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Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
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1. Dan Gemeinhart's SOME KIND OF COURAGE

Way back in January or February, a reader wrote to ask me about Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage. I put it into my "Debbie--have you seen" series and am glad to be able to return to it, today, with this review. 

First, 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.

Not a word, in that synopsis, about Native people, but if you look at the summary in WorldCat, you see this:
In 1890 Washington the only family Joseph Johnson has left is his half-wild Indian pony, Sarah, so when she is sold by a man who has no right to do so, he sets out to get her back--and he plans to let nothing stop him in his quest.
See? "Half-wild Indian pony." The story begins in 1890 in a place called Old Mission, Washington. As the synopsis and summary tell us, Some Kind of Courage is about a boy who is going to try to get his horse back. 

Here's how we first learn about Joseph's pony (Kindle Locations 302-303):
She’s half Indian pony, so she’s got some spirit, but she ain’t nothing but perfect with me.
Later, we'll read of her being a "half wild Indian pony" (Kindle 2043). Indian ponies appear in Westerns all the time. I've never figured out why they're "ponies" rather than "horses" -- and while I understand they had more endurance than other horses, I'm not sure why--in Some Kind of Courage--an Indian pony would have more spirit or be called "wild." That's a small point, though, so I won't go on about it.

Of greater interest to me is that Joseph has been taught, by his now-deceased mother, not to use or think "Chinaman" about Chinese people. That, he remembers, is wrong (Kindle Locations 210-216):
Chinaman. I heard the word in my mind, then my mama’s voice. I’d said it once, the year before, after we’d passed a group of Chinese on the road to Yakima. 
I’d been confused. Everyone called them Chinamen. I didn’t know there was another word for ’em. 
“It ain’t a curse word, Mama,” I’d argued. 
She’d pursed her lips. “Any word can be an ugly word if you say it ugly. And people say that word ugly, Joseph, nearly every time. It sounds hateful and I don’t like it. They’re people just like us, at the end of the day. In the Lord’s eyes, if not in His people’s.”
His mother, apparently, has awareness of stereotyping and racism. They're people, she tells Joseph. But she doesn't seem to have applied those ideas to Native peoples. In chapter six, Joseph and Ah-nee hear voices. They turn out to be two Indian children (Kindle Locations 527-531):
It was Indians. Two of ’em. A boy, older and taller than me, his bare arms taut with muscles. And a girl, five or six years old, with her arms around him and a terrified look on her face. The boy’s eyes narrowed. He bared his teeth like a wolf and snarled a word low and mean in his native tongue. A shaft of sunlight through the treetops gleamed on the long knife blade held in his hand as he ducked into a crouch and lunged toward me.
Bared his teeth like a wolf? Hmmm...

As we move into chapter seven, we read "the Indian" a bunch of times. When Joseph and the boy scuffle, Joseph thinks that he's in the grip of "an actual, real-life Indian" and he worries that he's going to get scalped. Is it realistic for him to think that way? Sure. Just like it was realistic for him to think "Chinaman" when he saw Chinese people. I wonder why his mother did not pass along any teachings about how to view Native people? Does it seem to you that she couldn't, because it wasn't plausible for her to think that way about Native people, but, that it is plausible she'd think that way about Chinese people? I don't know. That's a research question, for sure!

That Indian boy has a broken ankle. With Joseph and Ah-nee's help, the boy gets back to his family. They are, of course, grateful to Joseph. I like that, as Joseph looks at their camp, he sees kids chasing each other and playing. So often, Native children are absent from stories like this one! That little bit, there, is a big plus!

But, then, we're right back to stereotype land, when three Indian men approach Kindle Locations 603-604):
Their faces were deadly serious as they stood before us, looking like they were carved out of dark stone.
The Indian boy, it turns out, is the son of a chief! His name? "Chief George." We get "chief" and "scalp" and "the Indian" (lots of times) and stoicism... and no tribe--much less--a tribal nation.

People like Gemeinhart's story. It was part of the discussions at Heavy Medal (School Library Journal's blog where people engage in mock-Newbery discussions ahead of the actual announcements of who wins that prestigious award). I think it falls heavily into stereotypical depictions of Native people. Because people like it, it will be bought and read and assigned, too, to children in school.

People may defend it because of the way that Gemeinhart deals with "Chinaman." For me, that defense will signal another time in which Native concerns are set aside in favor of what an author has done to elevate someone else. When will that sort of thing end, I wonder?

In short: I do not recommend Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage. Published in 2016 by Scholastic, it'll likely do quite well, which is too bad for everyone who will have stereotypical ideas of Native peoples affirmed by Gemeinhart's writing. And of course, completely unacceptable for Native kids who are asked to read it.

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Eds. note: This graphic novel--like many in the genre--can be used with a wide range of ages, from students in middle grade, on up to college. 

Comics! Graphic novels! Are you reading them? You should be! They're outstanding... for what you can learn about!

Years ago, I learned about the Code Talkers. I don't recall when or how, but I knew about them. With each year, a growing number of Americans are learning about who they were, and their role in WWI and WWII.

A few years ago, I started reading about comic books--written by Native people--about Code Talkers. Then, I got a couple of those comic books and was deeply moved by what I read.

The two that I read (described below) are in Volume One of Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. Given the popularity of graphic novels, Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers is an excellent way for teens to learn about the Code Talkers--from people who are Native.

Back in June of 2014, I wrote about Arigon Starr's Annumpa Luma--Code Talkers about Choctaw code talkers from WWI. It was a stand-alone, then, and is now one of the many stories in Volume One. An image from Annumpa Luma stayed with me. Here it is:

From Annumpa Luma by Arigon Starr

That page warms my heart. So many of my relatives were--and are--in the service. They are people whose ancestors fought to protect their families and homelands.  The code talkers, like soldiers everywhere, were/are... husbands. Wives. Parents. Children... on homelands, or, carrying those homelands in their hearts.

That seemingly obvious fact is brought forth in the stories in Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. 

In the prologue--Homeplace--we read the words of Lee Francis III. He founded Wordcraft Circle in 1992 to promote the work of Native writers and storytellers. He passed away in 2003. Where, I wondered, was Homeplace first published? After poking around a bit, I found it in his son's doctoral dissertation. That son, Lee Francis IV, founded Native Realities Press. Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers is published by that press. Knowing all this gives this collection depth and a quality that is hard to put into words. It is something to do with family, community, nation, conflict, commitment, perseverance... shimmering, with love.


After Homeplace, is Roy Boney's We Speak in Secret, which I read/reviewed as a stand-alone in December of 2014 and Arigon Starr's Anuuma Luma. They're followed by several others that expand what we know. Did you know, for example, that Native women were in those wars? That may seem obvious, too, but one story in Tales of the Mighty Code Talker focuses on a Native woman.

Code: Love by Lee Francis IV is about Sheila, a Kiowa woman who is a nurse. A soldier is brought to the field hospital where she's working. His eyes are bandaged. She's walking past and hears him call out for tohn. She approaches his bed, but a guard stops her because that soldier is "some sort of radio man. Command wants him under guard." Sheila's mind goes back home--to Anadarko, Oklahoma--as she remembers a boyfriend who enlisted in the war. This injured soldier, we understand, is a Native man speaking his language, and thinking of his own home. Of course, Sheila figures out a way to get him some water.

Each story in Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers is memorable. 
I highly recommend it to teachers, everywhere. 
Libraries ought to get several copies. 

The closing pages include a lesson plan, a history of the Code Talkers, a bibliography, and biographies of the writers whose work is in the book. Here's the cover, and the Table of Contents:

  • Forward, by Geary Hobson
  • Publisher's Note, by Lee Francis IV
  • Prologue, written by Lee Francis III; artwork by Arigon Starr
  • We Speak in Secret, written and illustrated by Roy Boney, Jr.
  • Annumpa Luma: Code Talker, written and illustrated by Arigon Starr
  • Code: Love, written by Lee Francis IV; illustrated by Arigon Starr
  • PFC Joe, written and illustrated by Jonathan Nelson; Additional colors and letters by Arigon Starr
  • Mission: Alaska, written and illustrated by Johnnie Diacon; Colors and letters by Arigon Starr
  • Trade Secrets, Pencils and Inks by Theo Tso; Story, color, and letters by Arigon Starr
  • Korean War Caddo, original story concept by Michael Sheyahshe; Story, art, color and letters by Arigon Starr
  • Epilogue, illustrated by Renee Nejo; written by Arigon Starr
  • The History of the Code Talkers, by Lee Francis IV
  • Coding Stories, by Lee Francis IV, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre
  • Bibliography
  • Editor's Note
  • Biographies


Native America Calling's segment on December 14 was all about Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. One of the early callers was a Tlingit man, calling in from Alaska, to say that there were Tlingit code talkers, too. In response to his call, Arigon Starr said that his story is precisely why Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers is subtitled "Volume One."

There's more to know. I look forward to Volume Two. In the meantime, get several copies of Volume One, directly, from Native Realities Press.

2 Comments on Highly recommended: TALES OF THE MIGHTY CODE TALKERS, last added: 12/29/2016
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3. Worry and Wonder, by Marcie Rendon, in SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS

Marcie Rendon's "Worry and Wonder" is a short story in Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan. Here's a screen cap of the cover and a partial listing of the Table of Contents:

Published in 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press, Worry and Wonder is one of those stories where a character is going to be with me for a long time. I could call Worry and Wonder a story about the Indian Child Welfare Act--or, "ick waa waa." That's what Amy is calling it when the story opens. She's a seventh grader, sitting in her social studies class, doodling "ick waa waa" on her notebook as her teacher talks about the environment, and the importance of water.

Amy's  thinking back to the day before, when she'd been in court and the judge said she'd have to wait another three months before going to live with her dad. Amy's "ick waa waa" and images she draws by those words capture her frustration with ICWA. In those three months, however, she spends more and more time with her dad.

Are you wondering about ICWA? In the story, Amy's dad tells her about it:
He explained that ICWA stood for the Indian Child Welfare Act. He told her how in the 1950s and 1960s Indian children were taken from their families and placed with white families. How those children had grown up and fought to have federal legislation passed so that Indian kids, if they needed to be placed in foster care, would be placed with Indian families, like the home Amy was in, and how it was federal law, tribal law, that the courts and the tribes had to try and find immediate family for children to be reunited with, which is why the courts had found him and told him to come home to raise Amy.
Some of you know that ICWA was in the news in 2016. Five years ago, a Choctaw child was placed with a white foster home in California. Since then, her Choctaw father had been trying to get her back, but the white family had been fighting to keep her. In the end, her father prevailed. In March, when child services went to pick up the six-year-old child, the home was surrounded by media and protestors who thought the white family ought to be able to keep her. That family turned the case into a media frenzy, with one major news source after another misrepresenting ICWA, tribal sovereignty, and tribal citizenship. Right around then, I read Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World. In it, a white couple finds a work-around to ICWA and adopts a Native infant. That character's Native identity is central to that story, which draws heavily from a wide range of unattributed an detribalized Native stories that guide that character. As you may surmise, I do not recommend Henry's novel.

The case of the Choctaw child and Emily Henry's young adult novel were in my head as I started reading Rendon's story of Amy.

Rendon--who is White Earth Anishinabe--gives us a story that doesn't misrepresent ICWA or Native identity, or nationhood. My heart ached for Amy as I read, and it soared, too. Rendon's story is infused with Native content. Some, like the water ceremony, are explicit. That part of the story is sure to tug on the heart strings of those who are following the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight to protect their water from Big Oil. There are other things in the story, too, that Native readers will discern.

Rendon's Worry and Wonder 
is filled with mirrors for Native readers. 

From start to finish, Rendon's short story is deeply touching. I highly recommend it and look forward to more from her. In my not-yet read pile is Murder on the Red River, due out in 2017 from Cinco Puntos Press. It may be one of the books I'll recommend as a crossover (marketed to adults, but one that teens will enjoy).

Above I showed you a partial listing of the Table of Contents. I've yet to read Anne Ursu's story, but I look forward to it. Her character, Oscar, in The Real Boy is like Amy. In my heart. Get a copy of Sky Blue Water. 

2 Comments on Worry and Wonder, by Marcie Rendon, in SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS, last added: 12/29/2016
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4. Richard Van Camp's SPIRIT

If you follow Native news, you know that suicide rates in our communities are high. Here's a table from a 2015 report by the Center for Disease Control:

That is data for the U.S. If you do an internet search, you'll find news stories about youth suicides in Canada.

Richard Van Camp's Spirit is--as he said in a tweet in September of 2016--a suicide prevention comic book.

It opens with a mom, shucking corn. Nearby, a baby is sleeping. That baby's spirit rises from its body, and flies out the window, and over several pages, we see the baby fly over a Native community of kids and elders. She flies to a house where, inside, a young man in tears is reaching for pills. He looks up, surprised to see her, and drops the pills, and holds her to him. On the next page, we see people gathered round a table, praying. The door opens, and in walks the young man. They call out "Surprise!" together. They're having a feast for him, because they know he's having a rough time. His grandfather gives him some snowshoes and talks about going to their cabin. His grandmother tells him a story about his birth.

His Native family and community, in short, have gathered to help him. With its Native content, it is a powerful message about Native community. While it is crucial that teachers and librarians have books like Spirit in their collections, it is also important to remember that--unless you've got training to work with someone who is contemplating suicide--you may not be the right person to help.

Spirit is published by the South Slave Divisional Education Council, which serves several First Nations communities. It is available in several different First Nations languages. I've written to Richard to ask where people can buy it. As soon as I hear back, I'll add that information, here.

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5. Recommended! Darryl Baker's KAMIK JOINS THE PACK

Kamik Joins the Pack was in my mail today. Adapted from the memories of Darryl Baker, who is Inuit, the story is the third in Inhabit Media's series featuring Jake and his pup, Kamik.

I first met Kamik in 2013, in Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story. Jake had just gotten him. Course, Kamik has all the bountiful energy of a puppy---and Jake has all the frustration of a little boy trying to teach him this or that. Jake's grandpa helps him out, giving him perspective, and stories, too, about the importance of sled dogs. Then in 2015, Kamik's First Sled came out. In it, Jake wants Kamik to learn how to pull a sled. His grandma helps him.

This year, in Kamik Joins the Pack, Jake is visiting his uncle. That uncle has a great dog sled team and has won many races. Jake hopes that, someday, Kamik can be on a team like that. He's still a pup, and still learning.

Jake's uncle is getting ready to take his team out. He shows Kamik some of the things he does to make sure his dogs are in good shape. And he tells Jake about things dogs will do--like chewing on the harnesses and ropes. Knowing how to sew and braid so that he can repair chewed up ropes and harnesses, is important, too! There's other responsibilities, too. It seems like a lot of work to Jake, but his uncle is reassuring. Like Kamik, he'll learn, a bit at a time. As the story ends, Kamik is off, on a short run, with the pack.

As with the other Kamik books, I love the present-day setting, and the significant role extended family members play in Jake's life. In each one, Qin Leng's illustrations are vivid and lively. Endearing and accurate, the Kamik stories are terrific. If you don't have the first two, get them right away when you get Kamik Joins the Pack. As I'm writing, snow is falling outside. It is falling in a good many places in the US... it is wintertime! Perfect time for sharing stories.... about puppies and sleds.

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6. Not recommended: INDEH: A STORY OF THE APACHE WARS by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth

I've received several questions about Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth.

Published by Hachette Book Group in 2016, this graphic novel wasn't published for, or marketed to, children or young adults. That said, we know that teens read a lot of things that wasn't necessarily meant for them. There are awards, too (like the American Library Association's Alex Award) for books regarded as "crossover" ones--which cross over from the adult to the teen market.

Teachers and librarians are asking if Indeh can be used in high school classrooms. Short answer? No.

Generally, reviews on American Indians in Children's Literature are specific to accuracy of content which, in my view, makes them suitable for teachers to use when they develop lessons or select books to read aloud in their classrooms.

The questions I'm getting suggest that teachers wonder if there's enough accuracy in Indeh to use it to teach about the Apache wars. It may also be coming from teachers who know that graphic novels are a hit with teens and that Indeh may work well with teens who are reluctant readers.

Again--my answer is no. It isn't accurate (more on that, later). There's another interesting factor to consider.

As I started reading Indeh, I pulled out the resources I use when doing book reviews. I had Indeh in one window (I use a Kindle app on my computer) and in another window, I had a copy of Geronimo's Story of His Life which was "taken down and edited by S. M. Barrett." He was the Superintendent of Education in Lawton, Oklahoma and the contents of this book were told to him by Geronimo. The first pages in it are devoted to copies of letters that went back and forth between several people involved in authorizing Geronimo to tell his story. It was published in 1906 by Duffield & Company in New York.

Right away, I hit the pause button in my reading. Here's a screen cap comparing the opening lines of Hawke's book (on top), and Barrett's (on the bottom):

This paraphrasing happens in several places in the book. In the afterword, Hawke tells us that Once They Moved Like the Wind by David Roberts inspired him to write Indeh. Though Hawke includes Barrett's book in the "for further reading" section, I think he should have written about Barrett's book in that afterword because of passages like that shown above. This happens later, too. A big deal? Or not?

I'm noting it because--in the afterword--Hawke talks about appropriation (p. 228):
The Apache Wars are a vital part of our American history that needs to be told in a way that honestly appreciates and integrates, rather than appropriates, Native American history.
Hawke's use of the word is odd. What does he mean? I could say that, in using Barrett like he did, he's appropriating Geronimo's words. Is that a form of appropriation?

That said, my primary concern is with the accuracy. First, let's look at what Hawke sets out to do with Indeh.

In his Afterword, Hawke recounts a story from his childhood. His parents had divorced, and his dad took him on a camping trip. They were somewhere near the Arizona/New Mexico border when (p. 227):
An old man waved us down from the center of the two-lane road--the only living thing as far as my eyes could see. I heard him say in an unfamiliar cadence, "You are not supposed to be here."
The old man told them they're lucky it was him that found them (he looked directly at 8-year-old Hawke when he said that, and that old man's eyes stayed with Hawke). Hawke's dad turned the car around. Hawke asked his dad what happened.
My father explained what an Indian reservation was, what an Apache was, how we really shouldn't have been there at all, and how lucky he was not to have gotten his ass kicked.
Hawke asked what the old man meant about them being lucky he's the one who had found them.
My father told me, "Many of the Indians are very angry. And they damn well should be." 
Hawke asks if they're mad at him (he doesn't tell us if his dad responded to that question). From then on, he started buying and reading books about Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio, and Lozen. From those books, he says he saw that
...the cowboy movies I'd always loved took on a different hue. They were full of lies. Those gunfights weren't cool, heroic frays--they were slaughters.
All that made me pause. Hawke was born in 1970. So, he was out there on that two-lane road in 1978. My guess is that they were on either the Fort Apache Reservation, or, on the San Carlos Reservation. Though the reservations are under the jurisdiction of their respective governments, they aren't closed to others. There are times when we close off the roads to outsiders, but that doesn't sound like what happened to Hawke. Who was that old guy?! The "should not have been there" portion of Hawke's story sounds... dramatic. I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm just wondering who the old guy was. Part of me thinks Hawke and his dad got punked! On the other hand, it is possible that the man was home after having spent time with the Native activists doing activist work at Alcatraz in 1969, at the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington DC in 1972, or Wounded Knee in 1973.

Anyway, Hawke goes on to talk about his adulthood... working in Alaska with Native actors, and watching Smoke Signals and Powwow Highway, and reading one of Sherman Alexie's books. Hawke writes that (p. 228):
The story [of the Apache wars] needs to be told again and again until the names of Geronimo and Cochise are as familiar to young American ears as Washington and Lincoln.
Can I do a "well, actually" here? I think Geronimo IS one of names Americans -- young and old -- are familiar with. Do you remember that "Geronimo" was the code name the US military used for Bin Laden? Do your kids yell "Geronimo!" when they are doing something they think is courageous?

He, I think, is far more visible than Hawke suggests.

I did a search in WorldCat, using Geronimo, and found 26,964 items in the nonfiction category, which is a lot more than the 9,028 items for Sitting Bull and the 4,669 items for Crazy Horse.  (Note: There are 413,469 items for Washington, and 80,501 items for Lincoln.) In its We Shall Remain series (consisting of 5 episodes), PBS did an entire segment on Geronimo. There are more movies with or about Geronimo than any other Native person. I think he's the most well-known Native person.

Hawke's afterword suggests that his goal, with Indeh, is to tell a story that counters the biased stories and movies he saw as a child. Does he succeed?

Short answer: No. In plain text below are summaries from Indeh. My comments are in italics.

Part One of Hawke's book is called "A Blessing and a Curse." The story opens with Cochise recounting the Apache creation story to his son, Naiches and to Goyahkla (who will later be known by the name, Geronimo), both of whom are young boys. The blessing and curse is Cochise's power to see the future. Cochise tells the boys that their lives will be hard... and then there's an abrupt shift forward in time, to Goyahkla, seventeen years later. He sits in the midst of a massacre. While he and most of the other men were away, trading, Mexican soldiers attacked their camp. Amongst the dead are Goyahkla's mother, his wife (Alope), and their three children. Naiches--who is narrating the story--tells him they can't stay to bury the dead, but Goyahkla doesn't listen to Naiches.

Debbie's comments: Hawke's telling suggests that Naiches is in charge. Barrett says that it is Mangus-Colorado who was in charge and that it was he who said that they had to leave the dead on the field, unburied. Roberts (Hawke's primary source) says it was Mangas. 

In his grief, he remembers when he went to Alope's father to ask if he could marry her. Alope's father asked him for "one hundred ponies" (p. 11). One hundred ponies sounds cool, but I think the "one hundred" is Hawk's flourish. Historians note that Alope's father asked for ponies, but nobody says "one hundred". A small point of inaccuracy? No. When there's such a body of misinformation about someone, it does nobody any good to add to that body of misinformation.

Goyahkla carries Alope's body to their wickiup (in Indeh, the word Hawke uses is "wikiup" which is incorrect). He remembers telling his son a story, and carries his son's body to the wickiup. He remembers his daughter's first menstrual period, and carries her body to the wickiup, too. He lights the wickiup on fire.

Debbie's comments: That is not accurate. They left the bodies and returned to their settlement. There, Goyahkla burned their tipi and all their belongings. That is when he "vowed vengeance upon the Mexican troopers who had wronged me" (Barrett, p. 76).  

Then, Hawke tells us, an eagle appears on top of the wickiup. It tells him that bullets will never hurt him.

Debbie's comments: That did not happen at their camp. 

Naiches and others are on horses, waiting. Goyahkla approaches them, the burning wickiup behind him. His words to them hint at the vengeance he will seek. He tells them he will visit other Apache tribes to ask them to join him in avenging their families. He carries out the visits and gathers others who will fight with them. Naiches hopes that the upcoming battle will give Goyahkla peace.

Debbie's comments: That decision to strike back was made--not by Goyahkla--but by Mangus-Colorado. Goyahkla was appointed to go to the other Apaches and ask them to join them in this battle against Mexico.

In the next panels, Goyahkla leads the others in an attack on a Mexican town. There is one small box of text: "There would be no peace" (p. 34-35) that captures what Naiches thinks their future will be. In the foreground is a young girl falling over, with a spear that has been thrust through her chest. On all fours, a few feet away, is a little boy, with a spear in his back. Naiches looks on Goyahkla and thinks his face tells of a new time for the Apaches. In Goyahkla's face there is no pity as he kills the people of the Mexican village. There are no tears, or regret, or joy. In one panel, a sign reads (p. 38-39):
HOMBRES 5 pesos
MUJERES 3 pesos
NINOS 1 peso

Debbie's comments: That horrific scene is not accurate. I'll say more about that shortly. Regarding the sign, I think "caballeras" is meant to mean warrior. The figures on the sign aren't accurate. Roberts (Hawke's main source) says that the bounty on Apache scalps was 200 pesos for a man, and 150 for a woman or child. Because the sign is an illustration, perhaps the error is Ruth's, not Hawke's. 
The sign is thrust into the chest of a man, lying prone, presumably killed by Goyahkla. Beside his body, Goyahkla is scalping a woman who cries out (p. 38-39):

 "Por favor. Dios me libre!" 

Debbie's comments: Hawke's depiction of this battle, overall, raises many questions. Barrett, Debo, and Roberts (Hawke's primary source) do not write about it the way Hawke does. They write that the attack was against Mexican soldiers (two companies of cavalry and one of infantry)--outside of a Mexican city called Arispe (or Arizpe). 

There was no attack of the kind that Hawke depicts. Rather than bring honesty to this story, Hawke has created violent, brutal, misinformation that he is, in effect, adding to that already huge body of misinformation! At that point in Indeh, I am able to say that teachers cannot---indeed, teachers must not---use this book in a classroom to teach history of the Apache people. 

As Naiches watches Goyahkla in the village, he learns what Goyahkla's new name will be: Geronimo. In the village is a banner that reads "LA FIESTA DE SAN JERONIMO." As Goyahkla moves through the village violently killing Mexicans (he beheads one), some Mexicans call out to San Jeronimo. One of the Apache's calls out to Goyahkla "Santo Geronimo" - and, Hawke tells us, that is how Goyahkla came to be known as Geronimo.

Debbie's comments: In a footnote, Barrett writes that the Mexicans at the battle called him Geronimo but does not offer an explanation. In her book, Debo writes that the Mexicans in that battle may have been trying to say his given name (Goyahkla) and that it came out sounding as if they were saying "Geronimo" or that they were calling out to St. Jerome.   

My primary concern is about accuracy. 

There's some small problems with inaccurate information in Part I of Hawke's graphic novel. Of utmost significance, however, is his misrepresentation of the fight that took place after his family was murdered by Mexican soldiers. Hawke's depiction is inaccurate, and it flies in the face of what I understand of Hawke's goal. It seems to me he wanted to correct the narrative of Apache's as blood thirsty savages (my words, not his), but he does the opposite. He affirms existing stereotypes and misinformation, and adds to the image of Geronimo as a savage. The information he passes along is not in his primary source, or in those that are more widely read (some are on his list of further readings). Why did Hawke do this?! 

Bottom line? 
I do not recommend Indeh for use in classrooms. 

A colleague, Dr. Laura Jimenez, reviewed Indeh, too. She studies graphic novels. See her review

Sources I used include:

Barrett, S. M. (1906). Geronimo's Story of His Life. New York: Duffield & Co.
Debo, Angie. (1976). Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. University of Oklahoma Press.
Roberts, David. (1994). Once They Moved Like the Wind: Cochise, Geronimo, and the Apache Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Utley, Robert M. (2012). Geronimo. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

1 Comments on Not recommended: INDEH: A STORY OF THE APACHE WARS by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth, last added: 12/29/2016
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7. Not recommended: POCAHONTAS by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

A reader wrote to ask me about Pocahontas by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. It came out in 1946, which might seem like it is so old that you can't get it... but you can. It is still in print. It is one of those books (there are many!) that gets printed again and again. It is one of those books that I look at and turn away from. It is one of those subjects (Pocahontas) that wears me out.

So, this is a quick reply about the D'Aulaire's Pocahontas. I do not recommend it. It has the word "squaw" in it. It shows men, sitting with their arms crossed up high and away from their chest, which is a stereotypical way of showing Native men. It uses "princess" to describe her. There's problems with the accuracy, too. If you are interested in an essay about how she is depicted in children's books and the Disney film, too, see Cornel Pewewardy's The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators.

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8. Recommended! THE WOOL OF JONESY by Jonathan Nelson

Jonathan Nelson's The Woolf of Jonesy: Part I is a treat!

In some ways it is (for me) a mirror. See... I grew up on the Nambe Indian reservation in northern New Mexico. As I gaze at the cover, I see a cool dude (that's Jonesy--he's a sheep) sitting on... something (more on that later). He's holding a flip style phone. On the ground is a little red wagon with bent wheels and a backpack. Behind him is... (imagine me exclaiming) a barbed wire fence and a cattleguard! Silly? Not to me! And certainly not to anyone who grew up on a reservation. Or a ranch, somewhere.

Here. Take a look yourself:

Here's how the story starts out: Jonesy has just finished high school. It is springtime. The story opens with Jonesy asleep... and it is getting hot... He doesn't want to get up. Sound familiar?! He reaches over, turns on the electric fan, drifts off again, and the fan quits. He hauls himself out of bed.

Some of Nelson's work on Jonesy was on display at the Heard Museum in Arizona, in 2015. The first three rows in this panel are similar to what ended up in The Wool of Jonesy. Nelson has since expanded the last row (remember this panel was exhibited in 2015):

Source: Heard Museum http://heard.org/event/comic-workshop-071715/
Compare the sleeping Jonesy in the panel to the Jonesy on the cover... he does, indeed, as that last row shows us, shave his wool. The story then, is his efforts to get that wool to the trading post, where he plans to sell it. At the end of the story, Jonesy is back home, waking up, his bag of wool nearby.

As you see in that panel, there is no text. The Wool of Jonesy is a wordless comic. Readers use the images to create the story, themselves. It is like Owly. If you're new to wordless comics, or comics in general, take a look at Gene Yang's Graphic Novels in the Classroom from the January 2008 issue of Language Arts. 

I am pretty sure that I know some librarians and teachers who would love to have this book... As I study it, I see all kinds of things I love (example: it is set in the present day).

What is Jonesy going to do... in Part II?!

The Wool of Jonesy came out in 2016 from Native Realities. Get your copy directly from Native Realities. Heck! Get two copies and give one to a friend or a kid you know! I highly recommend it!

Oh! Follow Nelson on Twitter https://twitter.com/badwinds and check out his website.

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9. Not recommended: NATIVE AMERICAN STORY BOOK(s) by G.W. Mullins

I've had a couple queries lately, from people asking me about a "Native American Story Book" series by G. W. Mullins.

It is easy to say "not recommended" to the series.

Mullins dedicates Volume Three to his grandfather, Vince Mullins, "a tall red man." Mullins tells us he is Cherokee. Maybe he is, but his use of "tall red man" reflects a romanticized and stereotypical image. In the introduction, Mullins uses, primarily, past tense. His words there, too, suggest a romantic image.  He says, for example,

"I was born Cherokee and as a child heard many of these stories. These stories were passed to me in the old traditional way of my grandfather."
His grandfather may, indeed, have told him some stories, but, the first story in Volume Three is Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha." That is not a Native story! Longfellow made it up. Does Mullins know it isn't a Native story?!

As I glance through others in the book, I see that Mullins is including stories from Native writers, like Zitkala Sa--that he took from her books. He's taken others from government reports. The publisher is "Light of the Moon" and the pub year is 2016. There's a note that says the book is:
"... a collection of Native American works which are public domain." 
I looked through a couple of the others, in his series, and find them problematic for many reasons. I do not know why they're popping up right now, but I definitely do not recommend them.

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Earlier today (December 2, 2016) I saw a post on Twitter that linked to a Book Riot review of Bad Little Children's Books: Kidlit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, and Offensively Tweaked Covers by Arthur Gackley. It isn't for kids. Published in September of 2016 for the adult market, people in children's lit are talking about it. The Book Riot review, by Kelly Jensen, is titled It's Not Funny. It's Racist.

Amongst its many racist pages is this one (credit for the image is to Kelly Jensen):

In short, this "parody" is a play on genocidal acts. Native people were given blankets infected with small pox. Tim Tingle's outstanding work of historical fiction, How I Became A Ghost, has that fact in it. Abrams lists "Arthur C. Gackley" as the author of Bad Little Children's Books. I don't know if that is a real person or not. That doesn't matter, though. The point of this particular page is to suggest revenge, with a Native family giving a white kid smallpox, and smiling as they look upon him. That alone is disgusting. Genocidal acts are not the stuff of humor.

Did the people who put this together think that the Indian family they put on the cover is Navajo? Did they use "Navajo" because they've heard about Navajo blankets? Do they realize they've used a stereotypical image to represent the Navajo family? Because this is, ultimately, a book of parody, do any of my questions even matter?!

In short: yes.

In some discussions of the book, I'm seeing that people realize the smallpox part is disgusting, and maybe they think that's enough. But, I think it is also important to note that Abrams is using stereotypical imagery and calling it Navajo.

This book, Abrams, is a despicable failure.

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11. Not recommended: PebbleGo Next

In the last few months, I've been getting email from AICL readers who are asking if I've looked at Pebble Go Next database. Here's a description:

PebbleGo Next is the next step in research for students grades 3-6. Launching with a States and American Indian studies module, PebbleGo Next is carefully aligned to grades 3-6 curriculum objectives. The databases is simple to navigate and offer key reading supports such as read-along audio and word-by-word highlighting along with a variety of downloadable, including prompts to inspire critical thinking.
PebbleGo Next is published by Capstone. On their page, they write that they're the leading provider of nonfiction materials for struggling and reluctant readers.

The "American Indian" content of the PebbleGo Next database is arranged in geographical sections, called "Cultural Areas." Framing our nations as cultures is a typical error. We are--first and foremost--nations. A better arrangement would be something like "Tribal Nations in the Southwest" instead of "Southwest Culture Area." Not using our status as nations means that PebbleGo Next has no way to address important facts, like this one: we have jurisdiction over our reservation homelands.

Based on the lack of crucial information 
about our sovereign nation status
and what I list below in my close look 
at the Pueblo tab in the "Southwest Culture Area," 
I do not recommend the PebbleGo Next database. 


The single, most significant error, is the failure to use the word "nation" to describe the Pueblo Nations of the southwestern part of the U.S.

We do not call our ancestors "Anasazi" which means "Ancient Ones." Anasazi is a Navajo word. The best way to refer to our ancestors is...  ancestors.


Use of "the Ancient Ones" in "After a drought in the 1300s, the Ancient Ones moved south and built villages along the Rio Grande River" is awkward. Better to say something like "After a drought, the Pueblo peoples moved south and built villages along the Rio Grande River."

The information about Pueblo homelands being "ruled" by Spain from the 1500s to 1821, and Mexico from 1821 to 1848, and then the US from then on, is simplistic. Each of those nations (Spain, Mexico, U.S.) recognized the Pueblo peoples as nations. This was acknowledged by a series of canes, given to Pueblo leaders, by officials of those nations. The last one was from President Lincoln. For reference, see the documentary, Canes of Power.

Use of "Anasazi" in the timeline is incorrect.

The entry for 1680, in the timeline, is incorrect and incomplete. That year (1680), the Pueblo Nations drove the Spanish out of our homelands.

Traditional Homes, Food, and Clothing

All the information is in past tense.

Family Life

All the information is in past tense.


Finally, a page with a present tense word ("Today...") but the information is too broad and some of it is incorrect because of the broad description.


It is good that present tense is used, but why is the section called "Beliefs" rather than Religion? Information, as with the page on Government, is too broad, making some of it incorrect.


In the first paragraph, past tense is used to describe traditional dances, ceremonies, and prayer. The second paragraph is written in a way that suggests that we've moved away from that, to doing it for tourists and as "festivals" that we "celebrate throughout the year." That is inaccurate.

Modern Life

The description of our traditional homes "sometimes covered in adobe" is inaccurate. Our traditional homes are made of adobe bricks, and, plastered with adobe mud, and/or stucco.

The information on "jobs" is incomplete. Native people do more than just work in factories, vineyards (?) and uranium mines. Some of us are teachers, lawyers, engineers, librarians.

The line that "many return home to their villages on the weekends" suggests that those with "jobs" can't live in their homes on reservation lands each night, which is not true. Some do, some don't. Written as it is, the suggestion contributes to a perception that our homelands are isolated and stuck in the past, which isn't true.

6 Comments on Not recommended: PebbleGo Next, last added: 12/29/2016
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12. HarlequinTeen Moves Publication Date for Controversial Young Adult Novel, THE CONTINENT

On November 7, 2016, HarlequinTeen, using their Twitter account, issued a statement regarding Keira Drake's The Continent:

Over the last few days, there has been online discussion about racial stereotypes in connection with one of our upcoming 2016 titles, The Continent, by Keira Drake. 
As the publisher, we take the concerns that have been voiced seriously. We are deeply sorry to have caused offense, as this was never our or the author's intention. We have listened to the criticism and feedback and are working with the author to address the issues that have been raised.
We fully support Keira as a talented author. To ensure that the themes in her book are communicated in the way she planned, we will be moving the publication date.
- HarlequinTeen
HarlequinTeen joins a growing number of publishers, in 2016, who have responded to concerns with stereotypes, bias, or microaggressions in their books. See AICL's log of revisions.

Here's a screen cap of their tweet:

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

November 17, 2016

Dear Michael Grant,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

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

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

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

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

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15. Library Displays for Native American Heritage Month

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

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

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

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

Then you could have another poster that says something like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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17. RUNS WITH HORSES by Brian Burks

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

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

Here's the description, from Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the cover:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the photo:

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

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24. Resources for #NoDAPL

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


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

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

Did you know journalists are being arrested

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

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

You must inform yourself! 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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