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American Indian Heritage Month Booklist

My career as an author was inspired by growing up in an Indian family. I was born on the Texas Gulf Coast, near the beach. I grew up swimming and surfing and fishing from the pier and loved to play baseball and basketball – I was an active child!
At night, I’d watch television (“After your homework!” my mother hollered). I loved to watch cowboy and Indian shows, and movies too, even though the Indians were usually savage killers. We knew we were Indians, but we thought of ourselves as Choctaws.

When Mawmaw, my grandmother, moved from Oklahoma to Texas, kids in the neighborhood threw rocks at her. “Go back where you came from!” they yelled. So Mawmaw mostly stayed close to the house, raising six children and 200 chickens. “It’s better if they don’t know you’re Indian,” she would whisper to us. Years later I wrote a children’s book about my grandmother, Saltypie. I remember thinking, “If those boys had known my Mawmaw, they wouldn’t throw rocks at her. She would have baked them homemade cookies!”

I always loved to read, and by the second grade I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write about my family, and other Indian families, so everyone would know that we are good people. We are not the savages from old movies and television. My first book, Walking the Choctaw Road, was a collection of stories I had learned from family and friends.

My dream is to one day walk into a school and see pictures of modern Indians on the bulletin board––Indians of today. We are writers, teachers, astronauts, and television and movie stars. Sam Bradford, a Cherokee Indian, won the Heisman Trophy!

Here is a list of my favorite children books written by American Indians:

1. Shi-shi-etko
By Nicola Campbell (Salish/Metis)

Shi-shi-etko awakens four days before she must leave for boarding school. She strives to remember her home, with the help of her family. This quiet, poignant story provides young readers with a unique insight into the fate of many Native children in Canada and the United States.

2. Beaver Steals Fire
A Salish Coyote Story by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

Coyote devises a plan to steal fire from the people above and bring it to the Earth. Through teamwork, Bear, Snake, Frog, Beaver, and other animals risk their lives and achieve their goal.

3. The Good Luck Cat
By Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek)

Harjo is one of Indian Country’s most respected poets and an accomplished jazz saxophone player. In her first children’s book, Joy shares the alarming mishaps of Woogie, “a stripedy cat with tickling whiskers and green electric eyes.” Woogie has nine lives and pushes the limit.

4. Thanks to the Animals
By Allen J. Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy)

While his family is moving to the woods for the coming winter, baby Zoo Zap tumbles from the sled. His cries are heard by the animals––furry and feathered, large and tiny––who surround and protect him till his father appears. A Passamaquoddy storyteller, Sockabasin offers a powerful glimpse of the bond between Natives and the natural world.

5. Jingle Dancer
By Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muskogee Creek)

Jenna, a modern Creek girl, wants to dance at the next powwow and needs tin jingles for her dress. She borrows jingles from four Creek elders and proudly represents her people at the powwow. Cynthia’s modern story, set in suburbia, is a beautiful crossing of modern life with traditional ways.

6. The Birchbark House
By Louise Erdrich (Ojibwa)

Omakayas, a baby Ojibwa girl, survives an outbreak of smallpox and is adopted by a tribal family on Madeleine Island. Erdrich’s novel follows the family through four winters, and presents in fascinating detail the daily life of an Ojibwa family of 1847, seen from an Indian perspective.

7. Skeleton Man
By Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)

Her parents disappear one night, and sixth-grader Molly comes under the care of a man claiming to be her distant uncle. Locked in her room at night, she dreams of Skeleton Man, from an old Mohawk tale. The frightening conclusion pays tribute to both the ancient and the contemporary in Mohawk culture.

8. Muskrat Will Be Swimming
By Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki)

A young mixed-blood (Seneca and French) girl is called a Lake Rat by taunting classmates. Her Seneca grandfather shares an old tale of muskrats, giving her a newfound sense of pride and identity.

9. The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
By Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Lakota Sioux)

This deeply moving holiday tale, based on the author’s childhood, begins with a Lakota girl hoping for warm clothing for Christmas. A simple act of giving turns disappointment into a sacred moment.

10. A Coyote Columbus Story
By Thomas King (Cherokee)

King has written the most original and outside-the-box book ever in Native American literature, but it is filled with little-known truths. Trickster Coyote takes on a red-headed Columbus, and the results are hilarious! A must read for all ages.

For more information about Tim, visit his website:
To learn about Tim’s inspiring project, Modern American Indians, follow this link:

  • Emma Elway

    Big fan, Tim!

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