Friday, May 13, 2016

More questions about Sherman Alexie's THUNDER BOY JR.

As I continue thinking about Sherman Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr., I wonder about the responsibility of the editorial team. Back when A Fine Dessert was published, some people pointed out that the editorial team has responsibilities, too, for the book. Some argued that, in the end, the author and illustrator have final responsibility because their names are on the book. Others countered that they don't have as much authority as one might think. 

This post is some of my thoughts on the role of the editor.

Alexie writes primarily for adults. His name, books, and then his films (Smoke Signals and The Business of Fancydancing) were well known in Native circles. When he wrote The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian he became widely known in children's and young adult literature. In one interview, he said that Diary sold over a million copies. He heard from a lot of readers about how much that book mattered to them, and so, he wanted to do something similar for younger readers. Hence: Thunder Boy Jr.

The first print run for Thunder Boy Jr. is 100,000 copies, which is rare for a picture book. The publisher is Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (they also published Diary). Their decision to print 100,000 copies tells us they expect the book to do well. Its status this morning as "#1 Best Seller" in the Children's Native American Books category at Amazon tells us they were right. 

As I noted yesterday, Alexie is making a lot of appearances. I assume the publisher is paying for all of that. 

Alexie's editor, Alvina Ling, is fully aware of the intense discussions in children's literature regarding the topic of diversity, racism, stereotyping, bias... all of that. She's steeped in the world of children's literature. I think--and I could be wrong--but I think Alvina knows that we're pushing very hard against monolithic images of Native peoples. 

Alexie may not know. When he talks about children's books, his go-to title is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. That's a really old book. I've never seen Alexie speak or write about a children or young adult book about Native peoples written by a Native writer, so I wonder if he's aware of that particular body of literature? 

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, we know which tribal nation his characters are from. Why is that information missing from Thunder Boy Jr.

Did he think it was too much information to include Thunder Boy's tribal affiliation in the story, somehow? 

Was he unable to figure out a way to do it without yanking readers out of the story? 

If he was writing with a Native reader in mind, did he think that specificity was unimportant?

If Alexie and his editor talked through all of that, I again end up at the place I was yesterday: an author's note would have been the place to address all of this.

It is possible that Alexie didn't know about author's notes in children's literature, but his author knows all about them and why they're important. Is the lack of one ultimately her error?


There is another framework to situate Alexie's book and choices within... There's a contentious conversation taking place amongst Native people, regarding enrollment or citizenship within a federally recognized tribe. Or--rather--the disenrollment of people who were formerly enrolled in those nations. Some weeks ago there was a hashtag campaign objecting to the disenrollments. You can read about it at Indian Country Today's article, 'Stop Disenrollment' Posts Get More than 100K Views.

Read, too, their story on Alexie's views on disenrollment: Sherman Alexie Gives Disenrollment the Bird. Is the lack of specificity his way of embracing kids whose families are being disenrolled?

No doubt, I'll be back with additional posts on Alexie's book. No book exists in a vacuum. It is in the world, being read by people who are also in the world.


See my first post on his book How to Read Sherman Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr.? uploaded on May 12, 2016. 

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