Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Close Look at CCBC's 2015 Data on Books By/About American Indians/First Nations

On February 23, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin released its statistics on the numbers of children's books by/about American Indians/First Nations and People of Color during the year 2015. Their data is based on books that are sent to them. It is raw data that does not address the quality of the books themselves. This data is important and I'm very glad they collect it. I use it in my work.

In 2015, CCBC estimates that they received about 3,400 books. Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen at St. Catherine University, working with illustrator David Huyck, Molly Beth Griffin, and several others (including me), created a graphic that depicts the CCBC data for 2015. Kudos to Sarah for getting it done. David Huyck's idea--to reflect the percentages by different sized mirrors--is excellent. Including animals, trucks, etc., is also excellent because it tells us that there are more books about animals, trucks, etc. than about any individual demographic. That's deeply troubling.

As of this writing (Thursday, September 15, 2016), the graphic has gone viral. It is being widely shared across social media. I'm very glad to see that, but I'm also seeing lots of assumptions about the data itself. My post today is a close look at the data specific to Native peoples and my attempt to look closely at that 0.9% on the graphic.

Earlier this year, CCBC sent me the list of books on their American Indian Log (it includes First Nations, Latin America, Pacific Islands, and New Zealand). There are a lot of ways to analyze their list. I may do more with the list in another post, but for now, I'm focusing on fiction (according to CCBC's tags) published by US publishers.

Fiction, US publishers:

Here's the list of fiction written or illustrated by Native people (titles in blue are ones that AICL has recommended, here or elsewhere; titles in black have not been reviewed)
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Trail of the Dead. Published by Tu Books/Lee and Low (Apache)
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Walking Two Worlds. Published by 7th Generation (Iroquois)
  • Robertson, Robbie. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. (Mohawk)

Now here's the books on the CCBC list, by writers and illustrators who are not Native (titles in red are ones that AICL reviewed here or elsewhere and did not recommend; titles in black have not been reviewed)
  • Bowman, Erin. Vengeance Road. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Apache)
  • Johnston, E. K. Prairie Fire. Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner. (Haida and Tseshaht)
  • Osborne, Mary Pope. Shadow of the Shark. Published by Random House. (Maya)
  • Rose, Caroline Starr. Blue Birds. Published by Penguin/Putnam. (Tribal nation not specified)
  • Shepherd, Megan. The Cage. Published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. (Maori)
  • Velasquez, Crystal. Hunters of Chaos. Published by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster. (Mayan and Navajo)
  • Voelkel, J & P. The Jaguar Stones: The Lost City. Published by EgmontUSA. (Maya)

Who publishes what?
In 2015, the Big Five publishers did not publish Native writers. Over half of the books the Big Five published misrepresent and/or stereotype Native peoples. As I found in the 2013 data set, Native writers get published by smaller publishers.

What does that mean?
If teachers/librarians wanted to get all 11 of the fiction from US publishers on the 2015 CCBC list, they'd likely have a harder time getting those from the smaller publishers because those aren't stocked in stores like ones from the major publishers. Given the poor quality in the books from the Big Five, children will most easily see problematic depictions of Native people.

Is there a focus on one Native people?
Yes. There are 3 books with content specific to the Mayan people. I think that's interesting because this sample is US publishers. We might expect that, in sum, we'd see them publishing books about US tribal nations, but, no! It is very hard to make generalizations based on such a tiny set of data, but what do you think?

What settings (chronologically) get published?
There are 11 books. Some are straight up historical fiction (Blue Birds). Several, like Shadow of the Shark are hard to categorize because there's time travel. I think this sample is not large enough to make any definitive statements about setting, but what do you see? What observations might you make?

The bottom line:

The Native child in the new graphic is holding a very small mirror. 

When you take a close look at the quality of the books that could be mirroring her in some way, what she gets is, primarily, distortions. 

This post was updated on September 16 to correct an error. Patty Loew's book was incorrectly listed in the CCBC log as fiction. It is nonfiction and has therefore been removed from the list of books by small publishers, above. 

1 comment:

Laura Jimenez said...

This such an important commentary. In my own work (because, as an academic I will ALWAYS turn it to my own work) I am having trouble explaining this very idea. It isn't JUST the quantity of representation (which is what this infographic gives us) but also the quality of that representation.