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1. TEEN SPIRIT by Francesca Lia Block

I'll start with this: I think Francesca Lia Block likes Indians.

I'm just not sure what she knows about us. I kinda think she doesn't know a Native person.

By that, I mean one who is on-the-ground Native, as in living on the reservation, or hanging with the Native community in whatever city or suburb they're in, or, if they're in a part of the country where there is not a Native community, then, one who goes home to that community and/or talks to people from there a lot.

That on-the-ground identity is in stark contrast to the person who has a family story where a great great ancestor was Native. This group tends to romanticize who Native people are, and it comes out in dreadful ways. Case in point: mystical Indians. With powers.

Let's talk about Francesca Lia Block's Teen Spirit. I'll start with the synopsis (pasted here from Amazon):

Francesca Lia Block, critically acclaimed author of Weetzie Bat, brings this eerie and redemptive ghost story to life with her signature, poetic prose. It's perfect for fans of supernatural stories with a touch of romance like the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

After Julie's grandmother passes away, she is forced to move across town to the not-so-fancy end of Beverly Hills and start over at a new school. The only silver lining to the perpetual dark cloud that seems to be following her? Clark—a die-hard fan ofBuffy and all things Joss Whedon, who is just as awkward and damaged as she is. Her kindred spirit.

When the two try to contact Julie's grandmother with a Ouija board, they make contact with a different spirit altogether. The real kind. And this ghost will do whatever it takes to come back to the world of the living.

Francesca Lia Block's latest young adult novel is a haunting work about family, loss, love, and redemption.

Block has tons of fans. You can go to Goodreads and read all the things people like about her book. I'm giving you my view on what she does with Native content.

In the first chapter, Julie is with her grandma. First clue that you gotta pay attention to is that her grandma is wearing "Native American turquoise" (p. 13). That's fine. I hope it was the real thing, though, made by a Native person.

Hitting the pause button: did you know it is against the law to sell something as though it is Native if it isn't? Go read the text of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. My best guess, given what Block did in the Weetzie Bat books and in Teen Spirit, is that she doesn't know about that law because she doesn't know much about us at all. Somehow, I think that she has some image in her head, some super cool image of who she thinks we are, and that is what shapes what she does when she writes us into her books.

Back to Teen Spirit.

Julie is living with her grandma and her mom. But, alas, Julie's grandma dies suddenly. Right there in front of her. As she is dying, she tells Julie she has something to tell her but doesn't get it out. Looking at her lifeless body, Julie sees "a pale lavender radiance" (p. 14) hovering over her body and she hears some "baroque and strange, otherworldly" music playing, too. She doesn't tell her mom about it. With grandma dead, there's other things to worry about.

As that chapter closes, we learn about Julie's dad. She never met him. Julie was an in vitro baby. All her mom told her about him is (p. 18):
"that he was over six feet tall, full-blooded Cherokee, and had a master's degree in psychology."
And that he was a sperm donor.

Let's hit that pause button again. That bit of info raised all kinds of questions for me that I kinda doubt even occurred to Block. I went to a donor site online to see what I might learn. I wondered, for example, how they know a person is "full blooded Cherokee" or "Blackfoot." On one site, a chat window popped up immediately. I asked my "how do you know" question and they answer was that it is self-reported. I asked about tribal ID and learned they don't ask for it. Those questions matter, in light of another law (that I'm guessing Block doesn't know about): the Indian Child Welfare Act. It was passed in 1978, to keep Native children within Native communities. I could do some research to see if there have been any cases in which a sperm donor sought information about his child and how that would play out in a courtroom. But, I'll set that aside and get back to Teen Spirit. 

Why did Block go with a "full blooded Cherokee" sperm donor? Asking that question makes me think that maybe she knows that claiming a great great Cherokee grandma wouldn't cut it. If she has Julie's dad be Cherokee, for real, does that mean we're to believe that Julie's ability to see those lights around her grandma are legitimized by the sperm donor? Scary thought! Scary because it isn't any better. It is STILL mystical Indian stuff that does not work.

In the next chapters, Julie and her mom move across town, she gets a job in a dress shop that sells vintage clothes, and she meets a guy named Clark (his aura is green) at her new school. She also finds a Ouija board in the dresser drawer in her new room. She is intrigued by it, wondering if she can use it to talk with her grandma. Clark is freaked by it. Later, she meets another guy. His name is Grant (his aura is red), and though he tells her he is Clark's twin, we're going to learn that Grant IS Clark's twin, but that he died a year ago and that his spirit has entered Clark and takes over Clark's body from time to time.

So. Julie finds a card that a lady at an occult store had given her, to a place in Chinatown called Black Jade. Julie and Clark go there and learn from the lady there that Julie is "an intuitive" and that she probably got that gift from her dad. She gives them some treatments and tells them to see Tatiana Gonzales to get rose petals they need for a tea she wants them to use.

They call Tatiana Gonzales and then go to her house. There, they see milagros embedded in the outer adobe walls of her house. Tatiana greets them (her aura is indigo). She has powers, too (of course). She's petite, black curls "adorned with fresh gardenias and cascading to her minuscule waist" (p. 151). She tells Julia that her ability to see auras can be developed with practice.

Back at her house, Julia picks up a book with a poem by Emily Dickinson. She'd been reading aloud from it to her grandmother when she died. A piece of paper falls out of it. It is an advertisement for a store called Ed Rainwater Designs. It sells figures carved of bone, dream catchers, jewelry, and sage. Since sage is one of the things that they need, Julie and Clark go to that store (p. 166):
When we walk in we see an extravagantly tall man in sunglasses, sitting on a stool behind a counter. At his side was a three-legged dog that resembled a coyote. Both of them shone with almost blinding white light in spit of the dimness of the room.
They tell him they need sage for a ritual. He asks them (p. 167):
"Looking for some kicks? Some native enlightenment?"
Julie replies:
"No, sir," I said. "With all respect, we take this seriously. And even though I don't know anything about it, I'm half Cherokee."
Ed looks them over and then takes them out back. He gives them some special sage he grows and tells her to burn it, and that she'll know when the time to do that is right. Like the others, he tells her to develop her skills. Clark asks if he means the ability to see the auras, and Ed replies:
"More than that. Your friend has a gift that can magnetize certain spirits."
Enter another character! Amrita (her aura is metallic gold). She has very long black hair, wears a bunch of gold bracelets, and looks (p. 70):
"like a Hindu goddess statue. I wouldn't have have been surprised if she was hiding a few extra arms behind her back."
A Hindu goddess. Are you groaning? Or shaking your head? Or your fist, perhaps?! Ed and Amrita invite Julie and Clark to stay for dinner. Amrita teaches Julie how to meditate and then it is time for a sweat.

Pause button! I gotta get up and walk around a bit. Shake off some of this nonsense.

.....

Back.

Inside, Ed pours water on rocks that are on top of coals. They sweat. Ed prays. They come out feeling great (sigh).

Things eventually get resolved for both, Julie and Clark. And of course, they figure out that Ed is her father. She thinks she'll go visit him sometime. For now, she's gonna explore her relationship with Clark.

THE END

I hope that is the end. I hope Block isn't going to go from this to a book where Julie's "powers" are more developed. My overall sense is that Block is really taken with "other." She likes not-white peoples. She's put them in this book and in Weetzie Bat, too. People obviously love her writing. I wish she'd stay away from this kind of writing, though.

In a twitter exchange earlier this month, she apologized for the problems I described in Weetzie Bat. I thought it was a sincere apology, but she didn't say a word about Teen Spirit. I wish she would. Without addressing it, her apology rings very hollow. Very hollow, indeed.

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2. Francesca Lia Block apologized for Native stereotyping in WEETZIE BAT

On November 11, 2014, the We Need Diverse Books campaign hosted a twitter chat about LGBTQ literature. During that chat, Emily Campbell (@Ms_Librarian) tweeted that Francesca Lia Block's book, Baby Bebop, was important to her. She included Block in the tweet. I replied, saying "The Native content in her bks is stereotyping 101." Here's a screencap:



Campbell asked for more information, and I sent her a link to my analysis of Weetzie Bat. The next day, November 12, Block replied to me and Campbell, saying "No offense meant. My apologies. All respect for all." Here's that screencap:



I thanked her, saying "Most ppl mean well but lack awareness, esp of Native ppl & how culture is used/misused." Here's the screencap of that; I don't know why its font is larger than the others:


She replied again, saying "I would like to learn and grow, until I am no longer alive." And I thanked her again, saying "Your voice as ally pushing back on broad/deep misrepresentations of Native ppl is important." Here's the screencap of that exchange:



I don't know what, if anything, Francesca Lia Block has said or done about this since then. Most authors who respond to my critiques of their work are defensive. Her response was different, and I appreciate that, but I wonder if she's said anything more about my critique, elsewhere, to friends, perhaps?

Block's apology came up this morning in a tweet exchange I had with a colleague about Daniel Handler, the author of Lemony Snicket books who made several racist remarks last night (November 19) at the National Book Awards. He called them "ill conceived humor" in an apology he tweeted today (November 20). His remarks weren't "ill conceived." They were racist.

Block and Handler are key figures in children's and young adult literature. They are authors of best selling books. They could change a lot of hearts and minds if they'd say more than either has said so far.

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3. Mass Media Fail(s): Describing Indian man's singing as "chants" and "yowls" and "wails"

Yowls? Chant? Wail?!! This is a wild guess, but I wonder...

When they were kids, did Dina Capiello of the Associated Press, Andrew Kirell of Mediaite, and the nameless person who posted a video at CNN read children's books like Little House on the Prairie that told them that Native people "yowl" or "chant" or "wail"?!

While any person might do any of those things for one reason or another, those words are not what took place in the Senate Gallery yesterday. Something happened when the Senate voted down the Keystone pipeline bill.

Greg Grey Cloud sang a song.

Grey Cloud is an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and co-founder of Wica Agli, an organization dedicated to helping men and boys create communities that value self, family, and community. That work includes protesting the Keystone pipeline, and that is why Greg Grey Cloud was in the Senate gallery yesterday. The bill being voted down marked a victory for the protest work he and Native people have been doing.

So Greg Grey Cloud sang a song, but the three news media I noted at the top of this post didn't call it a song. The first news source I read about the vote was Mediaite. Initially, their headline was "Native American Chant Interrupts Senate as Keystone Vote Fails." The word "chant" bothered me and I set about to create a graphic that corrected the use of "chant." As I did that, a colleague said it was a Victory song, so I added that to the correction I made. This is what I came up with (it needed another correction, as you'll see later):


This morning, I saw that CNN called it wailing:




And, I saw that the AP reporter used "yowls" in the final paragraph of her report:



In getting this blog post ready, I went back to the Mediate article and saw that they had changed the wording in their headline. The new one is on the left. My edited one is on the right. I am glad they changed their headline, and I imagine that those involved in that change will not make that mistake again!



As it turns out, my corrections needed a correction, too! In an interview today, Grey Cloud said he was overcome with joy at the outcome of the vote:

I looked down and thought we need to honor these Senators for having the courage to make the right decision, for not only Indian country but for America as a whole. As a singer, I know only one way to honor someone, and that’s to sing. I didn’t mean to disrupt the Senate, only to honor the conviction shown by the Senators.

Grey Cloud was singing in his language. Here's the Lakota words, and the English translation:

Lakota language for Unci Maka Olowan song: “Tunkasila wamayanka yo, le miye ca tehiya nawazin yelo. unci maka nawacincina wowahwala wa yuha waun welo”

English translation Grandmother Earth song: “Grandfather look at me, I am standing here struggling, I am defending grandmother earth and I am chasing peace.”
And here's the video of that moment in the Senate:




Though that language and style of singing may be unfamiliar to most people, the words in the song are ones spoken by a people who is Indigenous to this land, and whose culture has been misrepresented and marginalized so much that those three reporters, and perhaps most of the people there, did not recognize it for what it is.

That has to change. That means replacing books that misrepresent Native peoples with books that don't have problems of misrepresentation. Please let go of those classics. They have not served us well. Choose, instead, books that present all peoples as people. Start with the books on AICL's Best Books list.




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4. PUKAWISS THE OUTCAST by Jay Jordan Hawke

Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke is an unusual book. The protagonist--Joshua--is a 14 year old teen who is gay. Because his mother is a fundamentalist Christian, he has not shared that identity with anyone. The story is set in the June of 1999, when President Clinton issued a proclamation naming June as Gay and Lesbian Pride month.

What makes the book unusual is not that he is gay, but that Joshua is Native.

Joshua's mother is white, and his father is Ojibwe. They met when his mother went to his father's reservation to do missionary work. They fell in love, but she was sure he was going to hell for his Ojibwe beliefs. He had to choose between her and his Ojibwe identity. He chose her, but struggled with that choice. He eventually became an alcoholic.

Joshua wasn't raised Ojibwe, nor did he visit the reservation, which is an hour from his mom and dad's house.

But when his dad leaves and his mom needs time to sort things out, she drops him off at the home of "Gentle Eagle" -- his grandfather -- on the reservation.

Joshua meets several teens who work at Wiigwaas, a recreated village Gentle Eagle established to help the Ojibwe people remember and learn their heritage.

Among the teens who work at the village are "Mokwa" and "Little Deer." Mokwa means angry bear, we're told in the book. Information shared about the names of the characters follows pop culture ideas about how Native names are given. Pop culture, I hasten to add, that doesn't reflect how Native names are given. "Gentle Eagle" is a gentle elder who everyone turns to for guidance. "Mokwa" is called that because he fought some older boys who were bullying "Little Deer" who is quiet and skittish. Later in the book is a new character, Black Crow, who is a loud-mouthed bully.

Naming figures prominently in the story. Joshua wants an Indian name. He's got a crush on Mokwa, who he hangs out with a lot at the village. Mokwa gives him a nickname: Pukawiss.

According to Mokwa, Pukawiss is a manitou who was an outcast because he didn't do what was expected of him (hunt and fish). Instead, he watched animals and mimicked their movements. His mimicry gave birth to "the art of dancing." He also gave the people Fancy Dance and powwows. The latter is definitely not accurate. Both are contemporary or modern in nature, rather than traditional ceremonies/dances that have been done for a very long time.

Later, Mokwa tells Joshua that he thinks Pukawiss was gay because when he went from village to village teaching the dances, women threw themselves at him and he ignored them. And, because he "loved bright-colored clothing." Mokwa's says "I think he was gay. It makes sense to me." Those two sentences function as a disclaimer, I think, for what the author is telling us via Mokwa.

I haven't found anything from Ojibwe writers or scholars that says Pukawiss was gay. It seems to me that the author--an outsider to Ojibwe culture--is putting this interpretation onto Pukawiss. I find that rather troubling, given that the author is not Native. He is also using markers (colored clothing) that fits in the framework of gay-people-as-flamboyant that Malinda Lo notes as a mixed blessing in terms of characters who are portrayed that way.

There are other problems... Mokwa does the Fancy Dance at powwows. He's taught Joshua how to do that dance. Joshua practices it and does it at the village for the tourists. Near the end of the book they all go to a powwow at Bay Mills where Mokwa is competing. During the dance, Mokwa sprains his ankle. He finishes the dance well enough to be selected as a finalist who has to dance again. He tells Joshua to take his place. He quickly takes off all his regalia and Joshua puts it on. That doesn't sound plausible. Regalia doesn't go on and off quickly. There's a lot of parts, each one requiring care in terms of the item itself but also regarding how it is put on.

Joshua is worried everyone will know he isn't Mokwa because he is shorter than Mokwa, but Mokwa thinks nobody will notice. They grab a porcupine roach and put it on Joshua to hide the fact that he doesn't have a Mohawk haircut like Mokwa does. Off he goes to dance, and, nobody notices the substitution. I found that switcheroo troubling, and, taking of the roach, too. That sort of thing just isn't done.

Another point that didn't ring true for me was the use of the word "chanting" to describe the drumming and singing. There's a lot more in my notes but I think I'll stop and say this:

I wish Hawke's book didn't have these problems. We need books about Native youth who are gay. Though a gay identity is shown as positive in this book, that positive note is greatly overshadowed by the amount of misinformation about Ojibwe people that is in this book.

Within children's and young adult literature, a book like this is about intersections of two or more identities. We need those books, but it is unacceptable for one identity to be misrepresented. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Pukawiss the Outcast. 

Note: November 17, 4:45
There is a great deal of LGBTQ writing in Native Studies. A recent book is Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti.

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5. Is that Native American Encyclopedia website any good?

My answer to that question is a resounding NO.

This is a long overdue post. Some time back--years maybe--I saw an online encyclopedia called "Native American Encyclopedia." It is on Twitter, and Instagram, and no telling where else, but if you start looking carefully---and by that I mean critically---at the content, its legitimacy goes downhill fast.

Who curates the content?  Posts have personal names, like Carol, or Alice, but no last names. Who are they? What is Carol's expertise? What is Alice's expertise?

The "About" page uses "our" elders, etc., which suggests that the curators are Native. It even says that it is "Native owned and operated" but who are the Native people that own and operate it?

In a tweet earlier today, I said I thought perhaps the curator is a robot because there is SO MUCH on the site! Check out a page. You pick the page.

Maybe the "Native American Zodiac" page. Wait. Native American zodiac?! As if all 500+ tribes are the same and have a zodiac that we all use?!

Or maybe the page about naming, that tells you a naming ritual starts with "Harken!" As if Native people use words like "harken" in our rituals.

Or maybe the page about Cherokee, that is full of past tense verbs. As if the Cherokee don't exist anymore?

If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know that I recommend you visit websites of Native Nations. On this bogus Native American Encyclopedia site, the source of info on the Cherokee people is a website called "The Wild West." Not ok!

What page did you choose? Are you looking at it now? On the page you've chosen, scroll down to the bottom to see what it says about its source. The sources are definitely questionable. The one for the owl of the zodiac, for example, tells us the source is "xtraastrology." Let's pause there. Are you a teacher? A librarian? A parent? You know that source matters, right?

Scroll down a bit more. See those tiny grayed out words that say "Based on the collective work of NativeAmericanEncyclopedia.com" that are followed by the copyright symbol, saying that Native American Encyclopedia holds the copyright for the page? I wonder if The Wild West site is ok with the Native American Encyclopedia copyrighting their content?

Two big indicators that the people who create and use that site are pretty misinformed about who Native peoples are... First, the site administrator has a sidebar that lists the pages that have been "favourited" a lot. See the spelling of favorite? With that u? That's how it is spelled in Europe. Does that tell us that the curators for the site are in Europe?!  And second, the page most often favourited is the zodiac one. Selecting that page reveals the ignorance of the person choosing it as a favorite!

Please don't use this site, and if you're interested in information about Native Nations, tell others not to use the site either. Tell them why, too. And then, look for the website of a specific nation. Use Lisa Mitten's page, Native Nations, to find one. She is a mixed-blood Native who was president of the American Indian Library Association. Or, look at a credible site, with experts. A good place to start is the National Museum of the American Indian.

Good information is available. Don't be duped by sites like "The Native American Encyclopedia." Skip it.

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6. Oyate's List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid

A few years ago, Oyate had a list of books about Thanksgiving that they did not recommend. The list was on their website.

Given the number of books that are published every year about that holiday and the ways that Native peoples continue to be misrepresented in children's books, you would be right to guess that their list is long.

That list is not at their website any longer. In a redesign a few years ago they decided to remove it and their Books to Avoid section. They decided that, although a list might seem efficient, it didn't give people the critical thinking skills they need to develop in order to make decisions on their own. I agree--I'd prefer people develop those skills and apply them their selection/deselection activities.

On the other hand, teachers use lists of good books all the time. Generally speaking, they assume that the person who put that list together has the expertise necessary such that their evaluations can be trusted.

I personally have not read all of these books, but I definitely learned a great deal from Oyate's work. I strongly encourage teachers and librarians to get materials published by Oyate.

My guess is that I'd concur with their decision about each of these books, and I'd also guess that any given book on the list got there because it put forth one or more of what Judy Dow called a myth in her Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving. If one of these books is on your shelf and you're considering weeding it, I recommend you read it and Dow's essay and then make a decision. I've also shared Oyate's list of recommended books here.

Own your knowledge. Own your decisions.

Accorsi, William. Friendship's First Thanksgiving. Holiday House, 1992.

Aliki. Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians. Harper & Row, 1976.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Ansary, Mir Tamim. Thanksgiving Day. Heinemann, 2002.

Apel, Melanie Ann. The Pilgrims. Kidhaven Press, 2003.

Bartlett, Robert Merrill, The Story of Thanksgiving. HarperCollins, 2001.

Barth, Edna. Turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indian Corn: The Story of Thanksgiving Symbols. Clarion, 1975.

Borden, Louise. Thanksgiving Is... Scholastic, 1997.

Brown, Marc. Arthur's Thanksgiving. Little, Brown. 1983.

Bruchac, Joseph. Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Harcourt, 2000.

Buckley, Susan Washburn. Famous Americans: 15 Easy to Read Biography Mini-Books. Scholastic, 2000.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims. Scholastic, 1990.

Celsi, Teresa. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Steck-Vaughn, 1989.

Clements, Andrew. Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play! Simon & Shuster, 1999.

Cohen, Barbara. Molly's Pilgrim. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983.

Conaway, Judith. Happy Thanksgiving! Things to Make and Do. Troll Communications, 1986.

Crane, Carol and Helle Urban. P is for Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, 2003.

Dalgliesh, Alice. The Thanksgiving Story. Scholastic, 1954/1982.

Daugherty, James. The Landing of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1987.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims. HarperCollins, 2002.

DePaola, Tomie. My First Thanksgiving. Putnam, 1992.

Donnelly, Judy. The Pilgrims and Me. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Dubowski, Cathy East. The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims. Dell, 1990.

Fink, Deborah. It's a Family Thanksgiving! A Celebration of an American Tradition for Children and their Families. Harmony Hearth, 2000.

Flindt, Myron. Pilgrims: A Simulation of the First Year at Plymouth Colony. Interact, 1994.

Fritz, Jean. Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock? Putnam & Grossett, 1975.

George, Jean Craighead. The First Thanksgiving. Puffin. 1993.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Day. Holiday House, 1985.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Is... Holiday House, 2004.

Greene, Rhonda Gowler. The Very First Thanksgiving Day. Atheneum, 2002.

Hale, Anna W. The Mayflower People: Triumphs and Tragedies. Harbinger House, 1995.

Hallinan, P. K. Today is Thanksgiving! Ideals Children's Books, 1993.

Harness, Cheryl. Three Young Pilgrims. Aladdin, 1995.

Hayward, Linda. The First Thanksgiving. Random House, 1990.

Hennessy, B. G. One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims. Viking, 1999.

Jackson, Garnet. The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2000.

Jassem, Kate. Squanto: The Pilgrim Adventure. Troll Communications. 1979.

Kamma, Anne. If You Were At... The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2001.

Kessel, Joyce K. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Carolrhoda, 1983.

Kinnealy, Janice. Let's Celebratae Thanksgiving, A Book of Drawing Fun. Watermill, 1988.

Koller, Jackie French. Nickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration. Atheneum, 1999.

Marx, David F. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

McGovern, Ann. The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1973.

McMullan, Kate. Fluffy's Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1997.

Melmed, Laura Krauss. The First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story. HarperCollins, 2001.

Metaxas, Eric. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Rabbit Ears Books, 1996.

Moncure, Jane Belk. Word Bird's Thanksgiving Words. Child's World, 2002.

Ochoa, Anna. Sticker Stories: The Thanksgiving Play. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Osborne, Mary Pope. Thanksgiving on Thursday. Random House, 2002.

Parker, Margot. What is Thanksgiving Day? Children's Press, 1988.

Peacock, Carol Antoinette. Pilgrim Cat. Whitman, 2004.

Prelutsky, Jack. It's Thanksgiving. Morrow, 1982.

Rader, Laura J. A Child's Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Children's Books, 1998

Randall, Ronnie. Thanksgiving Fun: Great Things to Make and Do. Kingfisher, 1994.

Raphael, Elaine and Don Bolognese. The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1991.

Rau, Dana Meachen. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

Roberts, Bethany. Thanksgiving Mice! Clarion, 2001.

Rockwell, Anne. Thanksgiving Day. HarperCollins, 1999.

Rogers, Lou. The First Thanksgiving. Modern Curriculum Press. 1962.

Roloff, Nan. The First American Thanksgiving. Current. 1980.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Let's Celebrate Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1999.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World. Walker, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. Crafts for Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. The Story of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1995.

Ruelle, Karen Gray. The Thanksgiving Beast Feast. Holiday House, 1999.

San Souci, Robert. N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims. Chronicle, 1991.

Scarry, Richard. Richard Scarry's The First Thanksgiving of Low Leaf Worm. Little Simon, 2003.

Schultz, Charles M. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Sewall, Marcia. People of the Breaking Day. Atheneum, 1990.

Sewall, Marica. The People of Plimoth. Aladdin, 1986.

Sewall, Marcia. Thunder from the Clear Sky. Atheneum, 1995.

Siegel, Beatrice. Fur Traders and Traders: The Indians, the Pilgrims, and the Beaver. Walker, 1981.

Siegel, Beatrice, Indians of the Northeast Woodlands. Walker, 1992.

Silver, Donald M. and Patricia J. Wynne. Easy Make and Learn Projects: The Pilgrims, the Mayflower & More. Scholastic, 2001.

Skarmeas, Nancy J. The Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Publications, 1999.

Sorenson, Lynda. Holidays: Thanksgiving. Rourke, 1994.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. New Friends in a New Land: A Thanksgiving Story. Steck-Vaughn, 1993.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. Thanksgiving Fun Activity Book. Troll, 1993.

Stanley, Diane. Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation. HarperCollins, 2004.

Steigemeyer, Julie. Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration. Concordia, 2003.

Tryon, Leslie. Albert's Thanksgiving. Aladdin, 19983.

Umnik, Sharon Dunn (Ed.). 175 Easy-to-Do Thanksgiving Crafts. Boyds Mills Press, 1996.

Waters, Kate. Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast. Scholastic, 2001.

Waters, Kate. Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy. Scholastic, 1993.

Waters, Kate. Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl. Scholastic, 1989.

Waters, Kate. Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Boy in Pilgrim Times. 1996.

Weisgard, Leonard. The Plymouth Thanksgiving. Doubleday, 1967.

Whitehead, Pat. Best Thanksgiving Book, ABC Adventures. Troll Communications, 1985.

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7. A Twitter Chat on American Indian Literature for Youth

Are you on Twitter? What are you doing a week from today? I'm asking, because...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
9:00 PM Eastern Time

Allie Jane Bruce
and me (Debbie Reese)

Will host a Twitter Chat
Join Us!
#SupportWNDB


I did a post for the We Need Diverse Books page. Below is a screen capture. Please go read it. It has the kind of info that I want to feature in the chat next week. Allie Jane Bruce, by the way, is the kind of librarian that I wish was in every library, every school, around the world. Yes. The world.


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8. Anton Treuer's EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT INDIANS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is one of the books I think every teacher ought to have on her shelf, and that every library ought to have, too, in multiple copies.

Published in 2012 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the information in Treuer's book is presented in a question/answer format. If you've already got Do All Indians Live in Tipis from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), add this one to your shopping cart or order form right away. Though there is some overlap (both, for example, discuss use of "American Indian" versus "Native American"), there are definitely a lot of things that are not in the NMAI book, and, because Treuer is Ojibwe, we get more depth on that nation, in particular.

The contents of the book are in question/answer format, with the questions ones that Treuer is asked in lectures and workshops. He's the executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State in Minnesota.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction: Ambassador
Terminology
History
Religion, Culture & Identity
Powwow
Tribal Languages
Politics
Economics
Education
Perspectives: Coming to Terms and Future Directions
Conclusion: Finding Ways to Make a Difference

Some highlights:

In History, Treuer addresses the land bridge theory of the continent's first inhabitants by pointing to new research of archeological sites that forces us to reconsider that theory. He also answers the oft-posed question "why does it matter" when Indians got here. He says that the question itself is one whose subtext is that everyone is immigrant to this continent, and as such, is an attempt to undermine Native Nations.

In Perspectives, Treur takes on the "my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess" statement that so many of us hear. He does the usual rebuttal that royalty is not part of Cherokee societal structure, but he also says this:
If your great-grandmother was Cherokee, then one of your grandparents was too, and one of your parents, and in actuality you are Cherokee as well. Someone who truly identifies with his or her native ancestry will say, "I am Cherokee."
He goes on to say that the "my great grandmother" statement, though well-intended, demonstrates a level of ignorance about Cherokee history and culture, and posits that those who have actually investigated that family story and Cherokee culture would come away saying "I'm Cherokee" (if the story is legitimized) and would abandon the "princess" claim because it is not valid.

In the Conclusion, Treuer writes about a grassroots effort amongst local businessmen in Bemidji to add Ojibwe words to their signage. A simple action, it brings visibility to a people and their language that is rare. And, it welcomes Ojibwe people in ways that affirm who they are. Here's a photo from the book, showing the signage at the hospital:



If you want to make your classroom, school, or library more welcoming to Native peoples, signage is a good option. A couple of years ago, I pointed to a number of resources you can turn to do that.

If you've got a choice, I encourage you to get Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask from an independent bookstore like Birchbark Books.

I like Treuer's book. He writes directly and conveys nuances to, amongst the 500+ federally recognized tribal nations. I highly recommend you add it to your collections.

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9. Some thoughts about Native American Month and Thanksgiving

In the opening chapter of Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Our Of Here (2013, Arthur A. Levine Books), the main character, Lewis, is walking home. The time of year is August.  Lewis lives on the Tuscarora Reservation. Here's what Lewis is thinking:
As I turned the corner at Dog Street, where I lived, I could see my old elementary school. The teachers would be in their classrooms now, decorating bulletin boards with WELCOME TO THE 1975-1976 SCHOOL YEAR! in big construction-paper letters. They were going to be puzzled by the fact that the United States Bicentennial Celebration wasn't exactly a reservation priority, since we'd been here for a lot longer than two hundred years.
That puzzlement is what today's post is about. Lewis's people identify with a tribal nation that has been here far longer than the nation we know as the United States of America. I think it fair to say that the US marks two moments of historical significance. One is its independence on July 4, 1776. But Independence Day is preceded by "the first Thanksgiving" in 1621. (Set aside time to read and study What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving: The Wampanoag Side of the Tale.)

In schools across the country, Native peoples appear in the curriculum at specific times of the year. Like this month. November. Thanksgiving.

Coincidentally (?), November is Native American Month. I suspect November may have been chosen because that is the month when the US celebrates Thanksgiving. As such, I think it seemed (to someone) to be the ideal month for Americans to "reflect on the profound ways the First Americans have shaped our country's character and culture." That phrase is in the opening line of President Obama's 2014 Presidential Proclamation designating this as National Native American Heritage Month. The first president to proclaim November as Native American Month was George H. W. Bush, in 1990 (see the full list of proclamations here).

People mean well. They have good intentions. But even President Obama's opening remark indicates a framework that doesn't work. Are Native peoples "the First Americans?" I know a good many Native people who would say they're citizens of their tribal nation first and foremost, and I've read that Native leaders who fought the U.S. in the 1800s wouldn't call themselves Americans at all.

A fact: 
Native Nations pre-date the 
United States and all its holidays. 

Our timelines, in other words, don't start at 1621 or 1776, or the year at which any given state in the US celebrates its statehood.

President Obama is right. Native peoples did shape the country's character and culture. Watch this video from Vision Maker Media. It has terrific information about how the Founding Fathers were guided by, and turned to, the Haudenosaunee.



So here we are, a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, in a month designated as one in which US citizens are invited to "work to build a world where all people are valued and no child ever has to wonder if he or she has a place in our society." That is another phrase in President Obama's proclamation. In it, he also talks about sovereignty.

I want librarians, teachers, parents, writers... everyone, really, to move away from talking about Native peoples in the past tense context of Thanksgiving. I want everyone to move away from talking about us only in November.

Buy and share the books I recommend below year-round. Doing that conveys the respect and inclusion that everyone in the U.S. should have as a given. Not an exception, but as a given. Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here and the ones I discuss below are among my favorite books.


Every people has a creation story. Not every person within a group believes in those creation stories, but I think most people respect those stories and the people who hold them as truths.

Simon J. Ortiz's The People Shall Continue starts with Native creation stories (plural because there are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations in the U.S., with tremendous difference in language, location, spirituality, and material culture) and moves through contact with Europeans, wars, treaties, capitalism, and the need for peoples to unite against forces that can destroy the humanity in all of us. Published in 1977, 1988 and again in 1994 by Children's Book Press, this picture book is no longer in print. Used copies, however, are available online, and I highly recommend it for children and adults, too. It offers a lot to think about. Ortiz is a member of Acoma Pueblo, in New Mexico.





Believe it or not, a lot of people express surprise to learn that we are still here. People think we were all killed or died of disease... gone from the face of the earth. Some people think we are still here, but that to be "real" Indians, we have to live like we did hundreds of years ago.

Picture books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer (2000, Morrow Junior Books) push against those ideas. The protagonist is Jenna, a Muscogee Creek girl who is going to do the Jingle Dance for the first time at an upcoming powwow. The story of Jenna getting ready reflects what happens in Native communities when a young child is going to dance for the first time. Everyone helps. The cover shows Jenna at the powwow. Inside you'll find her walking down a tree-lined street as she visits friends and family members. At one point she feels a bit overwhelmed at all the work she needs to do to be ready, but her Great Aunt Sis tells her a traditional story about not giving up. Smith is enrolled with the Muscogee Creek Nation.




Native spiritualities are misrepresented as pagan and mystic, and rather than seen as religions with their own integrity, are cast as superstitions of primitive people.

Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost (2013, RoadRunner Press) bats down those two ideas beautifully. His middle-grade novel opens with these words on the first page: "Chapter 1: Talking Ghost, Choctaw Nation, Mississippi, 1830." Bam! Spirituality is there from the start. Not in a mystic way. It is an IS. A matter of fact. And nationhood, too! Right from the start.

This is a story about the Choctaw Trail of Tears, told from the vantage point of Isaac, a ten year old boy. Given its topic, it could be a very raw story, but Tingle's storytelling voice and humor (yes, humor) keep the focus of the story on the humanity of all the people involved. Tingle is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation and is working on a sequel to How I Became A Ghost. 




I'll close with a board book that features a Native language. In the U.S. and Canada, government policy was to 'kill the Indian and save the man' in boarding schools run by churches or by the government. Kids were forced to attend those boarding schools (starting in the 1800s) and were punished and beaten for speaking their own languages. The direct result was that many Native languages were lost. Today there are language revitalization programs in which elders who still speak their language are teaching it. In some places, language remained strong.

We All Count (2014, Native Northwest) is a board book for toddlers who are learning to count in English, but in Cree, too. Written and illustrated by Julie Flett, who is Cree Metis (First Nations in Canada), each page is beautifully illustrated, with the Cree word for each numeral written in a large font that complements the page itself.

Get those books! Order them from your local bookstore, and ask your librarian to get them, too. There are a great many that I could write about here, but instead, I'll direct you to my page of links to Best Books lists. Check out my gallery of Native Artists and Illustrators, too. Learn their names. Look for their books. And if you want to learn a bit more about sovereignty, read We Are Not People of Color.

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10. Playing Indian in Victoria Kann's PINKALICIOUS: THANKSGIVING HELPER

Will we ever get to the point in time where creators of children's books stop showing kids playing Indian at Thanksgiving?!

Here's the cover of Pinkalicious: Thanksgiving Helper. In the story, Pinkalicious invites her brother to "pretend it's the first Thanksgiving." She puts on a pink feather and will be Princess Pink Feather (cue moans, groans, and lots of eye rolling). I guess Kann and her publisher and all the people who buy and read/review the book do not know that playing Indian--or Indian princess--is stereotyping of the worst kind, because it seems harmless and innocent and, to quote some of the reviews "cute!". It isn't harmless or innocent or cute. It is stereotyping and ought not be happening in a book published in 2014.

Pinkalicious: Thanksgiving Helper is not recommended.






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11. Beverly Slapin's review of RABBIT STORIES by Kim Shuck

Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Rabbit Stories. Poetic Matrix Press,2013, high school-up

Rabbit (the Being) has awesome responsibilities. He weighs and measures leaves so they can exist. He sings to bring the flowers into bloom. He dances to turn the seasons. He cradles subatomic particles and powwow dancers in his sight—whispers, “beautiful, happy”—and they dance, dance, dance, dance. All these things (and more) he has been given to do, else the world—or at least this corner of the cosmos—will get bent. No small feats and no small responsibilities, those. Rabbit is also a mentor (in his magical way) to Rabbit Food, the human girl he’s named for a wild rose, the human girl he brings to maturity as a smart, loving, responsible, talented Indian woman; a quantum physicist who knows who she is and what she comes from. Under Rabbit’s auspices (and, of course, those of her Aunties and Grandmas), Rabbit Food is a “child of multiple cultures, of Tsalagi and Polish and fantasy and sci-fi, she knows that around any corner there may be a paradigm shift… (And) she will be prepared if stuck in an alternate reality.”

The two—(or three if you count the polyvalent reality of Robin and Fox)—trickster-mentor and quantum physicist, naturally acknowledge each other without actually speaking or touching. Since Rabbit Food was a child, it has never occurred to her to mention him to anyone. Rather, she tosses him a cookie now and then, or lets the cilantro stolen from the fridge go unnoticed, or hides a cashew where he will find it, and she “keeps learning the things she needs.” And Rabbit “loves Rabbit Food, loves her…with the completeness that only someone thoroughly self-absorbed can achieve, and only then for small moments.” 

The stories—of Rabbit Food’s lifetime as girl, young woman, new mother and mature artist, and, of course, ever the student of trickster-cum-life coach Rabbit—weave up, down, around and through. They’re brilliantly crafted and lovingly told, semi-autobiographical stories that take place in parallel worlds full of spirit and magic and wonder and grace; intertwined like the tight stitches of a Tsalagi double-woven basket.

Indian students will appreciate these stories for their many cultural and historical references, their nuances and word plays, their multiple layers of dream and memory, and their fast-paced, wise cracking humor—everything that makes Rabbit Stories Indian. They will also probably appreciate that the author did not, as non-Native authors often do with “Indian” material, turn the stories into mind-numbing ethnographic expositions. Students who are from outside the community may not “get” everything, but will appreciate the stories as well. I encourage teachers to allow these appealing stories to resonate with their students and not to ruin the experience by attempting to analyze or interpret them.

Rabbit Stories, as is Kim’s first book of poetry, Smuggling Cherokee, is amazing; and Kim—an accomplished artist and master storyteller, poet, and educator—is an international treasure. Not one eagle feather dropped here, no pickup dance necessary.

—Beverly Slapin



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12. HOW TO WRITE A DYSTOPIAN YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (or short story) WITH NATIVE CHARACTERS FOR FUN AND PROFIT, by Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin

Editor's Note: Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin submitted this satirical "how to" piece in response to my review of Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden's short story, Unstrung. Shusterman responded to that review (see point 13 below). I am currently working on a review of the first three books in Shusterman's series. 

 HOW TO WRITE A DYSTOPIAN YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (or short story)
WITH NATIVE CHARACTERS FOR FUN AND PROFIT
by Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin
  1. Strive to know nothing about the real lives and histories of Native peoples. Knowing is counterproductive and can be used against you if you accidentally let something real slip in. Do not do any research at all.That way, your tribe will be a genuine object of your invention, and no one will be able to accuse you of cultural appropriation. 
  2. Invent a tribe. Give it a name that sounds kind of sort of like an Indian word. Or forget it—don’t give your tribe an actual name. Rather, refer to your tribe in a way that relates to a well-known stereotype. “People of Chance,” as an example, works well, because it will remind readers of casinos and how wealthy Indian people are. If you’re a little unsure, feel free to work in a backstory about gaming and skilled tribal lawyers.
  3. Write as though your invented tribe is just like any other transplanted culture with the exception of periodic decorative localized mythology. There should be no long memory stories of things that have happened where your tribe lives. Rather, for instance, you might go on and on about your tribe’s ostentatious show of material wealth—curbs that “gleam with gold,” an abundance of luxury cars, “gold plaques embedded in the adobe walls” and everyone wearing business suits “finer than the best designer fashions.”
  4. Assign at least some of your tribal characters names that sound vaguely “Indian.” To do that, make sure that the names contain lots of vowels; something like “Chowilawu” might be a good example. Don’t worry that someone might think the names of your Indian characters mean something. They don’t have to—they’re Indian.
  5. Describe your tribal characters as having small but important Indian mannerisms. For example, make sure that at least one of your Indian characters sits cross-legged on an animal skin. That will remind readers of the good times in kindergarten when they were instructed to sit “Indian style” for long periods of time.
  6. Make sure that the main character (preferably white and male) bonds with a member of your invented culture. Your Indian character need not be developed in any sense, because his only purpose is to teach your main character a major life lesson, after which he expires or goes back to whatever mystical land he comes from. Feel free to use this Native mentor in the style of any of the old tropes: Black nanny, Asian martial arts master, or supernaturally animated Indian doll who lives in a cupboard.
  7. Create new racial slurs to take the place of discredited old ones. “Redskins,” for instance, would be totally last century for a dystopian story. Try something like “slot monger,” or something else that you can make sound vaguely sexual, yet have a backstory that creates deniability.
  8. Put the power in the hands of your invented culture. Make sure that some of the members of your tribe express xenophobic opinions, such as referring to other tribes as “Low-Rez.” This will make the point that xenophobia is logical when it exists in empowered communities.
  9. Because there is no cultural attribution, feel free to use whatever stereotype or debunked expectation you may envision. It’s totally appropriate in this case to evoke offensively weird stories as long as you don’t name your tribe. For instance, you can have characters in your tribe hunting for a male mountain lion in order to transplant his heart into a dying Native elder for whom this animal is his “spirit guide.”
  10. Make sure to work in tropes that are pseudo-spiritual-cultural givens for your tribe: spirit animals and vision quests, for instance. And, above all, make sure that your main Native character, despite—or because of—his otherworldly psychic gifts, gets killed off.
  11. Now, take out your checklist. Invented tribe—check. No real reference to land, language, culture, community–check. No history or memory stories—check. No Indigenous meaning to names or anything else—check. Stereotypical mannerisms—check. Trope-type mentor—check. New racial slur to replace old ones—check. Xenophobic power—check. Offensively weird rituals—check. More tropes—check. Main Native character gets killed off—check.
  12. Done! Now sit back and collect your starred reviews for creating a multicultural dystopian novel with mystical Indian characters whose only raison d’etre is to interact with a white hero in a mentor role worthy of inclusion in a 1950s flick.
  13. On the off chance that you are criticized for inaccuracy, cultural appropriation, racism, or just plain abysmal writing, make sure to respond immediately—preferably with a vague reference to political correctness, reverse racism and/or the humorless nature of the critic. Mention how sensitive you tried to be. Use the phrase “considered carefully” to insure that everyone understands how hard you worked at appropriate representation. You can always fall back on the fact that you invented your tribe and therefore are immune to criticism, but it is worth trying to put the reviewer on the defensive—especially if the reviewer happens to be Native and has worked in the area of American Indians in children’s literature for many years.


—Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin

(We would like to acknowledge Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden—and the many other authors of “children’s books about Indians” [you know who you are]—without whose important research and writing these helpful hints would not have been possible. Wado, y’all!)


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13. DOESN'T FALL OFF HIS HORSE by Virginia A. Stroud


One of the things I love to see in a picture book about Indigenous peoples is a visual that puts the story and its teller in the present day. Virginia A. Stroud's Doesn't Fall Off His Horse does that beautifully.

The first page from Stroud's book is to the right. See the little girl? See the wallpaper on the walls? See the glass windows in the house?

To a good many of you it might sound ridiculous to point out those things, but there are so many people who think Native peoples are long gone, or if we're still here, that we live exactly like we did several hundred years ago. Some even think that if we do NOT still live that way, that we can't be "real" anymore, as if being Native is about material culture and nothing else.

We're far more than that, of course. Every culture or nation or ethnicity is more than its material culture. Stories, for example, are an unseen part of a people's culture.

In Doesn't Fall Off His Horse, Stroud tells us a story about her grandfather. Specifically, it is a story about how he got his name.

The little girl is called Saygee. There's a glossary that tells us Saygee is a Kiowa word that means youngest one, or, little one. She wants him to tell her a story,
"but which one? He was like a living book; nearly a hundred years had passed under his footsteps during his walk upon the earth. He had followed the buffalo, he had roamed the open plains with tepee and lodge poles, he'd seen the non-Indian wagons come to Indian Territory and watched from a hilltop as the settlers staked out the land. He saw one of the first locomotives cut across the prairie, then an automobile, and an airplane; he had received the citizenship given to the Native American people."
Sensing she wants a story, he says "Doesn't Fall Off His Horse." Saygee asks him who doesn't fall off his horse, and he says "Me." and "That's my Indian name." From there, he begins this thrilling story. In its telling, we learn that he is Kiowa. I chose that excerpt (above) quite deliberately. Another thing I look for in a children's book is a way of telling that sounds like the people I know. I don't know any Native elder--or any Native person, in fact--who calls a train an "iron horse." I've seen non-Native writers put that phrase in the mouths of their characters, or, in their stories, but I don't think it originates with any particular Native people.

I highly recommend Doesn't Fall Off His Horse. First published in 1994 by Dial Books for Young Readers, it is also available in ebook format.


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14. What is wrong with Buzzfeed's WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL and Neal Shusterman's UNWIND dystology

Sheesh. The activities that let people figure out what their Indian name is, or what their spirit animal is, are so freaking bogus!

So many assumptions and ignorance go into their making. Let's look at WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL, created by Brieanna Watts Elmore (if that is a real name/person) at Buzzfeed.

It assumes, for starters, that we are monolithic, that no matter where our homeland might be, we think the same way about salmon. And buffalo. And wolves. Fact? We don't. We're over 500 distinct nations, located across the US.

We don't speak the same language. Our traditional clothing differs. And so do our spiritual beliefs!

Some of us have clans associated with animals but not all of us, and, frankly, I know a lot of Native people from a lot of different Native Nations, and nobody has ever said to me "my spirit animal is..."

I think that "spirit animal" thing is the White Man's Indian.

But gosh darn! So many people (who don't know better) love love love the White Man's Indian.

It is in a lot of children's and young adult books. Case in point? Neal Shusterman's Unwind dystology. I'm (grudgingly) reading Unsouled right now. One of his main characters (Lev) has just figured out that his spirit animal is a kinkajou.

Some people--including Shusterman--tried to persuade me that he's doing a good thing with his Native characters and content (like this spirit animal stuff). He means well, just like the person who created this ridiculous Spirit Animal quiz at Buzzfeed.

But!!! Good intentions don't matter.

The quiz isn't harmless. Neither is Shusterman's book.  Perpetuating and affirming ignorance doesn't do anyone any good.

Do some good!

If you found yourself taking that Buzzfeed quiz or if you found yourself liking Shusterman's Native content, but this post makes you think otherwise, push back on The White Man's Indian. Reject it and tell others to reject it, too.

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15. Sebastian Robertson's ROCK & ROLL HIGHWAY: THE ROBBIE ROBERTSON STORY

Decades ago--and now, too--I revel in the music of The Band. I was amongst those who went to see the film The Last Waltz. Of course, I bought CDs, too. At the time, I knew Robbie Robertson was Native, but didn't know much else about him. Today, I'm pleased as can be to share Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. Here's the cover:



Thanks to this book, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot more about Robertson. Released this year (2014) by Henry Holt, the biography is written by Sebastian Robertson (yeah, Robbie's son). The illustrations by Adam Gustavson are terrific.

Robertson is Mohawk.

The second page of Rock and Roll Highway is titled "We Are the People of the Longhouse." There, we learn that his given name is Jaime Royal Robertson. His mother is Mohawk; his father is Jewish.

Allow me to dwell on the title for that page... "We Are the People of the Longhouse." That is so cool... so very cool... Why? Because this book is published by a major publisher, which means lots of libraries are likely to get it, and lots of kids--Mohawk ones, too!--are going to read that title. And look at young Robbie on the cover. Sitting on a car. Wearing a tie. The potential for this book to push back on stereotypes of Native people is spectacular!

In the summers, Robertson and his mom went to the Six Nations Indian Reservation where his mom grew up (I'm guessing that "Indian Reservation" was added to Six Nations because the former is more familiar to US readers, but I see that decision as a missed opportunity to increase what kids know about First Nations). There were lots of relatives at Six Nations, and lots of gatherings, too, where elders told stories. The young Robbie liked those stories and told his mom that one day, he wanted to be a storyteller, too.

That life--as a storyteller who tells with music--is wonderfully presented in Rock and Roll Highway. Introduce students to Robertson using this bio and his music. Make sure you have the CDs specific to his Mohawk identity. The first one is Music for Native Americans. Ulali, one of my favorite groups, is part of that CD. Check out this video from 2010. In it, Robertson and Ulali are on stage together (Ulali's song, Mahk Jchi, is one of my all time favorites. It starts at the 4:39 mark in this video):




The second album is Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. Get it, too.

Back to the book: Ronnie Hawkins. Bob Dylan. They figure prominently in Robertson's life. The closing page has terrific photographs of Robertson as a young child, a teen, and a dad, too.

Teachers are gonna love the pages titled "An Interview with My Dad, Robbie Robertson" in which Sebastian tells readers to interview their own parents. That page shows a post card Robertson sent to his mother while he was on the road. Things like post cards carry a good deal of family history. I pore over the ones I have--that my parents and grandparents sent to each other.

Deeply satisfied with Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story, I highly recommend it.  

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16. Julie Flett's WE ALL COUNT: A BOOK OF CREE NUMBERS

There's a new board book out by Cree Metis artist, Julie Flett, and like her other ones, it is a winner!





Like her previous works, We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers is a bilingual board book. In this one, the numbers 1-10 are presented in English and Cree.

Flett's collage work is gorgeous. I love the quiet and bold colors she uses in her compositions. Here's the page for number 1. The text reads "One prairie dog perching."




And here's the page for number 10, where the text reads "Ten elk crossing." 





Flett's book is excellent for parents, teachers, or librarians to read to young children. Obviously, this is a counting book, so counting will happen, but the words!

Prairie dogs perching! Can you imagine showing the child you're reading to, how to perch like a prairie dog? On the page for number three, aunties are laughing. The joy on their faces is, well, joyful! Laugh along with them! Those owls on the cover? They're six owls spotting. It'd be great fun to pause on that page, and peer about, spotting things nearby.

I really like this book. I'm as joyful as those aunties! The pages in Flett's book provide a chance to do something that extends the reading itself, enriching what a young child knows about words and actions.

Though I'm sure Flett didn't have diversity in mind when she came up with the title, We All Count, the title and her book do a beautiful job of saying We--people who are Indigenous or who speak Cree--we count, too.

Your book is brilliant, Julie Flett! Kų́'daa! (That is 'thank you' in Tewa, my language.)

We All Count: A Book of Numbers is highly recommended. Written and illustrated by Julie Flett, it was published in 2014 by Native Northwest.


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17. K.V. Flynn's ON THE MOVE

There's a lot to like about K.V. Flynn's On The Move. As far as I know, Flynn is not Native. His main character, Callum, isn't Native either, but a Native kid named Obbie figures prominently in this middle grade story set in California. He's not the sidekick who will be the first to die. He's the real deal. That is, a Native kid who is grounded in his identity as a Native kid. It is a natural part of who he is--which is, one of several boys who hang out together. They are skateboarders.  

In the first three chapters, we learn that Obbie is Native and that he spends his summers on the reservation with his dad. This is done quite naturally. We learn it through the boy's conversations.

In chapter four, we get a closer look at his Native identity. By that, I mean that we see how he thinks about sovereignty. The group of boys are on their way to skate. They're talking about school, in particular, Obbie's essay for English. Mateo says (Note: I'm reading an ebook; no page numbers):
"You cannot use The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for Kroos's final, Obbie." Mateo was sure that Ob was about to make a critical error and not make it out of eighth grade English alive. "Your book has to be set entirely outside the U.S."
Obbie replies that his book is set on the reservation (he says "rez", which is fine). The boys try to tell him that the reservation is by Spokane, in the state of Washington, and therefore, the book can't be eligible for the essay. Obbie says:
"But it's on the reservation," Obbie explained with his last bit of patience. "That's a sovereign nation."
The boys tell him it doesn't matter, because it is still in the U.S. Obbie replies:
"You guys laugh all you want. But I'm telling Miss Kroos an Indian rez is not America, and that's the book I read." 
Though Obbie was out of patience, it is a friendly exchange (these guys like each other a lot) that is told as a flashback in Callum's memory. Let me back up.

The book itself opens with Callum, Levi, and Apollo at a skateboard camp, shortly after the school year has ended. They've said their good-bye's to Obbie and Mateo. Out of the blue, the United States is attacked. Major cities are bombed. The boys at camp worry about their parents, and, they worry about Obbie and Mateo, too. Did Obbie make it to the reservation? Most of the story is about the kids and their efforts to be reunited with friends and family.

I gotta say that all the skate talk flew right over my head. There's a lot of it and I'm sure it'll be a hook for kids who spend hours on skateboards, trying this or that ramp or trick. The obvious hook for me is Obbie, but I like intriguing stories where teens deal with catastrophic events (like Matt de la Pena's The Living), and stories where science and technology are woven into the plot.

I like Obbie and I like how Flynn has developed and presented him. He doesn't talk much about the reservation during the school year. It is boring there, he says. I've heard plenty of kids at home (on our reservation) say that, too. Obbie pretty much has to go up there to see the Native side of his family (his mom isn't Native) because they don't go down to California much. From Flynn's website, I learned that this is the first of three books about these boys. I'm wondering if we'll learn more about Obbie's parents. How did his Native dad and his white mom meet? What caused them to split up?

But...  Back to the story in On The Move...

The boys desperately want to communicate with parents and friends using their cell phones and computers (when they can find one) but the bombs have destroyed a lot of the infrastructure that makes that communication reliable. Connections are fleeting and old school (they learn what dial-up is and how to use it) but good enough for them to learn that Obbie is with his cousin, Suri. They are fine. The four boys make a plan to meet up and head north together. Most everyone that survived the bombings, they learn, is headed north.

Callum, Levi, and Apollo head north on their skateboards. When they meet up with Suri (she has a truck) and Obbie, they pile into the truck and keep going north. Before long they come to checkpoint of sorts, set up by some bandits. They ask Suri what she's doing with this bunch of kids, and she says that she and Obbie are Yakama and headed to the Yakama Reservation to join their family, and that they found the kids and are keeping them safe. One of the bandits, it turns out, is Native, too. He's told to "get rid of them." Callum thinks that means its all over, but he lets them go instead, keeping their money.

They jump back into the truck, turn around, and find another route, again, heading north.

They get lot of help at places where people are seeking refuge. At one place, a guy is showing Suri a safe route on a map. She says:
"D'you mean here, by the Pyramid Lake Reservation?"
It is a small thing, but a meaningful one. It is one of many moments where a reference to Native people or culture is just dropped in, seamlessly. The map above/right shows the location of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada and the Yakama Reservation in Washington.

At one point as they drive, Mateo asks Obbie if his family has "teepees and stuff" on the reservation. Obbie says
"Nah, that was a hundred years ago. They have houses and cars. A school. Normal stuff." 
Callum asks why Obbie's family moved there. Obbie replies:
"They're from there! We were always there. Our tribe is native around that area, they say. Oregon, Washington, those parts. What, d'ya think Lewis and Clark actually discovered some place empty?"
There's more in that conversation, with Obbie telling the boys about his family. Callum laughs about how one-sided history is taught, and Mateo wonders if there had been Indians in area they're passing through. Obbie says:
"Yeah, until the gold rush. Then all those miners came. Brought measles and smallpox galore. I think, like, ninety percent of Native people around here died."
Obbie goes on:
"The rest were captured by the Californios. Used as slaves and stuff. Especially the little kids. The new miners thought the Native Americans were competition, and they were so frantic for all this gold, that the settlers brought a lot of violence, too. Raided the villages. Sold the women. Seriously bad news."
Obbie knows a lot of history and doesn't hesitate to share it. This is more than the one or two lines that Lynn drops in, seamlessly, but it works, too. There's more, too, when they get to a town with a community college. Suri and Obbie head over to it, thinking that the Native American students there, in the First Nations Student Union, would have information about their reservation.

When On the Move draws to a close, the kids are reunited with their families. I should note that there's a bit of a mystery throughout having to do with one friend who dies early in the story. I'll leave that alone, so as not to divulge everything that happens in this story.

In short, I liked Flynn's On the Move. I think there's plenty in it for Native and non-Native kids to grab on to, and I look forward to more from Flynn.

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18. A Native Response to THOMAS JEFFERSON: LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF EVERYTHING

Maira Kalman's Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything got starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. 

Horn Book noted its candor and substance, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books praised Kalman's candid discussion of Jefferson's contradictory views about slavery.

Me? The title alone brought me up short. As far as I've read, no one else has noted the title.

Apparently, the author, her editor and publisher, and obviously the reviewers, did not think how a Native person--especially one whose ancestor's were removed from their homelands--would read the phrase, "The Pursuit of Everything."

Like the presidents before him, Jefferson wanted land.

Like presidents before him, Jefferson chose to act as though Native people were primitive hunters. He wanted them to be farmers, not hunters! In fact, Native peoples of their respective nations all along the coast had been farming for hundreds of years, and Jefferson knew that. He wanted them to stop hunting, though, because if they did, they wouldn't need all that land. But it was their land. Treaties said so!

So, what to do?! Jefferson wanted that land!

In American Indians, American Presidents (published in 2009 by HarperCollins), Robert Venables quotes from a letter Jefferson wrote to William Henry Harrison:

To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want... we shall push our trading uses [familiar trading customs], and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.
See that? Jefferson's idea was to give them credit at trading posts, knowing that when they couldn't pay off that debt, their land would be used to pay it off. Today, don't we call that predatory lending?  

You may wonder... are Native people in Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything? Kalman included Hemings and slavery... did her candor extend in any way to what Jefferson said or did with regard to Native people?

We're told he had an Indian artifact in his home.

And, there's a page about "brave men" named Lewis and Clark:


Nary a mention on that page of tribes as Nations with whom the US government had treaties with... Just the names of some of them, and the words "artifacts" and "danger" and "tribespeople" and of course, the name of one person in particular, Sacagawea.

Thomas Jefferson.
The pursuit of everything. 
The pursuit of land. 

Fact: Moving Native peoples off their homelands made it possible for white people to pursue everything on that land. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything keeps that particular fact off the page.

Isn't that a problem? For all of us? Native and not?

If young readers can handle Jefferson's affair with Hemings, don't you think they'd be able to handle a candid page of information about Native Nations, treaties, and, about US policies on land acquisition?

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything, published in 2014 by Penguin Books, is not recommended.

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19. Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden's UNSTRUNG

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on...

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

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

Let's meet Wil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you wondering about the story?

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

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

Ancient Ojibway legend? I don't think so. 

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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





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

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

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22. Stephen Krensky's CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Culturally diverse books must not have stereotypes!

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



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

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


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



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


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24. Carole Lindstrom's GIRLS DANCE, BOYS FIDDLE

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

Thanks, Carole, for this delightful story.

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

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25. Author Studies, Kathleen Hale, Native authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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