Friday, March 16, 2012


Donna Jo Napoli's book, The Crossing, is subtitled "Lewis & Clark's historic journey seen through a brand-new pair of eyes".  That "brand-new pair of eyes" belongs to Sacagawea's baby, Jean Baptist.

On the first page, we see a tiny baby in a cradleboard on his mother's back. His mother and two men (and a grizzly bear) all look to the right (west). The accompanying text is:
Rolled in rabbit hide,
I am tucked snug
in a cradle pack
in the whipping cold
of new spring
Cradle pack? In the author's note on the last page, Napoli tells us that Jean Baptiste was in a cradle board (commonly written as one word). Why did Napoli use "cradle pack" in the text? It is likely that other Native readers (like me) and readers who know "cradleboard" is the right word, will ask that question, and those without that knowledge will "learn" something inaccurate about what that item is called.

On the next page, she writes:
Wind catches the sail,
swing and woop!
Over we go, Bia' and Ape' and me--
Mother and Father and Babe--
splash, shiver.
There are five men shown on that page. Presumably, one of them is the baby's father, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trader and trapper. "Bia'" is Shoshone for mother, and "Ape'" is Shoshone for father. We see Bia' and Ape' a couple of times. It suggests a lovely nuclear family. On most pages however, Madsen (the illustrator) shows us mother and child and two men. Those two men are likely meant to be Lewis and Clark.

Alongside the author's note is the Acknowledgement section, where the author notes that she consulted two different websites of English/Shoshone language. That is where I learned that Bia' means mother and Ape' means father. I also entered "cradleboard" and found that "gohno" is the Shoshone word. I wonder how the author decided when to (and when not to) use Shoshone words.

Did the baby learn Shoshone? Did he call his parents Bia' and Ape'?

It is nice that Napoli introduces her readers to two Shoshone words, but she could have given us more of that language.

I have many questions. On one page, Napoli writes:
The old chief speaks Chinook
to the prisoner, who speaks Shoshoni
to Bia', who speaks Hidatsa
to Ape', who speaks French
to his friend, who speaks English.
There was need, during that journey, for communication to occur in a chain like that, but I'm caught up wondering about that prisoner. Who is that? The previous pages in the book provide no context for having a prisoner.

Later, we read that:
Summer heat tires us.
Horses get stolen overnight and no one saw a thing.
The illustration shows Indian men walking away from a camp. Did Indians steal horses from Lewis and Clark's expedition? If yes, why? And, what was taken from them and all the other Native Nations at that time and in years prior to that?

Chronologically, events are out of order.

Overall, The Crossing is disappointing. In the acknowledgements, Napoli thanks Brenda Bowen for suggesting that Napoli write about the child on Sacagawea's back. The Crossing is not about that child. The child is a vehicle for telling the same glorified and romantic Lewis and Clark story.   

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Librotraficante Caravan on its way to Tucson

 [Editor's Note:  A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes is here.]


In a few hours, Tony Diaz's Librotraficante Caravan will be on its way to Tucson. The caravan consists of carloads of banned books Diaz calls "wetbooks" that his caravan is "smuggling" into Tucson for use by students who were in the Mexican American Studies courses that were shut down in January. Authors of the banned books are supporting the caravan by donating money and books.

In January when Diaz learned of the shut-down of the classes, he created the video below, describing the caravan. Since then, it has picked up steam and media attention. He was on Democracy Now! last week and the New York Times featured the caravan on its page of "interesting things to do this week" in Texas.

The Caravan will end in Tucson with a celebration. Along the way, there are terrific events planned where authors will participate in Teach-Ins. Below is a map of the journey. You can see the detailed schedule here.

Source: Librotraficante website

Sandra Cisneros will be at several events, and so will Benjamin Alire Saenz, author of the outstanding A Gift From Papa Diego that Jean Mendoza and I wrote about in Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls.

Follow the caravan on Twitter using #Librotraficante.

Note (added on March 12, 10:20 AM):
You can support the teachers, students, and their on-going efforts to get the program reinstated by donating to Save Ethnic Studies.  
You can donate to Librotraficante's work. Though the caravan itself will end on the 17th, Librotraficante will continue its work at providing books to "Underground Libraries". 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Former Student in TUSD's Mexican American Studies classes: "Everything has been taken away..."

 [Editor's Note: Are you looking for information about the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District? A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down is here.]

Last month, students from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) traveled to Tucson in support of students and teachers in the now-banned Mexican American Studies classes that were shut down in January, 2012 by the Tucson Unified School District's (TUSD) board. For background on their visit, see the article in the CSUN student newspaper.
David Morales, who blogs at Three Sonorans, filmed students talking about how things have changed. Their day-to-day lives are ones in which they are followed and their assignments are collected by administrators:
Curtis Acosta is a teacher in TUSD. He taught in the now-banned classes and has been providing updates:
You can support the teachers, students, and their on-going efforts to get the program reinstated by donating to Save Ethnic Studies