Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Highly Recommended: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women is another outstanding collection edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Released on September 12th, 2017 from Annick Press, it is one you'll definitely want to add to your shelves--alongside their other two books--Urban Tribes and Dreaming in Indian.

#NotYourPrincess is one of those books that is so stunning in so many ways, it is kind of hard to decide where to start!

Let's start with the title.  The hashtag title is perfection. It boldly says that Native women are here and we have things to say.

Some of you may know that a lot of activism takes place on Twitter. Native people have been creating and using hashtags to inform others about the things Native people care about. Did you, for example, follow the conversations that took place using #NotYourPocahontas and #NotYourMascot?

#NotYourPrincess is the first part of the title. The rest of it is "Voices of Native American Women." That's what Charleyboy and Leatherdale give us this time. The words and art of Native women. Let's take a look inside their book...

A couple of years ago, I was visiting Heid Erdrich at Birchbark Books. While there, I saw a stunning painting by Aza E. Abe. She's Turtle Mountain Ojibwe. Her painting, titled RedWoman, is the first item in #NotYourPrincess! (Some of you may know, too, that it is on the cover of Louise Erdrich's The Round House.)

Facing it is a piece written by Leanne Simpson. She's Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg:

Turning the pages, it is easy to see why Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale put these two items side-by-side as an opening for the book. With them, I am visually and textually drawn into an Indigenous space that wraps me in a warm embrace, and that--in some instances--pierces that warmth with truths, but right away, brings me back to that place of knowing the power of Native women.

The next double page spread has Tear -- a poem by Linda Hogan (she's Chickasaw) -- that is about the past and future. Here's the last part of her poem. It resonates with me, deeply: 
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children. 
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

 It is brilliantly paired with a painting by Wakeah Jhane (she is Comanche/Blackfoot/Kiowa):

She is a self-taught ledger artist. The ledger behind the woman in the painting signifies ancestors who were at boarding schools, while the child she carries embodies the future. I mean it when I say that I'm sitting here, blinking back tears at the beauty, the power, and the resilience in #NotYourPrincess. I'd love to upload images of every page, but of course, won't do that.

What I will do, is tell you to get a copy right away for yourself, and for Native teens in your life. I sang the praises of Dreaming in Indian and of Urban Tribes but there's a quality to #NotYourPrincess that... well, that I don't have words for yet, that do justice to how it is impacting me.


The work of 58 different Native women is in #NotYourPrincess. Art, words, photography. What you see and read in this book will linger in your head and heart.

Debbie--have you seen ALL KINDS OF FAMILIES by Mary Ann Hoberman?

In my mail today (Oct 3, 2017) is an email from a librarian in Illinois, asking if I've seen Mary Ann Hoberman's All Kinds of Families. First published in 2009 by Little Brown, it was published again in 2014 by McGraw Hill Education. The illustrations are by Marc Boutavant. Here's the description:
With irresistible, rollicking rhyme, beloved picture book author Mary Ann Hoberman shows readers that families, large and small, are all around us. From celery stalks to bottle caps, buttons, and rings, the objects we group together form families, just like the ones we are a part of. And, as we grow up, our families grow, too.
Mary Ann Hoberman gives readers a sense of belonging in this all-inclusive celebration of families and our role in them.

The librarian in Illinois sent me a scan of this page in the book:

The text on that page is:
Pens full of bright-colored ink are a family
Toothbrushes over the sink are a family
Even the thoughts that you think are a family
Light as a feather
Living together
Inside of your mind
What else can you find?
Nothing in Hoberman's text is about Native people, but I guess Boutavant saw the word "feather" and decided to draw his idea of a headdress on that kid and a dreamcatcher, too. Course, Hoberman's text in A House is A House for Me tells us she's got some problems in her thinking, too:

If you've got either book in your library, consider talking with children about stereotypes. If your collection development policy has language in it about accuracy of information, you can remove these books.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED by Zetta Elliott; illustrated by Purple Wong

Update from Debbie on Feb 18, 2020:

On Feb 13, 2020, Ashleigh (she’s 13) from OfGlades (the OfGlades group publishes Indigo's Bookshelf), wrote a series of tweets about my recommendation of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. With their permission, I am sharing the tweets, here:
Ms. Debbie has taught us a lot & shared sensitive information, so I was very sad to see that she chose Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged by Zetta Elliott as one of her fav bks. My little sister Vi is autistic. It’s good Ms. Debbie writes ‘autistic’ instead of ‘child with autism,’ but that’s where the good stops. This bk is full of painful stereotypes. Vi likes hugs as much as me! I can be fussy too.  Don’t understand what Ms. Debbie means by “unique traits.” Vi doesn’t exist to teach everyone to “accept our differences.” (This is more than 2 tweets, but I have a lot of feels). We all saw the numbers about disabled ppl in bks. This 1 doesn’t help, tho we love other books by Ms. Zetta. Follow @BeingKaylaSmith 2 learn more. TY.
It is crucial that I listen to readers, especially when the reader is sharing personal experiences with a book.  

An #ActuallyAutistic person responded to OfGlades, saying that as a child, they hated being hugged, and found Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged affirming. OfGlades replied by sharing book covers for A Friend for Henry (written by Jenn Bailey; illustrated by Mika Song), and I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism (by Pat Thomas), saying:
We’re glad it resonated with you. Unfortunately, stereotypical behavior is pretty much the only subject of picture bks about autistic kids. The one on the left is an award winner from this year—the other has almost the same exact cover image. Today’s kids want & deserve more.

Clearly, the OfGlades group is seeing a pattern in how children’s books are depicting autism.  I have work to do on intersectionality. I’ve learned from OfGlades and am grateful to them for the work they do. 


BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED (original post on October 3, 2017)

A few days ago, I added a new feature to AICL. I called it "Reviewed on Twitter." It is for books that I talk about on Twitter, in a series of numbered or threaded tweets. Earlier today (October 3, 2017), I did one for Zetta Elliott's Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. Here's the description for Zetta's book:
A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because “true friends accept each other just the way they are.” A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences.

I like the immediacy of Twitter, capturing and sharing joy (or frustration) when I get a book and want to say something about it, right away. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @debreese. So here you go... tweets I sent out about Zetta's book! 

In my mailbox today! 's BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED.

Zetta and I have lot of terrific conversations about children's lit, and some about institutional racism, too. I admire her a great deal.

One time when we were talking -- online, I think -- I said that any of the kids in her picture books might be a Native child.

I wasn't talking about that "culturally neutral" thing some people like. That is a bogus concept that I reject.

What I meant was that a Native person's identity is not determined by dark hair/eyes/skin, or, ummm... cheekbones!

Native identity is based on citizenship, or kinship relationships, in a specific tribal nation.

We talked, then, about how a writer might signify or hint at a character's Native identity, in a picture book that isn't abt Native ppl.

And how to do it, without resorting to stereotypical markers (long braids, fringed clothing, moccasins)...

Where I ended was 'how about a t-shirt' that a Native kid might wear, one that shows that kid's pride in something Native.

Zetta follows my work and knows I'm a huge fan of 's SUPER INDIAN.

A few weeks ago, she wrote to me to ask about having Super Indian on the t-shirt. I was PSYCHED at that idea. I introduced her to Arigon.

In my head, I was remembering working with Pueblo kids at Santa Clara. I showed them SUPER INDIAN. They love that bk.

And, I had a Super Indian tote bag that gave me. It, too, was much-loved by them.

So! In BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED, there's a Native kid in one scene, wearing a Super Indian t-shirt as he plays basketball:

Zetta's in NYC. There's a lot of Native people in NYC. That character might seem a small thing to some, but I think that...

... any Native kid who happens to read this book and knows Super Indian... is gonna go WHOA!!!

They're gonna say "LOOK!!! It is Super Indian!" Thanks, Zetta. I think this is way cool.


As I sent out that series of tweets, two Native women--Chelsea Vowell and Adrienne Keene--who I admire tremendously for their work, too, were reading the tweets and then enthusiastically shared them with their followers. Repeating what I said on Twitter: this might look small to some people, but to me and the Native people who are sharing it on Twitter... it means a lot.

Get a copy of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged, and get Arigon Starr's Super Indian books, too!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Diverse BookFinder" Project

I started getting email from people who wondered if I had seen the Diverse BookFinder website. And, I began to see people sharing it on social media, with comments that suggest it is a good place to find books about diverse groups of people:
"A resource for finding diverse books"
"Great resource!"
"Helps users find diverse picture books"
"Awesome book finder!"
"Wonderful site! I need to get my hands on these books!"
"Makes it easier to find diverse books..."
Lot of enthusiasm! So, I went to take a look and tweeted my observations as I looked through it. With this post I want to say a bit more than I said on Twitter.

First, some background: the country is in another of its many periods where people are working hard to promote books that accurately represent marginalized peoples. At some point, it will not be another period of this kind of work. It won't be necessary. Data shows, however, that we've got a long way to go to get to where the body of literature published/republished each year is not that "all white world" that Nancy Larrick pointed to in 1965.

The Diverse BookFinder project is one of many in the works right now. We Need Diverse Books launched its Our Story app a few weeks ago. I recommend it. I spent time going through it.

Even more recently, Kirkus partnered with Baker & Taylor to help librarians find books. I have not had a chance to look through that one.

And--I'm part of the See What We See project, and I'll also be working with the newly funded Diversity Deep Dive Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center

That's the background. And now, some thoughts on Diverse BookFinder.

Their mission/vision statement says that they want to "diversify and balance bookshelves everywhere" and that they want to "move the diverse books discussion beyond a focus simply on the lack of numbers to also consider content and impact." They write that "improving cultural accuracy" is essential. I agree with all of that. But when I move beyond that page to other pages, I find problems. 

We can start with the Search page. I put "Native" in the search box. Returns are presented, ten per screen. As I paged through, I saw that a lot of the books have the "folklore" category. That's a problem. Some of those stories are creation stories. They aren't folktales and they ought not be considered within the same framework as Beauty and the Beast. Here's a screen cap of the Categories page at the Diverse BookFinder site. 

The first category is also a problem. It is "Any Child: Assimilation."

The "just kids" or "any child" idea -- I see that it has appeal but I also see it as deeply problematic. It erases so much of what Native and children of color carry within them, in an unseen way to most, that informs or shapes what they say and do, think and feel. It assumes that beneath the physical features of any given person, they are "the same" underneath. Linda Sue Park's blog post about "race neutral" is terrific. I urge you to read it. She said, in part:
If a story depicts someone who leaves their own home and interacts with others in public spaces (in other words, almost any novel ever written) but never or almost never has to consider their racial identity, THAT CHARACTER IS WHITE. This could even serve as a reasonable definition of ‘white privilege’: Only those of the dominant culture have that incredible luxury.
A POC can never go outside their own home or family circle without thinking about their racial identity in some way. The trigger is not always malicious or even negative, but it is inescapable. A POC’s racial identity IS NOT THEIR SOLE DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC–but in society, it is *always* a consideration.
I shared it, and KT Horning's "Culturally Generic/Neutral?", too, with Anne. She knew of KT's and said it really influenced their thinking, but I'm having a hard time understanding what that means. I'm not able to connect the dots.

Assimilation -- the word and what it represents -- is not positive. If you say that word to a Native person, they are likely recalling the many times the US government tried to make us into White people. That happened, overtly, in the boarding schools where the motto was to "kill the Indian" and to "save the man." There were other programs, too. Do the developers of the Diverse BookFinder need to keep that in mind as they create and use categories? I think so.

In the list of categories on the left margin (it is different from the Category Chart that has "Any Child: Assimilation" -- which also confuses me), is "Tribal-Nation." I was glad to see that, because I figured that's where I'd find books about Native peoples as peoples of sovereign nations. But when I clicked on it, I was puzzled. It isn't specific to Native peoples of the US. Most of the tabs under it are Native Nations of the US but some are not. Two that are not are Bhil, and Massai. My expectation was wrong. I was confused at first and still wonder if "Tribal-Nation" is going to work for users or not.

I saw two Pueblo nations in the list, but Elan, Son of Two Peoples is not about anyone from the Pueblo of Sandia.  Elan is from Acoma. It says so, in the book. And Whispers of the Wolf is under the tab for Pueblo of Santa Clara, but it isn't set there. That one doesn't have a setting other than an ambiguous before contact with Europeans. A note inside from someone who is from Santa Clara doesn't mean the story should be labeled as a Santa Clara story. It isn't by a Native writer. So--the team that categorized these two books made errors.

Creating a database that will be helpful to users means starting with words that will grab the books that should be scooped up in a particular search or category. In the Cherokee category, I see a book about a Chinese American film star and a book that is First Nations (Canada). The We Need Diverse Books app had some of those problems, too, but they asked me to look it over before they released it.

Bottom line: I'm confused over what the project means to do. It seems to me that it is supposed to be a study. A research study. Of a collection in a college library that will be adding books to it. But the Finder part... just confuses me. I'm trying to make sense of it. For now, I can't recommend it. I'll check in on it from time to time.

After my initial tweets, Anne Sibley O'Brien, one of its founders, replied:
"This is really helpful, Debbie, suggests that we need a very clear statement on the site that inclusion in the site =/= recommendation."
They added this statement to the top of the Search page:
Our intention is to acquire and make available ALL picture books featuring indigenous people and people of color published in the U.S. since 2002, including reprints. Inclusion of a title in the collection DOES NOT EQUAL recommendation. See our related readings page for suggested links for evaluating books.
I'm not sure that statement helps. It seems to say "here's a way to find all the books" and "it is on you" to figure out if they're any good. For most people, some things will be obvious. If, for example, Little Black Sambo was reprinted, they would include it in their database. Most people, I think, would know that book is racist and wouldn't get it to use with children. They might use it in with adults in college classes, but not with children.