A Book by an Indigenous Woman or Two-Spirit Indigenous Person: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

February 18, 2021 | Christie

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TPL Reading Challenge 2021

In this category, we celebrate books written by Indigenous women and Two-Spirit* Indigenous authors. Here are some recommendations from staff that fall under this fantastic grouping.

* Two-Spirit refers to an Indigenous person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. To learn more, visit the Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health website.

Here are my recommendations.

Seven fallen feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

An investigative dive into the city of Thunder Bay where, over the course of eleven years, seven Indigenous high school students died. A empathetic, well-researched read on the past and current impact of colonization on the Indigenous nations, stressing the need for affirmative change and a call to action that is more than just a public apology. A difficult but informative and powerful read. 

Five Little Indians

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Whereas Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga is a non-fiction, investigative book of seven Indigenous high school students, Five Little Indians follows the lives of five fictional former residential school students and their struggle to survive in 1960s Vancouver. Another difficult read but so compassionate in its storytelling that you really feel the highs as the characters when things are going well for them, but you also feel their lows to such a degree you almost have to put the book down in order to collect yourself emotionally. Beautiful, haunting, and honestly, nothing I can say about this read will do it the justice it deserves. Just read it. 

Additional Reading Challenge categories could be used for:

  • A debut book
  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A book about your heritage or culture

Jonny Appleseed

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

This first person narrative following Jonny, a Two-Spirit, queer, Indigenous person after he has left the reservation and attempts to make a life for himself in Winnipeg. A beautifully written, poignant, raw and powerful story about love, friendship, family and loyalty. As Jonny reflects on his past and present as he attempts to make enough money to travel back to the reservation for the funeral of his stepfather. 

Additional Reading Challenge categories could include

  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A debut book

– Christie, Branch Head 

Staff Recommendations

We asked our staff what books they recommend or are planning to read for "a book by an Indigenous woman or Two-Spirit Indigenous person", and here are their picks!

Marrow thieves

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

A powerful YA read! Set in a dystopian future Canada, where bone marrow is harvested from Indigenous people in schools that are based off Canada's residential boarding school system. I happened to listen to the author speak at Wolf Performance Hall in London, Ontario, and was fascinated to hear how her character Frenchie was based off of a young man in her community, and how the book is meant to give voice and agency to those who feel like their identities have been erased. 

– Mohamed, Youth Hub Librarian


My heart fills

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith

A lovely book about the things that bring joy. As the narrator reflects on some of the things that fill their heart with happiness, it invites the reader to reflect on their own "happy". Although technically a children's book (and one that I have shared in both many programs and given as a new baby gift) it's simplicity and beauty could be enjoyed by people of all ages. We have ebook copies as well, including a dual-language version in English-Plains Cree.

– Katherine, Library Assistant


The Break

The Break by Katherena Vermette

This story shares the perspectives of multiple women after a brutal crime is committed on one of their family members. This is a heavy read, but an important one that emphasizes the importance of love, family, support and healing. I recommend this novel, by Canadian Metis author Katherena Vermette, for its powerful message that readers will not forget!

– Eleni, Librarian



Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson employs Anishinaabe aesthetics to respond to Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush –  and it makes for an amazing read. Poetic, funny, heartbreaking and thought-provoking all at once, I read this in one sitting and highly recommend it. 

– Sam, Librarian


Life among the Qallunat

Life Among the Qallunaat by Mini Aodla Freeman

This memoir by an Inuit woman who was born on Nunaaluk (Cape Hope) Island in James Bay in 1936 is part of the First Voices, First Texts series, which “publishes lost or underappreciated texts by Indigenous writers.” Mini Aodla Freeman spent her childhood in a small Inuit community until she was sent away to attend residential school. Her life changed radically again when she moved from the Arctic to the city to become a translator with the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources in Ottawa. There are some very funny moments when she describes her life in the south with the Qallunaat (white people), such as her first encounter with escalators. (One translation for the word Qallunaat, according to the author, is ‘people who pamper their eyebrows”!) The title is a bit misleading – this isn't just the story of her encounters with white culture in the south. It's also a window into Inuit culture and tradition at the time.

I really liked the personality that shone through the words – Aodla Freeman’s utterly charming voice was one of the major appeals of the book. But there's a darker side: the book provides disturbing insights into the history of Canada.

Additional Reading Challenge categories could include:

  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book about a real person

– Maureen, Librarian


Love after the end

Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead

I'll be reading this pick for the challenge category. This collection of nine Utopian tales set in near and far futures features contributions by Nathan Adler, Darcie Little Badger, Gabriel Castilloux Calderón, Adam Garnet Jones, Mari Kurisato, Kai Minosh Pyle, David Alexander Robertson, jaye simpson and Nazbah Tom. A great choice for many Reading Challenge 2021 categories!

– Jennifer, Librarian


Rez Sisters

The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway

I only recently learned Tomson is two-spirit. In an interview I read, he says "It is a glorious, spectacular experience to be a two-spirit. I think if I were not, I’d be bored to death." 

The Rez Sisters is a play from the 1980s about seven women living on a reserve who want to go to Toronto and win at bingo. The women all have individual desires, dreams and squabbles, but they come together to try and achieve a common goal. They all want to win big and change their lives. There's also a trickster figure in the play, Nanabush. I've always been fascinated by trickster figures from different cultures – especially their duality in terms of gender – which may explain a bit about who I am now!

You could consider this "the first in a series" although the play series was never completed. There is a sequel though!

– Ames, Communications Officer


Spirit Bear

Spirit Bear and Children Make History: Based on a True Story by Cindy Blackstock

Cindy Blackstock is a tireless advocate for the rights of Indigenous children. Some of her most notable accomplishments include bringing forward several human rights cases against the federal government that highlighted the disparities in education and child welfare funding for Indigenous children compared to non-Indigenous children. Her work led to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that Canada has consistently discriminated against Indigenous children, resulting in the issuance of several non-compliance orders against the federal government for failing to address this, and leading ultimately the the establishment of compensation for Indigenous children and families. In her Spirit Bear series, Cindy breaks down these issues, as well as others, including Truth and Reconciliation, in a way that children can relate to and understand. A modern-day hero if I ever did see one!

Additional Reading Challenge categories could include:

  • A book that is the first in a series
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)

– Melanie, Senior Services Specialist


Fire Song

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

Definitely recommend this YA read! It’s a great story about a young man who is wrestling with his strong desire to leave his reservation and get a fresh start, his partner’s refusal to come out – and the limitations this puts on their relationship – and the stresses of poverty. This is a young man you are really rooting for, and the author gets you right inside his head, so you feel how he is conflicted on so many facets of his life and the big decisions he has to make. This is written by the Indigenous, Two-Spirit, Toronto creator of the movie with the same title, which (unusually) came before the novel.

– Alice, Senior Collections Specialist


Surviving the city

Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett and illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Recommending this book to those who want to read about kinship in the city, the impact of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2Spirits (MMIWG2S) and the colonial impact of social work on Indigenous families. It is the first in the Surviving the City graphic novel series.

– Jamie, Digital Content Lead


French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, we also have a French list for this category, "des écrivaines autochtones, des écrivains bispirituels" on Cantook Station!


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the recommendations from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2021 discussion group. There are dozens more in the Facebook thread. You do not need a Facebook account to read the thread.



What book do you recommend for "a book by an Indigenous woman or Two-Spirit Indigenous person"? Share below in the comments!


Edited May 3, 9:45am. Added list of French recommendations on Cantook station for this category.