While most historians believe that people have been living in North America for somewhere between 16,000 to 13,000 years, the written and oral record of how people lived prior to 1,500 is limited. The selection of children’s books available about early American civilizations is certainly limited. Here are seven books that together help introduce children to the lives of people who inhabited North America prior to 1500.
When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger, Susan Katz, and David Kanietakeron Fadden. Where the Shadbush Blooms highlights the similarities between a year in the life of a Lenape Indian girl today and a year in the life of her grandparents’ grandparents many years before. Both girls’ families engage in tasks associated with each season: fishing for shad, gathering honey, roasting corn and telling stories. This book emphasizes the connection of the Lenape girl to nature and to her ancestors. Informative endnotes provide more information about the Lenni Lenape culture. Ages 5+
North American Indians by Marie and Douglas Gorsline. North American Indians provides an introduction to the various groups of Native Americans who inhabited North America before European settlers arrived. Brief descriptions of each tribe and evocative illustrations highlight the diversity amongst the various tribes in housing, dress and food. Given that North American Indians was published in 1977, it seems likely that some of the information in it is dated. Ages 6+
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters and Russ Kendall. Tapenum’s Day is told from the point of view of a young Wampanoag boy. In Tapenum’s Day, Tapenum spends his day working on his hunting skills and running in hopes that he will some day be chosen to become a pniese. Pniesog were both warriers and advisors to the chief, known for their courage, wisdom, courteousness, humanity and strength. Ages 6+
Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story by Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. A traditional folktale told by the Salish people of Montana. This story reminds the Salish people that fire is a gift from the Creator brought to them by the animals. According to Beaver Steals Fire, long ago there was no fire on earth and the earth was a cold and dark place. A group of animals raided the sky world to steal fire and bring it back to earth. Ages 6+
The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas by Tomie dePaola. A traditional folktale from the Comanche people of Texas, retold here by Tomie dePaola. When this story begins, the Comanche have taken too much from the land and are being plagued by a drought and famine. A brave and generous young girl’s sacrifice saves her people. In exchange for the young girl’s sacrifice, the Great Spirits send rain and blanket the hills of Texas with bluebonnets as a sign of forgiveness. Ages 6+
The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola. Another traditional Native American folktale. The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush tells the story of a boy who is chosen, not to be a warrior, but instead to be an artist for his people. The Great Spirit rewards the boy for being faithful to his people and true to his gift. Ages 6+
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac. Children of the Longhouse is an exciting story about a Mohawk boy named Ohkwa’ri who angers an older boy Grabber when he tells village elder’s about Grabber’s plot to raid a nearby village. While this is a fictional story, Children of the Longhouse is set in a 15th century Mohawk village and is heavily laced with information about Mohawk culture. The book is based on and inspired by research Bruchac conducted while writing a story for National Geographic Magazine about a 1491 Mohawk village. Ages 8+