Biographies: American Indian Heritage

Learn about the remarkable lives of the individuals portrayed in the following selections. Some, like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, you probably have heard of. Others, like Annie Dodge Wauneka, Walking Coyote, and the New York City Skywalkers, may be new to you and your students. Yet all of them, in their own way showed courage — to lead, to follow a dream, or to simply be themselves.

A Boy Called Slow

Illustrated by: Rocco Baviera
Age Level: 6-9

Like most Lakota Sioux boys, Slow yearns for the special vision or manly deed that will inspire his permanent, adult name. Encouraged by splendid stories of his father's bravery, wisdom and leadership, Slow focuses his energy on becoming a warrior. Friends gradually begin to associate his name with careful deliberation. When the moment of his manhood arrives, Slow rides heroically against Crow warriors, earning the name Tatan'ka Iyota'ke (translated, on the final page, as Sitting Bull). — Publishers Weekly

Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story

Age Level: 9-12

"This handsomely designed, large-format book tells the story of Black Elk (1863—1950), a Lakota man who saw many changes come to his people. In this first-person, present-tense account, Black Elk says that as a nine-year-old boy, he is blessed with a Great Vision. At 12, he fights in the Battle of Little Bighorn. After traveling in Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and, later, experiencing the massacre at Wounded Knee, he retreats to a reservation, where he holds his vision in his heart and offers it to others." — Booklist

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: This fascinating picture book biography tells the childhood story of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839. Through her true story, readers will learn what it was like to be part of this Native American community that lived along the Missouri River in the Dakotas, a society that depended more on agriculture for food and survival than on hunting. Using as a resource the works of Gilbert L. Wilson, who met Buffalo Bird Woman and transcribed her life's story in the early 20th century, award-winning author-illustrator S. D.

Buffalo Song

Illustrated by: Bill Farnsworth
Age Level: 6-9

For thousands of years, massive herds of buffalo roamed across much of North America, but by the 1870s, fewer than fifteen hundred animals remained. With reverent care, Walking Coyote and his family endeavored to bring back the buffalo herds, one magnificent creature at a time. Here is the inspiring story of the first efforts to save the buffalo, an animal sacred to Native Americans and a powerful symbol of the American West.

Crazy Horse's Vision

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Joseph Bruchac tells the compelling story of how a young boy named Curly seeks a vision in the hope of saving his people — and grows into the brave and fierce warrior Crazy Horse. Sioux artist S. D. Nelson's paintings, in the traditional ledger style of the Plains Indians, evokes the drama and the tragedy of this important American figure.

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

Illustrated by: Frank Morrison
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Growing up in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York, isn't easy for George Crum. Picked on at school because of the color of his skin, George escapes into his favorite pastimes — hunting and fishing. Soon George learns to cook too, and as a young man he lands a job as chef at the fancy Moon's Lake House. George loves his work, except for the fussy customers, who are always complaining! One hot day George's patience boils over, and he cooks up a potato dish so unique it changes his life forever.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Illustrated by: David Shannon

Born of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, musical icon Robbie Robertson learned the story of Hiawatha and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, as part of the Iroquois oral tradition. Now he shares the same gift of storytelling with a new generation. Hiawatha was a strong and articulate Mohawk who was chosen to translate the Peacemaker’s message of unity for the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history.

Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains

Age Level: 9-12

This collection provides biographical sketches of 15 great Indian leaders, most Sioux; tracing their historical importance to both white and Native peoples. While students may turn to this for supplemental reading, many an adult will find this a fine refresher course on key Native leaders. — Midwest Book Review

Jim Thorpe's Bright Path

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Age Level: 9-12

Product Description: This biography portrays the childhood and school years of the immensely talented Native American athlete, Jim Thorpe (1887—1953). Born in Oklahoma, Thorpe spent his first years exploring the outdoors with his father and twin brother, Charlie. At age six, the boys were sent to an Indian boarding school, which Jim hated. He struggled academically, and his only outlet was sports.

Just Like Me: Stories and Self-Portraits by Fourteen Artists

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: This remarkable collection highlights the art and inspirational paths of 14 outstanding artists who, over the course of 20 years, have shared their art and lives with children. Each spread comprises a self-portrait, as well as the artist's personal story and reflections on what their art means to them. Artists include George Littlechild, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Enrique Chagoya, Rodolfo Morales, Tomie Arai, and Hideo Yoshida.

Keeping the Rope Straight: Annie Dodge Wauneka's Life of Service to the Navajo

Age Level: 9-12

Annie Wauneka devoted her life to helping her people. Inspired by the example of her father, Annie immersed herself in tribal politics and became a leader in the battle against tuberculosis. Annie melded traditional Diné (Navajo) culture with the modern world and brought about unprecedented improvements in the healthcare and education available to her people. Her years of service earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the title "Our Legendary Mother" from the Diné Nation.

Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer

By: Bill Wise
Illustrated by: Bill Farnsworth
Age Level: 6-9

On a Maine summer day in 1884, twelve-year-old Penobscot Indian Louis Sockalexis first fell in love with baseball. As he grew up, Louis honed his skills and dreamed of one day joining a major league team. Louis encountered opposition at every turn, from the jeers of teammates and the taunts of spectators to the disapproval of his father. With determination, courage, and quiet dignity, Louis Sockalexis smashed racial barriers and home runs, leaving an indelible mark on America's favorite sport.

Native Men of Courage

Age Level: 9-12

Native Men of Courage profiles ten outstanding leaders in the Native community. Each chapter presents ordinary individuals who overcame personal challenges and achieved extraordinary accomplishments. Features include Golden Eagle Hotshots, a firefighting squad; U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell; and aboriginal surgeon Stanley Vollant.

Native Women of Courage

Age Level: 9-12

Product Description: Native Women of Courage profiles ten outstanding women leaders in the Native community. All of these successful, trailblazing women are stellar role models who have raised the profile of indigenous culture in North America. From heroines of the past to women making history today, this exciting work of non-fiction reminds readers of the extraordinary contributions of Native American women to our daily lives and to our country's social fabric.

Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story

Age Level: 6-9

Ira Hayes, a member of the Pima tribe, was one of the Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, catapulting him to celebrity status. His life became a struggle against fame and then alcoholism, ending when he was only 32 years old. This picture book biography features evocative paintings and concluding with additional factual information and photographs.

Remember Me: Tomah Joseph's Gift to Franklin Roosevelt

Illustrated by: Mary Beth Owens
Age Level: 6-9

Franklin Delano Roosevelt joyfully spent his boyhood summers on Campobello Island. It was there that he met Tomah Joseph, a Passamaquoddy elder and former chief who made his living as a guide, birchbark canoe builder, and basketmaker. Authors Soctomah and Flahive imagine the relationship that developed between these two as Tomah Joseph taught young Franklin how to canoe and shared some of the stories and culture of his people.

Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story

Illustrated by: Adam Gustavson
Age Level: 9-12

Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is known mainly for his central role in the musical group The Band. But how did he become one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time? Written by his son, Sebastian, this is the story of a rock-and-roll legend's journey through music, beginning with the songs and stories he learned from his mother's family as a child on a Six Nations reservation north of Toronto.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing

Age Level: 6-9

The story of Sequoyah is the tale of an ordinary man with an extraordinary idea — to create a writing system for the Cherokee Indians and turn his people into a nation of readers and writers. Sequoyah knew no English and had no idea how to capture speech on paper. But slowly and painstakingly, ignoring the scorn of his neighbors and friends, he worked out a system that surprised the Cherokee Nation — and the world of the 1820s — with its beauty and simplicity.

Sky Dancers

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 6-9

"In her first work of fiction for children, Kirk introduces the generations-old connection between the Mohawk people and steelworking. John Cloud, who lives on a reservation, misses his father and uncle during their weeks working construction sites in Manhattan. John's first visit to the city brings both strange sights ('There were traffic lights where John thought trees should be') and deepening pride when he witnesses his father's agile figure high atop the incomplete Empire State Building." — Booklist

Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina

Illustrated by: True Kelley
Age Level: 6-9

Maria Tallchief shares the story of her childhood and path to becoming America's first prima ballerina. Growing up on the Osage Indian reservation, Maria was a gifted pianist and dancer, but at the age of twelve, her father told her that she must choose between dance and music. Maria chose ballet, changing the course of her life and the face of classical ballet in America.

The Unbreakable Code

Illustrated by: Julia Miner
Age Level: 6-9

John, a young Diné (Navajo), is frightened to leave his lifelong home on the reservation and move to Minnesota with his mother and new stepfather. The boy's grandfather assures him he'll be all right since he has an "unbreakable code," the Diné language. The man goes on to tell the story of how he and other Dinés were recruited by the Marines and developed a message code based on their native language that helped the U.S. in the Pacific during World War II. — School Library Journal