Theme Guide: Indigenous Reading

We’ve compiled a list of books about First Nations, Inuit and Métis to be used in classrooms and libraries.

Picture Books

Stolen Words
Written by Melanie Florence
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-7726-0037-7
IL: Ages 6-9 RL: Grades 1-3

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families.

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Walk on the Tundra
Written by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Inhabit Media, 2011
ISBN 978-1-7722-7185-0
IL: Ages 4-8 RL: Grades 2-3

A Walk on the Tundra follows Inuujaq, a little girl who travels with her grandmother onto the tundra. There, Inuujaq learns that the tough little plants she sees are much more important to Inuit than she originally believed. In addition to an informative storyline that teaches the importance of Arctic plants, this book includes a field guide with photographs and scientific information about a wide array of plants found throughout the Arctic.

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When We Were Alone
Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett
Portage & Main PRess, 2016
ISBN 978-1-5537-9673-2
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades 2-3

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.

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You Hold Me Up
Written by Monique Gray Smith
Illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4598-1447-9
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades JK-2

This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions.
This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens.

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Junior & Intermediate Fiction

He Who Dreams
Written by Melanie Florence
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN: 978-14598-1102-7
IL: Ages 11-14 RL: Grade 5-8

One day at the local community center, following the sound of drums, John stumbles into an Indigenous dance class. Before he knows what’s happening, John finds himself stumbling through beginner classes with a bunch of little girls, skipping soccer practice and letting his other responsibilities slide. When he attends a pow wow and witnesses a powerful performance, he realizes that he wants to be a dancer more than anything. But the nearest class for boys is at the Native Cultural Center in the city, and he still hasn’t told his family or friends about his new passion. If he wants to dance, he will have to stop hiding.

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The Mask That Sang
Written by Susan Currie
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-7726-0013-1
IL: Ages 9-13 RL: Grades 4-7

Cass and her mom have always stood on their own against the world. Then Cass learns she had a grandmother, one who was never part of her life, one who has just died and left her and her mother the first house they could call their own. But with it comes more questions than answers: Why is her Mom so determined not to live there? Why was this relative kept so secret? And what is the unusual mask, forgotten in a drawer, trying to tell her? Strange dreams, strange voices, and strange incidents all lead Cass closer to solving the mystery and making connections she never dreamed she had.

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Young Adult Fiction

Fire Song
Written by Adam Garnet Jones
Annick Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-5545-1977-4
IL: Ages 14+ RL: Grades 9+

How can Shane reconcile his feelings for David with his desire for a better life?
Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves―his friend, David. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

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The Lives of Desperate Girls
Written by MacKenzie Common
Penguin Teen Canada, 2017
ISBN 978-0-14-319872-7
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 9-10

In a small, unforgiving town in northern Ontario, two girls have gone missing. While police search for rich, white Chloe, the murder of Helen, a Native girl from the rez, goes almost unremarked. Chloe’s best friend, Jenny, knows exactly how unforgiving her town is, but she’s keeping her own dangerous secrets. Jenny wants answers about Helen’s murder, but is she complicit in the conspiracy of silence?

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The Marrow Thieves
Written by Cherie Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-77086-486-3
IL: Ages 14 and up RL: Grades 6-7

In a future world ravaged by global warming, North American Indigenous people are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which holds the cure for recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. Sixteen-year-old Frenchi and his companions survive by staying hidden… but one of them may hold the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

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Written by Jennifer Dance
Dundurn 2015
ISBN 978-1-4597-2868-4
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 6-7

In the late 1800s, a Lakota boy finds an orphaned mustang foal and names her Paint. Boy and horse become inseparable and they learn to hunt buffalo together. When the US Cavalry attacks the camp, Paint’s fate becomes entwined with that of settlers, who bring irreversible change to the grassland. With a great dust storm looming, man and horse will need to work together to survive.

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Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo)
Written by Katherena Vermette
Illustrated Scott B. Henderson & colouring by Donovan Yaciuk
HighWater Press 2017
ISBN 978-1-5537-9678-7
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Métis girl, is struggling with feelings of loneliness while attending a new school and living with a new foster family. Then an ordinary day in Mr. Bee’s history class turns extraordinary and Echo’s life will never be the same. During Mr. Bee’s lecture, Echo finds herself transported to another time and place, a bison hunt on the Saskatchewan prairie, and back again. In the following weeks, Echo slips back and forth in time. She visits a Metis camp, travels the old fur-trade routes and experiences the perilous era of the pemmican wars.

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Will I See?
Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by GMB Chomichuk
HighWater Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-55379-674-9
IL: Ages 16 and up RL: Grade 10

May, a young teenage girl, finds keepsakes on a walk through the city. May and her kookum (grandmother) make these keepsakes into a necklace, opening a world of danger and fantasy. While May fights against a terrible reality, she finds strength in the spirit of those who have passed. But can that strength save her? A story of tragedy and beauty, illuminating the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

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#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Annick Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-5545-1958-3
IL: Ages 14+  RL: Grades 9+

Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. #Not Your Princess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.

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I Am Not a Number
Written by Jenny Kay Depuis and Kathy Kacer
Illustrated by Gillian Newland
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-9275-8394-4
IL: Ages 7-11 RL: Grades 3-6

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?

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Secret Path
Written by Gord Downie
Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5011-5594-9
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grade 7

Twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, died on October 22, 1966, trying to escape residential school and return to his family. Acknowledging a dark part of Canada’s history — the mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system — the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic death compels all Canadians to make peace with the truth of the past. Chanie’s story is Canada’s story.

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Speaking Our Truth
Written by Monique Gray Smith
Orca Book Publishers, 2017
ISBN 978-14598-1583-4
IL: Ages 9-13 RL: Grades 4-8

Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the Residential School system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Healing and repairing that relationship requires education, awareness and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt by Survivors and their families. Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of Survivors and listen to allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.

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