Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
A year ago we recognized the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for the first time. As we reapproach September 30th, let’s reflect on our teaching toward reconciliation. What actions are you taking in your classroom?
This year, I want to invite you and your students to become readers of Indigenous literature.
Consider that many of the books taught in Canadian classrooms have told stories about Indigenous peoples from a settler’s perspective. Even the books with the best intentions have been partial and incomplete. At worst, these stories have been dishonest and harmful.
In Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, Daniel Heath Justice explains that authentic Indigenous stories can be good medicine, they “do something good and important in the world” and have a real effect on “the minds and hearts of [our] students.”
Indigenous literatures are truthful with readers. They don’t shy away from the legacies of colonialism. They tell the whole story that includes resistance, healing, hope, happiness, and beyond.
A key step to meaningfully incorporating Indigenous literatures in the classroom is to become familiar with high-quality Indigenous texts for children and young adults.
Become a reader of Indigenous literatures. When you find a book that speaks to you, share it with your students. When you find a book that challenges you, share it with your students.
There is a remarkable amount of good work being produced by Indigenous writers in Canada. With books for every age group and in a variety of formats (fiction, poetry, graphic novels, etc.) that cover various themes and genres, there is something for every student and classroom.
Become familiar with all that is available in this selection of new and upcoming books from Indigenous authors and published by Canadian and Indigenous run presses.
I Hope (ages 3-5) captures all the hopes and feelings that adults have for the young people in their lives.
Be A Good Ancestor (ages 3-5) shares Indigenous teachings that encourage readers to consider how their lives are connected to the world around them.
Still This Love Goes On (ages 3-7) is a celebration of Indigenous community that captures the way we feel when we are far from home and miss our loved ones.
Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat As One (ages 3-8) conveys powerful messages about Indigenous resistance and ancestral connection through the story of a young Anishnaabe exploring a forest on her traditional territory.
Sweetgrass (ages 4-7) invites readers to follow along with Matthew as he learns traditional Mi’kmaw knowledge from his Auntie as they go out picking sweetgrass together.
Phoenix Gets Greater (ages 6-8) is a proud message of self-love and acceptance shared by Phoenix who, with the help of his supportive family, learns about Two Spirit/Niizh Manidoowag people in Anishinaabe culture.
The Three Hunters (ages 6-8) is a retelling of a classic folktale set in Nunavut in the past that teaches an important lesson about paying attention to your Elders.
Runs With The Stars (ages 6-8) allows readers to listen in as a grandfather teaches his grandchild about the Ojibwe Horses that used to roam the forests of northwestern Ontario and about the loving bond between humans and animals.
Returning to the Yakoun River (ages 6-8) is based on the author’s childhood memories and captures all the joy and adventure of a Haida fish camp.
My Name Is Seepeetza (ages 9-12) is an honest look at life in an Indian residential school in the 1950s and how one young spirit survived. Based on the author’s own experiences, this 30th anniversary includes a newly written afterword.
The Case Of The Rigged Race (ages 9-12) is a mystery that features a team of young detectives who investigate a frightening accident at a dogsled race hosted by the Windy Lake First Nation.
Weird Rules To Follow (ages 9-12) takes readers back to the 1980s to experience what it was like to grow up in the coastal fishing town of Prince Rupert. For Mia, who is Indigenous, life is very different than her best friend Lara’s.
She Holds Up The Stars (ages 10-14) draws on the history and popularity of horse-driven stories for young readers to tell a story about reconciliation and cultural awakening.
Giju’s Gift (ages 6-8) is a fun and adventurous story about a girl named Mali and all the trouble she goes through to retrieve a special hair clip after it is stolen by one of the pugulatmu’— the Little People.
Rabbit Chase (ages 8-12) blends Anishinaabe culture and storytelling in a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. Starring Aimée, a non-binary Anishinaabe middle-schooler, this coming-of-age story also explores ideas about Indigenous and gender identity.
Road Allowance Era (ages 12-14) continues Echo’s story as she travels back in time to 1885 and interacts with her Métis ancestors learning more about the strength and resilience of her family.
Four Faces of the Moon (ages 12-18) is the visually stunning journey of Spotted Fawn who travels through time and space to reclaim a connection to ancestors, language, and the land.
Ahiahia the Orphan (ages 12-18) is a traditional story retold and illustrated in comic book style. When Ahiahia is attacked by enemies in his camp, he must use his agility, hunting skills, and the protection imparted by his grandmother to stay alive.
Blanket of Butterflies (ages 13-18) explores the intersection of Japanese and Indigenous cultures and history as a Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy and his grandmother help a Japanese man reclaim his grandfather’s samurai armour after it is stolen.
Version Control (ages 13-18) continues the story of Cole and Eva, two Indigenous teens with superhero powers fighting against the evil Mihko Laboratories. This tense and suspenseful thriller also explores the impacts of mental illness.
The Raven Mother (ages 9-11) transports readers to Northwestern British Columbia to learn from the traditions of the Gitxsan about the lives of ravens and the unique role they play in their ecosystem.
The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation (ages 9-12) is a collection of the stories and memories of Residential School Survivors behind the Witness Blanket Art installation.
Sky Wolf’s Call: The Gift of Indigenous Knowledge (ages 9-18) details how Indigenous Peoples throughout North America have observed, experimented and interacted with plants, animals, the sky, and the waters over millennia.
The Power Of Style: How Fashion and Beauty are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures (ages 12-18) makes connections between fashion and history, culture, politics, and social justice such as how ribbon shirts honour Indigenous ancestors and keep culture alive.
The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour (ages 16+) is the hilarious story of an unlikely group of Indigenous dancers who find themselves thrown together on a performance tour of Europe that challenges readers to think more complexly about Indigenous history, issues and peoples.
Blood (ages 16+) is a series of poems that follows a Two-Spirit Indigenous person as they navigate urbanity and queerness. Told through pieces of dreams and memories, it shows the continued impacts of colonial history and how one person can challenge the impacts of that history.
Bear Bones and Feathers (ages 16+) is a new edition of National Poet Laureate Louise B. Halfe-Sky Dancer’s powerful debut that offers moving portraits of Halfe’s grandmother, her parents, and the people whose pain she witnessed on the reserve and at Residential School.
Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.