Saturday, April 18, 2009

Books by and about American Indians: 2008

The Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison publishes CCBC Choices each year. It includes statistical data about numbers of books written by authors of color.

The information I share below is from "Thoughts on Publishing in 2008" by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, Tessa Michaelson, and Megan Schliesman. It was originally published in CCBC Choices 2009. I encourage you to become a Friend of the CCBC, which includes a copy of Choices.

In 2008, CCBC received 40 books that featured American Indian themes, topics, or characters. Of those 40, nine were created by American Indian authors and/or illustrators.

Here's two paragraphs from the essay, in the section titled "Multicultural Writing (and Illustrating, Too!)":

Louise Erdrich continued her chronicle of nineteenth-century American Indian experience in The Porcupine Year, which picks up the story of the Ojibwe girl Omakayas, last seen in The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005). Now forced to leave their home, Omakayas’s family is on the move in a story based in part on Erdrich’s own family history. Joseph Bruchac, the most prolific Native author for children and teens, was inspired by family history to research and write what became March Toward the Thunder, about an Abenaki boy serving in the Union army during the Civil WarUpdate on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki? Nicola Campbell’s picture book Shin-chi’s Canoe looks at Native boarding schools through the a story of a boy enduring his first year away from home.

Horning, Lindgren, Michaelson and Schliesman note that few new picture books that show contemporary children of color were published. They write:
In fact, the only 2008 picture book featuring a contemporary American Indian child that we documented here at the CCBC was Niwechihaw=I Help, a bilingual (Cree/English) book published by Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press. The Littlest Sled Dog (Orca) features a dog rather than a child or children but does offer a glimpse of a contemporary Inuit village. And The Drum Calls Softly (Red Deer Press) is a bilingual (Cree/English) picture book in the voice of a child who might be contemporary or from the past, although the stunning illustrations by Native artist Jim Poitras (Cree, Salteaux, and Métis) have a historical sensibility.

On October 24, 2008, I posted a table of data from CCBC specific to books by and about American Indians. It covered 2002 through 2007. I'm reposting that table here, adding 2008 statistics to the table.

Year---Number of bks---About Amer Ind---By Native writer

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Boston Tea Party and 2009 Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party. There is one that happened yesterday, April 15, 2009, and there is one that happened way back when... When colonists threw tea into Boston Harbor in 1773...

That event in 1773 is widely depicted with colonists dressed as Indians who are shown wearing feathers, fringe and face paint. Here's the most famous image, an 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier.

And here's one from a children's picture book, The Boston Tea Party, published in 2001, written by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrations by Henry Cole:

In fact, the colonists did not wear feathers
They colored their faces with ash and charcoal 
and draped blankets on their shoulders.* 

Given the multiple misrepresentations of that moment, I wondered if it would be echoed in yesterday's "tea party" events. Watching Jon Stewart's coverage of it, I had my answer (see lower right image):


UPDATE, 6:45 PM, April 16, 2009
Jeremy Cote, Phoenix, AZ, posted (to Flickr) "On warpath against more taxes!" In it are two women and two children, wearing tan-colored shirts, feathers in their hair. The children have signs taped to their shirts that say:
"Paleface taxes no good."
"Let little brave keep wampum."

UPDATE, 6:56 PM, April 19, 2009
A few minutes ago, a reader submitted a comment, pointing to a photograph in the NY Times. It accompanies a story titled "Tax Day is Met with Tea Parties." There is no reference in the article to the photograph, which shows a boy in a headdress.

UPDATE, 8:10 AM, December 16, 2014
For writing about how the colonists were dressed, see:

UPDATE, 9:20 AM, December 16, 2014

Here's the cover of The Boston Tea Party, December 1773, "text" by Josephine Pollard, "drawn" by H. W. McVickar (used quotations marks around text/drawn because those are the words on the title page). Published in 1882 by Dodd, Mead & Company, it has been digitized. Don't buy it from Amazon. You can read the entire book, free, online 

Here's a page from inside:

The text on the left page is: "Like sons of the forest, a poor imitation." The phrase "son of the forest" stood out to me because it is the title William Apes's book, published in 1829

And here's McVickar's drawing of "a Chinaman":

Some of McVickar's cartoons appeared in Harpers Magazine. Josephine Pollard wrote many books for children. 

An (Incomplete) List of Illustrators that Got it Wrong with Feathers and Colored Face Paint:

1882: H. W. McVickar got it wrong in The Boston Tea Party, December 1773 (by Josephine Pollard)

2001: Henry Cole got it wrong in Boston Tea Party (by Pamela Duncan Edwards)

2013: Lauren Mortimer got it wrong in What Was the Boston Tea Party? (by Kathleen Krull)

2013: Peter Malone got it wrong in The Boston Tea Party (by Russell Freedman)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reflections, Observations: "After the Mayflower" - WE SHALL REMAIN

I watched "After the Mayflower" on Monday night. It was the national broadcast of the first film in the We Shall Remain series on PBS. My thoughts here are not about the film. They're about the context of my viewing.

Without a doubt, it is informative in ways that most people have not seen before. It provides a lot of thought provoking material. It isn't blood thirsty savage Indians, nor is it tragic and noble warriors. There's an honesty to it, of emotion and fact.

When it was over, I stayed in my chair, TV still on the PBS channel. I was going to turn off the set when I heard the lead-in to the next program... "A story of savagery and survival... Handed down through seven generations..." And, "the Lively Family Massacre."

I glanced up at the screen. I was shocked and stunned with what I saw. Clips of what was to be shown in the next hour or so.... A white family, their cabin behind them, tending to their yard... Indian men in the trees watching, then, attacking, killing.

For the next half hour, viewers in central Illinois who watch WILL-TV (housed at the University of Illinois), were given a savage-bloodthirsty-Indians-story that We Shall Remain is challenging with its Native voice and viewpoint. The Lively Family Massacre is a documentary of a woman in Illinois seeking her family roots. A documentary of genealogy research that goes back to the 1800s when the Lively family set up a homestead. A professor is interviewed. He says that we don't know why the Kickapoos attacked that family. Maybe they were retaliating for something that was done to them, the professor said, "we don't know." The woman said the Lively family was scalped and one of them was beheaded.

Then there's an article about a high school teacher in Illinois who is working on a book about Geronimo. He's also involved in the episode of We Shall Remain that will focus on Geronimo. The opening sentence includes this:

"...passionately teaches his students about the 19th century Apache Indian who slaughtered countless Americans in order to ensure the survival of his tribe."

That is not a quote from the teacher. It's the reporter's words.

I'm pointing to the local PBS scheduling decision, and the reporter's words because they offer a glimpse into un-critical, maybe biased, maybe racist thinking in Illinois. It is weighing on me because of damage done last week to the public art exhibit we're sponsoring on the UIUC campus.

Intended or not, efforts to educate the public about past and present day American Indians takes place in contexts that are so negative. I'm hoping the local PBS station would have a 'doh!' response if this juxtaposition was pointed out to them. And I think that reporter would say "oh" if someone engaged him a conversation about biased writing, but I don't know what the individual(s) who damaged the public art would say. "I was just messing around, I didn't mean it?" or, "I'm sorry."

Grumpy today, thinking about context.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bruchac reading from SKELETON MAN

Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

One of my favorite books by Joseph Bruchac is Skeleton Man. Click here to hear him read from the book.

Cassie Edwards Plagiarized THE WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN

Some of you may recall that Cassie Edwards, author of romance novels (including the "SAVAGE" Indian series) was caught plagiarizing last year. The site "Smart Bitches" catalogued a lot of the plagiarized passages.

I didn't follow all of it carefully last year, and missed this:

Edwards plagiarized from N. Scott Momaday's The Way To Rainy Mountain. The novel is read in a lot of high school English/Lit courses, which makes me think that teachers who teach it might want to add a segment on plagiarism to their unit.

Cassie Edwards, Savage Whispers is a passage-by-passage comparison of Edwards' novel and Momaday's writings. It is astounding. It's on a LiveJournal that belongs to "wombat" dated Feb. 29, 2008. (Note: I've got an LJ, too, under my name, Debbie Reese. When you click on the hyperlink, you might get an "Are you 14?" page. If that happens answer the question and you'll then go to the correct page. At that point, I'm not sure how the page will look on your screen. My computer defaults to my LJ, and it plops wombat's analysis on my page. Maybe if you do not have an LJ, you'll go right to wombat's LJ.)

Here's wombat's opening paragraph, followed by the paragraph where she says what was plagiarized, followed by one example. Do go to wombat's page and read the entire thing. Wombat writes:

This is one of Edwards' older books, and it shows: presumably she wasn't yet able to coast on her reputation (and was twenty years younger), so the prose actually has some description and flow, and the plot is noticeably more complex-- compared to her recent routine, it's almost mindbogglingly frenetic.


Edwards makes extensive use of Momaday's book (abbreviated below as WRM), as well as his article/essay "A First American Views His Land", first published with various photos as pp 13-19 National Geographic, Vol. 150 No.1, July 1976, and later reprinted (text-only) in his anthology The Man Made of Words, McMillan 1998 (abbreviated below as FAVL; page #s are via antho MMW or magazine NG).


SW p 2 (author's note):
After a bloody fight at Palo Duro Canyon, the Kiowa came in, a few at a time, to surrender at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Their horses and weapons were confiscated and they were imprisoned. In a field just west of the post, the Indian ponies were destroyed. Nearly eight hundred horses were killed outright. Two thousand more were sold, stolen, and given away.

Momaday, WRM p. 67:
After the fight at Palo Duro Canyon, the Kiowas came in, a few at a time, to surrender at Fort Sill. Their horses and weapons were confiscated, and they were imprisoned. In a field just west of the post, the Indian ponies were destroyed. Nearly 800 horses were killed outright; two thousand more were sold, stolen, given away.

I'm grateful to wombat for doing this analysis and letting me know about it. Momaday and the UNM Press have been informed. If there's any news on action, I'll let you know.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We the People 2009

Last night I learned that Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House was on the 2009 "We the People" bookshelf. I mentioned that books on that shelf in previous years had been disappointing. This morning, JPM submitted an excellent comment to that post, so I'm reposting it here:

This is an interesting "first" from a group that so far seems to have focused its selections on perpetuating the dominant narrative of "American history". I'm curious about some of their other choices this year. Am not familiar with Kathleen Krull's book on Cesar Chavez (illustrated by award-winner Yuyi Morales), but I see that she also wrote something titled Pocahontas: Princess of the New World (illustrated by David Diaz, whose cover "princess" has a romanticized look) which according to the author's Web site is "fascinating birth-to-death account of this true American princess."

A Chavez book that would have been VERY interesting to see on the list is Rudolfo Anaya's Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez. Though "too old" for the age group NEH has chosen for the Krull bio, Elegy is a straight-from-the-heart look at what Cesar Chavez meant to many, many Mexican-Americans and countless others who observed, took part in, and/or benefited from his tireless activism. AND the dust jacket is this amazing time-line poster, perfect for teachers. Illustrator Gaspar Enriquez did some remarkable work. So I am curious about the decision-making process for that "Picturing America" option.

Two other WTP selections raise questions for me regarding representations of indigenous people in this year's "Bookshelf". For example, what does The Captain's Dog have to say about the Lewis and Clark project, especially about the Native people encountered encountered by the expedition? And Freedman's Life and Death of Crazy Horse I read years ago - but what might have been the reason to choose it over a biography by someone of indigenous background? Insider perspectives continue to be a problematic absence for the WTP bookshelves; let's hope that the inclusion of Birchbark House signals the beginning of a trend.

Also noted: this year's shelf has a repeat -- a version of the Paul Revere "midnight ride" story was also part of the 2005-06 Bookshelf on "Freedom". Wonder if the committee/s had any conversation about choosing David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride instead (for older readers) which unlike the Longfellow poem, focuses on historical accuracy.

And if you want to read past posts on this discussion, here they are:

June 7, 2007: "We" the People?

April 4, 2009: BIRCHBARK HOUSE is on "We the People" Bookshelf, 2009