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Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
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1. BLUE BIRDS by Caroline Starr Rose

In Caroline Rose Starr's Blue Birds, the two main characters are Alis, an English girl, and Kimi, a Roanoke girl. Set in July 1587, Blue Birds is a Lost Colony story.

Alis and her family come ashore at Roanoke. Among them is Governor White and his daughter. She is pregnant with Virginia (Virginia Dare is widely recognized as the first English person born in what came to be known as the United States).They are in the fourth English group that Kimi's people interact with. Before them, we read, there were three other groups. The first one took two Native men back to England: Mateo (a Croatoan) and Wanchese (a Roanoke).

With Alis's group is Manteo. Having spent the last few months living in London, he dresses like English people but still has long hair. Alis thinks of him as "that savage."

Kimi watches Alis's group. She thinks of them as "strange ones." Some of her people think they are "spirits back from the dead" and others say that they have "invisible weapons that strike with sickness after they've gone." Kimi's father told her they were "people like us, only with different ways." But, her father is dead.

Dead? Yes. Soon, we learn that Kimi's father, Wingina, was beheaded by the second group of colonists, and that Wanchese (he's her uncle) killed the people in the third group.

Did you catch that? The English beheaded her father. Yet, she's going to befriend Alis.

Possible? Yes. Plausible? I don't think so.

Why does she do this? Because she's lonely.

See, her sister died of disease brought by those English.

Did you catch that?! Her sister's death is due to the English. But... she's going to befriend this English girl?

Possible? Yes. Plausible? I don't think so!

And... Alis. When they land, she finds the bones of a man. She worries they may be the bones of her uncle, Samuel. Soon after that, one of the Englishmen (Mr. Howe) is killed, adding to her fear of the Roanoke people. She imagines them, waiting. Watching. Yet, she, too, is lonely enough to move past her fears. Is that possible? Yes. It is plausible? I don't think so!

Human emotions aside, let's look at the some of the ways the Roanoke people think and live.

It is a challenge to imagine how the people of a culture not your own, of a time not your own would think of you. In this case, we have a not-Native writer imagining how Native people think about English people. A good many non-Native writers lapse into a space where we (Native people) are shown as primitive and in awe of Europeans who came to Native lands. We see this in Kimi (Kindle Locations 367-370):

The English have great power,
mightier than we have seen
in the agile deer,
the arrows of our enemies,
the angry hurricane.
Able to blot out the sun.
There's other things that bother me about Blue Birds. One of the stereotypical ways of depicting Native people is how quietly they move, not making a sound. Kimi does that. Another stereotype is the way that Kimi thinks of Alis's wooden bird. Kimi thinks it is Alis's power:
I imagine her cowering in her village
without her power.
I want to see
her weakness.
She comes from brutal people,
yet is as loving
with her mother as we are.
Can both things we true?
That passage in Blue Birds gets at the heart of what I think Caroline Rose Starr is trying to do. Have two girls come to see past differences in who each one and her people are, to the humanity in both. She's not the first to do this. Children's literature has a lot of historical fiction like this... Sign of the Beaver is one; so is Helen Frost's Salt. 

When the two girls come face to face, Kimi thinks of her dad and sister's death. In her language, she tells Alis "You have brought us sorrow." Kimi sees that Alis is frightened by her words and thinks that balance has been restored.

The balance has been restored?! I think that's too tidy.

There are other things that don't sit well with me... the parts of the story where Kimi has a ceremony, marking her passage from child to woman is one. The parts where the Roanoke's are dancing around the fire at night, preparing for attack? That just reminds me of Little House on the Prairie! Indeed, Alis's mom reminds me of Ma!

As the friendship between the two girls continues, they worry for each other's safety. Kimi gives Alis her montoac (power, pearls given to her in that womanhood ceremony). In the end, Alis goes Native. That is, she chooses to live with Kimi. And when the English return, she looks upon them, crouching behind some reeds as she watches them.

That ending--with Alis living with Indians--parallels a theory about what happened to that Lost Colony. In the author's note, Starr tells readers about the Lost Colony. I'm glad to see that note but the story she told? Overall, for me it does not work, and it makes me wonder about the motivation to create friendship stories like this? They seem so more idealized than anything that might really happen between children of peoples at war. And, given that these stories are told--not by Native people--seems telling, too. Borne, perhaps, of guilt? Or what? I don't know, really.

Starr's Blue Bird, published in 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons (an imprint of Penguin Group) is not recommended.




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2. Cynthia Hand's THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE

A reader of AICL has written to tell me she's reading Cynthia Hand's The Last Time We Say Goodbye. 

In particular, the reader pointed me to the part of the book where a character named Seth is telling Sadie and Lex (the protagonist) a ghost story about when he saw a shadow on a wall, and that when he turned around to see who was making the shadow, he saw (p. 133):

"...an Indian. He was wearing the buckskins and moccasins and the feather in his hair and the whole Native American ensemble, which was weird enough, but what was weirder was that I could sort of see through him, to that sign on the wall that counted how many days since the last accident."
Seth stepped away, and says that the Indian
"...nodded, all solemn, and then he lifted his hand up like this." Seth raises his palm. "And then he said, "How.'"
"'How'?" I repeat. "'How' what?"
"Like, 'How, white man. I come in peace.' And after that we were totally friends, me and Tonto, and every night after work we'd knock back a beer." 
Obviously, we're supposed to think that is amusing, but I don't think it is funny. Sadie starts to pummel him and then (p. 134):
"But seriously, though," he says, "That Circuit City was built on an old Indian burial ground. Look it up on the internet if you don't believe me. And sometimes, for real, we'd hear footsteps or things would be moved in different places when we left the room. Seriously."
My turn to utter that word: Seriously?! Pulling out the stereotypical Indian burial ground trope?! So... what IS this story about? Here's the synopsis:
From New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand comes a gorgeous and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and letting go.
Since her brother, Tyler, committed suicide, Lex has been trying to keep her grief locked away, and to forget about what happened that night. But as she starts putting her life, her family, and her friendships back together, Lex is haunted by a secret she hasn't told anyone—a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.
In the tradition of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, Gayle Forman's If I Stay, and Lauren Oliver's Before I FallThe Last Time We Say Goodbye is a thoughtful and deeply affecting novel that will change the way you look at life and death.

It may be a deeply affecting story about life and death but it is deeply troubling to see this stereotypical burial ground in it. I know--people will defend it because suicide is something so many people deal with, and this book will help them deal with it...

The Last Time We Say Goodbye, however, joins a very long list of books that help one population at the expense of Native people. I have not read this book but my guess is that Hand could cut these parts completely and the book would be fine.

Published by HarperTeen in February 2015, it will be on my year-end Not Recommended list.




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3. "It's None of Your Business"! -- Avi

Two days ago I arrived in Minneapolis for several reasons. I'll write about the panel I was on at St. Catherine University in another blog post. This one is about Avi.

Avi was on campus and gave a talk about his writing. He started by reading the opening pages of a work-in-progress:

Photo credit: Billy Hinshaw


He then invited those in attendance to ask him anything. No holds barred. Professor Sarah Park Dahlen asked him about his thoughts on the We Need Diverse Books campaign. He started by saying he supports the campaign, and that he thinks any writer can write about anything they want to, but followed by talking about the writer's responsibility to do the research necessary to do justice to the people they're writing about... and how it is very hard to do that research. Doing it well is time consuming. I chimed in about resources people use -- how they're faulty, and he said that writer's have to find people they can trust.

At one point he talked about what Native people are willing to share and that there are things people might want to know about his family, and that he'd say "It's none of your business!"

I liked that comment. That's what a lot of Native people say, but far too many not-Native writers persist in "gotta tell their stories" ways of thinking. If we don't want to share it, it is because, to quote Avi, we think it is "None of your business."

I gotta run (I'm due at AWP) but may come back to this post later. There was much more said in the room that I'd like to share.


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4. The Boxcar Children: Mystery of the Lost Village

In The Boxcar Children: The Mystery of the Lost Village, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny visit "a Navajo Indian reservation." Violet exclaims "A Navajo reservation!" (p. 2).

That is the first red flag as I start reading this story. There is only one Navajo Nation, and only one Navajo reservation. A Navajo child who pays attention to how Navajo people are portrayed will notice that error right away.

The Boxcar Children and their grandfather fly over the Mississippi River and the Grand Canyon. They land in New Mexico. When they land, they take a taxi to a group of houses on the reservation.

Several red flags there!

They fly over the Mississippi River. Fine. But the Grand Canyon? Nope! Not unless the pilot was lost.

Here's another thing. They land at the airport, which is probably Albuquerque International Airport, which is miles and miles and miles away from the Navajo Reservation... and they go there by taxi?! I know their grandfather is wealthy, so maybe cost is not a big deal, but goodness!

Check out this image. It shows the Navajo Reservation (it spans four states):



Point A is Albuquerque. Point B is Gallup. Distance? 140 miles.

At that group of houses the taxi pulls up to, the Lightfeather children, Amy and Joe, greet them. They get into the taxi, too, and direct the driver to their home. Once at the Lightfeather home, Amy shows Violet and Jessie where they'll sleep (Amy's room). They talk at length about the colorful Navajo blankets on the beds. They've got animal designs on them: an eagle, a deer, a turtle, a hawk, and a turtle. Amy tells the girls that each one, by design, always has a tiny mistake in the design because Navajo women believe that if it is perfect, it would offend the gods.

More red flags!

Navajo blankets being used as blankets on a bed? I'll have to do some checking on that... They're very expensive and are usually more like wall hangings than something you'd wrap yourself up in. And the way the kids talk about the animals on them... well, I can't imagine them. If you do an image search on Navajo blankets, you'll see what I mean. Birds--yes, but all those animals? Not so much. Possible, but not plausible.

Later that evening, the kids meet Kinowok, "the oldest man on the reservation" (p. 14). He's a storyteller. He tells them about a tribal village nearby, just off the reservation, that "the earth had swallowed" up when the people abandoned it during a drought.

To me, that sounds like the things said about Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon... all those sites that are the ancestral homes of Pueblo peoples.

Henry says "A lost village" and talks about archaeology. He wants to find that site and start digging. Mrs. Lightfeather studied archaeology in college and spent two summers working on digs, so she offers to give them some tips. She tells the kids that students have tried to find this particular village but so far, nobody has found it. Once they start digging, they find an arrowhead and a "bright orange" piece of pottery. Later, Mrs. Lightfeather tells them a real estate developer wants to build there, and that they only have two weeks to dig. If they can find the village, it will stop the real estate developer. Sites like that are protected by the law, she says.

The next time the kids dig, Violet finds an entire pot. The cover of the book is meant to show that part of the story, except the pot on the cover has a piece missing. The one Violet finds is in perfect condition. They take it home that evening. Mrs. Lightfeather congratulates her on the find.

More red flags!

If Mrs. Lightfeather is Navajo and has studied archaeology, she'd probably have a different response. Such finds are rare and must be handled with great care.

It is possible but not plausible, to find a perfect pot, and possible but not plausible for Mrs. Lightfeather's reaction, too. She sounds more white than Navajo!

One day, Amy takes the girls to the stable where her horse is. While they're there, a "tall blonde" man enters the stables and startles the girls. He tells them he's a genealogist and that the council has given him permission to look through their records.

Amy assumes this means he is Navajo and asks him about it. He says that yes, he is part Navajo but mostly white. He spots the necklace Amy is wearing and asks her if the stone is an opal. She tells him it is turquoise. After he leaves, she tells the girls that, if he is really Navajo, he would know the stone is turquoise, because of its significance to the Navajo people. There's a legend about it, she says. Violet wants to know what the story is, and Amy starts out with "I guess you'd call it a fairy tale."

With that line, I am going to stop reading. There's too much wrong. The Mystery of the Lost Village -- though a work of fiction, is so deeply flawed that I do not recommend it. According to WorldCat, it is in over 1200 libraries. It is available in Braille and as an e-book. Is it in yours? I hope not.


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5. Following up: Ruth Bornstein's INDIAN BUNNY

Back in 2006, I posted Beverly Slapin's comparison of Ruth Bornstein's Indian Bunny and her Brave Bunny. I'm expanding on it a bit today by adding photographs I took of the cover and one inside page. Here's the cover:



Note how that bunny is playing the drum with his hands? That is not an accurate depiction of how Native peoples in the U.S. play the drum. It is accurate, however, if the bunny is Hawaiian. He isn't. He's just a bunny playing Indian. Later in the book he's inside a tipi. Here's the page where he decides what he's going to do:



Want to know what all he'll do? Go read Slapin's review.

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6. TINKER AND TANKER OUT WEST by Richard Scarry

I'll be visiting the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota next week. The visit will be all-too-brief, I see, as I go through the extensive list of materials they hold!

For example, I was browsing the finding aid for the Richard Scarry materials. Many of his picture books include characters wearing feathered headdresses and fringed buckskin. Those images have been removed/replaced from later editions of the books. I'd love to find letters between people who made the decision(s) to do that! So, I perused the Finding Aid hoping I'd see a file with letters. I didn't, but I did see something else.

One title in the Finding Aid caught my eye: Tinker and Tanker Out West. I didn't recognize the title. Do you?



I did some poking around on the Internet and found a blog post I may return to later. Some of its content is rather intriguing. For now, let's stick with Scarry's book. The author of the post, Kris Saknussemm, owns a copy of the book and loaded this page to his post:



From what that page indicates, Tinker and Tanker arrive at an Indian village where they meet Indians (buffaloes). They're a papoose and a squaw. Are they out west at that point in the story? Why are they dressing up that way?

Those two words originate with Native peoples of the northeast (squaw has been so badly used that it is now widely seen as a slur). I can't recall Scarry using them in other books, but seeing them here dovetails with his stereotypical images of Native people. I'm thinking I'll put that image on my Foul Among the Good page. It is one of the few times that I've seen a character dress up as a female.

Now--off to see if I can find a copy of the book. It was published in 1961 by Doubleday. According to WorldCat, it is in 139 libraries. Yikes!


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7. Why you should teach two books by Native writers from different Native Nations at the same time

Earlier today on Facebook, I shared a post I wrote last year about not letting a single book (Alexie's Diary) be the only book about American Indians that you read or recommend. In that post, I talked about young adults books. In an ensuing conversation, Joe Sutliff Sanders, an Associate Professor at Kansas State University, told me that when he taught Alexie's book and Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here at the same time,

...the conversation had to turn to explicating the differences between the books, and we had to stop saying "Indian" and start saying "Spokane" and "Onondaga." In fact, we had to start talking about poverty with a lot more nuance, too. 

Here on AICL, I talk about the importance of naming a specific nation (and of course, accurately portraying that nation), but the classroom experience Dr. Sanders shared is so powerful that I asked him if I could share it. Obviously, he said yes. Thanks, Joe!

Let's bring that idea to the picture book category. We could identify similar pairings that would push students to stop saying Indian.

In the picture book category, you could assign/read Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer along with Carol Lindstrom's Girls Dance Boys Fiddle. Instead of saying "Indian" you and students will be saying Creek and Metis. Both feature girls and are set in the present day.



Or, you could use picture books set in the past, by assigning Tim Tingle's Saltypie and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's The Christmas Coat. Instead of saying "Indian" you'd say Choctaw and Lakota.



There are lots of possibilities! I gotta head out for now. I may come back with more pairings. I like this idea a lot.

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8. An Indian headdress in WINNIE AND WALDORF by Kati Hites

I am always glad when people write to me about problems they see in children's books. In recent weeks I've heard from a few people about Winnie and Waldorf.  A picture book written and illustrated by Kati Hites, it was released on March 5th of this year.

School Library Journal's review says that "Families with dogs will see the humor in this mixed-media and digitally illustrated book; cat lovers will be shaking their heads in wonder."

Let's add... "People who find kids donning Indian headdresses will also be shaking their heads as they wonder when this sort of thing will end."

There's no reason for this:




Winnie wears that "formal attire" to her sister's violin concert. The feathers obscure the view, so this happens:



If that was a real headdress, nobody would do that to it. They carry a great deal of significance. They aren't playthings to handle in that way.

That headdress, as Winnie says, is her "most formal attire." In the story, she isn't playing Indian. It wouldn't make it ok if she was, I hasten to say, but there is a backstory for it, right? Hites had a backstory for having that item amongst the items Winnie uses to dress up. What is that backstory?!

Of course, Hites has an editor over at HarperCollins. I wonder who that person is? Did they talk about that headdress? I hope someone reads this post and shares it with Hites and her editor.



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9. Christine Taylor-Butler's THE LOST TRIBES

Christine Taylor-Butler's The Lost Tribes was released on March 25th. Published by Move Books, I read an advanced copy. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:

In The Lost Tribes, five friends could never imagine their ordinary parents are scientists on a secret mission. When their parents go missing, they are forced into unfathomable circumstances and learn of a history that's best left unknown. Now they must race against time in the search for tribal artifacts that are thousands of years old. Artifacts that hold the fate of the universe in the balance. But unbeknownst to them, they are catalysts in an ancient score that must be settled. The Lost Tribes is a challenge from beginning to end. As the chaos unfolds so do opportunities to solve codes and figure out where the characters will end up next (and the illustration and design give the reader a visual unfolding as well). Written by a former engineer, this book provides a sturdy and accurate science and history foundation, where readers will surely become participants in the facts, fun, and adventure.

Among those five friends and their parents is Serise Hightower and her parents, Dr. David Hightower and Dr. Cheryl Hightower. The kids (Serise, Carlos, Grace, and Ben and his little sister, April) all live in the same cul-de-sac in California. Until later in the book when we learn that all these characters are "scientific observers from another galaxy" we think of Serise as being Navajo. We first learn about her on page 52 (reading the ARC, so page numbers may differ in final copy) when two characters, Ben and Grace, are trying to break a coded message in a game that Ben's uncle has given to him. Serise, Grace tells Ben, is good at breaking codes.

Ben doesn't like Serise. He thinks of her as the "self-titled Queen of the Universe" (p. 60) who can barely move in her tight jeans and wedge-heeled shoes. When she appears in the story, she's showing off a watch that her mom got in New Mexico. It has turquoise in it. That Serise paints matching flowers on her nails tells me the watch is something similar to what I show to the right.

More obnoxious to Ben, however, are the "maroon and purple highlights and feathers in her jet black hair" (p. 60). Another character, Carlos, doesn't like Serise either. He praises the watch but smirks at Ben as he does it. Serise's mom is the Curator of the Sunnyslope Museum of Natural History. She travels a lot. The expensive gifts she brings back to Serise mean that she is spoiled.

Ben doesn't think much of the watch. Serise asks if he wants to see "something cool" (p. 61). Ben, Grace, and Carlos follow her to her backyard (p. 61):
A domed structure sat in the corner. Covered with blankets, canvas tarps and leather, it looked like a cross between a hut and a tent. A single opening was visible on the west side.
It, she tells them, is a "new sweat lodge" built by her dad. He is "getting ready for a vision quest." His hobby is mystic religions and he's "always trying to conjure up the spirit of an ancient ancestor."  In this vision quest, he'll "cleanse himself of toxic impurities and restore his soul" (p. 61). He's been meditating and fasting and wants to do a ceremony on Sunday to get guidance for a journey he's going to go on.

Ben asks if he always does these ceremonies before a trip, and Serise tells him this one is different. After "the big storm" that happened when the book begins, her dad is going to "ask the Tribal Council for permission to conduct an Enemyway ceremony" (p. 61). From inside, the kids can hear her dad chanting. Grace thinks the whole thing sounds cool till Serise tells her "You have to be naked."

Serise goes to the sweat lodge and shows them a walkie talkie she has put there with the intent of playing a joke on her dad while he does the ceremony. While she's doing that, Grace, Ben, and Carlos whisper to each other about how awful it is to be around her.

That evening, Ben's dad tells him that they're invited to the sweat lodge on Sunday. Of course, Ben is unhappy about it. When he gets there, he sees Dr. Hightower and Grace's dad, Dr. Choedon, standing by "an intricate painting at the entrance to the lodge." Dr. Choedon calls it a mandala that is part of the ritual. Inside, Dr. Hightower tells them that if they're sick, they shouldn't participate, because being in a sweat lodge "is a grueling test of endurance." He starts to chant and pour water over huge "red-hot boulders" that Dr. Hightower tells them were heated outside the lodge and brought inside with "a little ingenuity" that he doesn't describe.

Thus far, Taylor-Butler (the author) has not named a specific tribal nation.

The "Enemyway ceremony" and the language that Serise's dad uses, however, indicate that we are meant to think they are Navajo. But because they aren't really Navajo (remember, they're not of Earth at all), I'm not sure what to do with this.

Where did these observers from another galaxy get the information they needed to behave in what they think of as Navajo?

What they do is troubling and misrepresentative. Generally speaking, Navajo ceremonies take place in hogans, not sweat lodges, and sandpaintings are done inside of hogans. Healers don't need to seek permission from a tribal council to do ceremonies. Fasting isn't part of the preparation. Though the ceremony in The Lost Tribes is called an "Enemyway" ceremony (usually written as Enemy Way), the language that Hightower uses is that of the Beauty Way ceremony.

The description of the sweat lodge in The Lost Tribes is more like the sweats done by other Native nations. With this vision quest/sweat lodge/Enemyway ceremony, the author has collapsed the ways of several distinct Native Nations and Tibetan Monks into... the ways of who?!

On page 286, we get an explanation. The kids learn their parents are not from Earth. They were sent to Earth from their homes in the Sonecian galaxy to find out what happened to a previous group. Henry (Ben's uncle), explains (p. 289):
"We call this place Safe Harbor because that is what it represented to our ancestors--a sanctuary from the impending collapse of a star near our galaxy.
"Our ancestors wanted to preserve something of their cultures. Earth was the nearest planet capable of sustaining the many species found in our solar system, making it perfect for colonization. They placed eight tribes on a land mass similar to the environment on their home planet. In time, the tribes blended with the indigenous populations and became part of their genetic pool."

For some unknown reason, they didn't survive and there's no records as to what happened. The kids parents are supposed to investigate what went wrong, but they've done other things, too--like having children. Medie (Ben's mom, who is a chemist) created a way for the kids to behave like human children. For Ben, it was a drink. Parents of the other kids gave it to them, too, in other forms. For Carlos, it was a green tamale. For Grace, it was sushi rolls. For Serise, it was smoothies and mud masks she used at night.

Because Earth's core is unstable, a decision is made to evacuate. Plans are being made to leave, but those plans are interrupted by the arrival of a transport ship, accompanied by military escorts.

"Fierce-looking warriors" in heavy body armor arrive. They are the Royal Guard of Casmir, which is Carlos's tribe. They carry spears, and show no mercy when provoked. Their leader has a "macho swagger" (p. 307-308).

Another group of warriors materializes. These wear no armor and carry no weapons. They are Serise's tribe, the "Hayookaal." Their long black hair "blew in an invisible breeze" -- which signals their ability to control weather and climate on Earth (p. 308). They are very muscular.

Hmmm... the Latino and Native characters are from tribes known as exceptional warriors, even in another galaxy.

Grace's tribe arrives next. They look a lot like Serise's. They're "one of the oldest tribes in the known universe" and are the best linguists in this alliance. They've got a power, too, but do not speak of it publicly. Three other tribes materialize. As Ben wonders when his tribe will materialize, an explosion takes place, but it is the means by which his tribe arrives. They're the Xenobian Warrior caste, an "elite squad" who are "brilliant strategists."

As is clear, the kids in The Lost Tribes are from various tribes, which means the book qualifies as a "diverse" one. For me, however, the diversity must ring true.

The Native characters and their attributes are a mish-mash of several nations, and they're stereotypical, too. The use and misrepresentation of ceremonies that are sacred to the Navajo Nation is especially troubling. Also troubling is that the Kirkus review says there is a "lack of stereotyping" in the book.

These problems could be attributed to stereotypical material that the inhabitants from the other planets read---we all know there's plenty of that right now---but elsewhere in the story, they talk of how superior they are to humans. They've been watching and living amongst humans on earth for thousands of years, so it seems to me they'd know a lot about all the humans on earth and how they were treated by each other. That would include misrepresentations.

The problems in The Lost Tribes are such that I cannot recommend it.

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10. HOME by Carson Ellis

A lot--A LOT--of people are writing to me about a page in Home, the new book by Carson Ellis. Published in 2015 by Candlewick, here's the cover:



I draw your attention to the last image in the top row (a tipi) and the first image in the fourth row (an igloo). And... I sigh.

Once you start reading this picture book, you'll come to a page that says "Some homes are boats." But it isn't just a boat. No boat is just a boat, right? They have purpose.

On the facing page of the boat are three figures, partially clothed, standing in front of a structure, looking out at that boat as it approaches. The text is "Some homes are wigwams." That tells us that this particular boat is one on which--shall we say, Europeans--are aboard.

That boat has been their home for a while, but they're looking to build new homes. On Native lands. On the home lands that belong to those three figures standing by that wigwam.

I wonder if those thoughts occurred to Ellis as she did this part of the book?

I wonder if Ellis imagined, say, children of tribal nations on the East Coast as readers of her book?

While a lot of people are sighing with pleasure as they turn the pages of this book, lots of others are rolling their eyes. I'm among the latter. And all the Native and non-Native people who are writing to me? They're of the latter group, too.

Home  -- for its point of view -- is not recommended.

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11. AICL's Recommended/Not Recommended reads in 2014

I received a request from a person asking if I could write up a comprehensive list of books I read during 2014, with links to the page on which I wrote about the book. This isn't a list of books published in 2014. It is books I read in that year. Some are old, some are new. I'm bleary eyed from working on the list. I think it is complete but I may have missed some thing!

Some of you may look at the books on the Not Recommended list and say to yourself "Really?! You set a high bar!" or something like that. Keep in mind that I read within a larger context than just one book. John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, for example, has one passage about Native people. We could argue about its merit (as took place in the comments!) but I read such passages within a societal context that continues to publish books and media that misrepresent Native peoples. It isn't just one book. It is lots of little bits in lots of books. It adds up to a whole lot of misrepresentation.

Recommended




Not Recommended



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12. THE CASE FOR LOVING by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, but, what to do with what Jeter said about her identity?

New this year (2015) is The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko. Illustrations are by Alko and her husband, Sean Qualls.

The author's note tells us that Alko is a "white Jewish woman from Canada" and that Qualls is an "African-American man from New Jersey."

The story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving resonated with Alko and Qualls. Their case went before the United States Supreme Court in 1967. Here's the synopsis posted at Scholastic's website:

For most children these days it would come as a great shock to know that before 1967, they could not marry a person of a race different from their own. That was the year that the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loving v. Virginia.
This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state's laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents' love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court — and won!
The Loving case is of interest to me, too. We all ought to embrace its outcome. As the synopsis indicates, the story is about the love Jeter and Loving had for each other, and how, using the court system, laws against their desire to be married were struck down. We need to know that history. It is important. In her review in the New York Times, Katheryn Russell-Brown noted its strengths. She also said something I agree with:
Alko’s calm, fluid writing complements the simplicity of the Lovings’ wish — to be allowed to marry. Some of the wording, though, strikes a sour note. “Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn’t see differences,” she writes, suggesting, implausibly, that he did not notice Mildred’s race. After Mildred is identified as part black, part Cherokee, we are told that her race was less evident than her small size — that town folks mostly saw “how thin she was.” This language of colorblindness is at odds with a story about race. In fact, this story presents a wonderful chance to address the fact that noticing race is normal. It is treating people better or worse on the basis of that observation that is a problem.

As Russell-Brown noted, the "language of colorblindedness" doesn't work.  As a grad student in the 90s, I read research that found that the colorblind approach sent the opposite message to young children.

The Case for Loving also provides us with an opportunity to look at identity and claims to Native identity.

When I first learned that Alko and Qualls presented Mildred Jeter as part Cherokee (as shown in the image to the right), I started doing some research on her and the case. In some places I saw her described as Cherokee. In a few others, I saw her described as Cherokee and Rappahannock. That made me more intrigued! In the midst of that research, I also re-read Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name and really appreciate--and recommend it--for lots of reasons, including how Smith wrote about Black Indians.

I continued my research on Jeter and found a particularly comprehensive source: That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia by Arica L. Coleman. It was published in 2013. Coleman's book has a chapter about Jeter.

Drawing from magazines, newspapers and court documents of that time and more recently, too, Coleman describes the twists and turns that impacted Mildred Jeter's identity. Most crucial to her chapter is information Jeter gave to her.

Jeter did not identify herself as Black. In an interview on July 14, 2004, she told Coleman (p. 153):
"I am not Black. I have no Black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock." 

In The Case of Loving, we read about Mr. and Mrs. Loving going to Washington DC to get married, returning home to Virginia with their marriage license, and, being awoken late one night by the police who asked Richard what he was doing in bed with Jeter.

He pointed to their marriage certificate hanging on the wall.

The marriage certificate--an image of which is in Coleman's book--shows us columns for the male and female applying for the license. Here's the information in the female column:

Name: Mildred Delores Jeter
Color: Indian

She identified as Indian. In Central Point (that's the town they lived in), Coleman writes, there was a (page 161-162):
"racial hierarchy that granted social privileges to Whites, an honorary White privilege to Indians (i.e. access to White hospitals and the White only section of rail and street cars), and no social privilege to Blacks."
Isn't that fascinating? There's more. In 1870, Mildred's parents were listed on census records as mulatto. By 1930, they were identified as Negro. She was born in 1939. But, Coleman writes (p. 164):
The Jeter surname is also listed in the Rappahannock Tribe’s corporate charter (1974) as a tribal affiliate. Many claim, however, that the Jeters are descended from the Cherokee who allegedly began to intermarry with the Rappahannock during the late eighteenth century. According to one anonymous informant, “The situation regarding Indian identity in Caroline County is very complex. There was a time when many in the Rappahannock community believed that they were Cherokee because that was all they knew.” Neither Mildred nor her brother, Lewis Jeter, supported the claim that their father was Cherokee.
A 1997 article in the Free Lance-Star reports that she said she was Indian, with Portuguese and Black ancestry. In 2004 Coleman asked her about the Black ancestry, prefacing her question with a reference to the Rappahannock's historic association with Blacks, Jeter told Coleman that the Rappahannock's never had anything to do with Blacks.

That denial of Black ancestry is striking, particularly since the Supreme Court case was based on her being Black. If I understand Coleman's research, Jeter thought of herself as Indian when she married Loving. When their case went before the Supreme Court, she was regarded as Black. In the last years of her life, she said she was Indian. What was going on?

Her ACLU lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, and Virginia's Assistant Attorney General, Robert McIlwaine--needed her to be Black. Her Indian identity had the potential to derail the arguments they were putting forth.

See, there was an act in Virginia called the "Racial Integrity Act" that was intended to preserve the purity of the White race. In early drafts of that act, white meant a person having only Caucasian blood. But that definition was replaced by the "Pocahontas Exception." The Racial Integrity Act was passed in 1924.

When I read "Pocahontas Exception" --- well, I think it fair to say that my eyebrows shot up and that I leaned towards the screen (reading an e-copy of the book)! What is THAT?!

The Pocahontas Exception allowed Whites to claim to be white, as long as they had no more than 1/16 of the blood of an American Indian.

Chief Justice Earl Warren was presiding over the Loving case. Presumably, he knew about her Indian identity and therefore asked about the Pocahontas Exception. I hope I am correct in my reading of Coleman's research when I say that Warren let it go when he heard McIlwaine's reply to his questions. The law, McIlwaine argued, did not apply to this case because Virginia had two populations of significance to its legislature: a bit over 79% were white and a bit over 20% were colored; therefore, the number of Native people (at less than 1%) was insignificant. Moreover (p. 170):
It is a matter of record, agreed to by all counsel during the course of this litigation and in the brief that one of the appellants here is a white person within the definition of the Virginia law, the other appellant is a colored person within the definition of Virginia law. 
Significant/insignificant are my word choices. McIlwaine didn't use them and neither did Coleman. They are words that resonate with Native people because research studies on race typically have an asterisk rather than data for us, because relative to other demographics, we are deemed too small to count. Indeed, a group of Native scholars have written a book about some of this, titled Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education. 

With intricate detail, Coleman documents how the news media was hit-or-miss in terms of what reporters said about Jeter's race. One day it was "negro" and the next--in the same paper--it was "half negro, half Indian" and then later on, it was back to "negro." In the final analysis, Coleman writes, writers generally describe her as an "ordinary Black woman" (p. 173):

In The Case for Loving, Alko uses "part African-American, part Cherokee" but I suspect Jeter's family would object to what Alko said. As the 2004 interview indicates, Mildred Jeter Loving considered herself to be Rappahannock. Her family identifies as Rappahannock and denies any Black heritage. This, Coleman writes, may be due to politics within the Rappahannock tribe. A1995 amendment to its articles of incorporation states that stated (p. 166):
“Applicants possessing any Negro blood will not be admitted to membership. Any member marrying into the Negro race will automatically be admonished from membership in the Tribe.”
I'm not impugning Jeter or her family. It seems to me Mildred Jeter Loving was caught in some of the ugliest racial politics in the country. As I read Coleman's chapter and turn to the rest of her book, I am unsettled by that racial politics. In the final pages of the chapter, Coleman writes (p. 175):
Of course, Mildred had a right to self-identify as she wished and to have that right respected by others. Nevertheless, viewed within the historical context of Virginia in general and Central Point in particular, ironically, “the couple that rocked courts” may have inadvertently had more in common with their opponents than they realized. Mildred’s Indian identity as inscribed on her marriage certificate and her marriage to Richard, a White man, appears to have been more of an endorsement of the tenets of racial purity rather than a validation of White/ Black intermarriage as many have supposed.

Turning back to The Case for Loving, I pick it up and read it again, mentally replacing Cherokee with Rappahannock and holding all this racial politics in my head. It makes a difference.

At this moment, I don't know what it means for this picture book. One could argue that it provides children with an important story about history, but I can also imagine children looking back on it as they grow up and thinking that they were misinformed--not deliberately--but by those twists and turns in racial politics in the United States of America.

Updates to add relevant items shared by others:

Kara Stewart pointed me to a news story from a Virginia TV station:
Doctor's quest to engineer a 'master race' in the early 1900s still hurting Virginia Indian tribes 

Kara's comment prompted me to search for information on the Racial Integrity Act. I found that the Library of Virginia has a page about it.


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13. National Museum of the American Indian: Newsletter for Teachers

Anytime you're in Washington DC, I hope you visit the National Museum of the American Indian. I was part of our tribal delegation when it opened several years ago. My daughter and I carry warm memories of that day. It was powerful and affirming in so many ways. I've worked with several people there, as well as attending some of their webcasts.

Today I want to point you to their newsletter for teachers. Five issues are available online. Here's a screenshot of the most recent one (Winter 2015):



Back in 2009, I wrote about When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans that is featured in the newsletter for Winter 2015. In that second paragraph above, Renee Gorkey pointed to the selection criteria developed at the American Indian Library Association for its Youth Literature Award, a rubric for evaluating books, and my page of Best Books.

Visit the NMAI site and read the newsletters! In the current one, you'll see two more wonderful books on the first page: Sweetest Kulu and House of Purple Cedar. 

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14. Game developer: "I decided to prove her wrong"

In October of 2014, I wrote about an educational game called Kachina. It was still in development and being previewed at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). It, according to their website, is the oldest and largest conference of game developers. It has gone from "about 25 developers in the living room of a notable game designer 27 years ago, to a week-long conference for more than 23,000 industry insiders."

Earlier this month (March 2015), I read a fascinating article about that game developer and what he did in response to my review. The game was developed by Ben Esposito. At this year's conference, Esposito gave a presentation in the conference's "Failure Workshop." He noted that he'd read my post about his game and...

"I decided to prove her wrong. I would make the most authentic game. It would be heroic... I am quite embarrassed about this."
He goes on to tell about how--once he started doing research--he saw that he was wrong. Prior to that,
the depth of his research on the topic had been, well, liking the look of those [Kachina] dolls.
He told that story to a packed room. Early on, he stuck with the "Kachina" theme and
showed a series of screenshots showing some frankly awful ideas
and then started talking to professors of Indigenous cultures. Someone told him to talk to the Hopi tribe. So he did. And...
After talking to people of the tribe for a while, listening to them about their art and their stories, he had his apocalyptic moment. "They're people."
I realize that a lot of people will say "well, duh!" to that admission, but I appreciate his honesty and his sharing. He could have shelved the game and walked away to redesign a new game, but he made a different decision.

Ben Esposito 
shared what he learned 
with his colleagues. 
At a major conference. 
To a packed room. 
What he did is a model of 
what writers in children's and 
young adult literature can do. 

Here's the closing two paragraphs from the article, by John Walker. Walker's comments and response are also worth noting. Esposito and Walker's willingness to share their thinking is terrific:
I love Esposito’s story. I want to defend him, champion him for his good intentions, his benevolent desire to communicate something. And I struggle along to the same conclusions, that sometimes a story is not your story to tell. “If it’s really important to tell someone’s narrative,” he adds, “let them tell it.” If someone is not in a position to tell their story, maybe look at ways to help it get told. But don’t assume it’s yours to tell.
“When you get called out,” Esposito finished, “shut up and listen. Examine your position. Learn from them. Learn to shut up.”
I followed/follow the Gamer Gate conversations. This one is remarkably different. Read the comments to Walker's article. Reading and thinking about this inspired me to create a new label:

AICL Thanks You! 

AICL thanks Ben Esposito, John Walker, and organizers of the conference for creating the space for developers to share failures with each other. Failures provide learning opportunities. They can be embarrassing, too, as Esposito admitted, but don't we all have those moments? About something we're ignorant about? We've all been there. It is human. What we do once we know otherwise is key.

I wonder---might writer's conferences have a "Failure Workshop," too? Wouldn't that be cool?

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15. Open Letter to David Arnold, author of MOSQUITOLAND

Dear Mr. Arnold,

Thank you for responding to my critique of the "Cherokee" content in Mosquitoland.  No doubt, many people in children's literature are thinking well of you for what you said, but the conversation cannot end there.

With Mim and her "war paint," you--inadvertently--are doing what generations of Native people have fought against for hundreds of years.

Misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples are of such magnitude that, in 2008, the United Nations issued its Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There are studies of the harm that misrepresentations do to Native and non-Native youth. In 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a statement about stereotyping. Last year, the National Congress of American Indians issued a report on this matter (NCAI's first national campaign took place in 1968).

Yesterday (March 12 2015), I read the USA Today review of Mosquitoland. I trust you did, too. I hope you cringed at the lead. For those who didn't see the review, here's a screen capture of the opening lines:



See "slap on some war paint" in the first line of the review? That is what a major newspaper honed in on: "war paint' and how it can get you through the day. Let's look at what Mim does when she puts on her "war paint" (Kindle Locations 694-697):
I start with the left cheek, always. This habit is king, and it must be exactly the same, line for line. The first stroke is a two-sided arrow, the point of which touches the bridge of my nose. Then, a broad horizontal line across the forehead. The third stroke is an arrow on my right cheek, mirroring the first one. Next, a thick line down the middle of my face, from the top of my forehead to the bottom of my chin. And lastly, a dot inside both arrows.
Now let's look at the finished image, from the trailer for the book:



As you know, Mr. Arnold, people are praising Mosquitoland for its look at mental illness, medications, and Mim's perseverance.

Few people (in reviews or on social media), however, are talking about the stereotypical imagery you deployed for Mim's perseverance. That "war paint" gets her "through the day" (as the USA Today reporter said). Let's look at some of that "war paint" and how it is used to get fans through a game.

This is the mascot at Florida State:



This was the mascot at the University of Illinois. Though it is officially retired, fans continue to paint their faces in the ways that the mascot did:



Here's fans of the Cleveland baseball team:



Here's a fan of the Washington pro football team:



Those four individuals--and thousands of others--stood in front of a mirror, just like Mim did, and picked up the items they used for their "war paint" as they got ready to rally their team against a foe.

I suspect you had none of this in mind as you wrote those words above, describing how Mim puts on her "war paint" or when you and your fellow author (the woman portraying Mim) worked on the trailer. I watched that trailer on your website. It is gone from there, now. I hope you took it down in response to my review. If that is why you took it down, I think I'm right in saying (above) that I hope you cringed as you read what the USA Today reviewer said about war paint.

The question is: what to do now?

In my response to your comment, I suggested that you talk with editors and other writers about stereotyping. Looks like you ought to add others to that list, too. I realize this is awkward. How does an author say "this was probably not a good idea" without hurting the sales of your book? I'm well aware that my criticism leads people to buy the book to see what you did for themselves, thereby elevating its sales, which suggests to the industry that people want MORE books like it.

We definitely need more books about the mental health of young people, but not ones like Mosquitoland that add to the problems of Native people, who--like those with mental health--are misunderstood and denigrated in far too many places.

Given the widespread praise of your book and the fact that you've sold your second book already, I think you actually have a secure platform from which to educate others about the problems in using tribal peoples as you did. You're getting requests for interviews; please use those interviews to educate your readers. I read that there is a possibility for Mosquitoland to become a movie. Please use whatever power you have to keep that stereotyping out of the script.

This, Mr. Arnold, is an opportunity to educate others.

Sincerely,
Debbie






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16. David Arnold's Cherokee protagonist in MOSQUITOLAND

Some weeks ago, I saw a screencapture (that's it to the right) from the video trailer for David Arnold's Mosquitoland. In it, his protagonist, Mim (her given name is Mary), is putting on her "war paint."

About one third of the way into the book, we learn that Mim thinks of herself as Cherokee. Her mom, we learn, is the source of her Cherokee identity. In a letter to her aunt Isabel, Mim tells Isabel that her mom told her to (Kindle Location 1161)*:
“Have a vision, Mary, unclouded by fear.”
That, we read, is an old Cherokee proverb (Kindle Locations 1163-1164):
that her mom told her, and hers before that, and so on and so forth, all the way back to the original Cherokee woman who coined the phrase.
An old Cherokee proverb? Where, I wondered, did the author find that proverb? Why, and what, does he know about Cherokees? I did a search and found "Have a vision not clouded by fear" on several websites of "inspirational stories" and books of that genre. I've traced it to A Cherokee Feast of Days: Daily Meditations by Joyce Sequichie Hifler. She attributes the proverb to "a Cherokee leader." The title suggests that the meditations are Cherokee but some of them are from people of other tribal nations. Sometimes Hifler includes that nation, sometimes she doesn't. Did Arnold read Hifler's book, I wonder? Or did he find it elsewhere? If you're reading this, Mr. Arnold, please let us know.

Mim tells Isabel (in the letter) that she's so proud of her Cherokee heritage that she (Kindle Location 1166-1170):
started lying about the degree of Cherokee blood in my veins. I was something like one-sixteenth, but honestly, who wasn’t, right? So I claimed one quarter. It just sounded more legit. I was young, still in middle school, so I went with it the way kids that age do. The more admiration this garnered from teachers and friends, the closer I felt to my ancient ancestry, my kinswomen, my tribe. But the truth will out, as they say. In my case, this outing took on the sound of my mother’s unending laughter in the face of my principal, when he told her the school was going to present me with a plaque of merit at the next pep rally: the Native American Achievement Award. 
There's a lot to unpack in that passage. Mim clearly knows something about blood quantum, and "who wasn't, right?" tells us that she knows that a lot of people say they're Cherokee. So, she thinks it sounds "more legit" if she says she's "one quarter" rather than "one-sixteenth." That tells us that she is not knowledgeable about Cherokee citizenship. On the Cherokee Nation website's page about citizenship, the very first line is this:
Cherokee Nation citizenship does not require a specific blood quantum.
Because her mom laughed at the principal when he wanted to present Mim with the Native American Achievement Award, my guess is that neither Mim or her mom know anything at all about citizenship or Cherokees, either. That Mim would feel close to her "ancient ancestry" suggests to me that she is operating with a romantic idea of "Cherokee" identity. She could have said Ojibwe. Or, Pueblo. The tribe itself doesn't matter. And why did her mom laugh? Was she laughing at the principal for thinking Mim had done something worthy of an award? Or was she laughing that the principal believed Mim's claim of one-quarter Cherokee blood?

Mim continues in her letter (Kindle Locations 1171-1173):
Needless to say, I never received the award. But even today, there are times— most notably when I wear my war paint— when I really feel that Cherokee blood coursing through my veins, no matter its percentage of purity. So from whatever minutia of my heart that pumps authentic Cherokee blood, I pass this phrase along to you: have a vision, unclouded by fear.
Why did she not get the award? Her words tell us that she makes a connection between Cherokee blood and that phrase.  Cherokee blood and courage go together. Or as I said earlier, the Cherokee part doesn't matter. It could be a different tribe.

Mim's letter continues (Kindle Locations 1174-1175):
Not sure what made me think of all this Cherokee stuff. Maybe it’s the plethora of cowboy hats and boots I’ve seen today. Politically correct? Probably not. BUT I’M ONE-SIXTEENTH CHEROKEE, SO SUCK IT.
I assume her "politically correct" question is there for someone who would say 'hold on there' to all that she's shared about her Cherokee identity. She seems to be wondering if what she shared is/is not "politically correct" but the capitalized text tells us that because she is 1/16 Cherokee, she can say whatever she wants. She closes her letter to Isabel by sharing another "Cherokee proverb" (Kindle Locations 1177-1178):
When you were born, you cried while the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries while you rejoice.
I found that "proverb" in Who Will Cry When You Die by Robin Sharma. In that book, it is described as being an "Ancient Sanskrit saying." Sharma also describes it as something his father said to him. I don't find the phrase anywhere as something said by a Cherokee. So again, I wonder where David Arnold found that phrase?

Mim signs her letter as "Chieftess Iris Malone." Later, she calls herself a "War-Crazed Cherokee Chieftess." And then towards the end of the book she's in her mother's bedroom. She picks up the lipstick and wonders (Kindle Locations 3397-3403):
What would it be like if she walked in the room right now? If she found me painting my face like some politically incorrect Cherokee chieftess? What would I tell her? The truth, I hope. That in my longing for originality and relational honesty and a hundred other I-don’t-know-whats, this action, while strange and socially awkward, makes more sense than just about anything else in my world. And even though it’s cryptic and more than a little odd, sometimes cryptic and odd are better than lying down for the Man. Maybe I would tell her how the war paint helped get me through a time when I felt like no one else cared about what I wanted, or who I was. Maybe I could muster the courage to speak those words so few people are able to say: I don’t know why I do the things I do. It’s like that sometimes.
Mim knows that what she's been doing with the lipstick is not ok. She tells us that the war paint she does is cryptic and odd, but that it has helped her when she felt alone. Does the strength she gains from doing that justify it?

As I write, Arnold's Mosquitoland is listed as a bestseller in three categories at Amazon: Marriage and Divorce (in the teen category and the children's books category, too) and it is listed in the #2 spot for Depression & Mental Illness.

No doubt, its publisher, editor, and author are delighted. I would love to join them in that delight, but I can't. Arnold's book is touching the hearts of many readers, but it is also adding to, or affirming their misunderstandings of who Cherokee people are. Or, maybe they recognize that the Cherokee parts are not ok but they see something of themselves in Mim, so they're willing to look away from the Cherokee parts.

It is troubling to me that, in a book about young people who struggle with mental health, people are willing to look away from the problematic Cherokee parts in Mosquitoland. Would they do that if they knew that Native youth commit suicide at higher rates than any other group in the country? I am not saying books like Mosquitoland that misrepresent Native life are causes of suicide, but surely, misrepresentations don't help anyone feel good about themselves, do they?

In an interview about his book, the reporter asked him about criticism "from at least one Native American on Twitter" about the war paint. I assume the reporter had my earlier critique in mind. Arnold says that the criticism kept him up at night, but that he stands by the book, "for many reasons." Those reasons aren't included in the interview. He also says that:
"...in this broader conversation about diversity in literature, as a straight, white male, oftentimes it's going to be my role to sit down, to be quiet, to listen and to learn. If there are things I can learn from people I've offended, that's exactly what I want to do. I want to be a better writer and I want to be a more sensitive human. I'm completely willing to have these conversations, for sure. Mim makes a lot of questionable decisions, but across the board I felt the need to be completely authentic to her character."
What he says about being willing to have conversations is puzzling to me. On January 26, I tweeted at him:


I also tweeted this:



Soon after I sent those tweets, I was asked if he'd replied to me. I went to his Twitter page and saw this:



The tiny print says "You are blocked from following @roofbeam and viewing @roofbeam's Tweets." I was surprised. Why did he do that? Was it my use of "WTF" in that second tweet? Or, was it that there were two tweets? Or three? A couple of days later, I read @donalynbooks tweet (she praised Mosquitoland) and I tweeted at her (and Arnold), asking her if she had any thoughts on the warpaint in the book. She didn't reply.

I posted my initial post on Mosquitoland to my Facebook wall. Here's a sampling of the comments.

A Native poet said:
That "warpaint" idea is kind of appalling and creeped me out.
A Cherokee writer/storyteller said:
Sigh. Just once I wish they would pick on someone else!
A Cherokee librarian wrote:
slowly bangs head against desktop...
A Cherokee writer said:
Part Cherokee, huh? Which part?

I think any of those individuals, in addition to myself, would be interested in having that conversation you referenced in the interview, Mr. Arnold. I can't tweet this to you (because I'm blocked) but I trust that someone will share this post with you.

_________________

*I used the cut/paste option in Kindle for excerpts I used in this post. Each time I did it, an automatic citation was generated. Here is the citation: Arnold, David (2015-03-03). Mosquitoland. Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle Edition.



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17. Seed beads, Indian Camps, and Black Indians in Cynthia Leitich Smith's RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME

A request for a blurb about a favorite book with a Native teen character prompted me to re-read Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name. I've recommended it several times, here on AICL and elsewhere, but I haven't done an in-depth review essay about it yet.

Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. "Citizen" means that she is amongst the people the Muscogee Nation counts as a citizen. Their page on Citizenship has a lot of useful information.

A lot of people don't know that each Native Nation has its own way of determining who its citizens or tribal members are. A lot of people claim they're Native but don't know what Nation. For them, it is more of a romantic idea based on a family story about an ancestor who someone in their family said was Indian. Often, that ancestor was "a princess." A common experience for me--indeed, for a lot of Native people--is the well-meaning person who approaches me at a lecture (or online) and tells me they are part Indian. If they reference an Indian princess, I--as gently as I can--tell them there was no such thing, that the idea itself is rooted in European's who erroneously viewed Native peoples with a European lens in which royalty was the rule. There's a lot to read about Native identity. I suggest Eva Marie Garroutte's Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America. 

Quick! What comes to mind when you hear "American Indian" or "Native American"? Chances are, the image you have is one of Native peoples of the past, not present. And, that image in your mind is likely one that reflects a stereotype, not reality, in terms of who we were and who we are. Smith's book can interrupt that stereotypical imagery. Set in the present--not the past--it is a terrific story.

Let's take a look, together, at some parts of it that stand out to me.

The Subtle

Cassidy Rain Berghoff is the main character in Rain Is Not My Indian Name. When the story opens, it is New Year's Eve. Rain is minutes away from being 14. She's out with Galen--a childhood friend--but they're tentatively moving from friendship to a romantic relationship. He's got a birthday gift for her: a pouch that she immediately recognizes (p. 6):
I remembered seeing it last June, displayed on a Lakota trader's table at a powwow in Oklahoma City. Aunt Georgia had taken Galen and me on a road trip to visit family, and he had trailed after me down crowded aisle after aisle.
Later that day at the powwow, Galen had gone off to get popcorn, but clearly--he'd been observing Rain as they walked down those aisles and seen her linger over that pouch. Sweet! In her description of that pouch, Smith tells us it has seed beads. Most readers probably won't notice that detail, but Native ones do! There's a huge difference in a pouch made by a Lakota person and one you'd buy at a tourist shop that sells "Indian" beaded items. The one with seed beads is exquisite. The one from the tourist shop is tacky. Rain knows the difference; Native readers of Rain Is Not My Indian Name will know the difference, too.

After Rain and Galen say goodnight and head for their homes, Galen is struck by a car and dies on his way home. Rain learns about it the next morning (her birthday). The phone rings, waking her. She stretches, beneath her star quilt. She's devastated when her grandpa tells her about Galen. Of course, she doesn't say more about the quilt, but it is another point that Native readers will notice. Star quilts figure prominently in Native culture. Here's one (to the right) made by a dear friend, Chantelle Blue Arm.

I chose this one (Chantelle has done many) because she titled it Cotton Candy. In the moments before Galen gives Rain the pouch, she thinks back to second grade field trip when Galen had persuaded her to leave the group with him in search of turquoise cotton candy.


The Explicit

Understandably, Galen's death is a blow to Rain. She pretty much retreats from life for six months, which moves the story to the end of June. Her aunt, Georgia, is coordinating an Indian Camp. Her brother, Fynn, has been hinting that he wants her to sign up for it (p. 12):
But Indian Camp? It sounded like the kind of thing where a bunch of probably suburban, probably rich, probably white kids tromped around a woodsy park, calling themselves "princesses," "braves," or "guides."
My guess is that many of you--especially if you are regular readers of AICL--are nodding your head. Indian-themed camps are a mainstay of American culture that feed stereotypes! Rain's aunt, however, is not doing a camp for white kids. This one is for Native kids. Rain speculates that her aunt is thinking about what Native kids learn in school (p. 13):
At school, the subject of Native Americans pretty much comes up just around Turkey Day, like those cardboard cutouts of the Pilgrims and the pumpkins and the squash taped to the windows at McDonald's. And the so-called Indians always look like bogeymen on the prairie, windblown cover boys selling paperback romances, or baby-faced refugees from the world of Precious Moments. I usually get through it by reading sci-fi fanzines behind my textbooks until we move on to Kwanza.
Rain's got some attitude--and I love it!

See the baby-faced refugee to the right?! Rain is obviously indignant at having to deal with this sort of thing year after year.

She has a way to cope, but let's step into reality for a moment. Native kids in today's schools have to deal with this every year. Why should they have to deal with that at all?!

What Rain did was check out. She disengaged. I'm using "disengaged" deliberately. The word is in a 2010 report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, about Native youth and their experiences in school.


And the complexities of African American and American Indian history

Now let's take a look at a racial issue Rain struggles with.

The character, Queenie, is African American. Prior to the time of the story, Rain and Queenie were good friends. That started to shift when Rain learned that Galen and Queenie were interested in each other, romantically. In one of her journal entries (they open each chapter), Rain recounts a conversation she and Galen had about dating African Americans (p. 28):
Galen's bangs fell forward: "Would you go out with a black person?" he asked.
Somewhere in my memory, I'd been told it was okay to be friends with black people, but not more than friends. "I guess," I answered. "Worried about your mom?"
Later (but still in the time before the story opens), Rain and Queenie's friendship ends when Rain learns that Queenie has hurt Galen.

Rain ends up going to Indian Camp--not as a participant--but as a journalist. Her assignment is to take photos of the camp for a news story about the camp.  She is surprised to see Queenie there. The reporter, Flash, asks Queenie a question (p. 69):
"What brings you here?"
Queenie squared her shoulders and asked, "Don't you mean 'Why is an African-American girl at a Native American program?"
"Sure," the Flash answered, pen perched, "that's exactly what I meant."
The three Native kids at the camp and Rain observe this interaction, which suggests they have the same--but unspoken--question (p. 70):
Queenie spoke clearly, like she wanted to make sure the Flash didn't misquote her--like she'd have a lot to say about it if he did. "My aunt Suzanne has been tracing our family tree for the reunion next month at her place in Miami," she explained, "and, come to find out, one of my great-grandfathers was a Native American."
The word cousin sneaked onto my tongue, and I didn't like the way it tasted. As if stealing Galen hadn't been enough, now Queenie was barging in on my cultural territory. Granted, she was no guru-seeking, crystal-wearing, long-lost descendent of an Indian "princess," but still... 
Then, Flash asks her (p. 70):
"What tribe, Nation, or band?" 
We'll come to find out that Queenie's great grandfather was Seminole. The Black Indian thread in Rain Is Not My Indian Name is important. It speaks to Black readers with similar family stories, but it does so with integrity. Rain could so easily have been dismissive of Queenie, but Smith went elsewhere, smoothly describing what-to-do with that family story: research. Queenie's aunt is doing research.

More and more stories about Black Indians are appearing in the news media and taken up in museums and documentaries. Read, for example, Gyasi Ross's Black History Month, Indian Style: Natives and Black Folks in This Together Since 1492. See, too, the National Museum of the American Indian's exhibition, Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.

All of this makes the Black Indian thread in Smith's book especially important in today's society.

Coming out this year (2015) are two books in which writers take on Black Indians. I read--and love--Gone Crazy in Alabama--by Rita Williams Garcia. I'm waiting for the published copy to review it.

Already out is The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. I haven't read it yet, but what I can see online indicates that Mildred Jeter is identified as "part African-American, part Cherokee."

In my initial research about Jeter, I saw her described as Cherokee, but I also saw her described as Rappahannock. In my second round of research, I read a chapter about her in That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia by Arica L. Coleman, an assistant professor in Black Studies at the University of Delaware. I'll say this for now: in that chapter, Coleman chronicles the way that race and racial identity are put forth, used, and manipulated by the justice system and the media. It is astonishing.

~~~~~

I opened this post by noting that someone's question prompted me to re-read Rain Is Not My Indian Name. I read it when it came out in 2001. It won Smith distinction from Wordcraft Circle as one of 2001 Writers of the Year in Children's Prose.

That same year, Smith wrote an article for Book Links that offers incredible insights about developing Rain and Queenie, and about insider/outsider perspective. It is online at ALA: Native Now: Contemporary Indian Stories. In 2011, Smith wrote a reflection on the books tenth anniversary: 10th Anniversary of Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

Rereading it now--14 years after I first read it--I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone about Rain Is Not My Indian Name. If you don't already have it on your shelves, get a copy and read it. And share it. It is exquisite and has something in it for every reader.

Updating to include books I'll use as I research this topic more:

  • Chang, David. The Color of the Land
  • Forbes, Jack. Africans & Native Americans
  • Krauthamer, Barbara. Black Slaves, Indian Masters
  • Littlefield, Daniel. The Cherokee Freedmen; Africans & Creeks; Africans & Seminoles
  • Miles, Tiya. Ties that Bind
  • Miles, Tiya and Sharon Patricia Holland (Eds). Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: Diaspora in Indian Country
  • Naylor, Celia. Africans and Cherokees
  • Purdue, Theda. Slavery & the Evolution of Society
  • Saunt, Claudio. Black White & Indian


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18. CAMP CREEPY (NANCY DREW AND THE CLUE CREW) by Carolyn Keene and Macky Pamintuan

A teacher wrote to me, asking for books about Taos Pueblo. I know about Clark's Little Boy With Three Names but haven't read it yet, so went looking to see what is out there.

No surprise that I found a lot of older books with hostile and savage Indians, but I also found Camp Creepy in the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series. As of this writing (Feb 23 2015) there are 41 books in this series of books for children in elementary grades.

Here's the synopsis from the Simon and Schuster website:

In Camp Creepy, the girls take a school trip to Taos, New Mexico! A classmate’s uncle has opened a new camp and the kids of River Heights Elementary are invited to come test it out. But when a series of mysterious incidents ruin Nancy’s art project, Nancy thinks something eerie is at work. Could she have upset the Taos Indian spirits? 

At that website, you can read chapter one. It opens with this:
"And the team with the winning Native American model gets to spend the weeklong break at a camp in northern New Mexico!" Mrs. Ramirez announced. "In keeping with the spirit of the Native Americans, whatever you use must come from items around your house. This is a green competition."
Though the idea that Native peoples waste(d) nothing is what we might call a positive value attributed to Native peoples, it is also part of the romantic stereotyping that is all too common. On the next page, I like the first part of this excerpt:
"If we want to win this competition, we'll obviously have to focus on just one group of Native Americans," George said with a grin. "The Taos Indians. I saw a documentary about them last night on TV. I know all about their culture."
Focusing on just one group is a plus, but...

The back cover of the book says that the crew builds a model of Taos Pueblo, but before they can enter it in the contest, it is destroyed. The text there asks:
Have the girls angered the Taos Indian spirits by building the model, or is the thread something closer to home?
It isn't enough to name one group (in this case Taos) but then attribute stereotypical attributes (waste nothing) and "Indian spirits" to that group. Maybe a parallel will help make this clear. Most people know that the "ditzy blonde" is a stereotype. If an author gave that blonde a name but still used ditzy and similar attributes to describe her, that would not be ok. Where that parallel doesn't work is that most people have blonde friends or colleagues, whose very presence in their lives shows them the fallacy of the dumb blonde stereotype. In contrast, most people don't have Native friends and colleagues who would be able to counter Native stereotyping.

The local library has a copy of this book. I'll try to get over there, read it, and update this post. But--based on what I've seen so far, I can't recommend it.




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19. Stereotypes in Wilder's THE LONG WINTER

Earlier today, I saw a post on Facebook in which a person said, of Wilder's The Long Winter, "this is the only book that can put what's happening in Boston in perspective. It could be worse, wicked worse."

The woman who wrote that post must think she's being clever, comparing the blizzard in Boston to the one in The Long Winter. 

If you care about accuracy in how Native peoples are depicted, or if you care about how derogatory depictions of Native people impact the growing minds of Native and non-Native children, then I think we'd agree that it is long past time to set aside that series.

Because of their status and 
place of nostalgia in the minds 
of so many Americans, 
few books for children are as wicked 
as those in the Little House on the Prairie series.


Ah---you say, 'there were Indians in The Long Winter?'

Yes. The chapter called "Indian Warning" has a very old Indian man in it. Here's from page 61:
"Heap big snow come," this Indian said.
As he gestured, the blanket he is wearing slides off his shoulder and his "naked brown arm" came out. He continues:
"Heap big snow, big wind," he said.
Pa asks him how long, and of course he says "Many moons" and holds up four, and then three fingers that mean seven months of blizzards.
"You white men," he said. "I tell-um you."
On page 186, the wind grows louder and louder. It reminds Laura of the "Indian war whoops" when Indians were doing "war dances" by the Verdigris River when she was younger.

See what I mean? Stereotypes. Set it aside.




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20. Going to Hawaii Association of School Librarians Spring Conference!

Dear HASL Librarians,

I am looking forward to spending time with you at your spring conference!

I've been working on my remarks. If there is anything in particular you want to ask me ahead of time, please do!

See you soon,
Debbie





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21. CCBC Statistics for 2014: Books by/about American Indians

Today (Feb 18, 2015), the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, released statistics for books they received in 2014. For AICL, I focus on data specific to American Indians.

Important to note!

This is raw data and does not address quality of books. It also does not represent all books in any given year that have Native characters or content. A good example is Little House on the Prairie. In 2010, that book was reissued with colorized images inside. It has a Native character and a great deal of Native content, but I doubt that its publisher sent it to CCBC as a "book about American Indians." And even if they had, CCBC staff may have determined the character and content were not significant enough for it to be listed as a book about American Indians.

I am very glad to have CCBC's data each year. There is much to do with it. For now, here's the data, from 2002 through 2014. Once I have the book list for 2014, I'll do some analysis similar to what I did in 2013.


Some things I want to know: Who are the authors/illustrators of those 17 books written or illustrated by American Indians? In past years, a single author (Joseph Bruchac) has published more than one book.

Still, last year the number was 18, and this year it is 17. That is significant. It is the only two-year-period in which we see consistency, and it is also the highest number(s) overall. Numbers for next year will be interesting. Will we stay up at that number? Or will it skew down again?

It is also important to note that, for 2013 and 2014, we see that approximately half the books CCBC received were written or illustrated by Native people. I like that!

And of course, the numbers for 2002 and 2003 stick out (74 and 95, respectively). I need to find that list and see if I can figure out why they were so high then.

Please share your observations, calculations, etc.

Update, 3:42, Feb 18, 2015

CCBC tweeted out a chart that I want to share here, too. The chart, as you see, covers the various groups for whom CCBC keeps data. This is an especially helpful chart. Such charts should show growth over time. That is clearly not the case and is a strong indicator of work that must be done.





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22. Some context for "Are we doing it white" at Read Roger

I participated in the "Are we doing it white?" conversation at Read Roger (Roger Sutton's blog at Horn Book; Sutton is the executive editor at Horn Book; The Horn Book is highly regarded in children's literature). His 'we' is white people and the 'it' is reviewing. He references a conversation he had with librarian Nina Lindsay in which she asked if it is time to "shake up our standards" in reviewing.

At one point in the 'Are we doing it white' conversation, Roger said he would love to have more reviewers at Horn Book that aren't white, and that he is "intensely devoted" to "getting out information about cultural diversity--who's out there, what's out there, and what's NOT out there" (see his comment at 12:28).  I reviewed for Horn Book in the 1990s.

I responded (at 1:56) with this:

Question for Roger:
Remember when you decided it was inappropriate for me to use the word stereotype to characterize a kid playing Indian? You decided to give the review to someone else. Later, in a review of a nonfiction book about California missions, I said the author was ignoring new research on the missions, and that review got reassigned, too.
Those were terse moments for me. I was furious. All the power was yours, and it dictated what I could or could not say as a HB reviewer. Because of those two experiences, it was not hard for me to decide to move on and focus on my dissertation. I think if you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have left.
Would it be different if I submitted those reviews today?

His reply (at 2:29):

Debbie, how could I forget? ;-) Actually, i *do* forget what happened with the book about the missions but remember the playing-Indian question very well. In this book, THE BIRTHDAY BEAR, two contemporary white children and their grandfather, among other activities, put on fake headdresses and pretend to be Indians.
In regard to your review of this book, nothing would be different today. You criticized it not for inaccuracy or stereotyping but because the characters in the book engaged in an activity you found objectionable. We can’t knock a book because we morally disapprove of its fictional characters’ actions. What I said then I’ll say now: I take the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights very seriously, and I believe “materials should not be proscribed because of doctrinal or partisan disapproval” with all my heart.

I haven't been able to find the review I submitted (it was written and submitted in the 1990s). I'll keep looking. Perhaps there is one in Horn Book's files. I probably gave it a 6 in my overall rating, which is "unacceptable in style, content, and/or illustration."

I wrote an article based on the rejection of that review. It includes some of the emails that were exchanged by me and Roger.

If you'd like to get a more in-depth look, I'm sharing the article as a pdf: Contesting Ideology in Children's Book Reviewing. It was published in 2000 in a Studies in American Indian Literatures, the journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures.

As readers of AICL know, I don't recommend books where kids are playing Indian. They invariably do that in a stereotypical way. During the time I was reviewing for Horn Book, they were sending me books with Native content because they believed I had the expertise to review those books. In the case of The Birthday Bear, Roger also felt that it should not have been sent to me because the kids playing Indian was "peripheral" to the story. It may have been to him, but it wasn't peripheral to me.

As the article and the on-going discussion at Read Roger show, neither Roger or myself have shifted in our views on this particular incident.

Roger titled his post "Are we doing it white?"

My answer to Roger?

Yes, you are. Indeed, you do it with glee, as evident in your reply to Sarah Park Dahlen (see his comment at 3:37) where you say that you "happily recommended" a book in which kids are playing Indian.

Please read the conversation at Are we doing it white. I appreciate the personal notes of support I've received, and I especially appreciate the work we're all doing to push back on the power structures that use that power to affirm the status quo. We're all doing it for young people who read. What they read matters.

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23. Pamela Penza's review of Tricia Stirling's WHEN MY HEART WAS WICKED

Last year, Pamela Penza wrote to me about Nick Lake's There Will Be Lies. Pam is a young adult librarian and blogs at Pamelibrarian. I read her review of There Will Be Lies at Goodreads and then got a copy of the book and eventually posted my review.

A few weeks ago, I met Pam in person at ALA. Here we are:



Earlier today, Pam tweeted frustration with an Indian Princess in a book she reviewed. I asked her for details and she pointed me to her review. I read her review, and decided to share part of it here, with the intent of telling you that you ought to follow Pam's blog. I'm very glad she's noting problematic content like that in There Will Be Lies, and today, in Tricia Stirling's When My Heart Was Wicked. Here's an excerpt of Pam's review, but DO GO READ all that she says. And check out the book covers she inserted at the bottom of her review. Such comparisons are fascinating.

Here's an excerpt of Pamela Penza's review of Tricia Stirling's When My Heart Was Wicked:

Lacy's also into science, which is pretty cool.  She loves chemistry and how equations make the world work.  Interestingly, she also believes in magic and casting spells, and is somewhat of an herbalist.  She gathers herbs by the stream and reminisces about the magical things she could have learned from the Maidu people.  Here's a wonderfully romanticized quote:
"Over two hundred years ago, the Maidu Indians lived right here along this creek in their houses made of bark.  I think about them, the Maidu, and how much they knew about the natural world.  Soap plant and sweet Indian potatoes, deer grass and yerba santa.  They were immune to poison oak, so they cooked their bread in the leaves and wove the branches of the poison oak into baskets ... I wish a real live Maidu woman would come out of the bushes and teach me.  We'd weave a basket to carry sorrow for all the old ways that are gone, and then another one to carry hope."
Well, my face is bruised from slamming my hands into it in frustration so many times.  I am by no means an expert on indigenous peoples of California, or Maidu culture, or any of that, but it's just that fairy tale "wheeee magical Indians" concept that really grates on me...  

Saying again, DO GO READ all that Pam wrote about the book.  There's a lot to say about When My Heart Was Wicked. 



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24. Books Not Yet Read/Reviewed at AICL

With this post, I'm pointing to a list of books I started on Google Drive. It is an effort to keep track of all that is out there, by Native and non-Native writers and illustrators. The list has columns for author(s), author's Native Nation, illustrator(s), illustrator's Native Nation, book title, publisher, year of publication, and date added to list. The far right column is where I'll add the date if/when the book is reviewed here at AICL.

You'll probably look at it and be surprised that, for example, there is no review at AICL of Bruchac's Children of the Longhouse. The reality? Not enough time to read everything and write it up.

These are books that have 1) not been received at AICL, or that 2) have not been reviewed at AICL. Please read over the list. If you know of a book(s) I should add there, please let me know. Here's the link:

Books Not Yet Read/Reviewed at American Indians in Children's Literature

If you download the list for your own purposes, please credit me (Debbie Reese) for your use of the list. If you are interested in helping me build the list, let me know (dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com)! It is a huge undertaking and I'd love some help.

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25. A BOOK OF AMERICANS by Rosemary Benet and Stephen Vincent Benet

Woah!

That is my thought as I sat down to share some photos of pages from Rosemary Benet and Stephen Vincent Benet's A Book of Americans. I have no memory of how it came to be in my house. I probably got it at a yard sale or used book store.

Anyway--it came out in 1933 from Farrar and Rinehart. As I flipped through it, I thought it'd be an interesting blog post, so I took some photos. You'll understand why I wanted to share them. They are not the reason for the "Woah!" at the top of this post.

Here's the end papers as you open the book:



Here's the first page of the table of contents:



Here's the page on Crazy Horse:



Here's some of that text from the Crazy Horse page:

The Indians of the Wild West
We found were hard to tame,
For they seemed really quite possessed
To keep their ways the same.
They liked to hunt, they liked to fight,
And (this I grieve to say)
They could not see the white man's right
To take their land away.

Now. Why did I start this post with "Woah!"?

Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.

I'm gonna say that again. Louder.

Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.

I can (mostly) ignore the customer reviews at Amazon ("Delightful." and "Excellent.") and of course, there's a lot to say about the illustrations and the poems, too...

But the idea that Henry Holt reissued it in 1987 floors me. Why did Henry Holt do that?! Why?



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