November is National Native American Heritage Month. This year, we’ve seen a variety of picture books centering Indigenous characters, but such stories shouldn’t be shared only this month; these are compelling works that children should be reading year-round. From a meticulously researched biography to a trickster tale to a poignant family story, these books will keep readers rapt for a long time to come.
Just Like Grandma (Heartdrum, Jan. 24) by Kim Rogers (Wichita) centers on an Indigenous girl who longs to emulate a beloved grandparent. Whether Grandma is dancing barefoot in the backyard, painting a sunrise, or beading buckskin moccasins, young Becca wants to join in. The relationship goes both ways: Grandma is eager to be like her beloved granddaughter, too. With simple, flat colors and marvelous textures, illustrator Julie Flett (Cree-Métis) depicts a strong intergenerational bond; her images and Rogers’ matter-of-fact text exude love and tenderness.
With Remember (Random House Studio, March 21), former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s (Mvskoke Nation) beautifully crafted musing on nature and ancestral heritage is adapted for a picture-book format. Harjo’s melodic verse reminds readers that they are an integral part of the universe, while Caldecott-winning illustrator Michaela Goade, taking inspiration from her Tlingit heritage, uses a veritable symphony of colors and textures to bring it all to brilliant life.
“Two friends making history” are at the heart of Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series (Kokila, April 11) by Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation). In 1911, Charles Bender (Ojibwe) and John Meyers (Cahuilla) became the first two Indigenous athletes to play against each other in a World Series. Sorell deftly traces both men’s paths to greatness; along the way, she balances the excitement of the games with details of the racism these players confronted. The talent, determination, and unwavering mutual support of both Bender and Meyers come through in elegantly composed images by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma).
“Bear has fast legs. Turtle has a fast mind.” In Arihhonni David’s early reader Who Will Win? (Holiday House, April 25), an Akwesasne elder tells a child the story of two worthy competitors who go head-to-head in a race. David (Haudenosaunee Kanienkehaka) relies on just a few simple but well-chosen words per page, while his energetic illustrations amp up the drama as the slow but savvy Turtle finds a way to turn the contest to his advantage. This retelling of a classic trickster tale has it all—humor, suspense, and a satisfying ending, all pitched at the perfect level for beginning readers.
What does home mean? Initially Ojiig, the protagonist of When the Stars Came Home (Little, Brown, Nov. 21), by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe), thinks it’s a physical place. But after he and his parents move to the city, leaving behind family members, traditions, and his habit of stargazing, the young Anishinaabe boy and his parents seek ways to make their new home feel more familiar. Soon Ojiig realizes that home is “where you learn who came before you,” “where you discover who you are,” and “where you imagine who you might become.” Natasha Donovan’s (Métis) vibrant layouts gracefully juxtapose scenes of Ojiig’s ancestors with present-day moments.
Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.