Saturday, January 09, 2016

Revised! Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's ABRAHAM LINCOLN

On December 1, 2015, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Abraham Lincoln, which won the Caldecott Award in 1940. The article states that the book will be reprinted to mark the 75th anniversary. Gross interviews Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books. It is her press that is reprinting the book.

I have not seen one of the original printings of the book. Apparently, the art in the book published in 1940 suffered in prints in the 1950s, when printing techniques changed. Berg's reprinting will restore the color and quality of the original.

I often discuss the book when I do workshops and lectures, but haven't written about it here on AICL. In my workshops, these pages are the ones I draw attention to.

First is this enlargement of the upper left part of the endpapers:

Look at the upper left corner, where you see what the d'Aulaire's intended to be a tipi and an Indian man, with one foot raised. Why, I wonder, is he shown that way? And his tipi is more like a toy than a real tipi.

The next image I show is this page:

The book is a life history. It includes that page of Lincoln as a child. The text, "solemn like a little papoose," plays on stereotypes of Native people as being stoic. And I wonder if the d'Aulaire's knew that papoose is not the Native word for baby. It is one peoples' word, but there's hundreds of Native languages and each one has its own word for baby.

Later, the d'Aulaire's tell us about Lincoln fighting Black Hawk. Here's an enlarged image from that page. Relative to the people drawn on other pages, this "Indian" is tiny --- but look at how cartoonish it is drawn!

And here's the text for that part:
[T]he men of New Salem were called to war, for an Indian chief, Black Hawk, had come back to Illinois with his warriors.
[T]he people of Illinois [...] went to war to chase the Indians out.
Here's more from that part of the book. At the end of that war is this image:

The text for that page is this:
One day a peaceful old Indian came walking into camp. The soldiers were angry and wanted to kill him, but Abe said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." Because Abe was the strongest, they had to obey."
I wonder if that "peaceful old Indian" was modeled on this portrait of Black Hawk?

Some of the content in the 75th anniversary edition is going to be changed. In the Publisher's Weekly story is this:
Berg said they made minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him “standing erect.” 
Here's that particular image, again, of the cowering man who will be standing erect in the new edition. What, I wonder, was the thinking behind the decision to change that man from cowering to standing erect? In the original, it fits with the white savior theme. Changing him from cowering to erect doesn't change that theme.

On the other hand, there are many accounts of an old Indian man walking into camp and Lincoln saying to his men that they should not hurt him. The sources don't have the "fight me first" line. The accounts are more specific to how Lincoln was viewed by those men. They didn't really respect him and somehow, his defending the old Indian is part of that account.

When the new book comes out, I'll definitely do some comparisons. Now--if I'd been asked to suggest changes, I'd add a bit about the word, papoose, and I'd revise the text about Black Hawk, too. And, I'd include a page about Lincoln signing the order for the largest mass execution in the US: the hangings of the Dakota 38.

The other changes made are with regard to the depiction of slavery. Here's what the article says about that:
Another is when Lincoln is walking down the streets, with freed slaves bowing down to him. “The original text didn’t mention that he didn’t want them bowing down to him,” said Berg. “The original didn’t say that he actually shook hands with them. So we altered his face and made him shake hands with the former slaves and added in what he actually said in the historical record, which was, ‘Do not kneel to me.’ ”
It is a bit hard to make sense of what Berg is saying, but I think they're replacing the text in the book with text that matches the historical record. Here's the page in question (when I get a better image I'll use it instead):

I'll add a link to this post to the set of links I'm compiling that document changes to children's books and I'll be back with a better image of that page when I get to the library (current image is courtesy of Sarah Hamburg).

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Alaya Dawn Johnson's LOVE IS THE DRUG

I read Alaya Dawn Johnson's Love is the Drug in 2014 when it came out. I think Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, or maybe Edith Campbell, told me about it. Elsewhere, I've written about books with a problematic line about Native people or culture, or, what we could call a microaggression.

Johnson's book is not about Native people or culture, but she does have a few lines in it that I want to call attention to--because they are the opposite of a microaggression. Indeed, I find them affirming.

They're about the Washington DC professional football team. You know the one I mean: the Redskins. On page 44, Emily and her dad are talking about the team's losing streak. He tells her it is because of their name, that it gives them bad luck. She's a bit skeptical. She thinks it is more about the players and their abilities. I enjoy their banter. He also makes the point that the team name is offensive, when he asks her if the team could get away with calling themselves the Washington Niggers. Pretty bold, but also quite effective.

Later, there's a part where one of the bad-guy-characters is talking about Thanksgiving--and the football game scheduled for that day. He says (p. 215):
"I hear the Redskins are going to play Dallas in a demonstration game. The good American spirit, cowboys versus Indians. The Indians will lose, of course. Everything is going back to normal." 
I won't spoil the book for you by elaborating on what "normal" is... Here's the synopsis:
From the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, a novel that's John Grisham's THE PELICAN BRIEF meets Michael Crichton's THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN set at an elite Washington D.C. prep school. Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night. Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know. The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

I enjoyed the story. Published by Scholastic.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

"What will they say..." Or, Master Narratives of Smiling Slaves and Smiling Indians

Eds. Note: Please scroll to the bottom of this post to see links to discussions of A Birthday Cake for George Washington. The links are in two sets. The first is to items upon the release of the book. The second set is to items following Scholastic's decision to withdraw the book. 

Back in November or December, I started to hear that people in children's literature were wondering what we (by we, I mean people who objected to the treatment of slavery in A Fine Dessert) would say about the smiling slaves in a book due out this year. That book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, is out now.

It felt, then and now, too, like the people who think A Fine Dessert is ok were waiting to pounce on us. The line of reasoning is this: if the smiling slaves in A Fine Dessert were not ok, then, the smiling slaves in A Birthday Cake for George can't be ok, either. It seemed--and seems--that a test is being put forth. If we don't slam A Birthday Cake, then, our critiques of A Fine Dessert can be ignored.

That situation is disgusting.

A predominantly white institution filled with predominantly white people with hundreds of years of power to determine what gets published is waiting to pounce on people of color if they don't pounce on other people of color.

I ordered A Birthday Cake for George today. I'll study it. I may--or I may not--write about it.

What I want to focus on right now is power and the investment in that white narrative of the US and its history.

Smiling slaves in picture books that, in some way, depict slavery are a parallel to the smiling Indians in picture books set in colonial periods. Those smiles sell. They tell kids things weren't all that bad for those who lived in slavery or those whose communities were being attacked and decimated by those who wanted their land--in many instances--so they could turn those lands into plantations of... smiling slaves.

People in the US are so determined to ignore the ugly history of the US that they churn out narratives that give kids a rosy picture of US history.

Some of you may recall a post here a few years ago, written by a 5th grade girl named Taylor: "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"

I took a quick look this morning. It was easy to find smiling Indians in picture books for young children. Here's covers of two recent books:

That expectation that we have to throw the team that did A Cake for George Washington under the bus is (saying again) disgusting. Do Native and POC mess up? Yes, we do. We're human beings. Do we want Native and POC who create children's books to do right by our histories? Of course.

The fact is, we're peoples who've been through hell, and survived. Persisted. Indeed, we've thrived in spite of all that got--and gets--thrown our way time and time again.

In whatever ways we choose to write or speak about A Cake for George Washington, I think we'll be doing so from a space of care for each other, because publishing (and Hollywood, too) aren't all that welcoming of the things we want to give to children. Native and POC are, collectively, at a disadvantage. We face difficult decisions at every turn. Native actors need exposure so they can build profiles that give them power to impact what they do the next time, and what those behind them can do, too. Native writers and POC are in that same position. The stakes are high--no matter what one decides to do. Those stakes aren't necessarily the same for white actors, writers, and illustrators.

One of the most important children's books I've read is Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue. It is about working together so that we all continue, as people who care about each other. With that in mind, I think the ways that we respond and write about A Cake for George Washington may disappoint those who are waiting for our responses.

Note (Jan 9, 2016): I've been compiling links to discussions of A Fine Dessert and now, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, here:

Or, you can go directly to them as listed here:

In an unprecedented move, Scholastic released a statement that they are withdrawing the book from distribution. The statement was released on Sunday, January 17. Here's the first paragraph of the statement:

Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.
Below are links to items specific to their decision. I am placing Ebony Elizabeth Thomas's Storify in a larger font because I believe it is the single most important response to #SlaveryWithASmile. Today (Jan 22) I am inserting Freeman Ng's page-by-page synopsis at the top of the set of links for those who wish to begin their reading with more information about the contents of the book.

Page-by-page synopsis with screen captures, of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Freeman Ng.


The book is no longer available at Amazon. See the last line in this screen capture, taken at 3:12 PM on January 18, 2016.

Around 4:00 PM on January 19, 2016, the price of the book on Amazon got a bit inflated. It went away pretty quickly. I doubt it sold. Someone at Amazon must have... removed the private seller's account.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016


Today's post is one that walks you (readers of AICL) through my evaluation process (what I do) when I pick up a book that is put forth as a Native "legend."

The focus of today's post? The Legend of the Beaver's Tail "as told by" Stephanie Shaw, with illustrations by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. It was published in 2015 by Sleeping Bear Press. As the note above the cover indicates, I do not recommend it.

First comment
See the word "legend" in the title?  The word "legend" is often used to describe Native stories. It is one of those catch-all words that should be used in a universal way (applied to all peoples stories) but isn't.

Let's pause here. I'd like you to think about all the Bible legends you've read in the children's picture book format. Can't think of one? You're not alone. Most of the stories from the bible are not treated as "legends."

If you look up the definition of legend, you'll find the word is used to describe an old story. You're not likely to find "sacred" as part of that definition. Bible stories are old, but they don't get categorized as legends because they're sacred to the people who tell them.

Native stories are as sacred to Native people as Christian stories are to Christians. I view the selective use of "legend" as the outcome of a long history of Christians putting Native people forward as "other" to Christianity, with Christianity as THE religion that matters. Those "other" religions aren't religions at all in that Christian point of view. Instead, they're less-than, primitive, superstitious, quaint...  You get the point.

So--when I see "legend" used to describe a Native story, I wonder if the person telling that story (or retelling it) is aware of the bias that drives that person to use the word "legend."

Second comment
Who is this "legend" supposed to be about? Who tells it? The front cover doesn't tell us. Neither does the back cover. On the copyright page, we read this summary:
"Vain Beaver is inordinately proud of his silky tail, to the point where he alienates his fellow woodland creatures with his boasting. When it is flattened in an accident (of his own making), he learns to value its new shape and seeks to make amends with his friends. Based on an Ojibwe legend." --Provided by publisher.
Let's consider that last line: "Based on an Ojibwe legend." A lot of those "based on" books for children--the ones about Native people--draw from more than one Native nation's stories. A good example are the ones by Paul Owen Lewis. He used stories from more than one nation to come up with Frog Girl and Storm Boy. On his website, you can read that
"Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast..." 
Those are distinct nations with their own stories. If you look at his books, they look like they are Native stories, but are they? If they combine aspects of more than one tribal nation? My answer: No. Let's look just at two that Lewis listed: the Haida and the Tlingit. In the US (in Alaska) there is the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes. At their website, you read that they're "two separate and distinct people" and there's also the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (their direct website is down), also in Alaska. And in Canada, there's the Haida Nation.

The difference in the books Lewis does and Shaw's story is that he names several nations and she names one (Ojibwe). Does that make a difference? Maybe... let's keep on with this evaluation process.

Third comment
Who is Stephanie Shaw? Is she Native? With the "as told by" on the cover, do we have a story being told by a tribal member? At her website, I see that she lives in Oregon, but there is no mention of any Native heritage or working with Native populations or attending Native events... Nothing. None of her other books are about Native people. I assume then, that she is not Native. I wonder what prompted her to do this book?

As some of you know, I do not insist that a writer be Native in order to write Native stories. As I discussed elsewhere, I prefer Native writers, but I also think that a person who is not Native can write a Native story, and do it well--if they are careful with their research. Wondering about Shaw's research leads to my fourth comment.

Fourth Comment
What does Shaw say about her sources? Have you read Betsy Hearne's article, Cite the Source, Reducing Cultural Chaos in Picture Books, published in School Library Journal in 1993? An excellent article, it was a call for better source notes. It includes a "source note countdown" that can help reviewers evaluate a source note. The worst kind of note is nonexistent. It is #5 in Hearne's countdown. The best kind is #1, "the model source note."

So... let's look at the notes in Shaw's book.

There is a page in the back of the book titled "The Ojibwe People and Legends." Beneath it is a bibliography. Let's start with the note about Ojibwe people. The first paragraph tells us about various spellings of Ojibwe. The second paragraph is this:
Legends are an important part of Ojibwe culture. They are stories passed from one generation to the next, usually through oral storytelling. They are sometimes meant just for fun and entertainment. Other times they are used to teach a lesson about behavior. In a legend such as The Legend of the Beaver's Tail, we learn about how pride and boastful behavior can drive friends away. We also learn how sharing among friends can build a community.
It starts with that word (legend). I've already said a lot about it, but I invite you to read that paragraph, with Christianity in mind. Some of what we read in the Bible are stories about behavior. Can you think of a picture book that presents one of those stories as a legend?

Now let's look at the bibliography.

It consists of eleven items. Seven of them are about beavers. I assume Shaw and perhaps her illustrator, Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, used those items for information about beavers. The other four (two books and two websites), I assume, are sources for what she provides about Ojibwe people. Let's take a look.

She lists Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto's Native American Stories published in 1991 by Fulcrum. It doesn't have an Ojibwe story about beaver. Shaw also lists Michael G. Johnson and Richard Hook's Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America published in 2007 by Firefly Books. I don't know that book, but from what I can see, it doesn't have a story about beaver in it.

She lists First People--the Legends. "How the Beaver Got His Tail." Accessed December 11, 2012, at  I've been to that site before--and cringed. You're invited to "Click on my little kachina friends" to see what has recently been added to the site. Yikes! "Little kachina friends" is way over the line. Think of it like this: "Click on my little Catholic saint friends below..." instead. Feel uneasy? That's how I feel as I read "my little kachina friends." I wonder who wrote "my little kachina friends"? We don't know who owns, manages, or writes the content of that "First People" site. They use the word "we" a lot but who is "we" anyway?! They've got a section called "our favorite artists that paint Native Americans" --- but the ones they list aren't Native artists. Unless you're doing a study of appropriation, I think this site is one to stay away from. She also lists Native Languages of the Americas, a site maintained by Orrin Lewis and Laura Redish. Though we do know who runs that site, its content is unreliable. Like the First People site, I've looked it over before and found it lacking. According to the site, Lewis is Cherokee and not as involved with the content as he once was. Redish is not Native. I don't see any Ojibwe stories there, either.

Maybe the bibliography isn't one that Shaw developed. Maybe that page was put together by someone at the publishing house. Either way, it is troubling to see what gets listed in a book, as information to pass along to children.

Applying Hearne's countdown, I think Shaw's notes are at the not-good end of the scale:
4. The background-as-source-note. Better than nothing but still close to useless, this note gives some general information on the culture from which a picture-book folktale is drawn. It's important to know about traditions, but that's a background note, not a source note. In some ways, it's worse than no note at all because it's deceptive. It looks like a source note, so we let it slide by. Some notes (variation 4A) even manage to tell the history of a tale but avoid citing the book or books from which the tale was adapted. Others (variation 4B) declare that the picture-book author heard many stories from his/her grandmother/grandfather, but beg the question of where he/she heard/read this particular story. Implication is a sneaky and highly suspicious maneuver. Source notes, once and for all, tell sources. How can we know what's been adapted without being able to track down the author/artist's source?

Fifth comment
I imagine you're wondering, "well, what about the story itself?" The answer? It doesn't matter. Shaw may have told what some think is a terrific story, but without the information to support that story, it doesn't matter. It is introducing or affirming the chaos Hearne wrote about in her article.

Conclusion: Not recommended
If you care about providing young people with authentic or accurate stories about Native people, this one won't work. We're told it is an Ojibwe story but have nothing to support that claim and what we are given instead of a good source, is some highly questionable websites. In conclusion: Stephanie Shaw's The Legend of the Beaver's Tail is not recommended.