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1. Dear Michael (a letter to Michael Grant about GONE)

November 17, 2016

Dear Michael Grant,

Our conversation yesterday at Jason Low's opinion piece for School Library Journal didn't go well, did it? I entered it, annoyed at what you said last year in your "On Diversity" post. There, you said:

Let me put this right up front: there is no YA or middle grade author of any gender, or of any race, who has put more diversity into more books than me. Period.
Then you had a list where you were more specific about that diversity. Of Native characters, you said:
Native American main character? No. Australian aboriginal main character, but not a Native American. Hmmm.
You do, in fact, have a Native character in Gone. I'd read it but didn't write about it. So when you commented to Jason in the way that you did, I responded as I did, saying you'd erased a Native character right away in one of your books. With that in mind, and your claim that you've done more than anyone regarding diversity, I said you're part of the problem. You wanted to know what book I was talking about. Indeed, you were quite irate in your demands that I name it. You offered to donate $1000 to a charity of my choice if I could name the book. You seemed to think I could not, and that I was slandering you. 

In that long thread, I eventually named the book but you said I was wrong in what I'd said. So, here's a review. I hope it helps you see what I meant, but based on all that I've seen thus far, I'm doubtful. 

Here's a description of the book:
In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young. There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: on your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else. . . .
Chapter one is set at a school in California. It opens with a character named Sam, who is listening to his teacher talk about the Civil War. Suddenly the teacher is gone. It seems funny at first but then they realize that other teachers are gone, and so is everyone who is 15 years old, or older. In chapter two, Sam, his friend Quinn, and Astrid (she's introduced in chapter one as a smart girl) head home, sure they'll find their parents. They don't. 

Partway through chapter two, you introduce us to Lana Arwen Lazar, who is riding in a truck that is being driven by her, grandfather, Grandpa Luke, who is described as follows (p. 19-20):
He was old, Grandpa Luke. Lots of kids had kind of young grandparents. In fact, Lana’s other grandparents, her Las Vegas grandparents, were much younger. But Grandpa Luke was old in that wrinkled-up-leather kind of way. His face and hands were dark brown, partly from the sun, partly because he was Chumash Indian.
At first, I thought, "cool." You were bringing a tribally specific character into the story! If he's Chumash, then, Lana is, too! There's whole chapters about her. She's a main character. But, you didn't remember her. Or maybe, in your responses at SLJ, you were too irate to remember her?

Anyway, I wasn't keen on the "wrinkled-up-leather" and "dark brown" skin because you're replicating stereotypical ideas about what Native people look like.

As I continued reading, however, it was clear to me that you were just using the Chumash as decoration. You clearly did some research, though. You've got Grandpa Luke, for example, pointing with his chin. Thing is: I've been seeing that a lot. It makes me wonder if white people have a checklist for a Native character that says "make sure the character points with the chin rather than fingers."

Back to chapter two... Grandpa Luke pointed (with his chin) to a hill. Lana tells him she saw a coyote there and he tells her not to worry (p. 20):
“Coyote’s harmless. Mostly. Old brother coyote’s too smart to go messing with humans.” He pronounced coyote “kie-oat.”
Hmmm... Grandpa Luke... teaching Lana about coyote? That sounds a bit... like the chin thing. I'm seeing lot of stories where writers drop in coyote. Is that on a check list, too?

Next, we learn that Lana is with her grandpa because her dad caught her sneaking vodka out of their house to give it to another kid named Tony. Lana defends what she did, saying that Tony would have used a fake ID and that he might have gotten into trouble. Her grandpa says (p. 21):
“No maybe about it. Fifteen-year-old boy drinking booze, he’s going to find trouble. I started drinking when I was your age, fourteen. Thirty years of my life I wasted on the bottle. Sober now for thirty-one years, six months, five days, thank God above and your grandmother, rest her soul.”
Oh-oh. Alcohol? That must be on the checklist, too. I've seen a lot of books wherein a Native character is alcoholic.

Lana teases her grandpa, he laughs, and then the truck veers off the road and crashes. Grandpa Luke is gone. Just like the other adults. Lana lies in the truck, injured. Her dog, Patrick, is with her. The chapter ends and you spend time with the other characters.

His being gone is what I was referring to when I said that you erased him. At SLJ, you strongly objected to me saying that. You interpreted that as me saying you're anti-Native. You said that "every adult is disappeared." That you did that to "African-Americans, Polish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans..." Yes. They all go away in your story, and because they do, you think it is wrong for me to object. That's when I said to you that you're clearly not reading any of the many writings about depictions of Native people. It just isn't ok to create Native characters and then get rid of them like that. Later in the SLJ thread, you said:
"I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It's a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series." 
Really, Michael? That's pretty awful. I hope someone amongst your writing friends can help you see why that doesn't work!

Lana is back in chapter seven. A mountain lion appears. Patrick fights it and it takes off, but Patrick has a bad wound. Lana drifts off to sleep again, holding Patrick's wound to stop the blood. She wakes, part way through chapter ten. Patrick isn't with her but comes bounding over, all healed! Lana wonders if she had healed him. She glances at her mangled arm, which is now getting infected. She touches it, drifts off, and when she wakes it, too is healed. Next she heals her broken leg. All better, she stands up.

So---Lana is a healer, Michael? That, too, is over in checklist land (Native characters who heal others).

In chapter fifteen, Lana and Patrick set out to find food and water and hopefully, her grandfather's ranch. After several hours of walking in the heat, they find the wall that is an important feature of the story, and then, a patch of green grass. There's a water hose and a small cabin. They drink, and she washes the dried blood off her face and hair.

In chapter eighteen, Lana wakes in the cabin, and remembers the last few weeks. She remembers putting the bottle of vodka in a bag with "the beadwork she liked" (p. 203). My guess, given that her grandfather is Chumash, is that the bag we're meant to imagine is one with Native beadwork designs on it.

Lana hears scratching at the door, like the way a dog scratches at a door, and she hears a whispered "Come out." Oh-oh (again), Michael! Native people who can communicate with animals! That on the checklist, too? Patrick's hackles are raised, his fur bristles. They finally open the door and go out out but don't see anyone. She uses the bathroom in an outhouse. When Lana and Patrick head back to the cabin, a coyote is standing there, between the outhouse and the cabin. This coyote, however, is the size of a wolf. She thinks back on what she learned about coyotes, from Grandpa Luke (p. 207):
“Shoo,” Lana yelled, and waved her hands as her grandfather had taught her to do if she ever came too close to a coyote.
It didn't move, though. Behind it were a few more. Patrick wouldn't attack them, so, Lana yelled and charged right at them. The coyote recoiled in surprise. Lana was a flash of something dark, and the coyote yelped in pain. She made it to the cabin. She heard the coyotes crying in pain and rage. The next day, she found the one who she'd charged at (p. 207):
Still attached to its muzzle was half a snake with a broad, diamond-shaped head. Its body had been chewed in half but not before the venom had flowed into the coyote’s bloodstream.
What does that mean? Does Lana's healing power mean snakes will defend her? Or, that she can summon them to help her? Or is the appearance of these snakes just coincidental and has nothing to do, really, with Lana?

In chapter twenty-five, two days have passed since Lana's encounter with the coyotes. Lana and Patrick eat the food they find in the cabin, and learn that it belonged to a guy named Jim Brown. He has 38 books in the cabin. Lana passes time reading them. At one point, she realizes there's a space underneath the cabin. In it, she finds gold bricks. She remembers the picks and shovels she saw outside, and the tire tracks leading to a ridge and thinks that, perhaps, Jim and his truck are there. She fills a water jug, and the two set off, following the tire tracks.

In chapter twenty-seven, Lana and Patrick reach an abandoned mining town. She look for keys to the truck they find, and, they peek into the mine shaft. Suddenly they hear coyotes. It seems Lana can hear them saying "food." Lana and Patrick enter the mine, but the coyotes don't follow them. Then, one of them talks to her, telling her to leave the mine. They rush in and attack her but then stop, clearly afraid themselves. She's now their prisoner. They nudge her down, deeper into the mine. She senses something there, hears a loud voice, passes out, and wakes, outside.

In chapter twenty nine, the coyotes push her on through the desert. She thinks of the lead coyote as "Pack Leader." He's the one who speaks to her. She asks him why they don't kill her. He says (p. 326):
“The Darkness says no kill,” Pack Leader said in his tortured, high-pitched, inhuman voice.
That "Darkness" is the voice she heard in the mine. It wants her to teach Pack Leader...  She asks Pack Leader to take her back to the cabin so she can get human food there. Later on, Darkness speaks through Lara.

Ok--Michael--I've spelled out how your depictions of Lana fail. There's so much stereotyping in there. I gotta take off on a road trip now. I may be back, later, to clarify this letter. I think it is clear but may be missing something in my re-read of it. If you care to respond, please do!

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


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2. Debbie--have you seen Nathan Hale's ALAMO ALL-STARS?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Nathan Hale's Alamo All-Stars. New in 2016 from Amulet, it is book six in Hale's "Hazardous Tales" series of graphic novels. Here's the synopsis:

In the early 1800s, Texas was a wild and dangerous land fought over by the Mexican government, Native Americans, and settlers from the United States. Beginning with the expeditions of the so-called “Land Pirates,” through the doomed stand at the Alamo, and ending with the victory over Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, the entire Texas saga is on display. Leading the charge to settle this new frontier is Stephen F. Austin, with a cast of dangerous and colorful characters, including Jim Bowie, William Travis, David Crockett, and others.

I didn't know about this series, but it is quite popular. I'll see if I can get a copy at the library.

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3. Library Displays for Native American Heritage Month

I received a question yesterday from a librarian who wants to create a display of books for Native American Heritage Month. This post is my thoughts on one option for doing that kind of display.

Create one of a student or patron asking a question. Create one of those speech bubbles that has the question in it: "Native American?" Or "American Indian? Which one should I use?" You could replace the figure below with a photo of yourself to show that it is a question you, yourself, had, too.





Put Mission In Space by John Herrington in the display. If you have two copies (and you should!), use both. Show the cover, and, have the second copy open to this page (below). Beside it, on a poster board, call attention to the text in the book about his identity. Here's how that could look:



And here's how that same idea could look, using Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer:



Then you could have another poster that says something like:

"I think these writers are telling us to use the names of specific tribal nations!" 


I'd like to hear from librarians, and others, about this idea. Your thoughts?

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4. Debbie--have you seen CONTINENT by Kiera Drake?

I received a question about The Continent by Kiera Drake. Due out in January from Harlequin Teen, here's the synopsis from Amazon:

"Have we really come so far, when a tour of the Continent is so desirable a thing? We've traded our swords for treaties, our daggers for promises—but our thirst for violence has never been quelled. And that's the crux of it: it can't be quelled. It's human nature." 
For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two "uncivilized" nations remain perpetually locked in combat. Most citizens lucky enough to tour the Continent do so to observe the spectacle and violence of war, a thing long banished in the Spire. For Vaela—a talented apprentice cartographer—the journey is a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she's drawn of this vast, frozen land. 
But Vaela's dream all too quickly turns to a nightmare as the journey brings her face-to-face with the brutal reality of a war she's only read about. Observing from the safety of a heli-plane, Vaela is forever changed by the bloody battle waging far beneath her. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, Vaela finds herself much closer to danger than she'd ever imagined. Starving, alone and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? People who live in "the Spire" covet the opportunity to watch people on "the Continent" engage in bloody violence. Those two "uncivilized nations" on "the Continent" can't help it. It is their nature.

There's a lot of people tweeting about it. From what I glean, one of the "uncivilized nations" is described in ways that suggest it is Asian and that the other one is Native. If I get the book, I'll be back.

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5. RUNS WITH HORSES by Brian Burks

Last night, I received an email about Runs With Horses, by Brian Burks. It was published in 1995 by Harcourt Brace. My quick look into the book indicates that Scholastic published it in 1996.

Based on a review of it in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, I'm tagging Runs With Horses as "not recommended."

Here's the description, from Amazon:

Sixteen years old in 1886, Runs With Horses is a member of the last small band of Apaches continuing to resist the U.S. Army. His training for manhood as a Chiricahua Apache has been difficult but thrilling, and he is eager to accomplish the final two of the four raids required to become a warrior. Sadly, this is not possible when they at last surrender to the U.S. Army.

The review is by Beverly Slapin. She made several points in her review that I believe I'd make, too, if I read Runs With Horses. Here's one:

About the line, "My son, you are not yet a Chiricahua Apache warrior.", Slapin writes that a person of that time period, speaking to another person of their nation, would use their own name for their nation. They wouldn't use an outsider name. Realistically, that line ought to read "My son, you are not yet an Ndee warrior."

"Chiricahua Apache" versus "Ndee" might seem a small point to most readers, but if it was a story about someone of my tribal nation and the people in it were speaking about us in ways that outsiders do, I'd object.

Get a copy of A Broken Flute. Use it when you are selecting books to use in your classroom and to make decisions about what to remove from your classroom or library. You can get a new copy from Birchbark Books.

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6. John Herrington's MISSION TO SPACE is exceptional!

Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I emphasize several points when reviewing children's or young adult books, especially:

  1. Is the book by a Native author or illustrator?
  2. Does the book, in some way, include something to tell readers that we are sovereign nations?
  3. Is the book tribally specific, and is the tribally specific information accurate?
  4. Is it set in the present day? If it is historical in structure, does it use present tense verbs that tell readers the Native peoples being depicted are part of today's society?

John Herrington's Mission to Space has all of that... and more! Herrington is an astronaut. He was on space shuttle Endeavor, in 2002. Mission to Space begins with his childhood, playing with rockets, and ends with Endeavor's safe return to Earth.

Here's the cover:




That is Herrington on the cover. Here's a page from inside that tells readers he is Chickasaw.



While he and the crew were waiting for Endeavor to blast off, the governor and lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation presented a blanket to NASA.



Those are two of the pages specific to Herrington being Chickasaw, but there's photos of him, training to be an astronaut, too. There's one of him, for example in a swimming pool, clad in his gear. And there's one that is way cool, of his eagle feather and flute, floating inside the International Space Station:



I absolutely love this book. There is nothing... NOTHING like it.

Native writer? Yes.
Sovereignty? Yes.
Tribally specific? Yes.
Present day? Yes.

The final two pages are about the Chickasaw language. In four columns that span two pages, there are over 20 words in English, followed by the word in Chickasaw, its pronunciation, and its literal description. And, of course, there's a countdown... in English and in Chickasaw.

Published in 2016 by the Chickasaw Nation's White Dog Press, they created a terrific video about the book. You can order it at their website. It is $14 for paperback; $16 for hardcover.

I highly recommend it! Hands down, it is the best book I've seen all year long.

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7. What is wrong with the phrase "First Americans"?

Characterizing Native peoples as "First Americans" is not accurate. You've probably seen that phrase used to describe Native peoples, right?

The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose, with illustrations by Bryna Waldman, is one example. Here's the cover. As you see, I've put a large red x over the cover to let you know, visually, that I do not recommend the book:



So: what is wrong with the phrase "First Americans"?

The Native peoples of this continent were not "Americans". They were--and are--organized societies who chose/choose their leaders and who engaged in trade with other Native Nations.

See? We were nations before the United States of America was a nation. Our nations decided who its citizens were, and, we still do that.

The other problem with this book? The use of past tense verbs, as shown in these two sentences from the book:
Tribes like the Chinook, the Makah, and the Salish made their homes near the water along the northwest coast of America.
and
The Makah were very good whale hunters. 
Aimed at pre-school and elementary aged children, The Very First Americans was published in 1993 by Grosset & Dunlap. You can still get a new copy which probably means, unfortunately, that it is still in print.

Divided into several geographic locations, the book provides an overview of several nations, but the language is all past tense.

And then, on the final page, the author opens with present tense, saying that
Today, almost two million American Indians make their homes in this country. More than a third live on reservations. The rest live in cities and towns. Many Indians say they "walk in two worlds." 
But her final sentence goes back to that error, calling Native peoples "first Americans":
They are part of today's America, but at the same time, they keep the ways of their people--the very first Americans.
I wish that I had a nonfiction book, in-hand, to recommend for young children... A book that would give them accurate information. The only one that comes to mind is Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue, but it is out of print. You can get a used copy online. Find one, get it, and use it instead of ones that use "First Americans" in them. You can also choose picture books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, that provide children information that is accurate. In it, a young girl is learning to do a dance. Through the author's note, Smith tells us that the girl is a member (citizen) of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

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8. Resources for #NoDAPL

It is October 26, 2016. There is so much going on. 

#NoDAPL

Very few news outlets are covering Native people who are taking action to protect water from Big Oil. #NoDAPL is a hashtag people are using to write and share news and support of the Standing Rock Nation in its resistance to a pipeline. Early in that pipeline's development, it was supposed to go into the ground near Bismark, but the people of Bismark said no. They didn't want the risks it posed to their water. It was subsequently moved to a location where it is near Native people. Their objections were dismissed. The outcome is a gathering of thousands of Native people from hundreds of different tribal nations, and non-Native allies who are moving there, setting up camp, and using their bodies and presence to say no to that pipeline.

Did you know people who have been arrested are being strip searched

Did you know journalists are being arrested

Did you know that, early on, a security team hired by the pipeline unleashed attack dogs on people there? Amy Goodman of Democracy Now was there when that happened. Have you seen her news casts? There's a segment in one about a dog whose mouth is dripping with blood of someone it bit. 

Did you know that people gathered there were using drones with cameras to document what is happening there, but that the Federal Aviation Administration has now determined that area is a No Fly Zone

You must inform yourself! 

In addition to the Standing Rock website and their page on Facebook, I use two sites that are putting forth information that provides Native points of views, and historical context:


You can also get information by using the #NoDAPL hashtag on Twitter. Follow @DemocracyNow and @UnicornRiot

Be wary! Don't get duped! There are a lot of pages online where you are invited to purchase items related to #NoDAPL. Those sites say that proceeds will go to #NoDAPL but there's no evidence of that happening. I'm sending my donations directly Standing Rock. They set up a PayPal page. I'm also sending donations to the site raising funds for the Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa school. On their Facebook page, they tell you how to donate. I know it is tempting to send items but I believe the teachers know best what they need. Sending them funds lets them get what they need.  

Mascots

Across the country, baseball fans are watching and following news about the World Series. One of the teams uses a racist mascot. That mascot is everywhere, doing damage to those who view it. Research studies on the harm of such imagery actually used the one from Cleveland as part of the study. The outcome? Images like that have negative consequences on the self esteem, self efficacy, and "possible self" (what someone imagines they can be as an adult) of Native youth who see them. The study, Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses, is available for download on line. It was published in a psychological research journal, Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Get it. Read it. Study it. Share it. And, act on what you read! Native people have been objecting to mascots for decades. And yet, many remain. Clearly, there isn't enough of a critical mass to effect change in those mascots. 

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9. A page from HORRIBLE HARRY AND THE CHRISTMAS SURPRISE, by Suzy Kline

Today (October 23, 2016), via Twitter, I received a photo of a page from Horrible Harry and the Christmas Surprise by Suzy Kline, published in 1991 by Viking.

Here's the photo:


Mr. Cardini (the principal) asks Doug (one of the main characters) if he's finished with a get well card he's making for his teacher, Miss Mackle, who is in the hospital. Doug replies:
"I just need to color in my Indian's headband. I gave him 15 feathers."
"You're putting an Indian on Miss Mackle's get well card?"
"Well, sometimes the Indians didn't have a very good Christmas. It was cold and there wasn't always enough food. I just thought it would make Miss Mackle feel better if she knew the Indians had hard times, too."
"Good thinking, Doug. There's a saying for that--misery likes company."
I gather that Viking is part of Penguin Puffin. Horrible Harry and the Christmas Surprise was apparently part of Scholastic's offerings, too. There's a lesson plan for using it at the Scholastic website. Not a word there, of course, about the problems in that passage. Horrible Harry is a series... I wonder what I'd find in the other 24?!

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10. Debbie--have you seen BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD by Monika Schroder?

A reader writes, today, to ask if I've seen Monika Schroder's Be Light Like A Bird. Published in September of 2016 by Capstone, it is pitched at grades 3-7. Here's the description, from the author's website:

After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she's ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don't seem to deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

I understand that there is a character who is half Cherokee... and an Indian burial ground... When I get a copy, I'll be back.

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11. News: We Need Diverse Books will launch an app called "OurStory"

Yesterday, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about the OurStory app, due out in January of 2017 from We Need Diverse Books.

As readers of AICL know, I am a strong advocate for WNDB. But, readers also (likely) know that, at my core, I'm an advocate for education and what children learn in the books they read.

My first response to the news about the OurStory app was "Cool!" I looked at the graphic at the top of the article and was thrilled to see Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost there. But I also saw Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever. So, I felt a bit less enthused...

Federle's book is praised because of Federle's treatment of Nate's sexuality. I welcome that, too, because Native boys need books that normalize homosexuality, but how, I wonder, do those Native boys feel when they read that part where Nate sits "Indian style"? And, how do they feel when they get to the part where Nate's aunt sees cowboys (in costume at Halloween) approaching and says "look out for Indians." She's corrected right away, but the correction doesn't work. She's told to say "Native Americans" instead of "Indians." So, a Native kid is supposed to be ok with her saying "Look out for Native Americans"? (See my review of Federle's book.)

I completely understand that we need books for middle grade kids with characters like Nate--but not ones that fail with respect to the Native content.

Seeing Better Nate Than Ever, then, makes me wonder about the books in the app. Did the people who selected the books decide that the needs of LGBTQ kids is so important that they can look the other way regarding the Native content?

That happens a lot. People who care about misrepresentation of groups that have a history of being omitted or stereotyped come across a book that gets things right about one group, but, that has same-old problems with Native content. They choose to look away from the Native content. I hear that all the time about Touching Spirit Bear. And I heard it when I raised concerns about The True Meaning of Smekday. I heard it last year, too, in my critique of Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger. People say that this or that author tried and deserve credit for trying. I understand that thought, but again, my commitment is to the children and teens who will read and learn from their books. I will not throw children under the "they tried" bus.

Last year when WNDB worked with Scholastic on diversity fliers that included books with problematic Native content, I was disappointed. I'm disappointed again. I want to wholeheartedly say "Get the app!" but I can't. When it is available, I'll be back with a review.


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12. Debbie--have you seen Kenneth Oppel's EVERY HIDDEN THING

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Kenneth Oppel's Every Hidden Thing. Due out on October 11, 2016 from Simon & Schuster (one of the "Big Five" publishers), it has Native content.

When I do these "Debbie--have you seen" posts, I usually copy the description of the book, but this time, it doesn't help! The Native content is not included in the description, which I find a bit ironic, given that the word "hidden" is in the book's title:

The hunt for a dinosaur skeleton buried in the Badlands, bitter rivalries, and a forbidden romance come together in this beautifully written new novel that’s Romeo and Juliet meets Indiana Jones.
Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt it’s the “rex”, the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.

But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. Because if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.

As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. And with both eyeing the same prize, their budding romance seems destined to fail. But as danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light, Samuel and Rachel are forced to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry—and with it a new life together—or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?



See? Nothing there that references Native content. Reviews, however, provide more information. These are excerpts from the Barnes and Noble page for Every Hidden Thing.

Publishers Weekly's review says (in part):
As their friendship develops into romance, their camps are endangered by the local Sioux tribe after Rachel and her father remove relics from a burial site.

School Library Journal's review says (in part)
... the rival camps must also deal with realities of life in the historical American Wild West: lack of supplies, possibility of wildfires, and potential violence at the hands of the "badlands" inhabitants (often referred to as natives, Indians, or Sioux). 

And, the Kirkus review says
Rachel’s narrative reveals that she’s one of the few white characters with enough conscience to reflect on the savagery of the explorers’ treatment of the local Pawnee and Lakota Sioux.

I reviewed Oppel's The Boundless last year and found serious problems with it. If I get a copy of Every Hidden Thing, I'll be back.

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13. Recommended: WE SANG YOU HOME by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett

In the last month or so I've been using the phrase "being loved by words" or "being loved by a book." I don't know if that works or not. Some might think it sounds goofy. It does, however, capture how I felt, reading the stories in Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two Spirit Science Fiction Anthology. It is definitely a book I recommend to young adults.

The emotions it brought forth in me are spilling over again and again, of late. I don't know what to make of that tenderness that I feel, but it is real.

Around the same time that I read the anthology, I got an electronic copy of We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett. I had that same response to it. Indeed, there were moments when I was blinking back tears! Now, I've got a copy:


I've thought about it a lot since first reading it, trying to put words to emotions. Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett are Native. I've read many of their books and recommend them over and over. Working together on this one (their first one is Little You), or apart, the books they give us are the mirrors that Native children need.

Just look at the joy and the smile of the child on the cover! That kid is loved, and that's what I want for Native kids! To feel loved by words, by story, by books.

We Sang You Home is a board book that, with very few words on each page, tells a child about how they were wanted, and how they came to be, and how they were, as the title says, sang home where they'd be kissed, and loved, and... where they, too, would sing.

Here's me, holding We Sang You Home. See the joy on my face? Corny, maybe, but I wanna sing. About being loved, by this dear board book.


I highly recommend We Sang You Home. Published by Orca in 2016, it is going to be gifted to a lot of people in the coming years.

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14. "Totem pole" will not appear in future printings of Robin Talley's AS I DESCENDED

On Friday, I read On Making Mistakes on Robin Talley's Tumblr page. There, she wrote:

Two weeks ago, my latest book, As I Descended, was released. One week later, I received an anonymous message from a thoughtful reader who’d just started the book. This reader, who’s Indigenous, noticed that I’d used the term totem pole in chapter 1 to describe where a character stood in her school’s social hierarchy ― in the sense of the phrase “low man on the totem pole.”
Talley's response to that reader was similar to the one I got from Sarah McCarry when I wrote to her about that phrase in her book (see her post), and the response I got from Ashley Hope Perez when I wrote to her about the phrase in her book (see my post).

In short: they listened.

Talley wrote that she'd shared that reader's message with her editor, Kristen Pettit at Harper Teen, and that the term will be taken out of future printings of the book. Here's the photo of the page that Talley posted:


The line is "Maria was almost as high up the totem pole as Delilah." I'm guessing that the book's title "As I Descended" is a reference to that totem pole. My guess is that Delilah is going to descend from a high point on the social status hierarchy.

The book itself has nothing to do with Native peoples. I haven't read it, so do not want anyone to think that this post is an endorsement of the book.

In her post, Talley apologized:
I profoundly regret that I used the term this way, and I apologize to any readers who have been hurt by it.
I shared Talley's Tumblr post, adding this:

Really glad to see another person speak up about this, and another writer and editor acknowledge its use as being wrong! Very glad it’ll come out of the next printings, too, and that it is all being made public for us to know! Thank you, Robin! 
A thought, though, about apologies. 
I get why people offer them. They’re a social grace. But sometimes, they carry some things that don’t work. They suggest that __ is hurt by the word that misrepresents their particular demographic, when maybe __ isn’t actually hurt. Maybe __ is just pissed off. Yeah, I know, being angry can be characterized as hurt. Still, though, saying someone of that demographic is the one who should be apologized to suggests they’re the only one who is hurt by the word, when I think everyone who doesn’t know it is a problem is impacted by it. 
Instead of “I profoundly regret that I used the term this way, and I apologize to any readers who have been hurt by it,” maybe something like (and yeah, I know, this is pretty audacious of me to tell someone how to apologize, but I think we’re talking about larger issues) “I messed up. I didn’t know I was messing up. Lot of us don’t know. Let’s not do that, ok, ourselves, anymore, ok? And let’s tell others about it, too.” 
On Twitter, I retweeted her "On Making Mistakes" tweet, and that I had a response to her post (crossing lot of social media platforms with this post!). Talley replied that she agrees with my points.



In brief:

1) A Native reader wrote to Talley.
2) Talley listened.
3) Talley wrote to her editor.
4) Talley and her editor are revising that line.
5) Talley wrote about this error, publicly.

Change happens, when we speak up, and when we listen. With more of this speaking up, and listening, I feel optimistic that change can happen.

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15. WHEN WE WERE ALONE by David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett

When We Were Alone is one of those books that brought forth a lot of emotion as I read it. There were sighs of sadness for what Native people experienced at boarding schools, and sighs of--I don't know, love, maybe--for our perseverance through it all.


Written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett, When We Were Alone will be released in January of 2017 from Highwater Press. I read the ARC and can't wait to hold the final copy of this story, of a young children asking her grandmother a series of questions, in my hands.

The story is meant for young children, though of course, readers of any age can--and should--read it.

It opens with the little girl saying:
Today I helped my kókom in her flower garden. She always wears colourful clothes. It's like she dresses in rainbows. When she bent down to prune some of the flowers, I couldn't even see her because she blended in with them. She was like a chameleon. 
"Nókom, why do you wear so many colours?" I asked. 
That child, wondering about something and then asking that "why" question is the format for the story. To this first question, her grandmother says that she had to go to school, far away, and that all the children had to wear the same colors. They couldn't wear the colourful clothes they did before they went to that school. Here's Julie Flett's illustration of the children, at school. I can't look at this illustration without my heart twisting:



Twisting at the expressions on their faces and wondering what they felt, and then I feel a different kind of emotion as I read the next page and look at the next illustration, because the grandma tells the child what they did to be colourful again. They rolled in the leaves, when they were alone:


There's a page about why she wears her hair so long, now, and why she speaks Cree, now. And, a page about being with family. Each one evokes the same thing. Tenderness. And a quiet joy at the power of the human spirit, to survive and persevere in the face of horrific treatment--in this case--by the Canadian government.

Stories of life at residential or boarding school are ones that Native people in the US and Canada tell each other. In Canada, because of the Truth and Reconciliation project, there's an effort to get these stories into print. I'm glad of that. We haven't seen anything like the Truth and Reconciliation project in the U.S., but teachers and libraries need not wait for something similar to start putting these books into schools, and into lesson plans.

When We Were Alone is rare. It is exquisite and stunning, for the power conveyed by the words Robertson wrote, and for the illustrations that Flett created. I highly recommend it.

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16. Not recommended: THE COURAGE TEST by James Preller

People have been asking me about James Preller's The Courage Test. I got a copy of it, and it was in line for a "Debbie--have you seen" post. On September 20, 2016, a conversation on Facebook prompted me to move it up in the line.  

Here's the synopsis:

Will has no choice. His father drags him along on a wilderness adventure in the footsteps of legendary explorers Lewis and Clark--whether he likes it or not. All the while, Will senses that something about this trip isn't quite right. 
Along the journey, Will meets fascinating strangers and experiences new thrills, including mountain cliffs, whitewater rapids, and a heart-hammering bear encounter.
It is a journey into the soul of America's past, and the meaning of family in the future. In the end, Will must face his own, life-changing test of courage.
A father-and-son journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail--from Fort Mandan to the shining sea--offers readers a genre-bending blend of American history, thrilling action, and personal discovery.
Will's dad, Bruce, is a history professor. He's into Lewis and Clark so much, that he named his son William Meriwether Miller (William for William Clark, and Meriwether for Meriwether Lewis). 

Bruce's reverence for the expedition is evident as I read The Courage Test. As they travel, Bruce tells Will about the expedition, how Lewis and Clark were seeing a "new world" (p. 22) and "things that had never before been seen by white men" (p. 27). He gives Will a copy of O'Dell and Hall's Thunder Rolling in the Mountains to read. If it is anything like what I read in Island of the Blue Dolphins, it is a poor choice if Bruce's intent is for Will to learn about the Nez Perce people. 

Time and again as I read The Courage Test, I thought "oh come on..." But, there it is. In some places, Will says or thinks something that puts a bit of a check on his dad's reverence, but for the most part, he's in awe, too, and uses the same kind of words his dad uses. Scattered throughout, for example, are pages from a journal Will uses. In the first one, "My Summer Assignment" he writes that (p. 17):
When Thomas Jefferson was president, a lot of North America was unexplored. No white American had ever seen huge parts of it.
I grew tired of all that pretty quickly. I stuck with it, though, right to the end, to Preller's notes in the final pages. There, Preller wrote (p. 209):
I owe the greatest debt to Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, The Journals of Lewis Clark edited by Bernard DeVoto, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes: Nine Indian Writers on the Legacy of the Expedition by Alvin M. Josephy Jr., Lewis and Clark Among the Indians by James P. Ronda, and Traveling the Lewis and Clark Trail by Julie Fanselow.
Of that list, the one edited by Alvin Josephy, Jr. stands out. The first Native writer in Josephy's book is Vine Deloria, Jr. Deloria's work is of fundamental importance to Native peoples, and to Native studies. Have you read, for example, his Custer Died For Your Sins? The first sentence in his chapter, “Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars” is this (p. 5):
Exaggeration of the importance of the expedition of Lewis and Clark is a typical American response to mythology.
If Preller read Deloria carefully, how is it that he has such celebratory language all through The Courage Test? And, there's this, on page 6-7 (bold is mine) in Deloria's chapter:
We have traditionally been taught to believe that the Lewis and Clark expedition was the first penetration of white men into the western lands. This belief is totally unfounded. The location of the Mandan villages, scattered from the present North Dakota-South Dakota line along the Missouri River to some distance above present-day Bismarck, were already common knowledge. French and British traders had already established a thriving commerce with these villages and the sedentary Indians were accustomed to dealing with foreigners.
Did Preller choose to ignore that? Or... did Will (writing in his journal) think that the French and British didn't count as "White Americans"? It just doesn't seem to me that Preller actually brought any of the writings in Josephy's book to bear on what he wrote in The Courage Test. Listing Josephy's book, then, feels... not right. 

Jumping back into the story of Bruce and Will on their journey, we meet a guy with broad shoulders, high cheekbones, tanned/rugged/deeply lined skin, black hair in two long thick braids, wearing a beaded necklace. Of course, he's Native. His name is Ollie. He's Bruce's friend, from grad school. Ollie is Nez Perce. When he tells Will about his ancestors, I think it would work better if he used "us" words rather than "them" words:
"My people, the Nez Perce, crossed this river not far from here in 1877. They hoped the Crow would join them in their fight against the U.S. Army, but the Crow turned their backs."
I'm not keen on his characterization of the Nez Perce being like deer grazing on the grass, while the white people were like the grizzly. It has a doomed quality to it that--while plausible--doesn't work for me. Later when Bruce and Ollie share a drink of whiskey, they tell Will that soldiers got flogged for getting drunk. Bruce goes on, saying (p. 69):
Remember, Will, this was a military operation. They were headed into hostile territory.
Bruce says that, with his Nez Perce friend, sitting right there, beside him. Don't his words, then, seem.... odd? Let me frame it this way, for clarity. Let's say I'm camping on my homelands. One of my dear friends and her kid are there, too. We're sharing a drink and talking about colonization. That dear friend would not say to her kid "Remember, ___, this was a military operation. They were headed into hostile territory." She might do it out of the blue in a cafe in a city somewhere, but if we were having a drink around a campfire ON MY HOMELAND and talking about something like the Lewis and Clark expedition... that friend wouldn't do that! And if she did, I'd say something. So---why didn't Ollie say something?! 

And then later, Will watches Ollie fix his hair (p. 74):
He fusses with his front forelock, stylishly sweeping it up and to the back.
"Going for a different look today?" I joked.
Ollie frowns. "It is the style of my people. Goes back generations. Don't you like it?"
"I definitely do," I say.
You know what "style" he's trying to do? Do a search on Chief Joseph, and you'll see. Now it is plausible that a Nez Perce man who is an investment banker in Brooklyn might go home and do his hair that way, but I'm kind of doubtful. (Also, though "forelock" is also used to refer to hair people have, it comes across more strongly for me as specific to horses, so that is a bit odd, too. Not that he's equating Ollie with animals, but that it is just an unusual word.)

I said above that I stuck with this book. That hair style part was tough. So is the part where Ollie tells Will that the bear he thinks he saw the night before was not a real bear (Will didn't see any tracks)... it was probably a spirit animal. They, Ollie tells Will, occur when someone is on a vision quest. It comes, he says, to "bestow the animal's power" and is a "great gift" that he must accept (p. 81). Later in the story, Will has an encounter with a bear. He froze, unable to do what he planned to do if he came across a bear (he's prepped for it), and thinks he's a failure. So.... I guess the power of the "spirit animal" didn't work... in that moment. Will's major task in this book is to be ready for dealing with his mother's cancer. Maybe that's what he'll need the power of that "spirit animal" for, but, really. This is all a mess. So is how the dreamcatcher is shown, later. So is the "illegal" they meet and help out. 

I've got more notes, but I think what I've shared here is enough. Published in 2016 by Feiwel and Friends--an imprint of MacMillan--I do not recommend James Preller's The Courage Test. 






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17. Not recommended: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

On Monday, September 19th, Raina Telgemeier will launch her new book, Ghosts, in Minneapolis. She's a much acclaimed writer with several best selling books. 

Anytime I see a book that has something to do with ghosts, I wonder if the author is going to be contributing to the too-high-pile of problematic books with characters who are haunted or inspired by the ghost of a Native character. One example (there are many) is Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk. 

I think Telgemeier's Ghosts is one of those problematic books, but I don't think that Telgemeier is aware that she's doing that same thing. The story she tells, and the reviews of her story, demonstrate (yet again) an ignorance of history. I imagine some people defending the book by saying its audience isn't old enough for the complexity of that history, but that holds true only for a selected (possibly white) audience. Native children, and children of color, know far more history than one might expect, because history informs and shapes our daily lives, today. History, of course, informs the daily lives of White children, too, but in a way that means they're ignorant--and are taught ignorance--until they're deemed "ready" for that dark history. 

So, let's get started. Here's the synopsis for Telgemeier's Ghosts:
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake - and her own.

The ghosts in Bahía de la Luna (that is a fictional town) are primarily the ones they see at a mission. This starts on page 73, when Carlos (the neighbor boy who tells them about ghosts) takes them to the mission, "where the ghosts' world and ours mostly closely overlap." The three get separated on the way up there. Cat arrives, alone. The mission itself is run down. 




Nobody is there, which is interesting in itself because those missions are a key piece of California's tourism industry. There may be some that are like the one in Ghosts, but I kind of doubt it. After wandering around a bit, Cat sees a ghost. She follows it and finds Maya and Carlos in the courtyard:




Carlos opens a bottle of orange soda, hands it to Maya, and then one of the ghosts goes right up to her, smiling:




At first she's taken aback, but in the next panels, we see the ghost hug her, so she decides it is a friendly ghost. She says hi, but Carlos tells her that most of the people buried there were from Mexico, so, they like it when people speak Spanish to them. So, Maya calls out "Hola!"

That visit to the mission is the point where--for me--the story really starts to unravel.

The missions were there (obviously) for a specific reason: to turn Native peoples into Catholics and to claim that land for Spain. Some see missions and missionary work as a good, but if you pause for a minute and think about what they and that work is designed to do, and if you do a bit of reading, you'll learn that it was far from the benevolent character with which it is regarded by most of society.

At the missions, life for Native people was brutal. There was rape. Enslavement. Whippings. Confinements. And of course, death. Analyses of the bones at the mission burial sites that compare them with bones found elsewhere show that the bones of those who died at the missions were stunted and smaller than the others.

Some of Telgemeier's ghosts might have spoken Spanish, but it is far more likely that their first language was an Indigenous one. Did they joyfully want to be spoken to in Spanish, the language of their oppressors? Given the history, I think it is unlikely that these ghosts would be smiling as Telgemeier shows:



And I wonder, too, about those cemeteries. There are a lot of accounts that report that Native peoples were buried in mass, unmarked graves, elsewhere.

One might defend Telgemeier by saying that her ghosts are of the Spanish priests and maybe soldiers, and, maybe Native peoples who had been successfully Christianized, but the overwhelming evidence of the history is what I think should hold sway when we look at the missions, and when we give children stories about them.

I strongly urge people to read Deborah Mirandah's Bad Indians. Look, especially, at her chapter, The End of the World: Missionization. There, she presents an accurate version of what children across California are asked to do: a mission study. But Deborah's doesn't soft pedal or whitewash what happened. She describes items, like a cudgel (p. 15):
Wooden club used to strike quickly; alcaldes, soldiers, and sometimes padres carried these with them for spontaneous corrections throughout their day. The alcaldes used these during services in church to remind the Indians to be quiet, to pay attention, and to stay awake. A longer cudgel or cane was useful during Mass because the alcalde could reach far into a crowd without having to move very much.
Look, too, at A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions by Elias Castillo. He writes about treatment of Native people who tried to escape the missions. When caught, the friars at Mission San Francisco burned crosses into the faces of men, women, and children.

If you can't get Bad Indians or A Cross of Thorns right away, then read The Lesser-Told Story of the California Missions, which includes quotes from their books.

Above, I wrote that this brutal history is usually kept away from children--but I also noted that the children it is kept from is not Native children, or children of color. Indeed, Castillo's book includes a foreword, written by Valentin Lopez, Chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of the Costanoan/Ohlone Indians. He writes:
Until now, the true and full history of the California missions has never been told. When visitors tour the missions, they are usually presented with stories and images of peaceful, loving priests and soldiers who treated the Indians as adored children. 
These stories belie the truth of the missions, where Native Americans suffered under harsh and brutal conditions. As a young boy, I listened to stories from my elders about the cruelty of the missions. There were tales of how native women were captured— with their thumbs tied together with leather straps to form human chains— and marched forcibly from their tribal lands to the missions. If the Indians did not cooperate, the soldiers, at times, killed them. In one incident, more than two hundred women and children of the Orestimba tribe (living near what is now the town of Newman) were being taken to Mission San Juan Bautista. When, after passing the summit at the Orestimba Narrows, these women refused to go any farther, the Spanish commander ordered the women and children killed with sabers and their remains scattered. 
The oral traditions of our tribal band, the Amah Mutsun, taught us stories of how certain Spaniards would appear when the Indians were first brought into the missions so they could get their pick of the young girls and boys for their perverted appetites, always with the tacit approval of the priests.
I know most people don't want to read about such things, but for certain, we cannot go forward presenting the missions as Telgemeier does. Can you imagine what Mr. Lopez's response to Ghosts? Can you imagine how teachers will use this book in the classrooms? On a superficial level, it looks to be the perfect "diverse" book. It isn't. Head over to Reading While White's post about Ghosts and see the conversation and links there. In particular see what Yuji Morales and Patricia Encisco submitted in their comments about the book.

Published in 2016 by Scholastic, I do not recommend Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts. 

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18. SHADOW OF THE SHARK by Mary Pope Osborne

Mary Pope Osborne's Shadow of the Shark was published in 2015 as part of the best-selling Magic Tree House series. Osborne's Thanksgiving on Thursday did not fare well, here, at American Indians in Children's literature. Her Shadow of the Shark is just as bad. I tweeted as I read it, on September 15, 2016, made the tweets into a Storify (inserting comments between the tweets), and used the copy/paste function to paste the Storify here.




  1. View image on Twitter

    Geez. In Osborne's SHADOW OF THE SHARK, Mayan king decides white time traveler boy will be the next king.


  2. That's why the Mayans were looking at Jack (white boy), with fear and wonder when he and his sister walked into the midst of their dance.


  3. Oh dang... and not surprised... Mayan girl using "many moons" phrase. Her name? Heart-of-the-Wind.

  4. Her name... doesn't it call to mind Disney's Pocahontas?! 

  5. She moves "silently and smoothly" through the swamp. Jack is noisy but wants to be like her.

  6. These goofy hyphenated Indian-sounding names (oh dang, I used a hyphen, too) are dreadful. So many writers come up with names like these for characters. But heck. A little research, please! Osborne could have looked for someone who speaks one of the Mayan languages, and found out what their word is for jaguar, and used that, right? Or a translation of it, from that language into English? Maybe Osborne thinks there's no Mayan people around? Surely, though.... doesn't she listen to, or read, national news? Like this story?