Wednesday, July 15, 2020


On social media and in some newspapers, people are talking about a documentary about Laura Ingalls Wilder that is in development.

I've done a lot of writing about the books and Wilder. I am not a fan. I think they've got many problems that are not seen as such by most readers.

I've pulled a lot of my materials on Wilder out, and thought some AICL readers might be interested in seeing the original illustrations done by Helen Sewell, compared to what Garth Williams did. I'm using a hardcover copy of the Sewell book. I don't have the book jacket, but for your reference, it looked like this:

Little House on the Prairie: Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Illustrated by Helen Sewell.

Most of the books that have illustrations by Williams have the cover shown below (a notable exception was one that showed a photo of a little girl meant to be Laura).

So--here you go! I'll number the side-by-side photos as I place them here. If you want to, submit comments below and refer to the photo number when you refer to a specific one. Apologies for the rough quality of the photos! I don't have lighting or equipment to do a professional-looking presentation of the books. Today you'll see photos of the cover thru end of the first chapter. I'll add others as time permits.

As you'll see when you scroll down, I'm trying to match text on page whenever either book has an illustration. Why did Sewell make decisions she did? Or Williams? How much autonomy did they have? How much was determined by Wilder? Or by the book editor? Or by the art department?

I welcome your thoughts and if you can point to writings about any of this, please do! And if you use these for your own writing, please cite me (Debbie Reese) and AICL.


COVER (on left is Sewell; on right is Williams).

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My only observations at the moment for chapter one are that the Williams edition has more illustrations than the Sewell one. Four illustrations of the wagon versus one illustration of the girls clinging to their rag dolls. Quite different in tone, isn't it?

Update: July 29, 2020--Back to add photos of illustrations in chapter two, "Crossing the Creek"

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Observations: The Sewell edition has no illustrations in chapter 2. The Williams one has illustrations on four pages. Three of the four have the wagon, and Williams is bringing a visual emotional tone of danger and loss to the story.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Open Letter to Roger Goodell, from American Indians in Children's Literature

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Roger Goodell, Commissioner
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Goodell,

We write to you today as the editors of American Indians in Children's Literature. Established in 2006, AICL is widely recognized in Education, Children's Literature, and Library Science for its analyses of representation of Native peoples in children's books. 

We hold PhDs in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois and we have taught in public and private schools, and in universities and colleges. A primary emphasis of our work as educators is helping others recognize stereotypes of Native peoples in children's books. We believe that the Washington NFL team mascot enables similar mascots in professional and collegiate sports and in K-12 schools. As the images below demonstrate, stereotypes in children's books look a lot like the mascots. There are many examples like this: 

We agree with the requests put forth in the letter from Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, and the growing list of Native leaders who are signing their letter. The requests are:
  1. Require the Washington NFL team (Owner: Dan Snyder) to immediately change the name R*dsk*ns, a dictionary defined racial slur for Native Peoples.
  2. Require the Washington team to immediately cease the use of racialized Native American branding by eliminating any and all imagery of or evocative of Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise including the logo. This includes the use of Native terms, feathers, arrows, or monikers that assume the presence of Native American culture, as well as any characterization of any physical attributes.
  3. Cease the use of the 2016 Washington Post Poll and the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey which have been repeatedly used by the franchise and supporters to rationalize the use of the racist r-word name. These surveys were not academically vetted and were called unethical and inaccurate by the Native American Journalist Association as well as deemed damaging by other prominent organizations that represent Native Peoples. The NFL team must be held accountable to the various research studies conducted by scientists and scholars which find stereotypical images, names and the like are harmful to Native youth and the continued progress of the wellbeing of Native Peoples.
  4. Cease the use of the offensive, racial slur name “R*dsk*ns” immediately, and encourage journalists, writers and reporters to use the term in print only by using asterisks "R*dsk*ns" and to refer to the term verbally as the “r-word”.
  5. Ban all use of Native imagery, names, slur names, redface, appropriation of Native culture and spiritually as well as violence toward Native Peoples from the League.
  6. Apply the NFL’s “zero tolerance” for on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs to all races and ethnic groups, especially Native Peoples.
  7. Complete a full rebranding of the Washington team name, logo, mascot, and color scheme, to ensure that continuing harm is not perpetuated by anyone.
Item #5 is especially important. The University of Illinois retired its mascot in 2007, but not its name ("Fighting Illini"), and there was no effort to introduce a new mascot for the team. The result is that many alumni and students have nothing to shift their attachment to, and in that void, they continue to use and call for the reinstatement of "Chief Illiniwek."

As parents of Native children, we have first-hand knowledge of how mascots impact Native lives. Research done by Davis, Delano, Gone, and Fryberg demonstrates the need to let go of these mascots. You may already be aware that the American Psychological Association (APA) recommended retiring all "American Indian" mascots and imagery in its 2005 resolution on the topic, as did the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 2007.

The time for decisive action is long past, and we hope you will take that action, now.

Debbie Reese
Tribally enrolled: Nambé Pueblo
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Jean Mendoza
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Sunday, May 10, 2020

AICL Making A Difference

AICL Making A Difference
Posted by Debbie on May 10, 2020

The emails I get from parents, teachers, librarians, and professors about how they used a post (or several) from American Indians in Children's Literature to speak up to problematic texts being used in schools... those emails give me such a lift! I read one of them this morning.

I started AICL in 2006. Reading old and new books with wonderful content also gives me a lift. But--for those wonderful books to be embraced, people have to realize that a lot of books they adore have terrible Native content that shapes what they think they know about Native people. Reading those books and finding the words to say "this is not ok, and here's why" is hard work. I've pushed through emotional and intellectual fatigue again and again (there's over 1000 posts on AICL), but earlier this year (before COVID), I had reached the point that I needed to step away for a while, to recharge. As some of you know, Jean Mendoza joined me at AICL in 2016 and has been posting reviews. I'll return to reviews as soon as I can. In the interim, I might upload some brief posts that say "recommend" (or not recommended) and that a review will be forthcoming.

In the meantime... if a post at AICL has been helpful to you in your work, let us know. Two things sustain me: photos of children in my family (they are the audience for the books reviewed here on AICL) and hearing from you (and how you will/will not use a book with children).

I'll close this post with some personal photos. I spend most of my days making face masks for the local hospital's distribution project. And I go for walks with my dear husband and take photos of plants and animals we see. I miss my daughter and her partner! And my mom! And my siblings! Sewing masks and going on walks help me pass the hours but gosh I want to get on the road and walk into their homes and laugh and eat and do all the things we do.


I took this photo of these baby geese and their mother today at Boneyard Creek in Champaign. I got to wondering why the creek is called Boneyard and looked over at Wikipedia... that paragraph about Indians.... Research for another day.

Image may contain: grass, outdoor, nature and water

This photo is early morning after a night of hard rain. We saw lot of those trails that earthworms make as they crawl out of rain-soaked earth. I intended to get home and crop out the right half of the photo. But I loaded the entire photo to Facebook and realized that the camera's auto-focus on honed in on the tree branches reflected in the puddle. People were intrigued by the accidental composition of earth and sky and everything in between. 

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature

Most of my photos are of flowers. Ones on plants and ones on trees. They're all so gorgeous! All photos are taken with my iPhone, by the way. This one is done using the "portrait" mode. I finally figured out how to use it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Recommended: Inconvenient Skin by Shane L. Koyczan

Inconvenient Skin/nayehtawan wasakay
Written by Shane L. Koyczan 
Cree translation by Solomon Ratt
Illustrations by Nadya Kwandibens, Jim Logan, Kent Monkman, Joseph Sanchez
Published in 2019
Publisher: Theytus Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Recommended

"The cure will take as long as the sickness, and the sickness isn't yet over." (Shane Koyczan)

Inconvenient Skin is a message, in the form of art works and poetry in English and Cree, to the people and government of what is currently known as Canada. It's a message about a shameful part of the Canadian past that continues to infect the present: its residential schools for First Nations children. Although Skin is "about" Canada, its main message is relevant in what is currently called the United States. It speaks back fiercely against the notion that Native people, or settler-colonizer descendants,  should "get over the past," forget historical horror and injustice, and move forward while still in denial.

The book was inspired, if that's the right word, by the discouraging net result of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The commission was convened in 2008 to study the history and legacy of the residential schools. Its work included gathering (often traumatic) testimony from survivors. The final report and "calls to action" were published in 2015.

From the outset, Indigenous people in Canada had expressed doubts about the project. There has been profound disappointment that the commission's work resulted in few, if any, of the positive changes it seemed to call for.

The book's title is taken from the passage:
we are not free to shed our history
like an inconvenient skin
Inconvenient Skin holds a mirror of truth to Canada's beliefs about its goodness: "[O]ur nation is built above the bones of a genocide."

Canadians, Koyczan says, aspire to certain traits as a nation (e.g., kind, honest, strong, free), but he warns:
if we ever become
who we hope we are
it will be because we see how far there is still to go
and we know that if we are not these things to everyone
then we are none of these things
And Canada has not been, and is not "these things to everyone." The same can be said of the United States.

As narrator, Koyczan uses the pronouns "we" and "us" to speak directly to anyone who identifies as Canadian. Having a same-page Cree translation of his words signals that Indigenous peoples are not silent in the discourse about Canada's identity. They've never been silent, though they have been ignored, and certainly the residential schools had the mission of destroying Indigenous languages.

Koyczan doesn't identify as Indigenous, but says his father "had first-hand experience with residential school". He is learning about "missing chapters" of his origins, he says, by beginning to reconnect with his father.

Biographical material about translator Solomon Ratt states that he is also a residential school survivor.  He is an educator, focusing on teaching the Cree language. You can see some of his teaching videos and other work on the Cree Literacy Network Web site, including a collection called "Stay home: Learn Cree!" inspired by COVID-19 regulations.

You could say that the "work" of Inconvenient Skin happens on 3 levels: Koyczan's call for reflection and change, Solomon Ratt's Cree translation, and the powerful Indigenous perspectives presented by the contributing artists.

Kent Monkman's (Cree) emotionally charged cover painting, titled "The Scream," depicts priests, nuns, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dragging children away from their families. The same image appears later in the book. One of Monkman's satirical paintings is also featured. The paintings by Joseph Sanchez (Taos Pueblo) consist of spare patches of color and indistinct figures that suggest trauma and the closeness of death. Several of the mixed media works by Jim Logan (Metis), incorporate text to depict a variety of residential school experiences; their overall effect is devastating. Nadya Kwandibens' (Anishinaabe) photographs highlight the "Idle No More" movement that began in Canada in 2012, signaling contemporary Indigenous sovereignty, and resistance to Canada's ongoing failures relative to First Nations.

Be forewarned that this was not meant to be a gentle book. The words are an admonition, an accusation, a call to action; the pictures depict the reasons behind the words.

Koyczan recorded a spoken-word performance of Inconvenient Skin in 2017 that's definitely powerful. The video incorporates vocals by Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagak and Kym Gouchie (Lheidli T'enneh Nation). Before viewing or sharing the video, be aware that it uses some images of childhood trauma that are not used in the book.

Inconvenient Skin assumes that readers already know something about the residential/boarding schools. That may be true for Canadian teens. But teens in the US will probably need background information. They need to know, also, that the US and Canada have held (and hold) similar settler-colonial attitudes about Indigenous peoples, and that the goals, policies, and practices of the schools were very similar on either side of the border. It might help to first read the section about boarding schools in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. 

I doubt the US will have a truth and reconciliation commission in my lifetime. Awareness of the boarding schools may be increasing among non-Native people, but there remains a nearly bottomless pit of ignorance and denial about the aftermath of the schools for Native families and communities.

Inconvenient Skin can be a powerful catalyst for conversations about what the legacy of the boarding schools means for a country (be it Canada or the US), and those who identify as its citizens. We can predict that these conversations about ugly, painful stuff will be hard for descendants of settler-colonizers who allow themselves to engage in that work, be they adults or high school students. But they are necessary, because as Koyczan says,
this nation is not so sturdy
that it can sustain the weight of this blind spot in our memory
As the mother of Native kids, though, I'd ask that in high schools, Inconvenient Skin be recommended rather than required reading. Some of the art in particular depicts traumatic situations that may well be part of Indigenous families' experiences, and still "with them" in ways that can make discussion re-traumatizing. I'd insist that Native students be allowed to structure and direct discussions themselves on a purely voluntary basis, and that they could opt-in to those discussions. They should never be put on the spot or asked randomly to speak for their families, or for Native people in general.

That said, I think the foregrounding of Indigenous experience, and an Indigenous language, in Inconvenient Skin can serve as encouragement and empowerment for Native kids. If any readers of AICL have taught with this book, we'd like to hear how you went about it, and how it went.

This is one of the most compelling illustrated books I've seen about settler/Indigenous relations. No one should expect it to be something they can take lightly.

Edited 4/29/2020: You can buy a copy from Theytus Books, the oldest Indigenous publishing house in Canada. It's good to support Indigenous businesses!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: Grasshopper Girl by Teresa R. Peterson

Grasshopper Girl
by Teresa R. Peterson
Illustrated by Jordan Rodgers
Published by Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing
Published in 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly recommended

When you're little and you don't feel well, there's nothing quite like a hug and a story from someone you love to help you get better.

Grasshopper Girl is a warm-hearted little picture book about Psipsi, a 6-year-old Dakota girl. One day, Psipsi's legs ache and she has a fever, so her Ina (mother) sends her to bed early. She wishes Ate, her father, would come home from work and tell her a story. But Ina doesn't know when Ate will be back. So Psipsi lies there, thinking about her family, and what it will be like to have a friend at school, and how much she likes to jump. When Ina brings in Psipsi's baby brother for his nap, Psipsi sings him to sleep. She still doesn't feel well, though. Then the door opens. It's Ate! He hugs her, and tells her a Dakota story about Unktomi, the trickster. That's the comfort she needs. When that story ends, Ate tucks Psipsi in, and she drifts off to sleep.

Grasshopper Girl is the work of two Native book creators: author Teresa Peterson (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota) and artist Jordan Rodgers (Lakota). Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, a Native-owned press, is the publisher. So it's a tribally specific #ownvoices book.

The story takes place on "the Dakota reservation" in 1943. The author has said in interviews that elements of the book were drawn from her own mother's life, including the Unktomi story Ate tells. Psipsi's full name -- Psipsicadan Wicinyanna, or Grasshopper Girl -- is Peterson's mother's Dakota name.

The final page of the book includes a glossary of Dakota words, and the words appear throughout the story, followed by the English equivalent in parentheses. Non-Dakota readers who want help with pronunciation can refer to this alphabet video created by Dakota Wicohan (a language/culture revitalization project), and the Beginning Dakota Web site. Betsy Albert-Peacock at Black Bears and Blueberries recommended those resources. Thanks, Betsy!

Note that if you find other Dakota language resources, you may see that people have used more than one way to represent the sounds of the language. (Grasshopper Girl uses what's known as the Williamson and Riggs version.) The author's note explains a little about the Dakota language and efforts to keep it going. It feels great to be able to recommend a book that contributes to Dakota language preservation!

The author's note also gives some background information about the Unktomi story Ate tells Psipsi. If you've followed American Indians in Children's Literature for a while, you know how important it is for writers to be transparent about where such traditional stories come from. Peterson's explanation is very clear and credible. The fact that she embeds the old story in a realistic family situation is a strength of the book.

Jordan Rodgers' illustrations remind me of a good graphic novel, and I think they will appeal to the book's target audience. The characters' faces are very expressive (see example to right), and she brings in humorous details.

For example, in the "family photo" near the beginning of the book, Psipsi's two annoying older brothers are giving each other rabbit ears! I smiled at Psipsi's face when she pretends to be asleep while trying to see who has come into the room. And there's something comforting about Psipsi's quilt, and its presence on so many pages.

I also like how Rodgers represents Unktomi and the problems he creates for himself. You never quite see his face, even after his problem gets accidentally solved.

Grasshopper Girl would be a cozy bedtime read-aloud. Elementary age kids can read it themselves, too. You can order Grasshopper Girl directly from Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, or from Birchbark Books. Either way, you'll be supporting a Native-owned small enterprise, and Native book creators.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Recommended! Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax
Compiled by the Haayk Foundation
Illustrated by Huk Yuunsk (David Lang)
Publisher: Sealaska Heritage
Published in 2019
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Recommended

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax is a board book which suggests it is meant for toddlers, but because it teaches color words in Sm'algyax (the Tsimshian language) anybody can use it! Course, you want to hear the words spoken, too, and you can do that with this video:

This gorgeous board book is part of the Baby Raven Reads, a culturally responsive kindergarten readiness program. The tribally specific art is stunning, and I can imagine Native peoples across the continent creating similar books.

Sealaska's website has great materials. Take a look, for example, at Practicing Our Values, which is a blog post about what we can do, now that Coronavirus is impacting our lives.  Get some of the books at the site, or... some of the clothing items! The scarves are especially spectacular.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Not Recommended: JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George

Not Recommended: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Post by Debbie Reese

With COVID19, parents are spending more time with children who are home. I see parents talking about classics they read when they were young and reminiscing about those books. That is a problem! Many are outdated and racist. They cannot be justified as "a product of their time" because that justification assumes that everybody thought alike at that point in time--and that's just not true!

People who are misrepresented in classic or award winning books 
do not think like the white writers who misrepresented them! 

A good example is Julie of the Wolves. Way back in 2006 when I first launched this blog, I did a short post about Julie of the Wolves that linked to a review done by Martha Stackhouse. She is Inupiaq. I'm pasting that post here. It includes a link to Martha's review. Below is that post from 2006.


First published in 1972 by Harper & Row, Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973. It is included on a wide range of recommended book lists. It is available in audio and video; there is a sequel to it. Numerous teacher's guide and activity books are available for teachers to use when teaching the book. This is the summary of the Julie of the Wolves (from the Library of Congress):
"While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen year old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack."
A few days ago on child_lit (an Internet listserv for discussion of children's books), a subscriber posted a link to a review of the book on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network webpage. The reviewer, Martha Stackhouse, is Inupiaq. She points out misrepresentations and misconceptions of Inupiaq culture, and says
 "I humbly would not recommend the book to be put on school shelves."
Spend some time on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network pages. Read Martha Stackhouse's review of Julie of the Wolves. There is much to learn on their site about this and many other popular children's books set in Alaska (i.e. Gerald McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest).

To find the book reviews, go to Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature, and click on "Examining Alaska Children's Literature" and "Critiquing Indigenous Literature for Alaska's Children."


Update, May 11, 2020
We've recommended several terrific books you can choose that don't have problem of bias, stereotyping, misrepresentation, or appropriation. Take a look at the Best Books page. It links to lists we do at AICL and to books that the American Indian Library Association selected for its book awards.