Monday, January 13, 2014


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Editors note on Jan 16 2014 at 9:53 AM: The publisher responded to this critique. See comments.

While reading about children's books this morning, I came across some peculiar reviews of Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days by Michael O. Fitzgerald. His book was published in 2013 by Wisdom Tales Press.

What is peculiar about it is the reviews of the book in the review section of the website. As some of you know, I taught in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois for many years. I'm familiar with Native writers and scholars. When I read the review of Children of the Tipi by Polingaysi Qoyawayma, I paused because I know she passed away several years ago in the early 1990s. I wondered if the 2013 edition was preceded by one that she might have seen prior to her death, but didn't find an earlier edition at the Library of Congress. Same with Maria Chona. She passed away in 1936.

Then I looked closer at Maria Chona's review. This is what the paragraph says:

Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald will tell you how The People lived, worked, played, hunted, told stories, and shared with one another. Maybe the sacred days of long ago are gone. Maybe not. Maybe they live on in beautiful books like this one where the days stretch endlessly before us and people of wisdom speak knowingly of the world they inhabit. Wisdom shines forth like this: ‘Women have power: Children. Can any warrior make a child, no matter how brave and wonderful he is?’ —Maria Chona (Papago).

When I looked at the book itself, I found a quote from Maria Chona on page 4. It is the last couple of lines from the review! What it seems to me is that the publisher's website is either poorly formatted, or the webmaster does not know how to properly use citations.

So, I took a closer look at the part of the review with Qoyawayma's quote. Here's a screen capture:

See how it looks like the whole paragraph is her words? Well.... I paged through the book to see if I'd find "We prayed that we might be beautiful...." in it, and sure enough! Her words are on page 19.

Then I got to wondering why Chona's (she was Tohono O'odham) and Qoyawayma's (she was Hopi) words are in a book about Plains people. And then I wondered why the author used "Papago" instead of Tohono O'odham when identifying Chona's tribe? Years ago, they started to use Tohono O'odham because it is their own name for themselves. They're among many tribes who've rejected an outsider's name for them, preferring their own name. It is a common error but certainly not one I'd expect to see in a book by someone who says they've worked extensively with Native peoples over a long period of time, writing books, making documentaries. And again--why are the words of a Hopi woman in this book?

As I have the book in front of me, I see other problems.

On the page with Chona's quote, there is a cradleboard just above her quote. Beside the cradleboard is the word "papoose." Here's a screen capture of that part of that page:

It would be far more useful to see the word 'cradleboard' and the nation that particular cradleboard belongs to beside the cradleboard rather than the word 'papoose.' Maybe we (readers) are expected to understand that the cradleboard shown is used for a "papoose" but there again, I have a concern. Papoose is a Native word, but it isn't the word used by Chona's people. Will people come away thinking (erroneously), that papoose is the Indian word for baby? Will they think that cradleboard is one that belonged to Chona's people? Does it?! We don't know!

In the Editor's Note, Fitzgerald says

The majority of these photographs are rare. Most of them are taken from several thousand photographs that I have collected over almost forty years, including research done in the Library of Congress in 1974. All of the photographs ever submitted for copyright protection are in that facility, and at that time it was still possible to roam freely through the stacks and to easily obtain copies of those photographs whose copyright had expired. 

With that statement, he apparently doesn't feel it necessary to provide photo credits, or any sort of bibliographic information for any of them. They're just there. There are no captions other than, sometimes, short ones like "pounding corn" and "drying meat" and "Cooking meat with heated stones in a buffalo-stomach container."

In short, the quotes are surrounded by old photos and photos of objects that may or may not have any connection to the tribe of the person being quoted.

As an educator--in particular as an early childhood educator--that renders this book worse than worthless because it suggests that specifics about tribe don't matter. In this kind of book, artifacts from one nation can be sprinkled anywhere you want because Indians are all alike... which of course, we're not!

Last, I went to Amazon to see what reviews there say... The reviewer at School Library Journal included an important note about the quotes being tangential at times. In the end, that reviewer says the book is useful for the art it has in it. Taking a wild guess, I suppose "art" means the photographs, but as I noted above, without attribution or meaningful captions, these photographs are worthless as an educational tool.

I really object to books like this. The photographs and quotes play right into mainstream expectations of Indians having great wisdom. Indeed, when I asked for help in finding the book at my local library, the librarian who handed it to me sighed as she did so, saying how she loved old photos. She looked at me, and I'm sure she wondered if I am Native (I am), and may have wanted to say more but chose not to.

In conclusion? I do not recommend Michael Oren Fitzgerald's Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days. Published in 2013 by Wisdom Tales, I'd see if I could get my money back if I'd bought it.

I wonder what else Wisdom Tales has published???


Bill Elk Whistle Neal said...

Wisdom Tales has published Paul Gobles books for children, for one author. I, myself, have thought to submit a children's book to them for their consideration, hoping they would decide to publish it. I am interested in any other information that becomes available here about this publishing company.
~Bill Neal Elk Whistle

Mary-Kathryne Steele said...

Part One of Two Comments:
As a publisher of multicultural books, Wisdom Tales Press makes every effort to honor and respect all peoples, their cultures, and spiritual practices. We also value constructive input from our readers. Regarding Debbie Reese’s recent posts, I have a few comments I would like to share in order to clarify some apparent misunderstandings:

1) There are no quotes from deceased persons about Children of the Tipi. The quote Ms. Reese is referencing was written by Gerald Hausman, a well known storyteller and accomplished author of over 70 books, who is very much alive. It was Gerald Hausman who, within his endorsement, quotes sayings in the book by Maria Chona and several other American Indians. In no way has Wisdom Tales Press used deceased American Indians to endorse the book.
Here is Gerald Hausman’s praise quote in its entirety from our website where it has solid black bars above and below it to distinguish Hausman's quote from the other praise quotes on the same page:
“Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald will tell you how The People lived, worked, played, hunted, told stories, and shared with one another. Maybe the sacred days of long ago are gone. Maybe not. Maybe they live on in beautiful books like this one where the days stretch endlessly before us and people of wisdom speak knowingly of the world they inhabit. Wisdom shines forth like this: ‘Women have power: Children. Can any warrior make a child, no matter how brave and wonderful he is?’ —Maria Chona (Papago).
“Yes, ‘Life is different now,’ as Belle Highwalking (northern Cheyenne) tells us. ‘There are some people today that always lived in town. They will never know what it was like to live in the country.’
“This lovely book full of fine photographs of the old days reminds us that the old ways were good because they were not always easy. ‘ ... people were tough in those days.’ says Pretty Shield (Absaroke). But they prayed that goodness would follow them all the days of their lives. ‘We prayed that we might be beautiful in body, face, and heart. This protected us from evil. Then we had strength to meet the day and its problems.’ —Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth White, Hopi).
“To read a book that is full of wisdom is a privilege, and thanks to Michael Oren Fitzgerald, we can do that. To take the spirit of such a book and breathe it in, slowly and with reverence, is food for the mind that will cleanse the heart. That way the good days are still with us.”
—Gerald Hausman, storyteller, educator, and author or co-author of more than 70 books such as The American Storybag, Time Swimmer, Turtle Dream: Collected Stories from the Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and Havasupai People, Three Little Birds, and The Jacob Ladder
In light of this clarification, we would greatly appreciate if Ms. Reese would consider correcting her statements about this issue on this website, her website, and her Facebook page.

Thank you very much,
Mary-Kathryne Steele
Wisdom Tales Press

Mary-Kathryne Steele said...

This is the second part of my Comments:
2) Wisdom Tales takes great pride in the quality of its books and in being receptive to the needs of its readers. If Ms. Reese can find a specific example of a quote being attributed to the wrong person, she is welcome to bring this to my attention and we will work to correct this as soon as possible. We value and appreciate feedback from her and from other conscientious readers.
3) We completely agree that images in the 19th and early 20th century were staged. However, one has to remember that photos taken during this period took several minutes to expose. As the technology did not allow more spontaneous “action” shots, Curtis and others had to “stage” or pose their subjects. Seeking authenticity, they also tried to depict the American Indian before the coming of the white settlers, thus without western dress and other such paraphernalia.
4) Regarding Ms. Reese’s comments about the photos themselves, compelling books about current-day American Indians have been published, but this particular book is not focused on modern times. The whole idea behind Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days is to provide contemporary children with the historical ideas and images of previous generations—before TV, computers, and video games. The book itself is very clear on this point. Without the use of historical photos, it would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, message to share. However, the book actually does contain color photos of current American Indian children, and even finishes with the idea that the traditional ideas live on (thus they have not vanished). The last pages read: “The olden days have vanished ... but many traditions live on.” The seven color photographs on the last pages are of modern American Indian children.

In conclusion, Wisdom Tales stands behind the integrity of this book and our other books as well. We know the immense amount of research and editing that all of our authors and artists undertake and we always do our best to assure high standards of historical accuracy, beauty, and truth in the books before they go to press. Even so, errors can and will occasionally occur, and so we always appreciate the comments of well-informed and well-intentioned readers. We also very much appreciate the opportunity you’ve given us to respond to these comments.

Mary-Kathryne Steele
Wisdom Tales Press

Debbie Reese said...

Dear Ms. Steele,

Thank you for your comments. I'll address them here and make editorial notes in the review itself.

Your first comment is about my criticism of the reviews on your website. I see what you mean about the reviews. Pointing out that horizontal line makes it clear to me that Hausman is quoting Chona and others. Nonetheless, within his review, new paragraphs that end with Chona's and Qoyawayma's names are what confused me. Course, I'm only one reader. But look at the cut/paste you did. See how you've got a paragraph that ends with "--Maria Chona (Papago) and then another one that ends with --Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth White, Hopi) and then the final one that ends with "Gerald Hausman, storyteller..." I do think it needs a bit of editing for clarification. As such, I stand by my comment that formatting of that review is a problem.

In your second comment, you invite me to let you know about quotes that are attributed to the wrong person. I didn't say any of the quotes are incorrectly attributed. I didn't check any of them. I assumed they are correct. That said, I don't like that Fitzgerald edited them as he saw fit for the audience. What was left out or changed, I wonder?

My concern with attribution has to do with the photographs, not the quotes. As I said, there are no attributions at all for the photographs. It is as though the people in the photo and their tribal nation does not matter. On page 27, there is a quote from Mourning Dove, a Salish woman. The photograph above it is Pueblo. I don't recognize the photo to the right. Is it Salish? And the photo of the baskets. From what tribe do they originate? On page 21 is a quote from Polingaysi Qoyawayma, who was Hopi. The photograph above it is of Hopi women grinding corn, but there's no note that says so. Beneath it are two photographs that are definitely not Hopi.


Debbie Reese said...

(continued reply to Ms. Steele)

In your third comment, you note that photographs of that time had to be staged due to the technology of the time. I agree. That is not my concern. I object to the staging wherein Curtis would ask a person to wear something that was not of his or her tribe, or, removing items that didn't fit the photographers definition of "authenticity." That definition, embraced by so many people today, gets turned into a "you're not really Native if you have x, y, z, because real Indians didn't have those things." It contributes to an idea that being Native is about material culture rather than what it is in its totality. "Life in the buffalo days" (Fitzgerald's subtitle) was far more than the romantic quotes and photos that he included in the book. From the beginnings of Native/European contact, diplomatic negotiations took place. The choice of photos for the book obscures us as self-governing nations of people. From those "buffalo days" there are photographs of Native leaders wearing Western attire (suits, for example) when they met with U.S. presidents.

I understand that Wisdom Tales wanted to provide contemporary children (I assume the book was developed, intentionally or not, with a non-Native reader in mind) with images of previous generations (staged or not), but too many people hold a "vanished" Indian idea in their heads. Indeed, on page 36, the page title has "vanished" in the title.

What we really need are books that feature Native people of today, not as artists or dancers or storytellers, but as scientists and doctors and political leaders, too. This is especially necessary for young children.

Right now all over the US, people are ignoring the requests of Native people, organizations, associations, etc. that ask sporting programs to stop using things like "Redskins" and "Braves" for their mascots. Instead of listening to us, they argue that those mascots are a way to learn about Native peoples, or that they honor Native people.

Part of my critique of Fitzgerald's book rests upon his lack of information such that the young reader who uses his book will understand that the women grinding the corn on page 29 likely had children and grandchildren who are, today, citizens of the Hopi Nation.

In your fourth comment, you note that the last pages of the book has color photographs. That is true. Across the top of that page the words read "...but many traditions live on." Our traditions do continue, and while it is nice to see color photographs of children in their traditional regalia, it would also be great to see more depth on that end of the book. What tribe do those children belong to? What dance are they doing? When were those photos taken? Where? Without that tribally specific info and contact, the reader is left with "Indians dance" instead of, say "Lakota" or "jingle dance."

I'm grateful to you, Ms. Steele, for responding. I hope that our conversation is helpful to you as someone who publishes children's books about American Indians.

I encourage you and others to read the work of Native scholars and critics, and scholars critical of the ways that Native content is presented. My focus is children's and young adult books. You could read scholarly journals like AMERICAN INDIAN QUARTERLY, or STUDIES IN AMERICAN INDIAN LITERATURES, or, WICAZO SA REVIEW. There are outstanding books, too, like Seale and Slapin's A BROKEN FLUTE; THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN.

Debbie Reese said...

Ms. Steele--On Facebook, a colleague wonders if you have a response to other concerns I raised, like what I said about the word "papoose."

J. L. Bell said...

Standard English punctuation rules say that when quoting a statement of more than one paragraph, there should be an open-quote mark at the start of every paragraph and a close-quote mark at the end of the last paragraph only. That's why the first and third paragraphs of Hausman's long endorsement of the book don't have quote marks at the end and can appear, at a quick glance, to be quotations from Chona and Qoyawayma. But the open-quote marks at the start are supposed to clue us in to look for a close-quote mark further down the line as the actual end of the complete quotation. That punctuation is easy to miss, which is why many style sheets suggest indented blockquotes for long quotations, but it's the established standard and I don't think the publisher can be faulted for adhering to it.