Thursday, May 01, 2014

SLJ's "Diversity" Booklist in May issue includes flawed book about Native people

School Library Journal's much anticipated special issue on Diversity was uploaded today (May 1, 2014) in the midst of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, much of which focuses on promoting books by writers who are not white able-bodied males.

Looking over the list of books they recommend, I am astonished to see Rosanne Parry's deeply flawed Written in Stone on the list. Her outsider perspective is all through that book, and she made up several things (which, she says, is "what fiction writers do"), thereby adding to the already-too-high-pile of misinformation that circulates as information about Native peoples.

Why did SLJ choose here, simultaneously contributing to the invisibility of Native writers?

Why did they go with Parry over any of the 30+ authors of the books on the Focus On list that I wrote for them in November, several of which were singled out for distinction by the American Indian Library Association? Presumably they invited me to write that column (in 2008 and 2013) because they trust my work.

What gives, SLJ?

Additional thoughts:

I know many of you are reading my words and thinking that I'm being mean, that my critique and questions are personal and therefore inappropriate. I understand that concern. Nobody likes being poked or prodded. I don't like doing any poking or prodding, but I did and will continue when necessary, because in this day and age, Native children shouldn't have to read books that make them go 'huh?' A Makah mother told me that her daughter got Parry's book in the library, but they took it back because it didn't make sense. Moreover, non-Native children shouldn't have to read books that add to their already-too-big body of misinformation about Native people. Neither group ought to be encouraged to do craft activities that trivialize Native spirituality, either (the teachers guide for Written In Stone suggests that students make a mask).

Children's books are for children. As adults, that is who I think we ought to keep in mind.

Back in 1999 when Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground was published and got rave reviews from the review journals, editors of those journals were taken aback at how wrong they were in their reviews of that book. SLJ asked me to write an article about it then: Authenticity and Sensitivity: Goals for Writing and Reviewing Books with Native American Themes.

So again, SLJ, what gives?

Update May 1, 3:32 PM

The Cooperative Center for Children's Books at the University of Wisconsin published a critique of the entire set of books. It is excellent. I encourage you to read it:
Culturally Generic/Neutral?


Heather Munn said...

Sorry to bring up something off-topic and unpleasant, but are you aware of "Alone Yet Not Alone," a new movie based on a captivity narrative? It seems to have been made some extreme Christian fundamentalists (connected with a semi-cultish organization called Vision Forum that recently imploded due to a scandal) but it's received more media attention than you'd expect for such things. I had a look and it appears very bad with the "savages" stereotyping. They just issued a new edition of the book it's based on in time for the movie release, and it's getting good reviews; it might be good to get a few people over to the Amazon page to question it. I'm thinking of writing a few comments myself but can't do so from that much of a knowledge base unfortunately.

Debbie Reese said...

Heather--that film was much-discussed in Native circles a few weeks ago when a song from it was in the running for an Academy Award. Because of shenanigans, the song was pulled, but yes, the story itself is over the top in its depictions.

I understand it is a YA novel but I haven't ordered it.