Young Adult: Learning From Ancestors

Containing seven titles written by Indigenous authors, this booklist centers around the topic of “learning from ancestors.” There are various genres in this booklist, including contemporary, paranormal, and graphic novels. These titles focus on young Indigenous characters who are guided by their ancestors as they discover their culture, history, and individual identity. Additionally, the memoir and non-fiction titles in this list offer various perspectives from modern-day ancestors who have first-hand accounts of life as an Indigenous person in the late 1900s.

Educators will find that these titles are great additions to their libraries and classrooms because they represent ancestors who have knowledge of the culture and history of Indigenous people. While the titles celebrate Indigenous culture, devastating historical and current events will also be addressed, such as racism, residential schools, and the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Book cover of Apple Skin to the Core

Apple: Skin to the Core


Eric Gansworth (Onondaga Nation)


In his YA memoir-in-verse, Eric Gansworth recounts growing up in poverty, living on a reservation, and dealing with racism. He gives readers an inside look into the experience of Native people across America by giving a personal account of his Onondaga family and how they lived among the Tuscarora community. While Eric explores the multi-generational trauma that stems from government boarding schools across America, he highlights the experiences of his three grandparents who attended—and survived—the boarding schools. Eric also draws upon his love for the Beatles and their record label “Apple,” and he uses this reference to address the Native slur, which views someone as “red on the outside, white on the inside.” Several pop culture references guide this memoir as Eric struggles with the erasure of his Native culture and navigates adulthood in American culture.

Book cover of Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)


Anton Treuer (White Earth Nation)


Written in a question-and-answer format, this book covers topics like stereotypes, sovereignty, tribal languages, and residential boarding schools. The wide range of topics have one central focus: history. For example, topics include the real story of Thanksgiving or the offensive nature of Indian Halloween costumes. The expanded version now includes fifty new photos and additional sections, such as the social activism surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Ojibwe author offers his own perspective in a format that’s geared toward teaching all children, whether they are non-Native students or Native children in search of answers from ancestors.

Book cover of Four Faces of the Moon

Four Faces of the Moon


Amanda Strong (Michif/Métis)


This graphic novel, which was adapted from a stop motion film, follows the journey of Métis teen, Spotted Fawn, as she travels through time and space. When she enters a dreamworld, she’s confronted with a mountain of buffalo skulls, which are a monument signifying the slaughter—and near extinction—of the Plains bison. She knows the historic killing of bison was a strategy to starve Indigenous People and corner them into residing on reservations. After this life-changing dream, Spotted Fawn draws upon her photography skills, turning her darkroom into a portal that allows her to enter snapshots in time. She witnesses several moments, such as her great-great-grandfather’s role in the Battle of Batoche. Throughout this journey, Spotted Fawn isn’t alone; her ancestors lovingly guide her as she learns about their contributions to Métis history.

Book cover of Funeral Songs for Dying Girls

Funeral Songs for Dying Girls


Cherie Dimaline (Metis Nation of Ontario)


High school outcast Winifred is grieving her mother and her great aunt, whose deaths have marked the end of her only connection to her Indigenous heritage. To make matters worse, her father is the chief crematory operator at Winterson Cemetery in Toronto, but business is not going well. If the cemetery shuts down, her father will lose his job and they’ll have to move out of the apartment. When rumors spread that the cemetery is haunted, Winifred and her cousin keep up the ruse so that their new ghost tour can ramp up revenue. But then Winifred meets—and falls in love with—the apparition of Phil, an Indigenous teen girl who mysteriously died on the cemetery’s grounds. Their relationship helps Winifred reconnect with her heritage and recall memories of her mother and great aunt.

Book cover of Ready When You Are

Ready When You Are


Gary Lonesborough (Yuin)


Jackson is an Aboriginal teen who’s ready to enjoy his break from school. During a summer on the Mish, the sweltering days consist of hanging out with friends, messing with tourists, and dodging the local racist boys. As Christmas approaches, Jackson is excited for the family tradition: a visit from Aunty Pam and his cousins. But this holiday is different: Aunty Pam brings an extra guest named Tomas, a mysterious artist who was recently released from Juvie. Jackson’s friendship with Tomas grows into feelings that he can’t deny, but in a community filled with racism and homophobia, he doesn’t want to come out. Luckily, a group of Elders guides Jackson through this transformative summer as he connects with his Koori culture—and his true self.

Book cover of Sugar Falls

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story


David A. Robertson (Norway House Cree)


Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk


As part of a school assignment, Daniel interviews his friend’s grandmother, Betsy. She recounts how she was forcibly taken to a residential school at the age of eight. During her time at the school, Betsy endured physical and emotional abuse, and she even witnessed the death of a friend who tried to escape. Despite living in constant fear, Betsy defied the oppressive rule that forbade her from speaking her Cree language. She was determined to survive and keep her culture alive, and she attributes this determination to her father—and his lesson about the power of ancestors. This graphic novel is based on the real-life story of Elder Betty Ross, and the 10th Anniversary Edition includes an afterword from Elder Betty.

Book cover of Surviving the City, Vol. 1

Surviving the City: Volume 1


Tasha Spillett-Sumner (Cree/Trinidadian)


Natasha Donovan (Métis) and Donovan Taciuk


Dez and Miikwan are best friends from two Indigenous backgrounds. Dez is an Inninew teen who’s discovering her Two-Spirit identity, and Miikwan is an Anishinaabe teen who’s grieving her missing mother. They engage with their culture through smudging and berry fasting, and no matter what, they have always confronted the struggles of urban life together. That’s until Dez’s grandmother becomes gravely ill, and Dez is faced with only one option: moving into a group home. But before her move can take place, Dez vanishes while wandering in a park. Now, Miikwan is worried that her friend is missing, just like her own mother. Touching upon the real-life endemic of missing Indigenous women, Dez and Miikwan are guided by ancestor ghosts as they face the looming presence of evil spirits during their journey of reuniting again.


This book list, featuring seven titles by Indigenous authors, explores the theme of “learning from ancestors” across various genres, including contemporary, paranormal, and graphic novels. These books follow young Indigenous characters who are guided by their ancestors as they discover their culture, history, and individual identity. Meanwhile, the memoir and non-fiction titles offer first-hand accounts of life as an Indigenous person in the late 1900s. Educators will find these titles helpful if they are looking for books that provide insight into Indigenous culture and history, as well as issues like racism, residential schools, and the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

A headshot of writer Tehya Foussat

About the Author

Tehya Foussat

Tehya Foussat is an Indigenous writer living with a physical disability, and she is the Marketing Coordinator for the upcoming documentary Books Across America. Her unpublished manuscript, Paintakers, earned a semifinalist spot for the 2022 pilot episode of America’s Next Great Author. Tehya is an enrolled member of the Pechanga Band of Indians, and she currently resides in Southern California. Her website is