Native American Heritage- Language & Literacy Books

Every country around the world has indigenous people who are the original inhabitants of the land. In North America, there are numerous First Nation or Native American tribes. These tribes live in the United States of America and Canada. They have a rich culture that should be recognized, taught in schools, and remembered by all. In the United States there are 574 federally recognized tribes and 231 of these are in Alaska. There are other tribes that are unrecognized by the U.S. government because they were unable to provide evidence of land claims. There is tremendous diversity among the various First Nation tribes and they have their own Tribal Government. It is important that authentic history is taught to children and adolescents. It is equally important for adults to truly understand authentic history about the Native American tribes that are most often not remembered and celebrated as they should be.

I remember learning about the Miccosukee Tribe and Seminole Tribe when I lived in Florida. These tribes are the two remaining Native American indigenous people of that state. The Miccosukee Tribe were originally part of the Seminole Tribe until they received federal recognition as an independent tribe in 1962. Additionally, this tribe was a part of the Creek Indians of Georgia. They established communities along the Tamiami Trail, a roadway that connected the historic Everglades in South Florida, Miami, and Tampa.

There are currently no Federally recognized Native American tribes in Georgia, but there are 5 non-recognized ones including the Cherokees of Georgia and Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe. In North Carolina where I lived previously, there are approximately 16,000 individuals that are a part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. When I researched this, I was a bit surprised that there were not other tribes listed. When I attended UNC-Chapel Hill, I personally knew many students who had heritage from other tribes such as Lumbee and Haliwa Saponi. I think it’s important to know about the history and culture of First Nations people who lived and still live in the state where you and your family currently reside. You can learn more about the tribes here.

Over the years, I have shared a few Native American children’s literature recommendations that may be used meaningfully in speech/language therapy sessions, the classroom, and during family literacy time. Using books, is an amazing way to retell and honor the stories and legacy of Native American tribes. I know that some public school curriculums include some lessons about Native American tribes, but it is truly minimal. We can all do better in this area to honor the First Nations people who are indigenous to North America.

Here are 6 books that I recommend that may be purposefully used in speech/language therapy sessions, the classroom, or during family literacy time throughout the year that honor the First Nation tribes.

How the Stars Fell into the Sky- A Navajo Legend

This book is written by Jerri Oughton and illustrated by Lisa Desimini. It tells the story about the Navajo, Native American tribe, in the Southwestern U.S. In this book, the main character, First Woman, desired to write the laws of the land. She speaks with First Man about where she should write them so that people will always remember and follow them. She thinks about writing it in the dessert sand, the water, and finally decides to write them in the sky using her jewels. However, a coyote intervenes and prevents her purposeful and strategic plan that changes things forever.

Speech/Language Tip- Have children name the characters, characters’ traits, problem, and solution. Then have the children retell the story with key events in the beginning, middle, and end of the book.

Interesting Fact- This tribe is the second largest federally recognized tribe in the U.S. and has the largest reservation in the U.S. In 2015, there were over 300,000 people enrolled as tribal members.

We are Water Protectors

This book is written by Carole Lindstrom, and beautifully illustrated by Michaela Goade. They are both talented Native American women who are passionate about telling the stories of First Nations people through their art. The cover of this book is absolutely captivating and the story teaches children that water is nourishing and sacred. The main character is a brave indigenous girl who is standing up against environmental injustice that is threatening to harm the community’s water supply, environment, and sights sacred to Native Americans. In the book a snake is threatening to harm and unleash it’s poisonous venom. The snake symbolizes a pipeline that is threatening to pollute the water supply. It reminds the readers that the Native American people are still here and advocating for their community. This book encourages young readers to treasure and protect their environment. It is inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota protest against the Dakota oil pipeline construction that began in 2016. In May of 2017, the first oil was sent through the pipeline that runs across 4 states and 50 counties from North Dakota to Illinois. There has been concern about the environmental effects of this pipeline on the air, water, wildlife, and potential oil leaks in Native American and adjoining communities.

Speech/Language Tip: During a picture description task, have children produce oral sentences about each page. They can practice using correct morphology and syntax. SLPs, teachers, and parents can also ask “wh” and “how” questions about the book to check for comprehension and their ability to draw conclusions from the story.

Interesting Fact: In July of 2020, a U.S., District Judge ordered the massive pipeline to be emptied of oil until an environmental review was completed. However, in August of this year that decision was appealed in court. The Native American people continue to advocate for their community.

Tall Chief, America’s Prima Ballerina

This book is a biography about the life of Maria Tallchief. She is of Native American and Scottish/Irish heritage. This children’s book is written by Maria Tallchief and Larry Kaplan and Illustrated by Gary Kelley. As a child, Maria lived on the Osage reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma with her family. She vividly remembers hearing the native drumming music and watching native dancing at family powwow gatherings with her father’s Osage tribe. Her father told her that when he was young, oil was discovered on Osage land and overnight the tribe became wealthy. She was subsequently provided different opportunities to explore ballet and other hobbies. In the book, the readers learn that her family moved to California to pursue new opportunities and Maria developed her talent as a ballet dancer. She eventually moved to New York City and performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and later the New York City Ballet. She danced in numerous roles and became a popular and world recognized ballerina.

Speech/Language Tip: This book is recommended for older elementary school aged children and middle school aged adolescents. This book has plenty of rich tier 2 vocabulary words and lots of details in the story. SLPs can ask children listening comprehension questions to check for recall of information and story comprehension. SLPs can provide opportunities for children to use sentence and paragraph context to identify/name the meanings of tier 2 words.

Interesting Fact- Maria Tallchief was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, received a National Medal of Arts, and received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievements. She is the first woman and Native American to achieve the recognition of “prima ballerina.”

Fry Bread, A Native American Family Story

I recommend this book as a read aloud for preschool and kindergarten-2nd grade students. I like the way the author, Kevin Mallard, uses a Native American food, Fry Bread, to weave a story about family unity and how we can all share Fry Bread literally and metaphorically. The illustrations done by Juana Martinez-Neal are inviting and depict children from diverse backgrounds enjoying time with a Native American family. Food is something delicious that connects us all. At the end of the book, the author skillfully reminds the readers and listeners that the Native American tribes still exist today and are present throughout the United States. Fry bread is food. Fry bread is time. Fry bread is nation. Fry bread is us.

Speech/Language Tip– SLPs can use this book during a picture description task. Children can practice formulating sentences using correct vocabulary, morphology, and syntax to describe the pages.

Interesting Fact– This book is a 2020 American Youth Literature Picture Book Honor Winner and the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal. Did you know that Fry Bread is a flatbread that is usually eaten plain or with toppings like honey, jam, venison, or beef ? It can also be used to make tacos. Some tribes such as the Navajo and Creek make this food while others consider it a food that represents colonialism.

Crossing Bok Chitto

After listening to or reading this story, it will definitely evoke a variety of emotions. Tim Tingle, is a Choctaw Nation storyteller and author. He skillfully tells this story about how the lives of Native Americans and African Americans came together. In this story, the two groups live parallel yet different lives. This book is set during the time of slavery in which Blacks had no rights yet the Native Americans led “freeish” lives. The main characters are a young Native Choctaw girl and African American boy who is a slave. Over the years, they develop a friendship and use a secret path across the river stones to visit each other. One day, the Black family’s life is about to change due to forced separation. The young boy seeks the help of his Native Choctaw friend one night that will positively change his family’s life. She requests the help from her tribe as well. This book is quite interesting and depicts the intersection between the contrasting lives of the characters.

Speech/Language Tip– I recommend this book for upper elementary school aged and middle school students. This is an excellent book to work on critical thinking and tier 2 vocabulary. The SLP can have children and adolescents make inferences and draw conclusions. They can also answer vocabulary questions using sentences and paragraph context.

Interesting Fact– Some African-American families in the U.S. have Native American heritage. Often times, slaves who escaped and found their way into these communities were protected and lived along side various First Nation tribes. This is evident in certain communities in Florida, North Carolina, and many other states. The illustrator, Jeanne Rorex Bridges was born in Oklahoma and is of Cherokee heritage. She currently resides in Texas.

Rainbow Crow, A Lenape Tale

I have read this story to several speech/language therapy groups over the years. It’s a good book to use with children in preschool-2nd grade during the winter season and tells the story of a Lenape legend that is orally passed down through generations. The animals are concerned about how the earth suddenly became cold and that the animals experienced snow for the first time. The forest animals gather around and discuss what they should do because of the lengthy winter. The snow grew deeper and deeper. All of a sudden, a rainbow crow appeared and called out to the woodland animals and volunteered to be a messenger to the sky spirit to ask to stop the snow. l love the vibrant colors in this story that are beautifully done by illustrator Beatriz Vidal and the events written by author, Nancy Van Laan. She invites the reader and listener to join in the tale about how the gift of fire warms the woodland animals and melts the snow. However, in the process, the rainbow crow gets singed by the stick of fire. His rainbow feathers are no more but he still reflected all the rainbow colors in his now black feathers.

Speech/Language Tip-Children should practice answering literal and inferential questions about the text. They can discuss the animals that appeared in the story and their character traits. They can identify/name the problem and solution of this story.

Interesting Fact– The author was inspired to write this book when she learned about the Lenape tribe in Pennsylvania, her home state.

These are some other great books that are about First Nations in Canada written by author Nicola Campbell. Many are listed in my book shop. You can view them here. Some of them include: Stand Like Cedar, A Day with Yayah, Shi-Shi-Etko and Kamik-An Inuit Puppy story by Donald Uluadluak and Qin Leng.

Also, I share non-fiction information about the Native American tribes in Georgia and Florida in this Mini-Lesson on Compare & Contrast that I previously created. You can view this here.

I hope that you learned lots of new information and have some practical tips that you can use in speech/language therapy sessions with children with language disorders or during family literacy time at home with your own kids. Remember that representation matters and it is important for Native Americans or First Nations people to have their voices heard and seen depicted in children’s literature and our American society. They are still here. We reside on their land.


  • Jackie M says:

    Very interesting and informative. I enjoyed reading about the vast amount of First Nation people. I was particularly intrigued by the story of Tall Chief the Prima Ballerina and touched by the tale of Crossing Bok Chitto which gives an insight into the interaction between an African American family and a Choctaw girl. Where I live in Ocala there is significant history about The First Nation people of this area of Florida. Osceola Boulevard and a Middle school is named after a great Leader who was advisor to Chief Micanopy of the Seminoles. Both Educators and Speech and LanguAge Pathologists can enrich and expand their lessons by using the material recommended here. I like how books can be accessed through the Building Successful lives Literacy Shop. Mini-lesson on Comparing and contracting is very helpful.

  • Gennie says:

    The 6 books recommended for speech and language sessions may also be effective in reading/literature discussion groups as well as in guidance classes where diversity is the topic. I live in the Mid-West, USA where the retention of Native People’s culture is ever present, allbeit at a subliminal level, where this is exemplified only in the names of the places where we live and work. Many, especially the young people, are generally unaware of the origin of these place names. As well, they know very little about the original inhabitants – these native people, whose words now roll so easily off all our tongues – without a second thought. A few of these Wisconsin place names are: Milwaukee/Algonquin Tribe, Wauwatosa/Potawatomi Tribe, Wisconsin/Ojibwe Tribe, as well as, Oconomowoc, Menominee, Ozaukee, Waukesha or Waupun. In addition, many American States, Canadian Provinces as well as towns, rivers, lakes and even streets also have Native American names, which reflect the interests, values history and humor of The Native people. The book resources suggested, the lesson plan and the link to additional information on the Native American Tribes, will qique the interest of educators, parents and students to learn more, much more about the Native Americans, than just the retention of quaint place names words -like Dakota, Minnesota or Illinois – a word from the Algonquin Tribe that means “best people”.

  • Thank you for this! I saw a PBS special where they discussed the Seminoles in Florida. There is also a country song called Seminole Wind by John Anderson that is very haunting and mentions Osceola. I am in the process of researching my father’s family roots where there was a Native relative maybe from Canada. I live in NJ where there is a rich history of the Lenin Lenape tribe.

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