About Indigenous Reads Rising

Less than 2 percent of children’s books published in the United States depict characters from Native, First Nations, and Indigenous communities, according to the 2019 statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. But the needle is moving. Every year, more stories are published by Native writers and illustrators, reflecting their cultures, Nations, and lived experiences, which is why we created Indigenous Reads Rising—to provide a resource where teachers, librarians, and readers can embrace these books.

While this site was founded with teachers and librarians in mind, every reader is welcome to explore our resources and book lists. Indigenous Reads Rising includes a variety of best practices articles and where to find more books by Native authors and illustrators, as well as extensive book lists organized by age category and topic. We also provide resources for Native writers and illustrators interested in honing their craft and applying for grants and mentorships.

Indigenous Reads Rising is managed by the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.

About We Need Diverse Books

At WNDB, we believe in the power of diverse books, not only to spur literacy rates but to increase empathy and reduce bias. That is why we work tirelessly to affect change across all aspects of publishing:

  • We uplift diverse voices who create inclusive books.
  • We support diverse publishing professionals who develop and promote these titles.
  • And we donate thousands of diverse books to the students who need these stories.

Established in 2014, we strive to transform bookshelves across the country and to change the lives of readers everywhere.

WNDB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Learn more at diversebooks.org.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can educators make sure that they are using and teaching the correct terminology when discussing Indigenous peoples in the classroom?2023-11-03T20:26:18+00:00

When creating a lesson plan for students, educators should rely on the perspectives of Native, First Nations, and Indigenous people. For example, if a lesson plan focuses on a specific historic event, educators should evaluate the terminology and ensure that it does not contain biased words. According to Outschool Inc., Eurocentric words that refer to Native people as “hostile” or “primitive” are based on the perspectives of colonizers. Thus, it’s important to seek out terminology that’s used by Native people and their ancestors who experienced these historic events. (You can find more specifics in Catherine Anton Baty’s piece, “Words Matter,” on our website.)

It’s important to note that one person’s perspective is not representative of all Native, First Nations, and Indigenous people. Native communities vary from one another when it comes to their history, language, beliefs, and cultural practices. That’s why, when an educator refers to a specific Native community, educators should only use that community’s accepted terminology. For example, if the lesson plan revolves around a book that depicts a specific Native Nation, it is best to research the terminology used by the author and that Nation. Additional online resources may be found through the author’s website or the tribe’s website.  

How can educators effectively evaluate materials that they come across on their own?2023-11-01T23:25:47+00:00

When an educator discovers a book with Native characters, it’s important to evaluate whether that book is a positive addition to their curriculum. There are many organizations who provide tools to evaluate a book’s Indigenous representation and if it’s considered culturally accurate. The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) provides educators with a “Worksheet for Selecting Native American Children’s Literature.” The worksheet contains a checklist with questions regarding five different aspects: Authority, Accurate Representation, Tribal Specificity, Language, and Contemporary Life. 

If an educator would like insight on a specific title, it’s best to research the opinions of Native, First Nation, and Indigenous people and determine whether they would recommend that title. There are many Indigenous organizations who have compiled lists of recommended books, and educators can investigate whether a specific title is included in these lists. For example, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) compiles a yearly list of “Best Books.” Furthermore, the School Library Journal (SLJ) has published a list of “classic” titles called “Top 100 Books by Indigenous Masters,” and the American Indian Library Association (AILA) has a yearly selection for their Youth Literature Award. Finally, Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) has a list called “Native American Authors and Illustrators in Children’s and Young Adult Books,” which recommends books published between 1995 and 2020. 

What additional resources for materials selection are available for educators?2023-11-03T20:25:49+00:00

Books written by Native, First Nations, and Indigenous authors are a valuable resource for educators. As mentioned above, there are several lists of recommended books created by trusted sources like the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) and the American Indian Library Association (AILA). Many of these books are accompanied by educator’s guides, which are provided by the author/publisher. These guides can be found through the author’s/publisher’s website, and they usually include discussion topics and classroom activities relating to the reading material.

Lesson plans can be created even if an educator does not utilize a book as their focus of discussion. For example, IllumiNative is an online resource that provides educators with guides and lesson plans that deal with several topics, such as land acknowledgement and Native representation in the media. Furthermore, IllumiNative has partnered with the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) to create activities for the classroom that introduce art and food from various Native Nations. The overall goal for these lesson guides is to shape a new and positive narrative around Native, First Nation, and Indigenous communities.

What should educators personally keep in mind while teaching these resources?2023-11-03T20:25:39+00:00

Educators should be mindful of cultural appropriation. PBS Education defines cultural appropriation as “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. It may be perceived as controversial or even harmful, notably, when the cultural property of a minority group is used by members of the dominant culture without consent.” For example, it is never appropriate to have activities where students dress up or engage in reenactments of battles. The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) provides educators with alternative activities that are respectful, such as learning the significance of woven baskets from the Apache people or rug designs in Navajo culture.

To avoid perpetuating any biases during the teaching of materials, educators should consult trusted sources on how to implement Native, First Nations, and Indigenous perspectives. IllumiNative has created a guide on the types of discussions and activities that are generally recognized as respectful toward Native communities. Furthermore, educators can use resources to help avoid generalizations and stereotypes. The Smithsonian’s Native Knowledge 360 discusses common misconceptions, such as the belief that all Indians live in tipis or do rain dances, and the National Education Association has a guide on land acknowledgement and how to explain the ongoing effects of colonization to students.

Considering the current level of scrutiny being applied to educators’ resource selection in the US, how can we support these titles in curricula and local libraries?2023-11-03T13:40:45+00:00

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) released preliminary data showing an uptick in efforts to censor books and other educational material. Between January and August 2023, a total 695 attempts were made and 1,915 titles were challenged. This is a 20 percent increase from 2020, and the majority of challenged books were “written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.” PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans has a large list of banned and challenged books in U.S. schools between July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, although there is not one resource that lists all affected titles.

When an educator wants to include diverse books in the classroom, they can start looking through the resources provided by We Need Diverse Books, the creators of this site. Teachers and libraries may also utilize the National Education Association’s initiative, Read Across America, which creates a monthly list of diverse books, accompanied by discussion questions and activities for each title. Educators may find that, even if a Native or Indigenous title has not been challenged/banned, they still have to justify why a given title should be included in their curriculum. Unite Against Book Bans is an initiative created by the American Library Association (ALA) to “empower readers” and “fight against censorship.” Their Freedom to Read statement and Action Toolkit familiarize educators with “talking points” to effectively convey why censorship is a slippery slope and why banning the access of books is not a way to protect children. 

We Need Diverse Books also has extensive book banning resources available online. Educators can learn steps to take when facing a book challenge, and access a list of resources that provides a plethora of information on book banning. 

Thanksgiving and Indigenous Peoples’ Day are common times to discuss Native cultures with students. We realize that these discussions should not be confined to “awareness days,” but rather woven throughout daily life. What are some opportunities for educators to introduce Native, First Nations, and Indigenous voices into their curriculum?2023-11-03T20:25:11+00:00

Native, First Nations, and Indigenous voices can be a part of the curriculum throughout the year. They do not need to be confined to “awareness days” or Native American Heritage Month in November. To go beyond, educators can integrate contemporary stories in their curriculum. While culture and historical events are represented in these modern-set stories, it’s not necessarily the main focus. These contemporary stories often highlight Native characters who are experiencing common situations faced by today’s students, such as getting good grades or pursuing their dreams. Thus, students have an opportunity to connect with these characters on a human level during any time of the year.

The Smithsonian also has a program called Native Knowledge 360. While some lesson plans focus on “awareness days” like Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there are many educational resources that center around food, art, STEM, and environmental studies. Since these lessons aren’t limited to a specific day or historic event, the culture and history of Native communities can be discussed throughout the school year.

WNDB warmly thanks Tehya Foussat (Pechanga Band of Indians) for composing the answers to these FAQs.


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