Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tim Tingle's Acceptance Speech for the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award

American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to bring you Tim Tingle's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award, young adult category, for The House of Purple Cedar. As is traditional within Native communities, he was given a blanket. 


Tim provided me with the photo (to the right), explaining that it was taken while he was at the Congressional National Cemetery in Washington DC, three days before the awards banquet. 

The photo was taken by Lisa Reed, editor of The Biskinik (the Choctaw nation's newspaper). Tim was reading a book he was given by the office manager of the cemetery. He was sitting beside the grave of Pushmataha, who is in Tim's next book. 

That day, the Chief of the Choctaw Nation and many others were at the Congressional National Cemetery to honor Pushmataha. The clouded expression on Tim's face is because of what a Choctaw woman gave to him that morning when he arrived at the gravesite. 

His expression, and what she gave him, is explained in his speech:


__________


On behalf of my family and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma I want to let you know what an honor it is to be here and to accept this award. We are so grateful for the work you do, to bring recognition to our work as writers. Yakoke, thank you.



House of Purple Cedar took fifteen years to complete, as my editor, Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, can confirm. It describes the struggle of Choctaws to survive and keep their homelands, in the late 1890's in what is now Oklahoma. Those of you who know my writing know that I write with hope, of "working to the good," of the power of forgiveness.

I brought something to show you today, from Congressional National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where three days ago I attended a graveside ceremony honoring the most famous Choctaw leader of all time, Chief Pushmataha. He was also a general in the United States Army and fought alongside Gen. Jackson in the War of 1812. 

Before the ceremony I met a Choctaw elder at the gravesite, a sweet woman who speaks fluent Choctaw and is kind and patient to we learners. She arrived before anyone else. She stood holding her purse with tears in her eyes. When I asked her if she was hoke, she replied, "I am so glad I arrived before the chief. Look what I found lying against Pushmataha's tombstone." She retrieved an empty plastic whiskey bottle from her purse. "Somebody left this terrible insult to our chief."

I hugged her and we both quietly cried. "I was meant to be here first," she said. "This would have ruined our graveside ceremony." We stared into each other's eyes and smiled.

"Good wins again," I said. "It is a good day to be Choctaw." We decided to keep our secret, to allow the full blessing from Chief Batton to take place. But as we approached the shuttle bus, I asked for the bottle. Not to throw away, but to keep—as a reminder that we still have much work to do. We, the writers, the librarians, the educators, we are today's warriors. We must never forget that the battle continues, the battle for respect for Native peoples.

Yakoke, thank you.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Debbie--have you seen Jean Craighead George's THE TALKING EARTH?

A librarian wrote to ask me about Jean Craighead George's The Talking Earth. Published in 1983 by HarperCollins, it is available in Spanish and Catalan. It is available as an audiobook, too. Most people who work in children's literature know that George's Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1972. Those of you who pay attention to depictions of Native people know that there is a lot wrong with Julie of the Wolves. 

I'll get a copy of The Talking Earth at the library. From what I see online, I anticipate there will be many problems with it, too. Elders who cross their arms when they speak to kids? Elders who sit cross legged on the ground? Not ok.

In the opening pages, the main character sees her grandfather's medicine bundle. I doubt that a Seminole writer would have that whole section in there. There are some things that are not shared with the public...

And the names! The main character is Billy Wind. Her sister is Mary Wind. Her father is Iron Wind. Her mother is Whispering Wind. Her grandfather is Charlie Wind.

There's some parts that display an outsider's writing, like when Billy and Mary walk to the dugout (p. 10):
It was tied beside the airboat, a flat boat with a motorized fan that "blew" passengers across the saw grass in the watery prairie the Indians called the pa-hay-okee.
Those are supposed to be Billy's thoughts but that sounds more like George herself, an outsider. Honestly, I don't want to read this book.

Joseph Marshall's Acceptance Speech for the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award

Photo courtesy of Aaron LaFromboise
American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to bring you Joseph Marshall III's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award, middle school category for In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. As is traditional amongst our communities, he was given a blanket.

It is an outstanding book (see AICL's review) and I'm thrilled to learn, by email with Marshall, that he is working on a second book featuring Jimmy and his grandfather. Kids learn a lot of history by reading Marshall's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. I wonder what history we'll learn in the new book?

Here is Marshall's speech:

__________

Good afternoon. I can’t think of a better reason for my first ever trip to Orlando, than to accept this award from the American Indian Library Association. Thank you to AILA President Aguilar, and of course to the members of the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award jury. I am honored to receive this very special recognition, one that I will always treasure because it comes from my peers, and, of course, native librarians.

Those of us who are native writers know that our purpose is to inform the non-native community about native history and culture, as well as our place in the world today. But just as importantly, if not more, we need to reconnect native young people with their own cultures. This award helps to further that effort.

Thank you, of course, to my friends at Abrams and Amulet Books for publishing my book, to all of you who worked on it. I sincerely appreciate your contributions and your talents which definitely added to what this book is.

The people who were the greatest influence on me, and taught me the art of storytelling, were primarily my maternal grandparents. So the front story in In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is a glimpse into my childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, and of my wonderful relationship with my grandparents, but especially to my grandfather.



Three special “thank yous,” the first to my editor Howard Reeves—my new best friend—for liking the concept for my book, but especially for your patience Howard. In the middle of working on the manuscript I had to ask for a delay when my wife became seriously ill. Howard was kind enough to grant a deadline extension.

Another “thank you” to the phenomenally talented artist for his work on the book’s cover and inside illustrations—my good friend and fellow Lakota, Mr. Jim Yellowhawk.

Finally, to the love of my life, my wife Connie, who was also my literary agent. It was she who insisted on the format for the book. Connie left us for the Spirit World on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, after putting up a valiant fight against colon cancer. Please know that, with this award, you are honoring her as well.

So, as we say in my part of the world: Lila pilamayayapelo. Thank you, very much.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

First thoughts on a picture book about boarding schools


Hi! This is my first blog post as an editor of AICL. I'm happy to be here. -- Jean

Debbie and I are working on a book chapter, and my focus has been picture books on the Indian boarding schools. That’s taken me back to the first such book I encountered – Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit by Limana Kachel. I came across it in the Native American Educational Services (NAES) College bookstore in Chicago in the late 1980s, and was immediately charmed.

The production values were not high, which was part of its appeal, for me. It was published by the Montana Council for Indian Education in 1983 (according to WorldCat; there is apparently no date on the book itself). It may not have been meant for distribution beyond the Montana state border. Its highly “individual” black line illustrations are by Northern Cheyenne children from the Lame Deer School and Labre Indian School! The writing is straightforward and engaging – comfortable to read aloud, and with an occasional dash of humor. And it shows a lot of insight into the minds of young children. It felt genuine. It still does.



The book tells the story of 6-year-old Homer, a Cheyenne boy who must leave his beloved grandfather and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, go live at a school far away. On his first night there he cries inconsolably and a kind teacher named Miss Ring allows him to choose a stuffed animal as a comfort object. He picks a large pink rabbit, which he calls Rabbit. Soon Homer learns to use the playground slide and makes friends with Joe, another Cheyenne-speaking boy. When Homer takes Rabbit home for the summer, he is soon immersed in the things he loves to do there and forgets to keep track of his “friend,” who ends up in pieces under the porch. Homer feels terrible, but Grandfather saves the day. He uses the remnants of Rabbit as a pattern, cuts and stitches pieces of buckskin together, and adds a face.  Rabbit is ready in time to go back to school with Homer, better than ever. At school he becomes famous and is known as The Cheyenne Rabbit.

If other picture books about the boarding schools existed when my children were young (1970’s-1980s), we weren’t aware of them. My husband’s mother had been sent to a boarding school in Oklahoma at age 7. The experience was not positive. It was important to our family to find a book that could reflect at least part of that family story.

Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit contains none of the harsh punishment, abuse, food deprivation, and other horrors that so many boarding school survivors have recounted. In fact, Homer has an adult ally (Miss Ring) and is permitted to have a stuffed animal. He also has time to play, and enjoys friendships with other Cheyenne children. When he and Joe speak Cheyenne, they are not punished.

Even so, the story has the capacity to shock young listeners –at least, the ones I knew back then. When I read it aloud with my preschool-age sons and with a class of 5-year-olds, the children were aghast that a child could be forced to leave home and actually live at a school far away where he knew no one. These were white and interracial children with some degree of class privilege, who were already having anxiety about starting kindergarten and could not imagine having to go to school “away.” They understood Homer’s sorrow and fear, his glee when going down the slide, his joy when he reunited with his grandfather for the summer. They laughed when Rabbit got flatter and flatter each time he was laundered. They marveled at how Grandfather created a new and improved Rabbit. But it was hard for them to get their heads around the idea of being forced to go live at school.

My sons understood it a little, partly because boarding school experience was part of their family story. They were also somewhat prepared for the next step in understanding, which was that often those schools were not good places for little kids.

I like getting reacquainted with Homer. The book is psychologically on target with regard to childhood resilience. What helps Homer to ultimately thrive at school, while continuing to love and respect his grandfather and enjoy his home? Miss Ring, who understands the power of a transitional object (Rabbit); his Grandfather, who loves him unconditionally and who functions as touchstone; a friend (Joe) who literally speaks his language and shows him some of “the ropes”. Being able to maintain his Cheyenne identity at school without having to fight for it or go underground is also an important factor.

I’m also looking at 3 other books, two of which are by Native writers. And I’ve thought a lot about what a boarding school picture book “should be”. How much should it tell/show young children? What will be believable to your young audience (and who is in that audience?), and what will be overwhelming or over their heads? Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit is a story of childhood resilience, but not resistance. Homer’s school is a relatively benign place. He is overwhelmed at first, but not humiliated, starved, abused, or exploited while there. Resilience is important. Essential. But for many boarding school residents, so was resistance. Those 3 other books I mentioned are "about" resistance as a factor in resilience that subverts oppression.

Do you, AICL readers, have some knowledge of Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit, or of its author Limana Kachel, or of the Council on Indian Education? Do you have a copy of the book? Mine has vanished – let’s hope it turns up now that I’m retired and can devote time to cleaning out my home office. Fortunately, Debbie was able to locate a colleague who scanned the book for us! Thanks!! If you’ve shared the book with kids, what was the response? What are your thoughts about it?


Monday, June 27, 2016

Debbie--have you seen John Flanagan's THE GHOSTFACES?

A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen John Flanagan's The Ghostfaces. I haven't, so am adding it to the "Debbie--have you seen" series.

Here's the synopsis:
From John Flanagan, author of the worldwide bestselling Ranger's Apprentice, comes a brand-new chapter in the adventures of young Skandians who form a different kind of family--a brotherband.
When the Brotherband crew are caught in a massive storm at sea, they’re blown far off course and wash up on the shores of a land so far west that Hal can’t recognize it from any of his maps. Eerily, the locals are nowhere in sight, yet the Herons have a creeping feeling they are being watched.
Suddenly the silence is broken when a massive, marauding bear appears, advancing on two children. The crew springs into action and rescues the children from the bear’s clutches, which earns them the gratitude and friendship of the local Mawagansett tribe, who finally reveal themselves. But the peace is short-lived. The Ghostfaces, a ruthless, warlike tribe who shave their heads and paint their faces white, are on the warpath once more. It’s been ten years since they raided the Mawagansett village, but they’re coming back to pillage and reap destruction. As the enemy approaches, the Herons gear up to help their new friends repel an invasion.

"Ruthless, warlike tribe"?!

"On the warpath"?!

My head hurts just reading the synopsis.  One red flag after another! It came out on June 14, 2016 from Penguin.

According to Amazon, it is already #1 in its Kindle Store and in the Children's Books category, too, in the "Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths/Norse."

If I can get Flanagan's The Ghostfaces, I'll be back with a review.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rowling: "Newt walks into a society he doesn't really understand."

A new trailer for Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released on June 23rd. Rowling narrates it, saying:
My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatized, or othered. That's at the heart of most of what I write. It's certainly at the heart of this movie. 
Her use of "set apart, stigmatized, or othered" is the first irony in the trailer. All three are very much the experience of Native peoples in the US.

Rowling also says:
"Newt walks into a society he doesn't really understand." 
That is precisely what she's doing in the ways that she's appropriating from Native peoples for this story, set in a place she calls Ilvermorny, where she's borrowing, people say, from "Native American lore."

With the appropriation of Native stories,
Rowling has walked into societies 
that she doesn't understand. 

Back in May of 2016 the Daily Mail ran a story about Federico Ian Cervantez, a software engineer, who was "rooting through the javascript" and found an Ilvermorny Sorting Ceremony quiz that asked, "Where do you belong? Horned Serpent, Wampus, Thunderbird or Pukwudgie." Fans write that "Wampus" is Cherokee and "Pukwudgie" is Wampanoag. What, I wonder, are their sources for those declarations? What, I wonder, are Rowling's sources?!

Back in March when Rowling released her first story in Magic in North America, Native peoples responded to that first video, and the stories, too. I compiled them here: Native People Respond to Rowling. I wonder what we'll see in the movie?




Tuesday, June 21, 2016

William Grill's THE WOLVES OF CURRUMPAW

Several weeks ago, I was tagged in a Twitter conversation about William Grill's The Wolves of Currumpaw. The title rang a bell but I've not been able to recall why. Since then, I've had a chance to spend time with Grill's book.

Here's the synopsis:
The Wolves of Currumpaw is a beautifully illustrated modern re-telling of Ernest Thompson Seton's epic wilderness drama Lobo, the King of Currumpaw, originally published in 1898. Set in the dying days of the old west, Seton's drama unfolds in the vast planes of New Mexico, at a time when man's relationship with nature was often marked by exploitations and misunderstanding. This is the first graphic adaptation of a massively influential piece of writing by one of the men who went on to form the Boy Scouts of America.
The picture book is due out in the U.S. on July 12, 2016 from Flying Eye Books in London. It came out there in May. As the synopsis indicates, it is about Ernest Thompson Seton (founder of the Boy Scouts of America) and a wolf.

However, when I started to read the book, I was taken aback at two things: the illustrations of Native peoples, and, the absence of them from the text itself.

The first words of the book set its time and place: "The Old West, New Mexico, 1862."

The illustration shows an empty expanse of trees and in the distance, some mountains. New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1848. By 1851, there were over 1000 US soldiers in the territory.

Later in The Wolves of Currumpaw, we learn that the story itself is set in Clayton, New Mexico, which is located in the northeast corner of the state. That means it was in the area of the country that was the homelands for Plains tribes like the Comanches, Cheyennes, or Kiowas.

The first full sentence in The Wolves of Currumpaw is on page 5:
Half a million wolves once roamed freely across North America, but with the arrival of European settlers the habitats of the animals began to change. 
On the facing page, the text is:
These were the dying days of the old west and the fate of wolves was sealed in it.
See? No mention of Native peoples for whom that area was their homelands. How convenient. Most people, by default, use "settlers" to describe those people. That word is seen, by some, as neutral. Others use "invaders" or "occupiers" or "squatters" to call our attention to the political and imperialism that was going on.

Reading the illustrations on page 5, however, the story is a troubling mix of inaccuracy, stereotyping, and a deeply disturbing image of what is meant to be an Native man on his knees, arms raised as if praying or pleading, in front of three soldiers who have their guns aimed at him. Here's the full page:



Numbering the images left to right, row by row, here's the story I discern and my thoughts on that story, too:

1. The US flag is shown as moving from the East Coast across to the West Coast. That's a graphic depiction of Manifest Destiny. I think white people were using the Santa Fe Trail to move to New Mexico. One problem with that depiction of the movement of white people is that it obscures history and the actual movements of Europeans into the southwest. The Spanish invaders were in the southwest long before the 1800s.

2. A white man in a red coat, and his child, are scoping out the land, deciding where to put their house. We don't know where that house is located, specifically. Somewhere near Clayton, New Mexico, but where? And what is the history of that particular land and who it belonged to at that moment in time? Since this book is, ultimately, about wolves, I guess we're not expected to ask those questions. That is not what the book is about, I imagine people saying. Those who put forth that response think I, and others who raise such questions, have "an agenda" as if they, themselves, don't! They do. Their push back is evidence of their agenda.

3. The white man's home is finished.

4. A white man in a black coat, shaking hands with an Indian man. Why? Did they, just at that moment in the story, meet?! Are they saying hello to each other? We don't know. Because we don't have enough information, I'm using "Indian" to describe the man. If Grill was being tribally specific, he might have told us the man's tribal nation. But again--this book is not about Indians, so, to Grill and those who read it as such, I'm probably asking an annoying question.

5. An Indian man on horse, hunting buffalo.
6. White men with rifles, killing many buffalo.
7. White men proud of how many buffalo they have killed.

The illustration of the man standing on a huge pile of buffalo skulls is based on a famous photograph dated 1892. Here they are, side by side. On the left is the original photograph, housed in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. A handwritten note on back says "C.D. 1892 Glueworks, office foot of 1st St., works at Rougeville, Mich."


The handwritten note on back is 1892; Grill's book is set 30 years earlier in a different state. Does it matter? Yes! The wholesale slaughter of buffalo is one of the darkest moments in US history. Consider, for example, what General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote in 1868 to General Sheridan:
"[A]s long as Buffalo are up on the Republican the Indians will go there. I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England and America there this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt, and make one grand sweep of them all. Until the Buffalo and consequent[ly] Indians are out [from between] the Roads we will have collisions and trouble" (Smits, 1994). 
Grill's use of the photograph is apparently a set-up for the next image...

8. An Indian man points to buffalo skulls on the ground. We can interpret that to mean he's giving the white man heck for his role in the slaughters. Without a doubt, Native peoples objected to what white people did, but Grill's telling of history is a wreck. What happens in the next few illustrations is deeply disturbing.

9. White men build fence right through Indian tipis. The Indian man appears to be saying "stop" to the white man.
10. The white man and the Indian man fight.
11. The Indian man, on his knees, appears to either pray or plead with three U.S. soldiers as they level their rifles at him.
12. Indians being led away.

It is hard for me to come up with words to describe #11. I wonder how Grill came up with that particular illustration? What did he read? Why did he think an illustration like that ought to be part of the story he tells? Did his editor ask him about it? What did he say?  It is, of course, a brutally violent image. And while that sort of thing did happen, historically, it does strike me as the sort of thing that most people would deem as being inappropriate for seven year old readers (the book is marked as being for children aged 7 - 14 years). But it isn't noted in the review from Publisher's Weekly or from Kirkus either. Did they notice it?

And that last image, of the Indians, being taken away by armed men on horses. That marks the end of Native peoples in Grill's book. The sentence at top of the next (facing) page is:
These were the dying days of the old west and the fate of wolves was sealed in it.
No mention of Native peoples in that sentence, and no reference to Native peoples in the set of illustrations below that sentence either. From there, the story moves to how the white people's livestock is being killed by wolves, and so, the wolves are killed.

In the next dated section (1893) the story shifts to a legendary wolf. There's a reference in the text there:
Old Lobo, or the King, as the natives called him, was the great leader of a notorious pack of grey wolves.
On the next page, Grill gives us names for the wolves (Lobo, Grey Wolf, and Blanca) and white people (Seton, LaLoche, Tannery, and Calone). But, no tribal or personal names.

Overall, we're meant to admire how smart Lobo is, and we're meant to be troubled by what Seton does in his effort to kill Lobo. It is gruesome in parts, and, his use of Lobo's mate (Blanca) as a lure is unsettling. In the end, Lobo dies in captivity. Again, I wonder about the book and its use with young children. The final chapter is about Seton's turning about. Full of regret he becomes a key figure in protecting wolves and other wildlife. In 1902, he founded the Woodcraft Indians.

I truly do not understand the thinking behind this story. It is gratuitous in its violence. If the point is to understand a man's turning point, do we really need page after page about the things he did to try to kill this wolf? Some of it is meant to tell us the wolf was cunning, but the bulk of The Wolves of Currumpaw is about trying to capture that wolf.

That image of the three soldiers with rifles pointed at the Indian man... that, too, is gratuitous. The history is wrong, the story us needlessly violent, and as such, I can't recommend The Wolves of Currumpaw. And I do not understand why Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review. This review feels ragged as I read and re-read it. I may be back to polish it, but my inability to get to a place where I feel it is ready to share is an indicator of how messed up it is.

Works Cited:

Smits, David D. The Frontier Army and the Destruction of the Buffalo: 1865-1883. In The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol 25 #3, Autumn, 1994, pp. 312-338.











Friday, June 17, 2016

Cammie McGovern's JUST MY LUCK

Cammie McGovern's Just My Luck is new this year (2016) from HarperCollins. A reader wrote to ask me about it, because Indian in the Cupboard is part of the story.

I started reading it two days ago and kept setting it aside. The main character is a 4th grader named Benny. His brother, George, is in 6th grade, and is "medium-functioning autistic" (p. 16). I hope Disability in Kidlit finds someone to review it. Some time back, I read their review of Anne Ursu's The Real Boy. I love that book. One thing that stood out in the review was that the story is told from the perspective of the autistic child, rather than from outsider's who gawk at him. There are pages in Just My Luck where it feels like someone is gawking at George.

I got to page 49 and paused. At that point in the story, Benny is with his older brother, Martin, who is on his first date with Lisa. They go into a Barnes & Noble, where Lisa asks Benny what he's reading (p. 49):
She said she knew it sounded childish but her favorite books were still the Little House on the Prairie series that she read when she was in Mr. Norris's class. "I just love them," she said."
Benny has a crush on Lisa, and so, he says he loves them, too. He's never read them, but their mother used to make them watch the TV show. Two weeks later when she's visiting their house, Benny pretends to be reading Little House in the Big Woods. Lisa exclaims that it is her favorite book.

I wonder if McGovern read that book recently? In Little House in the Big Woods, Pa tells the girls how he, as a young boy, would play that he was a mighty hunter stalking wild animals and Indians. Stalking Indians. Do you remember that part of that book? Do you know any other book for kids that has someone hunting another person or people?

I wanted to throw Just My Luck across the room when I got to that part and I want to ask McGovern if she remembers that passage.

On page 64, Lisa tells Benny that Mr. Norris read Indian in the Cupboard aloud to them when she was in his class and that he dressed up as characters, too. That was five years back. Benny is in Mr. Norris's class now and he's not done anything like that. Benny tells his mom that Mr. Norris wasn't reading Indian in the Cupboard to them, so, his mom gets the book from the library and starts reading it aloud, doing the voices as she does (p. 72):
It turns out he's [Little Bear] not only alive, but he's a real person from history, an Iroquois who's fighting battles with the French and English. So Mom has to talk like him, which George loves because he doesn't talk very well. George keeps laughing until Mom tells him it isn't really funny. "In fact," she says, "it perpetuates a lot of negative stereotypes about Native Americans, which is probably why Mr. Norris isn't reading this book out loud to his class anymore."
Then she keeps on reading. She's decided, apparently, that she's going to perpetuate those stereotypes herself. That doesn't add up, does it? And it doesn't seem very caring of her to lay into George like she did, either. She's deliberately being an animated reader, which prompts a response from her autistic son, and she scolds him?! And keeps reading?!

Throughout the next chapters, Benny thinks about toys coming to life. He wants a cupboard so he can bring his Legos to life. Several times, he thinks about Indian in the Cupboard as he develops the idea for how he'll use his Legos to make a movie. Later, they find out why Mr. Norris isn't doing the things he used to do. It isn't because he's recognized the problems in Indian in the Cupboard. It is because he's got to take care of his own autistic son, and he's exhausted. He has no time or energy to do the things he used to do.

I don't like Just My Luck. If Disability in Kidlit reviews it, I'll be back to point to their review. For now, the Native content alone is enough for me to say that I do not recommend Just My Luck. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Debbie--have you seen THE CASE OF THE PORTRAIT VANDAL by Steve Brezenoff

This particular "Debbie--have you seen" is here, not because someone asked me about it, but because it was recommended on child_lit a few days ago because it has an Ojibwe character.

The character in The Case of the Portrait Vandal is "Raining Sam" as shown in the synopsis:
There's a vandal in the Capitol City Museum of American History, and he or she is intent on defacing priceless artifacts. Raining Sam, the son of the Head of Educational Programs and local Ojibwe tribe member, is determined to get to the bottom of things before anything else can be destroyed. But when Raining himself is considered a suspect, he and his friends must race against the clock to unmask the real culprit and solve the museum mystery before it's too late.

The name, "Raining Sam" and then "Raining" as his first name throughout is a bit of a stumbling block for me. But I do like this part about Wilson (Raining's friend):
Wilson knew about Raining's interest in American history, especially the history of his own people, the Ojibwe. The tribe had been on the continent known as North America a lot longer than some other people.
I also like the part where Wilson can tell that their two friends are approaching because Wilson knows what their footsteps sound like (p. 15):
"Amazing," said Raining, standing up from his spot at the table. "And people think we're supposed to be the trackers." It bugged Raining that people he met still assumed certain things about North America's indigenous people."
The book is part of a mystery series starring four kids whose parents work in museums. Here's a screen capture of them. On the far left is Wilson. Next to him is Amal. By her is Clementine, and, that's Raining on the far right.



Published in 2015 by Capstone, there's a copy of The Case of the Portrait Vandal on the new books shelf in my local library. I'll be back when I get a chance to read it. It




I AM NOT A NUMBER, by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer's I Am Not A Number, illustrated by Gillian Newland and due out from Second Story Press on October 4th of this year (2016), is one of the books I will recommend to teachers and librarians.

Dupuis is a member of the Nipissing First Nation.

In 1928, Dupuis's grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, was taken to a residential school in Canada. "Residential" is the term used in Canada for the schools created by the Canadian government. They are similar to the government boarding schools in the U.S. These were schools designed to "christianize" and "civilize" Native children. Some of them were mission schools where efforts were made to convert the children to whatever denomination ran the school.

I Am Not A Number opens with a frightening moment. An Indian agent is at their door, to take Irene and her brothers to residential school. When Irene's mother tries to keep Irene, the agent says "Give me all three or you'll be fined or sent to jail." Irene's parents, like many Native parents, were coerced into giving up their children.

When Irene arrives at the school and tells the nun (it is a mission school run by the Catholic Church) her name, she's told "We don't use names here. All students are known by numbers. You are 759." Irene thinks to herself that she is not a number, hence, the title for the book.

Her hair, as the cover shows, was cut. That happened to children when they arrived at the schools. It was one in a long string of traumatic moments that Native children experienced at residential or boarding schools.

Another was being punished for using their own language. At one point, Irene gives another girl a piece of bread. The girls speak briefly to each other in their language, Ojibwe. One of the nuns hits Irene with a wooden spoon, telling her "That's the devil's language." The nun drags Irene away for "a lesson." The lesson? Using a bedpan filled with hot coals to burn Irene's hands and arms. It was one kind of abuse that children received, routinely.

Irene's story ends on a different note than many of the residential and boarding school stories. She and her brothers go home for the summer. What she tells her parents about her time at the school moves them to make plans so that Irene and her brothers don't go back. When the agent shows up in the fall, the children hide in their dad's workshop. The agent looks for them, but Irene's dad challenges the agent, saying "Call the police. Have me arrested." In a low, even voice, he tells the agent that he (the agent) will never take his children away again. In the Afterword, Dupuis writes that her grandmother was only at the school for that one year. Her father's resistance worked. She was able to stay home, with her family.

Residential and boarding school stories are hard to read, but they're vitally important. In the back matter, Dupuis and Kacer provide historical information about the residential school system. They reference the report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC) released in 2015, too. The work of the TRC is being shared in Canada, and books like I Am Not A Number should be taught in schools in Canada, and the U.S., too. In my experience, schools don't hesitate to share stories of "savage Indians" who "massacre" those "innocent settlers." In fact, the Native peoples who fought those settlers were fighting to protect their own families and homelands. Depicting them as aggressors is a misrepresentation of history. The history of the US and Canada is far more complex than is taught. It is way past time that we did a better job of teaching children the facts.

I'll end with this: I'm thrilled whenever I see books in which the author/publisher have opted not to use italics for the words that aren't English ones. There's no italics when we read miigwetch (thank you) and other Ojibwe words in I Am Not A Number. Kudos to Second Story Press for not using italics.

A critical look at O'Dell's ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins is set on San Nicolas Island, a small island off the coast of Santa Barbara California. In the Author’s Note at the back of the book, O’Dell writes that “[t]he girl Robinson Crusoe whose story I have attempted to re-create actually lived alone upon this island from 1835 to 1853, and is known to history as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas” (p. 187). Because nobody could understand her language, her given name is not known. Named Juana Maria by the Mission priest who took her in at Santa Barbara Mission, she died six weeks after her rescue. To anthropologists, the people of the island are known as Nicoleños.

In his story, O’Dell changes Juana Maria’s status to a twelve-year old girl named Karana. As the story opens, Karana and her little brother Romo are digging roots when a ship arrives. On board is a Russian captain named Orlov who has come with forty of his (Aleut) men to hunt sea otter. Based on past experiences, Chief Chowig (Karana’s father) and Orlov have a tense discussion about what the Ghalas-at will receive in return for the otters that will be taken from the waters that abut the island. Months later when Orlov readies to leave without holding up his end of the bargain, a fight breaks out. Most of the men of Ghalas-at, including Chowig, are killed. Two years later, the survivors are rescued. After the rescue ship leaves the cove, Karana realizes Romo is not on board. She jumps ship to stay with him and wait for another rescue ship. Soon after, wild dogs kill Romo, and Karana is alone until her rescue.

Her years on the island make survival a central theme of the story. During that time, she builds several shelters, makes weapons that only men are supposed to make (according to tribal traditions), finds food, fights wild dogs, befriends a large dog that she thinks came to the island with the Russian ship and then when he dies, tames a wild dog that she thinks was fathered by the large dog. She survives an earthquake, a tsunami, and several harsh winter storms.

At the close of the story, she is leaving the island. Based on the text, she has been there at least four years. On page 162, the text reads that two years have passed since the Aleuts had been on the island. At that point, Karana stopped counting the passage of time. One spring, there is an earthquake. As she makes a new shelter, she sees a ship and at first, she hides from the two men who come ashore. She decides she wants to be with people again, and rushes down to the cove but the canoe is gone. Two years pass and a ship returns. This time, she doesn’t hide. When the ship leaves, she is on board with her dog and two caged birds.

A few words about Scott O’Dell

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1898, O’Dell died in 1989. He spent the first thirty years of his adult life working in Hollywood as a cameraman and writer. In 1920, a California newspaper misprinted Odell Gabriel Scott’s name as Scott O’Dell. Liking the misprint, Scott legally changed his name and from then on, was known as Scott O’Dell. In 1947, he became the book editor for the Los Angeles Daily News (Payment, 2006).

In addition to his writing, O’Dell spent time with his father on his orange grove ranch, where he visited ranches of Spanish families of the Pomona Valley and listened to their stories of the past. This led him to write three novels for adults, and a history of California.

In 1957, O’Dell published Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. Therein, he references Helen Hunt Jackson’s articles, published in 1882 in Century Magazine, about the mistreatment of the Cupeno Indians of California. He also references her novel, Ramona, published in 1884, saying her novel “had about the same impact as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Overnight, the country was aroused to the plight of the Southern California Indian” (p. 52). Country of the Sun includes two pages about “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island”.

O’Dell developed the story into a book-length manuscript and showed it to Maud Lovelace (author of the Betsy-Tacy books). She persuaded him “that it was a book for children, and a very good one” (Scott O’Dell, n.d.). Lovelace penned the biography for O’Dell when he won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins. She concludes the biography with “Scott O’Dell’s life brought him naturally a knowledge of Indians, dogs, and the ocean; and he was born with an inability to keep from writing. So he gave us the moving legend of Karana” (p. 108).

In his acceptance speech, O’Dell referenced animal cruelty and forgiveness as themes that are present in his book. He also spoke at length of Antonio Garra, a Cupeno Indian man who, just before he was executed under bogus charges, said “I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and I pardon you in return” (O’Dell, p. 103). O’Dell went on to say that this man, of a peaceful tribe, is unknown to the world because he was peaceful rather than “like Geronimo” (p. 103). Karana, he said, belonged to a tribe like Garra’s. He concluded his speech saying that Karana, before her people were killed, lived in a world where “everything lived only to be exploited” but that she “made the change from that world” to “a new and more meaningful world” because she learned that “we each must be an island secure unto ourselves” where we “transgress our limits” in a “reverence for all life” (p. 104).

Acclaim and Critiques of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins received glowing reviews and went on to win the Newbery Award. It was made into a movie in 1964 and has since been made into audio recordings several times. The National Council of Teachers of English listed it on its “Books for You” in 1972, 1976, and 1988. In 1976, the Children’s Literature Association named it one of the ten best American children’s books of the past 200 years (O’Dell, 1990). It is the subject of numerous amateur videos on YouTube and there are volumes of lesson plans written for teachers. Over the years, the cover has changed several times. As of this writing, it has 734 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Thirty-three readers gave it one star, while over 600 gave it four or five stars. 

In 1990, Island of the Blue Dolphins was republished, with illustrations rendered by Ted Lewin, and an introduction by Zena Sutherland. A fiftieth anniversary edition was published in 2010, with a new introduction by Lois Lowry. She showers O’Dell’s novel with praise, noting that he “masterfully” brings the reader onto the island (O’Dell, 2010). In 2010, School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird listed it as one of the Top 100 Children’s Novels (Reese, 2010). In 2010, the book was listed in second place on Amazon’s list of “Bestsellers in Children’s Native American Books” (Reese, 2010).

In the academic literature, Maher (1992) writes that Island of the Blue Dolphins is a “counterwestern” that gives “voice to the oppressed, to those who lost their lands and their cultures” (p. 216). Tarr (1997) disagrees with that assessment, asserting that the reader’s uncritical familiarity with stereotypical depictions of American Indians is the reason it has fared so well. Moreover, Tarr (2002) writes that the stoic characterization of Karana and her manner of speaking without contractions are stereotypical Hollywood Indian depictions rather than one that might be called authentic. Placing the novel in a social and historical context gives depth to Tarr’s statement and also explains why it is so popular.

Island of the Blue Dolphins in a Social and Historical Context

In the years preceding the publication of Island of the Blue Dolphins, America was enjoying the heyday of Hollywood Westerns that depicted savage Indians who terrorized settlers and captured their women, and heroic White men who courted Indian maidens and bemoaned the way Indians were treated by Whites. John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) follows a stagecoach of travelers who must be mindful of Indian attacks. Broken Arrow (1950) featured Jimmy Stewart as a man in love with an Apache girl and who, out of love and sympathy, tries to help make peace between the Apaches and the U.S. troops. In The Searchers (1956), John Wayne plays the role of a man on the search for a White girl who had been abducted by Indians.

Some of the research that went into Country of the Sun reappears in Island. Presumably, O’Dell conducted his research during the 1950s. That decade was a devastating time for several American Indian nations, a time during which their identity as sovereign nations was again under government attack. It is useful to review how they came to be known as sovereign nations.

From the moments of their arrival on the continent now called North America, Europeans encountered well-ordered nations or tribes of Indigenous peoples, each with its own territories and forms of governance. Recognition of that nationhood is evident in the treaties European heads of state made with their counterparts amongst the 500+ sovereign Indigenous nations (Deloria and DeMallie, 1999). In the treaties, lands were ceded to the United States in return for federally provided health care, housing, and education. As time passed, various entities wanted to nullify the treaties, thereby discontinuing federal funding to tribes and making available lands held by tribes. Desire for land, coupled with the rampant corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs that had federal oversight for the tribes, led Congress to terminate its nation-to-nation relationship with the tribes through a policy outlined in House Concurrent Resolution 108 (Wilkinson and Biggs, 1977) that led to several public laws enacted by Congress, including the California Rancheria Termination Act (Public Law 85-671). Through the Termination period (1953-1962), over one hundred bands, communities, and rancherias (California Mission Indians) in California were terminated (Nies, 1996). Given his care to include mistreatment of California Indians in the 1800s, it is curious that O’Dell does not reference any of the Terminations in Country of the Sun.

Emma Hardacre’s Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

As noted, Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the life of Juana Maria. At the time of his research, the resources he had available to him about Juana Maria were newspaper accounts and articles about her. Emma Hardacre’s “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island” was first published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1880, and then again in 1950 and 1973. Hardacre begins by noting that Robinson Crusoe is a work of fiction, whereas the story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island was true. In Santa Barbara, people spoke less and less about the “widow, between twenty and thirty years of age” who leapt from the ship to be with her child who had accidentally been left behind (p. 75).

Years later, a Mission priest named Father Gonzales commissioned Thomas Jeffries to go to San Nicolas to see if she was still alive. Jeffries (p. 277):
found the remains of a curious hut, made of whales’ ribs planted in a circle, and so adjusted as to form the proper curve of a wigwam-shaped shelter. This he judged to have been formerly either the residence of the chief or a place of worship where sacrifices were offered. He had picked up several ollas, or vessels of stone, and one particularly handsome cup of clouded green serpentine. 

More interesting to Jeffries was the abundance of sea otter. Soon after his return to the mainland, he returned to the island with George Nidiver and a crew of Indians on an otter hunt. For six weeks, they hunted seal and otter. Leaving the island, a sailor said he thought he saw a human figure calling to them, but the figure vanished.

On their third trip to hunt at the island, Nidiver saw a footprint and exclaimed that the woman was alive. The next day, Nidiver found a basket that contained “bone needles, thread made of sinews, shell fishhooks, ornaments, and a partially completed robe of birds’ plumage, made of small squares neatly matched and sewed together” (p. 279). In their search of the inland, they found “several circular, roofless inclosures [sic], made of woven brush. Near these shelters were poles, with dried meat hanging from elevated crosspieces” (p. 279). Not finding the woman, they determined the footprint was older than they thought, and some thought that she was probably dead. Fishing continued for several weeks. Nidiver believed she might be alive and hiding and decided to look until he found her or her remains.

A search was organized. They found the whale bone house, where “rushes were skillfully interlaced in the rib framework; an olla and old basket were near the door.” (p. 279).  Climbing over slippery rocks, they found fresh footprints and followed them up a cliff. Brown, a fisherman, saw the woman in an enclosure and approached her. A pack of dogs growled at him but ran away when she uttered a cry that silenced them. She did not see Brown approaching. Hardacre reports that “the complexion of the woman was much fairer than the ordinary Indian, her personal appearance pleasing, features regular, her hair, thick and brown, falling about her shoulders in a tangled mat” (p. 280). She was anxiously watching the men below her dwelling. Brown signaled to the men that he had found her and that they should approach. When he spoke to her, she ran a few steps, then (p. 280):
 instantly controlling herself, stood still, and addressed him in an unknown tongue. She seemed to be between forty and fifty years of age, in fine physical condition, erect, with a well-shaped neck and arms and unwrinkled face. She was dressed in a tunic-shaped garment made of birds’ plumage, low in the neck, sleeveless, and reaching to the ankle.

She greeted the other men and then set about preparing a meal for them that consisted of roasted roots. Through gestures, they communicated that she was to go with them. She understood immediately and put her things in pack baskets. 

On board their ship, Brown wanted to preserve her feather dress, and so made her a petticoat of ticking. He gave her a man’s cotton shirt and a neckerchief. She watched Brown closely as he sewed, and showed him how she used her bone needle to puncture the cloth and then put thread through the perforations. Through gestures, she told Brown of her years on the island, how she made fire “by rapidly rubbing a pointed stick along the groove of a flat stick until a spark was struck” and that she was careful not to let it go out, covering her home fire with ashes to preserve it. She ate fish, seals’ blubber, roots, and shellfish, and she used bird skins for clothing. Her main dwelling was a large cave on the north end of the island. 

On arrival in Santa Barbara, people flocked to Nidiver’s home to see her. Through gestures, she told Nidiver’s wife that dogs had eaten her baby and how she grieved its loss. She also communicated her dread of being alone, her years of hope for rescue, and at last, resignation at being alone. Nidiver was unable to find anyone amongst the Indians in the Missions who could understand her language. They learned some of her words: “A hide she called to-co (to-kay); a man, nache (nah-chey); the sky, te-gua (tay-gwah); the body, pinche  (pin-oo-chey)” (p. 283). She was so gentle and modest that some believed she was not an Indian, but “a person of distinction cast away by shipwreck” (p. 283). She got weaker and weaker and when she was near death, Nidiver’s wife asked Father Sanchez to baptize her. He did so, giving her the name Juana Maria. She was buried in a walled cemetery and the mission fathers “sent her feather robes to Rome. They were made of the satiny plumage of the green cormorant, the feathers pointing downward, and so skillfully matched as to seem one continuous sheen of changeful luster” (p. 284).

Academic Resources

The academic resources on the people of San Nicolas Island were scant at that time that O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins. Archeological studies post-1960 have generated a richer body of materials. Pre-1960, O’Dell likely drew from resources he used when writing his history of California. These included Kroeber’s handbook. He reports that her speech (language) was “thoroughly unintelligible” to Chumash Indians in the area and to Indians from Santa Catalina Island as well (p. 634). Most dwellings, Kroeber wrote, “were reared on a frame of whale ribs and jaws, either covered with sea-lion hides or wattled with brush or rushes” (p. 634). Dugout canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634). Seals, water birds, fish, and mollusks were the primary source of food, supplemented by roots. He concludes with “whether the toloache cult or the image form of mourning anniversary had reached the island must remain in abeyance; and as to society, there is total ignorance. Ghalas-at has been given as the name of the island. This is perhaps the native or the Chumash pronunciation of Gabrielino Haras-nga” (p. 635.)

O’Dell may have read a study published in an archeological journal in 1953. Meighan and Eberhart’s study stated that “ethnographically, almost nothing is known of the tribe” and that there was a “virtual absence of trade goods, in particular glass beads” (p. 109). They reference the possessions of the woman as follows: “a well made sinew rope 25 feet long and one-half inch in diameter, thought to have been used in snaring sleeping seals” and, “sinew fishing line; bone and abalone shell fishhooks; bone needles; bone knives, and a knife made of a piece of iron hoop stuck in a rough wooden handle” (p. 112). Items found on the island include mats and skirt fragments made of eel grass, grass skirts, woven bags, woven baskets, stone knives with wooden handles, a stone drill with a wooden handle, wooden knife handles, a wooden ladle, an arrow shaft, a wooden dark foreshaft with bone bars, a drill with wooden shaft and stone point, harpoon points, a great many mortars and pestles, steatite dishes and bowls, stone beads and pendants, bird and sea-lion claws used as pendants, stone ground spoons and ladles . Meighan and Eberhart report four Nicoleno words: “tokay (hide), nahchey (man), taygway (sky), and pinoochey (body). Bird bones were used to make beads, whistles, awls, and fishhooks.  Fish and shellfish were the primary source of food, including abalone, rock scallops, mussels, limpets, and sea urchins.

Clearly, these two key sources say little was known about the people of Ghalas-at and the woman at the heart of O’Dell’s novel. And yet, he was able to write a novel of 186 pages. With this survey of the source material of that time, I turn to a close read of specific passages from the story.

A Close Read of Island of the Blue Dolphins
In the following table, the left column contains a selection of material from the story. In the right column are notes specific to the information in the left column. Some of the passages are not addressed in the Discussion following the table; they are retained in the table for further research.
Text
Notes
“I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island” (p. 9)
“I” is Karana. On page 12, O’Dell tells us the name of the island: Ghalas-at. The Aleut’s are an Indigenous people from what came to be known as Alaska. During the time of the novel (1835), the Aleuts were enslaved by Russians and forced to hunt sea otters (Pullar, 1996).
Karana describes Romo, her 6-year old brother: “He was small for one who had lived so many suns and moons” (p. 9)
Writers often use the cliché “many moons ago” when writing from an Indian point of view. Though it is obvious that people who do not speak English would have words in their language for sun or moon or the passage of time, the “many moons ago” idiom, inserted into the mind/mouth of any Native character obscures the diversity of language.
When Romo sees the Aleut ship, he describes it as “a small cloud” (p. 10).
In Country of the Sun, O’Dell recounts a Cahuilla legend, “The Lost Spanish Galleon” (p. 147) that begins with Cahuilla men seeing a Spanish galleon and thinking it was a cloud.
As Orlov comes ashore, “Half the men from our village stood at the water’s edge. The rest were concealed among the rocks at the foot of the trail, ready to attack the intruders should they prove unfriendly” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun, when the Spanish galleon is sighted, O’Dell writes “The Cahuillas hid themselves behind rocks along the shore” and their chief “cautioned his people to remain hidden” (p. 148).
When Captain Orlov comes ashore and begins negotiations with Karana’s father who is chief of the people at Ghalas-at, Karana is surprised that her father gives Orlov his seldom used and secret “real” name (Chowig) because “if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic” (p. 13).
Look for: Names and their power.
“Karana” is the protagonists’ secret name. Her common name is “Won-a-pa-lei” which means “The Girl with the Long Black Hair” (p. 13).
The translation does not make sense, given the likelihood that all the girls would have long black hair.
The Aleuts come ashore, and Karana sees “a tall man with a yellow beard” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun, Yuma Indians and a “bearded” Spanish captain come ashore (p. 148).
The night Orlov arrives, her father “warned everyone in the village of Ghalas-at against visiting the camp. “The Aleuts come from a country far to the north,” he said. “Their ways are not ours nor is their language” (p. 17).
From O’Dell’s Country of the Sun: The night the Spanish came ashore, “Darkness fell and the Cahuillas went silently back to their village and held council far into the night. The older men, who had heard tales of Spanish greed and ferocity, were in favor of abandoning the village and taking the women and children into the mountains. But the younger men, proud of their heritage as warriors and jealous of it, prevailed” (p. 148). They lay plans for an attack.
Each night, people in the tribe “counted the dead otter and thought of the beads and other things that each pelt meant” (p. 23).

Karana does not like the slaughter of the otters she regards as friends she would have fun watching as they played. “It was more fun than the thought of beads to wear around my neck” (p. 23).
This is O’Dell’s first mention of beads. Presumably, the negotiations that took place when Orlov landed included beads but this was not specified.

In Country of the Sun: The next morning, the Spanish gave each of the Indians “a handful of beaded trinkets” (p. 149).

The beads story works because it plays on the idea that Indians are not smart enough to know that their land and resources aren’t worth more than beads. Williams’ analysis of Dutch, Manhattan, beads is excellent.
Karana’s father sends young men “to the beach to build a canoe from a log which had drifted in from the sea” (p. 24).
Kroeber: Canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634).
Orlov and his men prepare to leave without paying for the otter pelts. Chowig speaks to Orlov, who signals his men to bring a black chest to the island: “Captain Orlov raised the lid and pulled out several necklaces. There was little light in the sky, yet the beads sparkled as he turned them this way and that” (p. 27)
The archeological record (Kroeber/Meighan & Eberhart) does not list sparkly beads recovered on San Nicolas Island.


Items Karana has in a basket she carries onto the rescue ship: “three fine needles of whalebone, an awl for making holes, a good stone knife for scarping hides, two cooking pots, and a small box made from a shell with many earrings in it” (p. 42).
References to these items are in the historical record.
Karana’s sister, Ulape, “had two boxes of earrings, for she was vainer than I, and when she put them into her basket, she drew a thin mark with blue clay across her nose and cheekbones. The mark meant that she was unmarried” (p. 42).
An assumption that Karana and her people had the same ideas of beauty (vanity) that O’Dell did.
After she leaps off the boat and is back on shore, “The only thing that made me angry was that my beautiful skirt of yucca fibers, which I had worked on so long and carefully, was ruined” (p. 47).
An assumption that Karana and her people held the same ideas of beauty that O’Dell did.
Romo declares that, as son of Chowig, he is now Chief of Ghalas-at. Karana replies that before he can be the chief, he must become a man: “As is the custom, therefore, I will have to whip you with a switch of nettles and then tie you to a red ant hill” (p. 51).
O’Dell’s likely source for this is Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California, Volume 2. On page 672, he describes “The Ant Ordeal” that may have been part of the “Toloache Initiation” of Luiseno boys: “The boys were laid on ant hills, or put into a hole containing ants. More of the insects were shaken over them from baskets in which they had been gathered. The sting or bite of the large ant smarts intensely, and the ordeal was a severe one, and rather doubtfully ameliorated when at the conclusion the ants were whipped from the body by nettles.”
Romo has “a strong of sea-elephant teeth which someone had left behind” (p. 50).
Meighan references sea-lion claws used as pendants.
Karana needs weapons: “The laws of Ghalas-at forbade the making of weapons by women of the tribe, so I went out to search for any that might have been left behind” (p. 58.)
Future research
Thinking the chest Orlov left may have an iron spearhead, Karana digs up the chest and finds it “filled with beads and bracelets and earrings of many colors” (p. 59). There are no spearheads in the chest.
Reference to beads draws on “primitive” (stupid) Indians who sold Manhattan for beads.
Karana “wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women—if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself” (p. 61).
Future research on weaponry.
“There was a legend among our people that the island had once been covered with tall trees. This was a long time ago, at the beginning of the world when Tumaiyowit and Mukat ruled. The two gods quarreled about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit angrily went down, down to another world under this world, taking his belongs with him, so people die because of him” (p. 82).
This story, from the Cupeno Indians, appears in Country of the Sun in “Revolt in the Mountains” as follows: “One of the most dramatic and current [myths of creation], as recounted by Salvador Cuevas, a Luiseno, has the world and everything in it created by the gods Tumaiyowit and Mukat. The gods quarreled and argued about their respective ages. They disagreed about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit went down, down to another world under this world, takig his belongings with him, so people die because he did” (p. 47). It is also in Kroeber’s Handbook, on page 692.
Karana uses several words that she says are in her language:
“Won-a-pa-lei” means “the girl with the long black hair” (p. 13)
“sai-sai” is a kind of fish (p. 85)
“rontu” means fox eyes (p. 105)
“zalwit” means pelican (p. 107)
“naip” means fish (p. 107)
“gnapan” is a thick leaved plant (p. 115)
“Mon-a-nee” means “Girl with the Large Eyes” (p. 160)
“Rontu-Aru” means “son of Rontu” (p. 169)
None of these words are in Kroeber or Hardacre.



Discussion

O’Dell had little to go on in creating the worldview of Karana and her people. To flesh out the story, he inserted his prior research on other California tribes, inserting their ways into the Nicoleno tribe, as though one peoples’ way of being was interchangeable with another. O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins prior to the development of multicultural literature and the attention to specificity, so it may be appropriate not to judge him too harshly for doing it. He also drew from popular stereotypes and clichés of American Indians, including the stories in which American Indians traded their land for a string of beads. An American embrace of stereotypes and clichés led to—and guaranteed—the success of the novel.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a lot like most books and media about American Indians that give the audience the kind of Indians that America loves to love (Shanley, 1997). O’Dell gave us both: the savage ones (the Aleuts), and the gentle ones (Karana’s people). In a spirit of generosity, it is possible to justify why his story met with such success but how do we justify an embrace of it in the present time, when we know so much more about accuracy and authenticity of representation? And why do even our leading scholars fail to step away from the book? For example, in her introduction to the illustrated version, Zena Sutherland conflated the story of Juana Maria with the fictional story of Karana. She incorrectly refers to the Lost Woman as Karana, instead of Juana Maria. She says that she was twelve years old (Juana Maria was a mother, not a child), and that Karana’s brother died on the island (Juana Maria’s child died). The real person is lost in the embrace of the fiction character, Karana. Is sentiment in the way?

Conclusion

There is a fascination, a nostalgia, and a yearning for the romantic Indian and all that “Indian” means to people who think the best life anyone could have is one of the Indian of yesteryear, living in the pristine wilderness, where the weight of the world is not on your shoulders, where you can breath clean air, and drink clean water.

This nostalgia also captures the imaginings of the perfect childhood, but neither one is—or was—real. As such, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a perfect example of a book at the center of the canon of sentiment (Stevenson, 1997). Indeed, the canon of sentiment “exists to preserve—to preserve the childhood of those adults who create that canon and to preserve the affection those adults feel for the books within it” (p. 113). A good many adults imagine the childhood O'Dell described and the survival that Karana experienced. We like to think we could survive, too, and a story like this one lets us see how that could happen. 

Nonetheless, the story is lacking in its accuracy and suitability for informing children about American Indians. Will there come a time when there is a critical mass of gatekeepers rejecting works like this? I hope so. Sentiment is no excuse for ignorance.


References

Deloria, V. and DeMallie, R. J. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hardacre, Emma. (1971). The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. The California Indians: Source Book, edited by R. F. Heizer and M. A. Whipple. Berkeley: University of California Press, 272-281.

Kroeber, A.L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Lovelace, M. H. (1961). Scott O’Dell: Biographical note. The Horn Book Magazine, 37,
105-108.

Maher, S. N. (1992). Encountering others: The meeting of cultures in Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon. Children’s Literature in Education, 23(4), 215-227.

Meighan, C.W. and Eberhart, H. (1953). Archaeological resources of San Nicolas Island, California. American Antiquity, 19(2), 109-125.

Nies, J. (1996). Native American History. New York: Ballantine Books.

O’Dell, S. (1957). Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. New York: Thomas E. Crowell Company.

O’Dell, S. (1961). Acceptance paper. The Horn Book Magazine, 37, 99-104.

O’Dell, S. (1978). Island of the Blue Dolphins. Trumpet Club Edition. New York: Dell Publishing Co.

O’Dell, S. (1990). Island of the Blue Dolphins. With illustrations by Ted Lewin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Payment, S. (2006). Scott O’Dell. New York: Rosen Pub. Group.

Pullar, G. L. (1996). Alutiiq. Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. Edited by Mary B. Davis.

Scott O’Dell (n.d.). More aboutScott. 

Shanley, K. W. (1997). The Indians America loves to love and read: American Indian identity and cultural appropriation. American Indian Quarterly, 21(4), 675-702.

Stevenson, D. (1997). Sentiment and significance: The impossibility of recovery in the children’s literature canon or, the drowning of The Water-babies. The Lion and the Unicorn, 21(1), 112.

Tarr, C. A. (1997). An unintentional system of gaps: A phenomenological reading of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. Children’s Literature in Education, 28(2), 61-71.

Tarr, C. A. (2002). Apologizing for Scott O’Dell: Too little, too late. Children’s Literature, 30199-204.

Wesselhoeft, C. (2010). Scott O’Dell, ‘Blue Dolphins’ author, tells why he writes for children. Retrieved from http://adiosnirvana.com/?p=480

Wilkinson, C.F. and Biggs, E.R. (1977). The evolution of the termination policy. American Indian Law Review 5(1), 139-184.

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Update, June 17, 2016: Bridgid Shannon, a colleague in children's literature, pointed me to the Lone Woman and Last Indians Digital Archives, a page maintained by the National Park Service. Do take a look! Lots of terrific info from a team led by Sara L. Schwebel.

Update, June 19, 2016: Lauren Peters, a fellow member of the American Indian Library Association, sent me her review of Island of the Blue Dolphins. She posted it in 2013: Defending the Aleuts in Island of the Blue Dolphins.