Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Non-fiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction.

It's Native American Heritage Month so I have been highlighting a lot of books by and about Native Americans in the library. Here are some of the nonfiction picture books that I have enjoyed in the past year or so with a Native American focus.

We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett

Goodreads summary: Whether in the country or the city, creature or insect, plant or animal, a part of a big family or a small family, we all live together and we all take care of one another. We all count. (from back cover) 

In this board book, Cree/Metis author Julie Flett beautifully illustrates simple English phrases demonstrating Cree Culture. Along the way, readers can practice counting using the Cree language.

My thoughts: This is another quietly beautiful book by Julie Flett. I appreciate being able to learn about the Cree culture in this simple and interesting concept book. In the "About this book" section, Sherry Farrell Racette writes, "This book is not only for Cree children and their communities who can see themselves. We All Count is for all children to enjoy, because everyone is honored in this beautiful little book....." I agree wholeheartedly. I am glad it exists for Cree children, but also for any child and caregiver.

Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo by Nancy Bo Flood with Photos by Jan Sonnenmair

Goodreads summary: Celebrated author Nancy Bo Flood combines compelling first-person narrative poems with linked prose explanations to portray the dawn-to-dusk events and activities of a Navajo rodeo.

Photographer Jan Sonnenmair contributes dynamic action shots that show off the riders and ropers, the horses, bulls, and broncs, along with portrait photos of young rodeo participants.

My thoughts: I loved the blend of poetry and non-fiction. There are some fabulous photos here and it is great to see a Navajo sport up close. I think my students will enjoy learning about rodeo with this book.

When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton 
with illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard

Goodreads summary: "Nothing will stop a strong-minded young Inuit girl from learning how to read." Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. She must travel to the outsiders' school to learn, ignoring her father's warning of what will happen there. The nuns at the school take her Inuit name and call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do chores. She has only one thing left -- a book about a girl named Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole. 

Margaret's tenacious character draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But she is more determined than ever to read. By the end, Margaret knows that, like Alice, she has traveled to a faraway land and stood against a tyrant, proving herself to be brave and clever. 

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, "When I Was Eight" makes the bestselling "Fatty Legs" accessible to young children. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

My thoughts: I appreciate hearing first-hand accounts of the residential school era. This is a part of history that I did not know about when I was growing up. This is a picture book version of a portion of the book Fatty Legs which I also enjoyed. Having this part of history told through a child's eyes in a memoir brings it up close and makes it personal.

Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way by S.D. Nelson

Goodreads summary: Pickup trucks and eagles, yellow school buses and painted horses, Mother Earth and Sister Meadowlark all join together to greet the dawn. They marvel at the colors and sounds, smells and memories that come with the opening of the day. Animals and humans alike turn their faces upwards and gaze as the sun makes its daily journey from horizon to horizon. 

 Dawn is a time to celebrate with a smiling heart, to start a new day in the right way, excited for what might come. Birds sing and dance, children rush to learn, dewdrops glisten from leaves, and gradually the sun warms us. Each time the sun starts a new circle, we can start again as well.

 All these things are part of the Lakota way, a means of living in balance. S.D. Nelson offers young readers a joyous way of appreciating their culture and surroundings. He draws inspiration from traditional stories to create Greet the Dawn. His artwork fuses elements of modern with traditional. Above all, he urges each of us to seize the opportunity that comes with the dawn of each new day.

My thoughts: Greet the Dawn - The Lakota Way is a beautiful book that shares the Lakota Way. According to the author, this way "offers a means of living in balance." S.D. Nelson provides an introduction explaining this way of life that is lived in a circle with humility and balance. I appreciated the mix of tradition and modernity in the book within the text and illustrations. He honors traditional patterns and imagery, but is also bringing a new vision to the work including playfulness with colors and even some cartoon elements among other things. Another part of this fusion is that he provides modern scenes along with timeless illustrations. The reader will know that this is not only about Lakota from long ago. On the title page we see a pickup truck amidst a grouping of tipis. There is also a fantastic spread with a big yellow school bus. Within this contemporary school type scene he includes colorful patterns along the road and pictographic images in the sky that point to the Lakota heritage. 

The text is also a fusion of old and new. Through the simple poetic lines, Nelson is sharing the many teachings that have influenced his life. In a note at the end, Nelson tells of the people who have provided this teaching including Black Elk and many others. I appreciated that he points to the sources. The text also includes several songs in the Lakota language that he notes are from Teton Sioux Music. I always appreciate seeing other languages within picture books.

I highlighted this book earlier in the year here.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup Jr.

Goodreads summary: A traditional Iroquois celebration of the beauty and spirit of Mother Earth, as told by a contemporary Mohawk chief.

My thoughts: This book is a beautiful way to introduce thankfulness. Each page expresses thankfulness for the many resources and wonders of Mother Earth. It has a tone of awe and wonder for the way that the world provides for us. I love to use this to begin discussion of thanks and expressing thanks. It is also a great way to show that Thanksgiving is more than pilgrims and turkey because many people express thankfulness outside of the traditional holiday.

These four board books are bright, colorful and capture the attention of children. To learn more about them, visit the Head Start website. I've shared these books with students even beyond pre-school because they have great information and three of them show modern Ojibwe children and culture. Our Journey is also a book that shares a greeting of the day like Giving Thanks and Greet the Dawn so it works well with either or both of those texts.

Any of these books would work for Native American Heritage Month, but they are also excellent books to share throughout the year. 


  1. I would love to get this We All Count for my buddy reading collection. The children love to read and sing together - favourite things - reciting the alphabet, search and find questions and counting everything! Thanks for highlighting so many lovely titles.

  2. Several books here that I would like to find!

  3. H there Crystal - you have a lot of gorgeous looking picturebooks here! When I was Eight caught my eye, will definitely be looking for that title. :)