Books, Current Events, Reviews

3 More Wonderful Children’s Books for Native American Heritage Month

As National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month continues, I bring to you more books today as promised in my earlier post here. Today’s set of books for Native American Heritage Month features books set in Canada and Alaska. Two of them are based on true stories while the other is a sweet read that offers a glimpse into the journey to and of motherhood

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3 Wonderful Children’s Books for Native American Heritage Month

When I Was Eight

Title: When I Was Eight
Author: Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
Illustrator: Gabrielle Grimard
Length: 18 pages
Genre: Children’s fiction/Canadian History, Diverse Reads (9 years, and up)
Publisher: Annick Press; 2nd edition (June 30, 2020)

Description: Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

My Thoughts

This is an unflinchingly honest story of the trials Inuit and other indigenous children had to face in residential schools. While the book is an adaptation of Fatty Legs for younger audiences, it still is a heart wrenching read. It is a story of destruction and determination, of abuse and hope, of separation from loved ones and of strength of character. I appreciated that the author’s narrative does not speak down to readers and loved Gabrielle Grimard’s warm illustrations which do a wonderful job of conveying Olemaun’s emotions throughout.

While it is certainly a serious read with many dark moments, it is also an important read. Everyone will glean a lot from the book; the importance of education, to not give up on our dreams, and to stand up for ourselves. It will definitely have readers curious to learn more about the culture and history behind this, and on a lighter note, to want to read Alice in Wonderland (like the protagonist did).

Get it Here

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Sweetest Kulu

Title: Sweetest Kulu
Author: Celine Kalluk
Illustrator: Alexandria Neonakis
Length: 36 pages
Genre: Children’s Poetry/Canada book, Native American Books, Diverse Reads(Baby – 3 years, and up)
Publisher: Inhabit Media; English edition (April 1, 2018)

Description: “Dream a little, Kulu, this world now sings a most beautiful song of you.”
This beautiful bedtime poem, written by acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describes the gifts given to a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic.

My Thoughts

Oh my sweetness! From that adorable cover you see to the illustrations within and the story itself, this book is the sweetest!! As I turned the pages, I could feel those thoughts and wishes all the creatures of the world and nature itself in its many forms bestows upon little ones; from the snow bunting’s wish for believing in oneself to the Arctic char’s gift of tenderness.

It took me back to the time my teens were but babes, and our wishes for them. It also reminded me of lullabies and rhymes in Tamil, Hindi, and Kannada (various Indian languages I grew up speaking) that are so very similar. One such rhyme starts with the line “kaakka kannukku mai kondu vaa” (Tamil) and translates to “crow, bring kohl/eyeliner for the eyes.”

Back to this book, the illustrations are simply stunning and filled with details that we can all feast on; while the sweet narrative is heartwarming and full of thoughts and wishes any parent will have for their child.

A wonderful gift for new and expecting parents.

Get it Here

Amazon || Book Depository

Benny’s Flag

Title: Benny’s flag
Author: Phyllis Krasilovsky
Illustrator: Jim Fowler
Length: 32 pages
Genre: Children’s Books /Native American Books, Diverse Reads(4 – 8 years, and up)
Publisher: Roberts Rinehart (November 5, 2002)

Description: Benny was an Aleut Indian boy living in an Alaskan mission home many years before Alaska became a state. One day his teacher told the class about a contest to to make a flag for Alaska. That night the boys and girls of the mission house made many designs for the flag. A month later the teacher announced: Children, the flag contest is over. From all over Alaska children sent in designs for the flag. And Benny’s design has won the contest! Benny’s Flag is a true story.

My Thoughts

I remember reading about a similar story in another book – Raise the Flag – and recall thinking it will be nice to have picture books for such stories. I did not realize that there was one already at the time – this one is for Alaska (and might have been in that book though I can’t recall that now) – while the story I talked about earlier was for New Guinea’s flag. This book is based on the true story of how Alaska’s flag came to be what it is today. Through both the illustrations and the narrative, it gives readers, young and old, a peek into life at the mission home for Benny and life in Alaska as well. We see how Benny came up with his winning design and it might inspire readers to try to design something similar.

Note: the featured edition of this book is a new print and illustrated by Jim Fowler. The original edition is from 1960 and illustrated by W.T. Marks. While the format is more like a chapter book sans chapters with black and white illustrations, it looks wonderful too.

Get it Here

Amazon || Book Depository || ThriftBooksVintage

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And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, have you read any of these books? If yes, would love to hear your thoughts on them. If not, how about any other similar books? I would love to hear your recommendations too. Do you have anything similar to the sentiments expressed in Sweetest Kulu in your culture?

Linking this post towards IMWAYR to join other wonderful bloggers at TeachMentorTexts.

13 thoughts on “3 More Wonderful Children’s Books for Native American Heritage Month

  1. Vidya, you must be quite the reader, to keep finding these narrow-niche childrens’ books! Kudos! The books all sound precious. I really appreciate your ending with Benny’s Flag, because it is so positive. Thank God there is a positive Native story to tell!

  2. I have been enjoying Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s American Sunrise collection of poetry. She is a member of the Creek Nation.

    I am having a hard time remembering another book (a novel) I read by a native author this year but I can’t remember the author! I remember the story and the cover but I am not home so I can’t grab it down from the shelf.

    I haven’t read any of these children’s books but now I want to add at least one to my collection.

  3. Not only have I read and loved all of Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton’s books, I was lucky to meet them at an under published event. There was just myself, one other customer and the book store staff. We had some profound conversations about residential schools and Margaret’s life afterwards. She was a grand lady the same age as my mother. Sweetest Kulu is indeed a lovely book and you are right that it would make a delightful baby book.

  4. What a wonderful set of books, Vidya! I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read any of these yet. When I Was Eight sounds like such a powerful and eye-opening read, and Sweetest Kulu sounds so, well, sweet—and the cover is beautiful! Benny’s Flag sounds great as well. Thanks for this thoughtful and timely set of recommendations!

  5. No I have not read any of these books but I think I am going to grab them for my granddaughter. She loves to read and all of them sound interesting!

  6. No one ever believes my teen in school when he says he’s American Indian, so he doesn’t say it anymore. He did a show and tell in middle school with the photos from his grandfather meeting with the president to have the tribe recognized federally. that was great and then, that was the end of him talking about it anymore. Also, I have to say, I love Alice in Wonderland. 🙂

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