Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Some thoughts on Jason Chin's GRAND CANYON

I'll likely catch heck from people who think it is unfair to criticize a book for what it leaves out. In some instances, I'd agree. Sometimes, it isn't fair. Sometimes, though, it is.

If you're an American, you think of the Grand Canyon as a spectacular place. It is that, for sure, but if you're a Native person, particularly one from the tribal nations for whom the canyon is significant as a site of origin or of spiritual importance, you may think of it as a spectacular place, but you are also likely to think of it in other ways that you may or may not feel ok to talk about.

The point of view in Jason Chin's Grand Canyon is not a Native one. Kirkus describes the little girl as Asian American. Other than her and her dad, there aren't any people in the book. They're on a solitary journey into the Grand Canyon. I think it helps readers focus on the land and animals of the present, but of the past, too. There are pages where the little girl is transported to the past. All in all, the book is packed with good information. Science teachers will like it, a lot. It has gotten starred reviews from most of the major children's literature review journals. It may likely be considered for awards this year! The Grand Canyon is published in 2017 by Roaring Book Press (part of Macmillan).


I'd like to offer some thoughts on how Chin can "kick it up a notch" (remember the Food Network chef who used that phrase?!).

In the closing pages, Chin touches on the Human History of the canyon. He starts with humans of 12,000 years ago and then moves forward from there, saying:
Later, several different cultures settled in and around the canyon, including the Ancestral Puebloans, farmers and skilled potters who lived in multi-room buildings called pueblos. Today's Hopi and Zuni peoples trace their heritage to the Ancestral Puebloans. It wasn't until Hopi guides led Spanish explorers to the South Rim in 1540 that the first Europeans saw Grand Canyon. 
He follows that with a paragraph about John Wesley Powell being there in 1869 and that in 1919, President Wilson designated it a national park. Then,
The park covers more than one million acres of land and most of the canyon lies inside the park boundary, while parts of it are within the borders of the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Navajo Indian reservations. The canyon remains a place of cultural and spiritual importance for many Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Paiute, Apache, Hualapai, and Havasupai.
If a second printing is ahead of Chin, I suggest he replace "tribes" with "tribal nations." And, it'd be great for kids to see a map of the reservations Chin references in that paragraph. Google includes some on their maps. Here's one of that area that shows Grand Canyon National Park. To the left is the Hualapai Indian Reservation; to the right are the Hopi Reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, the Zuni Reservation, and at the bottom, the Fort Apache Reservation.

Another suggestion is to bring Native languages into the book. On that first page, where we see the mountain lion descending into the canyon, Chin could use the borders in the same way he did elsewhere in the book. On this first page, they're blank. He could get in touch with the tribal offices for each of the reservations and ask them what--in their language--they call the Grand Canyon. He could do a small sketch of a Hopi child saying "At Hopi, we call it ___" and so on. And on that page about the Kaibab Formation, Chin could add a note about the word, "kaibab" and what it means.

Another addition could be a paragraph about President Wilson's actions to designate it a national park. How did tribal leaders feel about that, then? How do they feel about it, now?

Wouldn't all that additional information be cool? Do you have additional suggestions?


Elisa Gall said...

I always learn so much from your posts. Thank you for sharing your insights here. I am inspired to keep learning and thinking of ways that those of us who work with kids can "level up" readings and analyses of this book.

Anonymous said...

Interesting suggestions, but picture book authors and publishers are very much constrained by word count. In the future, to make these kinds of posts more helpful, it would be good to suggest what ought be omitted from the text as it now stands in order to make room for your proposed additions. My guess is that what you are proposing would add 40-80 words. What should have been cut?

Alternatively, the material you suggest could have been addressed in an Author's Note, Forward, or Afterword. Some books, like CONGO SQUARE and I DISSENT! have material like that that is far longer than the book itself. However, rest assured that kids barely read them. I know this from experience in the classroom. They are really for adults.

Virginia Rinkel said...

I have written a 750 word non-fiction PB about the American chestnut tree, but an agent and an editor said it needed more of a 'narrative arc'. I will try again. I appreciate your comments on what Jason Chin could have added about the 'tribal nations' (instead of tribes) and to show their locations on the map would be of great interest by the 2nd-3rd graders for sure. I mention Eastern Woodland Natives in my section on the 1600's page, and if there would be a better way to say this, I'd appreciate comments.