Native American Books

We’re being a bit slow with history this year, so we’re still in our opening unit on Native Americans.  After we did explorers and pre-Columbian empires, we made our way up here to do a little unit study on first peoples here in the United States.  We’ve been reading piles of good individual books, mostly legends and myths.  I can’t include them all here (in part because we’ve read and returned dozens of them already!) but I thought I’d list a few of the resources we’ve really enjoyed.

Her Seven Brothers by Paul Goble
Goble’s picture books about Native American legends are beautifully illustrated and told.  As a child, I can remember being completely besotted by The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.  After reading it a million times, I think it’s what drove me to force my parents into paying for riding lessons.  For our unit, we read a few of Goble’s works, but the kids especially liked this Cheyenne legend about a girl with a special connection to seven brothers who eventually become the stars in the Big Dipper.

When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor and Tom Bahti
This book was a 1973 Caldecott Honor Book that I had never even heard of, but which just emphasized for me how quickly forgotten some of our best picture book treasures are.  It’s a very short, simple book told in free verse about shards of pottery discovered in the southwest and the various patterns and images on it.  The orange and brown tones of that pottery, which is still made today, dominate the book and the only illustrations are taken from the designs.  It’s completely different in tone and style from anything else we read, but it also is the sort of book that lights up the imagination in a different way.  I really appreciated it.

Echoes of the Elders: The Stories and Paintings of Cheif Lelooska
This oversized book supposedly comes with a CD (our library copy didn’t include it) but it was also just a treasure without it.  The stories all come from the Northwest Coast tribes of Native Americans and were told by a single storytelling chief then adapted into this book. The illustrations are beautiful and even the type and color scheme are sleek and appealing.  The stories are wonderful as well and just the right length.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich
This amazing chapter book is our current read aloud.  It took a little while for the kids to warm up to it, but they’re slowly getting more into it.  The language is rich and descriptive, letting you picture the 1840’s setting of the Objiway people.  I especially love the way seven year-old Omakayas is both completely believable as a child of her time yet also completely relateable to a modern audience.

More Than Moccasins by Laurie Carlson
This book is a compendium of craft and activity ideas.  I was initially dubious about it, though I can’t remember exactly why.  It turned out to be worth the money.  The ideas range from simple to complex.  It makes an effort to cover different tribes and to specifically tell you which tribe the craft activity is based on.  There are lots of simple games you can make and an array of recipes as well as more traditional make a paper tipi and milk carton adobe house type of crafts.

If You Lived with the…
 Series from Scholastic
This series covers many aspects of American history, not just Native Americans.  However, I’ve especially valued the titles we’ve had about different groups of Native Americans.  Unlike so many other recent nonfiction titles, these books have a narrative structure and a great deal of depth.  They’re all about 50 pages long, mostly of text.  They tell about customs, food, hunting, clothing, houses, travel and basic history.  The illustrations are nothing special, but I like how each book honors the Native American tribes as individual groups with their own traditions.

Song of the Hermit Thrush: An Iroquois Legend (Native American Legends)Brave Bear and the Ghosts: A Sioux Legend (Native American Legends)
Native American Legends Series from Troll Book*
The concept behind this series is literally exactly what I wanted from a series about Native Americans.  Each book has bold, modern illustrations and a relatively detailed story from a Native American tribe.  An Iroquois legend tells about how the hermit thrush sings, a Cherokee legend tells how the first strawberry came to be, and so forth.  Then, at the end, a short but detailed history of the tribe with photographs and documentary images is given.  It’s the perfect combination for anyone doing a unit study on different Native American groups.

*One caveat about this last series.  It’s so difficult to find books that are acceptable to everyone when dealing with Native Americans in particular.  A history of stereotyped and offensive books for children makes it all the more difficult to find the right resources which are respectful of both children as an audience and Native Americans as a people.  This series didn’t have a lot of reviews, but they were decidedly mixed and several called out numerous errors (all small seeming, but enough to make it feel poorly done) in the history overview that’s given at the end of the volumes.  Still, with so few reviews, it’s hard to know how seriously to take criticisms.  For example, one reviewer actually thought the art style was offensive, which I couldn’t take seriously at all.

6 thoughts on “Native American Books

  1. I had completely forgotten about The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses – what a nice memory you evoked! And you were really cute in your riding habit – I’ll see if I can find and post a photo!

  2. Great post, Farrar! I haven’t study Native Americans with my girls (I’m rather married to SOTW for some reason), but I know they’d love it. Do you think The BIrchbark House is one my 7 year old daughter could tackle on her own? She’s an excellent reader who recently read Misty of Chincogteague and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    1. This is really our SOTW breakaway year – and this is one topic that it really doesn’t cover at all. I think she probably could read it. It’s a bit more language-rich than either of those and much slower paced, but if she was motivated, I’m sure she could. It’s something BalletBoy could probably read on his own… but wouldn’t as it’s not Harry Potter or in graphic novel form. 🙂

  3. Thanks! It’s one we’ve had on our shelf for a while but that I’ve never read. I remember it being lauded as the “alternative” view of life to Little House in the Big Woods. My girls LOVE historical fiction, so I think this would be a winner.

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