The best children’s picture books about Native American celebrations today

Who am I?

Stories help us understand ourselves, another culture, or a new student sitting alone at a nearby desk. While teaching, working side by side, and living on the Navajo Nation for nearly twenty years, I wanted to share some of the special and surprising aspects of their culture—especially the kindness, wisdom, and the laughter Navajo people shared with me. Laughter is a holy gift for the Navajo people. First Laugh shows the reader why this is true. My books have been given a variety of national and international awards but the best reward is when a child looks up while reading one of my books, quietly grins, and then proudly says, “I am in this book.”


I wrote...

First Laugh, Welcome, Baby!

By Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo Flood, Jonathan Nelson (illustrator)

Book cover of First Laugh, Welcome, Baby!

What is my book about?

Imagine celebrating a baby’s first laugh with the entire family present—young and old, far and near. First Laugh invites you to experience a unique Navajo tradition that is celebrated today.  This celebration (La’tse Awee’ ch’ideeldloh) is a child’s first formal welcome into one’s family. A taste of salt is given to each guest as a reminder to be kind and generous. From their child’s first act of sharing, the parents hope their child will have a happy life with much laughter and love and will always gladly give to anyone in need. Fun glimpses of family antics are woven into this story as siblings and grandparents try to make this grumpy baby laugh. Jonathan Nelson’s art illustrates the land, the people, the celebration.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

This is a delightful journey of seeing the thankfulness expressed by the Cherokee people for the gifts of each season.  Reader and listeners might pause and think about “what is something for which I am thankful?” Page by page this question is answered as one becomes aware of the gifts we often take for granted—water to refresh us; air to sustain us; earth to hold us; and family who love us, and thus we give thanks. 

By Traci Sorell, Frane Lessac (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Are Grateful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2019 Sibert Honor Book
2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book
NPR's Guide To 2018’s Great Reads
2018 Book Launch Award (SCBWI)
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018
School Library Journal Best Books of 2018

2018 JLG selection
2019 Reading the West Picture Book Award

The Cherokee community is grateful for blessings and challenges that each season brings. This is modern Native American life as told by an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow…


Book cover of Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

Reading this picture book makes you hungry, makes you smile, and makes you ready to sit down and bite into some hot sizzling fry bread (maybe with a drizzle of honey or a scoop of ice cream). What a fun look into the world of Native American families.  Fry bread is much more than something to eat. The author presents us with a new awareness: “fry bread is food… Fry bread is time… Fry bread is nation…is us… a celebration of traditional and modern….” Yes, what a delicious way to think about it – “fry bread is us.”

By Kevin Noble Maillard, Juana Martinez-Neal (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fry Bread as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

Fry bread is food.
It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time.
It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation.
It might look or taste different, but it is still shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

Fry bread is us.
It is a celebration of old and new, traditional and modern, similarity and difference.

Fry Bread is a story told in lively and powerful verse by Seminole Nation member Kevin Noble Maillard, with vibrant art from Pura Belpre Award winner Juana Martinez-Neal.


Book cover of Powwow's Coming

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

Powwow's Coming is a simple, colorful, and “full of dancing descriptions” that show the fun and importance of powwow celebrations. Linda is part Native and part teacher and fully a creative author and illustrator. She explains in rhyming narrative the reasons for the gathering of many tribal members at a powwow to share dancing, chanting, and drumming. Powwow’s Coming is a perfect read aloud for younger “listeners.” Boyden has included a teachers’ resource page so the book can easily be incorporated into different curriculums.

By Linda Boyden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Powwow's Coming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Powwow's coming, hear the beat? Powwow's coming, dancing feet. Powwow's coming, hear the drum? Powwow's coming, everyone! Frustrated as a school teacher not being able to find good instructional materials on American Indians, Linda Boyden has bypassed the tired stereotype of Indians on horseback or hunting game and placed them in today's setting of a powwow. ""Powwow's Coming"" provides children with a foundation for understanding and celebrating the enduring culture and heritage of American Indians. Boyden's exquisite cut-paper collage and engaging poem visually place readers within the scenes of a contemporary Native American community while offering a thoughtful look at…


Book cover of Jingle Dancer

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

This book was one of the first—and still one of the best—picture books to describe the importance of jingle dancing and powwow today. The setting is contemporary. The story is engaging. The author, Cynthia Leitig Smith, is a tribal member and weaves many authentic details into the story.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Cornelius Van Wright (illustrator), Ying-Hwa Hu (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jingle Dancer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith's lyrical text is paired with the warm, evocative watercolors of Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu in this affirming story of a contemporary Native American girl who turns to her family and community.

The cone-shaped jingles sewn to Grandma Wolfe's dress sing tink, tink, tink, tink…

Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared over generations in her family and intertribal community. She hopes to dance at the next powwow.

But with the day quickly approaching, she has a problem—how will her dress sing if it has no jingles?…


Book cover of Josie Dances

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

Josie wants to dance at next summer’s powwow. But she needs nearly everyone in her family to help make this possible. As Josie’s story unfolds we are introduced to the special people in her family. We learn of their love, their kindness, and their special talents. We are also introduced to the beautiful connections to many parts of our natural world.  

By Denise Lajimodiere, Angela Erdrich (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Josie Dances as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

Josie dreams of dancing at next summer's powwow. But first she needs many special things: a dress, a shawl, a cape, leggings, moccasins, and, perhaps most important of all, her spirit name. To gather all these essential pieces, she calls on her mom, her aunty, her kookum, and Grandma Greatwalker. They have the skills to prepare Josie for her powwow debut.

As the months go by, Josie practices her dance steps while Mom stitches, Aunty and Kookum bead, and Grandma Greatwalker dreams Josie's spirit name. Josie is nervous about her performance in the arena and about all the pieces falling…


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I'll Tell My Story

By Sinmisola Ogunyinka,

Book cover of I'll Tell My Story

Sinmisola Ogunyinka Author Of I loved a slave

New book alert!

Who am I?

I am a writer who loves to create stories across cultures and time periods. Writing a historical romance novel involves a lot of reading about the history and the times. After reading a few historical novels, I started toying with the idea of writing one. I loved a slave is my second historical romance novel and I have started work on two more. Being transported into the time period gives me a lot of excitement and I hope you enjoy the books on my list as much as I have! I have a master’s in liberal arts and an MFA in Creative Writing.

Sinmisola's book list on historical stories on love and slavery

What is my book about?

Bettina Jaja spent years of her life obeying a man everyone both revered and feared, a man she called her husband - a man of God who gave her a comfortable life by all external accounts. Why, then, was she so unhappy? Pouring her heart out in her uncensored life story, she delivers her true self to her children. Doing so means defying her powerful husband. Doing so means being damned.

Bettina takes a stand against her tyrannical husband, the man who nobody dared disobey without fear of retaliation. In this often heart-wrenching look into the life of one mother yearning for freedom and for her children's happiness, you'll find out just what a mother is willing to sacrifice for the sake of her children.

I'll Tell My Story

By Sinmisola Ogunyinka,

What is this book about?

Sometimes the secrets of the past are too painful to remain hidden in the shadows.

Bettina Jaja spent years of her life obeying a man everyone both revered and feared, a man she called her husband-a man of God who gave her a comfortable life by all external accounts. Why, then, was she so unhappy?

Mummy Jaja, as their congregation called her, knew she had failed as a mother for many reasons... but could she stop the generational curses caused by her years of silence from being passed on? Can she save her children from suffering her fate?

Adam, her…


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