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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 few weeks ago, Scholastic and We Need Diverse Books announced a Special Edition of the Scholastic Reading Club program.
You know what I'm talking about, right? You remember your teacher handing out those book club flyers? You remember poring over the options, deciding which ones you'd get? And then the joy when they arrived!
I was on both ends of that program. As a kid, I got books that way, and as an elementary school teacher, my students got books that way, too.
Like anyone, Scholastic has an uneven track record in terms of the books they publish. Some are great, some are not.
When I saw the first page of the flyer for this collaboration between Scholastic and We Need Diverse Books, my first thought was "Oh no! Not Stone Fox
!" That book has stereotypical imagery in it. The stoic Indian in it is violent, too, striking the white kid that is the main character. Even though it all comes out ok in the end, I don't recommend it. Stereotypes are just no good, for anyone.
I've finally gotten a chance to look over the entire flyer
and am really glad to see Joseph Bruchac's Eagle Song
is in there. I like that book a lot and recommend it. (The flyer also has Bruchac's story about the Trail of Tears, but I haven't read that one yet.)
Don't waste a dollar on Stone Fox.
Spend three dollars instead, and get Eagle Song
. Danny, the main character, is Mohawk. The setting is present day. His dad is a steelworker. They've moved to a city where Danny feels alone and is teased about his heritage. Like other Native families who find themselves in cities, they seek out a Native community, and find it at the American Indian Community House. Lot of good in this book! I highly recommend it. It was first published in in 1999 by Puffin Books.
By: Debbie Reese
Blog: American Indians in Children's Literature
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Richard Scarry
, The Brave Cowboy
, The Case for Loving
, They Were Strong and Good
, Tom Sawyer
, Amazing Grace
, Doctor Dolittle
, Ladybug Girl
, Little House on the Prairie
, Mary Poppins
, Add a tag
Over the years, I've written about children's books that were revised.
A few days ago I compiled links about revised books (some are mine and some are from others who work in children's literature) and inserted them in my post about A Fine Dessert. Today, I'm putting them on a stand-alone page. If you know of other changes, do let me know. This set of links will eventually appear at Teaching for Change.
We are rarely told why these books were changed, and we're rarely told when the change itself is made. Some changes are no-change, really, because the ideology of the book (writer?) is still there, beneath the words that get changed. Some changes--like the ones in picture books--are significant. All of them are, nonetheless, important to know about.
- Apr 21, 2009. They Were Strong and Good for 1940 by Peter Sieruta at Collecting Children's Books
- Nov 1, 2009. Edit(s) to 1935 edition of Little House on the Prairie by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Sep 19, 2010. Censoring Ideology (about Doctor Dolittle) by Philip Nel at Nine Kinds of Pie
- Sep 22, 2010. Social Change and Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Everby Lisa Wade at Sociological Images
- Jan 10, 2011. Changing "Injun" to "Indian" in Tom Sawyer by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Apr 3, 2013. Joan Walsh Anglund's The Brave Cowboy by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Jan 5, 2014: Travers (author of Mary Poppins): "I Lived with the Indians..." by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Oct 1, 2015: Big News about Hoffman's Amazing Grace by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Nov 20, 2015. A Beloved Classic: 95% Less Offensive by Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal
- Nov 11, 2015. Ladybug Girl in Headdress? Gone! by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
- Nov 13, 2015. Revisions to The Case for Loving by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
November 17, 2015
Each day when young children get home from school, parents ask how their day went and if they have any homework. For some parents, the homework their child brings home can be daunting because it has material on it that they haven't thought about in years. They have to "brush up" on it in order to help their children understand the concepts the child's homework is intended to reinforce. Some parents find homework annoying because it is so repetitive and their children could be doing something more engaging.
Last month on social media, Native parents circulated photos of worksheets and books their children were bringing home. Some of these photos were of cartoon-like images of Indians who greeted Columbus.
November is Native American month. Thanksgiving happens this month, too, so, some of the worksheets parents are sharing on social media are about Indians greeting the Pilgrims. Some just have random images of Indians on them because it is Native American month.
If I asked you, teachers, to look through your file of worksheets, some of you will see what I'm talking about. Smiling Indians handing corn to Pilgrims. Cute Indians sitting cross legged on the ground, tending a fire, next to a tipi. Color-by-number worksheets of Indians... We could go on and on, right?
For Native parents--and for non-Native parents who know these images are stereotypical--the homework itself is more than daunting or annoying. They know those worksheets carry messages of who or what Indians are supposed to be. They know those images are misinforming the children the worksheets are meant to educate. For them, these worksheets put them in a what-do-I-do about this moment. Some will point out the stereotypical image and, if needed, tell their child why it is stereotypical and not ok. Some will arrange to meet with the teacher. Some will express their frustration, with family and friends, in person and on social media. And some will keep silent because they fear that speaking to you, their child's teacher, will put their child in an awkward position.
For Native children, those images are one more silent assault on Native culture. These silent assaults, however, are ones their teachers are handing to them. My guess is that some of you, teachers, don't even notice those images on those worksheets.
I have empathy and respect for teachers. I taught elementary school in the 1980s. I know how hard it was, then, to work with the limited resources I had from the school itself, and from my own pocket. Teaching is even harder, today, than it was then. So I'm not writing this to make you feel bad.
I'm writing to ask you to take a few seconds to look--really look--at the worksheets you're going to use today, or tomorrow, or the next day, or any day. Do they have those images of Indians on them? If they do, set them aside.
A lot of you assume these worksheets and biased children's books don't matter because you believe there aren't any Native kids in your classroom. If you're basing that belief on an idea that Native people have dark skin, dark hair, high cheekbones, and personal names that sound Indian in some way, you're reflecting a stereotype.
I don't say any of this to shame you, or to embarrass you.
We all have a lot of ignorance about people who are unlike ourselves. I have had many moments of being embarrassed! I, for example, loved Five Chinese Brothers. I have very warm memories of reading it--memories that go all the way back to my early childhood years. I carried that book in my heart for decades. Then, in a graduate school course about children's literature, that book was one we looked at, and I realized how racist its depictions are... and I let it go.
I hope you'll read this letter as a virtual hug, of sorts, from a fellow educator who--like you--cares about teaching and what we teach to children. We're all learning, every day, how to do it better. I welcome any questions you have--about worksheets, or books. My entire website is for you. It's all free. For you.
American Indians in Children's Literature
P.S. (added an hour after I hit upload on my letter):
My husband suggested I say a bit more about what teachers can do instead of the usual Thanksgiving activities. So! If you're working with very young children, remember your training. Early childhood education is centered on teaching children in a here-and-now framework. For them, the long-ago (when colonization began) is not best practice. For children at that age, if you want to do something about the holiday, take the what-I'm-thankful approach instead of a usual Pilgrims and Indians ones. Because you're working on their fine motor skills and use craft projects for that purpose, you can do arts activities about turkeys. For older children (3rd grade and up), check out American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. If you want to take some time to unlearn what you've learned about Thanksgiving, you can start with a fellow teacher's post about Thanksgiving books: Kara Stewart's "Children's Books about Thanksgiving."
I've never used "absolutely disgusted" in a title before today. There are vile things in the world. Some of them are subtly vile, which makes them dangerous because you aren't aware of what is going into your head and heart.
Some things, like Catherynne M. Valente's Six-Gun Snow White are gratuitously vile. As a Native woman, it is very hard to read it in light of my knowledge of the violence inflicted on Native girls and women--today. Here's the synopsis:
A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents--a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.
There is no redeeming Valente's words. There is nothing she could write, as the book proceeds, that will undo what she says in the first half. I quit.
I don't think this is meant to be a young adult novel but I've seen a colleague in children's literature describe it as "fantastic" which is why I decided I ought to see what it is about. As the synopsis indicates, it is a retelling of Snow White. It was first published in 2013 by Subterranean Press as a signed limited edition (1000 signed and numbered hardcover copies), but is being republished in 2015. This time around, the publisher is Saga Press.
Obviously, I don't recommend it. I've never read anything Valente wrote before. I asked, online, if this is typical of her work, and the reply so far is no. So why did she do this? Why would anyone do this?Six Gun Snow White
is not fantastic. It is not brilliant. It is grotesque. It is so disgusting that I will not sully my blog with actual quotes from the book.
- Valente uses animal-like depictions to describe the main character's genitals. Yes, you read that right, her genitals. Animal-like characteristics are often used in children's literature but none, that I recall, that are anything like these. In children's books, you'll find things like Indians who "gnaw" on bones or have "steely patience, like a wolf waiting." Such descriptions dehumanize us.
- Valente has the stepmother bathe the main character in a milk bath to make her skin lighter in tone, but to do the inside parts of her she shoves the main character's head underneath, which echoes the intents of the boarding schools established in the 1800s. A guiding philosophy was 'kill the Indian/save the man' and the idea of the "civilizing" curriculum was to "hold them under until they are thoroughly soaked in the white man's ways."
- Valente shows the main character and her mother (her mother was Crow) being lusted after, abused, beaten, and violated by white men. This is especially troubling, given the violence and lack of investigation of that violence that we see in the US and Canada.
I suppose all of that is so over-the-top to make a point of some kind, but that point need not be made in the first place. As the title for this post says, I am absolutely disgusted by what I see in Six Gun Snow White.
November 16, 2015
A Mighty Girl
I saw your November 15, 2015 post at A Mighty Girl. Your topic is celebrating Native American Heritage Month. Of course, I applaud A Mighty Girl for lot of reasons, and I am glad to see you contributing a post about Native peoples, but some of the books you chose are pretty awful.
I'll start with Scott O'Dell. Though he meant well and people who decided to give his books medals meant well, too, his books are not accurate. Rather than providing children with worthwhile information about Native peoples, children's misconceptions of who Native people were--and are--are affirmed by the misrepresentations and bias in his books. Please don't recommend Sing Down the Moon or Island of the Blue Dolphins.
My guess is, Katherine, that you read those books when you were a child. They resonated with you. That's the case with a lot of people. They read something when they were a child, but upon re-reading it as an adult, they are taken aback by the ways that Native people are depicted. A few weeks ago, CBC Diversity recommended Island of the Blue Dolphins in a post about strong female characters. The pushback from social media was immediate. It came from Native people, and from scholars in children's literature, too. Within hours, CBC Diversity had removed the book from that post.
Julie of the Wolves... oh dear. Wrong in so many ways! Same with Mama Do You Love Me!
I see you also have The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses on that list. It's a fail, too, when looked at critically. Pretty art, some say, and a Caldecott Medal, too, but there's no tribe in that story! It is a made-up story--made up by a well-intentioned British writer/illustrator (Paul Goble). It looks like a Native story, and to most people, it will be assumed to be a Native story, but it isn't. Same with Frog Girl. That is made up, too, by someone (Paul Owen Lewis) who is not Native.
You do have some terrific books listed, including:
- Buffalo Bird Girl, written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
- Crossing Bok Chitto, written by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
- Morning Girl, written by Michael Dorris
- The Birchbark House, written by Louise Erdrich
- Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home: by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
- House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
- Native Women of Courage, by Kelly Fournel
- SkySisters, written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Brian Dienes
- Jingle Dancer, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
- Very Last First Time, written by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Ian Wallace
Anything I didn't list above is something I've not read, or, that I have read but cannot recommend and haven't yet written about in my book chapters, journal articles, or at my blog American Indians in Children's Literature
. I should also note that I'm a Pueblo Indian woman, a former school teacher and professor in American Indian Studies.
A few additional thoughts: because Capaldi's book about Carlos Montezuma was so flawed, I suspect that her book on Zitkala-Sa has similar problems. Same thing with regard to dePaola. His Legend of the Indian Paintbrush
has problems, so I suspect that his Legend of the Bluebonnet
might have similar problems. And, Katherine, if you're into children's literature, I highly recommend a new blog called Reading While White
. Among its writers are librarians at the CCBC (you cited CCBC in your post).
Please reconsider the books you have on your list. Like thousands (millions?) of people, you meant well, but intentions don't matter. The content of a book and what it tells children is what matters most of all. Some of the books you recommended actually work against what I think A Mighty Girl is all about. Affirmation. Some of the books you recommend affirm stereotypes. Can you remove them?
American Indians in Children's Literature
Well, I did my annual visit to Barnes and Noble to see what they had on the Thanksgiving shelf. Never a pleasant outing, I hasten to add, but one that I do each year, hoping that there won't be any new books where characters do a Thanksgiving reenactment or play of some kind.
Out this year is Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer. I'll say up front that I do not recommend it. Here's the synopsis:
Little Critter® has charmed readers for over forty years.
Now he is going to have a Thanksgiving he'll never forget! From the school play to a surprise dinner for all of Critterville, celebrate along with Little Critter and his family as they give thanks this holiday. Starring Mercer Mayer's classic, loveable character, this brand-new 8x8 storybook is perfect for story time and includes a sheet of stickers!
If you just look at the cover, you don't see anybody in feathers. You might think they're doing a "just be thankful" kind of story, but nope.
One of the first pages shows Critter and his buddies at school, getting ready for the play.
When it is time for the play, Critter (playing the part of a turkey), freezes and the others look on, worried:
Later, everyone goes to the parade, where Critter ends up on a float:
Pretty awful, start to finish, and I gotta say, too, that I'm disappointed. Though I haven't read a Critter book in a long long time, I do have fond memories of them. I dove into research spaces and see that a colleague, Michelle Abate, has an article about Critter in a 2015 issue of Bookbird. I'm going to see if I can get a copy of it. Course, her article won't have anything about Just a Special Thanksgiving in it, but I'm interested in a researcher's perspective on the series.
Oh, and here's a photo of the display:
I didn't look at each book. Some are familiar from years past, like Pete the Cat in which Pete is shown as Squanto. And there's some messed up images in the Curious George book, too. And Pinkalicious.
If I was buying? I'd get that one on the bottom row: The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing. It is hilarious. That page where the kids run into "the great wall of butts" is priceless! I know my sister's grandson would love that part.
Check out the cover for Richard Van Camp's A Blanket of Butterflies:
Gorgeous, isn't it? A Blanket of Butterflies,
illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, is new this year (2015) from Highwater Press, an imprint of Portage & Main Press in Canada. That sword? It is a key piece of this story.
When you open the cover, here's the first page:
As the story opens, Sonny is at the Northern Life Museum
in Fort Smith, Northwest Territory. He's looking at a samurai suit of armor when he notices a man who is also looking at it. The man's name is Shinobu. See the paper he's pulling from his coat? He's at the museum with a specific purpose: to pick up that suit. It belongs to his family. The museum staff worked to identify who it belongs to, and then got in touch with Shinobu's family.
I gotta say--I love how Van Camp's story gets going--and here's why. So many things in museums are there due to theft and exploitation. Grave robbing of Native graves is rampant. Native protests led Congress to take action. In 1990, Congress wrote the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to help tribal peoples reclaim remains and artifacts (see the FAQ
). That law, and A Blanket of Butterflies
, is all about dignity and humanity, for all peoples.
Back to the story...
There's something missing from the display. A sword. Shinobu learns where it is and sets out to get it, but Sonny knows where it is, too, and he also knows that it is risky for Shinobu to go there alone. Sonny follows him, and strikes up a conversation, noting that Shinobu has a butterfly tattoo on his hand. Things don't go well. Shinobu gets hurt...
Yesterday (Friday, November 14) I listened to Acimowin
on CJSR, an independent radio station in Edmondton, Canada. The guest? Richard Van Camp. I listened to him talk about A Blanket of Butterflies
and wish you could have heard him, too. There's a grandma in this story. She's the hero. Hearing him talk about her... awesome.
Get a copy of A Blanket of Butterflies
for your library or classroom, or for your own young readers. I really like it and highly recommend it.
And--check out that weekly radio show, Acimowin
, too, on Friday mornings. You can listen online. One of the best things people who write, review, edit, or publish children's and young adult literature can do, is listen to Native voices. Learn who we are, and what we care about. It'll help you do a better job at writing, or reviewing, or editing, or selecting, or... deselecting! Acimowin is hosted by Jojo, who tweets from @acimowin. I laughed out loud more than once, listening to the banter between these First Nations people... (Note: the radio show is not for young kids.) Love the graphics for the show!
Earlier this year, The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, by Selina Alko, illustrated by Alko and Sean Qualls, was published by Arthur A. Levine Books. It got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly. The reviewer at Horn Book gave it a (2), which means the review was printed in The Horn Book Magazine.
The review from The New York Times and my review, were mixed, and as I'll describe later, may be the reasons revisions were made to the second printing of the book.
Let's start with the synopsis for The Case for Loving:
For most children these days it would come as a great shock to know that before 1967, they could not marry a person of a race different from their own. That was the year that the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loving v. Virginia.
This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state's laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents' love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court - and won!
On Feb 6, 2015, The New York Times
reviewer, Katheryn Russell-Brown, wrote:
Alko’s calm, fluid writing complements the simplicity of the Lovings’ wish — to be allowed to marry. Some of the wording, though, strikes a sour note. “Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn’t see differences,” she writes, suggesting, implausibly, that he did not notice Mildred’s race. After Mildred is identified as part black, part Cherokee, we are told that her race was less evident than her small size — that town folks mostly saw “how thin she was.” This language of colorblindness is at odds with a story about race. In fact, this story presents a wonderful chance to address the fact that noticing race is normal. It is treating people better or worse on the basis of that observation that is a problem.
And on March 18, 2015, I wrote a long review, focusing on Mildred Jeter's identity. I concluded with this:
In The Case for Loving, Alko uses "part African-American, part Cherokee" but I suspect Jeter's family would object to what Alko said. As the 2004 interview indicates, Mildred Jeter Loving considered herself to be Rappahannock. Her family identifies as Rappahannock and denies any Black heritage. This, Coleman writes, may be due to politics within the Rappahannock tribe. A 1995 amendment to its articles of incorporation states that stated (p. 166):
“Applicants possessing any Negro blood will not be admitted to membership. Any member marrying into the Negro race will automatically be admonished from membership in the Tribe.”
I'm not impugning Jeter or her family. It seems to me Mildred Jeter Loving was caught in some of the ugliest racial politics in the country. As I read Coleman's chapter and turn to the rest of her book, I am unsettled by that racial politics. In the final pages of the chapter, Coleman writes (p. 175):
"Of course, Mildred had a right to self-identify as she wished and to have that right respected by others. Nevertheless, viewed within the historical context of Virginia in general and Central Point in particular, ironically, “the couple that rocked courts” may have inadvertently had more in common with their opponents than they realized. Mildred’s Indian identity as inscribed on her marriage certificate and her marriage to Richard, a White man, appears to have been more of an endorsement of the tenets of racial purity rather than a validation of White/ Black intermarriage as many have supposed."
Turning back to The Case for Loving, I pick it up and read it again, mentally replacing Cherokee with Rappahannock and holding all this racial politics in my head. It makes a difference.
At this moment, I don't know what it means for this picture book. One could argue that it provides children with an important story about history, but I can also imagine children looking back on it as they grow up and thinking that they were misinformed--not deliberately--but by those twists and turns in racial politics in the United States of America.
Fast forward to last week (November 4, 2015), when I learned that changes were made to The Case for Loving
in its second printing. Here's a photo of the copyright page for the two books. Look at the second line from the bottom in the top image. See the string of numbers that starts at 10 and goes on down to 1? That string is data. The lowest numeral in the string is 1, which tells us that the book with the 1 is the original. Now look at the second line from the bottom in the bottom image. See the string of numbers ends with numeral 2? That tells us that is the 2nd printing.
I learned about the second printing by watching Daniel Jose Older's video, Full Panel: Lens of Diversity: It is Not All in What You See.
Sean Qualls, illustrator of The Case for Loving
was also on that panel, which was slated as an opportunity to talk about Rudine Sims Bishop's idea of literature as windows, mirrors, and doors, framed around Sophie Blackall's art for the New York public transit system. The moderator and panel organizer, Susannah Richards, said that she saw people using social media to say that they thought they say themselves in Blackall's art. (To read more about the discussions of Blackall's picture book, A Fine Dessert
, see Not recommended: A Fine Dessert.
At approximately the 34:00 minute mark in Older's video, Richards began to speak about The Case for Loving
and how Qualls and Alko addressed concerns about the book. Richards had a power point slide ready comparing a page in the original book with a page in the revised edition. It is similar to the one I have here (in her slide, she has the revised version at the top and the original on the bottom):
Qualls said "So, part of what happened is... There is a page with a description of Mildred and Richard." Qualls then read the revised page and the original one, too: "Richard was a tall quiet man with fair skin and broad shoulders. The person he loved most was Mildred Jeter. Mildred was part African-American, part Native American, and she was thin as a rail; that's how she got the nickname, String Bean. Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn't see differences. There was one person Richard loved more than the rest. Mildred Jeter was part African-American, part Cherokee, but what most folks in Central Point noticed was how thin she was; that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."
|Reese's photo of original (on top) and revised (on bottom) page in THE CASE FOR LOVING|
For now, I'm going to step away from the video and Quall's remarks in order to compare the original lines on the page with the revised ones:
Original: Richard Loving was a good, caring man; he didn't see differences.
Revision: Richard Loving was a tall, quiet man with fair skin and broad shoulders.
See that change? "he didn't see differences" is gone. This, I think, is the result of Russell-Brown (of the Times
) saying that him not seeing difference was implausible, especially since this book is about race.
Original: There was one person Richard loved more than the rest.
Revision: The person he loved most was Mildred Jeter.
I don't know what that sentence was changed, and welcome your thoughts on it.
Original: Mildred Jeter was part African-American, part Cherokee...
Revision: Mildred was part African-American, part Native American...
In my review back in March, I said it was wrong to describe her as being part Cherokee, because on the application for a marriage license (dated May 24, 1958), she stated she was Indian. I assume the change to "Native American" rather than "Indian" was done because the person(s) weighing in on the change thought that "Indian" was pejorative. It can be, depending on how it is used, but I use it in the name of my site and it is used by national associations, too, like the National Congress of American Indians or the National Indian Education Association or the American Indian Library Association.
I think it would have been better to use Indian--and nothing else--because that is what Jeter used. "Native American" didn't come into use until the 1970s, as indicated at the Bureau of Indian Affairs website and other sources I checked. In order to tell this story as determined by the Supreme Court case, Alko and Qualls had to include "part African American" because that is the basis on which the case went to the Supreme Court in the first place. I'll say more about all of this below.
Original: ...but what most folks in Central Point noticed was how thin she was;
Revision: ...and she was thin as a rail;
I think this change is similar to (1). People do notice race.
Original: ...that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."
Revision: ...that's how she got the nickname, "String Bean."
No change there, which is fine.
Now I want to return to the video, and look more closely at (3) -- how Alko and Qualls describe Jeter.
After reading aloud the original and revised passage, Qualls paused. The moderator, Susannah Richards, stepped in. Here's a transcript:
Richards: "Research is complicated, and in researching this particular book, and looking... And even having some of my law friends look at it, they were like 'well some things say she was Cherokee and some things say she was wasn't, some things say her birth certificate said this,' and... There was just a lot of information out there."
Qualls: "Right. And I think that Deborah..."
Richards: "Debbie Reese."
Qualls: "Debbie Reese..."
Richards: "Who many of you may follow on her blog."
Qualls: "Really brought issue with the Cherokee description of Mildred, and, I have spoken to at least some family members and no one really seems to know whether she was Cherokee or Rappahannock. And I think there are some... Debbie Reese may have said, or somewhere I read, that Mildred claimed not to have any African American heritage. But then I've also read that the Rappahannock Nation is less likely to recognize someone as Rappahannock if they claim to have any African American heritage. We're also talking about the 1950s and 1960s where it may have been convenient for someone to claim that they had no African American heritage. James Brown, of all people, claimed he was part Japanese, part Native American, and had no African American heritage. So, it is extremely loaded, and yeah, you know, I really don't know what to say about it. And, it comes down to ones intention, and you know, in trying to represent diversity, and the fact is, no one really knows what her back ground was. I believe that she was part African American. My gut tells me that. She looks that way, she feels that way when I see her, when I see videos of her. So, yeah, that became a little bit of a controversy and was very disturbing to my wife, who is Canadian in origin, and the fact that you're Australian, you know, its very interesting. There are two people that I know that include and have always included African Americans in their art, and without question, that's really important, I think.
Qualls is right, of course. I did raise a question about them identifying Jeter as Cherokee.
I'm curious about his next comment, that he has spoken to family members who say that no one really knows whether she was Cherokee or Rappahannock. In my review, I quoted Coleman's 2004 interview of Jeter, in which she said "I am not Black. I have no Black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock." I didn't include this passage (below) but am including it now--not as a deliberate attempt to argue with Qualls--but because I am committed to helping people understand Native nationhood and how Native people speak of their identity. Coleman writes (p. 173):
The American Indian identity is strong within the Loving family as demonstrated by Mildred’s grandson, Marc Fortune, the son of her daughter Peggy Loving Fortune. When Mildred Loving’s son, Donald, died unexpectedly on August 31, 2000, Marc, according to one attendee, arrived at his uncle’s funeral dressed in native regalia and performed a “traditional Rappahannock” ritual in honor of his deceased uncle. In fact, all of the Loving children are identified as Indian on their marriage licenses. During an interview on April 10, 2011, Peggy Loving stated that she is “full Indian.” This was also the testimony of her uncle, Lewis Jeter, Mildred’s brother who stated during an interview on July, 20, 2011, that the family was Indian and not Black. Echoing his sister’s words he stated, “We have no Black ancestry that I know of.”
Based on all I've read and many conversations with people who do not understand the significance of saying you're a member or citizen of a specific tribe, here's what I think is going on.
In watching videos of Jeter, Qualls said that he believes Jeter was part African American. In the video, he said "She looks that way, she feels that way when I see her, when I see videos of her." He is basing that, I believe, on her physical
appearance rather than on her own words about her citizenship in the Rappahannock Nation. Qualls is conflating a racial identity with a political one.
I'm not critical of Qualls for thinking that way. I think most Americans would think and say the same thing he did. That is because Native Nationhood is not taught in schools. It should be, and it should be part of children's books, too, because our membership or citizenship in our nations is a fact of who we are. Indeed, it is the most significant characteristic of who we are, collectively. It is why our ancestors made treaties with leaders of other nations. It is why we, today, have jurisdiction of our homelands.
All across the U.S., there are peoples of varying physical appearance who are citizens of a Native nation. My paternal grandfather is white. He was not a tribal member. My dad and my uncle are tribal members. Myself and my siblings, though we range in appearance (I have the darkest hair and skin tone amongst us), are all tribal members. On the federal census, we say we're tribal members and we specify our nation as Nambe Pueblo. Our political identity is a Native one. Because of our grandfather, some of us look like we're mixed bloods, because we are, but when asked, we say we are tribal members, and we say that, too, on the U.S. census documents. We were raised at Nambe and we participate in a range of tribally-specific activities, from ceremonies to civic functions such as community work days and elections. What we look like, physically, is not important.
In short, the revision regarding Jeter's identity is based on a physical description rather than a political one. My speculation: the author, illustrator, and their editor do not know enough about Native nationhood to understand why that distinction matters.
Now let's take a look at the content of the reviews.
The reviewers at School Library Journal, Kirkus
echoed the book, saying that Mildred was African American and Cherokee. The reviewer at Publisher's Weekly
did not say anything about her identity. Horn Book's reviewer said "Richard Loving (white) and Mildred Jeter (black) fell in love and married..." Not surprisingly, then, that the Horn Book reviewer tagged it with "African Americans" as a subject, and not Native American, but I'm curious why they ignored her Native identity? Did they choose to view the Loving case as one about interracial marriage between a White man and Black woman--as the Loving's lawyers did? Perhaps.
In Older's video, he says that there are some stories that he wouldn't touch. I think the Loving case is one that is more complicated than a picture book for young children can do justice to. Here's key points, from my point of view:
In the 1950s, Mildred Jeter said she was Indian. We don't know if she said that out of a desire to avoid being discriminated against, or if she said that because she was already living her life as one in which she firmly identified as being Indian. Either way, it is what she said about who she was on the application for a marriage license.
In the 1960s, because Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving's marriage violated miscegenation laws, their case went before the Supreme Court of the United States. To most effectively present their case, the emphasis was on her being Black.
In the 2000s, Jeter and her children said they are Indian, and specified Rappahannock as their nation.
In the 2000s, Alko and Qualls met and fell in love.
In the 2010s, Alko and Qualls worked together on a picture book about the Lovings. In the author's note for The Case for Loving
, Alko said that she's a white Jewish woman from Canada, and that Sean is an African American man from New Jersey. She said that much of her work is about inclusion and diversity and that it is difficult for her to imagine that just decades ago, couples like theirs were told by their governments, that their love was not lawful. For years, Alko writes, she and Qualls had thought about illustrating a book together. The Case for Loving
is that book.
I think it is fair to say that the love they have for each other was a key factor in the work they did on The Case for Loving
, but who they are is not who the Lovings were. That fact meant they could not--and can not--see Mildred for who she is.
My husband and I are also a couple in an interracial marriage. He's White; I'm Native. If we were an author/illustrator couple working in children's books and wanted to do a story about the Lovings, we'd enter it from a different place of knowing. We both know the importance of Native nationhood and the significance of Nambe's status as a sovereign nation. He didn't know much about Native people until he started teaching at Santa Fe Indian School, where we met in 1988 when I started teaching there. What we do not have is a lived experience or knowledge of the life of Mildred Jeter as she lived her life in the 1950s in Virginia. We'd be doing a lot of research in order to do justice to who she was.
At the end of his remarks (in the video) about The Case for Loving
, Qualls said that it comes down to intentions, and that his wife and Sophie Blackall are very careful to include diversity in their work. He said he thinks it is important. I don't think anyone would disagree with that statement. Diversity is important. But, as his other remarks indicate, he's since learned how complicated the discussion of Jeter's identity were, then and now, too. They've revised that page in the book but as you may surmise, I think the revision is still a problem.
I like the art very much and think it is important for young children to know about the Lovings and families in which the parents are of two different demographics. I'll give some thought to how it could be revised so that it sets the record straight, and I welcome your thoughts (and do always let me know--as usual--about typos or parts of what I've said that lack clarity or are confusing).
Pick up a copy of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia
, published in 2013 by Indiana University Press. Read the chapter on the Lovings, and read Alko and Qualls and see what you think. Can it be revised again? How?
Yesterday, Betsy Bird at School Library Journal wrote about a significant change to the picture book, Lady Bug Girl, written by David Soman and illustrated by Jacky Davis. First published in 2008, it came to my attention when a reader wrote to me about the endpapers, which showed Lady Bug Girl in a headdress. At the time, I wrote a Dear Parents of Ladybug Girl post (writing to the author and illustrator as her parents).
Looking at the image now, I'm drawn to what she's doing: she's got what looks like a lipstick in her hand and is, presumably putting "war paint" on her cheeks. See? David Arnold's character did that in Mosquitoland. Remember that? (My apologies for the poor quality of the images I'm using today.)
Well, a new edition of Lady Bug Girl
is out, and, as Betsy noted, Lady Bug Girl in a headdress is gone from the endpapers. I was pleased as can be about that change! Below are the covers for the 2015 "Super Fan Edition" and beneath it is the original 2008 cover.
And here's the changed endpapers:
It is the second book I'm writing about this year, that has been changed--for the better--and as such, something all of us can celebrate! Thank you, Soman, Davis, and Dial (the publisher) for deciding to remove it. It is a step in the right direction. Betsy and I agree--if there was a note in the book about the change, it would help people take a step in the right direction with you, Soman and Davis. For now, though, thank you!
Back in April, I was up in Minneapolis for AWP 2015. Heid Erdrich snapped this photo. I meant to share it here on AICL then, but time got away from me, as it is want to do! So, here it is, today!
AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Here's the blurb about their conference (from their website):
The AWP Conference & Bookfair is an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers. Each year more than 12,000 attendees join our community for four days of insightful dialogue, networking, and unrivaled access to the organizations and opinion-makers that matter most in contemporary literature. The 2015 conference featured over 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures. The bookfair hosted over 800 presses, journals, and literary organizations from around the world. AWP’s is now the largest literary conference in North America.
AWP 2015 was the first time I went to that conference. I was there as a moderator for a panel that included Eric and Debby Dahl Edwardson, too. Good times there, and with Sarah Park Dahlen and her family, too!
The main character in Whistle
is a familiar one. Readers met him before. When Richard Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed
opens, it is the first day of school. Larry, the protagonist is cautious as he makes his way through the building, thinking "I'm Indian and I gotta watch it" (p. 2). One of the people he has to be cautious about is Darcy McMannus. Larry describes Darcy as the "most feared bully in town" (p. 19).
Van Camp's Whistle
is about Darcy--but he's not at school anymore. He's in a detention facility and writing letters to Brody, a character he beat up. The letters to Brody are part of a restorative justice framework for working with youth. I found that I needed time as I read Whistle
. Time to think about Darcy. He felt so real, and people with troubles like his require me to slow down and think about young people.
I highly recommend Whistle
for young adults. Published by Pearson as one of the titles in its Well Aware
series, you can write to Van Camp
and get it directly from him.
(My apologies! I'm behind on writing reviews of the depth that I prefer. Rather than wait, I'm uploading my recommendations and hope to come back later with a more in-depth look.)
Due out from Tradewind Books in Canada in 2015 is Tara White's Where I Belong.
The main character is Carrie, a teen with black hair and dark skin who was adopted by a white couple.
Here's the synopsis:
This moving novel of self-discovery and awareness takes place during the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990. Adopted as an infant, Carrie has always felt out of place somehow. Recurring dreams haunt her, warning that someone close to her will be badly hurt. When she finds out that her birth father is Mohawk, living in Kahnawake, Quebec, she makes the journey and finally achieves a sense of home and belonging.
One of the huge holes in children's and young adult literature are stories about Native activism. I had high hopes for this book, especially from a Mohawk writer, but the writing did not strike me as that of someone who is an insider. The dreams throughout the story put it in a space that felt exotic rather than organic, and later in the story, a Native elder is in crisis, and a white doctor (Carrie's mother is a doctor) saves her life. For me, that is the white savior trope. Not recommended.
I am happy to recommend The Apple Tree by Sandy Tharpe-Thee and Marlena Campbell Hodson. Published this year by Road Runner Press, the story is about Cherokee boy who plants an apple seed in his backyard.
Here's the cover:
Here's the little boy:
And here's the facing page for the one of the little boy:
I like this anthropomorphized story very much and think it is an excellent book all on its own, and would also be terrific for read-aloud sessions when introducing kids to stories about planting, or patience, or... apples!
When the apple tree sprouts and is a few inches high, the little boy puts a sign by it so that people will see it and not accidentally step on it. That reminds me of my grandmother. She did something similar. To protect a new cedar tree that sprouted near a roadside on the reservation, she make a ring of stones around it so people wouldn't run over it. The apple tree in Tharp-Thee's story grows, as does the boy, and eventually the tree produces apples.
When you read it, make sure you show kids the Cherokee words, and show them the Cherokee Nation's website, too. Help your students know all they can about the Cherokee people. Published in 2015 by The Road Runner Press. The author, Sandy Tharpe-Thee, is a tribal librarian and received the White House Champion of Change
award for her work. She is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.
This has been quite the year in children's literature--and I say that in a good way. Some people are decrying social media, but I celebrate it. It is making a difference.
Some say social media that questions books like A Fine Dessert is unfairly attacking the author and illustrator. Some say the creators of the book are being publicly shamed. Roger Sutton said that about the change made to Amazing Grace.
But you know who has been publicly shamed
for decades and decades?
Children whose culture is misrepresented or poorly
represented in popular, classic, and award-winning books.
In his new book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
, Don Tate's note in the back is important. He writes:
When I first began illustrating children's books, I decided that I would not work on stories about slavery. I had many reasons, one being that I wanted to focus on contemporary stories relevant to young readers today. In all honesty, though, what I wasn't admitting to myself was that I was ashamed of the topic.
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1970s and 1980s. At school, I was usually the only brown face in a sea of white. It seemed to me that whenever the topic of black history came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people--no more human than a horse or a wheelbarrow. Sometimes white kids snickered and made jokes about the topic. Sometimes, black kids did too.
A wash of emotion floods over me each time I read Don's words. I've heard similar things from Native kids and teens, too. Don takes up the topic of slavery in Poet.
But he does it with a full understanding of what it feels like to be a black child reading a book that depicts slavery.
I have no doubt that Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall meant well when they created A Fine Dessert
, but they and the community of people who worked with them on the book created it from within a space that doesn't have what Don has. The outcome, as most of us know, has caused an enormous discussion on social media.
I have empathy for Jenkins and Blackall, but as my larger text above makes clear, my empathy is with children. Because of social media, Jenkins, Blackall, and anyone who is following this discussion, have heard from people they don't normally hear from. People who aren't in their community. In this case, African American parents who are stunned with the depiction of slavery in A Fine Dessert.
Some of the response has been blistering in its anger. Jenkins has heard them, and subsequently, apologized.
Thus far, Blackall has not. She says she's heard them, but what does it mean when you hear someone--with reason or with fury--tell you that you've hurt them, but all you do is rebut what they say? I don't know what to call that response.
She and people who are empathizing with her are decrying social media, but I celebrate what it is doing right now in children's literature. Because of it, I have a blog that people read. They link to it. They reference it. They assign it. They share it. The outcome? People write to tell me what they're learning.
Because of social media, we can all watch a video of a panel discussion that took place last weekend. A discussion--I think--that has never happened before at a conference. I'm asking my colleagues who research children's literature. Nobody recalls one like this before.
Sean Qualls, Sophie Blackall, and Daniel Jose Older spoke on a panel titled "Lens of Diversity: It is Not All in What You See" at the New York City School Library System's 26th annual conference. I'm studying the video and will have more to say about it later, but for now, watch it yourself.
I'll be back with a post about it later. For now I've got to finish preparing a talk I'll be giving for Chicago Public Library tomorrow. I was shaken to the core as I watched the video. Shaken by the denial of Qualls and Blackall, and shaken by the honesty of Older. He is using social media to effect change. Change is happening. I know that change is happening because of the email I get from gatekeepers.
I think we're in the crisis that Walter Dean Myers anticipated in 1986 in his New York Times
article, I Thought We Would Actually Revolutionize the Industry
. He wrote about how the 1970s looked like a turning point:
...the quality of the books written by blacks in the 70's was so outstanding that I actually thought we would revolutionize the industry, bringing to it a quality and dimension that would raise the standard for all children's books. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. No sooner had all the pieces conducive to the publishing of more books on the black experience come together than they started falling apart.
This time round, I think things will not fall apart. Social media is driving change in children's literature. And so, I celebrate it.
On October 31, 2015, at 12:06 PM, author Meg Rosoff posted a comment to Roger Sutton's Facebook wall (he is the editor at Horn Book) that said "Debbie Reese is at it again." I wondered what "at it" meant and asked her, there, what she meant. (She didn't reply.)
Roger's post at Facebook is, essentially, a link to his editorial at the Horn Book website. Because the editorial is about diversity and meaningful inclusion of characters who are from marginalized populations, I assumed Rosoff's "at it again" was a reference to my question about her use of the word "squaw" in her book Picture Me Gone, and a reference to more recent critiques I've done of The Hired Girl and A Fine Dessert. (She subsequently wrote about critiques of those two books.)
Rosoff did not reply to my question. She did continue to participate in the ensuing discussion, however. I don't know if she didn't see that I was in it, too, asking her a question, or if she was deliberately ignoring me. In her next comment she said, in part
Doesn't anyone find it odd that so many of the books Debby Reese and her followers attack for "micro and macro aggressions" are on the prize lists for best books of the year? [...] Funny how much time we YA writers spend in schools talking to kids about the corrosive effects of bullying, and then to discover the worst bullies of all in our own community. The strongest backlash, by the way, is coming from editors. Who tell me they are backing away from publishing books featuring diversity characters/stories in order to avoid attacks for "micro and macro aggression." That's a result, then.
A short while later, Roger wrote that he was not "joining in the debate" because he counts me and Rosoff as professional friends and valued colleagues. She replied to him
Your professional friend and valued colleague has accused me repeatedly in public of being a racist and an enemy of diversity. I can wait very patiently for an apology on that score.
I was surprised by her comment. I have not accused her of being a racist. Nor have I called her an enemy of diversity. I was curious, however, to know why she thinks I did.
As that thread continued, I began to see her commenting elsewhere. I was surprised to see her referencing me so much saying things like "I know all about Debbie. She loves calling people racist" and "There are some very toxic so-called diversity advocates out there." I saw that she coined a phrase using my name: "The Debbie Reese Crimes Against Diversity stormtroopers." (Note: I was intrigued by what she was doing, and glad she was using my name, because it would lead people to my work. See, too, my post on her use of "stormtroopers."
And then I saw this
The extraordinary woman was the one who proved I was a racist by the use of the word 'squaw' in one of my books -- by an 11 year old English child. I had to look it up to realise it is sometimes (not always) considered insulting -- particularly if you're mainly reading to be insulted. I've written 600,000 or so words in my career and that's what she's taken out of it. Impressive.
Obviously, I am that extraordinary woman. Rosoff doesn't know, however, that when I picked up her book, Picture Me Gone
, it was to read for pleasure. I primarily read books that are specific to my area of scholarship and expertise (depictions of Native people) but I read for pleasure, too, and usually seek out books that have done well. That's why I was reading Picture Me Gone.
I was into it, too, but then, I got to this part:
A painting in a big gold frame of an Indian squaw kneeling by a fire needs dusting.
I stopped reading. The enjoyment, for me, was over. I set the book aside. I didn't blog or tweet about her use of "squaw." I just stopped reading it.
When she jumped onto Edi Campbell's Facebook page
on October 10th, I remembered her book. What she said on Edi's page prompted a lot of people to write to her on Facebook and on Twitter. In response, she wrote:
God, twitter makes me laugh. Book I'm finishing now for Mal Peet is about a black kid in love w/a native American woman 15 years his senior.
I was angry at her for what she said on Edi's page, especially because Edi's post was about Large Fears
by Myles E. Johnson and Kendrick Daye, a book that is about a queer black boy. Edi Campbell, Myles E. Johnson, and Kendrick Daye are three people trying to do some good in the world, shining bright lights on populations that are misrepresented and underrepresented in children's literature.
And there was Meg, like a ton of bricks, out of the blue. From that angry space, I replied to her tweet by asking her if she was going to use "squaw" to refer to that "native American woman." Here's a screen cap:
She didn't reply, but as her comment above indicates, she did not know the word is "sometimes (not always) considered insulting." As she said, she's written 600,000 words in her career, and she's impressed that out of all those words, I'm choosing to focus on one of those 600,000 words.
She is right. I am focusing on that one word as symbolic of the ongoing misrepresentation of Native peoples in children's and young adult literature. But I did not call her racist there, or anywhere.
My focus is on Meg Rosoff's response to being questioned. Her response about the word admits that she didn't know it is problematic. There is a way to respond to ones ignorance that can move children's literature forward in its depictions of those who have been omitted and misrepresented for hundreds of years, but Rosoff's dismissal and subsequent comments disparaging me are not the way to move forward.
Her response stands in sharp contrast to the response Emily Jenkins posted yesterday
, in response to criticisms about the depictions of slavery in A Fine Dessert
, and it stands in sharp contrast to Sarah McCarry's response to my question about her use of "totem pole"
in All Our Pretty Songs.
Some people are rising to defend Rosoff. Some are defending Jenkins and Blackall, too. Some of them know Rosoff, Jenkins, and Blackall personally, and feel--as they should--empathy for people who they feel fondly towards.
Teachers and librarians are forgetting that their primary responsibility as educators is not to an author or illustrator they like, but to the children in their classrooms. As parents, we trust you to do right by our children and what they learn from you. What you give them is something they will carry with them as they grow up.
The larger point of what I'm saying is that people of marginalized populations are using social media to ask questions. We are using social media to shine lights on problems that our children grandchildren are confronted with everyday, in and out of the classroom.
The country is growing more diverse with each minute. What you do in the classroom matters to the future of our country. That cliched bumper sticker that teachers touch the future is more than a cliche. It is a fact. Expand how you think about that future. We're all here, talking to you, and hoping you'll pick up the lights we shine, too, and do right by the children you teach.
On October 31st, Meg Rosoff posted this to her Facebook page:
Rosoff has said a good many disparaging things about me that I'm ignoring. This one, I will not ignore.
Like millions of people, I love Star Wars. But Rosoff is wrong in calling those of us who point out stereotyping, bias, and misrepresentations "stormtroopers." She's trying to cast us as evil for what we do. She is equating us with Nazi stormtroopers.
We're not bad guys. As Rene Saldana said, he thinks of me as a Jedi Knight. Lot of people said they want to make t-shirts with Rosoff's phrase on them, but we say who we are.
Let's do something like this instead:
Jedi Knights in Solidarity:
Fighting Crimes Against Diversity
or how about...
Jedi Knights in Solidarity:
Fighting Ignorance, One Rosoff at a Time*
There's a lot of writers doing this work! I'd love to see what you come up with! Adding graphics...
*I said "fighting ignorance" because Rosoff said she looked it up and did not know the word "squaw" is, quoting her: "sometimes (not always) considered insulting."
This post is long overdue. A few times since launching AICL, I've received a question similar to:
"Debbie, can you recommend any Native American folk songs" (or music or finger plays) "that I can use with young children?"
Each time, I write back to the person but each time, I've failed to fashion the reply into a blog post that I can point the next questioner to, so, today I'm trying to do that.
First thing to say is not a surprise: most of what is out there is stereotypical. I searched the Internet and found so very much---so very much---and it is so very, very bad. I found Hollywood's version of Native music (think about the music you hear in Westerns). I found songs about specific Native people---all of them with lyrics that slot Native people into the mythical story about the founding and history of the U.S. And of course, I found the "Indian" counting song.
Given that many children walk into the school holding stereotypical ideas of Native peoples, chances are high that they'd be able to hear the Hollywood Indian music theme and say "that's Indian music" (or Native American, or American Indian).
The task, then, is to help them unlearn what they think they know about Native music by pointing out that the Hollywood Indian music was made up by someone who wasn't Native and that what they see in those Westerns is not accurate.
Move, then, to some music appreciation activities where kids listen to Native musicians. You could start with the familiar nursery rhymes---sung by Native singers.
Start by having your students sing Old McDonald Had a Farm. Then, show them this photograph of the Black Lodge Singers
. Point out that they dress much like your students do, and that there are times when they wear traditional clothing, but that most of the time, they're dressed pretty much like everyone else.
On the right side of the drum are Kenny Scabby Robe, who is Blackfeet, and his wife, Louise, who is Yakima. The other people in the photograph are their children. They live on the Yakima Reservation in Washington. Pull out a map and show them where the Yakima Reservation is:
Tell students that the Black Lodge Singers are a well known drum group in the pow wow circuit. Read them Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer
so they learn what powwows are about:
And then, watch some of the videos of the Black Lodge Singers in action. Here they are singing Old McDonald Had a Farm:
And here they are singing "Kuna Matata." The footage includes Native children getting ready to enter a pow wow arena, and inside the arena, too.
There are other videos, too, but do make sure to buy their CDs
. You can also talk with students about the Grammy Awards, and tell them that the Black Lodge Singers won a Grammy for their music.
From there, you can introduce them to Native musicians like Sharon Burch. She is Navajo, plays guitar, and her songs are a mix of Navajo and English. Though it isn't marketed for children, her CD, "Colors of My Heart," has many songs children can listen to, and can learn the lyrics, too.
At the Canyon Records site--an excellent resource, by the way--you can listen to portions
of the songs on Colors of my Heart.
Talk to them, too, about Robbie Robertson, by reading Rock & Roll Highway
In a post I did last year, I pointed to work that Robertson did with The Band, and with Ulali, an acapella group. Check out this video:
Now--I realize that my suggestions don't fit within what you usually do in a music lesson or activity, but that's ok. You're a teacher, expanding what kids know. Give them something like I've suggested. Help them unlearn those dreadful stereotypes. And--for yourself and older children--spend time at the Canyon Records site. Get to know Native musicians.
I'll close this post with Buffy Sainte-Marie, singing Up Where We Belong. You may associate that song with Joe Cocker, but it is written by her, and performed by her here:
Note: If you have something you want me to consider adding to this post, do let me know! Especially if you use something developed by Native people in your area.
A couple of years ago at a library conference, a friend (she is white) told me about conversations she's had with people who say "Debbie Reese hates white people." She tells them that isn't true, and I'm grateful to her for doing that. It seems silly to say it isn't true, but unfortunately, it needs saying!
They say that, I suspect, because I've been critical of a book they like, or because they're friends with an author whose book I've critiqued.
There's a perception that I'll criticize books with Native characters if the author or illustrator isn't Native. That isn't true, either.
For those who need proof, below is a list of books I like that are by writers who are not Native. Some are books categorized as being about Native people, while others are ones that include Native content but aren't categorized as being about Native people. Some of these are books on an extensive list I created with Jean Mendoza in 2006 and some are ones I've written about, or recommended, elsewhere.
- Powwow by George Ancona, published in 1993 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
- Earth Daughter: Alicia of Acoma Pueblo by George Ancona, published in 1995 by Macmillan.
- The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, published in 2014 by Viking.
- Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Ian Wallace, published in 1998 by Aladdin.
- Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell, published in 2004 by Hyperion.
- Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson, illustrated by Annie Patterson, published in 2004 by Charlesbridge.
- My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson, published in 2013 by
- On the Move by K.V. Flynn, published in 2014 by Wynnpix Productions.
- Daughter of Suqua by Diane Hamm Johnson, published in 1997 by Albert Whitman.
- Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, published in 2015 by Arthur A. Levine.
- A Children's Guide to Arctic Birds by Mia Pelletier, illustrated by Danny Christopher, published in 2014 by Inhabit Media.
- Cradle Me by Debbie Slier, published in 2012 by Starbright Books.
I read a lot of other books, too, that aren't about Native people. A recent one that I read and love is Zetta Elliot's Dayshaun's Gift
And, Matt de la Pena's The Living.
And Fake ID
by Lamar Giles. And Ash
by Malinda Lo. When Reason Breaks
by Cindy L. Rodriguez! And Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,
and Aisha Saeed's Written in the Stars.
Back when I was teaching first grade, Eric Carle's books were amongst my favorites to read aloud at storytime. And we have a dear video from 1992 when I was reading Galdone's Over in the Meadow
to our then-baby, Liz. The dear part is her chiming in as I read.
Right now, I'm partway through All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
And I can't wait for my copy of Don Tate's The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton: Poet.
Did you watch the video yet?
If you're one of the people who hears other people say "Debbie Reese hates white people," I hope you'll tell them to go to my site and look for a post titled "Debbie Reese hates white people."
Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers was founded in 1992
. Yesterday, they announced the 2015 Wordcraft Circle Honors and Awards
Among them are ones I've written about here on American Indians in Children's Literature
, and ones for which reviews are still in process. Do look at the complete list
for items to add to the adult shelves of your library.
I hope that librarians across the U.S. get copies of the award winning books. These books celebrate Native life and lifeways, showing the realities of who we are, but infusing those realities with love and the perseverance that characterizes us as a people.
Congratulations to the winners and their loved ones!
There are two winners in the picture book category. I'm not part of the deliberations but can imagine them reading the two books and thinking both were so strong that they couldn't select just one!Hungry Johnny,
written by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Wesley Ballinger, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.Sweetest Kulu
, written by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis, published by Inhabit Media.
In the middle grades category is Tim Tingle's No Name
, published by 7th Generation.
In the Graphic Novel category is Richard Van Camp's Three Feathers
, illustrated by Krystal Mateus.
In the Trade Paperback category: Volume 2 of Arigon Starr's Super Indian
, published by Wacky Productions Unlimited.
In the Comic Book category: We Speak in Secret
by Roy Boney Jr., published by INC Comics.
In the Editor's Category: Lisa Charleyboy, for Dreaming in Indian,
published by Annick Press.
The Pathfinder Award is a new category, given to the writer who is "pushing the boundaries of Indigenous literature." Erika Wurth received that award for Crazy Horse's Girlfriend
, published by
Repeating what I said earlier... Librarians and teachers! Get these books. Native kids you work with will find their lives affirmed. Non-Native kids you work with will have that much talked about window into Native life.
On October 2, 2015, I posted a short note about one passage in Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl. Schlitz's book is one of the books the Heavy Medal blog is discussing. That blog, for those who don't know, is at the School Library Journal website, and is where Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt host discussions of books that may be in contention for the prestigious Newbery Medal. Books that win that award are purchased by school and public libraries across the country. Because books that win the Newbery carry such prestige, teachers assign them to students.
When he introduced the book on October 15, Jonathan Hunt linked to American Indians in Children's Literature and summarized my comments about The Hired Girl.
I appreciate that Jonathan Hunt brought my concerns to readers of Heavy Medal, but he also dismissed them as minor and said that The Hired Girl is among his top three books for this year. I've been active in the discussion and have read and re-read the book as I participate. The discussion has has spread over three distinct pages at School Library Journal, and over at Book Riot, too. The Jewish aspects of the book figure prominently in those discussions.
With this blog post, I'm bringing my thoughts into a single place for anyone interested in focusing on a Native perspective on The Hired Girl. Just below this paragraph is my "For the TL/DR crowd" which means 'too long/didn't read, but here's the key points.' Beneath it is my in-depth look at the book.
The Hired Girl
from a Native Perspective
For the TL/DR crowd
Mascots and Halloween costumes are evidence that
adults, much less children, do not have the
background information needed to see Joan's
thinking is wrongheadded when she talks about
"civilized" Indians or when she invites Oskar to play Indian.
Discussing pejorative terms used in the Author's Note,
but not including "natives" in that discussion
suggests Schlitz herself may not understand that her
depictions of Native people in the book is, itself, wrongheadded.
Praising The Hired Girl and ignoring concerns over
Native content is another, in a too-long line of, instances in
which gatekeepers throw Native people under the bus.
The Hired Girl
from a Native Perspective
An In-Depth Look
Set in 1911, The Hired Girl
is about Joan, a 14 year old Catholic girl who runs away from her father's farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Her mother died a few years prior and Joan's life with her dad and older brothers is, to say the least, devoid of joy. The only source of joy is the teacher who gives her books. Near the end of the first part of the book, the teacher visits Joan. She gives her a bouquet of flowers wrapped in newspaper. Joan takes them in the house and returns outside. The teacher tries to give her some more books but Joan's dad comes upon them and sends the teacher and the books packing.
Back inside the house, Joan reads the newspaper that the flowers were wrapped in.
She reads an article about the Amalgamated Railroad Employees (railroad workers) being on strike and thinks maybe she ought to go on strike, too, so that her dad will give her some money for the work she does. In that same paper, she reads ads looking for "white girl to cook" and "first-class white girl for cooking and housework" and wishes she could be a hired girl. Her efforts to strike fail, her dad burns her books, and she runs away to Baltimore with the idea that she'll find work as a hired girl.
When she gets to Baltimore, the day ends with a near-rape. Joan escapes that, and ends up crying and praying on a park bench. In the midst of her prayer, a man offers to help her. That man is Solomon Rosenbach. His demeanor makes him more trustworthy than the man who tried to rape her. She tells him her story and that she's looking for work. The near-rape makes her wary, but Soloman has a plan that she's ok with, so she follows him to his home. He goes inside and tells his mother about her; Joan waits outside. Mrs. Rosenbach appears, asks her a few questions, and decides Joan--who is now going by Janet--can stay with them a few days if Malka, their Jewish housekeeper, doesn't mind. Feeling safe in their home, Joan decides she'd like to work for the Rosenbach's. She tells Mrs. Rosenbach that "you'll find me very willing" to help out. Here's that part of the story (Kindle Locations 1203-1219):
“Willing to work in a Jewish household?” she said, and when I didn’t answer right away, she added, “You, I think, are not Jewish.”
“No, ma’am,” I said. I was as taken aback as if she’d asked me if I was an Indian. It seemed to me — I mean, it doesn’t now, but it did then — as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there still are Indians out West, but they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.
Joan is taken aback at the idea that she might be thought of as Jewish, or, Indian because she thought the Jews are like Indians: people from long ago. Joan knows there are Indians now (remember, the story takes place in 1911) and that they are "civilized" and "wear ordinary clothes."
What does Joan think civilized means? Does it mean wearing ordinary clothes like the ones she wears? Does she think wearing those clothes make those Indians civilized?
In the paragraphs immediately following that passage, we learn from Joan that the information she has about Jews is from Ivanhoe
, but we aren't told where Joan got her information about Indians.
Let's see, though, what we might find out if we dig into books for children published during Joan's childhood, which would be 1897 (the year she was born) to the year she ran away, 1911. Maybe she read Wigwam Stories Told by North American Indians
, by Mary Catherine Judd, published in 1901 by Ginn & Company in Boston. Wigwam Stories
is recommended in a lot of publications of that time. It was recommended, for example, in 1902 in the Journal of Education
published by Oxford University Press, in 1906 in Public Libraries: A Monthly Review of Library Matters and Methods,
published by the Library Bureau, in
1910 in The Model School Library,
published by the California Teachers Association, in 1915 in Books for Boys and Girls: A Selected List,
published by the
American Library Association, and in 1922 in Graded List of Books for Children
, published by the National Education Association.
The preface for Wigwam Stories
ends with this note from the author:
See that last sentence in the preface? It says "Careful investigations undertaken by the largest of nonreservation schools, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, prove that 94 per cent of the 4000 students recorded there have never "returned to the blanket," but have become modern home makers."
Maybe Wigwam Stories
is the source of Joan's information. Maybe she read it and asked her teacher for more information, and her teacher told her about Carlisle Indian Industrial School. That teacher is sympathetic to the conditions miners work in, so maybe she's also aware of the goings-on at Carlisle. Maybe she's even seen the before and after photographs taken of students--photographs meant to persuade people that the school was changing the children so that they would not, as the note says, "return to the blanket." Here's one of those photos:
Is that what Joan has in mind? Jonathan (at Heavy Medal) is arguing that when Joan thinks "they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes," she is telling us that other people think in stereotypical ways, but she does not. He would have us think that she's more knowledgeable than other people of that time, but later, she invites Oskar to play Indian. At that part of the book, Joan and Malka are taking care of Mrs. Rosenbach's grandchildren. One is a little boy named Oskar. Malka wants him to nap, but he doesn't want to (Kindle Locations 3888-3900):
Malka looked at me with desperation in her eyes, and I rose to the occasion. I remembered how Luke and I used to play on the days when Ma aired her quilts. “I’ll take Oskar up to my room. We’ll make a blanket tent and play Indians. He’ll like that, won’t you, Oskar?”
Oskar looked intrigued, so I led him upstairs. I rigged a tent by draping the bedclothes over the foot of my bed and the top of the dresser. We crawled inside the tent, and I told Oskar there was a blizzard outside (we made blizzard noises) with wild wolves howling (we howled). Then I was inspired to say that we were starving to death inside our tent, and that we would die if no Indian was brave enough to go out and hunt buffalo. Oskar took the bait. “I’ll go,” he said, and squared his shoulders. “I’ll go kill the buffalo.”
“I’ll make you a horse,” I offered. To tell the truth, I was starting to enjoy myself. I tore strips from my old sage-green dress to make a bridle, and I tied them to the back of a chair. Oskar rode up and down the prairie, rocking the chair back and forth and flapping the reins.
Then he demanded a buffalo. I produced my cardboard suitcase, which he beat to death with his bare hands. He dragged the slain buffalo back to the tent, and we pretended to gnaw on buffalo meat. “You’re good at playing,” Oskar said earnestly.
I felt terribly pleased. But of course, one buffalo was not enough; he had to hunt another one. Then we killed a few wolves. After the last wolf was dead, he collapsed in the tent beside me.
With that passage, we get more insight into what Joan knows about Indians. If Jonathan is correct, doesn't it seem that she would not teach that stereotypical play to Oskar? Jonathan and others who are defending this book insist that Joan's mistaken ideas are corrected along the way. Where is the correction to playing Indian? I don't see it.
Near the end of the book, Joan and David (another of Mrs. Rosenbach's sons) kiss and she falls in love with him. He is not in love with her. She thinks about him all the time and at this part, wonders how people can stand to be apart (Kindle Locations 4099-4101):
I think about the conquistadors and how they left off kissing their wives and went sailing across the ocean to conquer a lot of innocent natives who would probably have preferred to stay in their hammocks and kiss their wives.
There's a lot to say about that sentence, but I want to focus on "natives." Look it up in your favorite dictionary. You'll see it is considered dated and offensive. The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary
gives an example "Raleigh wanted the cooperation of the natives and treated the Indians with respect." Now--I believe that Joan would use that word. The problem is that it is not addressed in the story, and it is not addressed in the Author's Note either. In it, Laura Amy Schlitz's wrote: (Kindle Locations 4992-4999):
In The Hired Girl, I have tried to be historically accurate about language. This has led me to use terms that are considered pejorative today, such as Hebrew, Mahomet, and Mahometans.
I used Mahomet and Mahometan for two reasons. The word Muslim, which is now preferred, was not in use until much later in the twentieth century. And, as a reader of Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, and The Picturesque World, Joan would have encountered the words Mahomet and Mahometan. These are the words that were used at that time.
Similarly, many Jewish people today find the term Hebrew offensive, but the fact that many Jewish organizations in Baltimore used it (the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, the Hebrew Literary Society, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, etc.) suggests that at the turn of the century, the word Hebrew was used with pride.
Why didn't she address her use of "natives" in the note?
Those who praise The Hired Girl are saying that it is clear to readers that Joan is naive and has mistaken ideas about a lot of things. They think we should trust the child reader to know that Joan is naive.
People who say that we should trust the child reader must not interact much, if at all, with Native people. Do they not know that Native people across the country are sharing blog posts, videos, and posters, asking that people not dress up like Indians for Halloween? Do they not know that Native people are showing up, week after week, to protest the use of Native imagery for mascots, from elementary schools to professional athletic teams? Do they not know that Native parents are at schools again and again to ask teachers not to use books that dehumanize us, or to ask that schools not do things like the Land Run and Thanksgiving Dinners?
Who is planning all those insensitive activities? Adults. Adults who ought to be able to read such activities critically. They can't. Or won't. Either way, the outcome is the same. And those who praise The Hired Girl think children are capable of reading critically when, all around us, there is evidence that adults can not, or will not read critically about things that are, on their face, problematic?
Predictably, another defense of The Hired Girl is that the main character is Roman Catholic. "Not enough books about Roman Catholics!" they say. "We cannot let those problematic Indian parts knock this book out of contention for the Newbery!" Come January, we'll know what the Newbery Committee decides. Will The Hired Girl be yet another book in a long list of books that does something so well that the committee decides it has to overlook the problematic Native content? I hope not.
As most people in children's literature know, Laura Amy Schlitz's book, The Hired Girl, has been the focus of a great deal of discussion over the last two weeks. That discussion is primarily centered on her use of "civilized" to describe Indians, and, her depictions of Jews. The point of view in The Hired Girl is a 14 year old girl who is Roman Catholic. Her name is Joan.
Today, I am taking a look at a passage in The Hired Girl that has bearing on heated discussions of late about diversity and "who can write." Meg Rosoff's comments on Edith Campbell's Facebook page and Michael Grant's post are two recent examples of the discussions, and I think Schlitz, through her character, is chiming in, too, in the later part of her book.
David, a Jewish character in The Hired Girl, has his heart set on being a portrait painter. He doesn't want to take up a position in his father's department store. He wants to study painting in Paris. He is working on a painting of Joan of Arc, for a French woman named Madame Marechaux. A devout Catholic, Madame Marechaux wants to see Joan of Arc made into a saint and wants to hang a large painting of her at the top of her stairs in her house on Fifth Avenue in New York City. If his painting is chosen, David thinks it will help him in his dream of being a painter. He asks Joan to sit for him because he thinks her physique and her face, are like that of Joan of Arc.
Well, Madame Marechaux does not choose his painting. She chose the painting done by a French painter named LeClerq. David tells Joan (Kindle Locations 4253-4259):
“The wretched woman chose LeClerq! LeClerq, can you imagine? Of course you don’t know LeClerq, but he’s an idiot! He can’t draw, his perspective’s faulty; he couldn’t foreshorten if his life depended on it. All he does is slather on a lot of greasy impasto with a palette knife — it’s sickening; the man’s a fake, but he’s French, which makes him a god to Madame Marechaux, and he’s not a Jew —”
“The way he carries on about religion, you’d think he was Beato Angelico. Oily little highlights everywhere; it’s enough to make you sick. Madame Marechaux said his sketches were imbued with the deepest piety. Can you imagine saying that — imbued with the deepest piety? Did you ever hear anything so pretentious in your life?”
In the first paragraph, note how LeClerq's abilities are denigrated. In the second one, his speech about his religion (Roman Catholic) is also denigrated--especially in how it informs his art. David continues (Kindle Locations 4265-4268):
She says that I’m bound to be at a disadvantage with Joan of Arc because I’m not a Roman Catholic. What does she know about it? When I’m painting, my religion is painting! I could paint Mahomet flying into the sky on a peacock, or a jackass, or whatever the hell it was. I could feel it, I swear I’d feel it, I’d be imbued with the deepest piety —”
Two things come to mind. Muslims do not depict Muhammed. People depict him anyway, and use free speech as a defense of their decisions to depict him. What is being communicated to readers through David's words?
Is Schlitz--through her characters--pushing against the growing call for diversity of authors? I think so, and, I think it is an overt move on the part of Schlitz, her editor, and her publishing house.
What do you think?
Did you read Dreaming in Indian, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale? It came out last year to much acclaim, and last week, it received an award from Wordcraft Circle. Awards from ones own community are especially valuable. They signal to a reader that people who know a people, from the inside, find the book to be amongst the very best available.
Charyleyboy and Leatherdale's new book, Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City, also published by Annick Press, was released in August of this year.
Isn't that cover exquisite? Inside you'll find art, and stories, and poems written by Native people. There's joy, for example, in the photographs of actor Tatanka Means. You may have seen him in Tiger Eyes
, the film adaptation of Judy Blume's story. Photographs of him in Urban Tribes
include one of his dad, Russell Means, braiding his hair, and several of him holding a mic.
Talong Long, an 8th grader in Phoenix, who is Sicangu Lakota, Diné, writes about how hard it is "to convince people--adults especially" what his life is like. He writes:
There are also a lot of other people here who aren't Native and don't know about Natives. They say things like 'You live in the city? I thought you lived on a reservation. You have a house? I thought you lived in a teepee.'
I find his words striking as I read them this week in light of ongoing arguments made by adults who think kids can spot stereotyping and bias. Long also writes about the Native community in Phoenix that sustains him. Fifteen year old Maggie, and 17 year old Michaela are Cree/Dene. Their thoughts on going back and forth from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan to Beauval, on the English River First Nation, are spread over six delightful, gorgeous pages.Urban Tribes
includes Dear Native College Student, You Are Loved,
an essay by Dr. Adrienne Keene that circulates widely in Native networks online and a two-page spread of the Faceless Doll Project created by students at the Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver, through which students use collage to call attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
And, it includes a two-page spread full of information about Native peoples in the US and Canada.
As with Dreaming in Indian,
I find myself studying it, pausing, and thinking about the young Native people who will study it, too, finding possible selves in the pages of Urban Natives.
I highly recommend it.
Today, a colleague asked me if I knew of an article that looked at Native imagery in the Newbery Medal winners. I don't know of such an article and thought I'd just start making notes here. No analysis, yet. I'm using Google Books, Amazon's "look inside" feature, Project Gutenburg... whatever I can to compile these excerpts. The first medal was awarded in 1922. The first one that is about Native people of North America is Waterless Mountain, published in 1932.
1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon:
They had tried to use the Indians as labourers in the fields and in the mines, but the Indians, when taken away from a life in the open, had lain down and died and to save them from extinction a kind-hearted priest had suggested that negroes be brought from Africa to do the work.
1923: The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting:
"He is a mysterious person," said the Doctor--"a very mysterious person. His name is Long Arrow, the son of Golden Arrow. He is a Red Indian."
"Have you ever seen him?" I asked.
"No," said the Doctor, "I've never seen him. No white man has ever met him. I fancy Mr. Darwin doesn't even know that he exists. He lives almost entirely with the animals and with the different tribes of Indians--usually somewhere among the mountains of Peru. Never stays long in one place. Goes from tribe to tribe, like a sort of Indian tramp."1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes, p. 188:
Miles Philips was his name and the manner of his suffering at the hands of the Indians and the Spaniards may serve as a warning. For they flung him into prison where he was like to have starved; and they tortured him in the Inquisition where he was like to have perished miserably; and many of his companions they beat and killed or sent to the galleys; and himself and certain others they sold for slaves.1925: Tales from Silver Lands, by Charles J. Finger
Note: It is a collection of 19 folktales of the native peoples of Central and South America. Can't see anything on line. 1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
Note: Nothing that I can see online.1927: Smokey, the Cowhorse by Will James
All the stars was out and showing off, and the braves was a chasing the buffalo plum around the Big Dipper, the water hole of The Happy Hunting Grounds.1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
Note: Nothing that I can see online.1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
Note: Nothing that I can see online.1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, page 28:
They were sure the Indians had carried me away and I think this made Phoebe even more distressed about my loss.1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
Note: Nothing that I can see online.1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
Uncle told Father to ride to the trading post for help. At the post the Big Man was very busy trying to do something for everyone. A party of tourists was asking questions about every little thing. One wanted to know if the Indians still scalped people.
"I have never seen it done," said the Big Man as he went on addressing envelopes on his typewriter.
Note: the Big Man is a white trader. The Navajo father wants him to heal his son, who is sick, and calling out for the white trader.1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
Note: Nothing that I can see online.1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, by Cornelia Miggs
Note: Nothing that I can see online.
That's it for now... More later.
By: Debbie Reese
Blog: American Indians in Children's Literature
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
A Fine Dessert
, Best Books
, Betsy Bird
, Chicago Public Library
, Debbie's lectures
, Della Nohl
, Meg Rosoff
, Omar Poler
, Picture Me Gone
, The Hired Girl
, Walk On Earth a Stranger
, Add a tag
I am pleased to be the keynote speaker at the Chicago Public Library, Edgewater Branch, on November 7, 2015, as the library system there kicks off its programming for Native American Heritage Month.
Della Nohl took that photo of me a few years ago when we were both at a Culture Keepers
gathering. Do hit that link and see what Culture Keepers is all about. You'll learn a lot about working with Native people and you'll come to know people like Omar Poler of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe of Wisconsin
, who was named as one of Library Journal's Movers and Shakers in 2014
. And, check out Della Nohl's page
. Right now (October 28, 2015) the photo at the top of her page is of the Indian Agency House in Portage, Wisconsin.
Knowing about Culture Keepers and knowing about Della Nohl's work is part of my world. Earlier today, I submitted a comment to Betsy Bird's blog post
at School Library Journal
. There, she is making the argument that people have to read a book in its entirety to say anything meaningful about the book. I disagree.
I don't, for example, need to read every page of Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone
to say I don't recommend it. My reason? I got to the page where her main character is in a coffee shop with unusual decor. As her character looks around, she describes what she sees, including:
A painting in a big gold frame of an Indian squaw kneeling by a fire needs dusting.
Rosoff's Picture Me Gone
is not about Native people. It is, however, a best selling book, and part of what I do is read some of those bestsellers so that I stay abreast of the happenings, so to speak, in children's and young adult literature.
Rosoff used "Indian squaw" -- a term most people view as offensive. Did Rosoff know it is offensive? Did Rosoff's editor know it is offensive? My guess is no. I speculate that they don't know because they don't step over into the world that I am in.
So many Native children don't do well in school. Might they do better if the textbooks they read were ones that honestly presented their nations, past and present? Might they do better if they didn't come across terms like "squaw" as a matter of course, in the literature they read?
As I write this blog post and think about what I'll say in Chicago, I'm thinking about Rosoff's book, and I'm thinking about troubling books that are being discussed as possible winners of prestigious children's literature awards: Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl
and Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall's A Fine Dessert
troubling. And Rae Carson's Walk On Earth a Stranger
has, perhaps, some of the most damaging content that I've seen in a very long time. It was on the long list for the National Book Award.
I do--of course--know of some terrific books that accurately and beautiful present Native peoples, and I will share those, too, on November 7th. I shared some--for teen readers
--in a column that went live a few hours ago at School Library Journal.
And I shared even more, there, two years ago. Here's the graphics SLJ's team put together, using the book covers for the books I recommended in that column:
My guess is that people who come to my talk on the 7th will be people who care about Native peoples, our histories, our cultures, and our lives. They will likely want me to talk about good books. It isn't enough, however, to know about books that accurately portray who we are; people have to know the others, too, because in the publishing world, they take up a lot of space.
Please put this day of events on your calendar! Bring your friends! Step into my world, and help me bring others into it, too, so that the status quo changes... So that best selling writers and books deemed worthy of awards are not ones that denigrate Native people.
Below is the press release Chicago Public Library is sending out.
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY CELEBRATES NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH IN NOVEMBER
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2015
Chicago Public Library is "Celebrating Diversity," with its annual observance ofNative American Heritage Month. Throughout November, the Library offers a variety of programs highlighting the history, culture, traditions, and contributions Native Americans have made to Chicago, the state of Illinois, and to the U.S. In addition, a selected bibliography and the Library’s 2015 Native American Heritage Month Calendar of Events are available at chipublib.org.
The opening program for Native American Heritage Month takes place on Saturday, November 7, at 11:00 a.m., at the Edgewater Branch, 6000 N. Broadway St. Debbie Reese, author, lecturer, and blogger will be the keynote speaker. Ms. Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo and has a PhD in Education from the University of Illinois and an MLIS from San Jose State University. Her research articles and book chapters on American Indians in Children’s Literature are used in Education, Library Science, English, and Creative Writing courses in the U.S. and Canada. Andrea Perkins and the Chi-Nations Youth Council will provide drum performances. A film screening of, From Old to Modern, which focuses modern activism will also be presented by the Chi-Nations Youth Council.
During Native American Heritage Month, the Library will present interesting, entertaining and informative programs for all ages, including storytelling and crafts for children, lectures, film screenings, art exhibitions and workshops, and adult book discussions.
Here are some highlights from the 2015 Native American Heritage Month Celebration:
Al Eastman, a certified archery coach with the Olympic Committee’s USA Archery program will teach the ten-step form of safety techniques for a hands-on archery demonstration with Olympic-style recurve bows. Eastman started the archery program at the American Indian Center in 2010 to help youth learn about math, science and history through archery.
- Ehdrigohr: A Role-Playing Experience
Allen Turner, creator of Ehdrigohr—a table top role-playing game—will present this fun and challenging game that incorporates Naïve American themes. Turner has been involved in storytelling, games, play design, and education for most of his adult life. His work includes coordinating youth and adult programs focusing on literacy, storytelling, role-playing, and team dynamics for developing inference and problem-solving skills.
Artist and musician Dan Pierce will explore the meanings Dreamcatcher components and instruct participants in how to use materials to craft Dreamcatchers that they can take home. Pierce has taught music and art in the Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years.
The Library presents five selected feature films spotlighting Native American culture including:
· The Exiles by Kent Mackenzie
· Up Heartbreak Hill by Erica Scharf
· Sun Kissed by Maya Stark and Adi Lavy
· In the Light of Reverence by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor
· Stand Silent Nation by Suree Towfighnia and Courtney Hermann
For more information about the film series, or for the complete listing of Native American Heritage Month events, dates and locations, please visit chipublib.org.
Throughout every calendar year, Chicago Public Library “Celebrates Diversity” and its importance to a sustainable society, during all of its ethnic heritage and diversity month celebrations including: African-American History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, LGBT Pride Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Polish American heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month.
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Some months ago, a reader asked me if I'd seen A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins, and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The person who wrote to me knows of my interest in diversity and the ways that Native peoples are depicted---and omitted--in children's books. Here's the synopsis:
In this fascinating picture book, four families, in four different cities, over four centuries, make the same delicious dessert: blackberry fool. This richly detailed book ingeniously shows how food, technology, and even families have changed throughout American history.
In 1710, a girl and her mother in Lyme, England, prepare a blackberry fool, picking wild blackberries and beating cream from their cow with a bundle of twigs. The same dessert is prepared by a slave girl and her mother in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina; by a mother and daughter in 1910 in Boston; and finally by a boy and his father in present-day San Diego.
Kids and parents alike will delight in discovering the differences in daily life over the course of four centuries.
Includes a recipe for blackberry fool and notes from the author and illustrator about their research.
Published this year, A Fine Dessert
arrives in the midst of national discussions of diversity. It is an excellent example of the status quo in children's literature, in which white privilege drives the creation, production, and review of children's and young adult literature.A Fine Dessert
is written and illustrated by white people.A Fine Dessert
is published by a major publisher.A Fine Dessert
, however, isn't an "all white book."
As the synopsis indicates, the author and illustrator included people who are not white. How they did that is deeply problematic. In recent days, Jenkins and Blackall have not been able to ignore the words of those who find their book outrageous.
The Horn Book's "Calling Caldecott" blog launched a discussion of A Fine Dessert
on September 23, 2015. Robin Smith opened the discussion with an overview of the book that includes this paragraph:
Blackall and Jenkins could have avoided the challenge of setting the 1810 scene on the plantation. They did not. They could have simply chosen a family without slaves or servants, but they did not. They clearly approached the situation thoughtfully. The enslaved daughter and mother’s humanity is secure as they work together and enjoy each other, despite their lack of freedom. In the 1810 table scene — the only time in the book when the cooks don’t eat the dessert at the dinner table — each of the African American characters depicted has a serious look on his or her face (i.e., there is no indication that anyone is enjoying their work or, by extension, their enslavement) while the children in the family attend to their parents and siblings or are distracted by a book or a kitty under the table. In its own way, the little nod to books and pets is also a nod to the privilege of the white children. They don’t have to serve. They don’t have to fan the family. They get to eat. Hidden in the closet, the African American mother and daughter have a rare relaxed moment away from the eyes of their enslavers.
Smith also wrote:
Since I have already read some online talk about the plantation section, I assume the committee will have, too. I know that we all bring our own perspectives to reading illustrations, and I trust that the committee will have a serious, open discussion about the whole book and see that the choice to include it was a deliberate one. Perhaps the committee will wish Blackall had set her second vignette in a different place, perhaps not. Will it work for the committee? I have no idea. But I do know that a large committee means there will be all sorts of readers and evaluators, with good discussions.
The "online talk" at that time was a blog post by Elissa Gall, a librarian who titled her blog post A Fine Dessert: Sweet Intentions, Sour Aftertaste
. On August 4th, she wrote that:
It’s clear that the creators had noble goals, and a criticism of their work is just that—a criticism of the book (not them). But despite the best of intentions, the result is a narrative in which readers see slavery as unpleasant, but not horrendous.
The Calling Caldecott discussed continued for some time. On October 4th, Jennifer wrote:
Based on the illustrations, there are too many implications that should make us as adults squirm about what we might be telling children about slavery:1) That slave families were intact and allowed to stay together.2) Based on the smiling faces of the young girl…that being enslaved is fun and or pleasurable.3) That to disobey as a slave was fun (or to use the reviewers word “relaxed”) moment of whimsy rather than a dangerous act that could provoke severe and painful physical punishment.
On October 5th, Lolly Robinson wrote that:
... the text and art in the book need to be appropriate for the largest common denominator, namely that younger audience.
Robinson's words about audience are the key to what is wrong with this book. I'll say more about that shortly.
On October 23rd, Sophie Blackall--the illustrator--joined the discussion at Calling Caldecott, saying she had decided to respond to the criticism of how she depicted slavery. She linked to her blog, where she wrote:
Reading the negative comments, I wonder whether the only way to avoid offense would have been to leave slavery out altogether, but sharing this book in school visits has been an extraordinary experience and the positive responses from teachers and librarians and parents have been overwhelming. I learn from every book I make, and from discussions like these. I hope A Fine Dessert continues to engage readers and encourage rewarding, thought provoking discussions between children and their grown ups.
In that comment, Blackall talks about school visits and positive responses from teachers, and librarians, and parents. My guess? Those are schools with primarily white students, white teachers, white librarians, and white parents. I bring that up because, while Blackall doesn't say so, my hunch is she's getting that response, in person, from white people. That positive response parallels what I see online. It is white women that are praising this book. In some instances, there's a nod to the concerns about the depiction of slavery, but the overwhelming love they express is centered on the dessert that is made by four families, in four centuries.
Praise is not the response from Black women and mothers.
On October 25 at 12:37, fangirlJeanne's, who identifies as a Polynesian woman of color, sent a tweet that got right to the heart of the matter. She wrote that "Authors who assume a young reader doesn't know about slavery or racism in America is writing for a white reader." In a series of tweets, she wrote about the life of children of color. With those tweets, she demonstrated that the notion of "age appropriate" content is specific to white children, who aren't amongst the demographics that experienced--and experience--bullying and bigoted attacks.
At 1:00, she shared an image of the four pages in the book that Sophie Blackall has in her blog post
, saying that these illustrations make her sick and sad:
The conversation about the book grew larger. Some people went to Blackall's post and submitted comments that she subsequently deleted. The explanation for why she deleted them rang hollow. And then sometime in the last 24 hours, she added this to the original blog post:
This blog has been edited to add the following:
It seems that very few people commenting on the issue of slavery in A Fine Dessert have read the actual book. The section which takes place in 1810 is part of a whole, which explores the history of women in the kitchen and the development of food technology amongst other things. A Fine Dessert culminates in 2010 with the scene of a joyous, diverse, inclusive community feast. I urge you to read the whole book. Thank you.
Clearly, Blackall is taking solace in Betsy Bird's You Have to Read the Book
. Aligning herself with that post is a mistake made in haste, or--if she read and thought about the thread--a decision to ignore the voices of people of color who are objecting to her depiction of slavery.
My hope is that the people on the Caldecott committee are reading the conversations about the book and that they will subsequently choose not to name A Fine Dessert
as deserving of Caldecott recognition.
The book is going to do well, regardless of the committee decision. Yesterday, the New York Times
named it as one of the best illustrated books of 2015. That, too, speaks to a whiteness that must be examined.
In this post, I've focused on the depictions of slavery. I've not said anything about Native people and our absence from Jenkins and Blackall's historical narrative. Honestly, given what they did with slavery, I'm glad of that omission. I'm reminded of Taylor, a fifth grader who was learning to think critically about Thanksgiving. She wrote "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"
The American settings for A Fine Dessert
, of course, are all on land that belonged to Native peoples who were forcibly removed and killed to make way for Americans to raise their families, to pursue their American dreams.
I imagine, as I point to that omission, that people will argue that it isn't fair to judge a book for what it leaves out, for what it didn't intend to do. That "not fair" response, however, is the problem. It tells people who object to being left out or misrepresented, to go away. This book is "not for you."
This particular book is symbolic of all that is wrong with children's literature right now. A Fine Dessert
provides children with a glossy view of this country and its history that is, in short, a lie about that history. We should hold those who create literature for children to a standard that doesn't lie to them.
What can we do about that lie? Use it, as Elissa Gall suggested in her blog post, when she wrote:The only time I’d imagine selecting this book for classroom use would be to evaluate it collaboratively using an anti-bias lens (like the guide by Louise Derman-Sparks found here).