Far From Home: American Indian Residential Schools

One of the most painful chapters of Native history in both the U.S. and Canada is the establishment of residential schools for young children. These books tell an important part of that story, and many are written by adults recounting their own experiences as they left families, heritage, and language behind.

Note: Our related YA booklist recommends titles for older readers, as does Debbie Reese on her American Indians in Children's Literature blog.

Daughter of Suqua

Illustrated by: Paul Micich
Age Level: 9-12

"It is 1905, and Ida, 10, lives with her parents and grandmother among their people, the Suquamish, on an island off the coast of Washington. The story revolves around their struggle to maintain their identity; first as a family, and second as a tribe when the U.S. government resettles them on allotted lands and enrolls their children in 'American' schools. Readers will identify with Ida's need to be with her friends and family and her despair over being sent away to a white boarding school.

As Long as the Rivers Flow

Illustrated by: Heather D. Holmlund
Age Level: 9-12

Loyie shares a quiet but powerful first-person account of his last summer before he and his siblings were taken away from their family. Most of the story focuses on what was otherwise a normal seasonal routine for the Cree people of that era, with the family moving from their main cabin to their summer "camp" for a few weeks…When the children learn that they must go to the residential school or their parents will be imprisoned, and they are physically loaded onto the back of a truck by strangers, the sense of separation and loss is keenly felt. — School Library Journal

Fatty Legs: A True Story

Illustrated by: Liz Amini-Holmes
Age Level: 9-12

At the age of eight, Margaret Pokiak set her sights on learning to read — even though it meant leaving her Arctic village. Upon her arrival at school, Margaret encountered the Raven, a black-cloaked nun who immediately disliked the plucky girl and frequently humiliated her. In spite of the Raven's cruelty, however Margaret refused to be intimidated and gave the nun a lesson in the power of human dignity. Complemented by archival photos, this inspiring first-person account of a girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

Home to Medicine Mountain

Illustrated by: Judith Lowry
Age Level: 6-9

In the 1930s, two young brothers are sent to a government-run Indian residential school where they are forbidden to speak their native tongue and are taught to abandon their Indian ways. In this award-winning book, Judith Lowry's illustrations are inspired by the stories she heard from her father and uncle about their journey home one summer, escaping the school as stowaways atop a train.

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.

My Name Is Seepeetza

Age Level: 9-12

Her Salish name is Seepeetza, but at the Indian residential school in British Columbia, she is called Martha. She hates her white name, but she is beaten if she talks "Indian." Her long hair is cut off. At the same time, the other students pick on her because she has green eyes and looks white…First published in 1992 in Canada, where it won the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Book Prize, this autobiographical novel is written in the form of Seepeetza's diary in her sixth-grade year in the 1950s. — Booklist

No Time to Say Goodbye: Children's Stories of Kuper Island Residential School

Age Level: 9-12

No Time to Say Goodbye is a fictional account of five children sent to Kuper Island Residential School, based on the recollections of a number of Tsartlip First Nations people. The five are isolated on the small island and life becomes regimented by the strict school routine. In spite of the harsh realities of the residential school, however, the children rise above their pain and homesickness, finding adventure in escape, challenge in competition, and camaraderie with their fellow students.

Shi-shi-etko

Illustrated by: Kim LaFave
Age Level: 6-9

Shi-shi-etko has just four days until she will have to leave her family and everything she knows to attend one of Canada's Indian residential schools. She spends her last precious days at home treasuring and appreciating the beauty of her world — the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather's paddle song. LaFave's richly hued illustrations complement Campbell's gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss.

Shin-chi's Canoe

Illustrated by: Kim LaFave
Age Level: 6-9

When they arrive at school, Shi-shi-etko reminds Shinchi, her six-year-old brother, that they can only use their English names and that they can't speak to each other. For Shinchi, life becomes an endless cycle of church mass, school, and work, punctuated by skimpy meals. He finds solace at the river, clutching a tiny cedar canoe, a gift from his father, and dreaming of the day when the salmon return to the river — a sign that it's almost time to return home.