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
In September, we recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. As we approach September 30th, let’s reflect on our teaching toward reconciliation. What actions are you taking in your classroom?
I want to tell you two stories:
When I asked a class of 7th graders to share what they knew about residential schools, they responded by telling me about books they read in elementary school. They remembered learning how Indigenous children were forced to cut their hair in I Am Not A Number and how they were punished for speaking their language in When I Was Eight. They recounted the reason we wear orange shirts they learned reading The Orange Shirt Story. I could tell they truly connected to these characters and stories.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague who told me it was great that Indigenous authors have started writing about difficult topics like racism for young audiences. I shared about reading the 40th anniversary edition of In Search of April Raintree (see below) as an example of how Indigenous authors have been writing about these topics for young readers for decades.
Take a moment to pause and think about what we can learn from these two experiences.
Stories have a real effect on the hearts and minds of our students. Authentic Indigenous stories teach truth and can bring healing into our classrooms. However, Indigenous literature has been left out of schools and curriculum for so long that many educators are not aware that these stories are being told, or that they have been for decades.
Indigenous voices have long been silenced in Canadian classrooms. When you read the words of Indigenous authors and share the art of Indigenous illustrators with a group of students, you are performing a powerful act of reconciliation, helping to undo decades of erasure. Don’t take this responsibility lightly.
Below is a list of many new Indigenous books that deserve to be read and studied widely. Please share this list with other educators and continue sharing Indigenous stories in your classroom.
Picture books for young readers
We Belong to the Drum / mistikwaskihk kitipêyimikonaw (ages 3-5) is based on the true experiences of the author and invites culturally safe and inclusive early childhood education.
Available in dual-language (English and Cree) edition.
Mnoomin maan'gowing / The Gift of Mnoomin (ages 3-6) follows a child and family through a harvest day and teaches readers the cultural and ecological importance of mnoomin.
This bilingual book is written in Anishinaabemowin and English.
Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome (ages 3-7) combines facts and storytelling to introduce young readers to creatures using their Anishinaabe names.
Sharing love for the industrious beaver and its friends, this book celebrates Indigenous perspectives, languages, and diversity.
Walking Together (ages 4-7) is the first children’s book about Etuaptmunk, a Mi'kmaq concept of two-eyed seeing.
Follow a group of young children connecting to nature and learning how to care for it.
Âmî Osâwâpikones (Dear Dandelion) (ages 4-7) is a love letter to the dandelion that also acts as reminder to love and care for ourselves.
Just like the dandelion, we can be resilient, learn, and grow with the seasons.
Poppa and His Drum (ages 5-8) is a heartwarming story of reconciliation and healing.
Through the invitations of his grandson, Poppa overcomes his nervousness to visit the school, play his drum, and share his story.
The Raven Boy (ages 6-8) is a retelling of an Inuit traditional story from the Western Arctic.
A cautionary tale about vanity that teaches empathy and compassion for others.
Auntie's Rez Surprise (ages 6-8) is a fun and exciting story about a surprise puppy!
After revealing her surprise, Auntie takes the time to talk about the importance of dogs in their culture. She explains that dogs are relatives and need to be well taken care of.
The Secret Pocket (ages 6-8) is based on the author’s mother’s experiences at a residential school.
In the story, a group of Indigenous girls at a residential school sew pockets in their dresses to hide food and survive.
Heart Berry Bling (ages 6-8) helps children learn about the tradition of Anishinaabe beadwork, strawberry teachings, and gender discrimination in the Indian Act through a simple story about a young girl visiting her Granny.
Naaahsa Aisinaki! / Naaahsa is an Artist! (ages 6-8) will inspire readers through its celebration of art and artists, giving special shine to Indigenous women artists.
Fiction and non-fiction for early and middle Readers
The Rainbow, the Midwife & the Birds (ages 8-12) contains four Dene stories, as told by Raymond Yakeleya.
Stories are inspired by events in Yakeleya’s life or told to him by relatives.
Amazing L'Nu'k of Mi’kma'ki (ages 8-12) profiles dozens of inspiring people who call Mi’kma’ki home, including artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, and more!
Maggie Lou, Firefox (ages 9-12) features heroine Maggie Lou and her extended family in three stories about hard work, perseverance and letting nothing stand in your way.
Bernice and the Georgian Gold Bay (ages 9-12) is inspired by timeless children’s adventure stories.
After being visited by a stranger, Bernice follows a map and her family stories on a search for treasure.
Hopeless in Hope (ages 12-18) presents many complex challenges faced by Indigenous youth while leaving room for hope and healing.
Shirley deals with loneliness and taking care of her younger brother before being separated and taken to live in a group home.
Rich in oral history, this series reclaims the settler narrative that the Beothuk and Mi'kmaq were enemies, showing instead a kinship between the two peoples.
Graphic novels, memoirs and fiction for high school readers
Visions of the Crow (12-18) is the first in a new graphic novel series that follows an Indigenous teenager on a journey of self-reflection and healing.
After trying to ignore his feelings, the appearance of a mysterious crow forces Damon to confront his past.
As I Enfold You in Petals (ages 12-18) continues the riveting The Spirit of Denendeh graphic novel series with a story about forgiveness and reconnecting with tradition.
A Girl Called Echo Omnibus (ages 12-18) collects all four volumes of Katherene Vermette’s impactful series about teenage time traveler Echo and her adventures among her Métis ancestors.
This omnibus edition includes a new forward, historical timeline, and essays.
The Scarf and The Butterfly (ages 14-18) is a graphic memoir from Monica Ittusardjuat that brings readers on her journey to rediscovering what it means to be Inuk.
An examination of the lasting impacts of residential school and one woman’s fight to reclaim what she lost.
Mangilaluk (ages 14-18) is graphic memoir from Bernard Andreason that traces the impacts of the decision to run away from residential school with his two best friends and the resulting tragic journey.
In Search of April Raintree (ages 15-18) is a timeless story of two Métis sisters in the foster care system that has impacted readers for 40 years and inspired many more Indigenous authors writing today.
This new anniversary edition includes a forward from Katherena Vermette and afterward from Dr. Raven Sinclair (Ôtiskewâpit).
My Indian Summer (ages 16+) is a challenging and compelling coming-of-age story that questions the possibility of reconciliation. Loosely based on the author’s own childhood experiences.
Spencer Miller is a teacher, writer, reader, and fan of the Toronto Raptors. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.