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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. Author Studies, Kathleen Hale, Native authors

Last week, the Guardian published an article by Kathleen Hale that detailed how she had stalked a blogger who wrote a negative review of her book. Understandably, the article prompted a great deal of conversation on social media, with many bloggers expressing fear about being stalked.

Amongst the responses to Hale were ones that said that reviews are about books, not their authors, and that an author should not take reviews personally. A book, some say, stands alone. The author does not matter.

I appreciate that response but am hitting the pause button. Here's why.

Teachers assign author studies. There are guides on how to do them. Publishers like Scholastic offer guides, too. In them, students are asked to do research on the author's life, and that author's body of work. They are asked to make connections between the author's life and work. They are also asked to make personal connections between their own life experiences and those of the author and/or characters in the author's books.

Given the amount of conversation that took place over Kathleen Hale's article, I'm pretty sure a student doing an author study of her will come across the article. I hope they come away from it thinking that Hale went too far in stalking the blogger. Perhaps, in the days to come, we'll learn more about why the Guardian published that piece, and, because I think Hale was wrong to stalk the blogger (she paid for a background check on the blogger, and later rented a car and went to the blogger's home), I hope that the Guardian editors add a note to the top of that article, linking to responses from the blogging community.

On AICL, I've said that authors matter because I know that teachers ask students to do author studies.

My preference is that teachers assign books by Native writers because when the book is assigned, the teacher can say, for example, "Cynthia Leitich Smith is a tribal member of the Muscogee Creek Nation." The teacher can show students Cynthia's website and the website for the Muscogee Nation, too.

In doing that, the teacher will be using present-tense verbs ('is' and 'are'), and pushing against the idea that American Indians no longer exist, and, against the monolithic and stereotypical image of American Indians as people in feathered headdresses who lived in tipis and hunted buffaloes.

In short, an author's identity matters, and it is why I advocate for Native authors.

Back to Kathleen Hale. Here's some of the responses to her article. Please read them, and, learn about stalking, too. Start with information provided at the Stalking Resource Center.


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2. Carole Lindstrom's GIRLS DANCE, BOYS FIDDLE

Sometimes I read a children's book and start digging in a bit to do a review, and I find that my heart is soaring, and that I'm sitting here with a grin on my face. That is how I feel, writing this blog post, about Carole Lindstrom's Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle. 

Her story is about a girl named Metisse who doesn't want to dance. She wants to fiddle! Here's the cover of the book:



Her mom and dad, her brother, kids at school... they all tell her she can't fiddle. Girls, they say, have to dance. Her mom is teaching her how, and, gives her the shawl Memere (her grandma) wore when she first did the Butterfly Dance. Her mom wore it, too. Now, it is Metisse's turn to wear it.

But, Metisse struggles. She can't move her feet right. She's much happier when she's playing the fiddle with Pepere (her grandfather). Look at the cover. That's Pepere teaching her how to fiddle. She's learning how to play the Red River Jig. Obviously, he thinks it is just fine that she plays the fiddle.

As you might guess, it will turn out ok in the end.

Metis culture is part of every page.  I imagine some of you are wondering why Metis people would be doing a jig, or, playing fiddles! The final page of Girls Dance Boys Fiddle has an explanation:
Metis fiddle music is a blend of Scottish, French and Aboriginal influences that began in the early fur trade days in Canada.
The website for the Metis Nation has additional information about who they are:
The advent of the fur trade in west central North America during the 18th century was accompanied by a growing number of mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders. As this population established distinct communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans and married among themselves, a new Aboriginal people emerged - the Métis people - with their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood.

I like Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle because it is set in the present day, and because as I read it, I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig. So--I searched for videos and found a great many on YouTube. Here's a video of Metis kids, jigging. You gotta watch it to the end. At the end, the three-year-old appropriately acknowledges the fiddlers (and his dancing is cool, too):



Did you happen to see the woman with the fiddle? Go ahead--watch the video again. She's toward the end.

When, in the story, Metisse starts to fiddle at the gathering, her grandparents jump up and start dancing.



That page stole my heart! It made me think of the many times I saw my grandparents or parents jump up to dance together. I found lots of videos of Metis people jigging, but click over and watch Elder's Jigging Contest 2011 New Yr's. It looks like such fun!

Thanks, Carole, for this delightful story.

American Indians in Children's Literature highly recommends Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Kimberly McKay, published in 2013 by Pemmican Publications, Inc.

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3. THE GUARDIAN errs in its list of 50 best culturally diverse children's books

Yesterday (October 13, 2014), The Guardian ran an article titled "Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse children's books."

I don't know all the books on the list, but I do know two that shouldn't be on any list of culturally diverse books.

Culturally diverse books must not have stereotypes!

Amazing Grace is in the Early Years section of the article. Its selling point is its theme: "we can be anything we want to be." Many find that theme disingenuous. While we want to encourage children to persevere, we also must be mindful of realities. We live in racist societies. Studies show that African American or Latino names, for example, can be the basis on which someone's application for a job or mortgage is denied--unconsciously--but denied, nonetheless. A second problem with Amazing Grace is this image from the book:



That illustration, unfortunately, perfectly reflects several stereotypical ideas about Native peoples.

  • She's sitting "Indian style." 
  • She's holding her arms crossed and away from her chest as shown in countless statues (that's the pose, by the way, that students at the University of Illinois assumed when the now-retired mascot came onto the playing field at halftime to do his "dance")
  • She's barefoot. You know that Native people wore shoes, right?
  • She's wearing what we might generously call a Plains headdress--the item that shouts INDIAN to the world.
  • She's not smiling, because, as everyone knows, Indians don't smile. 
  • Hiawatha. There was an actual person named that, but the one she's portraying is a character created by a non-Native person. 


The second stereotypical book on the list is Tanya Landman's Apache. In its description, the article says:
Following the vicious murder of her brother, orphan Siki vows to become an Apache warrior to take revenge upon her brother, Tazhi's, killers. 
Page after page, Landman feeds the perception of mindless, bloodthirsty Indians. She sets us up to think this relentless killing is justified by Tazhi's murder, but goodness! It goes on and on and on. For details on problems with it, see the three posts AICL did on it:



I don't know who put the list together for The Guardian.  The problems with these two books are blatant. Or, they should be! That they're not is an indicator of how much we have yet to do with regard to Native imagery. I'll tweet my post to them and others who are tweeting/retweeting it. Please share it with others in your networks.


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4. Stephen Krensky's CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

As I write this post, Stephen Krensky's Christopher Columbus is ranked at #1 in e-book biographies for children. The paperback edition is ranked at #3 in historical biographies for children.

I'll start by saying that I don't recommend Krensky's book.

It was first published in 1991 in Random House's "Step Into Reading" series. At first read, you might think the book is ok, but I want to walk through the book, pausing at certain parts. On one page, we read:
There are people on the island.
Columbus calls them Indians
because he thinks he has reached
the Indies.
He names the island San Salvador.
He says it now belongs to Spain.
On the next page, Krensky writes:
But the island really belongs
to the people who live there.
See? Krensky essentially says "wait up Christopher, you're wrong about that!" Sounds good, doesn't it?

Don't be taken in! It might seem like Krensky is giving us something different from the "Columbus discovered America" myth, but... let's keep reading.

Columbus notices that some of the Indians are wearing what appears to be gold, so he pushes on, to look for gold. He visits other islands and:
He meets more Indians.
Most are helpful and friendly.
Most? Who isn't helpful or friendly to Columbus? And why were they not helpful or friendly? Krensky doesn't say.

Skip ahead a few pages to where Columbus is gonna return to Spain:
The ships are already loaded
with many new kinds of food--
corn, potatoes, peanuts,
papayas, avocados.
Columbus has also forced
six Indians to come with him.
People in Spain have never
seen Indians.
Krensky tells us that Columbus is taking Indians to Spain so people can see them? Why didn't Krensky rebut those last two lines, like he did earlier when he said that the island really belonged to the people who lived there?

Skipping ahead again, Columbus is back in Spain where he "is a hero." The last page is:
For the rest of his life,
Columbus never knows
how truly great
his discovery is.
He has really found a new world--
a world that no one in Europe knew about.
It is called America!
"Discovery"? "[F]ound a new world"??? I can hear defenders say "but Krensky says it was new to people in Europe! Leave poor Krensky (and Columbus) alone, you mean woman! You leftist liberal!"

Does Krensky want kids to feel sorry for Columbus because he didn't (according to Krensky) know how great his "discovery" was?! On one page, in one place, Krensky pushed back on the Columbus myth, but everywhere else? He just told the same-old-story!

Krensky's book, as noted earlier, is in the "Step Into Reading" series. Books like it are ones designed to help kids become independent readers. Christopher Columbus is a "Step 3" book. That means it is for kids in grades 1-3. Becoming an independent reader is a powerful moment in a person's life. Books that help with that process can take on a lot of emotional weight. They did for me, and likely for you, too. Go to the library. Get one that you read. See what sorts of strings it tugs as you turn its pages. The frightening thing is that a reader can also develop emotional attachment to the content of books like this.

Even more frightening is the information I shared at the very top of this post. This is a best selling book. It was first published in 1991 (no doubt to coincide with the 500 year "anniversary" of Columbus "discovery" of the "New World") and it still going strong.

Do you know of a book for independent readers, or a picture book, that honestly presents information about Christopher Columbus? Betsy Bird at SLJ says she's just learned of one that might do a better job of telling readers about Columbus. Due out in January of 2015, we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, those of you with older or capable readers can get Thomas King's brilliant Coyote Columbus Story. I recommended it in 2006.

If your child comes home today with coloring sheets of Columbus and you want to push back on what he/she was taught, the Zinn Education Project has an excellent page of resources.


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5. AS AN OAK TREE GROWS, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas

In early October, over on Twitter, Jillian asked me if I'd seen As An Oak Tree Grows, by G. Brian Karas. She noted the wigwam in it, and that a "big stopping point" for her and her students was the page where the text says that the little boy "grew up and moved away."

As An Oak Tree Grows was published in September of this year (2014) by Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers).

Below are photos (apologies for them being kind of blurry) of the first three double-paged spreads of As An Oak Tree Grows. 

First, we see "a young boy" planting an acorn on a late summer day. See him in the middle of the double-paged spread? At the bottom left corner of the next page (see second photo), we'll see a year (1775) and we'll read "later that year" the tree sprouts. So, the time when the boy plants the acorn is meant to be summer, 1775. Notice there's nobody there except for the boy and someone on the water, in a canoe. They're obviously meant to be Native. Karas includes a wigwam, so he must know a little about the people he is showing us on this page. But! Karas doesn't say anything about the boy's tribal nation. That omission matters to a Native reader, and it ought to matter to every reader. Without that information, readers are kept ignorant of who Native peoples were/are in terms of our distinct identities as nations. And, the omission obscures the fact that European and Native leaders engaged in diplomatic negotiations (treaties!) about the land and its use.



One question you could ask about the boy (as Jillian did), is where are the rest of his people? This "empty land" image is a big part of the justification for colonization. Unused land! There for the taking! Wrong. 

On the second page we see the boy taking his dad to see the little tree (question for botanists: I think the time sequence for the acorn sprouting is off a bit). See what has changed on the shoreline? Karas shows us that someone (Europeans) have established themselves and, as the two ships in the water show, more are coming. The page suggests a rather idyllic life with two cultures co-existing, but it was far from that! Tribal nations along the northeastern coast had, by 1775, been fighting to protect their homelands for over 100 years. 



The third double-paged spread (below) is the one that tells us "The boy grew up and moved away. Farmers now lived here." That page was the "stopping point" for Jillian and her class. She and her students know, I think, that it was more than simply a boy growing up and moving away. An uncritical reader likely wouldn't notice the problems in those two sentences, but there are, in fact, many things to note. The boy and his nation were likely forced off the land that they had been farming. Yes--they were probably farmers, too, but the pervasive image of "primitive Indians" usually pushes that fact off to the side.  





With the Indians conveniently out of sight and therefore, out of mind, Karas can show us what happens to the tree and the lands around it as time passes. That is the purpose of the book, and I'm certain lot of people are going to love this book, but...

When will we see an end to stories where Indians just go away? We didn't go away.

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6. Carl Nordgren's ANUNG'S JOURNEY: AN ANCIENT OJIBWAY LEGEND AS TOLD BY STEVE FOBISTER

Some weeks ago, a reader wrote to ask me about Anung's Journey: An Ancient Ojibway Legend As Told by Steve Fobister, by Carl Nordgren.

The first thing that caught my eye was the "as told by" part of the title. There are a lot of books published by non-Native writers... books in which the non-Native authors tells a story that was told to them by a Native person. There's some excellent critical discussion of that kind of book.

Second thing is the word "legend" in the title. People of any given faith don't call their traditional or creation stories legends. Native peoples don't do that either. Using 'legend' for a Native story is, for me, a red flag.

I got a copy of the book from Net Galley. I looked at the table of contents for a page of background information and found the author's note. But, it isn't a typical author's note. Instead, it is a letter to Steve Fobister. I wondered if Nordgren had sent the actual letter to Fobister, or if the letter in the book is the means by which Fobister will know that he figures prominently in Anung's Journey. The letter has several more red flags. Here's the opening:

Dear Steve,
When you told me the story of Anung I was immediately captured by the magic of it. When you asked me to popularize it, I was honored by your request. Where I have added to it, your magic has guided me.
I see that sort of thing a lot, too. Native people asking a white person to tell our stories. No--let me rephrase that. White people telling readers that a Native person asked them to tell this or that story. Invariably, that white author has spent some time with a Native community and finds us, well, as Nordgren says, "magical."

In his letter, Nordgren tells Steve about when they first met (at summer camp when they were 15 years old), and all that Steve taught him about fishing and Ojibway culture. He goes on to talk about how, when the two went fishing for the first time in 40 years, Steve told Nordgren the story of Anung:
You asked me to do my best to turn this legend into a full story that would delight and inform people of all ages and all cultures, and I promised you I would. I promised to work to get it published. And I promised that if Anung was published and widely read that, along with accomplishing your goals and fulfilling my promise, I would invest a share of the financial success back into the health of Grassy Narrows.
That is another red flag... the promise that the author will give some of his/her profits from the book to the tribe (in this case, one of the First Nations in Canada, Grassy Narrows.)

Are you wondering about the story?

Well here it is in a nutshell. An orphan boy named Anung goes on his vision quest and learns that he is supposed to find the greatest chief of all the First Nations. He sets out to do it, going east, east, east. He gets to the ocean where he meets a great chief that he thinks must be THE greatest chief, but that chief tells him that he's had a vision, too. In his vision, four young men would come to him and from them, one would be chosen to go across the ocean to find that greatest chief. Of course, Anung is chosen.

And he crosses the ocean, and keeps going, and finally he finds the greatest chief of all the nations. You know who it is, right? Baby Jesus in his manger.

Ancient Ojibway legend? I don't think so. 

I'm trying to get in touch with Steve Fobister. The title page for the book is different from the title on the cover. Inside, the words "based on" are added: Anung's Journey: Based on an ancient Ojibway legend as told by Steve Fobister. I'm really curious what part of this "ancient Ojibway legend" is Mr. Fobister's, and what part is Nordgren's creation.

With all those red flags, I cannot recommend Anung's Journey. 



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7. Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden's UNSTRUNG

In 2009, Neal Shusterman launched the first of his "Unwind Dystology" series. The first book is Unwind. Here's the synopsis provided at Amazon:

In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called "unwinding." Unwinding ensures that the child's life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child's body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.
With breathtaking suspense, this book follows three teens who all become runaway Unwinds: Connor, a rebel whose parents have ordered his unwinding; Risa, a ward of the state who is to be unwound due to cost-cutting; and Lev, his parents' tenth child whose unwinding has been planned since birth as a religious tithing. As their paths intersect and lives hang in the balance, Shusterman examines serious moral issues in a way that will keep readers turning the pages to see if Connor, Risa, and Lev avoid meeting their untimely ends.

Unstrung: An Unwind Story came out in 2012. It is a short story. Here's what Amazon says about it:

How did Lev Calder move from an unwillingly escaped Tithe to a clapper? In this revealing short story, Neal Shusterman opens a window on Lev’s adventures between the time he left CyFi and showed up at the Graveyard.
Pulling elements from Neal Shusterman’s critically acclaimed Unwind and giving hints about what is to come in the riveting sequel, UnWholly, this short story is not to be missed.

As Unstrung opens, Lev is waking up after escaping from bad guys who were gonna do that unwinding thing to him. He's an AWOL. The place he ran to? A "rez" -- or, reservation. There, he figured he'd be safe. Indians of the future, it turns out, are exempt from unwinding. The family helping Lev recover is going to petition the Tribal Council to let him stay. As he opens his eyes, he seems a woman with a square jaw, black hair, and bronze skin. He blurts out
"SlotMonger!"
Lev is immediately embarrassed for using that word. See--in this future world Shusterman created, Indians aren't called Indians anymore. The woman responds (Note: I'm reading an ebook and can't give you page numbers):
"Old words die hard," she tells him with infinite understanding. "We were called Indians long after it was obvious we weren't from India. And 'Native American' was always a bit too condescending for my taste." 
"ChanceFolk," Lev says, hoping that his SlotMonger slur will quickly be forgotten.
"Yes," the woman says. "People of Chance. Of course the casinos are long gone, but I suppose the name still has enough resonance to stick." 

Dear! Well, that's not what I said when I read that part. If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know that sometimes, I curse at things I read.

Moving on...

The People of Chance family has a boy. He's three years older than Lev. His name is Wil. That's short for Chowilawu. We don't know what language that is, or what tribe these people belong to. Later on, we do get some clues about their location, though! They're in what we know today as Colorado, and they live in an incredibly opulent city with cliff dwellings on the canyon sides.

Do you know who lived at Mesa Verde? Chaco Canyon? Bandelier? Pueblo people! So, I take it that the People of Chance are somehow based on Pueblo Indians. Yikes!

Let's meet Wil.

Wil has a gift. When he plays his guitar, who or whatever hears his music, is transfixed. Just Wil's presence can calm people. But that guitar playing... well, it is such a gift that he/it is used to help the dying tribal members transition more easily into death itself. Wil doesn't like that gift, because his grandfather is dying. The people expect him to go play for his grandpa but he doesn't want to. When the story opens, Wil plays his guitar for Lev. He does that by sitting cross-legged on a mountain lion skin. Yep. Cross-legged. Cuz why?! (Answer: Indians sit cross-legged. You learned that at camp, right? Or maybe kindergarten? Or maybe your teacher knew better than to introduce that stereotype to you.)

Lev recovers a bit, and he and Wil go out into the city. Lev has a question:
"Is it true that reservations are safe for AWOLs?" he asks. "Is it true that People of Chance don't unwind?"
Wil nods. "We never signed the Unwind Accord. So not only don't we unwind, we also can't use unwound parts."
Lev mulls that over, baffled at how a society could work without harvesting organs. "So...where do you get parts?"
"Nature provides," Wil says. "Sometimes."
Nature provides! How does that work, you might wonder? Meet Wil's uncle, Pivane. Wil introduces Lev to him. He's wearing deerskins, but he's also got a Swiss watch on. And, Lev thinks, his rifle is probably custom-made. Pivane has been out hunting for a mountain lion. They need the heart of a male mountain lion. Pivane thinks they'll find one at Cash Out Gulch. (Reading "Cash Out Gulch" was another WTF moment for me.)

Here's where we get a picture of this place where the People of Chance live:
...red cliff homes, the whitewashed adobes, and the sidewalks of rich mahogany planks. Although the place appears at first to be primitive, Lev knows upper crust when he sees it, from the luxury cars parked on the side streets to the gold plaques embedded in the adobe walls. Men and women wear business suits that are clearly Chance-Folk in style, yet finer than the best designer fashions."
Lev asks Wil what the people do (for a living) and Wil says:
"When my grandfather was a kid, the rez made a bundle--not just from gaming, but from some lawsuits over land usage, a water treatment plant, a wind farm that went haywire, and casinos we didn't want but got stuck with when another tribe rolled on us." He shrugs uncomfortably. "Luck of the draw. We've got it better than some tribes."
Lev looks down the street, where the curbs gleam with gold. "Way better, by the look of it."
"Yah," says Wil, looking both embarrassed and proud at the same time. "Some tribes did wise investing with their casino cash; others squandered it. Then, when the virtual casinos got ritzier than the real ones and it all came crashing down, tribes like ours did very well. We're a Hi-Rez. You're lucky you didn't jump the wall of a Low-Rez. They're much more likely to sell AWOLs to parts pirates."
Lev has heard about the rich tribes and the poor ones. Wil continues:
"Anyway," says Wil, "my tribe knows the law and how to use it. In fact my dad's a lawyer, and has done pretty well for our family. My mom runs the pediatrics lodge in the medical warren and is well respected. We get rich tribal kids from all over North America coming here for healing."
I was doing a lot of eye rolling and cursing as I read all of that! I certainly want writers to move away from narrow depictions of the professions Native people are in, but the rest of what Shusterman did is so bad that I can't give the lawyer-dad or doctor-mom characters a good read! Let's back up, though to that info about how the People of Chance tribe (I wonder what the Lo-Rez tribe names are?!) got their money: casinos, and good lawyers. I'm wondering about Shusterman's source material for all that lawyering. Where is he from? Is he living nearby a tribal nation that has been successfully winning legal cases over water rights? Or wind farms? Is he from Massachusetts? In 2011, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head filed a lawsuit over a wind farm project off Cape Cod. The For Mojave Indian tribe sued a California agency over a water treatment plant that was desecrating sacred land. I'm guessing that Shusterman did some research and found these news stories. And as the wealth of the People of Chance indicates, they won big time! Doesn't matter, I suppose, that those two particular tribal nations are at opposite ends of the country. With a made-up nation, you can do whatever you want!

Well, let's move on. The People of Chance have animal spirit guides. If/when they're sick, that particular animal can be killed and its body part(s) used to heal the human. Do you recall that Pivane is looking for the heart of a mountain lion? A mountain lion is the spirit guide of Wil's grandfather. His heart is bad. He needs a new one. Pavine finds one, but Wil's grandfather wants to give it to a young woman who needs it more than he does. Wil argues with him about that decision. But guess what! Lev gets asked for advice. Outsiders have perspectives, you see, that can help people make important decisions. Lev's advice is to respect the wishes of Wil's grandpa. Such wisdom from the white outsider! Of course, the heart goes to the woman, and Wil's grandpa dies.

Wil is gonna die, too. No... that's not right. He's going to be killed. No... that's not right either...

Wil has taken Lev and a bunch of kids out on a vision quest to find their spirit guides. Some of those parts pirates have gotten over the rez wall, too. Turns out, there's a black market for People of Chance body parts because they have special skills. To save the children, Wil takes out that guitar and demonstrates his gift. He bargains with the parts pirates. They take him and let the children go. I gotta say... this is so unsettling. Does Shusterman know Native bodies were butchered and parts taken from them as trophies? Has he not read about Sand Creek?! How 'bout his editor? Does he/she know? Do they know and not care? Or maybe they don't imagine Native people as readers of Unstrung?

Well. Towards the end of the story, the tribal council denies the petition to adopt Lev. He leaves. And what about Wil? We find him again, on a surgical table. A woman with a slight British accent tells him:
"We have been searching for the right Person of Chance for a very long time. You will be part of a spectacular experiment. One that will change the future." 
Pretty sick, isn't it? In the end, Wil's family and girlfriend find out that he's been unwound...
Not through smoke signals.
Not through the intricate legal investigations of the Council.
Not through the tribal nations' security task force, put in place after the parts pirates took him.
In the end, the rez finds out Wil is no more when his guitar is delivered with no note and no return address. 
Another WTF. Smoke signals?! Mr. Shusterman: this is a very messed up story. I regret having read it.

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8. Heather Sappenfield's THE VIEW FROM WHO I WAS

A colleague, Trish, wrote to ask me if I'd seen Heather Sappenfield's The View From Who I Was. She said it is set at a place called American Indian Preparatory School, modeled on the Native American Preparatory School. Trish didn't know it, but that school means a lot to Native people.

I had not heard of the book, so looked it up and saw that an ARC (advance reading copy) was available at Net Galley (anyone can sign up to read ARC's via Net Galley). The View From Who I Was is due out in January. The description of the book is unsettling. Here's the first paragraph:

Sometimes the end is just the beginning At Crystal High's Winter Formal, Oona Antunes splits in two. Her disembodied spirit watches as her body leaves the dance and tries to freeze to death. Three days later, she wakes in the hospital missing fingers and toes, burdened with the realization of what she's done to her mother and father.

But it was the second paragraph that got my attention:

When her school counselor invites Oona to join him at a Native American school, she becomes immersed in a foreign world where witches, talking rocks, and minor deities are reality. Oona discovers that if she is to heal, her father must also heal. But are his problems more than they can handle?

NAPS was, and is, a special place to us. Located near Santa Fe (remember--I'm from Nambe Pueblo, which is near Santa Fe), it was designed to provide gifted Native high school students with a culturally supportive education from which they would go on to college. I know people who worked there, and I know students who went there, too. I started reading, making notes as I went.

Far too often, Native people--or some semblance of Native people--are used by people who care only for their romantic notions of who we are. Mascots, of course, are one example.

In the Acknowledgements, Sappenfield says she went to NAPS twice. Those visits weren't enough to give her a meaningful or grounded respect of who we are... In The View From Who I Was, there are a lot of romantic notions that ultimately serve as the turning point in the protagonist's life.

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 

Soon after learning about the book, I learned that the description at Net Galley is an old one that no longer describes the book. Frankly, I was relieved. But when I read the book, the description at Net Galley (also at Amazon and GoodReads) struck me as accurate. There is stuff about witches, and there's a talking rock...

As indicated, I read an ARC (advanced reading copy), which--in theory--means that there is still time for the author to revise. However, I think the errors indicate a fundamental lack of understanding, knowledge, and respect that would prevent the book from being revised in such a way that it would be ok.

After reading the ARC, I talked with a former NAPS teacher and student. The student, in particular, was troubled by how the school and teachers are misrepresented. It was special to her. Since her time there, she said, there's been nothing written about it. She hates that this book, with these errors, might be the first thing about the school that people read.

Here's my notes on the parts of the books that are about Native people/culture, with my thoughts in italics. I've included comments from the student (C) and the teacher (A).

You'll see places where I use "Oona/Corpse" and "Hovering Oona" when I'm talking about the protagonist. It is a bit confusing overall. The protagonist's name is Oona. As the book opens, Oona's spirit splits in two. The part that stays in her body is called "Corpse" by the part that left her body and hovers nearby. The story is told to us by the part of her spirit that hovers. Hovering Oona has control over whether or not Oona/Corpse is going to express or act on emotions. Oona/Corpse isn't aware of the Hovering Oona.

p. 14
Murial (Oona's mom) likes to decorate their swanky home in Colorado using Native artifacts. There's a peace pipe, kachinas, moccasins. 

Wondering about the back story for these items. I wonder where Oona's mom got them? She could have gotten them online, but those would be fakes. I wonder if Oona's mom knows about the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act? (Note to readers: Do go read that act. It is important and protects consumers from fraud, and, it also protects Native artists for whom their art is their livelihood.) 

p. 16
Prior to the suicide attempt, Oona is with Mr. Handler (her school counselor) at a school leadership conference. They're at a session put on by Native students from the American Indian Preparatory School. The school counselor has spent time at the school prior to this. In the session, a Native guy with a crew cut introduces Dr. Benson, who is the school's "flute master." He plays the flute to open their session. 

It is plausible that there would be someone on flute opening a session, but not probable that the school would have a "flute master." Pop-culture tells us that when you have Indians, you gotta have flute music. They kind of go together in white peoples minds. Though many Native nations use flutes, they're over-used by outsiders who want to signal "Indian" to an audience. Invariably, it gives people goosebumps (as it does to Oona). Flutes used that way are even the butt of jokes amongst us. Having it open this conference presentation made me shake my head. It appears later, too, in a gathering at the school. I asked C (student) about it. She said they'd have morning openings each day where announcements were made. Someone would pray in their Native way, but no music. 

The row of Native students sits with bowed heads. 

Not clear if they were sitting that way when the flutist was playing (as though it is a prayer), or, if they are sitting that way as the Navajo girl is introduced and speaking. Bowed heads suggests a prayerful moment, but overall it doesn't sound right to me.  

p. 17
The Native guy with the crewcut introduces a Navajo student, Angel Davis, who is "of the Fort Defiance Navajo" and then Angel takes the stage and starts talking. 

Generally speaking, a Navajo person takes care (in presentations) to introduce themselves according to fairly standard protocols. See the first few minutes of this video for an example. At conferences, those first few minutes would be followed by a translation (into English) of what was just said. Angel doesn't use the protocol before moving into her very-Indian presentation. 

Angel's presentation is about five feathers she has with her on stage. She talks about how she got each one:
Angel's speech was slow, yet soft, lilting: "I hold in my hand five feathers." She held up her hand and out the sides of her fist were the ends of long feathers. "Gifts from my grandfather. From his headdress. An eagle feather for each good thing I've done." Angel read about each of those good things: graduating middle school, helping her brother when he had mono, attending the American Indian Preparatory School, far from home, completing a summer writing program, even farther away. She ended with reading at this conference. She didn't candy-coat things, she just described how each challenge she didn't want to do at first, and after, her grandfather would call her out behind their house, place his hand on her shoulder, tug a feather from his headdress, and give it to her.
There's a lot wrong with that passage. First, headdresses are not part of traditional Navajo attire. They are worn primarily by Plains tribes. As written, it sounds like Angel's grandfather wears it all the time, or, that he put it on to do this feather-giving-ceremony where he takes a feather out of his headdress. It doesn't work at all. When a Native person is given a feather to mark an accomplishment, it isn't taken from an existing headdress. And, when feathers are given, it (or how it is done) generally isn't something they talk about to outsiders in the way Angel does. It is possible, but not plausible. 

p. 18/19
Oona listens to the next speaker who talks about his "costume" with its "fringe, beads, and feathers" and how he goes to powwows, where he dances for his grandma and his ancestors. Oona thinks "Was he kidding? The guy wore a white Oxford shirt with short sleeves and a tie." 

It isn't likely that he would have said "costume" or "fringe, beads, and feathers." He would more likely have said "regalia." He does the powwow circuit, it sounds like. He dances for his grandma and ancestors. Dancing for his grandma and ancestors sounds right to me. Does Oona think he can't be legit because he's wearing a shirt and tie? Or, is she being snarky about who he dances for? Either way, there's also a feeling that these kids are richer than Oona, with all her material wealth, is.    

p. 93
Mr. Handler invites Oona/Corpse to go with him to the Native American school, where she can help juniors fill out college applications. (Later, we'll learn that her help is specific to navigating websites.) 

That sounded ok to me, but when I was talking with C about the book, she asked me what Oona was going to do at the school. I told her, and she laughed, saying they were tech savvy and didn't need help like that. 

p. 99
Murial says that she wanted to be anthropologist because she loves Indians. 

That love-of-Indians is pretty widespread and as such, is the subject of much writing amongst Native people. Three resources to read/listen to are Kate Shanley's article, "The Indians Americans Love to Love and Read" , Vine Deloria Jr.'s Custer Died For Your Sins--especially the chapter on anthropologists, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman's Here Come the Anthros, based on Deloria's chapter. 

p. 103/104
More flute music. It appears several times throughout the story. 

See comments about page 16.

p. 108
Oona/Corpse is with Mr. Handler. They're approaching the grounds at the Native school. Before they get there, she sees faded house trailers (one with plywood covering window) and rusted out cars.
Two Indian kids scampered around out front, one in just a diaper, the white of it against this world, against his skin, seemed unreal.
How does protag know those are Indian kids? The school is not on a reservation. The community by it is not Native either. That the two kids "scampered" also stands out. Animals scamper. Little kids, too, the dictionary says, but given the overwhelming associations of Indians-as-animal-like, seeing it here gives me pause.

p. 111
At the school, Oona/Corpse is greeted by Louise, who is "a stout, toffee-tinted woman in a purple broom skirt and a white blouse." She has ebony hair that she wears in a bun that is clasped with a beaded barrette. 

I didn't note what words Sappenfield used to describe skin tones of Oona's mother or Mr. Benson, or Ashley (her friend at school).  Later on, Angel is going to ask Oona if she is part Native (Angel says "an urban Indian") because Oona's skin tone is olive. Of late, there have been several discussions online about words used for skin tones, when and how they're used, and who is using them.

p. 112
Back in the car, Mr. Handler and Oona/Corpse drive to the part of campus where their rooms are. As they drive, she sees "a white woman in a blouse and jeans and an Indian man with a long braid...". 

How does she know the woman is white? Oona's assumption is that all Indians have darker skin and hair, so this woman must be white. That is an incorrect assumption. Later, Angel and Oona have a conversation about skin tones. 

p. 113
Mr. Handler tells Oona/Corpse he's there to help counsel the kids at the school:
They're the kids who want to go on to college. These are not your average Native American kids." 
He backs off from that statement, saying
"Scratch that. They're just kids. Trying to figure things out. Like you."
I'm glad he backed off but what did he back off from? Did he mean that an average Native kid doesn't want to go to college? I really don't know what to make of that exchange.  

They park the car and get out. A "flock" of Indian students approach. 

I can't recall what words author used to describe groups of kids at Oona's school in Colorado. Was flock used there, too? Problem with flock is similar to scamper.

p. 114
A boy greets Mr. Handler by calling him "Lone Ranger." And then:
"He no sabe," another one said, and they all laughed. 'No know,' I realized; Tonto had been disrespecting that white-masked man, and I'd never had a clue.
That doesn't make sense to me. The line Tonto uses is "kemo sabe" -- not 'he' or 'no'. Sappenfield wants us to think that Tonto was saying "he no sabe" and as such, was dissing the Lone Ranger. Does Sappenfield now know what Tonto said? Am I missing something myself?! 

That part aside, the banter between the kids and Mr. Handler is easy going and reflects relationships I've seen between Native kids and white teachers and staff who have established a warm relationship.

p. 119
Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler go to dinner and sit with the staff and teachers. Oona/Corpse is introduced to Dr. Yazzie, the headmaster. He is the guy Oona/Corpse saw earlier--the one with the braid:
Now Corpse saw the symmetry of his forehead, cheeks, and chin, a honey-tinted movie-star face, smooth but for creases at his eyes.
Ok. A super handsome dude. Yazzie, by the way, is a Navajo name. 

As they eat, Dr. Yazzie tells Mr. Handler:
"You know the statistics, Perry. Half of them can't handle the college world and drop out."
Mr. Handler asks about students. Davina has done ok. Louise posits that Davina's aunt has been a good role model for her. That aunt is a sergeant on the Navajo police force. When Mr. Handler asks about Cindy, Louise replies:
"Her father died." Louise's mouth, which arced down naturally, stretched down in a real frown. "Her mother had to get a job, so Cindy went home to help out with the kids."
"Poor girl," Mr. Handler said. "She was so smart."
Louise nodded. "Yes, a waste. Her father's death was a waste too. Put his truck in the ditch. Drunk. Tried to walk home on a frigid night. They found him sitting, frozen, at the entrance to their driveway. Apparently neighbors were driving past, waving."
A laugh burst from Ms. Cole. "Sorry. I hadn't heard that last part."
I found that conversation troubling. It is plausible that Louise would think "waste" but it isn't plausible. The teachers and staff at NAPS were especially supportive of Native culture and values. That a Native kid would step up to help her family would not be characterized as a waste. That neighbors drove past and waved at the body of Cindy's dad... Is that plausible?! It strikes me as incredibly offensive to imagine, let alone share, or laugh at. Louise and Ms. Cole strike me as horrible people. When I told C (student) and teacher (A) about this, they both felt that this was a misrepresentation of the teachers and staff. It strikes me as a 'fit' with government boarding schools were the framework for them was "kill the Indian and save the man" but definitely does not fit with NAPS. A quick note about Louise's mouth, which "arced down naturally" -- Angel's does, too. Weird. 

Mr. Handler then asks about Roberta:
Louise laughed. "She skipped that summer internship you arranged at the hospital. Didn't even call to let them know."
Louise goes on to say that Roberta is 18 years old now, and
"She took a job as a stripper instead. Still goes back and works weekends. Calls herself Destiny."
Mr. Handler scans the cafeteria and sees Roberta. Oona/Corpse sees her "shapely back". The next line is Hovering Oona's voice:
I had an image of Roberta in a string bikini, slithering along a pole over an audience of salivating men, some hungrily waving dollar bills.
That is another very troubling part of the book. Why did Sappenfield create this particular characterization for Roberta?! 

Hovering Oona looks at the kids in the cafeteria and thinks
these weren't the people we'd imagined inhabiting that flute music. The ones who'd made us feel poor. Maybe the bullshit had been those conference readings.
Ok... so Roberta is meant to humanize Native people?! 

p. 122 
Closing out this scene in the story, Mr. Handler says that he's read statistics (about Native people), but that "the reality is a lot harder to swallow." 

So--the reality is one girl who has done well, one who has gone home, and one who is a stripper? 

Dr. Yazzie, studying Oona/Corpse, puts his hand in his pocket.

It seemed an odd detail at that moment. Later, we learn that he keeps a rock in that pocket. It talks to him. 

After dinner, Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler head to their rooms. As he says goodnight to Oona, she sees him swallow and his Adam's apple goes up and down. Oona/Corpse wants to say she's sorry about those kids, but she doesn't, because Hovering Oona stops her. 

p. 124-129
Early morning, Oona/Corpse goes out on a trail where she'll get cell phone reception. She calls her boyfriend. After the call, Angel comes along the same trail. She tells Oona that she's "greeting the sun." As she goes on her way, she calls back "I dreamed of you three nights ago." 

p. 130
Angel asks Oona if she's "an urban Indian" who is "from the city" and that "maybe doesn't know traditions, Indian ways." Surprised, Oona asks Angel how she could be Indian (appearance-wise). Angel tells her there's "a lot of mixed-blood or northern Indians here that don't look Indian." 

That is an interesting passage. I'm glad to see appearance being addressed. 

p. 131 
Angel tells Oona/Corpse about photographers that want photos of kids who look Indian. She also talks about how people like to visit Indians to "feel like they've done a good deed or something."

Another interesting passage, and accurate. It is ironic, too. It demonstrates that Sappenfield is able to have her characters speak to outsider use of Native people for their own benefit, but, with the way she uses Native culture in her book, doesn't understand that she's doing precisely that with this book.

p. 132
As they talk, Angel looks at Hovering Oona on Corpse's shoulder. 

As the book progresses, we learn that Angel and Dr. Yazzie can see Hovering Oona. And, in a passage that returns to imagery of Roberta as a pole dancer, Roberta walks through Hovering Oona's spirit and has a reaction that tells us that she, too, has ability to sense Hovering Oona. That makes them mystical or magical. It might seem cool a lot of people, but it plays on stereotypes! Not ok. 

p. 137
Oona/Corpse goes up the trail behind the school and comes upon Angel, kneeling in a clearing. Oona gets behind a branch and watches Angel, who is chanting. She turns north, west, south, and east. She rises and calls out to Oona that she doesn't have to hide, and asks her if she's spying on her. Oona says that, in addition to wanting to know more about the dream, she wanted to see what greeting the sun was. Oona asks Angel why she does it, and Angel says it is "showing him I'm ready for the day. And worthy."

That is unsettling. I understand that curiosity, but honestly, it is creepy and voyeuristic. I'm curious about the back story for it. What is Sappenfield's source? Is that something a Navajo girl or person actually does? Is it accurate? Is her source the Navajo girl she named in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book? Did she see that girl praying? Did she ask that girl if she could join her? 

If yes, there's a huge power dynamic in that request, and it is entirely inappropriate. In universities, there are research protocols that do not allow vulnerable populations (youth) to give permissions like that because they don't have the experience/knowledge/wherewithal to say no. Increasingly, tribes are asking writers to go through similar tribally-based protocols when they are there for research purposes for stories. I'm pretty sure NAPS administrators would not have given the author permission to do this. 

p. 139
Angel and Oona talk for a while. Oona tells Angel that she had tried to kill herself. Angel nods, saying
"I thought you looked like you'd been dead."
This is another manifestation of the stereotypical mystical Indian who sees and knows things...  

p. 142
At breakfast Oona/Corpse asks Angel what she saw that made her think that Oona had been dead. Angel shrugs her shoulders and looks at Hovering Oona. Oona/Corpse says 
"If I'd said I was an urban Indian, would you tell me?"
Angel's face hardens and she gets ready to leave. Oona presses her, asking if she can join her to greet the sun. Angel sighs and asks "Do I have a choice?" Oona/Corpse seems to be developing an awareness of Hovering Oona.

With Oona's question, it seems to me that Sappenfield knows that there are things that are guarded. The way she handles all the spirituality in the story tells me that she doesn't care about anything that Angel or Native people might be guarded about. 

After Angel leaves, Oona overhears two white teachers talking. One says that teaching there has 
"been a wild ride, and I've never been able to forget, even for a minute, that I'm an outsider."
She goes on to talk about her first week at the school, when a girl went to her room (teachers live on campus): 
"...whimpering about witches in her room. It was the middle of the night, for God's sake, and I tried to calm her. I mean, witches? I eventually got her to sleep, she spent the night in my room, and in the morning she seemed fine. At lunch Yazzie took me aside. Apparently I'd handled it all wrong. Made a fool of myself. When a student has witches in her dorm room, you inform Yazzie immediately, and they call a medicine man to come purify it."
 Ah! There's the part about witches that the blurb on Net Galley refers to! 

The two teachers commiserate about feeling like outsiders.  

Similar to the question about Angel's prayer, I'm curious about the source for this part about witches and medicine men.

p. 145/146
The next morning, Oona/Corpse joins Angel in her greeting of the sun. Though she moves in the same ways that Angel does, she isn't listening to Angel. Her thoughts are about her parents, her suicide, and her dad, in particular. She whispers to Hovering Oona and seems to be gaining insights into her family dynamics and her own well-being.

Again: what is the author's source for the way that Angel is shown in her movements? Turning to N/S/W doesn't jibe with what I know of the greeting that Navajos do at dawn. Some nations do have a directional greeting. In this part of the story, readers assume the voyeuristic gaze that Corpse had earlier. As a Native woman, this part makes me uncomfortable. I don't think author imagined a Native reader, or Native views on exploitation of Native spirituality.

p. 150
Dr. Yazzie talks with Oona/Corpse, telling her that it looks like she's had a hard time. She says "Don't tell me you can see I've died."  He says that it isn't hard to see, and then nods towards her shoulder where Hovering Oona is perched. He tells her:
"I have a rock in my pocket. It speaks to me." 
And,
"It tells me you're a good person. That you're going to be ok." 
Clearly, Dr. Yazzie is a mystical Indian, too. This is the talking rock of the Net Galley blurb.

p. 154
Corpse goes to "Circle" which is a gathering that happens once a week. Mr. Handler sits beside her. She tells him about Dr. Yazzie's rock. They're seated in chairs arranged in a circle. Dr. Yazzie comes in and sits on the floor in the center of the circle. Dr. Benson (the flute master) rises from his chair and plays. All heads are bowed. Corpse gets goosebumps and then comes fully aware of Hovering Oona's view, and how Hovering Oona "constantly reasoned, doubted, judged" Oona. Oona/Corpse whispers to Hovering Oona that she has to stop. Oona/Corpse reaches to her chest, to the "slice" through which Hovering Oona had left at the start of the story. Hovering Oona darts down and enters but doesn't like it in there and takes off again. When the lights come back up, everyone is staring at Oona. 

Oona is definitely healing, and it is due in large part to these mystical Indians and their flute music. My guess it that people will dismiss my concerns. Overall, I can hear them say, this is a book about healing from suicide. How that happens, to them, doesn't matter. It reminds me of so many books. Cole in Touching Spirit Bear is healed thru similar Indian ways. In that story, he comes to terms with his bullying behavior. It is top of many lists about bullying. The stereotyping of Native people doesn't matter to people who are intent on using the book with bullies.  People are staring at Oona, we'll learn later, because they saw Hovering Oona.

p. 164
Another mealtime. Oona/Corpse is sitting with the kids, where they are talking about William's time at a summer camp at Harvard. People said to him "I didn't know Indians wore normal clothes." Oona says "Seriously? You believe they knew that little about Indians? That's impossible."

It is odd that Oona is incredulous. Recall she was wondering about the kid at the conference who was in a shirt and tie? That aside, her remark is interesting given what she says next about mascots.

The conversation moves to a discussion of the Washington DC pro football team mascot, the Cleveland Indians logo, and, the Chiefs. William says "Headdresses? Just feathers are religious for us." They laugh, and Corpse laughs with them but thinks to herself that it isn't funny at all, and wonders why she never noticed these things before. 

Not having noticed problems with mascots before sounds a lot like the person at Harvard who wondered about Indians wearing normal clothes. It is hard to know just what to make of the things that Oona thinks and says.   

p. 178
Oona/Corpse tells Angel there's no water there, but Oona tells her there is, under their feet. She goes on:
"In Navajo tradition, we have Tonenili. He's responsible for rain, sleet, and snow. He also causes thunder and lightning. Often at ceremonies he's there in a costume of spruce branches, playing the part of a clown. He sprinkles water around. Especially during night chants. Maybe he's been speaking to  you, trying to heal you."

This, I think is the "minor deity" of the Net Galley blurb.  I'm doubtful that Angel would have told Corpse that much detail about Tonenili, but as before, what is the source for this? That the word "costume" is used makes me think that the source might be an anthropology text written by an outsider. 

p. 183
At breakfast, Oona/Corpse is with Angel. Oona sees Dr. Yazzie with his hand in his pocket and starts wondering to herself about the rock. Angel says "What?" Oona says "nothing."

Does Angel's "what" to Corpse suggest that Angel can hear her thoughts? Maybe Oona was not wondering to herself. Maybe she was actually speaking her thoughts aloud. 

p. 185
Angel and Oona/Corpse go for a hike. Oona asks Angel about the girl who had a witch in her room and learns that the room she is in was that girl's room. Oona asks Angel:
"A medicine man cleansed my room?"
Angel nodded.
"Does that stuff linger? Like could his power cleanse me?"
Angel seemed to sort out her thoughts in the road ahead of them. "When you first came here, you scared me," She looked over her shoulder, right at me [Hovering Oona]. "I worried you might have the ghost sickness and you might take me with you."
"Me? Is a ghost like a witch? Is that what that girl saw? Is that why everyone was staring at me?
"It's complicated. It's not good to talk about these things. They have power."
"Do you think a medicine man could cure me? My hands and feet have been tingling since Circle."
Angel tells her that she doesn't think Oona needs a medicine man anymore because she's healing herself. 

I don't know where to start in analyzing that conversation. Angel shares information but also says it isn't good to talk about these things. She's right--Native peoples guard some things very carefully, but she chose to share some of it with Oona. Lucky for Oona! As before, I wonder about Sappenfield's source for this material. 

p. 185 
On their hike, Angel holds out an eagle feather to Oona and says:
"This is for all the things you've survived."
No! Angel can't legally give Oona an eagle feather. It is illegal for people who are not Native to have eagle feathers. Info here: http://www.fws.gov/eaglerepository/  This law is info 101 to Native people, and especially those who would be at NAPS.


-----

At that point, I stopped taking notes. I did read it, all the way to the end. Though the book goes on for another hundred-plus pages, the story location shifts when Mr. Handler and Oona leave the school. They were there for one week. Angel and William return at the very end, at Oona's graduation. 

There's more analysis to do--the depictions of Gabe (Oona's boyfriend) and the family maid (she's Mexican), and the use of Spanish in various places. Some of it doesn't sound quite right to me. I'll close this post with something I said earlier:

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 


It isn't "just fiction" that Sappenfield, or any writer is doing, when they write a story. Some fictions affirm existing stereotypes. Some create new problems for Native people to deal with. It doesn't have to be that way. Writers---you can do better. Editors---so can you! 

Last: If something I've said is unclear (or if there are typos!), do let me know. I welcome your question, corrections, and comments.  

Editor's Note: The original post for this review had an error in the title. This is a reposting of the review with the correct title (the word 'where' was replaced with 'who'). 

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9. Heather Sappenfield's THE VIEW FROM WHERE I WAS

A colleague, Trish, wrote to ask me if I'd seen Heather Sappenfield's The View From Where I Was. She said it is set at a place called American Indian Preparatory School, modeled on the Native American Preparatory School. Trish didn't know it, but that school means a lot to Native people.

I had not heard of the book, so looked it up and saw that an ARC (advance reading copy) was available at Net Galley (anyone can sign up to read ARC's via Net Galley). The View From Where I Was is due out in January. The description of the book is unsettling. Here's the first paragraph:

Sometimes the end is just the beginning At Crystal High's Winter Formal, Oona Antunes splits in two. Her disembodied spirit watches as her body leaves the dance and tries to freeze to death. Three days later, she wakes in the hospital missing fingers and toes, burdened with the realization of what she's done to her mother and father.

But it was the second paragraph that got my attention:

When her school counselor invites Oona to join him at a Native American school, she becomes immersed in a foreign world where witches, talking rocks, and minor deities are reality. Oona discovers that if she is to heal, her father must also heal. But are his problems more than they can handle?

NAPS was, and is, a special place to us. Located near Santa Fe (remember--I'm from Nambe Pueblo, which is near Santa Fe), it was designed to provide gifted Native high school students with a culturally supportive education from which they would go on to college. I know people who worked there, and I know students who went there, too. I started reading, making notes as I went.

Far too often, Native people--or some semblance of Native people--are used by people who care only for their romantic notions of who we are. Mascots, of course, are one example.

In the Acknowledgements, Sappenfield says she went to NAPS twice. Those visits weren't enough to give her a meaningful or grounded respect of who we are... In The View From Where I Was, there are a lot of romantic notions that ultimately serve as the turning point in the protagonist's life.

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 

Soon after learning about the book, I learned that the description at Net Galley is an old one that no longer describes the book. Frankly, I was relieved. But when I read the book, the description at Net Galley (also at Amazon and GoodReads) struck me as accurate. There is stuff about witches, and there's a talking rock...

As indicated, I read an ARC (advanced reading copy), which--in theory--means that there is still time for the author to revise. However, I think the errors indicate a fundamental lack of understanding, knowledge, and respect that would prevent the book from being revised in such a way that it would be ok.

After reading the ARC, I talked with a former NAPS teacher and student. The student, in particular, was troubled by how the school and teachers are misrepresented. It was special to her. Since her time there, she said, there's been nothing written about it. She hates that this book, with these errors, might be the first thing about the school that people read.

Here's my notes on the parts of the books that are about Native people/culture, with my thoughts in italics. I've included comments from the student (C) and the teacher (A).

You'll see places where I use "Oona/Corpse" and "Hovering Oona" when I'm talking about the protagonist. It is a bit confusing overall. The protagonist's name is Oona. As the book opens, Oona's spirit splits in two. The part that stays in her body is called "Corpse" by the part that left her body and hovers nearby. The story is told to us by the part of her spirit that hovers. Hovering Oona has control over whether or not Oona/Corpse is going to express or act on emotions. Oona/Corpse isn't aware of the Hovering Oona.

p. 14
Murial (Oona's mom) likes to decorate their swanky home in Colorado using Native artifacts. There's a peace pipe, kachinas, moccasins. 

Wondering about the back story for these items. I wonder where Oona's mom got them? She could have gotten them online, but those would be fakes. I wonder if Oona's mom knows about the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act? (Note to readers: Do go read that act. It is important and protects consumers from fraud, and, it also protects Native artists for whom their art is their livelihood.) 

p. 16
Prior to the suicide attempt, Oona is with Mr. Handler (her school counselor) at a school leadership conference. They're at a session put on by Native students from the American Indian Preparatory School. The school counselor has spent time at the school prior to this. In the session, a Native guy with a crew cut introduces Dr. Benson, who is the school's "flute master." He plays the flute to open their session. 

It is plausible that there would be someone on flute opening a session, but not probable that the school would have a "flute master." Pop-culture tells us that when you have Indians, you gotta have flute music. They kind of go together in white peoples minds. Though many Native nations use flutes, they're over-used by outsiders who want to signal "Indian" to an audience. Invariably, it gives people goosebumps (as it does to Oona). Flutes used that way are even the butt of jokes amongst us. Having it open this conference presentation made me shake my head. It appears later, too, in a gathering at the school. I asked C (student) about it. She said they'd have morning openings each day where announcements were made. Someone would pray in their Native way, but no music. 

The row of Native students sits with bowed heads. 

Not clear if they were sitting that way when the flutist was playing (as though it is a prayer), or, if they are sitting that way as the Navajo girl is introduced and speaking. Bowed heads suggests a prayerful moment, but overall it doesn't sound right to me.  

p. 17
The Native guy with the crewcut introduces a Navajo student, Angel Davis, who is "of the Fort Defiance Navajo" and then Angel takes the stage and starts talking. 

Generally speaking, a Navajo person takes care (in presentations) to introduce themselves according to fairly standard protocols. See the first few minutes of this video for an example. At conferences, those first few minutes would be followed by a translation (into English) of what was just said. Angel doesn't use the protocol before moving into her very-Indian presentation. 

Angel's presentation is about five feathers she has with her on stage. She talks about how she got each one:
Angel's speech was slow, yet soft, lilting: "I hold in my hand five feathers." She held up her hand and out the sides of her fist were the ends of long feathers. "Gifts from my grandfather. From his headdress. An eagle feather for each good thing I've done." Angel read about each of those good things: graduating middle school, helping her brother when he had mono, attending the American Indian Preparatory School, far from home, completing a summer writing program, even farther away. She ended with reading at this conference. She didn't candy-coat things, she just described how each challenge she didn't want to do at first, and after, her grandfather would call her out behind their house, place his hand on her shoulder, tug a feather from his headdress, and give it to her.
There's a lot wrong with that passage. First, headdresses are not part of traditional Navajo attire. They are worn primarily by Plains tribes. As written, it sounds like Angel's grandfather wears it all the time, or, that he put it on to do this feather-giving-ceremony where he takes a feather out of his headdress. It doesn't work at all. When a Native person is given a feather to mark an accomplishment, it isn't taken from an existing headdress. And, when feathers are given, it (or how it is done) generally isn't something they talk about to outsiders in the way Angel does. It is possible, but not plausible. 

p. 18/19
Oona listens to the next speaker who talks about his "costume" with its "fringe, beads, and feathers" and how he goes to powwows, where he dances for his grandma and his ancestors. Oona thinks "Was he kidding? The guy wore a white Oxford shit with short sleeves and a tie." 

It isn't likely that he would have said "costume" or "fringe, beads, and feathers." He would more likely have said "regalia." He does the powwow circuit, it sounds like. He dances for his grandma and ancestors. Dancing for his grandma and ancestors sounds right to me. Does Oona think he can't be legit because he's wearing a shirt and tie? Or, is she being snarky about who he dances for? Either way, there's also a feeling that these kids are richer than Oona, with all her material wealth, is.    

p. 93
Mr. Handler invites Oona/Corpse to go with him to the Native American school, where she can help juniors fill out college applications. (Later, we'll learn that her help is specific to navigating websites.) 

That sounded ok to me, but when I was talking with C about the book, she asked me what Oona was going to do at the school. I told her, and she laughed, saying they were tech savvy and didn't need help like that. 

p. 99
Murial says that she wanted to be anthropologist because she loves Indians. 

That love-of-Indians is pretty widespread and as such, is the subject of much writing amongst Native people. Three resources to read/listen to are Kate Shanley's article, "The Indians Americans Love to Love and Read" , Vine Deloria Jr.'s Custer Died For Your Sins--especially the chapter on anthropologists, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman's Here Come the Anthros, based on Deloria's chapter. 

p. 103/104
More flute music. It appears several times throughout the story. 

See comments about page 16.

p. 108
Oona/Corpse is with Mr. Handler. They're approaching the grounds at the Native school. Before they get there, she sees faded house trailers (one with plywood covering window) and rusted out cars.
Two Indian kids scampered around out front, one in just a diaper, the white of it against this world, against his skin, seemed unreal.
How does protag know those are Indian kids? The school is not on a reservation. The community by it is not Native either. That the two kids "scampered" also stands out. Animals scamper. Little kids, too, the dictionary says, but given the overwhelming associations of Indians-as-animal-like, seeing it here gives me pause.

p. 111
At the school, Oona/Corpse is greeted by Louise, who is "a stout, toffee-tinted woman in a purple broom skirt and a white blouse." She has ebony hair that she wears in a bun that is clasped with a beaded barrette. 

I didn't note what words Sappenfield used to describe skin tones of Oona's mother or Mr. Benson, or Ashley (her friend at school).  Later on, Angel is going to ask Oona if she is part Native (Angel says "an urban Indian") because Oona's skin tone is olive. Of late, there have been several discussions online about words used for skin tones, when and how they're used, and who is using them.

p. 112
Back in the car, Mr. Handler and Oona/Corpse drive to the part of campus where their rooms are. As they drive, she sees "a white woman in a blouse and jeans and an Indian man with a long braid...". 

How does she know the woman is white? Oona's assumption is that all Indians have darker skin and hair, so this woman must be white. That is an incorrect assumption. Later, Angel and Oona have a conversation about skin tones. 

p. 113
Mr. Handler tells Oona/Corpse he's there to help counsel the kids at the school:
They're the kids who want to go on to college. These are not your average Native American kids." 
He backs off from that statement, saying
"Scratch that. They're just kids. Trying to figure things out. Like you."
I'm glad he backed off but what did he back off from? Did he mean that an average Native kid doesn't want to go to college? I really don't know what to make of that exchange.  

They park the car and get out. A "flock" of Indian students approach. 

I can't recall what words author used to describe groups of kids at Oona's school in Colorado. Was flock used there, too? Problem with flock is similar to scamper.

p. 114
A boy greets Mr. Handler by calling him "Lone Ranger." And then:
"He no sabe," another one said, and they all laughed. 'No know,' I realized; Tonto had been disrespecting that white-masked man, and I'd never had a clue.
That doesn't make sense to me. The line Tonto uses is "kemo sabe" -- not 'he' or 'no'. Sappenfield wants us to think that Tonto was saying "he no sabe" and as such, was dissing the Lone Ranger. Does Sappenfield now know what Tonto said? Am I missing something myself?! 

That part aside, the banter between the kids and Mr. Handler is easy going and reflects relationships I've seen between Native kids and white teachers and staff who have established a warm relationship.

p. 119
Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler go to dinner and sit with the staff and teachers. Oona/Corpse is introduced to Dr. Yazzie, the headmaster. He is the guy Oona/Corpse saw earlier--the one with the braid:
Now Corpse saw the symmetry of his forehead, cheeks, and chin, a honey-tinted movie-star face, smooth but for creases at his eyes.
Ok. A super handsome dude. Yazzie, by the way, is a Navajo name. 

As they eat, Dr. Yazzie tells Mr. Handler:
"You know the statistics, Perry. Half of them can't handle the college world and drop out."
Mr. Handler asks about students. Davina has done ok. Louise posits that Davina's aunt has been a good role model for her. That aunt is a sergeant on the Navajo police force. When Mr. Handler asks about Cindy, Louise replies:
"Her father died." Louise's mouth, which arced down naturally, stretched down in a real frown. "Her mother had to get a job, so Cindy went home to help out with the kids."
"Poor girl," Mr. Handler said. "She was so smart."
Louise nodded. "Yes, a waste. Her father's death was a waste too. Put his truck in the ditch. Drunk. Tried to walk home on a frigid night. They found him sitting, frozen, at the entrance to their driveway. Apparently neighbors were driving past, waving."
A laugh burst from Ms. Cole. "Sorry. I hadn't heard that last part."
I found that conversation troubling. It is plausible that Louise would think "waste" but it isn't plausible. The teachers and staff at NAPS were especially supportive of Native culture and values. That a Native kid would step up to help her family would not be characterized as a waste. That neighbors drove past and waved at the body of Cindy's dad... Is that plausible?! It strikes me as incredibly offensive to imagine, let alone share, or laugh at. Louise and Ms. Cole strike me as horrible people. When I told C (student) and teacher (A) about this, they both felt that this was a misrepresentation of the teachers and staff. It strikes me as a 'fit' with government boarding schools were the framework for them was "kill the Indian and save the man" but definitely does not fit with NAPS. A quick note about Louise's mouth, which "arced down naturally" -- Angel's does, too. Weird. 

Mr. Handler then asks about Roberta:
Louise laughed. "She skipped that summer internship you arranged at the hospital. Didn't even call to let them know."
Louise goes on to say that Roberta is 18 years old now, and
"She took a job as a stripper instead. Still goes back and works weekends. Calls herself Destiny."
Mr. Handler scans the cafeteria and sees Roberta. Oona/Corpse sees her "shapely back". The next line is Hovering Oona's voice:
I had an image of Roberta in a string bikini, slithering along a pole over an audience of salivating men, some hungrily waving dollar bills.
That is another very troubling part of the book. Why did Sappenfield create this particular characterization for Roberta?! 

Hovering Oona looks at the kids in the cafeteria and thinks
these weren't the people we'd imagined inhabiting that flute music. The ones who'd made us feel poor. Maybe the bullshit had been those conference readings.
Ok... so Roberta is meant to humanize Native people?! 

p. 122 
Closing out this scene in the story, Mr. Handler says that he's read statistics (about Native people), but that "the reality is a lot harder to swallow." 

So--the reality is one girl who has done well, one who has gone home, and one who is a stripper? 

Dr. Yazzie, studying Oona/Corpse, puts his hand in his pocket.

It seemed an odd detail at that moment. Later, we learn that he keeps a rock in that pocket. It talks to him. 

After dinner, Oona/Corpse and Mr. Handler head to their rooms. As he says goodnight to Oona, she sees him swallow and his Adam's apple goes up and down. Oona/Corpse wants to say she's sorry about those kids, but she doesn't, because Hovering Oona stops her. 

p. 124-129
Early morning, Oona/Corpse goes out on a trail where she'll get cell phone reception. She calls her boyfriend. After the call, Angel comes along the same trail. She tells Oona that she's "greeting the sun." As she goes on her way, she calls back "I dreamed of you three nights ago." 

p. 130
Angel asks Oona if she's "an urban Indian" who is "from the city" and that "maybe doesn't know traditions, Indian ways." Surprised, Oona asks Angel how she could be Indian (appearance-wise). Angel tells her there's "a lot of mixed-blood or northern Indians here that don't look Indian." 

That is an interesting passage. I'm glad to see appearance being addressed. 

p. 131 
Angel tells Oona/Corpse about photographers that want photos of kids who look Indian. She also talks about how people like to visit Indians to "feel like they've done a good deed or something."

Another interesting passage, and accurate. It is ironic, too. It demonstrates that Sappenfield is able to have her characters speak to outsider use of Native people for their own benefit, but, with the way she uses Native culture in her book, doesn't understand that she's doing precisely that with this book.

p. 132
As they talk, Angel looks at Hovering Oona on Corpse's shoulder. 

As the book progresses, we learn that Angel and Dr. Yazzie can see Hovering Oona. And, in a passage that returns to imagery of Roberta as a pole dancer, Roberta walks through Hovering Oona's spirit and has a reaction that tells us that she, too, has ability to sense Hovering Oona. That makes them mystical or magical. It might seem cool a lot of people, but it plays on stereotypes! Not ok. 

p. 137
Oona/Corpse goes up the trail behind the school and comes upon Angel, kneeling in a clearing. Oona gets behind a branch and watches Angel, who is chanting. She turns north, west, south, and east. She rises and calls out to Oona that she doesn't have to hide, and asks her if she's spying on her. Oona says that, in addition to wanting to know more about the dream, she wanted to see what greeting the sun was. Oona asks Angel why she does it, and Angel says it is "showing him I'm ready for the day. And worthy."

That is unsettling. I understand that curiosity, but honestly, it is creepy and voyeuristic. I'm curious about the back story for it. What is Sappenfield's source? Is that something a Navajo girl or person actually does? Is it accurate? Is her source the Navajo girl she named in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book? Did she see that girl praying? Did she ask that girl if she could join her? 

If yes, there's a huge power dynamic in that request, and it is entirely inappropriate. In universities, there are research protocols that do not allow vulnerable populations (youth) to give permissions like that because they don't have the experience/knowledge/wherewithal to say no. Increasingly, tribes are asking writers to go through similar tribally-based protocols when they are there for research purposes for stories. I'm pretty sure NAPS administrators would not have given the author permission to do this. 

p. 139
Angel and Oona talk for a while. Oona tells Angel that she had tried to kill herself. Angel nods, saying
"I thought you looked like you'd been dead."
This is another manifestation of the stereotypical mystical Indian who sees and knows things...  

p. 142
At breakfast Oona/Corpse asks Angel what she saw that made her think that Oona had been dead. Angel shrugs her shoulders and looks at Hovering Oona. Oona/Corpse says 
"If I'd said I was an urban Indian, would you tell me?"
Angel's face hardens and she gets ready to leave. Oona presses her, asking if she can join her to greet the sun. Angel sighs and asks "Do I have a choice?" Oona/Corpse seems to be developing an awareness of Hovering Oona.

With Oona's question, it seems to me that Sappenfield knows that there are things that are guarded. The way she handles all the spirituality in the story tells me that she doesn't care about anything that Angel or Native people might be guarded about. 

After Angel leaves, Oona overhears two white teachers talking. One says that teaching there has 
"been a wild ride, and I've never been able to forget, even for a minute, that I'm an outsider."
She goes on to talk about her first week at the school, when a girl went to her room (teachers live on campus): 
"...whimpering about witches in her room. It was the middle of the night, for God's sake, and I tried to calm her. I mean, witches? I eventually got her to sleep, she spent the night in my room, and in the morning she seemed fine. At lunch Yazzie took me aside. Apparently I'd handled it all wrong. Made a fool of myself. When a student has witches in her dorm room, you inform Yazzie immediately, and they call a medicine man to come purify it."
 Ah! There's the part about witches that the blurb on Net Galley refers to! 

The two teachers commiserate about feeling like outsiders.  

Similar to the question about Angel's prayer, I'm curious about the source for this part about witches and medicine men.

p. 145/146
The next morning, Oona/Corpse joins Angel in her greeting of the sun. Though she moves in the same ways that Angel does, she isn't listening to Angel. Her thoughts are about her parents, her suicide, and her dad, in particular. She whispers to Hovering Oona and seems to be gaining insights into her family dynamics and her own well-being.

Again: what is the author's source for the way that Angel is shown in her movements? Turning to N/S/W doesn't jibe with what I know of the greeting that Navajos do at dawn. Some nations do have a directional greeting. In this part of the story, readers assume the voyeuristic gaze that Corpse had earlier. As a Native woman, this part makes me uncomfortable. I don't think author imagined a Native reader, or Native views on exploitation of Native spirituality.

p. 150
Dr. Yazzie talks with Oona/Corpse, telling her that it looks like she's had a hard time. She says "Don't tell me you can see I've died."  He says that it isn't hard to see, and then nods towards her shoulder where Hovering Oona is perched. He tells her:
"I have a rock in my pocket. It speaks to me." 
And,
"It tells me you're a good person. That you're going to be ok." 
Clearly, Dr. Yazzie is a mystical Indian, too. This is the talking rock of the Net Galley blurb.

p. 154
Corpse goes to "Circle" which is a gathering that happens once a week. Mr. Handler sits beside her. She tells him about Dr. Yazzie's rock. They're seated in chairs arranged in a circle. Dr. Yazzie comes in and sits on the floor in the center of the circle. Dr. Benson (the flute master) rises from his chair and plays. All heads are bowed. Corpse gets goosebumps and then comes fully aware of Hovering Oona's view, and how Hovering Oona "constantly reasoned, doubted, judged" Oona. Oona/Corpse whispers to Hovering Oona that she has to stop. Oona/Corpse reaches to her chest, to the "slice" through which Hovering Oona had left at the start of the story. Hovering Oona darts down and enters but doesn't like it in there and takes off again. When the lights come back up, everyone is staring at Oona. 

Oona is definitely healing, and it is due in large part to these mystical Indians and their flute music. My guess it that people will dismiss my concerns. Overall, I can hear them say, this is a book about healing from suicide. How that happens, to them, doesn't matter. It reminds me of so many books. Cole in Touching Spirit Bear is healed thru similar Indian ways. In that story, he comes to terms with his bullying behavior. It is top of many lists about bullying. The stereotyping of Native people doesn't matter to people who are intent on using the book with bullies.  People are staring at Oona, we'll learn later, because they saw Hovering Oona.

p. 164
Another mealtime. Oona/Corpse is sitting with the kids, where they are talking about William's time at a summer camp at Harvard. People said to him "I didn't know Indians wore normal clothes." Oona says "Seriously? You believe they knew that little about Indians? That's impossible."

It is odd that Oona is incredulous. Recall she was wondering about the kid at the conference who was in a shirt and tie? That aside, her remark is interesting given what she says next about mascots.

The conversation moves to a discussion of the Washington DC pro football team mascot, the Cleveland Indians logo, and, the Chiefs. William says "Headdresses? Just feathers are religious for us." They laugh, and Corpse laughs with them but thinks to herself that it isn't funny at all, and wonders why she never noticed these things before. 

Not having noticed problems with mascots before sounds a lot like the person at Harvard who wondered about Indians wearing normal clothes. It is hard to know just what to make of the things that Oona thinks and says.   

p. 178
Oona/Corpse tells Angel there's no water there, but Oona tells her there is, under their feet. She goes on:
"In Navajo tradition, we have Tonenili. He's responsible for rain, sleet, and snow. He also causes thunder and lightning. Often at ceremonies he's there in a costume of spruce branches, playing the part of a clown. He sprinkles water around. Especially during night chants. Maybe he's been speaking to  you, trying to heal you."

This, I think is the "minor deity" of the Net Galley blurb.  I'm doubtful that Angel would have told Corpse that much detail about Tonenili, but as before, what is the source for this? That the word "costume" is used makes me think that the source might be an anthropology text written by an outsider. 

p. 183
At breakfast, Oona/Corpse is with Angel. Oona sees Dr. Yazzie with his hand in his pocket and starts wondering to herself about the rock. Angel says "What?" Oona says "nothing."

Does Angel's "what" to Corpse suggest that Angel can hear her thoughts? Maybe Oona was not wondering to herself. Maybe she was actually speaking her thoughts aloud. 

p. 185
Angel and Oona/Corpse go for a hike. Oona asks Angel about the girl who had a witch in her room and learns that the room she is in was that girl's room. Oona asks Angel:
"A medicine man cleansed my room?"
Angel nodded.
"Does that stuff linger? Like could his power cleanse me?"
Angel seemed to sort out her thoughts in the road ahead of them. "When you first came here, you scared me," She looked over her shoulder, right at me [Hovering Oona]. "I worried you might have the ghost sickness and you might take me with you."
"Me? Is a ghost like a witch? Is that what that girl saw? Is that why everyone was staring at me?
"It's complicated. It's not good to talk about these things. They have power."
"Do you think a medicine man could cure me? My hands and feet have been tingling since Circle."
Angel tells her that she doesn't think Oona needs a medicine man anymore because she's healing herself. 

I don't know where to start in analyzing that conversation. Angel shares information but also says it isn't good to talk about these things. She's right--Native peoples guard some things very carefully, but she chose to share some of it with Oona. Lucky for Oona! As before, I wonder about Sappenfield's source for this material. 

p. 185 
On their hike, Angel holds out an eagle feather to Oona and says:
"This is for all the things you've survived."
No! Angel can't legally give Oona an eagle feather. It is illegal for people who are not Native to have eagle feathers. Info here: http://www.fws.gov/eaglerepository/  This law is info 101 to Native people, and especially those who would be at NAPS.


-----

At that point, I stopped taking notes. I did read it, all the way to the end. Though the book goes on for another hundred-plus pages, the story location shifts when Mr. Handler and Oona leave the school. They were there for one week. Angel and William return at the very end, at Oona's graduation. 

There's more analysis to do--the depictions of Gabe (Oona's boyfriend) and the family maid (she's Mexican), and the use of Spanish in various places. Some of it doesn't sound quite right to me. I'll close this post with something I said earlier:

I hate that NAPS and kids there were used 
by Sappenfield for this book. 
It feels like a violation. The school and 
kids are only a magical device that 
serves the white protagonist. 


It isn't "just fiction" that Sappenfield, or any writer is doing, when they write a story. Some fictions affirm existing stereotypes. Some create new problems for Native people to deal with. It doesn't have to be that way. Writers---you can do better. Editors---so can you! 

Last: If something I've said is unclear (or if there are typos!), do let me know. I welcome your question, corrections, and comments.   

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10. Tim Tingle's NO NAME

In Removing the Word "Reluctant" from Reluctant Reader, Stringer and Mollineaux write that there are many reasons why teen readers choose not to read (p. 71):

For some youth, reading difficulties may be intertwined with factors such as cultural background, language barriers, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, family disruptions, teenage pregnancy, fear of failure, and peer pressure. These problems may occur with other stressors such as school transitions, low self-esteem, poor time management, and depression.
In their work on the experience of Native youth in school, Tippeconnic and Fairchild write that over time, Native youth disengage from school. Among the reasons, Tippeconnic and Fairchild put forth is that Native youth don't see themselves in the materials they're asked to read.

Enter Tim Tingle's No Name. It is one of the new titles in the PathFinders series published by 7th Generation. Pitched for kids aged 12-16, it is about Bobby, a present-day Choctaw teen. His dad drinks. When drunk, he becomes abusive to his wife and Bobby. She leaves, and Bobby decides to run away. He doesn't go far, though, choosing to dig a hideout in his backyard.

People who are aware of the dysfunction of his home life help him and his dad find their way. One strength of No Name is that the way is real. Things don't get better overnight. That is a truth that children in similar homes know.

There are aspects of Choctaw life in the book, too. Tingle's story draws from a Choctaw story about No Name, a boy who also has a difficult relationship with his father. I especially like the parts of the story where Danny and his friend, Johnny, talk about the Choctaw Nation and water rights.

Danny and Johnny (who is Cherokee) play basketball. I think No Name has appeal to a wide range of readers. Those we might call reluctant, and those who are Native, especially Choctaw or Cherokee, and those who live in homes disrupted by alcoholism will be drawn to No Name.   

Earlier today I posted a bit of a rant over recent works of fantasy in which non-Native writers use Native culture as inspiration for a story that has little if anything to do with the lives of Native people today. Today's society knows so little about who we are! Works of fantasy just feed that lack of knowledge. Society embraces an abstract, disembodied notion of who we are, rather than us as people with a desire to be known and appreciated for who we are.

Gritty, real stories, of our daily lives in 2014 are too few and far between. We need more books like Tingle's No Name. Get a copy for your library. Choose your framework for sharing it: it is a basketball story; it is a realistic story of alcoholism; it is a story about the Choctaw people.   

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11. What is wrong with THE REMARKABLE AND VERY TRUE STORY OF LUCY AND SNOWCAP; SORROW'S KNOT; GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD

A colleague asked me about H. M. Bouwman's The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap. Published in 2008 by Marshall Cavendish, it got a starred review from Kirkus, and was tagged as "serviceable" by School Library Journal. 

Right off the bat, I'm giving it a thumbs down.

The setting is 1787. One character, Lucy, is "Colay" which is a fictional Native tribe the author made up for this fantasy. Because it is fantasy, people will defend what Bouwman does with characterizations of that made-up tribe.

But because Americans know so little about Native peoples, I object to works of fantasy like The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap.  And Bow's Sorrow's Knot. And Healy's Guardian of the Dead. 

One of our most esteemed Native writers, Simon J. Ortiz, wrote some time back that people love to retell and read traditional Native stories. A great deal of those stories are "retold" by writers who are outsiders to the people whose story they are "retelling" according to their own needs and creativity. They profess being inspired by Native peoples.

Ortiz quite rightly points out that Native people have very real lives and very real issues that need attention. It might make writers feel good to "retell" our stories, or to use our stories to create fantasies like Bouwman and Bow and Healy have done, but in so doing, they're doing further harm to Native peoples.

Bouwman, Bow, and Healy (and they aren't the only ones!) are feeding a monster of stereotypical expectations of who we are. That is not ok. How can they--on one hand, profess admiration for us--and on the other hand, take/use/misappropriate Native stories and culture when what they do hurts Native people?


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12. I read THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE

So! Scott (a colleague) wrote to ask me if I'd read The Education of Little Tree. I've written about that book here on AICL several times because it is not really a memoir. It was published as the memoir of a Cherokee named Forrest Carter, but that author's brother outed him as Asa Carter. Yeah, that guy. Of the KKK.

Scott said that a friend's daughter is reading it as a class assignment. She is telling the teacher that there are problems with it, but the teacher things there are valuable lessons in it, so I guess that means the teacher thinks they can ignore the problems. I don't know what the daughter is pointing out. Scott owes me big time for having to read this book...

This afternoon, I read The Education of Little Tree. It is set in the 1930s. Little Tree and his grandparents are amongst the Cherokee people who did not go to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears.

As I read, I was shaking my head, sighing deeply, again and again as I read. I just can NOT see what ANYONE would see of value in this book.

There are several words in the first chapter that we are meant to understand as Cherokee words. Using the Cherokee Nation's translator, I found that one or two of Carter's words are close to what I found as being good translations but most of them don't work at all. So--if you think you're learning Cherokee words by reading this book, you're not.

That first chapter is called Little Tree. It sets the stage for why this five-year-old is now living with his grandparents. His mother has died. He gets on a bus with his grandparents who've come to his mom's funeral. As his grandfather is paying the bus driver, that bus driver turns to the passengers, holds up his right hand, and says "How!" They all laugh, and Little Tree thinks they are friendly people. There's another part there, where a passenger calls out "Wa...hooo" as they walk past her seat.  We, the reader, know what's going on, and we go along with Carter, thinking that the driver and the passengers are racist. Maybe that is what draws people into the book. The thing is, with Carter being a fraud, I think readers are the ones who are the butt of his joke.

Once they've gotten off the bus and are walking into the mountains where his grandparents live, he hears his grandma singing an Indian song and that makes him feel safe. I guess that means his mom sang those songs to him? Nonetheless, he's about to learn a lot of what it means to be an Indian by living with these grandparents.

Like in "The Way" --- which is chapter 2. Here we learn of "Mon-o-lah" or "earth mother." If you search on "Mon-o-lah" you're going to get a lot of hits about this book. You're also going to get some hits to New Age sites and some odd stuff, too.

In "The Way" Little Tree and his grandfather see a hawk hunting quail. It gets one, and Little Tree is sad. His grandfather says:

"Don't feel sad, Little Tree. It is The Way. Tal-con [I think we're supposed to think that is the Cherokee word for hawk] caught the slow and so the slow will raise no children who are also slow." 
That was one of the shake-my-head moments. That struck me as a twisted eugenics philosophy. Grandpa continued:
"Tal-con eats a thousand ground rats who eat the eggs of the quail--both the quick and the slow eggs--and so Tal-con lives by The Way. He helps the quail."
Not only does Tal-con kill slow quail, he kills the rats who eat the quick and slow ones before they're hatched, too. I know Carter's trying to get us to buy into some Circle of Life thing but, this hawk/quail/rat cycle is kind of messed up.  And then, he says:
"It is The Way. Take only what ye need. When ye take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat. Pa-koh, the panther, knows and so must ye." 
That's just baloney. Animals do that "smaller and slower" hunting, but human beings do not do that. Human beings leave the female deer alone. That is the way it is done. A doe is smaller than a buck. If you kill the smaller, you kill the females and then guess what? No more deer! This seems silly to even say, but my guess is that a pregnant doe would be a bit slower than the rest of the deer, too. According to Carter's "The Way" she's the one to kill! This is just a bunch of nonsense.

But it must work! For millions of people who love this book, it works. WHY?! Because the portrayal of Native people as animals rather than humans has been done so well, that readers don't notice this nonsense!

More animal-like framing happens in chapter six, "To Know the Past." Little Tree's grandparents tell him it is important to know the past, so, they tell him about the Cherokee removal. According to Carter, the soldiers came after harvest time. That harvest time, though had been preceded by springtime, when
"...the Cherokee had farmed the rich valleys and held their mating dances in the spring when life was planted in the ground; when the buck and doe, the cock and peahen exulted in the creation parts they played."
Mating dances?! EVERYONE should stop reading at that point. Why bother reading this book? How 'bout we just all agree not to assign it any longer?

(Note: There's a lot more sillyness in the rest of the book. You'll find the stoic Indian who feels no pain. Carter's going to give you a bogus explanation for the word "How." In "To Know the Past" Carter tells us that the Cherokees refused to ride in the wagons. That doesn't reflect anything I've read, including the accounts on the website of the Cherokee Nation.)

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13. IT'S THANKSGIVING by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marilyn Hafner

Earlier this summer I started doing some research on easy readers to see what sorts of images of Native people I'd find in them. I've written about some in the past (like Danny and the Dinosaur) but haven't done a systematic study.

This morning I put out a call asking librarians for titles in their collections. Michelle replied, sending me scans from Jack Prelutsky's It's Thanksgiving! That book was first published in 1982. Michelle sent me illustrations from the 1982 edition, and, from a newly illustrated edition in 2007. The text did not change. Just the illustrations. (A shout out to Michelle for sending them to me!)

I don't know what prompted the new illustrations, but certainly, it wasn't a concern for accuracy. The Wampanoag's didn't use tipis as shown in the old and new editions:



The one on the left is from 1982; the one on the right is from 2007. The illustrations are from "The First Thanksgiving" chapter of the book. If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know I find the telling of that Thanksgiving story deeply problematic.

But let's spend a few minutes with those two illustrations. In the old one, the Pilgrim and the Indian have their hands up. Are they saying "how" to each other? Maybe the publisher and illustrator knew "how" was a problem but were clueless about the tipis and clothing? It also looks like they made the Indian noses less prominent, but just barely. The Pilgrims, though, their noses look a lot better.

If you are weeding books and want to weed this one but aren't sure how to justify it? Accuracy. Check out page 47 of CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries published in 2008. Crew has an acronym, MUSTIE, to help with weeding. Here's what the M stands for:
Misleading refers to information that is factually inaccurate due to new discoveries, revisions in thought, or new information that is now accepted by professionals in the field covered by the subject. Even in fields like physics, that were once thought to be pretty settled, changes occur that radically impact the accuracy and validity of information. 
So how 'bout it? Will you weed it? So kids don't keep growing up thinking that All Indians Lived in Tipis? There's a lot more to say about the "First Thanksgiving" story. I've reviewed a lot of books about it, but for now, check out this post. It features the thinking of a 5th grader: Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with smiling Indians were wrong?

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14. Was Paul Goble adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes?

Within the framework of children's books, one thought that comes to mind when I hear the word "adopted" is Paul Goble. Let me preface this post by saying that I find his children's books highly problematic. See Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses for background.

For years, I've read that he was adopted by Chief Edgar Red Cloud. Here's an example from the World Wisdom website:

Paul Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name "Wakinyan Chikala," Little Thunder) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
I've been skeptical of such statements and have started some research into that statement. I kind of doubt he was adopted into either one. Maybe Chief Edgar Red Cloud adopted him into his own Lakota family, but I doubt it was an adoption into the nation itself, wherein Goble's name was put down on the tribal census. The Oglala Lakota tribal constitution says members are those who are born to a member of the tribe.

The Yakima and Sioux are two distinct nations, by the way, and using both in that sentence tells us that the person who wrote it doesn't understand that they are two different nations. 

I did some searching using "Paul Goble" and "Little Thunder" and found this at the website of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
His interest in Native Americans was so deep and genuine that he was adopted into the Yakama (Yakima) tribe by Chief Alba Shawaway and into the Sioux tribe by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
Alba Shawaway was Yakama and maybe he did adopt Goble into his immediate family, but again, I doubt he would have been adopted into the tribe itself. 

Doing some research on Edgar Red Cloud, I came across Phil Jackson's book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. Jackson is a big name in the National Basketball Association. Edgar Red Cloud gave him a name, too in 1973: Swift Eagle.  Jackson writes:
Call me Swift Eagle. That's the name Edgar Red Cloud gave me during the 1973 basketball clinic that Bill Bradley and I conducted at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Edgar, the grandson of the famous chief Red Cloud, said I resembled an eagle as I swooped around the court with my arms outstretched, always looking to steal the ball. Swift Eagle. Oknahkoh Wamblee. the name sounded like wings beating the air. 
In the next paragraph, Jackson writes that Edgar Red Cloud gave Bill Bradley a name, too: Tall Elk.

But let's get back to Goble. I haven't found anything he's written himself that says he was adopted. Here's the dedication in his Adopted by the Eagles: 



See that? He says he was given a Lakota name and called son by Chief Edgar Red Cloud, but Goble doesn't say he was adopted. He doesn't say anything about it in an interview at the Wisdom Tales website.* And he doesn't say anything about it in his autobiography, Hau Kola-Hello Friend published by Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc. in 1994.  

So... what is the source of information that says he was adopted? I'll keep looking. If you find something, do let me know.

Why it matters: Having his work cloaked with an adoption story suggests that he's got an insider perspective. As my post on The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses indicates, I find his work problematic, and so do Doris Seale, a librarian who is Santee, Creek, and Abenaki, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, an American Indian Studies professor who is Crow Creek Sioux. At the bottom of that post, you'll see a link to a post where I quote them. That post is About Paul Goble.


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15. DREAMING IN INDIAN: CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN VOICES

For some time now, I've been waiting for Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices. Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale, it was getting buzz in Native networks on social media.

Given my commitment to bringing the work of Native writers to the fore--especially those set in the present day--the title alone caught my interest. Seeing names of writers who would have work in Dreaming in Indian intrigued me, too.

I've read it, now, and highly recommend it.

Though its filled with art, it isn't meant for young children. The publisher, Annick Press, tags it as being for young adults. Dreaming in Indian has a vibrancy I've not seen in anything else. A vibrancy that, perhaps, is characteristic of a generation at ease with technology and its tools... Native writers, that is at ease with technology and its use. Here's a set of pages from inside (image from publisher website):


I want to pore over the art, studying it, thinking about it, marveling at it. Isn't it stunning? I can imagine a lot of people dismissing this work because it doesn't conform to their stereotypical ideas of dead or stoic Indians. But I can also imagine a lot of others holding it dear because it reflects who we are...

The Foreword is by Lee Maracle (Salish and Cree Sto:lo Nation). She writes:
All the works in the following pages are part of that amazing struggle to go forward, into modernity, onto the global stage, without leaving our ancient selves behind.
And:
They sing out loud in verses, plain and compelling. They cry freedom in words commanding and unapologetic. They do with with tender insistence, bravery, and beauty.
Within Native literatures, Maracle's name is up there with our most acclaimed writers. As such, her words mean a lot. One of her most compelling books is I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism. 

The first items in Dreaming in Indian are by a younger, equally compelling writer: Nicola Campbell (Interior Salish of Nik7kepmx [Thompson], Nxilx [Okanagan], Metis). I've written about her children's books several times. She has two poems in this book: "I Remember Lullabies" and "I Remember Fried Bologna and Rice." From the red and white checked tablecloth to the smoked hide Auntie works on, Campbell's poems reflect what Maracle noted: modernity and ancient selves that are part of our lives as we go forward.

Campbell's poems are in Part 1: Roots. The theme for Part 2 is Battles; for Part 3 it is Medicine, and Part 4 is titled Dreamcatchers. In each one, you'll find poetry, prose, and all manner of art. For most, you'll also have a solid introduction to the artists and writers, their lives, what drives them... Gritty and real, their live stories are inspiring.

Annick categorizes Dreaming In Indian as nonfiction, but I honestly don't know what to call it. The mix of media, writing, topics... It makes me think of Eliza Dresang and her writing about radical change. There's a lot to ponder in Dreaming In Indian. It'll challenge readers, in good ways, and that is a good thing. Check it out.

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16. Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS

The cover for Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS is sure to catch the eye of readers interested in stories about Native peoples. Because it is a photograph, one might assume it is a work of non-fiction, but it isn't. Instead, it is the story of Mark Centeno. He is 15 years old. His dad is Mexican and Filipino; his mother (she died of cancer when he was 10) was Chumash and Crow.

Mark is kind of a surfer dude. He loved hanging with his buddies in California, and is unhappy living in Dallas. He convinces his dad to send him back to California for the summer, to live with his mother's Chumash family on their reservation.

Nana (his grandmother) and his aunt meet his plane and he starts to learn a lot about his Chumash heritage. When he was younger, his mom had told him some things, but as the story unfolds, he learns a lot more. As the cover suggests, dancing is part of what Mark is going to learn about. By the end of the story, he's a pretty good Traditional dancer and knows several songs in that category.

Early on, Mark learns that his cousin, Adrian, is actually his half-brother. When Mark first talks with him, Adrian is getting ready for an upcoming pow wow. Mark asks him if a choker is part of his costume. Adrian is incensed that Mark has used the word "costume" rather than regalia. It is moments like that by which Robinson (the author) imparts a lot of solid information to us (the readers)--information that bats down stereotyping and bias that is all-too-rampant in society.

Robinson also introduces readers to some of the identity politics that run through Native communities. Another character in the book is Charley. He's Lakota from Pine Ridge. Mark meets him when he registers to dance for the first time. Charley looks down on Mark, saying (p. 75):
"You know, powwows aren't really meant for California Indians. You're all mostly watered-down mixed breeds. You should leave this stuff to real Indians like me."  
I'm glad to see Robinson take up this fraught topic. I think Native kids (like Mark) who are new to powwow dancing, or who are mixed, will like reading how this identity politics will all get sorted out, and many will love seeing references to Gathering of Nations. Non-Native kids will get a glimpse into the not-monolithic world of Native people.

Son Who Returns was published in 2014 by 7th Generation. It is in their Pathfinder series of books for reluctant teen readers.

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17. Mexicans, lawn jockeys, and an Indian spirit in A.S. King's PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ

Today is one of those lazy Sunday's in which I pick up an acclaimed young adult novel to read--not for AICL--but just because it is important that I read books that win major awards.


Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, was named as an Honor Book in YALSA's Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction in 2011. I started reading it a couple of hours ago. I paused when I read this:
I drive over the bridge into town. The whitest town on earth--or, more accurately, once the whitest town on Earth until the Mexicans moved in. Once you get through the crowded old suburbs where the large Victorian homes sit on the hill and past the rows of cupola-topped row houses, it's an ugly town--a mishmash of 1940s asphalt shingles, multicolored bricks, and gray concrete. There's too much litter, and too many people look angry. Dad says it wasn't always like this. He says it's not the Mexicans' fault that the city council would rather spend the city's money on new arts initiatives and a big flashy baseball stadium than more police on the streets. So now, while there's wine, cheese, and doubleheaders downtown, poverty has taken over and crime is at an all time high uptown. I lock my doors.
So--Mexicans live in the ugly part of town, but if the city spent more money on police, that part of town wouldn't be dirty, ugly, and filled with people who look angry? Really?! Just how would more police help with that? 

I kept on reading. Vera's home is on Overlook Road, near the top of a hill. So is Charlie's. They're next door neighbors, but their houses are a hundred yards apart, in a wooded area where, I gather, the wealthy people of the city live. Vera's neighbor on the other side is the Ungers. The Ungers have a boat, two Cadillacs, and a lawn with ornaments that includes
lawn jockeys (the black kind), and three cement deer--a doe and two fawns.
The Ungers also have gnomes, which Charlie and Vera move around for kicks. There is no further mention of the lawn jockeys. What are we readers to make of that?! Thinking that I'd come across something that tells me the Ungers are racist, I kept on reading. The chapter titled "History--Age Seven" opens with Charlie telling her about "the spirit of the Great Hunter." Of course, that passage gave me pause. Again. Here's that excerpt:
As far as Charlie was concerned, the Great Hunter was an Indian spirit who lived in our woods. He drank from the lake. He watched the stars from the ridge. He protected hikers and hunters and tree-climbing little urchins like us, and he created the most sacred tree of all, the Master Oak, for us to grow up in.
How nice (not)! An Indian spirit who looks after white kids. 

Not all Mexicans, or all African Americans, or all Native people, will pause at King's references to them/their culture, but I noted all three instances, and frankly, I'm more than a bit annoyed. Each of these three passages yanked me out of the story King is telling. 

I looked through reviews, and not once have I found a review from a reviewer at a journal, or from a blogger, that noted these references. Didn't anyone notice them? Or did they get noticed but were then deemed unimportant? Are such things so much a part of white culture that they are unremarkable?! 

Needless to say, I am setting aside King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Did you notice the passages?

Update--5:03 PM, August 31, 2014: In my post (above), I should have provided a synopsis of what the book is about. Here's what you'll find at Amazon:
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Update: 5:44 PM, August 31, 2014:

Well, I kept on reading...

I came across a "Nazi skinhead" named Mick who is boyfriend to one of Vera's coworkers (Vera works at a pizza place). One evening, Vera gives Jill a ride home. They've got Sly and the Family Stone cranking. When they get to Jill's apartment, Jill reaches over and turns the volume way down so Mick can't hear it. She turns to Vera and says "What can I do?" With Jill's action and question, we understand that King wants us to know that Mick is racist towards blacks. Why couldn't she give us something like that about the Ungers, too?

Later, Vera is remembering being on the bus when she was in 8th grade. She was listening to Al Green on her headphones. A senior guy sits with her and asks her what she's listening to. His name is Tim Miller. Vera doesn't want to tell him what she's listening to because he uses the n-word and she's sure he won't like the music she listens to. There's also a Confederate flag in his yard. He lives at the bottom of the hill. He tells Vera she's a rich kid. Given the location of his house, his family is low on the SES scale. He's obviously meant to be racist. Again--why don't we have anything to mark the Ungers as racist? Why couldn't Vera have said "the racist black kind" rather than just "the black kind" when she noted them on the Ungers lawn?  

I'm trying to figure out who Vera is...  She is well-off, doesn't like the n-word, and is aware of white supremacist racism towards African Americans. Is that a plus for Vera? For King? 

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18. Books by Cherokee Mystery Writer, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Some months ago I was asked if I could recommend a Native mystery writer. Because my area of expertise is books for children and young adults (and not adult mysteries), I asked colleagues in Native literature for names and learned about Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.

Right away I downloaded an e-copy of Hoklotubbe's American Cafe. Published in 2011 by the University of Arizona Press, I liked it a lot and passed her name along. American Cafe is the second book featuring Sadie Walela, a Cherokee woman trying to find her way in the world.

Hoklotubbe's writing is the real deal. Her Cherokee identity and knowledge are the foundation of her books. As you read, you'll be drawn into Sadie's world. There's no romanticizing, no stereotyping, and no mis-steps either like those you'll find in books by Tony Hillerman or Sandi Ault. Their books make me cringe (and yes, I did read some of them.)

Hoklotubbe will be reading tomorrow in Washington DC at the National Book Festival. For the last few weeks, I've been recovering from a broken ankle. Among the books I've read is the first Sadie Walela book, Deception On All Accounts. I like Sadie and want to read more of her. I'll turn, next, to Sinking Suspicions. 

Though it isn't marketed to young adults, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Hoklotubbe to older teens (or adults) looking for books--especially mysteries--by Native writers. I encourage you to get her books for your library and take a look at her website, too.  

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19. E.B. White "Did you ever see an Indian..."

A few days ago (June 11) was E.B. White's birthday. Most people know--and love--Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. 

Do you remember his reference to Indians in Stuart Little?

It is that part where he's fixed up a birchbark canoe and plans to take Harriet out for a ride in it. There's a string tied to it, though, that he can't untie. He's really annoyed. Harriet says they could go anyway and let the string drag behind them. Stuart is not keen on that at all. On page 122, he says:
"Did you ever see an Indian paddling along some quiet unspoiled river with a great big piece of rope dragging astern?"
Harriet says that they could pretend they are fishing, but Stuart says
"I don't want to pretend I'm fishing."
As his prior statement suggests, he was imagining Indians. I don't know that it'd be accurate to say he was playing Indian. He wasn't doing anything with feathers and paint, but he definitely has an image in mind of an Indian in a canoe. Nice that it wasn't an image of an Indian on a horse!

Curious if he'd written anything else about Native peoples, I started digging a bit and found a poem called "An Indian Burial Mound" published in 1922 in Art and Archeology. It is as follows:
The sculpted buttes cut cameo-wise
Against the bold blue skies,
Above the grave.
No catafalque, no lordly marble tomb;
But,--in his native hill side carved,-a room
His bones to save.
The tomb profaned, simple would show his needs;
A shard or two, a strand of turquoise beads
The spirit crave.
Here ruled his tribe before we bade them go.
Here buffalo and deer paid tribute to his bow.
Here lies a brave!
Time for some analysis! That'll come. Later. Gotta run for now!
 

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20. Picture Books about Christopher Columbus

Earlier this week, a colleague wrote to me about a new picture book about Christopher Columbus. This morning, I was e-talking with Annette Wanamaker, editor of Children's Literature in Educationabout an article in CLE about Columbus! I read it right away.

In "The Columbus Myth: Power and Ideology in Picturebooks About Christopher Columbus," Christina M. Desai shares results of her analysis of depictions of Columbus in picturebooks published since 1992. She looked at a representative sample of over 30 books and found that little has changed. Native peoples are still being misrepresented and stereotyped.

She also points to something very troubling:

In her defense of humanities education, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Nussbaum (2010) warns that, as emphasis on the humanities declines in the U.S., curricula are increasingly designed to advance economic growth. She posits that such curricula will "present national ambition, especially ambition for wealth, as a great good, and will downplay issues of poverty and global accountability" (p. 21). The books examined here certainly exemplify such a curriculum and promote its agenda, by glorifying conquest and profit at the expense of ideals such as human rights and self determination.
That paragraph reminded me of Floca's Locomotive. Though his picture book is about early trains in the US, it is also about conquest and profit at the expense of Native peoples. Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal this year. I found it lacking. Floca responded to my critique.

I think Floca's win and Desai's article tell us how little we've come in terms of a humane society. If you don't have access to Children's Literature in Education, ask your librarian to get a copy of Desai's article. It has a lot to mull over for those of us who read, review, and recommend children's books.

Here's the citation:
Desai, Christina M. (2014). "The Columbus Myth: Power and Ideology in Picturebooks About Christopher Columbus," Children's Literature in Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10583-014-9216-0.


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21. FOLLOW THE DREAM: THE STORY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, by Peter Sis

In the last few days, I've been looking at picture books about Christopher Columbus. Peter Sis did one, titled Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. 

Sis has won a lot of major awards for his work in children's literature, but none (that I know of) for his biography of Columbus.

Published in 1991 (likely timed to coincide with the 500 year 'anniversary' of Columbus landing in the New World), the reviewer at Publisher's Weekly called it flat, while the one at Kirkus called it uncontroversial, and the reviewer at School Library Journal said to "make room on your crowded Columbus shelf" for this one.

Sis grew up in Czechoslovakia. In a 2009 article in Bookbird, Sis wrote (p. 45):
I grew up with the myth of Columbus's voyage and his discovery of the "new world." I thought I had found a perfect explorer in him. Someone who was determined to find the way, just like me. I remember how surprised I was by the voices raised against Columbus and against the consequences of his "conquest." It sounded especially strong on the 500th anniversary of his voyage and it scared me. I was not used to this "free" discussion and I still have to remind myself that everyone has a point of view, even today. 
His use of quotes around the word 'conquest' suggests he doesn't agree with the people who raise voices against Columbus. He probably wouldn't like what I have to say about this illustration (I took this photo with my phone today while at the library reading books about Columbus):



The page on the left shows Columbus when he "landed on a beach of white coral, claimed the land for the King and Queen of Spain, knelt and gave thanks to God, and expected to see the treasures of the Orient..." Not a word about the people he is looking at...

He juxtaposes the illustration of Columbus-the-man with the one on the right. It is a statue of Columbus. It reminds me of the one in Barcelona. Looking closely, I think the figures gathered 'round the statue are schoolchildren. Makes sense, maybe, if he images them to be the children who are intended readers of his book. Fair enough, but nonetheless, the juxtaposition bothers me. On the left are Native people. On the right are children. Another read of the two pages is to equate Native people with children. That is, unfortunately, all too common in children's literature and society, too. Surely you're familiar with the phrase "wild Indian" as used to describe children who are a bit out of control...

Needless to say, I don't recommend Sis's book about Columbus. If you want to read the article in Bookbird, its title is "My Life With Censorship" and it is in volume 47, issue #3, in 2009.

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22. BEFORE WE WERE FREE, by Julia Alvarez

Among the projects I'm doing this summer is a do-it-yourself paint job of the exterior of our house. On days when it isn't too hot or humid, I enjoy being out there, scraping paint and listening to an audiobook.

Today, I started listening to Julia Alvarez's Before We Were Free. Published in 2002 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, it won the Pura Belpre Award in 2004.

Chapter one opens with this:
"May I have some volunteers?" Mrs. Brown is saying. We are preparing skits for Thanksgiving, two weeks away. Although the Pilgrims never came to the Dominican Republic, we are attending the American school, so we have to celebrate American holidays.
That opening was unexpected. But because I've read one of Alvarez's other books, my ears perked up. Where, I wondered, would this particular scene go in Alvarez's skilled hands! Mrs. Brown picks Anita (the protagonist) and her cousin, Carla, to play the parts of two Indians who will welcome the Pilgrims because,
Mrs. Brown gives the not-so-good parts to those of us in class who are Dominicans.
Mrs. Brown then gives the two girls a headband with a feather sticking up like one rabbit ear. She asks them to greet the Pilgrims, being played by two boys wearing Davy Crockett hats. Anita thinks
Even I know the pioneers come after the Pilgrims.
Mrs. Brown asks Anita/the Indian to welcome the pilgrims "to the United States" but Oscar raises his hand and asks:
"Why the Indians call it the United States when there was no United Estates back then, Mrs. Brown?"
Some kids make fun of him. Anita hates it when the Americans make fun of the way the Dominicans speak English. Mrs. Brown tells him that
"It's called poetic license. Something allowed in a story that isn't so in real life."
Beautifully done, Ms. Alvarez! I'm hooked.

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23. Gary Paulsen's MR. TUCKET

A reader of AICL wrote to ask me about Gary Paulsen's Mr. Tucket. I read a copy of the book via the Internet Archive. Here's my notes, summarized by chapter. Sometimes I put my comments in italics beneath each chapter. This time, you'll find my thoughts on the book in the THOUGHTS at the end of the summary of chapters.

First, though, let's look a bit at Gary Paulsen. He's a prolific author and quite well known for Hatchet and the sequels to it. The Hatchet series is also known as Brian's Saga, because the protagonist is a kid named Brian who survives a plane crash, alone, in the Canadian wilderness. Hatchet was a Newbery Honor Book in 1987.

Published in 1969 by Funk & Wagnalls, I think Mr. Tucket was Paulsen's first book. It, too, is about survival.  

CHAPTER SUMMARIES

Protagonist: Francis Alphonse Tucket, age 14
Date: June 13, 1848
Place: Oregon Trail

CHAPTER ONE

Francis's family is part of a wagon train moving from their farm in Missouri. While in Kansas, they'd been worried about Comanche's but all through Kansas, they hadn't seen "a feather--let alone an Indian" (p. 8).

The wagon train is in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Francis receives a rifle for his 14th birthday. He's out practicing, behind the wagon train and out of sight of everyone. He is captured by "six Pawnee men and one older warrior" (p. 9) who are not wearing paint, which he thinks means it is a hunting party. He struggles, they knock him out. He wakes up at their camp where "the ugliest old person" (p. 10) he's ever seen looks down on him. The person, who has a wrinkled face and toothless mouth, smiles down on him.

 CHAPTER TWO

The old woman is wife of the old warrior in the hunting party. When Francis wakes, she puts a rope on him and shows him off at each lodge. Boys kick him. He fights the boys, decides it isn't worth it, and smiles at the old woman. She removes the rope. He is attacked by three boys. The fight is stopped by (p. 14):
"a short, wiry Indian with his hair in one braid. At the bottom of the braid there was one feather, hanging straight down. The man wore plain buckskins, unbeaded moccasins, and carried a rifle in his left hand. It was Francis's rifle."
Francis argues with the man. Aiming the rifle between Francis's eyes, the man warns him not to be stupid or insult elders, and walks off.

CHAPTER THREE

Three weeks after being at the camp, Francis learns that "the brave" with his rifle is named Braid and that he is the leader of their war parties. He is not a chief. There are scalps braided across his doorway to his lodge. One morning he led a party of more than 40 warriors out of camp. When they return, Francis sees a blonde scalp and figures the Pawnees had attacked the wagon train with his family. His suspicion is confirmed when Braid throws a china doll at his feet. It is his sister's doll. The council decides to move the village. They travel for ten days to the southern edge of the Black Hills. There, Francis meets a white man who comes to the village: Mr. Jason Grimes.

CHAPTER FOUR

"Squaws" and children crowd around Grimes, who Francis thinks of as a mountain man. He wears fringed buckskin, plain moccasins, and a derby with a long feather sticking straight up from the band. The people in the village prepare a celebration. At night there is a frenzy of dancing. Francis wakes that night with a hand over his mouth. It is Grimes, with a plan for how Francis can get away.

 CHAPTER FIVE

Francis takes off on a mare Grimes swiped for him. He rides the mare, loses it, and keeps walking. At dark, he falls asleep.

CHAPTER SIX

Francis wakes to the smell of coffee. Grimes is there. He tells Francis he followed Braid and five or six others as they tried to find him by following the mare's tracks. Having gone upriver without the mare, Francis--now called Mr. Tucket by Grimes--is safe. He learns that Grimes lost his arm after a fight with Braid.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Grimes teaches Mr. Tucket how to use the rifle and be aware of surroundings.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Francis asks Grimes why he is friendly with Pawnees after having lost his arm due to the fight with Braid. Grimes says Pawnee can't help the way they are, that nobody can. Then he says the Pawnee call themselves "the People" and that they "live with the land" or, (p. 50):
"by nature--the same nature that makes a she-bear gut you if you mess with her cubs. Braid costing me my arm is about the same as a she-bear took it. I couldn't get mat at a bear and I couldn't get mad at Braid, and I couldn't hate the whole Pawnee tribe because of a mistake."
The mistake was that Grimes wasn't successful in preventing Braid from cutting his arm up. Francis asks questions that make Grimes uncomfortable. Why does he trade pelts for gunpowder and lead that the Pawnees then use on white people? Grimes says he is not a war maker. He doesn't want to kill Pawnees or whites. If he does kill Braid it will not be over land. That desire for land is what farmers like Francis's family wants. He asks Grimes to leave him at a settlement. Grimes says the closest one is Standing Bear's Sioux village.

CHAPTER NINE

They ride into the Sioux village where "the children's howling was earshattering" (p. 56). At the center of the village, (p. 56)
"a small channel opened in the crowd to the right and an Indian, who limped, came through. He was short, bowlegged, and stocky, but he moved with a smoothness that make Francis think immediately of a cat. It must be Standing Bear, Francis thought, and he was not smiling."
Grimes speaks in Sioux to Standing Bear, who tells him that Braid asked Standing Bear to keep an eye out for Francis. This strikes Grimes as unusual because the Pawnee and Sioux are enemies, but it turns out the mare Francis escaped on was Braid's personal horse. Because of that, Braid is willing to talk to enemies, with the hope of getting his mare back. Grimes talks with Standing Bear, apparently asking Standing Bear if he can trap beaver on Standing Bear's lands. He gets that permission, and then sets up a wrestling match between Francis and a boy in the village. It starts with Standing Bear "snorting" something in Sioux to both boys. Francis wins the match. His winnings are a horse and outfit.

CHAPTER TEN

Francis tries out the horse. He and Grimes leave the village.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Francis puts on, and likes, his buckskin outfit. Francis and Grimes set out to hunt antelope using an old Indian trick in which Francis will wave a white rag, which makes the antelope curious. They want to see what it is. When they do, Francis is to shoot a young antelope. They get one and eat twelve pounds by dark.

CHAPTER TWELVE

They visit Spot Johnny. He has an Indian wife named Bird Dance and two boys: Jared, John and Clarence. Bird Dance speaks perfect English. Spot tells Grimes that Braid is thinking of taking over the Pawnee nation, and gathering items like powder for the tribe.  Braid has also been raiding wagon trains. Spot says Braid is stupid, wanting to make "a clean sweep" and "driving all whites from Pawnee territory" (p. 91).

Grimes then asks Spot about the Crows, saying (p. 92):
I spent a week coming across their stomping grounds and didn't see a one. Usually I get shot at at least once."
Spot says they're hunting and that he's also heard they've broken into small bands. "Too many war chiefs" (p. 92) and are raiding and taking what they can.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Francis and Grimes leave Spot Johnny's place. They see a wagon train, but Francis chooses to stay with Grimes.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

They enter an area where Grimes is careful to cover their tracks so that "the best Kiowa tracker in the world" won't be able to find them. They're near the edge of the Crow territory. They settle near beaver ponds.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Jim Bridger comes for a visit and tells Francis and Grimes about a Crow family nearby.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Francis and Grimes trap two hundred beaver, skin and stretch their pelts.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Two miles from camp, five Crows "painted for war" (p. 129) fire arrows at Francis. He races back to camp, with them chasing and firing arrows. Grimes shoots two, and one is thrown from his horse and injured.  Grimes and Francis plan to get the others.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Grimes and Francis come upon two of the Indians (p. 136):
"In front of them, not ten feet away, two painted faces and bronze chests rose. Two arrows were pulled back on taut strings. Two Indian throats let out a roaring sound."  
Francis wounds one; Grimes kills him. The other "brave" got away. Grimes and Francis start tying beaver pelts to horses, and then leave. Back at their camp, ten Crow "braves." The leader says they will start out to find Grimes and Francis at daybreak, and help Laughing Pony (the one who was thrown from his horse).

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Grimes and Francis run into a heavy snowstorm but keep running the horses until Francis's mare stumbles. They stop for the night.

CHAPTER TWENTY

The next morning they set out again, rest again, and then when they get started they see smoke. Grimes thinks it is from Spot Johnny's camp but that there is too much smoke.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

When they arrive at Spot Johnny's camp, everything is on fire and there are many bodies. Grimes says it was "Braid and his boys" (p. 154). Two miles away, Spot Johnny's trading post and wagons from a wagon train are also on fire. There are twenty-three dead Pawnees, too. Grimes and Francis don't find Spot or his family outside, and Grimes is sure they were in the burned trading post. There are farmers at the wagons. Grimes asks them when they were attacked and says it is time for him to "do something about Braid" (p. 156). He asks the farmers to keep Francis as he rides off and if he doesn't return, that Francis gets his ponies and pelts, and that the farmers should take Francis with them.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Francis gets away from the farmers. He rides hard to catch up to Grimes. He sees Grimes and Braid in a meadow, on horses, racing towards each other, both "stripped to the waist and carrying rifles" (p. 163). They shoot at each other, and "the one-armed and one-braided men" fall near each other. Braid is dead. Francis is shocked that Grimes goes to scalp Braid. He realizes Grimes is like the Indians, and "in a way, a kind of animal" (p. 165) and that he (Francis) is not. He gets on his horse and sets out for Oregon.


MY THOUGHTS

Though I am glad to see that Paulsen used specific tribes (examples: Pawnee and Kiowa) in Mr. Tucket, it is disappointing that the Native characters are, nonetheless, portrayed as animal-like rather than as human beings. The Pawnee children howl, for example, in chapter two. In chapter eight, Grimes frames the Pawnees as being like bears. In chapter nine, Standing Bear (a Sioux) moves like a cat. None of this characterization is used for the white characters.

Paulsen's Standing Bear is Sioux. There was a man named Luther Standing Bear/Ota Kte (Ota Kte is his Lakota name), born in the 1860s, who wrote several books, including My People the Sioux. There was a Ponca leader named Standing Bear. He was born in 1829 and died in 1908. He is known for leaving his reservation, without permission, to take his son's remains to their homelands to bury them there. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's book about him is on my list of children's books to review. I wonder if either of them was the inspiration for Paulsen's use of that name for that character? Both are men of significance, and I was annoyed to see that name for this character.

I'm also curious about the name of the Pawnee man: "Braid." He wears a braid, and my guess is, that braid is why he's called Braid. To me, it sounds silly. I searched for images/photos/illustrations of Pawnee men to see how they wear feathers. Paulsen's Braid wears a feather at the end of his braid, pointing down. That seems silly, too, and I didn't find any examples of a feather being worn that way. I'm not saying it isn't possible--anything IS possible--but when we have an outsider (Paulsen) creating characters from a nation (Pawnee) and a time period over 100 years ago, I think Paulsen is on a slippery slope.

The wrestling. I can't find any support for wrestling, in any tribe, that looks like what Paulsen describes. I do find it, however, in boy scout manuals! There is a lot in those scouting guides that gets labeled "Indian" that isn't part of Native traditions anywhere. I would love to find some kind of evidence of it, though, so if YOU find it, do write and let me know where it is! This wrestling reminds me of the "Indian burn" that is part of kid lore in the U.S.

Scalping. Braid does it. A lot. It is a brutal, savage act. Overall, Paulsen characterizes the Native people as more like animals. The scalping that Braid does fits in a savage framework, with Pawnees portrayed as less-than-human. At the end of the story, Francis chooses to abandon his friendship with Grimes when Grimes behaves like a Pawnee and scalps Braid. We are supposed to think that Francis has higher morals, that he's choosing not to be animal-like. BUT. What we--as readers--ought to reject is Paulsen's characterizations of Native people. He gives us is a narrow depiction that serves a narrative that encourages readers to think Native people were less-than White people, and therefore, it was ok to take Native land. And, it obscures a lot of the violence directed at Native people, too. There were bounties on Native men AND Native women and children, too. Bounty hunters would collect their money by showing the scalps of Native men, women, and children. Paulsen gives us one White person who scalps, but in Paulsen's story, he is the exception. He's shown to be outside-the-norm, but the fact is, Whites scalping Native people happened a lot. Here's an excerpt of a proclamation from 1755 that specifies how much a person would receive when he would "produce the scalp":

For every Male Penobscot Indian above the Age of twelve years that shall be taken within the Time aforesaid and brought to Boston Fifty Pounds.

For every Female Penobscot Indian taken and brought in as aforesaid and for Every Male Indian Prisoner under the age of twelve Years taken and brought in as aforesaid Twenty five Pounds.

For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under the Age of twelve years that Shall be killed and brought in as Evidence of their being killed as aforesaid, Twenty pounds.


Paulsen's point of view is Francis's--a 14 year old white boy--but, as the reviewer of his third book (Tucket's Ride) said, Paulsen doesn't develop characters. He uses stereotypes. When we, as a society, know so little about Native peoples--past and present--such stereotyping is a serious issue. The reviewer points to that issue, saying:
"Classroom use for social studies, however, would require careful and critical analysis by teachers and students."  
I spent an hour or so looking over videos students/teachers have made about Mr. Tucket. I see no evidence of careful or critical analysis. Though Paulsen sometimes had his white characters use 'man' or 'men' to refer to the Pawnee men, he mostly used "brave" or "warrior" for men and "squaw" for women. In careful or critical analysis, I'd like to see teachers looking at words like that, because they create a distance, or a barrier, in thinking about Native men and women as people, just like any other people.  

Mr. Tucket is definitely a very popular book, as evident in its reprintings. Here's some of the covers I've found. First is one that looks like it could be the original cover, from 1969:




Here's one I found a lot. Looking at a preview online, I saw a copy from 1995, that, with this cover, was in its 25th printing.



And here's what I think is the most recent cover:




In an interview, Paulsen says he learned a lot from reading a particular series. What are kids who read his Mr. Tucket series "learning" about Native people? Regular readers of AICL know that I'm critical of authors who use "Indian" rather than a specific tribe, but when an author uses a specific tribe and gives us stereotypes anyway, that is equally problematic. I cannot recommend Mr. Tucket. 






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24. Finding Bruchac's BUFFALO SONG at Reading is Fundamental's office

In July I was in Washington DC to visit my daughter. Among the many things I did while there was visit the Reading is Fundamental office. As I waited in their reception area, I noted the books on their coffee table. Among them was Joseph Bruchac's excellent Buffalo Song:



Seeing it did two things:

First, it isn't often that a great book by a Native author greets me as I sit in a waiting room. My heart soared.

Second, its presence on that table is evidence that the people at Reading is Fundamental are committed to providing recipients of their books with ones that accurately portray Native people. Books that don't stereotype or romanticize who we are, and who we were...  They're important! Not just to Native readers, but non-Native ones, too!

In 2008, I posted Beverly Slapin's review of Buffalo Song.

Bruchac's book is superior to Jean Craighead George's The Buffalo Are Back. My review of her book is here: Jean Craighead George's THE BUFFALO ARE BACK

Read Slapin's review of Bruchac's book and get a copy. If you've got one on on your shelf, feature it in a display. For many kids, school is starting. Featuring it now helps get Native culture into the hands of children right away. Don't wait till that month designated for Native Americans (November) to share books by Native peoples.

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25. A killer line in Jaye Robin Brown's NO PLACE TO FALL

Yesterday, Kelly Jensen of Book Riot tweeted that 20 pages into a YA novel, she came across this line: 

[H]e must be part Indian. Red dot, not feather.
I asked for the title, and she pointed me to her review at goodreads, where she said:
You lost me right there, with that line. No need to read more.
I'd have that reaction, too. I've heard the phrase used before. It reduces Indians to red dots, and American Indians to feathers. Pretty gross.   


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