13 recommended reads to diversify your kids' bookshelves.

Only 1% of the children’s books published in the U.S. in 2016 featured Indigenous characters.

Just a quarter of that 1% were written by Indigenous authors.

“Most of what kids see in books today are bestsellers and classics that stereotype and misrepresent native people in history," says American Indians in Children's Literature's Debbie Reese, who is Nambe Pueblo. She recommends books that veer away from those stereotypes. They feature modern-day culture, countering the notion that Indigenous people somehow vanished with the past.


This list of 13 recommended children’s books by Indigenous writers and illustrators was curated by The Conscious Kid Library and American Indians in Children’s Literature, in partnership with Brooklyn Children’s Museum. With these stories, Indigenous writers share the range of their lives, past and present.

1. "You Hold Me Up" by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel

"You Hold Me Up" by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel

This vibrant picture book encourages children to show love and support for each other in their everyday actions. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy, and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens. Ages 4–8.

2. "When We Were Alone" by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

"When We Were Alone" by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. "When We Were Alone" is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, of empowerment and strength. Ages 4–8.

3. "Little You" by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

"Little You" by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

Richard Van Camp has partnered with award-winning illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that celebrates the potential of every child. "Little You" is perfect to be shared, read or sung to all the little people in your life — and the new little ones on the way. Ages 0–5.

4. "Sweetest Kulu" by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

"Sweetest Kulu" by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

This bedtime poem written by Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk describes the gifts bestowed upon a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic. Lyrically and lovingly written, this visually stunning book is infused with the Inuit values of love and respect for the land and its animal inhabitants. Ages 3–7.

5. "My Heart Fills With Happiness" by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett

"My Heart Fills With Happiness" by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy. Ages 0–5.

6. "I Am Not A Number" by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

"I Am Not A Number" by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

When Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school, she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from despite being told to do otherwise. When she goes home for summer holidays, her parents decide never to send her away again, but what will happen when her parents disobey the law? "I Am Not A Number" is a powerful story of resistance, resilience, family, and identity. Ages 7–11.

7. "Hiawatha and the Peacemaker" by Robbie Robertson, illustrated by David Shannon

"Hiawatha and the Peacemaker" by Robbie Robertson, illustrated by David Shannon

Born of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, Robbie Robertson learned the story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker as part of the Iroquois oral tradition. Hiawatha was a strong Mohawk who was chosen to translate the Peacemaker’s message of unity for the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century. This message succeeded in uniting the tribes and forever changed how the Iroquois governed themselves — a blueprint for democracy that would later inspire the authors of the U.S. Constitution. Ages 5–10.

8. "Sharing Our World: Animals of the Native Northwest Coast" — an artists' collaboration

"Sharing Our World: Animals of the Native Northwest Coast" — an artists' collaboration

The images and text in this book are the collective work of First Nations and Native artists from communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each artist from the Nuxalk, Namgis, Coast Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Haida, Bella Bella, Tsimshian, Kwa Na Ki Nulth, and Nuchatlaht Nations has shared the importance of their personal and cultural relationship to the natural world. Ages 3–7.

9. "When I Was Eight" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

"When I Was Eight" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Olemaun is 8 and knows a lot of things, but she doesn't know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. There she encounters a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn, but Olemaun is more determined than ever to learn how to read. Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Ages 6–8.

10."Wild Berries" by Julie Flett

"Wild Berries" by Julie Flett

Tch, tch, sh, sh, tup, tup. Spend the day picking wild blueberries with Clarence and his grandmother. Meet ant, spider, and fox in the ancestral home of author and illustrator Julie Flett. This book is written in both English and Cree, in particular the n-dialect, also known as Swampy Cree from the Cumberland House area. Ages 4–8.

11. "We Sang You Home" by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

"We Sang You Home" by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

In this sweet and lyrical board book from the creators of the bestselling "Little You," gentle rhythmic text captures the wonder new parents feel as they welcome baby into the world. A celebration of the bond between parent and child, this is the perfect song to share with your little ones. Ages 0–5.

12. "Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light" by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson

"Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light" by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson

Author Tim Tingle tells the story of his family’s move from Oklahoma Choctaw country to Pasadena, Texas. Spanning 50 years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by his Choctaw grandmother  —  from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Gulf Coast. Saltypie is the story of one family’s efforts to honor the past while struggling to gain a foothold in modern America. Ages 6–10.

13. "Dragonfly Kites" by Tomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett

"Dragonfly Kites" by Tomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett

Joe and Cody, two young Cree brothers, are spending the summer with their family by one of the hundreds of lakes in northern Manitoba. Summer means a chance to explore the world and make friends with an array of creatures, but what Joe and Cody like doing best of all is flying dragonfly kites. Tomson Highway brilliantly evokes the very essence of childhood as he weaves a deceptively simple story about the power of the imagination. "Dragonfly Kites" has a bilingual text, written in English and Cree. Ages 4–7.

This story first appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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