Friday, November 08, 2013


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Back in the 1990s when I started graduate school, I read Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life. Originally published by Carolrhoda Books in 1996, I'm delighted to see that it is back in print. This time, it is a paperback published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here's the cover:

Isn't it gorgeous? Powwow Summer is full of solid information about Native people of today. Its text and photographs are what captivated me when I first read it. It wasn't another book about long-ago-and-far-away-tribeless-stereotypical-Indians. As I turned each page, I learned a lot.

See, I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I grew up there. From my parents, grandparents, and elders, I learned about us and how we do things. That means the material things we do (cooking traditional foods) and the spiritual things we do, too (our dances are a form of prayer). My photo albums have photos of Nambe kids playing outside, helping their grandma's cook, and, photos of them in traditional clothing. I know a lot about who we are.

Marcie's book taught me about her people, which are the Anishinaabe (I met Marcie several years ago. See my review of her play, "SongCatcher: A Native Interpretation of the Story of Frances Densmore"). The text and photographs in Powwow Summer provide a depth of information that is tribally specific.

Marcie asks questions that help the reader frame the information within their own family context (p. 3):
Does your family have a ritual of going to church or synagogue every weekend? Does someone in your family play a sport, and do the rest of you attend to cheer that person on?
If you're looking for top notch books to add to your shelves this month (November is Native American Month), include this one. (Note: Back in 1996 when I launched American Indians in Children's Literature, one of the first books I wrote about was Powwow Summer.) 

The details:
Title: Powwow Summer
Author: Marcie Rendon
Illustrator: Cheryl Walsh Bellville
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Year: 2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Looking for Children's Books about Thanksgiving? (Part 1)

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(Editor's Note, November 8, 2013: I've been casting about trying to find words to explain what is wrong with the idea that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag's sat down together and had a wonderful meal together. Below, I note that things that happened before that meal are usually missing from the way the event is portrayed in children's books. But I think Jill Lepore's words get at what I find troubling about the "wonderful meal" idea. In the 'After the Mayflower" episode of the PBS documentary "We Shall Remain," Lepore says that everyone there was very nervous. The Pilgrims, the documentary says, were especially wary of close contact with the Wampanoag people. That anxiety, I think, makes the depictions of a meal characterized by warmth and happiness disingenuous.)     

Are you looking for children's books about Thanksgiving?!! The exclamation points convey my frustration with the insistence that this holiday be one in which people want Thanksgiving to be about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat a meal together--nevermind what happened to Native people before or after that! Did you know, for instance, that Tisquantum--more commonly known as Squanto--could speak English because he'd been kidnapped by a prior expedition and sold into slavery in Europe? And did you know that before the Mayflower arrived, the Wampanaog people had been devastated by disease from earlier European visitors?

If you've written to me or to other Native critics, educators, or librarians, to ask for children's books about Thanksgiving, it is likely because you want to give the children in your care or in your classroom something better than the standard Pilgrim/Indian story where everyone sits down to a lovely dinner.

Prompted by readers of AICL, I took some time today to head over to the local B&N and see what kind of books about Thanksgiving they might have on display.

Here's the shelf (sorry---photographs in this post are of low quality):

There are four rows of books on the display. Here's some photos and observations of them, starting from top left:

What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams, illustrated by Amy Wummer. Published in 2009 by Candy Cane Press, here's the synopsis (from Amazon):
Following the success of What Is Christmas? and What Is Easter?, Michelle Adams brings the same humor and warmth to this little Thanksgiving board book. Through the whimsical art and rhyming verse that's fun to read, even the youngest child will come to understand that Thanksgiving is really about showing gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. 
Adams and Wummer steer clear of any attempt to show Indians as part of their book. Their collaboration has Pilgrims, but no Indians:

I don't know about that... Doesn't seem right to just omit Native people, but I don't want the stereotypes OR the feel-good story, either. Sometimes I think that Thanksgiving books for young children should just focus on things people are grateful for. What is Thanksgiving? tries to do that, but having Pilgrims (and a turkey) but no Wampanaog people just doesn't seem right. 

Five Silly Turkeys does not have Pilgrims or Indians in it. 

Happy Thanksgiving Day by Jill Roman Lord is a 'touch and feel' book (for those of you who don't know what they are, touch-and-feel books have textures embedded in each page that young children can touch, thereby having a multi-sensory experience). Published in 2013 by Ideals Pub, this page shows the little boy's artwork taped to his wall. See? Pilgrims, but no Indians (the bear's belly has a swatch of fabric for a child to feel).

Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George by Cynthia Bartynski and Julie M. Young, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is also a board book. For most of it, George is shown in a Pilgrim hat. No Indians or feathers, anywhere, till one of the last pages:

See the Indian figurines in the left margin? They're also on the table. Those things on the back of everyone's chair are turkey feather decorations that George made.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean was published in 2013 by HarperFestival. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Starring in the school Thanksgiving play would make even the coolest cat nervous. But when Pete the Cat gets onstage, he makes learning the story of the first Thanksgiving fun. With thirteen flaps that open to reveal hidden surprises, this book is sure to be a holiday favorite for every Pete the Cat fan.
Though Amazon lists it (today) as their #1 children's book about Thanksgiving, the reader reviews pan it. One person said it is "superficial" but most others don't like it because it is missing the qualities of the other Pete the Cat books. Here's what I find problematic:

That character is supposed to be Squanto. Here's what the text says: "The Pilgrims had heard about the Native Americans, and they worried that they would not be friendly. Pete had never met a cat he didn't like, so he thought they would be kind."  Here's another page:

Moving along!

Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit! by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories, came out in 1999. Like Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving, it is from HarperFestival. I like the Biscuit books. He is so cute! In this lift-the-flap book, there are no Indians or Wampanoags. There are, however, Pilgrim dolls. 

See the man propped up against the bench that has Biscuit's food dish? The woman is face down by Biscuit's hind feet. 

The Night Before Thanksgiving is about a family getting ready for Thanksgiving. No pilgrims or Indians, either. Dare I say it? "Thankfully!" Some people really object to my being snarky. Ah well.

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B. G. Hennessey, illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath is pretty awful, in my mind. Just the idea of using that song makes me cringe! I did a bit of poking around and found a video of kids singing it, wearing Pilgrim hats and bonnets, and feathered headbands. But instead of saying Wampanoag, they sang "Native Americans." Why, I wonder? In the book, the two groups (Pilgrims/Wampanoags) are shown working (cooking, fishing, etc.) to get ready for their shared meal. Looking at the illustrations, I wonder why the Wampanoag's all have a dash of facepaint on their cheeks? In every illustration? Why? (Update, Nov 8: A reader noted that the Pilgrims also have that same dash of facepaint, suggesting it has something to do with the author's style of illustration. Good point!) Here's the cover:
Next up? Nate the Great Talks Turkey. Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Mitchelle Sharmat, the illustrations are by Jody Wheeler. Unlike the ones above, this is not a picture book. And, it isn't about Thanksgiving. Published in 2013 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers, it is about a turkey on the loose. There is, however, a gesture to Thanksgiving early on:

I don't know what happens later in the book. Maybe they're going to catch it, but I kind of doubt they'd kill and eat it. The last book on the second shelf is The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern. Illustrated by Elroy Freem, it was published in 1993 by Scholastic. Partway through the book, we're introduced to Squanto! On the page just before this one, the text tells us that the Pilgrims made a good friend who helped them, and that his name was Squanto.  

I wonder what children today learn about Squanto? Given that November is Native American Month, it is depressing to see how Native peoples are depicted (or not) in these books. I'm going to stop here and leave the last two shelves and another book that was on the backside of the display, for another day...  Your comments (and pointers to my typos) are welcome! 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


By a presidential proclamation, November is National Native American Heritage Month. A good many teachers and librarians are doing all they can to provide students with substantive information about American Indians. With that in mind, I recommend the DVD, Canes of Power

Canes of Power is a documentary about the sovereign nation status of the Pueblo Indian Nations of New Mexico. Each pueblo is a distinct sovereign nation within what is now known as the United States, but we've been on our homelands for a lot longer than the United States has existed. As the people in the DVD make clear, Pueblo Nations have been acknowledged or recognized as sovereign nations for hundreds of years.

Prior to the time when Europeans arrived on our homelands, leaders at each pueblo had a cane that signified their position(s) as leaders. When Spain arrived in the 1600s, acknowledgement of our sovereignty was reflected by a cane Spain presented to our tribal leaders. The same thing happened when Mexico declared its dependence from Spain.

When our homelands became part of the United States, President Lincoln added a fourth cane to the three. As such, there are four canes (image shared here is my photograph of that particular frame in the documentary):

The head of each cane is engraved. Here's a photograph of the Zia Lincoln cane (Zia is one of the pueblos):

Credit: Ward Russell, Silver Bullet Productions

Because a significant chunk of the documentary focuses on the Lincoln canes, I think it is especially important to teachers developing/teaching about Abraham Lincoln because it raises questions about why Lincoln established this nation-to-nation relationship with the Pueblo people but not with other Native Nations. Pueblo leaders offer their thoughts on that question.

All-in-all, it is a compelling documentary and I highly recommend adding it to your classroom or library collection. With regard to using it, consider February (when Lincoln is celebrated), or July (when nationhood is a focus). It need not be limited to use in November (Native American Heritage Month).

You can order it from Silver Bullet Productions.

SLJ's 2013 Focus On "Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians"

School Library Journal has a "Focus On" series in its Collection Development category. Each "Focus On" is devoted to a single topic. This month, I'm the author of the Focus On column. For it, I provided an annotated list of over 30 children's and young adult books and apps. Most are by Native authors of the U.S. or Canada. The column this month is Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians.

I love the book cover layouts SLJ's staff put together to go with the column. I love them so much, that I am reproducing them here. I would love to see these books on display in every library in the country! As I look at each cover, I remember vividly where I was when I read each one. That's because these books are outstanding. 

I'll take a moment, too, to thank members of the American Indian Library Association for their help in locating apps. I couldn't include all of them, but plan to write about those that I list below, and some that I learned about too late to include for the article. 

I'll also take a moment to point you to my previous Focus On column for SLJ. Published in 2008, it was the prompt for me to come up with my "Top Ten" lists (see top right column of AICL for links to those Top Ten lists). I'll be adding the books in the 2013 Focus On column to the Top Ten lists, too. 

Thanks, SLJ, for providing me with an opportunity to put these terrific books in front of a wide audience!

Please take time to go directly to the article and read the annotations. They're brief, but I've written--or will write about--each one of them on AICL. Here's the list. For previous/future posts on them, look for them in the 'label's section (far right column towards the bottom) or simply type the book title (in quotation marks) in the search bar (top left corner right).

Baby's First Laugh, by Beverly Blacksheep
Boozhoo, Come Play with Me, by Deanna Himango
Cradle Me, by Debby Slier
Little You, by Richard Van Camp
Good Morning World, by Paul Windsor

Whale Snow, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Chickadee, by Louise Erdrich
Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island, by Lee DeCora Francis
Chikasha Stories, Volume One: Shared Spirit, by Glenda Galvan
Fatty Legs: A True Story, by Christy & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way, by S. D. Nelson
Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story, by S. D. Nelson
The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness Into Light, by Tim Tingle
Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, by Donald Uluadluak

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection, edited by Matt Dembicki
My Name is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
Triple Threat, by Jacqueline Guest
Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Walking on Earth, Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin
Native Writers: Voices of Power, by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernst
Super Indian: Volume One, by Arigon Starr
How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
Code Talker Stories, by Laura Tohe
The Moon of Letting Go: And Other Stories, by Richard Van Camp
Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

Anompa: Chickasaw Language Basic, Chickasaw Nation
Bramble Berry Tales--The Story of Kalkalilh: Book One, Rival Schools Media Design
Navajo Toddler, Isreal Shortman
Ojibway, Ogoki Learning Systems

Chickasaw Kids, Chickasaw Nation
Infinity of Nations Culture Quest, National Museum of the American Indian

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Trailer for FREE BIRDS

Thanks to Ernest Whiteman of Adobe Youth Voices, I just took a look at the trailer for the new movie, Free Birds. In it, turkeys travel back in time to 1621 to get turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. I just watched the trailer. Here's a screenshot of the bad guys who want to kill the turkeys:

And, here's the battle that takes place. See how the turkeys are shown? (See note #1 below.)

Apparently, the turkeys play drums, chant, and speak in broken English. The reviewer at the San Francisco Gate points to, and questions the inclusion of a turkey "who sounds like the Taco Bell Chihuahua," but doesn't note the stereotypical feathers and facepaint. In a Reuter's interview, the director says he didn't want to make the film into a history lesson:
"There's a lot of stuff about Thanksgiving that's not that nice, there's a lot about the settling of the United States that I couldn't show."
Not sure what to say about that... 'cept WTF? The review at the New York Times says:
"Free Birds" is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for some action/peril, rude humor and exploding waddles.
Their review says nothing about how the turkeys are shown. Here's the poster featuring Jenny. Is she really called "Hot Wings" in the film?!

Looking over the cast names at IMBD, it says "Jenny," so I have no idea why the poster says "Hot Wings" on it. Maybe she's looking at Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) and thinking HE is "Hot Wings." She is his love-interest. He's from the present day; she's---I guess---a Wampanoag turkey in 1621. I wonder---is "Massasoit" (also in the film), a turkey? Or a person?

The review at tells us that there's a feisty turkey named Jenny (voiced by Amy Poehler), and that her dad, "Chief Broadbeak" is a tribal leader. It ends with this:
Worst of all, "Free Birds" aims for historical significance by using the turkey slayings as a metaphor for the cruelties Native Americans have suffered.

Overall, the movie sounds awful in so many ways. If you've seen it, I'd appreciate your comments on what you saw/thought.


Update, 3:00 PM, November 3, 2013: I'll add more as I find it... On the Facebook page for the film, I found another clip. Who are these guys?! In Plains style attire?! And are those horse ears in the foreground?

Update, 3:15 PM, November 3, 2013: This guy approaches a turkey in facepaint and raises his wing up... He doesn't say "how" as he does it, but he tries to draw the attention of the turkey in facepaint to that upraised wing.

Update, 4:00 PM, November 4, 2013: Indian Country Today published a review of the movie on October 7, 2013. Take a look: 'Free Birds' Tells Wrong Story, Inaccurately. And Vanity Fair's reviewer called it misguided: Film Review: 'Free Birds'.

Note #1: A couple of people (see comments) pointed out my typo in writing "turkey's" instead of "turkey." I've corrected the error.  Even when they're snarky, I welcome comments about typos and other errors.