Saturday, November 15, 2008
Only one of the 200+ cards had the Pilgrim/Indian theme.
I can't say the same for new Thanksgiving books. At the university bookstore, children's section, about half the books were the Pilgrim/Indian story, including a 2008 Amelia Bedelia called Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey. In it is that feel-good Pilgrim/Indian meal that student unlearn as they get older. Sad, sad, sad.
On Saturday, December 13, 9:30 am - 2:30 pm, I will be in Chicago at the Newberry Library, participating in a symposium called American Identity in Children's Literature. Here's the blurb from the Newberry website:
Four scholars will discuss the development of ethnic or multicultural children’s literature, which seeks to diversify the all-white world of children’s literature. Following thirty-minute presentations drawn from their respective specialties of Jewish, Latino, American Indian, and African American children’s books, they will form a panel to discuss with each other and with audience members such issues as authenticity, audience, self-esteem, and presentations of social conflict and cultural differences that make this field so important and so contested.
The program is as follows:
The Newberry is located at 60 West Walton Street in Chicago. Click here to get directions. There is no admission charge, and no reservations are necessary to attend the symposium.
9:30 am Welcome
9:40 am June Cummins-Lewis, San Diego State University, "All-of-A-Kind Americans? Becoming a Jew in Sydney Taylor's America"
10:10 am Debbie Reese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "Indians as Artifacts: How Images of Indians Are Used to Nationalize America's Youth"
10:40 - 11:00 am Break
11:00 - 11:30 am Michelle Martin, Clemson University, "Little Black Sambo and the Complicated History of African American Children's Books"
11:30 - 12:00 pm Phillip Serrato, San Diego State University, "Trying to Forget Pedro and Juanita: The Emergence of Chicano/a Children's Literature"
12:00 - 1:30 pm Lunch break
1:30 - 2:30 pm Panel discussion with the speakers and the audience
Friday, November 14, 2008
Click on over to Cynsations to read Cynthia's interview of Drew Hayden Taylor. He wrote a young adult novel that I came across last March. I've yet to blog it, but do recommend it, especially for fans of vampire stories. His novel is called The Night Wanderer.
In the interview, he says:
"...I took a European legend and indigenized it.
Simply put, its the story about an Ojibway man who, 350 years ago, made his way to Europe and was bitten by a vampire. He spent all those years wandering Europe, feeling homesick but unwilling to return as the monster he'd become. But finally, unable to stop himself, he makes his way back to where his village once was in Canada, and it's now a First Nations community. He takes up residency at a bed-and-breakfast, in the basement apartment. In that same house is a sixteen-year-old girl, Tiffany, who is having problems with her white boyfriend, father, and herself. Eventually, both their lives intertwine, and things happen!"
He indigenized a European legend. That word, indigenize, has been coming into greater use in recent years. I've written an article called "Indigenizing Children's Literature." Published this month in the electronic journal called Journal of Language and Literacy, the abstract reads:
In this article the author situates the analysis of two popular children’s books in theoretical frameworks emerging from American Indian Studies. Using a new historicist lens, she discusses Anne Rockwell’s (1999) Thanksgiving Day and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s (1935/1971) Little House on the Prairie and suggests that these books function as obstacles for the understanding of the Other in American and global society.I welcome your critique of the article, and suggest you read Drew's novel. If you want to learn more about him, visit his website.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
It is the "Focus On" column that I wrote for School Library Journal. It was a pleasure working with them. I threw a hard ball in my opening paragraphs, and thought they would object, but they didn't. Click here to go to the column and see the list of books I recommended. Below is one paragraph from the column. Click on APA and ASA to read their statements.
America’s collective refusal to let go of stereotypical images of Indians is costing all of us. In 2006 and 2007, respectively, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Sociological Association (ASA) passed resolutions centered on images of Indians used as mascots for athletic teams (see p. 56 for URLs). Both associations called for an end to the use of this imagery, citing research studies that show that the mascots are harmful to the self-esteem of Native children, and, conversely, create a sense of superiority in non-Native children. I invite you to look at those mascots and compare them to images of Indians in classics like Little House on the Prairie. Indian mascots on a playing field and Indians in classic and popular children’s books are similar. If we take the APA and ASA resolutions seriously, we must take action. That means teaching children to recognize and critique stereotypes, and it means providing them with literature that offers realistic Indian characters.(Note: at the bottom of the column is a piece called "Media Picks" by Phyllis Levy Mandell. I do not know the items she included there, so please don't think I agree with Mandell. I may, but I may not, once I see the items she recommends. A safer bet for acquiring media is to get those available at Oyate. I know the work Oyate does, and trust their recommendations. Click here to see their VHS and DVD collection.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In my course at UIUC, students are reading children’s books about American Indians. They’re also reading reviews in mainstream journals, customer reviews at Amazon, and, reviews in A Broken Flute. Below is a response to the assignment, written by Rachel Moyer, posted to our class blog (it is private, not public). I post this today with permission of both women.
This frazzled post was inspired by a discussion I had with Rachel Storm after class this afternoon. She's always provocative so I want to give her her propers.
I think what a lot of people in class today acknowledged about the children's books they assessed is that the sacred stories depicted in them are wildly inaccurate. Some of them are blatantly incorrect while others subtly, subversively present misinformation. I've noticed that some people have wondered what the "real" or "authentic" sacred stories actually are, as opposed to the inaccurate ones we read about in books categorized by dominant culture as Indian folklore.
While I think other cultures and religions are fascinating, sometimes even intriguing, I don't understand why we (and here I use we meaning non-Native people) expect to have access to, let alone expect to understand other peoples' sacred creation stories. These are complicated, profoundly meaningful original stories (not myths or superstitions or fables, etc.) that we (as non-natives or as persons removed from that particular First Nation) would not be able to grasp unless they were simplified or translated or condensed - which are the very criticisms of why sacred stories as children's books do not usually work in an unproblematic way.
While I think it's understandable, even wonderful that many of us are curious about Native cultures and religions (plural!) - I certainly am - I think we also need to be respectful enough, humble enough to acknowledge that these sacred stories create and are emergent from languages and places and peoples that we do not necessarily know, meaning that we should not feel entitled to all of the complexities of the "real" story even when we've identified a mainstream book is problematic or inaccurate. We shouldn't need even more proof to demonstrate that these books are offensive or unfair.
Monday, November 10, 2008
One parent writes about The Courage of Sarah Noble, and my daughter writes about reading Caddie Woodlawn.
It's not just books, though...
A child writes about a school reenactment of the Gold Rush, and another writes of feeling invisible in class.
Teachers, librarians, parents! Please read these stories, and think of them when you develop lesson plans and order books. Consider removing older books from your shelves. It is important to study attitudes towards others, but students need accurate information first. Let's provide children with books that accurately portray American Indians, and let's use those outdated and biased books in social studies or history lessons specifically designed to look at bias.
Oyate is a good source for books and other materials you can use as you set aside books like The Courage of Sarah Noble, or Caddie Woodlawn, or Little House on the Prairie, or Sign of the Beaver...
Critical reviews of those books, plus reviews of outstanding books, are in two excellent volumes, both available at Oyate. A Broken Flute, The Native Experience in Books for Children, and, Through Indian Eyes, The Native Experience in Books for Children.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
[Note: This review may not be used elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]
Menchú Tum, Rigoberta (Maya), and Dante Liano, translated from the Spanish by David Unger, color illustrations by Domi (Mazateca). Groundwood, grades 4-up:
The Girl from Chimel. 2003
The Honey Jar. 2006
The Secret Legacy. 2008
In 1992, Indigenous and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum’s Nobel Peace Prize brought to a world audience the truths of the U.S.-orchestrated and –supported Guatemalan government’s 36-year campaign of genocide against the Maya peoples there—and of one of the longest guerrilla resistance movements in Latin America. After her brother and mother were “disappeared” and her activist father was tortured and burned alive in the assault on the Spanish Embassy in 1980, Menchú went into exile and took up residence in
Despite the hardships and poverty her people have endured—and rebelled against—ever since the Spanish conquest, Menchú’s wonderful recounting of her childhood stories in these titles, in close collaboration with Guatemalan author Liano, shows what it is to live with beauty and integrity, with land, culture and community. Domi’s oil paintings, on a jeweled palette of all the colors of the Maya forests, jungles and mountains, are a luminous symphony of colors and images.
As The Girl from Chimel begins, Rigoberta introduces herself and her village:
I am Rigoberta. Chimel is the name of my village when it’s large, and Laj Chimel when it’s small, because sometimes the village is large and sometimes it’s small. During good times, when there’s honey and the corn is so heavy it bends its green stalks, when the yellow, green, purple, white and multicolored orchids bloom, displaying their beauty, then my village is big and it’s called Chimel. During bad times, when the river dries up and ponds can fit into the hollow of my hand, when evil men walk the earth and sadness can hardly be endured, the village becomes small and is called Laj Chimel. Right now, I’m remembering Chimel…
It is in the hearts of the people of Chimel, then and now, that the old stories reside. Traditionally, told stories such as the ones in Menchú’s trilogy teach children how the world works. For young Rigoberta and other Maya children, this is how they are taught about the history of the land and right behavior; about compassion, courage, and generosity; about asking permission from the nahuales, the spirits who reside in everything; about planting seeds and harvesting fruits; and ultimately, about fighting injustice and struggling for a better world.
In The Honey Jar, Menchú imparts some of the cultural knowledge she learned as a child: How Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon created the stars, and Mother Earth and Father Sky, whom they carefully instructed in the creation of sea, land, plants, and animals. How each creature was assigned to be a nahual, a keeper of something. How the elders were given power and wisdom and why they deserve respect. What happens when people violate nature’s laws and don’t apologize and what happens when they do. How monkeys are descended from humans (not the other way around). How the weasel taught people to be grateful for what they are given. How a man and a buzzard exchanged bodies and what they learned from their horrible experience. How the hormigo tree, suffering from nostalgia—the illness borne of longing “to sing and release from its heart all the trills the birds had sung throughout its life”—is given the gift of music.
In The Secret Legacy, Seven-year-old Ixkem’s grandfather is 100 years old, and he is ready to pass on his legacy and knowledge. Of all the people in the village, Grandfather chooses his youngest granddaughter to be the new caretaker of the cornfields. “But I’m too little,” Ixkem protests. “Neither age nor size has anything to do with it,” her grandfather assures her.
Off they go together, the old man and the little girl, through the forest, to the cornfield, the “best place to scare off parakeets, blackbirds, wild boar, squirrels, turtle doves, the smallest of worms and moths and even a few invisible insects who wanted to eat the corn. Now it would be Ixkem’s job.” Her yelling and thumping reach the nahuales who live at the center of the earth. A committee of b’e’n (as the nahuales are called in K’iche’ language) brings Ixkem down to their underground turf, where she tells them about life on the surface and the amazing stories her grandfather told her.
Among them: How an arrogant, boastful lion learns a lesson in humility. How the futures of young children can be shaped by what is done to their umbilical cords. What makes good people good and bad people bad. How a hummingbird brings happiness into the world. About the miracle of falling in love and the requirement of a lengthy courtship. How happiness comes from a peaceful heart and the love that others know how to give. Why the light in our eyes is a reflection of those who love us.
In exchange for these stories, the b’e’n whisper a secret in Ixkem’s ear for her to take back to her grandfather. Now that he knows that Ixken will hold this secret legacy for the next hundred years and that the Maya lineage will “live forever in the forests, in the jungles, in the mountains and on the coasts of
When one considers the past and recent history of the Maya peoples, Menchú’s children’s stories become even more poignant, and each story in each book has a significant message for children today. As Ixkem explains to the tiny b’e’n,
There are some bad people with lots of power….They declare war on others, they enslave their fellow man, and they don’t know how to share their wealth. Of course there are good people who fight for peace, set slaves free and give to others. The future of the world depends on these good people.
In The Girl from Chimel, there is a story of Rigoberta’s mother, who as a child fought off a pack of coyotes to rescue her pet pig. It was said that the whole village was awed by her courage.
Our elders said, ‘This is a good sign. She’ll grow up to be a brave woman who will survive many challenges. She should thank her nahuales and they in turn will give her strength and wisdom and will protect her memory forever. Her sons and daughters and grandchildren will all be courageous.”
If there’s a word to describe Rigoberta Menchú and her mother and all the Maya people who continue to struggle to maintain land, culture and community, that word would be “courageous.”
These three beautiful storybooks are about a happy little girl, secure in her world, with a “heart full of sunlight,” who, as an adult, wants for the world all that she had: “a mountain to protect me, a river to refresh me, birds to sing to me.” Both Rigoberta Menchú and her stories are an international treasure.
These books, and others reviewed on this site are available from Oyate.