Saturday, May 24, 2008

New blog: Deborah Miranda

In December of 2006, I posted a review of Deborah Miranda's book, The Zen of La Llorona (click here to read the review.)

Take a look at her blog, "When Turtles Fly."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Interview: Veronica Tsinajinnie

In April, Veronica Tsinajinnie was awarded the 2008 Lacapa Spirit Prize for her story, Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn. According to its website, the Lacapa Spirit Prize is “a literary prize for children’s books about the peoples, cultures and landscapes of the Southwest.

Here’s a paragraph about the book, excerpted from the Lacapa Spirit Prize website:

Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn is a beautiful and peaceful story of the relationship the sun has to the earth and its inhabitants as he rises every morning and brings dawn. Veronica Tsinajinnie’s bilingual narrative is powerfully subtle in its presentation of Navajo culture. The story chronicles the journey of Jóhonaa’éí, the sun, as he passes over land, plants, animals, and humans, ushering in a new day. After Jóhonaa’éí wakes the field mice, the rabbits, and the sheep, he is “contented to know his job is done…” He finally arrives at a hogan door to wake “his children” who live inside. The sun then watches as the family offers “white corn to the morning spirits” and “give thanks to the bringer of dawn” before they begin their day also content to know that their job is done as well. Young readers will delight in Tsinajinnie’s progressive repetition, recognizing the daily path as one they, too, walk.

A few weeks ago, I had an e-conversation with Tsinajinnie about her book. Today, I share that conversation.


DR: Is Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn your first book?

VT: Yes. It is my very first “published” book. I was a student at Dine’ College from 2001-2004 and took a children’s literacy class. One of our projects was to write a children’s book. It was a Navajo adaption to the story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. My story was titled If You Give a Glissi Roasted Corn. Glissi is Navajo for goat. For this project, I actually drew the pictures to go with the story. So if, by chance, you decide to look it up online I must warn you that the pictures were drawn very badly and way before I began “seriously” practicing art/drawing. [Note from Debbie. The text is in Navajo. It is a multi-media project; you can listen to the book being read, in Navajo. Click here. Tsinajinnie's is one of many on the site.]

So technically, Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn is not my first book because I did have to have a binding, pictures, table of contents, etc. for If You Give a Glissi Roasted Corn. But it is my first professionally published book.

DR: What prompted you to write it?

VT: At the time I was an educational assistant with a Family Literacy Program, in the preschool classroom. I was constantly reading to the children there and as the number of my nieces and nephews grew I began to feel a feeling of guilt because very few of the books we would read to them (at work and at home) were about them and the things they knew. So……I began to write stories for them about them and about the things they know.

DR: What sorts of books did you read when you were a child? Do you remember one with particular fondness?

VT: I remember my favorite books being Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel. I’m not really sure why these were my favorite books but my father says that I would have him read them over and over again.

My all time favorite stories though were not in book form but orally told. I remember loving the summer times and winter breaks from school because that was when my family would stay with my grandparents. In the winter my grandfather would tell the coyote stories by firelight or around the lantern (they did not receive electricity until about 15 years ago). In the summer time they would tell us stories about when they were growing up; I was so fascinated. My grandfather was a great story teller because he loved to laugh. I have fond memories of him telling us a story and my grandmother getting a little bent because according to her, his story was completely untrue. An example of one would be the story my grandfather would tell about how he met my grandmother. The way he tells it he was riding his horse home from a one of his uncle’s house and he came upon a beautiful girl (my grandmother) as she herded sheep. He says she was so beautiful and he knew he wanted her to be his wife so he rode by her and picked her up from atop the horse and never took her home. This was one story my grandmother continues to deny happened. Regardless if it is true or not it is one of my favorite stories.

DR: Where were you born, and did you go to a public elementary school? Or a day school?

VT: I was born in the old hospital in Ft. Defiance AZ. (I really wish I had a cooler story like "in a hogan in the middle of winter" but I don’t.) From kindergarten until about second grade I went to Birdsprings Little Singer School. After that I went to Ganado for elementary, middle school, and high school. I always came back to Little Singer School for summer school though.

DR: Will you have another book out soon?

VT: I’d like to say that I’d have another book out soon although there is not one in the works right now. I have continued to submit more stories but sadly none have gone any further that that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stereotypes of Australia's Indigenous Population

The United States is not alone in its misrepresentation of its Native population. Take a look at "Prejudice in children's books" to see how Australia has portrayed its indigenous population in its children's books. The accompanying activities and worksheets at the site are worth a look, too.

One question... The books shown are old. Cynic that I am, I wonder what representations look like in books published in the last ten years?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT

Many people have written to ask me about a young adult novel called Twilight. Written by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight is the first book in the "Twilight Saga." The "Twilight Saga" has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 40 weeks and as of this day, is in the number 1 spot.

I've been asked about it because the books include werewolves who are Native. Quileute, to be precise, from the La Push reservation in Washington. Quileute is not made up, and neither is La Push. Both are real.

I read the book, quickly. Here's passages that begin on page 124. The Quileute boy, Jacob, is with the protagonist, Bella, on an outing. Bella's love interest is a guy named Edward Cullen. Bella suspects Edward is different (doesn't know yet that he's a vampire), and is trying to get information out of Jacob. I'll start with Bella speaking to Jacob, and his reply:

"What was that he was saying about the doctor's family?" I asked innocently.

"The Cullens? Oh, they're not supposed to come onto the reservation."

Jacob feels he's said too much, but Bella promises she won't tell anyone. Assured with her promise, Jacob goes on, saying:

"Do you know any of our old stories, about where we came from--the Quileutes, I mean?" he began.

"Not really," I admitted.

"Well, there are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Flood--supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark." He smiled, to show me how little stock he put in the histories. "Another legend claims that we descended from wolves--and that the wolves are our brothers still. It's against tribal law to kill them.

"Then there are the stories about the cold ones." His voice dropped a little lower.

"The cold ones?" I asked, not faking my intrigue now.

"Yes. There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land." He rolled his eyes.

"Your great-grandfather?" I encouraged.

"He was a tribal elder, like my father. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf--well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves."

"Werewolves have enemies?"

"Only one."

I stared at him earnestly, hoping to disguise my impatience as admiration.

"So you see," Jacob continued, "the cold ones are traditionally our enemies. But this pack that came to our territory during my great-grandfather's time was different. They didn't hunt the way others of their kind did--they weren't supposed to be dangerous to the tribe. So my great-grandfather made a truce with them. If they would promise to stay off our lands, we wouldn't expose them to the pale-faces." He winked at me.

Jacob goes on, eventually telling her the cold ones are vampires. Then he says:

"Pretty crazy stuff, though, isn't it? No wonder my dad doesn't want us to talk about it to anyone."

I couldn't control my expression enough to look at him yet. "Don't worry, I won't give you away."

"I guess I just violated the treaty," he laughed.

"I'll take it to the grave," I promised, and then I shivered.

"Seriously, though, don't say anything to Charlie. He was pretty mad at my dad when he heard that some of us weren't going to the hospital since Dr. Cullen started working there."

"I won't, of course not."

"So do you think we're a bunch of superstitious natives or what?" he asked in a playful tone, but with a hint of worry. I still hadn't looked away from the ocean.

There's more as the book progresses, but none of the reviews mention the werewolf/Quieluete material...

More later. (And if you've read the books, please comment.)

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the right side of this page. Scroll up or down till you see the section labeled TWILIGHT SAGA. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.