Saturday, October 10, 2009

Trying to catch up! Watching: Richard Peck, Ann Rinaldi, and John Smelcer

Lot of action of late...

My last post was about Richard Peck's new book A Season of Gifts. I've got more to say, but not sufficient time yet to say it. Conversation took place on School Library Journal, where reviewer Jonathan Hunt asked me some pointed questions.

He posed those questions while I was home, at Nambe, for the Elk Dance. Time home on our reservation, in our kiva, with family, is always affirming. Two of my nephews were dancing (remember---Pueblo dance is like  prayer-in-motion as opposed to dance-for-fun-or-entertainment).

When I got back to the University of Illinois where I teach, I had a lot of catching up to do that included prep for courses I am teaching this semester (Intro to American Indian Studies, and, Politics of Children's Literature). In the latter, we read and discussed some of Clare Bradford's Unsettling Narratives

I had an email, too, from a reader who asked if I'd read Ann Rinaldi's new book, Leigh Ann's Civil War. In that book, the protagonist learns that her father was Cherokee. That surprised me because, several years ago, Rinaldi told me she would not write another book about American Indians. Her response was due to the review of her book in the Dear America series, in which her character is a student at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  Published in several educational and social justice publications, the most complete review of that book is at the Oyate site. Go here to read it. And, do read the accompanying essay "Literary License or Muted Plagiarism." I've ordered Leigh Ann's Civil War. Rinaldi's author note is available at the Amazon site. It reads, in part:

In researching this story, what led me to write it was that this same land, before King came along, once belonged to the Cherokee Indians, the most intellectually advanced tribe at the time, who had an alphabet, a newspaper, established schools, and written laws. Indeed, this was the place where the famous and tragic Trail of Tears began, when the white men, motivated by the discovery of gold on this very land, drove the Cherokee out of their six-thousand-acre area.

Reading that note, one thing that leaped out was "the most intellectual advanced tribe at that time." As the title says, her book is a Civil War story.  I don't want to take anything away from the Cherokees, but I do think Rinaldi is in err calling them "the most intellectual advanced." Early in the book she refers to "hoodoo" --- a sort of Cherokee mysticism, it looks like, but I don't know WHAT that could possibly be.

The third item on my plate is John Smelcer's new young adult novel, The Great Death. It got a starred review in Horn Book. Obviously some find him a gifted writer, but, for me, his claims to Native identity are deeply troubling, as I've written here.

So! Lot of work ahead of me. Reading, writing, thinking.