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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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Right now, in my social media networks, private and public conversations are taking place. People are--to put it mildly--objecting to what Michaela MacColl has written in The Lost Ones. It purports to be a story about two Native children who ended up at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and is told from the perspective of the girl, Casita.
MacColl's book is due out in October of 2016 from Calkins Creek, which is an imprint of Highlights. It is in their "Hidden Histories" series, which begs a question. Who is this history "hidden" from? The Lost Ones is being marketed as one in which MacColl (she isn't Native) and her publisher, are doing A Good Thing. They are Saving Native People and our history from being hidden.
I wonder, though, is MacColl the right person to write and tell this story? The two children in the book were real children. Does MacColl have what she needs to tell this very delicate story, with the integrity the children deserve?
My short answer is no. The promotional language for the book echoes what I found in the story, too. With The Lost Ones, we have a story about Good White People Doing Good Things for Native Kids. Yuck.
The Author's Note
People may argue that MacColl did her homework. In the Author's Note, she says that she reached out to "Richard Gonzales, Vice Chairman of the Lipan Band of Texas." He met with her and in that meeting, suggested she talk with Daniel Romero, who is "Chairman of the Lipan Band of Texas."
Sounds legit, right? Here's the thing, reviewers and editors, and writers, too! It can be very hard to determine if your sources are ok.
I wonder if MacColl knows, for example, that this "Lipan Band of Texas" is not recognized by the federal government, or the State of Texas, either. The one recognized by the State of Texas is the Lipan Tribe of Texas. See the difference? The first says "Band" and the second says "Tribe." Does that matter? I think so. I may return to that later.
For now, let's read more in the Author's Note.
In the first paragraph in the section titled "Lipan Apache or Ndé," MacColl writes that she uses Ndé in the story rather than Apache, because Ndé is what Casita would have used. That's right, but as I read the story, I saw one instance after another in which MacColl's outsider status was glaring. Using Ndé instead of Apache is an easy "fix" in a manuscript. All one needs to do is use those nifty word processing features that let you replace one word with another, in one fell swoop. I don't think MacColl did that, but when I read Casita thinking of Changing Woman as a goddess, I can't help but see MacColl's use of Ndé as superficial. Here's why.
MacColl uses an outsider word ("occupied") when she says, on page 236, that "Lipan Apache occupied southeastern Texas and northern Mexico." How does a people (in this case, Apaches) "occupy" their own homeland?
In the next paragraph, she writes that the Lipans conducted raids and often killed Texas settlers. She tells us that they "caused an estimated $48,000,000 worth of property damage (measured in today's dollars)" over a ten year period (p. 237). Most people reading this paragraph will be taken aback by that $48,000,000 of property damage. Sympathies will be with the White settlers. Where, I wonder, is her estimate of what the Lipans lost?
MacColl tells us that she's veered from the historical record as follows:
- Casita and her little brother, Jack, were taken captive in 1877, but there's no record of it, so she uses details from an 1873 event in which the 4th Calvary went into Mexico, destroyed several villages, and took 40 captives.
- Casita and Jack were taken in by "a military man and his wife, Lt. Charles and Mollie Smith" (p. 239) who traveled from base to base during the three years they had Casita and Jack with them, but for the story she chose to tell, MacColl kept the Smith's (and Casita and Jack) at Fort Clark.
- Because so little is known about Mollie Smith, MacColl created her as a Quaker interested in social justice, and writes that in her story "Mollie takes in two Indian children, despite the disapproval of her military husband, to prove the Quaker theory that the Indians can be tamed with kindness" (p. 239).
Quite honestly--I blanched when I read "tamed with kindness." This is in the Author's Note, where MacColl could discredit the "tamed with kindness" theory (I haven't looked it up), but she didn't. She lets it stand. The back cover tells us the book will be promoted at educational and library conferences, which means they plan to pitch it as something teachers can use to teach kids about these two children. As written, the note suggests that Native peoples needed to be tamed.
One could argue that the story itself is more important than the dates of when the children were captured, but would we make that argument about, say, a fictional work about Abraham Lincoln? I think not. And though the Author's Note tells us what MacColl did in writing the story, the language throughout the Note and the story itself, are ones that affirm and confirm a White perspective on Native peoples. In the note, MacColl wonders if Casita ever got to "perform" her "Changing Woman dance." Her use of "perform" is wrong. Our rituals are not performances. We wouldn't say that a girl performed her First Holy Communion, right? It is the same thing.The Story
I finished reading The Lost Ones
last night. As I read, I stuck tabs on pages. My copy has a lot of tags in it, see? I ran out of tabs, or you'd see more. (The different colored tabs mean nothing.)
Some of the tabs point to the places where the text reads "Changing Woman Goddess" or "the Goddess." One of them points to a part where Casita thinks "It seemed impossible that any ritual could really give someone as ordinary as herself magical powers" (p. 21). Because she is captured, Casita doesn't go through the ceremony. It is a recurring plot point in the story and is where the story ends, too, when Casita is at Carlisle. In the final chapter, a Lakota girl named Eyota is sick. The Lipan kids decide they can replicate the Changing Woman ceremony so that Casita can heal Eyota. The ceremony is described, in detail. That, I assume, is why the promotional material characterizes the story as one in which Casita tries to hold on to her Lipan Apache traditions. But there are problems with all of this! Neither "goddess" or "magical power" are appropriate! Remember in the author note, MacColl wrote about using Ndé because that is what Casita would use? I seriously doubt that Casita or her mother would use "goddess" or "magical power" and I strongly believe that the Lipan Apache people, today, would not be okay with the description of the ceremony. See, for example, a proclamation issued by the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas
that speaks specifically to ceremonies being done by the Lipan Apache Band.
On page 27 when Casita's village is being attacked and she sees her mom standing defiantly with an axe, Casita "hollered a war cry" and "felt a thrill of pride; this was what it was to be Ndé!" MacColl, thru Casita, tells readers that fighting is what being Ndé is about?! That is definitely an outsider characterization!
On page 38, Casita "asked Usen, the chief of all the spirits, to bless this place" (the burnt village and bodies of her mother and others who were killed in the attack). I've never seen "chief of all spirits" used by Native people...
I could say a lot more about the book, but will stop. It is deeply flawed.
The book includes a two-page Afterword from Daniel Castro Romero. I wonder if he read the entire manuscript? Is he ok with the story that MacColl created? Did he think it okay, for example, for her to create Ndé women who use the word "goddess"? I hope not. But, as noted above, he's the Chairman of the Lipan Band, which is doing the ceremonies that the Lipan Tribe's proclamation is about. I think that MacColl was on a slippery slope from the very start. She wanted to do something good but there was far too much potential for this story to fail. And, for me, it did.
A reader wrote yesterday to ask if I've seen that The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend
by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin is being released in February of 2017, as a Young Readers edition.
The book became a best seller for Simon & Schuster. There's a critical review of it at Indian Country Today
that I urge you to read. I wonder if Kate Waters (she's doing the young readers edition) or her editor at Simon and Schuster read that review?
The review's title captures the problems with the book: The Heart of Everything That Isn't: the Untold Story of Anti-Indianism in Drury and Clavin's Book on Red Cloud
and links to a review by Tim Tiago, too.
If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review.
Last year, people were very excited about Julie Murphy's Dumplin. It is one of the books that, by word of mouth, I figured I would want to read sometime. Here's the synopsis:
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
Last week, Jeanne, who I follow on Twitter, wrote that she was reading the book and had gotten to the page with "spirit animal" on it. The line is "Oh my God," says El. "I think you might be my spirit animal." It is at the bottom of page 361:
Some twitter conversations began. Today, Julie Murphy says, at her Tumblr page
, that she's talked with her editor and the phrase will not be in future printings of the book. I wrote about "spirit animal" in 2014
when I saw it on Buzzfeed--and in Neal Shusterman's Unwind
series. Murphy's use is one that is easy enough to revise. Same was true with taking "totem pole" out of Out of Darkness
. But Shusterman... he'd have to do a lot of rewriting... Plus, that series is loaded with problems
Thanks, Julie Murphy and Alessandra Balzer (she's Murphy's editor), for hearing and responding to the concerns. Julie has, with her Tumblr post, been very public about the change. I trust that Alessandra Balzer will carry this understanding with her to future projects and that she, too, will initiative conversations about appropriation with her editor peers. I wonder, for example, if she knows who edited One Little Two Little Three Little Children...
Julie Murphy's decision is another model for those who have learned that something in their book(s) is problematic. Change is possible, as Julie Murphy learned.
Back in 2014, I began to receive emails from Aaron Carapella, asking me to promote his Tribal Nations Maps. I took a look and found problems with it. Carapella saw my review and sent me a revision to that portion of the map. But--it still has problems. Because Carapella launched a go-fund-me page to solicit funds to distribute the maps to schools, I'm back with this 2nd look at his map.
In 2014, Carapella posted links in many places, including the Native American and American Indian Issues group on Facebook. It immediately drew a great deal of conversation. Many people looked at the maps and found problems. Carapella was resistant to their comments. Some are speakers of their own languages and told him he'd made errors in how he represented their specific nations, but he told them that he knew the right names, and that they were wrong. That discussion is gone. (If you're on Facebook, you know that you can delete one of your posts and the entire thread of comments will be deleted, too.)
This is what Carapella said when he launched his project in 2014:
This map presents every documented, known Native American tribe that was here in pre-contact time, before the arrival of Europeans. All of the tribal nations documented here are in their original locations before the European Invasion affected their movement and displacement. Most of the names of tribes are in their own language, and are not the names given to them either by the invading Europeans or even other tribes. For example, we correctly use the name Numinu for what most Americans would call the Comanche Nation. The Sioux are referred to here in their own language as the Lakota. Unfortunately, many of the tribes here are indeed listed by their given name. Their original names were lost in the War against the Indians which left many tribes numberless, or forced remnant bands to amalgamate into larger, stronger tribes. We seek here to honor those hundreds of tribal nations who existed in their respective territories for millennia unscathed until the encroachment of Europeans. This is a tribute to all of those forgotten tribes whose names had been lost to the wind, but who live in the hearts and minds of modern-day Native Americans who managed to survive the largest full-scale holocaust in Man's history. We also honor the Indigenous Nations of this land by giving them ownership of their own names for themselves.
That paragraph has since been revised. Currently on his website, Carapella states:
Here you will find the most comprehensive maps of pre-contact and at-contact Native North America to date. These maps use Tribal Nation’s original indigenous names for themselves, and show where Tribes were just before contact with outsiders . The intent of these maps is to instill pride in Native peoples and to be used as teaching tools from a Native perspective. These maps are part of my Tribal Nations Map series-which cover the Nations indigenous to the “United States,”, “Canada”, "Mexico" , "Central America", "South America" and “Alaska." Your purchase supports multiple upcoming maps. I credit the many hundreds of Cultural directors, elders, educators and linguists that have helped me centralize these names onto one visual display.
In my review in 2014, I focused on the Pueblo Indian Nations portion of the map. I'm doing that again, because that portion of the map, like the description of the project, has been revised. This review is arranged based on what Carapella said the maps would do.
Carapella said that his map would show Native Nations and where they were located pre-contact with Europeans. Sounds good, right? But--I'm asking you to look and think critically about that goal. Right now there are over 200 federally recognized nations in the US (not counting Alaska). There were a lot more, pre-contact. How, I wondered, was Carapella going to show the locations of those 200+ federally recognized nations in the hundreds and thousands of years prior to contact, or "at contact"? We didn't all come into contact with Europeans at the same time.
Let's hone in on an example.
The place my nation (Nambé O-Ween-Gé) is at right now is where we've been since the early part of the 14th century. If you go back further in time, we were somewhere else. I'm talking about places like Bandelier, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon... (you might know those places as where the "Anasazi" people lived, but they are now--correctly--identified as ancestral homes of today's Pueblo Indians). On his map, Carapella chose to show us at our current locations, which is fine, but that decision points to a difficulty in the framework for the project. How do you convey thousands of nations in thousands of locations over thousands of years on a single map? How do you tell students which point in time a location on a map represents? That isn't unimportant data. It is vitally important.
Second, Carapella said that his maps would include nations that he called "numberless" which, he tells us, means ones that no longer exist. How, I wondered in 2014, would his map distinguish between those "numberless" ones and those that are currently recognized as sovereign nations?
As a Pueblo Indian woman enrolled at Nambe, I know there are nineteen sovereign Pueblo Indian nations in New Mexico right now. There were more, pre-contact. I know the names of some of them. I think it is important to know about them, but it is also important to know they aren't among the nineteen sovereign nations who have nation-to-nation negotiations--today--with the US government. Children in New Mexico should know the names of the nineteen Pueblo Indian nations, and all children should learn about us as we are, today, rather than the tragic and romantic content they learn that confines us to the past. This map shows the nineteen Pueblo Indian nations of New Mexico:
When I reviewed the Pueblo portion of his map in 2014, Carapella read my review and wrote to me to say he'd revise it. Last year, he sent me a screen capture of revisions he'd made. He asked me to update my review, but the revisions are just as bad as the original, so, I didn't revisit my older review.
Here's the screen cap he sent me. It has way more than nineteen. The first map didn't have all of those on there. That makes this one "more comprehensive" but also more confusing!
Here, I have inserted arrows to show you the "numberless" ones that aren't part of the nineteen:
In some instances, Carapella has made a different kind of error. He correctly lists A:shiwi (Zuni) but beside it he also lists Matsaki, Hawiku, and Halona, but they're villages that are part of A:shiwi. In my earlier review, I wrote that my own village ought to be listed as Nambé O-Ween-Gé, and pointed him to our tribal seal. But as you see above, he chose to use "Nambe Owingeh" instead.
Third, Carapella said his map would provide the names the nations used for themselves, rather than the ones outsiders used for them. That, too, is ambitious for many reasons. How did he find out those names? He tells us he made phone calls and visited people, but he doesn't name any names. His credit is a blanket one which tells us nothing. Because of our nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. government, you can find a list of the 567 nations, which includes, superceded names (in parenthesis). It would be interesting for librarians/teachers to download that pdf and do some comparisons. How do the nations request they be listed? Does that match with what Carapella did?
As critical users of information, one of the things we do--and teach students to do--is to ask about the sources for information we're given. Carapella doesn't name his sources for the map, but he provides a "Resource List of Books/Movies/Websites" that he recommends. It, however, has The Education of Little Tree on it. That's a huge problem! That book has been soundly discredited for its content and because its author was faking an identity ("Forrest Carter" is actually Asa Carter--speechwriter for George Wallace--and a member of the KKK, too). In short? The revisions to Aaron Carapella's Tribal Nations map of North America are not an improvement. The map is still flawed and, as such, I do not recommend it.
Louise Erdrich's Makoons
came out a few days ago. On August 13th, I took a look at Amazon, and saw that it was their #1 New Release
in their Children's Native American Books
Erdrich is Ojibwe. The characters in her story are, too, which makes Makoons
and the other books in the Birchbark House series an #ownvoices book (the #ownvoices hashtag was created by Corinne Dyuvis
I love the series. I read the first one, Birchbark House,
when it came out in 1999.Birchbark House
began in 1866 when we met Omakayas, a baby girl whose "first step was a hop" (page 5 of Birchbark House
). Omakayas is an Ojibwe word that means Little Frog. Makoons
is the 5th book in the Birckbark House series. In the 4th one, Chickadee
, we met Omakayas as an adult with twin sons, Chickadee, and Makoons. I've got Makoons
open and started reading it, but after reading the prologue, I'm pausing to remember the other books and characters. The books and the characters in them live in my head and heart for many reasons.
When my daughter was in third grade, her reading group started out with Caddie Woodlawn
but abandoned it because of its problematic depictions of Native people. The book they read instead? Birchbark House
. One of their favorite scenes from the book is when Omakayas has gone to visit Old Tallow to get a pair of scissors and has her encounter with a mama bear and her bear cubs. Indeed, they wrote a script and performed that chapter for their class (and of course, parents!). My daughter played the part of Omakayas. The prop she made for their performance is the scissors in their red beaded pouch. I've got them stored away for safekeeping. They represent my little girl speaking up about problematic depictions.
Chickadee is captured in Chickadee
. The story of his capture and his return is what Chickadee
is about. Makoons was devastated by that capture. The worry over his brother makes him sick. That sickness is where Makoons
opens. In the prologue, Makoons is recovering as he listens to Chickadee sing to him. They spend hours together. Makoons remembers, and tells Chickadee about, a vision he had while sick. Their family will not return to their homeland. They're going to be strong and learn to live on the Plains but they will, Makoons tells Chickadee tearfully, be tested. The two boys are going to have to save their family... but won't be able to save them all.
A gripping and heartbreaking moment, for me, as I start reading Makoons
. I'll be back.
Last year, Ashley Hope Perez's Out of Darkness
got a lot of buzz in my networks. Here's the synopsis:
"This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?"
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
I got a copy and started reading. Then, I got to page 98 and paused at "I'm a low man on the totem pole." Prior to that reading, I'd had very limited--but positive--interactions with Ashley. So, I wrote to her about that line. Was it possible, I wondered, to take out or revise that one line in the next printing? Ashley wrote back, saying that she'd try.
Well... Ashley talked with her editor, and when the next printing was done, the line was changed. Ashley created a photo showing the change and shared it on social media, and she referenced our conversation. With her permission, I'm sharing her photo here:
I was--and am--gripped by, and deeply moved by the story she tells in Out of Darkness.
It got starred reviews and went on to win awards. With that change ("Nah, I'm a low man on the totem pole" was replaced with "Nah, no suck luck.", I can enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend it.
Here's my heartfelt thank you to Ashley for hearing my concern. For not being defensive. For not saying "but..." or any of the things people say instead of "ok." And of course, a shout out to her editor, Andrew Karre, and her publisher, Carolrhoda, for making the change.Out of Darkness
doesn't have any Native content. I'm recommending it because it is an excellent story, and because it is an example of what is possible when people speak up and others hear what they say.
Is Out of Darkness
in your library yet? If not, order it today.
A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker's Multicultural Storytime Magic. Published in 2012 by ALA Editions, here's the description:
Storytime audiences grow ever more diverse, and it s important that the materials used in programs reflect that richness of experience. Multiculturalism need not be an occasional initiative attached to particular holidays. In this book best-selling authors MacMillan and Kirker offer a new paradigm for multicultural programs, one in which diversity is woven into any and every storytime, no matter what the topic. Arranged thematically around dozens of popular storytime themes, the authors
- Present original and traditional resources from all over the world that will enrich storytimes for ages 2 through 5
- Offer concrete book recommendations, fingerplays, and other activities that can be integrated into existing storytimes
With numerous activities and programming suggestions, this book will seamlessly integrate and enhance cultural awareness for children all year round.
- Include download links for flannelboard and stick puppet patterns, and illustrations of American Sign Language signs
On ALA Edition's website, they've provided some of the worksheets for activities in the book. Here's a screen capture of the top half of one page for the "House for Me" guessing game:
This is not ok! I am guessing that the editor at ALA Editions who worked on MacMillan and Kirker's book, and MacMillan and Kirker, too, assumed that using an award winning book--Mary Ann Hoberman's A House Is a House for Me
--seemed a good choice, but it isn't. It wasn't ok in 1978 when Hoberman's book came out, and it sure as heck isn't ok for it to be in a resource book published by ALA Editions in 2012, either.A House is A House for Me
is set in the present day. It shows children in a tree house (which is generally considered something for children to play in), or a cardboard box (which is also considered something for children to play in), beneath a beach umbrella or a table, or in a snow house made on a snowy day. There's a castle for a duchess and one for a king, too. All the other "houses" are for insects, animals, or other items ("a sandwich is a home for some ham").
As the worksheet suggests, there's one other category of houses:
If you haven't been reading articles about the ways that Native Americans are depicted in children's books, that page might seem fine to you. It isn't. For decades, people have written about the problems in using igloo's and tipi's to represent Native peoples. They are real things and are in use by some people today but Hoberman's book moves the time frame to present day. Certainly some Plains Indians use their tipi's today as a home, but most live in houses and use their tipi's for gatherings. Not all Eskimo's today or ever, lived in igloo's. Their use is specific to a geographical location and, in many cases, purpose.
"A pueblo's a house for a Hopi." That is a bit clunky. I have a traditional adobe home. It is not attached to others in the village like the one in Hoberman's book, but some pueblo people live in those villages in some of the pueblos. That sentence could be improved if she wrote "A pueblo's a house for Hopis." Plural. As is, it tells us that the entire village houses one Hopi.
The wigwam for a Mohee? That's not ok. Who are the Mohee? I don't know. Do you? I can find "Mohee" in several sources about a folksong, My Little Mohee. I also find a bit of info
about it in a book titled The Lasting of the Mohicans.
But really: there is no tribal nation that I know of that is called the Mohee.
Another way to think about this page is the one put forth by Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw in Lessons From Turtle Island
(which I highly recommend, by the way). They wrote:
Non-Native children often believe that all American Indian people live in tipis. There is a reason for this erroneous idea. Books, cartoons, and movies typically show all Native people living in the past, most often in the tipi, the traditional abode for the plains Nations. For example, What Can You Do With a Pocket? (Merriam 1964) shows generic Indians in front of tipis. Some teachers try to counter this by studying the historic abodes of various Native Nations. Few teachers or books, however, show the homes of Native peoples today. Books such as A House Is a House for Me (Hoberman 1978), still being sold in bookstores as of this writing, continue to lock Native peoples in houses of the past (p. 13):
An igloo's a house for an Eskimo.This stanza is clearly an attempt on the author's part to reflect the diversity of Native Nations, and perhaps to counter the prevalent image that all Native peoples traditional lived in tipis. However, the attempt is flawed because the author portrays Native peoples in the past and not in the present. A House Is a House for Me is a clear example of how a well-meant effort to diversity curriculum can go badly astray if all the factors are not considered.
A tepee's a house for a Cree.
A pueblo's a house for a Hopi.
And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.
A third way to think about that page is this: why is there only a page about Native homes? Where's the pages about the kinds of houses that other peoples lived in? I hasten to add that I'm not advocating for those pages, because they'll just do what the one on Native houses does: tell children that a particular group lives in a house that is unlike the ones that children see as the norm. In other words, adding those pages would make other groups exotic, too, and cast them into time frame that may not reflect the houses they live in today.
Last, most of the structures the kids are shown in are places of play, of imagination. It is a bit jarring to think of the Native homes in that framework.
I have no doubt that everyone involved in the making of A House Is a House for Me
and Multicultural Storytime Magic
had good intentions, but it gets tiring to talk about good intentions, again and again.
When "good intentions" is our default, we're doing a disservice to the children who are on the receiving end of those good intentions, and we are likely contributing to the likelihood that we'll see other books that do the same thing. We saw that very thing, in fact, last year, in Home
by Carson Ellis. See what Sam Bloom at Reading While White said about Home
and see what I said
We can do better, right?
It has been a landmark year in children's literature. I don't mean the calendar year of 2016. I mean the year marked by August 4th, 2015 and August 4th, 2016, where depictions of African Americans in two picture books and one young adult novel were the subject of conversations that prompted responses from their creators, editors, or publishers.
This timeline is just the key moments. Elsewhere I've curated links to discussions of A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Edith Campbell has links to discussions of When We Was Fierce.
August 4th, 2015
Elisa Gall, librarian, posted her concerns about problems in A Fine Dessert.
November 1st, 2015
Emily Jenkins, the author of A Fine Dessert issued an apology.
January 4, 2016
Vicky Smith, editor at Kirkus, pointed to the forthcoming A Birthday Cake for George Washington.
January 17, 2016
Scholastic, publisher of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, announced they were stopping the distribution of the book and that people could get a refund for it if they'd already purchased it.
July 21, 2016
KT Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, gave a lecture in School Library Journal's summer course designed to increase their reviewers skills in recognizing problematic depictions. In it she spoke at length about When We Was Fierce.
August 4th, 2016
Kelly, an editor at Book Riot, tweeted that she'd received an email from Candlewick (publisher of When We Was Fierce) indicating that the book, scheduled for release on August 9th, was being postponed.
I attribute this year to the power of social media. With its many platforms for reaching a wider audience than was possible before, more people are reading, listening--or rather, hearing--and responding. I hope this marks lasting change. We've been here before, many times. In the 1960s, for example, the people at the Council on Interracial Books for Children, pushed publishers very hard. What we've seen in this past year, however, is unprecedented, and I believe it speaks to the power of speaking back to misrepresentations.
A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Tony Daniel's The Dragon Hammer. Here's excerpts from the review from Publisher's Weekly. In the excerpt I've highlighted a passage...
Beast-men, bitter feuds, and battles are just some of the elements in this epic coming-of-age fantasy, set in an alternate North America populated by Viking-like settlements, Romans who practice blood magic, and mythical creatures. and
First in the Wulf Saga, the story is a kitchen sink of fantasy tropes, with elves and gnomes existing alongside animal-human hybrids (who replace a native population in a regrettable worldbuilding decision), and a vaguely explained mythology involving stars and dragons.Reviews indicate the story is set in the Shenandoah Valley. Shenandoah is a Native word. I assume the author needed some words in order to make this story identifiable as one in "an alternative North America."
I wonder if Daniel or his editor saw the Publisher's Weekly review? I'm glad their reviewer questioned that worldbuilding! I'm questioning it, too!
The Dragon Hammer was released on July 5, 2016, by Baen, which is part of Simon and Schuster. Here's the synopsis:
Evil from the dawn of time is on the verge of domination—but Wulf von Dunstig figured none of that mattered to him. What could he do about it? After all, he was basically nobody—the sixteen-year-old third son of a duke destined for an uneventful life as a ranger. But when destiny comes calling, it turns out there is only Wulf to answer. After a devastating invasion of his native land, Wulf must rally the peaceful valley of Shenandoah. He must free his family and his land from the grip of intruders controlled by vampiric evil.Wulf's "native land" is being invaded? I agree with Publisher's Weekly. This story sounds regrettable.
In children's and YA literature, we know that comics and graphic novels are a growth area. We know that there's momentum, too, to provide children and teens with work by Native people and people of color.
With that in mind, I hope that representatives from large and small publishers will head to Albuquerque in November of this year for Indigenous Comic Con.
The list of special guests includes people who are very popular in Native circles. That means their work resonates with Native people, which means their work is legit. People within the industry who pay attention know that we love the 1491s
! And, Arigon Starr
! They are among the special guests for the conference.
Indigenous Comic Con is being organized by Native Realities
publishing. People often ask me to recommend a publisher who they can count on for authentic and accurate books about Native peoples. I'm usually hesitant to recommend one because some who publish books that I recommend also publish books that I find problematic. Native Realities is the one exception. So far, I haven't seen anything from them that is problematic.
Lee Francis is a key figure at Native Realities, and a leader in the comic book genre. He, and the work he does, was featured on PBS News Hour in 2015. Here's an excerpt:
Most (all?) publishers tell us they want diverse voices. With this post, I'm looking at publishers and editors who proclaim their interest in Native voices. Indigenous Comic Con is an opportunity to meet Native writers and bring their work into greater visibility. Register (get your tickets).
An early-bird three-day pass is $45. Look at all the things you can do while there!
Attend Indigenous Comic Con. Get to know Native people there who are creating terrific comic books, videos, and games.
John Smelcer's Stealing Indians is due out in August of this year (2016) from Leapfrog Press. Having read it, I'll start by saying that I do not recommend it.
Scholars who study boarding schools for Native children report that there was a wide range of experiences at the schools. Those who write about it take care in what they say about the schools. Today, they touch our lives, through the stories we hear from our elders, or from our own experiences in them, or from what we lost because of them.
Here's the opening preface to Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, published in 2006, edited by Cliffford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc (Kindle Locations 30-36):
The American Indian boarding school experience left an indelible mark on the history of the United States and Canada, and only recently have we tried to understand the significance of the schools in the lives of students, teachers, administrators, and Indian communities. Perhaps we have waited so long for this scholarly examination because of the difficulties involved in addressing the dramatic impact of the boarding schools on the lives of so many people. For some American Indian students, the pain they suffered inhibits our intrusion into their lives. For other students, their boarding school days were filled with fond memories, sometimes mixed with melancholy, sometimes with humor. Understanding the many and varied levels of the boarding school experience is a complex business. No single interpretation of this experience exists today or ever will. Native American students and their parents viewed the schools in many different ways. Oral and written accounts by Indian students and non-Indians involved at the schools are extremely diverse. Historian Tsianina Lomawaima recently wrote to the editors that "part of that message, importantly, has been that the schools were not monolithically destructive or successful in their assimilative goals, but the harsh reality is-for some people, they were."
A key point in that excerpt is the diversity of experience. Given their long history and existence today, how could it be otherwise? Some were in Canada, some were in the U.S. There were/are "off reservation" boarding schools, and there were/are day schools on reservations, too. When they were in elementary school, my parents went to the day school on their respective reservations. Then they went to Santa Fe Indian School, where they met in the 1950s. Because of the stories they told me and the reading I've done, I know experiences varied widely by time and place.
Children in the US are not generally taught about the schools. Because some teachers use children's books to bring history into the classroom, it is crucial that the information conveyed in those books be accurate.
As noted above, I cannot recommend Smelcer's Stealing Indians
As my notes show, accuracy is an issue. Another is the lack of specificity of the character's respective nations. As regular readers of AICL know, I think it is important that writers be tribally specific (telling readers a character's tribal nation, within the story or in an Author's Note) because that specificity increases knowledge that can push back on the monolithic or stereotypical imagery that is far too prevalent in today's society.
Here's the synopsis for Stealing Indians
Four Indian teenagers are kidnapped from different regions, their lives immutably changed by an institution designed to eradicate their identity. And no matter what their home, their stories are representative of every story, every stolen life. So far from home, without family to protect them, only their friendship helps them endure. This is a work of fiction. Every word is true.
Smelcer's book is set in the 1950s and is located in the United States. Below are my notes and comments as I read his book:
is about the four teenagers and how they were taken from their homes.Lucy Secondchief
is 13 years old. She's thinking about her father, who's been dead for four years. Specifically, she's thinking about the day of his burial, when some people brought food to their house, but others came to collect old debts. The latter took two rifles, a stack of lumber, the entire sled dog team, and the sled, too. That night, the sky was filled with the northern lights, which Lucy has been taught to fear because they are "a bad omen" and "a malevolent force that comes down to carry people away" (p. 18). Rather than stay inside she walks into a field. The lights drop down and surround her. People in the village watch in disbelief. Dogs howl and cower. Lucy starts to laugh aloud.Debbie's comments: What is Lucy's tribal affiliation? We aren't told. Because of the northern lights and the sled dog/team, we can assume she's meant to be Alaskan Native, but which one? There are over 200. Amongst them, there are over 20 different languages. And of course, a diversity with regard to how they view the northern lights. Do some think they're a malevolent force? Maybe so, but it isn't likely they all feel that way. Lack of tribal specificity, then, has consequences for additional information we're given.
One day, a "tall-roofed black car" pulled into Lucy's driveway. Two men get out of it, approach Lucy's mother, and hand her a paper. Lucy's mother can't read, but (p. 22):
[S]he knew what the document said. Every Indian parent knew what it said. All across the country, Indian families were given the same piece of paper, which proclaimed the end to families. The paper was the law. It was the government's authority to steal Indian children from their families and send them far from their homes and villages. The law was for the sake of the children, a ticket to a better life free from the burdens of poverty and ignorance. The paper was the law that sent them to Kansas, Oregon, the Dakotas, California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania--anywhere far enough away so that they would forget what it means to be Indian.
The men grab Lucy, drag her to the car, push her into the backseat and close the door. There are no door handles on the inside.My comments: I've found nothing about tall-roofed black cars that were used to pick up and remove Native children from their homes. As far as I am able to determine (via print/electronic sources or through emails with colleagues in Native studies/law), there was no law like that. The boarding schools were designed to wipe out Native identity in students but there was no law written down on a piece of paper that was handed to families in the 1950s. I have not found evidence of such papers prior to the 1950s either. I did find something specific to removing Native children from their homes without the consent of their parents, guardians or next of kin, dated June 21, 1906, but it is about reform school, not boarding school:
25 USC § 302. Indian Reform School; rules and regulations; consent of parents to placing youth in reform school
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is authorized and directed to select and designate some one of the schools or other institution herein specifically provided for as an “Indian Reform School”, and to make all needful rules and regulations for its conduct, and the placing of Indian youth therein: Provided, That the appropriation for collection and transportation, and so forth, of pupils, and the specific appropriation for such school so selected shall be available for its support and maintenance: Provided further, That the consent of parents, guardians, or next of kin shall not be required to place Indian youth in said school.Many coercive measures were used to get parents to send their children to the schools. It is possible that two men in Alaska were using a paper like that, but it isn't plausible. It is more dramatic to present these removals with that piece of paper, but that isn't accurate, and is information that would have to be unlearned at some point. There's no reason, in my view, to add to the body of misinformation that already exists. Simon Lone Fight
is 14 years old. He lives in an "arid desert" (p. 22) of canyons, arroyos, buttes, and mesas. His parents were killed when he was 13. He is passed from "one cramped house of poverty to another" (p. 24). One of those homes is with his grandparents. One day, Simon sees a "black, high-roofed automobile" (p. 25) arriving at their house. Hiding behind the outhouse, Simon watches two white men get out of the car, briefcase in hand, and approach his grandfather. They argue, and then go into the house. Simon, a runner, takes off. That happens three more times that month. One day, his grandparents offer him ice cream if he'll go to town with them and help them sell hay. Instead of going into town, however, they pull off at the train station. Simon thinks they're going to load the hay onto a train. The train arrives, and Simon doesn't hear or see the black car. The two white men grab him. His grandfather watches and tells him "You must go to school. It's the law." He is put on the train.My comments: There's that "law" again. As noted above, I have found no evidence of a law or piece of paper presented to parents. Use of "one cramped house of poverty to another" sounds like an outsider's observations rather than those of Simon or his relatives, and the way Simon was taken doesn't ring true. Noah Boyscout
is also 14 years old. He's out hunting in a snowy landscape. Uneasy when he sees something in the distance, "the young Indian" (p. 28) checks to see how many bullets he has. As he heads home he thinks about how, as a "half-breed" he's an outcast and that he feels more at home in the forest with animals than he does with people. His mother isn't Native and doesn't like the stories he tells her of his interactions with animals: a fox lets him pet it, and a baby moose lays its head on his hip and naps, and he speaks raven and grouse. The thing he saw in the distance turns out to be one of several wolves who are pursuing him. He is afraid of them, ponders shooting them, but figures out that they're really after the dead rabbits he has in his pack. He throws the rabbits at them and makes his way on home to their cabin where there's a "tall black car" (p. 33) in the driveway. When he goes inside, a man in a black business suit and hat greets him. His mother starts crying and runs to the bedroom. There are photographs and papers on the table. The man tells Noah he has to go away, to a school for Indian boys and girls. The story jumps to the next character, Elijah.My comments: I think the snowy landscape and Noah's parka and snowshoes place him in Alaska, but as with Lucy, we aren't given a specific tribe. The use of "the young Indian" tells us he's Native but I find that phrase jarring. It objectifies him and sounds more like an outsider's description than an insider voice. There's that tall black car again and reference to papers, one of which I assume is that "law" that Lucy's and Simon's parents are talking about. The story immediately moves to the next character.Elijah High Horse
is with his cousin, Johnny Big Jim. They're in the woods, camping. With his hunting rifle Elijah shoots at a deer that Johnny can't see. Both are 14. "They were Indians" (p. 35). Time spent in the woods was sacred, "a time to be what their grandfathers had been long ago" (p. 35). The next day they visit their grandfather. Elijah tells him about the deer that Johnny couldn't see, and his grandfather, "an old chief" (p. 37), tells him that when he was a baby being baptized, his nose started bleeding when the holy water touched him. They knew, by that bleeding nose, that Elijah would be a shaman one day, if he was strong enough not to be used up by spirits he would eventually start to see. Later, "the two young Indians" (p. 39) sit by a fire, and Elijah tells Johnny he's also seen a white buffalo. A week later, Elijah's dad drives him to the train station, hands him a suitcase and a paper bag with fried chicken, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and two apples (p. 39):
Johnny was there to say goodbye. He wasn't going. The government had already taken two of his older brothers and a sister. He was allowed to stay. Not all Indian children were taken from their homes. That would have been unnecessary and, practically speaking, impossible. Neither the available room nor the funding would allow it. The government's goal could be achieved by taking only some, similar to the way the government didn't draft every young man from large families into military service during the war against the Nazis and the Japanese, over for only a few years.
Johnny waves goodbye, his father shuffles off, and "The young Indian" (p. 40) got on the train.My comments: Again, we don't know what Elijah's tribal nation is, but the mention of the white buffalo suggests he's Lakota. That part about his nose bleeding sounds more like a horror movie than anything else. Elijah, in Christian stories, was a prophet. It strikes me as odd that this boy's family would name this infant--who they believe will be a "shaman"--by the name of a prophet whose holy water causes that nosebleed. And that part about Johnny being able to stay strikes me as an inconsistency. Remember--according to this "law," everyone has to go. Here, now, we have a different scenario. Does that "law" delineate exceptions for a 4th child in any given family?CHAPTER TWO
is about the four teens and their experiences on their way to Wellington (fictitious name of the boarding school).Lucy.
After many hours on a narrow, winding highway, the car Lucy is in arrives at a diner where she has french fries, and then a few hours later they arrive at a bus station where she is given a bus ticket. She rubs the red welts on her wrists, but we don't know why those welts are there. She's told that the bus driver will know where she has to get off. She has nothing other than the clothes she is wearing (no jacket). In the morning when she re-boards the bus after a stop, there's a new rider on the bus: Noah.My comments: In the "Questions for Discussion" at the end of the book, item #4 is about a pair of handcuffs at the museum at Haskell Indian Nations University. I assume the author meant to include a passage about Lucy being handcuffed, hence the red welts, but it isn't there.
. Noah invites Lucy to sit with him. He offers her an apple. The bus travels hundreds of miles, south. They tell each other about their families. Late that day the driver tells them they have to get on another bus. They can sit and wait for it, but "the Indians" (p. 46) are tired of sitting and walk around the town. A pack of mongrel dogs come out of an abandoned warehouse and run at them. Lucy is afraid but Noah kneels, holds out a hand, and speaks to them. They drop to their bellies and let Noah pet them. After awhile he stands, points to the warehouse, and tells them to go home. The dogs go off, behind the building. "The two young Indians" (p. 47) return to the station, board their next bus and ride all night and much of the next day.Simon.
On the train, Simon heads northeast, knowing it will take two days to get to the town named on his ticket. With no food, he's hungry but "The Indian" (p. 49) goes to the dining car and grabs leftover food from empty tables. The next morning he sees "an Indian boy" (p. 50) has gotten on the train, too. It is Elijah, who leans toward Simon and asks his name.Elijah.
Elijah and Simon start to talk and learn they're going to the same place. Neither remembers the name of the school but talk about the photographs they saw of the iron arched gateway. Simon learns that Elijah had been on the train for a day and a half longer than he had and he's hungry because he's eaten up all the food his dad had given him. Together they go to the dining car, grab some leftovers, eat and that night, play card games. The next morning the train stops in a large city where they learn they will change trains. They have time before the next train arrives so the two set off to look around. Elijah ("the amazed Indian" p. 53) imagines people who work in the offices. Looking at the people milling about reminds him of salmon.My comments:Noah's powers are handy but I view them as stereotypical in the one-with-nature-and-animals way that Native peoples are often depicted. But, my guess is that most of the American reading public will think "cool" when they read how he handles those dogs. As you see, I'm noting some of the places where "the Indian" or "the Indians" is used. I think it distances the reader from the characters. Imagine those passages if the author just replaced all of them with "the kid" or "the kids." Recall that Elijah saw a white buffalo, and so I thought he was, perhaps, Lakota. But now he's talking about salmon and being on the train longer than Simon, which suggests he's of one of the tribes on the northwest coast. Which is it? Is Elijah of a Plains tribe? Or a northwest coast tribe? Simon and Elijah.
"The Indians" (p. 53) walk for blocks. "The amazed Indian" (Elijah) imagines all the people in the glassy office buildings they pass by. As they go, people hand them change (money), which they accept, thinking the city people are the friendliest ones in the world. They buy hot dogs and then go down some stairs to an underground train where they encounter four older boys who start to bully them. The oldest asks them if they're Mexicans and if they have any pesos. Elijah says "We're Indian!" One of the boys tries to grab Elijah's backpack. Elijah sees a vague image beside one of the boys. It is a man, holding an empty bottle in one hand and a belt in the other. Elijah tells that boy that he's going to end up like his dad, who drank too much and beat him. The boy is shaken by what Elijah says. Elijah and Simon fight the four boys. Afterwords, Elijah and Simon head back to the station and the chapter ends.My comments: I can imagine these two boys being struck by what they see in a city, but the way their unfamiliarity is described seems a kind of mockery of their lack of familiarity with a city. And--again, the objectification of them is jarring.
I provided a close read of chapters one and two, where we meet the characters. There are flaws in the ways these characters are depicted which has bearing on the story. Once they arrive at the school, the four will meet other students. One talks about his journey. It struck me as odd (p. 62): "I was in the bottom of a ship for two days. It was dark and they didn't let us out, neither. It was like we was cows or something. They just herded us in and closed the door." Where, I wonder, did that ship originate?!
On page 69 Elijah sees "English Only" posters on the wall. To my knowledge, there weren't posters like that in the schools in the 1950s. Indeed, significant changes took place from the 1930s through mid 1950s. Under the direction of John Collier (appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933 by President Roosevelt), there was a shift to make the curriculum reflect Native life and instill pride in a Native identity.
In My Mother's House by Ann Nolan Clark, illustrated by Velino Herrera, is one of the outcomes of that shift. With various Native illustrators, Clark wrote several books like In My Mother's House between 1940 and 1951. Some of them were published in a Native language. Here's the cover of
Little Man's Family, published in 1953. See the words beneath the English title? That is Dine (Navajo). It appears on every page. It seems unlikely then, that there would be "English Only" posters on the walls of the school.
On page 112, Simon and another boy speak Navajo to each other. Their conversation is overheard and Simon ends up being locked in an old maintenance building. It is a dramatic scene. Simon is led to the back of the poorly lit room where he's handcuffed to a pipe and left to sit on the concrete floor for several days. That scene sounds a lot like what happened in the schools in earlier times. In particular, it reminds me of a scene from a documentary about Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Again, though, it doesn't ring true for the 1950s. There are other plot points that I also find problematic.
I think I'll stop here, saying again, I do not recommend
Stealing Indians. It has problems of stereotyping, lack of tribal specificity, and problems with accuracy with respect to boarding schools of the time period in which the story is set.
Given the depth and breadth of inaccurate depictions of Native people--past and present--in textbooks, movies, TV shows, and children's books, I firmly believe that the experiences Native people lived through must be presented with integrity and accuracy. Over-dramatizing what happened is a disservice to their experiences.
For further reading:Previous posts on John SmelcerJohn Smelcer, Indian by Proxy
A reader writes to ask if I've seen Bella Bella by Jonathan London, illustrations by Sean London (don't know if there is a relationship between the author and illustrator). Bella Bella came out in February of 2016. Published by West Winds, here's the synopsis:
From best-selling author Jonathan London comes BELLA BELLA, the heart-pounding sequel to DESOLATION CANYON. In this story for young readers, the same cast of characters―thirteen-year-olds Aaron and Lisa and their fathers, and seventeen-year-old Cassidy and his dad―embark on a sea kayaking trip through the Inside Passage that brings them unexpected and even terrifying adventures. Young readers will eagerly follow Aaron’s adventures in this suspenseful page turner, as he learns to navigate a kayak, discovers another side to a bully, shares a first kiss, encounters the desperate world of human trafficking, and challenges an evil smuggler who threatens the entire group.
Nothing in the synopsis to tell you there's Native content, but the art on the top half of the cover tells us there is (see image to the right). I don't know what to call that image. Is it meant to be a totem pole? What do you think it is?
The review at Kirkus
tells us that the characters begin their trip at a First Nations village (Bella Bella) and that they hope to learn about First Nations tribes. The Kirkus review included a link to their review of Desolation Canyon
, so I took a look at that review. It apparently has Native content, too.
If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review. If you've got a copy, please comment on what you see in it.
This morning as I started to read the Summer 2016 issue of Children & Libraries
a book cover caught my eye (that's it, to the right). Inside the front cover is a page of new books for children and young adults. Little Whale
Here's the synopsis:
Keet, a ten-year-old Tlingit Indian boy, stows away for a voyage on his father’s canoe . . . and soon finds himself caught in the middle of a wild seastorm. The story carries him far from his home village, and when he makes land, he winds up right in the middle of a dangerous dispute between two Indian clans. The story of how he copes with these surprises and extricates himself from danger is dramatic and unforgettable.
And it’s mostly true. Roy Peratrovich here builds a wonderful children’s tale on the bones of a story his own grandfather passed down. His accompanying illustrations bring the people and landscapes of Alaska—to say nothing of the adventures!—to stunning life, drawing young readers into a long-gone time when the whims of nature and man could suddenly test a boy’s courage.
I'm definitely interested in this one! The author is a member of the Raven Clan of the Tlingit Tribe of Southeast Alaska. Check out his bio
. I'll get a copy and be back with a review.
A reader who was following the conversations about Lane Smith's There Is A Tribe of Kids wrote to ask me if I'd read his Return to Augie Hobble. Here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
The synopsis doesn't say, but as I started reading about the book, I learned that it is set in New Mexico, which could (for me) be a plus. It could be a plus for kids in New Mexico, too, including Native kids.
But, the person who wrote to me told me that Return to Augie Hobble
has some Native content in it, so I started reading the book itself, wondering what I'd find.
Scattered throughout are illustrations of one kind of another, all done by Smith. In chapter four, the main character, Augie, is out after dark in the woods nearby and has a fight with a wolf-like creature. The next morning Augie feels like his face has tiny splinters on it. He uses his moms razor to shave them off. As the illustration on the next page tells us, he's got bits of toilet paper on his chin and neck because he's nicked himself with that razor.
Augie gets to work early, so is sitting in the break area reading a comic, waiting for his shift to start. Moze, another employee arrives. Augie gets up, but (p. 68-69):
He [Moze] pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again.
Interesting, isn't it? Let's look at that passage, in light of the discussions of his There Is a Tribe of Kids
. The discussions are about some of the illustrations in the final pages of the book. Here's three:
Some wonder if Smith meant to depict kids playing Indian. Some say these kids aren't playing Indian. Smith hasn't responded (as far as I know) to any of the discussions. Some wonder if--as he drew the illustrations--he was aware that they could be interpreted as kids playing Indian. That wondering presumes that he is aware of the decades long critical writings of stereotyping, and in this case, stereotyping of Native peoples.
With Return to Augie Hobble
, we know--without a doubt--that he does, in fact, know about issues of stereotyping.
How should we interpret that passage in Return to Augie Hobble
Amongst the recent threads in writers' networks, is that if a writer is going to create a character who stereotypes someone, there ought to be some way (preferably immediately) for a reader to discern that it is a stereotype. One method is to have a bad-guy-character make the stereotypical remarks, because with them being delivered by a bad-guy, readers know they're not-good-remarks.
Does Smith do that successfully? I'll copy that passage here, for convenience (so you don't have to scroll back up):
He pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again.
In the passage above, it is Moze (a bad guy character) who is speaking. From "hits me again" the narrative leaves this whole Indian thing behind as they talk about other things.
I find the passage confusing. It feels like there's something missing between "Toilet paper, twerp." and "He goes, "woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk." What do you think? Is something missing there?
Confusion aside, I think the passage doesn't do what, I assume, Smith meant it to do. Moze is delivering remarks in that humorous style Smith is praised for using. Will kids pick up on his message (assuming he meant to use Moze to teach kids that dancing around that way is not ok)? Or, does his "PC, Mac" get in the way of that understanding? With "PC, Mac" the focus is on computers, not stereotypes. That kind of word play is a big reason people like Smith's writing.
Back when I taught children's literature at the University of Illinois, I selected Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
as a required reading. It is a terrific way to teach kids about differing points of view. When I think about that book, I know that Smith understands different points of view and how they matter.
I think it fair to say Lane Smith is a master at conveying the importance of that all important point of view. As his Augie Hobble
tells us, he's aware of problems with the ways that Native peoples are depicted. That is part of why I find his There Is a Tribe of Kids
What are you thoughts? Knowing he is aware of issues of stereotyping, what do you make of what he did in There Is a Tribe of Kids
? And, does what he did in Augie Hobble
From time to time I curate a set of links about a particular book or discussion. I'm doing that below, for There Is a Tribe of Kids
. The links are arranged chronologically by date on which they were posted/published. If you know of ones I ought to add, please let me know. I will insert it below (as you'll see, I'm noting the date on which I add it to the list in parenthesis).
Sam Bloom's Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids
posted on July 8, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Debbie Reese's Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS
posted on July 9, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Debbie Reese's Lane Smith's new picture book: THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry)
posted on July 14, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Roxanne Feldman's A Tribe of Kindred Souls: A Closer Look at a Double Spread in Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS
posted on July 17, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Roger Sutton's Tribal Trials
posted on July 18, 2016
(added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Elizabeth Bird's There Is a Tribe of Kids: The Current Debate
posted on July 19, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Amongst Tim Tingle's many books is Walking the Choctaw Road.
Parts of it are heartrending.
First published in 2003 by Cinco Puntos Press, it consists of twelve stories, some of which evolved into his picture books.
I just came across something I didn't know about. In 2005, the State of Oklahoma's 50th Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 1025, commending Tim. I didn't know Tim, back then, but he was already doing important work that was being recognized--in this case, by the State of Oklahoma. A belated congratulations, Tim!
For AICL's readers, I'm reproducing the text, here, from the pdf
STATE OF OKLAHOMA
1st Session of the 50th Legislature (2005)
HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 1025
By: Carey of the House
Gumm of the Senate
A Concurrent Resolution commending Tim Tingle for his
dedication to Native American cultures and to
preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle has dedicated his life to collecting and preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation and other Native American cultures; and WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, as a renowned folklorist and storyteller, honors the voices of many Choctaws by presenting stories that represent their history, spirit, and beliefs; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, through his inspiring book Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
, has translated twelve of these stories into written versions that captivate readers and transport them to a magical place where truthfulness, generosity, bravery, patience, dignity, courage, tolerance, faith and working toward the good resonate; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
has garnered numerous regional, national and international awards; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
was selected by popular vote to be the “one book” all Oklahomans read and discuss during 2005 as part of the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Centennial Project, a concept endorsed by the Library of Congress; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
holds the national record of being the only book selected by two statewide reading projects (Oklahoma and Alaska) as the “one book” to read and discuss throughout 2005; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle encourages people to make connections through literature and reading by participating in more than 70 appearances at libraries, museums, community centers, and schools throughout the State of Oklahoma from June through November 2005.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 50TH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN:
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for the honor he brings to the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma by preserving and writing about Native American cultures.
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for his dedication to literature and recognizes his many contributions to building bridges between cultures and commends his courage, integrity, and commitment to high standards.
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature urges all Oklahomans to read Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
and discuss its historic perspective and cultural themes from which we may all gain strength and understanding.
THAT a copy of this resolution be distributed to Tim Tingle.
A reader who saw my review of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids wrote to ask if I've read his Return to Augie Hobble. It got starred reviews from Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus... Published in 2015 by Roaring Book Press, here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
I was at the local library this afternoon and got a copy. As soon as I can, I'll be back with a review. It is getting bumped up on my list because it is set in New Mexico...
Read the rest of this post
A reader writes to ask if I've seen Joan Crate's Black Apple. Published in March of 2016 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.
Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
I'll see if I can get a copy. If I do, I'll be back with a review.
I love word play. Lane Smith's book is getting a lot of love for its word play, but I'm tagging his book as Not Recommended.
Here's the cover of his new book, There Is a Tribe of Kids. The blue creature to the left is meant to be a young mountain goat, or, a kid (that is the term for a baby goat). We follow the child on the right as we read There Is a TRIBE of KIDS. That child is a kid, too, of course, which tells us that Smith is doing some word play in the book. See the two sticks coming out of the child's head? See the stance the child is in? That child is playing at being a goat kid.
Note that two words in the book title are in capital letters. They go together. That's a pattern that Smith uses throughout the book, and as a former elementary school teacher, it is kind of detail that I'd love to point out to kids.
Smith's error is using the word TRIBE on the final pages of the book, to refer to children who are playing, adorned in various ways with leaves. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's go back to the opening pages.
On the title page the child is with three kids (goats) as an adult goat looks down on them from atop a rock. On the next page, the three kids climb the rock, leaving the child alone. The child stands upright and walks away from the rock, discarding the horns.
Beneath that illustration are the words "There WAS a TRIBE of KIDS." The three kids the child was with are part of a tribe (tribe is another word for herd), but since they've left him behind, Smith uses the past tense (was).
Beneath that sentence is an illustration of the child looking across the page at a penguin. The child is shown in the same pose the penguin is in. On the next page the child is shown in the same pose as four penguins (see the illustration to the right). As we saw with the goats, the penguins leave (they go into the water and the child follows), and the text is "There was a COLONY of PENGUINS."
In the water, the child is in the midst of jellyfish. In a series of illustrations, we see the child's leaf shirt float up and then into a balloon shape, which are the shapes of jellyfish as they swim.
That's the pattern of the book. The child is with a group of some kind, and while with that group, the child's leaf clothing or body positioning emulates that group.
On some pages, the child is just shown with the group. On one page, the child sits atop a whale. A raven picks the child up off the whale's back and flies with other ravens; the raven opens its beak and for an instant the child is flying but then drops to the ground and lands on a pile of boulders. The child plays on the boulders (holding his body like one), falls headfirst into some flowering plants, and when the child is upright again, the child has leaf arms and leaf ears and a flower atop its head. The child finds elephants and then, those leaf ears are like elephant ears.
As we get to the end of the story, the child is near the ocean, which has a bed of clams. The child uses one as a bed. In the morning the child wakes, alone, abandons the leaf shirt and follows a trail of shells and finds "a TRIBE of KIDS" playing beneath and on the branches of a massive tree. There are 28 children. What are they playing? They've all got leaves on, in some way.
Here are the ones with a leaf/leaves on their heads. Coupled with the word TRIBE on that page, it looks to me like they're dressed up to play Indian. They aren't doing anything active.
But, writer Rosanne Parry disagrees with Sam, and with me, too, but she didn't reference me at her post, A Tribe of Book Reviewers.
My guess is that she thinks her blog post title is clever. It isn't. She thinks that Sam Bloom (see his review at Reading While White) should have
"been willing to look a little deeper, beyond just the immediate Oh no! we are insulting Native Americans again, as we have done so often in the past."
When I read that line in italics, I was incensed. She's being quite dismissive of criticism of stereotyping, bias, appropriation---all those things that white writers, including her, have done. A few years ago, I reviewed Parry's Written In Stone
. There's a lot wrong with that book. She wrote to me privately to talk about my review, but I preferred the conversation to be public so that others could follow and learn from it. Many did. Parry did not. Indeed, Parry's resistance was remarkable. She was so sure that she was right to make up traditional Native stories, and right to make up petroglyphs and assign them meaning, and right to write that story because the Native kids she taught--she told us--wanted her to write a story about them. Sheesh! White savior to the rescue!
Parry had a lot more to say about Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids...
She acknowledged that tribe is a loaded word, but says that she:
"didn't immediately make the leap to Native American tribes because there are no tribes in North America who dress in garments made of leaves. Plant fibers woven into cloth, yes. Dance costumes made of pale yellow grasses, yes. But broad-leafed green plans arranged around the body as a short cloak? No."
Are you rolling your eyes? Are you flipping out at her use of "costumes"? You should be. She likes to talk about the Native kids she taught in Washington. Does she think they wore costumes?! There's more. She read through the book and
"didn't see a single reference, even an oblique one, to a Native American tribe or any tribal activity of North America. No hunting, no fishing, no fires, no tomahawks, no archery, no totem poles, no teepees, no drums, no horses, no canoes."
Again: are you rolling your eyes? Or, maybe, grinding your teeth? Or laughing at how stupid this all sounds? Or---are you reading it and thinking she's making good points? All those reactions are possible, given the widespread ignorance out there about Native people! Some get it, while others are oblivious. Parry goes on, telling us the way the kids are playing is more like the Green Man,
"an ancient mythological figure associated with the Celtic tribes."
Oh! The kids are playing Green Man. Not Indian! (I'm being sarcastic). Parry isn't done yet, though... She tells us that the children playing on those final pages are of different colored skin tones, making the book:
"one of the most racially inclusive books on our bookstore shelves this year. Not only that, it's a racially inclusive book that isn't about slavery or civil rights or westward expansion, which often cast Black and Native American characters as victims."
Oh, yay (again, I'm being sarcastic). Then she tells us that the kids are:
"arranging shells, playing ball, swinging, sliding, climbing, dancing, running, hiding, napping"
and that none of those actions are
"a mockery of Native Americans. If they were wearing fringed buckskins or button blankets or powwow dance costumes or had painted faces or were brandishing bows and arrows, that would be an entirely different story."
Oh. I see. (More sarcasm from me; I can't not be sarcastic about her words, and this is the fourth or fifth time I'm reading them!) There's that use of costume again. From a white woman who professes love for the Native kids she taught. She tells us that what she sees in Smith's illustrations are depictions of how kids play, and asks
"Who are we to shame them by saying this is playing Indian?"
Shame. That word is getting used a lot in children's literature discussions last year and this one, too. Us Native and people of color are being mean, shaming writers and now--Parry tells us--the way that kids play.
Sigh. Yes, some of the kids are sliding. And some are playing ball, etc. But look at the illustrations I shared above. What are we to make of them? They're not active in any way. They're just there, wearing their leaf feathers, holding staffs, standing, sitting, jewelry dangling from neck/wrist/ears... What about them?
Parry offers workshops on how to get things right. If you're a writer, avoid her. I wish I could say she's clueless, but I think she is being deliberately obtuse. She'll lead you to think your problematic story of appropriation is ok. It won't be.
I acknowledge that I'm clearly incensed with her and I anticipate lot of people coming to her defense. Parry and others (as Sam Bloom noted, There Is a Tribe of Kids
is getting starred reviews) don't see--and refuse to see--the problems in the book. That's where we are in 2016.
A new trailer for Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released on June 23rd. Rowling narrates it, saying:
My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatized, or othered. That's at the heart of most of what I write. It's certainly at the heart of this movie.
Her use of "set apart, stigmatized, or othered" is the first irony in the trailer. All three are very much the experience of Native peoples in the US.
Rowling also says:
"Newt walks into a society he doesn't really understand."
That is precisely what she's doing in the ways that she's appropriating from Native peoples for this story, set in a place she calls Ilvermorny, where she's borrowing, people say, from "Native American lore."
With the appropriation of Native stories,
Rowling has walked into societies
that she doesn't understand.
Back in May of 2016 the Daily Mail
" and found an Ilvermorny Sorting Ceremony quiz that asked, "Where do you belong? Horned Serpent, Wampus, Thunderbird or Pukwudgie." Fans write that "Wampus" is Cherokee and "Pukwudgie" is Wampanoag. What, I wonder, are their sources for those declarations? What, I wonder, are Rowling's sources?!
Back in March when Rowling released her first story in Magic in North America, Native peoples responded to that first video, and the stories, too. I compiled them here: Native People Respond to Rowling
. I wonder what we'll see in the movie?
A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen John Flanagan's The Ghostfaces. I haven't, so am adding it to the "Debbie--have you seen" series.
Here's the synopsis:
From John Flanagan, author of the worldwide bestselling Ranger's Apprentice, comes a brand-new chapter in the adventures of young Skandians who form a different kind of family--a brotherband.
When the Brotherband crew are caught in a massive storm at sea, they’re blown far off course and wash up on the shores of a land so far west that Hal can’t recognize it from any of his maps. Eerily, the locals are nowhere in sight, yet the Herons have a creeping feeling they are being watched.
Suddenly the silence is broken when a massive, marauding bear appears, advancing on two children. The crew springs into action and rescues the children from the bear’s clutches, which earns them the gratitude and friendship of the local Mawagansett tribe, who finally reveal themselves. But the peace is short-lived. The Ghostfaces, a ruthless, warlike tribe who shave their heads and paint their faces white, are on the warpath once more. It’s been ten years since they raided the Mawagansett village, but they’re coming back to pillage and reap destruction. As the enemy approaches, the Herons gear up to help their new friends repel an invasion.
"Ruthless, warlike tribe"?!
"On the warpath"?!
My head hurts just reading the synopsis. One red flag after another! It came out on June 14, 2016 from Penguin.
According to Amazon, it is already #1 in its Kindle Store and in the Children's Books category, too, in the "Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths/Norse."
If I can get Flanagan's The Ghostfaces
, I'll be back with a review.
Hi! This is my first blog post as an editor of AICL. I'm happy to be here. -- Jean
Debbie and I are working on a book chapter, and my focus has been picture books on the Indian boarding schools. That’s taken me back to the first such book I encountered – Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
by Limana Kachel. I came across it in the Native American Educational Services (NAES) College bookstore in Chicago in the late 1980s, and was immediately charmed.
The production values were not high, which was part of its appeal, for me. It was published by the Montana Council for Indian Education in 1983 (according to WorldCat; there is apparently no date on the book itself). It may not have been meant for distribution beyond the Montana state border. Its highly “individual” black line illustrations are by Northern Cheyenne children from the Lame Deer School and Labre Indian School! The writing is straightforward and engaging – comfortable to read aloud, and with an occasional dash of humor. And it shows a lot of insight into the minds of young children. It felt genuine. It still does.
The book tells the story of 6-year-old Homer, a Cheyenne boy who must leave his beloved grandfather and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, go live at a school far away. On his first night there he cries inconsolably and a kind teacher named Miss Ring allows him to choose a stuffed animal as a comfort object. He picks a large pink rabbit, which he calls Rabbit. Soon Homer learns to use the playground slide and makes friends with Joe, another Cheyenne-speaking boy. When Homer takes Rabbit home for the summer, he is soon immersed in the things he loves to do there and forgets to keep track of his “friend,” who ends up in pieces under the porch. Homer feels terrible, but Grandfather saves the day. He uses the remnants of Rabbit as a pattern, cuts and stitches pieces of buckskin together, and adds a face. Rabbit is ready in time to go back to school with Homer, better than ever. At school he becomes famous and is known as The Cheyenne Rabbit.
If other picture books about the boarding schools existed when my children were young (1970’s-1980s), we weren’t aware of them. My husband’s mother had been sent to a boarding school in Oklahoma at age 7. The experience was not positive. It was important to our family to find a book that could reflect at least part of that family story.
Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
contains none of the harsh punishment, abuse, food deprivation, and other horrors that so many boarding school survivors have recounted. In fact, Homer has an adult ally (Miss Ring) and is permitted to have a stuffed animal. He also has time to play, and enjoys friendships with other Cheyenne children. When he and Joe speak Cheyenne, they are not punished.
Even so, the story has the capacity to shock young listeners –at least, the ones I knew back then. When I read it aloud with my preschool-age sons and with a class of 5-year-olds, the children were aghast that a child could be forced to leave home and actually live at a school far away where he knew no one. These were white and interracial children with some degree of class privilege, who were already having anxiety about starting kindergarten and could not imagine having to go to school “away.” They understood Homer’s sorrow and fear, his glee when going down the slide, his joy when he reunited with his grandfather for the summer. They laughed when Rabbit got flatter and flatter each time he was laundered. They marveled at how Grandfather created a new and improved Rabbit. But it was hard for them to get their heads around the idea of being forced to go live at school.
My sons understood it a little, partly because boarding school experience was part of their family story. They were also somewhat prepared for the next step in understanding, which was that often those schools were not good places for little kids.
I like getting reacquainted with Homer. The book is psychologically on target with regard to childhood resilience. What helps Homer to ultimately thrive at school, while continuing to love and respect his grandfather and enjoy his home? Miss Ring, who understands the power of a transitional object (Rabbit); his Grandfather, who loves him unconditionally and who functions as touchstone; a friend (Joe) who literally speaks his language and shows him some of “the ropes”. Being able to maintain his Cheyenne identity at school without having to fight for it or go underground is also an important factor.
I’m also looking at 3 other books, two of which are by Native writers. And I’ve thought a lot about what a boarding school picture book “should be”. How much should it tell/show young children? What will be believable to your young audience (and who is in that audience?), and what will be overwhelming or over their heads? Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
is a story of childhood resilience, but not resistance. Homer’s school is a relatively benign place. He is overwhelmed at first, but not humiliated, starved, abused, or exploited while there. Resilience is important. Essential. But for many boarding school residents, so was resistance. Those 3 other books I mentioned are "about" resistance as a factor in resilience that subverts oppression.
Do you, AICL readers, have some knowledge of Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
, or of its author Limana Kachel, or of the Council on Indian Education? Do you have a copy of the book? Mine has vanished – let’s hope it turns up now that I’m retired and can devote time to cleaning out my home office. Fortunately, Debbie was able to locate a colleague who scanned the book for us! Thanks!! If you’ve shared the book with kids, what was the response? What are your thoughts about it?
American Indians in Children's Literature
is pleased to bring you Joseph Marshall III's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award,
in the middle school category for In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
It is an outstanding book (see AICL's review
) and I'm thrilled to learn, by email with Marshall, that he is working on a second book featuring Jimmy and his grandfather. Kids learn a lot of history by reading Marshall's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
. I wonder what history we'll learn in the new book?
Here is Marshall's speech:
Good afternoon. I can’t think of a better reason for my first ever trip to Orlando, than to accept this award from the American Indian Library Association. Thank you to AILA President Aguilar, and of course to the members of the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award jury. I am honored to receive this very special recognition, one that I will always treasure because it comes from my peers, and, of course, native librarians.
Those of us who are native writers know that our purpose is to inform the non-native community about native history and culture, as well as our place in the world today. But just as importantly, if not more, we need to reconnect native young people with their own cultures. This award helps to further that effort.
Thank you, of course, to my friends at Abrams and Amulet Books for publishing my book, to all of you who worked on it. I sincerely appreciate your contributions and your talents which definitely added to what this book is.
The people who were the greatest influence on me, and taught me the art of storytelling, were primarily my maternal grandparents. So the front story in In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
is a glimpse into my childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, and of my wonderful relationship with my grandparents, but especially to my grandfather.
Three special “thank yous,” the first to my editor Howard Reeves—my new best friend—for liking the concept for my book, but especially for your patience Howard. In the middle of working on the manuscript I had to ask for a delay when my wife became seriously ill. Howard was kind enough to grant a deadline extension.
Another “thank you” to the phenomenally talented artist for his work on the book’s cover and inside illustrations—my good friend and fellow Lakota, Mr. Jim Yellowhawk.
Finally, to the love of my life, my wife Connie, who was also my literary agent. It was she who insisted on the format for the book. Connie left us for the Spirit World on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, after putting up a valiant fight against colon cancer. Please know that, with this award, you are honoring her as well.
So, as we say in my part of the world: Lila pilamayayapelo.
Thank you, very much.
A librarian wrote to ask me about Jean Craighead George's The Talking Earth. Published in 1983 by HarperCollins, it is available in Spanish and Catalan. It is available as an audiobook, too. Most people who work in children's literature know that George's Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1972. Those of you who pay attention to depictions of Native people know that there is a lot wrong with Julie of the Wolves.
I'll get a copy of The Talking Earth at the library. From what I see online, I anticipate there will be many problems with it, too. Elders who cross their arms when they speak to kids? Elders who sit cross legged on the ground? Not ok.
In the opening pages, the main character sees her grandfather's medicine bundle. I doubt that a Seminole writer would have that whole section in there. There are some things that are not shared with the public...
And the names! The main character is Billy Wind. Her sister is Mary Wind. Her father is Iron Wind. Her mother is Whispering Wind. Her grandfather is Charlie Wind.
There's some parts that display an outsider's writing, like when Billy and Mary walk to the dugout (p. 10):
It was tied beside the airboat, a flat boat with a motorized fan that "blew" passengers across the saw grass in the watery prairie the Indians called the pa-hay-okee.
Those are supposed to be Billy's thoughts but that sounds more like George herself, an outsider. Honestly, I don't want to read this book.
American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to bring you Tim Tingle's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award, young adult category, for The House of Purple Cedar. As is traditional within Native communities, he was given a blanket. Tim provided me with the photo (to the right), explaining that it was taken while he was at the Congressional National Cemetery in Washington DC, three days before the awards banquet.
The photo was taken by Lisa Reed, editor of The Biskinik (the Choctaw nation's newspaper). Tim was reading a book he was given by the office manager of the cemetery. He was sitting beside the grave of Pushmataha, who is in Tim's next book.
That day, the Chief of the Choctaw Nation and many others were at the Congressional National Cemetery to honor Pushmataha. The clouded expression on Tim's face is because of what a Choctaw woman gave to him that morning when he arrived at the gravesite.
His expression, and what she gave him, is explained in his speech:
On behalf of my family and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma I want to let you know what an honor it is to be here and to accept this award. We are so grateful for the work you do, to bring recognition to our work as writers. Yakoke, thank you.
House of Purple Cedar took fifteen years to complete, as my editor, Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, can confirm. It describes the struggle of Choctaws to survive and keep their homelands, in the late 1890's in what is now Oklahoma. Those of you who know my writing know that I write with hope, of "working to the good," of the power of forgiveness.
I brought something to show you today, from Congressional National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where three days ago I attended a graveside ceremony honoring the most famous Choctaw leader of all time, Chief Pushmataha. He was also a general in the United States Army and fought alongside Gen. Jackson in the War of 1812.
Before the ceremony I met a Choctaw elder at the gravesite, a sweet woman who speaks fluent Choctaw and is kind and patient to we learners. She arrived before anyone else. She stood holding her purse with tears in her eyes. When I asked her if she was hoke, she replied, "I am so glad I arrived before the chief. Look what I found lying against Pushmataha's tombstone." She retrieved an empty plastic whiskey bottle from her purse. "Somebody left this terrible insult to our chief."
I hugged her and we both quietly cried. "I was meant to be here first," she said. "This would have ruined our graveside ceremony." We stared into each other's eyes and smiled.
"Good wins again," I said. "It is a good day to be Choctaw." We decided to keep our secret, to allow the full blessing from Chief Batton to take place. But as we approached the shuttle bus, I asked for the bottle. Not to throw away, but to keep—as a reminder that we still have much work to do. We, the writers, the librarians, the educators, we are today's warriors. We must never forget that the battle continues, the battle for respect for Native peoples.
Yakoke, thank you.
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Several months ago I saw the cover of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids and wondered about his use of the word tribe. Most people see the word "tribe" and think of a group of people who they view as primitive, or exotic, or primal, or... you get the picture, right? If not, open another browser window and do an image search of the word tribe. Did you do it? If yes, you saw a lot of photographs of people of color and of Native peoples, too.
In the last few weeks, I got an email from someone asking me if I'd written about that word. The person writing didn't mention Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids but may have been asking themselves the same question Sam Bloom did when he read the book. I haven't yet had a chance to look for Smith's book.
Yesterday, Sam's review of There Is a Tribe of Kids went up at Reading While White. I highly recommend you head over there and see what he has to say. On one page of the book, the kids are shown playing in a forest... and they've got leaves stuck into their hair in ways that suggest they're playing Indian. Here's that page:
Sam isn't the only one to notice that problem. He pointed to the review in the New York Times Book Review
, where the reviewer wrote that this kind of play signifies wildness.
And, Sam notes that the book has gotten several starred reviews from the major children's literature review journals--journals that librarians use to purchase books. Those starred reviews will mean it is likely to be in your local library. That image, however, means There Is a Tribe of Kids
is going into AICL's Foul Among the Good gallery.
Do read Sam's review, and the comment thread, too. I am especially taken with Pat's comment. She used a phrase (I'll put it in bold font) that appeals to me: "An informed reading means giving up the position of innocence
that White readers enjoy when other cultures' are represented in service of an engaging story."
Sam's post and the comment thread give us a peek at what goes on behind the scenes in book reviewing. In his review, Sam wondered if the book is getting starred reviews because people like Lane Smith's work overall. Roger Sutton replied that Horn Book didn't give it a starred review, but that their discussion of the book itself included the playing Indian part that Sam's review is about, but that "the reviewer and the editors differed" with Sam's assessment, so, Horn Book recommended the book.
Roger and I have disagreed on playing Indian over and over again. Horn Book gives that activity a pass because Horn Book views it as an "extra literary" concern. Intrigued? You can read one of the more recent discussions we had: Are we doing it white?
Pat's comment is perfect. Far too many people don't want to give up their position of innocence. Playing Indian is just too much fun (they say) and it isn't racist (they insist), or inappropriate (they argue)... Indeed, some say that sort of thing honors Native peoples.
It doesn't honor anyone. It is inappropriate.
My guess is that Lane Smith didn't know it is a problem. His editor, Simon Boughton, apparently didn't know, either. If you know Smith or Boughton, I hope you ask them to think critically about playing Indian. There Is a Tribe of Kids
, published by Macmillan,
came out in May of 2016.