Teacher's Guides > Investigating Artifacts

Native American Myths, Legends, Stories

Arrow to the Sun
Boat Ride With Lillian Two Blossom
Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians
Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth
Dragonfly’s Tale
Dream Wolf
The Earth is Sore: Native Americans on Nature
Earthmaker’s Tales: North American Indian Stories About Earth Happenings
I’m in Charge of Celebrations
Iroquois Stories: Heroes and Heroines, Monsters and Magic
Ladder to the Sky: How the Gift of Healing Came to the Ojibway Nation
The Legend of the Bluebonnet
The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush
Lightning Inside You and Other Native American Riddles
Mama, Do You Love Me?
The Moon, the Sun, and the Coyote
Moon Was Tired of Walking on Air
Native Dwellings
The Night of the Stars
Quillworker: A Cheyenne Legend
Rainbow Crow: A Lenape Tale
Sing Down the Moon
Sparrow Hawk
The Star Maiden
The Story of Jumping Mouse
Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons
The Tipi: A Center of Native American Life
Totem Pole
The Village of Blue Stone
When Clay Sings

Arrow to the Sun
by Gerald McDermott
Viking Press, New York. 1974
Grades: K–3
This Pueblo Indian myth explains how the spirit of the Lord of the Sun was brought to the world through “the Boy.” The bold, angular illustrations in bright orange tones are uniquely suited to the tale. After passing through the trial of the Kiva of Lightning on a quest for his father, a boy is transformed and is filled with the power of the sun. Winner of the Caldecott award.
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Boat Ride With Lillian Two Blossom
by Patricia Polacco
Philomel/Putnam & Grosset, New York. 1988
Grades: K–4
A wise and mysterious Native American woman takes William and Mabel on a boat ride, starting in Michigan and ranging through the sky. Explanations for the rain, the wind, and the changing nature of the sky refer to spirits such as the caribou or polar bear, which are magically shown.
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Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians
by Aliki
Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. 1976
Grades: 3–5
This book tells how corn was first cultivated, stored, and used by Native Americans and how it came to be a main food source all over the world.
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Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth
Selected by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve; illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Holiday House, New York. 1989
Grades: 3–8
A selection of chants, lullabies, prayers, and poems from Native American oral tradition. These celebrate rites of passage and other symbolic events such as a buffalo hunt or corn ceremony. The muted color illustrations of beadwork, petroglyphs, and motifs derived from nature are quite beautiful and seem well matched to the verses.
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Dragonfly’s Tale
by Kristina Rodanas
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin, New York. 1991
Grades: K–4
Based on a Zuni legend, this story tells of the origin of the dragonfly with a secondary theme about appreciating one’s blessings. After the people foolishly waste food in a festive “food fight,” the Corn Maidens teach them a lesson by sending a famine and drought. A little boy fashions a toy insect from a cornstalk for his sister. The toy comes to life, secures the Corn Maidens help in providing a harvest, and can be seen every summer humming among the corn as a dragonfly. The illustrations depict the landscape, honeycombed lodgings, and ceremonial and daily clothing particular to the culture with great warmth and detail.
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Dream Wolf
by Paul Goble
Bradbury Press/Macmillan, New York. 1990
Grades: 1–4
A Plains Indian boy and his sister wander away from a berry-picking expedition and are lost in the hills as night falls. A wolf comes to their aid, leading them back to their home. There has been close kinship with the Wolf People since then. But wolves are no longer heard in the evenings at berry-picking time because they have been killed or driven away. The wolves will return only when we have them in our hearts and dreams again, the People say. Goble has written and illustrated many Native American legends including the Iktomi series of humorous tales about the Trickster. This book was originally published in 1974 as The Friendly Wolf.
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The Earth is Sore: Native Americans on Nature
by Aline Amon
Atheneum, New York. 1981
Out of print
Grades: 4–Adult
Collection of poems and songs by Native Americans that celebrates
the relationship between the earth and all creatures and mourns
abuse of the environment. Illustrated with black and white
collage prints made from natural materials.
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Earthmaker’s Tales:
North American Indian Stories About Earth Happenings
by Gretchen W. Mayo
Walker and Co., New York. 1989
Grades: 5–7
This is a particularly appropriate book providing many specific examples of myths or stories that explain natural events (the same thing children do in the “Myths” section of the GEMS activities). Among the natural events that the stories relate to are: earthquakes, floods, night and day, storms, thunder and lightning, fog, volcanoes, etc. A teacher could choose two or three of her favorites to widen student acquaintance with Native American cultures and/or orient them to their task. A second volume, More Earthmaker’s Tales, includes eight more.
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I’m in Charge of Celebrations
by Byrd Baylor; illustrated by Peter Parnall
Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1986
Grades: 4–9
A Native American girl, who might seem lonely to others, celebrates things such as a triple rainbow, a meteor shower, and a chance encounter with a coyote, delighting in her surroundings. Vivid pictures of the world of the desert.
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Iroquois Stories: Heroes and Heroines, Monsters and Magic
as told to Joseph Bruchac; illustrated by Daniel Burgevin
Crossing Press, Freedom, California. 1985
Grades: 3–8
Wonderful collection of over 30 stories by a leading storyteller. Good for reading out loud to younger children and for students in third or fourth grade to read by themselves. The book is in fairly large type and written in clear, focused language. Opens with “The Coming of Legends,” which tells how legends came into the world, and a creation poem about life springing from a handful of seeds dropped from the Sky-World.
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Ladder to the Sky:
How the Gift of Healing Came to the Ojibway Nation
retold by Barbara J. Esbensen; illustrated by Helen K. Davie
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1989
Grades: K–4
This legend tells of the time when all people were healthy. When they grew old a “shining spirit-messenger” carried them up a magic vine to the sky where they lived forever. After a grandmother climbs up the forbidden vine in pursuit of her grandson, the Great Spirit punishes the people by sending sickness and death, but blesses them with the gift of healing. There is a very strong message here about the negative value of disobedience in the culture. The villagers call the old woman a witch and resent her for bringing “shame and disaster” to the people. The first section has good detail on how the Chippewa integrated the plant world into their culture, weaving rushes and reeds into mats, incorporating flower designs into clothing, making birch bark containers, and gathering milkweed down for bedding.
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The Legend of the Bluebonnet
retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
G.B. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1983
Grades: K–3
Set in what is now Texas, this legend tells of a young Native American girl, She-Who-Is-Alone, whose people are desperately praying to the Great Spirits to end a drought. Only when the orphan girl sacrifices her treasured and only possession, a warrior doll with blue jay feathers, do the spirits send the rain. She is renamed One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her-People and the bluebonnet flower comes every spring, as blue as the feathers of the blue jay.
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The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush
retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1988
Grades: K–4
After a Dream Vision, the Plains Indian boy Little Gopher is inspired to paint pictures as pure as the colors in the evening sky. He gathers flowers and berries to make paints but can’t capture the colors of the sunset. After another vision, he goes to a hilltop where he finds brushes filled with paint that he uses and leaves on the hill. The next day, and now every spring, the hills and meadows are ablaze with the bright color of the Indian Paintbrush flower.
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Lightning Inside You and Other Native American Riddles
edited by John Bierhorst; illustrated by Louise Brierley
William Morrow, New York. 1992
Grades: All
This intriguing book divides its more than 140 riddles into categories such as the human body, animals, things made to be used, etc. The author discusses various riddling situations: hunter’s riddles (out of respect or fear, avoid calling game animals by their actual names); dream guessing (other people try to interpret a person’s troubling dreams); initiation riddles; riddle contest (form of gambling); riddle dance; courtship riddling; and riddles in stories. Here’s a Comanche riddle: “What is there inside you like lightning?” “Meanness.”
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Mama, Do You Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joosse; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
Chronicle Books, San Francisco. 1991
Grades: K–4
Set in the Arctic, a child tests the limits of her independence. Whales, wolves, puffins, sled dogs, and Inuit culture are depicted in stunning, fresh illustrations. The answer to the title’s question is always, “yes,” even, “if you put lemmings in my mukluks.” A glossary lists some animals and objects which may not be familiar (such as “ptarmigan”), noting their particular significance in the culture.
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The Moon, the Sun, and the Coyote
by Judith Cole; illustrated by Cecile Schoberle
Simon & Schuster, New York. 1991
Grades: K–4
Written in a traditional, folkloric style by a modern author, the amusing descriptions of the rivalry between the sun and the moon could trigger some imaginative student ideas as they work on the “creating myths” portion of the GEMS activities. The story also “explains” why coyotes look like they do, thus providing a model for what students are asked to do: create a story that explains a natural phenomena. The never-satisfied Coyote of the story has all-too-human elements, and discussion of his foibles could help students make inferences about the values the story projects, especially in connection with Session 4 of this GEMS guide.
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Moon Was Tired of Walking on Air
by Natalia M. Belting; illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Houghton Mifflin, New York. 1992
Grades: 3–5
Fourteen creation myths from tribes of South America that explain the worlds above and below the earth. The dynamic illustrations combine a sense of magic and power with very literal depiction of the characters. The moon walks on earth among the squash vines with giant feet; fox opens a bottle tree and is pursued by rushing waters; the sculpted muscular figures of North and South wrestle and bend the rainbow; and armadillo plunges from the sky, making a hole in it.
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Native Dwellings
by Bonnie Shemie
Tundra Books, Montreal, Canada. 1991
Grades: 2–6
This series of books deals with the structure of Native American dwellings, including how they are lived in, and the building materials, techniques, and tools used. Included in this series are Houses of hide and earth (on plains dwellings), Houses of bark (on woodland dwellings), and Houses of snow, skin and bones (on Northern dwellings). The books are designed with a number of double-paged spreads showing a panoramic view and with smaller insets showing details such as tools. The more recently published Houses of wood (on Northwest Coast dwellings) has especially effective artwork. The next volume scheduled in the series is Houses of straw and mud about Southeastern dwellings.
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The Night of the Stars
by Douglas Gutierrez and Maria F. Oliver
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, New York. 1988
Grades: 3–5
There was a man (long, long ago) who did not like the night and the dark sky. During the day he worked weaving baskets and watching over his animals, but at night he shut himself in his house and lit his lamp. One night he went up to the highest point on the mountain, stood on his tiptoes and with his finger poked a hole in the black sky. A pinprick of light appeared through the hole so he poked more holes all over the sky. Then he poked a really big hole for the moon. That night no one slept and everyone stayed up late looking at the moon and stars. The story is a good accompaniment to Session 4 of the GEMS guide where students hear and discuss “How the Stars Came to Be.” A Spanish edition of TheNight of the Stars is also available.
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Quillworker: A Cheyenne Legend
adapted by Terri Cohlene; illustrated by Charles Reasoner
Watermill Press, Mahwah, New Jersey. 1990
Grades: 2–5
A Cheyenne legend that explains the origin of the Big Dipper constellation. Quillworker is an only child and an expert needle worker. Her dreams direct her to make seven buckskin warrior outfits for her mysterious new seven brothers. To escape the buffalo nation who want to take Quillworker, they all ride a tree up into the sky where they remain, with Quillworker as the brightest star in the dipper. A reference section at the back includes a short glossary and brief overview of the Cheyenne people and some of their customs.
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Rainbow Crow: A Lenape Tale
by Nancy Van Laan; illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1989
Grades: K–3
When the weather brings a long period of snow, the animals become worried and decide to send a messenger to the Great Sky Spirit to ask him to stop it. The most beautiful bird, brightly colored Rainbow Crow (also known as Raven), offers to make the long journey and is rewarded with the gift of fire which he carries in his beak. Forever after, he has a hoarse cry and blackened feathers, but with tiny rainbows of color. The outstanding illustrations are perfectly wedded to the text.
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Sing Down the Moon
by Scott O’Dell
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1970
Dell Publishing, New York. 1976
Grades: 6–12
Through the eyes of 14-year-old Bright Morning, a Navajo girl who lives in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona in 1863, we see the uprooting of Native American life, first by Spanish slavers and then by U.S. soldiers who lead the Navajos on the 300-mile Long Walk to Fort Sumner. The major events are tragic and cruel, but Bright Morning survives to return to her home and her sheep. Accounts of daily life include construction of huts and shelters, preparations for the marriage and Womanhood ceremonies, making garments, planting seed, and the logistics of travel. Newbery honor book.
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Sparrow Hawk
by Meridel LeSueur; illustrations by Robert Desjarlait
Holy Cow Press, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. 1987
Grades: 4–12
A beautifully written and moving novel about a young Sauk boy growing to manhood and his white friend Huck, both caught in the midst of the Black Hawk War. The images of the closeness to the land and connection to the life-giving corn are poetic and powerful.
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The Star Maiden
retold by Barbara J. Esbensen; illustrated by Helen K. Davie
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1988
Grades: K–4
A star grows tired of wandering the sky and wants to live on earth. She tries becoming a rose and then a prairie flower, but finally finds her “place on earth” as a water lily. The watercolor illustrations with their unique borders are by the same artist as Ladder to the Sky.
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The Story of Jumping Mouse
by John Steptoe
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, New York. 1984
Grades: 3–6
In this Native American legend, the smallest and humblest of creatures (a mouse) becomes the noblest (the eagle). In a spirit of hope, compassion, and generosity, a young mouse gives away his sense of sight and smell to other needy animals and is rewarded by a transformation. Beautiful wash drawings capture the world of forest and desert from a low-on-the-ground perspective. The story strongly relates to the cultural component of the GEMS guide, and places a high value on compassion and cooperation. The class can consider cultural values as it discusses “How the Stars Came To Be” in Session 4.
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Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back:
A Native American Year of Moons
by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London; illustrated by Thomas Locker
Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset, New York. 1992
Grades: 3–7
Stories from different Native American cultures about the 13 moons—believed to correspond to the scales on the shell of the turtle’s back—explain the changes in the seasons. A numbered drawing shows the location of each of the 13 moons on the turtle’s shell. The names of the moons are evocative and the poems that accompany them closely intertwined with respect for nature’s ways: Baby Bear Moon, Moon When Wolves Run Together, Moon of Popping Trees, Moose-Calling Moon, and Wild Rice Moon. Locker’s rich landscape paintings are powerful and distinctive.
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The Tipi: A Center of Native American Life
by David and Charlotte Yue
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1984
Grades: 5–8
This excellent book describes not only the structure and uses of tipis, but the Plains Indians social and cultural context as well. Some of the cultural language and oversimplifications are less vital than they might be, but it is written in an accessible style. There are good charts, exact measurements, and information on the advantages of the cone shape. The central role played by women in constructing the tipi and in owning it are discussed. While this book includes some mention of the negative consequences of European conquest, noting that in some places tipis were outlawed, it is weak in this important area, and should be supplemented with other books.
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Totem Pole
by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; photographs by Lawrence Migdale
Holiday House, New York. 1990
Grades: 3–5
A Tsimshian Indian boy describes how his father carved a totem pole for the Klallam tribe in Washington. The complete process is shown through color photographs, from finding a straight tree through raising the pole and the ceremonies accompanying it. Drawings show the figures of Thunderbird, Killer Whale, Bear, Raven and a Klallam Chief carved on the pole, explaining their mythic significance. The pride of the young boy in his father, the dedication to the craft, and the passing on of tradition are well conveyed. “Like my father, I look for the animal shapes hidden inside the wood.”
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The Village of Blue Stone
by Stephen Trimble; illustrated by Jennifer Dewey and Deborah Reade
Macmillan, New York. 1990
Grades: 5–8
Badger Claws (the Sun Watcher), Turquoise Boy, Dragonfly, and baby Blue Feather are involved in the full range of events of one year in the life of an imaginary Anasazi pueblo in 1100 in what is now New Mexico. Their daily life, including pottery-making, a wedding, the Harvest Dance, illness, and a death, is wonderfully depicted. Illustrates the connections between the land and architecture, work and art, material culture and spiritual beliefs.
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When Clay Sings
by Byrd Baylor;
illustrated by Tom Bahti
Charles Scribner’s Sons/
Macmillan, New York. 1972
Grades: 1–6
Prose poem retraces the daily life and customs of prehistoric Southwestern tribes from designs in the remains of their pottery. The striking illustrations in black, brown, and ochre tones include design motifs from the Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Mimbres cultures. In the text, parents tell their children to treat each fragment with respect because “every piece of clay is a piece of someone’s life,” and each has its own song. Excellent connection to the “Middens” activities in the GEMS guide, in which students carefully uncover simulated artifacts, including pieces of broken pottery.
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