21 books for kids and young adults to read for National Indigenous History Month

June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. In honour of this month, here’s a list of great books for young readers to check out.

On the Trapline is a picture book by David A. Robertson (left) and Julie Flett. (Tundra Books, Amber Green)

David A. Robertson and Julie Flett of award-winning picture book When We Were Alone fame team up again for On the Trapline. The picture book is a celebration of Indigenous culture and fathers and grandfathers as it tells the generational story of a boy and his grandfather.

On the Trapline is for ages 4 to 8.

Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General’s Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Aloneillustrated by Julie Flett, and the YA book Strangers.

Flett is a Cree Métis author, illustrator and artist. Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little YouMy Heart Fills with HappinessWe Sang You Home and BirdsongBirdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature — illustration.

15:33David Robertson’s On The Trapline

David Robertson talks to Shelagh Rogers about his new kids book, On The Trapline. 15:33

I Sang You Down from the Stars is a picture book by Tasha Spillett-Sumner (pictured) and illustrated by Michaela Goade. (Leonard Sumner, Submitted by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, Owlkids)

I Sang You Down from the Stars is a story of birth and creation for younger readers. Using poetic language and  watercolours, the picture book uses Indigenous creation stories and traditional teachings to celebrate nature and the bond behind mother and child.

I Sang You Down from the Stars is for ages 2 to 5.

Tasha Spillett-Sumner is an educator, poet and scholar of Nehiyaw and Trinidadian descent.  She is also the author of graphic novel Surviving the Citywhich won the $2,000 Indigenous Voices Award for works in an alternative format in 2019.

Michaela Goade is an American-born illustrator from the Tlingit and Haida tribes. Goade won the 2021 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in the book We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom.

Tasha Spillett-Sumner’s picture book, I Sang You Down From the Stars, debuted at No. 3 on a New York Times list of bestselling children’s picture books. 3:12

When We Are Kind is a picture book by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt. (Centric Photography, Orca Book Publishers, nicoleneidhardt.com)

When We Are Kind is a picture book that walks children through simple acts of everyday kindness. It was created with the aim to encourage children to explore their feelings and to use kindness each and every day.

When We Are Kind is for ages 3-5.

Monique Gray Smith is a mixed-heritage — Cree, Lakota and Scottish — author who often writes and speaks about the resilience of Indigenous communities in Canada. She is also the author of the children’s books Speaking Our Truth and You Hold Me Up, and the novels Tilly and Tilly and the Crazy Eights.

Nicole Neidhardt is a Diné visual artist and illustrator. When We Are Kind is her first children’s book.

On The Island7:05A new children’s book promoting kindness and inclusivity has hit bookshelves, with a dedication to Dr. Bonnie Henry. Hear from the Victoria-based author of “When We Are Kind

Gregor Craigie spoke with Monique Gray Smith, author of the new children’s book “When We Are Kind.” 7:05

Hey Little Rockabye is a children’s picture book written by Buffy Sainte-Marie and illustrated by Ben Hodson. (Greystone Books, Matt Barnes)

Hey Little Rockabye conveys an important message about finding love and acceptance and shares a song about pet adoption. A puppy is looking for someone to love him. A young girl rescues the little dog and tries to convince her parents to let her keep him. 

Hey Little Rockabye is for ages 3 to 7.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s long music career includes an expansive catalogue of music, art and work in activism. Hey Little Rockabye is her first children’s picture book.

Ben Hodson is an award-winning illustrator of more than 20 children’s books.

The Next Chapter12:35Buffy Sainte-Marie on Hey Little Rockabye

Musician Buffy Sainte-Marie’s first picture book, Hey Little Rockabye, is about a subject close to her heart: pet adoption. 12:35

Swift Fox All Along is a picture book by Rebecca Thomas (top right) and illustrated by Maya McKibbin. (Annick Press)

Swift Fox All Along is a picture book about a young girl connecting with her Mi’kmaq family, culture and identity. When Swift Fox is first introduced to her family, she feels like she doesn’t belong. But she soon realizes she’s not alone in feeling like an outsider and learns to embrace her identity.

Swift Fox All Along is for ages 4-7.

Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaw writer living in Nova Scotia. She was the Halifax poet laureate from 2016 to 2018. She is also the author of the children’s book I’m Finding My Talk, which is a poem responding to the iconic Rita Joe poem I Lost My Talkand the poetry collection I place you into the fire.

Maya McKibbin is a two-spirited Ojibwe, Yoeme and Irish illustrator and filmmaker. Swift Fox All Along is her first picture book.

q18:08How Rebecca Thomas’s debut poetry collection serves as a rallying cry for Indigenous justice

In Mi’kmaw, three similarly shaped words have drastically different meanings: kesalul means “I love you”; kesa’lul means “I hurt you”; and ke’sa’lul means “I put you into the fire.” Former Halifax poet laureate Rebecca Thomas uses these Mi’kmaw phrases to underpin her first book of poetry, I Place You Into the Fire. Thomas joined Tom Power to discuss how her poetry serves as a rallying cry for Indigenous justice, empathy and equality. 18:08

ᓇᑦᑎᖅ Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is written by Barbara Landry and is illustrated by Martha Kyak. (Groundwood Books, Len Steel)

A ringed seal, known in Inuktitut as Nattiq, has returned to his Arctic home from his a long trek south in Nattiq And The Land Of Statues. His friends — a polar bear, caribou, raven, walrus and narwhal — gather to hear about the amazing sights he saw on his journey. The book also includes a glossary of Inuktitut words.

Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is for ages 3-7.

Barbara Landry is an author, poet and musician originally from Michigan. Nattiq And The Land Of Statues is her debut children’s book.

Maata (Martha) Kyak is an Ottawa-based Inuit artist who has illustrated numerous children’s books.

Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book by Nicola I. Campbell (left) and illustrated by Carrielynn Victor. (Highwater Press, Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography)

Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book about nature, animals and the wonder of the wilderness. It is an educational look at what it means to “stand like a cedar” and features the names of animals in the Nle7kepmxcín or Halq’emeylem languages.

Stand Like a Cedar is for ages 3 to 5.

Nicola I. Campbell is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis from the Nicola Valley in B.C. She is also the author of  Shi-shi-etkoShin-chi’s CanoeGrandpa’s Girls and A Day With Yayah.

Carrielynn Victor is an artist and illustrator of Stó:lö, Coast Salish & settler heritage from the XwChí:yóm (Cheam) community in B.C. 

We All Play is a picture by Julie Flett. (Greystone Kids)

We All Play is the latest picture book by Cree author and artist Julie Flett. Through colourful illustrations, We All Play explores an Indigenous perspective as it celebrates nature and how we are all connected. We All Play includes a glossary of Cree words for wild animals and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book.

We All Play is for children up to the age of 7

Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little YouMy Heart Fills with HappinessWe Sang You Home and BirdsongBirdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature — illustration.

Unreserved8:05Illustrator Julie Flett brings light to a dark period of history

How do you make pictures for a book about life in residential school, kid-friendly? And how do you bring that lightness to a difficult and dark period of history? That’s something Julie Flett had to figure out. 8:05

This Is How I Know is a picture book by Brittany Luby (left) and Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. (Groundwood Books)

This Is How I Know is a vibrant story poem about an Anishinaabe child, her grandmother and a look at the wonders and beauty of the natural world.

This Is How I Know is for ages 3 to 7.

Brittany Luby is an academic and children’s book author. She is the great-granddaughter of Chief Kawitaskung, an Anishinaabe leader who signed the North-West Angle Treaty of 1873. 

Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibway multidisciplinary artist from Ontario, whose family is from Wasauksing First Nation.

Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere are Anishinaabe from M’Chigeeng First Nation. The father and son duo translated the Anishinaabemowin text for the book.

We Dream Medicine Dreams is a picture book by Lisa Boivin. (Highwater Press)

We Dream Medicine Dreams tells a touching tale about the dreams of a little girl and how they connect to her Indigenous ancestors. While her grandfather falls ill, the little girl dreams of Bear, Hawk, Caribou and Wolf to learn more about what it means to have lived a good life.

We Dream Medicine Dreams is for ages 6 to 8.

Lisa Boivin is an interdisciplinary artist and PhD student at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at University of Toronto and a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation. She is also the author of the YA novel I Will See You Again.

Unreserved7:28Illustrating colonization: Painting the link between history and poor health outcomes for Indigenous patients

The images, and colours, are vivid. Bright greens, blues and pinks are contrasted against a black background. The artist, Lisa Boivin, is a member of the Deninu K’ue First Nation, NT. She is also a PhD student studying bioethics in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto. 7:28

The Train is a book by Jodie Callaghan (left), illustrated by Georgia Lesley. (Second Story Press, georgialesley.com)

In this book, a girl named Ashley meets her great-uncle by the old train tracks near their Nova Scotia community. The Train is a story of the legacy of residential schools in Canada as her Uncle explains his experience and loss of identity. The book is a story of remembrance, hope and reconciliation.

The Train was a finalist for the 2021 Silver Birch Express Award.

Jodie Callaghan is a Mi’gmaq author and storyteller from the Listuguj First Nation in Gespegewa’gi near Quebec.

Georgia Lesley is an artist and illustrator based in British Columbia’s Cariboo region.

Little Wolf is a picture book by Teoni Spathelfer and illustrated by Natassia Davies. (Heritage House)

Little Wolf tells the tale of a major life transition as a young Indigenous girl and her family move to the city. The girl learns to make sense of her new surroundings and, with the help of her mother, she makes connections with the human and natural world. Little Wolf is the first in a trilogy. 

Little Wolf is for ages 4 to 8.

Teoni Spathelfer is a radio journalist and author who is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation from coastal B.C.

Natassia Davies is an artist and graphic designer from Victoria and is of Coast Salish ancestry.

The Frog Mother is a book for middle-grade readers. (HighWater Press)

The Frog Mother is a story about prey and predators in the wild. It’s a story about survival, as the tiny tadpoles birthed to Nox Ga’naaw, the frog mother, must fend for themselves in a pond — and continue the circle of life by growing to adulthood and having tadpoles of their own.

The Frog Mother is for ages 9 to 11.

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw, also known as Brett D. Huson, is a writer from the Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia.

Natasha Donovan is a Métis illustrator originally from Vancouver. Her sequential work has been published in the This Place: 150 Years Retold comic anthology and the Wonderful Women of History anthology.

Unreserved6:51New children’s book explores what sockeye salmon mean to the Gitxsan people

To the Gitxsan people of Northwestern B.C., sockeye salmon is more than just a source of food. Over its life cycle, it nourishes the land and forests that the Skeena River runs through, which is where the Gitxsan make their home. Brett D. Huson, a member of the Gitxsan Nation, wrote The Sockeye Mother, a children’s book that explores how the animals, water, soil and seasons are all intertwined. 6:51

A nonfiction book by Aimée Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson. (Annick Press)

Treaty Words is a book for ages 10 and up about the importance of understanding an Indigenous perspective on treaties. The book looks at the first treaty, the one between the earth and the sky. Sitting on the riverbank, a man sits with his granddaughter to teach her the power of silence in nature — so that she might learn her standing in the world. 

Treaty Words is for ages 10 and up.

Aimée Craft is an Anishinaabe Métis lawyer and author from Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. She is an associate professor at University of Ottawa and a leading researcher on Indigenous laws, treaties and water.

Luke Swinson is a visual artist and illustrator with Anishinaabe roots from Kitchener, Ont. He is a member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

The Next Chapter11:21Aimée Craft on Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow

Aimée Craft talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book, Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow. 11:21

The Shaman’s Apprentice is a middle-grade book inspired by short film of the same name. (Inhabit Media)

Based on a short film of the same name, The Shaman’s Apprentice is a tale of a young shaman learning their craft. When someone becomes sick in the village, the shaman in training must face and defeat the spiritual and physical challenges before them.

The Shaman’s Apprentice is for ages 9 to 12.

Zacharias Kunuk is a Canadian Inuk producer, director and author. He is notable for his film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first Canadian dramatic feature film produced entirely in Inuktitut.

Megan Kyak-Monteith is an Inuk illustrator and painter based in Halifax. Growing up in Nunavut, in a community and family grounded heavily in art and traditional crafts, Kyak-Monteith’s interest in art started from a young age.

q16:06Zacharias Kunuk: The Inuk director on how filmmaking is a communal effort

Filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk is known internationally for his 2001 film, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted in Inuktitut. He talks about developing a multimedia school curriculum to teach students about the Arctic from an Inuit point of view and making movies from oral tradition. 16:06

The Barren Grounds is a middle-grade novel by David A. Robertson (Puffin, Amber Green)

The Barren Grounds is the first book of a new middle-grade series by David A. Robertson. It is set in Winnipeg where two Indigenous kids, Morgan and Eli, are placed in a new foster home. The pair feel out of place and disconnected in their new surroundings — until they uncover a secret portal in the attic that opens up to a magical reality. The frozen barren grounds they find set the pair on a mission of survival and self-determination.

The Barren Grounds is for ages 10 and up.

Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General’s Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Aloneillustrated by Julie Flett and the YA book Strangers and the memoir Black Water.

Unreserved43:38‘I have so much to say’: Cree author David A. Robertson on writing everything from graphic novels to a memoir

To say Cree author David A. Robertson is prolific is a bit of an understatement. He started his writing career in 2009, and has already published more than 20 titles. This fall he has three books being released. This week on Unreserved, an extended conversation with the author. 43:38

The Power of Style is a YA nonfiction book by Christian Allaire. (christianjallaire.com, Annick Press)

The Power of Style is a YA nonfiction book about the power of fashion. Christian Allaire is a Ojibwe fashion and style writer who has always had a passion for looking good. In The Power of StyleAllaire highlights the need for diversity and representation in fashion — and examines topics such as cosplay, make up, hijabs, and hair to show the intersection of style, culture and social justice over the years.

The Power of Style is for ages 12 and up.

Allaire is an Ojibwe author who grew up on the Nipissing First Nation reserve in Ontario. Allaire is the fashion and style writer at Vogue.

q18:08Vogue’s Christian Allaire explores how fashion can help us reinvent ourselves and reclaim our cultures

When Christian Allaire was growing up on the Nipissing First Nation in Ontario, he didn’t see himself or his Indigenous culture represented in the fashion magazines and television shows that inspired him in his youth. Now, Allaire is Vogue’s fashion and style writer, and he’s on a mission to change the conversation about BIPOC representation through his work. He spoke with Tom Power about his new book, The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty Are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures. 18:08

A middle-grade book by Michael Hutchinson. (Second Story Press)

The Mighty Muskrats of Windy Lake First Nation — Cousins Sam, Otter, Atim and Chickadee — are back for another middle-grade adventure. In the third book in the series, the kids gather to find out what happened to a missing e treaty bundle — and how to get it back to protect the reputation of Windy Lake. Along the way, the cousins learn more about themselves and their history.

The Case of the Burgled Bundle is for ages 9 to 12.

Michael Hutchinson is a novelist and member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Ottawa and works at the Assembly of First Nations. He is the author of The Case of Windy Lake and The Case of the Missing Auntie.

The Next Chapter3:44Michael Hutchinson on his Mighty Muskrats Mystery series

Michael Hutchinson talks about his Mighty Muskrats Mystery series for middle grade readers. 3:44

Jo Jo Makoons is a chapter book series by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert. (Heartdrum)

Jo Jo Makoons is an early chapter book series featuring an energetic young Ojibwe girl named Jo Jo who loves who she is. Jo Jo lives on an Ojibwe reservation with her family, including mom, her kokum and her cat Mimi. In Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend, the titular character discovers that Fern, her best friend at school, just might not want to hang out anymore — and Jo Jo must learn how she can make more friends.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend is for ages 6 to 10.

Dawn Quigley is an author, poet and academic. She is of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. 

Tara Audibert is a New Brunswick multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, cartoonist, animator and podcaster of Wolastoqey/French heritage. She was a contributor to This Placean anthology of comics featuring the work of Indigenous creators as they retell the history of Canada of the past 150 years.

Chief Mi’sel Joe (left) and Sheila O’Neill (right) are the authors of the YA historical novel My Indian. (Breakwater Books)

My Indian tells the story of Sylvester Joe, a Mi’kmaw guide who helped  William Epps Cormack across Newfoundland in search of the last remaining Beothuk camps on the island in 1822. The historical fiction novel tells the story from an Indigenous perspective with the goal of reclaiming Sylvester Joe’s identity and legacy.

My Indian is for ages 15 and up.

Mi’sel Joe is the author of Muinji’j Becomes a Man and An Aboriginal Chief’s Journey. Mi’sel Joe is considered the spiritual chief of the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador and has been the district traditional chief of Miawpukek First Nation since 1983, appointed by the late Grand Chief Donald Marshall. 

Sheila O’Neill is an author, drum carrier and member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. She is a founding member and past president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network.

A Is for Anemone is a picture book by Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers. (Harbour Publishing)

A Is for Anemone is by the duo of Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers. The picture book celebrates the alphabet, animals and imagery of the West Coast by way of vibrant illustrations. 

A Is for Anemone is for ages up to 7.

Vickers is a carver, painter and printmaker from B.C. He is the co-author of the children’s Northwest Coast Legends series, which includes Raven Brings the Light in 2014, Cloudwalker in 2015, Orca Chief in 2016 and Peace Dancer in 2017.

Budd is the co-author of the Northwest Coast Legends series and the author of Voices of British Columbia and its sequel, Echoes of British Columbia.

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