Saturday, August 19, 2006

Must-have reference books about American Indians

There are three encyclopedia's on American Indians that every school library ought to have. Each one includes a wealth of information, maps, photographs, and a bibliography for each entry. In each one, a good many of the entries are by American Indian scholars, researchers, and widely respected Native people. Ask your library to buy a new copy of each one. Get new personal copies for yourself (if you can afford it), but if not, get a used copy. They are:

The Native North American Almanac: A Reference Work on Native North Americans in the United States and Canada is edited by Duane Champagne, former director of American Indian Studies at UCLA. It is huge---with over 1000 pages---and used copies of it are available for under $20. The second edition was published in 2001 by Gale.

Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, edited by Mary B. Davis, Joan Berman, Mary E. Graham, and Lisa A. Mitten. It was published in 1996 by Garland Publishing, and is 787 pages in length. Used copies are available on line for as little as $20.

One of the editors, Lisa A. Mitten, maintains the excellent website "Native American Sites" that has the following subsections:
--Information on Individual Native Nations
--Native Organizations and Urban Indian Centers
--Tribal Colleges, Native Studies Programs, and Indian Education
--The Mascot Issue
--Native Media - Organizations, Journals and Newspapers, Radio and Television
--Powwows and Festivals
--Native Music and Arts Organizations and Individuals
--Indians in the Military
--Native Businesses
--General Indian-Oriented Home Pages

Encyclopedia of North American Indians, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, former director of the Newberry Library in Chicago. It is 765 pages long, and was published in 1996 by Houghton Mifflin. Used copies are available for around ten dollars.

I find these encylopedia's helpful when I come across something in a children's book that I want to look up, or double check, or if I want more information on something that is mentioned in a children's book.

Friday, August 18, 2006

L. Frank Baum: Author of WIZARD OF OZ books and racist editorials on American Indians

Most people know The Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum, but not many know that Baum wrote scathingly racist newspaper columns advocating the killing of American Indians. NPR (National Public Radio) ran a story yesterday that says Baum's descendents are issuing an apology for his columns. You can listen to the story here: 'Oz' Family Apologizes for Racist Editorials

For background on the editorials, go here: L. Frank Baum's Editorials on the Sioux Nation

[Update: Feb 14, 2011
The link above doesn't work anymore. I'm working on it. In the meantime, here's a paragraph from the his editorial that ran in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, December 20, 1890:
The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.]

I subscribe to "child_lit," which is a listserv (electronic mailing list) of people who write, illustrate, edit, publish, review, critique, read, and teach children's literature. I view it as an important group because key people in children's publishing are subscribers. Discussion topics are related to children's literature, and on occasion there is some focused (often heated) discussion of Native books. When I first joined this list in the mid 90s and posted the sorts of things I post here, I was often flamed by other subscribers who labeled me PC, hypercritical, etc. I don't get those nasty private emails anymore. Either people are just deleting and ignoring my posts, or, over time, they are thinking more carefully about what I have to say. And I should also note that in some ways, there is a creeping subtlety in terms of racist ideology. It is no longer explicit and blatant, but it is still there.

Anyway, child_lit is where I read about the Baum family apology (thanks to Kerry for the link). If you're involved with children's lit and want to see what child_lit is about, you can subscribe to the list. You'll start getting emails from the group. Yesterday there were 33 emails, so only subscribe if you're willing to receive that much email in a single day. If you don't like it, you can unsubscribe. I learn a lot by being on the list. To read about it and subscribe go to the child_lit webpage.

Returning to the Baum apology... If you've seen newspaper stories about it, post links in the comments section. In the NPR story, there was an interview with a woman (didn't catch her name) who is a descendant of a Wounded Knee survivor.

Update: Feb 14, 2011
Through comments to my post on Feb 12 (about Leo Politi playing Indian), I learned that the South Dakota Historical Society Press published two books for children, originally written by Baum as short stories. Here's one: Enchanted Buffalo. I'm ordering the book. 

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tribal Publishers

I came across the bookstore for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma yesterday and saw they've got several children's books, some of which have Choctaw language in them. I ordered two of their books: Choctaw Jack, and Pashofa Pole and look forward to reading them.

Does your tribe publish children's books? Or are you a self-published author? Either way, I'd love to see what Native people are doing with regard to publishing Native stories. Send me an email with that info.

Getting published by the publishing houses that have the money to promote your work in catalogs, book fairs, etc., is very difficult. Some Native authors, like Cynthia Leitich Smith, have experienced success, but it doesn't come easily. She works very hard on her own writing, but also in teaching and working with others. Her love of children's books is evident on her website. Spend time there, reading her web pages. If you're interested in writing, go to Writing Books for Children and Teenagers.

And, go to your local bookstore. Are her books on the shelf? If yes, buy them! If not, talk to the bookstore manager and order a copy. If we don't buy books by Native authors, they'll go out of print. Ordering and buying them signals that consumers want these books. There is a perception that only Native people want children's books by and about Native people. That perception means a very tiny market for the books, and that perception is WRONG. Good books are good books. All children should have them in their homes, schools, and libraries.

Cynthia's books:

If you're looking for a picture book, order Jingle Dancer.
If you're looking for a chapter book for early elementary readers, order Indian Shoes.
If you're looking for a novel for late elementary or middle school readers, order Rain is Not My Indian Name.

If you're looking for a collection of short stories for high school readers, order Moccasin Thunder, edited by Lori Marie Carlson, which has Cynthia's story "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and his Equally Annoyed Soul Mate."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Native Art Posters (for teachers) from the Heard Museum

On the website for the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, there is an "Education and Research" page with items of interest to teachers. I have not seen their curruculum materials, but I am on the teacher's mailing list. Periodically, they offer posters through the mailing list. Below is a list of what they're offering right now. Total cost is $4.00, whether you want one poster or one of each. Over the years, I've ordered several. On the reverse side of each one is information about the art depicted and about the artist. I highly recommend ordering them, as they will prove useful in the classroom (perhaps in comparing art in children's books). Beneath the list of posters is ordering information. And, if you want to join the mailing list, go to their Teacher Mailing List.

High Moon over Monument Valley (basket) by Joanne Johnson (Navajo)
Storyteller Bracelet by Clarence Lee (Navajo)
Long Neck Jar by Barbara Johnson (Maricopa)
Canteen with Butterfly by Elizabeth White (Hopi)
Doll by Annie Fields (Mohave)

Navajo Code Talkers by Lorenzo Reed (Navajo)
Sandpainting by Rosie Yellowhair (Navajo)
Family Going to the Mountains by Laura Kerman (Tohono O’odham)
Rain Ceremony by Laura Kerman (Tohono O’odham)
Bracelet by Charles Loloma (Hopi)
Pot by Elmer Gates (Mohave)
Red Tailed Hawk Kachina by Dan Namingha (Hopi)
Purple Heart Bracelet (Navajo)
Ring by Monica S. King (Akimel O’odham/Navajo)
Teapot by Edison Cummings (Navajo)

Please make out your check ($4.00) to: Heard Museum
Send your check, a list of the posters you want and (please) your address to:
Education Department
Heard Museum
2301 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

NY Times, Tim Tingle and Marge Bruchac

Children's books by Native authors and illustrators rarely receive attention from mainstream papers like the New York Times. So, it was a surprise and a treat to read this week's article on children's books. The article is about multicultural literature. Three books are featured, two of which are the work of Native people.

Here's the link to the article: "Children's Books".

Take a look. It includes a photograph of Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle. His book is called Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom. I've looked at a copy of the book. My first impression is good. His writing drew me into the story, into its time and place. I'll read it again (just returned from vacation and must prepare for the start of the school year) soon, but if anyone has read it and wants to comment, please do.

Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki? The second book featured is by Marge Bruchac. Her Malian's Song is based on an event that happened in 1759. Bruchac is Abenaki. She is also a historian using her training to write children's books that counter the feel-good story of America. She does precisely that in Malian's Song. Along with the review in the NY Times, you can listen to a Vermont Public Radio commentary about the book or read the transcript here: "Malian's Song".

For more information about Tingle and his books (there is an audio CD available), go to his webpage: "Tim Tingle, Storyteller".

Monday, August 14, 2006


A reader (Amanda) wrote to me about Indian Bunny, a picture book she found in her local public library. In the story, a bunny decides he wants to be an Indian. According to the Library of Congress catalog, Indian Bunny (written and illustrated by Ruth Bornstein) was first published in 1973 by Childrens Press. But, as Amanda found out, it was republished in 2003 with a new title. It went from Indian Bunny to Brave Bunny. Why the change from "Indian" to "Brave"?!

Other than the title, it is the same book. At the Amazon site, you can get the older one in a used copy. There are three reviews which say in part:
"Despite what some would consider a politically incorect titile, INDIAN BUNNY is a sweet story that young chilren enjoy and instills in them a small amount of respect for cultures other than their own."
"A very pro-native American (and pro-Pagan) introduction for the very young. "
"This was my first and favorite book in the world! It is a simply written and illustrated tale of a bunny who decides, one day, that he wishes to be an Indian. His story unfolds accordingly, along the banks of streams, and in fields and trees where he meets and befriends sacred animals and practices the ancient ways. The beauty of the story is its simplicity and profound sense of respect and mystery. It is a gentle spiritual quest suitable for even the youngest children or early readers. I still love it!"

Of course, bunnies appear frequently in children's books, and there is at least one very popular book that features bunnies dressing up like Indians. Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman came out in 1991. The illustrations (by Sylvia Long) are attractive. No doubt, some view the title as a clever take-off on "Ten Little Indians" which many children still sing in their pre-school classrooms.

It is a counting book, so (by definition), each page features a numeral and objects to count. In this case, the objects for counting are rabbits dressed in the regalia (note I did not say 'costume')* of a specific tribal nation. I urge readers---especially Native ones---to take a look at the book. Is your tribe represented? Is it correctly represented?

As some of you may know, I am Pueblo Indian, tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico. In Ten Little Rabbits, there is a page intended to show Pueblo Indians. On that page, two male rabbits are shown dancing in Pueblo-like attire, standing in front of an adobe wall. But! They are shown facing each other, and there are only two of them (this is the page for the numeral two). There are no dances at Nambe that are done that way.

At the end of the book is a double-page spread (two pages facing each other) that have "information" about each tribe depicted in the book. I deliberately put "information" in quotation marks, because the "information" about Pueblo people is wrong. Grossman says that we "stage" a dance in which the male dancers "leap and stamp to wake up the spirits."

Sadly, this "information" makes the book more attractive to parents and teachers who are trying to bring accurate and authentic books to the classroom. I'm sure that Grossman and Long didn't intend to dupe their readers, but I think they've done all children a disservice. Once again, Native people are objectified (one little, two little....), and these gorgeous illustrations and "information" add to the already too-big pile of hooey that passes for knowledge about American Indians.

Next time you're in your local library, see if Ten Little Rabbits is on the shelf. If you're willing, approach the librarian, and point out problems with the book. It has FACTUAL errors. In my view, it should be weeded (pulled off the shelf and taken out of circulation).

If you're interested in reading more about Ten Little Rabbits, see Theresa L. McCarty's article "What's Wrong with Ten Little Rabbits?" published in 1995 in a journal called The New Advocate (volume 8, #2, page 98).