November 4, 2020

The Best Books Students Should Read During Native American History Month

GoGuardian Team
Painting of tipis under the stars

November isn’t just a time for turkey, yams, and stuffing. It’s also Native American Heritage Month. This is a month to celebrate the Native American’s diverse and rich traditions, history, and culture while also acknowledging their valuable contributions to society. Provide your students with a well-rounded education by encouraging them to read these seven best books about Native American history.

The Importance of Reading Native American History Books

Native American history is woven within the fabric of American society, and it’s highly important for students to be taught about the impact they have had on our culture, government, language, medicine, recreation, literature, food, and more. For example, Benjamin Franklin adopted the foundation of our federal government from the Native American Iroquoian League of Nations. Moreover, Native Americans developed farming methods for growing pumpkins, corn, peanuts, potatoes, beans, peppers, melons, nuts, squash, and sunflower seeds. Today there are over five million Native Americans in the United States, yet 27 states do not include any Native American topics in K-12 classrooms. Incorporating books about Native American history can help inform your students’ education in American history.

Best Books Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

Books can start powerful conversations. Learning about the historical events of the Native American people group—their courage and challenges—helps today’s students become better citizens. Depending on your students’ ages, we’ve compiled lists of the best Native American history books.

Books for Preschool and Elementary Students

These books have lots of breathtaking artwork that showcase the emotion behind each message. We recommend these three books to preschool and elementary students.

1. At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell

This award-winning picture book claimed many 2020 literature awards, like the American Indian Youth Literature Award. At the Mountain’s Base celebrates the connection between a Cherokee family and Native American female pilots who made history. This fictional story pays homage to WWII Pilot Ola Mildred Rexroat. She was the only Native American woman that served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The book shares the strengths of each family as they are tested on land and in the sky, waiting on her return from war.

2. Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott

Arrow to the Sun is a magnificent story about a boy trying to find out about his heritage. He must prove that he is worthy by going through four unique ceremonial chambers. The book shines a light on the son’s bravery, who looks for his father despite not knowing if he is still alive. Some of the lessons taught to the child were principles by the Native Americans.

3. First Laugh—Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo Flood, and Jonathan Nelson

This book is a microcosm of how Native Americans celebrate and cherish the blessings of a newborn baby. The characters are of Navajo descent, which has over 300,000 tribe members and is the second-largest tribe in the U.S. Whoever can make a newborn baby laugh is honored at a celebratory gathering called the First Laugh Ceremony. This book highlights the special bonds of family relationships.

Books for Middle School Students

These books teach middle school students moral lessons, as well as provide insights into the Native American culture.

4. Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac

This insightful novel is about a boy who discovers the meaning of his Native American heritage during the Great Depression. After finding a new home, twelve-year-old Cal Black is sent to a boarding school for Native Americans in Oklahoma by his father. He learns about his heritage, customs, language, and, more importantly, the value of friendship. Cal also discovers the injustice and vows to help his people.

5. Talking Leaves by Joseph Bruchac

Talking Leaves is a riveting historical fiction about thirteen-year-old Uwohali who meets his father, Sequoyah. Sequoyah becomes the driving force to convince the Cherokee people to adopt a new syllabary to preserve their identity and culture. This has helped retain the spiritual traditions and historical knowledge of their ancestors.

Young Adult Books for High School Students

These books will challenge your students in literary comprehension while also educating them on Native American history.

6. Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker is an eye-opening fictional novel based on a true story. During World War II, the U.S. adopted code talkers. These were Native Americans who sent messages to and from soldiers in an unbreakable code, saving American lives. The story revolves around a 16-year-old Navajo boy who is enlisted in the military as a code talker. This inspirational story reveals information that has been classified for over 20 years.

7. All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker

All the Real Indians Died Off is one of the best Native American History books to share with your students. This book debunks the misinformation of Native American history and culture. These myths include:

  • Columbus discovered America
  • Thanksgiving welcomed Native Americans
  • Native Americans were savage and warlike
  • Europeans brought civilization to Native Americans
  • Most Native Americans are on government welfare
  • Sports mascots honor Native Americans
  • Native American casinos make them wealthy

Each chapter tackles each myth and proves how the European settlers set political agendas to acquire land and alter American narratives.

Celebrate Native American History (Every) Month

Not only does teaching Native American history help students understand society, but it also helps create a better future. Teach your students about the importance of history and diversity by reading the above Native American history books. Discover more helpful resources on the GoGuardian blog.