Friday, October 23, 2009

Has Stephanie Meyer read this?

I do not recall seeing "Please read Indian Country Etiquette" on the Quileute Nation website last time I was on there...  Clicking on the link (located bottom right of the main page) will take you to a statement, that reads in part:

Traditionally, our people are hospitable and generous in nature. However, spiritual teachings, sacred ceremonies and burial grounds, are not openly shared with the public.

We are proud of our teachings, and our heritage. They have been passed to us by our ancestors, and represent thousands of years of our individual histories. Your patience and understanding of our traditions and cultures is appreciated.

I wonder if it is in response to crowds of Twilight fans showing up there? Meyer's books have a lot of material in them that may be interpreted by her readers as Quileute. She does, of course, present it that way. But is it? What did she use as a source? As the statement above indicates, this information is not shared with the public...

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.

"Evolution" video

Have you seen the video that shows a girl being made-up, photographed, and then the photograph retouched for use in an advertisement?  It's pretty stunning and is one (of many I've seen) good example of how the media tinkers with image to create "beauty."

Here's the link:[cp-documentid=9150719]/

(Update: Oops. I meant to put this on the blog for a class I teach. I'll leave it here anyway. There is nothing about the video that is specifically about American Indians.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Available in a pdf from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Ten pages in length, it begins with:

Each November educators across the country teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday. They try to give students an accurate picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give an incomplete, if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first Thanksgiving, particularly of the event's Native American participants.

Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic "Indians" who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims.

The pamphlet is designed for use in 4th through 8th grade classrooms. It is divided in sections:
  • Environment: Understanding the Natural World
  • Community: Group Identity in Culture
  • Encounters: Effects on Cultures
  • Sharing: New Perspectives Year-Round

Each section includes several photographs as well as "Ideas for the Classroom." As I read through it, I was struck by the verb tense.

"Native peoples were and continue to be..."
"The Inupiaq people of Alaska are..."
"The whalers are..."
The Yakama continue to celebrate..."

Download American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving and study it as you prepare for the upcoming month (November).

DO spend time at the Education pages of NMAI. The NMAI staff is working hard at developing materials for teachers.

And, order and use these children's books, too! Here's some:

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) and Catherine Grace O'Neill. 
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Jake Swamp (Mohawk).
    And, read books to your students that portray American Indian children of the present day. There's some terrific picture books you can use. Among my favorites are:

    The Good Luck Cat, by Joy Harjo 
    Less than Half, More than Whole, by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa
    Muskrat Will be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau 
    Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith 
    What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses, by Richard Van Camp

    Last year, School Library Journal published a list of 30 recommended books: "Native Voices." I introduced and link to the article here.

    And if you want to see other things I've written about Thanksgiving, look to the left of this page, scroll down to the section called POSTS ABOUT THANKSGIVING.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Who is John Smelcer (author of THE TRAP and THE GREAT DEATH)

    John Smelcer, author of The Trap, has a new young adult novel out (The Great Death). Many believe he is a good writer. That may be the case, but, I find his claims to Native identity troubling, for two reasons. First, in schools, students often do author studies. Smelcer's website says he is Native. But, John Smelcer is not a Native person by birth or, and, according to the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer), he did not grow up on a reservation or with Native people. Second, in schools, we teach children to be honest. It seems that, if we herald an author who has not been honest with his identity, we are saying one thing (be honest) and doing another (by assigning his books, we say his deceit does not matter).

    This particular blog post about John Smelcer is a difficult one to post for several reasons. First, it treads on concerns regarding adoption and identity of an adopted child. That is a body of literature that I have not studied. Second, Native identity is a contentious issue in many ways, with people claiming to be Native for personal or professional gain within a society (America) that does not understand the complex issue of Native identity and claims to Native identity. There are over 500 tribal nations in the U.S. Each one has its own determinations as to who it lists or otherwise recognizes as members or citizens. Last year, I was at a conference in Michigan at which Ojibwe elders spoke about this issue. Among their most powerful statements was that our ancestors fought like hell to defend our nations against Europeans who came here and wanted our land. They fought to protect the land, and their families, elders, grandparents, men, women, and children.  If they had not done that, we would not be here today as sovereign nations. It is in that framework that I offer this post.

    December, 2007
    I learned of a young adult novel titled The Trap, by John Smelcer, who said he was Ahtna (Native Alaskan). I ordered a copy of the book.

    January 27, 2008
    I started reading The Trap. The opening pages reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen. I blogged the memory. Upon uploading that blog post, I began hearing from people in Alaska who told me that Smelcer is not Native. The next day, I posted an updated to the Jan 27th entry.

    January  29, 2008
    I posted another update. In this one, I shared what I'd learned in the Anchorage Daily News. I'm pasting it here, for your reference. In brackets [ ] and bold are comments I'm adding today.

    "UAA Finds Professor Isn't Native. University Reviewing Records." It was in the Metro Section of the Final Edition on May 3, 1994, on page 1.

    • Smelcer was hired the previous year by the University of Alaska Anchorage in their effort to increase the ethnic diversity among its faculty. Administrators at the university were under the impression he was Native. [Why did they think he was Native? Because...]
    • In a letter sent to UAA prior to his hire, he said he was "affiliated with Ahtna" and referred to his "Native American Indian heritage." [Ahtna is Ahtna, Inc., which is, quoting from the website, "one of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations" and is comprised of eight villages, all of which are federally recognized tribes.]
    • The head of Ahtna , a man named Roy Ewan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Smelcer, that said "Ahtna recognizes John Smelcer's tribal membership."
    It isn't clear to me yet how or why his identity was challenged. Information about that identity was brought to the attention of the university. Some of that [as reported in the newspaper] is:
    • John Smelcer was adopted by a Native man named Charlie Smelcer, who said "He's a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian just like anyone else is." ["He" is John. Here's a photo from John Smelcer's website. He's older now. The mess at the University of Alaska took place in 1994, or, 15 years ago. ]
    • Ewan said his letter was a mistake. He said "When they told me this guy was Charlie Smelcer's son, I just assumed it was his blood son," Ewan said.
    The article said that Smelcer did not believe he had misrepresented himself. This is an excerpt from that portion of the article:
    "I was very careful with the dictionary, finding that word 'affiliated,'" he said, "After all, I was an English major." [Very careful? Why? And "after all"??? He seems to, rather boldly, proclaim that he had to be careful with his word choice. Why?]

    Smelcer also said he knew his letter would leave the impression that he was an Alaska Native by birth. [He knew the ramifications of presenting his identity the way he did...  That's disingenuous.]  He said he considered himself a Native even though his parents were not. "My entire life has been surrounded by my Alaska Native family," he said.

    But in a telephone interview from Juneau, Charlie Smelcer flatly denied that description. The senior Smelcer, a retired Army officer, said that, "in no way, shape or form" was John Smelcer raised in a Native environment.

    "He was a middle-class kid who grew up around a military environment, with cars and television and everything else like that," Smelcer said. "If he's used my Native heritage for his personal or professional gain, then that's wrong."
    John Smelcer said that nobody at UAA ever asked him "point blank" if he was "a blood Indian." The article concludes with this:
    But Smelcer said he did not know whether he would be able to pursue his academic career now. The recent interest in his birth and background had left him feeling confused, he said. "Suddenly, I don't know who I am anymore." [He said he is confused, and it sounds like he was also troubled by this not-knowing who he is. Yet, he continues to identity and mislead his readers. Does he not care that he is confusing and misleading the young people who read his books and think he is Native by birth?]
    Additional articles in the Anchorage Daily News indicate that he resigned his position in the middle of the university's investigation--not about his identity--but on "whether he told the truth about having poetry accepted for publication in the New Yorker magazine and other journals," (see "UAA Professor Quits among Credentials Probe," August 3rd). The paper says there was a forged letter in his files from an editor at the New Yorker. Smelcer says he didn't put it there. Other presses Smelcer was going to have poems published in denied that they were going to publish his poems.

    January 31, 2008
    Charlie Smelcer wrote to me. In short, he verified everything in the newspaper article. On Feb. 3, 2008, I posted his confirmation as an update to the post pasted above.

    March 26, 2008
    I was away at the Returning the Gift conference where I received a Native Writer's Circle Award for my blog. While there, I got two emails from John Smelcer, asking me to remove what I said about him on my blog. He said he wanted to avoid a libel suit, and that he would mail me documentation showing he is Alaska Native. In the second email, he said that he has never lied about who he is. I did not respond to either email from him.

    March 28, 2008
    Still at the conference, I got a third email from John Smelcer. He said that, after 1994, he did "everything to 'straighten out' the Native issue." That he corrected the problem to the satisfaction of all. He said, that since 1994, his work has been published in many Native literature anthologies because he was able to "give them all my documents." Again, he asked me to remove what I'd written on my blog. I replied that I had spoken with his Charlie Smelcer and that he had verified everything in the newspaper. John Smelcer did not write to me again.

    October 20, 2009
    Earlier this year, I learned that John Smelcer has a new book coming out. It is called The Great Death. The November-December "Stars" in Horn Book include The Great Death. As yet, I don't know who reviewed it for Horn Book, but I do know that they review books for literary merit only. It doesn't matter who the author is. In this case, it obviously does not matter that the author is misrepresenting who he is.

    So... what IS the story about John Smelcer? How does he happen to have those documents to prove he is enrolled at Ahtna? Charlie Smelcer told me that John tricked Charlies's mother into giving him some shares in Ahtna, Inc. Because of those shares, he has a document that he presents as though it proves he is Native. Charlie has talked with John about misrepresenting who he is, but John continues to mislead people. 

    Right now, Smelcer's website says he "John Smelcer is the son of an Alaskan Native father from the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska." and "John's mother is white."

    And, in "The Future of Native American Literature: A Conversation with John E. Smelcer," published in MELUS (a journal published by the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) in Fall 2002 (Volume 27, Number 3), the interview says "His Tennessee-born mother is part Cherokee and his half-blood Indian father was born and raised in the Copper region of Alaska." (p. 135). So, what IS the story on his mother? Charlie Smelcer told me that his wife (the woman John says is his mother) is not Cherokee and that John is misrepresenting this, too.

    John Smelcer has a champion out there who sticks up for him, explaining that there is friction and dysfunction in the family, and that Charlie Smelcer's brother is the one who taught John what he knows about Ahtna traditions, but that brother has yet to speak up himself.

    I've got a question for librarians and teachers who work with young adult and high school students. When you ask them to do an author study of John Smelcer, what will you tell them about him? Will you let them believe he is Native by birth? What are you going to say?

    News about Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO

    Nicola Campbell's picture book, Shi-shi-etko, was recently released as a short film. Here's the trailer. As soon as I have info on its availability, I will post that information. Campbell's story and the illustrations in the picture book, by Kim LaFave, are stunning. I highly recommend the book and its sequel (Shin-chi's Canoe) and look forward to the film.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Ann Rinaldi's LEIGH ANN'S CIVIL WAR

    Last week I made some preliminary notes about Ann Rinaldi’s Leigh Ann’s Civil War. I’ve finished reading the book and am sharing some thoughts.

    The protagonist is Leigh Ann, a girl living in Georgia on a plantation. She is the youngest of four children. Her sister is named Viola and she has two older brothers, Teddy, and Louis. They all live with their father (Pa) who is going mad.

    I think the reviewer at Kirkus (their reviews are unsigned) is dead-on:
    “Veteran Rinaldi spins a tale that combines low melodrama, cringeworthy faux-Indian mysticism, a back story only the author could possibly understand, a saccharine depiction of slavery, two pregnancies of convenience and only a passing regard for historical accuracy for a nearly 300 page slog that seems to have enjoyed zero editorial intervention.”
    As I slogged through the 300 pages, I thought Rinaldi's Leigh Ann is a lot like Scarlett O'Hara. Young, pretty, bratty. Some of the content surprised me. Jon, for example, and what he does to Leigh Ann. He is a man Teddy and Louis hire to look after Pa while they're away. Viola doesn't trust him. On page 82, the text reads: 
    My sister had confided to me that she thought Jon wanted to "take liberties" with her, and told me never to be alone with him. "And if he starts anything with you, scream, kick him, bite him."

    Apparently, Viola makes Leigh Ann promise that she will not tell Teddy about Jon's advances, because on page 91, Leigh Ann considers telling Teddy but, remembering her promise, she does not tell him. In chapter thirteeen, Leigh Ann is collecting clothes for the children who work at the mill. Teddy asks Jon to drive her. She objects, he wonders why, she drops her objection, and keeps her promise to Viola. Then as she's getting out of the carriage, Jon:
    ...put his hand on my bottom. I stomped on his foot.

    "Ow! You little witch!"

    "Don't you dare touch me! Ever!"

    "Or you'll what? Tell your big brother?"
    This dialogue continues with Jon telling Leigh Ann that if she tells him, he would kill Teddy in the likely duel, and that he'd killed someone that way before. So, Leigh Ann keeps quiet.

    On page 113 (in chapter fifteen), Louis asks Leigh Ann why she does not want Jon to drive her somewhere. The text reads:

    I couldn’t lie to Louis. With his Indian powers he saw through lies.

    “He touched me.”


    I blushed. “On my bottom.”

    She goes on to tell Louis that Jon said he'd kill Teddy in a duel. Louis says only gentlemen duel, and that Jon is not a gentleman. Louis then takes him out to the barn and whips him. 

    This child molestation thread stood out to me. So far, none of the reviews (professionals, bloggers, or customers at Amazon) have noted it. Another thread that caught my eye has to do with Leigh Ann's behavior towards boys. Teddy talks with Leigh Ann about proper ways for a young girl to behave around a boy she likes…  Twelve-year-old Leigh Ann meets a 16 year old boy and kisses him on the cheek. Teddy is angry with her for doing that. She doesn’t understand what is wrong with kissing a boy on the cheek. Teddy tells her (p. 135):

    “About boys and how they become aroused. I got embarrassed, but he didn’t care. “That kiss was a sign,” he said. “It is not fair to give such encouragement to a boy unless you are willing to carry through with it. Do you know what I mean by ‘carry through with it’?”

    Oh, sweet God in heaven, will he never stop?

    He sighed. “It means to let him go further,” he said. “Much further. And touch you in other ways.”

    Please don’t let him tell me the ways!

    “Now, a young man of honor cannot act upon his impulses, but once aroused must suffer instead. And when a girl acts like that she is known as a ‘tease’ and there is nothing worse to be known as among boys than a tease.’”

    Again, none of that is mentioned in reviews I've seen. But, back to the way that Rinaldi brings Native content into her story... 

    In chapter one, Pa, referencing the Yankees, says (p. 16):

    “They want the Southern lands,” he shouted. “First the Indians wanted it and now the Northerners. I’d rather give it all back to the Indians, though they didn’t have the courage to fight for it but let the white man take it from them!”

    These words make Louis angry and he comes storming down the stairs. Leigh Ann bursts into tears. Pa pulls her onto his lap at the bottom of the stairs and says (p. 17):

    “Don’t worry your pretty little head about Louis,” he soothed. “He acts like that because he’s part Indian.”

    I just started up at Pa’s face. Was this part of his “madness” coming on?

    “He most positively is,” he assured me. “Can’t you see his dark hair? And eyes? And how he’d rather ride with no saddle? And his high cheekbones? And how good he is working with silver?”

    I saw only one thing. That if Louis was part Indian, he was not my brother. Mother’s hair was fair. Pa’s was white. Violet’s and mine was light brown and sun-streaked. Teddy’s hair was the same as ours.

    Leigh Ann runs outside and hides under some trees, crying. Louis finds her there, and that closes chapter one. Chapter two opens with Louis saying (p. 18):

    “Come on Leigh Ann, before I come over there and scalp you.”

    They bicker back and forth, and then he says (p. 19)

    “You’ve been told by Pa that I’m an Indian. Am I correct?” […] “And you’ve been shocked and hurt and you likely have come to the ugly conclusion that I’m not your brother. Am I right, sweetie?”

    I looked at him. “What did you study at college? Hoodoo?”

    Louis laughed and replied:

    “I have the gift of hoodoo because I am half Indian. Do you want to know about it?”

    The hoodoo thread is odd. I did not know what hoodoo was, so I looked it up. It is African American healing/folk medicine. I read Zora Hurston's "Hoodoo in America" published in October-December, 1931 in The Journal of American Folk-Lore.  Is Rinaldi confusing African American traditions with American Indian ones?

    At the stream, Louis has a box with him. Leigh Ann asks what is in it. Louis tells her its contents are a secret that he will reveal shortly. The two walk towards the stream. Across the way, Leigh Ann sees two deer. She feels a sense of peace like she’s never felt before. Louis says (p. 20):

    “Pa is a full-blooded Indian,” he said quietly. […] “A Cherokee,” he elaborated, just in case I needed to know.

    He goes on (p. 21):

    “It’ll take time,” he said, “for it to sink in. But not long. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

    My first thought was, Do I look Indian? My hand flew to my face.

    “No, you don’t,” Louis said, reading my thoughts. “You don’t look Indian at all.”

    He tells her (p. 22):

    “You should know that the Cherokees were the first American Indians to have an alphabet and written language. One of their chiefs, Sequoyah, was a talented silversmith. They had the first American Indian newspaper. They tried to get along with the white people. They had their own shops and businesses.”

    “Where does Pa come in?”

    “He was one of the Cherokees who was living with the white men. He worked for one named Hunter Conners, who had no children and who gave him a fine piece of land and, in the end, his name. Then gold was discovered and hundreds of settlers came and the government took the land back from the Cherokees.”

    In chapter three, Louis opens the box. Inside are silver necklaces, bracelets, rings, and armbands. He gives Leigh Ann a medallion on a silver cord. On the medallion is a profile of  Sequoyah. Leigh Ann asks him if she can wear it in front of others, and he says (p. 27):

    “I’d like to see anybody try to take it away from you. I’ve got these special Indian powers, remember. I can do some bad things with smoke and prayers.”

    Rinaldi makes Louis more Indian than Teddy, Viola, or Leigh Ann. He looks different, and, he has powers. That is just, well, hokey. Or, as the Kirkus reviewer said "cringeworthy faux-Indian." He does "bad things" with smoke and prayers. This does not make sense at all!

    In chapter four, Leigh Ann goes back to the house and talks with Teddy who tells her

    “Look,” he said, “just because we’re half Indian, you’re not to confuse us with wild Indians out west. Even Pa’s generation removed themselves from that culture.”

    Then, moving all the way up to chapter sixteen, Louis, now Mayor of Roswell, wants to rejoin the Confederate Army, but his ankle (it was shot while he was in the army earlier in the story) did not heal well, and he is persuaded not to go back. He is unhappy, though, and takes to spending a lot of time alone. One night, Leigh Ann and Teddy (who is now running the mill) look for him. They find him by the stream (page 126).

    He had built a small fire. Four long logs jutted out on each side and in the middle of these were smaller pieces of wood. Cooking in the center were pieces of venison. A great deal of smoke curled up overhead.

    His only clothing was a leather breechclout to cover his private parts. His legs, folded under him, were bare, as was his chest. Around his neck he wore a large silver medallion. He huddled in an old gray blanket. His hair was wet, as if he had just come out of the stream. He was moving his lips, praying.

    And on his shoulder was a hooty owl. It stared at us out of yellow-green eyes. But it never moved.

    I became frightened and moved closer to Teddy, who put a protective arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

    But I was. This was my beloved Louis, my darling brother, whom I looked up to so. Had he gone mad? I looked up at Teddy.

    “Eh, Louis,” he said, “you going to include us in your prayers?”

    Louis nodded yes. He had heard.

    “Look at that,” Teddy told me. “There’s wind around us. But none around him.”

    It was true. The bitter February wind that whipped around us stopped in the line bounding Louis. My mouth fell open. Teddy grinned down at me.

    “Damn, that venison smells good,” he said.

    That Teddy was taking this all so lightly made me feel better.

    “Is he going to stay here all night?” I asked.

    “He better not. Or I’ll have Primus fetch him in. Well, good night now, brother. I’ve got to get to the mill. Can I trust you to tell the Indian powers good night and come in soon to see to the safety of our women?”

    Louis looked at us placidly, first at Teddy, then at me. “Go in peace,” he said. It was in his regular Louis voice.

    We turned and left. I felt a sense of peace come over me, as if everything was going to be all right and I would never have to worry again.

    By the time chapter 22 rolls around, the war is not going well for the south. Louis is sending the women to a grandmother in Philadelphia. His wife, Camille, asks him if he wants her to go (p. 157).

    “Everyone was silent for a moment.

    Louis’s face had about it that Indian mask that you could not read. It was a long enough moment for him to contact his inner spirit.”
    Contact his inner spirit?! No comment. Things continue to go downhill. Leigh Ann begins working as a bummer for the Yankees. She must search for food. On page 241:

    I stopped to fill my canteen and in the distance saw what appeared to be a peach orchard. Beyond that I could have sworn I saw wigwams.

    I stood up to better focus my vision. I was right! Just on the other side of the peach orchard were at least six wigwams that seemed to be built out of bark and evergreen boughs.”

    She goes towards them. She’s surprised because she thought Indians had been driven out “ages ago.” She wonders if she’s dreaming, wonders if Louis had guided her there, She enters the camp:

    The women looked up as I approached and smiled. And what I had feared, that they would be afraid of my rifle, did not happen.

    Though they were all busy, either sewing beads on moccasins or ornamenting deerskin pouches or frying bacon, they looked up and smiled as I approached. They nodded their heads.

    “You’ve come at last,” one said.

    At last? Had they been waiting for me? Known of me?

    “Yes,” I said. “I suppose I lost my way. But now I have found you. Have you been waiting for me a long time?”

    “Long enough,” another said. “We were told by the owl that a little girl of our people would soon come and she would be in trouble and we were to help her. From where do you come, little one?”

    So they knew I was a girl, in spite of my boys’ clothes. “Roswell,” I said.

    They nodded to one another. They said something in Indian language. What language. Cherokee? Oh, why had I never asked Louis to teach me Cherokee?

    And then, in the middle of the Indian language I caught his name. Louis.

    So I was right. He had guided me here. They knew of him.

    “Do you travel with the Yankees?” the one who was beading the moccasins asked me.

    I told them yes, I traveled with the Yankees. I was being sent to Marietta with the other women who had been arrested.

    “Well you are not to worry,” the one who was frying bacon said. “Your Father in heaven will protect you. And the two who travel with you. Last evening we saw it in the smoke of our fire. Now, how can we help you today?”
    Your father in heaven?! What about Louis and his powers with smoke and prayer?! Leigh Ann tells the women that Mulholland has sent her to look for a turkey. They laughed and told her “Mulholland Bad Face” knows there are no turkeys and that he intends to whip her for not finding a turkey. The women tell her:

    But we tell you now, that if you go to the other side of the bridge that goes over the stream that is pure, you will see one standing there and waiting for you. Shoot him. Then kneel over him and tell him you are sorry. And thank him for his life. And bring him back to Mulholland Bad Face.”

    Leigh Ann embraces each one of the women. They “said some Indian prayers" over her. They give her a cake from the ashes. She leaves the camp, looks back, but they entire camp is gone. She still has the cake in her hand. She walked to the bridge and found the turkey. She shoots it and kneels, as she was told to do, and thanks the turkey for its life.Leigh Ann returns to the army camp and gives “Mulholland Bad Face” (her words, not mine) the turkey. He takes her into the forest, and tells her there have been no turkeys there for two years. He thinks she’s lying to him, so starts to whip her. Then out of nowhere came an owl---Louis’s owl. (What about her Father in heaven?!) It attacks Mulholland. Leigh Ann calls to it “It’s all right, Owl, it’s all right now. He won’t hurt me anymore. Thank you, thank you. It’s all right now.” The owl stops its attack and then goes to her, resting on her shoulder. Mulholland thinks she’s crazy, talking to birds.

    I'm tempted to say that Rinaldi is crazy. Her editor must be equally crazy. How did this novel get published?! The Native-related content makes no sense.  Most children and young adults know very little about the Cherokees, and this novel doesn't help. What makes it more troubling for me is the blurbs on the back of the book. Titled "Praise for Ann Rinaldi's Historical Fiction, the blurb at top is from Kirkus. It reads:

    "Readers will not soon forget these characters, whose actions and passions illuminate and enliven a historical era about which they may have heard much, but understood little. Vivid in the best sense of the word."

    I've read the entire Kirkus review for Leigh Ann's Civil War, and those words do not appear in that review. In fact, the reviewer's last two sentences are:

    Dialogue is breathtakingly wooden, character development arbitrary, sentiment sodden. A mess.

    What book does the blurb on the back of the book refer to??? What are the people over at Harcourt trying to do? Isn't this false advertising? I haven't seen the Booklist review yet, but, the blurb says:

    "Rinaldi's books are always impeccably researched, vividly detailed, and filled with very human characters; they are also about something that matters."

    As the extensive review of Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground demonstrated, her books are not always impeccably researched. Why then, does Harcourt have that particular blurb on the back of the book? And, when did Booklist say that about Rinaldi's work?

    My study (thus far) of this book is intriguing and raises many questions. Years ago, Rinaldi told me she'd never write a book about American Indians again. She obviously changed her mind, and, that change-of-mind was a mistake.

    UPDATE: Tuesday, Oct 20th.
    In this "impeccably researched" book, here's more of what the Kirkus reviewer had to say...

    The painful trials endured by Southern civilians are given only perfunctory mention; the loving negroes (not called slaves) stay with the family even after the brother graciously frees them after the end of the war, in blatant narrative disregard of the Emancipation Proclamation.

    The book is in the "Great Episodes" series. Wondering what that means...

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Joy Harjo

    Joy Harjo was our Artist in Residence this semester. We (faculty, staff, students of UIUC's Native American House and American Indian Studies program) had a gathering on Thursday evening to mark the end of her residency. The photograph was taken by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert.

    On Thursday, October 7th, she gave a reading of her children's books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming. She read to a group of about 20 children and a larger group of adults. When reading The Good Luck Cat, she cued us when to make a purring sound as she read.

    While here, she gave a concert at the student union. A few days later, we learned that she had won Best Female Artist at the 2009 Native American Music Awards

    While reading For a Girl Becoming, she sang to us. Before reading For a Girl Becoming, Joy told us about moments of becoming, how they are powerful and dangerous, and that good words in those moments can help by providing a path. As she read For a Girl Becoming I thought of my own daughter and her moments of becoming.

    Both of her children's books are rooted in her own life, in the experiences of her own family. Each one speaks to a different moment, a different need.

    I'm taking a signed copy of For a Girl Becoming with me to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in early November, to give away there at an event hosted by the American Indian Curriculum Services.

    If you're available, please attend! Thursday, November 5, 2009, at 3:00 in the afternoon. Janice Rice and I will talk with you about children's books about American Indians. My talk will include both of Joy Harjo's picture books.