Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Allen Sockabasin's THANKS TO THE ANIMALS



My family in New Mexico is among those coping with a huge snowfall. My sister says there's two feet outside her door. They're in northern New Mexico, at Nambe Pueblo. Winter has definitely arrived there, with two huge snowfalls in a week's time. Allan Sockabasin's story sounds perfect for my nieces and nephews. Beverly Slapin's review of Thanks to the Animals is below. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.

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Sockabasin, Allen (Passamaquoddy), Thanks to the Animals, illustrated by Rebekah Raye. Tillbury House, 2005. Unpaginated, color illustrations; all grades.

Winter arrives, as a Passamaquoddy family prepares for the trip north to the deep woods of Maine, their winter home. Everyone helps as they dismantle their house and tie down the cedar logs and everything else they need—canoe, food, clothing, baskets—on the bobsled, making sure there is enough room for the children to ride in the back. As Papa Joo Tum drives the horses and Mama and the older children settle in for the long ride, nestling together in the warmth of their sealskin coats and patchwork blankets, they don’t notice that little Zoo Sap has tumbled off the sled.

Alerted by Zoo Sap’s cries, the animals of the forest—large and small—come together to keep him warm until Papa Joo Tum comes to get him. Joo Tum thanks the animals, one by one, and carries little Zoo Sap—none the worse for wear—back to his family. This quiet, gentle story is enhanced by the warm, watercolor-and-ink paintings, my favorite of which shows little Zoo Sap contentedly and “safely sleeping in a great pile of warm animals.” Thanks to the Animals, with Passamoquoddy names for the animals in the back, is a perfect bedtime story.

—Beverly Slapin

Sunday, December 31, 2006

"I is not for Indian"

Pointing you, today, to an article linked in my "Articles" list on the right-hand side of this blog.

In 1991, Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa A. Mitten, officers of the American Indian Library Association, published "Selective Bibliography and Guide for "I" IS NOT FOR INDIAN: THE PORTRAYAL OF NATIVE AMERICANS IN BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE."

Now 15 years old, it is still one of the best articles out there for teachers, parents, librarians and others interested in learning how to look critically at children's books about American Indians.

It includes an annotated list of recommended books and books that should be avoided. It's a short article. It won't take long to read it, but will increase your understanding immeasurably. It is located on the website for the American Indian Library Association.


There's much to learn from the website. Click through the various links.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Richard Van Camp's THE LESSER BLESSED


Books for young adults are often unsettling to adults who think teens are growing up too fast. These adults are uncomfortable with novels about sex, drugs, suicide, rape. I’d be willing to bet that these same adults prefer novels about American Indians that are peopled with tragic Indians of days long past...

Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed is about Larry Sole. He’s not romantic, heroic, or savage. And he’s not the hottie you see on some of those ridiculous “Savage” bodice rippers churned out by Cassie Edwards. Unfortunately, a lot of adults who read those bodice rippers and similar novels will reject Lesser Blessed because it does not align with their stereotypical taste and fantasies.



Larry Sole is a 16 year old boy of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation in the Northwest Territories of Canada. He’s in high school. He's skinny. He listens to rock music. And, he's in love.


Van Camp doesn’t turn away from the experiences high school kids have with drugs, sex, and fights, but he doesn’t glorify these moments either.


Van Camp’s story is gracefully and naturally, infused with Larry’s Nativeness. The stories told to him by Jed, his mother’s boyfriend, just are. Being Native isn’t something that is planned, that is orchestrated. It just is.

The Lesser Blessed. Published in 2004 by Douglas & McIntyre. A novel for young adults. Add it to your shelf. Recommend it to young adults you know.


Read a review of the book at Indian Country Today.


If you've got an account on MySpace, take a look at Van Camp's page.


Visit Richard Van Camp's website to see who his favorite Native authors are.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Deborah Miranda's, THE ZEN OF LA LLORONA



[Note: This review is used here by permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without the author's written permission.]

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Miranda, Deborah (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen/Chumash), The Zen of La Llorona. Salt Publishing, 2005. 106 pages, high school-up.

According to Miranda’s small gray Zen book, “everyone loses everything.” “Nonsense,” La Llorona howls back, “there’s always something left to lose.” La Llorona, for whom Miranda named her second book of poems and prose, appears and disappears throughout it. La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, eternally grieving for the children whose lives she ended in resistance to colonization, and knowing that the colonizer has eternally transformed her into a destroyer like himself.

“I am La Llorona’s daughter,” Deborah Miranda writes, “I should have drowned, but I didn’t.” Somehow, despite the rage and fear, depression and self-loathing and inconsolable grief and “this beast called bereftness” passed on to her from her own mother, she survived.

Along this hard life’s road, Miranda encountered racism, domestic violence, rape, abandonment, addiction, and ultimately, the loves of her life: her children and another Indian woman. She writes with clarity and grace; and her poems are so achingly beautiful, I want to copy them all into this review. In a love poem called “Mesa Verde,” she picks up “a stalk of some rosy blossom, unknown, unidentified.”

Tiny gold ants crawl on the hairy stem,

seek the deep center, enter it.

As we drive on, I leave the branch behind.

The ants will find their way home carrying

a burden so sweet it needs no name,

a story to tell about being taken up,

removed, finding the intricate paths back.

The Zen of La Llorona, poems of loss and despair, survival and strength, is, as acclaimed poet Sandra Cisneros, says, “wondrous stuff.” Deborah Miranda has a brave and loving heart, and I am honored to call her “friend.”

—Beverly Slapin