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In 2011, one of the clues on Jeopardy was "The National Museum of the American Indian." None of the contestants selected a clue in that category until they had no choice:NMAI
(the National Museum of the American Indian) made a video
of that episode. The image (above) is from their video.
On April 12, 2016, "Native Americans" was the category. Just like in 2011, contestants avoided it. Martie Simmons
, snapped a photograph of it and put the photograph on Twitter and on Facebook. It is circulating widely in Native social media (a shout out to Martie for letting me use her photo):
One of the contestants responded to her:
What does this avoidance point to? Fear of saying the wrong thing? Or, fear of their ignorance being on national TV? Or, fear of answering the question wrong and hurting their chance of winning?
The same thing happened
in February of 2014, too. The category then was African American History:
This avoidance is, to say the least, disappointing. Frank Waln
, a hip hop artist from the Rosebud Reservation responded to it, too, on Twitter. He said:
"This [is] what 100s [of] years of erasure and colonial propaganda masquerading as history does."
If you missed his interview on NPR's here & now
on April 6, 2016, listen to it and his music, too.
Teachers and librarians: this points to a huge gap. Our job is clear. Start with getting books written by Native writers
In the last couple of months, I've been reading a lot about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Prior to this study, I knew about it because ICWA is something most Native people know about.
Right now, though, I'm doing a scholarly study of it because ICWA is in Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. Her depiction of ICWA is troubling.
Of late, I've asked friends and colleagues to send me titles of works in which a character is adopted or fostered out of their Native community. I'm compiling a list and have read several of the items. The majority are by Native writers, some of whom are writing of their own experience as children. The majority of items on my list are meant for adult readers.
Amongst the suggestions are a few books that aren't by Native writers. Tim Green's Unstoppable is one. Green is a former NFL defensive end. I read his book over the weekend and, for several reasons, I am marking it as not recommended. For one, the main character is Native, but we aren't told anything about his tribal nation or heritage. As the synopsis below indicates, he is adopted (twice, actually) but ICWA is not mentioned in the reviews or in Green's novel. I'll say more about that later. My guess is that Green and his editor and the people who reviewed Unstoppable had no idea there is a federal law about adoption of Native children.
Published by Harper as a middle grade novel, Unstoppable came out in 2012. Here's the synopsis:
If anyone understands the phrase "tough luck," it's Harrison. As a foster kid in a cruel home, he knows his dream of one day playing in the NFL is a longshot. Then Harrison is brought into a new home with kind, loving parents—his new dad is even a football coach. Harrison's big build and his incredible determination quickly make him a star running back on the junior high school team. On the field, he's practically unstoppable. But Harrison's good luck can't last forever. When a routine sports injury leads to a devastating diagnosis, it will take every ounce of Harrison's determination not to give up for good. When Unstoppable opens, thirteen-year-old Harrison is living with Mr. and Mrs. Constable, as a foster child. Mr. Constable is a farmer who uses foster kids as laborers. He often whips them with his belt.
I begin with summary...
This foster home is the 4th one Harrison has been in. In his previous placements, he got in a lot of fights and was characterized as "an untamed and untamable beast" (p. 7). The fights he got into, though, were ones where he was defending himself or other vulnerable kids from bullies. That didn't matter, however, and he ended up with Mr. Constable, a man who was known as able to "cure even the hardest of bargains" (p. 7). When the story opens, Harrison has made Mr. Constable angry but he doesn't beat him as badly this time, because the next day, they are going to see the judge (p. 8):
“Just got a call from the lawyer. Seems your momma’s got some funny notions again. Raised a ruckus at the county offices on Friday."Constable's employee, Cyrus, tells Harrison (p. 9):
"Your momma’s a tramp and a druggie. She cast you off like garbage, and once a woman does that there ain’t a judge in creation hands her back her kids, so don’t you get so smart.”Harrison realizes that he's stronger than Cyrus now, and that he would win if he fought Cyrus next time he tried to beat him. While bathing that evening, he takes care to scrub his nails, behind his ears, and between his toes because he didn't want to look like, or smell like a farm boy when he sees the judge, and (p. 10):
He might even see his own mother. Cyrus’s cruel words about her came back to him and his ears burned with shame and hate. Maybe that was why he had been ready to fight.He goes to bed, feeling hopeful about the upcoming meeting with the judge. In the pages that follow, we are given a description of the town and the courthouse. This is farm country but we don't know what state. When they get to the courtroom, Harrison looks around for his mother. His case is called and we learn his last name is Johnson and that his mom's name is Melinda Johnson. She's not there, though. Mr. Constable mutters (p. 15):
“All this fuss and she’s too drunk to show up.”Realizing she's not there, Harrison's heart sinks. The judge asks Mr. Constable's lawyer for the adoption papers, reads them, and then says (p. 16):
“Then,” the judge said, examining the papers, “given the trouble Ms. Johnson has caused in all this and her apparent lack of responsibility— as well as respect for this court, I might add— all leads me to believe that the best course of action for this young . . . boy is to make him the legal and permanent son of Mr. and Mrs. Brad Constable.”Looking at Mr. Constable and his lawyer, Harrison has a sense of foreboding. The papers are signed, and then, there's a ruckus as someone forces open the courtroom doors. It is Harrison's mother. He feels his insides (p. 19-20):
melt like butter in a hot pan.
His mother’s dark frizzy hair shot out from her head in all directions. She wore a long raincoat and Harrison didn’t know what else besides a dirty pair of fluffy pink slippers. He could see the red in her eyes from across the room and the heavy bags of exhaustion they carried beneath them.
Liquid pain pumped through his heart.
“That’s my baby!” Harrison’s mother screeched as the bailiff and a guard held her arms. “You can’t do that to my baby!”
“Order in this court!” The judge pounded and glared, but it had no effect. “Order, I said, or you’ll be in contempt!”
Tears welled up in Harrison’s eyes. He felt like a split stick of firewood, half shamed, half aching to hold her. He started toward his mother, but Mr. Constable’s big hand clamped down on the back of his neck so that the nerves tingled in his head.The judge orders the bailiff to take her into custody for contempt. Mr. Constable and Harrison leave the courtroom. Outside, Harrison asks where his mother is, but Mr. Constable tells him that Mrs. Constable is his new mother. They return to the farm. Harrison thinks about all the other kids there, who have also been adopted by Mr. Constable (p. 22):
While they didn’t seem to mind, Harrison had never—and would never—stop thinking of Melinda Johnson as his one and only true mother. Later that day, Mr. Constable and Harrison get in an argument and then a fight. The outcome of the fight: Mr. Constable falls into a stall where a cow giving birth kicks, and kills him. Harrison runs away and is found by a kind woman named Mrs. Godfrey. She knows all about the brutal Constables. She takes him to a doctor, and then to a juvenile center. A few weeks pass. One day, Mrs. Godfrey tells him that his mother is gone. He thinks she's moved away, but Mrs. Godfrey tells him she passed (p. 28-29):
Harrison didn’t cry. He just blinked at her and watched a tear roll down her nose and drop off the end of it, spattering onto the table where they sat.
“Was she sick?” he whispered, his eyes on the spattered drop.
“I think she was very sick, and very tired, and I think she’s in a place now where she’s at peace and watching you and loving you just like she always did.”
Harrison stared at the broken tear for a long time before he spoke. “Mr. Constable said she didn’t.”
“Harrison, most people in this world are good, but some are bad. Mr. Constable was a very bad man, and he was a liar. That’s all I can say about it.”Then she tells him she has some good news. She has found him a new foster home, with her daughter Jennifer (who is a lawyer) and Coach (Jennifer's husband, who is an English teacher and a football coach). Harrison will call him Coach, like everyone else does (later, both ask him to call them dad and mom).
When Jennifer shows Harrison his bedroom, he sees a bookcase full of books. She pulls one out, by Louis L'Amour, and hands it to him (p. 33-34):
“I think you’ll like this.” She handed him the book. “My brothers loved The Sacketts. It’s a family that comes to America when it was a new land.”Coach is excited about Harrison's size and interest in playing football. His first day at his new school is difficult. Football practice is mixed, too, but Harrison is excited, nonetheless. The second day starts off badly, too. When a teacher threatens him with a ruler, he takes it from her and breaks it in half. She calls security and he ends up in the principals office. When the principal suggests that they should find a different school for Harrison, his foster mom says the teacher's threat may be a hate crime (p. 121):
“Hate crime?” Mr. Fisk’s rosy cheeks turned pale green. “This boy isn’t a minority.”
Jennifer raised a single eyebrow. “Obviously you haven’t looked closely at his records. His maternal grandmother was a full-blooded Native American.I finished the book but am not going further with summary. Harrison's identity as a Native person is not the emphasis of Green's book. Harrison is going to be diagnosed with cancer. That, essentially, is what Unstoppable is about. The diagnosis occurs on page 199 of the novel, which is 342 pages long.
And now, some interpretation...
Other than reading that he is big (strong), we don't get a physical description of Harrison. Because Mr. Fisk says "this boy isn't a minority" we can assume that he looks white.
But he's not white, as Jennifer said. When his mom comes into the courtroom, he describes her "dark frizzy hair." When Jennifer says his maternal grandmother is "full blooded Native American," he isn't surprised. That tells me he knows he is Native...
But what nation? Does Jennifer not know? She knows enough about racial justice to characterize the situation as a hate crime, but she--and her mother (Mrs. Godfrey, the social worker)--apparently don't know about ICWA, which, in real life, has bearing on placements of Native children.
In real life, someone like Mrs. Godfrey is required, by ICWA, to notify his nation. I'm assuming that the author (Tim Green) knew nothing about ICWA. I'm assuming most of you also know nothing about it. It doesn't matter one bit that his grandmother was "full blooded." His identity, described in fractions, is irrelevant. Each nation determines its citizenship. And when someone is a citizen of a nation, they're a citizen, period. If a woman is a US citizen, has a relationship with a citizen of France that results in pregnancy, and the baby is born in the US, that child is a citizen of the US. The woman might be White, or she might be African American, or Asian American... you get the picture. Skin color, or race, or ethnicity, or religion... none of that matters. She is a citizen of the United States, and her baby, born in the US is also a citizen of the US.
The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978. The Native American Rights Fund has a very useful document on its website, intended for educational and informational purposes. There, they write that ICWA:
established minimum federal jurisdictional, procedural, and substantive standards aimed to achieve the dual purpose of protecting the right of an Indian child to live with an Indian family and to stabilize and foster continued tribal existence. In Federal Indian Law, Matthew Fletcher (he's a Professor of Law at Michigan State University, and director of its Indigenous Law and Policy Center) provides a history of ICWA. In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act.
In the years prior to that, testimony from Native people was gathered. The conclusion based on that testimony: between 25 and 35 percent of all Native children, nationwide, had been removed from their families, and 90 percent of them had been placed in non-Native homes. It was characterized as a systematic, automatic, and across-the-board removal of Indian children from Indian families.
In the hearings, Fletcher writes (Kindle location 18416-18418):
[W]itness after witness would testify to the automatic removal of Indian children, often without due process. Byler [Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs] testified that at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, state social workers believed that the reservation was, by definition, an unacceptable environment for children and would remove Indian children without providing services or even the barest investigation whatsoever.Others testified that rather than step in and offer assistance to families that were struggling, state agencies would wait for the families to reach a crisis point and then step in, only to take the children from their homes.
That's exactly what I see happening in Unstoppable. Clearly, Harrison's mom was struggling. Was she receiving assistance she should have received? Given the characterization of Cyrus and Mr. Constable, we know they're racist and what they say about his mother is racist, but nowhere is any of that racist depiction of her challenged. With nobody countering it, are stereotypical ideas of Native people as dysfunctional affirmed? I think so, and, that is unacceptable.
If this was a real-life case, would her case be an example of a state agency stepping in and taking her child without due process? Certainly, Harrison did not receive due process in the courtroom when the evil Mr. Constable adopted him, but he didn't receive it when the kindly Coach and Jennifer adopted him, either. Again--I assume that Tim Green didn't know about ICWA when he wrote the book, and neither did his editor.
Is ignorance an excuse?
Some will say yes. Others will say it doesn't matter, because, after all, "its fiction."
I disagree. Ignorance is not an excuse, because ignorance about Native people is the norm. That norm is not acceptable. Writers, editors, reviewers... most are ignorant about who we are. Fiction has tremendous power to shape what we think and know. It need not feed ignorance. Indeed, when the audience is children or teens, it ought to be called out when it feeds ignorance.
Green's Unstoppable feeds ignorance. As such, I do not recommend it.
Indeed, Unstoppable does precisely what ICWA was meant to stop from happening. Harrison was adopted by a kind white family. But what book was he given to read, right away, in that white home? Louis L'Amour's Sackett's Land: A Novel. I excerpted that passage above. Remember what Jennifer said about the Sackett family as she handed it to him? "It’s a family that comes to America when it was a new land." Quite honestly, I find that passage grotesque. Books like that dismiss and undermine who we are as Native peoples. This wasn't "new land" to us. It was, and is, our homeland. Jennifer is, in my view, doing a version of "kill the Indian and save the man" and so is Tim Green.
Unstoppable and what happens in it are why ICWA matters. Why, I wonder, did Green make his main character Native? I'll be thinking about this book for awhile as I continue to develop my review of Emily Henry's book. Are there others out there, for children or young adults, that I should add to my list?
Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Anne M. Dunn's Fire in the Village. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.
Dunn, Anne M. (Anishinabe-Ojibwe), Fire in the Village: New and Selected Stories. Holy Cow! Press, 2016.
Everyone knows a circle has no beginning and no end. In Fire in the Village, Anishinabe elder and wisdom-sharer Anne M. Dunn shows us a world in which everything in Creation has life, in which everything has volition, in which everything needs to be thanked and respected. It’s a world inhabited by mischievous Little People and wise elders; by four-leggeds, two-leggeds, flying nations, swimmers and those who creep; by hovering spirits and the children who can see them, and by haunting flashbacks that just won’t go away. Like points in a circle, each story has a place that informs the whole. Here are 75 stories of how things came to be and how the humans (some of them, anyway) came to understand their responsibilities to all Creation. Stories of how the Little People can make huge things happen and how elders and children may be the only ones who understand and respect them. Stories about why butterflies are beautiful but can’t sing, why Tamarack drops its needles in winter, and why, every season, Anishinabeg give great thanks to the sap-giving maple trees. And gut-wrenching stories of the horrors inflicted on innocent little children in the Indian residential schools and stories of internalized racism and stories of good, loving parents who have alcoholism. One of my favorite of Anne’s not-so-subtle stories (that reminds me of the US and Canadian governments’ failed attempts at cultural erasure of Indian peoples) involves an elder woman’s dreams to create a monument to fry bread, and the Department of Fry Bread Affairs—“suspicious that the women were engaged in resistance and eager to crush any possibility of dissent”—finds a way to destroy their Great Fry Bread Mountain and outlaw the women’s Fry Bread dances. But, if you know any history, you know that the struggle continues. Without didacticism, without polemic, Anne gives each story the attention it needs so it can speak its own truth. How a little boy finds the perfect gift for his grandma. How a bear reciprocates for an elder woman’s generosity. How the Little People encourage an old man on his final journey. How a drum dreamed by a woman long ago can bring healing to the community. Ojibwe artist Annie Humphrey’s beautifully detailed black-and-white pen-and-ink interior illustrations, together with the cover’s bright eye-catching colors in Prismacolor colored pencil, complement Anne’s tellings and will draw readers into the stories. Children can enjoy acting out many of Anne’s stories about how things came to be, and some of the others as well. But, please—pitch the fake “Indians” with costumes, headdresses, wigs and face paint; also, the “woo-woos,” “hows,” “ughs,” and “hop-hop” dances. The most effective “costumes” I’ve seen were plain t-shirts and jeans for the two-legged characters, and minimal decorations to denote the four-leggeds, flying ones, swimming nations and those who creep. In her Foreword, Anne writes: The storyteller is usually a recognized member of the community, one who carries the stories that must be told. Perhaps young tellers will arrive to carry them forward. So our stories will continue to be passed from generation to generation. “Some stories are told more often, she also writes, “because those are the stories that wantto be told. They are the ones that teach the vital lessons of our culture and traditions.” Depending on what lessons are being imparted, some stories may be for everyone, some for children, some for initiates, and some for adults. I would encourage parents, classroom teachers and librarians to use the same caution with this written collection. As in the old times, when the people were taught by example and by stories, Anne sits in a circle with her audience and relates teachings and events from the long ago, from the distant past, from almost yesterday, and from now and beyond tomorrow—because every day, you know, brings a new story. If you listen for it. As Anne ends some of her stories, “That’s the way it was. That’s the way it is.” ‘Chi miigwech, Anne. I’m honored to call you friend.
Friday (April 8, 2016), I used Skype to give a long-distance talk for the Spotlight on Books conference in Minnesota. In the Q&A, I was asked about Jamake Highwater's Anpao. I've mentioned that book in many talks but have not yet done a stand-alone post here. Yesterday's question prompts me to finally do it.
Anpao came out in 1977. It won a Newbery Honor in 1978. The book was published in one of the many eras in which US society realizes its body of literature is too white.
Anpao was put forth as the work of a Native man, but "Jamake Highwater" was a pen name for a man named Jack Marks. He was not Native but for many years, he was receiving large grants intended for projects developed by Native people, including some by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
In 1983 Akwesasne Notes published an article by Highwater, in which he talked about being treated as a "second class Indian" because he had mixed heritage. Seeing that article, Hank Adams began meticulous research on him. Adams, Vine Deloria Jr., and Suzan Harjo worked together to get an expose published the following year, in Akwesasne Notes.
Does it matter that Highwater was not Native (he is deceased)? I think it does. In school, teachers often assign Author Studies--in which students are asked to read other items the author has done, study the works individually and as a whole, and see what sort of observations they may make in changes in an author's work over time. In most of the items I see about "Jamake Highwater," I don't see anything (in materials for children/teens) that includes the fact that he was not Native. They take his writing, then, as the writing of a Native person.
That leads me to Anpao as a work of literature. Can it be used to teach children or young adults about Native people?
My answer: no.
In the author's note, Marks/Highwater tells us that the character, Anpao, is a "central Indian hero" created by him from stories from Plains and Southwest peoples. I'm from one of those nations of the southwest. In one way after another, we're different from the Plains peoples. Just what did Marks/Highwater do to create this character? What did he take from the Plains, versus the Southwest peoples to make this "central Indian hero"?
As he travels, Anpao tells stories. But as he tells them, they are presented as if they belong to Anpao, this "central Indian hero." Everything, if we go along with the story, belongs to, and/or comes from, Anpao, the "central Indian hero." That, ironically, is precisely what the author did in creating this "Jamake Highwater" identity. He took from others, and called what he took, his own. That appropriation is a pattern in his work.
In Native American Representations, First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations (Bataille, 2001), Kathryn Shanley (a professor in Native American Studies at the University of Montana) analyzed one of his other books (The Primal Mind), and writes that Highwater (p. 38):
"felt he could take license with archived materials and claim the experiences contained in them as if they originate from his own personal knowledge and insight."
Shanley goes on to discuss that so many were duped by Highwater because he spoke in ways that met their expectations of what and how a Native person would be. In that expectation--driven by stereotypical and romantic ideas of who we are--Native people who do not speak
in that way are seen as "not Indian." Anpao
was published in 1977, but now--39 years later--Native writers are still faced with that sort of rejection of their work.
That is the status quo! Books with mystical Indians--like the grandmother in Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World--
are scooped up by major publishers.
That has to change. Everyone in children's literature has a responsibility to work towards that change. In the Summer 2015 issue of Children and Librarians
, Kathleen T. Horning included Highwater's fraud in her article, "Milestones for Diversity in Literature and Library Services." I hope you do your part. For further reading:Fool's Gold: The Story of Jamake Highwater, the Fake Indian Who Won't Die
by Alex Jacobs, in Indian Country Today Media NetworkAround the Campfire: Fake Indians
by Dean Chavers, in Native Times. An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post
by Hank Adams
Last year, I referenced S. D. Nelson's Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People in an article I did for School Library Journal. I hadn't read it then, and haven't studied it yet, but have had some questions about it (hence, it is now in my "Debbie--have you seen" category). I do have a copy and want to say a few words about it. (Update: It was published in 2015 by Abrams.)
I'm critical of books wherein the writer has invented dialogue for a real person. As a scholar in children's literature who works very hard to help others see biased, stereotypical, inaccurate, romantic and derogatory depictions of Native peoples in children's books, invented dialogue looms large for me.
In short: I need to know if there is evidence or documentation that the person actually said those words. This concern holds, whether the writer is Native or not.
In Nelson's Sitting Bull, the entire text is invented dialogue--and invented thoughts.
It is constructed as a first person biography. It is presented to us as if Sitting Bull is telling us his life story, after he's been killed. Along the way, we have some dialogue, but mostly we have what Nelson imagines Sitting Bull to have thought.
On February 1, 2016 in The Stories in Between, Julie Danielson wrote:
Increasingly, today’s readers also want to see dialogue attribution in the back matter of biographies. That’s because invented dialogue is still a touchy subject. You have those who think that it has no place and that any sort of made-up dialogue puts the biography squarely in the category of historical fiction. Then you have those who think such dialogue is acceptable, helps bring the story to life, and can still be considered nonfiction. In 2014, Betsy Bird wrote here about her changing feelings on the subject (“In general I stand by my anti-faux dialogue stance but recently I’ve been cajoled into softening, if not abandoning, my position”), which made me nod my head a lot.
Here’s where I (and many others) draw the line: if a biographer invents dialogue or shifts around facts in any sort of way, they need to come clean about this in the back matter. A great example of this is Greg Pizzoli’s Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, the story of con artist Robert Miller, published last year and named a Kirkus Best Book of 2015. There’s a line in the starred review of the book that states: “The truth behind Miller’s exploits is often difficult to discern, and Pizzoli notes the research challenges in an afterword.”
"Come clean" is, perhaps, a loaded way to characterize what Danielson is calling for, but I think it is an important call. I want to know what Nelson made up.
Clearly, this is not a hard and fast rule. If it was, Sitting Bull
would not have been selected as an Honor Book by the American Indian Library Association. And--this isn't the first time the field of children's literature has looked critically at invented dialogue. Myra Zarnowski's chapter, Intermingling fact and Fiction
, published in 2001 in The Best in Children's Nonfiction,
has a good overview.
If I do an in-depth look at Sitting Bull
, I'll be back. For now, though, I am not comfortable recommending it, and I may revisit what I said about his Buffalo Bird Girl
when I wrote about it, back in 2013. It, too, is a biography.
I anticipate questions from readers who wonder if S.D. Nelson ought to get a pass on invented dialogue because he is Lakota. My question is: did he work with any of Sitting Bull's descendants as he wrote the story? Did any of them read the manuscript? If they did, and they found it acceptable, I'd love to see that in the book. On the cover, in fact! If I do hear anything like that, I'll be back to update this post.
|Debbie--have you seen...|
Adding Erin Petti's The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee
to my "have you seen" series. Here's the synopsis:
Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “Return,” whispered to her by the ghost. It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.
No mention in the synopsis of a Native character, but Thelma's best friend, Alexander, is "part Native American."
I've got an ARC. If/when I read it, I'll be back!
Terrific news! Tomson Highway's Dragonfly Kites is available again--this time with art by Julie Flett!
Fifteen years ago, I learned about three delightful picture books by Tomson Highway. Illustrated by Brian Deines, each one had a great story that was presented in English and in Cree. Fox on the Ice
, Caribou Song
, and Dragonfly Kites
were published by a major publisher (HarperCollins) in Canada but went out of print. In 2008, I was able to get copies of them
In 2013, Fifth House reissued Caribou Song
with a new illustrator, John Rombough. It went on to win the picture book award from the American Indian Library Association. Highway is Cree; Rombough is Dene.
While the art Deines did in the early 2000s was realistic and had appeal for that realism, I gotta say that I really like Rombough's work. It is visually arresting and provides the opportunity to teach children about different kinds of art. I highly recommend Caribou Song
I am thrilled that Fifth House is giving us DragonFly Kites
this year. The illustrator is one of my favorite artists: Julie Flett. Here's the synopsis for Dragonfly Kites
Joe and Cody, two young Cree brothers, along with their parents and their little dog Ootsie, are spending the summer by one of the hundreds of lakes in northern Manitoba. Summer means a chance to explore the world and make friends with an array of creatures.
But what Joe and Cody like doing best of all is flying dragonfly kites. They catch dragonflies and gently tie a length of thread around the middle of each dragonfly before letting it go. Off soar the dragonflies into the summer sky and off race the brothers and Ootsie too, chasing after their dragonfly kites through trees and meadows and down to the beach before watching them disappear into the night sky.
As kids do, Joe and Cody befriend animals. One summer their pet was a baby Arctic tern they named Freddy. Another summer, they were fond of a baby loon that they named Sally. And on another summer, they were watching two baby eagles (not paginated):
They named one Migisoo, which means "eagle" in Cree. The other they named Wagisoo, which doesn't mean anything but rhymes with Migisoo.
Migisoo! Cracks me up! Here's that page, and look! That dog? That's Ootsie:Dragonfly Kites
will be at the top of my lists this year! And of course, I wonder... will Fifth House be giving us the third book (Fox On Ice)
, too? I hope so!
In January, a reader wrote to ask me about Dark Energy
by Robison Wells. I got an ARC (advanced reader copy) from Edelweiss and read it last week. I have a lot of questions. The book itself will be released on March 29, 2016. Let's start with the synopsis:
We are not alone. They are here. And there’s no going back. Perfect for fans of The Fifth Wave and the I Am Number Four series, Dark Energy is a thrilling stand-alone science fiction adventure from Robison Wells, critically acclaimed author ofVariant and Blackout.
Five days ago, a massive UFO crashed in the Midwest. Since then, nothing—or no one—has come out.
If it were up to Alice, she’d be watching the fallout on the news. But her dad is director of special projects at NASA, so she’s been forced to enroll in a boarding school not far from the crash site. Alice is right in the middle of the action, but even she isn’t sure what to expect when the aliens finally emerge. Only one thing is clear: everything has changed.
The synopsis doesn't tell us that Alice is "half Navajo." Her dad is white; her deceased mom was Navajo.
Back in January, I noted that I was interested in the author's note.
I'll begin with it. There, Wells writes that he used to live on the Navajo reservation. Because he wanted to be respectful "of the tribes and ancestors of tribes mentioned in the book" he sent the manuscript out to several readers. He names seven individuals (Orlando Tsosie, Sammy Jim, Thomas Begay, Angelina Begay, Nadine Padilla, Susie Sandoval, and Thomasita Yazzie). Some of their surnames are clearly Navajo. Wells listened to what they had to say:
The small amount we see of ceremony and meeting with the Elders is a very whittled down version of a real Navajo ceremony. Originally we saw all of it, but the Navajos I spoke to--with only one exception--said it was too sacred to depict. I cut it back and and back until they were satisfied.
I am glad to read that Wells cut it more than once until his readers were satisfied. But--I have many questions, because equally important to the story Wells tells are Pueblo peoples. He doesn't say he sent the manuscript to Pueblo Indian readers. I'm not sure what I'd have said...
Let's back up.
From the synopsis, we know an alien ship has crashed in Iowa and that Alice's dad has to go there. The boarding school Alice is sent to is the Minnetonka School for the Gifted and Talented. Soon after Alice and her dad get to the site, the aliens start to emerge. The US government welcomes them and through a translator, figures out they call themselves the Guides. All but two are housed in a tent city next to the giant ship.
The school's gifted and talented student body is important to the story. Alice and her friends befriend the two Guides (these two are a brother and sister). Brynne, one of the Minnetonka students, tests the DNA of the girl alien (they call her Coya) and finds out that she's not an alien at all. She is human. Another student who is into languages records some of Coya's words, analyzes them, and figures out that Coya and her brother are speaking a Pueblo language:
"Keresan is a language spoken by half a dozen tribes in New Mexico. They're Pueblo tribes. Acoma, Laguna--those are the ones I've been to. There are others to the east."
"...the DNA databases I've searched say they're not any one of those tribes, but they have markers for being an older tribe that those are descendants from."
"the language is like a puebloan nation, but not. And the DNA is like a puebloan nation, but not. Are we talking about the Anasazi here?"
The conversation continues, with Brynne and Rachel giving the rest of the group some information about the Anasazi, including that the preferred name is Ancestral Puebloans.
So--Coya and her sibling and the Guides who were on that ship are not aliens. They're Ancestral Puebloans who were abducted by some bad aliens (they're called Masters), who we'll learn later, look like lizards. These bad aliens enslaved the Ancestral Puebloans and used them as incubators for parasites the Masters grow till they become like the Masters, too. How all that becomes known is laid out in the story in a gruesome discovery when Alice and her friends go onto the ship and find bloody rooms where, Alice's dad tells her, they think thousands committed mass suicide after puncturing their abdomens.
Are you unsettled by any of that? I am, and while that part of Dark Energy
has nothing to do with ceremony, it does a few things that I would have asked Wells to revisit.
This alien abduction idea is one that appears here and there. As I did some research, I read that tourists tell tour guides at Chaco Canyon that abduction story. It is part of an X-Files episode, too. All of this feeds into New Age activity that is harmful to the sites, which have significance to us today. Will Dark Energy
inadvertently encourage that abduction idea? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, consider sacred or significant aspects of your own spiritual or cultural or religious life and how they are (or could be) exploited by others who don't understand those ways.
I wonder if Wells took the feelings of Pueblo people into consideration? Why did he not ask Pueblo readers to read his manuscript? I think I can offer an answer. The entire story is dependent on abducted Ancestral Puebloans. If I said "no, don't go there," I can't imagine how this story could be told. Can you?
Another thread that I am uncomfortable with is the ways in which Alice and her friends go about teaching "our culture" to Coya. There are places in the story where Alice says something that tells us she's well aware of politics, history, and oppression of Native peoples, but there are other places where that orientation disappears, like when teaching Coya "our" culture. Alice is clearly a US teen, into things most other US teens are into, but for me, she slips in and out of a Navajo orientation in ways that I find jarring. At one point she talks sarcastically about small pox, and then at this "our culture" part, there's this:
It was amazing the things that she didn't have any concept of: awards, winning, competition, prizes.
And there is another part where another student (he's from India and has applied for US citizenship) and Alice are talking about what the government will do with the Guides. He says:
"I wonder what they'll do about the Guides' citizenship. They landed in America--does that make them American? It's not like we can load them on a bus and send them back to where they came from. Besides, from what you said, putting them on a bus would just be shipping them back to Mesa Verde, right?"
"I don't see us creating a new little nation for them, I said. "We've seen how well that's worked out in the past, with Native American reservations."
"I don't know what they'll be," I said. "These Guides are going to need a lot of education, and they don't have any money. Are we just going to give them free houses?"
See? Her voice, her orientation, her political knowledge.. it seems uneven, or, inconsistent.
As the story draws to a close, Alice and her friends are running, along with Coya and her brother, to the Navajo reservation where a ceremony will be done by a Hopi man who talks of monsters who came from the sky, and, a bundle with the skull of one of those monsters. It isn't clear to me who does a sandpainting of the ship... is it a Navajo man or the Hopi one? I can't tell, but, we learn that the Hopi learned how to kill the monsters, using a poison they make from juniper berries, dried insects, and dried flowers. Arrows are dipped into that poison. Alice and her friends go to Chaco Canyon, the Masters/Monsters arrive there.
Alice talks with one (through a translator mechanism that Coya and her brother have been using). It is angry. It asks her if she knows what her friends have cost his people. She says they're her
people. It replies:
"What do you mean 'your people'? These slaves were taken from this weak little planet more than eight hundred of your Earth years ago. We took only what we needed--we bred the rest. Your population is exploding. You seem to have more than enough to spare a few."
Some dramatic fighting ensues, but those poison tipped arrows do the trick. The four Masters/Monsters are killed.
These parts about enslavement are meant to make a point about enslavement of Africans and they're the part about history that the Kirkus reviewer referenced, but I don't know... It doesn't sit well with me.
What Wells does in Dark Energy
is too over-the-top and, as noted earlier, the abduction/alien theme plays into New Age abuses of our ancestral sites. I've read and re-read what I've written here, trying to bring it into a useful and coherent sharing of my thoughts, but I feel confounded by what I read in Dark Energy.
Obviously, I've decided to stop trying and just hit the upload button.
Published in 2016 by HarperCollins (a major publisher), I conclude with this: I do not recommend Dark Energy
by Robison Wells. I invite your thoughts.
|Debbie, have you seen...|
A reader writes to ask me if I've read Journey Into Hawk Country
. I haven't. Here's the synopsis from WorldCat:
An illustrated children's version of the journal of a young Dutch trader, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, who journeyed into the land of the Iroquois Indians, a Mowhawk tribe that controlled the trade routes in the area, in 1634, seeking to bolster the Dutch trade in what is now New York State.
It came out in 2006 and there's quite a lot written about it. Here's one well-sourced essay, written by Melissa L. Melon: Our Minds in the Gutters: Sexuality and Reader Responsibility in George O'Connor's Graphic Novel, Journey into Mohawk Country
If I get the book, I'll be back.
This "have you seen" post is, more or less, a note to myself to put Katherine Marsh's The Night Tourist on my list of books to read. Of late, I'm finding/learning about several books that are set in New York City and have Native content--in the form of ghosts or Indians-of-the-past.
The Night Tourist came to my attention as I read an article in the March 27 edition of The Washington Post. Written by Katherine Marsh (author of The Night Tourist), the photograph at the top of her article is what caught my eye. Here's a screen cap:
That soldier, with machine gun, standing in front of a book display is, of course, chilling. As my eyes moved to the books on the shelves, I realized the soldier is standing in front of a wall of Tintin books. The one on the top shelf, 3rd from the left, is Tintin in America.
It is one of the much loved Tintin books have stereotypical, racist, derogatory content.
As I started looking into Tintin articles to link to in this post, I found an article in Salon: Tintin's racist history: Symbol of Brussels solidarity is uncomfortably divisive
. In it is a link to an article in Vox: How Tintin became the symbol of solidarity in the Brussels attacks
. The Vox article is mostly a series of tweets of Tintin crying.
I don't know if Marsh chose the photo that was used with her article. She doesn't mention the Tintin books. My guess is that someone in the editorial department at the Post has read the Vox article and thought it a good choice, given that Marsh writes children's books. The image did something else for me: it caught my eye and led me to look at Marsh's first book, which (as noted above) has Native content of the no-longer-around kind, but it also captures the importance of children's books.
Far too many people look down on children and the books created for them, but they're important. They shape the ways we view the world. How they do that is something that needs more attention. When I read Marsh's book, what will I find? Does that book add to the misinformation that Native peoples no longer exist? If/when I read her book, I'll be back. If you've read it, let me know what you noticed when you read it.
Yesterday on Twitter, Annie Pho tweeted this image:
The words in the image she tweeted are a 2016 article by Eric Jennings, titled "The librarian stereotype: How librarians are damaging their image and profession." People on twitter were, appropriately, angry that Jennings used that excerpt in the way that he did. Here's the excerpt Jennings used (shown in the image):
When I was at the 2009 Association of College and Research Libraries conference, I saw Sherman Alexie speak, and one of the things that stuck with me is that there's always some truth to a stereotype. He was talking specifically about how the stereotype for many Native Americans is that they are alcoholics. And, in fact, most of his family members are alcoholics. He even went on record as saying that the whole race is filled with alcoholics and that pretending that alcoholism is a stereotype among Native Americans is a form of denial (Alexie, 2009).I took a look at the source for that quote. It is a video. I watched it. Alexie did, in fact, say what Jennings says he did.
Was it wise for Jennings to use that excerpt in his article about stereotypes of librarians? I think not. Here's why.
Most people know a librarian. Most people probably know a lot of librarians, and know that the stereotypes of librarians don't apply.
Most people, however, do not know a Native person. So, there's no way for them--in the course of their everyday life--to know that most of us are not, in fact, alcoholics.
Let's think about that a minute.
Alexie said it is a stereotype that Native people are alcoholics.
The truth? Alcoholism is a widespread disease.
Alcoholism is a social disease. It does not exist in higher incidences amongst Native communities. Alexie tells us about his specific family. What he says is not true for my own family. We're not exceptional, either. I'm not saying "Not us" out of a holier-than-thou space.
A research study released earlier this year says it isn't true for most Native people in the US either. Holding that view, however, has costs to Native people. The news report about the article included this:
"Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn’t mean that alcohol problems don’t exist," Cunningham said. "All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.
"But falsely stereotyping a group regarding alcohol can have its own unique consequences. For example, some employers might be reluctant to hire individuals from a group that has been stereotyped regarding alcohol. Patients from such a group, possibly wanting to avoid embarrassment, may be reluctant to discuss alcohol-related problems with their doctors."And here's another paragraph:
"Negative stereotyping of groups of people who have less access to health care creates even more health disparities," Muramoto said. "Based on a false negative stereotype, some health care providers may inaccurately attribute a presenting health problem to alcohol use and fail to appropriately diagnose and treat the problem."Several years ago, a dear elder in my tribal nation dealt with that very thing. He wasn't well. He had tests done. Doctors assumed he was alcoholic, and that alcohol abuse was the cause of what they saw in tests. He told them he didn't drink, but, they wouldn't probe further. Now, he's finally been diagnosed with a fatal disease. Just writing those words brings tears to my eyes.
Words. As I said on Twitter, words matter. They shape what people think and what people do. Words shaped those doctors who didn't believe this elder.
In a recent article in Booklist, Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote this:
I’ve had allied non-Indian librarians tell me, one way or another, that they’re committed to telling stories about “real Indians” and go on to clarify that they mean alcoholics living in reservation communities. As if, say, my tribal town and urban characters were somehow less “real.” I cringed reading her words because what she's encountering is a belief in that stereotype. They think it is real. I'm seeing it in books I've read in the last year. Writers seem to have an idea that, if they're writing a story about Native people or our communities, they better make sure to have an alcoholic in it.
Writers who do that are damaging us, and they're damaging non-Native readers, too. They are taking a social illness and making it a NATIVE social illness. My guess is that they have read Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. That story has alcoholism in it. Because he's got it in his book, I think writers are thinking that they should make sure to include it in their stories, too.
Writers: Don't do that.
Editors: Don't let your writers do that.
Book reviewers and bloggers: Your reviews/posts influence purchasing decisions. Pay attention. See what I see, which is the overrepresentation of alcoholism as a part of Native life.
Everyone: Read the study. See for yourself.
See the news article: Study Debunks Notions about Native Americans, AlcoholRead the study: Alcohol use among Native Americans compared to whites: Examining the veracity of the 'Native American elevated alcohol consumption' belief
Back in January, a reader wrote to ask me about Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. I've now gotten a copy, read it, and am working on an in-depth review of it.
However! Last week I learned it was being picked up by Lionsgate. If all goes according to plan, it will be a movie. That troubled me deeply because of the errors I found in the book.
I started tweeting about it, and got some pretty fierce pushback from people who are friends of the writer.
If you're interested in the tweets and my response to the pushback, I created two Storify's about them (Storify is a way to capture a series of tweets in a single place.) I've also got them available as pdf's--let me know by email if you want a copy of the pdf.
Here's the first one:What Emily Henry got wrong in THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD
And here's the second one:Derailing Native Critique of THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD
Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Joseph Bruchac's The Hunter's Promise. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.
Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), The Hunter’s Promise: An Abenaki Tale, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Wisdom Tales (2015), kindergarten-up
Without didacticism or stated “morals,” Indigenous traditional stories often portray some of the Original Instructions given by the Creator, and children (and other listeners as well), depending on their own levels of understanding, may slowly come to know the stories and their embedded lessons. Bruchac’s own retelling of the “Moose Wife” story, traditionally told by the Wabanaki and Haudenosaunee peoples of what is now known as the Northeastern US and Canada, is a deep story that maintains its important teaching elements in this accessible children’s picture book. Here, a young hunter travels alone to winter camp to bring back moose meat and skins. Lonely and wishing for companionship, he finds the presence of someone who, unseen, has provided for his needs: in the lodge a fire is burning, food has been cooked, meat has been hung on drying racks and hide has been prepared for drying. On the seventh day, a mysterious woman appears, but is silent. The two stay together all winter and, when spring arrives and the hunter leaves for his village, the woman says only, “promise to remember me.” As the story continues, young readers will intuit some things that may not make “sense.” Why does the hunter travel alone to and from winter camp? Why doesn’t the woman return with the hunter to the village? Why do their children grow up so quickly? Why does she ask only that the hunter promise to remember her? Who is she really? The story’s end is deeply satisfying and will evoke questions and answers, as well as ideas about how this old story may have connections to contemporary issues involving respect for all life. Farnsworth’s heavily saturated oil paintings, with fall settings on a palette of mostly oranges and browns; and winter settings in mostly blues and whites, evoke the seasons in the forested mountains and closely follow Bruchac’s narrative. Cultural details of housing, weapons, transportation and clothing are also well done. The canoes, for instance, are accurately built (with the outside of the birch bark on the inside); and the women’s clothing display designs of quillwork and shell rather than beadwork (which would have been the mark of a later time). That having been said, it would have been helpful to see representations of individual characteristics and emotion in facial expressions here. While Farnsworth’s illustrations aptly convey the “long ago” in Bruchac’s tale, this lack of delineation evokes an eerie, ghost-like presence that may create an unnecessary distance between young readers and the Indian characters. Bruchac’s narrative is circular, a technique that might be unfamiliar with some young listeners and readers who will initially interpret the story literally as something “only” about loyalty and trust in human familial relationships; how these ethics encompass the kinship of humans to all things in the natural world might come at another time. I would encourage classroom teachers, librarians and other adults who work with young people to allow them to sit with this story. They’ll probably “get” it—if not at the first reading, then later on. And I would save Bruchac’s helpful Author’s Note for afterthe story, maybe even days or weeks later: It’s long been understood among the Wabanaki…that a bond exists between the hunter and those animals whose lives he must take for his people to survive. It is more than just the relationship between predator and prey. When the animal people give themselves to us, we must take only what we need and return thanks to their spirits. Otherwise, the balance will be broken. Everything suffers when human beings fail to show respect for the great family of life.
Sharing some great news! Chelsea Vowell of apihtawikosisan
asked me to host IndigenousXca
from March 17 through March 24. If you're not tapped into Native networks on Twitter, you're probably wondering what IndigenousXca is...
Back in 2012, Luke Pearson started IndigenousX in Australia as a way to provide Indigenous people a way to reach a broader audience than those who follow the individual's Twitter account. Inspired by it, Chelsea launched IndigenousXca on October 30, 2014. Hosts are primarily First Nations, but the reality? The line between the US and Canada is a blurry one when you center Indigenous Peoples as the peoples of North America.
Each week, an Indigenous person is invited to tweet using the IndigenousXca account. The subject of the tweets is up to the host.
IndigenousXca's first host was Paul Seesequasis. Since then, there have been over 60 hosts
. Right now (March 10-17), Dale Turner
(he's a professor at Dartmouth) is the host.
People who follow my Twitter account (@debreese) know that I generally tweet about representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books, but that I also tweet items I've read and want to promote. Some of those are specific to Native people, but some aren't.
During my week as a host of IndigenousXca, I'll stick to tweets about my area of research and expertise (representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books). That includes sharing books I've reviewed here on AICL as well as items other Native people are writing about--including their responses to J.K. Rowling's Magic in North America series. Those tweets will be sent out using the @IndigenousXca account. If you're on Twitter, I hope you'll check out, and then follow that account. There's some excellent content shared via that account.
If you're following the response of Native people to JK Rowling for her "History of Magic in North America" stories that are short backgrounds for the next movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think you'll be interested in this bit of info.
Evidence (maybe) that someone (Rowling, maybe?!)
is, in fact, doing some tinkering with the
problematic content on the
Last Thursday (March 10, 2016) I began compiling a list of blog posts and threaded tweets
by Native people who were responding to JK Rowling's "History of Magic in North America" series. I included a screen cap from the Pottermore site that had a flying eagle as the image for the story. Seeing that eagle struck me as odd, because the day of my first tweet (March 8, 2016) I had seen a different image on the Pottermore site--the one of an Indian standing on a cliff.
This morning (Tuesday, March 2016) I read an article
at Hypable that describes a person's search to figure out who the founding group of Ilvermorny would be (in the movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
that is due out later this year. (There's a lot to say about the Hypable article but that's for another post.) The article is by Andrew Sims. I looked him up on Twitter, found him, and found an interesting tweet from him, dated March 10 at 8:34 AM. Here's a screen cap:
Using the Internet WayBack Machine, I figured out that the image changed sometime between March 9 at 8:10:58 PM and March 10 at 5:17:17 AM.
Here's the image time stamped March 9 at 8:10:58 PM:
And here's the image time stamped March 10 at 5:17:17 AM:
As far as I know, JK Rowling has not responded to any of the criticisms Native people began putting forth on March 8th. Someone did make a change to the site. I suspect it was Rowling.
Will we hear more from her? Because she has tweeted in support of various marginalized groups before, her lack of response to us is troubling. As they say on TV "stay tuned" to AICL for updates.
As fans of Harry Potter know, there are two distinct responses to her "History of Magic in North America" stories. The first story was released on Monday, March 8, 2016. Fans were delighted to have more of her writing to read. Native people--those who are fans of her books, and those of us who study or write about representations of Native peoples in popular culture and children's literature--had a different response.
I'd been deeply immersed in a study of a handful of best selling children's books. This is in the popular Geronimo Stilton's Wild West:
I'd just read Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero
where a main character's dad is Cherokee, making her half Cherokee. She's taunted by other characters who ask her if her dad is an alcoholic and if she'll do a rain dance. Riordan had those words come from what we might characterize as "mean girls." I assume he did that to, in that way, show them to be inappropriate things to say, but far too many people won't pick up on that nuance. I worry that, without a direct push-back on those taunts, people will view them as an affirmation of existing stereotypical ideas, and use those same taunts themselves.
When I read Rowling's story, I was furious. I used the f-bomb in a tweet at her. The emotion it expressed was real. Use of the word wasn't necessary. As I read tweets by Native people, I saw a range of emotion. Anger. And hurt, too. Native people who are my daughter's age grew up reading Harry Potter. This particular group are adults now, in their 20s. She--and they--were huge fans of every book in the series.
But this short story? Their reaction to it was different. They read the first line, with its monolithic "The Native Americans" was bad, but each paragraph of that short story was laden with troubling misrepresentations of Native peoples.
Those who are following the news on this story know that major media is reporting on it, excerpting a few words from a stream of tweets, or, from a blog post. Below are links to items by Native writers. Please read and share them. I'll be adding others as I find them. If you see others, please let me know in a comment.
March 7, 2016: "Magic in North America": The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home
by Adrienne Keene
March 8, 2016: Yo, @jkrowling, my ancestors...
(series of tweets) by Brian Young
March 9, 2016: When we say...
(series by tweets) by Johnnie Jae
March 9, 2016: Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK?
by Tate Walker
March 9, 2016: Why it's more than fiction
by Mari Kurisato
Over at Reading While White, Megan Schliesman's The Long Haul notes that we're in the year 2016, and that people have been objecting to problems in children's literature for a long time. She lists twelve people and invites readers to add to her list. I'm on that list, and so are Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin. My post, today, is my response to Megan's invitation.
For Native people who wrote about depictions of Native peoples in story, we can go all the way back to 1829 and William Apess.
William Apess was a Pequot activist and author. In the 1830s, he helped the Mashpee Wampanoags regain control of their lands. In 1829, his autobiographical Son of the Forest
was published. Apess was mixed blood. His paternal grandfather was a white man who married a Pequot woman. His father married a Pequot woman. Apess and his siblings were born, and they all lived with their his mother's family. At some point his parents split up and left, and the kids remained with their maternal grandparents. Through all this they were very poor and his grandmother was especially cruel.
He writes about how his grandmother was out, drinking, amongst white people. She returned home, intoxicated, and asked him if he hated her. He answered yes because he didn't realize that "yes" was the wrong answer. She beat him again and again, breaking his arm. He was four years old when that happened. His uncle took him away, to Mr. Furman, a white man who sometimes gave them milk. Apess was subsequently placed in Mr. Furman's home where he was well-cared for. It was a stark contrast to his life with his grandparents, but, in his autobiography, Apess takes care to tell readers that they ought not judge, without context, the causes of his grandmother's behaviors. He specifically mentions alcohol, wrongful taking of Native peoples possessions and land, "violence of the most revolting kid upon the persons of female portion of the tribe" (p. 15) -- which we are correct to interpret as rape.
When he was six, he went to school and embraced what he was taught, such that he became distant from his own identity as a Native person (p. 21):
...so completely was I weaned from the interest and affections of my brethren that a mere threat of being sent away among the Indians into the dreary woods had a much better effect in making me obedient to he commands of my superiors than any corporal punishment that they ever inflicted.
He recounts setting out with his family a couple of years later, to pick berries. While in the woods, they came upon a group of white girls who were also out picking berries, but their complexion, he wrote, was dark and made him think about Indians. Scared, he ran home. When he got there, Mr. Furman asked him what had happened. Writing about that incident as an adult, Apess wrote (p. 23):
It may be proper here to remark that the great fear I entertained of my brethren was occasioned by the many stories I had heard of their cruelty toward the whites--how they were in the habit of killing and scalping men, women, and children. But the whites did not tell me that they were in a great majority of instances the aggressors--that they had imbrued their hands in the lifeblood of my brethren, driven them from their once peaceful and happy homes--that they had introduced among them the fatal and exterminating diseases of civilized life. If the whites had told me how cruel they had been to the "poor Indian," I should have apprehended as much harm from them.
It is what Apess wrote there, in that paragraph, that matters to me in my work as a Native scholar who, 187 years later, is doing the same thing that Appes did in 1829. Through story, he learned to fear his own people such that he was afraid of them.
Obviously, misrepresenting who we are was wrong in 1829, and it is wrong now.
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and, dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
It is, as Megan wrote, a long haul. And in that long haul, people are being hurt by those who cry "it is only fiction." It isn't only fiction. Stories do work. They socialize. They educate. Or--I should say, they mis-educate. Do your part. Join us in pushing back on misrepresentation. It has been a long haul. Let's bring that to an end, together.
I'm looking forward to time I'll spend with students in the P'ôe Project at Northern New Mexico College. If you're nearby, I hope you'll come! My goal in this lecture is to talk about what children are taught in schools. In textbooks and in children's literature, we tend to see the same problems: factual errors, bias, erasures, and missed opportunities, too.
Take, for example, a very popular series called Geronimo Stilton. One of them is in Scholastic's Arrow (4th-6th grade) flyer for February 2016. The book is Geronimo Stilton's Race Across America.
It is a good example of erasure.
In it, Geronimo visits Arizona. Those of you with knowledge of Native people know there are a lot of Native people in Arizona, but there aren't any in Race Across America
I understand that it might have not fit with the story to include Navajo people for Geronimo to interact with when he's on Navajo lands, but throughout the book, there are pages that provide information that doesn't have much to do with the story. In Race Across America
, Geronimo and his bike racing team fly to the West Coast aboard a large plane. In that part of the story, there's a page about exercises anyone can do to stretch their limbs when flying. You see these exercises in the airline magazines. They're the kind people should do to avoid thrombosis.
So--why not include something about the Navajo Nation and sovereignty rather than pages about Westerns that were filmed in Monument Valley?
I'll be doing a review of Race Across America
Scholastic publishes the series. It also provides teachers with lesson plans to use with the books. Here's a screen capture of one:
Books like this are popular, but what are they teaching Native and non-Native kids? And, what can we--whether we are parents or teachers--do about this? My lecture includes a what-to-do component that includes the #StepUpScholastic campaign. Some publishers listen. I think Scholastic is one that does. If you're in Northern New Mexico Wednesday evening, please join us!
Jessica, a reader of AICL, wrote to ask me about Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage. Out in 2016 from Scholastic, here's the synopsis:
Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he's ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he's lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.
Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn't about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left.
Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything. But he hasn't lost hope. And he hasn't lost the fire in his belly that says he's getting his Sarah back-no matter what.
The critically acclaimed author of The Honest Truth returns with a poignant, hopeful, and action-packed story about hearts that won't be tamed... and spirits that refuse to be broken.
It is a middle grade Western, set in 1890. A couple of things I see via Google Books give me pause:
"She's half Indian pony, so she's got some spirit, but she ain't nothing but perfect with me."
"It was Indians. [...] The boy's eyes narrowed. He bared his teeth like a wolf and snarled a word low and mean in his native tongue."
I will try to get a copy to read/review. If I do, I'll be back!
Woah. Some books are so.... out there, that I have a hard time wrapping my head around them. K. A. Holt's Red Moon Rising is one of those books. Here's the synopsis:
Space-farmer Rae Darling is kidnapped and trained to become a warrior against her own people in this adventurous middle grade space western.
Rae Darling and her family are colonists on a moon so obscure it doesn’t merit a name. Life is hard, water is scarce, and the farm work she does is grueling. But Rae and her sister Temple are faced with an added complication—being girls is a serious liability in their strict society. Even worse, the Cheese—the colonists’ name for the native people on the moon—sometimes kidnap girls from the human colony. And when Rae’s impetuous actions disrupt the fragile peace, the Cheese come for her and Temple.
Though Rae and Temple are captives in the Cheese society, they are shocked to discover a community full of kindness and acceptance. Where the human colonists subjugated women, the Cheese train the girls to become fierce warriors. Over time, Temple forgets her past and becomes one of the Cheese, but Rae continues to wonder where her loyalties truly lie. When her training is up, will she really be able to raid her former colony? Can she kidnap other girls, even if she might be recruiting them to a better life?
When a Cheese raid goes wrong and the humans retaliate, Rae’s loyalty is put to the ultimate test. Can Rae find a way to restore peace—and preserve both sides of herself?
Did you read the synopsis? Every word of it? Do you see what I mean?
The moon in this story has been colonized.
The native people who lived there are called "the Cheese."
They kidnap girls from "the human colony."
So... are the Cheese not human?
The Cheese kidnap the women to turn them into warriors who will fight against with the Cheese--against the humans.
Rae and her sister find out that the Cheese treat women better than the humans did.
IS THIS ALL SOUNDING FAMILIAR TO YOU?
I need one of those images of face palm, or head desk. Or a cool GIF. Daniel José Older always tweets some excellent ones. Where does he find those, I wonder?!Red Moon Rising
is out this year, from... Wait for it... A major publisher! It is from Margaret K. McElderry, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster. That is one of the Big Five! Big bucks for the author, big bucks for the promo of the book.
I'm certainly being cynical in what I've said. Maybe I'll regret it. Maybe this book is gonna rock.
I'll be back.
A reader asked me about G. Neri's Tru & Nelle. Here's the synopsis:
Long before they became famous writers, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) were childhood friends in Monroeville, Alabama. This fictionalized account of their time together opens at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Tru is seven and Nelle is six. They love playing pirates, but they like playing Sherlock and Watson-style detectives even more. It’s their pursuit of a case of drugstore theft that lands the daring duo in real trouble. Humor and heartache intermingle in this lively look at two budding writers in the 1930s South.
With Harper Lee's death and the publication last year of Go Set A Watchman
, this book is timely and could do quite well. My quick look inside in the "look inside" feature at Amazon tells me there's a character in it named Indian Joe.
If I get it, and read it, I'll be back. If you got it, and read it, let me know!
In January, a major publisher (Holt, an imprint of Macmillan), released Arctic White, a picture book by Danna Smith. Here's the synopsis:
When you live in the Arctic in winter, everything is a shade of white.
A young girl looks around her home in the Arctic and sees only white, white, white...but one day her grandfather takes her on a journey through the tundra. And at the end of their cold walk across the ice, they find something special that brings color into their world.
The reviewer at Kirkus writes that the setting and culture aren't clear. Here's part of that review:
A modern paint box, a bound book, and a flashlight, together with the second-person, present-tense address (placing readers inside the story), imply a contemporary setting, but this girl lives a nonindustrialized life in an iglu, even though most contemporary indigenous Arctic people live in houses. The lack of any specific indigenous nation and some faux Native philosophy—“Grandfather says hope is golden. You can only see it when you look into a snowy owl’s eyes”—add to the romanticized Native image. Jan Bourdeau Waboose’s SkySisters (2000), an Ojibwe story about walking across tundra to see the northern lights, is a better choice.I absolutely love SkySisters
and am thrilled to see Kirkus sending readers to it instead! If I get a copy of Arctic White
and read it, I'll be back with a review. For now, I think I'd agree with the Kirkus review.
I have a lot of thoughts in my head this morning, about yesterday's #StepUpScholastic chat on Twitter, and about the Step Up Scholastic campaign, but I am starting with this:
|Stone Fox is in 10 bks/$10 box|
Last year, Scholastic, working with WNDB, put together a flyer of books specific to diversity. In theory, terrific marketing! BUT.
When I saw the first page of the flyer, I wasn't happy at all to see Stone Fox
on it. That book has stereotyping of Native peoples in it, and as such, is the opposite of what kids need if they're to 1) see mirrors of who they are, or 2) see accurate depictions of those who are unlike themselves. With that book on there, Scholastic and WNDB are marketing a problematic book. Stone Fox
is in the 10 BOOKS FOR $10 box on bottom right of the flyer shown here.
Late yesterday, Scholastic announced an expansion of its partnership with We Need Diverse Books. They're going to do eight flyers this year. Will these flyers have Stone Fox?
Will they have books by Native writers? When I looked inside last year's flyer, I saw two books by Joseph Bruchac, but that's not enough.
Last year's partnership, and this expansion of that partnership, are steps in the right direction but if Scholastic is seriously committed to diversity and providing children with books that truly education--rather than ones that miseducate children about Native peoples--here's what they need to do (saying they in this post but I know Scholastic is reading this, so I could say YOU instead):
- Acquire more books by Native writers and put those books in the flyers, all year long, not just in the special flyers about diversity. And on the teacher webpages. And in book fairs. Maximize the distribution, here and around the globe, too. Last night I learned a little about the flyers you publish around the globe. You're exporting stereotypes. That has to stop.
- Seek out books by Native writers--books published by other publishers--and get them into the flyers. Do it now. Today. I understand there's "rights" issues associated with all this but also think that your billion+ revenue could be leveraged somehow to make this happen. Get them in the diversity flyers but in all flyers. Like I said above: all year round. Every grade level. Every month.
- Remove books that misrepresent Native peoples from all flyers and from their website, too. There's absolutely no reason to continue to market Island of the Blue Dolphins. Or Hiawatha (the one by Susan Jeffers). Or Touching Spirit Bear. Or Sign of the Beaver. Or The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. Or Julie of the Wolves. Or Indian in the Cupboard. Those are some of the books you distribute. STOP. And I know there are others, too.
- Take some of that billion dollar revenue and hire people with expertise---not just in kidlit---but in Native Studies, to help you with all these tasks. I'm not asking you to hire me. But I think I can help you find people who would work with you. All this money you're making, right here on what used to be Native lands... come on. Step Up.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas has been doing some writing
about distinctions between marketing, advocacy, and activism that I find helpful as we all live through these periods of fighting for change in what we get from the publishing industry. The Scholastic flyers are marketing. I think it is marketing borne from activism, but as I noted above, there's a lot more to do with what Scholastic publishes, and what they choose to market.
Some people think I hate Scholastic. Some people think I hate white people. Neither is true. Last night I did a series of tweets
about how much I love Shadowshaper
and If I Ever Get Out of Here.
I wanna see several of the people who made those two books possible, working in-house at Scholastic, getting us more books like that.
I'll be waiting to see the new flyers. Not just the diversity ones. Every single one. They are a way to measure what Scholastic is doing. Doing content analyses of the flyers provide us with a way to test what Scholastic is doing. The flyers, as I view them, are a test that--if passed--could win back the trust they've lost.
I've read My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett, many times. I can't decide--and don't need to, really--which page is my favorite!
For now--for this moment--I just got off the phone with my daughter, Liz. She's not a little girl anymore. She's an adult, making plans for the the coming months as she finishes law school. She makes me so darn happy! When she was little, she liked "spinny skirts." We made several so she'd always have a clean one to wear to school. So, the cover of My Heart Fills With Happiness reminds me of those days with Liz, as she spun about in her spinny skirts.
Like I said, though, I just got off the phone with her, and as I think of her walking about in the many places she's going to be in May and June and July, I'm reminded of holding her hand as the two of us walked here, and there, oh those years ago! That memory, and this page, are so dear!
I love the page that shows a little girl dancing, her shawl gorgeously depicted as she moves. I love the page where the little boy holds a drumstick in his hand and sits at the drum. I love the page of the kids waiting for their bannock to be ready to eat. I'd love to meet the two Native women who created this book so I could thank them, in person.
My Heart Fills With Happiness
got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly
and another one from School Library Journal.
From me, it gets all the stars in the night sky. Today is its birthday (to use the language I see on twitter). Get a copy, or two, from your favorite independent store.
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Via Twitter, Pam pointed me to Stone Field: A Novel by Christy Lenzi. Due out on March 29, 2016 from Roaring Book Press (an imprint of Macmillan), here's the synopsis for this young adult novel:
A stunning debut novel that offers a new look at a classic love story about soul mates torn apart by the circumstances of their time.
Catrina Dickinson is haunted by her past and feels caged in by life in small town Missouri. When she discovers a strange man in Stone Field where her family grows their sorghum crop, her life takes on new meaning. He has no memory of who he is or what brought him to Cat's farm, but they fall passionately in love. Meanwhile, the country is on the brink of the Civil War, and the conflict in Missouri demands that everyone take a side before the bloodbath reaches their doorstep.
A passionate and atmospheric reimagining of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Stone Field explores how violence and vengeance perverts the human spirit, and how hatred can be transcended by love.
The synopsis on Goodreads has a bit more detail:
In a small town on the brink of the Civil War, Catrina finds a man making strange patterns in her family’s sorghum crop. He’s mad with fever, naked, and strikingly beautiful. He has no memory of who he is or what he’s done before Catrina found him in Stone Field. But that doesn’t bother Catrina because she doesn’t like thinking about the things she’s done before either.
Catrina and Stonefield fall passionately, dangerously, in love. All they want is to live with each other, in harmony with the land and away from Cat’s protective brother, the new fanatical preacher, and the neighbors who are scandalized by their relationship. But Stonefield can’t escape the truth about who he is, and the conflict tearing apart the country demands that everyone take a side before the bloodbath reaches their doorstep.
Inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Stone Field is a passionate and atmospheric story of how violence and vengeance pervert the human spirit, and how hatred can be transcended by love.
Who is that naked beautiful man making patterns in the sorghum field? The review from School Library Journal tell us a bit more. Here's the first two lines:
Inspired by the raw wildness of Wuthering Heights, this tragic romance between a frustrated young Missouri woman and a Creek Indian in Civil War—era Missouri is a natural for readers who enjoy their historical fiction dark and sorrowful. Catrina is an entirely maddening girl: she dresses and speaks improperly. When she meets a mysterious man (whom she calls Stonefield) near her home, she is immediately drawn into a relationship that can never have a happy ending.
So... a Creek Indian guy. If I get the book and read it, or if Jean gets and reads it, we'll be back with a review.
Back here near the end of the day, to add more info, from the Kirkus review. (h/t Pam)
He’s dark—part African-American or Creek, perhaps—and speaks in quotations from Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. [...] Like all narrators, Cat [Catrina] directs readers to what she cares about. Complex Muscogee Creek history, slavery, life in war-torn Missouri, her father’s health, and her brother’s safety are so much narrative scenery. This from Jean: It will be interesting to see how the Muscogee history is sourced, and what is included.