Please welcome Sandy Tharp-Thee, Cherokee author of The Apple Tree — A Modern-Day Cherokee Story. She has a list of some of her favorite Native American books and stories for children and the child that lives in all of us.
We are giving away 25 copies of The Apple Tree. Please fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom to enter.
10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!
1. Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
The story of how the buffalo nearly became extinct, but because people cared enough and worked together we can still enjoy the American buffalo today. It offers insight to the meaning and importance of the buffalo to Native people from yesteryear to today. Based on true events, it reveals the consequences of one small buffalo being rescued by a boy and his father.
I believe the author said he spent sixteen years researching this true story. When I read it, I like to have the children sing with me. As a tribal librarian, this story allowed me to share the past, present, and future of buffalo. Today, the buffalo are no longer in danger, and we can enjoy them in the wild but also purchase the healthier bison meat. It is because of people coming together that this is possible.
Before reading this story with the children, I would share: Imagine if I could give you a gift and that gift gave you the shoes that you are wearing. Now imagine if that same gift provided your clothes, food, and even your shelter or home. What might you say to the creator that gave you such a gift? How would you care for such a gift? [picture book, ages 7 and up]
2. The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
One of the smallest creatures—the mouse—is drawn to the sound of the river and the idea of reaching the top of a mountain. His journey gives him a new name, “Jumping Mouse.” Along the way he discovers that he can help those in great need. The sacrifice is huge, but he freely gives, and his award in the end is life changing.
This story is precious to me because the mouse while being so small is nonetheless unafraid. Even when a buffalo and a wolf cross his path, the mouse doesn’t let his feelings of awe overcome him; instead, he humbly revels in the realization that a little mouse like he might be able to help them. Indeed, he helps the two strangers freely without question. If only we could be like the tiny mouse. One of my favorite sayings is to remember whatever we do is not wasted, and, of, course everything we do does come back. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
3. Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp
This board book is true to its title—a song to welcome a baby. Every child deserves to hear how dear, loved, cherished, and beautiful they are and how they are making the world a better place. A promise and thank you sung to the gift: the baby.
This book is a song, and I have found that babies will stop crying to listen to it sung softly. But more than that, babies need to hear the sweet words of welcome that are in this book. Siblings could easily learn the words to sing to a new brother or sister. The photographs are excellent, and I found even the youngest of children enjoy looking at real photographs. (One of my younger patrons with autism especially enjoyed books that included photographs with faces.) [picture book, ages infant and up]
4. Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
While talking of friendship without boundaries and colors, family strength, and the reminder of harsh history, this tale nurtures the belief that miracles can still happen.
The first time I read this story out loud to a group of children I could not keep from catching my breath and tears. Even though I had heard Tim Tingle give the story outloud and had read it several times. It is different when it is you reading it… How do you say goodbye when someone you love is sold? To feel a small part of a child’s faith that says, “We will be invisible…” That for years people would talk of angels walking on water. (Just writing more about this story transports me – blessings.) [picture book, ages 7 and up]
5. Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache by Greg Rodgers, illustrated by Leslie Stall Widener
Rabbit is a trickster who thinks he is fooling everybody and getting away with everything. Rabbit reminds us that what we do comes back full circle.
Written by the late Greg Rodgers, I must admit that Greg was one of my favorite people of all. Chukfi looks a little like him for one thing, and he was so excited about this story. We planned to travel place to place to share ours stories, him Chukfi and me, The Apple Tree. I miss him still, but take comfort in how I can still feel him in his stories. This one is based on a story he found in research. Chukfi teaches us not to be lazy, not to overeat, and to always tell the truth—if only because all things, good and bad, will come back to get you. Fortunately, in this story as in life, people love us no matter what. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
6. A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero by Gina Capaldi
A young native boy, stolen and sold, becomes a slave but grows up to be a doctor and advocate for his people.
When I was a tribal librarian, I once had a mother come in and say, my son told me he doesn’t want to be an Indian anymore. What do you have in a book that might help? We talked about why her son may have said what he said. Most likely it was because of something he read at school that showed Native people in a negative way. He was in the third grade and a beautiful boy. This is the book I recommended—an informative book of overcoming circumstance but also celebrating oneself and one’s people. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
7. The Cloud Artist —A Choctaw Tale by Sherri Maret, illustrations by Merisha Sequoia Clark
Anyone who has ever looked at the clouds and seen pictures emerge just for them will love this story. Told in English and Choctaw, it follows a little Choctaw girl born with the gift of painting with the clouds and her journey to learn how best to use her gift.
This is one of my new favorites, because my son and I always looked to the clouds for art. Another reason is that a gift is discovered in the telling, a gift that is meant to be shared for good and is precious. With the children I work with, I always make a point to spend time writing and making art. We talk about gifts and how to recognize the gifts the Creator has given you. I often ask them to, “Think of something that you enjoy or that you are passionate about—chances are that is your gift. Your gift would not be something that you did not enjoy doing.” [picture book, ages 6 and up]
8. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup
Giving Thanks reminds us to be thankful for all things that are truly a gift that we enjoy each day—the “gifts of life.” It has very few words and amazing art.
I have used this book for all ages but especially for three- and four-year-olds in activities. It is wonderful to think about what we are thankful for each day. The Good Morning Message reminds us to be thankful for everything that we take for granted. If we start remembering to be thankful—blessings come. A thankful heart is a thankful life. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
9. The Rainbow Crow by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Snow comes to the woodland and at first the animals are not afraid, but soon the snow is simply too much. Someone needs to go for help, but each one that would go is lacking in some area. The beautiful rainbow crow volunteers and in the process of bringing fire is changed forever.
This is a traditional story of sacrifice. The beautiful crow must become not so colorful to save her friends and their home. I, for one, look upon the black crow with new eyes, having read this story. I see this book as a wonderful introduction to traditional stories for children—and occasion to talk about how such stories have been handed down through the eons and how they give special meaning to our world. I find most Native stories are based on giving, sharing, and sacrifice, with animals often having special gifts or having given us special gifts. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
10. The Apple Tree by Sandy Tharp-Thee, illustrated by Marlene Campbell Hodson
A story of friendship and hope, told in English and Cherokee. A small boy plants an apple seed—already seeing the apple tree it will one day be. He cares and loves it no matter what. When the apple tree becomes anxious from its lack of apples, the boy reassures the apple tree in a sweet way, as any true friend would do.
This is a story I wrote for my son, who still believes that every seed will grow. When he was young I would read him a story and make up a story each night. This is one of the stories that I made up for him. My father said my son could put a stick in the ground and it would grow. My hope is that every child that reads or hears this book will want to plant a seed or plant a kind word of encouragement to a friend in need. Being able to also tell the story in Cherokee honors my ancestors and hopefully will do its small part to keep our tribe’s language alive. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
25 Book GIVEAWAY of The Apple Tree!
We are giving away 25 copies of The Apple Tree. Please fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom to enter. We can only mail to U.S. addresses.
Sandy Tharp-Thee is the granddaughter of sharecroppers and survivors of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, elders who taught her parents who taught her to be strong, to give, and to laugh. As a tribal librarian, she was named a White House Champion of Change in 2013 for her work in advancing print and digital literacy among the young and old and helping to preserve tribal culture and history.
An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Sandy makes her home in central Oklahoma. The Apple Tree is her first book; it was inspired by her son’s love for nature, especially plants and seeds. The book is a 2016 Oklahoma Book Award finalist.
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A favorite Native American Book is The Rough Face Girl
Rhapsody in Books says
My favorite Native American picture book is The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle by Jewel Grutman. Also I love the picture books on great Native American heroes by S.D. Nelson.
Alyssa Annico says
‘Thunder Boy, Jr.’ is a great one!
Beth T. says
I’m not familiar with Native American picture books, but thanks to you I’ve started a list. My niece is working in Anchorage as a visiting nurse in a hospital that primarily treats Native Americans, and I think having some of these books in her ER would be helpful to the families as they wait.
Tara Chappell says
I don’t really know – as I have a 9 year old so we don’t really read picture books. However, I would love to share picture books with my niece!
melanie huttner says
I really like the Jingle Dancer!
Jennifer Brunk says
I love Giving Thanks, but I wasn’t familiar with the other books. Thank you for this fabulous list and the wonderful MCBD event!
Saving this list! Native American children’s book need to be in the forefront. Thank you for all these wonderful recommendations.