Saturday, October 13, 2007

Alexie's YA Novel Nominated for National Book Award

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Sherman Alexie's outstanding YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was nominated for a National Book Award in the category, Young People's Literature. The finalist list was released on Wednesday.

In that category, Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House was nominated in 1999.

I think the winner will be announced mid November...

Visit Alexie's website for reviews and info, and a link to an mp3 audio excerpt of the book. Yes, he is the reader of the audio book.

The photo I uploaded is from the press page of his website. Curious... the photo on the publisher's website is a reverse image of the same photo!

Update, Sunday, October 14th:
  • Beverly Slapin's review of the book was posted here on Wed, April 15, 2007. Click here to read her review.
  • I posted links to newspaper articles on September 16, 2007. Click here to go to the list.
  • Roger Sutton, editor at Horn Book, reviewed the book in September. Read his review here.

With November approaching---the month that features and confines us (American Indians) as people of the past---Alexie's book will counter that misperception. Get your copies from Oyate.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Are you a teacher wondering if all Indians live in tipis? If so, order a copy of the book Do All Indians Live in Tipis?: Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian. It isn't a children's book, per se, but its content is certainly accessible to upper elementary readers, and, it will prove useful to teachers developing lesson plans about American Indians.

In the foreword, founding director Rick West (Southern Cheyenne and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma) writes:

Before I became the founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian, I was a practicing attorney, and sometimes, when I hear the odd--and even offensive--questions that almost every Indian must bear, I want to rise up and shout, "I object!"

The introduction is by Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee). She writes:

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy said, "for a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians are the least understood and the most misunderstood of us all." Regrettably, this statement is as true today as it was more than forty years ago. Many negative stereotypes persist.

She goes on to say that summer visitors to the Cherokee Nation include tourists who wanted to know "Where are all the Indians?" To which she'd reply "They are probably at Wal-Mart!"

West and Mankiller's words set the state quite nicely for a volume consisting of about 100 questions, grouped into these categories:

  • Identity
  • Origins and Histories
  • Popular Myths
  • Clothing, Housing, Food, and Health
  • Ceremony and Ritual
  • Sovereignty
  • Animals and Land
  • Language and Education
  • Love and Marriage
  • Art, Music, Dance, and Sports

Here's a sample of the questions:

  • Why was the Navajo language chosen for military code in World War II? Were all Indian "code talkers" Navajo?
  • Did all tribes have totem poles? Does anyone still carve them?
  • How many Indians lived in the Western Hemisphere when Columbus arrived?
  • Why is the word Eskimo sometimes offensive?

Published by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and HarperCollins, I paid $14.95 for the book at Pages for All Ages, our local independent bookstore. With "Native American Month" approaching in November, you will find it a useful volume.

And, as always, consider moving your lesson plans about American Indians OUT of November; teaching about American Indians only during that month contributes to the mistaken idea that we are only a people of the past, long vanished. That is not the case. We are still here.

Get your copy at the National Museum of the American Indian giftshop, or, from Louise Erdrich's independent bookstore, Birchbark Books.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


On Saturday, October 20th, 2007, I will be in Monticello, Illinois, at the train depot, working as a volunteer for "Artrain USA." It is an art exhibit in train cars. This year, the art is by top American Indian artists whose art is contemporary in style. The exhibit itself is called "Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture."

Among the artists whose work is in the train cars is Judith Lowry, who did the illustrations for Chiori Santiago's picture book, Home to Medicine Mountain. The story is about Lowry's father and uncle, and their experience at boarding school in the 1930s.

In those schools, Native children were taken far from their homes by the US government. They could not return home unless their families had money to pay for their travel. That meant that a lot of kids were stuck at those schools for the entire school year, and many spent many years at them before they could go home. Many kids ran away. Many died as they tried to get home.

Home to Medicine Mountain is about two boys and their efforts to go home. The book concludes with a photograph of the two boys as men.

It is, for me, a unique moment. The boys went home on a train, as you can see in the cover illustration. On Saturday, I will view Judith Lowry's art, in a train car exhibit.

If you're in Central Illinois (or if you're up for a weekend drive to central Illinois), this exhibit is a rare opportunity to see exquisite Native art. To see this sort of collection, you'd have to travel to Washington, or Phoenix, or Oklahoma... And it'll be right here in central Illinois.

The Artrain website includes an educational packet that I encourage you to download and use, whether or not you go to the exhibit.

From here, it will go to Clarksdale, Mississippi; Meridian, Mississippi; Washington DC; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, and the last stop is in Norman, Oklahoma at the end of November.

The Artrain will be in Monticello for two days (Saturday October 20 and Sunday October 21st). If you do visit, please find me and introduce yourself!


Sunday, October 07, 2007


[This review used with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]


Tohe, Laura (Diné), No Parole Today. Albuquerque: West End Press (1999). 47 pages; grades 7-up

The first words in Laura Tohe’s book are those of Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Indian boarding school system that devastated Indian lives throughout North America. Addressing the World Baptist Convention in 1883, Pratt said:

In Indian civilization I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization, and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.

Tohe’s great-grandfather was one of the first Diné students to attend Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and she likens her own Indian school experience to serving a prison sentence. No Parole Today is Tohe’s poetry and personal narrative about this time in her life and the challenges of maintaining her identity in a system whose aim is to destroy it.

In an opening piece, a response to Pratt, Tohe writes,

A hundred years after you made your statement to the Baptists, we are still here. We have not vanished, gone away quietly into the sunset, or assimilated into the mainstream culture the way you envisioned….[W]e continue to survive with the strength of the spirit of our ancestors. Our grandmothers and grandfathers taught us to hold to our beliefs, religions, and languages. That is the way of survival for us….I voice this letter to you now because I speak for me, no longer invisible, and no longer relegated to the quiet margins of American culture, my tongue silenced….To write is powerful and even dangerous. To have no stories is to be an empty person. Writing is a way for me to claim my voice, my heritage, my stories, my culture, my people, and my history.

In first grade, the children received their first “Dick and Jane” books, in which they were introduced to white society in the form of Father, Mother, Dick and Jane and Sally, who drove around in cars and said “oh, oh, oh” a lot. In “Dick and Jane Subdue the Diné,” Tohe describes how the schools made the taking away of language a priority:

See Father.

See Mother.

See Dick run.

See Jane and Sally laugh.

oh, oh, oh

See Spot jump.

oh, oh, oh

See Eugene speak Diné.

See Juanita answer him.

oh, oh, oh

See teacher frown.

uh oh, uh oh

See Eugene with red hands, shape of ruler.

oh, oh, oh

See Eugene cry.

oh, oh, oh

See Juanita stand in corner, see tears fall down face.

oh, oh, oh

Oh see us draw pictures

of brown horses under blue clouds.

We color eyes black, hair black.

We draw ears and leave out mouth.

Oh see, see, see.

While most of Tohe’s writing focuses on her coming of age in this hostile alien environment, her later pieces are written from her perspective as an adult, and her final poem, “At Mexican Springs,” is a thing of beauty and hope:

It is here among the sunset in

every plant

every rock

every shadow

every movement

every thing

I relive visions of ancient stories

First Woman and First Man

their children stretched across

these eternal sandstones

a deep breath

she brings me sustenance


and I will live to tell my children these things.

For everyone who has survived the Indian boarding schools, and for everyone who never knew of their existence, No Parole Today is a gift. Laura Tohe’s writing is spare and honest, with no polemic; proof of the government’s utter failure to take away Indian voice.

—Beverly Slapin