baby proof: bedtime stories by native and indigenous authors.

November 17, 2020

It’s been a few years since I wrote this piece on children’s books by native and indigenous authors, so I thought it might be time to share a few more recent favorites. These books are part of our bedtime story rotation all year long, but in the midst of Native American Heritage Month they’re especially lovely additions to the bedtime/anytime routine.

WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELGIA by Traci Sorell; illustrations by Frane Lessac
We got this beautiful book from the library last fall and my kids adored it. It tells the story of a year full of modern-day Cherokee celebrations and gatherings. Cherokee words and pronunciations are woven throughout the text and there’s a complete appended glossary and syllabary for further reference.

FRY BREAD by Kevin Noble Maillard; illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal
I adore this sweet, poetic book. It’s a celebration of fry bread, yes, but it also celebrates and highlights the diversity of the modern indigenous experience in the US.

WILD BERRIES by Julie Flett
I can’t help but to recommend everything Julie Flett makes. Wild Berries is the most recent addition of hers to our library. It’s a beautiful story about a little boy, Clarence, picking berries with his grandmother. The text is written in English and in the n-dialect of the Cree language. You can find a detailed glossary and pronunciation guide at the end of the book (not to mention a recipe for wild blueberry jam).

THE GIRL AND THE WOLF by Katherena Vermette; illustrations by Julie Flett
Katharena Vermette wrote this story as a kind of counter-narrative to the European stories featuring scared little girls and big bad wolves. The wolf in her story is kind and helpful and steers the girl back toward home.

BIRDSONG by Julie Flett
This story of intergenerational friendship is as heart-wrenching as it is beautiful. In a year when so many folks have been forced to spend time away from elderly friends and relatives, it’s a particularly poignant story about the value of those relationships.

WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom; illustrations by Michaela Goade
This lyrical book was inspired by indigenous-led environmental movements around the world; a perfect hit of inspiration for aspiring activists everywhere.

What about all of you? New or old favorites on your lists?

As always, I’m thankful for the wise and beautiful recommendations I come across through feeds like The Conscious Kid, We Need Diverse Books and Debbie Reese among others.

In case you missed it, last week, The Conscious Kid shared a Patreon post re-upping Ruth Hopkins’s 2019 piece Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Dos and Don’ts, filled with evergreen reminders for non-native folks to bear in mind this month and always.


We borrow lots of our books from our public library, but when we buy new books, we love to buy directly from our local bookstores—Stories BookshopBooks Are MagicGreenlight Bookstore, and Community Bookstore, to name a few. Links above all direct to Bookshop!

More book recommendations in case you need them.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply Judith A Ross November 17, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for this, Erin. I look forward to the day when I can travel to Brooklyn, walk into Greenlight Books again, and pick out one or two of these with my granddaughter in tow. Fortunately, she is only one year old, so we have plenty of time.

  • Reply Nicole November 17, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Julie Flett is just so wonderful, I agree, and The Girl and the Wolf is much loved at our house too. We also enjoy Nicola Campbell. A different format, but my kids have loved the Keepers of the Earth series (Indigenous stories plus a more didactic part) by Joseph Bruchac.

    • Reply DB November 18, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      Thank you. We purchased some of these books on Indigenous Peoples Day at Books are Magic but several of these are new to me. A lovely idea!

  • Reply Elizabeth November 18, 2020 at 6:46 am

    We love Birdsong as well. Some other favorites by Indigenous authors: What’s My Super Power by Aviaq Johnston and Awasis and the World Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt and Amanda Strong

  • Reply Dee November 18, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    I hope this is allowed. Byrd Baylor (who is not Native American) authors children’s picture books that celebrate the Southwest and the connection between the people and the land/environment. I especially love her book, Everyone Needs a Rock.

  • Reply Dee November 18, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Correction: the title is Everybody Needs a Rock.

  • Reply Mary November 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I was so happy to see this post! I’m a children’s librarian and indie bookseller in Kansas, and have been pushing Indigenous books HARD, especially this month. I don’t have kids of my own, but my partner and I recently read Birdsong together, and it was beautiful. Thanks for all you do. <3

    • Reply Brianna Byers November 24, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      Hi! So random, and such a stretch, but are you the brains behind what books are on the shelves at the Learning Tree in Prairie Village??

      Also, thanks Erin, always love your book lists! Adding a few I’ve yet to see to my stack!

  • Reply Sarah November 18, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    May I also recommend the American Indian Library Association as a resource for great children’s literature by indigenous authors, specifically the American Indian Youth Literature Award, which are issued every two years? (2020 – Birdsong, Fry Bread, and We Are Grateful: Otsalihelgia are on the list!)

    Also, to support a Native-owned bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minnesota carries children’s and young adult works by indigenous creators.

    We Are Water Protectors is a lovely storybook, and I ordered a beautiful Michaela Goade print for my kids off Etsy – her artwork is beyond beautiful!

  • Reply E November 18, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Birchbark Books (owned by Louise Erdrich!) has an amazing selection, and it’s cool to support an indigenous-owned bookstore. 🙂

    Love these posts, as always.

  • Reply Nicole November 18, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Can’t wait to read The Girl and the Wolf! Katherena Vermette is also the author of an unforgettable novel called The Break. It weaves multiple narratives of indigenous girls and women living in present-day Winnipeg, and I absolutely recommend it to any adult. The writer Thomas King also has some really fantastic and irreverent children’s books that celebrate indigenous culture. My son loved Coyote Tales and A Coyote Solstice Tale.

    • Reply Alex November 19, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      I was also going to suggest the novel The Break by Katherena Vermette as a read for the older audience. I think I read it in my sitting – I couldn’t put it down! I’m not familiar with Vermette’s children literature, but happy to see her voice can be explored and appreciated by the younger audience.

  • Reply Sarah November 18, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    I definitely return to these suggestions when I need gifts for my new-parent friends <3

  • Reply Beth November 19, 2020 at 8:59 am

    There’s also a board book called “Sweetest Kulu” by Callina Kalluk, who is an Inuit-Canadian artist. Thanks for sharing these other great reads by Indigenous authors!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 19, 2020 at 9:09 am

      Yes! We have this one and love it, too! (On my list from a few years ago!)

  • Reply Ashley Reese November 19, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    I teach a Children’s Lit class for a university, and I’m always looking for new BIPOC authors to feature. I had not been familiar with Julie Flett previously (shameful!); I’m thrilled to have been introduced. Thank you for this! (And, I noticed that you had some unkind commentary about this on your Instagram. Someone needs to set a standard of awareness to inspire the community– I’m grateful for your “virtue!”).

  • Reply Abby November 20, 2020 at 11:35 am

    Just ordered almost all of these from the library. We fell in love with Birdsong last year on your recommendation, and I’m looking forward to finding some new titles. Thanks, as always, for your ideas!

  • Reply Hilary November 20, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    As a reader up thread noted, The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich as a read aloud for children who are ready to listen to chapter books. It’s a simply captivating, heartwarming, and heartrending series.

    Also great is Coyote Tales by Thomas King.

    We love many of the books on your list! I would like to add Two Bear Cubs: A Miwok Legend from California’s Yosemite Valley, retold by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Daniel San Souci. It’s a beautiful book my children ask for again and again about how the Miwok gave Tu-tok-a-nu-la (now called El Capitan) its name.

  • Reply kellie Bowker November 21, 2020 at 7:30 am

    I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to click on one of the titles you recommended and be taken immediately to my local, black owned bookstore. That made me so happy. I also just ordered many of these titles for my Pre-K class. Thank you for the recommendations!

  • Reply Kerry November 24, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    Julie Flett is a LEGEND and just won Canada’s biggest children’s literature award for Birdsong. I think you would love her book, MY HEART FILLS WITH HAPPINESS, written by Monique Gray Smith. Also any of Julie Flett’s board books by Richard Van Camp.

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