8 Wonderful Books by Joseph Bruchac for Children and Teens
by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
“Joe Bruchac finished one already,” I said to a writer friend a few weeks ago about a forthcoming story collection. “That man is a writing machine!”
Last year, I had the pleasure of working with Joseph Bruchac on his story for The Hero Next Door, a middle grade anthology slated to be published in 2019. And by “working with,” I mostly mean marveling at the remarkable speed at which Bruchac was able to craft a compelling, kid-friendly narrative that celebrated sports, family, intergenerational connections, and the real-world challenges and joys that we experience every day. But what did I expect from the man who wrote the first draft of his “spine-tingling” novel Skeleton Man in two weeks?
Bruchac is the author of more than 120 books for readers of all ages, and his stories, essays, and poems have been featured in over 500 publications. Bruchac is of Abenaki heritage and works with his family on various projects to preserve and celebrate Abenaki history and culture, and many of his stories center on Native American history, culture, or heritage.
Bruchac’s stories honor human complexity and connection in ways that entertain, inspire, and move readers at every stage. His work in children’s literature covers a wide range, from historical to contemporary novels, picture books for the very youngest to fiction for young adults, and everything in between. Here are just a few of our favorites in the massive Bruchac canon:
Rabbit’s Snow Dance
Bruchac and his son James have collaborated on a few different retellings, including this joyful picture book that reminds us about the virtues of patience, the importance of the natural environment, and the value of community. Rabbit uses his snow dance to make it snow — even in the summer. When his friends ask him to stop, he refuses. Will Rabbit continue to ignore the requests of his friends as the snow piles up around them?
(Ages 3 – 5)
Bruchac’s now-classic middle grade novel about Danny Bigtree, the kind of “everyday hero” that young readers of all backgrounds relate to. Danny has moved from a Mohawk reservation to Brooklyn, NY, where he's mocked and called "Chief." Readers will cheer for the quiet courage Danny demonstrates as he faces his challengers and affirms his identity.
Fun fact: Eagle Song is one of the books — along with his The Heart of a Chief — that inspired bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith to write children’s books. “They were both contemporary, realistic stories about Native boys ... They were invitations. They invited my voice in,” she writes.
(Ages 7 – 10)
Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot
Bruchac has teamed up with author Adam Gidwitz and illustrator Hatem Aly to co-write the third book in The Unicorn Rescue Society series. This installment tackles everyone’s favorite mythical creature of the Pacific Northwest: Bigfoot needs the Unicorn Rescue Society’s help. With nonstop adventures and environmental themes, it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking tale for kids.
(Ages 8 – 12)
This historical novel centers on Uwohali — the son of Sequoyah, who took on the incredible task of writing down the Cherokee language for the first time — and the criticism he faces when the people of his village don’t understand what his father is doing. Uwohali feels that he must decide between honoring his father (who, until recently, he hadn’t seen in years) and honoring the community to which he belongs. Highlighting the importance of language and cultural preservation, Talking Leaves resonates with its attention to the personal in the context of a larger — and too often unknown — history. A reproduction of Sequoyah’s syllabary is included in the book.
There are a number of children’s books about the Great Depression, but — as Bruchac is wont to do — this one brings a story that often goes untold to light. Two Roads is about 12-year old Cal, who discovers his Creek Indian heritage, and his experiences at a government boarding school in Oklahoma. The narrative highlights the persistence and resistance that communities can demonstrate even under the most oppressive conditions.
One of Bruchac’s most popular books, Code Talker is a novel that illuminates the important history Navajo Marines who participated in World War II. They worked to help United States service members send and receive messages by employing an unbreakable code that used the Navajo language. Though the U.S. government reports that over 400 Navajo people participated in the initiative, their story was classified for decades. (Interested in seeing the Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary? Check it out here.)
Bruchac’s “quietly inspiring” (School Library Journal) action-packed novel is told through the eyes of Ned Begay, a teen code talker, offers an unromanticized picture of the perils and price of war, and honors these hidden figures who played a vital role in U.S. history. (Bruchac’s Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code tells another code talker story in picture book form.)
Jim Thorpe, the Original All-American
This riveting biographical novel based on Olympic gold medalist and professional athlete Jim Thorpe’s life and accomplishments is a roller coaster of a tale — readers will experience the highest highs and lowest lows right along with Thorpe. It also sheds light on the abuses of the boarding schools that Native children were often forced into; at the Carlisle Indian School, Thorpe and his classmates were forbidden to speak their native language and severely punished for any “Indian behavior.”
The book also highlights the injustices of U.S. policies toward its indigenous people, and presents some of the painful realities of discrimination and violence that American Indians have faced and continue to confront. Thorpe, who followed up his athletic career with advocacy work in the entertainment industry and beyond, emerges as a complex figure who carried the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders and continues to inspire in myriad ways.
Killer of EnemiesAvailable from:
Bruchac travels the Steampunk, post-apocalyptic route in this fast-paced YA work of speculative fiction. Seventeen-year-old Apache Lozen is a butt-kicking monster hunter with a number of supernatural survival skills. As her powers grow, she begins to connect her life and work with that of the legendary Killer of Enemies. “The most important connection, perhaps, between this novel and Native American people in the years to come is that it asserts, as I believe, that Indians will be a part of whatever future this continent holds — post-apocalyptic or not,” writes Bruchac in the Author’s Note.
(Young adult)Available from:
What are your favorite books by Joseph Bruchac? Let us know in the comments below!