Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Scholastic, Joseph Bruchac, and the out-of-print status of HIDDEN ROOTS

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

A few weeks ago, I posted news that Joseph Bruchac was going to bring his out-of-print Hidden Roots back into publication by publishing it with his own press.

Earlier today I learned from him that Scholastic will not revert rights to him so that he can reprint Hidden Roots. He was told that Scholastic will continue to make it available to the school market through book clubs, but that means you and I can't get it (unless we have access to a school book club and the book is actually listed in the new catalog each month.)

From Joe, I also learned that his previously positive relationship with Scholastic has changed drastically. This happened when the editor he worked with for years left Scholastic. Since then, Scholastic has been slow to respond to his questions and has not kept him informed of the status of his books as had been done in the past. He was not told, for example, that Hidden Roots or Geronimo were out of print and that Scholastic has no plans to reprint them.

How to make sense of this, I wonder... 

Were those two books not money-makers for Scholastic? Scholastic is, after all, a business that wants to be profitable, and, it wants books that will sell.  So.... what does Scholastic offer in the way of books about American Indians? Or books written by American Indians?

I went to their site and searched. I found these books when I searched on "Native American."

The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy. Hmm... No author listed on the website. I dug around and found out the author's name: Joseph Bruchac! The Journal of Jesse Smoke is in the "My Name is America" series of historical journals that Scholastic has been publishing for several years now.  It was preceded by the "Dear America" series of historical diaries that featured female protagonists. (The "My Name is America" series is historical fiction journals featuring male protagonists.) Anyway, when the Dear America series first got started, Scholastic did not include the author's name prominently on the books. Many readers thought they were actual diaries. The reading community wasn't happy with being misled that way, and so, Scholastic started adding author's names to the book spine (not sure about the covers).  I guess they didn't think it necessary to do that on the website? Or, did they revert back to the misleading style of packaging the books? I haven't read The Journal of Jesse Smoke.

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. I don't think there is anything in it about American Indians. I don't know why it came back in the search.

The Starving Time: Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary. As with Jesse Smoke, no author's name is provided on the website, but the author's name (Patricia Hermes) IS on the cover.  I haven't read it, but given its setting, I'm guessing Elizabeth had some run-ins with Indians... 

Greetings from the Fifty States: How They Got Their Names, by Sheila Keenan and Selina Alko. This book was probably scooped up in the search because a lot of states' names are Native words.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble. Originally published by Simon & Schuster. This won the Caldecott when it came out in 1979. Goble is not Native, but has published a great many books about American Indians. Some---especially his Iktomi stories---have been met with strong objections from Elizabeth Cook-Lyn and Doris Seale. I've got to look into The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. From everything I can find (online), there is no mention of a tribe. This is a generic "Native American" story. And, on the Scholastic website, on the Discussion Guide, one suggestion is to "Have the class leaf through the book's illustrations to find symbols that they readily associate with Native Americans (e.g., arrows, feathers as hair ornaments, tipis, men with long, braided hair, etc.). Wow! Children can, in fact, associate all those things with "Native Americans"----but if the kids come to think (as many do) that all Indians live in tipis, then, that exercise is a problem, and, it points to the problems with a generic "Native American" story...

Dear America: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky. I haven't read this book, but maybe I should! The description on the Scholastic page says that the protagonist wants "more than anything" to meet and befriend a Native American...  And then "Her wish comes true when she meets Squanto..."

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Native story, Native writer, award-winning book.

The First Thanksgiving, by Garnet Jackson. This looks like one of those wonderful (not) stories that doesn't name the tribes (Wampanoag, for example) who encountered the Pilgrims. Instead, it is "Native Americans" and Pilgrims...

If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, by Anna Kamma. Based on description provided, it's the same-old-same-old lovely (not) story...

Saving the Buffalo, by Albert Marrin. His previous books about American Indians were a mess.

Of all those, I'd order two (Jesse Smoke and Diary) if I was interested in Native stories by Native writers.

But consider how many Pilgrim/Indian stories are in this set! And, how many non-Native writers presenting---explicitly and implicitly---outsider perspectives on Native Americans! It really seems to me that Scholastic ought to bring Hidden Roots and Geronimo back into print. I'm guessing, though, that they're catering to the public, that they are after the dollars that those Thanksgiving stories bring into their coffers...

Come on, Scholastic!  Bring Hidden Roots back into print! Or, give Bruchac the rights to do it! The book is discussed in several children's literature textbooks. It won the award given by the American Indian Library Association!

I'm going to write to Scholastic and ask why they aren't going to keep it in print. They've got an online form to use, if you're interested in writing as well.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Downloadable PDF "Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians"

Earlier today I made a downloadable two-page document called "Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians." It includes a few short introductory paragraphs and the three "top ten" lists (by grade level) shown at the top right of American Indians in Children's Literature.

You can print and use it as needed, without writing to me for permission.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Books by and about American Indians: 2009

Each year, I rely on CCBC Choices to provide me with statistics about the number of children's books about American Indians and by American Indians published in the previous year. Each year, I add to the table from the previous year. It's not a spiffy-looking graphic, but the info is important!

Year---Number of bks---About Amer Ind---By Native writer and/illustrator


As CCBC is careful to note:
These statistics represent only quantity, not quality or authenticity. A significant number—well over half—of the books about each broad racial/ethnic grouping are formulaic books offering profiles of various countries around the world. Additionally, the number of books created by authors and illustrators of color does not represent the actual number of individual book creators, as some individuals created two or more books.
What are the 33 books about American Indians? And who are the 12 authors/illustrators (keeping in mind that the number is not 12 different authors or illustrators)? I'll need to do some research to find out what books they received. Reading their website, I see one of the books they received is Joseph Bruchac's Night Wings. I haven't read it yet.