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Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
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1. A Look at Gender Swapping of Native Characters in Meyer's LIFE AND DEATH

Today (October 6, 2016), fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga were ecstatic about her new book Life and Death. In it, she "gender swapped" the characters. Bella is now a guy named Beau. Edward is now a gal named Edythe, and Jacob (the Quileute character) is now a girl named Jules (Julia). 

Here's part of Meyer's interview with CNN: 

Meyer said she was motivated to make the switch because of questions she received at signings about Bella being a "damsel in distress."
"It's always bothered me a little bit, because anyone surrounded by superheroes is going to be in distress," Meyers explained. "I thought, 'What if we switched it around a bit and see how a boy does,' and, you know, it's about the same."

I looked at specific passages in Twilight, comparing them to passages in Life and Death to see if Meyer made any changes to the Native content. In the passages I have below, I start each pair with Twilight first, because it was published first. Here they are:

Chapter 6: Scary Stories

This is the chapter where we meet Jacob/Jules, the Quileute character who is going to tell Bella/Beau scary stories about the werewolves and "the cold ones" (vampires).

Twilight (Kindle Location 7353-7355):
A few minutes after Angela left with the hikers, Jacob sauntered over to take her place by my side. He looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of his neck. His skin was beautiful, silky and russet-colored; his eyes were dark, set deep above the high planes of his cheekbones.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 1495-1497):
A few minutes after Allen left with the hikers, Julie came over to take his place by my side. 
She looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of her neck. Her skin was really beautiful, like coppery silk, her dark eyes were wide-set above her high cheekbones, and her lips were curved like a bow.

Debbie's thoughts: Jacob sauntering conveys attitude. Julie, on the other hand, walks without attitude. Because... why? I don't know. The descriptions of hair and skin and cheekbones are familiar ones. Not all Native people have long, glossy black hair or high cheekbones but that's generally how we're depicted in children's and young adult books. This is a problem for Native people who do not look that way. People say--without batting an eye--"you don't look Indian." 


Twilight, Jacob speaking to Bella (Kindle Locations 7408-7411):
“Well, there are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Flood— supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark.” He smiled, to show me how little stock he put in the histories. “Another legend claims that we descended from wolves— and that the wolves are our brothers still. It’s against tribal law to kill them.

Life and Death, Jules speaking to Beau (Kindle Locations 1569-1572):
“There are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Great Flood— supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark.” She smiled, to show me she wasn’t taking this seriously, either. “Another legend claims that we descended from wolves— and that the wolves are our sisters still. It’s against tribal law to kill them.

Debbie's thoughts: That "legend" that Jacob talks about is supposed to be a Quileute one, but it that marks "the Flood" as a touchstone event. If it said "a" great Flood, that would work, but that "the" in there ties this story to Christianity. I've not done any research to see if the Quileute people have a flood story where they tied their canoes to tall trees. Maybe they do. Or, maybe this is something that Meyer made up. Regular readers of AICL know that I find it sacrilegious to twist Native stories to make them fit a narrative that a not-Native writer is telling.  Jacob has "little stock" in the stories; Jules doesn't "take this seriously." Is this dismissiveness on Jacob/Jules' part to throw Bella/Beau off track so that Bella/Beau don't know that these stories are real? The way Meyer presents this werewolf part of her story is not like the stories the Quileute's actually tell. As noted above, I think Meyer is twisting a Native story to fit her narrative, and I find that to be deeply disrespectful. (Updating to add this next line.) And as @travelingHeidi pointed out on Twitter, Noah isn't gender swapped! 


Jacob speaking to Bella (
Kindle Locations 7412-7416):
"There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land.” He rolled his eyes. “Your great-grandfather?” I encouraged. “He was a tribal elder, like my father. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf— well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves.”

Life and Death, Jules speaking to Beau (Kindle Locations 1574-1578):
"There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandmother knew some of them. She was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land.” She rolled her eyes. “Your great-grandmother?” I encouraged. “She was a tribal elder, like my mother. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf— well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into women, like our ancestors. You could call them werewolves, I guess.”

Debbie's thoughts: That is another part of Meyer's book that I find especially problematic because of her use of the word treaty. Readers are asked to believe that Jacob/Jules' great grandfather/mother made a treaty with a coven of vampires. Treaties are made between heads of state. Are we to think of this group of Quileute's and this coven of vampires as nations? 

Chapter 7: Nightmare

After hearing those "scary" stories, Bella/Beau has a nightmare. 

Twilight (Kindle Locations 7477-7480):
But Jacob let go of my hand and yelped, suddenly shaking, falling to the dim forest floor. He twitched on the ground as I watched in horror. “Jacob!” I screamed. But he was gone. In his place was a large red-brown wolf with black eyes. The wolf faced away from me, pointing toward the shore, the hair on the back of his shoulders bristling, low growls issuing from between his exposed fangs.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 1641-1643):
And then Jules dropped my hand— she let out a strange yelp and, suddenly shaking, she fell twitching to the ground. I watched in horror, unable to move. “Jules!” I yelled, but she was gone. In her place was a big, red-brown wolf with black eyes. The wolf faced away from me, pointing toward the shore, the hair on the back of her shoulders bristling, low growls issuing from between her exposed fangs.

Debbie's thoughts: Here, I direct you to an excellent series of tweets by Jeanne (I don't know her personally but she is one of the people I learn a lot from by reading her tweets and blog posts). One that is especially insightful is this one: "The supernatural world of Twilight is a construct that makes an abusive white man look like a hero and Native American men look like animals."

Chapter 11: Complications 

Twilight (Kindle Locations 8589-8592):
Jacob was already climbing out, his wide grin visible even through the darkness. In the passenger seat was a much older man, a heavyset man with a memorable face— a face that overflowed, the cheeks resting against his shoulders, with creases running through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient for the broad face they were set in. Jacob’s father, Billy Black.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 2926-2929)
Jules was already climbing out, her wide grin visible even through the darkness. In the passenger seat was a much older woman, an imposing woman with an unusual face— it was stern and stoic, with creases that ran through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, set deep under the heavy brows, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient to match the face. Jules’s mother, Bonnie Black.

Debbie's thoughts: More of that stereotypical descriptors, this time of elders. Note the word "ancient" in there? That's another word that gets overused.


Some overall thoughts: In Life and Death, Meyer just switched a few letters here and there to make the Native characters fit her gender swapping narrative. It is more evidence that she is clueless regarding Native peoples and cultures. In fact, her gender swapping of Native content strikes me as similar to all the people--male or female--who put on a headdress that is generally used only by men. It is superficial and adds a new layer of disrespect to what she's already done with the Twilight saga prior to today's release of Life and Death.  

I opened this post noting that people are very excited by Life and Death. Much of that excitement is because Twilight is credited with having launched young adult literature. That is something people who care about young adult literature can certainly applaud, but we must not lose sight of the problems in the series. 

There are plenty of young adult books out there that can counter the misogyny in these books. We cannot say the same thing about books to counter the misrepresentation of Native people. Indeed, Meyer's book also launched a slew of books that do precisely what she did: stereotype, misrepresent, appropriate. 

Meyer acknowledged concerns over the "damsel in distress" but the concerns over misrepresentation of Native peoples are just as important. 

Meyer, Stephenie (2015-10-06). Twilight Tenth Anniversary/Life and Death Dual Edition, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. 

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2. Beverly Slapin reviews SMUGGLING CHEROKEE by Kim Shuck

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin's review of Smuggling Cherokee may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2015. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.


Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Smuggling Cherokee. Greenfield Review Press, 2005; grades 7-up

Smuggling Cherokee is full of powerful insight: part autobiography, part musing, part outrageous wit, and part punch-in-the-gut startling. Kim Shuck is a visionary: she knows who she is, what she comes from, and what she’s been given to do. Her poems are honest and passionate, and, without polemic, will shatter just about every stereotype about Indians that anyone has ever espoused: The man asks me,/ “Do you speak Cherokee?”/ But it’s all I ever speak/ The end goal of several generations of a/ smuggling project./ We’ve slipped the barriers,/ Evaded border guards./ I smile,/ “Always.”

Some of Kim’s poems are tenderly, achingly beautiful: The water I used to drink spent time/ Inside a pitched basket/ It adopted the internal shape/ Took on the taste of pine/ And changed me forever. And for those who didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, the many faces of depredation:

I call the slave master
Who lost track of my ancestor
A blanket for you
In gratitude.

I call the soldier
With a tired arm
Who didn’t cut deeply enough
Into my great-great grandfather’s chest to kill clean.
I return your axehead
Oiled and sharpened
Wield it against others with equal skill.

Will the boarding school officer come up?
The one who didn’t take my Gram
Because of her crippled leg.
No use as a servant – such a shame with that face…

Finally the shopkeeper’s wife
Who traded spoiled cans of fruit
For baskets that took a year each to make.
Thank you, Faith, for not poisoning
Quite all
Of my

Blankets for each of you,
And let no one say
That I am not
Grateful for your care.

Smuggling Cherokee, as with all of Kim Shuck’s poems, will resonate with Indian middle and high school readers. Students who are not Indian may not “get” some of them the first time around, but they will, eventually, if given the space to sit with them.

Kim Shuck—a poet, teacher, fine artist and parent of at least three—teaches college courses in Native Short Literature, creates phenomenal beadwork and basketry, curates museum collections, teaches origami to young children as an introduction to geometry, grows vegetables, converses with trees, takes long walks, and meditates while doing piles of laundry. She won the Native Writers of the Americas First Book Award for Smuggling Cherokee, as well as the Diane Decorah Award for Poetry, she has a fierce and gentle heart, and I’m honored to call her “friend.”

—Beverly Slapin

(Note: Smuggling Cherokee can be ordered from kshuck@tsoft.net. Discount for class sets, free shipping.)

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October 4, 2015

Dear Bonnie Bader, Grosset & Dunlap, and Penguin Young Readers Group,

Your book, Who Was Christopher Columbus, published in 2013, has major errors in it (p. 4, Kindle edition):

The error is in that last line that reads "Christopher Columbus had discovered a new world." Maybe you think that the sentence before it makes it ok because it tells readers that no one in Europe knew about this land. It doesn't make it ok. Later, you tell readers he discovered an island he named Dominica. And that he also "discovered the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico" (p. 72-73 in Kindle version). Simply put, you can't discover something that someone else already had. With this book, you're misleading children. You're mis-educating them.

Your Who Was Christopher Columbus is loaded with other problems, too. My suggestion? Withdraw it from publication.

My suggestion to all the people who already bought Bader's Who Was Christopher Columbus? Do not use it with young children. Instead, write to Penguin and ask for your money back, or, use it with older children and adults in a text analysis activity. Read what Bader wrote, and compare it to other sources. A great set of resources for this activity is at the Zinn Education Project website. Another excellent resource is Rethinking Columbus.

You, Ms. Bader, and your editors at Grosset & Dunlap (it is an imprint of Penguin), can do better. I hope you do. Recall the book. Refund the money parents, teachers, and librarians spent on it, too.

And do better.

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

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4. THE HIRED GIRL by Laura Amy Schlitz

This is one of those posts people are gonna object to because it is one of the "one liners" -- which means that the book has nothing to do with Native people, but there is a line in it that I am pointing out.

It is "one line" to some, but to Native people or anyone who pays attention to ways that Native people are depicted in children's and young adult literature, those "one lines" add up to a very long list in which we are misrepresented.

Here's the synopsis for Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl, a 2015 book published by Candlewick (for grades 7 and up):

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Set in Pennsylvania in 1911, The Hired Girl has six starred reviews. It is currently listed at Amazon as the #1 bestseller in historical fiction for teens and young adults. Impressive. Hopefully, Schlitz and her editor will revisit the part of the book where a woman tells Joan "You, I think, are not Jewish." Joan responds:
"No, ma'am," I said. I was as taken aback as if she'd asked me if I was an Indian. It seemed to me--I mean, it doesn't now, but it did then--as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they're civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.
Let's look closely at what Joan said.

The word 'are' in "I know there are Indians out West..." is in italics. I like that, because I often speak/write of the importance of tense. Most people use past tense when speaking or writing about Native peoples, but we're still here.

But then, Joan thinks "they're civilized now." Does that mean Joan buys into the idea of the primitive Indian who became "civilized" by contact with White people? Do the "ordinary clothes" they wear mean they're civilized?

I'm pretty sure people are going to say that--in asking those two questions--I'm not leaving room for people to do well, or try well, in their writing about Native people.

The fact is, this book is already succeeding and so are ones I've written about before. This post* isn't going to hurt it, but if it does give people (who read AICL) the opportunity to think about words they use in their own writing, that is a plus for all of us.

Native peoples in the U.S. were living in well-ordered societies when Europeans came here. We weren't primitive. Indeed, European heads of state recognized the Native Nations as nations of people. That's why there are treaties. Heads of state, then and now, meet with other heads of state in diplomatic negotiations. Saying "well, Joan didn't know that" is a cop out. She could have known it. Plenty of people did! She's a fictional character. She can know whatever Schlitz wants her to know.

*Replaced "My lone voice" with "This post" in hopes that I'll find other writing that points to this particular passage.

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5. Big News about Hoffman's AMAZING GRACE

In a comment to his post about weeding books, Roger Sutton said that Horn Book just received the 25th anniversary edition of Amazing Grace and that the page on which Grace is shown playing Indian is gone (she's pretending to be Longfellow's Hiawatha). Here's his comment:

This is the illustration he's talking about. It was in the original version of the book, published by Dial in 1991. The author is Mary Hoffman; the illustrator is Caroline Binch:

For those who don't know the book, the main character is a girl named Grace who wants to be Peter Pan in the play her class is going to do. Other kids tell her she can't be Peter because she's a girl and he's a boy, and, that she's Black and he's White. Stung--as any kid would be--she imagines herself in all kinds of roles, including Hiawatha. That she's "by the shining Big-Sea-Water" tells us she is imagining herself as the Hiawatha of Longfellow's imagination (there was, in fact, a real person named Hiawatha).

But see how Grace "plays" Hiawatha? In a stereotypical way. She sits cross legged, torso bare, arms crossed and raised up (I don't know why so many statues show Indians with arms crossed and lifted off the chest that way), barefoot, with a painted face and stoic look.

Amazing Grace came out in 1991. In 1992, a person from whom I've learned a great deal, wrote about it. That person: Ginny Moore Kruse. In her article "No Single Season: Multicultural Literature for All Children, published in Wilson Library Bulletin 66 30-3, she wrote:
Are the book's multiple themes so welcome that the act of "playing Indian" escaped comment by most U.S. reviewers...that critics relaxed their standards for evaluation? No, such images recur so frequently that when they do, nobody notices. Well, almost nobody but the children who in real life are Indian. 
Claiming that only American Indian children are apt to notice "playing Indian," "sitting Indian style," or picture book animals "dressed up" like American Indians does not excuse the basic mistake. Self-esteem is decreased for the affected peoples, an accurate portrayals are skewed for everyone else.

This change is big news in children's literature. I'm grateful to Roger for sharing it. But let's return to his words. Roger suggested that the absence of Grace/Hiawatha in the new edition is the result of "public shaming."

Its absence can be seen as the result of public shaming---but it also be seen as a a step forward in what we give to children.

Might we say it is gone because its author, illustrator, and publisher decided that the self-esteem of Native children matters? And, maybe, they decided that having it in there was a disservice to non-Native readers, too, skewing what they know about Native peoples? Maybe they just decided it was dated, and in an effort to market the book to today's readers, that page would hurt sales.

Today, I wish I was near Ginny's hometown. I'd call her and see if she wanted to join me for a cup of tea. I'm sure it'd be a delightful conversation.

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6. Writers: Do not do a Peter Nabokov! Please respect tribal nations and our protocols.

In several places, I've written about the 1800s, when white ethnographers began going to reservations--uninvited--with the intent of documenting our stories. Those ethnographers were outsiders. Did they understand what they were writing about? Were their informants reliable? There are a lot of questions about those archived stories, and yet, present day storytellers use them to "retell" Native stories that get presented to children in classrooms as authentic. Some of those stories are ones tribes want to protect from outsiders.

To protect their stories, Native Nations developed protocols that researchers--and that means writers, too--are expected to use.

Dr. Peter Nabokov, a professor and author of several works of nonfiction about Native peoples, chose to violate those protocols with the publication of his newest book. In an interview published by the National Geographic on September 23rd, 2015, he was asked about the project:

You’re a white man yourself. How did the Acoma tribe regard this project?
They didn’t know about it. [Laughs] There was some concern about the republication of the Acoma’s Origin Myth. When it was published in 1942 by the Bureau of American Ethnology, it sat under-appreciated for a number of years. Later on, it appeared in excerpted form in anthologies. With the coming of the Internet, various people put it out in the public domain, including the pictures, the kachina masks, the maps and depictions of sacred altars.
I thought this publication of the Origin Myth deserved a second, more dignified shot. So I didn’t allow any pictures of the sacred altars or kachina masks to be republished, just the text. I feel this story deserves inclusion alongside the Bible, the Koran, and all the other great texts of world literature. 

See that? He knows there are concerns but he laughed that Acoma didn't know he was publishing the book. He tells us he wanted to be "more dignified." What he chose not to include in his book suggests that he is more dignified in his treatment. That he wants the story to be alongside other texts of world literature suggests that he is aware and sensitive to the place of Native story in a global context.

Sounds good, but is it? The short answer is no.

Here's an excerpt from a statement Acoma's Governor, Fred S. Vallo Sr., published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 23, 2015 (the same day as the interview at National Geographic). I am using bold text to draw your attention to protocol and Nabokov's disregard of those protocols:

Nabokov agreed to submit the manuscript to the pueblo for review and to appear before the Acoma Tribal Council to discuss possible publication of the book. Virtually every other modern scholar and professional working with the Pueblo of Acoma has sought this permission when seeking to disclose sensitive cultural information. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Acoma has approved of disclosure in the past. Some examples of published work with permission of the Pueblo of Acoma include publications by Dr. Ward Allan Minge, Dr. Alfred Dittert, Dr. Florence Hawley Ellis, Dr. Kurt Anschuetz and others.
While a manuscript of The Origin Myth of Acoma Pueblo was submitted to Acoma Pueblo at the pueblo’s insistence upon discovering Nabokov’s planned publication, and was being reviewed by traditional leaders, Nabokov did not follow through on any of his other promises prior to publication. Nabokov holds himself out as a scholar and “friend” of Indian tribes. His actions suggest otherwise, as he does not exhibit basic respect for tribal beliefs and practices.
I think it is fair to say that Nabokov is exploiting Native people for personal gain. There's no integrity in what he did, none at all. And his treatment of Acoma's wishes gives me pause. What, I wonder, about the rest of his books?

Are you planning to use a Native story in a work of fiction or non-fiction? Find out if it is ok to use it. Do not assume--as the author of a recent children's book did--that those protocols only apply to academic researchers. They apply to anyone. Don't assume a visit to a tribe's museum and a chat with a docent counts as authorization. It doesn't. Don't assume your friendships with people of that tribe are sufficient. They aren't. Do it right. Respect the wishes of the tribal nation from whom the story originates. Not doing so could mean you'll be written up in the news, exposed as someone with no basic respect for tribal peoples and on AICL, too.

Update, 7:30 AM, September 25, 2015
Read Governor Vallo's full statement in The New Mexican
Read the Public Statement issued by the Pueblo of Acoma

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7. Using the "Peanutize Me" Avatar to Send a Message

Have you seen the Peanutize Me avatars people are creating? It is a clever promotion for the Peanuts movie due out in November.

This morning, author Rene Saldana posted this one on his Facebook page*:

"I am the invisible brown."

Seeing his, I went back to the one I started making last night. Here's mine:

"Quit smiling, Snoopy. We have work to do. 
Crappy books about us keep getting published."

If you create one with a political message about children's or young adult literature, let me know and I'll add it.


Here's one from librarian Sujei Lugo, added at 11:48 on September 22, 2015:

Here's one from 8mph Ansible (on Twitter), added at 1:16 on September 22, 2015:

"Not only do we lack diversity in male chars
but male chars wearing kilts & skirt-like apparel."

Delighted to add artist Don Tate (Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015) who used his artistic skills to great effect!

"#We Need More Diverse Peanuts"

This one is from Gwen Tarbox, children's literature professor (added on September 23, 2015):

"I'm smiling because my children's literature students 
came to the realization that we ALL need diverse books."

*In later conversations with Rene, he told me that he was surprised when he downloaded his avatar and saw that he was invisible. In the part where you select skin tone, he had selected a light brown. We both wonder if invisible was an option, and why his avatar turned out invisible. I thought it was deliberate on his part. It echoed the invisible nature of books by Latino writers, and, reminded me of an essay he wrote at Latinos in Kidlit, Forgive Me My Bluntness: I'm a Writer of Color and I'm Right Here In Front of You: I'm the One Sitting Alone at the Table.

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Cinnamon and the Bat People by Cookie Thomas came out in 2014. Published in London, England by TMC London, here's the synopsis from the publisher's website:

A mysterious old woman invites a stranded family to sit on her porch while they wait for their car to be pulled out of a gulley. She weaves them a fascinating tale of a young indigenous couple, Rose and Charlie, from rural Texas during the depression, who run away to Illinois with their new born baby Cinnamon. Rose and Charlie are shocked to learn that the farmer they worked for bequeathed them all his money and a Model-T Ford after he and the whole town are destroyed by a ferocious tornado. They decide to return to Texas, only to be immersed in the battle between the Bat People and the Crow People…and the evil of a conniving witch, who has bad intentions for Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a "Native American" but important information is missing. What tribal nation does she belong to? We aren't told. Instead, the Native content is stereotypical in both, romantic and derogatory ways.

Some things about it are curious. This passage, for example, is right after the mysterious old woman tells the family that she'll tell them a story about "a little Indian girl" (p. 10):
"Did you say a little Indian girl?" Dan said with a raised eyebrow, looking relieved the crows were gone. "Do you mean Native American Indian?"
"Don't interrupt!" I said, scrunching my face. "Back then, we just called them Indians, and no one paid no mind." 
Who is "no one" in the old woman's mind? In the promotional materials for the book, it is clear that the author has a reverence for stories about Native peoples that she was told as a child, but much of what I read in the book--like that passage--is unsettling or just plain odd.

In short, I do not recommend Cinnamon and the Bat People. 

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9. A student's question about bias

A few weeks ago, I was at Georgia State's College of Education to talk with professors and students about Native peoples, how we're taught in the curriculum, choosing children's books, etc. A few days ago, a student wrote to me with a question about biased content and how a teacher could address it.

She had a specific example in which she imagined a fourth grade class being taught about specific Native Nations. She imagined a student asking the teacher why Native Americans were moved to reservations. She wondered how the teacher might respond in an unbiased manner.

Let's look, first, at the word "bias." It means prejudice in favor or against a thing, person, or group, compared with another, in a way that is unfair or partial to one of the groups.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that I was reading Deborah Wiles's Revolution. There's a passage in it that is a good example of bias. On page 263, Sunny (the protagonist) is at a movie theater and is approaching Mr. Martini, the man who takes tickets:

Mr. Martini is standing under the buffalo carving, which is my favorite of all the carvings on the lobby wall that depict the history of Greenwood, although Daddy says there would not have been buffalo east of the Mississippi River, which is where the Delta is. There would have been Indians, though--the Choctaw and Chickasaw including Choctaw Chief Greenwood Leflore, who was here first and signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek way before the Civil War. That's when most of the Indians moved to Oklahoma. Miss Coffee, my fourth-grade teacher, would be proud of me for remembering.
I want to focus on two passages from that paragraph.

First is the idea that Indians were "here first." It may seem innocent enough, but scholars in Native Studies see language that says Native peoples were here "first" as a way to undermine our sovereignty. If we were simply here first, followed by __ and then by __, one can say that everyone--Native peoples, too--are immigrants to this continent.

Second is "the Indians moved to Oklahoma." Written as such, it sounds like they--on their own--decided to move. Of course, they had not chosen to move. They were forcibly removed. Although Miss Coffee told Sunny about the Dancing Rabbit Treaty, I wonder if her bias in favor of White landowners and against Choctaws is evident by Sunny's takeaway: that Indians "moved" to Oklahoma. If Wiles had, in the backstory for this part of the book, a character who is Choctaw, that character could have corrected Miss Coffee. That paragraph I quoted above could then end with Sunny saying "but Joey, who is Choctaw, told Miss Coffee that his people didn't move. They were REmoved."

A plus in that paragraph is this: Sunny says "most" of the Indians moved. In that "most" she is correct. The descendants of Choctaws who refused to be removed were federally recognized as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in 1945.  And, Sunny's dad is wrong about buffaloes. They were, in fact, east of the Mississippi. Were they in the Delta? I don't know.

Let's return to the question posed by the Georgia State student. Let's say that the curriculum the teacher is using has the words "moved" in it and let's assume the teacher knows that the Choctaw's were forcibly removed. She could teach her students about bias right then and there, using moved/removed as an example of bias and she could provide students with information from the Choctaw Nation's website. It has a detailed account of removal. A teacher using Wiles's book could pause the reading on page 263 to correct what Sunny learned from Miss Coffee.

The point is that teachers can address bias in materials. This is, of course, teaching children to read critically--and reading critically is a vital skill.

Thanks, student at Georgia State, for your follow up questions! I hope this is helpful.

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10. Julie Flett Depicts Debbie Reese in TEACHING TOLERANCE

Some weeks ago, Dave Constantin at Teaching Tolerance got in touch with me for an article that came out yesterday: Rewriting History--For the Better. They wanted art for the article and got in touch with Julie Flett, who read it and wrote to me with an idea.

She wanted to show someone reading to children, and thought she'd like to show ME reading to children. I was speechless. And of course, I was thrilled! I love her work.

Julie asked me for photos of me reading to kids. The only photo I have is one of me reading to our daughter when she was a baby. Here's that photo (if you're wondering about the book, we're looking at illustrations in a children's literature textbook).

I sent her more recent photos, too. As we exchanged email about the art she was working on, she asked about a book that I'd like to be reading in the art, and I chose Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue. Permissions to use that worked out beautifully. Here's a screenshot of a portion of the article, and Julie's illustration of me:

I'm humbled, and delighted, and excited... a flood of emotions are racing through me! Thank you, Julie! This is a gift that I'll treasure always.

I've written about Julie's work several times and am pleased as can be to be in her portfolio.

Read the article in Teaching Tolerance, and order Julie's books for your home, classroom or library collection:
We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers
Wild Berries
Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak Iii Swer/Owls See Clearly at Night
Little You (written by Richard Van Camp)

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11. Librarians launch blog: READING WHILE WHITE

Yesterday (September 15, 2015), a new blog was launched. Titled Reading While White, its contributors are--as the blog title indicates--white. The contributors are librarians who I know personally and professionally.

The most recent issue of Children and Libraries (Summer 2015), has articles by two of the contributors. Kathleen T. Horning's "Milestones for Diversity in Literature and Library Services" is a timeline of significant events in children's literature but it is loaded with information. She noted, for example, that in 1984, Jamake Highwater was exposed as a fraud. She referenced Akwesasne Notes, a source that most people in children's literature weren't reading at the time. It points to the depth of her commitment to diversity. She's at the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Allie Jane Bruce's article is "On Being White: A Raw, Honest Conversation." In it, she shares a personal story about how, over time, she became fully aware of her identity and a societal reluctance to talk about whiteness. Avoiding that discussion, she writes, lets racism be "other people's problem." She wrote Why a White Blog?, which is the first post at Reading While White. It is provocative and engaging, too. Yesterday as I read through Twitter, I saw that many people excerpted parts of her post as they shared news about the blog. She's at Bank Street College in New York City where she's done some outstanding work with children, teaching them to read critically. See her recent post, Rewriting History: American Indians, Europeans, and an Oak Tree.

Something both women and I share is a commitment to children. My article in the summer issue of Children and Libraries is the Last Word column. I wrote about my niece's baby, her names (one is her Tewa name, the language we speak at Nambe), and children's books I want her to have.

I look forward to reading Reading While White. Because it is written by librarians, I think librarians will be especially interested in what is shared there.

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12. AICL's first look at Rae Carson's WALK THE EARTH A STRANGER

A few weeks ago, I started to hear about Rae Carson's Walk the Earth a Stranger. The first chapters are online. I've started reading the sample chapters today because her book is on the longlist for the National Book Award. I ordered a copy of the book and will be back to finish this review when I finish reading her book. In my notes below, I raise some questions.

Walk the Earth a Stranger is published by Greenwillow and has a character, Jefferson, whose mother is Cherokee. Here's the synopsis:

The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?
Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

Summary is in regular text; my comments are in italics. 


January of 1849

Chapter One

The main character, Leah, is out hunting. She’s wounded a deer and is tracking it when she comes across a sensation she’s come to know as one she gets when she’s near a gold nugget, or, a gold vein. She finds the deer, kills it, and wants to cut the parts she can carry but the “gold sense” overwhelms her and she starts digging in the snow till she finds a nugget the size of a large, unshelled walnut.  Her gold sense tells her it is about 90% pure, and will be worth a hundred dollars.

On page 8 we learn about Jefferson—or rather—his dad. Leah remembers him thinking she had a good aim. We learn that Leah works hard, hunting and farming, and panning for gold, too, because her dad has no sons who would do that work. Girls in town poke fun at her strong hands and strong jaw. She’s glad they don’t know about her gold sense. 

Chapter Two

We meet Leah’s dad, who is sick with a violent cough. He tells her a much-loved story about a nugget he’d found when she was a baby, and how he’d hid it, but two-year-old Leah had found it. He re-hid it, and she found it again. That’s how they learned about her gold sense. They keep it secret because people would want her to find gold for them, especially since “the Georgia gold rush played itself out long ago” (p. 13).  Surface gold is mostly gone, but Leah knows there’s more, deep underground. She also knows that it would take more than her and her dad and pickaxes to get at it. Her dad doesn’t want to buy slaves to get it because he was raised Methodist and that "back in the day" the church was against slavery.

Debbie's comments:
Georgia... homeland of the Cherokee Nation. They were forcibly removed from their homelands. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they were a sovereign nation, President Jackson defied the Supreme Court and ordered their removal. They were rounded up in 1838. Many were held in prison camps awaiting departure for Indian Territory. Carson gestures to history of Methodists and slaves, but doesn't give readers similar context for who owned this land prior to Leah and her family. 

Her dad asks her where she found the nugget and they realize she found it on McCauley land. She wants to keep it but her dad tells her she can’t keep it. Her dad says he’ll return it when he goes to Charlotte, NC to assay the bag of gold dust they keep hidden. Turning it in in town would draw people to their property. Taking it to Charlotte is better because no one there knows them. But, since he’s not well, Leah thinks her dad is not likely to make the trip. She offers to go but he won’t let her because it’d be dangerous.

Chapter Three

The next day, Leah takes their wagon to school. Something is not right. Kids aren’t rushing around playing. She looks for Jefferson (p. 20):
His face is framed by thick, black hair and a long, straight Cherokee nose he got from his mama. An old bruise yellows the sharp line of his cheekbone.
Debbie's comments:
Noting he is Cherokee and wondering how that will play out as I keep reading.

Jefferson has a newspaper in hand and tells her that gold has been discovered in California. It says that President Polk announced the discovery. Because gold is everywhere, Leah wonders how much is in California, such that the President would announce it. She tells him she thinks that everyone in the town, Dahlonega, are going to go to California. Dahlonega “was built on a gold rush of its own” (p. 21).

Debbie's comments:
Dahlonega. Sounds like a Native word. Carson tells us that Dahlonega was built on a gold rush but again, doesn't tell readers who that land belonged to. I'll look up history of that town. 

Jefferson thinks there’s plenty of gold out there and says “someone like me could…” We learn (by way of narration) that his dad is a “mean Irish prospector” and that is mom is “a sweet Cherokee mama who fled with her brothers ten years ago, when the Indians were sent to Oklahoma Territory” (p. 21). Nobody in town blames her for taking off.  His “someone like me” means (p. 22):
“a stupid, motherless Injun,” which is one of the dumber things people call Jefferson, if you ask me, because he’s the smartest boy I know.

Debbie's comments: 
Oh... this is interesting. His mom "fled" in 1839 when they were "sent" to Oklahoma Territory...  I think that's soft-pedaling what happened. Both words are accurate, but both also obscure the violence and the very important history of the Cherokee Nation's long fight to keep their land, that they ended up in the Supreme Court who ruled in their favor, that President Jackson ordered their removal! Cherokee's fled, but they were being chased by armed soldiers and the militia, too. I'm not sure why her son stayed behind. I'll dig in to some materials and see how that could have worked. It is possible, of course, but here's where I get into plausibility. 

That said, my gut clenches to think of Jefferson heading west to seek gold. Is he going to do to California Indians what was done to Cherokees? 

Good that Carson pushes back right away on the "stupid Injun" but wondering what it adds to the story to have it there in the first place. Right now it seems like it serves to make Leah out to be A Good White Person (using caps there, thinking of Anne Sibley O'Brien's comment to my post about dinner with Deborah Wiles).

Leah and Jefferson talk about how much it would cost for them to head to California. He invites her to go with him, that they can tell people they’re married, or a brother and sister. As she heads home after school, she thinks about marriage, and Jefferson. She hears two shots and when she gets home discovers someone has killed her dad. Her mom is also shot and tells her to trust someone, that they were wrong to be alone as they have been. She tells her to run, and then dies.

Chapter Four

Leah grabs a gun and heads to the McCauley homestead, seeking Jefferson. At his house, his dad is drunk. She finds Jefferson at the woodshed, chopping wood. He tells her that everyone in town thinks her dad has a stash of gold and that once they hear of his death they’ll be there, looking for it. Leah tells him it is true.  When they get to her house, she stays outside while Jefferson goes in to look around. As she waits, she can’t feel the hum of her gold sense and realizes the bag of gold dust is gone.

Chapter Five

Inside, she lifts the floorboards where they kept the bag. It is gone. It was worth over a thousand dollars.  She finds the nugget and gives it to Jefferson.  He says he wishes she had trust him with their secret and she thinks of how much else he doesn’t know (about her gold sense). The next few days are a blur. Nobody else’s home has been bothered, so the Sheriff thinks it was just someone passing through who had heard the stories of their stash. Finding nothing, that person kept on going.  

The day of her parents’ funeral, Jefferson tells her he’s going west and wants her to go with him. With her gold sense, she thinks that “California is the Promised Land” (p. 46) but thinks she can’t leave her home. Jefferson goes on without her, saying he’ll wait for a while, in Independence.

Chapter Six

Leah goes to the funeral service for her parents. People are stirred up but it isn't about the death of her parents; it is about the news of gold in California.  Jefferson's dad is there. After the funeral he asks her if she knows where Jefferson is, but she doesn't tell him that Jefferson is on his way to Independence. Her Uncle is there, too, and she spots his revolver. She figures out he is the one who killed her parents. He moves in to their house. She decides to go to California. 


That's it for now. I'll be back when I get the book... 

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13. About Christine Taylor-Butler's Facebook Post

On Monday, September 7, 2015, Christine Taylor Butler started a conversation on Facebook by talking about heated conversations that took place over some things that Maggie Stiefvater said about writing the other (if you didn't follow it, see her response on her Tumblr page). Christine wrote (quoting what she said in its entirety):

I am watching the Maggie Stiefvater controversy and finding myself thinking that we don't progress as an industry because the internet has developed a new phenomena. The "attack by blog" cowardice from narcissistic sociopaths who use it as a form of passive aggressive expression for their anger management issues.
We don't have dialogue - we have attacks. We don't invite debate. We demand rote adherence to a single point of view.
We anoint movements as surrogates for real action and change but ignore the others that were on the front lines of the battle.
We attack the white speakers, but not the conference organizers who perpetuated the problem.
Why attack Maggie, when we didn't attack the authors who were appointed to an all-white male BookCon panel.
This. Must. Stop.
Children's literature is about creating engaging works for children. Not wars between angry content creators who, unable to pinpoint the true villains, tear down each other.
This. Must. Stop.
For those who can't conceive of sharing the landscape so diversity has a broader meaning. For those who say whites can't write "other" instead of addressing the real problem which is that those of us who are "other" should be able to write across boundaries, too, I say get out of the kidlit business and write for adults. Because you don't understand where the real problem lies.

As people responded to her, I read some comments that indicated some people may be unaware that, in children's literature, the discussion of "who can write" is not a new one. I posted a comment with a link to my post about dinner with Deborah Wiles. That post includes a quote from Kathryn Lasky, a writer who called critics "self-styled militias of cultural diversity." That quote is from 1996.  A few minutes later I got a notification saying Ellen Hopkins had commented on Christine's post, so I went back to see how the conversation was developing. My comment was gone. Christine had deleted it. That was surprising to me. Right after Ellen's comments, I saw one from Christine:

In that comment, she didn't name the blogger. Because she'd just deleted my comments, I assumed she was talking about me. I had asked her for an ARC. I did review her book, The Lost Tribes. At that point I more or less shrugged it off.

Later, however, there was a longer post (below) sent to her 800+ friends that I felt I couldn't shrug off. In it, she replaced "Dine (Navajo)" with "another culture" and "Indian Outreach Center" with "Outreach Center". Even without the references to Native culture, people who she sent it to thought she was talking about me. They wrote to me to ask about it. They sent me the text itself. I also received screen shots of it. Here's the text (my apologies for the not-great quality of the screen caps):

In the longer comment, this line is the one that prompted me to write this post:
"She didn't bother to explain in her blog that over several months she and I had discussed the research I had done."
The reason? Lot of writers and editors write to me, seeking my help with content specific to Native people. My worry? She was scaring people away from seeking my help. If they assume--like I and others did--that she was talking about me, she was effectively casting doubt on my integrity.

Was addressing it, however, buying in to social media drama? Yesterday morning (Tuesday, September 9), I said (on Facebook) that I was thinking about writing this post. Yesterday afternoon, Christine said (in a comment to me) that she was not talking about me. Other things she said in that comment contradicted that assertion. She deleted that comment, too. I don't have a copy of it.

Contradictions aside, I can take her at her word. This post was intended to be my effort to make sense of what Christine was saying. In an early draft of this post, I wrote about our interactions via Facebook and email, quoting extensively from those interactions. I'm setting that draft aside.

As Christine's initial post (top of this page) indicates, this is a heated moment in children's literature as we (once again) engage the debate of who-can-write. It is heated in adult literature, too. As I write, people are discussing Sherman Alexie's post about why he decided, in his role as editor of The Best American Poetry 2015, to include a poem by Michael Derrick Hudson, a white man who submitted that poem with the name "Yi-Fen Chou" rather than his own name. I think Alexie was wrong to include it. Writers use pen names for many reasons. Names matter. There are studies that show that people with ethnic names are, for example, denied job interviews, loans, and opportunities to publish. In some of those studies, the very same content is submitted using names like Smith, and those applications get further in the process.  Hudson did the opposite thing. He exploited a marginalized population for personal gain. There are excellent responses to Alexie's decision. See, for example, the letter by Craig Santos Perez.

I'm on the record, for those who don't know, for preferring Native writers because when a teacher or librarian shares a Native-authored book with a child, that teacher or librarian can use present tense verbs to tell that child about that author and that author's tribal nation, that nation's website, and so on. Those present tense verbs push back on the idea that we're a primitive people, and ideas that we no longer exist. My review recommending On the Move by Flynn, who is not Native is evidence that I think a non-Native person can write a story about Native people.

As for what Christine said about bloggers attacking authors? Some writers view negative criticisms as attacks, or, as dangerous. I understand they feel that way to writers, but the work I do here on AICL and elsewhere privileges the children who will read what writers write.

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14. Deborah Wiles, Debbie Reese, and Choosing a Revolution

I spent the first three days of this week at Georgia State University. I gave a lecture in their Distinguished Speaker series and several guest lectures to classes in GSU's Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education. All meals were with students and faculty. It was a full schedule, but I enjoyed and learned from all of it and am sharing one part of it here.

Just before I got on my plane for Atlanta on Monday morning (August 31, 2015), I learned (via Facebook) that the author, Deborah Wiles, wished she'd known I was going to be there, because she wanted to meet me. I didn't know her work at that point.

Deborah was able to get an invitation to dinner on Tuesday evening. There were five of us (three professors, Deborah, and myself). I've had meals with writers before, but don't recall one like that one. I was, in short, rather stunned by most of it.

Deborah's experience of it is different from mine. Early Wednesday, she provided a recap on her Facebook page:

Last night's dinner at Niramish in Little Five Points, ATL. I got excited when I saw that Debbie Reese was speaking to students in the School of Education at Georgia State and I... um... invited myself to dinner. No I didn't. But I did squee a liitle (a lot) about the fact that she was coming. I was invited to dinner and was ecstatic about the invite, so much so that I brought everyone a book and foisted it into their hands. They were so gracious. I loved talking about children's literature and who gets to tell the story about careful, close reading, and about thoughtful critical discourse (for starters). I have long admired Debbie's work and have been getting to know my teaching friends at the College of Education & Human Development, Georgia State University this year, whom I admire more with each encounter... Thank you the invitation and generosity! Rhina Williams, Cathy Amanti, Debbie Reese, and Thomas Crisp.
I replied to her on Friday afternoon (September 4):

Deborah, you read my blog and my work, so you know I'm pretty forthcoming. I'll be that way here, too. When you brought up the who-can-write topic at dinner, there was an edge in your words as you spoke, at length, about it and criticisms of REVOLUTION. Since then, I've spent hours thinking about that dinner. I don't think we had a discussion, but I am willing to have that discussion with you. You indicate that white writers feel they can't get their books published if their books are about someone outside the writers identity. With regard to non-Native writers writing books about Native people, I don't see what you're describing. What do you think... do you want to talk more about this? On my blog, perhaps?

And she responded:

Sure, we can talk more about that. I want to make sure I am clear about what I said (or tried to say). I don't think white writers can't get their books published if they write outside their culture, not at all... these books are published all the time. I've published them. We were bouncing around quite a bit at that dinner, topic to topic. Part of what I said was that I got push-back in certain circles for writing in Ray's (black) voice in REVOLUTION, but I know that voice is authentic to 1960s Mississippi because I lived there and heard it all my life and wrote it that way. Sometimes in our (collective) zeal to "get it right" we point at a problem that isn't there. I'm happy to talk more on your blog! Thanks for thinking about it with me.

So, here's my post about that dinner. Obviously I wasn't taking notes. Deborah's comment above ("what I said (or tried to say)") demonstrates that neither of us is sure of what was said. This is my recollection and reflections on the evening.

On arriving, Deborah immediately began by talking to me about my work, saying that writers read what I say. She specifically mentioned my work on Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground and how that made an impact on writers.

I was, of course, glad to hear that, but then she turned the conversation to current discussions in children's literature, saying that this is a dangerous time for writers, because they are being told that they can't write outside their cultural group and that if they do write outside their culture, their books won't get published. Note that in her Facebook comment above, she said these books are getting published and uses her book as an example. I recall saying that I think these are exciting times, because we need diverse voices. It was that exchange--with her characterizing these times as dangerous and me describing them as exciting--that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Deborah started talking about her book, Revolution. She said that she'd shown Jackie Woodson some of the work she was doing on that book, or that she'd talked with her about the African American character, Ray, in Revolution, or maybe it was that she'd talked with Jackie about white writers giving voice to black characters. Whatever it was, the outcome was that Deborah had a green light (my words, not hers) from Jackie. I don't doubt any of it, but I am uneasy with that sort of report. It implies an endorsement from someone who isn't there to confirm it. I'm very attentive to this because, knowingly or not, writers who do that are, in my view, appropriating that person in a way that I find inappropriate. If Deborah could point to a statement Jackie made about Revolution, that would be different.

Deborah went on to to tell us that she had lived in Mississippi and that the voice she gave to Ray is based on what she heard when she lived there. But, she said, "fervent" people didn't like what she did. Someone (me or one of the professors at the table) asked her who the "fervent" people are, and she said that she wasn't going to say if I was going to tell them.

I was taken aback by that and responded immediately with "well don't say then, because I will tell them." She went on to say that it is SLJ's Heavy Medal blog, and that Heavy Medal discussions are dangerous, that they have too much power in terms of influencing what people think.

Deborah seemed angry. She was talking at me, not with me. I don't recall saying anything at all in response to what she said about Heavy Medal and fervent people.

I share my recollection of the dinner--not to solicit sympathy from anyone or to embarrass Deborah--but to convey my frustration with the incredible resistance Deborah's words and emotion represent within the larger context of children's literature.

The who-can-write conversation is not new. In 1996, Kathryn Lasky wrote an article titled "To Stingo with Love: An Author's Perspective on Writing outside One's Culture." In it, she wrote that "self-styled militias of cultural diversity are beginning to deliver dictates and guidelines about the creation and publishing of literature for a multicultural population of readers" (p. 85 in Fox and Short's Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children's Literature, published in 2003 by the National Council of Teachers of English).

I count myself in that "self styled militia." One need only look at the numbers the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin puts out each year to see that we've made little progress:

CCBCs data shows some small gains here and there, but overall, things haven't changed much. One reason, I think, is the lack of diversity within the major publishing houses. I think there's a savior mentality in the big publishing houses and a tendency to view other as less-than. For some it is conscious; for others it is unconscious. All of it can--and should be--characterized as well-intentioned, but it is also unexamined and as such, reflects institutional racism. The history of this country is one that bestows privilege on some and not on others. That history privileges dominant voices over minority ones, from the people at the table in those publishing houses to the voices in the books they publish. That--I believe--is why there's been no progress. Part of what contributes to that lack of progress is that too many people feel sympathy for white writers rather than stepping away from the facts on who gets published.

At the end of the meal, Deborah brought out copies of her books to give to us. I got the picture book, Freedom Summer but it felt odd accepting the gift, given the tensions of the evening. I think she was not aware of that tension. She ended the evening by praising my blog but the delivery of that praise had a distinct edge. She banged the table with her fist as she voiced that praise.

I hope that my being at that dinner with Deborah that evening and in the photograph she posted on Facebook aren't construed by anyone as an endorsement of her work. Yesterday, I went to the library to get a copy of Revolution, because, Deborah said she is working on a book that will be set in Sacramento, and, she said, it will include the Native occupation of Alcatraz. I want to see what her writing is like so that I can be an informed reader when her third book comes out.

Before going to the library, I looked online to see if there was a trailer for it. In doing that, I found a video of Deborah reading aloud at the National Book Award Finalists Reading event. Watching it, I was, again, stunned. She read aloud from chapter two. Before her reading, she told the audience what happened in chapter one. The white character, Sunny, is swimming in a public pool, at night. She touches something soft and warm, which turns out to be a black boy. She screams, he runs away. Then she and Gillette (another white character) take off too, but by then, the deputy is there. She tells him what happened. The last lines of that chapter are these (page 52):
There was a colored boy in our pool. A colored boy. And I touched him, my skin on his skin. I touched a colored boy. And then he ran away, like he was on fire.
As readers of AICL know, I keep children foremost in my mind when I analyze a book. In this case, how will a black child read and respond to those lines? And, what will Deborah think of my focus--right now--on that part of her book? I haven't read the whole book. No doubt, people who read AICL will be influenced by my pointing out that part of the book. Will Deborah think I am, like the people at Heavy Medal, "dangerous"?

Deborah said, above, that "Sometimes in our (collective) zeal to "get it right" we point at a problem that isn't there." She means the people who criticized her for Ray's voice in Revolution. The dinner and Deborah's remarks are the latest in a string of events in which people in positions of power object to "fervent" people. Jane Resh Thomas did it in a lecture at Hamline and Kate Gale did it in an article at Huffington Post.

I'll wind down by saying (again), that I've spent hours thinking about that dinner. It seemed--seems--important that I write about it for AICL. This essay is the outcome of those hours of thinking. I was uncomfortable then, and I'm uncomfortable now. I wanted to say more, then, but chose to be gracious, instead. I'm disappointed in my reluctance then, and now. I don't know where it emanates from. Why did I choose not to make a white writer uncomfortable? Is Deborah uncomfortable now, as she reads this? Are you (reader) uncomfortable? If so, why? Was Deborah worried about my comfort, then, or now? Does it matter?!

I can get lost in those questions, but must remember this: I do the work I do, not for a writer, but for the youth who will read the work of any given writer. For the ways it will help--or harm--a reader's self esteem or knowledge base.

The imagined audience for Revolution isn't an African American boy or girl. It is primarily a white reader, and, while the othering of "the colored boy" in chapter two may get dealt with later in the book, all readers have to wait. Recall the words of Anonymous, submitted to AICL as a comment about Martina Boone's Compulsion. They have broad application:
I find the idea of a reader -- particularly a child -- having to wait to see herself humanized an inherently problematic one. Yes, it might accurately reflect the inner journey many white people take, but isn't the point that our dehumanizing views were always wrong? And therefore, why go back and re-live them? Such ruminations could definitely be appropriate in an all-white anti-racist group, in which the point is for white people to educate each other, but any child can pick up a book, and be hurt--or validated--by what's inside. Asking marginalized readers to "wait" to be validated is an example of white dominance as perpetuated by well-intentioned white folks.
It is long past time for the industry to move past concerns over what--if anything--dominant voices lose when publishers actually choose to publish and promote minority voices over dominant ones. It is long past time to move past that old debate of who-can-write. Moving past that debate means I want to see publishers actually doing what Lasky feared so that more books by minority writers are actually published.  

In 1986, Walter Dean Myers wrote that he thought we (people of color) would "revolutionize" the publishing industry. We need a revolution, today, more than ever. Some, obviously, won't join this revolution. Some will see it as discriminatory against dominant voices but I choose to see it as responsive to children and the millions of mirrors that they need so that we reach a reality where the publishing houses and the books they publish look more like society. In this revolution, where will you be?

To close,  I'll do two things. First is a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Thomas Crisp at Georgia State University, for years of conversation about the state of children's literature, and, for assistance in writing and thinking through this essay. He was at that dinner in Atlanta. Second is a question for Deborah. Why did you want to meet me? Usually, when people want to meet me, there's a quality to the meeting that was missing from our dinner in Atlanta. There's usually a meaningful discussion of something I've said, or, about the issues in children's literature. That didn't happen in Atlanta. In the end, I am left wondering why you wanted to meet me.

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15. If Claire Kirch was Kate Gale's editor...

Dear Claire Kirch,

In your article, today, you wrote this about Kate Gale's essay in Huffington Post:
The article--which can be seen in full in these screen shots captured by PW--attempted to defend AWP against recent complaints about the lack of diversity represented in its programming, as well as the lack of transparency in its actions. Gale's article, however, featured inflammatory language that drew its own backlash. (Among other things, the article referred to Native American as Indians.)

Really, Claire? If you were Kate Gale's editor, you'd suggest she change this sentence:

I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Indians.

 so it reads like this:

I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Native Americans.

Really? I'm astounded. Tell me, Claire, why you think that's better. Seems to me you're as clueless as Gale. I hope you'll take time to read what I wrote yesterday: About Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." But even if you don't read what I said, please tell me why you think it would be better if Gale had used Native American instead of Indian. 


Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

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16. About Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us"

Yesterday (8/24/2015), I read Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." Here's a screen cap of the second and third paragraphs in her post:

Gale recounts being at a dinner where a woman leaned over to her and said that AWP hates Native Americans. She writes that she took out a pen and paper and asked the woman who, at the AWP office, hates Indians. Gale says that she imagined David Fenza saddling a horse and going out to shoot Indians. She says the woman fumbled around and couldn't tell her who the "Indian hater" was.

Her unstated conclusion is that the woman's remark has no merit. I take whatever fumbling there was as a sign that the woman was astounded at Gale's response. Reading Gale's post, it is clear that her demeanor towards the woman was aggressive.

What are the conditions in Kate Gale's world, in her head and heart, that prompt her to hear the words "hate Native Americans" and imagine someone getting on a horse to shoot Indians? She probably thinks her imaginings are clever. Those imaginings, however, illuminate a lot about what-is-wrong-with-literature, and with AWP, and with a huge swath of society.

Past Tense

I wonder if Gale has Native friends or colleagues? I wonder if she reads Native writers? The answer to those questions may be yes, but none of them came to mind in her imagining. Instead, she went to a historical time period. That reflects the tendency to think of Native peoples as part of the past, not present.

Shooting Indians

I wonder if Gale is aware that, today, Native people are on the list of people most likely to be killed by law enforcement?  Here's a chart from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, published on August 26, 2014:

Gale's imaging (horse/Stetson) sound like something out of a Western, but let's consider a common phrase: off the reservation. That phrase goes back to a period when, if a Native person left a reservation without permission of the government agent, that person could be shot. Indeed, Carlos Montezuma's mother left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, without permission, to try to find her little boy. She was shot in the back, and killed, by an Army scout.

My point is that Gale's imagining's aren't funny. 
They aren't clever. They are offensive. 

Her post was much discussed amongst Native writers and scholars yesterday. Those conversations continue, today. Will there be a response from AWP? from Gale?

We're not the only group that objects to what she said. Others are responding, too. Just before I hit the upload button, I saw a tweet from AWP:

Will Gale have one, too? Will this and other high profile AWP problems, prompt change within AWP?

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17. Chapter-by-chapter notes on Erin Bowman's VENGEANCE ROAD

I'm reading an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road. 

Here's my notes as I pick up and start to read Vengeance Road. Summary is in standard font. My questions, comments, observations are in italics.

Notes on August 23, 2015

The front cover: Cactus, skulls (human and animal), pistols.

Debbie's thoughts: This is a western. 

The back cover: Blurb tells me the story is about 18 year old Kate Thompson. Her father is killed "for a journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine."
Debbie's thoughts: Hmmm... an old west story, something to do with gold mines. Anytime a story is about the west and mining, I wonder if it'll include the fact that those mines were on Native homelands. I wonder if it'll include the violence Native peoples endured by those who staked claim to those homelands. 

The map that appears on two pages, after the title, CIP, and dedication pages: Dated "Arizona Territory, 1877.
Debbie's thoughts: I don't see any Native spaces on the map. It has things like "Thompson Homestead" but I think it is fair to say the map erases Native presence from their homelands. Obviously, we're talking about point of view. I wonder who made the map? Was it made by someone in the story? Carlos Montezuma was born, in Arizona, around 1866. He was afraid to be kidnapped. By then, Native peoples were doing all they could to protect their homelands, AND, protect their families from being abducted and forced to work in mines. I'll need to get Ned Blackhawk's book, Violence Over the Land, out again if I need/want to say more about this! 

Chapter 1

Kate (the protagonist) is at the river "yanking a haul" on her Pa's plot of land, which she calls "the best plot of land 'long Granite Creek" (p. 1).
Debbie's thoughts: wondering how that plot of land came to be his? And what makes it best? I think yanking a haul means hauling water.  A search of Google maps tells me that Granite Creek is north of Prescott and southwest of Flagstaff. 
Smoke and yelping cause Kate to head to the house but it is too late. Her father is dead, swaying from a tree, and the house is on fire. She sees figures riding away and shoots at them. One falls. Scene switches to the Quartz Rock Saloon in Prescott (five miles away), where Kate, dressed like a boy, is watching the person who fell. She's sure he won't last long. She listens to conversation around her, which includes "a pair of uniforms from Fort Whipple" who are "hammering 'bout the Apache."
Debbie's thoughts: Apache. First mention of a tribe. That's important, but will there be context for the existence of that fort? And, context for why the Apaches are the subject of conversation?

The guy leaves the saloon. Kate follows him to an outhouse where she yanks open the door and points her pistol at him. He's inside it, sitting on a pot that is set into a wooden seat in the outhouse. He isn't using the outhouse for its purpose; he's sitting in there to look at his gunshot wound.
Debbie's thoughts: Small point, but a pot inside an outhouse? Doesn't make sense to me. 

He tells Kate that her dad had a secret, told to him and his friends by Morris, a clerk at Goldwaters. He won't tell her what that secret is. She shoots him.

End of chapter 1.
Debbie's thoughts: Bowman is using the shoot-em-up style of writing in a way that will definitely appeal to readers who like this style, but it is, so far, very much within the master narratives of US history. By that, I mean the praise of prospectors who set out to "strike it rich" on resources that belonged to someone else. Of course, that someone else is dehumanized in these stories. "Savage Indians," you know, who don't "properly use the land" -- which justifies what was done to them, in the name of capitalism and manifest destiny. Yeah, I didn't use caps for manifest destiny. Just don't want to right now.   

That's it for now. Other things to do before I start chapter 2, but hitting the 'publish' button on this. I'll be back.

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18. Dorling Kindersley's POCAHONTAS (Beginning to Read Alone Level 2)

Hey all... you know that Pocahontas did not marry John Smith, right? Check this out:

Here's the synopsis:
In this book, children learn the story of Pocahontas. Famous for helping maintain peace between the English colonists and Native Americans, this brave Indian woman befriended the settlers at Jamestown, saving the life of their leader, Captain John Smith, whom she later married.
I wonder if the synopsis is wrong? Does the book actually have that error in it?

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19. POPCORN by Frank Asch

Dear Editors at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster,

A reader of AICL wrote to ask me about Frank Asch's Popcorn. It is an older book (pub year 1979, from Parents Magazine Press) that I haven't written about before. As a former elementary school teacher, I do remember one of the books about Sam (the bear). Not this one, though. Perhaps I saw it and decided not to use it. With good reason. In it, Sam (the bear) is having a Halloween party. Here he is in his costume:

Source: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/_RDXFS33SaM/maxresdefault.jpg

Here's the old cover:
Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5474/10652326993_4d45e9c8a1_b.jpg

And, here's the new one, published in 2015 by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster. The synopsis at Amazon tells us "This refreshed edition of a beloved classic features the original text and art with an updated cover." 

It must have made a fair bit of money for you, Aladdin, to be giving it to us again in 2015, with this "updated" cover---but it has outdated material! Do you not follow any of the national conversations around stereotyping of Native people? Or, about mascots?

Giving children this book, in 2015, suggests that either you're ignorant of those conversations and the research studies about the harm of such imagery, or, you know about it and don't care.

It is definitely a Book to Avoid. And, it is definitely another book for AICL's "Foul Among the Good" page.

Any chance you can 'stop the presses' so to speak? Or maybe recall what you've already sent out?

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

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20. Native Writers and Illustrators on Twitter

Do you have a Twitter account? Do you follow Native writers! Some tweet a lot, some a little. Some tweet about books, some tweet about their nations, and some tweet about a wide range of topics.

If you know of Native writers/illustrators who I haven't listed here, submit their name/Twitter ID in a comment and I'll add them to this list. These are primarily Native writers or illustrators whose work has been discussed on AICL.

Sherman Alexie

Shonto Begay

Joseph Bruchac

Margaret Bruchac

Nicola I. Campbell

Lisa Charleyboy

Art Coulson

Heid Erdrich

Julie Flett

Joy Harjo

Daniel Justice

Marcie Rendon

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Arigon Starr

Kara Stewart

Drew Hayden Taylor

Tim Tingle

Anton Treuer

Richard Van Camp

Richard Wagamese

Daniel Wilson

Erika Wurth

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21. Babar Playing Indian in BABAR COMES TO AMERICA

I am always grateful to readers who write to me. Sometimes they write with a question. Sometimes they write to thank me for a review. Sometimes, they send me something to take a look at. This morning's mail had one of the later.

Tricia wrote to tell me about a page in Babar Comes to America. As I read her email, I remember seeing that book in a bookstore and snapping a photo of the page she sent to me. I'd lost track of it and am grateful to Tricia for sending it along so I can include it in AICL's Foul Among the Good page.

Published in 1965 by Random House and again in 2008 by Abrams, Babar Comes to America is by Laurent de Brunhoff.  One of the places Babar visits is the Grand Canyon, where "Babar and Arthur pay a visit to the Indians":

Helen Therese Frank writes:
To source this new title about America, de Brunhoff and his wife were invited to the United States in 1963, with expenses paid by the American publisher and several American companies who are acknowledged in the text and illustrations (Hildebrand, 1991).
Presumably, de Brunhoff and his wife were actually at the Grand Canyon, but what Indians did they see there? Was there really one called "Chief Sitting Bull" who was telling "hunting tales" and "the legend of the White Buffalo"?! Was he sitting on a drum? Was he barefoot?!

It is possible--but not likely--that de Brunhoff saw a "Sitting Bull" but this all strikes me as the imaginings of an outsider who was there but didn't understand what he saw. Rather than depict what he saw with accuracy, de Brunhoff turned to stereotyping when he created this in 1963.

Why, I wonder, did that page go unchanged when the book was published again in 2008? Who, I wonder, edited the book at Abrams? If changes can be made to Curious George playing Indian, I think they can be made to Babar Comes to America, too. What do you think?

This is the second post I've done on Babar. The first one was about Babar's World Tour.

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22. Looking for nonfiction?

People write to me asking about the merits of this or that nonfiction book or series, which one(s) I recommend, etc. Keeping up with them, and/or writing a comprehensive review is daunting, and something I have not done. A lot of nonfiction has photographs that I like. For example, Marcia Keegan's books (listed below in the not recommended section) are about Pueblo people. I like the photos! The captions... not so much. I'm pretty sure Pueblo kids would like those photos, too, and I'd love to sit with them and write new captions for the photos. Maybe we'd use a Sharpie! And we could re-write problematic text, too! That would be an excellent activity, showing them that books have errors--that, in this case, the kids know more than the author... that books are not perfect. 

Though I've not done any reviews of series, I can offer this:

In A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin, you'll find a section titled "Reviews: Photoessays of Indian Children." 

I strongly encourage you to buy A Broken Flute and read the reviews in their entirety. You'll learn a lot from studying those reviews. That study will help you in your collection development (decisions on what to get/what to weed) in the future. Here's my sorting of the reviews into three categories, recommended/recommended, but some parts uneven/not recommended and in two parts. First are books that stand alone, and second are books in a series. 


Ancona, George:
  • Earth Daughter: Alicia of Acoma Pueblo
  • Mayeros: A Yucatan Maya Family
  • Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead
  • Powwow

Jenness, Aylette and Alice Rivers. In Two Worlds: A Yup'ik Eskimo Family

LaDuke, Winona and Waseyabin Kapashesit. The Sugar Bush

McMillan, Bruce. Salmon Summer

Rendon, Marcie. Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life

Rose, LaVera. Grandchildren of the Lakota

Thompson, Sheila (Carrier). Cheryl Bibalhatsl/Cheryl's Potlach

Recommended, but some parts uneven 

Brown, Tricia. Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska. 

Gravelle, Karen. Growing Up: Where the Partridge Drums Its Wings 

Kendall, Ross. Eskimo Boy: Life in an Inupiaq Eskimo Village

Sola, Michele. Angela Weaves a Dream: The Story of a Young Maya Artist

Wolf, Bernard. Beneath the Stone: A Mexican Zapotec Tale

Not recommended

Garcia, Guy. Spirit of the Maya: A Boy Explores His People's Mysterious Past

Hazen-Hammond, Suzan. Thunder Bear and Ko: The Buffalo Nation and Nambe Pueblo

Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane.
  • Apache Rodeo
  • Arctic Hunter
  • Buffalo Days
  • Cherokee Summer
  • Day of the Dead: A Mexican-American Celebration
  • Lacrosse: The National Game of the Iroquois
  • Potlatch: A Tsimshian Celebration
  • Pueblo Storyteller
  • Totem Pole

Keegan, Marcia
  • Pueblo Boy: Growing Up in Two Worlds
  • Pueblo Girls: Growing Up in Two Worlds

Mott, Evelyn Clarke. Dancing Rainbows

Reynolds, Jan. Frozen Land: Vanishing Cultures

Wood, Ted, with Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk. A Boy Becomes a Man at Wounded Knee


Recommended, but parts uneven

"My World: Young Native Americans Today"
Published by Beyond Words, in association with the National Museum of the American Indian
  • Belarde-Lewis, Miranda. Meet Lydia: A Native Girl from Southeast Alaska
  • Secakuku, Susan. Meet Mindy: A Native Girl from the Southwest
  • Tayac, Gabrielle. Meet Naiche: A Native Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area

"We Are Still Here"
Published by Lerner
  • Braine, Susan. Drumbeat... Heartbeat: A Celebration of the Powwow
  • Hunter, Sally. Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition
  • King, Sandra and Catherine Whipple. Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer
  • Mercredi, Morningstar and Darren McNally. Fort Chipewyan Homecoming: A Journey to Native Canada
  • Nichols, Richard and D. Bambi Kraus. A Story to Tell: Traditions of a Tlingit Community
  • Peters, Russell M. Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition
  • Regguinti, Gordon. The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
  • Roessel, Monty. Kinaalda: A Navajo Girl Grows Up
  • Roessel, Monty. Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave
  • Swentzell, Rina and Bill Steen. Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters
  • Wittstock, Laura Waterman and Dale Kakkak. Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Sugarmaking
  • Wittstock, Laura Waterman and Dale Kakkak. Sugar Bush: Ojibway Maple Sugarmaking
  • Yamane, Linda. Weaving a California Tradition: A Native American Basketweaver

Not recommended

"The Library of Intergenerational Learning: Native Americans"
Published by PowerKids/Rosen

Kavasch, E. Barrie. 
  • Apache Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Blackfoot Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Crow Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Lakota Sioux Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Seminole Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Zuni Children and Elders Talk Together

"The World's Children" (exception is Grandchildren of the Lakota by LaVera Rose)
Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner

Hermes, Jules. Children of Guatemala

Pitkanen, Matti A. The Grandchildren of the Incas

Staub, Frank. 
  • Children of the Sierra Madre
  • Children of the Tlingit
  • Children of Yucatan

One more thing!

Another reason to get a copy of A Broken Flute is its guide to evaluating photo essays! Here's a photo of the top part of it:

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23. "How shall I describe your skin color?"

A colleague in children's literature asked (on Facebook) how people of color, or people who write about people of color, would like the skin tone of characters of color to be described. Specifically she gave this example: a character who is Latina and has "caramel skin." Because there are objections to using food to describe skin color, she asked people of color and writers who create characters of color to weigh in: what would they prefer to "caramel skin"?

The question itself assumes that a character who is Latino/a will have skin coloring that means they won't visibly look white, or, that they won't be mistaken for white by other characters in the story. The question embodies the fact that the character's identity matters to the story.

Growing up in the southwest amongst people who might be called Latina or Hispanic or Spanish or Mexican or Mexican American, I know that there's a wide range of skin color amongst them, but, because northern New Mexico is an area in which people deeply identify with their specific heritage, I also know that the color of their skin is not what makes them feel Latino/a, or Hispanic, or Spanish, or Mexican, or Mexican American, or.... Pueblo Indian. Certainly, we've all experienced prejudice or acceptance based on our appearance, but I don't think skin color is what any of us would say as one of the first things we say about ourselves.

I think my colleague's larger point is that characters are more than the color of their skin, and I think she's pushing people to dig more deeply so that a character's culture is the defining feature, or, a feature that shapes how they move about in the story. We all know, too, that physical description is somewhat of a default when writers introduce a character. Writers want us to visualize that character's physical presence, but the descriptors used often take the whole story off the rails.

Because this colleague and I have talked before about Native people and our status as members/citizens of a specific tribal nation rather than people of color, I assume she was thinking specifically about people who aren't Native but are "of color."

But, because so many people include Native peoples in the "people of color" framework, I decided to write this post in response to her question.

First--read my post, "We Are Not People of Color" to understand why the phrase doesn't work well when talking about Native peoples. Some of us do have "color" that makes us look, in appearance, like societal expectations of what a Native person looks like (dark hair, dark skin), but some of us don't. This video from the Cherokee Nation makes the point very well:

See the range in appearance that I'm talking about? It makes the case that assumptions about skin color and a Native person's identity are likely to get a writer in hot water. I cringe opening a new book. Invariably, the descriptions of Native characters reflect those assumptions.

I love when Native writers, like Cynthia Leitich Smith, speak back to those expectations in their stories! Here's the opening of her story in Moccasin Thunder, edited by Lori Marie Carlson. Published in 2005 by HarperTeen, Smith's story starts on page 33:

I love that story--and others in Moccasin Thunder, too.

I appreciate my colleague's question about skin color, but I also gotta say it was (for me) a bit uncomfortable. In essence, she was asking "How shall I describe your skin color?" I imagined sitting with someone who wondered what I would like them to say about my skin color. Would they ask the question if we were face to face? As I imagined that conversation, I looked down at my hands and wondered what I'd say. I definitely felt unsettled, imagining the conversation, even though the question is meant to help people avoid pitfalls. I'm usually more than happy to help people with questions, but this one... this morning... it just feels icky. I might be back to this post to say more about that icky feeling later, if I figure it out! For certain, I'd want to be described as a tribal member at Nambe. Indeed, I'm often asked how I should be described for a brochure or poster announcing a lecture I'm giving. I say that I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. That description means a lot. It opens doors to conversations that are rooted historically in the land, and in the political landscape of U.S. government/tribal nations. My skin color doesn't open that door.

An aside about nationhood: Did you notice the people in the video say "I am Cherokee" rather than "I am part Cherokee"? That is important. It speaks to their nationhood. I don't know anyone who says "I am part American." Do you? Or "Part of me is a citizen of the U.S."

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Yesterday's email from Publisher's Weekly included two items that caught my attention.

First is a new book due out this year: Vengeance Road. As far as I can determine, the author, Erin Bowman, is not Native. Here's a screen capture from the Amazon site, which tells us there is "a young Apache girl" in Vengeance Road (see 3rd line from the bottom of this screen capture).

I don't know who did the trailer for the book, but it has a dreamcatcher in it. The book is set in 1877. Given that date, I don't think the dreamcatcher belongs in this story. Is there one in the book? I'll let you know when I get a copy. Or--if you've read it, do let me know!

Second is an announcement of a book deal, with the title The Evaporation of Sofi Snow:

I visited the author's website and don't see anything there that indicates she is Native either. The blurb makes me uneasy because her character is "Native American" and named "Sofi Snow" and there's going to be some hunting. Oh, and the title has "evaporation" in it, which means changing from a solid to a gaseous state...  Is Sofi going to evaporate?! I'm having serious doubts about this character!

Vengeance Road is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is from HarperCollins. Both are major publishers. Will these two books be ones I recommend? We'll see.

Before hitting upload on this post, I'll say this: I do not contend that a non-Native person cannot or should not write Native characters. They can, and they should, but they must be done with care so that they don't affirm existing stereotypes or introduce new ones.


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I'm at the Oak Park Public Library, in Oak Park, Illinois for the afternoon. While here, I thought I'd take a look to see their holdings about Pocahontas. I found Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz. Published in 2007 by Walker Publishing Company, its title is the first indication that it is not a book that can provide young children with solid information about Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was not a princess! 
On that fact alone, librarians can 
deselect (weed) books about her that 
say she was a princess. 

Here's the opening paragraph from Krull's biography of her:

Sounds like a European princess, doesn't it? And therein is a clue: if it sounds European, it probably is, and here's why. When Europeans first came to the homelands of Native peoples, the incorrectly applied their knowledge of how European societies are structured to Native societies. We know better now, and have for a long time, and yet, we still see the word "princess" used in children's books about Pocahontas.

The "Storyteller's Note, or What Happened Next?" (presumably written by Krull), begins with this:
"All the information we have on Pocahontas is from English sources--we have nothing from her perspective. Dramatic accounts of her role are often inaccurate."
Interesting, eh? That word--inaccurate? It applies to Krull's book, too. She also says that she's tried to make sense of "the known facts" and that she has, especially, used Helen Rountree's Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries and David Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation, both of which are listed in her sources. However, Rountree doesn't use the word "princess" anywhere. Price uses it twice, without explanation. The first source Krull lists is Paula Gunn Allen's Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat. Princess is not one of the words she used in her book title, and, in the book itself, in several places, she puts "Indian Princess" in scare quotes.

So what are we to make of Krull's use of that word?

My recommendation is to remove this book from your shelves. If children in your library are using it to do research on Pocahontas, they are being ill-served by Pocahontas: Princess of the New World. 

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