Celebrate Indigenous People's Heritage Month with Book Explorers

Welcome to Book Explorers! It’s like a book club for kids that you can do anytime, anywhere. 

This month we’re talking about books by and about Indigenous people. Indigenous People’s Heritage Month honors the culture and traditions as well as the long and powerful history of the first inhabitants of the United States. It’s a celebration of the diversity and resilience of Indigenous nations and people.

Books Celebrating Indigenous People’s Heritage Month

Check out these books from any Denver Public Library location. Anyone who lives in Colorado can get a free library card. Register for a library card online to begin checking out eBooks right away.

Books in English

Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson - “Bo wants to find the perfect container to show off his traditional marbles for the Cherokee National Holiday. It needs to be just the right size... And it needs to look good!” (publisher’s description).

We are water protectors
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom - “When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource” (publisher’s description).

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell - “The Cherokee community is grateful for blessings and challenges that each season brings. This is modern Native American life as told by an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation” (publisher’s description).

Putuguq & Kublu and the qalupalik!
Putuguq and Kublu: And the Qalupalik! by Roselynn Akulukjuk and Danny Christopher - “What creatures lurk beneath the sea ice? Putuguq and Kublu‚ two siblings who can't seem to get along- are about to find out!” (publisher’s description). 

 the used-to-be best friend
Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley - “Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation” (publisher’s description).

The barren grounds
Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson - “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle-grade fantasy series” (publisher’s description).

 intertribal stories for kids
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith  - “Native families from Nations across the continent gather at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan” (publisher’s description).

 a Navajo code talker's story
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story by Joseph Bruchac - “As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester—and other Navajo men like him—was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code” (publisher’s description).

Books in Spanish

 selección de poemas de Humberto Ak'abal
Aquí era el paraíso: Selección de poemas= Here Was Paradise:Selected Poems by Humberto Ak’abal - “A collection of poetry by one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas about the vanished world of his childhood -- that of the Maya K'iche” (publisher’s description).

 Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello = El arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello
Sharuko: el arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello = Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown - “A picture biography of Julio C. Tello, considered to be the founder of modern Peruvian archaeology, that traces his life from an early interest in Peru's ancient cultures to his rise as the most distinguished Indigenous social scientist of the twentieth century” (publisher’s description).

La Selva de Zonia
La Selva de Zonia by Juana Martinez-Neal - “Enjoying days spent with animal friends near her home in the Amazon, young Zonia wonders what to do on a day when the rainforest calls out to her for help, in a lushly illustrated story that is complemented by back matter about the Ashaninka community” (publisher’s description).

 una aventura en el camino Inka
¡Corre, Pequeño Chaski!: Una aventura en el Camino Inka by Mariana Llanos“A tale set in the time of the ancient Inka empire follows the experiences of new royal messenger, Little Chaski, who finds an important assignment on his first day challenged by a trapped condor in desperate need of help” (publisher’s description).

Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Many Native American families today do not celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead, Native American families may remember that day as a reminder of the invasion of Colonial armies that took their lands and killed their ancestors. In Massachusetts, on the day that Thanksgiving is celebrated, some Native Americans hold a memorial service where the Mayflower landed. Many Native Americans consider the day that Thanksgiving is celebrated to be a National Day of Mourning. 

In some schools, kids might dress up in costumes that are meant to represent “Indian” or Native American clothing. But dressing up in stereotypical clothing can be hurtful. Often, these outfits bear no resemblance to the clothes Native Americans wore at the time. For example, wearing feathers was not something everyone did. Wearing feathers was, and continues to be, deeply meaningful and is only done by those who have earned the right.

--Brian Johnson, Hampden Library


Native Cultural Tradition, Customs, Regalia, Clothing, Colors and Self-Expression

A Native child growing up in a traditional environment may express themselves and their culture by wearing clothing and accessories with significant colors and patterns. Clothing and accessories that are worn at powwows, dances and ceremonies are called regalia. Important materials in regalia have a long history. Native nations used what they had around them, such as flowers, medicine leaves (sweetgrass), animals for leather (porcupines, birds, elk, deer, buffalo, horsehair, eagles, hawks, birds and more). In the past, beads, thread and needles may have come from trading posts.

Growing up in Native American cultures, kids learn the spiritual significance of colors and their connection to things in the earth, water, universe, seasons, and more.

  • East (Yellow) - “The direction from which the sun comes...On a deeper level, East stands for wisdom helping people live good lives.”
  • West (Black) - “To the west, the sun sets, and the day ends. For this reason, West signifies the end of life. The great Thunderbird lives in the west and sends thunder and rain from its direction. For this reason, the west is also the source of water: rain, lakes, streams and rivers. Nothing can live without water, so the west is vital.”
  • North (Red) - “North brings the cold, harsh winds of the winter season. These winds are cleansing. They cause the leaves to fall and the earth to rest under a blanket of snow. If someone has the ability to face these winds like the buffalo with its head into the storm, they have learned patience and endurance.”
  • South (White) - “Because the southern sky is when the sun is at its highest, this direction stands for warmth and growing.”

Source: St. Joseph's Indian School, adapted from Lakota Life by Ron Zellinger

There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Each has its own tribal culture, language, clothing, songs and dance. Culture is woven from family, tribal historical traditions, as well as the regions where their homelands are located and the places they were historically moved by the United States government.

If you wish to honor, respect or appreciate Native people's culture, learn how to listen to Native people.

--Carla Respects Nothing, Community Resources

Images by David Brown Eyes, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons


Think about an outfit or a part of your appearance that is meaningful to you, to your family, or to your culture. Is there an article of clothing or a way of doing your hair that is significant to you? Is there a color that has meaning for you? 

What makes those things special? How do they make you feel?

  • Draw a picture of yourself wearing the clothing that you thought about.

Join Book Explorers every month for more book discussions and activities for kindergarten through fifth grade!

Lea este blog en español.

Educators and caregivers, print these activities to share with the young people in your life:

Written by lschmidt on October 28, 2021
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