Book Corner: These Picture Books Tell Native American Stories

November is Native American Heritage Month and provides an opportunity to focus on picture books written by and about Native Americans.

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey, and illustrated by Nancy Baker
Musqon is excited to be picking sweetgrass for the first time. Musqon is learning about sweetgrass from her grandmother, just like her grandmother learned from her own grandmother. Like generations before them, they will weave sweetgrass into baskets and use it in ceremonies. Musqon’s grandmother shows her how to identify sweetgrass by its unique color and how it feels when tugged on. When Musqon can’t tell sweetgrass from all the other grasses growing around it, her frustration builds. After her grandmother urges patience and tells Musqon to take her time to really see the all grasses and how they are different, Musqon finally successfully harvests her first sweetgrass. This tender story of a grandmother and grandchild is supplemented by detailed backmatter about sweetgrass and definitions of Passamaquoddy–Maliseet words used in the story.

Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson and illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight
Bo and his family are preparing for the Cherokee National Holiday and the craft booth they will have at the festival. Bo needs to find a container to hold the marbles they will sell in the booth. He tries a round bowl, a low rectangular tray, and a tall cylindrical vase, but none of them work. Finally he finds just the right thing: a special square basket his grandmother made. The basket of marbles fits perfectly on the table at the craft booth and they sell well. At the end of a long day, Bo and his family celebrate by playing marbles together. This is a story of family, Cherokee culture, and math; when Bo is trying to find a container for his marbles, he is experiencing hands-on learning about volume, capacity, and area. The backmatter explains the significance of Cherokee marbles and gives translations of Cherokee words used in the book.

This Is How I Know = Mii Maanda Ezhi-gkendmaanh by Brittany Luby and Joshua Mangeshig Pawis–Steckley
As a child and her grandmother explore the natural world around them, the girl identifies the special things she notices that make each season unique. In the summer, it’s bumblebees and ripe blueberries. In the fall, it’s migrating birds and a certain kind of mushroom that appears in the woods. Winter brings deer stripping the bark off trees, and spring brings robin eggs. This beautiful bilingual book, written in Anishinaabemowin and English, emphasizes the natural wonder in every season.

Raven, Rabbit, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler and illustrated by Jennifer Faria Lipke
A little boy and his grandfather take a walk in the snow, talking about what they see around them. The grandfather points to a black raven and tells the boy the raven’s name in Ojibwemowin: Gaagaagi. They also see a rabbit and some deer, and the grandfather names them for the boy and explains how to identify their tracks. When they get home, they share milk and cookies together then read and snuggle together in front of the fire. The illustrations clearly convey the affection between the boy and his grandfather, with the boy’s giant grin and the grandfather’s gentle and knowing smile.

We Are Still Here! by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac
A group of Native American students prepare presentations and displays for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with each presentation covering a significant movement or event and its impact on Native Americans. As readers move through the book, topics from assimilation to termination to language revival are explained, emphasizing the consequences for Native Americans. The backmatter gives a timeline of events beginning in 1871, when the U.S. government officially ended treaty-making with Native American nations, as well as more detailed information on each topic, a glossary of terms, and a list of sources.

Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.