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Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
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A request for a blurb about a favorite book with a Native teen character prompted me to re-read Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name
. I've recommended it several times, here on AICL and elsewhere, but I haven't done an in-depth review essay about it yet.
Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
. "Citizen" means that she is amongst the people the Muscogee Nation counts as a citizen. Their page on Citizenship
has a lot of useful information.
A lot of people don't know that each Native Nation has its own way of determining who its citizens or tribal members are. A lot of people claim they're Native but don't know what Nation. For them, it is more of a romantic idea based on a family story about an ancestor who someone in their family said was Indian. Often, that ancestor was "a princess." A common experience for me--indeed, for a lot of Native people--is the well-meaning person who approaches me at a lecture (or online) and tells me they are part Indian. If they reference an Indian princess, I--as gently as I can--tell them there was no such thing, that the idea itself is rooted in European's who erroneously viewed Native peoples with a European lens in which royalty was the rule. There's a lot to read about Native identity. I suggest Eva Marie Garroutte's Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America.
Quick! What comes to mind when you hear "American Indian" or "Native American"? Chances are, the image you have is one of Native peoples of the past, not present. And, that image in your mind is likely one that reflects a stereotype, not reality, in terms of who we were and who we are. Smith's book can interrupt that stereotypical imagery. Set in the present--not the past--it is a terrific story.
Let's take a look, together, at some parts of it that stand out to me.The Subtle
Cassidy Rain Berghoff is the main character in Rain Is Not My Indian Name.
When the story opens, it is New Year's Eve. Rain is minutes away from being 14. She's out with Galen--a childhood friend--but they're tentatively moving from friendship to a romantic relationship. He's got a birthday gift for her: a pouch that she immediately recognizes (p. 6):
I remembered seeing it last June, displayed on a Lakota trader's table at a powwow in Oklahoma City. Aunt Georgia had taken Galen and me on a road trip to visit family, and he had trailed after me down crowded aisle after aisle.
Later that day at the powwow, Galen had gone off to get popcorn, but clearly--he'd been observing Rain as they walked down those aisles and seen her linger over that pouch. Sweet! In her description of that pouch, Smith tells us it has seed beads. Most readers probably won't notice that detail, but Native ones do! There's a huge difference in a pouch made by a Lakota person and one you'd buy at a tourist shop that sells "Indian" beaded items. The one with seed beads is exquisite. The one from the tourist shop is tacky. Rain knows the difference; Native readers of Rain Is Not My Indian Name
will know the difference, too.
After Rain and Galen say goodnight and head for their homes, Galen is struck by a car and dies on his way home. Rain learns about it the next morning (her birthday). The phone rings, waking her. She stretches, beneath her star quilt. She's devastated when her grandpa tells her about Galen. Of course, she doesn't say more about the quilt, but it is another point that Native readers will notice. Star quilts figure prominently in Native culture. Here's one (to the right) made by a dear friend, Chantelle Blue Arm
I chose this one (Chantelle has done many) because she titled it Cotton Candy. In the moments before Galen gives Rain the pouch, she thinks back to second grade field trip when Galen had persuaded her to leave the group with him in search of turquoise cotton candy.The Explicit
Understandably, Galen's death is a blow to Rain. She pretty much retreats from life for six months, which moves the story to the end of June. Her aunt, Georgia, is coordinating an Indian Camp. Her brother, Fynn, has been hinting that he wants her to sign up for it (p. 12):
But Indian Camp? It sounded like the kind of thing where a bunch of probably suburban, probably rich, probably white kids tromped around a woodsy park, calling themselves "princesses," "braves," or "guides."
My guess is that many of you--especially if you are regular readers of AICL--are nodding your head. Indian-themed camps are a mainstay of American culture that feed stereotypes! Rain's aunt, however, is not doing a camp for white kids. This one is for Native kids. Rain speculates that her aunt is thinking about what Native kids learn in school (p. 13):
At school, the subject of Native Americans pretty much comes up just around Turkey Day, like those cardboard cutouts of the Pilgrims and the pumpkins and the squash taped to the windows at McDonald's. And the so-called Indians always look like bogeymen on the prairie, windblown cover boys selling paperback romances, or baby-faced refugees from the world of Precious Moments. I usually get through it by reading sci-fi fanzines behind my textbooks until we move on to Kwanza.
Rain's got some attitude--and I love it!
See the baby-faced refugee to the right?! Rain is obviously indignant at having to deal with this sort of thing year after year.
She has a way to cope, but let's step into reality for a moment. Native kids in today's schools have to deal with this every year. Why should they have to deal with that at all?!
What Rain did was check out. She disengaged. I'm using "disengaged" deliberately. The word is in a 2010 report
from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, about Native youth and their experiences in school.And the complexities of African American and American Indian history
Now let's take a look at a racial issue Rain struggles with.
The character, Queenie, is African American. Prior to the time of the story, Rain and Queenie were good friends. That started to shift when Rain learned that Galen and Queenie were interested in each other, romantically. In one of her journal entries (they open each chapter), Rain recounts a conversation she and Galen had about dating African Americans (p. 28):
Galen's bangs fell forward: "Would you go out with a black person?" he asked.
Somewhere in my memory, I'd been told it was okay to be friends with black people, but not more than friends. "I guess," I answered. "Worried about your mom?"
Later (but still in the time before the story opens), Rain and Queenie's friendship ends when Rain learns that Queenie has hurt Galen.
Rain ends up going to Indian Camp--not as a participant--but as a journalist. Her assignment is to take photos of the camp for a news story about the camp. She is surprised to see Queenie there. The reporter, Flash, asks Queenie a question (p. 69):
"What brings you here?"
Queenie squared her shoulders and asked, "Don't you mean 'Why is an African-American girl at a Native American program?"
"Sure," the Flash answered, pen perched, "that's exactly what I meant."
The three Native kids at the camp and Rain observe this interaction, which suggests they have the same--but unspoken--question (p. 70):
Queenie spoke clearly, like she wanted to make sure the Flash didn't misquote her--like she'd have a lot to say about it if he did. "My aunt Suzanne has been tracing our family tree for the reunion next month at her place in Miami," she explained, "and, come to find out, one of my great-grandfathers was a Native American."
The word cousin sneaked onto my tongue, and I didn't like the way it tasted. As if stealing Galen hadn't been enough, now Queenie was barging in on my cultural territory. Granted, she was no guru-seeking, crystal-wearing, long-lost descendent of an Indian "princess," but still...
Then, Flash asks her (p. 70):
"What tribe, Nation, or band?"
We'll come to find out that Queenie's great grandfather was Seminole. The Black Indian thread in Rain Is Not My Indian Name
is important. It speaks to Black readers with similar family stories, but it does so with integrity. Rain could so easily have been dismissive of Queenie, but Smith went elsewhere, smoothly describing what-to-do with that family story: research. Queenie's aunt is doing research.
More and more stories about Black Indians are appearing in the news media and taken up in museums and documentaries. Read, for example, Gyasi Ross's Black History Month, Indian Style: Natives and Black Folks in This Together Since 1492
. See, too, the National Museum of the American Indian's exhibition, Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas
All of this makes the Black Indian thread in Smith's book especially important in today's society.
Coming out this year (2015) are two books in which writers take on Black Indians. I read--and love--Gone Crazy in Alabama--
by Rita Williams Garcia. I'm waiting for the published copy to review it.
Already out is The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. I haven't read it yet, but what I can see online indicates that Mildred Jeter is identified as "part African-American, part Cherokee."
In my initial research about Jeter, I saw her described as Cherokee, but I also saw her described as Rappahannock. In my second round of research, I read a chapter about her in That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia
by Arica L. Coleman, an assistant professor in Black Studies at the University of Delaware. I'll say this for now: in that chapter, Coleman chronicles the way that race and racial identity are put forth, used, and manipulated by the justice system and the media. It is astonishing.
I opened this post by noting that someone's question prompted me to re-read Rain Is Not My Indian Name.
I read it when it came out in 2001. It won Smith distinction from Wordcraft Circle
as one of 2001 Writers of the Year in Children's Prose.
That same year, Smith wrote an article for Book Links
that offers incredible insights about developing Rain and Queenie, and about insider/outsider perspective. It is online at ALA: Native Now: Contemporary Indian Stories
. In 2011, Smith wrote a reflection on the books tenth anniversary: 10th Anniversary of Rain Is Not My Indian Name.
Rereading it now--14 years after I first read it--I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone about Rain Is Not My Indian Name.
If you don't already have it on your shelves, get a copy and read it. And share it. It is exquisite and has something in it for every reader.Updating to include books I'll use as I research this topic more:
- Chang, David. The Color of the Land
- Forbes, Jack. Africans & Native Americans
- Krauthamer, Barbara. Black Slaves, Indian Masters
- Littlefield, Daniel. The Cherokee Freedmen; Africans & Creeks; Africans & Seminoles
- Miles, Tiya. Ties that Bind
- Miles, Tiya and Sharon Patricia Holland (Eds). Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: Diaspora in Indian Country
- Naylor, Celia. Africans and Cherokees
- Purdue, Theda. Slavery & the Evolution of Society
- Saunt, Claudio. Black White & Indian
A teacher wrote to me, asking for books about Taos Pueblo. I know about Clark's Little Boy With Three Names but haven't read it yet, so went looking to see what is out there.
No surprise that I found a lot of older books with hostile and savage Indians, but I also found Camp Creepy
in the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series. As of this writing (Feb 23 2015) there are 41 books in this series of books for children in elementary grades.
Here's the synopsis from the Simon and Schuster website
In Camp Creepy, the girls take a school trip to Taos, New Mexico! A classmate’s uncle has opened a new camp and the kids of River Heights Elementary are invited to come test it out. But when a series of mysterious incidents ruin Nancy’s art project, Nancy thinks something eerie is at work. Could she have upset the Taos Indian spirits?
At that website, you can read chapter one. It opens with this:
"And the team with the winning Native American model gets to spend the weeklong break at a camp in northern New Mexico!" Mrs. Ramirez announced. "In keeping with the spirit of the Native Americans, whatever you use must come from items around your house. This is a green competition."
Though the idea that Native peoples waste(d) nothing is what we might call a positive value attributed to Native peoples, it is also part of the romantic stereotyping that is all too common. On the next page, I like the first part of this excerpt:
"If we want to win this competition, we'll obviously have to focus on just one group of Native Americans," George said with a grin. "The Taos Indians. I saw a documentary about them last night on TV. I know all about their culture."
Focusing on just one group is a plus, but...
The back cover of the book says that the crew builds a model of Taos Pueblo, but before they can enter it in the contest, it is destroyed. The text there asks:
Have the girls angered the Taos Indian spirits by building the model, or is the thread something closer to home?
It isn't enough to name one group (in this case Taos) but then attribute stereotypical attributes (waste nothing) and "Indian spirits" to that group. Maybe a parallel will help make this clear. Most people know that the "ditzy blonde" is a stereotype. If an author gave that blonde a name but still used ditzy and similar attributes to describe her, that would not be ok. Where that parallel doesn't work is that most people have blonde friends or colleagues, whose very presence in their lives shows them the fallacy of the dumb blonde stereotype. In contrast, most people don't have Native friends and colleagues who would be able to counter Native stereotyping.
The local library has a copy of this book. I'll try to get over there, read it, and update this post. But--based on what I've seen so far, I can't recommend it.
That is my thought as I sat down to share some photos of pages from Rosemary Benet and Stephen Vincent Benet's A Book of Americans. I have no memory of how it came to be in my house. I probably got it at a yard sale or used book store.
Anyway--it came out in 1933 from Farrar and Rinehart. As I flipped through it, I thought it'd be an interesting blog post, so I took some photos. You'll understand why I wanted to share them. They are not the reason for the "Woah!" at the top of this post.
Here's the end papers as you open the book:
Here's the first page of the table of contents:
Here's the page on Crazy Horse:
Here's some of that text from the Crazy Horse page:
The Indians of the Wild West
We found were hard to tame,
For they seemed really quite possessed
To keep their ways the same.
They liked to hunt, they liked to fight,
And (this I grieve to say)
They could not see the white man's right
To take their land away.
Now. Why did I start this post with "Woah!"?
Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.
I'm gonna say that again. Louder.Henry Holt reissued the book in 1987.
I can (mostly) ignore the customer reviews at Amazon ("Delightful." and "Excellent.") and of course, there's a lot to say about the illustrations and the poems, too...
But the idea that Henry Holt reissued it in 1987 floors me. Why did Henry Holt do that?! Why?
With this post, I'm pointing to a list of books I started on Google Drive. It is an effort to keep track of all that is out there, by Native and non-Native writers and illustrators. The list has columns for author(s), author's Native Nation, illustrator(s), illustrator's Native Nation, book title, publisher, year of publication, and date added to list. The far right column is where I'll add the date if/when the book is reviewed here at AICL.
You'll probably look at it and be surprised that, for example, there is no review at AICL of Bruchac's Children of the Longhouse. The reality? Not enough time to read everything and write it up.
These are books that have 1) not been received at AICL, or that 2) have not been reviewed at AICL. Please read over the list. If you know of a book(s) I should add there, please let me know. Here's the link:
Books Not Yet Read/Reviewed at American Indians in Children's Literature
If you download the list for your own purposes, please credit me (Debbie Reese) for your use of the list. If you are interested in helping me build the list, let me know (dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com)! It is a huge undertaking and I'd love some help.
Last year, Pamela Penza wrote to me about Nick Lake's There Will Be Lies. Pam is a young adult librarian and blogs at Pamelibrarian. I read her review of There Will Be Lies at Goodreads and then got a copy of the book and eventually posted my review.
A few weeks ago, I met Pam in person at ALA. Here we are:
Earlier today, Pam tweeted frustration with an Indian Princess in a book she reviewed. I asked her for details and she pointed me to her review. I read her review, and decided to share part of it here, with the intent of telling you that you ought to follow Pam's blog. I'm very glad she's noting problematic content like that in There Will Be Lies
, and today, in Tricia Stirling's When My Heart Was Wicked
. Here's an excerpt of Pam's review, but DO GO READ all that she says
. And check out the book covers she inserted at the bottom of her review. Such comparisons are fascinating.
Here's an excerpt of Pamela Penza's review of Tricia Stirling's When My Heart Was Wicked:
Lacy's also into science, which is pretty cool. She loves chemistry and how equations make the world work. Interestingly, she also believes in magic and casting spells, and is somewhat of an herbalist. She gathers herbs by the stream and reminisces about the magical things she could have learned from the Maidu people. Here's a wonderfully romanticized quote:
"Over two hundred years ago, the Maidu Indians lived right here along this creek in their houses made of bark. I think about them, the Maidu, and how much they knew about the natural world. Soap plant and sweet Indian potatoes, deer grass and yerba santa. They were immune to poison oak, so they cooked their bread in the leaves and wove the branches of the poison oak into baskets ... I wish a real live Maidu woman would come out of the bushes and teach me. We'd weave a basket to carry sorrow for all the old ways that are gone, and then another one to carry hope."
Well, my face is bruised from slamming my hands into it in frustration so many times. I am by no means an expert on indigenous peoples of California, or Maidu culture, or any of that, but it's just that fairy tale "wheeee magical Indians" concept that really grates on me...
Saying again, DO GO READ all that Pam wrote about the book.
There's a lot to say about When My Heart Was Wicked.
I participated in the "Are we doing it white?" conversation at Read Roger (Roger Sutton's blog at Horn Book; Sutton is the executive editor at Horn Book; The Horn Book is highly regarded in children's literature). His 'we' is white people and the 'it' is reviewing. He references a conversation he had with librarian Nina Lindsay in which she asked if it is time to "shake up our standards" in reviewing.
At one point in the 'Are we doing it white' conversation, Roger said he would love to have more reviewers at Horn Book that aren't white, and that he is "intensely devoted" to "getting out information about cultural diversity--who's out there, what's out there, and what's NOT out there" (see his comment at 12:28). I reviewed for Horn Book in the 1990s.
I responded (at 1:56) with this:
Question for Roger:
Remember when you decided it was inappropriate for me to use the word stereotype to characterize a kid playing Indian? You decided to give the review to someone else. Later, in a review of a nonfiction book about California missions, I said the author was ignoring new research on the missions, and that review got reassigned, too.
Those were terse moments for me. I was furious. All the power was yours, and it dictated what I could or could not say as a HB reviewer. Because of those two experiences, it was not hard for me to decide to move on and focus on my dissertation. I think if you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have left.
Would it be different if I submitted those reviews today?
His reply (at 2:29):
Debbie, how could I forget?
Actually, i *do* forget what happened with the book about the missions but remember the playing-Indian question very well. In this book, THE BIRTHDAY BEAR, two contemporary white children and their grandfather, among other activities, put on fake headdresses and pretend to be Indians.
In regard to your review of this book, nothing would be different today. You criticized it not for inaccuracy or stereotyping but because the characters in the book engaged in an activity you found objectionable. We can’t knock a book because we morally disapprove of its fictional characters’ actions. What I said then I’ll say now: I take the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights very seriously, and I believe “materials should not be proscribed because of doctrinal or partisan disapproval” with all my heart.
I haven't been able to find the review I submitted (it was written and submitted in the 1990s). I'll keep looking. Perhaps there is one in Horn Book's files. I probably gave it a 6 in my overall rating, which is "unacceptable in style, content, and/or illustration."
I wrote an article based on the rejection of that review. It includes some of the emails that were exchanged by me and Roger.
If you'd like to get a more in-depth look, I'm sharing the article as a pdf: Contesting Ideology in Children's Book Reviewing.
It was published in 2000 in a Studies in American Indian Literatures
, the journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures
As readers of AICL know, I don't recommend books where kids are playing Indian. They invariably do that in a stereotypical way. During the time I was reviewing for Horn Book, they were sending me books with Native content because they believed I had the expertise to review those books. In the case of The Birthday Bear
, Roger also felt that it should not have been sent to me because the kids playing Indian was "peripheral" to the story. It may have been to him, but it wasn't peripheral to me.
As the article and the on-going discussion at Read Roger
show, neither Roger or myself have shifted in our views on this particular incident.
Roger titled his post "Are we doing it white?"
My answer to Roger?
Yes, you are. Indeed, you do it with glee, as evident in your reply to Sarah Park Dahlen (see his comment at 3:37) where you say that you "happily recommended" a book in which kids are playing Indian.
Please read the conversation at Are we doing it white
. I appreciate the personal notes of support I've received, and I especially appreciate the work we're all doing to push back on the power structures that use that power to affirm the status quo. We're all doing it for young people who read. What they read matters.
Today (Feb 18, 2015), the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, released statistics for books they received in 2014. For AICL, I focus on data specific to American Indians.
Important to note!
This is raw data and does not address quality of books. It also does not represent all books in any given year that have Native characters or content. A good example is Little House on the Prairie. In 2010, that book was reissued with colorized images inside. It has a Native character and a great deal of Native content, but I doubt that its publisher sent it to CCBC as a "book about American Indians." And even if they had, CCBC staff may have determined the character and content were not significant enough for it to be listed as a book about American Indians.
I am very glad to have CCBC's data each year. There is much to do with it. For now, here's the data, from 2002 through 2014. Once I have the book list for 2014, I'll do some analysis similar to what I did in 2013.
Some things I want to know: Who are the authors/illustrators of those 17 books written or illustrated by American Indians? In past years, a single author (Joseph Bruchac) has published more than one book.
Still, last year the number was 18, and this year it is 17. That is significant. It is the only two-year-period in which we see consistency, and it is also the highest number(s) overall. Numbers for next year will be interesting. Will we stay up at that number? Or will it skew down again?
It is also important to note that, for 2013 and 2014, we see that approximately half the books CCBC received were written or illustrated by Native people. I like that!
And of course, the numbers for 2002 and 2003 stick out (74 and 95, respectively). I need to find that list and see if I can figure out why they were so high then.
Please share your observations, calculations, etc.Update, 3:42, Feb 18, 2015
CCBC tweeted out a chart that I want to share here, too. The chart, as you see, covers the various groups for whom CCBC keeps data. This is an especially helpful chart. Such charts should show growth over time. That is clearly not the case and is a strong indicator of work that must be done.
Dear HASL Librarians,
I am looking forward to spending time with you at your spring conference!
I've been working on my remarks. If there is anything in particular you want to ask me ahead of time, please do!
See you soon,
Earlier today, I saw a post on Facebook in which a person said, of Wilder's The Long Winter, "this is the only book that can put what's happening in Boston in perspective. It could be worse, wicked worse."
The woman who wrote that post must think she's being clever, comparing the blizzard in Boston to the one in The Long Winter.
If you care about accuracy in how Native peoples are depicted, or if you care about how derogatory depictions of Native people impact the growing minds of Native and non-Native children, then I think we'd agree that it is long past time to set aside that series.
Because of their status and
place of nostalgia in the minds
of so many Americans,
few books for children are as wicked
as those in the Little House on the Prairie series.
Ah---you say, 'there were Indians in The Long Winter
Yes. The chapter called "Indian Warning" has a very old Indian man in it. Here's from page 61:
"Heap big snow come," this Indian said.
As he gestured, the blanket he is wearing slides off his shoulder and his "naked brown arm" came out. He continues:
"Heap big snow, big wind," he said.
Pa asks him how long, and of course he says "Many moons" and holds up four, and then three fingers that mean seven months of blizzards.
"You white men," he said. "I tell-um you."
On page 186, the wind grows louder and louder. It reminds Laura of the "Indian war whoops" when Indians were doing "war dances" by the Verdigris River when she was younger.
See what I mean? Stereotypes. Set it aside.
In 2007, Disney Hyperion published The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Years ago, someone wrote to tell me it has Native content and wondered if I'd read it. I had not, but today I see that it is to be a movie. So.... here's my analysis of the book (note: I'm reading an electronic copy and using the copy/paste function on Kindle for Mac for page numbers I provide). I provide summary of the book in regular font, and use italics used to indicate my thoughts/analysis.
Let's start with the synopsis posted at Amazon:
It all starts with a school essay. When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens - called Boov - abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod? In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion. Fully illustrated with “photos,” drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel about an alien invasion.
As the story told in the school essay begins, it is Moving Day, 2013. We learn (later) that everyone is being relocated to Florida by the Boov (aliens), taken there in Boov rocketpods. People are behaving in crazy ways. Tip (the main character) sees a lady running down the street with a mirror as if she was chasing vampires. Then (p. 4),
I saw a group of white guys dressed as Indians who were setting fires and dropping tea bags down manhole covers.Debbie's thoughts: I don't get why they're setting fires. Maybe that will make sense as I read further. They're dropping tea bags, too. Definitely a reference to the Boston Tea Party, but why are these white guys doing this? If people are behaving in crazy ways I could see individuals doing odd things, but a group of guys doing the same thing?
A few paragraphs later, we learn that aliens called Boov arrived on earth on Christmas Day of 2012. By June they have taken over and decided that "the entire human race" would have happier if they were all moved to an "out-of-the-way state where they could keep out of trouble" (p. 6).Debbie's thoughts: This is definitely a colonization story. It parallels the invasion (yeah, I know some of you don't think it was an invasion) of the Americas and subsequent decisions to remove Native peoples from our homelands to Indian Territory or onto reservations. I wonder if there is an interview of Rex, somewhere, wherein he talks about why he chose colonization of the Americas as the basis for this story?
In The True Meaning of Smekday
, the initial place for removal is Florida. Tip decides to drive there instead, taking her cat, Pig, along. Recall from the synopsis that her mom was taken on Christmas Eve, so, Tip is traveling alone.
Tip meets up with a Boov alien named J.Lo who becomes her sidekick. He tells her that they've named the planet Smekland because “Peoples who discover places gets to name it” (p. 28). When Tip tries to tell him it is called Earth, he smiles condescendingly. He also tells her the aliens don't like humans celebrating their holidays, so they (the aliens) replaced them with new ones. Christmas is now Smekday. The alien leader is Captain Smek, who discovered this "New World" (p. 30) for them. Hence, places and holidays are named after him.Debbie's thoughts: I'm wondering how Rex is going to wrap all this up. He's making intriguing parallels to history.
The letter that Tip is preparing for future readers is supposed to tell them what it was like to live during the invasion. In her account of how the Boov conquered the human race, Tip describes a message from the Boov:
A. The Boov had discovered this planet, so it was of course rightly theirs.Debbie's thoughts: Note the use of "discover" and that discovery means ownership, the use of "Grand Destiny"--which is otherwise Manifest Destiny, and the use of "assimilate" which for Native peoples, took the form of "kill the Indian and save the man." So far in Rex's story, no killing or war or disease either, which is a considerable departure from the parallel he's constructed so far.
B. It was their Grand Destiny to colonize new worlds, they needed to, so there really wasn't anything they could do about that.
C. They were really sorry for any inconvenience, but were sure humans would assimilate peacefully into Boov society.
When the Boov move into the towns, they praise Captain Smek "for providing so many pretty, empty houses in which to live" (p. 60).Debbie's thoughts: Use of "empty" echoes a lot of writing and stories that characterize the Americas as empty, virgin, plentiful land that nobody was using. You see that a lot in Wilder's
Little House on the Prairie. What makes Rex's book different from Wilder's is that in her book empty land was presented as a fact, while the colonization theme in Rex's book implicitly tells us that this emptyness had prior owners and was being taken.
On TV, Smek calls humans "the Noble Savages of Earth" (p. 63) and shows footage of the Boov making treaties--not with world leaders--but with ordinary people.Debbie's thoughts: Rex using "Noble Savages" --- readers get that the humans are not really savages, but I wonder if Rex's use of it has enough weight for readers to see the use of "savage" to describe Native peoples, or Iraqi's as savages is also wrong (see my post about American Sniper)? Regarding treaties, this is definitely intriguing! People who know Native history know that there are many "treaties" that were made with people who had no authority to make treaties.
When Tip and J.Lo get to Florida, they don't see anyone. Tip recalls (p. 92)
"people in concentration camps in World War II, told by Nazi soldiers to take showers, and the showerheads that didn't work, and the poison gas that tumbled slowly through vents until every last one was dead."Debbie's thoughts: Because this is a humorous story, some of the references to history--like that one--are jarring. If you read only the paragraphs before and after that passage, you won't find the humor that characterizes the tone of the book.
In Florida, there is a Mouse Kingdom. Tip finds other kids there and learns from them that the Boov decided they wanted Florida for themselves because the aliens found out they like oranges. They chose another state to send humans to: Arizona.Debbie's thoughts: Again--if you know Native history, you'll recognize that decision, too. The oranges are a parallel for gold or other resources that were/are on Native lands. Learning of the resources prompted the government to take aggressive action against Native peoples.
Tip and J.Lo head to Arizona. J.Lo is wearing a ghost costume to disguise his alien identity, thereby protecting him from the Gorg, another alien race that wants the earth and seeks to displace the Boov. On the way they pass a sign for Roswell. Tip notes that it is known as a site where a spaceship crashed. J.Lo wants to go to Roswell to see the spaceship, even though Tip tells him people think it isn't true. Then J.Lo tells her that maybe it was a Habadoo ship and moves right to telling her a joke about a Habadoo, a Boov, and a KoshzPoshz. But, Tip's mind drafts off and she doesn't laugh at the joke. J.Lo asks her (p. 204)
"You are not a fan of ethnical jokes, ah? Look, is okay if I tells it, I am one-sixteenth Habadoo--"Debbie's thoughts: J.Lo thinks that Tip finds the joke inappropriate, but J.Lo thinks it is fine for him to tell it because he is of one of the groups in the joke. This is, of course, the on-going debates about ethnic jokes and who can tell them, but it also strikes me as relevant to this story overall. If Rex was Native, might I be responding differently to the humor and tone he uses?
When they get to Roswell, New Mexico, they meet a group of people. A woman introduces herself as Vicki Lightbody. Tip introduces herself as Grace, and J.Lo as her little brother, JayJay (who, through Tip's quick actions is disguised as a ghost). They head to Grace's apartment, which is across the street from a UFO museum. Others they meet include adults named Kat, Trey, and Beardo.
Tip tells the group she plans on continuing to Arizona. She's seen lots of abandoned cars they could borrow if necessary (theirs was in need of repair). In particular, Tip mentions a turquoise truck someone was driving (p. 228):
"You saw Chief Shouting Bear," said Beardo. "He's a...he's just an eccentric old junkman that lives around these parts. He's kind of a town legend."
"Ha--yeah. The Legend of the Crazy Indian," said Vicki. Then she looked sideways at J.Lo and me and added, "No offense."
"For what?" I asked. "We're not Indians. Or crazy."
I am one-sixteenth Habadoo," said J.Lo.Debbie's thoughts: First, I don't much like that name, "Chief Shouting Bear." Naming and names are important to people, no matter their heritage, but there's quite a few examples of white writers using Native and Asian names as fodder for jokes. Second, why does Vicki say "no offense" after saying "legend of the crazy Indian"? Did she think Tip is Indian because of her dark skin? Remember--Tip is biracial. Third, J.Lo's response is intriguing. He uses a fraction and a word. The way that sentence is constructed could easily be spoken by someone who is claiming Native identity, not as a way of life, but as a piece of who they are. But why would J.Lo--the alien--say that? What does he know about Native identity and the blood quantum terminology he uses?
The legend they are talking about is this: in 1947, Chief Shouting Bear found a flying saucer. According to the legend, he had been in Roswell in the Air Force during WW2 and was kicked out of the military for believing in UFOs. Now, he keeps that flying saucer in his basement, runs a junkyard, and uses the flying saucer as a way to make some money.
Tip sets off to find Chief Shouting Bear's house because she wants to see the flying saucer. His house is in the midst of a junkyard. When she and J.Lo get there, she is peering over a fence surrounding the junkyard when she hears "That's where the UFO stopped" and looks down "to see a thin, dark man, like a strip of jerky--the Chief" (p. 252). He is wearing a red cap with flaps and a strap (p. 252):
"He otherwise wore the same clothes as anybody else--no buckskin or beads or anything. I'm probably an idiot for even mentioning that."Debbie's thoughts: I like what Rex did there, acknowledging a stereotypical expectation and pushing back on it. Here's the illustration of the man.
Chief Shouting Bear takes Tip and J.Lo to see the spaceship. Tip sees it is made of papier-mache and not really a spaceship but pretends it is, thereby occupying Chief Shouting Bear so that J.Lo can go look for the telecone booth they've been looking for. She snaps a photo of the spaceship, and Chief Shouting Bear looks at her, puzzled that she seems to think it is an authentic spaceship.
While Tip, J.Lo and Chief Shouting Bear are looking at the telecone booth (the Boov are also searching for it), Vicki Lightbody and Kat show up, prompting Chief Shouting Bear to call out (p. 261):
"DON'T STEAL MY LAND, JERKS!"
"YOU PALEFACED DEVILS!" Debbie's thoughts: There isn't any context (yet) for the shouting that he does. I've read a lot and don't recall any Native character calling a white person a devil. I've certainly seen white characters use that word to describe Native ones. I'm not sure what to make of Chief Shouting Bear using that word.
As Tip gets get ready to leave, Chief Shouting Bear asks Tip to come back tomorrow with her car so they can trade it for the telecone, but Vicki says that Tip and J.Lo were going to spend the day with her. Chief Shouting Bear says
"LET 'EM COME, INDIAN GIVER! I WON'T KEEP 'EM ALL DAY." Debbie's thoughts: Why is he using that phrase, "Indian giver" in his remarks to Vicki?
Vicki replies, argumentatively, that it is dangerous for them to be around rusty junk. Chief Shouting Bear says that rusty junk will be all that is left soon, and then shouts (p. 262):
"HAWOOOO WOO WOO WOO."
His dog, Lincoln, sits at his feet and "howled with him." Chief Shouting Bear says "JERKS" to Vicki and Kat, and Vicki tells him he could have a more positive outlook.Debbie's thoughts: "Howled" bothers me. And the dog howling with him? Also not cool. This is war whooping straight out of Hollywood, and though we might see a dog joining its owner in making noise, this particular person and his dog howling are problematic because of the long history of characterizing Native people as animal-like. It seems to me that Rex takes two steps forward in this book and then one step back.
The next day, Tip and J.Lo head to Chief Shouting Bear's place. They talk about people who seem to be crazy. Tip says that maybe Chief Shouting Bear wants people to think he is crazy. When they get to his house and are visiting with him, Tip asks about his shouting, saying (p. 273):
"You didn't raise your voice once when it was just the three of us. [...] But then Vicki and Kat show up and you're all 'GO AWAY, TREATY-BREAKER! DON'T...UM...DON'T--"
Chief Shouting Bear cuts her off:
"I never said 'treaty-breaker."
Their conversation continues:
"Yeah, well, that was the basic theme, anyway."
"I only usually shout at the white people," he said. "Tradition. I've got no beef with you."
"I'm half white," I said, folding my arms.
"Hrrm. Which half?"
I blinked. "Uh...dunno. Let's say it's from the waist down."
Chief Shouting Bear nodded. "Deal. I only hate your legs."Debbie's thoughts: It is Chief Shouting Bear's tradition to shout at white people? That strikes me as inadvertently making light of actual Native traditions, none of which include shouting at white people. Chief Shouting Bear asking Tip "which half" is akin to the things I've heard a lot of Native people say in response to someone who claims they are part Native. It is a cynical response because Native identity doesn't work that way. Nobody is of this or that identity in a partial way. I should probably re-read the parts of Alexie's book to see how he handles that "part time Indian" in the title of his book.
The two shake hands on that deal (that Chief Shouting Bear only hates Tip's legs). Tip introduces herself using her real name (Gratuity) and Chief Shouting Bear tells her his name: Frank. She is surprised by that name (p. 274):
"Oh," I said. "I thought...I heard..."
"You heard my name was Chief Shouting Bear," he said. "It doesn't matter. You can call me whatever you want, Stupidlegs."Debbie's thoughts: I love that Rex is giving us a real name: Frank. Having the character introduce himself with that name humanizes him. With it, he seems to be distancing himself from the name that others call him (Chief Shouting Bear). That isn't a name he acknowledges as his own. With his "call me whatever you want" remark, he also seems to be telling us that such names are easily--but not appropriately--used as a means of belittling someone.
J.Lo hands "the Chief" a card that explains he is in costume as a show of solidarity with his Boovish cousins in their fight against the Gorg.Debbie's thoughts: There aren't quotation marks around the words "the Chief" in the book. I'm using them there and throughout the remainder of my summary, because rather than call him Frank, or Chief Shouting Bear, Rex defaults to "the Chief." Why? I would have loved it if whenever Tip thinks or speaks about him, she uses his name (Frank). Using "the Chief" moves him back out of a real person and to a dehumanized entity.
The "Chief" read the card aloud in a monotone voice and then hands it back, saying (p. 275):
"Nothing wrong with that," he said. "Hell, I wore a feather headdress for a while in the sixties."Debbie's thoughts: Here, I infer that Frank is calling the headdress a costume that he wore in the 60s. It makes me wonder what tribe Frank belongs to. If he was of a Plains tribe, he wouldn't call the headdress a costume.
While "the Chief" looks over Tip's car, the Gorg arrive, hunting for cats (the Gorg are allergic to cats). "The Chief" scoops Pig up and heads to the house, telling Tip and J.Lo to hide under the car while he runs off to hide Pig and the telecon booth. A Gorg finds Tip and J.Lo and asks where the telecon booth is. Tip plays dumb, and the Gorg asks her (p. 278):
"ARE YOU LOUD BEAR CHIEFTAIN?"
When she says "who" he replies:
"CHIEFTAIN LOUD BEAR MAN!"Debbie's thoughts: More play with Native names. No doubt, readers find that hilarious--but that hilarity is less likely to be shared if it is your people or culture whose names are mocked like that.
The Gorg grills her until Chief Shouting Bear appears, telling it to leave her alone. The Gorg swung one of its arms, striking "the Chief" and knocking him out. Then he tears "the Chief's" house to the ground, looking for the telecon booth. It finds the basement door, enters, and when it reappears, it takes off, into the sky. Chief Shouting Bear is still knocked out. Tip sees he is bleeding. He needs more than she can do for him, so they get him into the car and go to Vicki's apartment which is next to a UFO museum. There, Kat and Trey ease "the Chief" out of the car. He comes, too, but his speech is slurred. Vicki asks if he had been drinking.Drinking? Is that a realistic response to someone who has a bleeding head wound?
Tip is furious with that question and glares at Vicki. Beardo tells Vicki that Chief Shouting Bear got hit by one of the Gorg, and she replies (p. 285):
"Don't you look at me like that. I was just asking is all. Indians drink--I saw a special about it."
They carry Chief Shouting Bear into the museum where he asks them for ice and whiskey.Debbie's thoughts: Indians drink? A special? This idea, affirmed by a special--interesting that Rex brings forth that "drunken Indian" stereotype, but having Chief Shouting Bear ask for ice and whiskey affirms the stereotype. Disappointing.
Leaving Trey to care for Chief Shouting Bear, Tip and J.Lo head back to the junkyard and figure out that "the Chief" really did have a spaceship, but that he had put papier-mache all over it to conceal it.
Tip and J.Lo resume their trip to Arizona, ending up in Flagstaff, where Tip tries to find her mom at the Bureau of Missing Persons. During this time in Flagstaff, they live in their car on the outskirts of town and use shower and bathrooms on the university campus. Everyday, Tip goes back to the Bureau to talk to a guy named Mitch to see if they've found her mom. One day nobody is there because everyone is at a meeting where Boov representatives are speaking to people that have gathered on the campus quad. Tip and J.Lo head over there. J.Lo points out Captain Smek. He's one of the Boov reps, and is talking about the Gorg (p. 317):
"They are a horrible sort," Smek was saying, "and will not show the Noble Savages of Smekland the respectfulness that you have enjoyed from to the Boov. The Gorg are known acrosst the galaxy as the Takers, and they canto only take and take and take!"
"We knows of the Gorg and Smekland leaders yesterday," said Smek. "The Gorg have probabiles made for you some fancy promises. Do not be believing them! They lie! They will enslave your race, just as to they have done so many others! They will destruct our world!"
The speech ends with:
"In closing," said Captain Smek, "the Boov are beseeching you: do not give up to the Gorg our world because of petty grudgings! Fight with us--" [...] "Fight alongside us," Smek said, "for a brighter, shiny Smekland!"
Then he repeats the speech in Spanish.Debbie's thoughts: The occupier that has forced all the people to relocate is now telling them that another occupier won't respect or treat them well.
Tip hears people around her grumbling about what Smek has said. Smek and the other Boov leave the stage, and Mitch, tries to get them to show respect to Smek. But he also then tells Tip that the Boov are on their way out and that they ought to ally themselves with the Gorg. Then he tells her that a Native American gentleman was looking for her at the hospital. She takes off for hospital and when she runs into his room, shouts "Chief!"Debbie's thoughts: Again, why isn't she calling him Frank?
Once in his room, "the Chief" tells her (p. 321):
"Mr. Hinkel," said the Chief, jerking his head toward the sleeping man. "He thinks Indians like me ought to live somewhere else. Likes to tell me about it a lot."
Tip replies that maybe he'll be leaving soon, but "the Chief" says he doubts that, because Hinkel was badly beaten by someone who thinks gay people like him
ought to live somewhere else.Debbie's thoughts: I am trying to sort through Rex's decision to make one oppressed people, embodied by Hinkel, be the one that is being racist towards another oppressed people. It is, of course, plausible, but it doesn't sit well with me.
Tip realizes that "the Chief" had greeted her as Stupidlegs, and had called J.Lo "Boov." She had thought that "the Chief" believed J.Lo was her little brother. J.Lo tells her that "the Chief" found out the truth when they were trying to hide the telecloner (back in Roswell). Tip is afraid that "the Chief" will tell someone that J.Lo is a Boov, but he shrugs and says (p. 322):
"When you're Indian, you have people tellin' you your whole life 'bout the people who took your land. Can't hate all of 'em, or you'd spend your whole life shouting at everyone."Debbie's thoughts: With that, "the Chief" is saying that the Boov are just like the white people, but that he can't let hate consume his life. I need to think about that some more.
Tip realizes that his shouting (we also learn that he is 93 years old) was a way to make people think he was crazy so they wouldn't keep looking for the real spaceship.
While "the Chief" is in the hospital recovering, Tip reads to J.Lo. One of the books she reads to him is Huckleberry Finn.
Debbie's comments: I wonder if, in the back story for this part of the story, Rex noted that Twain used "injun"?
When "the Chief" is better, he is moved to an "old folks' home" where Tip continues to visit him. On one visit, he tells her he had been sent to New Mexico after World War Two and that he had hated it because of where he was sent (p. 325):
"To a training ground in Fort Sumner. Didn't like it there--lot of bad history for my people. You know I grew up near here? On the res."
"Yeah, you said. So you're...Navajo, then?" I'd been learning a bit about the area.
"Prefer the name Dine, but yes."Debbie's thoughts: So here, finally, we learn his tribe and what their own name for themselves is (Dine). But what is that bad history? Will kids who read the book wonder enough to look it up? And, a note to writers: the spelling we use is rez (with a z) not res.
Unhappy being at Fort Sumner, "the chief" asked to be transferred, and that is how he ended up at Roswell. There, he learned the city wanted to build a water tower on a parcel of land, so he bought that land, which meant that the city would pay him rent for building the water tower on his land. The UFO crashed into that tower, but on its way down, it also crashed into a scientific balloon (p. 326):
The tower was totaled, and the city abandoned it--they never much liked our arrangement anyway. Somethin' about paying an Indian for land that rubs white folk the wrong way."Debbie's thoughts: This sounds about right. Far too many people think that the U.S. government "gives" Native people things, not knowing (or disregarding) that these things (education and health care, for example) were negotiated between Native heads of state and U.S. heads of state during treaty or contract negotiations. I'll also take a minute to note that a LOT of people think we don't pay taxes. We do! Thus, I can imagine people not liking their tax dollars going to pay rent to an Indian landowner.
"The chief" tells Tip that people knew about the balloon crash but the government was being hush-hush about it because it was top-secret. "The chief" tried to tell people he had a flying disk and an alien in his basement but people thought he was nuts. When they finally came to investigate, he was tired of them and played "the crazy Indian bit."
Tip learns that her mother is living near Tucson in a casino. Mitch passes on this info (p. 335):
"She's living in the Papago lands south of Tucson, in the Diamond Sun Casino."Debbie's thoughts: Oh-oh. Papago? Hmmm... The people who were known by that name have, for a long time now, been known as the Tohono O'Odham.
Tip learns that the description Mitch has been using in the search for her mom is wrong (p. 336):
"She's thirty," I offered. "Dark hair. Daughter named Gratuity."
"Black," said Mitch.
I coughed. "Black?"
"I'm sorry," said Mitch. Do you prefer African American?"
"Uh, no, I prefer you call her white, actually, because that's what she is."
"The file says she's black."
"Are you really arguing with me about this?"
Mitch looked tired. "I wrote down 'black,'" he said.
"I didn't tell you to write that," I answered, and then I could see the whole thing. "Have you been telling everyone to look for a black woman this whole time?"Debbie's thoughts: I like seeing that conversation. Biracial kids and their parents are familiar with assumptions like the one Mitch made. Mitch doesn't answer Tip's question. He moves on.
Mitch looks up the Diamond Sun Casino and finds it is in Daniel Landry's district (p. 337):
"Daniel Landry's district is far south of here," he said, "on some former Indian land."
"Indian land? Like a reservation?"
"Is this Dan guy an Indian?"
"I don't think so, no. I'm pretty sure he's white. He wasn't a governor or anything before, but he's really rich, so I imagine he's a good leader."
"Uh-huh. But he's white," I said "The Indians elected a white guy?"
"Well...I don't know. I imagine all the other people elected him. It's mostly white folks living on the reservation now."
I frowned. "And the Indians are okay with this?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well...it was a reservation," I said. "It was land we promised to the Native Americans. Forever."
Mitch looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. "But...we needed it," he said.Debbie's thoughts: Wow. Where to start?! Glad that the issue of land, and land being taken, is raised. But the way that conversation is laid out is a bit problematic. The way it is presented suggests that the reservation land was taken from an unnamed tribe. At one time in history, all of that land was Indian land. Today, a lot of reservations are what we call "checkerboard(s)" due to encroachment on reservation lands. See page 39 of Matthew L.M. Fletcher's article, Reviving Local Tribal Control in Indian Country for an in-depth look.
As they head south to Tucson, Tip thinks (p. 340):
We all gained Arizona by coming here, but for the people who already lived here, we could only take something away.Debbie's thoughts: I am glad Tip thinks this; I wonder how much readers of the book sit with that thought?
Once they get to the casino, Tip and J.Lo go inside a tent where Tip's mom is supposedly leading a meeting. Inside, they see a redheaded man on stage with the microphone (p. 344):
"I have the stage! All I'm saying is, now that we've all had to leave our real homes, we got a chance to get America right! There can be a place for the Saxon Americans, and a place for the coloreds, and a place for--shut up!" Debbie's thoughts: His 'shut up' is in response to the boos coming from the audience. His hate-filled words are ones we hear, today, spoken aloud. It is good that he is booed.
Then, Tip sees her mom take the stage. Her mom says (p. 345):
"I know, I know," she was saying. "You have every right. Just like he has the right, right? You don't have to like what he says, but letting him say it makes us Americans, and treating people the way we'd like to be treated makes us human, doesn't it? That's how I was raised, anyway."Debbie's thoughts: Tough to read what she says. Yes, of course, we defend freedom of speech, but "makes us Americans" sounds like American exceptionalism, and "makes us human" sounds kind of like the golden rule (turn the other cheek), when I think we have the responsibility to call out hate speech.
While inviting people in the crowd to speak, she spots Tip. Reunited, the three leave the tent and enter the casino where slot machines were pushed together to make walls for peoples homes. Tip learns that her mom was among political leaders who met with the Gorg to talk about the Gorg's demands. The Gorg plan to rid the planet of the Boov. They'll let humans have Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, but if the humans were found anywhere else, the Gorg would shoot them. Further restrictions include not using air vehicles and they can't have cats.Debbie's thoughts: Most people may be unfamiliar with the fact that, when reservations were created, many of them were heavily policed. To leave, you had to get permission from the reservation agent. If you left without permission, you were "off the reservation" and could be shot. I wonder if Rex knew that history when he wrote that part of the book?
Tip's mom introduces her to Daniel Landry. They'd just come from the airport where Landry needed her to translate for the new settlers who are Mexican families.Debbie's thoughts: I'm curious about the Mexican families. He didn't say Mexican American. Remember--Tip is now in Arizona, down near the border, so maybe they are Mexican families being relocated to Arizona, but I don't recall the relocation plan including people in Mexico.
Tip and J.Lo learn that the Gorg are taking over. J.Lo tells Tip that the Gorg "will take peoples for slaves and furniture and kill the rest." The Gorg had done this to the Voort.Debbie's thoughts: Slaves. Hmmm... I wonder if Rex knows that many Native peoples from the eastern tribes were enslaved? Is that information the source of his reference to slavery? Or, is it specific to African peoples and enslavement of them? Is he mixing behaviors of oppressors?
Tip goes to visit Landry in his office. He tells her the Gorg have a lot to offer to humans. Tip mutters "Nothing that wasn't ours already." But Landry tells her the Gorg are driving away the Boov and that the Gorg "are giving back the whole Southwest." He tells her that humans are fighting Boov and Gorg, but the best thing is for everyone to be good and obedient to the Gorg, and that they'll leave soon anyway. He says (p. 374):
"Their whole society is based on paying and feeding old Gorg by making new Gorg and conquering worlds. They have to keep making more and more, sending them out in every direction. They're stretched too thin. Sooner or later they'll have too many Gorg and not enough resources, and the whole operation will implode."
Tip doesn't buy it. Back home in the casino, J.Lo tells her that the Gorg aren't stretched thin, and that because they can do telecloning, they won't run out of resources. The two keep talking and figure out that the Gorg clones are less-stable than the ones from which they were made. When her mom gets home, Tip asks her about the clones sneezing, but her mom doesn't recall any of that. And, her mom tells her that the Gorg are going to give them a cure for cancer, to be presented as a surprise at a big gathering.
There's a knock at the door, and it is "the Chief." Tip introduces him to her mom, saying "His real name is Frank." They invite him to eat dinner with them. After dinner, Tip walks "the Chief" out to his truck, where he tells her that some of his friends and cousins are "comin' down from the res" (p. 380).Debbie's comments: I don't think 'from the res' is necessary. It is implied. And I'll note again, that it ought to be 'rez' (with a z) rather than res (with an s).
Chief Shouting Bear tells Tip that he is getting people together, people that they can trust. Tip asks (p. 380),
"Do you know some of the Papago Indians around here?"
"Tohono O'Odham," said the Chief. "The Tohono O'Odham Nation. Papago is derogatory. Means 'bean eaters.' And yeah, I know a few."Debbie's comments: Glad to see that response to Tip's use of Papago!
When the Gorg take Tip's mom, Tip and J.Lo note that they are sneezing and figure out that the Gorg hunt and kill cats because they are allergic to cats. They come up with a plan to fight the Gorg using that information.
They finally drive the Gorg away, and Tip, J.Lo and her mom head back to the casino. There, they (p. 419):
...find the Chief sitting atop his truck with Lincoln, looking out over the southern horizon at the big red ball that was slowly sailing away.
"Ha!" I heard him shout. "That's what you get, jerks."Debbie's thoughts: The big red ball is the Gorg. He's shouting at them now, too. Gorgs and White people.
In the closing pages, some time has passed. Tip reports about stories from around the world, about people that had fought against the Gorg. Among them are "the Israelis and Palestinians, who managed to work together, for a change," and, "a group of Lost Boys living under Happy Mouse Kingdom" (p. 421).Debbie's thoughts: Wondering how Israeli or Palestinian readers read that line, and, wondering how the Lost Boys are dressed...
Here's what Tip says about "the Chief":
Frank Jose, the Chief, died this past spring. He was ninety-four. He said it was his time and mine had overlapped more.Debbie's thoughts: Rex dropped Papago in the story early on and came back to it later, correcting its use. I wish he'd done that here. Nowhere do I see backstory or story itself that says Frank Jose was a leader of the Dine (Navajo) people. Rex seems to know so much! He critiques so much, and yet, leaves this intact. Why? His character knows better, doesn't she?
Some current thoughts. I may add more, later.
As I reflect on Adam Rex's book, I think of it in layers. At the top is the words on the page and the ways Rex succinctly addressed things like names of tribes. Beneath that top layer is one that constitutes what the characters know, or don't know, about Native peoples, nations, and history. There's so much misinformation out there. Rex bats down a lot but leaves other things as-is.
And beneath that layer is the premise for the story. Invaders come to the earth and start doing to humans the very things that European invaders did to Native peoples. A lot of what happened is not included in the story Rex tells. Warfare, bounties, disease, death... None of that is in Rex's story. All of that was devastating. Rex's story is not. The True Meaning of Smekday
is viewed by readers and critics as funny and entertaining. Should it be? Should the colonization of a people--any people--be used as humor? Personally, I can't see similarly horrific historical events being turned into a funny story. Would we do that to the Holocaust? To slavery? But---I wondered---are there such books?
I asked that question on several listservs. Thus far, people are unable to offer a title in which this occurs. On child_lit, Tad Andracki offered some words that I found helpful. There are books for young readers where an individual's suffering due to oppression has moments of humor, but there aren't any where a peoples suffering is treated with humor.
We are, of course, talking about what is/is not appropriate content for a children's book.
One last thought: I think the ethnic joke J.Lo tells has a far broader application than its role within the story. Who can, with humorous tones, tell a story about a peoples suffering? If a Native writer had done this book, might I feel different about the tone?
This is a very long post, and if you've made it all the way here, thank you. I'm walking away from the book for now but will, no doubt, be back with updates and corrections to typos, etc. There's so much more to address than the notes I've shared thus far.
Dear Writers and Editors,
I know that one strategy that you use to check the accuracy or authenticity of a manuscript with characters who are "other" to the writer is to have someone of that "other" group read the manuscript. In the language used in the industry, this means to get a "beta reader" for the manuscript.
I've read several author notes in the last couple of years wherein the author states that they had beta reader(s) from the Native communities featured in their books.
Writers: are you creating a Native character in your story? Editors: is your author including Native content? This blog post is for you. There are several things you should know about selecting beta readers.
Research universities across the United States have guidelines specific to populations that have experienced abuse by researchers. These include children and minorities. These guidelines are also published by government agencies. Do a search and you'll find them. There are many things to consider. A key thing to consider is how the research will impact that person. May they be inadvertently hurt by participating? Are there things you'll do, that you did not realize, that could cause harm? These guidelines aren't just about medicines. They apply to educational researchers, too, who--for example--want to interview youth about their experiences.
You may not work for a university and therefore think you're exempt from those guidelines. When you're doing research within a Native community, however, there are tribal protocols that you must follow.
Native Nations across the United States also have guidelines in place to protect their members/citizens and the tribe's intellectual and cultural property (and yes, that includes traditional stories). Before you are pack your bag and head to a reservation, Native center, or museum, find the website of the specific nation you're planning to include in your story. Many have guidelines posted on their websites, or phone numbers of people you can speak to in advance of your trip.
Some universities have the protocols for nations near them at their site. Northern Arizona University, for example, has the protocols for the Hopi Nation on the university website.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Montana State University's Center for Native Health Partnerships have a publication that is an excellent overview of working with Native Nations: Walk Softly and Listen Carefully. (Note: if the link doesn't work, write to me directly and I'll send you the pdf.)
Speaking to a tour guide at a museum is not enough. They are not the person with the authority to work with you. Obviously they're interested in education but there's an important distinction in what they do, and what a tribe's research board does.
Perhaps you are a current or former teacher of Native kids, teens, or adults. Your impulse may be to ask them to be a beta reader. In that relationship, there may be a huge power dynamic that you're unaware of. If they consent but then seem to be avoiding you or putting you off, I suggest you take that as a sign that they don't want to hurt your feelings or the relationship you have.
Most writers, editors, critics, and scholars (like me) have studied literary criticism, critical theory, social justice, racism, and the like. That may not be true for your beta readers. Be especially mindful of that difference. If, however, your teen/Native beta reader is involved in Native activism, the chances that you'll get good feedback are better.
In my second paragraph above, I noted authors that have used a Native person as a beta reader. Last year I did a very detailed analysis of an ARC of Sappenfield's The View From Who I Was. She thanked a beta reader in the ARC. My analysis circulated widely amongst Native networks, including amongst students and staff at the school Sappenfield visited for her research. In the published copy of Sappenfield's book, the name and identity of the beta reader are gone. I don't know why, but perhaps you (writers and editors) can find out from Sappenfield or her editor.
Years ago, I pointed to tribal protocols during a discussion on child_lit (a listserv). One response was a somewhat snarky "how are they going to enforce it"? It struck me, then, as dismissive of something vitally important to respectful ways of living. We can do better than that snarky response, right?
The point is--take care in selecting beta readers for your manuscript.
I launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006. This is the first time I'm doing a recap of any given year. I started it in 2014, thinking I could post it in time for the end of 2014/start of 2015 when everyone is doing year end reflections, but it took far longer than I anticipated. I hope you enjoy it. It isn't comprehensive. I did over 100 posts in 2014. Here are some high and low points that stood out to me.
I always welcome your comments and emails. I make typos--and am always grateful to those of you who write to tell me about them. I fix 'em, thanks to you!
Saving Mr. Banks
|Travers in the Indian jewelry she wore all the time|
came out in theaters. Reading a response to the movie prompted me to write Travers (author of Mary Poppins): "I lived with the Indians..."
Do read that post! From the background on Travers to the side-by-side comparisons I did of the first edition and the revised edition without the racist images and text... Well... lots of fascinating info!
Always looking for young adult books set in the present day, and when I find them, hoping they'll be good... Among its many problems, Liz Fichera has Native characters being saved by white ones. Not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely a story line that we see far too often. Hooked is on my not recommended list.
It got a thumbs down, too, from Naomi Bishop
, of the American Indian Library Association.
Brian Floca replied to my review of Locomotive.
That post was one of AICL's most-read pages for 2014.
Though Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series is much-loved, I found many problems with Thanksgiving on Thursday.
She found a new way to misrepresent Squanto in her book (it was published in 2002, but AICL looks at old and new books).
In other media, I learned about murals at post offices.
It was interesting to see the differences in murals of Native peoples done by Native artists versus the stereotypical ones done by white artists.
My post about John Green's use of sarcasm
regarding Native peoples generated a lot of discussion in the comments to it but also on Facebook. This sarcasm is in The Fault in Our Stars.
I read--and recommended--The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale.
It has a teacher's guide, too! Check it out.
I was thrilled to learn that Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here was chosen
as one of YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults for 2014.
And, the American Indian Library Association announced the winners of its Youth Literature awards
I was nervous about being interviewed for a CNN story about young adult literature. As I thought about that interview, I wrote about several books for young adults
, noting that librarians and teachers must not let Alexie's young adult novel be "the single story" they read/share about Native peoples.
Tim Tingle's How I Became a Ghost
and Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here
were selected for discussion at CCBC-Net
. The discussion was quite intense! The post includes a link to CCBC-Net. (By the way, CCBC won't be hosting their listserv anymore. I'll miss it.) If you're in a bookstore, these are the covers of their books:
I was pleased to see Laurie Halse Anderson's treatment of Native content
in her The Impossible Knife of Memory.
In my review of Tim Tingle's How I Became a Ghost,
I took special delight in his use of "Choctaw Nation" in the chapter heading for his opening chapter.
I had a rather long back-and-forth with Rosanne Parry
over problems I found in her Written In Stone.
I grew weary of that back-and-forth. It is unfinished. In the summary (above) for January, I noted how white characters save Native ones in Hooked.
Parry is a white writer with good intentions, but has blinders to issues in how she went about her story. She asked me for input but then rebutted that input. It is similar to what Lynn Reid Banks did, and what Ann Rinaldi did (invite but reject input from Native scholar).
I did an analysis of books by/about American Indians sent to the Cooperative Center for Children's Books at Wisconsin in 2013
. No surprise to see that most books by major publishers were by not-Native writers and that they had a lot of stereotyping and errors, while books by small publishers were by Native writers, and they were definitely far better in quality!
With so much interest in Rush Limbaugh's books for children, I decided I best take a look at the first one.
It was just like listening to his show. No surprise there, but important to list its problems, especially since he went on to be named author of the year by the Children's Book Council.
It was a year in which Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington pro football team, preyed on tribes as he looked for Native people to endorse his use of a racist name for his team. My post on March 25
was about the foundation he set up for that preying activity.April
For over a hundred years, Native people have spoken against misrepresentations of Native people. These things matter. Our youth struggle in school. They're inundated with misrepresentations in their books and other places, too, like with mascots. I looked at some of the data on graduation rates
and linked it to stereotyping.
In February, I wrote about being interviewed by CNN. The story was uploaded in April
(if the link to he CNN page doesn't work, send me an email and I'll send you a pdf).
I am thrilled to be part of an article that pointed to the work of excellent writers like Matt de la Pena, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Sherman Alexie, Eric Gansworth, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Debby Dahl Edwardson, and, a key person in the book publishing world, Cheryl Klein. Do read the article.
I read--and loved--Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache
by Greg Rodgers. He incorporated Choctaw words into the story. As you scroll down to December, you'll see the cover of Greg's book, and a photo of him, too. Sadly, he passed away in December.
April marks the month when the We Need Diverse Books campaign was taking form. It isn't the first time that a group of people took action to decenter the whiteness of literature. This time--with the demographic make-up of the US about to shift from white majority--could mean whiteness does, in fact, get decentered. My first post about the campaign was uploaded on April 28
In the middle of May I participated in a twitter chat about the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I advocated for books by Native writers and was (as usual) challenged for that advocacy. The outcome was a post about that advocacy that included a photo gallery of Native writers and illustrators who have done books for children or young adults. I later turned that post into a page
that is now in my menu bar above (beneath AICL's logo) that I am steadily adding to periodically.
I read a delightful picture book: Hungry Johnny
by Cheryl Minnema and Wesley Ballinger! Though it features Ojibwe people, it is a lot like Pueblo gatherings, where elders take center stage.
And, another delightful picture book I read in May is Sweetest Kulu
by Celina Kalluk and Alexandria Neonakis.
And yet another delight that month was Arigon Starr's Super Indian
One of the many dreadful books I read in 2014 is Julia Mary Gibson's Copper Magic.
The stereotypical mystical Indian theme is front and center in this young adult novel, and, well, it is yet another awful book from a major publisher! It was also disheartening to see stereotypes in the popular Where's Waldo
First week of June, I wrote about the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I support what they're doing. The WNDB group did a presentation at Book Expo on May 31. My post
was a compilation of tweets and photos coming from BEA.
I did an in-depth analysis of Katherine Kirkpatrick's Between Two Worlds.
Like too many books from major publishers, it is replete with errors and stereotypes about Native people. Rubbing noses?
Sheesh! It is a great example of the work ahead of the We Need Diverse Books campaign.
Stereotypes like those Kirkpatrick used are one problem. Another is ambiguity. Paul Goble's much-acclaimed The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses doesn't specify a tribe
. There is no one-size-fits-all for Native nations.
In the middle of the month I read two outstanding books. Both are tribally specific, both are the work of Native people. I highly recommend them: Donald F. Montileaux's Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend
and Arigon Starr's Annumpa Luma--Code Talker.
Also in the middle of the month, Beverly Slapin sent me her review of Joseph Bruchac's Killer of Enemies.
It won the Young Adult award from the American Indian Library Association
Towards the end of the month, I wrote up a review of a "Native American Zodiac"
that was circulating widely. One rule of thumb that'll help you know if something is worthwhile is to ask "is this tribally specific." With this zodiac, the easy answer is no. Yet, it is hugely popular, so I hope you'll read the critique and share it with others.July
The month kicked of with a wonderful look at Tim Tingle's remarks
at the American Library Association's conference. He won the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award for How I Became A Ghost
and was there to receive his award.
In the middle of the month, I wrote a bit about E. B. White. Did you notice the Native content in Stuart Little
? Take a look
A librarian wrote to ask me about Gary Paulsen's Mr. Tucket.
I hadn't read it before. Her request prompted me to read it. I did a chapter-by-chapter analysis
. Though Paulsen was tribally specific, he drew heavily on stereotypes.August
Earlier in the year, a person at the Library of Congress asked if I could recommend a Native mystery writer that they could have at the National Book Festival. I asked colleagues in my Native network of scholars and writers, and was pointed to the work of Cherokee writer, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe. At the end of the month, I wrote about her Sadie Walela series.
As I was recovering from a broken ankle, I didn't do much blogging at all, but I did read Hoklotubbe's books. I like them very much! I'm glad she was able to be at the National Book Festival. In the days following her reading, I thoroughly enjoyed the photos and stories she shared about the experience on her Facebook page.September
A very high point for the month was reading--and loving--Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices.
I was glad to see it getting lot of positive buzz from mainstream journals, too. School Library Journal
listed it as Best Book 2014 in the Nonfiction category
. It is a terrific example of what we need to see lots of so the publishing industry moves away from what we get from Goble, Paulsen, Kirkpatrick, Gibson, Parry, Limbaugh, Osborne...
Speaking of Goble, I wrote about him, asking Was Paul Goble adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes?
I put out a call for books for early readers. A learned that Jack Prelutsky's It's Thanksgiving
had been redone in 2007, but that the stereotypical problems in the earlier book (published in 1982) were unchanged.
I read The Education of Little Tree.
I knew it was deeply problematic, but didn't know just how bad it is. I was surprised at some of its content. Cherokee "mating dances"?! Reading that part, I shook my head. So much wrong with it, and yet, it circulates and sells, and sadly--informs readers and writers, too.
Maybe its power in misinforming people is evident in publication of books like Heather Sappenfield's The View From Who I Was.
The author meant well--they always do--but the Native community is quite irate over what she did in her book. I did a careful read of it and shared it with her and her editor. Some changes were made as a result... Instead of "costume" she used "regalia" but those are easy changes and don't get at the foundational problems with the book.
There are problems in Bouwman's The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap (Two Lions, 2012) and Bow's Sorrow's Knot (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013).
Lots of writers love the "mystical" Indian. There's a lot of that in Nordgren's Anung's Journey (Light Messages Publishing, 2014),
Looking back, it was a tough month. I also wrestled with Neal Shusterman over his Unwind series. He read my review
and responded with a comment. Later in the year I wrote more about his books.October
High points first!
Carol Lindstrom's Girls Dance Boys Fiddle
is terrific. Published in 2013, it is from a small press in Canada called Pemmican Publications.
From another small publisher, Native Northwest, we got the gorgeous and bilingual counting book, We All Count: A Book of Numbers
by Julie Flett.
At the other end of the publishing continuum is Sebastian Robertson's picture book biography
about his dad, Robbie Robertson. Way cool.
The low points are two picture books by big publishers that diss Native people. They are As An Oak Tree Grows
by Brian Karas
(Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) and Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything
by Maira Kalman (Penguin, 2014).
Over in the UK, The Guardian
worked with Seven Stories Press on a diversity initiative that includes Amazing Grace
and Apache: Girl Warrior. Both stereotype Native people
and ought not be on a list of diverse books.
In contrast to those low points is K. V. Flynn's On The Move.
Flynn isn't Native but it is obvious he did his homework to write On The Move.
His characters are from specific tribes and they're well developed, too.
I ended the month with a look at Virginia Stroud's Doesn't Fall Off His Horse.
Published in 1994 by Dial Books, it is excellent and now available in ebook.November
November is always a stressful month for two reasons. For several years now, the President of the US has designated it as a month dedicated to Native peoples. Because it is also the month that the US celebrates Thanksgiving, things get awfully skewed to a romantic narrative that misinforms and miseducates children about America and American Indians. It is also a month in which I'm asked to do guest posts and lectures.
In preparation for a television interview that would be televised later in the month on CUNY TV, I wrote up Some Thoughts about Native Americans and Thanksgiving
. I pointed to some of my favorite books.
Here's info about the Twitter chat I did for We Need Diverse Books
. It was storified
by the WNDB team. WNDB team member Miranda Paul interviewed me over at Rate Your Story
, which is a site designed to help writers and the WNDB team asked me to do a Tumblr post, which I titled Why I Support WNDB
Beverly Slapin contributed two items: a great review of Kim Shuck's Rabbit Stories
and with Kim, a satirical piece, How to Write a Dystopian Young Adult Novel (or short story) with Native Characters for Fun and Profit
A perfect reference book for the month is David Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask.
Packed with solid info you can use to enrich your own ability to discern the good from the not-so-good (or just plain awful).
Treuer's book is one that I wish writers who incorporate or feature Native content would read. During a WNDB twitter chat on diversity, Francesca Lia Block's name came up. I tweeted the links to my posts on the problems in her books. To my surprise, she was online, too, and apologized. I was thrilled but then someone else suggested I read her Teen Spirit.
I did, and its got problems, too. It seemed to me that her apology was kind of shallow, then. Maybe if she'd said, in her apology, that Teen Spirit
had the same kinds of problems, the apology would be more meaningful. Maybe writers just do not criticize their own books. Ever. I'm trying to think of an example. If you have one, let me know!
A high point of the month was taping a segment for CUNY's Independent Sources.
It aired around Thanksgiving. I love the images they prepared for it--using books I recommend--and the video itself is pretty good, too.
Two other high points: reading Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral Curse
and Roy Boney's We Speak In Secret.
I highly recommend both.
And--big sigh--there was a lot of activity related to Peter Pan
. It was on television as a life performance. I have two posts about it. "True Blood Brothers"
includes a link to the earlier one.December
Outside of trade books, there are those in basal series. I rarely see them, but should figure out how to do more about them. Starting in November, Native parents in Alaska started writing to me about four books in the McGraw Hill "Reading Wonders" series. Goodness! Some dreadful items there
. The outcome of meetings with parents was that the superintendent decided to withdraw the four books.
Back in trade books, I read and do not recommend Nick Lake's There Will Be Lies
or Neal Shusterman's Unwholly or Unsouled.
These are from major publishing houses with a lot of heft. A lot of problematic content, in other words, getting pushed out and added to the too-high-pile of misinformation about Native peoples.
On the plus side, I finished the month with reviews of Tim Tingle's House of Purple Cedar
and Erika Wurth's Crazy Horse's Girlfriend.
I highly recommend both of those books for young adults. And--a rare event on AICL--I recommended a nonfiction book for children. I need to do more on nonfiction! A Children's Guide to Arctic Birds
Just before Christmas, the Native community across the country was shocked and saddened to learn that Choctaw writer, Greg Rodgers, had passed away
. His first picture book came out in 2014. A delightful story, we were looking forward to his career as a writer.
I looked over everything I'd read over the year and put together AICL's Best Books of 2014 list
. It has 17 books on it. Most--but not all--are by Native writers.
As I post this recap of 2014, we're well into 2015. I'm grateful to those of you who read and share AICL's posts and glad for every comment I get. Keep sending me email! Your emails direct a lot of what I do here.
And remember! All the work I do is with young people in mind. I respect writers and the work they do, but the people closest to my heart are those who read your work. When it has problems, I'll note it because those finely crafted words writers give to children can inspire them, but they can also hurt them. And when those words are well done, I'll celebrate what you do. I'll share it with moms and their kids. Like my niece and her daughter. This is who we're all here for.
This is a how-Debbie-analyzes-a-book post.
Earlier today, a librarian wrote to ask me about Paul Goble's Crow Chief. It was published in 1992 by Orchard Books. Here's the synopsis, from Amazon:
Crow Chief always warns the buffalo that hunters are coming, until Falling Star, a savior, comes to camp, tricks Crow Chief, and teaches him that all must share and live like relatives together.
I don't have the book itself in front of me but am able to look at the first pages via Amazon's 'look inside' option. The full title of the book is Crow Chief: A Plains Indian story.
Goble opens the story by saying that a long time ago, all the crows were white. Then he says:
In those long-ago days, the Crow Nation once had a great leader. They called him Crow Chief.
With that sentence, Goble moves from the broad "Plains Indian" to the specific: "Crow Nation." When I turn back to his page of references, then, I expect to see a source specific to the Crow Nation, but there isn't one. Here's the list of books he references, and what I've been able to find in them.Maurice Boyd, Kiowa Voices
The full title of Maurice Boyd's Kiowa Voices
is Kiowa Voices: Ceremonial Dance, Ritual, and Song
. I can't read it online, but the descriptions of it say Kiowa. My guess is that it does not have a Crow Nation story in it. It might have a Kiowa story about a white crow.George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber's Traditions of the Arapaho
On page 276 of Traditions of the Arapaho
there is a story called The White Crow. This crow keeps all the buffalo for himself, hidden in a hollow mountain. The people plot to catch him. When they do, they tie him to their tent and he turns black. Later they let him go and follow him. They let the buffalo go. It is an Arapaho story, not a Crow one. Richard Erdoes, The Sound of Flutes
I am unable to see this book anywhere online. It exists, but Amazon, Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Internet Archive don't have any portions of it that are viewable online. I do have a copy of American Indian Myths and Legends
edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. In it is "How the Crow Came to be Black." It is on page 395 and is noted as a Brule Sioux story. In it the crow is thrown into a fire and his feathers are charred.
George Bird Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires
Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires
has a story in it called Falling Star about a white crow, but it is a Cheyenne story, not Crow. It starts on page 182. On page 187, an old woman tells Falling Star she has nothing to feed him because a white crow has been driving the buffalo away. Falling Star catches it, takes it to the chief, who decides to put it in the smoke hole of his lodge to smoke the crow to death. It gets away, is caught again, and killed.
James LaPointe, Legends of the Lakota
LaPoint's Legends of the Lakota
has a story about a white crow. I'm able to see snippets of the story that appear on page 74 and 75. There, I see that the crow used to be white, and that there were no buffalo. It is set in a Lakota encampment, so I suspect it is presented as a Lakota story rather than a Crow one. I ordered a copy of this book because it was published by the Indian Historian Press. That press is significant in Native studies.
John G. Neihardt, Eagle Voice
Neihardt's Eagle Voice
- I couldn't find that title, but did find When the Tree Flowered: The Fictional Biography of Eagle Voice
by Neidhardt. It was published in 1951. It has a story called The Labors of the Holy One. In it, Falling Star is a main character. There is a white crow that scares the buffalo when the hunters are coming. It is tricked by Falling Star and ends up being black. But, the story is a work of fiction by Neidhardt, who was not Native.
Vivian One Feather, Ehanni Okunkakan
I am unable to find Vivian One Feather's Ehanni Okunkakan
, but information about it indicates the items she wrote are Lakota, for use at Red Cloud Indian School.Ronald Theise, Buckskin Tokens
The full title of Theise's Buckskin Tokens
is Buckskin Tokens: Contemporary Oral Narratives of the Lakota.
I am unable to see it but given its title, my guess is that the stories in it are Lakota, not Crow.
Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians
Wissler and Duvall's Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians
has an introduction that says the stories in it are Blackfoot. On page 40 is a very long story called The Twin Brothers, or Stars. On page 50 is where I come to a part of the story about crows driving buffalo away. Crows used to be white. On page 51, Crow is tied in a smoke hole and becomes black.
So where does that leave me at this point?
Looking through the references Goble used for this book, I am not able to find one that is about the Crow Nation and their stories. Do you know Betsy Hearne's article, Cite the Source
? It is about traditional stories. In it, she talks about the importance of citing the source. Goble has cited a lot in Crow Chief
but I'm thinking that what he's shared isn't really helpful for anyone who is trying to determine the accuracy of the story he tells. Some might argue that it is not fair to judge Goble's book from this point in time (2015) because it came out in 1992. Hearne's article came out in 1993. He, therefore, didn't have her article for guidance.
It is possible that Goble meant nation of crows-the-birds rather than the Crow Nation of people. If he did, then the story might be ok but I think viewing it that way injects too much confusion, and we still have too much ambiguity.
The Crow Nation is amongst the many Plains Nations, but that doesn't mean they are the same from one to the other. It is interesting to find that the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Blackfoot have stories about a white crow, but they aren't the same. There are variations. Some elements are similar but others are not. I wonder if the Crow Nation has a white crow story? I'll keep looking...
Last week (Friday, January 30, 2015), I was at the Day of Diversity at the American Library Association's 2015 Midwinter Conference. This is my recap of the highlights (for me) of the day. I am glad I was invited. It provided me the opportunity to meet some terrific people I've known via social media for several years. A more personal reflection of the ALA's 2015 Midwinter Conference is forthcoming.
The keynote was delivered by former ALA President, Dr. Camila Alire.
She spoke about being in college (grad school, maybe), working on a project in which she did content analyses of depictions of Mexican Americans in children's books. She came across Bad Boy, Good Boy by Marie Hall Ets. It was published in 1967 by Cromwell. Here's the cover:
In her talk, Alire listed some of the problems she saw in it: the father/husband is the stereotypical depiction of violent Mexican American men with machismo, and the mother learned the right way to cook only after she went to work as a housekeeper for a white family. Roberto doesn't speak English and gets in trouble. The heroes of the story are a white policeman and a white teacher. Learning English is important in Roberto becoming the good boy of the book's title. Alire analyzed Bad Boy, Good Boy
using the Council on Interracial Books for Children's Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism and Bias.
It failed on many points.
Alire said that it is hard to find Bad Boy, Good Boy
today. She said that it is important that we look for good books that accurately reflect the people being depicted, but that it is also important to talk about problematic books, too. She didn't name any present-day examples, but my colleagues have done similar analyses of Skippyjon Jones
by Judy Schachner. It fails, too.
Alire shared data from 2002 and 2013 compiled by the Cooperative Center for Children's Books
at the University of Wisconsin that shows there has been a decrease in the number of books by/about African/African Americans, American Indians, Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, and Latinos:
See the drop from 2002 to 2013 in the American Indian column? In 2002 there were 64. In 2013, the number was 34. Last year I looked at the 34 on the 2013 list. Focusing on those published in the United States, there were 14 books. Five of them had stereotypes and/or bias such that I cannot recommend them. My point is this: we can't look only at numbers. We have to open the books and look at the content, too. At AICL, I talk about the bad in terms of that content. Far too many people do not recognize problematic content. We have to do what Alire asked us to do: talk about the bad, too.
Alire pointed to resources people can use in their efforts to improve their skills in collection development. Among them is The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children
, edited by Jamie Naidoo. Written for the Association for Library Service to Children, it includes a link to American Indians in Children's Literature. In the Background section, Naidoo points to librarian Charlemae Rollins. In 1941, she wrote about stereotyping of African Americans in children's books. Back in the 1927, Native parents in Chicago wrote letters, objecting to the ways Native peoples were portrayed in textbooks. And all the way back in 1829, William Apes, a Pequot man raised by whites, wrote about being afraid of his own people. In A Son of the Forest,
he wrote this:
[T]he great fear I entertained of my brethren was occasioned by the many stories I had heard of their cruelty toward the whites—how they were in the habit of killing and scalping men, women, and children. But the whites did not tell me that they were in a great majority of instances the aggressors—that they had imbrued their hands in the lifeblood of my brethren, driven them from their once peaceful and happy homes—that they introduced among them the fatal and exterminating diseases of civilized life. If the whites had told me how cruel they had been to the “poor Indian,” I should have apprehended as much harm from them.
In his 2014 article, Myers cited the CCBC statistics that Alire used in her chart above. In her remarks, Kathleen Horning of the Cooperative Center for Children's Books told us that their phone has been ringing non-stop. Journalists and researchers who read the Myers article want more information. The data from CCBC tells us that, contrary to what a lot of people think, we are not in a post-racial society. She quoted her US Madison colleague, Bernice Durand, Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Climate, who said you need at least three people of color in any group to affect change. When she was in a position to make appointments to award committees, she followed Durand's advice.*
Jason Low spoke about some of the work that Lee and Low has been doing, in particular, pointing to the lack of diversity in movies and children's books. Here's a much-shared graphic they put together using CCBC data:
The panel was followed by a breakout session that I found disappointing. Much later, I realized that the breakouts were geared more towards the people in the audience who are new to all of this--those who are just starting out and want to make change in what they do in their libraries.
Lunchtime was a powerful hour as Sara Farizan, Ellen Oh, and Cynthia Leitich Smith did a "Lightning Talk" about their work as writers, and Namrata Tripathi spoke about her work as an editor. What made the four talks so riveting was that the four women shared personal stories from their own lives that shape the work they do.
Books are not mere entertainment. They inspire us, but they can hurt us, too, and we must speak about up more about problematic books. Pointing to problems can lead to change.
I'm running out of steam right now, but don't want to close this off without saying a few things about Satia Orange's closing. A former director of ALA's Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, she moderated the last panel. I'm paraphrasing and wish I had a recording so that I don't misrepresent what she said.
This is a dangerous time for black and brown children, she said. More than anyone, she called out the power structure in publishing. That power structure isn't with us in this struggle. It is in it for its own bottom line. More of us have to step up. She challenged the gathering to do something dramatic next week, and next month, for children of color.
The Day of Diversity began with a request that we call people in rather than calling them out. I understand that it is important to assume the best of people, but being nice, in its way, lets the status quo continue unchallenged.
Challenging the status quo is uncomfortable for me, and it is uncomfortable to those who I challenge. Most recently, David Arnold (author of Mosquitoland) blocked me from being able to see what he tweets because I pointed to his use of "warpaint" for his "part Cherokee" character. That book is getting starred reviews. Obviously people love it and see nothing wrong with its use of "warpaint." That sort of thing affirms misinformation about Cherokee people, and it is an affront to Cherokee children and their families who are weary of being misrepresented again and again and again.
During the day, I spoke with Kathleen Horning about the work of the Council on Interracial Books for Children. She said she thinks they made a difference because they called people out. I think that is what Satia Orange is asking us to do, too. Speak up. Be dramatic. The lives of children of color matter.
For more, see:
*Edited to reflect clarification provided to me by KT Horning in comments (below).
In July of 2014, Holiday House released The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood. Illustrated by his wife, Frane Lessac, some people think it is a contender for the Caldecott. I sure hope not, but America loves its birth narratives and many segments of America refuse to see it in a balanced or accurate light.
Greenwood and Lessac provide that same romantic story, as shown on these pages (source: https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/caldecott-medal-contender-the-mayflower/). Here's Squanto:
And of course, that meal:
For further reading:
Booklist's February 2015 issue is titled "Spotlight on Multicultural Literature." The feature article is online. Written by Sarah Hunter, the article opens with:
It’s no secret that children’s publishing has a problem. Numerous venues, from the New York Times to Twitter, have rightfully brought to light the significant disparity in the representation of diversity in kids’ books. So what can librarians do, both immediately and in the long term, to make things better?
She closes with a quote from two librarians at Chicago Public Library:
McChesney and Medlar similarly note, “These conversations may ‘feel’ uncomfortable to a librarian, but they are important to our kids and [they] help them gain power as both consumers and critics.” If librarians allow themselves the room to make mistakes, and openly and humbly accept feedback, they should be able to help create change, even it if is incremental rather than overnight.
And, she links to American Indians in Children's Literature and the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award as resources:
Click on over and read Hunter's article
. If you can't get to it, let me know and I'll send you a pdf of the article.
Tim Tingle's exquisite House of Purple Cedar
is among the books the Children's Literature/Reading group of the International Reading Association selected for inclusion in its list of Notable Books for a Global Society. (Note: I did two screen captures from their pdf
to make the image above.)
Here's a bit of info about the Notable Books list, from their website
The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.
I'm thrilled to see House of Purple Cedar
receive this recognition. It is on American Indians in Children's Literature's list of Best Books of 2014, too, and I hope you'll add it to your shelves. Book talk it if you're a librarian. Assign it if you're a teacher. And if you're a bookseller, hand sell it to people who come in to your store.
Tingle was at the National Book Festival last year. Though the audio isn't great in this video, you won't regret taking time to listen to what Tingle has to say. He starts out with a great bit of humor. Do watch at least the first few minutes.
is the third book in Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral
series. She is Muscogee Creek. Books in the series consists of a series of chapters, each one told from the point of view of one of the characters.
Prior to this and her Tantalize
series, Leitich Smith wrote three books I highly recommend: her picture book Jingle Dancer
, the early reader chapter book Indian Shoes
, and her young adult novel Rain is Not My Indian Name
. Each one is a terrific story featuring Native kids and their families. All three are set in the present day.Feral Curse
, the second book in the Feral series, introduces a Native character. Her name is Jess. She is Osage. Kayla, one of the main characters in Feral Curse,
is a shapeshifter. Kayla and Jess grew up together and are good friends. In her early teens when Kayla realized she is a shapeshifter, she started to keep to herself, afraid of what people and friends will think about her, and afraid that she might inadvertently hurt or frighten them.
Some people in the world Leitich Smith creates are fine with shapeshifters; others aren't. It is that facet of the story that stands out to me as a Native women. The world Leitich Smith creates--and the attitudes of people in it--reflect the real world. Here on AICL, I've written about U.S. assimilation policies. Some of those laws and policies took land from Native peoples as a means to destroy our nationhood, and others sought to "kill the Indian and save the man." Those laws and policies were driven by attitudes held by people who did not want 'other' in the U.S.
That history is in my head as I read Feral Pride
, or any book. It doesn't matter what I read. I see gaps. And misrepresentations. But as I read Feral Pride
, I see Leitich Smith filling those gaps, meeting them head on.
Here's an example from early in Feral Pride.
It picks up where Feral Curse
left off. Feral Pride
opens with Clyde. Like Kayla, he is a shapeshifter. Clyde, Yoshi, and Kayla are on the run. Both Clyde and Yoshi have more experience with being hunted than Kayla does. Jess is driving them in her dad's squad car. He's a sheriff in the small town in Texas where Kayla and Jess are from. They're headed to the Osage reservation. Here's their conversation (p. 3):*
"None of this makes sense," Kayla says from the backseat of the squad car. "It's not illegal to be what we are. Why would federal agents be gunning for us?"
"Why wouldn't they?" answers Yoshi, who's beside her.
They're both right. It's not illegal to be what we are. But whenever anything goes wrong, anything bloody and brutal, shape-shifters are presumed guilty.
As I read "It's not illegal to be what we are" I thought about all the young people in the US today who some segments of society think of as "illegal." I thought about them being hunted, living in fear of being deported. I thought about how they are unfairly blamed for one social ill after another. Those who aren't branded "illegal" may not notice the work this particular part of Feral Pride
is doing, but you can be sure that those who are considered "illegal" will note that passage. It speaks to them, as does Jess, on page 9, when she says:
"Shifters are people. There are terrific people. There are terrible people. Most fall in between."
I keep reading Jess's words. The list of peoples in the world that have been dehumanized and demonized by terrible people is astounding. Feral Pride
pushes us--if we're willing--to think about that and why it happens.
Weighty topic, I know, but Leitich Smith lightens that weight with the banter the teens engage in as they drive. They're into superheroes and science fiction characters.
And! The parts of the story where characters shift or are talking about clothes? Well, I find those parts exquisite and they make me wish I could see all of this on a movie screen. And the parts where characters from the Tantalize series join the characters in the Pride series? Well done!
There are other tensions throughout the novel that provide opportunities to think about, for example, relationships across race. Characters who experience these tensions reflect on the ways that their own flaws and experiences shape what they say, do, and think. Their reflections and conversations give them space to revisit what they think, say, and do--and of course, provide those opportunities to us, too.
Elsewhere, reviewers note some of what I did above, and they call Feral Pride
compelling, action-packed, sexy, campy, and wickedly funny. I agree with all that, and am happy to recommend it.
is due out this year (2015) from Candlewick.*
I read an advanced reader copy of Feral Pride
. Page numbers I noted above may not correspond to the book when it is published.
Let's take a look at Time Magazine's list of 100 best young adult books of all time.
Ninety-one are by white authors. Nine are by authors of color. Two of the nine authors of color have two books on the list (Myers and Yang):
- Sherman Alexie
- Isabel Allende
- Walter Dean Myers
- Marilyn Nelson
- Pam Munoz Ryan
- Mildred D. Taylor
- Gene Luen Yang
With only seven authors of color on the list, I think it is fair to say that Time Magazine
has put together an Almost All White list. People who study children's books know that my "all white" refers to Nancy Larrick's article from the 1960s, in which she noted that the books in her library were almost all white. Over 50 years ago, she made that observation. We're still there, aren't we? Dismal. Depressing.
Focusing on Native depictions in the books, there's one book on it that doesn't reduce Native people to caricatures or stereotypes (Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
). It stands alone. Several books on Time
's list have problematic content regarding Native people:
- Alcott's Little Women (character doing "Indian war whoop" and passage about "Indian in full war costume)
- Anderson's Tiger Lily (see review)
- Block's Weetzie Bat (see review)
- Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (when Ole Golly blushes, the text reads that she looked "exactly like a hawk-nosed Indian)
- Green's The Fault in Our Stars (see review)
- Meyer's Twilight (see review)
- Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia (characters go to museum to see dinosaurs and Indians; diorama of Indians hunting buffalo is "three dimensional nightmare version of some of his own drawings)
- Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond (talk of fighting Indians and wolves)
- Twain's Huckleberry Finn (see review)
- Wilder's Little House on the Prairie (see reviews)
Next time you weed books in your library, consider replacing some of those books (above) with some excellent books by/about Native people. This page of Best Books
includes ones that I recommend, and ones that have won the American Indian Library Association's book awards.
For your convenience, here's Time
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Allende, Isabel. City of the Beasts
Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
Alexander, Lloyd. The Chronicles of Prydain
Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Tiger Lily
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Block, Francesca Lia. Dangerous Angels (the Weetzie Bat Books)
Blume, Judy. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Bosch, Pseudonymous. Secret
Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy
Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Castellucci, Cecil. Boy Proof
Cleary, Beverly. Beezus and Ramona
Clements, Andrew. Frindle
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games
Cooper, Susan. The Grey King
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War
Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Dahl, Roald. Danny the Champion of the World
Dahl, Roald. Matilda
DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Riding
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light
Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl
Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Green, John. Looking for Alaska
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows
Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hardinge, Frances. The Lost Conspiracy
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica
Jones, Diana Wynne. Dogsbody
Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth
Key, Watt. Alabama Moon
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
LeGuin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird
L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time
Leviathan, David. Every Day
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
London, Jack. The Call of the Wild
Lowry, Lois. The Giver
Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars
McKay, Hilary. Saffy's Angel
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight
Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till
Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls
Nix, Garth. Sabriel
O'Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Palacio, R. J. Wonder
Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet
Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Pullman, Phillip. The Golden Compass
Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials
Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Yearling
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter
Ryan, Pam Munoz. Esperanza Rising
Sachar, Louis. Holes
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye
Scott, Michael. The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pon
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Thompson, Craig. Blankets
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings
Travers, P. L. Mary Poppins
Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn
Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web
White, T. H. The Sword in the Stone
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers and Saints
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief
This morning, I posted a quick analysis of Time magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. This is my quick analysis of the children's books they chose. Here's what Time says about how they compiled the list:
To honor the best books for young adults and children, TIME compiled this survey in consultation with respected peers such as U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Ken Nesbitt, children’s-book historian Leonard Marcus, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, the Every Child a Reader literacy foundation and 10 independent booksellers.
There are no Native authors on the list. There are eight authors of color:
- Mitsumasa Anno
- Sharon Draper
- Taro Gomi
- Walter Dean Myers
- Kadir Nelson
- Allen Say
- Divya Srinivasan
- Ed Young
With only eight authors of color on the list, I'll echo what I said earlier today in my analysis of the young adult books. It is fair to say that Time Magazine has put together an Almost All White list. People who study children's books know that my "all white" refers to Nancy Larrick's article from the 1960s, in which she noted that the books in her library were almost all white. Over 50 years ago, she made that observation. We're still there, aren't we? Dismal. Depressing.
In only one of the books (to my knowledge), Allan Say's Grandfather's Journey
has an accurate depiction of a Native person.
Within the pages of the books on this list, you'll see problematic depictions of Native people in these books (and possibly others):
Next time you weed books in your library, consider replacing some of those books (above) with some excellent books by/about Native people. This page of Best Books includes ones that I recommend, and ones that have won the American Indian Library Association's book awards.For your convenience, here's Time's list:
- The Berenstain Bears series includes one where Brother Bear and Sister Bear go to a summer camp where Grizzly Bob tells stories dressed up in stereotypical Indian attire.
- Cooney's Miss Rumphius shows cigar store Indians
- Holling's Paddle to the Sea has a toy wooden Indian
Allard, Harry. Miss Nelson is Missing
Allsburg, Chris Van. The Garden of Abdul Gasazi
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Journey
Atwater, Richard and Florence. Mr. Popper's Penguins
Averill, Esther. Jenny and the Cat Club
Barnett, Mac. Extra Yarn
Base, Graeme. Animalia
Becker, Aaron. Journey
Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline
Berenstain, Stan and Jan. The Berenstain Bears
Bond, Michael. A Bear Called Paddington
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Color Kittens
Brown, Margaret Wise. Goodnight Moon
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Important Book
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Runaway Bunny
Bradfield, Roger. Hello, Rock
Brown, Marc. Arthur's Nose
Burton, Virginia Lee. Katy and the Big Snow
Burton, Virginia Lee. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Cannon, Janell. Stellaluna
Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius
Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo
Day, Alexandra. Good Dog, Carl
Daywalt, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit
Deacon, Alexis. Slow Loris
de Brunhoff, Jean. The Story of Babar
Donaldson, Julia. The Gruffalo
Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Mind
Eastman, P. D. Go Dog, Go
Falconer, Ian. Olivia
Freeman, Don. Corduroy
French, Jackie. Diary of a Wombat
Gag, Wanda. Millions of Cats
Gannett, Ruth Stiles. My Father's Dragon
Geisel, Theodore. The Cat in the Hat
Geisel, Theodore. Green Eggs and Ham
Geisel, Theodore. The Lorax
Geisel, Theodore. Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Geisel, Theodore. Yertle the Turtle
Gomi, Taro. Everyone Poops
Henkes, Kevin. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Hills, Tad. How Rocket Learned to Read
Hoban, Russell. Bread and Jam for Frances
Holling, Holling Clancy. Paddle-to-the-Sea
Hurd, Thacher. Mama Don't Allow
Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon
Joyce, William. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Kalman, Maira. Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman
Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day
Keats, Ezra Jack. Whistle for Willie
Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back
Knudsen, Michelle. Library Lion
Lamorisse, Albert. The Red Balloon
Lawson, Robert. The Story of Ferdinand
Lee, Dennis. Alligator Pie
Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking
Litwin, Eric. Pete the Cat
Lobel, Arnold. Frog and Toad
Lowrey, Janette Sebring. The Poky Little Puppy
Martin, Jr. Bill. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal
McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings
Milne, A. A. Winnie the Pooh
Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear
Mosel, Arlene. Tikki Tikki Tembo
Munsch, Robert. Love You Forever
Muth, Jon J. The Three Questions
Myers, Walter Dean. Jazz
Nelson, Kadir. We Are the Ship
Numeroff, Laura Joffe. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Oxenbury, Helen and Rosen, Michael. We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Parish, Peggy. Amelia Bedelia
Piper, Watty. The Little Engine That Could
Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Prelutsky, Jack. The New Kid on the Block
Say, Allen. Grandfather's Journey
Scarry, Richard. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Scheer, Julian. Rain Makes Applesauce
Scieszka, Jon. The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales
Scieszka, Jon. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs
Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen
Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree
Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends
Srinivasan, Divya. Little Owl's Night
Stead, Philip C. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Steig, William. Brave Irene
Steig, William. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Thompson, Kay. Eloise
Tullet, Herve. Press Here
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Stranger
Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Wiesner, David. Tuesday
Willems, Mo. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Willems, Mo. Elephant and Piggie
Wright, Blanche Fisher. The Real Mother Goose
Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon
Young, Ed. Lon Po Po
Zion, Gene. Harry the Dirty Dog
Due out this year (2015) is a new edition of Dorling Kindersley's Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary. I reviewed a copy, available via Edelweiss, focusing on its Native content. Here's some of my notes/thoughts.
It includes (if I counted right) 27 specific "group[s] of American Indian people" --- but nowhere did the editors use the word 'nation' or 'sovereign' or 'government' to describe these "group[s} of American Indian people."
Let's look at the entry for Apache:
1 a member of an American Indian people of the southwestern United States
2 any of the languages of the Apache people
The editors are focusing on individuals and languages, both of which are important, but, our status as self-governing sovereign nations is the single most important fact about who we are.
As some of you know, there are several Apache nations. If you go to the National Congress of American Indians directory
, you can enter Apache into the "Search by Keyword" box and you'll get nine different ones. If I was writing the entry for Apache, I'd do this:
1 a citizen or member of a sovereign Native nation currently located in the southwestern United States
2 any of the languages of the people of the Apache nations
See my use of 'sovereign' and 'nation'? Those words matter! For your reference, here are the entries:
- Mahigan or Mohican
- Nez Perce
- Ojibwa or Ojibway or Ojibwe
Like some of you, I'm wondering how, out of the hundreds of options, they chose those particular nations.
I wondered if the dictionary has an entry for Eskimo, so did a search and found the word in a photo inset for the word costume
, where a child is shown with this caption "Eskimo costume worn in Canada" (there are six children shown; more about that later). The "costume" includes a parka. A parka isn't a costume. It is an article of clothing. The definition of costume is (p. 201):
1 special or fancy dress (as for wear on the stage or at a masquerade) 2 a style of clothing, ornaments, and hair used during a certain period, in a certain region, or by a certain class or group <ancient Roman costume> <peasant costume>.
Information provided in that photo inset is this:
Many countries and regions have one or more traditional national costumes. These often reflect the lifestyles that people led in the past, both in terms of climate and in the type of work undertaken by many inhabitants of the country.
The six "costumes" shown are described as follows (bullets are mine):
- "the sari is worn in India" - lines point to "short top" and "sari"
- "a costume worn in Finland" - line point to "boots made from reindeer fur"
- "a costume worn in Vietnam" - lines point to "scarf" and "piece of cloth wound around the legs"
- "a costume worn in Korea" - lines point to "silk jacket" and "sports shoes are not traditional"
- "a costume worn in Tanzania" - lines point to "bead necklace" and "bead belt" and "colorful cloth tied around the body"
- "Eskimo costume worn in Canada" - lines point to "modern parka" and "insulated boots"
I don't think someone in India would call a sari a costume. Do you? Same with the boots worn in Finland, the items worn in Vietnam, etc. If, however, a kid who isn't of those places or people wears one of those items, then I think it would be accurate to say it is a costume.
The other place the dictionary has the word Eskimo is in its front matter, where you learn how to use the dictionary itself. Here's a screen capture (see update at the bottom of this page regarding Eskimo/Inuit):
Thinking about that usage label, I wondered if the word "squaw" is included. It isn't (it isn't in the 2000 version either; see update at end of review). I looked at other words commonly used for Native people. Of course, each nation has its own language and its own word for man, woman, child, baby, etc.
The third entry for brave
is "an American Indian warrior" (p. 121). Though I've seen "brave" used as a standard word for man (or braves for men), I think they're trying to say that it is a person who fights. Like a soldier. I wonder who first used brave
to describe Native fighters? Cooper?!
The entry for medicine man
is "a person especially among American Indian groups believed to have magic powers to cure illnesses and keep away evil spirits." Contrast that to the definition of priest
and you see some bias: "a person who has the authority to perform religious ceremonies."Sachem
is "a North American chief" (p. 700) but it is like the word papoose--it has become the default word for chief. In fact, the word is Narragansett and the Narragansett's use it today
. I don't know anyone from another tribe who calls their leader a sachem.
Interestingly, the entries for chief
don't include reference to Native leaders.
Entries for hogan, tepee (better spelling is tipi), powwow, and totem pole, are ok.
The entry for tom-tom
is "a drum (as a traditional Asian, African, or American Indian drum) that is beaten with the hands" (p. 834). It should not include American Indian because we use drumsticks, not hands, to beat our drums, and we do not call them tom-toms.
The entry for reservation
could be better. It is not wrong to say it is "land set aside for American Indians to live" but it raises questions like, who set it aside, why, and when.
The entry for wampum
as "beads made of shells and once used for money or ornament by North American Indians" (p. 891) is mostly incorrect and imprecise. Beside it is a photograph of a wampum belt. It is intended to be evidence of wampum as an ornament to be worn. Wampum is made of shell. That is the part of the definition that is correct, but wampum is far more than decoration, and it belongs to specific nations. Here's the first paragraph about wampum, from the Onondaga Nation's website:
Wampum is created from the shell of a clam. The bead is cut from the white and purple parts of the shell. The shell is thought of as a living record. The speaker puts the words of the agreement into the wampum. Each speaker thereafter uses the wampum to remember the initial agreement and the history that has happened to date.
Go read the rest of the page and you'll understand why the definition is wrong.
The definition for wigwam
suggests that they are no longer in use, which is inaccurate and it doesn't specify what nations use them.
In conclusion, this was an interesting exercise (and tiring), going through this dictionary. I hope the editors make changes next time around to make it more accurate and less biased.
Update: Thank you, Sarah, for noting that the definition for Eskimo in the screen capture is incorrect.
There is no entry for Eskimo in the dictionary.
(Note: there is an entry for Eskimo that I missed in my searching. If you use the search option in your e-copy, note that it is inconsistent. The entry for Eskimo does not show up when you search using the word itself. It will come up when you search using Inuit.)
Sarah also provided me with a useful page: Inuit or Eskimo: Which Name to Use?
The entry for Inuit is:1
a member of the Eskimo people of the arctic regions of North America2
any of the languages of the Inuit people.
Update (first update above was within minutes of the review being uploaded. Here's another update, within an hour of the review being uploaded): Thank you, Michelle, for looking at the 2000 edition of this dictionary. It does not have the word squaw in it. Does someone have an older version?
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait includes "The Summer of Our Discontent" in which he wrote about moderates who, opposed to segregation, were friends of the Civil Rights Movement. But, King wrote, these moderates were less enthused about the breadth of the movement's call for equality to jobs, housing, education, and social mobility, which he called a Revolution.
Rather than condemn them, he sought to understand their reluctance. He wrote:*
They [the moderates] are evidence that the Revolution is now ripping into roots. For too long the depth of racism in American life as been underestimated. The surgery to extract it is necessarily complex and detailed. As a beginning it is important to X-ray our history and reveal the full extent of the disease. The strands of prejudice towards Negroes are tightly wound around the American character. The prejudice has been nourished by the doctrine of race inferiority. Yet to focus upon the Negro alone as the "inferior race" of American myth is to miss the broader dimensions of the evil.
Here's the next paragraph. There is a lot to say about the ideas in this paragraph, but my point in sharing it is the last line, which I am emphasizing with bold italics:
Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.
I'm sharing King's words today--the day after the US celebrates Martin Luther King Day--because I would like people to think about what he said in those two paragraphs. I want you to think about it each day as you work with children or teens and the books you use with them.
How many of the books on your shelf exalt the experiences of Native peoples in ways that incorrectly cast us as inferior people? Is it hard for you to look critically at those books because they require you to examine a previously unexamined allegiance to a view of American character that has not looked critically at what King called its evil dimensions?
*I am reading Why We Can't Wait
as an ebook and cannot provide page numbers for the excerpts above. Why We Can't Wait
was first published by Beacon Press in 1963.
A lot of people use the reviews at Amazon to make decisions about books. I don't know how the specific content that is used at Amazon is selected, but it is worth noting that it is selectively used. No surprise there, really, because Amazon is a business, and so are the publishers.
Case in point: David Almond's Mosquitoland
includes this from School Library Journal
Three sentences. They say "Debut author Arnold's book is filled with some incredible moments of insight. The protagonist is a hard-edged narrator with a distinct voice. There is a lot for teens to admire and even savor."
In the full review, Angie Manfredi pointed out that the protagonist uses lipstick to paint her face and calls it "war paint" or that the protagonist is "part" Cherokee. She described these as "deeply problematic elements" of "cultural appropriation."
I haven't read the book yet but will as soon as I get a copy.
For now, though, I think it important to note the difference in what gets excerpted at Amazon versus what gets used at Barnes and Noble. If you are a person who is mindful of problems related to depictions of Native peoples, Amazon would lead you astray.
A few days ago, I wrote about
the ways that Amazon is using a snippet of School Library Journal
's review of David Arnold's Mosquitoland
, due out this year.
In contrast, Barnes and Noble uses the entire review. The reviewer, Angie Manfredi, pointed to Arnold's use of lipstick as "warpaint" and noted that the protagonist is "part Cherokee."
Today (January 26, 2015), David Arnold tweeted the photograph to the right as part of a hashtag started by Gayle Forman. I take it to be his way of showing us his protagonist in her "warpaint."
Mr. Arnold? Did you imagine a Native reader of your book? Did it occur to you that this "warpaint" would be problematic? I see that this is the person in the book trailer. In it, she is shown putting on this "warpaint." How did the particular "warpaint" design come about?!
The book trailer
ends with "Mim Malone is not ok." What you have her doing is not ok either.
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When American Sniper opened in theaters last week, I started to see reviews that pointed out Kyle's use of the word savage to describe Iraqis. That word has been used to describe American Indians. I wondered if Kyle made any connections between "savage" and American Indians in his book. The answer? Yes.
In his autobiography, Kyle uses "Injun" in two places. Here's what he said on page 267:
Or we would bump out 500 yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys.
And here's what he said on page 291:
Our missions would last for an overnight or two in Injun country.
See? He made connections between "savage" Iraqis and "savage" Indians. In his book, he used the word "savage" several times. Here's page 4 (the book uses caps as shown):
SAVAGE, DESPICABLE EVIL. THAT'S WHAT WE WERE FIGHTING in Iraq. That's why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy "savages."
Later on that same page, he says that when people asked him how many he's killed:
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.
On page 147:
THE BAD GUYS THE ENEMIES WE WERE FIGHTING WERE SAVAGE AND WELL-armed
On page 173:
It was near a hospital the insurgents had converted into a headquarters before our assault, and even now the area seemed to be a magnet for savages.
On page 219:
I hated the damn savages I'd been fighting.
On page 228:
They turned around and saw a savage with a rocket launcher lying dead on the ground.
On page 244:
They had heard we were out there slaying a huge number of savages.
On page 284:
There was a savage on the roof of the house next door, looking down at the window from the roof there.
On page 316:
"...after we killed enough of the savages out there," I told him.
On page 338:
I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it appeared on the street.
Of course, Kyle is not the first person to equate American Indians with Iraqis. In 2008, Professor Steven Silliman of the University of Massachusetts did a study of the use of "Indian Country." His article, The "Old West" in the Middle East: U.S. Military Metaphors in Real and Imagined Indian Country
includes a chart of how it was used in the Middle East, by media and soldiers.
And, anyone who has paid attention to the use of "savage" or "Injun" in children's literature will be able to list several books that use either word to dehumanize American Indians. Here's a few examples:
- Laura Ingalls Wilder used "savages" in her Little House on the Prairie.
- Carol Ryrie Brink used "savages" in Caddie Woodlawn.
- Lois Lenski used "savage" in Indian Captive.
- Elizabeth George Speare used "savages" in Calico Captive and "savage" in Sign of the Beaver.
- Eoin Colfer used "savage Injun" in The Reluctant Assassin.
When we share books with the dehumanization of American Indians, do we inadvertently put people on that road to being able to dehumanize "other" in conflicts, be the conflict that takes place in war or on the streets of any country?