Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Analyzing a Worksheet: "Where Would You Fit In?"

 "Where Would You Fit In?"
A Worksheet Analysis by Debbie Reese

From time to time, a colleague or friend shares a worksheet a child has been asked to do. In some instances I've done an analysis of it here on AICL but with this one today I am using "Analyzing a Worksheet" as part of the title of the analysis (and as a tag). My hope is that educators can use it to do their own analyses. 

Yesterday (Jan 24) I saw "Where Would You Fit In?" This is it, with my "Not Recommended" conclusion overlaid on it:

The source of the item is Teachers Pay Teachers, a website with deeply problematic materials that teachers can download. This particular one is from an account called "Teaching Is the Sweetest Thing." 

Let's start with the title. For everything a teacher does in the classroom, they have an audience in mind. Obviously, it is their students, but who are the students? In the U.S. the default image is of a white student. Who are your students? Are all of them white? How do you know? 

On this worksheet, the person who created it has a certain student in mind. The worksheet consists of 16 items. Some are innocuous, like #1: "You love cold weather. Bring on winter!" That "you" could be anyone. So could the "you" in items 2, 3, 4, and 5. Item #6 is "You would much rather go to a public school with lots of kids than have a private tutor come to your house just for you and a few other kids." The "you" there is someone who knows what private tutors are, which could mean a family that will find the resources to get a private tutor for their child but that's not who I think the author of the worksheet has in mind. I think the imagined "you" in item 6 is someone from a wealthy family.

Now, look at #8: "The idea of owning and being in charge of a massive house where many servants and slaves work for you does not sound fun." A "massive house" and "slaves" tells us a lot. The "you" in item 8 is not a Black child.  

If you drop down to the bottom of the worksheet you'll find some context. Those three boxes at the bottom tell the student where they would "fit in":
If you scored between 21 and 32, you are ready to move to the New England Colonies! You'll fit right in with those Northerners.
If you scored between 11 and 20, you are right in the middle of the New England and the Southern Colonies. You belong in the Middle Colonies!
And the third one:
If you scored between 0 and 10, the South is the place to be for you. You would make the ideal Southern colonist.
Now we understand that "you" is a European from the period during which Europeans were colonizing the east coast of what became known as the United States. "You" could not be a Native child.

A Black or Native or Black Native child who is handed this worksheet by their teacher is in a difficult position, aren't they? They're expected to go along with the rest of the class filling out a worksheet created by a person who failed to think of them. 

As I look at this worksheet, I think of an excellent new book: Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary Educators by Noreen Naseem Rodriguez and Katy Swalwell (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022). In particular, I think about the paragraphs about Westward Expansion and the Oregon Trail. Most people know -- and played -- that game without giving much thought to it. The "Where Would You Fit In?" worksheet feels a lot like a game. But like the Oregon Trail, it is a game that does tremendous harm--not just to the kids whose identities are assaulted, but others are hared, too. They are being taught to glorify colonization and slavery. Is that what we want?

I may be back to share more thoughts later. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on this worksheet. Has it or others with similar issues been given to your child? Or to children of your friends, or colleagues? And of course, get a copy of Social Studies for a Better World! 

Monday, January 24, 2022

American Indian Library Association Announces its 2022 Youth Literature Awards

On Monday, January 24, 2022, the American Indian Library Association announced its 2022 Youth Literature Awards at the livestream of the American Library Association's youth media awards. Below, we are sharing their press release and am inserting screen captures Debbie did while the announcements were being made. 

Source: https://ailanet.org/2022-aila-youth-literature-awards-announcement/

For Immediate Release
January 24, 2022

AILA announces 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Awards
CHICAGO — Today American Indian Youth Literature Award winning titles were highlighted during the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards, the premier announcement of the best of the best in children’s and young adult literature.

Awarded biennially, the award identifies and honors the very best writings and illustrations for youth, by and about Native American and Indigenous peoples of North America. Works selected to receive the award, in picture book, middle grade, and young adult categories, present Native American and Indigenous North American peoples in the fullness of their humanity in present, past and future contexts.

The 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award winner for best Picture Book is “Herizon,” written by Daniel W. Vandever (Diné), illustrated by Corey Begay (Diné), and published by South of Sunrise Creative. Herizon follows the journey of a Diné girl as she helps her grandmother retrieve a flock of sheep. Join her venture across land and water with the help of a magical scarf that will expand your imagination and transform what you thought possible. The inspiring story celebrates creativity and bravery, while promoting an inclusive future made possible through intergenerational strength and knowledge.

The committee selected five Picture Book Honor(s) titles including:

  • “Diné Bich’eekę Yishłeeh (Diné Bizaad)/Becoming Miss Navajo (English),” written by Jolyana Begay-Kroupa (Diné), designed by Corey Begay (Diné), and published by Salina Bookshelf, Inc.
  • “Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Gold Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer,” written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis), and published by Millbrook Press.
  • “Learning My Rights with Mousewoman,” written and illustrated by Morgan Asoyuf (Ts’msyen), and published by Native Northwest.
  • “I Sang You Down From the Stars,” written by Tasha Spillet-Sumner (Cree and Trinidadian), illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit & Haida), and published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group.
  • “We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know,” written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Frané Lessac, narrated by a cast of Cherokee, Navajo, Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribal representation, and published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. / Live Oak Media.

The 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award winner for best Middle Grade Book is “Healer of the Water Monster,” written by Brian Young (Diné), cover art by Shonto Begay (Diné), and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a summer with no running water and no electricity. That’s okay, though. He loves spending time with Nali. One night, Nathan finds something extraordinary, a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story – a Water Monster- in need of help. With electric adventure and powerful love, Brian Young’s debut novel tells the tale of a seemingly ordinary boy who realizes he’s a hero at heart.

The committee selected five Middle School Book Honor(s) titles including:

  • “Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector,” written by Diane Wilson (Dakota), illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe), and published by Minnesota Humanities Center.
  • “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” written by Katrina M. Phillips (Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), and published by Pebble, an imprint of Capstone.
  • “Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend,” written by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey), and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
  • “Peggy Flanagan: Ogimaa Kwe, Lieutenant Governor,” written by Jessica Engelking (White Earth Band of Ojibwe), illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe), and published by Minnesota Humanities Center.
  • “The Sea in Winter,” written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), cover art by Michaela Goade (Tlingit and Haida), and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The American Indian Youth Literature Award for best Young Adult Book is “Apple (Skin to the Core),” written by Eric Gansworth (Onondaga), cover art by Filip Peraić, and published by Levine Querido. The term “Apple” is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside.” In Apple (Skin to the Core), Eric Gansworth tells his story, the story of his family, of Onondaga among Tuscaroras, of Native folks everywhere. Eric shatters that slur and reclaims it in verse and prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word heartbreaking.

The award committee selected five Young Adult Book Honor(s) including:

  • “Elatsoe,” written by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache Tribe), cover art and illustrations by Rovina Cai, and published by Levine Querido.
  • “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” written by Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), cover art by Moses Lunham (Ojibway and Chippewa), and published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
  • “Hunting by Stars,” written by Cherie Dimaline (Metis Nation of Ontario), cover art by Stephen Flaude (Métis), and published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.
  • “Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present,” written by Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation), illustrated by Ciara Sana (Chamoru), and published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
  • “Soldiers Unknown,” written by Chag Lowry (Yurok, Maidu and Achumawi), illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal, and published by Great Oak Press.

Members of the American Indian Youth Literature Award jury are AILA President Aaron LaFromboise, Blackfeet Nation, Browning, Montana; Chair Vanessa ‘Chacha’ Centeno, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Sacramento, California; Co-Chair Anne Heidemann, Mount Pleasant, Michigan; Lara Aase, San Marcos, California; Catherine Anton Baty, Big Sandy Rancheria, Austin, Texas; Naomi Bishop, Akimel O’odham, Tucson, Arizona; Joy Bridwell, Chippewa Cree Tribe, Box Elder, Montana; Erin Hollingsworth, Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Janice Kowemy, Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico; Sunny Day Real Bird, Apsaalooke Crow Tribe, Billings, Montana; and Allison Waukau, Menominee and Navajo, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The American Indian Library Association is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Members are individuals and institutions interested in the development of programs to improve library cultural and informational services in school, public, and academic libraries. AILA is committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and traditions to the library community. https://ailanet.org/

Sunday, January 16, 2022



Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask,
Young Readers' Edition
Written by Anton Treuer (Ojibwe)
Published by Levine Querido
Published in 2021
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Anton Treuer's original Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask was published in 2012. Many people, myself included, hoped there would soon be a version for young people. And at last, there is, and it's getting good critical attention, including a Kirkus starred review. Here's what its publisher Levine Querido says about the book:
From the acclaimed Ojibwe author and professor Anton Treuer comes an essential book of questions and answers for Native and non-Native young readers alike. Ranging from “Why is there such a fuss about nonnative people wearing Indian costumes for Halloween?” to “Why is it called a ‘traditional Indian fry bread taco’?“ to “What’s it like for Natives who don’t look Native?” to “Why are Indians so often imagined rather than understood?”, and beyond, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition) does exactly what its title says for young readers, in a style consistently thoughtful, personal, and engaging.
This is AICL's "short-and-sweet review," with four reasons I think teachers, librarians, and parents should read this book and share it with teens.

Reason One for recommending Everything You Wanted to Know: Accessible format and logical organization

Questions are grouped by general subject, starting with Terminology and proceeding through such topics as  History, Powwow, Politics, and Economics. The book's Conclusion, "Finding Ways to Make a Difference," tells how, beginning in 1967, several non-Native people in Bemidji, MN, followed the lead of Native residents of the area to combat the blatant systemic racism directed against Native people there. I found it to be a moving and encouraging story, and a good way to end the book -- when many readers are wondering, "Now that I've had my questions answered, what can I do to make things better?" (I put that phrase about following the lead of Native people in bold because Treuer wants to be clear that non-Native people need to understand that true support consists of the support that Native people say they need.)

Reason two: Multiple potential uses.

For individual use, Everything is a handy reference for people seeking answers to their own questions, or looking for concise ways to correct others' mistaken ideas.
The book also is a good base for group conversations. I was able to participate in a teachers' professional development study circle based on Everything in Fall 2021, led by staff of the Illinois State Museum. Thoughtful discussions grew from our responses to the facilitators' questions such as, "What surprised you in what you read?" and "How did you feel about what you learned?" 

I can picture teens engaging with the book, guided by similar prompts. If any AICL readers try facilitating such a group with teens, please let us know how it goes.

Reason three: Presentation of varied perspectives

Treuer makes clear that there's no monolithic Native Culture or history to consult in most matters. Single, definitive answers to some questions simply do not exist. But that doesn't mean differences are merely matters of opinion. The author cites sources throughout the book, and readers can look at those and learn. And Treuer's sense of humor helps get his points across.

Reason four: Respect for Indigenous activism as rational and necessary

The author describes situations when he individually opposed behavior that was anti-Indigenous, as well as resistance actions that involved thousands, such as Standing Rock. "Indian" mascots are still present and problematic in schools around the US, and he talks about those, too. 

I think readers will especially appreciate that he emphasizes the need for collective action for social justice. For example, he mentions that the murder of George Floyd by a police officer took place in a community with a large Native population, many of whom had no doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement was grounded in reality, because they have experienced and seen similar treatment of black and brown people by law enforcement for generations.

Bonus reason to recommend Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask: That cover.

No, a gorgeous cover isn't sufficient reason to recommend a book, but .... just look at it! The beading is the work of Jana Schmieding (Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux), whose other talents also include writing and acting. You may have seen her in the lead role on the sitcom "Rutherford Falls." And she can bead.

This, I think, is essential reading for anyone in the field of education. And librarians. And any non-Native person who has been exposed to the dominant  mistaken ideas about Indigenous peoples. In other words, pretty much anybody. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, Young Readers' Edition, is packed with information for anyone. It can also be a source of support and affirmation for young Native readers. Get it for your school/classroom/library!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Second Look at PebbleGo Next

On December 2, 2016, I took a look at "PebbleGo Next" (an educational website for early childhood) because AICL readers had been writing to ask me about it. Based on what I saw on the Pueblo pages, I decided I could not recommend PebbleGo Next. My major concerns were that the site did not use "nation" and that the site's content was presented using past tense verbs which contributes to the idea that we no longer exist.

One of my concerns was that they had used the word "cultures" in their categories. For example, the site said "Southwest Cultural Area." Categorizing Native peoples as cultures or cultural groups is a typical error. We are--of course--people with distinct languages, stories, religions, housing, clothing, but the single most important fact about us is this: we are sovereign nations. No other cultural groups in the U.S. have political status. No other cultural groups have treaties with the U.S. government (some tribal nations had treaties with European governments, too. See for example, the Gäsweñta’ (Two Row Wampum) information about the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch.)

Instead of "cultures," the best word to use is "nations" (or nation when the focus is on a single tribal nation). Editors at PebbleGo read my review and made some changes--but they are superficial. Let me explain by walking you through some of what I see today (January, 2022). 

Instead of "Southwest Cultural Area" the category is now "Southwest Tribal Nations." When you click on it, this is what you'll see:

Clicking on "Southwest Tribal Nations" in the array (it may look different on your screen depending on how wide your browser window is), you'll get an overview grouped in these sections: Introduction, History, Geography, Communities, Cultural Characteristics, Housing, and Food. 

In the Introduction, there are two paragraphs. They both start out with "Southwest culture area." The introduction says that the area "is home to several American Indian groups" and it says they include Navajo, Apache, Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni, Tohono O'odham, Akimel O'odham, Upland Yumans, and River Yumans. There is no mention of them as nations. That's what I mean about superficial changes. Substituting the word on the category page is easy to do. That's a cut and paste task. Making substantive change is harder to do--but necessary! 

In the History section, there are four paragraphs. I don't see the word nation anywhere there. "Groups" is PebbleGo's word of choice in this section. Some information is incorrect. It says that the U.S. government forced all of the Southwest Indian peoples onto reservations, but in fact, some of us are living on the same homelands that we were living on prior to European invasions. Reservations were established and removals did happen, but overly broad information like what I see here mis-educates children. 

In the Communities section, I finally see the words nation/nations, but it is used in an inconsistent way.  This section uses "Akimel O'odham nation" and "Apache" and "Chiricahua and the Mescalero" and "the Hopi nation." Why not use it with Apache, Chiricahua, and Mescalero? In the third paragraph of this section, I see
The Hopi nation is made up of many different villages. Hopi people identify closely with their own village. Their own village is much more important to them than the Hopi nation as a whole." 
Kudos for using nation, but when the word appears with a specific nation, a capital letter is necessary. Style guides and scholars use a capitol N. It should therefore be "Hopi Nation."  The last sentence in that excerpt is also a problem. I wonder about the source for it? I think the Pebble go editors mean to say that people have a strong affinity for the place they live. Some of you reading this review have strong feelings about your hometown and might not have the same warmth for your state.  As written, that sentence is a problem because it undermines the significance of the Hopi Nation's sovereign status. Why include that sentence in the first place? I don't think the editors mean to undermine nationhood, but I think that sentence does that very thing. 

There are two paragraphs in the Cultural Characteristics section. Both are about languages. The opening sentence is "Southwest Indians spoke many different languages." Use of "spoke" rather than "speak" suggests the languages are no longer spoken--and while language loss is an issue--many do speak their language and/or are involved in language projects to teach it to others. For the most part, those two paragraphs use present tense verbs. 

In the Housing section, all four paragraphs use past tense verbs. In fact, Pueblo people--today--build our homes using adobe bricks. Over the course of his life, my dad made thousands of adobes. I've got a wonderful photo of him doing that with his parents when he was a kid, and I've got a photo of my daughter doing it with him, when she was a kid. He built four adobe homes. 

In the Food section, all the paragraphs are in the past tense. We still farm. Navajo people still raise sheep. Though most of us buy meat at the local grocery store, some of us continue to hunt deer, rabbit, and antelope.  

The last observation I have about the overview page is with regard to the illustrations. There are seven. Five show Native people, but they are all shown in a past tense setting. Captions are also in past tense, and the placement of the illustrations doesn't make sense. Here is a screen capture from the Communities section that helps make my point:

Why is it there? The content of that particular section does not mention the Zuni people. A better choice would be an illustration of a Hopi village of the present day. 

When I did my first look at the PebbleGo site, people there wrote to me, nothing the significance of my review and that they were making changes. As noted above, I think the changes are superficial. One thing that I do recommend at their site is the "American Indians Today" page that you can see when you click on the American Indian History page. It is the one on the top left, below:

Clicking to that page you'll read terrific information written by Dr. Karina Phillips. She is a professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Her knowledge and identity make that page exceptionally useful. If PebbleGo wants to improve what they offer, every page must be written by someone like her. The "American Indians Today" page that she wrote is divided into several sections. Over and over, she uses present tense verbs. the illustrations on the page are eight full color photographs of Native people in the present day, like this one in the Government section that shows the Navajo Nation's Council Chamber:

The page created by Dr. Phillips demonstrates that you--PebbleGo--can do better, but you must step up and DO better, on ALL your pages. Until you do, I cannot recommend your site.

--Debbie Reese, January 11, 2022

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Indigenous Nations in Nonfiction

In 2021, the National Council of Teachers of English published Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books: Representations and Possibilities. Edited by Thomas Crisp, Suzanne M. Knezek, and Roberta Price Gardner, it includes a chapter I wrote with Betsy McEntarffer that draws heavily from Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue. 

Betsy is a retired white librarian. I met her years ago, online, before she retired. I don't remember how, exactly, but she was doing terrific work on her library's efforts to be mindful of diversity in the collection. And so, we talked by email for years. When I was invited to write a chapter for nonfiction book, I asked her to work with me on it. The book came out in November of 2021. 

In 2016, Simon Ortiz (Acoma) invited me to give a talk in his lecture series at Arizona State University. I met him a long time ago and had been talking about his children's book The People Shall Continue in talks I gave here and there. He has been a source of strength and guidance for Native people -- through his writings but also with his advocacy. I was deeply honored by his invitation.  He follows what I do in children's literature. 

What he writes about in The People Shall Continue is the heart of the chapter Betsy and I wrote. Our chapter is "Indigenous Nations in Nonfiction." We came up with a set of guidelines that we call An Indigenous Peoples' Framework for Evaluating Nonfiction. One of the challenges for us all is a lack of time. Often we want a quick answer to a question but when we are trying to expand what we know about a people unlike ourselves, quick answers are not enough. In our chapter we provide some background information that helps you strengthen your critical lens. 

A mainstream default is to think of Native peoples as a cultural group. That is true, but the vital difference is that we are the original peoples of this land currently called North America. We are not "the first Americans." This land was called something else before it was called "America." When Europeans came here, there was conflict but they also engaged in treaties with us. 

Treaties don't happen between cultural groups. They happen between nations. Or, more specifically, between leaders of those nations. That, for me, is a starting place to understanding who we are. And so, I emphasize that we are nations. Sovereign nations. It is far more complicated that that but I think it is important to start with that idea. The word, nation, is in The People Shall Continue. As far as I know, it is the first time a children's book has that word in it. 

The word "people" is in the book title. Some of you may not notice it and to some of you it might seem unimportant---but it is deeply significant! Think about books you've read about us. Do you remember "people" in it? Or do you remember "Indian" or a similar word (Native American, etc.). Now--what image comes to your mind when you think about "people" and when you think "Indian." Different, right? The "Indian" is likely a stereotypical image and it is also likely an adult male or a group of adult males attacking some white pioneers that are depicted as courageous for venturing out onto "the frontier" or "the wilderness." I believe Simon used the word "people" to help you see us--not as aggressors but as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The word "people" shifts the lens, significantly. 

With The People Shall Continue as our guide, our framework uses Simon's words to help you develop understandings that will help you evaluate a work of non-fiction. I think the content of our framework applies to fiction, too. In addition to the words "people" and "nation" there are nine additional points that we invite you to consider. I hope you're able to get a copy of Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books: Representations and Possibilities. Request one at your library. I think you'll see that the book has many other excellent chapters, and perhaps, you may buy a copy for yourself. 

Update: Jan 5, 2022, 6:30 AM

Monday, January 03, 2022

Debbie Reese in THE WEEK, JUNIOR

A personal and professional high point of 2021 that I haven't noted yet on AICL is this one:


On July 2, 2021, an interview of me was published in The Week, Junior. I was thrilled that they knew about AICL, and that they wanted to tell their readers about my work. In June, I think, I started getting notes from friends and colleagues who subscribe to it, sharing their delight in seeing me on one of the pages. It was a terrific high for me! 

AICL has been around since 2006, pointing out bias and misrepresentation of Native peoples, and shining a bright light on excellent books by Native writers. A heartfelt kú'daa to those who read and share what we publish here on AICL. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Highly Recommended: THE FIRE by Thomas Peacock


The Fire
Written by Thomas Peacock (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe)
Illustrations by Anna Granholm
Published by Black Bears & Blueberries
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

I'm very happy to add a title to our 2021 Recommended Books list: Thomas Peacock's The Fire. This is my "short and sweet" review. As you may remember, "short and sweet" reviews are not in-depth; they cover four reasons for our decision about a particular book. 

Here's how the publisher, Black Bears & Blueberries, describes The Fire.
This story is a fictionalized account of the Great Fire of 1918 based on an interview of Elizabeth (Betty) Gurno, a Fond du Lac Reservation elder. Betty was a little girl when the fire swept the area. The Fire of 1918 destroyed the city of Cloquet, Minnesota and surrounding communities, including the Fond du Lac Reservation, and resulted in the loss of many lives.

Author Thomas Peacock frames Betty's telling of the story within a later-day classroom scene in Minnesota. Betty has come to her grandchild's classroom to share her memories of the fire. 

First reason to recommend The Fire: It focuses on Indigenous people's experience during a catastrophic event, and joins a fairly small pool of exciting and moving historical fiction picture books told from an Indigenous perspective. In The Fire, Ojibwe oral history is at the center. The author uses some words in Ojibwemowin and refers to Ojibwe traditions (such as offering asemaa, tobacco, to an elder who shares wisdom). 

Second reason: It's timely. Wildland fires have affected communities around the country in recent years. Children are wondering how such fires can happen, how people survive them, and what happens afterward. Young readers may want to do further research about the Great Fire of 1918, using sources like the National Weather Service article and a dedicated page on the Library of Congress Web site. 

Third reason: The illustrations amplify the storytelling. There's plenty of drama in the pictures. Burning boards fly through the air; dozens of animals join the people in the river as the fire rages. But there are also some important, more subtle touches. Look closely at the page that shows Betty's grandparents warning her family about the fire. The hazy trees and yellowish sky behind the horse and buggy aren't just meant to be pretty. That's the smoke, already drifting into Fond du Lac, a silent warning. 

Fourth reason: The story manages to locate modest, honest hope and affirmation in the aftermath of the disaster. Readers learn that no Ojibwe people died, but "more than four hundred fifty of our non-Native neighbors were lost in the fire," and several non-Native towns burned to the ground. (For comparison, I checked the estimated death toll of the Chicago Fire of 1871 -- around 300.) Grandma Betty recounts that her grandmother's home escaped the fire, and she shared what food she had with other Fond du Lac families, most of whom had lost everything. I love the final words of Grandma Betty's storytelling: "We help each other. That is what we do." (It reminds me of the values behind Richard Van Camp's little board book, May We Have Enough to Share.)

I also love that when Betty ends her storytelling, the children line up to hug her. Maybe that's a classroom custom. But I think it also shows that the children are moved by this elder's story of the trauma she and their community endured, and they are caring for her in their way, years afterward.

The Fire is a valuable book to have on your shelves, and to share with children you know.