Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Highly Recommended: REMEMBER by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Written by Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation)
Illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit Nation)
Published in 2023
Publisher: Random House
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Look at the book cover. Above the single-word title, REMEMBER, you will see the name of the author -- Joy Harjo -- and the illustrator -- Michaela Goade -- and in front of their names you'll see these words: "U.S. Poet Laureate" and "Caldecott Medalist." I'm beginning this critique with those words of distinction because they mark a moment in time that demonstrates the resilience and power of Native peoples. 

The words and illustrations once you start turning the pages embody that resilience and power. You'll see brilliance and brightness. Stillness. Tenderness. The connectedness between human beings, the earth, the skies, the elements, creatures of the land and sea. 

The page that makes my heart explode is this one:

The words there are:
Remember your birth, how your mother
struggled to give you form and breath.

You are evidence of her life,
and her mother's, and hers.
I won't say more about the contents of the book, because I want you to get a copy as soon as you can. I want the emotions each page generates to be your own. I think everyone should read each page, sitting with each one for a while and returning to the book or a page, again and again. 

I highly recommend Remember. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Highly Recommended: HEART BERRY BLING by Jenny Kay Dupuis; illustrated by Eva Campbell

Heart Berry Bling
Written by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Member of Nipissing First Nation)
Illustrated by Eva Campbell (Not Native)
Published in 2023
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


A few weeks ago, I saw a photo of a person at a conference posing with a copy of Jenny Kay Dupuis's new picture book, Heart Berry Bling. Today, I read an advance sample copy and am here to give it a Highly Recommended rating! 

Here's the description from the publisher's website:

On a visit to her granny, Maggie is excited to begin her first-ever beading project: a pair of strawberry earrings. However, beading is much harder than she expected! As they work side by side, Granny shares how beading helped her persevere and stay connected to her Anishinaabe culture when she lost her Indian status, forcing her out of her home community—all because she married someone without status, something the men of her community could do freely. 

As she learns about patience and perseverance from her granny’s teachings, Maggie discovers that beading is a journey, and like every journey, it’s easier with a loved one at her side.

In this beautifully illustrated book, children learn about the tradition of Anishinaabe beadwork, strawberry teachings, and gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

I'll start by saying that I love stories where a kid is with a grandparent because like many children, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. When the book is about a Native family, however, the content of the story adds to my emotional response to what I see on the pages. 

The story opens with Maggie and her dad in the car. When they park, they walk a while to get to her granny's house. As they walk Maggie hears the sounds of a city. That's important! There is a tendency to think that Native people lived long ago (we're still here!) and that they all lived on reserves/reservations or in rural places. Some did and do, but not everyone does. Showing us granny, in the city, is great!

When Maggie and her dad arrive at her grandmother's house, Maggie can smell the fry bread her grandmother made. On the kitchen table are granny's beads. Granny is on the phone, speaking Anishinaabemowin with her sister. All of these are markers--in print and illustration--of a Native home.

As the two sit on the couch to look at photos that have inspired granny's beading designs, Maggie asks her about a person shown in an old photo. Granny tells her:
"That's me. Back when I lived on the reserve."
She goes on to say that she married a man who wasn't First Nations, and under the laws that existed then, 
"I was stripped of my Indian status and had to leave the community."
Right there is when I paused in my reading, thinking about Native people like Maggie's grandmother, whose identity is taken from them. 

There are many ways in which this happens. There's a long history of social workers deeming Native parents "unfit" to care for their children. Their infants and children end up in foster care and white adoptive homes. There's also a long history of non-Native people thinking they had an ancestor who was Native, so they decide to claim that identity as if it is one within their lived experience. Some trot out a story of tragic separation but that story undermines the realities of the lived experiences of people like Maggie's grandmother. 

On the next page, Maggie's grandmother tells us more about the Indian Act. Maggie asks for more information. It is an outstanding page that I hope readers will sit with. 

As the story moves back to beading, I hear -- in Granny's words -- how beading helped her heal some of the pain she experienced due to the Indian Act. On the book cover we see Maggie looking into a mirror. She's wearing the earrings she made with her grandmother. 

So many teachings are embodied in those earrings! So many memories are sewn into them! From the shiny beads to the tears Maggie shed when she accidentally poked her finger with the beading needle, to Granny's life story... this is quite a magnificent story from Jenny Kay Dupuis! 

As I've noted before, we're seeing more extensive author notes than was the case in the past. In Heart Berry Bling we have a two-page note that tells us Granny's story is the story of the author's own grandmother. There's more details on what was lost when her status was taken from her. We also learn about First Nations women who fought that Act and were eventually able to get some changes to it in 1985, but it wasn't until 2011 that changes were made that made it possible for Jenny Kay Dupuis to have her First Nations status. More changes took place in 2017 and 2019. 

We need books from writers like Jenny Kay Dupuis--people whose families hold these brutal realities in their memory as something they lived through--and people across North America have so much learning to do about Native life and history, and about authenticity of storyteller and storytelling. 

Thank you, Jenny, for sharing this story with us. It is a story with difficult parts, but also the joy in this Native child and her Native grandma, being together!  

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Another New Cover for Frank Asch's POPCORN

Back on July 23, 2015, I wrote about Frank Asch's picture book, Popcorn. It came out in 1979 and is about Sam (a bear) who is having a Halloween party. 

It came out again in 2015 with marketing info that said "This refreshed edition of a beloved classic features the original text and art with an updated cover." For the 2023 edition, the promo line tells us that the book has been "...refreshed with new art..." 

Here's the three covers:

The refreshing that was done to the original cover was to remove the jack-o-lantern border and replace it with a yellow one. The refreshed new art for the 2023 version (due out in the summer) replaces the bear's costume. He's no longer dressed like an Indian. In the new edition he'll be a pirate. 

In the original, each guest brings popcorn that reflects their costume:

We know--based on the cover--that the interior pages where Sam is shown wearing a headband, feather, and loincloth will be changed, but I wonder about the other costumes. Will the one holding "Walrus Blubber Popcorn" be "refreshed", too? We'll see! 

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

"Could he still use the youth edition of 'An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States'?"

The title of today's blog post is from an article in The Washington Post. It came out yesterday (March 6, 2023). Its title is 'Slavery was wrong' and 5 other things some educators won't teach anymore.' Its subtitle is "To mollify parents and obey new state laws, teachers are cutting all sorts of lessons." Written by Hanna Natanson, it is a look at the experiences of six teachers. 

I encourage you to read the entire article. I'm focusing on Native content taught by two of the teachers. 

Greg Wickenkamp:
Greg Wickenkamp taught eighth grade social studies in Iowa. There, a new law had been passed in June of 2021 that barred teachers from teaching "that the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systematically racist or sexist." Unclear about how the law would impact him, he emailed the district when school started again in the fall, to give them a list of what he was teaching. The Washington Post article says they have copies of the emails. Because the article says "Could he still use the youth edition of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People?", I gather that An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People was on the list he sent to the district. The article includes a video, dated Feb 8, 2022, of Wickenkamp's conversation with the superintendent. The conversation centers on slavery. He wants to say that slavery was wrong but the way the law is written suggests that a statement like "slavery is wrong" is a "stance" and therefore not ok. At the end of the school year, Wickenkamp left his position as a teacher and is working on a PhD in Education. My guess is that a statement like "colonialism is wrong" would also be deemed inappropriate. 

Teacher in North Carolina:
The post does not disclose the teachers name because that teacher fears harassment. (Note: I know that fear. Many teachers and parents and librarians write to me about something but ask that I not share it or their name. They fear backlash on themselves or their children or family.) The teacher (of sophomores) taught excerpts from Christopher Columbus's journal, using the first chapter of Zinn's A People's History of the United States. A parent objected, saying it made her White son feel guilty. The district admonished the teacher and told them to stop the lesson on Columbus. They did, and at the end of the year, switched to a different school where they were able to teach those excerpts about Columbus. 


I am one of the people who brought forth An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People.  We know some teachers are using it in their classrooms and we know that some Native children carry it around everyday in their backpack. We know it matters, tremendously. 

I'm grateful to know about the teachers featured in the article. They are exercising leadership in their classrooms. There are many, across the U.S. They and librarians are under tremendous pressure. They need support. School administrators are afraid, too. When your school board is meeting to discuss what is taught in the classrooms, and what is on the library shelves, are you going to the meeting to voice support for teachers like the ones in the article? I hope so. 

Monday, March 06, 2023

Debbie--have you seen SWIFT ARROW by Josephine Cunnington Edwards?

Some time back, a reader wrote to ask if I had read Swift Arrow by Josephine Cunnington Edwards. It was published in 1997 by a publisher I was unfamiliar with: "TEACH Services." On their website is a page about their history. A paragraph from there:
On January 1, 1984, a small home in Harrisville, New Hampshire, became the maiden office of TEACH Services, Inc. The mission of the newly formed publishing company was to encourage and strengthen individuals around the world through the distribution of books that point readers to Christ. 
I see, there, that the author was a missionary to Africa. And here's a description of the book: 
Colored leaves, red, yellow, and brown, fluttered past George as he rode behind Woonsak in the long string of Indians and ponies. They were riding north and moving quickly. So many Indians moved along the path that George, who rode near the front of the line, could not see the end when he turned around to look. The farther they went, the more unhappy George became. For with every step, Neko (his faithful pony) took him farther and farther from his home and from Ma and Pa. Even the fluttering leaves seemed like little hands waving good-bye all the day long. So begins chapter seven of this beloved classic by Josephine Cunnington Edwards. George, a young pioneer boy is captured by Indians and raised as the son of a mighty chief. He spends his time learning the ways of these native Americans, and yearning for the day that he might find a way to return to his loving family.

The TEACH website offers a preview of the book. That same preview is available in Google Books. Historical fiction often has biased and anti-Indigenous words, so I sometimes do a search (that's an option in Google Books) on a particular word to see how it is used in the book. In Swift Arrow, I found:

"squaw" -- 20 times
"squaws" -- 18 times
"paleface" -- 13 times
"brave" (as word for male) -- 12 times
"papoose" -- 11 times
"redskins" -- 4 times
"firewater" -- 3 times
"savages" -- 2 times 

I also looked for the word "dance" to see how it is used. Classic and award-winning books often include deeply offensive depictions of what they call Indian dance/dancing. In Swift Arrow, George watches "several warriors" jump into the middle of a circle and begin "a strange dance" where they leap into the air, and howl. Then, "several more braves" jumped into the circle. As George goes to sleep, he listens to the "howling" and thinks about this "savage life." You see that sort of description in Little House on the Prairie, and Sign of the Beaver, and Touching Spirit Bear. 

As the description above notes, George gets captured by Indians. When he arrives at the village, a few "squaws" pointed at him and "a few reached up dirty hands to touch his light face and run their fingers through his curly hair." There's a lot to say about that particular scene but I draw your attention to the word "dirty." It is also commonly used in historical fiction, as if being dirty is a way of life for Native people. It wasn't. 

As I look at reviews, etc., I see that their chief, "Big Wolf" plans to make George--who is now called Swift Arrow--his son and future chief of the tribe. That sort of thing is seen in many works of historical fiction. An authority figure (in this case "Big Wolf") is choosing a white captive for a significant role in the tribe. Those storylines are examples of white supremacy. Knowing that the author was a missionary, it does not surprise me that she created that particular plot. 

If I decide to order the book I'll be back with a more in-depth review but right now, I am confident in saying that I would not recommend it. I wish this book was an outlier but I think the questions I've received about it point to it being used more and more within politically conservative spaces. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

"Presenter Self-identification Statement" at 2023 Tucson Festival of Books

Earlier this week within Native networks, I saw people sharing a link to a "Presenter Self-identification Statement" on the website for the 2023 Tucson Festival of Books. It says:
The Tucson Festival of Books takes no steps to verify, determine or otherwise confirm the race, ethnicity and or lineage of its authors, presenters or participants. All claims about history and ancestry of each person participating in the festival are entirely their own. Furthermore, the festival will not deny a qualified author admittance to the festival based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or genetic information. We follow the University of Arizona’s Nondiscrimination and Anti-harassment Policy which can be accessed here
I'd never heard of such a statement before at a book festival and asked (on social media) if this was new. From replies I've received so far, it is new.  On social media, people were sharing the link to the statement. I tried to find it on the festival website but can't find it on any menus.  Edit on March 1 at 12:53 PM Pacific Time: Thanks to a reader for help in locating the statement on the site. It is the last item in the 'About' section in the same row where you see "Authors/Get Involved/Sponsors." On my screen, the 'about' section doesn't show unless I tap the >> after the last item. 

The statement basically says that it is not the job of the organizers to verify, determine, or otherwise confirm the claims that an author, presenter, or participant makes regarding their identity. I am assuming that the statement is in anticipation or response to growing conversations in the US and Canada about the ways in which people state they are Native. 

When I started studying children's books in the 1990s there weren't many by Native writers. Some that were promoted as such were by writers whose claims to being Native were well known--in Native circles--to be fraudulent. A good example is the person who went by the name, "Jamake Highwater." His fraudulent claims were well known in Native circles.

So, I've known for a long time that people would claim to be Native and that other people would accept their claim. I accepted claims from people we hired when I was on the faculty at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. It was painful to realize that their claims could not be substantiated. 

Why did it become a conversation? Because people were talking about the two (Andrea Smith -- she claimed to be Cherokee, and Anthony Clark -- he claimed to be Meskwaki). That conversation led us to draft an "Identity and Academic Integrity" statement that says (note: I left UIUC in 2012):

American Indian Studies is committed to the highest standards of professional and scholarly conduct and the best ideals of academic freedom. We are also committed to developing strong and sustaining partnerships with people and programs in American Indian and Indigenous communities. These commitments will sometimes create tensions and might at times be in conflict, but we see them both as necessary to our conception of the work we do. Free academic inquiry helps us to test the limits of accepted wisdom, seek out new approaches to chronic problems, and recognize that being creative about the future might lead us to embrace people and ideas that have been in various ways excluded from the American Indian social and political world. At the same time, our commitment to partnering with people and programs in Native communities creates a need for us to make our work intelligible to a constitutive audience of that work. While we retain responsibility for defining the boundaries and limits of our scholarly and creative work, we also actively seek opportunities to be transparent in articulating what we do and why.

In such articulation, we recognize the importance of being able to identify ourselves clearly and unambiguously. Too often, we realize, American Indian studies as a field of academic inquiry has failed to live up to its potential at least in part because of the presence of scholars who misrepresent themselves and their ties to the Native world. While we do not in any way want to suggest that only Native scholars can do good scholarship in Native studies, neither do we want to make light of the importance of scholars who work in this field being able to speak with clarity about who they are and what brings them to their scholarship and creative activity. Indeed, we hope that our partners will subject us to whatever level of scrutiny they find appropriate as we seek to build bridges between the academic world and Indigenous communities.

[Adopted by American Indian Studies faculty, September 2010]

That statement is in the drop down menu in the Research tab. As a statement that is publicly available, it conveys the serious nature of claims to Native identity. Since then I've read excellent essays and watched videos in which the emphasis is not on an individuals stated claim to being Native, but on their relationships to the communities they claim to be part of. We quickly get into dicey spaces about being enrolled, disenrolled, ineligible to enroll, disconnected, reconnecting, and so on. 

In 2021 I started AICL's Native? Or, Not? A Resource List. I add to it when I come across an item that I think helps make it a better resource. I added to it yesterday (Feb 28). I'm trying to do (at least) two things with that list: provide the resources but also, demonstrate that this is not a new concern. My first public remarks about claims to Native identity were in 2008 at a conference at Michigan State. Some of the presentations were video taped and are available on YouTube. 

Returning, now, to the Tucson Festival of Books and their statement. It strikes me as a "not our problem" sort of thing. I think they're wrong. Any festival on this continent is taking place on Native homelands. 

The growing recognition of Native land can be seen in the growth of Land Acknowledgements. There's one on the Tucson Festival of Books "Happening" page. When you click on it you see this: 

It suggests that they are aligned with the university's statement. It reads:
We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O’odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service.  
I assume they'll have someone read it aloud at the opening of the festival. Are the organizers of the Tucson Festival of Books acting respectfully? I don't think so! Their "Presenter Self-Identification Statement" says that "All claims about history and ancestry of each person participating in the festival are entirely their own."  That "entirely their own" coupled with "takes no steps" is disappointing.

I think they could use words that convey an expectation of integrity in the claim. That expectation would more closely align with the respect conveyed in the land acknowledgement--especially if an author is claiming to be from one of the 22 Native Nations in Arizona. 

This post seems clear to me as I get ready to hit the publish button but it may not be! I welcome questions and comments. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Stereotypes in Beverly Cleary's HENRY HUGGINS

A Native parent wrote to tell me that they were reading Henry Huggins aloud at home. They got to chapter four ("The Green Christmas) and read this: 
In September he had been Second Indian in a play for the Westward Expansion Unit. That hadn't been too bad. He had stuck an old feather out of a duster in his hair and worn an auto robe his mother let him take to school. It was an easy part, because all he had to say was "Ugh!" First Indian and Third Indian also said "Ugh!" It really hadn't mattered which Indian said "Ugh!" Once all three said it at the same time. 
They talked about the paragraph, including that reference to a "Westward Expansion" unit. They decided not to continue reading Henry Huggins. My guess is that many of you read it in your childhood and didn't notice the problems with that paragraph. If you were reading it aloud, today, would you pause when you got to that part?


Henry Huggins was first published in 1950, with illustrations by Louis Darling. I was able to locate a copy from that year. Here's a screen capture of that page:

The parent who wrote to me did not mention the illustration that shows Henry with the feathers and robe (note that he has a stern expression on his face for that part but when he's being a tooth he's smiling), so I think they were reading a newer edition, like this one from the 2007 edition: 

There are no illustrations of Henry in his various roles in the 2007 edition. My guess is that someone decided they should not have an illustration of Henry as an Indian. But the passage? It is just as bad as the older illustration. No edits were made to the passage. I sure would love to see records of the conversation and decisions that took place! Read it without the paragraph. It would not impact the story at all if that paragraph were simply removed. 

I also found a 2004 edition, in Spanish, that has the old illustration:

And, I wondered about other books in which Beverly Cleary may have included stereotypical content. I looked at book covers and noticed Henry--in face paint--on the 1979 Dell Yearling edition of Henry and the Clubhouse:

In chapter three, "Trick or Treat," we see that Henry has decided to be an Indian for Halloween:

On page 70 are the details of what he did: 

On page 73, he goes to the living room to show his parents. His mother "pretended to be frightened at seeing an Indian and a wolf in the house." 

I see that, in 2004, Neil Patrick Harris did the audio book edition of Henry Huggins. I listened to chapter four. He reads that paragraph aloud. What do voice actors do with passages like that? Do they have the opportunity to talk it over with anyone involved in the audio recording? 


I wonder what might have happened if the child of the parent who wrote to me had been reading Henry Huggins in school? Would the teacher pause the read-aloud? Would they discuss it? If you or your child has had an experience like that with this book or any other one, please let us know.