Monday, September 01, 2014

Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS

The cover for Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS is sure to catch the eye of readers interested in stories about Native peoples. Because it is a photograph, one might assume it is a work of non-fiction, but it isn't. Instead, it is the story of Mark Centeno. He is 15 years old. His dad is Mexican and Filipino; his mother (she died of cancer when he was 10) was Chumash and Crow.

Mark is kind of a surfer dude. He loved hanging with his buddies in California, and is unhappy living in Dallas. He convinces his dad to send him back to California for the summer, to live with his mother's Chumash family on their reservation.

Nana (his grandmother) and his aunt meet his plane and he starts to learn a lot about his Chumash heritage. When he was younger, his mom had told him some things, but as the story unfolds, he learns a lot more. As the cover suggests, dancing is part of what Mark is going to learn about. By the end of the story, he's a pretty good Traditional dancer and knows several songs in that category.

Early on, Mark learns that his cousin, Adrian, is actually his half-brother. When Mark first talks with him, Adrian is getting ready for an upcoming pow wow. Mark asks him if a choker is part of his costume. Adrian is incensed that Mark has used the word "costume" rather than regalia. It is moments like that by which Robinson (the author) imparts a lot of solid information to us (the readers)--information that bats down stereotyping and bias that is all-too-rampant in society.

Robinson also introduces readers to some of the identity politics that run through Native communities. Another character in the book is Charley. He's Lakota from Pine Ridge. Mark meets him when he registers to dance for the first time. Charley looks down on Mark, saying (p. 75):
"You know, powwows aren't really meant for California Indians. You're all mostly watered-down mixed breeds. You should leave this stuff to real Indians like me."  
I'm glad to see Robinson take up this fraught topic. I think Native kids (like Mark) who are new to powwow dancing, or who are mixed, will like reading how this identity politics will all get sorted out, and many will love seeing references to Gathering of Nations. Non-Native kids will get a glimpse into the not-monolithic world of Native people.

Son Who Returns was published in 2014 by 7th Generation. It is in their Pathfinder series of books for reluctant teen readers.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mexicans, lawn jockeys, and an Indian spirit in A.S. King's PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ

Today is one of those lazy Sunday's in which I pick up an acclaimed young adult novel to read--not for AICL--but just because it is important that I read books that win major awards.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, was named as an Honor Book in YALSA's Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction in 2011. I started reading it a couple of hours ago. I paused when I read this (note: I'm reading an e-book and cannot provide page numbers for excerpts):
I drive over the bridge into town. The whitest town on earth--or, more accurately, once the whitest town on Earth until the Mexicans moved in. Once you get through the crowded old suburbs where the large Victorian homes sit on the hill and past the rows of cupola-topped row houses, it's an ugly town--a mishmash of 1940s asphalt shingles, multicolored bricks, and gray concrete. There's too much litter, and too many people look angry. Dad says it wasn't always like this. He says it's not the Mexicans' fault that the city council would rather spend the city's money on new arts initiatives and a big flashy baseball stadium than more police on the streets. So now, while there's wine, cheese, and doubleheaders downtown, poverty has taken over and crime is at an all time high uptown. I lock my doors.
So--Mexicans live in the ugly part of town, but if the city spent more money on police, that part of town wouldn't be dirty, ugly, and filled with people who look angry? Really?! Just how would more police help with that? 

I kept on reading. Vera's home is on Overlook Road, near the top of a hill. So is Charlie's. They're next door neighbors, but their houses are a hundred yards apart, in a wooded area where, I gather, the wealthy people of the city live. Vera's neighbor on the other side is the Ungers. The Ungers have a boat, two Cadillacs, and a lawn with ornaments that includes
lawn jockeys (the black kind), and three cement deer--a doe and two fawns.
The Ungers also have gnomes, which Charlie and Vera move around for kicks. There is no further mention of the lawn jockeys. What are we readers to make of that?! Thinking that I'd come across something that tells me the Ungers are racist, I kept on reading. The chapter titled "History--Age Seven" opens with Charlie telling her about "the spirit of the Great Hunter." Of course, that passage gave me pause. Again. Here's that excerpt:
As far as Charlie was concerned, the Great Hunter was an Indian spirit who lived in our woods. He drank from the lake. He watched the stars from the ridge. He protected hikers and hunters and tree-climbing little urchins like us, and he created the most sacred tree of all, the Master Oak, for us to grow up in.
How nice (not)! An Indian spirit who looks after white kids. 

Not all Mexicans, or all African Americans, or all Native people, will pause at King's references to them/their culture, but I noted all three instances, and frankly, I'm more than a bit annoyed. Each of these three passages yanked me out of the story King is telling. 

I looked through reviews, and not once have I found a review from a reviewer at a journal, or from a blogger, that noted these references. Didn't anyone notice them? Or did they get noticed but were then deemed unimportant? Are such things so much a part of white culture that they are unremarkable?! 

Needless to say, I am setting aside King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Did you notice the passages?

Update: 5:03 PM, August 31, 2014

In my post (above), I should have provided a synopsis of what the book is about. Here's what you'll find at Amazon:
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Update: 5:44 PM, August 31, 2014

Well, I kept on reading...

I came across a "Nazi skinhead" named Mick who is boyfriend to one of Vera's coworkers (Vera works at a pizza place). One evening, Vera gives Jill a ride home. They've got Sly and the Family Stone cranking. When they get to Jill's apartment, Jill reaches over and turns the volume way down so Mick can't hear it. She turns to Vera and says "What can I do?" With Jill's action and question, we understand that King wants us to know that Mick is racist towards blacks. Why couldn't she give us something like that about the Ungers, too?

Later, Vera is remembering being on the bus when she was in 8th grade. She was listening to Al Green on her headphones. A senior guy sits with her and asks her what she's listening to. His name is Tim Miller. Vera doesn't want to tell him what she's listening to because he uses the n-word and she's sure he won't like the music she listens to. There's also a Confederate flag in his yard. He lives at the bottom of the hill. He tells Vera she's a rich kid. Given the location of his house, his family is low on the SES scale. He's obviously meant to be racist. Again--why don't we have anything to mark the Ungers as racist? Why couldn't Vera have said "the racist black kind" rather than just "the black kind" when she noted them on the Ungers lawn?  

I'm trying to figure out who Vera is...  She is well-off, doesn't like the n-word, and is aware of white supremacist racism towards African Americans. Is that a plus for Vera? For King?

Update: Monday September 1, 7:58 AM

I finished Please Ignore Vera Dietz last night and am following up on my post from yesterday.

After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, police response to protesters, and white response to the entire thing, Vera's observation that more police would make the Mexican neighborhood a better place set me off. It reminded me of a piece I read in the Washington Post. Written by Carol Anderson, a professor in African American Studies, she did an excellent job providing analysis of Ferguson. Anderson's article captures what I think is wrong with King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and it being singled out for distinction, and, the lack of critical commentary on its racial dimensions.

Titled Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress, here's an excerpt:  
Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.

Though Vera drinks and starts dating a man (she's 18; he's 23), we're supposed to like her. She is a progressive thinker. She likes African American music. She is uncomfortable around Mick, the "Nazi skinhead" and Tim, the kid who uses the n-word and has a Confederate flag in his yard.

Vera doesn't like overt racism, and she feels bad for "the black kids who are called nigger at school."

Vera is like a lot of people that object to overt racism, but don't see the institutionalized racism that is created by the aura of respectability that Anderson describes in courts, police departments, legislatures, and governing systems.

I think the aura of respectability is also very much a part of the book world. Please Ignore Vera Deitz is a great example.

Vera thinks that the Mexican part of town would be better if there were more police there. Did King want us to see Vera's thinking as problematic? If she did, I think she'd have woven it into the story, but she didn't. There's nothing about it in the discussion guide she has at her site, either. The lawn jockey is never taken up again, either.

The Great Hunter does reappear. Anticipating his death, Charlie leaves a series of notes for Vera. Finding and reading them after his death, Vera reads one that says "You'll never lose me, Vera. I'm the Great Hunter now." Presumably, people love that idea, but for me, it is just more white-people-playing-Indian according to their ignorant/racist ideas about who we are! They see this play as honorable and positive, and it leads a great many to defend the use of Native imagery for sports mascots. Vera never says "oh that Great Spirit shit is fucked up." She could have, but she doesn't get it. Does A. S. King get it? I don't think so.

Again: None of this noted in reviews. The focus of those reviews is on Vera and Charlie and how they're navigating troubled waters of abandonment and abuse. No doubt, readers/reviewers see that as the most important theme of the book. All that other institutionalized racism stuff? To them, it must either be invisible or just not important.

Obviously, I disagree.

There is a great deal of harm in institutionalized racism and in that aura of respectability. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Books by Cherokee Mystery Writer, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Some months ago I was asked if I could recommend a Native mystery writer. Because my area of expertise is books for children and young adults (and not adult mysteries), I asked colleagues in Native literature for names and learned about Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.

Right away I downloaded an e-copy of Hoklotubbe's American Cafe. Published in 2011 by the University of Arizona Press, I liked it a lot and passed her name along. American Cafe is the second book featuring Sadie Walela, a Cherokee woman trying to find her way in the world.

Hoklotubbe's writing is the real deal. Her Cherokee identity and knowledge are the foundation of her books. As you read, you'll be drawn into Sadie's world. There's no romanticizing, no stereotyping, and no mis-steps either like those you'll find in books by Tony Hillerman or Sandi Ault. Their books make me cringe (and yes, I did read some of them.)

Hoklotubbe will be reading tomorrow in Washington DC at the National Book Festival. For the last few weeks, I've been recovering from a broken ankle. Among the books I've read is the first Sadie Walela book, Deception On All Accounts. I like Sadie and want to read more of her. I'll turn, next, to Sinking Suspicions. 

Though it isn't marketed to young adults, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Hoklotubbe to older teens (or adults) looking for books--especially mysteries--by Native writers. I encourage you to get her books for your library and take a look at her website, too.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A killer line in Jaye Robin Brown's NO PLACE TO FALL

Yesterday, Kelly Jensen of Book Riot tweeted that 20 pages into a YA novel, she came across this line: 
[H]e must be part Indian. Red dot, not feather.
I asked for the title, and she pointed me to her review at goodreads, where she said:
You lost me right there, with that line. No need to read more.
I'd have that reaction, too. I've heard the phrase used before. It reduces Indians to red dots, and American Indians to feathers. Pretty gross.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Finding Bruchac's BUFFALO SONG at Reading is Fundamental's office

In July I was in Washington DC to visit my daughter. Among the many things I did while there was visit the Reading is Fundamental office. As I waited in their reception area, I noted the books on their coffee table. Among them was Joseph Bruchac's excellent Buffalo Song:

Seeing it did two things:

First, it isn't often that a great book by a Native author greets me as I sit in a waiting room. My heart soared.

Second, its presence on that table is evidence that the people at Reading is Fundamental are committed to providing recipients of their books with ones that accurately portray Native people. Books that don't stereotype or romanticize who we are, and who we were...  They're important! Not just to Native readers, but non-Native ones, too!

In 2008, I posted Beverly Slapin's review of Buffalo Song.

Bruchac's book is superior to Jean Craighead George's The Buffalo Are Back. My review of her book is here: Jean Craighead George's THE BUFFALO ARE BACK

Read Slapin's review of Bruchac's book and get a copy. If you've got one on on your shelf, feature it in a display. For many kids, school is starting. Featuring it now helps get Native culture into the hands of children right away. Don't wait till that month designated for Native Americans (November) to share books by Native peoples.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BEFORE WE WERE FREE, by Julia Alvarez

Among the projects I'm doing this summer is a do-it-yourself paint job of the exterior of our house. On days when it isn't too hot or humid, I enjoy being out there, scraping paint and listening to an audiobook.

Today, I started listening to Julia Alvarez's Before We Were Free. Published in 2002 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, it won the Pura Belpre Award in 2004.

Chapter one opens with this:
"May I have some volunteers?" Mrs. Brown is saying. We are preparing skits for Thanksgiving, two weeks away. Although the Pilgrims never came to the Dominican Republic, we are attending the American school, so we have to celebrate American holidays.
That opening was unexpected. But because I've read one of Alvarez's other books, my ears perked up. Where, I wondered, would this particular scene go in Alvarez's skilled hands! Mrs. Brown picks Anita (the protagonist) and her cousin, Carla, to play the parts of two Indians who will welcome the Pilgrims because,
Mrs. Brown gives the not-so-good parts to those of us in class who are Dominicans.
Mrs. Brown then gives the two girls a headband with a feather sticking up like one rabbit ear. She asks them to greet the Pilgrims, being played by two boys wearing Davy Crockett hats. Anita thinks
Even I know the pioneers come after the Pilgrims.
Mrs. Brown asks Anita/the Indian to welcome the pilgrims "to the United States" but Oscar raises his hand and asks:
"Why the Indians call it the United States when there was no United Estates back then, Mrs. Brown?"
Some kids make fun of him. Anita hates it when the Americans make fun of the way the Dominicans speak English. Mrs. Brown tells him that
"It's called poetic license. Something allowed in a story that isn't so in real life."
Beautifully done, Ms. Alvarez! I'm hooked.

Gary Paulsen's MR. TUCKET

A reader of AICL wrote to ask me about Gary Paulsen's Mr. Tucket. I read a copy of the book via the Internet Archive. Here's my notes, summarized by chapter. Sometimes I put my comments in italics beneath each chapter. This time, you'll find my thoughts on the book in the THOUGHTS at the end of the summary of chapters.

First, though, let's look a bit at Gary Paulsen. He's a prolific author and quite well known for Hatchet and the sequels to it. The Hatchet series is also known as Brian's Saga, because the protagonist is a kid named Brian who survives a plane crash, alone, in the Canadian wilderness. Hatchet was a Newbery Honor Book in 1987.

Published in 1969 by Funk & Wagnalls, I think Mr. Tucket was Paulsen's first book. It, too, is about survival.  


Protagonist: Francis Alphonse Tucket, age 14
Date: June 13, 1848
Place: Oregon Trail


Francis's family is part of a wagon train moving from their farm in Missouri. While in Kansas, they'd been worried about Comanche's but all through Kansas, they hadn't seen "a feather--let alone an Indian" (p. 8).

The wagon train is in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Francis receives a rifle for his 14th birthday. He's out practicing, behind the wagon train and out of sight of everyone. He is captured by "six Pawnee men and one older warrior" (p. 9) who are not wearing paint, which he thinks means it is a hunting party. He struggles, they knock him out. He wakes up at their camp where "the ugliest old person" (p. 10) he's ever seen looks down on him. The person, who has a wrinkled face and toothless mouth, smiles down on him.


The old woman is wife of the old warrior in the hunting party. When Francis wakes, she puts a rope on him and shows him off at each lodge. Boys kick him. He fights the boys, decides it isn't worth it, and smiles at the old woman. She removes the rope. He is attacked by three boys. The fight is stopped by (p. 14):
"a short, wiry Indian with his hair in one braid. At the bottom of the braid there was one feather, hanging straight down. The man wore plain buckskins, unbeaded moccasins, and carried a rifle in his left hand. It was Francis's rifle."
Francis argues with the man. Aiming the rifle between Francis's eyes, the man warns him not to be stupid or insult elders, and walks off.


Three weeks after being at the camp, Francis learns that "the brave" with his rifle is named Braid and that he is the leader of their war parties. He is not a chief. There are scalps braided across his doorway to his lodge. One morning he led a party of more than 40 warriors out of camp. When they return, Francis sees a blonde scalp and figures the Pawnees had attacked the wagon train with his family. His suspicion is confirmed when Braid throws a china doll at his feet. It is his sister's doll. The council decides to move the village. They travel for ten days to the southern edge of the Black Hills. There, Francis meets a white man who comes to the village: Mr. Jason Grimes.


"Squaws" and children crowd around Grimes, who Francis thinks of as a mountain man. He wears fringed buckskin, plain moccasins, and a derby with a long feather sticking straight up from the band. The people in the village prepare a celebration. At night there is a frenzy of dancing. Francis wakes that night with a hand over his mouth. It is Grimes, with a plan for how Francis can get away.


Francis takes off on a mare Grimes swiped for him. He rides the mare, loses it, and keeps walking. At dark, he falls asleep.


Francis wakes to the smell of coffee. Grimes is there. He tells Francis he followed Braid and five or six others as they tried to find him by following the mare's tracks. Having gone upriver without the mare, Francis--now called Mr. Tucket by Grimes--is safe. He learns that Grimes lost his arm after a fight with Braid.


Grimes teaches Mr. Tucket how to use the rifle and be aware of surroundings.


Francis asks Grimes why he is friendly with Pawnees after having lost his arm due to the fight with Braid. Grimes says Pawnee can't help the way they are, that nobody can. Then he says the Pawnee call themselves "the People" and that they "live with the land" or, (p. 50):
"by nature--the same nature that makes a she-bear gut you if you mess with her cubs. Braid costing me my arm is about the same as a she-bear took it. I couldn't get mat at a bear and I couldn't get mad at Braid, and I couldn't hate the whole Pawnee tribe because of a mistake."
The mistake was that Grimes wasn't successful in preventing Braid from cutting his arm up. Francis asks questions that make Grimes uncomfortable. Why does he trade pelts for gunpowder and lead that the Pawnees then use on white people? Grimes says he is not a war maker. He doesn't want to kill Pawnees or whites. If he does kill Braid it will not be over land. That desire for land is what farmers like Francis's family wants. He asks Grimes to leave him at a settlement. Grimes says the closest one is Standing Bear's Sioux village.


They ride into the Sioux village where "the children's howling was earshattering" (p. 56). At the center of the village, (p. 56)
"a small channel opened in the crowd to the right and an Indian, who limped, came through. He was short, bowlegged, and stocky, but he moved with a smoothness that make Francis think immediately of a cat. It must be Standing Bear, Francis thought, and he was not smiling."
Grimes speaks in Sioux to Standing Bear, who tells him that Braid asked Standing Bear to keep an eye out for Francis. This strikes Grimes as unusual because the Pawnee and Sioux are enemies, but it turns out the mare Francis escaped on was Braid's personal horse. Because of that, Braid is willing to talk to enemies, with the hope of getting his mare back. Grimes talks with Standing Bear, apparently asking Standing Bear if he can trap beaver on Standing Bear's lands. He gets that permission, and then sets up a wrestling match between Francis and a boy in the village. It starts with Standing Bear "snorting" something in Sioux to both boys. Francis wins the match. His winnings are a horse and outfit.


Francis tries out the horse. He and Grimes leave the village.


Francis puts on, and likes, his buckskin outfit. Francis and Grimes set out to hunt antelope using an old Indian trick in which Francis will wave a white rag, which makes the antelope curious. They want to see what it is. When they do, Francis is to shoot a young antelope. They get one and eat twelve pounds by dark.


They visit Spot Johnny. He has an Indian wife named Bird Dance and two boys: Jared, John and Clarence. Bird Dance speaks perfect English. Spot tells Grimes that Braid is thinking of taking over the Pawnee nation, and gathering items like powder for the tribe.  Braid has also been raiding wagon trains. Spot says Braid is stupid, wanting to make "a clean sweep" and "driving all whites from Pawnee territory" (p. 91).

Grimes then asks Spot about the Crows, saying (p. 92):
I spent a week coming across their stomping grounds and didn't see a one. Usually I get shot at at least once."
Spot says they're hunting and that he's also heard they've broken into small bands. "Too many war chiefs" (p. 92) and are raiding and taking what they can.


Francis and Grimes leave Spot Johnny's place. They see a wagon train, but Francis chooses to stay with Grimes.


They enter an area where Grimes is careful to cover their tracks so that "the best Kiowa tracker in the world" won't be able to find them. They're near the edge of the Crow territory. They settle near beaver ponds.


Jim Bridger comes for a visit and tells Francis and Grimes about a Crow family nearby.


Francis and Grimes trap two hundred beaver, skin and stretch their pelts.


Two miles from camp, five Crows "painted for war" (p. 129) fire arrows at Francis. He races back to camp, with them chasing and firing arrows. Grimes shoots two, and one is thrown from his horse and injured.  Grimes and Francis plan to get the others.


Grimes and Francis come upon two of the Indians (p. 136):
"In front of them, not ten feet away, two painted faces and bronze chests rose. Two arrows were pulled back on taut strings. Two Indian throats let out a roaring sound."  
Francis wounds one; Grimes kills him. The other "brave" got away. Grimes and Francis start tying beaver pelts to horses, and then leave. Back at their camp, ten Crow "braves." The leader says they will start out to find Grimes and Francis at daybreak, and help Laughing Pony (the one who was thrown from his horse).


Grimes and Francis run into a heavy snowstorm but keep running the horses until Francis's mare stumbles. They stop for the night.


The next morning they set out again, rest again, and then when they get started they see smoke. Grimes thinks it is from Spot Johnny's camp but that there is too much smoke.


When they arrive at Spot Johnny's camp, everything is on fire and there are many bodies. Grimes says it was "Braid and his boys" (p. 154). Two miles away, Spot Johnny's trading post and wagons from a wagon train are also on fire. There are twenty-three dead Pawnees, too. Grimes and Francis don't find Spot or his family outside, and Grimes is sure they were in the burned trading post. There are farmers at the wagons. Grimes asks them when they were attacked and says it is time for him to "do something about Braid" (p. 156). He asks the farmers to keep Francis as he rides off and if he doesn't return, that Francis gets his ponies and pelts, and that the farmers should take Francis with them.


Francis gets away from the farmers. He rides hard to catch up to Grimes. He sees Grimes and Braid in a meadow, on horses, racing towards each other, both "stripped to the waist and carrying rifles" (p. 163). They shoot at each other, and "the one-armed and one-braided men" fall near each other. Braid is dead. Francis is shocked that Grimes goes to scalp Braid. He realizes Grimes is like the Indians, and "in a way, a kind of animal" (p. 165) and that he (Francis) is not. He gets on his horse and sets out for Oregon.


Though I am glad to see that Paulsen used specific tribes (examples: Pawnee and Kiowa) in Mr. Tucket, it is disappointing that the Native characters are, nonetheless, portrayed as animal-like rather than as human beings. The Pawnee children howl, for example, in chapter two. In chapter eight, Grimes frames the Pawnees as being like bears. In chapter nine, Standing Bear (a Sioux) moves like a cat. None of this characterization is used for the white characters.

Paulsen's Standing Bear is Sioux. There was a man named Luther Standing Bear/Ota Kte (Ota Kte is his Lakota name), born in the 1860s, who wrote several books, including My People the Sioux. There was a Ponca leader named Standing Bear. He was born in 1829 and died in 1908. He is known for leaving his reservation, without permission, to take his son's remains to their homelands to bury them there. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's book about him is on my list of children's books to review. I wonder if either of them was the inspiration for Paulsen's use of that name for that character? Both are men of significance, and I was annoyed to see that name for this character.

I'm also curious about the name of the Pawnee man: "Braid." He wears a braid, and my guess is, that braid is why he's called Braid. To me, it sounds silly. I searched for images/photos/illustrations of Pawnee men to see how they wear feathers. Paulsen's Braid wears a feather at the end of his braid, pointing down. That seems silly, too, and I didn't find any examples of a feather being worn that way. I'm not saying it isn't possible--anything IS possible--but when we have an outsider (Paulsen) creating characters from a nation (Pawnee) and a time period over 100 years ago, I think Paulsen is on a slippery slope.

The wrestling. I can't find any support for wrestling, in any tribe, that looks like what Paulsen describes. I do find it, however, in boy scout manuals! There is a lot in those scouting guides that gets labeled "Indian" that isn't part of Native traditions anywhere. I would love to find some kind of evidence of it, though, so if YOU find it, do write and let me know where it is! This wrestling reminds me of the "Indian burn" that is part of kid lore in the U.S.

Scalping. Braid does it. A lot. It is a brutal, savage act. Overall, Paulsen characterizes the Native people as more like animals. The scalping that Braid does fits in a savage framework, with Pawnees portrayed as less-than-human. At the end of the story, Francis chooses to abandon his friendship with Grimes when Grimes behaves like a Pawnee and scalps Braid. We are supposed to think that Francis has higher morals, that he's choosing not to be animal-like. BUT. What we--as readers--ought to reject is Paulsen's characterizations of Native people. He gives us is a narrow depiction that serves a narrative that encourages readers to think Native people were less-than White people, and therefore, it was ok to take Native land. And, it obscures a lot of the violence directed at Native people, too. There were bounties on Native men AND Native women and children, too. Bounty hunters would collect their money by showing the scalps of Native men, women, and children. Paulsen gives us one White person who scalps, but in Paulsen's story, he is the exception. He's shown to be outside-the-norm, but the fact is, Whites scalping Native people happened a lot. Here's an excerpt of a proclamation from 1755 that specifies how much a person would receive when he would "produce the scalp":

For every Male Penobscot Indian above the Age of twelve years that shall be taken within the Time aforesaid and brought to Boston Fifty Pounds.

For every Female Penobscot Indian taken and brought in as aforesaid and for Every Male Indian Prisoner under the age of twelve Years taken and brought in as aforesaid Twenty five Pounds.

For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under the Age of twelve years that Shall be killed and brought in as Evidence of their being killed as aforesaid, Twenty pounds.

Paulsen's point of view is Francis's--a 14 year old white boy--but, as the reviewer of his third book (Tucket's Ride) said, Paulsen doesn't develop characters. He uses stereotypes. When we, as a society, know so little about Native peoples--past and present--such stereotyping is a serious issue. The reviewer points to that issue, saying:
"Classroom use for social studies, however, would require careful and critical analysis by teachers and students."  
I spent an hour or so looking over videos students/teachers have made about Mr. Tucket. I see no evidence of careful or critical analysis. Though Paulsen sometimes had his white characters use 'man' or 'men' to refer to the Pawnee men, he mostly used "brave" or "warrior" for men and "squaw" for women. In careful or critical analysis, I'd like to see teachers looking at words like that, because they create a distance, or a barrier, in thinking about Native men and women as people, just like any other people.  

Mr. Tucket is definitely a very popular book, as evident in its reprintings. Here's some of the covers I've found. First is one that looks like it could be the original cover, from 1969:

Here's one I found a lot. Looking at a preview online, I saw a copy from 1995, that, with this cover, was in its 25th printing.

And here's what I think is the most recent cover:

In an interview, Paulsen says he learned a lot from reading a particular series. What are kids who read his Mr. Tucket series "learning" about Native people? Regular readers of AICL know that I'm critical of authors who use "Indian" rather than a specific tribe, but when an author uses a specific tribe and gives us stereotypes anyway, that is equally problematic. I cannot recommend Mr. Tucket. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014


In the last few days, I've been looking at picture books about Christopher Columbus. Peter Sis did one, titled Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. 

Sis has won a lot of major awards for his work in children's literature, but none (that I know of) for his biography of Columbus.

Published in 1991 (likely timed to coincide with the 500 year 'anniversary' of Columbus landing in the New World), the reviewer at Publisher's Weekly called it flat, while the one at Kirkus called it uncontroversial, and the reviewer at School Library Journal said to "make room on your crowded Columbus shelf" for this one.

Sis grew up in Czechoslovakia. In a 2009 article in Bookbird, Sis wrote (p. 45):
I grew up with the myth of Columbus's voyage and his discovery of the "new world." I thought I had found a perfect explorer in him. Someone who was determined to find the way, just like me. I remember how surprised I was by the voices raised against Columbus and against the consequences of his "conquest." It sounded especially strong on the 500th anniversary of his voyage and it scared me. I was not used to this "free" discussion and I still have to remind myself that everyone has a point of view, even today. 
His use of quotes around the word 'conquest' suggests he doesn't agree with the people who raise voices against Columbus. He probably wouldn't like what I have to say about this illustration (I took this photo with my phone today while at the library reading books about Columbus):

The page on the left shows Columbus when he "landed on a beach of white coral, claimed the land for the King and Queen of Spain, knelt and gave thanks to God, and expected to see the treasures of the Orient..." Not a word about the people he is looking at...

He juxtaposes the illustration of Columbus-the-man with the one on the right. It is a statue of Columbus. It reminds me of the one in Barcelona. Looking closely, I think the figures gathered 'round the statue are schoolchildren. Makes sense, maybe, if he images them to be the children who are intended readers of his book. Fair enough, but nonetheless, the juxtaposition bothers me. On the left are Native people. On the right are children. Another read of the two pages is to equate Native people with children. That is, unfortunately, all too common in children's literature and society, too. Surely you're familiar with the phrase "wild Indian" as used to describe children who are a bit out of control...

Needless to say, I don't recommend Sis's book about Columbus. If you want to read the article in Bookbird, its title is "My Life With Censorship" and it is in volume 47, issue #3, in 2009. And take a look at Desai's article on books about Columbus.