Friday, May 26, 2017

Not Recommended: THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF RED CLOUD, AN AMERICAN LEGEND by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin (adapted by Kate Waters)

In 2013, Simon and Schuster published The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend. White people loved it. They bought it. They praised it. It became a New York Times Bestseller. White people love The White Man's Indian. 

And so--unsurprisingly--Simon and Schuster decided they ought to make it available to young people, too. The "young readers edition" came out in February of 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. It was adapted for young readers by Kate Waters. 

(An aside: as I write this post, I throw down snark--and then delete it--again and again.)

Shall we take a quick look? First is the subtitle "The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend." 

Untold? What does that mean?! To me, it means that Drury and Clavin see themselves as saviors. Gonna tell the world, they are, the "untold" story of Red Cloud. Untold... to what person, in particular? 

Oh, I get it... What they mean is a different kind of story about Red Cloud! Their book, we are expected to believe, will be different than the 2,272 books that came up when I searched WorldCat using "Red Cloud" in the search box. 

Is it, though?

I have doubts, because being Good White People means... lot of blind spots! 

Like how Drury and Clavin think of him, right there, on the cover. To them, he is "an American legend." Would Red Cloud call himself an American? 

The dedication page tells us that the book is dedicated to "the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation." Oh. Ok. Sounds a lot like all those ways that White people think they honor Native people. Dedicating books to us, donating a percentage of their sales to us, creating stories about us... how nice! (Yeah, that "how nice" is me being snarky). 

So, let's think about a Native kid, maybe even one of "the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation" who picks up this book. One thing that kid is going to come across is the word "brave" to refer to Native boys, men, and elders... Here's an example from page 14: 
Veteran braves grunted and yipped in approval.
See that? They grunt. And yip. 

Frankly, I don't want to finish this book. I looked at the professional reviews at Barnes and Noble's website. The unsigned Kirkus review says (all their reviews are unsigned):
This adaptation will diminish Red Cloud's legacy, perpetuate negative stereotypes, and provide incorrect information to young readers: skip." 
I concur with Kirkus. Kudos to their reviewer! The review by Laura Simeon at School Library Journal says: 
"Not recommended for purchase. Consider Joseph Marshall III's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse instead for a fictional look at a Lakota leader."
Laura is right! Get Marshall's book instead! 

I hope you didn't order this young readers edition because the adult version did so well. You should take a look at this essay in Indian Country Today: The Heart of Everything That Isn't: The Untold Story of Anti-Indianism in Drury and Clavin's Book on Red Cloud.  

In short, I do not recommend the 2013 or the 2017 editions of The Heart of Everything That Isn't by Drury and Clavin. 

Update: I'm glad people read my blog. Within a half hour of loading this review, I got a comment from Jamalia Higgins that I'll paste here so I can respond to it:

Excuse me? "White people loved it. They bought it. They praised it." Do you have any statistics to back up these claims? Were white people the only buyers of this title? The only ones who loved it? 
I do not disagree with your review of either version of this title, but this language is extremely concerning to me and other POC who are readers, book buyers, library users, and book review readers and writers.

The call for statistics to "back up" a claim is familiar. She does ask a question that I can toss back out as this: does anyone think that it is Native and People of Color who made this 2013 edition a best seller? I could just say "People loved it." Shall I go back and say that? She's right, though. I'm sure some people of color loved it. In children's lit and elsewhere, people disagree about things. Institutionalized racism is everywhere.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Debbie, for your wise posts. They keep us informed and honest.

Jamalia Higgins said...

Excuse me? "White people loved it. They bought it. They praised it." Do you have any statistics to back up these claims? Were white people the only buyers of this title? The only ones who loved it?

I do not disagree with your review of either version of this title, but this language is extremely concerning to me and other POC who are readers, book buyers, library users, and book review readers and writers.

SBange said...

Thank you for continuing your work in educating librarians and others of the types of things to look for when reading and reviewing books about Native Nations, including wording that is offensive and/or stereotypical. I use what I have learned from you when looking at new books, as well as reviewing titles in my collection for deselection. Obviously you are having a positive effect since both professional reviewers "saw" the books in the same light you do... Keep up the great, important work you are doing!

meow said...

As you said, we need to avoid stereotypes--- of all kinds, for ALL races and cultures.

Not all "goodhearted white people" are ignorant or insensitive, as your professional cohorts have shown.

I agree wholeheartedly with your review of the book, but inflammatory language is contrary to the goal here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your review but also agree with meow that you stereotype and objectify non-native people too often. What race/ethnic group do the Kirkus and other reviewers belong to?

Anonymous said...

You are so right. When we personally have feelings, suspicions, and emotional reactions, who needs data,statistics, or evidence that stands up to scrutiny? What a foolish western concept of truth.

ColorfulBookReviews said...

Thank you for updating us on this book. I'd already heard that the adult book was not good. Usually the young reader books are fairly good, but I suppose the ones I'm familiar with have a better original source (such as Hidden Figures).

I've read through your recommended books listings, and was wondering if anywhere you have a list of recommended non-fiction books? I'm specifically interested in middle grade titles at the moment.

Unknown said...

you stereotype and objectify non-native people

Examples? Seriously, what are some examples of Debbie "objectifying" non-Native people?

Generalizations are not the same thing as stereotypes, and objectification is a very different and specific thing altogether.


Anonymous said...

Objectification: the expression of something abstract in a concrete form.

Debbie Reese wrote--

"I have doubts, because being Good White People means... lot of blind spots!"

The notion of good white people is an abstraction. The proper-noun form for Good White People is objectification. Now, I know there are some who are going to say that the notion of objectification itself is driven by white privilege and bias, and that people of color,Native nations member, those of sexual or other minorities, or the neurodiverse cannot objectify because the very concept itself is driven by whiteness and a power structure that forces white linguistic conventions on the traditionally underrepresented. They would also say the same thing about concepts like good, evil, excellent, ugly, beautiful, talented, and lazy. Duly noted in advance, if a bit of a march to a different drum.

Anonymous said...

For me the snarky-ness may have taken away a bit from the critical perspective offered here on this one.

Beverly Slapin said...

Debbie Reese has been doing this important evaluative work--and teaching others her evaluative criteria--for decades. Her reviews are thoughtful and accurate. They often raise points that are not usually considered by the authors, publishers or the many people (especially teachers, librarians, and review readers) who purchase these books for children.

While many appreciate Debbie's consistent hard work and dedication, some quickly and sharply pivot to a critique of her style--rather than learning from the substance of the review itself. When I read some of these comments, it's like a three-year-old, hands over ears, yelling I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! Debbie's work is to keep people informed and honest so that Native children and children of color do not continue to be damaged by this crap. Which is more important?

Anonymous said...

No need to be defensive on Debbie's behalf, Ms. Slapin. I am sure Debbie can handle corrections with equanimity, just as those who she criticizes should be able to handle her critiques. Many of these comments read as if they would simply hope that Debbie will take in the position advocated, learn, and do better in the future. They are not the hysterics of a toddler, and to call them that is demeaning, and not just to the targets of those words.

Laura Jimenez said...

I believe what many of these comments about Dr. Reese's review fall under tone policing. The idea is that any and all insulting, derogatory and inflammatory ideas and statements can be hurled at us but we must respond with respect and civility because otherwise our message is "lost".
I think many of us (marginalized, mis- and under-represented people) are pretty much DONE with protecting White feelings. D-O-N-E. Because White people, as a community, are rarely worried about our feelings.

You might also be interested in the ways Dr. Robin DiAngelo talks White people thru some of the issues, including individualism - "Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group." See The Good Men Project post.

Dr. Laura M. Jimenez

Jamalia Higgins said...

Dear Dr. Jimenez,

When I asked Debbie about statistics to back up the purchasing of this book by race, I was not really joking, and I certainly didn't expect to be accused as another part of "institutional racism". I honestly found her statements at the beginning of this post to be inflammatory and without basis. Of course, most of the purchasers of this book would likely have been whites. As many of us are academics, I am concerned that Debbie states "the call for statistics to back up a claim is familiar". I would hope that data is being used as at least one component of her research! If not, I am concerned.

I, too, am often D-O-N-E protecting White feelings, myself, so I understand the frustration. However, that does not mean that I discard what I believe to be proven methodology and data collection in order to promote my own research.

Sifu Slim said...

I am exceedingly pro tribal cultures. I think the greatest and most important article I have yet to read was Jared Diamond's "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" 1988

That said, Drury and Clavin's book is a wonderful story that brings out the clash of cultures that was inevitable. How a body can discount an entire book for perceived unfairness or the authors' point of view is an interesting case. I favor reading everything and seeing what good can come of it.

The authors used original sources, including the extensive interviews with Red Cloud who apparently had a photographic memory and was able to recall most of his entire life. Is this not true?

In this separate article -- --
the author claims that Lakota Sioux "have always been matrilineal." Always is a long time. She cites books from the 1800s and other sources--including cave paintings--to corroborate this point or share the tradition of the importance of the female. Who is disputing that the female is important?

The matrilineal tradition may be valid but exceptions to rules and traditions do exist and traditions do change over time. In times of challenges, dominant males can take over or simply leave and form new bands, enforcing their rules. Compare tribes of lions and bonobos and chimps with humans. This gives a good picture of possibilities. Also see Dr. Robert Sapolsky's work on baboon tribes.

Things change, people change, your neighbors change, climate changes.

Drury and Clavin wrote a remarkable work, a page-turner, and used the sources they chose to use. They even tell how they had to discount the use of white people's diaries--especially the wives in the forts--because they were biased and inaccurate, especially when it came to white troopers taking up with Native women.

Did these two authors not capture the broad and intricate strokes of Red Cloud's life?

Be fair rather than sentimental. I am open to learn your thoughts.

Signed, a very pro tribal cultures man who believes himself to be an open-minded student of history.
Sifu Slim, author of Sedentary Nation