michaela Goade, I wished I could step inside and live in the beautiful illustrations. This book is gorgeous, and its simple, lyrical text is perfect for a young audience. Michaela Goade, a member of the Tlingit Nation, drew on her experiences growing up on the coast of Alaska when writing Berry Song.
The story follows a young girl and her grandmother gathering gifts from the Earth—salmon and herring eggs, but mostly berries! As they forage, they sing to the berries with a lovely, rhythmic refrain. The relationships in this book between the characters and the land are powerful. This is a beautiful book for leading into discussions about how we treat the Earth and about the importance of family and traditions.
If you have time before sharing Berry Song with children, take the time to read the author’s note. It will give you context that can make for a richer discussion. Also, the girl and her grandmother in the story thank the land with the Tlingit word “gunalchéesh.” You can learn how to pronounce gunalchéesh here.
We All Play by Julie Flett is a sweet and simple book that is just begging to be read aloud in kindergarten. Canadian author and artist Julie Flett drew on her Cree-Métis culture when writing and illustrating this book. In the author’s notes, she tells of remembering her father’s words about people’s relationships with other animals.
We All Play follows a pattern of listing animal actions over a few pages and then repeating, “We play too! kimêtawânaw mîna.” Her beautiful pastel and pencil illustrations depict a variety of animals and children playing in a similar manner.
Rabbits, foxes, and owls hiding, hopping, sniffing, sneaking, peeking, and peeping in the grass are followed by children playing in the grass. Water animals are paired with swimming children, and slipping, sliding, and tumbling animals are paired with children playing on a snowy hill. Finally, the animals and then the children tire themselves out, and everyone falls asleep.
The publisher, Greystone Books, has set up a helpful resource that you can share with your students. This page shows illustrations of the animals in the book paired with audio pronunciation of their names in the Cree language. There is also a list of animal names and a pronunciation guide at the back of the book.
As a writing extension, have students choose an animal from the book to compare themselves to. They can draw and write about how they are like their chosen animal. If your children are beginning writers, sentence stems like these might help:
(animal name)s ________________. I __________________, too! (Example: Foxes run. I run, too!)
This next book, My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, is illustrated by Juile Flint (creator of We All Play). Perfect for a young audience, this dual-language book reflects the author’s heritage as a person of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish ancestry but will inspire personal connections in children from all cultures.
Accompanying the bright and clear illustrations, Smith’s text is, just as the title implies, all about the things that make us happy (“My heart fills with happiness when… I see the face of someone I love…”) Though this book is simple and short, it includes plenty of invitations to learn more about Indigenous culture. Your students may be interested in learning more about the roles of dancing and drumming in Native cultures, for example. They also might be curious about “bannock,” a type of fry bread you can read about here.
The book’s final page asks, “What fills YOUR heart with happiness?”—a perfect lead-in to a writing activity!
The linked version of My Heart Fills With Happiness is written in both English and the Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin. (There is a different version with the translation in Cree.) If you’d like your students to hear the Anishinaabemowin version, there’s a nice video from Royal Roads University here.
After reading My Heart Fills With Happiness and discussing “bannock,” a read-aloud of Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard (illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal) is in order! This celebration of culture, food, and family is delightfully illustrated with diverse characters. The text is a perfect blend of informative and simple—great for the attention span of a young audience.
Maillard has included extensive notes on the last pages of Fry Bread. I learned quite a bit from them and appreciated the book and its illustrations even more due to the context they gave. In the notes, he elaborates on the history and significance of fry bread and many aspects of Native culture. He also shares some of his own perspectives and experiences as a member of the Seminole Nation (and his own fry bread recipe!).
Your students might enjoy watching one man share his recipe and method for making fry bread in this video. You can see an interview with Kevin Maillard (who is also a law professor!) discussing Fry Bread here. (This might not hold kids’ attention, but it is an interesting watch for you. At the end, Maillard’s young son comes on screen to read a page of the book.) And here’s Mr. Maillard reading the book and talking a little bit about it. And finally, here’s a clip from Molly of Denali that involves fry bread.
Next in this collection of picture books by Indigenous authors is Powwow Day by Traci Sorell (illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight). Powwow Day is the story of a young girl named River attending her community’s tribal powwow. This would normally be a source of great excitement for River, but this time, she grapples with disappointment as exhaustion from a recent illness relegates her to the sidelines.
The dance that River is most sad to miss—the one she usually participates in—is the jingle dress dance. This is a healing dance, and as River watches her friends dance, she begins to feel hope break through her disappointment with the knowledge that she will one day be strong enough to dance again.
This story is a lovely example of narrative-style writing. Children may relate to River’s feelings and to the relationships evident in the pictures and text, making this a springboard for a writing activity.
There are also lots of opportunities to learn more about Native culture. Sorell has included information about powwows at the back of the book, including an explanation of the jingle dress dance. You can learn more about the jingle dress dance from Maria-Louisa in this video. Here are some powwow photos along with information written in kid-friendly language.
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child (illustrated by Jonathan Thunder and translated by Gordon Jourdain) is the story of Windy Girl, her dog Itchy Boy, and their evening at a powwow. Brenda Child drew on her childhood experiences living on the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota when writing Bowwow Powwow. This story gives lots of details about powwows, immersing the reader in the sights and sounds.
In Bowwow Powwow, Windy Girl falls asleep under the northern lights as the powwow stretches into the night. While sleeping, she dreams about the powwow, but with dogs as the participants. This makes for an entertaining way for kids to learn about the various events at a powwow. Children can learn about the northern lights in this video.
After reading the book to your class, you might want to share this video of Brenda Child talking about her book. She shares a little about how her background inspired the story, and then her daughter reads the book aloud in English. This is a dual-language book, with text in Ojibwe and English. You can hear a read-aloud of the Ojibwe version here.
I hope this collection of beautiful picture books by Indigenous authors helps you in your quest to create a classroom library that is representative of the diversity within your classroom and beyond. All children benefit from reading and listening to books that reflect the rich cultural diversity of our world!
Interested in more picture book reviews and activities? Here are some additional posts!