Saturday, January 23, 2016

Where do you shelve Native American stories?

The title of this post, "Where do you shelve Native American stories?" is directed primarily at librarians but the information is important to teachers, too, and writers. The stories I have in mind are the ones that are broadly characterized as myths, legends, and folktales. It is a quick and short response to a question about shelving of folk and fairy tales.


The book you have in hand may not be a Native American traditional story. Its art might suggest to you that it is. It might have the name of a specific Native Nation in it somewhere. This might be in the title, or in the story, or in an author's note. That doesn't mean it is actually a Native American story. If it is a "based on" story where the author has drawn from several different nations, then, it is not a Native American story. Even though it looks like a traditional Native American story, it is not! It is a fiction, created by the author. 

What to do:

If you keep the book, it ought to be shelved in fiction. If you keep it, consider using it in library programming or in classroom lessons about critical literacy. One non-Native writer who does this is Paul Owen Lewis. Here's a screen cap from his website, about Storm Boy:

The relevant text from that screen cap is this sentence in the second paragraph:
Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
What exactly does "Pacific Northwest Coast" mean? Do you know how many Native Nations there are in that area? Here's a list of the Northwest Regional tribes (from the Bureau of Indian Affairs website). Not all listed below are on the coast. And, this list doesn't include the Haida or Tlingit nations because they're served by the Alaska offices. Then, of course, there's the Haida and Tlingit peoples in Canada. 
Northwest Regional Office: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Klamath Tribes, Makah Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, & Siuslaw Indians, Coquille Tribe of Oregon, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Reservation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe BIA Agency: Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council
Colville Agency: Colville Business Council
Flathead Agency: Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Tribal Council
Fort Hall Agency: Fort Hall Business Council, Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation
Makah Agency: Makah Indian Tribal Council
Metlakatla Agency: Metlakatla Indian Community
Northern Idaho Agency: Kootenai Tribal Council, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
Olympic Peninsula Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Hoh Tribal Business Committee, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Council, Lower Elwha Tribal CouncilQuileute Tribal Council, Shoalwater Bay Tribal Council, Skokomish Tribal Council, Squaxin Island Tribal Council
Puget Sound Agency: Lummi Indian Business Council, Muckleshoot Tribal Council, Nisqually Indian Community Council, Nooksack Indian Tribal CouncilPort Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Puyallup Tribal Council, Samish Indian Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Council, Snoqualmie Tribal Organization, Stillaguamish Board of Directors, Suquamish Tribal Council, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Board of Directors, Upper Skagit Tribal Council
Siletz Agency: Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Coquille Indian Tribe, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation
Spokane Agency: Kalispel Business Committee, Spokane Business Council
Taholah Agency: Quinault Indian Nation - Business Committee
Umatilla Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Warm Springs Agency: Burns Paiute Tribe, General Council, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, Tribal Council 
Yakama Agency: Yakama Nation
That is a lot of different tribal nations, who (of course) speak distinct languages and have distinct creation and traditional stories.  So, again, what are we to make of "Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast"?

If you have determined the book you're holding is about a single nation and that the art and words of the story accurately depict that single nation, ask yourself if it involves the creation of some aspect of that nation's way of viewing the world. If you determine it is a creation story, then it should be shelved in the same place that you put Bible stories. Shelving it there is an important signal that these are stories that are sacred--as sacred as Bible stories are to Christians. Generally speaking, people treat Bible stories with a respect that ought to be given to the sacred stories of any peoples' religion.

For further reading:

  • The American Indian Library Association's bibliography of articles. 
  • Sandra Littletree & Cheryl A. Metoyer (2015) Knowledge Organization from an Indigenous Perspective: The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology Project, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53:5-6, 640-657. 

Revised on October 25, 2016, to include the example of Storm Boy, and, to add links to items that can help readers understand the ways that standard cataloging systems marginalize and misrepresent Native knowledge. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Debbie--have you read... NEVER NEVER by Brianna R. Shrum

Over on Twitter, a colleague asked if I'd read Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum. I haven't, so here it is in the "Debbie--have you read..." series.

Never Never came out last year (2015) from Spencer Hill Press, which is an independent publishing house specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance for young adult readers. That description (from their website) makes me think I ought to go through their catalog. Based on my experience of reading children's books, including science fiction and fantasy, I know that a lot of writers create characters that have Native ancestry and because of this genre (SciFi/Fantasy), the characters have powers of some kind.

Here's the synopsis for Never Never:
James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Here's the last line from the School Library Journal:

Filled with familiar characters such as the Lost Boys, the Darling children, and a bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily, Shrum's retelling is a deeply satisfying dark fantasy that just might change readers' perception of Peter Pan and Neverland itself. 

See that? A "bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily." If I get the book and read it, I'll be back.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... DARK ENERGY by Robison Wells

A reader in Indiana wrote to ask me about Dark Energy by Robison Wells, due out in March, from HarperTeen. Here's a review, from Kirkus:
Wells is back with a new sci-fi adventure that comments on U.S. history. 
Half-Navajo Alice loves living in Florida, where every day is sunny and warm. She’s totally unprepared to follow her white, widowed father to Minnesota’s wind-swept snowfields. But when the first ship from outer space crash-lands, as NASA’s director of special projects, her dad absolutely, positively has to be there—which means Alice has to be there as well. Enrolled in a nearby boarding school with very few other students of color, she watches with fascination as the ship finally opens to reveal aliens that look very much like humans. Encouraged by her father to befriend two of the shipwreck survivors, Alice and her roommates welcome them to school. It all seems relatively easy…until the rest of the fleet arrives and starts to hunt for her new friends. Suddenly, nothing is easy, nothing is the same, and nowhere is safe. Wells displays an awareness of the need for ethnic diversity in books for kids. Alice is conscious of the parallels between the aliens’ landing and the arrival of white people in North America; her boyfriend is an Indian kid who’s grown up in the United States. Alice’s breezy narration and short chapters keep the pages flipping. A one-time resident of the Navajo Reservation, Wells discusses the challenges of writing about the First Nations in an author’s note.

The last line points to one reason I want to read the book. What, I wonder, does Wells discuss? Another is the first line, that this story comments on U.S. history. Hmmm. I'm going to see if I can get an ARC. I'll be back!

Update, March 28, 2016
I reviewed the book on March 27, 2016. In short: not recommended.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... Emily Henry's THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD

Due out on January 26 is Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. As the title of this post indicates, a reader has written to ask me about it. I poked around a bit and found two chapters at the Entertainment Weekly website in November of 2015. Here's one paragraph from chapter two. The main character is a girl named Natalie who will be going to Brown University. She's in her final year of high school:
One excellent thing about being adopted is that you always get to worry you’ll end up accidentally dating someone you share a gene pool with. If I were fully Native American, I wouldn’t have to think about that in a mostly white town like Union, but they tell me my biological father was white, so that complicates things.

In chapter one, she's visited by a figure who asks her to call her Grandmother. This figure has visited her periodically over the last three years. Not a person, mind you, but "an elderly American Indian celestial being:"

There she is, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner, as she has every time she’s visited me since I was a little girl. Her ancient features are shrouded in night, her thick, gray-black hair loose down her shoulders. 

This grandmother figure warns her about things and tells her a creation story. From what I see in those two chapters, this does not look promising. We'll see. It is published by Razorbill (Penguin). If I get it and review it, I'll be back.

Update, March 14: 2016

I did a Storify a few weeks ago that included some comments about Henry's book. I also had a conversation with K. Imani Tennyson of Rich In Color, about her initial review of the book. She wrote On Being An Ally as a follow up to her review and our conversation.