Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dear Charlesbridge: It's not too late! Please do not release BEYOND THE GREEN

Saturday, July 18, 2018

Dear Charlesbridge,

It's not too late for you to make a decision about releasing Sharlee Glenn's Beyond the Green. From what I see, it is scheduled to come out on October 2, 2018.

This is an Open Letter, which means that I hope others will read it and think hard before publishing stories about fostering or adoption of Native children. Let me explain why I think you need to take this action.

In Beyond the Green, Sharlee Glenn is telling a story about her own life. When she was a child, her family took in a Ute baby. In her author's note, Glenn tells readers that the baby (Gina) was five months old. She doesn't give us details about how social services selected Glenn's family as a placement for Gina. And she doesn't tell us how Gina left their home to rejoin her Ute mother.

What she does tell readers is that "Before 1978, children like Dori [Dori is the fictional Ute child in Beyond the Green] who were removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse..."

Here's why that sentence is a problem. Some children are removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse. In every demographic in the US, there are parents who are neglectful or abusive of their children. For their safety, those children are appropriately removed from their parents homes. 

But!

Prior to 1978, Native children were being taken from their homes at astonishing rates. Were Native parents worse than others? Of course not. A four year investigation into these removals led Congress to pass the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In her author's note, Glenn tells readers a little bit about the law. I imagine that she thinks her note is helpful...

But!

Those readers will have read 230 pages of a White child's pain. Who causes that pain? ICWA and the Ute mother and grandmother.

The scant information in that author's note is not just thin--it is also incorrect. The most helpful action I can take right now is to ask people to read about the law from people who know what it says.

To start, take a look at the website of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. There, you will read that ICWA's intent was to protect the best interests of Native children, and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.

You can also read the section on ICWA in Matthew Fletcher's Federal Indian Law (2016). Fletcher is a lawyer, and a law professor at Michigan State University. Because his book is written in a way that I think is accessible to people who aren't trained as lawyers, I highly recommend it. Here's an extensive passage from the section about ICWA:
Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, after more than four years of hearings, deliberation, and debate, in order to alleviate a terrible crisis of national proportions—the “wholesale separation of Indian children from their families….” Hundreds of pages of legislative testimony taken from Indian Country over the course of four years confirmed for Congress that many state and county social service agencies and workers, with the approval and backing of many state courts and some federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officials, had engaged in the systematic, automatic, and across-the-board removal of Indian children from Indian families and into non-Indian families and communities. State governmental actors following this pattern and practice removed between between 25 and 35 percent of all Indian children nationwide from their families, placing about 90 percent of those removed children in non-Indian homes. 
In a 1973 federal case involving children arising out of the Hannahville Indian Community, Wisconsin Potawatomies v. Houston, a tribal expert witness, Dr. James Clifton, “testified that the assumption of jurisdiction in forced adoption by white courts is a matter of great bitterness among the Indian community.” Michigan Indians grow up with oral traditions and stories about the day that a state or church authority figure would show up at the family’s house to take away Indian children. In 1974, a representative of the Native American Child Protection Council, based in Detroit and serving urban Indians, alleged before Congress that state officials had engaged in the “kidnapping” of urban Indian children. By the 1970s, one out of 8 Indian children in Michigan were adopted out of their families and communities, a rate 370 percent higher than with non-Indians.
A critical aspect to the legislative history of ICWA is the “wholesale” and automatic character of Indian child removal by state actors nationally. As the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, William Byler, testified, the “[r]emoval of Indian children is so often the most casual kind of operation….” During the 1974 hearings, witness after witness would testify to the automatic removal of Indian children, often without due process. Byler testified that at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, state social workers believed that the reservation was, by definition, an unacceptable environment for children and would remove Indian children without providing services or even the barest investigation whatsoever. State actors made decisions to remove Indian children with “few standards and no systematic review of judgments” by impartial tribunals. A member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota testified that state actors had taken Indian children without even providing notice to Indian families, with state courts then placing the burden on the Indian parent to prove suitability to retain custody. The President of the National Congress of American Indians testified that a state caseworker came to an Indian woman’s house without warning or notice and took custody of an Indian child by force. Senator Abourezk, chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, stated after hearing much of this testimony: 
"[W]elfare workers and social workers who are handling child welfare caseloads use any means available, whether legal or illegal, coercive or cajoling or whatever, to get the children away from mothers they think are not fit. In many cases they were lied to, they given documents to sign and they were deceived about the contents of the documents."
More insidiously, state officials often arrived to take Indian children away from their families without any paperwork whatsoever. And then those children often were adopted by non-Indian families far from Indian Country, literally without a scrap of paperwork to conclude the deal. 
To remedy the problem, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act, a statute designed to guarantee minimum procedural safeguards for Indian tribes and Indian families in non-tribal adjudicative forums and to clarify jurisdictional gray areas between state and tribal courts. 

Because Beyond the Green is a semi-autobiographical story, Glenn and her publisher must think it is ok to put this book--with an alcoholic mother who leaves a five month old in a car while that mother gets "drunk as a skunk"--into the world, but I think it ultimately does more harm than good. It exploits a tremendous harm that was done to Native children and their parents. And, Beyond the Green foregrounds the pain of a White child and her family over the harm that was--and is--done to Native children and their families, at the hands of White people.

I have a lot more to say about this book, and may be back to do that. The parts about alcoholism and the part where Dori asks "what's a squash" are only two parts that I find very troubling. I've ordered Glenn's previous telling of this same story. In 1998, it was published as Circle Dance. 

For now, I am pleading with you, Charlesbridge, don't release Beyond the Green. 

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Debbie--have you seen WILLA OF THE WOOD by Robert Beatty?




A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Robert Beatty's Willa of the Wood. Published on July 10, 2018 by Disney Hyperion, a sneak preview of the first chapters was made available three weeks ago (mid to late June).  Willa of the Wood is set in the Great Smoky Mountains, in 1900. The book's description at Amazon does not say anything at all about Cherokees.... 

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.
To Willa, a young night-spirit, humans are the murderers of trees. She's been taught to despise them and steal from them. She's her clan's best thief, creeping into the log cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and taking what they won't miss. It's dangerous work, but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.
When Willa's curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to survive. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her human enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?
As forces of unfathomable destruction attack her forest home, Willa must decide who she truly is--facing deadly force with warm compassion, sinister corruption with trusted alliance, and finding a home for her longing heart.


But take a look at this excerpt of chapter 1 (source is The Laurel of Asheville): 
She came from a clan of forest people that the Cherokee called “the old ones” and told stories about around their campfires at night. The white-skinned homesteaders referred to her kind as night-thieves, or sometimes night-spirits, even though she was as flesh and blood as a deer, a fox, or any other creature of the forest. But she seldom heard the true name of her people. In the old language—which she only spoke with her grandmother now—her people were called the Faeran.
And this excerpt from the review at Kirkus tells us a bit about the Faeran:
Under the rule of the padaran, the old ways of speaking to animals and plants, foraging and caretaking, and using the old language are forbidden. Instead, Faeran children are forced to speak English and drafted into his fearsome army of trained hunter-thieves called jaetters, who must steal from the day-folk, or white homesteaders.
Those who know some Native history will see the parallel that Beatty seems to be developing. The "padaran" treat the "Faeran" a lot like the ways that Native children were treated in mission and boarding schools in the US.  Beatty's story--what I've seen so far--makes me uneasy. If I'm able to get the book, I'll be back with some thoughts on it.



Debbie--have you seen 24 HOURS IN NOWHERE by Dusti Bowling?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling.




It is due out on Sept 4, 2018 from Sterling Children's Books. Here's the description (from Amazon):
Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott, one of the best racers in Nowhere, comes to his rescue—but in return she has to give Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus agrees to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine, joined by his old friends Jessie Navarro and Matthew Dufort, and Rossi herself. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving everything from cave-ins to mountain lions, they bond over shared stories of how hard life in Nowhere is—and they realize this adventure just may be their way out. Author Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus) returns to the desert to create a gripping story about friendship, hope, and finding the power we all have within ourselves.

The description doesn't say that Rossi is Tohono O'odham, but the reviews do. The reviewer at Kirkus, said this:
Although Gus is careful to point out that Rossi is Tohono O’odham, and later Rossi reveals some factoids about her heritage, his fascination with her dark ponytail and her general inscrutability reinforce stereotypes—as does the obviousness of the setup.

On the Edelweiss site, I am able to see the first pages. The main character, Gus, is being held down by the bully, Bo and his sidekicks, Jacob and Matthew (p. 3-4):
"Let him go, Bo," a voice said from behind me. Not just any voice--an unusually deep, raspy voice. A voice I would recognize anywhere.
"Go away, Rossi. This doesn't concern you," Bo said.
"Yeah, this doesn't concern you." Matthew echoed Bo. 
"Yes, it does," Rossi said. "You're angry I beat you again this morning, so you're taking it out on someone smaller and weaker than you. You're pathetic."
I pursed my lips. "Not that much small and weaker," I muttered.
"You're pathetic," Bo said. "Why don't you do us all a favor and go back to Mexico?"
I gritted my teeth. I tried to turn my head out of his grasp, but he gripped my hair tighter.
"Are you for real?" Rossie said. "You do realize not all brown people are Mexican, don't you?"
"Oh, excuse me," Bo crooned. "Then go back to the reservation."
"Yeah, go back to the Navajos," Jacob added, and I heard him and Matthew snicker together. What a couple of suck-ups.
I ground my teeth so hard, it was a wonder they hadn't already turned to dust like everything else around us. "She's Tohono O'odham, not Navajo," I grumbled.
Those opening lines... "go back to Mexico" and "go back to the reservation" are spoken by bullies. We're not supposed to like those guys. In a way, they're a modern form of Mrs. Scott, in Little House on the Prairie, saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

With the "go back to Mexico" line,  Bowling (the author) is clearly playing on present-day politics and the hate that the current US president has emboldened in so many people. But does it work? If you happen to be Native, or if you happen to have roots or family in Mexico, those lines may sting.

I am also curious about the mine the characters go into. How is that mine presented?

When the teens are trapped in that mine and talk about their worst day ever, what does the Native character talk about? What about Jessi, who is Mexican American?

I've requested a copy of the book. If I get it, I'll be back with my thoughts on it.



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Alexis Blendel's essay on SHE SANG PROMISE: THE STORY OF BETTY MAE JUMPER: SEMINOLE TRIBAL LEADER


Editors note: Alexis Blendel submitted this review at the end of May, 2018. AICL is pleased to have her essay on She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader featured here. Alexis Blendel is one of the Seminole and Miccosukee teens who tweet from @OfGlades. 


****

Alexis Blendel's review essay of 
She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader

This is my last year of Florida Virtual School. Soon I will take a trip with my cousin to the Glades to visit the Big Cypress Reservation. My mother is originally from Hollywood, but I want to see the Glades again. It is a sacred place for Seminole people. It is an ecosystem where both alligators and crocodiles live. During many wars, the Everglades hid us from our enemies who were too scared to go there.

The history of my people in Florida is more complicated than I was taught by white teachers in school. They still have the conqueror’s hive mind. They are obsessed by the purity of what they call the original tribes of Florida. That’s a misunderstanding and a way to criticize our land rights and income. We are descendants of the Creek people. We lived for thousands of years as hundreds of tribes with the same linguistic family—Maskókî. Our families were free blacks and fugitive slaves. We are survivors of Spanish Missions. It is only the name Seminole that came later.

When I think about our history, I think about Betty Mae Jumper. Have you read this beautiful book about her?




She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, is by Jan Godown Annino; illustrations by Lisa Desimini. It is a book for young children. Like many Seminole stories, it is interesting and enjoyable for all ages.

The book is written like poetry. It is a creative telling of Betty Mae’s life. It starts in the Glades. In words and colorful images it shows what that kind of life was like.

An itchy black bear takes a palm tree scratch, leaving soft fur tufts that swamp mice fetch. Seminole women trailing patchwork skirts reach across chickee floors. 


This is a place of belonging and peace. Betty Mae Tiger is from there.



The baby, born in the wild heart of Florida,
daughter to Seminole Medicine Woman 
Ada Tiger, granddaughter to Seminole 
Medicine Woman Mary Tiger, is
Betty Mae Tiger.

I don’t like the word WILD. I’m not sure I like the word HEART either. There have always been wild plants and animals in the Glades and it is the heart of Florida Seminole country. But those words remind me of books by white writers, like Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I think She Sang Promise is a good book, but it also shows that a white writer will make some choices that a Seminole writer would not choose.

This book repeats a story I have heard from other sources. Betty Mae’s mother is from the powerful Snake Clan. As a matter of fact, Betty Mae will become the last living matriarch of the Snake Clan. Betty Mae’s father is a French trapper.  Elders believe that Betty Mae’s French father and her family’s Christianity gave her bad spirits: How-la-wa-gus. Some elders come to grab five year old Betty Mae away from her home in Indiantown, to throw her bad spirits in the swamp! Her uncle chases them away and her family packs up and takes her to live safely at the Dania Reservation in Fort Lauderdale.

Betty Mae told that story all her life. I wonder if the people in Indiantown were afraid--not of bad spirits--but of her white father having some control over them and coming into their community. When Betty Mae was born in 1923, white men had already done every terrible thing they could think of to Seminole people. Maybe that was the real How-la-wa-gus. No one that I know can say for sure.

My father is white and I don’t know him. Not because my mother’s family chased him away, but because he is not interested. I’m glad this book never uses the hate word ‘half-breed.’ I have been called that. I’m sure Betty Mae was called that many times. Some people think it’s a normal word to use.

She Sang Promise includes Seminole lessons about Little Turtle and the Wolf and Grey Bear. It talks about the food we ate, the medicine we used and the clothes we wore in the days when Betty Mae was young. The traditional patchwork long skirt is something white Floridians think of when they think of Seminole women. I wear this dress on certain occasions. I do not do it to entertain white people. I don’t live someplace where I can wear it naturally, every day. If I wore it every day, tourists would think I was doing it for them. 

I love seeing pictures of Betty Mae. She always dressed in Seminole style, as shown on the cover. The vibrant colors of the cover are reflected in the illustrations, which accurately show Seminole culture, throughout the book. 

Betty Mae saw people reading and she wanted to learn to read. The problem was that she wasn’t allowed to go to white schools in Florida and she wasn’t allowed to go to black schools either! White men made these decisions then, and they still do. You can see that in Florida schools today.

Betty Mae went to the Cherokee Indian Boarding School in North Carolina. Her teachers were Quakers. This was a good experience for her, unlike other Native children in boarding schools. She learned fast and skipped many grades. Then she went to Kiowa Teaching Hospital and trained as a nurse. Then,  


Betty Mae returns home to work with the 
people she loves on the land she loves. 

She becomes a nurse in Seminole country, like her mother, who was a Medicine Woman. These pages in the book are beautiful!


Betty marries Moses Jumper of the Panther clan. He is a star alligator wrestler. One day when he is sick, Betty Mae gets in the ring to wrestle alligators. Desimini's illustration of that will inspire children and make them laugh. Some animal rights people will not like it because they don’t understand Seminole culture.


Betty Mae grew up in a time of change for the Seminole. She accomplished many things. As an adult, 

Betty Mae travels throughout the Everglades.
Where families live, interpreting in two
Seminole languages—Creek and Mikasuki.
Working with the people to represent their
Choice, she helps set up a Tribal Council
In 1957.

She helps start Seminole Indian News in 1961.
She is an interpreter in courtrooms and
Emergency rooms.

She is a voice for her people. 

I feel such pride, reading about Betty Mae! Especially because, in 1967, Betty Mae is elected as the first woman Tribal Chairman! I’m glad that Annino calls her a Tribal Chairman instead of the Chief.

She Sang Promise was published the year I turned ten and I grew up with it. My mother read it to me many times. I think it was important for me to see this book.  Reading it now as a young woman, I see some things in it that I would want to change. I don’t like that it includes the Seminole name Betty Mae’s grandmother gave to her. I won’t write it here. In her lifetime, white people always asked Betty Mae, “What is your Indian name?” I think it’s none of their business.

I would still share the book with Seminole children. Betty Mae’s son, Moses Jumper, Jr. wrote the afterward. That means he respects the book. It’s important for Florida Seminole children to have role models and for everyone to realize that Seminoles are not just a college football team!

Sho na' bish for reading my review!

PS: If your children like this book, they will really like the book Betty Mae Tiger Jumper wrote. It is called Legends of the Seminoles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A #ChangeTheName Moment: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is now the Children's Literature Legacy Award

On Saturday afternoon, June 23, 2018, the board of directors of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The change took place immediately. It is now the Children's Literature Legacy Award.
Update on July 21, 2018 re board of directors: when I uploaded this post on June 26 I used "executive board" by mistake. Jamie Naidoo wrote to me about that error; I subsequently corrected it but didn't note the initial error. Whenever you see errors in my posts, please let me know! I'm happy to change them. 
Today, I was over at Roger Sutton's post on the name change, and saw that Julie Corsaro had submitted a comment about the use of executive board. She didn't say who had made that error. If she was talking about my post, she could have written to me directly. In a second comment about it, Corsaro wrote 
"I’m glad to see that the error was corrected regarding the ALSC Board of Directors as the primary decision maker; regrettably, the change was not acknowledged in context as scholarship demands. As a result, this error has been replicated by others not understanding that it is incorrect nor taking the time to understand the structure of the association.  
Today's update addresses her concern that the error was "not acknowledged in context as scholarship demands." I first came across Corsaro in 2015, when, Edi Campbell organized a group of us to work on what we call the We're the People summer reading booklists. We shared the list on social media. In a comment to one of the places where we shared the list, Corsaro suggested that its emphasis discriminated against White people. I wondered, then, who she was and learned that she served as ALSC's president in 2010-2011. She was also on the 2017 Wilder committee that selected Nikki Grimes to receive what is now the Legacy Award. 
I am including her comment about the list because it illustrates the status of children's literature. Lot of people think it is a land of warm fuzzies, but it is fraught with politics. It is always interesting to see where and how people with power and influence weigh in, and what they choose to weigh in on. That goes for me, too! There is no such thing as neutrality, and those who suggest there is are, knowingly or not, advocating for a status quo that misrepresents and marginalizes those of us who have made gains in recent years. 
The vote took place at the American Library Association's 2018 Annual Conference, held in New Orleans.

As I write, I am in the New Orleans airport and reflecting on what I believe to be one of the most significant moments in children's literature. When I have more time, I will write more about why it is significant. If you have not read the books since your own childhood days, please do. Most adults I work with do not remember these pages from the book:



Those two pages were in a talk I delivered for the President's Panel on Monday afternoon. I also talked about books written today in which characters imagine themselves to be captured by Indians. I will turn my talk into a blog post as soon as I have some time to do that. I was live tweeting from the ALSC meeting when the vote took place. In news articles you will likely see some of my remarks.

As is often the case with some of the posts here at American Indians in Children's Literature, I will keep a log of items specific to the topic at hand. I advocated for the name change and support ALSC's decision.

To learn more about the name change:

Start with ALSC's website. There you will find an announcement about the change, a link to the report from the Task Force charged with taking a close look at the merits of a change. They solicited input from ALSC membership. The report is thorough. Please read it.

Here's the ALSC page: Welcome to the Children's Literature Legacy Award home page.


****

TIMELINE

News outlets have done several news articles. I am also going to link to some individuals (like Melissa Gilbert, who played the part of Laura on the tv show) who have spoken up about the change. I will be adding to this list over the next few days. If you see articles that I did not list, please let me know in a comment (and let me know if any of what I've written doesn't make sense, or if there are typos). Adding a quick note: the curated list includes a wide range of responses, including some from conservative sources and people who disagree with ALSC's decision. Thanks!

Feb 27, 2018

American Indians in Children's Literature: Big News! A Possible change to the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award!


May 15, 2018

ALSC Awards Program Review Task Force Recommendation: Laura Ingalls Wilder Award


Saturday, June 23, 2018

ALSC Blog: Children's Literature Legacy Award #alaac18


Sunday, June 24, 2018
  • Video of Jacqueline Woodson, recipient of the 2018 Children's Literature Legacy Award (video played at 2018 Newbery, Caldecott, Legacy Award Banquet):




Monday, June 25, 2018
  • Melissa E. Gilbert (she played Laura on the Little House on the Prairie tv show) posted this to her Facebook page:
In my research for the musical and another Laura project I’m working on I’ve found it’s true. Caroline and many others were prejudiced against native Americans and people of color because they didn’t know or experience time around them. They were also very afraid of them. The native Americans particularly because they fought brutally. 
But let’s face it. We invaded their country, slaughtered thousands of them and stole their land. They fought back. 
It’s time for us to own that. 
In my opinion we need to have open discussions about historical atrocities to ensure they aren’t repeated. 
Especially in the current climate where a despotic dictator holds sway over so many people in our country. He feeds on people’s fears and hatred so wherever possible it’s incumbent on us to show people who we were and who we don’t ever want to be again. 
It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this but it’s a teachable moment.





June 26
  • A note from Debbie: I sure wish media would name ALSC rather than say 'book group'!
  • Another note: Overnight, the NYT changed the article title. I don't know why, or if that happens a lot, but this morning (June 27) it has a new title "Prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Renamed Over Racial Insensitivity." Here's a screen cap showing the first one, and the new one:   


June 27, 2018

June 29, 2018

July 3, 2018

July 5, 2018


July 6, 2018

July 7, 2018

July 9, 2018

July 10, 2018

July 19, 2018

Monday, June 18, 2018

Update to AICL's Review of THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex

On February 12, 2015, I reviewed The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. On May 7, I reviewed the sequel, Smek For President. 

On February 14 of 2018, Adam Rex said on Twitter:

Yesterday I posted a thread about my industry. In response, @debreese suggested I talk about my book The True Meaning of Smekday. It's a funny alien invasion book, but it's also intended as a satire and critique of colonialism. And I have regrets about it.

In my effort to write a satire and critique of colonialism, I made mistakes that undermined my message. Reese enumerated these mistakes better than I can here. I encourage you to read her reviews of my book and its sequel.


I'm grateful for Rex's public remark and placed it on AICL so those who read AICL can see it.


Saturday, June 02, 2018

PBS's GREAT AMERICAN READ has books with stereotypes of Native ppl....

PBS did a "Great American Read" project recently. Their list of 100 most-loved books doesn't have a single Native writer on it.

Stereotypes of Native people are in some of those books... 

But the list doesn't have a single Native writer on it.

What does that tell you?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Debbie Reese's Twitter Threads about Nora Raleigh Baskin's Ted Talk

Eds. Note on June 8, 2018: Please see updates at the bottom of this post. Today (June 8) I am adding a link to Mia Wenjen's "Own Voices Controversy" post. She does a marvelous job of connecting threads between White Fragility, Nora Raleigh Baskin's Ted Talk, my response to it, Laurie Halse Anderson's tweets in support of critical analysis of children's books, and David Bowles analysis of Latinx books on the 2017 CCBC website. 


_____

On May 21, 2018, writer Nora Raleigh Baskin did a Ted Talk. I was tagged by the person who loaded the talk to YouTube.



The text of the tweet is this:
"Please watch @noraraleighB's @Tedx talk given at my event. Powerful words about not censoring artistic voice. Discuss, contest, argue if you must but watch it! @ncte @aasl @debreese @triciaebarvia @ToriBachman @amandapalmer"
Baskin's talk is titled "Artists Mustn't Fear the Social Media Call-Out Culture." The description on Youtube is this:
When voices on the internet become so loud and so vitriolic that artists are afraid to experiment and make mistakes, something very dangerous is happening in our society. Award-winning author, Nora Raleigh Baskin, goes on a journey of self-discovery in order to illuminate a disturbing online trend that threatens the power and freedom of creative expression. Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of thirteen novels for young readers and a contributor to two story collections. She has been published in WRITER MAGAZINE as well as the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. Her books have won several awards, including the 2010 ALA Schneider Family Book Award for Anything But Typical and a 2016 ILA Notable Books for a Global Society for Ruby on the Outside. Nora has taught creative writing to both children and adults for over fifteen years with such organizations as SCBWI, Gotham Writers Workshop, the Highlights Foundation, and most recently in Westport at The Fairfield Co. Writer’s Studio. Her latest, Nine/Ten: A 9/11 Story was reviewed in the New York Times and has received starred reviews, from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.
And here is the talk:



Because I was tagged, I thought that perhaps Baskin wanted me to see the video. I thought that maybe she mentioned my post about her book, The Summer Before Boys. So, I listened to her talk. She didn't mention my post. Instead, her talk struck me as one primarily about criticism, broadly speaking. After listening to it, I did a threaded Twitter reply on May 22. I am pasting that reply, here. (Note: The light gray highlight on all the pasted tweets is how tweets look when you copy them.)

First Twitter Thread:

You're right, , writers need not "fear" being called out for misrepresentations of marginalized peoples in your books. They can view it as an opportunity to listen, to hear, to make different choices.

But--the way that you characterize those who speak up says a lot about how you view us.

What you did, speaking that way, works for some people. It gives them comfort. Is that what you meant to do?

When you were called out on American Indians in Children's Literature for having a character who imagined someone as an "Indian captive" whose family had been scalped... [Note: I added this photo to that tweet. ]



... being called out, you said, kept you "up all night" tossing and turning, and that you had your eyes opened.

Then on January 25, 2018, you said that you worked with your editor and that the reprint would have changes. I'd like to see the change. Can you do a screen cap, , and send it to me?

I'm glad, honestly, that you were up all night tossing and turning. I know that Native children who were asked to read your book--or who chose to read it--had a hard time reading those words. They likely didn't sleep well, either.

With that in mind, can you see why people would speak up, sometimes with anger, about misrepresentations and their impact on their own children? Or, on children in their classrooms?

In a response to , sent this example of what she's referring to, and, I was... puzzled. (TW for contents of what she shared.) [Note: I included this screen cap of what Nora said to Sarah, which was "Not sure I completely understand all of your tweets to me...but yes, that is how exactly I describe them. I am attaching a very small sampling which I hope serves as an example of what I am referring to (it was directed to a female POC, if that matters)." The sample Nora sent to Sarah is "I wonder why this slut doesn't go back to India and let guys throw acid in her face...that must be as much fun as the wonderful life of rape, torture, bearings, hangings, blindings and erasure of religion, family history and dignity black Africans endured for over 400 years by their Jewish and Christian slave masters."



Puzzled, because that kind of horrendous comment is not what I see my colleagues saying when they are critiquing misrepresentations. Do you, Nora, really equate criticism with that kind of comment?

Second Twitter Thread:

Nora did not reply to anything I said. Later that day (the 22nd of May), I did another thread:

You know--Nora Raleigh Baskin's Ted talk is not 'new' at all. White people have been writing problematic books forever, and getting called out for doing so, forever.

They sound alarms as if their livelihood and freedoms are in peril.

A couple of years ago, another White writer, Deborah Wiles came to a dinner I was at, and expressed concerns about criticism of her book, REVOLUTION.

Like Nora, she seemed to suggest that criticism of misrepresentations when an author is writing outside of their own experience, is new. It isn't! In 1996, Kathryn Lasky wrote an article titled "To Stingo with Love: An Author's Perspective on Writing outside One's Culture."

Lasky called critics "self styled militias of cultural diversity". Her essay is in Fox and Short's "Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children's Literature", published in 2003 by the National Council of Teachers of English.

In my work, I point to the history -- Native history in particular -- when Native people have said 'no' to misrepresentations. See, for example, this item written in 1829:

You White Writers seem to think you and your work are at risk, and so, you do these Ted talks, and laments on social media, and articles, etc.... And your buddies and like-minded folks gather round and talk about how brave you are.

Frankly, I'm embarrassed for you. And frustrated, too. Your cycles of this... bullshit are why we keep having these problems of misrepresentation! Instead of telling each other 'DON'T SCREW THIS UP' you tell each other "you meant well" and so... there we go again.

The never-ending cycle of misrepresentation and the harm it does to children AND to other writers is on YOU, Nora Raleigh Baskin, and YOU, Deborah Wiles, and YOU, Kathryn Lasky and... I could name a few more, but the point is...

Rather than doing TED talks about how art and expression, own the fact that you can do BOTH. You can do art, and express yourself, and do it well! Do right by ALL your readers. Do right for ALL children.

And as for calling us vitriolic or fervent —- Have you no grasp of history? What would you have said to women who burned their bras?! Who raised their voices? Who put pen to paper to fight for their rights? To vote?! Really, Nora, would you scold them, too?

By the way, I see you over on Facebook, talking about how you are taking a “beating” on Twitter. People are holding you accountable for your Ted talk. Should they not?

Third Twitter Thread:

On the 23rd of May, Nora shared (on Twitter and Facebook), a screen cap of an excerpt of her talk.





I took it to mean that she felt that my focus on criticism (and others, too, because other people responded to the Ted talk) was not fair. To make sure I didn't miss something, I listened to her talk again and tweeted as I did. It was a long thread. Here's that series:

Every word is read/heard by a reader/listener who may or may not think like you do, Nora. Maybe that is why you cannot understand what people are saying. You think that passage tells us that you support diversity, but...

... other things you said tell us a whole lot, too. Those other things make those passages about diversity feel empty. Disingenuous. They look and sound like a shield you're using to say those other things.

You started by talking about how you stumbled on a Twitter feed of another author. It sent you through a cycle of emotions: angry, sad, worried, and then afraid for yourself, and for art, and artists and for the power and freedom of creative expression.

That writer was describing her choice not to write a book she cared about because she didn't belong to the marginalized group imagined in her story. Then, people chimed in, praising her bravery. And someone said "it's time to cede the floor" and...

... then, you said that part about marginalized groups not having had opportunities to write their own stories, and "as a result their stories have often been littered with dangerous and pervasive stereotypes, their lives and histories misrepresented or erased."

It is "a huge issue" you said. Why, you wondered, was this response to that author bothering you? You figured it out when you looked at your own journey as a writer. When you wrote stories about your own experiences, you felt like you were cheating.

I'd like you to sit with that a while. It is cheating to write about ones own experiences? What does that say to Native writers who write about their own experiences? Do you mean to tell us they're cheating when they do that?

Using yourself as a main character, you said meant you weren't having to stretch your imagination. After six bks you secretly believed you couldn't call yourself a writer because you were the main character in those books.

So -- you decided it was time to take a risk to see if you could be a real writer, a real artist. It was 2007 and autism was all over the news. So you created a 12 year old boy with autism. It was things you yourself are not.

You went on to say you weren't trying to speak for autistic people, and you weren't trying to be a doctor or a teacher or policy maker or social worker. You were writing about one boy, one fictional character you had brought into the world.

You hoped his small story would speak to a larger universal truth: "accept me for who I am." It won the Schneider, and because it did, you thought that you "might be a real writer, a real artist" who wasn't creating you, again, as a character.

You said you had done what artists do: look deeply at themselves and the world around them and reflected something meaningful about humanity. Then, you jumped ahead to 2013 and your book, 9/10, a September 11 story.

For it, you wanted to create four characters, and "make them as different as I can so I can reveal how similar they actually are." That goal, Nora, makes me nervous because it seems to erase the real lives of people who have the identities of your four characters.

Yes, you created those four characters, and in some part of each of them you see reflections of you and your experiences. That's fine, but, it feels rather convenient and superficial.

There's a pervasive desire from white writers for a "let's all get along" world where under the skin, everyone is really the same. And because we're all the same in that world, you inadvertently take a swipe at .

You then go on to say you had your books vetted by people who have some experience or are from the groups the characters are from. It is good to do that. But I think the industry has to do more than that.

I'm trying to put this thought into my head into some coherent words... You know how survey questions can be deliberately written in ways that lead people to answer in a certain way? That's what I'm thinking about re vetting/sensitivity readers.

Who they are, how they're chosen, and how they're asked "to read" are important.

I'm not saying you mislead your readers. I mean that, as an industry, we seem not to be getting anywhere in the current "sensitivity reader" moment.

One thought I have as I listen to your Ted talk is that you might inadvertently suggest that vetting and sensitivity readers are going to fix it all, for everyone. But, what gets fixed is highly dependent on many factors.

From there you talk about the work. Of being able to know what you don't know. And that you have to ask yourself if you would be brave enough, "in this heated, angry, bifurcated, social media call-out culture" to have written any of those books?

Your answer, you said, is "I don't know." As I noted yesterday, being criticized for misrepresentations is not a new thing. Social media does make criticism more visible than it ever was before. You see that as a bad thing.

People sharing their emotional responses to misrepresentations, using social media to do that sharing... is not a bad thing, Nora. For sure, it is uncomfortable for the person whose work is being criticized.

And as we've all seen, some people really (to use your FB comment) take "a beating" for the things they say or write.

What you're doing, in characterizing criticism in the ways that you did, is telling people who speak up, HOW they should speak up.

And, might you be telling writers not to listen to "angry" criticism or criticism that makes them uncomfortable?

After that, you talk about how the industry needs to publish more books by minority writers, and if them getting published comes at the expense of your work, "that's how it needs to be." On the surface, that sounds heroic (and tragic), but...

... it is an odd thing to say. You suggest there's a finite number of books that will get published. Is that true? I know for sure that writers from marginalized groups hear "we already have our __ writer" (and don't need YOU, too). Has such a thing ever been said to you?

At the top of your talk you said you'd been rejected a lot before your first book got published, so, maybe it was said to you.

You went on to talk about how the decision of what gets published, what gets bought and what sells "never belonged to the writer."

That power, you said, belongs to the industry, to the publishers, to the editors, to the agents, to the sales and marketing departments, to the big chain booksellers, to the gatekeepers.

"Money and economic factors dictates that market and and it is going to take a united effort to combat those much larger, deeply rooted and complicated issues." I'm a bit lost in your comments at that point.

You follow that with "But when voices on the internet become so loud and so angry and so vitriolic that artists become afraid to experiment, to make mistakes, to be creative, to push boundaries, to do what writers do, to write what they feel passionately about..."

"... then we should all be afraid. Afraid of a world where writers are considered brave for not writing and angry at a society where artists are berated and at times punished for trying to tell a story that speaks to them from a very deep place that few of us can even..."

"...define, and saddened by the message that there is a limited number of spaces at the table and the only way for one story to be told is for another to be silenced." That's the dramatic part of your Ted talk. Some are moved by it, and many others are giving you a side eye.

You speak as if writers are in peril. But if you look at the CCBC stats, clearly that is not the case. More stories about Native/POC are written by people who are not of those groups than --AND they are published by the Big Five. You're in that Big Five category.

As if often the case when something like you've said appears and is criticized, you invite hugs from those who like what you're saying, and pointed questions from those who think you're doing that white fragility thing that gets done, a lot.

Then, you say that one of the most meaningful and powerful things you discovered when you wrote that book about a boy with autism was "completely unexpected." You had "successfully created a character" that wasn't you, when you thought you had "finally become an artist..."

You said that you "took a step back" and saw how much of you is in that character and how much of him is in you. With these remarks, you're echoing what you said earlier about similarities. I didn't and do not like that sort of thing.

Then you said that you and that character know what it feels like to be unseen and unheard. Nora--that's a doozy right there because that is the reality of minority writers who can't get published, much less get in with the Big Five publishers.

Many are asked to rewrite their manuscripts, to make them more acceptable to a white reader. Their real lives aren't seen, and can't be seen, because they're asked to make the books less Native. Or less Black. Or less Latinx.... Less, less, less.

I assume you know that the term for that is "writing for the white gaze." You, Nora, are not unseen or unheard. Hearing you say that is part of why people on the internet are talking about your Ted talk.

Goodness... your next words are about how you and your character both dissociated when the world around you becomes too scary. I understand. Some things, by virtue of what they are, are not visible. But hearing you speak of a world that is too scary for you... gosh.

You and your character, you say, struggle to fit into this world, but neither of you really wants to. You are both human beings, you said, and what you learned "so profoundly" is that "we are all uniformly human in uniquely human ways."

With those words, you're doing that "more alike than not" thing, when it just is NOT the case. Pretty words, but not true. And astonishing in their pretense. A dangerous pretense, Nora.

Then, you backpedaled a bit, saying "of course I can't fully know what it is to be diagnosed autistic or to be African American or to be a white teenager from Shanksville, Pennsylvania."

And then, "I'm still trying to figure out what it means to be me but what I do know and what I can write about is the universal desire for identity and belonging and I need to be free to use as many paintbrushes as possible to try and create that picture..."

"...with the hope that one day I will get closer to the truth, to a truth, in one particular moment in time." Again--pretty words, but what is that truth? It seems to be one that rests on that "we're all the same" idea.

Then, Nora, you say "Artists cannot cede the floor because they do not stand on the floor. They look at themselves and at the world in which they are living and they speak in many voices." I see you're using some writerly metaphoric words there as you finish your talk.

"Writers stare out the window" you say. "They push open the door. They look up at a ceiling poked so full of holes you cannot tell where the earth ends and where the sky begins." Some echoes of Sims Bishop's windows/mirrors/sliding glass doors, and I guess that glass ceiling?!

"And when it's done well, when it's honest and true and done without fear, what we are forced to see is ourselves and we may see something we like but better yet, something we don't." That's it. End of your Ted talk.

I hoped this would be helpful to you, Nora, so shared the thread link to your ongoing FB post. But now you blocked me.


David Lubar's Facebook Post

On May 25, a Newbery medalist did a thread on twitter, about the importance of criticism. She ended her thread with some words supporting my work. She tagged me. I appreciate her thread and thanked her.

Then on May 26, another writer did a thread on twitter, and she ended with a statement of support for me, too (and tagged me). I wondered what was up. Then, this morning (May 29), a friend sent me a link to David Lubar's Facebook page, where (on May 24) he said this (he said a lot more; this is just the first sentence):
Once again, a writer has been the subject of an over-the-top assault by Debbie Reese. 
There, I read that many people felt that my tweets were an attack on Nora. Some mentioned that I had tagged her on every tweet. I went back to twitter to see, and saw that she was, indeed, tagged on every tweet of the third thread. But--that thread started as a reply to Nora. So, Twitter was doing auto-tag and I didn't notice it. If I had, I would have untagged her after the first tweet-reply. I apologize for not having untagged her, but I did not apologize for what I said.

Many people on David Lubar's page are saying that they agree with my criticisms, but not with how I say them. Jordan Sonnenblick said I was "nasty." I've asked him to give me examples of the "nasty" things I've said. He said he'll look for them.

The point of this particular post is to pull my threads into a single place, for my own needs, but for those who might be commenting but haven't seen what I said. I am confident that some will read them and come away thinking "Jordan is right, she's nasty."

Where one stands shapes how they respond to someone else's words. I responded to Nora's words, honestly, because I believe she spoke, honestly, in her Ted talk. She has not contacted me privately or on social media. As noted above, she blocked me on Twitter (and on Facebook, too).

Nora--I'll say again, that I hope you will read and think about what I said. I listened to your talk, twice. I take your words (all words all writers write) seriously because you are creating books for children who will be shaped by your words.



Update on Wednesday, May 30, 2018

David Lubar deleted his Facebook post.


UPDATE, May 31, 2018

On David Lubar's page, on Tuesday, May 29th (before he deleted it), Jordan Sonnenblick gave an example of how I had been "nasty." It was in this tweet, which I am copying from above:
Goodness... your next words are about how you and your character both dissociated when the world around you becomes too scary. I understand. Some things, by virtue of what they are, are not visible. But hearing you speak of a world that is too scary for you... gosh.
Jordan said that that tweet is an example of how I am "nasty" because at that point in the talk (at the 12:31 minute mark), he thinks Nora was referring to things she had said ten minutes earlier (at about the 2:35 minute mark of the video). Early in the video, she talked about her mother's suicide and being kicked and punched by her stepfather.

I didn't make that connection when I listened to the video.

As I listened to her talk about being in a world that "is too scary", my own thoughts went to being racially profiled by a sheriff in Oklahoma, afraid for my daughter's safety (she was in the car; the sheriff had asked me to get out of our car and took me several feet away from the roadside to ask me a series of questions that indicated he thought I was not in this country, legally). I thought about Native and People of Color whose experiences with police have ended with jail and too often, death. I can see why Jordan thought I was insensitive in saying "gosh" to Nora's expression of fear. On David's post, I apologized to Nora (I assumed she was reading or being told about the conversation). Later, Jordan said that I had apologized for mistreating Nora. I did not "mistreat" her and said that I did not want my apology for that part to be construed or interpreted as an apology for "mistreating" her. I was, honestly, acknowledging what I had missed as I listened to Nora's talk.

As far as I know, she has not said anything publicly about it. As for characterizing me as "nasty" -- Many people know "nasty woman" entered public conversations during the presidential campaign when trump said that Hilary Clinton is "a nasty woman." He meant it in a denigrating way but some people claimed it as a badge of honor. I think Jordan used it like trump did and hope that his friends mention it to him.


Update: May 31 at 7:47 PM

Friend and colleague, Mike Jung, pulled together a list of the words/phrases some writers used to describe me on David Lubar's Facebook post. Mike wrote:
In a since-deleted FB post, people used the following words to criticize a diversity advocate for being "unkind": 
Nasty 
Toxic 
Passive-aggressive 
"Off the rails" 
"A wonderful antagonist" 
Bully 
Racist 
Ass 
Asshole
I repeat: these are people demanding kindness.

For those who don't follow children's/young adult literature, some writers periodically use "kind" or "kindness" to push back on criticism. Mike's post shows their kindness in action.

Update, June 8, 2018:
Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom) did a blog post that situates Baskin's talk within DiAngelo's writing on White Fragility: Own Voices Controversy