Blogger Tess Prendergast

Indigenous Board Books for Every Baby 

We know that the general benefits of reading board books are numerous. Here are just a few reasons why we spend time and money curating and maintaining board book collections for families in our communities to use. 

  1. Board books promote language development because babies will hear (or see the sign for) new words and learn their meanings as their parents and caregivers read to them and talk to them about what is on the pages of their books. 
  2. Board books help babies develop various other cognitive abilities such as visual tracking, recognizing objects, and comprehension as they begin to build mental models for what they encounter in books being read to them. 
  3. Cuddle time! Holding a baby and reading to them is bonding experience and thus it builds positive associations with reading and books from the earliest months of life. 
  4. Board books, especially ones with different textures, and movable flaps, offer babies a chance to practice and learn motor skills. 
  5. Reading board books with babies starts to build their familiarity with books as important and culturally meaningful objects.

I have noticed a great surge of fantastic board book fare that features Indigenous cultures and languages and believe that all board book collections should be audited for excellent Indigenous content. Here are a few recommendations:

Indigenizing board book collections

First and foremost, when looking at indigenizing our board book collections, we need to  explore whether there are any resources from the nation whose land we are on right now. It may turn out that there are few or no board book formats of a local nations’ children’s stories and other cultural materials available yet. We can still work in culturally appropriate and respectful ways to learn about (and possibly curate and provide) whatever children’s resources exist now. 

While I absolutely want to shout out books like Loving me by Debby Slier, (book cover shown at the start of this post) and the more recent and very adorable Seasons of Alaska board books series ), for this post, I thought I would share some board books from Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand, and Australia. Exploring these and other Indigenous board books through the lens of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s “mirrors and windows” framework points out their value as culturally meaningful resources for the youngest Indigenous and non-Indigenous children alike. 

From Canada: 

My heart fills with happiness written by Monique Gray Smith & illustrated by Julie Flett.

In one of the most beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated  board books of all time, readers are shown some of the ways that a child finds joy in everyday happenings, especially those that are connected to one’s own rich culture. The eloquent, accessible narrative, and appealing images simultaneously represent both universality and locality of experiences. Notably, in addition to English, this book has been published in several different Indigenous languages. Please follow the hyperlinks to the author’s and illustrator’s websites for many more fantastic titles to enhance your children’s collections. 

From Aotearoa New Zealand:

Matariki, written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Bishop’s vibrantly illustrated, bilingual board book is perfect for all babies as well any beginner of Māori language and culture. Matariki is the Māori name for the star cluster commonly known as Pleiades. The stars that make up the Matariki star cluster go by many other names all over the world, such as The Seven Sisters. Matariki is also the name of the Māori new year, a time in mid-winter (in late June or early July) that these stars return to view in the southern hemisphere. With simple, colorful illustrations and text, Bishop, who has Māori and European ancestry, introduces each Matariki star and explains its role in coming of the new year. 

From Australia

Our Bugs written and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

I am mostly not a fan of bugs, and having spent a year in Australia, I can say with certainty that they do have a lot of them. However, this book takes a whimsical, colorful, and yet straightforward approach to introducing young ones to the wonders of Australia’s bugs. It also serves as fabulous introduction to the enormously important and impressive body of work by Bancroft, a Bundjalung artist who has created dozens of excellent children’s books that impart the richness of Australia’s Indigenous cultures. Our Bugs has a companion title called Our Birds too. 

Building a strong rationale for Indigenous board book collections

Depending on where you are located, you might find that your regular distributors do not have all of these books and others like them on their radar. I was recently in Aotearoa New Zealand on a holiday and was lucky enough to find Matariki in an art gallery book store. These Indigenous board books are well worth the time, effort and extra expense to place special orders. Remember to also work with local nations to ensure their unique cultures and languages have a prominent place in our collections.  

As we strive for equity, and take anti-bias approaches to our work with children and families, it is vital that we find ways to engage with enduring colonial histories of harm in the places many of us live. One of the ways we can do this is by centering Indigenous childhood, Indigenous joy, and Indigenous languages in our collections, and featuring them in our programs and our reference services. Having plenty of Indigenous board books sends a message to all about the importance of supporting, revitalizing, and sustaining Indigenous cultures and languages locally and around the world. 

As adults, we are tasked with helping to raise global citizens who are committed to social equity. We must have the audacious hope that the babies of today will grow up to see the realities of settler and Indigenous communities locally and around the world. Recognizing harmful colonial legacies while uplifting Indigenous communities can begin with board books for all babies. 

An absolutely essential resource for learning about and selecting Indigenous board books for your libraries is this continually updated post by Dr. Debbie Reese, creator and co-editor of American Indians in Children’s Literature

What are your favourite Indigenous board books? Please share titles in the comments!

A brown haired woman is smiling and looking straight ahead
Blogger Tess Prendergast

Tess Prendergast worked as a children’s librarian for 23 years. She has a PhD in early literacy education and now teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She currently facilitates the ALSC Preschool Discussion group and has served on both the Geisel (2023) and Caldecott (2016) committees.

One comment

  1. Kary Henry

    Thanks for this great post, Tess! I have enjoyed using the book I Love Me (by Sally Morgan), which is illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina, a First Nations writer/illustrator from the Palyku people from Western Australia.

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