Sunday, August 27, 2017

Recommended! C IS FOR CHICKASAW by Wiley Barnes and Aaron Long

C is for Chickasaw by Wiley Barnes (Chickasaw) and Aaron Long (Choctaw), published in 2014 by White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), is definitely an alphabet book that every library in the country should get!

Here's the cover:

And here's the description:
C is for Chickasaw walks children through the letters of the alphabet, sharing elements of Chickasaw history, language, and culture along the way. Writing with multiple age groups in mind, Wiley Barnes has skillfully crafted rhyming verse that will capture and engage a younger child s imagination, while also including in-depth explanations of each object or concept that will resonate with older children. The colorful illustrations by Aaron Long reflect elements of Southeastern Native American art and serve to familiarize children with aspects of this distinctive artistic style. A supplementary section with questions and activities provides a springboard for further discussion and learning.

The figures on the cover are on the C page, but so are these (below) ... which just makes me want to jump up off my couch and do a fist pump! I love books that have illustrations that place Native people in the present day! This one is perfect because the three people are clearly in modern dress, giving readers a strong corrective to the all-too-frequent Native peoples in the past imagery that most books have in them.

The man on the left is holding a Bible. Though many Native peoples practice their own religions, some practice Christianity, or some combination of both. It is great to have that reflected in this illustration. And the book the woman is holding is a Chickasaw dictionary! Way cool, right? And the guy on the right is likely meant to be astronaut John Herrington. If you haven't gotten his book yet, do that right now:

As you turn the pages of C is for Chickasaw you (of course), encounter another letter of the alphabet. For each one, there's a word in English and the word in Chickasaw, too. Here's a close-up of the 'E' page:

Barnes and Long don't shy away from difficult topics either. The 'I' page is about Indian Territory. The illustration is of a family moving across a map that shows Georgia and Oklahoma. The text reads:
The Chickasaws were forced to settle in this new place
The journey was long with many challenges to face
At the bottom of each page is more information:
Indian Territory was land set aside by the United States for the forced re-settlement of Native Americans. It was created by the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834. The Chickasaws, and other tribes, were forced to give up their land in the east and move to land in Indian Territory. Later it became part of the state of Oklahoma.
 A bonus for teachers is the "What did you learn" questions in the back, and a page of suggested activities.

C is for Chickasaw is a rare book, and I highly recommend it! It is also available as an app. More coolness! More fist pumps! Get a copy for your library or classroom shelf.

1 comment:

Rosanne Parry said...

Such a gorgeous book. I want to carry this on and also the Mission to Mars book in the independent bookstore where I work so I looked it up by distributer and found to my great disappointment that it is not carried by any distributor that we use. Ingram and Baker and Taylor are the primary distributors to independent bookstores and if a book isn't available in this channel, then the store has to make an individual consignment agreement. We actually do quite a few of those but it's a book by book decision. The author or publisher brings in 5 books, we sign a contract, display the books and then if they sell we ask for 5 more. Obviously we tend to make these arrangements with local authors and publishers who have books of local interest. Some of these consigned titles do extremely well for us, but sadly, many don't.

I'm only mentioning this here because its a layer to the diverse books conversation that often gets overlooked. If there's no distribution, then it's very hard for bookstores to carry a book. And sadly it has nothing to do with the book's individual merit. We see books all the time that we'd love to carry and can't get. The bit I find most frustrating of all is that the press with the best shot at producing authentic representation of indigenous experiences is at a huge disadvantage in the marketplace.

One of the real pleasures of becoming a part-time bookseller has been seeing really terrific, fresh, interesting, relevant work coming out of small, academic and regional presses. I wish there was a way for more of them to be distributed through Ingram or Baker and Taylor. Perhaps if a group of indigenous presses formed a cooperative agreement in regard to marketing this particular obstacle could be overcome. Wouldn't that be a great panel conversation for BEA? I really think if we are going to make lasting change in the landscape of diverse books, the issue of distribution needs to be part of the solution