Beyond Bows and Arrows, Books about Native Americans

Nancy Bo Flood, Ph.D., author and educator

In this booklist I have selected books that encourage readers to be aware of and to celebrate contemporary native characters as individuals. I hope these selections list books that speak with authenticity and present people, not stereotypes or misperceptions. I have also tried to select books that portray Native American history – people, events, and legends – with accuracy.

A listing of online resources and current literary awards that recognize the best in Native American literature is included.

Ellen Levine: “Rest on Truth for authority rather than taking authority for truth.”

Kazanzakis: “The only thing more real than truth is legend.”

Books that go beyond bows and arrows: a sampling

General Background Books and Resources

Oyate is a “Native organization working to see that the lives and histories of Native people are portrayed honestly…for all children, is is as important as it has ever been to learn the truths of history.” Their work includes critical evaluation of books and curricula with Indian themes; conducting workshops, compling resources, and distributing teacher books and materials with an emphasis on writing and illustration by Native people. A full catalog is available upon request at their website.

A Broken Flute, The Native Experience in Books for Children. Edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin. 2005.

Through Indian Eyes, The Native Experience in Books for Children. Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. 1987. Contains thoughtful essays as well, for example, “I is not for Indian” by Michael Dorris.

Lasting Echoes. An Oral History of Native American People. Joseph Bruchac. 1997.

Extraordinary American Indians. Susan Avery and Linda Skinner. 1992

Many Nations, An Alphabet of Native America, Joseph Bruchac. 1997

Children of Native America Today. Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Arlene Hirschfelder. Shakti for Children, Charlesbridge. 2003.

Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children, Caduto and Bruchac. 1994.

Native American Stories / Keepers of the Earth. Caduto and Bruchac.1991.

Keepers of the Animals. Caduto and Bruchac. 1991.

An Indian Winter, Russell Freedman. 1992.

Re-Seeing Curriculum: History, Culture and Legends

Thanksgiving, a Native Perspective. Seale, Slapin, and Silverman 1995: an excellent place to begin with classroom curriculum and re-thinking and re-seeing stereotypes, historical misrepresentations, critical thinking skills, etc.

Any of Caduto and Bruchac’s “Keepers” books (see above)

Picture Books

The following weave contemporary and traditional:

Crossing Bok Chitto, A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom. Tim Tingle. 2007.

When the Shadbush Blooms. Carla Messinger with Susan Katz. 2007.

Powwow’s Coming. Linda Boyden. 2007.

The Unbreakable Code. Sara Hunter. 1996.

Navajo Year, A Walk Through Many Seasons. Nancy Flood. 2006.

Grandmother’s Pigeon. Louise Erdrich

Historical Picture Books:

Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path. Bruchac. 2004.

Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe. Don Brown. 2006

The Unbreakable Code. Hunter. 1996.

Navajo Long Walk. Bruchac and Begay. 2002.

Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home, A Story of the Navajo Long Walk. Yazzie. 2006.

A Boy Called Slow, The True Story of Sitting Bull. Bruchac. 1994.

Legends, Myths, Stories:

The Flute Player, An Apache Folklore. Michael Lacapa. 1990.

The Magic Hummingbird, A Hopi Folktale. Malotki, Lomatuway’ma, Lacapa.

The Boy Who Dreamed of an Acorn. Casler/ Shonto Begay.1994.

Middle Grade and Young Adult:

Sherman Alexie: The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Joseph Bruchac: Eagle Song. 1997. Hidden Roots. 2004* see for a complete list

Joseph Medicine Crow: Counting Coup, Becoming a Crow Chief and the Reservation and Beyond. 2006.

Louise Erdrich: The Birchbark House. 1999. And also many others, for children and adults

Historical Middle-Grade and Young Adult:

Code Talker. Bruchac. 2005.

Jim Thorpe, Original All-American. Bruchac. 2006.

Authors to Know and Seek (in no particular order)

  • Joseph Bruchac (hundreds of books written for all ages) His websites * (see list that follows) include a wealth of resources including a listing of all books written/illustrated by Native Americans.
  • Simon Ortiz
  • Joy Harjo
  • The Delorias: Ella Cara, Vine Sr., Philip, and Vine Jr.
  • Erdrich sisters: Louise, Heidi,
  • M.Scott Momaday
  • Michael Dorris
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Tim Tingle
  • Baje Whitethorne, Sr.

Publishers – just a selection

  • Fulcrum, Golden, Colorado
  • Oyate, California
  • Salina Bookshelf, Flagstaff, AZ
  • Arte Pueblo Press
  • Charlesbridge Press: Global Fund for Children
John F. Kennedy: address at Amhurst College October 26, 1963

“When power leads man toward arrogance,
poetry reminds him of his limitations.
When power narrows the areas of man’s concerns,
Poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence.
When power corrupts,
Poetry cleanses
For art establishes the basic human truths
Which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

Often stereotypes are perpetuated not on purpose, without being aware or sensitive of the messages
Remember looking for sexism in children’s books and early readers?
When you choose a book – look at “Indian-ism” –
Is an Indian character an individual – what tribe? What language? What clan?
Is a character still a stereotype of either a “noble savage,” Indian princess, horse warrior, tree-hugger or vision-seeker?
e.g. even our beloved favorites – how is the Indian in the book portrayed? Peter Pan, Little House on the Prairie, Indian in the Cupboard?

Beyond stereotypes, beyond bows and arrows
Beyond legends, retellings, made-up tellings, long-ago warriors and chiefs
Beyond Inaccuracies of history

Internet Sources: published A Broken Flute; and Through Indian Eyes

American Indian Library Association: American Indian Youth Book Awards, awarded biannually

Blog site of Debbie Reese: American Indians in Children’s Literature

Cynthia Leitich Smith: Children’s & YA Books by Native Authors and Illustrators

Lacapa Spirit Prize

International Board of Books for Young People, publishes Bookbird: A Journal of Inter/l Children’s Lit.

US Board on Books for Young People publishes Bridges to Understanding, also Crossing Boundaries with Children’s Books

Shakti for Children

Teaching Tolerance

Salina Bookshelf hundreds of titles and biographical information about most American Indian authors in print

The Ndakinna Education Center, Greenfield Center, NY offers hands-on learning experiences about Native American culture and traditions and the natural world.

 The Saratoga Native American Festival

Joseph Bruchac

James Bruchac

Education Resources Information Center (search for articles: teaching about Native Americans, quite a nice list!)

Many thanks for your interest and suggestions,
Nancy Bo Flood

I lived and taught on the island of Saipan in Micronesia, and wrote about the people, their island, stories and culture. My work was given their most prestigious award in the literary arts. Currently I am teaching on the Navajo Reservation. Most of my students are Navajo or Hopi and are either beginning an educational career or are teachers completing advanced degrees.

The settings of my books vary from the lush tropics of Micronesia to the stark desert of the Navajo Nation. Themes remain similar – making connections between children of different cultures and generations – to see beyond stereotypes and to realize the universality of our human experience.

The Navajo Year, Walk Through Many Seasons, received several awards – IRA’s Children’s Choice, Notable Social Science Trade Book, Arizona’s Book of the Year, and NEA’s Read Across America November book selection.

Historically and still today, many books written for children about Native Americans present archaic stereotypes. ( such as Little House, Peter Pan, Indian in the Cupboard). No wonder children today still think of Indians as natives living in teepees and hunting with bows and arrows. Some books offer authenticity but are limited to legends or historical chiefs and heroes. Few present an accurate portrayal of historical events, such as the first Thanksgiving, Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, or The Long Walk. Most biographies are about long-ago historical chiefs and figures such as Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Sacajawea, Pocahantas. Look for books that go beyond the past and present Native Americans, people and culture, as it is being lived today. Find the books that have created individual characters – real kids, urban as well as reservation – in authentic contemporary settings.

We need to “re-vision” beyond retellings and legendary chiefs. This essay takes a look at the stereotypes of Native Americans presented in children’s books – many are good books – and discusses the reasons/ importance of bringing Native American literature to the same accurate and engaging standards.

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass
And loses itself in the sunset.
-Crowfoot, Siksika (Blackfoot)