Saturday, February 25, 2017

Not recommended: THE LAST THING YOU SAID by Sara Biren

Earlier this year, a reader wrote to ask me about The Last Thing You Said, by Sara Biren. It is published by Amulet Books, and due out on April 4, 2017. The reader pointed me to the review in School Library Journal, which said that Biren's use of inuksuk (singular)/inuksuit (plural) in her story is an example of cultural appropriation.

Before going on, I want to point to something readers should know. The School Library Journal review is eight sentences long. At the Barnes and Noble website, you can see all eight sentences, including the one about cultural appropriation. Here's the last three sentences:
The setting, a small Minnesota town, is fully realized and gives added depth to the characterizations as well. However, the appropriation of an Inuit cultural practice, inuksuk, as a symbol for the two white teens' relationship is a poor choice. VERDICT Cultural appropriation mars an otherwise promising debut that's recommended for libraries with a high demand for romance.—Elizabeth Saxton, Tiffin, OH
Over on Amazon, however, you will find only one sentence from the SLJ review:
"Fans of Sarah Dessen and Huntley Fitzpatrick’s books will find much to love in this emotional romance."
From what I understand, publishers decide what goes on the Amazon site. They obviously didn't want you (Amazon users) to see that SLJ had a significant concern about Biren's book. This occurs quite a lot. My advice to people who buy online based on reviews: read Barnes and Nobles page(s) on whatever book it is you are considering.

Back to the reader who asked me about Biren's book.

I turned that reader's question into a post in my "Debbie, have you seen" series. Because inuksuit originate with Inuit people, I wondered about them being in Duluth (where The Last Thing You Said is set).

A day later I received a pdf copy of The Last Thing You Said from Erica Finkel. She is Biren's editor. She saw my post and said that SLJ's review was based on a galley, and that she wanted me to have the final copy. I assume that means there were some changes between the galley and the final--based on SLJ's review. I don't have the galley that SLJ had when they wrote their review, so I can't compare the two. If someone does send me the galley, I'll be back with an update. I think that being able to track revisions in a book is tremendously useful to writers, readers, editors... all of us.

Here's the description of the book:
Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.

So. Here are my notes/comments as I read.

In chapter one we meet Lucy. She lives in Lake Halcyon, a small town in Minnesota. She's at her summer job at a resort there. We learn about vacation cabins that Trixie's aunt and uncle have owned "for generations" and about the restaurant her own family owns. It, too, has been in the family for generations. That "for generations" framework is annoying because it conveniently obscures who that land belonged to, before any of these characters and their families built cabins and restaurants on it. At this point, this book is an All White Book. Written by a white person for a white audience.

In chapters two, three, and four, we learn that Ben is angry at Lucy, her brother, Clayton, and at himself, too. The summer before, Ben, Lucy, Clayton, and Trixie were out together on the lake. Clayton and Trixie went for a swim. At the moment when Trixie (Ben's sister) was dying, Ben and Lucy were flirting. Ben is angry at his mom, too, for her worry about how Lucy is doing.

In chapter five, we meet Hannah Mills. She's from Mitchell, South Dakota. Her mom has written over 20 best selling historical western romances. Hannah moved to Halycon Lake after Trixie drowned. She's who Lucy hangs out with now.

In Chapter twelve, Ben is in his room. He used to polish rocks. On his desk is an agate, which reminds him of one he gave to Lucy, and a lot of other rocks he's collected. This is the first mention of an inuksuk (p. 63-64):
I balance a few rocks into a small stack, careful to keep it from tumbling over. It reminds me of an inuksuk. Dad told us about them on our first trip to Duluth years ago when we saw a couple along the side of the road. They’re stone structures that the Inuit used as guideposts, to mark good hunting or fishing, to give direction—practical reasons, but spiritual ones, too, Dad said, as memorials or to mark a place of respect. Last summer, that last trip before Trixie died, we saw at least fifty of them at one of the rocky beaches. 
My tower is irregular, off balance, but the clink of the stones as I stack them is like a balm on my soul. I’ve created something.
But unlike an inuksuk, these rocks don’t tell me which direction to go.
I sweep my hand across the stack and the stones crash to the desk.
There are, in fact, inuksuit in Duluth. Biren isn't misrepresenting their presence. In that passage, Ben's dad tells him that they have a practical and a spiritual significance to the Inuit. There, I think, is the line that Biren crossed: they have a spiritual significance.

Think of your own religious denomination and things in it that are used to memorialize something. If someone not of your denomination were to take and use that thing, would that be ok? I think the ubiquitous nature of inuksuit is similar to a lot of items from specific peoples (Native and not) that someone thinks is cool, and then someone else does, too, and before you know it, everyone has the item. Its meaning and significance to those who it originated with are lost as that thing becomes kitsch. This is the case for dreamcatchers and kokopelli, too. 

I gather that in her story, Biren's characters are using inuksuit for healing. But, I wonder, what is Ben's own religion? I guess it isn't enough to help him with his grief. 

On page 82 in chapter 14, Ben goes to a place where he and Trixie used to climb trees. He gathers rocks and stacks them against one of the trees. They tumble as he does. Then, he rearranges them so they are balanced. 

On page 98 in chapter 18, we learn a bit about Ben's friend, Guthrie.  He is part Irish and part Ojibwe. Then on page 101, there's a bit more:
When he’s not fishing, he’s reading. He never knew his Ojibwe grandfather, and in fourth grade, he decided to learn everything he could about his ancestors. He didn’t stop there. He learned about other Native cultures and then moved on to German and Scandinavian immigrants, and French-Canadian trappers. He’s like a walking Minnesota history book. 
Interesting. Why didn't he know his Ojibwe grandfather? Why is he described as having this ancestry? Is it going to matter somehow? Or is it decoration?

In chapter 24, Lucy remembers the polished agate stone that Ben gave to her on a trip they'd been on, together, to Duluth. 

On page 138, Ben is remembering the trip, too, and the inuksuit they found on the shore of Lake Superior. There were at least fifty of them. Lucy had watched Ben try to make one, too. He realized, then, that he was in love with her. 

On page 159, Ben is with Guthrie at his house on the lake. There are rocks there, and as he talks with Dana on the phone (who he is dating but wants to break up with), he stacks the rocks. They keep falling over. After he gets off the phone with Dana, he looks for more rocks, pockets some, and makes a tower. Then, he makes another one. It falls over, onto the first one. He starts over, and rebuilds both of them, carefully, and then lets out a long breath (p. 160):
“Hey.” Guthrie is behind me. I turn to face him. “You are on the right path,” he says. 
“Those look like inuksuit. One of the meanings of inuksuit is ‘You are on the right path.’ A marker. It’s a way to let others know that you’ve been here, that this is the right path.” 
“Oh,” I say. “Right.” 
We go back to the fire and Guthrie rattles on about this new hot spot he found on Papyrus, but I can’t stop thinking about what he said. 
You are on the right path. 
Nothing feels right.
Hmmm... Remember Guthrie's reading about other Native cultures? He knows about inuksuit. 

Thought it isn't spelled out, my guess is that there's something going on with that passage. Ben wants to break up with Dana. As he talks to her, the tower he builds falls again and again. Once he hangs up, he is able to make a tower, and then another, next to it. There isn't any explicit mention of Lucy, but I think she's in the background. He is still in love with Lucy. He's able to build two towers that don't fall over. They're meant to be him and Lucy. He can make the two towers that represent him and Lucy; hence, he's on the right path. He doesn't get it, yet. 

In chapter 30, Lucy takes off (without her parents permission) with Hannah, Dustin (he's Hannah's boyfriend) and Simon (Lucy's current boyfriend) to a rodeo in Mitchell, South Dakota. She has sex with Simon hoping to forget Ben (it doesn't work, and when she gets back home, she's grounded for the rest of the summer).

When chapter 31 opens, Ben is with Guthrie. He learns that Hannah is missing. Guthrie knows where she is. Ben decides to go there, too, but halfway there he changes his mind and turns around. He is crying, at one point as he drives, and pulls over at a park near a lake. There, he looks for rocks and remembers the ones he got while he was at Guthrie's. He makes a tower and thinks about the many towers he has made, and where he's made them. Building them soothes him.  

In chapter 36, Lucy sneaks into town to the used bookstore. She remembers that she got a complete set of the Little House books there, and that her mother would read them aloud to her. Whenever I come across a reference to that series, I cringe. And I hope that the author is aware that uncritical references to that book yank readers--who are aware of the racism towards African Americans and Native Americans in the series--right out of the book. I would absolutely be ok with a character who says "hey, that series sucks" but I've not yet found it yet. (Have you?)

Lucy gets a text from Simon who has spotted her through a window. It is awkward, especially because Ben is there, too, at another store, and sees them. Lucy declines Simon's invitation for a ride home. She cuts through a park on her way home and stops to rest on a bench. She sees a stack of rocks at the base of a tree (this is the one that Ben made earlier) and remembers Ben stacking rocks at Lake Superior. 

In chapter 38, Ben's parents talk with him about Lucy and why the two aren't friends. They also bring up his drinking. All through the book, he's had beer, sometimes other liquor Sometimes he takes liquor out of his dad's liquor cabinet. He's clearly in pain over his sister's death. 

In chapter 41, Ben is drunk. Guthrie, who is now dating Hannah, picks him up. They go to Guthrie's house and watch The Outlaw Josey Wales. I wonder if Biren knows the author of the book that the movie is based on is "Forrest Carter" -- who masqueraded as a Cherokee when he wrote The Education of Little Tree. Probably not, but, for me, this is another reference that yanks me out of the story she's telling.

In chapter 42, Hannah has a birthday party at her house by the beach. Lucy is drinking (she's still supposed to be grounded), and Ben is drunk. Simon is there, and so is Dana (Ben's girlfriend). There's lots of tension and heated words. Lucy leaves the house and walks to the teach. All along the woods are stacks of rocks, like the ones she saw at Lake Superior, the ones Ben called inuksuit. She lies beside them and passes out. 

Ben (who had a fist fight with Simon) finds her there and carries her to the porch. Dana finds them and there's another argument. Lucy doesn't remember much of this the next day. Her parents are angry but think her being grounded for the summer wasn't a good idea because she needed friends to help her get through the summer without Trixie. 

Ben goes to a Watermelon Days carnival. So does Lucy. They end up meeting, there, and it seems they'll get together again but, nope. They end up arguing. She walks away; he gets in his car and drives off. 

Chapter 51 is one line, all alone on the page. It is Ben thinking "This is not the right path." 

In the next chapters, Ben sends Lucy a gift, telling her that he loves her. She breaks up with Simon. On the evening before the first anniversary of Trixie's death, Lucy tells Ben she broke up with Simon, but she's busy (remember, she works at her family restaurant) and can't say any more than that. The next morning, Ben resolves to tell Lucy he's sorry about all that has happened. 

Ben's day starts with him heading out to build an inuksuk for Trixie. For weeks, he's been gathering giant rocks. There are six of them. They're in the trunk of his car. When he's finished with it, it is nearly as tall as he is. He's made it by the lake, near where Trixie died. Then, he texts Lucy, telling her he's at the park and that he wants to talk. There, by the inuksuk, they talk about Trixie, and what has happened since her death. They hug, kiss, and hold hands as they walk to his car, to go wherever their paths lead them. 

 That's it. End of the story. 

In her Author's Note, Biren says that she became interested in inuksuit when she lived in Duluth during her college years (p. 303):
It was then that I became interested in the history of inuksuit, the stone structures of the Inuit. Although the Inuit are not native to the area, it is not uncommon to see rock structures or sculptures along the North Shore Scenic Highway, in parks throughout the city, or in art galleries.
She goes on to say that the idea of inuksuit as guideposts on life's journey came to her as she wrote The Last Thing You Said. 

As I noted above, Biren's representation of them as present in Duluth is not a problem. What is a problem, however, is that her characters don't question why they are there. I'd like to know why they're there. Finding out who first put them there, though, might be an endless pursuit that leads nowhere. In those instances, we can step away from that pursuit and have a character think critically about them. Daniel Jose Older did something like that in Shadowshaper. 

There isn't any critical thinking of that kind in The Last Thing You Said. There are many opportunities for doing that, with the inuksuit, or the references to Little House and Outlaw Josey Wales, or, in Guthrie not knowing anything about his Ojibwe grandfather. These are, however, missed opportunities. I agree with the SLJ review. There is cultural appropriation in Biren's book. It also feels like she's tacked on Guthrie's Ojibwe identity to meet the calls for diverse characters. When that is superficial, however, it doesn't work.

I'm glad that Finkel (Biren's editor) sent me the book. Finel and Biren missed a lot, and I hope this long look at the book helps them see things they missed. Whether or not they agree with my critique, I hope they talk about it and share it with others, too.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why is Navajo gr-gr-grandmother in THE KILLER IN ME by Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison's The Killer In Me is amongst the books the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) listed in 2016, as having significant Native content. Here's the description:
Hasn't he lived long enough? Why not? I could take him like a thief in the night. This is how the Thief thinks. He serves death, the vacuum, the unknown. He's always waiting. Always there. Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She's intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims' bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert. Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico. But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she's had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief? From debut author Margot Harrison comes a brilliantly twisted psychological thriller that asks which is more terrifying: the possibility that your nightmares are real . . . or the possibility that they begin and end with you?
The Killer In Me is published by Hyperion, which is part of Hachette Books.

Dylan, it turns out, is Nina's older brother. Their mother, Becca, gave Nina up for adoption when she was a baby. The reason The Killer In Me gets tagged for Native content is because Becca's great-grandmother (Nina's great-great-grandmother) was Navajo.

Here's the thing: There is absolutely nothing about how she is developed that makes this Navajo ancestry matter. Harrison could have made Nina and Dylan's ancestry be any of the many different Native ones in the southwest and it would not have mattered one bit.

That disturbing connection with Dylan is that, through her minds eye, Nina can see what he is doing (and vice versa). As I read, I was worried that Harrison was going to have their Navajo ancestry be the source for the ability of Nina and Dylan to see what the other is doing.

But--thankfully--that didn't happen. We don't know why they can do that.

My big question: why is this great-great-grandmother Navajo? It doesn't matter one bit to the story. So, why is it here? It feels to me that The Killer In Me may be an example of a writer creating an aspect of a story with DIVERSITY in mind.

Like I said, nothing turns on this aspect of Nina's identity. Someone might argue that the Navajo ancestry makes it possible to set the book in the southwest, but, that great-great-grandma could be anybody! In the southwest, there are white people, and Spanish people, and Native people of many nations...

Again: why is this great-great-grandmother Navajo? What did I miss?!

Because I think it is meaningless, I'm giving this a not-recommended label.

Source notes in NORTHWOODS CRADLE SONG by Douglas Wood

On Feb 8, 2017, I was in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Reading Association's annual conference. I gave a session about sovereignty and why it is important that teachers include it in their instruction. I also talked about award-winning books that do not provide teachers with information about the source of their stories. 

During the discussion portion of my presentation, Michelle Chevalier commented about a book she'd come across years ago and its lack of reference to an original source. Michelle is a member of the Menominee Nation. 

We did not talk about the accuracy or quality of the book. Our discussion then, and here, is specific to crediting of sources. I invited Michelle to write about the source discussion. I am grateful to her for sharing this with AICL's readers. (Note to writers and editors: have you seen Betsy Hearne's two articles, Cite the Source and Respect the Source?)

Michelle Chevalier on Source Notes in Northwoods Cradle Song

I first came across Northwoods Cradle Song: From A Menominee Lullaby in the late 1990's as a teacher searching for children's books containing Native Images and Stories.  I don't recall any author's notes with regard to crediting original sources for the story.  The author is Douglas Wood. He is not Native.

This week, I found a hardcover copy of the book on the shelf at our local middle school.  To my delight, this copy has a page with an "Author's Note" that does give ample credit to the source that I mentioned in Debbie Reese's presentation at WSRA. In the note, Wood gave credit to Phebe Jewell Nichols, as well as another source, Sigurd F. Olsen.  I am not sure when these credits were included, but am glad that they are now given. 

I stand by my comment that I believe all authors should give proper credit to their sources, especially with regard to Native stories. The cover and spine of this book do not include Nichols or Olson. The only author on the cover is Wood. At the very least, I would hope that an author would write "Retold By...." instead of implying that it is their story.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not recommended: SCAR: A REVOLUTIONARY WAR TALE by J. Albert Mann

You know that advice.... or that teaching... where you're supposed to look for the good? Where you're supposed to highlight the good and not focus on the bad?

It sounds like good advice, but it is also an approach that affirms the status quo. Today, I read Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale by J. Albert Mann. It came out in 2016 from Calkins Creek/Highlights. It got pretty good reviews from the major journals. No stars, but still, good reviews. I could imagine myself saying a lot of what those reviews did, because some of what they said is ok.


I bring a different lens to my reviews. What did this author say, about Native people? Is it accurate? Is it biased? In this case, what did Mann say about Native people in Scar? Is it accurate? Is it biased?

Here's the description:
Sixteen-year-old Noah Daniels wants nothing more than to fight in George Washington’s Continental Army, but an accident as a child left him maimed and unable to enlist. He is forced to watch the Revolution from his family’s hard scrabble farm in Upstate New York—until a violent raid on his settlement thrusts him into one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution, and ultimately, face to face with the enemy. A riveting coming of age story, this book also includes an author’s note and bibliography.

The battle is the Battle of Minisink. I don't want to do a deep dive into it. I'm focusing on how Mann writes about Native people. Mann gives us two characters. Noah, the white teen, and a Mohawk teen who he finds himself next to. Both are near death. The story is told from Noah's point of view. When he realizes he's right next to a Mohawk teen who is badly injured, too, he decides to help him. He looks at the Mohawk teen and notices a scar on his face. So, he decides to call him Scar. That was, for me, strike one. Would you do that? Look at the physical attributes of someone and call that person that name? That's pretty audacious and thoughtless, too.

Come to think of it, this name reminds me of another character named Scar... You know who I am thinking of? That bad guy in The Lion King. 

In that time they're dying together, Noah cares for Scar. He keeps him alive. That is white saviorism. That's strike two! Both teens will die by the end of the story, but there are 144 pages in this story. A good bit of it is about the battle, but there's also other parts.

Like... the Mohawks! They scalp the white people! Noah is afraid to get scalped. Noah wraps the body of Mr. Little, who got scalped. Mr. Packet got scalped, too. And Dr. Tusten! Sticking with my baseball analogy, I'll call all that scalping "strike three" in this book.

Can I have one more strike? I know it is not fitting my baseball theme, but anyway... early in the book there's a part about what Mohawk men do. They fish and fight. They don't farm or plant wheat. That, we're to understand, is women's work. Mohawk men fish and fight. Is that accurate? Hmmm... Maybe, but I don't want to look that up.

And let's look a bit at Joseph Brant. Veteran warrior. Known for cruelty in battle. And yet... he's also known to take risks to save settlers from being scalped or burned. Burned? As in burned at the stake? Like we see in Westerns? I don't know... that's another one of those things that gets put forth as something-Indians-did. But is it?

Bottom line: I do not recommend J. Albert Mann's Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale published by Calkins Creek (Highlights) in 2016.

Not recommended: THE DREAMCATCHER by Barrett

Due out from Sapphire Books, in 2017, is The Dreamcatcher by Barrett (no first name provided). Here's the description:

High school is rarely easy, especially for a tall, somewhat gangly Native American girl. Add a sprinkle of shyness, a dash of athletic prowess, an above-average IQ, and some bizarre history that places in the guardianship of her aunt. Then normal high school life is only an illusion.
Kai Tiva faces an uphill struggle until she runs into Riley Beth James, the extroverted class cutie, at the principal’s office. Riley shows up for a newspaper interview, while Kai is summoned for punching out a classmate. 
Riley is the attractive girl-next-door-type whom everyone likes. Though a fairly good student, an emerging choral star, and wildly popular, she knows she’ll never live up to her older sister. She makes up for it with bravery, kindness, and a brash can-do attitude.
Their odd matchup is strengthened by curiosity, compassion, humor, and all the drama of typical teenage life. But their experiences go beyond the normal teen angst; theirs is compounded by a curious attraction to each other, and an emerging, insidious danger related to mysterious death of Kai’s father.
Their emerging friendship is tested as they navigate this risky challenge. But the powerful bond forged between them has existed through past lives. The outcome this time will affect the next generation of Kai’s people.

I ordered, and started reading a copy provided by NetGalley. If you haven't signed up at NetGalley, do it! Up front, in the book is a Disclaimer, presented in three parts. Let's start with the first part:
This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or places is unintended. The legends and Native American references are essentially fiction based on factual details.
My comments: The first two lines are standard. But that last line... Is the author telling us that the legends in her book are fiction based on factual details? What does that mean? Is the author telling us that she's making up legends and presenting them in a way that we're to take as Native? But not?! Now the second part of the disclaimer:
The author regards the Lakota Sioux Nation with the utmost respect and admiration. Accordingly, a percent of the sales will be donated to a Standing Rock and Pine Ridge charity for the care of their children.
My comments: If you read AICL regularly, you know that I view those kinds of statements as opportunistic. Authors who use them seem to be saying "Look at me! I'm a good and generous person!" Barrett may be a good and generous person, but does she have to broadcast that, in her book? What does she gain by doing that? 

Years ago when I was a post-doc at the University of Illinois, a pro-mascot group sponsored an essay contest. The winner of their essay on why the UIUC mascot was a good thing wasn't going to win something, personally. Instead, a monetary sum would be given--in that person's name--to a women's shelter... at Pine Ridge... or... Oglala... I'm fuzzy on that detail. When the women's shelter learned about the topic of the essay, they rejected the money. They did not want to be used by that pro-mascot group. What charity, I wonder, is Barrett donating to? And, though "a percent of the sales" sounds great, the fact is that Barrett's cut of the sales of the book is likely going to be tiny. Sapphire is a small press. 

And the last part of the Disclaimer is a doozy:
If fiction could come true, the souls of the warriors would return to help defend the land for future generations. Absent that, it falls to the neighbors and friends of the indigenous people to help preserve their heritage.

My comments: Come on, Barrett! COME ON, Sapphire!! "souls of the warriors" drips with romanticism and it reads as if there is nobody--right now--who is defending the land for future generations. And then, Barrett writes, if those warriors don't do it, then... "neighbors and friends" will have to help Native people "preserve" their heritage. Let me just say: I'm trying super hard not to be ultra snarky. 

Moving on!

The first page is "In the Beginning..." There's a "White Crow Nation" gathered to sing the dawn. But a "fierce wind" in the west blows dust and cold and dark clouds. That fierce wind, Barrett tells us, is "the Black Crow" nation.

These two nations, she writes, represent the "Dark and Light sides of the Great Sioux nation" -- and they (of course) battle for control in a struggle that gets replayed with every generation, with new leaders... And, it continues into modern times when "clever medicine people" trick and manipulate others, to gain power.

My comments: Actually, I'm hanging my head. Dark and light? Manipulative medicine people? That's a new one. Most writers give us medicine people at the other end of the scale, but neither one is ok. Medicine people ought not be in children's books--especially those written by people who are not Native. There are things there that non-Native writers do not fully understand and should just stay away from. 

Chapter One

Kai is at school. There's a bully named Zach who grabs Johnny Little Elk and calls him a "half-bred midget." Johnny yells "leave me alone" and Zach replies "What're you gonna do about it, call squaw momma?" Kai intervenes, and Zach calls her a "big ugly redskin." Kai gets in trouble for punching Zach. She meets Riley.


Dang! My NetGalley copy evaporated before I could finish reading the book. I saw enough, however, to say that I cannot recommend Barrett's The Dreamcatcher. That's the way NetGalley works. You get a copy for a short time. I couldn't stand this book. I stopped reading it. When I went back, it was gone.

It'd be great if it doesn't get published, at all, but I see it on Amazon already. It was apparently released on January 15 of 2017.

Bottom line: I do not recommend Barrett's The Dreamcatcher, published by Sapphire.

Published in 2016: Books by/about Native peoples

We will be updating this page whenever we read something published in 2016.

If you compare what I have here with the CCBC list, you will notice that AICL received some books that CCBC did not, and vice versa. An asterisk indicates a book that appears here and on the CCBC list.

Recommended (N=16)

Not Recommended (N=19)

Reviewed but not able to put in recommended or not recommended (N=1):

Not Yet Reviewed (N=17)
  • Akulukjuk, Roselynn. (2016). The Owl and the Lemming. Inhabit Media. Canada
  • Bruchac, Joseph. (2016). The Long Run. 7th Generation, US.*
  • Bruchac, Joseph. (2016). Brothers of the Buffalo: A Novel of the Red River Way. Fulcrum Publishing, USA. 
  • Bruchac, Joseph. (2016). Talking Leaves. Dial Books for Young Readers, US.*
  • Crate, Joan. (2016). Black Apple. Simon and Schuster. US
  • Daniel, Tony. (2016). The Dragon Hammer. Baen/Simon and Schuster, US.
  • Florence, Melanie. (2016). Rez Runaway. Lerner, Canada.
  • Flanagan, John. (2016). The Ghostfaces. Penguin, US.*
  • Holt, K. A. (2016). Red Moon Rising. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon and Schuster
  • Kwaymullina, Ambelin. (2016). The Disappearance of Ember Crow. 
  • London, Jonathan. (2016). Bella Bella. West Winds. US.
  • Modesto, Michelle. (2016). Revenge of the Wild. HarperCollins, US.
  • Peratrovich, Roy A. (2016). Little Whale. University of Alaska Press.
  • Petti, Erin. (2016). The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee. Mighty Media Junior Readers.
  • Robinson, Gary. (2016). Lands of Our Ancestors. 7th Generation, US.
  • Sammurtok, Nadia. (2016). The Caterpillar Woman. Inhabit Media. Canada.
  • Smith, Danna. (2016). Arctic White. Holt/Macmillan

A Close Look at CCBC's 2016 Data on Books By/About American Indians/First Nations

Eds. note: See AICL's list for 2016

On February 15, 2017, Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin released its statistics on the numbers of children's books by/about American Indians/First Nations and People of Color during the year 2016. 

This is vitally important work that CCBC has been doing for many years. Two important things to know about these statistics (I am not critical of CCBC at all in noting these two things; doing some of this work myself, I know how very hard it is to do, to get books, and then to categorize/analyze them).

The data is based on books that are sent to them. Small publishers generally cannot afford to send books out to review journals, bloggers, or centers like CCBC. That means books by small publishers who do great books by/about Native peoples may not be included in the data. It also means, however, that books by small publishers (or self published books) who do stereotypical books by Native people may not be included.

The data is statistical. It is a count. It is not about the quality of the books on the list. To see what they recommend, see CCBC Choices. 

CCBC sent me the log of Native books for their 2016 counts. For the last few years I have been taking a close look at their log, focusing on fiction (as tagged by CCBC; books tagged as picture books are not included in this list) published by US publishers. Here's what I see. 

Books in blue font are ones I recommend. 
Books in red font are ones I do not recommend.
Books in bold are from "Big Five" publishers.
Book in plain, black font are ones I have not read, with one exception (I have mixed feelings about Alexie's book.)

Fiction, US Publishers (books in bold are by one of the Big Five publishers)

Here's the list of fiction written by Native people (N = 4):
  • Bruchac, Joseph. The Long Run. 7th Generation
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Talking Leaves. Dial/Penguin
  • Erdrich, Louise. Makoons. HarperCollins
  • Smelcer, John. Stealing Indians. Leapfrog Press (Note: Smelcer's claim to Native identity is contested)

Now here's the books on the CCBC list, by writers who are not Native (N = 17):
  • Abbott, E. F. Mary Jemison: Native American Captive. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
  • Carson, Rae. Like a River Glorious. Greenwillow/HarperCollins
  • Flanagan, John. Brotherband: The Ghostface. Penguin
  • Flood, Nancy Bo. Soldier Sister Fly Home. Charlesbridge
  • Heacox, Kim. Jimmy Bluefeather. Alaska Northwest Books
  • Hitchcock, Bonnie Sue. The Smell of Other People's Houses. Wendy Lamb/Penguin
  • Inglis, Lucy. Crow Mountain. Scholastic
  • Harrison, Margot. The Killer in Me. Hyperion/Hachette Book Group
  • Lewis, Ali. Timber Creek Station. Carolrhoda Lab
  • MacColl, Michaela. The Lost Ones. Calkins/Highlights
  • Mann, J. Albert. Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale. Calkins/Highlights
  • Massena, Ed. Wandmaker. Scholastic
  • Oppel, Kenneth. Every Hidden Thing. Simon and Schuster
  • Patel, Sonia. Rani Patel in Full Effect. Cinco Puntos Press
  • Reeve, Kirk. Sun Father Corn Mother. Sun Stone Press  
  • Stokes, Jonathan. Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas. Philomel/Penguin
  • Velasquez, Crystal. Circle of Lies (Hunters of Chaos, Bk 2). Aladdin/Simon and Schuster

Who publishes what?
In 2016, the Big Five published two Native writers (Bruchac and Erdrich). Of those two, I've read and recommend Makoons. Bruchac's book is out for review.

In 2016, the Big Five published eight non-Native writers (Abbott, Carson, Flanagan, Hitchcock, Harrison, Oppel, Stokes, and Velasquez). Of those eight, I've read and do not recommend Carson, Hitchcock, and Harrison (not all reviews are online yet). I also do not recommend some of the non-Native books from small publishers: Flood, MacColl, Mann, Massena (not all reviews are online yet).

A comparison between 2015 and 2016

Books by Native writers............................3......................4............              
Books by Non-Native writers....................7.....................17...........

From US publishers, there were 10 in 2015. For 2016, it is 21. That is a huge change, but it is due to non-Native writers. Of the 17, I've read eight and found all of them lacking in some way. What will I find if I read the other nine? Based on experience, I'm not optimistic. Ernie Cox, at Reading While White, reviewed Abbott's book about Mary Jemison. I trust his review. I think it would end up on my not recommended list.

There's more to do, in terms of analyzing CCBC's data. That's what I've got, for now.


Update, Feb 23 2017, 10:20 AM -- back to list titles in fiction/Canada, and picture books in US and Canada. 

Fiction, Canadian Publishers. (Note: none in either category are by Big Five publishers.)

Native Writers (N = 2):
  • Currie, Susan. The Mask That Sang. Second Story Press
  • McLay, R. K. The Rahtrum Chronicles. Fifth House

Non-Native Writers (N = 4)

  • Bass, Karen. The Hill. Pajama Press
  • Koner, Miriam. Yellow Dog. Red Deer Press
  • Ouriou, Susan. Nathan. Red Deer Press
  • Richardson, Eve. Saving Stevie. Red Deer Press

It is interesting that there are not any books from the Big Five. The Big Five are in Canada, too, with "Canada" tagged on.

For example, Robbie Robertson's Testimony is published by Knopf Canada, which is part of Penguin Random House Canada. It is non-fiction, by the way, and it isn't meant for children. It came out in 2016. My guess is that it wasn't sent to CCBC. Robertson is Native. Another example is Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road. It is published by Penguin Canada. It came out in 2008, in the adult market, but is assigned to high school students. Boyden is not Native.


Picture books, US Publishers:

Native writers (N = 2):

  • Alexie, Sherman; illustrated by Yuji Morales. Thunder Boy Jr. Little Brown
  • Connally, Judy Shi, and Lawana Tomlinson Dansby; illustrated by Norma Howard. My Choctaw Roots. Choctaw Print Services.

Non-Native writers (N = 3)

  • Burton, Jeffrey; illustrated by Sanja Rescek. The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim. Little Simon
  • Lai, Trevor. Tomo Explores the World. 
  • Marshall, Linda Elovitz; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. Rainbow Weaver = Tejedora del acoiris. Children's Book Press/Lee & Low.


Picture books, Canadian Publishers (none in either category are by Big Five publishers)

Native writers (N = 9)
  • Avingaq, Susan and Maren Vsetula; illustated by Charlene Chua. Fishing with Grandma. Inhabit Media
  • Baker, Darryl; illustrated by Qin Leng. Kamik Joins the Pack. Inhabit Media
  • Dupuis, Jenny Kay (and Kathy Kacer); illustrated by Gillian Newland. I Am Not A Number. Second Story Press
  • Highway, Tomson; illustrated by Julie Flett. Dragonfly Kites/Pimithaagansa. Fifth House
  • Kalluk, Celina; illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis. Sweetest Kulu. Inhabit Media
  • Mike, Nadia; illustrated by Charlene Chua. Leah's Mustache Party. Inhabit Media.
  • Robertson, David Alexander; illustrated by Julie Flett. When We Were Alone. Highwater Press
  • Smith, Monique Gray; illustrated by Julie Flett. My Heart Fills With Happiness. Orca
  • Van Camp, Richard; illustrated by Julie Flett. We Sang You Home. Orca.

Non-Native writers (N = 1)
  • Currie, Robin; illustrated by Phyllis Saroff. Tuktuk: Tundra Tale. Arbordale

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Debbie--have you seen Sara Biren's THE LAST THING YOU SAID?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen
Sara Biren's The Last Thing You Said. 

Biren's young adult novel is due out on
April 4, 2017 from Amulet Books
(which is part of Abrams Books).

Here's the description:
Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.
The Last Thing You Said got a starred review from Kirkus, but the reader who wrote to me noted these two lines from School Library Journal's review:
However, the appropriation of an Inuit cultural practice, inuksuk, as a symbol for the two white teens' relationship is a poor choice. VERDICT Cultural appropriation mars an otherwise promising debut that's recommended for libraries with a high demand for romance.
Both Kirkus and SLJ note that the book is set in Minnesota. Inuksuk in Minnesota? Are there inuksuk there? And if so, why? From what I am able to glean online, tourists started making them...  

I'll look for a copy and be back with a review.

Kara Stewart's Letter to Agents and Editors

Over the weekend, Kara Stewart posted her Dear Agents and Editors letter. It consists of a series of questions that agents and editors can use to evaluate American Indian content. Kara was amongst those interviewed for the Educators Roundtable at We Need Diverse Books (I just realized there's no date stamp on that post. I believe it went up in mid-December of 2016).

A couple of weeks ago, she wrote to me about an idea she had about creating a guide for agents and editors in kidlit... a guide that can help them--and the authors they work with--recognize problems with the ways in which writers claim native ancestry, and/or create content about Native people or characters or places. I think it is a great idea! Kara's idea evolved into a document that is now up at her site.

Kara created it with two writers in mind. Each part has a list of questions an agent or editor can pose. For each question, there is a "cheat sheet" of how a writer might respond, and how the agent or editor can interpret that response and, perhaps, push further.

First is the writer who tells their agent and editor that they are Native. Across the US and Canada, there are many people who believe they have Native ancestry. This is put forth as "I'm part Native American" when they participate in discussions about issues specific to Native people. Some writers use that phrase, too, when submitting a manuscript to their agent or editor. It is a fraught claim. Many people think it is racist to ask someone to say more about that, but, that concern points to the depth of ignorance about who Native peoples are. The first part of Kara's guide is designed to help people understand that we're nations of people, and to help them understand how to ask writers about their clams to Native identity.

Second is the writer who has Native content in their manuscript. That part of the guide is designed to help agents and editors push the writer to think more deeply about why they're including Native content.

It concludes with a list of resources. Take time to read Kara's post! Send it to writers, agents, and editors! She's titled it Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content.  If you have questions or comments about it, you can post them at her site. I see this as a document that can--and will evolve--with your input.