Build Your Stack: Native American Voices and Stories - National Council of Teachers of English
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Build Your Stack: Native American Voices and Stories

This blog post is part of Build Your Stack,™ a new initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. It was written by NCTE member Lynsey Burkins.


Two things happened this past fall that really brought attention to the lack of voices and stories from Native American authors in my classroom library, not to mention the need to help my midwestern students widen their horizons.

My first wake-up call took place one morning when a student rushed in to show me a “totem pole” she said she had made in her before-school program. Her words to me were, “You know who the Indians are? They have these . . . we made one because it’s Thanksgiving soon.”

During the next week, as I thought about this interaction and the several issues it raised, I came across a post published on Lee and Low’s website titled “Culturally Responsive Teaching for Thanksgiving” by Jalissa Corrie. In this post Jalissa offers us a more inclusive and accurate way to think about the Thanksgiving holiday and to allow for multiple cultural voices to be heard.

I previewed the list of books Jalissa offered, looked through my own classroom library, and realized this was a good opportunity to add stories that celebrated Native American cultures, stories that would provide windows into the cultures and ways of life that were obviously unfamiliar to at least some of my students.

Next I turned to the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) website. This site offers many resources, including a Best Books link, where I found lists of recommended books dating back to 2010.

I started with these lists and began to flood my students with stories. We talked, questioned, shared impressions, and I also asked students to help me look for other ways to bring new and authentic voices into our classroom conversations. I know our efforts will take time to show results, but for now, this feels like a good first step.


Here are some books that really started productive conversation:

Fall in Line, Holden by Daniel W. Vandever (2017), follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through a day at boarding school, and celebrates his strong spirit. The book was named a 2018 Picture Book Honor selection by the AILA (American Indian Library Association).

Debbie Reese highly recommends this book for both story and art, in her review on the AICL website.


When We Were Alone by David A. Roberston and Julie Flett (2016), is about a conversation between a young girl and her grandmother. The curious girl asks her grandmother questions, and the grandmother’s answers reveal the ways Western schools tried to take her people’s culture, but how, when she and her friends were alone, they could be themselves.

Read the review on the AICL website.



My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett (2016) is about a young girl who moves about her day and finds things that fill her heart with joy.

Read the review on the AICL website.


For more help thinking about how to make book choices for your students, read Debbie Reese’s article “Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books about Indigenous Peoples” in the July 2018 Language Arts. An excerpt from the article appears here.


We’d love to hear your book recommendations! Share with us on social media using #BuildYourStack.



Lynsey Burkins has been a passionate educator for over 13 years in Dublin, Ohio. She resides in Westerville, Ohio, with her husband and two children. She is a member of NCTE and writes for the Classroom Communities blog. She lives for the moments when children see themselves in books and recognize that their stories matter too.