We’re just wrapping up our Earliest Americans unit, looking at how people originally migrated into the Americas, and the main cultural regions of North America before 1492. Here are many of the books we used for our study.
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Here are the books we’ve loved during our First Americans unit study:
1491, by Charles C Mann, was the beginning of my “prepared adult” research for our unit. It lays out many theories for the peopling of the Americas. It also describes the histories and migrations of different groups and cultures through out the two continents. It talks about how old ideas are being shown to be wrong, and many things we are discovering that the indigenous people we much more populous that previously through, and had an understanding of the natural world that we perhaps still can’t match.
Who Really Discovered America? by Avery Hart was our jumping off book. We know from our Norse unit study that the Vikings made it to Greenland, and likely Canada long before 1492. This book presents many different theories – realistic and fanciful – and asks the reader to make a decision based on the evidence presented. No definitive answer is given, but there are lots of great activities and evaluation skills introduced.
Before Columbus, by Charles C Mann, is the juvenile version of his 1491 book listed above. The content is more accessible, and there are many more photographs. All the same topics are covered, but for kids.
A History of US: The First Americans, by Joy Hakim, was another book I read to prepare for our unit. The first chapters of the book cover migrations and indigenous Americans in a story appropriate for middle-schoolers.
In The Beginning, by Virginia Hamilton, contains creation myths from many cultures – including 3 or 4 Native American cultures. As we learnt about each culture in our CKLA reading, I made sure we also read the corresponding creation story. They stories are a nice length, perfect for elementary ages, and each one has a picture.
We read a lot of books by Joseph Bruchac! The Girl Who Helped Thunder is a collection on Native American myths, organized by region. As we talked about the region, we read most of these stories. They’re beautifully written and illustrated.
Native American Animal Stories, by Joseph Bruchac, is a collection of Native American stories that explain or teach. They are from all over North America. The book pairs well with an activity book, Keepers of the Animals, where each myth is attached to factual information, and hands on activities. Also in this series are a book of Native Plant Stories, and the corresponding Keepers of Life activity book, and Native American Stories, along with the corresponding Keepers of the Earth activity and information book.
Graphic novels are big around here, so Trickster was a great addition to our collection. The book features 24 stories by 24 Native American writers, paired with 24 graphic artists. We all loved this book.
It took a while for this book to come in from the library, but it was worth the wait! We loved reading about the Kachinas and their different personalities and stories. Kachina Tales by Gene Meany Hodge was a great addition to our study of the Southwest.
The Warrior Twins, by Anita Yasuda, was a nice, short retelling of a Navajo myth. Since we spent so much time on the Maya last summer, we really enjoyed talking about both Hero Twin myths, complaring them, and noting differences – they are not the same story!
Tipi, by Paul Goble, was a wonderful addition to our unit study. With history, legends, templates, and lots of examples, the books is great to read, gorgeous to look through, and was a great inspiration for our own projects.
Explore! Native American Cultures is part of a book series we’ve used before. The book has great chunks of information, paired with art and other hands on activities. While we didn’t use to much of this book this time around, they are all really great for inspiration and background information.
Built It Yourself: Native Americans is the next level book from Explore! Native American Cultures. They are both from the same publisher. This book is aimed at 9-12 year olds, while the Explore! book is aimed at under 10’s. The information is more in depth, and the projects are mostly different. It’s great to have both on hand, and both can be adapted up or down to suit needs.
We love learning through realistic historical fiction. Children of the Longhouse was a nice read from a respected author, Joseph Bruchac – we read a lot by him! I believe the book is set a little later than the time period we were looking at, but contact with Europeans is not a large part of this story, so it worked well for us
We also had a selection of books about Native American dwelling types, with titles such as Igloos, Tipi, Longhouses, Pueblos, etc. And, specific to the two cultures my kids wanted to study, we have two World Books: Indians of the Southwest, and Peoples of the Arctic and Subarctic. These two books were really great upper elementary level texts with just enough information per subject on each page for research.
We didn’t watch too many videos with this unit – the World Cup was on, and to be honest, that took up a lot of our screen time! The main documentary we watched is based on the 1491 and Before Columbus books.
We also watched one video about the different migration theories:
And watched a read-aloud version of the Navajo Hero Twins Story:
PBS has some great short videos and full episodes on various cultures and aspects of Native American culture. I watched several in preparation for our unit, but unfortunately I did not get to watch them with the kids.
That’s it! I hope we have some great resources you can use. Don’t forget to check out the unit wrap-up and see all the activities we got up to!