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Native American Stories

Many different people from many parts of the United States comprise the group of people called Native American. The lore is rich and diverse; some tales are humorous, others are serious. Some stories are about people who lived — or might have lived — long ago; others are about real children who you may know as a friend or neighbor today. Meet them all between the pages of the books recommended here. On our bilingual sister site, Colorín Colorado, you can find many more children's books that celebrate American Indian/Alaska Native heritage.

Quotable Quotes: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go. -- Dr. Seuss

Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places

By: Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by: Thomas Locker
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bruchac frames 11 legends of Native American sacred places with a conversation between Little Turtle and his uncle, Old Bear, who says, "There are sacred places all around us…They are found in the East and in the North, in the South and in the West, as well as Above, Below, and the place Within."…The text is printed in stanzas, enhancing the image of prose poems. — School Library Journal

How Chipmunk Got His Stripes

By: James Bruchac, Joseph Bruchac, Ariane Dewey
Illustrated by: Ariane Dewey
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

When Bear brags and Chipmunk teases, the results are an angry bear and a striped chipmunk. Animated language and colorful illustrations tell a porquoi story — a tale that explains — that's perfect for sharing aloud.

How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend

By: Jerrie Oughton
Illustrated by: Lisa Desimini
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Richly hued illustrations are used to show how First Woman tried to guide humans by providing the “laws of the world” by writing them in the sky with her jewels (the stars). Things change, however, when trickster Coyote tries to help, tires of the task, and then tosses the rest of the jewels into the night sky with beautiful if chaotic results.

Iktomi and the Coyote: A Plains Indian Story

By: Paul Goble
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Iktomi is a trickster from the Lakota who tricks prairie dogs into becoming his next meal. But Iktomi meets his match when Coyote, another truly wily character, enters the picture. Though the prairie dogs don’t fair well in this traditional tale, the style of telling and Goble’s authentically styled illustrations present the tale’s humor and lesson in a palatable way.

Iktomi Loses His Eyes: A Plains Indian Story

By: Paul Goble
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Iktomi, the Lakota trickster, is himself tricked into losing his eyes. He then tricks Mouse and Buffalo into giving him one each of their eyes, but seeing the world through their eyes isn't quite what he expected. This tale is tricky, authentic — and very funny!

Jingle Dancer

By: Cynthia Smith
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Jenna wants to dance in the powwow as her grandmother and other women in her family have. But she wonders: will she have enough jingles to make her dress sing? Traditional and contemporary activities come together in this appealing, clearly illustrated story of a modern girl and her background, based on the author's Muscogee (Creek) heritage.

Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children

By: Joseph Bruchac
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In Native cultures, the night is a crucial part of the Great Circle and balance in the universe. In the tradition of the best-selling Keepers of the Earth and Keepers of the Animals, this collection offers unique ideas about understanding the natural world by looking at it through a nocturnal lens. Resources and activities include legends and myths, puppet shows, stargazing guides, campfire topics, and traditional dances.

Pushing up the Sky: Seven Native American Plays for Children

By: Joseph Bruchac
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bruchac adapts seven traditional tales from various tribes into plays for children. Each play is introduced with a brief tribal background, a list of characters, suggestions for props and scenery, and recommended costumes. Representing tribes from Bruchac's own Abenaki to the Cherokee, Tlingit, and Zuni, the plays are mostly pourquoi tales, explaining how mosquitos came into the world or why stars are visible at night. — Booklist

Shi-shi-etko

By: Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by: Kim LaFave
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Shi-shi-etko has just four days until she will have to leave her family and everything she knows to attend one of Canada's Indian residential schools. She spends her last precious days at home treasuring and appreciating the beauty of her world — the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather's paddle song. LaFave's richly hued illustrations complement Campbell's gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss.

Shin-chi's Canoe

By: Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by: Kim LaFave
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When they arrive at school, Shi-shi-etko reminds Shinchi, her six-year-old brother, that they can only use their English names and that they can't speak to each other. For Shinchi, life becomes an endless cycle of church mass, school, and work, punctuated by skimpy meals. He finds solace at the river, clutching a tiny cedar canoe, a gift from his father, and dreaming of the day when the salmon return to the river — a sign that it's almost time to return home.

The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story

By: Joseph Bruchac, Ann Vojtech
Illustrated by: Ann Vojtech
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Seeing that man is sorry after arguing with his wife, Sun sends the first strawberries to the land. The sweet fruit slows the wife down, allowing her husband to catch up and apologize. To this day, strawberries remind people to be kind to each other. Rich illustrations add interesting details to this fluid telling of a traditional legend.

The Good Luck Cat

By: Joy Harjo
Illustrated by: Paul Lee
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A child narrates how a much loved cat, Woogie, brings good luck to her family. When Woogie is lost, its luck may have run out — but the resolution is luckily both satisfying and happy. Richly hued illustrations add authentic details to a universally appealing story set within a Native American family and told by a Muskogee-Creek writer.

The Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale

By: Joseph Bruchac, Gayle Ross
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Have you ever wondered how the Milky Way came to be? According to a Cherokee legend, it started when an old couple learned that their corn was being stolen by a Great Spirit dog. To get away, the spirit dog jumps into the sky, spilling the corn. And we can still see the results today in the night sky.

The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale

By: Lydia Dabcovich
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

An old Inuit woman takes in a polar bear cub and raises him until others in the village become jealous of the bear’s hunting prowess, threatening to kill him. The old woman sends her beloved bear away, but continues to meet him far out on the ice where her polar bear “son” gives her food to eat. The gentle telling and illustrations evoke the Arctic.

The Rough-Face Girl

By: Rafe Martin
Illustrated by: David Shannon
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When her older sisters try to convince the Invisible Being's sister that they can see him, they are rebuffed. Only the youngest, whose face and hair is badly scarred from feeding the fires, can answer his questions correctly and see him everywhere. Sophisticated and hauntingly illustrated, experienced readers will see similarities between this Algonquin tale and its familiar European counterpart, "Cinderella".

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