Thursday, May 09, 2019

When Professional Associations (like the International Literacy Assoc) Fail...

Yesterday I saw a tweet about the International Reading Association's blog post, #ILAchat: Why Students Need #OwnVoices Stories. I clicked on it and saw that, in the third paragraph, there was a link to their 2019 ILA Choices reading lists. As an advocate for #OwnVoices, I was excited to see what Native writers they had on their lists. I was naive. As you can see, the title of my blog post has the word "fail" in it. The book lists and the subsequent exchange I had with ILA were disappointing--and infuriating.

There are three booklists on their site:

  • Children's Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 100 books on it.
  • Teacher's Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 30 books on it.
  • Young Adults Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 30 books on it.

I looked at all three. Not a single Native writer. So, I tweeted to them. Here's a compilation of my thread to them:
Hey, @ILAToday... I read your article on the importance of #OwnVoices... And I followed links to your bklists, and I guess #OwnVoices doesn't apply to Native people. Three booklists and zero Native writers?! Why?
Even worse, your booklists include books that misrepresent Native people [actual tweet said writers; I meant people.] On example is LOVE, PENELOPE.  That bk is full of problematic imagery about Native people. My review: Not Recommended: Love, Penelope
Books that misrepresent Native people feed a cycle that works AGAINST Native writers because their stories and characters and content don't match the "Indian" stories/characters/content that White writers have in their books. THIS IS UTTERLY DISGUSTING.
And you, YOU, ILA--an international literacy organization--are supposed to help kids. 
Is it your goal to miseducate kids about who Native people are?
Is your goal to hurt Native kids and their sense of well-being with these problematic representations?

ILA replied (I have screen captures of their tweets if anybody wants to see them). Here's one (see below for the entire thread):

ILA could have said "You're right. We don't have any Native writers on the lists. We will examine the process by which we put those lists together so that this doesn't happen again."

They didn't do that.

They began a threaded reply to me:
Thanks for your feedback. We have edited the blog post to better reflect how books are selected for inclusion on the #ILAChoices reading lists. 

Their edit (as near I can tell; I don't have the pre-edited post for comparison) was this note, at the bottom of the post:
This blog post was edited on 5/8/2019 to more accurately reflect the process by which books are selected for the Choices reading lists. Publisher participation in the Choices lists, and the titles they choose to submit to the project, are at their discretion and not selected by ILA as could be inferred from the original writing.
Their next tweet in the thread is this:
Project participants read and vote on hundreds of titles that publishers submit across the three Choice projects. Titles selected to the list are determined solely by reader networks and not influenced by ILA or the publisher. 
That edit and that tweet sounded like they feel they are not responsible for books on the list. Doesn't that sound kind of... pathetic? These are their publications. This is their website. But content on it... not their fault if something's not right about them. My reply:
So, ILA, it isn't your fault that these lists are the way they are? Ok. At the very least they should tell ILA how much your association could do to inform membership about Native writers, Native bks, and problematic representations. 
Later I saw that they had continued with their thread:
We encourage contributions to our list by smaller and more diverse publishers and authors with specific language in our Call for Submissions form; however, publisher participation, and the titles they choose to submit to the project, are at their discretion.
It's the same for our conference. Each year, publishers are invited to submit a list of authors they are willing to bring. We seek out additional pitches when necessary to include more diverse and representative authors. 
For example, we sought out @tim_tingle to be featured at #ILA18 and extended invitations to other Native American authors. 
Here is the slate for Author Meetups at #ILA19. [They provided a link; it has one Native writer listed.]
We do the work because we believe it is important. We always encourage authors and publishers to participate across our venues and platforms.
ILA believes that Children have the right to read texts that mirror their experiences and languages, provide windows into the lives of others, and open doors into our diverse world.
And ILA believes that children have the right to choose what they read.
The tweet that says they encourage contributions by smaller and more diverse publishers, is familiar. In 2012, the Children's Book Council launched a diversity initiative and a Goodreads bookshelf that had problematic books on it. Their initiative was going to be launched at the American Library Association's midwinter conference. Naomi Bishop attended their session and wrote up her thoughts. The reason I'm bringing that initiative up here, is because the CBC is involved with ILA's Children's Choices list:
Children's Choices is cosponsored by the Children's Book Council and includes children's recommendations of approximately 100 titles.
There was a lot of discussion about the Council. It is expensive to join and smaller publishers can't afford to be members. I don't recall where any of that ended up. If I recall right, CBC was very resistant to letting smaller publishers--like Lee and Low--put their books on that CBC Diversity Bookshelf. I may write to Jason (at Lee and Low) to ask him about it.

ILA using CBC as they did--as they do, to make books available to kids for this Children's Choice project--means that the kids are getting books from major publishers, some of which have problematic content... like Love, Penelope. 

ILA's response is disappointing.

I wish they had said (as noted above), that they didn't realize their lists had no Native writers on them, and that they would make sure that doesn't happen again. But there's more necessary!

It is good that they invited Tim Tingle last year, and Traci Sorell this year, to their conference but what are they going to do about the fact that they offered a problematic book to children? I'm pretty sure that if Little Black Sambo had been sent to them by the CBC, they would have set it aside. We need that same sort of decision-making with respect to Native images.

Instead of acknowledging any of their responsibility as educators, they are putting forth the "right to read" defense. I agree: children do have that right to read but let's not kid ourselves. Teachers have an educational responsibility. They make decisions on what books to use, all the time. They can't use every book. They make choices. Students in their classrooms have the right to read what they want to, but teachers are also teaching about racism, racist texts, and critical literacy.

I'm incensed that ILA is floating the "right to read" in this particular exchange with me.

And I'm further incensed that they're using Bishop's mirrors and windows metaphor in this exchange with me. Love, Penelope is not a mirror for any Native child. So why invoke her work in this exchange?

There's an ILAChat twitter tonight (May 9). The topic: #OwnVoices. I plan to join in.

ILA failed many times. They failed to notice that a book list on their website did not include Native writers. Then, they failed to acknowledge their own failure in not noticing the lack of Native writers. Then they failed in how they defended the book list. They threw CBC under the bus and they misused freedom to read and Dr. Bishop's metaphor. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Chronological Look at Events Launched by Harassment on April 11 at the Children's Book Guild of Washington DC

Note from Debbie: If there are additional items to insert or add, please let me know. If I've made errors in my documentation below, please let me know about that, too. 


Thursday, April 11th, 2019, 12:30 Central Time 

I received a phone call from Carole Lindstrom. She is Ojibwe. I wrote about her picture book, Girls Dance Boys Fiddle in 2014. Carole had just left a luncheon at the Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC. Author Jacqueline Jules had invited her to attend. Carole had been to Guild events before.

At the luncheon, Carole told me, Jules asked her about my work. But it wasn't a straightforward question. The tone in which questions were asked told Carole that Jules did not like my work. Carole told her right away that she considers me a friend but Jules ignored that and continued to press her. Carole told her that within the Native writers community, they value my critiques. Jules persisted. It became increasingly uncomfortable for Carole, so she stood to leave. Jules stood, too, blocking Carole's path to the door, and placed her hands on Carole's arms. Carole asked her to remove her hands. Jules did so, and Carole left the table. Jules followed, and even though Carole asked Jules to leave her alone, Jules followed her out of the private dining room of the restaurant, out of the building, and down the street, calling to her that I am keeping Native writers from telling our stories. Carole ducked behind a city bus, Jules returned to the building, and a few minutes later, Carole sent me a Facebook message asking if she could call me. I said yes, and we talked for several minutes. She reached out to others, too, who offered comfort and solace. What happened to her was not acceptable, at all.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Carole wrote to Rhoda Trooboff, 2018-2019 President of the Guild, documenting her experience.

Thursday, April 18, 2019, 9:38 AM (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Trooboff acknowledged receipt of Carole's letter and that she would be in touch with Carole the following week.

Thursday, April 18, 2019, 1:20 PM (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Trooboff wrote again to Carole, telling her that she has forwarded her letter to Jules and that a Guild member will be in touch with her. She took these steps (rather than wait, as the morning email had indicated) because she had learned that details about what happened were posted to social media (the post Trooboff is referencing is a private--not public--conversation).

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Martha Brockenbrough, Julie Foster Hedlund, and Ishta Mercurio posted an Open Letter to the Children's Book Guild. Reading While White hosted the letter. People were asked to cosign it using the comment option or by writing directly to Reading While White.

Thursday, April 25, 2019, 9:00 AM

The editors at Reading While White added a note to the top of the Open Letter, indicating that they would close the comments at 8:00 PM Eastern Time and that the letter would be sent to the Guild the following morning. By 8:00, there were approximately 400 signatures on the letter, including many from Native readers, writers, and librarians. The letter documents

  • What happened at the luncheon
  • That nobody at the luncheon intervened to stop Jules or comfort Carole
  • The inappropriate sharing of Carole's letter about the incident, with Jules

It also states that they believe the Guild owes an apology to Carole and to me. (I agree they owe one to Carole. The harassment did not happen to me; even if I had been there, I'm skeptical of apologies as I said in this thread on Twitter, because I think they too often function to alleviate guilt of the harasser and when extended, shift the weight of the incident to the person who was harmed in the first place. When the incident is one like this, the harm is usually the most recent one inflicted on a Native or person of color. With that as context, an apology without action is meaningless.)

Thursday, April 25, 2019, 4:13 PM

Using their Twitter account (@BookGuildDC), the Guild said:

Screen capture of tweet
The Guild's board met to work on an action plan spurred by events during and following our last meeting. To those of you who have made suggestions on how we can be and do better: thank you. We will continue to work and learn.…

The tweet included a link to Guild Statement Regarding Incident at April 11 Luncheon, at their website. The apology was also posted to their Facebook page at 4:11 PM. I am highlighting a word in the paragraph to compare it with a revised apology issued later:
Guild Statement Regarding Incident at April 11th Luncheon
Screen capture of the
first paragraph of Guild
statement. Click to enlarge. 
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. This interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and seemed to demonstrate racial and cultural insensitivity. Please know that these actions were not intentional and do not reflect the core values of the Guild. We apologize for the additional distress caused when the complaint was shared with the member involved in the incident.

Friday, April 26, 2019

People objected to their use of "seemed" and "not intentional." The Guild subsequently revised the language but did not note their revision. Not noting the revision hides the initial error and, in effect, obscures the fact that they recognize their initial error. The revision was to remove "seemed" and insert "gave the guest reason to believe" (highlight below is mine):
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. This interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and gave the guest reason to believe that the member demonstrated racial and cultural insensitivity. Please know that these actions were not intentional and do not reflect the core values of the Guild. We apologize for the additional distress caused when the complaint was shared with the member involved in the incident.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Guild statement was revised again! At present, "gave the guest reason to believe" is gone:
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. It is clear that this interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and demonstrated racial and cultural insensitivity. 
I am glad to see--with this latest revision--this note at the bottom of the page:
*This wording has been revised to reflect the statement originally approved by the Board of the Children's book Guild."
But it raises questions, too. That note suggests that the statement we saw was changed by someone before it was published on the 25th, but, who modified statement that the Board originally approved? And why? If there are more developments on this, I will be back to add them.

The remainder of the Guild's statement includes steps they will take, including "Adopt an anti-harassment policy and take other steps to prevent harassment or intimidation of any form at Guild events."


Before hitting "publish" on this post, I also want to address an apology Jules posted to the Guild's Facebook page with their statement. As noted above, the Guild published their statement on their Facebook page at 4:11 PM on Thursday, April 25th.

On Friday, April 26, at 5:45 PM, this comment appeared in response to my question about their use of "seemed" (on Facebook, when you submit a comment, the comment appears with blue letters to indicate who is posting the comment. Jules comment was posted from The Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC, which suggests she manages their Facebook page. She added her name to the comment, making clear that this particular comment is from her and not the Guild):

The Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC I am very, very sorry. I made a serious lapse in judgment in my conversation at the Children’s Book Guild Meeting on April 11th. I had hoped to discuss two particular books that touched me deeply. It was inappropriate and insensitive of me to ask a Native American guest to interpret or discuss Dr. Reese’s critical analyses of these two books. My intention was to discuss two particular books and not to criticize Dr. Reese. 

When the guest became angry and got up to leave, I saw my mistake and tried to apologize. I followed her outside to apologize further. I honestly thought I was demonstrating how sorry I was. I realize now, much too late, how very differently my attempts to apologize came across. I am mortified that the guest felt harassed, and I am extremely sorry I offended her. I have written to the guest twice to apologize. 

Jacqueline Jules

In her comment, she writes that "it was inappropriate and insensitive" for her to "ask a Native American guest to interpret or discuss Dr. Reese's critical analyses."

When conversations about the incident at the Guild began to take place, I learned from several other Native and Writers of Color that they have been in similar positions at functions. They are pressed to respond to queries about my work. When I saw that, I tweeted a request that people with concerns about my work can talk to me directly about their concerns. That's a sincere request.

Without question, people at writers gatherings can--and should--talk about criticism but the way that it is done is important! Jules wrote that what she did was "inappropriate and insensitive." To me, her words affirm Carole's account of how the questions were asked at the luncheon.

Jules second paragraph says "When the guest became angry" -- but written that way, it obscures the fact that it was her words and actions that caused Carole to respond as she did. She says she's "mortified" that Carole "felt harassed" -- but written that way, Jules hides the fact that Carole was, indeed, harassed. Jules tells us that she's written to Carole "twice to apologize." If the content of the apologies was anything like what she wrote in that second paragraph, those apologies are not sincere.


I'll be adding links to additional responses to the Guild. There's a lot on Twitter that I may add, but will start with these two. If you see others, let me know!

April 26, 2019

An Open Letter to Ms. Trooboff and the Leadership of the Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC by Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth

White People Apologizing by Monica Edinger at educating alice

May 1, 2019

Luncheons Shouldn't Come with a Side of Harassment: An Interview with Author Carole Lindstrom by Lisa Krok at School Library Journal's Teen Librarian Toolbox blog. (Note on May 2, early morning: late yesterday afternoon/early evening, Krok's article was taken down "for review." When the article is restored I will restore the link. For now it goes to a pdf copy of it.) Update, May 2, evening: holding off on that pdf till there is further clarity on why the original post was taken down.)

Thursday, April 25, 2019


A reader asked if I have seen Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt. Written by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, it came out on January 1, 2019 from Simon and Schuster.

This page, with the Indian hiding behind a tree, prompted the question:

As I study the page, I have these thoughts:

See Jefferson holding up the Constitution? With its "We the People" declaration? Some people weren't included in that "We the People" idea. Enslaved people were not included. Neither were Native people (see Rights Matter for details).

My guess is that the Black woman holding the flag was enslaved. And see the Indian hiding behind the tree (when, oh when will writers and illustrators stop with that particular image?!)? Is it misleading to readers to have those two individuals there when they were not included in "We the People"?

The facing page starts with "In the New World, called America" changes were coming. What's wrong with that? To Native people, it wasn't a new world, and it wasn't called America. In the coming pages, will the author/illustrator acknowledge that fact? Or... leave it out?

 "We're still fighting with the British" and "join our brave new nation" are also on that page. What about the peoples of Native Nations that the settlers were fighting?

Those two pages look, sound, and feel a lot like Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. I've ordered the book and will be back with a review.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Reflections on #Arbuthnot19

Note from Debbie on Sunday April 28, 2019: Scroll to the bottom to see links to other reflections on the lecture. If you know of one that isn't there, please let us know. Thanks!

A week ago (Friday April 19) I was in Madison, Wisconsin to give the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. Titled "An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature," it was co-sponsored by:
  • the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC is a division of the American Library Association) 
  • the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) 
  • the UW-Madison School of Education
  • the UW-Madison Information School 
  • the Friends of the CCBC 
  • the Ho-Chunk Nation

Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) did a livestream of it that you can watch at their site. Scoot ahead to the 12:35 minute mark. At some point, WPT will make another video of it that will more smoothly incorporate the images that I used during the talk. My remarks will be published in ALSC's journal, Children and Libraries

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing
Photo by Durango Mendoza

I give a lot of talks and workshops but preparing for and delivering this one felt different. I've been reflecting on why, and am sharing some thoughts on that, tonight.

The 2019 Arbuthnot lecture began with people of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The University of Wisconsin is on the homelands of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The evening opened with the Wisconsin Dells Singers. Elliott Funmaker took the podium to welcome people to the event, and to tell them that the 2019 Arbuthnot lecture was taking place on their homelands.

Image may contain: 1 person
Elliott Funmaker, Wisconsin Dells Singers, Ho-Chunk Nation
Photo by Durango Mendoza

He also said that he and some of the other people in the Wisconsin Dells Singers are in the Bear Clan. Their role is to provide security. If anyone in the room tried to disrupt the event, he said, the Bear Clan would ask them to leave. His words are significant. He provided some history and conveyed a clear message that Indigenous peoples are here, today, exercising sovereignty on our lands. After their songs, Hinu Helgesen Smith welcomed us.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, child and indoor
Hinu Helgesen Smith, Ho-Chunk Nation
Photo by Durango Mendoza

She is the Legislator for District 1 of the Ho-Chunk Nation. She brought a group of Ho-Chunk teens with her to the lecture. The Ho-Chunk presence--from their youth to the Bear Clan to the tribal leadership--made the 2019 Arbuthnot an Indigenous event. I don't think that has happened before at an Arbuthnot.

The Ho-Chunk presence was, for me, a warm embrace as the first Native person selected to give the Arbuthnot lecture. It was a hard lecture for me to prepare for, and to deliver. I could feel the excitement and expectations, several weeks before the lecture date. In the weeks I spent writing and editing my lecture and the slides I used, I had children in mind. Native and non-Native children are harmed by misrepresentations of Indigenous people. They're harmed by the Whiteness that creates stereotypes, and the Whiteness that defends it with little regard for the impact it is having on children. Their well-being matters tremendously. It felt to me that every word had to strike just the right note. I worried that my remarks would fall short of expectations. I told myself "if it is a thud, it will at least have given the DiversityJedi a couple of days of hanging out together in the same city." Small groups of us gather at conferences from time to time but at conferences, we're often pulled in many directions. The gathering in Madison was different. Because it wasn't a conference, Jedi had many opportunities to just be together, quietly or to have conversations about the goings on in our personal lives and professional work. Some flew from California, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and others drove from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota.

I hope that everyone there felt the significance of the gathering. I'll be thinking about it for some time.


April 18, 2019: Seizing the Narrative by Nina Lindsay at Reading While White.
April 21, 2019: Truth and Love: Dr. Debbie Reese's 2019 Arbuthnot Lecture by OfGlades at Indigo's Bookshelf

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hear Debbie's May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture!

Dear Friends of AICL,

Many of you already know that Dr. Debbie Reese, founder of the American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) blog, was invited to deliver this year's May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Saturday, April 13 at 7:30 PM in Madison, WI.

The Arbuthnot lecture is sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) of the American Library Association. This year, support is also provided by the Friends of the CCBC, Inc and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Debbie is (in my opinion) uniquely deserving of this honor, and you should have heard the roar of approval when it was announced at an ALSC meeting!! (Some of you were there, and contributed to that fantastic roar!) Her influence in the field has been considerable, and more people need to hear her and learn about what she has found in her decades of (sometimes extremely challenging) work with publishers, writers, families, teachers, librarians, and other folks who care about what children read.

The title of Debbie's Lecture is "An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children's Literature."

Tickets to the event are all taken (admission is free). But even if you aren't able to get to Madison, Saturday, there's good news: Wisconsin Public Television will host a live-stream of the lecture (update from Debbie on Wed, April 17: scoot ahead to the 12:35 minute mark if you want to watch the livestream).

I hope lots of people will be able to watch it that way. Spread the word to your friends -- educators, librarians, students, parents, anyone who cares about literature for young people and how Native lives are represented there -- and tell them to tune in Saturday at 7:30 PM (maybe a little earlier just to be sure you're there for the beginning) and hear what Debbie has to say!

Jean Mendoza

Monday, March 25, 2019

2019 Summer Reading List from the We Are Kid Lit Collective

In 2015, #DiversityJedi Edith Campbell invited me, Sarah Park Dahlen, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas to create a Summer Reading list. That summer, we launched our first We're The People Summer Reading List.

The composition of the group has shifted each year based on our availability and this year, we changed the name of the group. It is now the We Are Kid Lit Collective.

This year's collective includes Tad Andracki, Edith Campbell, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, and Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez. Here's our Purpose Statement:
The We Are Kidlit Collective works to create materials and opportunities to recognize the humanity of Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC) in youth literature. Our work is premised upon the principles of social justice, equity, and inclusion and centers IPOC voices in children’s literature in order to identify, challenge and dismantle white supremacy and both internalized and systematic racism.  Our intended audience includes educators, librarians, caregivers and young people. We look for ways to improve the literacies of IPOC children, promote books written by and about IPOC, and to encourage gatekeepers to bring a lens of critical literacy to their work.

I am pleased to work with the collective and to share the 2019 Summer Reading List! It is our fifth year of creating the list. Head on over and take a look. Make sure you check out the lists for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Not Recommended: LOVE, PENELOPE by Joanne Rocklin

Editor's Note: Below is a twitter review of Love, Penelope a book I started reading last week. When I came to a passage with Native content, I paused the read, noted the content and in some instances, added a resource. I used "Spooler" to capture my twitter review and have edited them below, for clarity. If something doesn't make sense to you, please let me know through a comment. New information I provide is in brackets. When you see "You" in the tweets, it is because "You" is what Penny uses in her letters to her as-yet unborn baby sister.

A twitter review of a book called LOVE, PENELOPE by Joanne Rocklin. Published in 2018 by Abrams. 

The subtitle is "Letters from a big sister who knows about life." Penelope is excited about this new life growing in her Mama and writes to her in "Dear You" letters. 

In the second letter, Penelope talks about a heritage project she has to do for school, about where her family lived before they went to California (where the book is set). 

Her project gets off to a rough start (she's in 5th grade) because of a lie she told to her teacher. 

In the letter on Nov 29, Penny (Penelope) writes to You, that they have two mamas: Becky, and Sammy. 

Becky was married to a man, William. He died in a motorcycle accident when Penny was little. Then, Becky met Sammy. The three live in Oakland where Sammy has many relatives who have been there forever. 

With that bit of info on Sammy, you can probably guess why I'm reading LOVE, PENELOPE. 

"Many of Sammy's relatives have been here forever. Ohlone forever. OH-LO-NEE. As in native Californian."

That's cool [the thing that I thought is cool is that Rocklin tells readers that the Ohlone have been there forever] but then... 

"Sammy is 50 percent Ohlone."

Is that what a real-life Sammy would say? Generally, a person who is a tribal member or citizen of a specific nation is 100% a citizen of that nation. Most ppl rdg this thread are citizens of the US. If your mother was born in France, that doesn't make you 50% American [and 50% French]. 

People get into messy spaces when they equate citizenship in this or that nation with the racial or ethnic identity of their parents. 

Now, back to my twitter review of LOVE, PENELOPE. 

(Oh, meant to say a bit more about the Ohlones being "real Californians." That's like calling Native peoples "the First Americans." It is an error. Ohlones (and any Native nation) pre-date "the United States" or any of its 50 states.)

In her letter to You on Tuesday, December 2, Penny tells us about that heritage project she has to do for Mr. Chen. 

He [Mr. Chen] says that "The United States has always been a nation of immigrants." 

I hope that Penny challenges him on that...

And... she does! 

As she hears classmates talk about where their family is from, she says "My ancestors were always, always here. They didn't ARRIVE from anywhere. They were already here!" 

Good, Penny! 

Mr. Chen asks for more info. She says:

“I am descended from a native Californian tribe. The Ohlone, to be specific.”

She thinks that is a lie because Sammy isn't her biological parent. [For the most part she uses "fabrication" instead of "lie" to describe what she's done.] 

She goes on: 

"And princesses." Not ones with gold crowns and gowns, but "The brave kind with clothes made of animal skins."

Oh, dang. Did Sammy tell her THAT? Is that going to get corrected somewhere as this story unfolds? 

At the moment, I'm thinking of how an Ohlone child would read/respond to this story. Or any Native child. It seems to me that the author's audience isn't a Native child. 

On Saturday, December 6, Penny's letter to You is about Sammy's brother, Ziggy. He plays a ukelele. Penny, her mom, and Sammy are helping Ziggy update his resume. He's looking for work. 

Sunday, December 28, Penny is visiting Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace (Sammy's mom and grandmother). Penny plans to get some info "about Ohlone artifacts and rituals and ceremonies" so she can continue with her "fabrication."

Grace is "probably way over eighty" and has wrinkles, but soft skin. And she's got "long black hair, as black as a raven, as black as coal, as black as a deep, dark night." And, she has "pretty designs of dots and lines on her chin in the traditional Ohlone way."

Ok.... time for me to look over resources on the Ohlones. 

Two things to note: there are 109 tribal nations in California that have federal recognition. None of them have Ohlone in their name. 

But, INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY has an article about the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe's effort to get that recognition. Do read it! 

Here's the Muwekma Ohlone's website, with details. 

Before you begin creating Native characters, you gotta do a lot of research. The fruits of your research may not appear on the page, but it will be there, in the quality of the character and Native content. 

I noted the Muwekma Ohlone's page on their history with the fed gov; another resource is Deborah Miranda's BAD INDIANS. 

Dr. Miranda is Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen. Here's their website: Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation.

They're at Monterey Bay (not San Francisco, like the Muwekma Ohlone), but I think Dr. Miranda's book would add some depth to an author's knowledge. 

There's lot of articles on the Muwekma Ohlone website.

Back to LOVE, PENELOPE. In the letter to You on Sunday, Dec 28, Penny is visiting Sammy's mother and grandmother. 

"Both of them are 100 percent Ohlone. Sammy is only 50 percent because Grandma Lorraine married the late Mr. Henry Bach, who was German."

Rocklin (the author of Love, Penelope) did this percent thing earlier, too, in the Sept 29th letter. 

Oh... Rocklin responded to my tweets about that. Here's mine and her first tweet-reply:
And here's the second part of her reply:
[Inserting her reply for people who use screen readers. Rocklin wrote: "I agree with the importance of sensitivity to this issue, the conflation of ethnicity, citizenship and place of residence. To be fair, Penny was asked to tell the story of how her family came to live in California, a common assignment in California schools. She realized that her stepmom's Ohlone community had "always" been there, yes, before the US existed, and she had an important story to understand.]

I'm thinking about Rocklin's reply. She understands why it is not ok to conflate ethnicity, citizenship, and place of residence but wants me to be fair because this is Penny's story. Hmm. 

It seems it might be one of those stories where a white character is going to unlearn stereotypical things about a Native people. One goal in this kind of story is for others to unlearn those stereotypes, too. When the author/white character are outsiders to the particular culture that is being stereotyped, the readers (children) of that culture have to... bear with it so that white character/white readers 'gets it.' 

That's a huge ask of a Native child. 

Reasons why "50 percent Ohlone" is a problem are related to monied efforts to undermine Native sovereignty by denying a nation's status and efforts to take Native children from their nations and place them in non-Native foster or adoptive homes. See National Indian Child Welfare Act. 

For non-Native writers, creating Native content and characters--especially in this period of diversity--has allure, but for Native people impacted by that writing, the stakes are very high. These non-Native fictions can work against our well-being. 

So, Penny is visiting Sammy's mother and grandmother to gather info for her heritage project. Her first question is about ceremonies... "...what was your wedding ceremony like?" Clearly, Penny thought there was some Ohlone ceremony for marriage. 

Grandma Lorraine told her that she got married in Vegas by a guy who looked like Elvis. I like what Grandma Lorraine said! Penny's question reminds me of undergrad students I taught who were curious about Native weddings. There's a lot of bogus info online--so be wary of that! 

Course, a Vegas wedding ceremony is of no help to Penny and her heritage project, so she moves on to "precious artifacts of their Ohlone heritage." She knows Grandma Lorraine has an abalone necklace, so she asks her to put it on, take a photo, print it out, and give it to her. Penny asks Great Grandma Grace if she has "an Ohlone artifact that is precious to her." 

Artifact is an interesting word. I don't use it when I'm talking with friends of other Native nations... or Jewish friends, or Catholic friends... Do you? 

Great Grandma Grace says "Well, MY precious artifact is a beautiful round red-and-white basket with green and red feathers and shiny abalone beads." 

Artifact, again. Do you use that word to talk about things specific to your culture or nation? I don't. 

Grace tells Penny about Ohlone baskets. Penny wants a photo of the basket but Grace tells her that it "is a memory of a story about the basket. Memories and stories are just about the most precious things the Ohlone have left. We've lost a lot, Penny."

Grandma Lorraine goes on, telling Penny about a memorial park they go to every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Penny recalls going there once with Sammy. She remembers "chanting and the drumming." Some Native ppl will object to use of "chanting" to describe singing. 

"Chanting" is an outsider word. 

The park is the site of a shell mound that was where Ohlone buried their dead. Americans built an amusement park, and later, a paint factory on it. Grandma Lorraine says they begged developers to leave it but nobody listened to them. 

So, every year, they go to that place and tell others what happened. Penny understands, now, why Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace won't shop at the mall that is on the site now. 

Penny is now wondering if she should tell Mr. Chen she isn't Ohlone. 

In her letter on Jan 17, 2015, Penny tells You that she was going to tell Mr. Chen that she isn't Ohlone. Before she could, though, she showed him a drawing she had done of the basket that Great Grandma Grace had described. He was, to use Penny's word, BONKERS over it. 

He asks if it is in her family; she says yes; he is surprised because he thought all the baskets had been taken to Russia or Britain. 

Some, no doubt, did go there but why leave out the US museums and private collectors who have them? 

Mr. Chen tells Penny the local museum has a reproduction, but the one her family has should be in that museum. Penny feels pride over his words.

Now--we know there is no real basket--but even if there was a real one, Mr. Chen's idea that it should be in the museum is messed up. 

Penny tells Mr. Chen that the (non-existent) basket is on its way to the museum. That's kind of messed up, too. Why would it be going to that museum rather than, maybe, a museum or office run by the Ohlones? 

Mr. Chen looks at other parts of her drawing, especially the "wren feathers in the Indian chief's headdress; and the real sticks for the teepees." 

What is Penny's source for that? Mr. Chen asks if the dark marks at the top are storm clouds. Penny meant them to be bison and isn't sure "if the Ohlone ever met up with bison" so she says yes, she meant them to be storm clouds. 

Mr. Chen tells her she needs to "rethink that headdress and, also, the tepees." (Noting the two spellings Rocklin used for tipi: teepee and tepee.)

He also thinks she's drawn "too much warfare. All those spears! You may have forgotten some of what you learned about the Ohlone in third grade. And, most important of all, information about your own heritage."

He leaves the classroom and comes back with a handful of books for her to use. She admits she got her info from old movies (note: new movies have those same stereotypes). She says she knows "the teepees aren't right, but it was fun gluing on those twigs."

He asks if her parents saw it, and she said yes (another lie). He tells her to interview the people in her family. 

Fact: teachers/professors do that sort of thing all the time. Handing Native people books to learn abt our culture = not good practice! 

Mr. Chen, reminding Penny of what she learned about Ohlone people in third grade made me cringe. He seems to be saying that whatever she learned was good. For those who don't know, third graders in California do a lot of projects where they visit missions...

... and sometimes make dioramas of Indians being cared for in the missions as if it was a good. In reality, Native ppl were kidnapped, put in chains, enslaved, raped... those missions are far from "good." I know teachers who aren't doing that anymore. Thank goodness. 

Earlier in this thread I referred to Deborah Miranda's book. She also did some writing about those lessons (also done in 4th grade classrooms): Lying to Children about the Missions and the Indians.  

And I know Native parents who don't want their kids doing projects like that. Please--if you're a teacher, don't do them! I wish Mr. Chen had apologized to Penny for that third grade Ohlone unit. 

That night at home, Penny starts reading the books Mr. Chen gave her. She's a huge basketball fan, so when she reads that the Ohlone liked to throw spears through a hoop, she decides it is close enough to basketball to say "THE OHLONE INVENTED BASKETBALL."

That throw-a-spear-through-a-hoop... Some day I might dig into it because it is one of those "Indian" things you see attributed to many tribal nations. It is possible [that many different ones did that activity], but I'd like to know more abt it. In most descriptions, a hoop is rolled on the ground, not hung on a pole. 

It sounds like the book Mr. Chen gave Penny to read is biased. She doesn't know that, though (and I guess he didn't either). She's going to use info from the bk plus info from Grandma Lorraine abt the shellmound for her heritage project. 

I like that Penny wants to provide her classmates with info about the mound. That's recent, and real, and people should learn about it. 

In the letter on Feb 10, 2015, Penny tells You that she had asked Sammy what her Ohlone heritage means to her. Sammy tells her that she has two heritages: German, who had come here 100 years ago, and Ohlone, who have lived here almost forever. 

Penny sees that Sammy is "starry-eyed and proud thinking about her heritage." Sammy tells her that her Ohlone heritage has a bigger part of her heart, that "you cherish something more when it's in danger of being erased."

Given that the two Ohlone tribal nations I've referred to in this thread seem to be the ones that Sammy might belong to, and given that both are working on federal recognition, Sammy's focus on erasure, without mentioning recognition, is a missed opportunity. 

It strikes me as the writing of someone who doesn't know much about sovereignty. Far too many ppl in the US think of Indigenous ppls as cultural groups rather than as sovereign nations. 

With "culture" as the framework, we get material aspects of life--like drumming and baskets--but not sovereignty. Indeed, sovereignty is THE most important attribute. 

In that same Feb 10 letter, Penny tells her mom and Sammy that Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace had told her about the shell mound. Her mom tells her that her and Sammy had been trying to protect her frm that sad story. 

But... earlier in the book when these grandma's were telling Penny about the mound, Penny told the she remembered going there before with her mom and Sammy and that she remembers "chanting" and drumming. Remember? 

Sammy goes on to tell her "the important thing to remember" is that the "Ohlone didn't disappear." that "A long time ago, people took our land. They made us live in the California missions. They tried to force us to forget our language and our customs and our stories."

This makes me wonder what Sammy told Penny when Penny was in third grade. Did she go to the school to tell Penny's third grade teacher anything? Also, those missions aren't really "California missions." They are Catholic missions in California. 

In Penny's letter on Sunday, March 22, she tells You that she had told Hazel her secret. "...I do not possess any Ohlone DNA, and that I had borrowed Sammy's heritage. Sammy is a relative by adoption and by domestic partnership only." 

Ohlone DNA? What is that? 

How are readers expected to interpret "Ohlone DNA"? Surely Sammy knows there's no such thing? 

A real Sammy would know there's no such thing. Does the author of LOVE, PENELOPE know? Or... has she fallen for the (false) promises of all those DNA testing services? 

A DNA test cannot tell you a specific tribe. For information on that, please read Dr. Kim TallBear's article, There is no DNA test to prove you're Native American and read her book, too [and tell others! The massive ignorance on DNA testing is something you can interrupt if you just take the time to share the information.] 

I'm reading quicker now, not noting as much of the Native content as I have been so far because it is kind of repetitive. 

In the letter on June 8, Penny tells You that she told Mr. Chen that she isn't Ohlone, that Sammy is her mom's domestic partner, and that Sammy adopted her. 

She also tells her mom and Sammy that she had "borrowed" (she uses that term throughout; I find it annoying) Sammy's Ohlone heritage. Sammy tells her to go ahead and talk about it because they are a family. 

Sammy asks Jenny "why do you have to say 'parent by domestic partnership'? Can't you drop a few words and just say 'parent'?" 

I like that correction. I wish Sammy asked Jenny to quit with the "50% Ohlone", too. But I don't think the author understands why that's not ok. 

On June 10, Penny does her presentation. The letter on June 26 is about the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, so, Penny's mom and Sammy plan to get married. On July 7, You is born and named Mary Joy, and the story ends. 

In the Acknowledgements, the author thanks Corinna Gould, an activist and educator in Ohlone culture, of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, but doesn't say what that person helped her with. 

And she thanks Linda Yamane, an Ohlone basket weaver, "for her beautiful basket in the museum." So, it doesn't seem that Yamane had a role in the book's content. In one of the letters Penny wrote, she described Yamane's basket. [It is important that students learn to read Acknowledgements with the same critical eye they read a book. This particular thanks (to Yamane) is odd. It tells us that Rocklin thinks that Yamane's basketry is important, but, ultimately, it means nothing for the quality of the Native content of Love, Penelope.] 

I'll end this twitter review of Joanne Rocklin's LOVE, PENELOPE. If you've read it over the last few days as I read Rocklin's book, you can guess that when this twitter review goes onto my blog, it will have a Not Recommended label. 

I haven't read reviews of it but my guess is that some people are pleased that Jenny has two mom's. That aspect of the story, some will argue, is so important that it matters more than problems with the Native content. Obviously, I disagree. 

Recently, many scholars and critics in children's and young adult literature are noting that an author carries the weight of their book, but there are others who play significant roles in a book getting published. 

In her Acknowledgements, Rocklin tells us her agent is Erin Murphy, and her editors are Susan Van Metre and Maggie Lehrman. From my point of view, their knowledge of Native peoples is lacking and contributed to the failures throughout LOVE, PENELOPE. Some will feel that the content of this thread and naming the agent/editors is "shaming" them publicly and that I should have written to them privately. 

Contacting them privately would help them, but it wouldn't help all the librarians who are selecting and deselecting books in their collections, and it wouldn't help teachers who, if they read this thread, might decide not to use the book. This review is not a "call" for the book to be withdrawn from shelves. It is criticism. It is not censorship. 

Criticism is not censorship. It is something writers study to improve their writing. I hope it proves useful to others.