Monday, November 16, 2015

Dear Katherine Handcock at A MIGHTY GIRL...

November 16, 2015

Katherine Handcock
A Mighty Girl
amightygirl.com

Dear Katherine,

I saw your November 15, 2015 post at A Mighty Girl. Your topic is celebrating Native American Heritage Month. Of course, I applaud A Mighty Girl for lot of reasons, and I am glad to see you contributing a post about Native peoples, but some of the books you chose are pretty awful.

I'll start with Scott O'Dell. Though he meant well and people who decided to give his books medals meant well, too, his books are not accurate. Rather than providing children with worthwhile information about Native peoples, children's misconceptions of who Native people were--and are--are affirmed by the misrepresentations and bias in his books. Please don't recommend Sing Down the Moon or Island of the Blue Dolphins

My guess is, Katherine, that you read those books when you were a child. They resonated with you. That's the case with a lot of people. They read something when they were a child, but upon re-reading it as an adult, they are taken aback by the ways that Native people are depicted. A few weeks ago, CBC Diversity recommended Island of the Blue Dolphins in a post about strong female characters. The pushback from social media was immediate. It came from Native people, and from scholars in children's literature, too. Within hours, CBC Diversity had removed the book from that post.

Julie of the Wolves... oh dear. Wrong in so many ways! Same with Mama Do You Love Me!

I see you also have The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses on that list. It's a fail, too, when looked at critically. Pretty art, some say, and a Caldecott Medal, too, but there's no tribe in that story! It is a made-up story--made up by a well-intentioned British writer/illustrator (Paul Goble). It looks like a Native story, and to most people, it will be assumed to be a Native story, but it isn't. Same with Frog Girl. That is made up, too, by someone (Paul Owen Lewis) who is not Native.

You do have some terrific books listed, including:

  • Buffalo Bird Girl, written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
  • Crossing Bok Chitto, written by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
  • Morning Girl, written by Michael Dorris
  • The Birchbark House, written by Louise Erdrich
  • Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home: by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
  • House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
  • Native Women of Courage, by Kelly Fournel
  • SkySisters, written by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Brian Dienes
  • Jingle Dancer, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
  • Very Last First Time, written by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Ian Wallace


Anything I didn't list above is something I've not read, or, that I have read but cannot recommend and haven't yet written about in my book chapters, journal articles, or at my blog American Indians in Children's Literature.  I should also note that I'm a Pueblo Indian woman, a former school teacher and professor in American Indian Studies.

A few additional thoughts: because Capaldi's book about Carlos Montezuma was so flawed, I suspect that her book on Zitkala-Sa has similar problems. Same thing with regard to dePaola. His Legend of the Indian Paintbrush has problems, so I suspect that his Legend of the Bluebonnet might have similar problems. And, Katherine, if you're into children's literature, I highly recommend a new blog called Reading While White. Among its writers are librarians at the CCBC (you cited CCBC in your post).

Please reconsider the books you have on your list. Like thousands (millions?) of people, you meant well, but intentions don't matter. The content of a book and what it tells children is what matters most of all. Some of the books you recommended actually work against what I think A Mighty Girl is all about. Affirmation. Some of the books you recommend affirm stereotypes. Can you remove them?

Thanks,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

1 comment:

Tricia said...

I'm so disappointed to see the latest Mighty Girl lists on Beloved Classics. Little House and Island of the Blue Dolphins are featured, as are several others that perpetuate stereotypes. On their Twitter feed A Mighty Girl describes themselves as "the world’s largest girl empowerment marketplace with books, toys, music, and movies for raising smart, confident, and courageous girls!" I suppose the answer to the silence is that they are a marketplace and money talks.

I don't know how you fight this very frustrating battle each and every day. It is so very discouraging. Please know how much I value the work that you do.