Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Cinnamon and the Bat People by Cookie Thomas came out in 2014. Published in London, England by TMC London, here's the synopsis from the publisher's website:
A mysterious old woman invites a stranded family to sit on her porch while they wait for their car to be pulled out of a gulley. She weaves them a fascinating tale of a young indigenous couple, Rose and Charlie, from rural Texas during the depression, who run away to Illinois with their new born baby Cinnamon. Rose and Charlie are shocked to learn that the farmer they worked for bequeathed them all his money and a Model-T Ford after he and the whole town are destroyed by a ferocious tornado. They decide to return to Texas, only to be immersed in the battle between the Bat People and the Crow People…and the evil of a conniving witch, who has bad intentions for Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a "Native American" but important information is missing. What tribal nation does she belong to? We aren't told. Instead, the Native content is stereotypical in both, romantic and derogatory ways.

Some things about it are curious. This passage, for example, is right after the mysterious old woman tells the family that she'll tell them a story about "a little Indian girl" (p. 10):
"Did you say a little Indian girl?" Dan said with a raised eyebrow, looking relieved the crows were gone. "Do you mean Native American Indian?"
"Don't interrupt!" I said, scrunching my face. "Back then, we just called them Indians, and no one paid no mind." 
Who is "no one" in the old woman's mind? In the promotional materials for the book, it is clear that the author has a reverence for stories about Native peoples that she was told as a child, but much of what I read in the book--like that passage--is unsettling or just plain odd.

In short, I do not recommend Cinnamon and the Bat People. 


Janet bernson said...

I just read your "review"… having read the book myself, of which I thoroughly enjoyed and found warm, amusing and thought-provoking. I am confused as to your most blatantly negative review.
Must we know what tribe was involved to care for young Cinnamon? Is it necessary to determine to which group the "bad" or "good" persons belong? Must our nation's native peoples cast out their own in order to be politically correct? I believe this is a disservice to not just Cookie Thomas but as well to other wonderful indigenous writers. Those authors with voices unique who are willing to stretch the "norm" and are unafraid of stating the way things were without fear of contempt or reprisal because those "ways" are no longer. Your words are in effect both vicious and pompous with a hint of racist backlash. This combination does not bode well for one who wishes to be respected as a literary critic. Your reasons for not approving the style or tone of Ms. Thomas' work don't wash with this reader. I am recommending this book to all my friends and coworkers with kids.

Katrina Stokes said...

Ms. Reese, I find your comments very thought-provoking. I currently work as a librarian and I try to keep a critical eye with regards to good literature.

I am glad I read your review and I will keep your comments in mind as I help weed our collection and review new items for acquisitions.

Thank you,

Debbie Reese said...


Yes, we do need to know who was involved in the care for Cinnamon. Native Nations are very diverse, with different languages, ways of worship, stories, history, societal structure, treaties... There are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations. They aren't interchangeable. Going with the idea that it doesn't matter affirms stereotypical ways of thinking that actually harm the knowledge base of children who ought to be learning the facts about who we are. It isn't "politically correct" to ask authors to specify a tribe. It is educationally sound. This isn't me, all by myself saying this, it is Native writers and educators, whether they work with children, young adults, or adults.


Have you seen the CREW Manual for Collection Development? It is recommended by ALA and has several pages in it that address the things I noted in my reply to Janet. Here's the link, just in case:

I'm currently working on a short article for School Library Journal. I had the "Last Word" column in Children and Libraries. I hope you have access to that summer 2015 issue. It is excellent!

Katrina Stokes said...

I will check with my director and find out if we have a copy of CREW. I will certainly check out that Web site.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Janet. Like many people in Oklahoma, my children are of mixed Native American ancestry. Native Americans did and still do intermarry. If the book is not about a tribe, going into detail about a specific tribe doesn't add to the story it makes is a different story. One that could be very interesting but a completely different story.

K T Horning said...

I haven't seen the book, since we don't usually get books published in the U.K. but I looked at the author's extensive website about it and watched the five-minute animated book trailer. I saw enough to know that this book reminds me of the sort of "Indian" books we had when I was a kid in the 1960s, with the generic Hollywood Indian complete with buckskin dress, braids, and a bow and arrow. In the section on classroom use (don't look, Debbie!) it shows children in Spain coloring a large blow-up outline of the main character Cinnamon as they sit in front of a toy tipi as part of their Introduction to Indigenous Studies and American History. Yikes!

The fantasy element with the witch and the Bat People seems rather bizarre. And honestly when I first read "Crow People" I thought they meant Crow Indians, but they mean actual crows, as in the bird, I think.

In short, I think the author cannot specify a tribe because there is no tribe.

Debbie Reese said...


When I read your words after the (don't look, Debbie!) part, my hand flew to the top of my head. I won't go look.