in all blogs
Viewing Blog: American Indians in Children's Literature, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 900
Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
Statistics for American Indians in Children's Literature
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 21
On March 17, 2014 I published my analysis of 14 books on the Cooperative Center or Children's Books (CCBC). The set I analyzed are those published by publishers located in the United States. My findings?
- With one exception (Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here), the books major publishing houses put out are flawed in one way or another.
- With one exception (a book I could not get), the books small publishers put out are ones that I can--and do--recommend.
Today I am pointing to the time period for the books. In short, are they set in the past? Or are they set in the present?
My findings? Of the 13 books I looked at (remember there are 14 total but I could not get one, which means 13 for this look at time period):
When I looked at the set published by large publishers, I found:
- Books set in the present: 1
- Books set in the past: 5
When I looked at the set published by small publishers, I found:
- Books set in the present: 4
- Books set in the past: 2
- Books set in the future 1
Another win, in other words for small publishers, for giving us books that portray American Indians as people of the present day.
I smiled as I read Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Choctaw author, Greg Rodgers. Chukfi Rabbit, we learn as the story opens, is lazy. If I was still teaching kindergarten or first grade, I'm have fun saying this line from the first page with my students:
"Chukfi Rabbit is lay-zeeee."
And I'd be sure to point out that Chukfi is the Choctaw word for rabbit!
In the story, that lazy rabbit doesn't really want to help his friends build a new house, but when he learns that freshly made butter is part of the meal they'll share, he agrees to help (not). Remember--he's lazy. He'll find a way not to do any work AND a way to eat that butter while the others work!
Let's back up, though, and talk about what Rodgers shares before and after the story.
In the author's note on the title page, he lets his readers know that this is a Choctaw story, and that he'll be using Choctaw words in it. He tells us what those words are:
Rabbit - Chukfi
Fox - Chula
Bear - Nita
Turtle - Luksi
Beaver - Kinta
Possum - Shukata
In the "Note to Storytellers and Readers" at the end, he tells us he came to tell this story, and he tells us there's Choctaws in two places (the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and, there's the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) and that each one has its own government. I love that he uses that word: government. Chukfi Rabbit
is a picture book and its audience is obviously young children. They differ in their ability to understanding the idea of nation or nationhood. For those who are ready, definitely take a minute to talk about Native Nations.
The story is delightful to read, and the illustrations by Leslie Stall Widener are terrific. They provide the visual clues that this is a Choctaw story. The clothes the characters wear accurately depict the sorts of items Choctaw's wear, from tops like the one Chukfi wears to the baseball cap that Kinta wears.
Of special note is the blurb on the back from Joy Harjo, author of The Good Luck Cat.
She just won a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship
, by the way. Of Chukfi Rabbit,
she says "This book belongs in every child's library and the libraries of some of us older story-lovers." I agree. If you can, order it from its publisher, Cinco Puntos Press.
On May 31 of last year (2013), Education Week pointed to a new study of high school graduation rates that reported that the graduation rates of American Indian students had declined in three out of the five years the study examined. In 2010, Susan C. Faircloth and John W. Tippeconnic published a paper in UCLA Civil Rights Project that had similar findings. In their full report, they cite work by previous studies that tries to make sense of why this happens. Some factors are lack of empathy among teachers, irrelevant curriculum, lack of interest in school.
Anyone who follows Native news or political dimensions of sports news knows that for the last year, there has been an increase in the media coverage of the use of Native imagery by sports teams. Some news outlets have decided to stop using some team names in their reporting, and many are critical of Dan Snyder's misguided efforts to garner support from Native people for his entrenched use of "Redskins" as the name of his team.
In 2008, Stephanie Fryberg's research provided empirical data on the damage mascot imagery does to the self efficacy of Native students. Her research was of such import that the American Psychological Association issued statements calling for an end to their use. If her study was replicated with younger children, using images they see in picture books and fiction they read or are asked to read in school, I think the results would be the same.
I am hopeful that increased attention to mascots like the one used by the Washington DC pro football team, or the one used by the Cleveland pro baseball team will bring an end to their use of that imagery. With that increased awareness, I hope that Native and non-Native parents look with informed eyes at images of Native peoples in the books their children read for pleasure or study. The images that adults embrace are images they've seen since they were children. Some of those images were in movies, some on items in the grocery store, and many were in children's books.
On October 19, 2013, I wrote about the Washington DC pro football team and shared images from children's books that are similar to its mascot. Today, I'm showing images that resemble those of Cleveland's mascot.
Here is the "Chief Wahoo" currently in use alongside the image used from 1946 to 1950.
Here's a page from the 1952 Little Golden Book of Disney's Peter Pan
. Is the book on your shelf? Is the CD or DVD amongst your collection?
Syd Hoff's Little Chief came out in 1961. It is an easy reader published by Harper & Row in its "I Can Read" series:
In 1970, Random House published The Nose Book by Al Perkins in its "Bright and Early" books for Beginning Readers. With its image of the Cat In The Hat in the corner, you'd recognize the series right away. In the line-up of animals shown below, Perkins included an Indian. No doubt it seemed clever. But it was racist and wrong. In the 2003 edition with new illustrations, that image was not included.
Those are older books, but I urge you to look on your shelves. If you held on to books from your childhood, the titles I pointed to above (or others with similar imagery) may be among them. You can do one of two things with them. Put them away and use them later with your child when you teach him or her about stereotyping, or, if you're not attached to the book for sentimental reasons, throw it out.
Here's some images from more recent books. You'll find a lot of them if you look in books about Thanksgiving.
This image is from More Snacks! A Thanksgiving Play
. It is in the Ant Hill series of Ready-To-Read books published by Aladdin. Written by Joan Holub, illustrated by Will Terry, it came out in 2006.
Here's a character from the popular Amelia Bedelia books. This image is from Amelia Bedlia Talks Turkey
by Herman Parish, illustrations by Lynn Sweat. It was published in 2008 by HarperCollins.
Such imagery is also in newer movies made for children, like last year's Free Birds
. Here's turkey Indians from it:
The images I'm sharing in this post are a sample. You will find others. Too many others. They are not harmless. They reduce American Indians to detribalized caricatures or props in stories that misinform readers. They affirm stereotypical ideas, and are part of what I believe causes Native students to disengage from school.
As I noted above, I hope that the increased awareness of the harm in mascots used by sports teams can be brought to bear on children's books and media.
If you are getting rid of those books, replace them with better materials! At the top right of this page, you'll see links to lists of books that I recommend. Order them for your home library, and ask your library to get them, too. Give them as end-of-the-year gifts to your child's teachers!
Let's work together and get rid of stereotypical imagery of American Indians, on and off the playing field.
Are you here because of the article on young adult literature at the CNN website? If yes, I have many books to recommend, and many that I find problematic, too.
Look to the right of this page. See the links to lists of books I recommend? Click there to see the lists.
If you want to read in-depth about books I don't recommend, you can scroll down to the piece I wrote about Rush Limbaugh's book, or, Rosanne Parry's book, Written In Stone.
If you're an author or book reviewer, or librarian who selects/weeds books, please spend time reading on my site. And come back when you have more time, too!
Monday, March 24th, 2014, Dan Snyder--the owner of the Washington professional football team--announced that he has established a foundation called "The Original Americans Foundation."
I bet he likes the ring of the name he came up with: "Original Americans." The fact is, the "original Americans" were the Brits who lived in the 13 colonies who officially became Americans when they quit being whatever-they-called-themselves prior to the revolution.
The Indigenous peoples of this continent go by our own names. We do that now. And we did that in the 1700s. And the 1600s. And the 1500s...
Snyder visited reservations "quietly and respectfully, away from the spotlight" and learned how poor Native people are...
WTF, Dan Snyder?
With your letter, you thrust them into that spotlight! What happened to quiet respect?! Thanks to Snyder, I bet the people he named in his letter are in the hot seat, fielding calls from the media, asking them for comments.
So what did billionaire Dan Snyder do about all the poverty he saw? He helped buy a backhoe.
WTF, Dan Snyder?
With his millions, he could have bought the whole thing, right? What else did he do? He distributed over 3000 "cold weather coats" to several Plains tribes. I wonder if those jackets have his team's name on them?
Snyder says that he "took a survey of tribes across 100 reservations" so that he could have "an accurate assessment of the most pressing needs in each community" and came up with over forty projects his foundation is going to work on. In his letter, he quotes several Native people. None of them, however, endorse the name. Some say they're grateful for his help.
Why would they need his help in the first place?
Maybe because Congress hasn't acted on its treaty obligations. Snyder could do more for all sovereign nations if he'd put pressure on Congress to fulfill treaty obligations. He is a billionaire, after all. He could do a lot more, couldn't he?
Instead, he has chosen a shameful path. Visiting Native people, "quietly and respectfully" and then shamelessly using them for his own ends. Disgusting.
WTF, Dan Snyder?
If you are near Spokane, please register for a workshop I'll be doing at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane Washington.
Inland Northwest Council of Libraries invited me. Can't wait! Details here and in the flyer below. I'll be giving away copies of Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost and Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out Of Here.
Rush Limbaugh's book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims is a best seller. That status means he is on the Children's Book Council's (CBC) list of contenders for Author of the Year. People in children's literature were shocked when they saw his name on the list. Some suggested that the best selling status was not legitimate. The CBC responded with an open letter explaining why Limbaugh is on the list:
The Author of the Year and Illustrator of the Year finalists are determined solely based on titles’ performances on the bestseller lists – all titles in those categories are listed as a result of this protocol. Some of you have voiced concerns over the selection of finalists from bestseller lists, which you feel are potentially-manipulable indications of the success of a title. We can take this into consideration going forward, but cannot change our procedure for selecting finalists after the fact.
The CBC letter goes on to say that children will choose the Author of the Year. Voting starts on March 25th. The CBC says that they have procedures in place to eliminate duplicate, fake, and adult votes.
Transcripts on Limbaugh's website state that his company, Two If By Tea, bought many copies of the book and sent them to schools. In this transcript
of Limbaugh's conversation with a 10 year old girl from Cynthiana, Kentucky, she thanks him and Two If By Tea for sending books to her school. He asks how many books they got, and she replies "I think we got 60." He goes on to say "We sent like 10,000 or 15,000 books to schools as a charitable donation across the country." At the end of the transcript, he says they donated over 15,000 copies. Presumably, the other authors on the contender list for author of the year do not buy thousands of copies of their own books and donate them to schools.
Sales aside, what does the book actually say (I read an electronic copy of the book and cannot provide page numbers for the excerpts below)?
Limbaugh opens the book with "A Note from the Author" wherein he says that America is exceptional because "it is a land built on true freedom and individual liberty..." and that:
The sad reality is that since the beginning of time, most citizens of the world have not been free. For hundreds and thousands of years, many people in other civilizations and countries were servants to their kings, leaders, and government. It didn't matter how hard these people worked to improve their lives, because their lives were not their own. They often feared for their lives and could not get out from under a ruling class no matter how hard they tried. Many of these people lived and continue to live in extreme poverty, with no clean water, limited food, and none of the luxuries that we often take for granted. Many citizens in the world were punished, sometimes severely, for having their own ideas, beliefs, and hopes for a better future.
The United States of America is unique because it is the exception to all this. Our country is the first country ever to be founded on the principle that all human beings are created as free people. The Founders of this phenomenal country believed all people were born to be free as individuals.
Nowhere in that note does he reference slavery of American Indians or African Americans in the United States, pre- or post-1777. The word "slave" does appear in his book, though, when his protagonist, "Rush Revere" and two students who time travel with him to 1621 meet Squanto. The two students are a white boy named Tommy and a Native American girl named Freedom.
When Limbaugh's Squanto speaks, he does so with perfect English. Why? Because, Squanto explains, he had been kidnapped and taken to Spain. He says that Bradford's God rescued him from slavery in Spain when Catholic friars helped him escape.
See that? Limbaugh tells us that Spain is one of those places where people could not be free. Slaves in the United States of America? Nope. Not according to Limbaugh. The way that he presents Squanto's enslavement fits with his exceptionalism narrative. How, I wonder, are parents and teachers dealing with that narrative? At Betsy Bird's blog with School Library Journal, Jill Dotter says (in a comment)
she is a Libertarian, and that she bought Limbaugh's book for her son. He loves it. She doesn't note any problems with the book. I'll post a question and see what she says.
Squanto continues, saying that he shows his gratitude to Bradford's God by serving his "new friend and holy man, William Bradford." Limbaugh would have us believe that Squanto was loyal to Bradford. The facts are otherwise. Squanto was an opportunist who played one side against the other for his own benefit (see Debo, A History of the Indians of the United States;
Jennings, The Founders of America,
and Salisbury, Manitou and Providence: Indians and Europeans, 1500-1643.
In the Prologue, Limbaugh introduces his readers to his buddy, "Rush Revere" who is a history teacher from the twenty-first century at a school where they hire only the "smartest and most educated" teachers. In Limbaugh's world, apparently, it is smart to completely ignore slavery as part of US history.
Of interest to me is the character, Freedom, in Limbaugh's book. Mr. Revere loves her name. She has long black hair. One day she wears a blue feather, the next day she wears a yellow one. Other students don't like her, but Mr. Revere is intrigued by her. She has dark eyes and a determined stare. She speaks "from somewhere deep within." From her grandfather, she learned how to track animals. She and Mr. Revere's horse, Liberty, can read each other's minds. Liberty can also talk, which I gather from reviews, is what children like about the book. Freedom explains that he must be a spirit animal, that "there is an Indian legend about animals that can talk to humans." She wondered if Mr. Revere was "a great shaman" when she saw Revere and Liberty enter the time travel portal.
What is behind Limbaugh's creation of a Native American girl named Freedom?
Later in the story, we learn that her mother (we never learn of a specific tribe for Freedom or her mother) named her Freedom because she was born on the fourth of July. Let's think about that for a minute. There are obvious factual errors in the book related to Limbaugh's presentation of slavery. With his character, Freedom, we see how fiction can be manipulated in the service of a particular ideology. Limbaugh is creating a modern day Native girl as someone who holds the same views as he does. Packed into, and around, his Native character are many stereotypes of Native peoples. Does he cast her in that way so that it isn't only White people who view history as he does?
I think so. He casts Squanto and Samoset that way, too.
As noted earlier, Squanto is in Limbaugh's book. So is "Somoset" (usually spelled Samoset). Both speak English. In the note at the end of the book, Limbaugh lists William Bradford, Myles Standish, William Brewster, Squanto, and Samoset (spelled right this time) as brave, courageous, ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things. Remember how Limbaugh presented Squanto as "serving" Bradford?
Massasoit, who is also part of Limbaugh's story, is not amongst Limbaugh's list of brave and courageous people. Maybe because he spoke "gibberish" instead of English. There's more I could say about Limbaugh's depiction of Massasoit, but I'll set that aside for now. The point is, Limbaugh's book is a factual misrepresentation of history that Limbaugh is donating to schools. How are teachers using it? I think we ought to know.
I will not be surprised if Limbaugh wins the contest when kids vote. They seem to like the horse. Some people seem to think it doesn't matter what kids read, as long as they read. Others, of course, agree with Limbaugh's political views and, no doubt, pass those views on to their children.
As CBC's open letter indicates, they will be revising their criteria. With Limbaugh on the short list for Author of the Year, their credibility is suddenly in question. I had concerns with CBC prior to this when I saw books that stereotype American Indians on CBC Diversity's bookshelf at Goodreads. Amongst those books is Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins
, which is one of the best selling children's books of all time. It is fraught with problems in the ways that O'Dell presents his Native character. I asked that it be removed, but that could not be done. As some have said, what I call a stereotype, someone else views as a role model.
Perhaps Limbaugh's book will push CBC to think more critically about the distinctions between quality, viewpoint, and quantity--especially as census data points to the rapid change in majority/minority statistics and the country tries to recognize all of its citizens.
Below are the notes I took as I read Limbaugh's book. I invite your thoughts on the book, what I said about it, what I left unsaid... Please use the comment option below to submit your thoughts. And--another 'thank you' to K8 for giving me permission in January to post her excerpts/comments
about Limbaugh's book.Notes I took as I read Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims
When chapter 1 opens, the principal is telling a classroom of honors history students that their teacher has to take leave. But, he reminds them, their school has the smartest and most educated teachers, and, well, Mr. Revere (remember, in this book, "Mr. Revere" is Rush Limbaugh), the substitute is among the smartest and most educated.
He starts some banter with the students, and notices a girl in the very last row, in the corner:
Her dark hair had a blue feather clipped in it. She wore jeans with a hole in one knee, but I could tell it wasn't a fashion statement. I looked at the seating chart and noticed the girl's name, Freedom. What an unusual name. Personally, I couldn't help but be a fan!
He brings his horse into the classroom. The students gather round, but Freedom hangs back, "unsure of whether she was welcome to join them in their new discovery." Another student, Elizabeth, tells her not to get too close, because the "horse might smell you and run away." Freedom goes back to her desk. Mr. Revere sets up a way for students to watch him and Liberty time travel, and takes off, heading to the portal. Just as he does that, he sees that he was being watched, by Freedom.
Mr. Revere talks with William Bradford and his wife, before they set off from the Netherlands. Revere returns to the present and asks the students what they think of Bradford choosing not to take his little boy on a "death-defying voyage across a tempestuous sea." Freedom, with "dark eyes" and a "determined stare" just like Bradford's, raises her hand and speaks "from somewhere deep within" saying
"I could tell they loved their son, more than anything. They only wanted what was best for him. It took courage for the Pilgrims to leave their homes and travel into the unknown. But it takes more courage to travel into the unknown and leave someone you love behind."
Freedom and Tommy stay after class (Tommy got in trouble with the principal). Revere thinks Freedom stayed behind because she knows he's doing the time traveling. Liberty (the horse) seems to have disappeared, but Freedom says:
"Liberty, he's still in the room," she calmly said. "I can smell him."
Revere thinks Freedom has a gift. Revere decides to tell Freedom and Tommy that Liberty can make himself invisible, but Freedom says he doesn't disappear, that he just blends into his surroundings. Revere wonders why Freedom could see him, and she says
"I've had lots of practice tracking animals with my grandfather."
Because Liberty can talk, Freedom says:
"he is more than a horse. He must be a spirit animal. There is an Indian legend about animals that can talk to humans."
Revere asks Freedom if she saw he and Liberty jump through the time machine portal earlier that day, and she says:
"Yes, I did. At first I wasn't sure what I saw. As I said, I though Liberty must have been a spirit animal. Maybe you were a great shaman. i did not know. But I'm glad to know the truth."
She leaves, and Tommy and Rush ride Liberty back in time to the Mayflower where they meet Myles Standish. When it is time to leave, Liberty is sleeping. They wake him with an apple and he asks if he missed anything important:
"Nothing too important," I said, still feeding him apples. "But it's time to jump forward to the end of the Mayflower voyage. There's a new land to discover! There are Indians to befriend and a new colony to build. And a celebration to be had called Thanksgiving!
When the ship captain tells them they're going to land at Cape Cod, Tommy wonders if Indians will be in the woods. Myles Standish says:
"Yes, probably Indians," Myles said. "We will do what we must to protect ourselves. We have swords and muskets and cannons if need be."
Tommy and Revere and Liberty return to the classroom where Tommy tells the principal all he's learning from Revere. The next day, Tommy and Freedom are waiting for Revere at school:
She was wearing a faded yellow T-shirt and faded jeans. It was hard not look at her black hair. It was silky smooth, as if she brushed it a thousand times. This morning there was a yellow feather clpped in it.
She wants to time travel with them. Revere has winter clothes for her and Tommy because the trip will be to wintertime. Freedom says "I'm a wimp when it comes to the snow." Earlier in the book, Freedom and Liberty started talking to each other without speaking. They can hear each other's thoughts. Tommy asks about it. Revere says:
It's apparent that Freedom has a gift. How long have you been able to communicate with animals?"
"Since I was eight, I think," said Freedom. "My grandfather says that animals can feel what we feel, especially fear. Our emotions are powerful. He trained me to use emotions to speak to the mind of an animal."
Before they leave, Revere tells them it will be cold, and that the Pilgrims were "even attacked by Indians." Freedom replies by talking about the cold, and Tommy says:
"Wait," Tommy said wide-eyed. "Did you say they were attacked by Indians? I thought the Indians were their friends. How many Pilgrims died?"
Rush tells him that none died, and that "friendly Indians" came later. Liberty says he hopes they had friendly horses, too. Elizabeth (another student who happens to be the principal's daughter) shows up. Her and Freedom get into a fight when Elizabeth takes a photo of Freedom dressed as a Pilgrim and says she's going to share it. Elizabeth storms off.
Revere asks Freedom if she can ride a horse. She sprints up to, and jumps up onto Liberty's back. They travel to 1620, Plymouth Plantation. Revere approaches Bradford and Standish, telling them that he and Tommy had been out exploring and
"were fortunate to come across a young Native American girl riding a horse. Strange, I know. But the girl took a liking to us and helped us find our way back to you!"
Bradford tells Revere that Myles and his men had survived an Indian attack, that Mrs. Standish had died, and many others are sick. He also says they found a place to build their town
"When we arrived we found barren cornfields with the land strangely cleared for our homes."
Revere asks if someone once lived there, and Bradford says "Perhaps" but that it has been deserted for years. They talk of building a fort. Revere says he remembers building forts in his living room, using blankets and chairs, and using Nerf guns to keep out his annoying little sisters. Smiling, Standish says those guns probably wouldn't be effective for "savage Indians."
Revere heads off up a hill. Tommy and Freedom approach, on Liberty. Tommy says "We saw Indians!" and Rush asks 'what' and 'where' and 'how many.'
Freedom says there were two scouts, watching, and that they wore heavy pelts and furs and were only curious. They time travel to 1621.
They arrive in 1621 and see a deer nearby. Tommy asks Freedom if she can talk to it. She stares intently at it, and it approaches then. She walked over to it. All around them are tree stumps. The Pilgrims had cut down trees to make their homes. In the Pilgrim town they meet up with Bradford. Revere introduces Freedom:
"This is Freedom," I said. "We've spent the last couple of months teaching Freedom the English language. She's an exceptional learner."
"Thank you," said Freedom slowly. "Please excuse my grammar as I have only just learned to speak your language. I was born on the fourth of July, so my mother felt like it was the perfect name for a special day."
Bradford asks what the significance of that day is, and Freedom realizes the Pilgrims don't know about that day yet. Before Revere or Freedom can come up with an explanation, a bell rings. The bell means Indians. Bradford points to a lone Indian walking towards a brook by the Pilgrim settlement. Bradford tells the men not to shoot:
"Do not fire our muskets! The Indian walks boldly but he does not look hostile. He is only one and we are many. There is no need to fear. God is with us."
The Indian man has black hair and no facial fair, but
the biggest difference was the fact that the Indian was practically naked. A piece of leather covered his waist but his legs and chest were bare.
He approached the group, smiled, saluted, and said "Welcome, Englishmen!" The wind catches his hair. He surveys the group and sees Freedom's hair moving in the wind, too. He stares at her for a minute and then talks to Bradford, saying "Me, Somoset, friend to Englishmen." Bradford asks how he learned English, and he replies
"Me learn English from fishing men who come for cod"
and then tells them that the harbor is called Patuxet. He says
"Death come to this harbor. Great sickness. Much plague. Many Pokanokets die. No more to live here."
Bradford asks if it was the plague, and Somoset replies
"Yes," said Somoset. "Many, many die. Much sadness. And you. Your people. Much die from cold and sickness. Massasoit knows. Waiting. Watching."
Bradford asks who Massasoit is:
"Massasoit great and powerful leader of this land. He watching you. He knows your people dying. He lives south and west in place called Pokanoket. Two-day journey."
Bradford asks Somoset to let Massasoit know that they (Pilgrims) are his friends. Standish says they have guns, bullets, armor, and cannons, and that they "are here to stay" and hope they can be friends. Samoset says
"Me tell Massasoit. Bring Squanto. He speak better English."
Standish asks who Squanto is, and Samoset says
"Squanto translate for Massasoit. Squanto speak like English man. Help Massasoit and William Bradford together in peace."
Liberty and Revere marvel at what just happened. Liberty wonders about trust, and Revere says Liberty watches too many movies, and that Bradford relied on God's grace to protect them in rough waters and was doing it now, too. Tommy and Freedom offer Somoset a plate of food. Before he takes it,
he reached out to touch the yellow feather in her hair.
She takes it off and offers it to him. He leans toward her and she clips it in his hair. Bradford and Standish wonder if it is safe for him to stay with them overnight. They ask Revere for advice and he tells them that they can't afford to offend Massasoit, and so they agree to let him stay the night. Tommy wonders if Somoset is trustworthy, and Revere tells him that, from everything he'd read, Somoset and Squanto became friends with William, that they realized they could help each other.
Revere, Tommy, Freedom and Liberty are hungry, so time travel to a 50s diner. As they eat, Freedom talks about how hard Pilgrim life was, and Revere tells them that many Pilgrims starved. They return to 1621.
The bell rings and they see five Indians approaching the settlement, led by Somoset, still wearing the yellow father. Squanto steps forward:
"I am Squanto," he said. "I used to live here in Patuxet Harbor. That was many years ago. I've been sent by Massasoit, the sachem and leader of this land. He permits me to come and speak with you. He will come soon. He is eager to meet you."
Bradford asks why his English is so good.
The ease in which Squanto spoke English was unnerving. It didn't seem natural. And yet he was a perfect gentleman as he stood there in his leather loincloth and bare chest.
He doesn't answer, instead talking about sharing of food, and friendship. Somoset gets ready to leave, but before he does, he looks around for Freedom and then gifs her a leather strap with a bear claw attached to it.
Samoset leaves, and Freedom asks Squanto why he and his people left Patuxet Harbor. He replies
"I have heard about the girl they call Freedom," said Squanto. "The girl with midnight hair who speaks perfect English."
She blushes, and, he tells her:
"Seven years ago, I was kidnapped and taken from Patuxet Harbor, never to see my family or loved ones again. I was put on a ship and sailed across the ocean to a new world called Spain. Eventually I sailed to England and learned to speak like you do. Finally I had the chance to travel back to my homeland. I was eager to see my family, my parents and brothers and sisters. But when I returned, there was nothing. Everyone was gone. I soon learned that the plague, a great sickness, had swept over Patuxet Harbor and killed my people."
He pauses, looking into the distance. Freedom and William express condolences. Squanto blinks and a tear rolls down his cheek. He tells them they are kind, and that many of their people died, too, and that the place has "great sorrow" for both Indian and Englishman. But together, he says, they will change that. He will show them how to plant corn.
Revere, Tommy, Freedom, and Liberty travel back to the school where, he thinks, Elizabeth is like Massasoit, that she is "the leader or sachem" of the school, and that students revered or feared her. She watched and waited for signs of weakness in her classmates, or any opportunity to send a message that she was in control of the school. Tommy approaches Revere with a letter that Bradford wanted him to give to Revere. It is an invitation to the "very first Thanksgiving! What an honor!"
Revere, Tommy, Freedom, and Liberty go the the first Thanksgiving. Freedom says "Look at all the Indians." Bradford introduces Revere to "the Indian king, Massasoit" who smiled "and spoke a language that was complete gibberish."
Squanto tells Revere he has a gift for Freedom, and asks permission to give it to her. Revere says it is fine, and that Squanto has been a good friend to Bradford. Bradford says they learned a lot from Squanto, and that
"We believe he's been sent from God as an instrument to help us grow and prosper."
"You are too kind, William," said Squanto. "God, as you say, rescued me from slavery in Spain. The Catholic friars, holy men, helped me escape. They risked their lives to free me so that I could return to my native land. I have much to be grateful for. And I choose to show my gratitude by serving my new friend and holy man, William Bradford."
Later, Revere hears loud shrieks and pounding drums
I turned to see Indians dancing around a fire ring, their faces streaked with paint. Both Indians and Pilgrims smiled as they watched the performing Pokanokets twirl and bend and wave their arms as they sang and chanted to the drums.
They stopped after a while and other Indians whooped and hollered for more. Revere finds Tommy and Freedom. She is wearing a
deerskin dress trimmed with fur and matching moccasins. She also wore a necklace of shimmering shells and two hawklike feathers in her hair.
She tells Revere that Squanto gave her the dress and that
"He said I should be proud of who I am and that I shouldn't care what people think of me. He knows a lot."
The book closes with a note from the author, where Limbaugh writes that Bradford, Standish, Brewster, Squanto, and Samoset were brave and courageous ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things.
On Tuesday, March 18th, 2014, the blog for the Sealaska Heritage Institute pointed readers to American Indians in Children's Literature as a user friendly source to find information that can help schools and communities improve on what they offer to their youth. From their site:
"The Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska."
Read their post about AICL: Native American Image in Children's Literature
And here's a screen shot of the page. I'm sharing it here because it means a great deal to me for AICL to be recognized by the institute. I use materials at their site a great deal as I review children's books set in Alaska.
In the late 1990s, one of the big stories circulating amongst Native people was what was happening with the Makah Nation in the state of Washington. For the first time in decades, they were going to go whaling. Choosing to hunt again was their choice. It was the exercise of their sovereignty.
They had stopped whaling in the 1920s because commercial whaling had overwhelmed the gray whale, such that it was placed on the endangered animals list. When the gray whale was removed from that status, the Makah nation's leaders declared their intent to resume their whale hunt. Their desire to do so was challenged by groups that did not want them to hunt and it ended up in court. The Makah won the case. Environmentalists were furious. There was intense media coverage (see this article from the LA Times). Protesters carried signs that said "Save a Whale, Hunt a Makah." The school received bomb threats. The hunt took place in May of 1999.
That knowledge is what I brought to my reading of Written In Stone. It'll help, before I begin, to say that the structure for Parry's book is Pearl (the protagonist) in 1999, then in 1923, and then back in 1999 again.
Pearl - the "old woman" who opens/closes Written In Stone
Rosanne Parry's book, Written In Stone, opens with Pearl, an "old woman" (on page 181 Parry describes her as an old woman) headed to the beach for that 1999 whale hunt. Reporters are all around, but there are no clues that this was a contested moment. Pearl reflects back on her childhood, to 1923 when she was thirteen, and was waiting for her father to return from a hunt. That remembering is the bulk of the story Parry tells. The last part of the story returns to Pearl in 1999. As she walks to the beach, she hears the click and whir of cameras.
Parry does not reference the media frenzy or anti-Makah activity anywhere. Pearl, if she was a real person, would definitely have been enduring it. Parry's Pearl doesn't reference the antagonism at all. As I read the story, though, Parry created Pearl as an activist (more on that later). Not having Pearl note the anti-Makah activities as she walks to the whale they've hunted doesn't ring true. And--Parry calling her an "old woman" doesn't work for me personally. Pearl would be called an elder.
The Author's Note
Parry divided her Author's Note into several sections. She begins with "Connections" on page 177, where she tells us that:
"As a fifth grader, I saw the Raven stories told and danced by Chief Lelooska and his family at their longhouse in Ariel, Washington. When the dancer pulled the hidden string that split the mask open to reveal the sun it seemed as magical to me in the firelight as any movie special effect."
Reading how taken she was with Lelooska gave me pause. The place Parry visited was/is a performance space that is not affiliated with any of the tribes in that area. The person who went by "Chief Lelooska" is a man named Don Smith. In Chris Friday's Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist
(University of Washington Press, 2011), we read that he was born in Sonoma, California to a woman who was 3/4 Cherokee but not raised or enrolled with the Cherokee Nation.
The "About Chief Lelooska
" page at the website for the Lelooska Foundation says that "Lelooska" is a Nez Perce name, given to Smith when the Nez Perce adopted him when he was 12 years old. In the second paragraph, we read that he was later adopted by a Kwakiutl man named James Sewid, and that the adoption came hereditary rights to Sewid's family heritage. In short, Lelooska can do what Sewid did, which is to perform Kwakiutl stories. Later on that page, we read that Lelooska is an authority on Indians of North America.
Smith's story is quite familiar. There are many people who were taken with Native artifacts and started making and selling them. When actual tribal peoples are called in to look over the items supposed to be authentic, they're found to be little more than craft work of hobbyists. There are critical reviews of Lelooska. Friday alludes to his problematic identity (and to Sewid's controversial activities, too), and so do others, but I gather Parry is unaware of them. In her Resources section, she lists the Lelooska Foundation and two of his books as resources for young readers.
In the Connections section, Parry writes about teaching 5th graders at Taholah Elementary School on the Quinault reservation. Specifically, she writes about a discussion they had about story, and that a student asked "Why is the story never about us?" (p. 178). Another student said "I guess nothing is going to change unless somebody here grows up and writes that book" (p. 179). Then she writes "I did not imagine I would be the one to grow up and write the book" that is Written In Stone.
She dedicates the book to those students, who, "asked for a book of their own. I never forgot, and after all these years, this story is for you and all of your children and even someday your grandchildren."
We can look at Parry's decision to write that book as a wonderful decision. She wrote it, I'm guessing, a decade or so after she left there. She doesn't tell us how long she taught at Taholah. My overall sense is that she was was deeply moved by teaching there, which makes me wonder why she left. Memories, though, lingered such that she decided to write the book.Problems in Pearl as a 13 year old
A quick overview of the main points of the story of Pearl as a 13 year old:
- Her father is killed on a whale hunt; her mother has been dead for 5 years, of influenza
- Without a whale, Pearl's extended family is worried about survival
- Her grandfather gets a letter from a collector; if they work with him, it could be a source of badly needed income
- Pearl plans to steal her father's regalia so her family won't sell it, but on her way to do it, gets hurt and spends a couple of days on a part of the shore where she finds petroglyphs and decides not to go through with her plan
- Back with her family, Pearl figures out the collector's real agenda is to get them drunk and get their signatures on documents signing away mineral rights to coal and oil in "Shipwreck Cove."
- Pearl undermines the collector/speculator's activities by writing letters to other tribes along the coast
As I read the story of thirteen-year-old Pearl, I kept getting a sense of writing that was more influenced by Chief Lelooska and somewhat romantic ideas of Native people, past and present, than by the Makah students Parry taught.
For example, when we meet the thirteen-year-old Pearl, she says she is a princess, and that her mother was a Tlingit princess. Where, I wonder, did Parry find support for so boldly proclaiming that identity for Pearl?
In various places, we read that Pearl is the one who is going to remember the songs, dances, and stories. She will commit them to memory, and she will write them down. She is the one who will save all those aspects of their culture for the tribe. Her grandmother gives her a journal to write in, and a fancy pen, too, but later, Pearl wonders if there's a rule against women writing, so some of this thread has gaps that creep in, I think, as Parry tries to tease out (inject?!) some feminist ideas about what women can/cannot do.
Another inconsistency is that her father didn't burn her mother's loom. He was supposed to burn everything, and burning everything
is such a dramatic moment early on in the story, that when I got to that part--with a blanket partly intact on the loom--it didn't make sense to me. Maybe I was supposed to fill in a gap that her mother's weaving was so important that her father would refuse to burn it, but, her grandmother went on at one point about how her dad had to burn everything in order to survive the pain of losing his wife.
In several places, Pearl talks about a "robe of power." Her dad had one, and her mom had one, and she wants one, too. Her dad was going to make one for her, but his death put an end to that process. The ways she talks of that "robe of power" feel odd to me. Some articles of clothing do have significance, so I do understand that. I think it was just over-used in the story.
When Pearl is afraid her family may sell her father's regalia to the collector, she makes a plan to steal her father's things and move away to live amongst white people, where she imagines that the "bread-loaf brown faded from my skin" (p. 123) when she'll be pale like a weevil. As someone with brown skin, I can tell you that it never fades to the pale tones of a weevil.Back to 1999
Back in 1999, Pearl recounts having written a thousand letters to tribes, governors, senators, and presidents. The became the editor of an Indian newspaper, and one of the authors of the Quinault and Makah dictionaries. She wrote a book about medicinal plants, and made sound recordings of the old songs. Earlier, I said she became an activist. This recitation of all her activities is evidence of that activist identity and is why it doesn't make sense to me that Pearl doesn't mention the whaling controversy when the book opens, or here, either. Maybe we are meant to think she's beyond or above that controversy, but all of these things Pearl did just makes me think of Don "Chief Lelooska" Smith again. By that, I mean, that the man had a huge ego, and, so does Pearl.
As I noted on opening this review, the Makah decision to whale again was a decision to exercise their rights as a sovereign nation. It was preceded by activism of the 1960s and 1970s when the tribal nations of the northwest coast won a major case in the Supreme Court, again, over the rights stated in the treaty they signed with the U.S. Government in 1855.
Parry demonstrates some understanding of political battles. Her reference to the exploitation of collectors is one example. She wanted to write a book that would reflect the lives of her Makah students, and, perhaps, the Makah's long-standing activism to protect their rights. Pearl's effort to keep items from the collector is a gesture in that direction, but that isn't what that collector--or Parry--was focused on. Instead, Parry makes up two things. In the Author's Notehe tells us she made these up:
- First is the petroglyphs. She says that there are, in fact, petroglyphs are around that area, but that she made up the ones in her book--the ones that are so pivotal in what Pearl does.
- Second, she made up the cove and the coal and oil that are in that cove, and she shrouds that cove with Makah stories about monsters that keep kids away from there. In doing that, she's making up tribal stories, too.
There are other things that are jarring to me, that I wonder if they, like the petroglyphs and cove, are made up:
- Having Pearl play "Pirates and Indians" made me go "huh?" I would love to see Parry's source for that.
- I'm also wondering about a source for the part of the story where the Indian Agent makes her father burn all of her mother's things, AND her mother's body, and the baby, too when she dies of influenza. It was the Influenza epidemic of 1918. I haven't found support for burning of bodies, whether they were Native or not.
My bottom line?
As a Native reader, I find made-up stuff all the time. It is troublesome, but in this case, it is worse because Parry deliberately set out to write a book for those kids in Taholah, who--I imagine--are dealing with made up stuff all the time, too. If I was a writer, I wouldn't add to that pile of made-up-stuff. It'd be hard to imagine myself doing it and then handing it to the kids.
In the end, I can't recommend this book.
A couple of tips to writers: keep in mind that Native people already have a huge pile of made-up stuff to deal with. I don't think we need to add to it. And, check your sources! Check the knowledge you bring to your project! I think if Parry had let go of her memories of Chief Lelooska and done some background research on him, she'd have written a different book. [One more tip, added an hour after this review went live as I started shutting down all the windows I had open while working on my review:
Read Native journals! There's an excellent article in American Indian Quarterly
(volume 29 #1 and 2) about the Makah museum and working with staff there. Titled "Forging Indigenous Methodologies on Cape Flatterly" it provides insights on how tribal peoples work with people who are not tribal members so that projects fit within the frame of native nation building (which I've written about before
) that are mutually beneficial.]
I invite your comments on my review.
I studied the 2013 list of books received by the Cooperative Center for Children's Books (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that CCBC lists as being by/about American Indians/First Nations/Latin America.
CCBC is careful to note that the list means nothing about quality. It is just a tally of books they received. In total, the list they shared with me has 34 books on it. I am going to analyze the books on the list. I am grateful to CCBC for sending me the list, and I'm grateful to them for compiling this data every year. This is the first year I'm doing this analysis.
To start with, I am limiting my analysis of the list to works of fiction published by U.S. publishers, which means 14 books (I am excluding Little Red Riding Boots, which is on the CCBC list for its illustrator; the book itself has no cultural content specific to American Indians).
BIG SIX PUBLISHERS
The "Big Six" publishing houses and/or their imprints published six works of fiction. Five are by writers who are not Native.
Of those five...
I do not recommend Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper or Crazy Horse: Brave Warrior by Ann Hood because there is a great deal of stereotyping in both. From the way the Native characters behave to the way they speak... stereotyping.
I do not recommend Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost because I find it problematic to look for Indian people, make friends with them, and report that they asked you to write a book about them. And then, that book turns out to be a not-plausible work of historical fiction where White people and Indian people, before and after intense war, were friends.
I do not recommend Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry, partly became she writes at length of "Chief Lelooska" and the Lelooska Foundation which perform and stereotype rather than educate, and, she sends her young readers to Lelooska, too. Though she taught children at the Quinault school, Parry's book echoes stereotype rather than reality.
The fifth book is Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. Set in a gold mining camp in Alaska, the author tells us it is from her memories of living in a mining camp when she was a child. At her site, she says "Gold rushes are inherently sexy, with lots of wild, death-defying activity, over-the-top characters, and some dazzling rags-to-riches stories." It fails in the same way that Locomotive did. It celebrates something that has a very dark side to it, with that dark side having a negative impact on Indigenous people.
These writers meant well. Each one of them has written about their motivation for writing these books. Each one, however, approached the project from a well-intentioned, but ultimately flawed, desire to tell a Native story, from a Native perspective (the exception is Bo at Ballard Creek, which does not take a Native perspective). To varying degrees, they are the white person so enchanted by our spirit or culture, or so infuriated by how we and our Nations are treated historically and in literature, that they decided to write these stories. Many readers--reading from that same position--feel very moved or inspired by their motivation and their books. There are others, however, who do not feel that same inspiration. Some (like me) are often more than a little irked that we keep getting books by white writers who just recycle stereotypes and biased stories. It plays to the mainstream expectation of what Native peoples are supposed to be, but that expectation is so far from what Native and non-Native readers ought to get, especially in books for young people.
Eric Gansworth is the only Native writer on the CCBC list who had a book published by a Big Six (major) publishing house. His If I Ever Get Out of Here is one of my all-time favorites. I highly recommend it. No stereotyping in it. No romanticizing of a Native identity or history in it, and no performance of a not-legit Native identity, either. Elsewhere on AICL I've written about it, so won't go on and on here.
Eight works of fiction by small publishing houses are on the CCBC list for 2014. One is by a writer who is not Native; seven are by Native writers.
The one by a writer who is not Native is Rob Owen's Spy Boy, Cheyenne, and 96 Crayons. It is published by Pelican Press. I am not able to get a copy of it and can't say anything about it.
The other seven? I recommend them. They don't stereotype. As far as my research has determined, they don't err with cultural material.
Joseph Bruchac's Killer of Enemies is published by Tu Books of Lee and Low. It is a post apocalyptic story with a female protagonist named Lozen who is a descendent of a noted Chiricahua Apache woman.
Art Coulson's The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse, published by the Minnesota Historical Press, is about Travis, a present-day boy sixth-grade Ojibwe boy who is getting started as a lacrosse player.
Gary Robinson's Little Brother of War, published by 7th Generation, is about a present-day Choctaw boy who thinks he's not an athlete like his big brother who was killed in Iraq. At a Choctaw gathering he finds himself playing stickball (a traditional game known as Little Brother of War), at which he excels.
Tim Tingle's How I Became a Ghost is published by Road Runner Press. It is set on the Trail of Tears, but in Tingle's deft storytelling voice, the story is more about the humanity and perseverance of the Choctaw people than the tragedy of removal.
Tingle's Danny Blackgoat: Navajo Prisoner is published by 7th Generation. This is the only book of Tingle's in which he writes outside of his own people (Choctaw). Though his storytelling skills are present, it doesn't have the depth that his Choctaw stories do. Even so, it is far more commendable than Cooper, Hood, Frost, Parry, or Hill.
Richard Van Camp's Little You, published by Orca, is a delightful board book celebrating a child's birth and childhood. Coupled with art by Metis artist Julie Flett, this book is gorgeous.
Richard Wagamese's Him Standing, published by Orca, is not--in my view--meant for young adult readers. The protagonist is 20, living with his girlfriend. It is a dark thriller, and though his character is Native, I don't think the story itself is Native in execution.
SOME INITIAL CONCLUSIONS
The comparison between the two sets of books is lopsided in terms of quality. Really lopsided. The problematic books from the Big Six are doing well in the marketplace, which is no surprise. They have the marketing force of a major publisher, and, the stories cater to mainstream expectations of what stories about Native people will be about, and that's too bad! How are we going to get that depiction off of center stage?
My answer is:
1) Reject those problematic books. Tell others what is wrong with them.
2) Buy and recommend books that provide readers with stories that accurately present Native characters and culture.
Bottom line of my analysis? Of the 14 books that I was able to read, I recommend 8 of them.
On March 16th, 2014, The New York Times ran an opinion piece by former children's literature ambassador, Walter Dean Myers. Titled "Where are the People of Color in Children's Books?", Myers pointed to the CCBC data. He said that of 3,200 children's books published in 2014, 93 were about black people. I'm curious about the 93 books. What genre? What quality?
In 2013, CCBC received 34 about American Indians. In the analysis above, I looked only at fiction by US publishers. I have not yet looked at fiction by Canadian publishers, and nonfiction by US or Canadian publishers. Here's the numerical breakdown of that:
Fiction - US publishers = 14
Fiction - Canadian publishers = 8
Nonfiction - US publishers = 7
Nonfiction - Canadian publishers = 3
In 2013, CCBC reports that:
5000 books were published
3200 of those 5000 were sent to CCBC
14 of them were works of fiction about American Indians/First Nations/Latin America
Of those 14 works of fiction, American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) recommends eight. As a society, we need those eight works of fiction in every school and public library, and in every classroom. Buy them. Booktalk them. Promote them every change you get.
We need to buy those eight works of fiction so that the publishers and editors who worked on them will be encouraged to seek out additional manuscripts by those writers.
We need to thank editors like Cheryl Klein who worked with Eric Gansworth on If I Ever Get Out of Here, and Jeanne Devlin who worked with Tim Tingle on How I Became A Ghost, and Stacy Whitman who worked with Joseph Bruchac on Killer of Enemies for the care they took in bringing those books to us.
We thank those individuals by buying the books. By buying more than one copy of the books.
One of the things I noticed right away when I started to read Tim Tingle's How I Became a Ghost
is the prominence of the setting, and the words he chose for that setting:
See that? "Choctaw Nation." I did a quick search in Amazon, looking for other books in which an author used "Choctaw Nation" in a book that has Choctaw characters in it. Know what I found? There's one author who has done it several times--Tim Tingle. Interestingly, my search didn't turn up many children's books (in fiction) with the word "Choctaw" in them. The ones I did get are by Tim, and I gotta say, that makes me happy because Tim knows what he is doing. He is Choctaw. That he uses the word 'Nation' in his books is important. It conveys a basic fact that most people are unaware of: there are over 500 Native Nations in the United States. We decide who are citizens are, and we have a unique relationship with the United States government because of treaties our heads-of-state made with U.S. heads-of-state.
The other thing that I noticed is "Mississippi, 1830." Couple with its subtitle, "A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story," we know that we're about to read a story that begins in Mississippi where the Choctaw Nation was, and that the story is going to be about their removal from their homelands. There's a map, too, that can help readers visualize where the Choctaw Nation and its people were, and their routes to Indian Territory:
As the story opens, the protagonist, ten-year-old Isaac, is talking about playing with his dog, Jumper. Isaac and Jumper like to chase chickens. That's not ok:
"Make sure Jumper does not catch any chickens!" My Mother always yelled this from the back porch.
Think, for a moment, about the ways Native people are shown in popular works of historical fiction for children. Chances are, what came to your mind was tipis, and horses, buffaloes, and half-naked grunting Indian men of the kind that you got from Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book, set in 1869 (that was 39 years after the tribal nations of the southeast were moved to Indian Territory where they built houses with porches and schools, and towns... see why half-naked primitive Indians is incorrect?).
With How I Became A Ghost,
Tingle is giving us something quite different from Wilder's stereotypes. He's giving us reality. Isaac and his family have a house with a front porch, and a back porch, and a garden. Having those things doesn't make them less Native. As you read through his story, you pick up on Choctaw ways of being that are very much part of their lives. Things like treaties are part of what the children know, too. "Treaty talk" is unsettling. With good reason.
There is a terrible tendency for writers to make Native spirituality into some kind of mystical or magical thing. Tingle doesn't do that. He gives it to us in a matter-of-fact way. He gives us Christian spirituality in that way, too. In his story, it has become part of the Choctaw way.
As the title suggests, Isaac is going to become a ghost, but this isn't a scary ghost story. Scary things do happen--this is a story about the forced relocation of a people, but it is more about the humanity of the people on that trail than it is about that forced relocation. How I Became A Ghost
is about spirituality and community and perseverance. And laughter. There's some delightful moments in this story! Throughout, this story shines with the warmth that Tingle's storytelling voice brings to his writing. I highly recommend How I Became A Ghost.
I have it on good authority that we'll hear more from Isaac. I look forward to it.How I Became A Ghost
was selected by the American Indian Library Association as the 2014 winner of its American Indian Youth Literature Award
, at the middle-grade level. Published by RoadRunner Press, get it from a small bookstore if you can. I suggest you order it from Birchbark Books
, a Native-owned bookstore in Minneapolis. Take a minute, too, to read the interview with Tingle at the TeachingBooks site
. And listen to Tingle reading
a bit of the book, too. Its exquisite.
I've done few posts this month (February 2014) because I've been participating in a month-long discussion on CCBC-NET on multicultural literature and because I've been playing with Tumblr. The CCBC-NET discussion has traveled along familiar territory, with people assuming that my preference for literature by Native people means that I don't think non-Native people should be writing books about us, and assumptions that African Americans don't want people who aren't African American writing books about them either.
Though that perception is out there and gets circulated a lot, it can be quickly batted down if one pauses to think about some of the books I recommend: Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name Is Not Easy. Debby is not Native. Joseph Bruchac's The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale. Joe is not Cherokee.
That said, my preference is books by Native writers because when a parent or teacher or librarian recommends them, they can use present tense verbs in the recommendation. This will increase visibility of Native people as part of today's society. They could, for example, say "Tim Tingle is Choctaw. His book, How I Became A Ghost, is set on the Trail of Tears. Members of his family were on the Trail of Tears." And--they could say "The Choctaw Nation has a website, and so does Mr. Tingle. He's pretty cool... He's on Twitter, too!"
There have been some very eloquent posts to the CCBC-NET discussion that sought to bring clarity and context to it. If you're not currently a subscriber to CCBC-NET, you can join anytime and read the archived discussion.
Online, you can read what Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote about it at Cynsations. Her post, titled "Writing, Tonto & the Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is the First to Die" is full of terrific information. Reading it, I was thrilled to learn that she's introduced a Native character in book 2 of her Feral trilogy. The first book is Feral Nights. It, and book two, Feral Curse, are getting bumped up on my reading list.
A few years ago when Tumblr started gaining traction, I created one for AICL but hadn't done much with it at all. I am taking a little time of late to develop it. It is a new thing for me, and because it is new and not very deep, I'm willing to play with the HTML code a bit. A bit. A tiny bit. This morning I added a date/time stamp and, hurray! It worked. Here's a screen capture of my latest post:
If you're on Tumblr and want to see what I'm doing, here's my page: debbiereese.tumblr.com
. If I'm not doing something right over there, let me know!
A few days ago I started reading Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory.
Her protagonist, Hayley, is smart and witty, and in tune with omissions and bias in the way that history is taught. At one point (chapter 23, I read it as an e-book and can't provide a page number), she's in her social studies class, where they are studying the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In his lecture, Mr. Diaz (the teacher) left out the Chickasaw people. Hayley points it out, and then says:
"Because thousands of native people died on the Trail of Tears, shouldn't we call it a 'genocide' instead of a 'forced march'?"
Her question sparks a debate in class (not included in the story itself), but I can see how Anderson's brief--yet powerful--reference to that moment in history could spark the curiosity of a reader, and I can see how a teacher who teaches the novel can use that passage to increase what students know about the Indian Removal Act. Later, Mr. Diaz asks her what she thinks about Andrew Jackson. Hayley's got other things on her mind then so doesn't engage the question, but it is posed. It is there for teachers to take up.
In chapter 41, Hayley is getting out of detention for having challenged Mr. Diaz again. Finn asks Hayley what she did. She replies:
"I just pointed out that calling it the 'Mexican-American War' falsely gives the impression that the Mexicans started it, and that in fact, in Mexico they call it the 'United States Invasion of Mexico,' which is the truth, or the 'War of 1847,' which is at least neutral-ish."
Mr. Diaz sent her to detention for disrupting his class with what he called her pedantic quibbles. When she recounts what happened to Finn, she adds that Mr. Diaz was being "an imperialist first worlder." As I read that passage, I was inspired to--literally--do a fist pump and exclaim at the beauty of the passage. The Impossible Knife of Memory
is getting lot of media attention, with good reason. Here's a paragraph from the review in The New York Times:
In “The Impossible Knife of Memory,” Anderson sensitively portrays a growing, complex problem particularly relevant in the United States today: the devastating ripple effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. After five years of being home-schooled on the road with her truck-driver dad, Andy, a veteran tormented by memories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hayley Kincain finally has a home. But instead of finding a fresh, stable start her senior year at public school, Hayley is barely getting by.
There's a depth of care in The Impossible Knife of Memory
that lingers in my heart. I highly recommend it.
Earlier today I spoke with Ashley Strickland, a reporter from CNN, about young adult literature and American Indians. For that conversation, I pored over notes, books, articles, essays... trying to form some coherent thoughts on young adult literature and American Indians. Today's blog post is what I developed as I prepared for talking with her.
A few days ago, CBC News (CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story titled "What It Takes for Aboriginal People to Make the News." The reporter, Duncan McCue, is Anishinaabe of the Chippewas of Georgina Island in Ontario, Canada. He opened his article with this:
An elder once told me the only way an Indian would make it on the news is if he or she were one of the 4Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk or dead.
Skeptical of that thought, McCue did an analysis of news stories and found the elder's comment to be accurate. As I read his article, I thought about children's and young adult literature and the many books I've reviewed here on AICL that have those very things.
Two examples? Fichera's Hooked
(Harlequin Teen, 2013) and Cooper's Ghost Hawk
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013).
have all of the 4Ds, but they also have another tired cliche: in their stories, White characters come to the rescue, saving the lives of key Native characters.
At first glance, those four Ds aren't problematic. Native people drum. We dance. We have members of our nations that struggle with alcohol, and of course, we're human beings. We die, too. Those four D's are part of our lives, but too many authors sprinkle those Ds in their stories, decorating the story they tell, as if such decoration makes it a story about Native people. Those books get published because, for the most part, publishers want books that will sell. While those Ds are easily sold and easily consumed, stories like that aren't good for what-you-know about Indigenous people.
There are, of course, some excellent books out there! If you find one of the four Ds in these stories, it will have the context and depth necessary for that D to be a meaningful part of the story. Here's seven of my favorite books.
Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here
(Scholastic, 2013) is amongst YALSA's 2014 list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. Set in 1975, the main character is a 7th grader named Lewis. He lives on the Tuscarora Reservation and is making his way through school. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith (I discuss her next) read and aptly described Gansworth's novel as "A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship."
Upon the publication of her Rain Is Not My Indian Name
(HarperCollins, 2001), Leitich Smith was selected as Writer of the Year, in the children's category, by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Cassidy Rain, the protagonist is of mixed ancestry but is a citizen of the Creek Nation. As you can see from the cover, she's into photography. But she's also into Star Trek! Having raised a daughter interested in photography and Star Trek (and Star Wars), this is precisely the kind of book I'd hand to her.
Debby Edwardson is not Native, but she's been married to an Inupiaq man for a long time and knows what she's doing. Her book, My Name Is Not Easy
(Marshall Cavendish, 2011) was a nominee for the prestigious National Book Award. Primarily set in the 1960s boarding schools, it is the story of Luke, an Inupiaq teen in high school. As Edwardson notes in the book, Luke is based on her husband and his experiences.
Two of the novels I'm recommending are ones written for adults but that could easily be eligible for ALA's Alex Award
("books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18").
In Louise Erdrich's The Round House
(Harper Perennial, 2013), the protagonist in Erdrich's novel is Joe, an Ojibwe man who tells us a painful account. When he was 13, his mother was raped. At the core of Erdrich's story are the foundations of who we are as Indigenous peoples who persevere in the face of waves of adversity.
Tim Tingle's House of Purple Cedar
(Cinco Puntos Press, 2014) opens with Rose, a Choctaw girl in Oklahoma in the late 1800s, remembering when a boarding school for girls was set afire, killing Choctaw girls inside. The evil that lit that fire is personified in the sheriff, and the spirit and confidence in justice propels Rose and her community forward.
Two of the books are by writers who are First Nations. The success of their books extends into other forms of media.
Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed
(Douglas & McIntyre, 1996) has been turned into a feature film. The story is about Larry, a 16-year old Dogrib who, with the help of Jed--his mother's boyfriend--and the stories he shares with Larry, makes it through some very dark spaces. There is breathtaking brutality, and brilliance, too, in Van Camp's stories.
Drew Hayden Taylor's The Night Wanderer
(Annick Press, 2007) is a contemporary story with a twist. There is a vampire in it. How that character became a vampire in the first place is gripping, but so is his plan to get home to his reserve in Canada. Taylor's protagonist is a 16 year old girl. Taylor's writing had me reluctant to glance out my windows at night! The Night Wanderer
is now available as a graphic novel.
Now--I imagine some of you are wondering why I don't have The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
in my list of favorites. The main reason is that you already know about that it. Alexie's book is only one of many. It can't be the single story you know about Indigenous people. Single stories, as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, are dangerous.
See--Alexie gave us a story. One story that he's said is based on his own childhood. His is a particular kind of story, too, that won't appeal to every reader. We need books about young adults who are from other reservations and nations, too. There are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations! Within them, some of us are living on the reservation, and some of us are in urban areas and cities. We dance, and we drum, and some of us sing our traditional songs, but some of us like rock and roll, too. It doesn't make us any less Native. We are who we are.
Last year, two outstanding books by Native authors were published: Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here and Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost.
This morning, my CCBC-NET digest started with an email from KT Horning saying that those two books will be discussed this month. That email made me do a happy dance. I'm thrilled! If you're not subscribed to CCBC-NET, here's the link to do so: CCBC-NET
Editor's note: Please read the comments. The discussion taking place there is definitely worth some thought. And please submit your own comments, too. --Debbie
Dear John Green,
Like most of the people in the land of children's and young adult literature, I took time this morning to watch the trailer for the film based on your much acclaimed book, The Fault In Our Stars. I liked the characters and decided I best read the book.
I got The Fault In Our Stars in ebook a few weeks ago. I settled on my couch and started reading. It was going along ok until chapter three when Hazel's mom wakes her up and gleefully announces that it is March 29th.
She goes on to say Of her mom's "celebration maximization" Hazel thinks (the text is in all caps in the book):*
IT'S ARBOR DAY! LET'S HUG TREES AND EAT CAKE! COLUMBUS BROUGHT SMALLPOX TO THE NATIVES; WE SHALL RECALL THE OCCASION WITH A PICNIC!, etc.
I stopped reading. I'm no longer with you as you tell this story. Now I'm just doing a "WTF does he mean by including that as part of a celebration?!"
I'm wondering if anyone else noticed that line? Rather, has anyone else objected
to that line? I'm finding it a lot on the Internet, as something quotable. I don't get it.
Debbie Reese*Update: an hour and a half after posting my "Dear John Green" letter
A reader on YALSA's listserv pointed out that the passage I excerpted above is what Hazel is thinking. I made the correction (hence the strike though text above).
As Wendy noted in a comment (below), it is sarcasm. Obviously, it didn't work for me. That subject (smallpox) is just too loaded for me.
Just heard that the days-long discussions of the YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults committee are over, and... the committee has voted on the 2014 list.
Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here is on the list! Congratulations, Eric!
Just after 2:00 Eastern Time on January 26 2014, the American Indian Library Association announced the recipients of their 2014 Youth Literature Award.
Picture Book Winner:
Caribou Song by Tomson Highway
illustrated by John Rombough
published by Fifth House.
Middle School Winner:
How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle,
published by RoadRunner Press.
Middle School Honor:
Danny Blackgoat: Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle,
published by 7th Generation.
Young Adult Winner:
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
published by Tu Books
Young Adult Honor:
If I Ever Get Out Of Here by Eric Gansworth
published by Scholastic
AICL offers congratulations to each author! I encourage librarians across the country to order them. The award is given every two years. To see previous winners and criteria, see American Indian Youth Literature Award
The National Postal Museum has an exhibit up called Indians at the Post Office. The murals were made in the 1930s and 1940s and are part of a larger set, all created at the same time, as part of a public art program. The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is focusing on the murals with depictions of Native peoples in them. Most of them were done by artists who were/are not Native themselves. It is a fascinating exhibit. Dr. Jose Barreiro, Assistant Director of the History and Culture Research Museum Scholarship group of NMAI wrote that that the murals:
"incorporate the salient, stereotypical images that have confronted and continue to challenge contemporary American Indian people. Some of these are quite harsh, tending toward a punitive and degrading perception of Indian people."
Some of the murals were done by Native artists. Today on AICL, I'm sharing two of them. The one on top is by a non-Native artist. It reflects the stereotypical image Barreiro refers to. It wouldn't be hard to find similar depictions in children's books of that time period, would it? And of course--because some of those books are deemed classic, kids still see them and don't know/aren't taught that they're stereotypical. The one on bottom is by a Native artist. See the differences? In Bessemer's, there is a monolithic Indian.
|"Early Indian Life on Analostan Island" |
by Auriel Bessemer, Arlington, VA Post Office
|"Grand Council of 1842" |
by Walter Richard West Sr., Cheyenne Nation, Okemah, OK Post Office
Lest you think I'm making an unfair comparison because of the two different time periods being depicted, here's one that depicts a treaty signing in 1830. It, too, was done by a non-Native artist. As with the one by Bessemer, there is no variation in the way the Native people are depicted.
|"Signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek"|
by S. Douglass Crockwell, Macon, MS Post Office
Want to see more? I viewed the images above at "History or Bunk?: 20 New Deal Murals Depicting American Indians
" at the website for Indian Country Today Media Network.
If your post office has a mural that depicts Native people, I'd love to see a photo if you have the means to take one. If not, I'd still love to hear about it.
Naomi Bishop offers a unique perspective on Liz Fichera's Hooked for two reasons. First, Naomi is of the tribe that Fichera gave to her protagonist. Second, Naomi is a librarian and long-time member of the American Indian Library Association.
With her permission, I'm sharing her review of Fichera's book:
I received a copy from the author after emailing her and telling her about myself. I was excited to see a female Native character from my tribe as the main character. Unfortunately my hopes of reading some good fiction were quickly crushed.
The character Fred is strong, but not strong enough. I had some issues with my tribe being mentioned and talking to animals and the stars. We don't talk to animals or talk to the stars. Animal spirits are not a part of our lives. I also don't know why the author mentions grass dances and makes reference to hogans. Those references don't seem appropriate.
The character Ryan was a real crazy kid. I think he was an ok character, but I really had a problem with him saving Fred's dad. Of course, the white boy saves the Indian girl's father!
The ending was terrible and the entire book was stereotypical. Not all Indians drink and are poor. My tribe actually awards scholarships for college and has been awarding scholarships for over 15 years. If the story had just been about a girl on a boys golf team it would have been great, but the whole Indian girl dates white boy didn't keep me interested.
As an Arizona Native, I attended a mostly white school in Mesa in the 1990's and I can tell you my experience was a little similar to the economic view of Fred's. I think the book overall is not the best YA fiction, but I didn't expect much from a Harlequin Teen. I wish I could give a better review, but was sadly disappointed in the book. I don't recommend it or care to read the sequels.
If I was starting a library in an elementary school or if I was ordering books for an elementary school library, these are ten books I'd buy right away, along with the ten listed in 2010: Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School
With these books, students will read the works of Native and non-Native writers who know what they're talking about. The books include picture and chapter books, traditional stories, contemporary and historical fiction, and, biography and autobiography, too.
- Edwardson, Debby Dahl. Whale Snow.
- Erdrich, Louise. Chickadee.
- Francis, Lee DeCora. Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island
- Galvan, Glenda. Chikasha Stories, Volume One: Shared Spirit
- Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Fatty Legs: A True Story
- Nelson, S.D. Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way
- Nelson, S.D. Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
- Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
- Tingle, Tim. Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light
- Uluadluak, Donald. Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story
For brief annotations, see my 2013 article in School Library Journal
, "Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians
." (Note: this is a list compiled in 2013, not a list of books published in 2013.)
Among the books that has gotten some buzz this year as a frontrunner for major book awards is Brian Floca's Locomotive.
It is a celebratory treatment of the transcontinental railroad presented in a travelogue style. That railroad was completed in 1869.
, a white woman and her two children board the train in Omaha bound for San Francisco. As they get off the train at San Francisco, Floca's text reads:
Now your days on the train are done.
You are tired and dusty,
the smell of smoke in your clothes.
But now you are here!
Here where you needed to go,
here where you need to be...
Turning the page, one sees a man, arms outstretched. I assume he is the children's father and the woman's husband. The text on that page is:
...here with the people
and needed to see.
I won't deny the need and joy of any family's reunion, but in this review essay, I use Floca's text to pose some questions, particularly as people in children's literature take up the word "diversity" or "diverse books." So far, I haven't seen anyone say that his book is a "diverse" book, but I can see how it might garner that sort of characterization, because the first full page of the book shows Chinese men. For Locomotive
to succeed as a "diverse" book, however, its readers need to see far more than Floca gave us.
On the page "The Great Plains" (the book is not paginated; the words "The Great Plains" are on the bottom right corner of the double-paged spread), the illustration is of a vast sky and an expanse of grassland. Moving through it is the train. Here's what Floca wrote:
The hours and miles roll by.
The country opens,
empty as an ocean.
I paused when I read "empty as an ocean." Describing land as empty is something that Laura Ingalls Wilder did, too. Describing a place as empty depends on the person using that description. Some years ago, I took my laptop in for servicing. The screen background I had at the time was a photograph I took of the view from my house on the reservation. The technician looked at that photo and said something about how empty it was and how it should be developed. To me, it wasn't empty. To me, it is my homeland. If the Great Plains were my homeland, I wouldn't call it empty. But that's what Floca's white family sees. I think that is what they want
to see in order to be able to celebrate that railroad and their travels across those plains.
Floca's text on that page continues with this:
Here the bison used to roam,
by the hundreds, by the millions.
Here the Cheyenne lived,
and Pawnee and Arapaho.
Again, I paused.
Will Floca tell his readers that the railroad played a role in the demise--or rather, slaughter--of the bison? Will he tell them, for example, that white hunters shot buffalo from open train windows? Or that millions of hides were shipped on those trains by hunters who left bison carcasses to rot? (The answer to those questions is no. He doesn't. Is it fair to expect him to? Could he include it in the notes at the end of the book? Whether he should
or not is debatable. More on that later...)
And what about the use of "lived" to describe the Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Arapaho. Does that sentence suggest to a reader with "vanished" Indians as part of his or her knowledge base that the Cheyenne, the Pawnee, and the Arapaho no longer exist at all? Will Floca say more about this? (The answer is no.)
On the page with "The Forty-Mile Desert" in the bottom right corner, we learn that the train is now in the Great Basin:
On the train rolls,
down through the desert,
the home of the Paiute and the Shoshone,
It's a land of dust and bitter rivers,
rivers that never reach the sea--
they sink away,
I like what he says there, "home of the Paiute and the Shoshone" much better than his use of "lived" regarding the Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Arapaho. I like that he names specific tribes, too, but that isn't enough--in my view--to make this a book that would appeal to a diverse audience that includes children of those Native Nations, or children who have learned a more critical history and view of history.
Let's flip to the end papers that open the book. I like that Floca has used them, too, to pass along information by way of his illustrations. There's a map showing the transcontinental railroad and all the states it passes through. There's some people drawn on the map, but none of them are Native. In fact, nowhere on the end pages do I see illustrations or references to Native people at all. The small illustrations that frame the map on the top of the page show what I take to be the Mayflower and a wagon train. Beneath the map is one that shows workers making a tunnel, one that shows them laying track, and then, one that shows the meeting point for the tracks the two companies built (the two companies were the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific).
If I was advising Floca, I'd have suggested--at the very least--that he add homelands of Native Nations to that map.
Let's turn now, to "A Note on the Locomotive" at the end of the book. There, Floca tells us about the thousands of Chinese who worked for the railroads in the West, and he tells us of the waves of European immigrants who settled along the railroads. Then, there's a long paragraph about Native peoples. All of the following excerpts are in that paragraph. He begins with this:
If the railroad offered change to some, it imposed change on others, none more so than American Indians, who variously accepted, cooperated with, and fought the railroads as the railroads pushed across the continent. In the West, the Central Pacific made agreements with the Paiute and Shoshone of the Great Basin, some of whom worked alongside Chinese laborers to help build the road. (The groups worked well together, although there is a story of the Paiutes alarming the Chinese by telling them that the desert was inhabited by giant, man-eating snakes.)
"[A]s the railroads pushed across the continent"? How about "as the railroads and the federal government did what they wanted to take Native land." And what are we to make of the story in parentheses? That the Paiutes were mean to the Chinese? Or, maybe we're meant to think of the Chinese as simple minded? Or maybe, superstitious? Maybe this is Floca's attempt to inject a bit of levity?
Floca goes on to say that Pawnees also chose to work with the Union Pacific, and it was when the railroad "pushed" through Nebraska that there were problems because it
disrupted the grazing ranges of the bison, or American buffalo, the animal at the center of the diet, economy, and culture of the Plains, and the Cheyenne responded with attacks on surveyors and work crews.
There's a section in the book that shows things that did not happen to the train the family was riding on. One is a train going too fast on a curve and derailing. Another is of the crew letting too much water boil away, leading to an explosion. I think Floca could have shown one of those Cheyenne attacks on that page. What he says next tells us that he has a good sense of the reason for those attacks. He could have used that information alongside an illustration of Cheyenne's attacking the trains:
(General Phil Sheridan, although as ruthless a campaigner in the Indian wars as any, observed that "we took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?")
The parenthesis in that excerpt are in the book. Parentheses are generally used to set off supplemental information that is an aside, or an afterthought, or something that is tangential to the information being presented. Seeing Floca's use of it in this instance sort of reflects his treatment overall of Native people in Locomotive
. We're an aside. An afterthought. What happened to Native people is tangential to the information he wants to share in Locomotive.
Therein is the problem. Did he not imagine us as his readers? And let's not forget that Sheridan said "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead"
Next is this:
The attacks were recurring and deadly, but the railroad--backed by the U.S. Army--could not be stopped. Once the line was completed, portions of it in Nevada were sometimes used by the Paiute and Shoshone, who through their treaties with the Central Pacific were entitled to rides on the train through their territories.
First thing to note: tribes didn't make treaties with railroads. Treaties are agreements made between governments. The treaty Floca may have had in mind is the US government's 1863 Treaty with the Western Shoshone
in which the Shoshone agreed to stop attacking the existing trains and also agreed not to attack the construction of "a railway from the plains west to the Pacific ocean."
Second, that excerpt tells us that Floca knew that Native people rode the trains. Could he have included illustrations of Paiute or Shoshone people riding the train? There's a page in the book that shows the interior of a train. A boy is walking down the aisle selling newspapers. In the foreground is a man reading Harper's Weekly
. What if that was a Paiute or Shoshone man, looking askance at this illustration from an October 1874 issue?
The point I wish to make with this essay is that Locomotive
is a one-sided presentation of history. It has to be, I suppose, in order for it to be celebratory, but shouldn't we be beyond one-sided celebrations?
A few years ago, the Children's Book Council established its CBC Diversity Committee. Among its goals are a dedication to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's literature. The experience that is missing in Floca's book is that of Native peoples. Including us probably wasn't his intent. Maybe one of CBC's actions towards diversity could be to ask authors to be more inclusive in what they create. Maybe another one could be to ask reviewers to note absences in books like Locomotive.
There are other absences in Floca's book. He includes an illustration of Chinese laborer's on the first page, but doesn't say much about them in the text or in the Note at the end of the book. Though they constituted 90% of the work force, they weren't invited to that celebration of the railroad being completed. How, I wonder, does a child descended from one of the Chinese laborer's feel about so little of their experience being included in Locomotive
And, there's more to say about San Francisco and Native peoples of California, too. Am I asking for too much? Some would say yes, others would say no. Some would be critical of me for criticizing the book for what it leaves out, but I'll say, again, we have to provide books that are more inclusive of all the peoples that live in the United States. Without them, we're still stuck in an all-white world of children's books, and demographics show---the United States is not an all-white world.Editors note: My apologies for inadvertently using
Locomotion instead of
Locomotive in four places. That error has been corrected.
For further reading:American Indians and the Transcontinental Railroad
Update: Jan 21, 2014, 5:15 PM
Brian Floca submitted comments to my critique. I am pasting them here for the convenience of readers of AICL and will respond once I have studied his comments. Here they are:
I appreciate your thoughts on “Locomotive,” critical and otherwise. “Locomotive” was always intended first and foremost as a book about what it was like to operate and travel behind a steam locomotive in 1869. The most difficult stretches in the making of the book were spent thinking about how best to handle the many people and stories connected with the first transcontinental line without taking the book too far from that core concern, from the book I most wanted and felt most able to make, and no story was more difficult to try to get right than that of the Native American relationship to the line. The balances I struck with all those stories will be right for some readers and not for others, I recognize. I appreciate your perspective on those choices, and would be glad for the chance to share a response to a few of the questions you raised.
I had text and illustrations to work with while making this book, and you’re right of course that the Native American material ended up represented in the text and not the drawings. Many factors led to the final shape of this information in the book, including pacing and availability of reliable visual reference material for particular moments and periods. I knew any images would be looked at critically, and I didn’t want to include them if I wasn’t sure I could get them right. I also had to consider the choice of scenes that might accurately and representatively be shown given the setting and period of the book. One thing I had to consider, for instance, was this difficult and restricting paragraph from Dee Brown’s “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West”: “The universal desire of all pioneer travelers on the transcontinental was to see a “real wild Indian.” Few of them did, because the true warriors of the plains hated the Iron Horse and seldom came within miles of it…. The Indians whom the travelers saw were mostly those who had been corrupted and weakened by contacts with the white man’s civilization—scroungers, mercenaries, or beggars by necessity.” It was also hard to find reference for the sort of interaction I would have wanted to show between the Paiute and Shoshone who rode with white passengers on the Central Pacific in Nevada, and this felt like another imposed limit. Your post makes me wonder again what other options I had and what else I might have done, but I assure you the effort was there as I was making the book.
Some of these questions about presentation and what’s included and what’s not are simply matters of taste and tone. The emptiness of the Plains is, of course, one of those matters of perspective, but it’s not described as empty for no reason. In various accounts, train passengers on the Plains in the 1860s were overwhelmed by an expanse so different than the forests, hills, valleys, mountains, or cities that many were used to. To Robert Louis Stevenson, for instance, the Great Plains were “a world almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and back, line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a cue across a billiard-board…. The train toiled over this infinity like a snail….” I wanted that feeling in the book.
When it comes to word choices, the use of the word “lived” on that page was not meant to imply “vanished,” and I hope that for readers it won’t. I also hoped that “The railroad and the men who built it—they have changed it all” would indeed convey who was behind these changes, and that the herd of bison covering the land on the book’s cover, beneath the jacket, would suggest the destructive as well as triumphant nature of the rail line.
On the front endpapers, the drawing of a clipper ship is there to illustrate the passage of text immediately to the right of the drawing, the description of trips taken by ship around Cape Horn. Across these endpapers I wanted to show the motives for the railroad and its construction and in the end, for better or worse, these filled the page.
In the note at the back of the book, what I liked about the anecdote about the Paiute and Chinese was the surprise, humanity, and unexpected humor in the story. I often see stories about these workers presented rather stiffly, in my opinion; this story was a break from that tone.
No Cheyenne attack is shown in the book for a few reasons, but the foremost is that the Cheyenne weren’t really attacking the first transcontinental railroad after it was constructed. In “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow,” Brown writes of passengers who were worried about such an attack: “Such perturbed passengers might better have been fretting over Anglo-Saxon train robbers, such as Jesse James, who were far more likely to wreck and rob a train in the 1870s than were the Indians.” One of the consolations of not being able to fit everything in a book is knowing that you’re surely not making the only book on the subject, though. I wonder what you think of Paul Goble’s “Death of the Iron Horse,” depicting the Cheyenne attack on a train at Plum Creek, Nebraska, in 1867? I can imagine “Locomotive” and “Death of the Iron Horse” paired together.
The parentheses around the Sheridan quote were a way of giving that quote, a change of tone from the rest of the note, a bit of its own space. Possibly they were unnecessary, and if because of them the quote reads as less important than it would otherwise, then they were a mistake. Sheridan’s ruthlessness, also mentioned in the note, I thought only added to the sting and surprise of the remark, and that was one of the things I found remarkable and provoking about it.
As for the treaties with the Paiute and Shoshone, while an agreement with a government may be one definition of a treaty, I don’t believe it is the only one. In “A Great and Shining Road,” John Hoyt Williams describes the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863 and then continues, “The Central Pacific, which was granted permission by the Nevada legislature to build through the state only in 1866, was taking no chances. In that year the company signed its own treaties with the dreaded Apache subtribes, Paiutes, and others.…” And here is Dee Brown again: “To avoid conflicts with Indians—such as had hampered the Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific on the Great Plains—the Central Pacific offered some of the [N]ative Americans employment and then signed a special treaty with the Paiutes and Shoshonis.”
Finally, it’s incorrect to say that Chinese workers made up 90% of the workforce that built the transcontinental line. As is stated in the front endpapers of “Locomotive,” Chinese workers constituted up to 90% of the Central Pacific workforce, but the Union Pacific half of the line was built largely by Irish immigrants and former soldiers. It is also, happily, incorrect to say that no Chinese were invited to the celebration of the railroad’s completion. A. J. Russell’s stereograph “Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR” shows Chinese workers laying the last piece of rail at Promontory Summit, and a contemporary account tells us that “J.H. Strowbridge [sic], when the work was all over, invited the Chinamen who had been brought over from Victory for the purpose, to dine in his boarding car. When they entered all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road—a tribute they well deserved, and which evidently gave them much pleasure.” This was surely less than they warranted, but is worth remembering. More about the Chinese and Irish in this book might have been better, but there are other books the cover building the line, and the heart of this book is about traveling the line—thus the low proportion of attention given to the line’s builders (to say nothing of those who first envisioned the transcontinental railroad, advocated for it, legislated it, financed it, surveyed it, and engineered it).
Like every book, “Locomotive” has its limits. I wouldn’t be able to and I haven’t tried to tell and show readers everything that I might, but I’ve hoped to make a book that will interest them and, ideally, make them want to know more. I hope that for most readers the book makes a contribution to their understanding of the period, events, and people it describes, including the Native Americans. I’m aware that no book will please all readers, though, and I appreciate your thoughts on my effort. Certainly working on the book was a learning experience for me, and indeed I feel like I’m still learning from the book and where it’s led me, this conversation included.
Brian FlocaUpdate, Monday January 27, 2014
A few hours ago, your name was read as the winner of the 2014 Caldecott. While I'm trying to make myself feel joyful--because I love books, too--I'm not joyful. I'm angry. But my anger isn't necessarily at you. It's more at the status quo than anything. Your response indicates to me that you gave a lot of thought to what you included and how and why, and I'm glad of that. I'll address your comments in a moment.
For now, I'm addressing the whole-ness of children's literature. Or, maybe, the Caldecott committee. And maybe all those who cheered when your name was called out. Given all the attention to diversity of late, it seems LOCOMOTIVE is a choice that says "we don't care about diversity." Course, that assumes that people who are on the committee know and care about diversity in the first place, and I'm not privy to that information.
Some people are paying attention. Betsy Bird and Lori Ess held a "pre-game" event
during which they noted the importance of my critique. Others are tweeting and sharing it via Facebook, so that's good, too.
So here I am, angry. It feels small and petty to be raining on your parade. Perhaps a bit later you can return here and we can continue to talk, because there is much to do, I think, and your assistance in helping us get a bit further down that road would be invaluable.
So. On to your comments.
I imagine you feel damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't when considering how you might illustrate anything to do with Native people. Myself and many others are deeply invested in those images being right, and you're right to be wary. Source material is highly problematic! Seems that Dee Brown is the go-to person for information about American Indians. Reading Brown's books can give some insight so that people avoid making certain kinds of errors, but goodness! There's so much better material available! I strongly urge authors/illustrators to move beyond Brown to Native sources.
The first place I'd go is right to the website of the tribe I was trying to illustrate. Lisa Mitten of the American Indian Library Association has a list of websites by tribe
. Sites created by the tribe (rather than a company) are marked with a drum. Once at the site, I'd look for a tribal historian or tribal museum. I'd absolutely stay away from standard encyclopedias. Perspective in them is so biased! So---to authors and illustrators out there---your first stop ought to be a tribe's website. That's not saying someone there will talk to you. Some will, some won't. Some will be too busy helping tribal leaders who are defending the land and resources -- both of which are constantly under assault.
Some will be delighted that an author/illustrator wants to feature their tribe, and they'll be glad to help, but they may not know much about children's literature and critical analysis of image. Or they may not know how important it is to get it right. I'll use myself as an example. Before I started graduate school at the University of Illinois, I knew image was important, but leaving my reservation and living amongst a white population with white perspectives really made it clear to me how damaging stereotypes can be. To them, we didn't look "Indian" because we weren't wearing buckskin and feathers. I kid you not! As you travel in the coming year, talk to kids and teachers. See what they know about American Indians. I'm working with a teacher in a school in the Midwest who is dumbstruck by the things the gifted children she works with "know" about American Indians. I expect that the conversations you have will be similar to that. Her reports affirm what I said in my critique about "lived" and undergird my concern with the use of past tense. So--if you do find someone at the tribe who will work with you, be mindful of the need to triangulate with others, too. This isn't easy--I know--and though it'd be easier just NOT to depict Native people... we've got to try! And if your source is critical and asks you to change something, do it! Ann Rinaldi is Exhibit A in asking for and then disregarding input.
In your response about "lived" you noted that the book cover is a herd of bison. I had no idea. I only saw the jacket. And it is the jacket that is being shown on all sites. Everyone who is reading this conversation between me and Brian---look under the jacket. It is startlingly different in impact. You said you hoped that the line "The railroad and the men who built it--they have changed it all" would convey destruction and triumph. I haven't seen any reviews that say anything at all about destruction of land, killing of bison, or the taking of Native lands for the railroads and towns along them. If you had included---maybe on that page with the wreck and explosion---an illustration of bison dead all along the railroad, shot from train windows, that'd have made destruction very clear. I understand it may have taken you, in part, in a direction you didn't want to go, but I think it would have made your book so much more informative and inclusive if you had. Teachers and librarians reading this conversation--I'd love to know if you take up the destruction, or if you see it referenced in a review.
The anecdote about Paiute and Chinese: Right! Both populations are too often portrayed in stiff ways. Hence, your surprise at the story is understandable AND points to why it would have been great for you to have included illustrations that would counter that depiction.
The Cheyenne attack: Ok, they didn't attack the transcontinental railroad, but the wreck and explosion you showed on that double-paged spread weren't about the train the family was on. So--I think it could have been included. Your text could explain the attack, just as you explained the wreck and explosion.
Paul Goble's book? You see it as being paired with yours. I'll get it and see. I'm not optimistic, though. Native critics are not at all happy with his trickster books: About Paul Goble and his books.
Front endpapers: You write that you wanted to show motives for the railroad and its construction, but I'm not sure I see what you were getting at. I understand that there was a desire to have that railroad, but why? Saying the journey was "expensive, difficult, and often dangerous" describes the travel, but not why the travel was being done. Who was trying to get to California? Why were they trying to get to California? What did their desire to get there mean for the Native peoples who were already there?
Treaties: When looking for information on treaties, I generally turn to Native scholars. I pointed to one in my critique. Here's another one, which is the one you referenced in your comment. You cite the author of A Great and Shining Road
as saying tribes made a treaty with the railroad company. The Treaty with the Western Shoshone
starts out like this: "Treaty of Peace and Friendship made at Ruby Valley..." That treaty is between tribes and the US government, not the railroad. I don't have Hoyt's book, and maybe there is a treaty between the tribes and the railroad, but I kind of doubt it. I don't have Brown's either. Can you tell me what they cite?
Chinese and celebrations: Right. They were 90% of labor on the Central Pacific workforce. Thanks for sharing the info on Chinese being at the celebration. My info came from Gallery2 of the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Studies page
, in the caption for the photograph "Joining the Tracks" which is the photo that I think you used for your illustration of that celebration. Their source is Lisa Yee's book, On Gold Mountain.
Well. That's all I've got for now. Thanks, Brian, for your response, and I look forward to a continuing conversation. And do ask kids and teachers and librarians what they know about American Indians and see what they say.
Recently, a teacher wrote to ask if I'd reviewed Rush Limbaugh's Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims.
I haven't reviewed it, but I do know about it. And, this morning in my email cue, there was one from Goodreads. Once a week I get an email telling me what people I follow have read or reviewed. Today's email included what K8 said about the book. With her permission, I'm sharing some of what she wrote
about Native content in the book.
There is a character in Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims
named Freedom. Though he apparently does not identify her as being Native, what he says tells us that she is. From K8's post at Goodreads:
On page 117:
It was hard not to look at her black hair. It was silky smooth, as if she brushed it a thousand times. This morning there was a yellow feather clipped in it.
Earlier, when we first meet Freedom, on p. 39
Freedom smiled and replied, "I've had lots of practice tracking animals with my grandfather."
On page 59:
"I like him, too," said Freedom. "But he is more than a horse. He must be a spirit animal. There is an Indian legend about animals that can talk to humans."
On page 146 is Samoset, saying:
"Me learn English from fishing men who come for cod."
On page 190 when Rush meets Massasoit:
"He smiled and spoke a language that was complete gibberish."
Why bother, you might be thinking, with Limbaugh's book? Well--because one person wrote to ask me about it, and I assume there are others out there who wonder about it, too.
Take a look at the rating at Goodreads and at Amazon. Four and five stars?! While it would be tempting to just turn away, I think we have to pay attention to what people embrace and give to their kids. Describing a Native language as "gibberish" and attending to a Native girl's hair as he does tells me that kids are getting a very narrow--and frightening--view of Native people.
In December of last year, I passed along a portion of Erin Hollingsworth's review
of The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale
, by Jose Angutinngurniq. Earlier this week I was at the local library and, happily, found the book on the new books shelf. Of course, I checked it out and read it. I think it is terrific!
For starters, the book opens with a two-page foreword about Inuit stories that tell of giant creatures of long ago. One of those giant creatures is nanurluk, which means giant bear. The story in The Giant Bear
is about how a hunter kills a nanurluk. The foreword provides a lot of context for the story, situating it within the people from whom the story originates.
Second is the word iglu
. It is one of four words (nanurluk is another) included in a Pronunciation Guide that follows the foreword. It means "A winter dwelling made with snow blocks" (n.p.). In parenthesis we see how the word is pronounced. For iglu, we see "igloo."
I'm taking time to point out iglu/igloo because this tiny bit of information is one of the reasons I think The Giant Bear
is terrific. I'd love to see every book use iglu instead of igloo. If I was still teaching, in fact, I would physically alter "igloo" in books I had in my classroom, and I'd make sure I taught my students to use iglu instead of igloo.
Third is Eva Widermann's illustrations. Here's a gorgeous illustration from the book. It is the third reason that I'm so taken with The Giant Bear
See how big the iglu is in comparison to the man and woman? That iglu is where they are living for this story. In another illustration, you see them inside where she is cooking and he's stretched out on a bench. Next time you see an illustration or a toy iglu that is out-of-scale, you could take a minute and point out that error. Below is an example from a Sesame Street coloring book. See what I mean?
Fourth is the story Angutinngurniq (the author) tells. The Inuit man in the story is out hunting one day and comes across what he recognizes as an aglu, which is a breathing hole in sea ice that is created or kept open by a marine animal. He knows that the nanurluk comes out that hole to hunt, too, and decides he has to take action to protect his winter camp (the iglu) from the nanurluk. His plan is a clever one that gives him an edge so that he can kill the nanurluk.
The method by which he kills the bear is what some people find troubling about the book. Using his harpoon, he stabs the nanurluk's eyes and nose when it starts to emerge from the hole. Without its ability to see and smell, it dies. Widermann accurately depicts that part of the story. Some think it is too graphic for a young reader, but that depends on the reader. Those for whom hunting is part of their experience won't struggle with it. That is precisely what Erin said in her review of the book
at the Goodreads site. Here's her review again:
This book combines a great story with terrific art. I cannot praise it enough. As to the reviewers who found it too violent, the polar bear is the largest land carnivore and it hunts and eats people. Polar bears are not cute cuddly animals; they are man killers. I think it is perfectly appropriate to share this fact with children. So many of them have had their brains addled by modern Coca Cola culture that it might do them some good to realize that the world around them is an all too real, and sometimes unfriendly place.
She's right. Bears are dangerous! And, they are in danger due to climate change, which brings me to the fifth reason I like The Giant Bear.
Inhabit Media prepared a study guide
(if that link doesn't work, try this one: http://inhabitmedia.com/2014/01/16/the-giant-bear-book-study/). It consists of a series of lesson plans teachers can use along with the book. I especially like the one about Climate Change. It starts on page 27 of the guide and includes watching a PBS Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures video called "A Warmer World for Arctic Animals."
All in all, The Giant Bear
is outstanding. The depth of its content and its ready-made connections to a science curriculum make it a fine addition to any library. I highly recommend it. The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale
Told by Jose Angutinngurniq Illustrated by Eva Widermann
Published in 2012 by Inhabit Media
View Next 25 Posts
Editors note on Jan 16 2014 at 9:53 AM: The publisher responded to this critique. See comments.
While reading about children's books this morning, I came across some peculiar reviews of Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days
by Michael O. Fitzgerald. His book was published in 2013 by Wisdom Tales Press.
What is peculiar about it is the reviews of the book in the review section of the website. As some of you know, I taught in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois for many years. I'm familiar with Native writers and scholars. When I read the review of Children of the Tipi
by Polingaysi Qoyawayma, I paused because I know she passed away several years ago in the early 1990s. I wondered if the 2013 edition was preceded by one that she might have seen prior to her death, but didn't find an earlier edition at the Library of Congress. Same with Maria Chona. She passed away in 1936.
Then I looked closer at Maria Chona's review. This is what the paragraph says:
“Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald will tell you how The People lived, worked, played, hunted, told stories, and shared with one another. Maybe the sacred days of long ago are gone. Maybe not. Maybe they live on in beautiful books like this one where the days stretch endlessly before us and people of wisdom speak knowingly of the world they inhabit. Wisdom shines forth like this: ‘Women have power: Children. Can any warrior make a child, no matter how brave and wonderful he is?’ —Maria Chona (Papago).
When I looked at the book itself, I found a quote from Maria Chona on page 4. It is the last couple of lines from the review! What it seems to me is that the publisher's website is either poorly formatted, or the webmaster does not know how to properly use citations.
So, I took a closer look at the part of the review with Qoyawayma's quote. Here's a screen capture:
See how it looks like the whole paragraph is her words? Well.... I paged through the book to see if I'd find "We prayed that we might be beautiful...." in it, and sure enough! Her words are on page 19.
Then I got to wondering why Chona's (she was Tohono O'odham) and Qoyawayma's (she was Hopi) words are in a book about Plains people. And then I wondered why the author used "Papago" instead of Tohono O'odham when identifying Chona's tribe? Years ago, they started to use Tohono O'odham because it is their own name for themselves. They're among many tribes who've rejected an outsider's name for them, preferring their own name. It is a common error but certainly not one I'd expect to see in a book by someone who says they've worked extensively with Native peoples over a long period of time, writing books, making documentaries. And again--why are the words of a Hopi woman in this book?
As I have the book in front of me, I see other problems.
On the page with Chona's quote, there is a cradleboard just above her quote. Beside the cradleboard is the word "papoose." Here's a screen capture of that part of that page:
It would be far more useful to see the word 'cradleboard' and the nation that particular cradleboard belongs to beside the cradleboard rather than the word 'papoose.' Maybe we (readers) are expected to understand that the cradleboard shown is used for a "papoose" but there again, I have a concern. Papoose is a Native word, but it isn't the word used by Chona's people. Will people come away thinking (erroneously), that papoose is the Indian word for baby
? Will they think that cradleboard is one that belonged to Chona's people? Does it?! We don't know!
In the Editor's Note, Fitzgerald says
The majority of these photographs are rare. Most of them are taken from several thousand photographs that I have collected over almost forty years, including research done in the Library of Congress in 1974. All of the photographs ever submitted for copyright protection are in that facility, and at that time it was still possible to roam freely through the stacks and to easily obtain copies of those photographs whose copyright had expired.
With that statement, he apparently doesn't feel it necessary to provide photo credits, or any sort of bibliographic information for any of them. They're just there. There are no captions other than, sometimes, short ones like "pounding corn" and "drying meat" and "Cooking meat with heated stones in a buffalo-stomach container."
In short, the quotes are surrounded by old photos and photos of objects that may or may not have any connection to the tribe of the person being quoted.
As an educator--in particular as an early childhood educator--that renders this book worse than worthless because it suggests that specifics about tribe don't matter. In this kind of book, artifacts from one nation can be sprinkled anywhere you want because Indians are all alike... which of course, we're not!
Last, I went to Amazon to see what reviews there say... The reviewer at School Library Journal
included an important note about the quotes being tangential at times. In the end, that reviewer says the book is useful for the art it has in it. Taking a wild guess, I suppose "art" means the photographs, but as I noted above, without attribution or meaningful captions, these photographs are worthless as an educational tool.
I really object to books like this. The photographs and quotes play right into mainstream expectations of Indians having great wisdom. Indeed, when I asked for help in finding the book at my local library, the librarian who handed it to me sighed as she did so, saying how she loved old photos. She looked at me, and I'm sure she wondered if I am Native (I am), and may have wanted to say more but chose not to.
In conclusion? I do not recommend Michael Oren Fitzgerald's Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days.
Published in 2013 by Wisdom Tales, I'd see if I could get my money back if I'd bought it.
I wonder what else Wisdom Tales has published???