Friday, August 11, 2017

Tim Tingle's WHEN TURTLE GREW FEATHERS -- as a mural!

On July 12, 2017, Tim Tingle (Choctaw Nation) was visiting a library and came upon a delightful mural! Here's a photo of Tim, standing in front of it: 

The child depicted in the mural is reading When Turtle Grew Feathers, which is one of Tim's picture books! I was thrilled to see it and asked Tim to share details as soon as he could. 

The mural is in the Tye Preston Memorial Library in Canyon Lake, Texas. The original bank in Canyon Lake was owned by Harry Preston, who donated the land and money for what came to be called the Tye Preston Library. That building was eventually sold. Funds from its sale were used to help finance the new library. 

A local artist, Linda Jacobson, came up with the idea for the "Wall of Honor" mural in the new library. She sketched out the design, and a local muralist, Brent McCarthy, got to work. He was given access to the library, and would come in often late at night, to sketch and paint. They kept a sheet over the mural until it was complete. Take a look at photographs of the work-in-progress, at the "Making of a Mural" page!

Brent likes to work from photographs. Harry Preston was alive when the mural was painted, and he offered pictures of his mother. As you flip through the photographs, you will her, as well as the little girl. 

Brent wanted to put children in the mural. The little girl reading Tim's book is someone who attends Brent's church. He took her photo. He also wanted local authors to be depicted on the mural. When he asked about a local children's author, Tim's name came up. He and his dear friend, Doc Moore, had done many storytelling performances at the old library. Tim had donated copies of When Turtle Grew Feathers. Brent was shown that book, and, that's how it became part of the mural. 

The little girl and her mother were there when the mural was unveiled on October 20, 2010. 

I love the story of this mural! I love the mural! It is heartwarming in so many ways! 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Beverly Slapin's review of JUAN PABLO AND THE BUTTERFLIES

Back in June, a reader wrote to ask me about Juan Pablo and the Butterflies by J. J. Flowers. I did a "have you seen" post about it and am glad to see that Beverly Slapin, of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, has a review up now. Here's some excerpts:
Abuela appears to be a shaman as well. She’s an all-in-one spiritual phenom, singularly embodying not only a whole culture’s metaphysics but also bits of other cultures—a mishmash of mythology and mysticism that the author invents. 
Still, it was the old woman’s shamanic powers that were a good deal more popular than her famous doctoring skill. Nothing made his abuela happier than taking away people’s aches and pains, their troubles and struggles. She took away the pain of childbirth as well as the opposite, the struggle of transitioning. She cured little Jose’s [sic / the nickname for “José” would be “Pepe,” not “little José”] poor hearing, but also his mother’s gambling problem, Ms. Sanchez’s strange rash, but also her husband’s infidelity, Mr. Hernandez’s high blood pressure, but also his depression. Occasionally she worked miracles, curing dementia, diabetes, and even many different cancers. People sought her out from hundreds of miles away. (p. 11)

And there's a subsection about playing Indian:

When Juan Pablo and Rocio were children: 
Following his abuela’s suggestion, he and Rocio had built an Indian tepee [sic] in the forest just beyond the meadow. No one else but his abuela knew about it. The tepee [sic] became their secret, a private tent where they passed the endless hours of childhood playing imaginary games: Indians—Rocio was the chief and he was the brave; hospital—Rocio was the doctor and he the patient; school—Rocio was the teacher and he the student; and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—finally, he was Harry Potter and Rocio was Hermione. But lately, as they began outgrowing imaginary games, they hiked up to the tepee [sic] just to read good books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Old Man and the Sea, but also The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games. (p.21)
Since most Mexicans are of Mestizo heritage, they’re “Indians.” That Juan Pablo’s Indian abuela would encourage the Indian children to “play Indian” doesn’t make any internal cultural sense. And, as Indian children, why would they want to enact stereotypical Plains Indians? This is all the author’s cultural assumptions and does not apply to Mexican children who probably did not grow up watching “cowboys and Indians” on 1950s TV shoot-‘em-ups. (JP and Rocio’s “tepee” shows up in a later chapter, when Juan Pablo and Rocio are on the run and hide in this “wooden structure,” which a tipi is not.)
The author also inserts some miscellaneous stuff that misrepresents Indians and Mestizos:
If [JP] squinted against the light just so, he could see the narrowest of paths reaching around the cliff. Probably an old Indian path. Indians used to live here hundreds of years ago, after the Aztecs and before the Spaniards. (p. 81)

Go read the full review! There's a lot of detail there that you'll find helpful. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Recommended: Daniel W. Vandever's FALL IN LINE, HOLDEN

I love Daniel W. Vandever's Fall In Line, Holden

Published this year (2017) by Salina Bookshelf, it is a terrific picture book about a Navajo boy. Here's the description from the publisher's website:
Fall in Line, Holden! follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through his day at boarding school. Although Holden is required to conform to a rigid schedule and strict standards of behavior, his internal life is led with imagination and wonder. Whether he is in art class, the computer lab, or walking the hall to lunch, Holden’s vivid imagination transforms his commonplace surroundings into a world of discovery and delight.
Explore the world through Holden’s eyes. Join him for the day, and celebrate the strong spirit of a boy who rises above the rules surrounding him.
In an interview at the Salina Bookshelf Youtube channel, you can hear directly from Vandever about the book and how it came to be. He cites statistics, too, about the lack of books that can function as mirrors for Native kids. My hunch is he saw CCBC's data

Holden--the little boy in the story--is a combination of the author, his dad, and his nephew. Three things that especially appeal to me are...

First, that the little boy's imagination is the heart of the story. Turning the pages, you'll see what Holden sees--and what the rest of us miss--when we stand in rigid spaces. I could easily see teachers using it and alongside John Herrington's Mission to Space 

Second, the art! When people think "American Indian" (or "Native American") a certain imagery or style comes to mind. Vandever blows that expectation away with his own graphic style. Studying it, I'm reminded of Phil Deloria's book Indians in Unexpected Places. We are, and do, so much more than mainstream society knows. In that regard, Vandever's book is outstanding. 

Third, Vandever's notes provide teachers with important context about Native peoples and education. 

I hope he writes another book, and of course, I highly recommend that you get a copy of Fall in Line, Holden! for your classroom or library!  

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Bob White, Colleen Murphy, and Appropriation at the 2017 Stratford Festival

The Place: a church meeting room in Stratford, Ontario

The People: adults in a week-long seminar for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

The Event: the guest lecturer, Bob White, a dramaturg for the festival
[D]ramaturgs contextualize the world of a play; establish connections among the text, actors, and audience; offer opportunities for playwrights; generate projects and programs; and create conversations about plays in their communities (source of definition is the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas page.

Dare I tell my story the way the dramaturg told his, the day he was the guest at the seminar? Nah. I'll just tell it like it was. 

Bob White told us that he asked Colleen Murphy to submit three one-page ideas for plays that the Stratford Festival could do this year (2017). Of the three, he really liked one that would become the play the festival is doing this year: The Breathing Hole

What, you wonder, is it about? Here's the description from the festival page
Intersecting with Canada’s history from the moment of First Contact to a future ravaged by climate change, this saga follows the mythic adventures of a polar bear to a profoundly moving conclusion.
Specially commissioned by the Festival to mark Canada 150.
Nothing in there that says Inuit... but if you go to the festival page you'll see an Indigenous woman. A polar bear is behind her. Bob White, at one point, said it is an Inuit story and at another, said it isn't. He also said that they were aware of discussions about appropriation of Aboriginal stories and that they wanted to be careful with The Breathing Hole. Like Bob White, Colleen Murphy, is White. 

Aware of the appropriation conversation, Bob White said he set up a meeting with someone who could look over the play and make sure it was ok. That someone, he said, is Indigenous. He may have said that person's name but I don't remember. That person said it was ok. 

The next thing he had to do was to find some actors who would do the Inuit parts. Bob White said he set up a meeting with some Indigenous actors. Here's where his story got kind of interesting as he recounted how he felt as a White guy going into a room of Indigenous people. He could feel the tension. He'd never felt anything like that before. The actors were not at all pleased or happy about the Breathing Hole project. Oh how I wish there was a recording of that meeting, and of what Bob White said to us that day! 

Bob White said that, in the meeting with the actors, there was a lot of back and forth. On the second day of the meeting, all talk stopped. Nobody said anything. They were at an impasse. A few minutes passed. He wondered if it was all over, if the project was going to fail. 

But, he said, he spoke up, stepping into that silence. He told them their voices were being heard and that their voices would be in the program materials. That seemed to make a difference. This--again--is his telling and my remembering of what he said. One way to think of it: he saved the day and the play went on to open as part of the 2017 festival.

I stood to ask Bob White some questions. I'm paraphrasing as best I remember. If anyone reading this was in that room, please share what you heard. 

I said "If I understand what you've said, the Native actors did not want to do this play because it was written by Colleen Murphy, who is not Native. Do you think, if you were to ask the actors if they would prefer a play written by a Native playwright, they would prefer that?"

Without missing a beat, Bob White said that yes, he was sure they would prefer a play written by a Native playwright. Kudos for his honesty.

And I said "But you did this one, anyway?" 

Again, without missing a beat, Bob White said yes. Again, he was being honest, but this reeks of his privilege and power. 

He also said that they agreed to do it. And then he tried to say something about how it isn't really about Indigenous people, anyway. It is about climate, he said. I was pretty irate by then and said something like "Oh, right. It isn't about us, but you're using us because we're so handy for things like this." There was a bit more. Again, I wish I had been recording that seminar!

A day or so later, I started looking up information about Murphy. 

Prior to The Breathing Hole she did a play called Pig Girl that was controversial. The main character is an aboriginal woman working as a sex trade worker, who is captured by a White man and taken to a pig barn where he rapes, tortures, and kills her. In essence, the play is about MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). Its premier in Edmonton was followed by a discussion. None of the people in the play, or on that panel, were Indigenous. After hearing from Murphy and the actors, Simons (the moderator) invited the audience to participate in the discussion. 

"A very different debate unfolded." she said, because Tanya Kappo, a founder of Idle No More was in the audience. Among her questions was why there weren't any Native people involved in the play or the panel. An Indigenous playwright spoke next. He said the play was exploiting Indigenous women, using what was happening to them as entertainment and that when a play about that is done, it ought to be done by Indigenous people. Another Indigenous actor stood to say that, too. 

In response, Murphy asserted her right to tell stories she wanted to tell. 

See? Colleen Murphy and Bob White knew a lot about appropriation before embarking on their effort to stage The Breathing Hole because she had been critiqued for it--by Native people. But, she and White--in choosing The Breathing Hole essentially said they don't care about what Native people say--they were gonna do it anyway. And they did. 

I got a copy of the program for The Breathing Hole so I could see what space Bob White provided for the Indigenous actors voices.... but found nothing other than the usual acknowledgements. I imagined a page or portion of a page where the Indigenous actors could say... something! Not sure what they'd say, though! They're in a bind. If you're in theater, working/performing at Stratford is an extraordinary opportunity. If they are perceived as too critical, they could be putting their careers at risk. Bob White said they're in other plays, too, and I am sure they are gaining a lot by being in The Breathing Hole and in whatever other plays they're cast in. What I hope for them and the Inuit director--Reneltta Arluk--is that Stratford brings them back again and again--and that the festival commissions a Native playwright for them to perform and work in.


News articles about The Breathing Hole call it an Indigenous story. But Colleen Murphy is not Indigenous. You cannot call her play Indigenous story. It is a White woman's story and it has some Indigenous parts to it--but still--it is a White woman's story. In theme, it is like Brother Eagle Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers, or any of a long list of books by White people who use Native people to make a point. Climate is definitely of primary concern to Indigenous people but I can't help but wonder what a Native playwright would have chosen to bring to the Stratford stage. 

And, I can't help but wonder what impact it would have in other ways. Right now in shops in Stratford, there's a lot of Inuit art. That's been the case for decades (I first went there in 1989), but you'd be hard pressed to find anything by anyone from the First Nations for whom Ontario is their homelands. 

On September 16th, the festival will live stream a forum with First Nations panelists. Here's the info:
Canadians assume that the First Nations have some special place, that they shape our society in some significant way, but history – as well as contemporary actions and attitudes – might suggest otherwise. In a country where the rest of us are immigrants, what do the First Nations represent, what do we owe them, and what of the future? CBC Ideas host Paul Kennedy moderates a discussion featuring Anishinaabe writer Niigaan Sinclair; Dr. Alexandria Wilson, one of the early members of Idle No More; Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; and indigenous scholar and artist Jarrett Martineau.
This Forum event will be streaming live on our Facebook page on Saturday, September 16 at 10:30 am.

I'll tune in and be back here to add what they say to this post.