Native American

Grade Level Interest
M
: Middle School (defined as grades 6-8).
S: Senior High (defined as grades 9-12).
A/YA: Adult-marketed book recommended for teens.

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. (S)

 

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

The United States is at war, and sixteen-year-old Ned Begay wants to join the cause—especially when he hears that Navajos are being specifically recruited by the Marine Corps. So he claims he’s old enough to enlist, breezes his way through boot camp, and suddenly finds himself involved in a top-secret task, one that’s exclusively performed by Navajos. He has become a code talker. Now Ned must brave some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and with his native Navajo language as code, send crucial messages back and forth to aid in the conflict against Japan. His experiences in the Pacific—from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima and beyond—will leave him forever changed. (M, S)

 

Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac

Chris’s life is complicated. At school, he’s been selected to lead a project on sports teams with Indian names. At home, on the Penacook reservation, the Indians are divided about building a casino. It would destroy the beautiful island Chris thinks of as his own. Is there anything one boy can do? (M)

 

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents hadvanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There’s one thing Molly does know. She needs to find some answers before it’s too late. (M)

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Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

Mattie and Sarah are two Mohawk sisters who are sent to an off-reservation school after the death of their mother. Subject to intimidation and corporal punishment, with little hope of contact with their father, the girls are taught menial tasks to prepare them for life as domestics. How Mattie and Sarah protect their culture, memories of their family life, and their love for each other makes for a powerful, unforgettable historical novel. (M, S)

 

Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell

When Evan Hill embarks on a crusade begun by his older brother to remove the Indian as their high school’s mascot, he has no idea what kind of trials are ahead of him. He shares a Native American heritage with his father, who embodies patience and quiet strength and who draws the teen into his once estranged Mohawk family circle. But Evan encounters a mix of hostility, indifference, and silent support for his cause from his classmates. Intolerance and brutality erupt when long-haired Evan is cornered in the hall by scissors-wielding classmates and when his mother discovers the beloved family dog lying dead atop a paper feather headdress. As the harassment mounts, Evan needs to decide just how important his campaign is to him. (S)

 

Morning Girl by Michael Dorris

A look at the Western discovery of America from another viewpoint. It’s 1492, and Morning Girl and her younger brother, Star Boy, live in the Bahamas when Christopher Columbus discovers the New World. As the two grow up, readers learn how different – and the same – children are then and now. Star Boy disappears when he fears that he ruined the family’s canoe; Morning Girl wonders what she looks like until her father shows her that she can see her reflection by looking into the “mirrors” of his eyes. The entire family mourns the sister who was never born. And together, they face the future as the arrival of the white man changes their lives forever. (M)

 

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop, is the sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas. Rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow, she is welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island. (M)

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Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

Half-Athabascan Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents’ house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it’s just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences…And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again. (M)

 

The Brave by Robert Lipsyte

Sonny’s been an outsider all his life. He has never fit into either world: the Moscondagas on the Reservation see him as white; whites see him as Indian. So far, Sonny’s managed to harness his anger – what he calls “the monster” – in the boxing ring. But Sonny wants out of the Res. He’s headed for New York City, where nobody can tell him what to do. Sonny doesn’t count on stepping into the middle of a drug war when he gets there – or on tangling with a tough Harlem boxer-turned-cop named Alfred Brooks. Brooks seems to think that Sonny’s got the talent to make it to the top – to be a contender. But first Sonny’s got to learn to be smart, take control of his life, and beat the monster. Only it isn’t as easy as it sounds… (S)

 

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Cole Matthews has been fighting, stealing, and raising hell for years. So his punishment for beating Peter Driscal senseless is harsh. Given a choice between prison and Native American Circle Justice, Cole chooses Circle Justice: He’ll spend one year in complete isolation on a remote Alaskan island. In the first days of his banishment, Cole is mauled by a mysterious white bear and nearly dies. Now there’s no one left to save Cole, but Cole himself. (M, S)

 

The Trap by John Smelcer

Seventeen-year-old Johnny Least-Weasel knows that his grandfather Albert is a stubborn old man and won’t stop checking his own traplines even though other men his age stopped doing so years ago. But Albert Least-Weasel has been running traplines in the Alaskan wilderness alone for the past sixty years. Nothing has ever gone wrong on the trail he knows so well. When Albert doesn’t come back from checking his traps, with the temperature steadily plummeting, Johnny must decide quickly whether to trust his grandfather or his own instincts. (M, S)

 

Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his. It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again – at least through the lens of her canera. Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved she wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss? (M, S)

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