Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Highly Recommended! Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock, by Dallas Hunt and Amanda Strong

I settled in to do some reading last night. I reached for Dallas Hunt's Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock. Amanda Strong's illustrations drew me in as I turned the pages, following Awâsis as she sets out to take her her grandma's world-famous bannock to a relative. 




Image result for awasis and the world famous bannock


Illustrated by Amanda Strong (you absolutely must watch her stop animation videos!) and published in 2018 by Highwater Press, I'm pleased as can be to recommend it. Here's the description:
During an unfortunate mishap, young Awâsis loses Kôhkum’s freshly baked world-famous bannock. Not knowing what to do, Awâsis seeks out a variety of other-than-human relatives willing to help. What adventures are in store for Awâsis?
Like I said, I was reading along, enjoying the story. Awâsis talks to several animals on her way. Instead of the English words for them, Hunt gives us the Cree ones. When I got to her conversation with Ayîkis (frog) I smiled to see her words in bold and capital letters because Ayîkis is far away and Awâsis has to shout.  

Then, I got to the page where she comes to Ôhô (Owl), who is drifting off to sleep. Awâsis speaks softly. The font is smaller. I like that, too. Ôhô wakes up and looks at Awâsis... and then I read this sentence and sat right up!
They swiveled their head back and forth and hooted.
They?! THEY?! (Yeah, I am using bold and capital letters to convey my delight...) Here's that page:




Right away I started writing to friends in children's literature to ask if they've seen a gender neutral pronoun before in a children's picture book. The answer so far? No. This might be the first time a writer has put a gender neutral pronoun in a children's picture book. 

The one exception I've come across so far is a nonfiction picture book, They, He, She, Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzales and Matthew Smith Gonzales, published in 2017. Are there others? If you know of one, let me know.

For now, I'm going to shout about this book to friends and colleagues in children's literature. Published in 2018 by Highwater Press, Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt and Amanda Strong is highly recommended! 

And make sure you check out the recipe and pronunciation guide at the end of the book... and the video, too! 



Last bit of info: Hunt is a member of Wapisewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, and Strong is Michif out of the unceded Coast Salish territory also known as Vancouver, British Columbia. That's from the book flap. 

__________
Below, I will list other picture books that colleagues recommend. If the book is by a Native writer, I'll note that writer's nation. 

Gonzales, Maya, (2014). Call Me Tree/Llamame arbol. Children's Book Press.

Thom, Kai Cheng and Kai Yun Ching, (2017). From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea. Arsenal Pulp Press. 




Saturday, December 08, 2018

Recommended: NEW POETS OF NATIVE NATIONS, edited by Heid E. Erdrich

There are very few books of Native poetry for teachers looking for poems to use with children and young adults. They can, however, get a copy of New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich.




There are several poems in it that I'd use with teens. Consider, for example, Layli Long Soldier's "38." Most people, I'd be willing to bet, need help understanding the significance of that number. The opening stanza's of 38 are a comment on rules, on writing, on storytelling, on history, on expectations, on integrity of telling... terrific words that a teacher would want to spend time on. From that powerful set up, Long Soldier moves on to tell us about the 38:
You may or may not have heard about the
Dakota 38.
If this is the first time you've heard of it, you
might wonder, "What is the Dakota 38?"
The Dakota 38 refers to thirty-eight Dakota men
who were executed by hanging, under orders
from President Abraham Lincoln.
To date, this is the largest "legal" mass execution
in US history.
The hanging took place on December 26, 1862--
the day after Christmas. 
This was the same week that President Lincoln
signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

There's a lot more, after that. Long Soldier's poem is a history told with integrity and respect for the 38 and for Native people.

If you've read Eric Gansworth's young adult novels, you'll definitely want to read the poems he's got in New Poets of Native Nations. His "Speaking through Our Nations' Teeth." It opens with him asking:
When you see me
for the first time
at a powwow or social
across the circle
we dance
in which language and world view
do you form your first
impression 

In the next parts, he talks about some of the things we do in school (diagramming sentences)--which is one world view--and the other? Well... it isn't one where anybody diagrams sentences. That poem is followed by "It Goes Something Like This" which is about two children, going to Carlisle Indian School. And "Snagging the Eye from Curtis" is a brilliant critique of those sepia-toned photographs that far too many people view as authentic.

There are, in total, 21 Native poets in New Poets of Native Nations. Make sure you read Erdrich's introduction, also available online at Lit Hub. There, she talks about putting this volume together. I want to paste the entire Introduction here, but will put one paragraph, instead:

As I conceived of this book, I wanted to select and present a substantial and strong gathering of work by U.S. Native writers. I wanted to avoid the ways Native American poetry, most edited by non-Natives, has been presented—with a lot of apparatus and within binary notions of an easily digestible “American Indian” history or tradition in order to tie contemporary to past in a kind of literary anthropology. I did not want to add to the body of literature that allows “Indians” to exist in the past, or in relation to the past, but remain invisible in the world we all inhabit now.

New Poets of Native Nations. Get several copies! Give them away. Some books are described as "a gift" to readers. This one is that, for sure. Published in 2018 by Graywolf Press, I highly recommend it.

Highly Recommended! Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families, by Richard Van Camp

You know how some things are so dear that you hold that thing close to your heart and give it a squeeze? Every year, Richard Van Camp creates books for young people that make me want to do that. This year, it is Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families. His oh-so-perfect words in this board book were translated into Plains Cree by Mary Cardinal Collins.


It starts with "One kiss, two kiss, three kiss, four!" and so on. Facing these pages of words in English and Plains Cree are delightful, endearing photos of babies and toddlers and grown-ups, planting kisses. 

That cadence is interrupted by this photo, and, a smooch!




That smooch launches us into a series of pages where we read "Your kisses are so sweet!" and "Your kisses are so fun!" and "Your kisses are as welcome as the light from the sun!" 

I read Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina after having spent a raucous hour playing with my niece's little girl. We played with a stuffed bear and a snowman, chasing each other around my mom's house. After each spree down the hall, she looked up at me with her twinkling eyes that said 'let's do that again'--and so we did. The photo on the right is the two of us, at one moment in that zany playtime!  

That 'let's do it again' look is where Kiss by Kiss ends, too. The final page is "Please can we start again at kiss number one?" It'd be fun to read this book to her (and the bear and snowman)! 

This is one of those books you'll want to give to lots of people. And--lots of people are in it! Some people might look at the photos and think the people in them don't "look like Indians" because far too many people carry stereotypical ideas of what Native people should look like. In fact, every person shown in the book could be a tribal member or citizen of a Native nation! 

In every book, Van Camp gives us so much. Native people see things others may miss, but that's ok. Those are, to use Cynthia Leitich Smith's phrase, "brushstrokes" that are subtly placed mirrors for Native readers. 

Published in 2018 by Orca, Richard Van Camp's Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina is highly recommended. Get a copy. You'll see. It is a delight!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Recommended: YOUNG WATER PROTECTORS: A STORY ABOUT STANDING ROCK by Aslan and Kelly Tudor

Aslan and Kelly Tudor's Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock is a non-fiction photo-essay published by EagleSpeaker Publishing.




The "about" page tells us that the author, Aslan Tudor, was eight and nine years old during the period depicted in the book, and a citizen of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Information provided is his first-hand account of time spent at the camps when he was there in 2016.

Told from the point of view of a child, 
Young Water Protectors is a rare kind of story 
of a unique period of activism 
with Native people from so many nations 
standing together to fight a company
exploiting people and hurting earth's resources. 

There's a lot to think about, packed into this slim book. Tudor touches on the school at the camp, and what he learned there but he also notes that activity at some of the construction sites wasn't safe. It was safer for kids to stay in camp. For readers who want more information about that, adults can fill in the gaps according to what they know about the reader.


AICL's Best Books of 2018

We are starting AICL's "Best Books of 2018" today (December 7) and will update it as we read other books published in 2018. Please share this page with teachers, librarians, parents--anyone, really--who is interested in books about Native peoples. As we come across additional books published in 2018 and as we finish reading and writing up reviews, we will add them to this list. If you know of ones we might want to consider, please let us know! For now, a partial list of to-be-read books by Native writers is at the bottom. 


BY NATIVE WRITERS OR ILLUSTRATORS

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Henry, Gordon and Elizabeth LaPensée. (2018). Not [Just] [An] Other. Makwa Enewed. United States. (review in process)

Board Books

Picture Books

For Middle Grades
  • Boney, Roy. (2018). "Tell It In Your Own Way" in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Cheryl and Wade Hudson. Crown Books for Young Readers. United States.
  • Quigley, Dawn. (2018). Apple in the Middle. North Dakota State University Press. United States
  • Smith, Monique Gray. (2018). Lucy & Lola. McKellar & Martin. Canada
  • Tingle, Tim. (2018). When A Ghost Talks, Listen. Roadrunner Press. United States. (review in process).
  • Tingle, Tim. (2018). Trust Your Name. 7th Generation. United States (review in process).
  • Van Camp, Richard. (2018). When We Play Our Dreams, They Sing! McKellar & Martin. Canada

For High School
  • Erdrich, Heid E., ed. (2018). New Poets of Native Nations. Graywolf Press. United States.
  • Gansworth, Eric. (2018). Give Me Some Truth. Scholastic. United States.
  • Gansworth, Eric. (2018). "Don't Pass Me By" in Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles. Random House Books. United States. (review in process)
  • Jones, Adam Garnet. (2018). Fire Song. Annick Press. Canada (review in process)
  • Roanhorse, Rebecca. (2018). "Thoughts on Resistance" in How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson. St. Martin's Press. United States
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. (2018). Hearts Unbroken. Candlewick. United States.

BY WRITERS WHO ARE NOT NATIVE

Comics and Graphic Novels

Board Books

Picture Books
  • Morales, Yuyi. (2018). Dreamers. Holiday House. United States. 

For Middle Grades

For High School



BOOKS BY NATIVE WRITERS THAT ARE IN OUR TO-BE-READ STACK!
These include books intended for the adult market, but that we might think can be read by older teens. 
  • Francis, Lee and Alvitre Weshoyot, Sixkiller 
  • Hobson, Brandon. Where the Dead Sit Talking
  • Mailhot, Terese. Heart Berries: A Memoir
  • Orange, Tommy. There, There
  • Rice, Waubgeshig. Moon of the Crusted Snow
  • Whitehead, Joshua. Jonny Appleseed


BOOKS BY NON-NATIVE WRITERS THAT ARE IN OUR TO-BE-READ STACK!
This list include books intended for the adult market, but that we might think can be read by older teens. 
  • Warner, Andrea. Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Recommended: UNPRESIDENTED: A BIOGRAPHY OF DONALD TRUMP by Martha Brockenbrough

I haven't done a rigorous study of biographies of US presidents. The ones I have looked at over the years are lacking in one way or another. Most leave out Native peoples and nations that presidents interacted with--or the information that is included, is biased.

In Who Was George Washington? (one of the books in the very popular "Who Was" series published by Penguin), we read that when he was young, George Washington worked as a surveyor--someone who measures and marks property boundaries--to make money. It was "a rough life" in the "wilderness," sleeping on the ground, cooking over open fires, and, he had to "steer clear of hostile bands of Indians" (page 18). That book came out in 2009. Many people in children's literature think that Russell Freeman wrote excellent nonfiction for kids, but his writing was biased, too. In his biography of Abraham Lincoln, he wrote that Lincoln's father was "shot dead by hostile Indians in 1786, while planting a field of corn in the Kentucky wilderness" (p. 7). Titled Lincoln: A Photobiography, it won the Newbery Medal in 1988. I hope that a book that has bias like that in it would not be selected, today, for that medal.

Was Washington racist? What about Lincoln? And--are the authors of those books racist? The point: there's a lot to consider in how someone writes about a president.

Let's turn now to Martha Brockenbrough's Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump, due out on December 4th from Feiwel and Friends. Anybody who has followed the news about the current president of the US knows that he's said a great many racist and sexist things. Brockenbrough doesn't shy away from any of that. I'm glad it is all here, documented, for young adults (the book is marketed for kids from age 12-17). I'm also glad that she's included information about Native people.

On page 98 she provides an account of trump's (I do not use a capital letter for his name) 1993 testimony at a hearing in Congress, at the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. She quotes him saying that "they don't look like Indians to me..." He was talking about Native people of tribal nations in Connecticut who had casinos that hurt "little guys" like him. At the time, trump was trying to make a deal with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

A few pages later, Brockenbrough provides readers with the name of another tribal nation. In 2004, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians ended their contract with trump's hotel and casino company, because his company was in financial trouble.

It is terrific to see Brockenbrough being tribally specific. By naming these nations, she is pushing back on a widespread ignorance in the US. Too many people use the word "Indians." And it often leads people to think of Native peoples in stereotypical ways.

Another good point of Unpresidented is information on page 100, about tribal membership. Succinctly, Brockenbrough writes that tribal nations make determinations about their citizens. What they look like doesn't matter.

Oh! Another thing to note is the part about arrowheads! It tells us a lot about the trump family and its values. I recommend Unpresidented and welcome your comments if you read it. And--kudos to Brockenbrough for writing this book! Reading the news every day is tough on my psyche. Spending the time necessary to write this very comprehensive and in-depth book must have taken a toll on her.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Recommended: A Day with Yayah


As a grandmother and longtime teacher of young children, I'm delighted to share my enthusiasm for A Day with Yayah, a 2018 Crocodile Books release by award-winning author Nicola I. Campbell (Interior Salish), illustrated by another award-winner, Julie Flett (Cree-Metis). 


A Day with Yayah is a visual feast for fans of Julie Flett’s art, which just seems to get more amazing all the time. Start with the cover, where a little girl in a yellow sweater gazes into the face of a silver-haired woman. Both are seated on the ground and surrounded by dark green grass, scattered flowers, and light blue sky.

Move to the endpapers with their seemingly simple, graceful plants and insects. One more page-turn and there’s a bright yellow warbler-type bird perched atop some tiny white flowers. On the facing page, the bird flies past the title. Turn the page again and it sits above the dedications. The facing page features another Indigenous child wearing red boots and a baseball-type cap, holding a yellow flower. One more page turn, and Nicola Campbell’s story begins as the little yellow bird looks on.

It’s springtime, and Nikki and her grandmother ("Yayah" in their Indigenous language) are tanning a hide. (They’re the pair on the cover.) Along come two kids from next door, eager for their lessons from Yayah. She has been teaching them to identify edible wild plants AND to speak their Indigenous language, Nłeʔkepmxcin. She’s about to go gathering, and the kids want to go along. Yayah packs them a lunch, phones their families, and soon they’re all piled into Auntie Karen’s red minivan along with some other family members -- heading for a place where many significant plants can be found.

Flett’s illustrations show readers what a beautiful day it is, and Campbell has Yayah teach the children “beautiful” in their language. Yayah talks with them about specific plants – how they grow, their uses, and what to avoid (like poison ivy).  She uses the English names, but also tells them what those things are called “in our language,” and helps them with their pronunciation (for example, one sound “is made at the back of your throat”). Campbell weaves this vocabulary into the story multiple times, and many of the words are also set apart from the main text on the pages where they first appear, so child readers who are learning the language have several chances to practice each one. 

The story ends as the sun begins to go down, and the children give the food they have gathered to their elders. On the next page is Campbell's author’s note about Nłeʔkepmxcin, which is spoken by the Interior Salish people of what is currently known as British Columbia. I can’t make the proper spellings of the words because my keyboard lacks a lot of the characters.

Facing the author’s note is a glossary/pronunciation guide to the words Yayah teaches in the story. On the final page before the end papers, that little yellow bird is back on the white flowers.  

This is probably the most beautiful “didactic” book I’ve ever encountered. Yes, it's meant for teaching, but it also conveys a particular way of teaching and learning -- grounded in solid, caring Indigenous family/community relationships, and in profound respect for children's need to interact closely with things that are worth investigating in their world. I think children will relate well to the characters' curiosity and eagerness to find out more about words and about the natural world. There's even some humor to further enrich the book-sharing experience.

Speakers of Nłeʔkepmxcin reading today's post -- can you recommend a good resource for non-Salish adults who want to read aloud using the Nłeʔkepmxcin words in A Day with Yayah? The glossary and Campbell's in-text clues are extremely helpful, but some teachers may still hesitate to share it because of concern that they will mispronounce. 

Of course, with help from the glossary, non-Salish readers can always simply substitute the English meanings as they read, and talk with the non-Salish children about the Nłeʔkepmxcin words without trying to say them. If they're fortunate enough to work with Salish families, one of the parents might be willing to do the reading. No matter what, it's essential for the teacher, parent, or librarian to model effective ways to encounter unfamiliar languages. Children who feel uncomfortable with "foreign" sounds and letters may giggle or mock. The adult's job is to show them how to meet the challenge of "not understanding" appropriately, with 
1) humility ("I don't know this way of communicating but I can learn about it.") 
2) respect ("This language is worth knowing more about it.") and 
3) curiosity ("Wonder how I can find out more about it? Wonder what it would feel like to know what people are saying in that language?"). 

So far I haven't found recorded read-alouds of this book online. We can hope there will be some good ones soon!

Campbell has Yayah and the children thank the Creator for what they find. This seems to be done in a general way, perhaps a bit like saying grace before a meal, and does not appear to involve ceremonial matters that shouldn't be shared outside their Indigenous community. In her dedication, Nicola Campbell honors Auntie "E.I." Ethel Isaacs for "our childhood memories of traditional food gathering." She also thanks a woman who has been a champion for preservation of Nłeʔkepmxcin.

A Day with Yayah has all the features of an #ownvoices effort, and it’s strongly recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED! Jill Lepore's THESE TRUTHS: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Jill Lepore's These Truths: A History of the United States came out this year (2018). Published by W. W. Norton and Company, teachers will be drawn to it as a source for developing lesson plans. As regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know, I will occasionally take a look at books marketed to adults because I think teachers might use them. I cannot recommend Lepore's book.



Here's why I cannot recommend it. Lepore is an acclaimed historian, but when I got to page 23 and read what she wrote about Zuni, I hit the pause button right away. She wrote (yellow highlights are mine):
In 1540, a young nobleman named Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an army of Spaniards who were crossing the continent in search of a fabled city of gold. In what is now New Mexico, they found a hive on baked-clay apartment houses, the kind of town the Spanish took to calling a pueblo. Dutifully, Coronado had the Requerimiento read aloud. The Zuni listened to a man speaking a language they could not possibly understand. "They wore coats of iron, and warbonnets of metal, and carried for weapons short canes that spit fire and made thunder," the Zuni later said about Coronado's men.
Some people use "hive" to characterize a state of activity but Lepore uses it to refer to the construction style of Native homes. Others have done it, too. For many (most?) people, it might seem fine, but to me--someone whose ancestors built those kinds of homes--I think the association of work with bees rather than human beings is a problem. For hundreds of years, white people have written about Native people in ways that overtly and subtly denigrate us, casting us as inferior. We were not, and it is wrong that such words continue to be used.

Then, this acclaimed historian uses a problematic quote! Let's take a close look at "They wore coats of iron..."

Lepore cites David Weber's The Spanish Frontier in North America for that quote. I looked at his book. He has it as an epigraph for chapter one, and cites "Zuni tradition" (see the screen cap to the right).

Lepore is a professor, teaching students how to become historians.  When I was a professor in American Indian Studies, it was important to me that students learn that they must be critical of sources they used in their studies. Presumably, Lepore saw Weber's source when she chose to use it for her book. Did she think "Zuni tradition" was sufficient? Apparently, she did.

With the internet, it is simple enough to figure out sources.  Though Weber didn't provide a footnote for his source, he does list Woodbury Lowery's book, The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States, which was published in 1901. Lowery has "They wore coats of iron..." in his book. Here's a screen capture of that passage (purple highlight is mine):



On the previous page, Lowery tells us his source: Frank Hamilton Cushing! Cushing--acclaimed by some--is far from a reliable source of Zuni history. He misrepresented them in his writings so much that his name is still spoken there, with derision. In the early 1990s, Zuni cartoonist Phil Hughte did a series of paintings about Cushing. They were published in book format in 1994 by Zuni's publishing company, Zuni A:shiwi. Hughte's book is titled A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing and there's a PBS video, Another Side of the Story, about Hughte's work (I cringed at the flute rendition of Amazing Grace at the opening to the video, but the content is definitely worth your time.)


Lowery failed in using Cushing as a source. 
Weber failed in using Lowery as a source. 
And Jill Lepore failed in using Weber as a source. 

I'm spelling that out--in that way--because it is important that teachers and professors take care in the sources they use then writing or teaching students. It is important to see how errors get recycled. And, it is especially troubling to see Lepore replicating this error, in 2018!

Integrity of research is important. She's definitely failed in her passages about Zuni. It makes me wonder about the rest of the content. It should make you wary, too.

On Twitter, I've seen several historians raise similar questions about her book. I'll write to them and ask if I can add their remarks here. If you've read the book and see problems with how Lepore has represented Indigenous history and people, let me know. I'll add your comments to this post.

__________

Update, November 27, 1:03 PM:

With her permission, I am adding Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant's tweets on Oct 31, 2018. She is on the faculty at the University of Buffalo and specializes in Haudenausounee history. She was responding to a tweet from Jeff Ostler (he's a historian at the University of Oregon), who shared a photo of a passage from Lepore's book and asked if it was a serious problem for Lepore to write that Jackson's removal policy only applied to the southern nations. The passage Ostler shared says (highlight is mine, and I've inserted [sic] to mark Lepore's spelling errors.):
Jackson's first campaign involved implementing the policy of Indian removal, forcibly moving native peoples east of the Mississippi River to lands to the west. This policy applied only to the South. There were Indian communities in the North--the Mashpees of Massachusetts, for instance--but their numbers were small. James Fennimore [sic] Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) was just one in a glut of romantic paeans to the "vanishing Indian," the ghost of Indians past. "We hear the rustling of their footsteps, like that of the withered leaves of autumn, and they are gone forever," wrote Justice Story in 1828. Jackson directed his policy of Indian removal at the much bigger communities of native peoples of the Southeast, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chocktaws [sic], Creeks, and Seminoles who lived on the homelands in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, Jackson's home state. 
On twitter, Dr. Mt. Pleasant replied to Ostler, saying:
Since you asked...this is egregious. On so many levels. Any scholar of American Indian history could write an essay about the numerous problems with this passage. Because it’s 2018 and we all know that this is a tired, debunked narrative.
Folks who are curious about this need look no further than John Bowes 2016 book _Land Too Good for Indians: Northern Indian Removal_ The book has been widely reviewed, so it’s well known (or should be) among historians.
Thinking further about the seriousness of the problem, beyond its disconnection from current scholarship, I worry that a passage like this reinforces all the negative stereotypes about History and historians that circulate in Indian Country.
And I think about the role that passages like this play in discouraging Native youth from studying History, because the stories they know about themselves, their families, their communities & their nations are misrepresented in narratives like this.
And as a Native person who is a professional historian, I know that this sort of discouragement comes early and often, it can contribute to unwelcoming classroom environments, and it may be part of the reason there are so few Native people who hold PhDs and teach History.
Happily, though, there are ways to address this. Together w my co-authors, we developed a larger discussion of *both* the problems and the solutions in our article “Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies: Completing the Turn”.

Dr. Mt. Pleasant recommended this post as part of this conversation: The Miseducation of the Public and the Erasure of Native Americans, written by Lewis Borck and Ashleigh Thompson, was posted on Nov 22, 2018 at the American Anthropological Association's blog.

__________

Update, November 27, 1:55 PM:

Dr. Christine DeLucia, a historian at Mt. Holyoke, shared my review and thanked me for:
"delving into a specific example of how and why Jill Lepore's treatment of Indigenous histories--and the methods she employs--are so problematic. Uncritical use of colonialist sources that purport to speak for Indigenous people is a deeply rooted issue in Euro-American scholarship."


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Congratulations to Traci Sorell for Orbis Pictus Honor Award!

Some terrific news today (November 17), from the 2018 conference of the National Council of Teachers of English!

Traci Sorell's We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga 
was selected for NCTE's 2018 Orbis Pictus Honor Award! 

The announcement was made at the awards event. Celeste Trimble tweeted this photo when Traci's book went onto the screen:



And over at the Charlesbridge (publisher of Traci's book) booth on the exhibit floor, the folks staffing the booth probably did a happy dance and put a homemade sticker on the book! Here's a photo from there:



See those stars on the right? Those indicate starred reviews from the review journals: Kirkus, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness.

NCTE's award is for nonfiction. Congratulations, Traci! This is wonderful news!

And.... back at 7:09 PM to say that I went over to the Charlesbridge twitter account to share the URL for this post and they've got a new photo up, of the official seal:


Friday, November 16, 2018

Recommended! DACTYL HILL SQUAD by Daniel José Older

Some time back, I learned that Daniel José Older was working on a series that would blend history and fantasy. The first book in the series--Dactyl Hill Squad--is out and I gotta say, I enjoyed it! Older, by the way, is not Native. This is the second time I'm recommending one of his books. He's a terrific writer. There were several terrific passages in his Shadowshaper


Aimed at middle grade readers, here's the description:

It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker. 
Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?


Dinosaurs? On the streets of NYC in 1863? You bet! I was pretty much hooked when I got to this passage in chapter one:
But it was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs.
Magdalys and the other kids can't ride them, though. The orphanage staff didn't want her near them.
So Magdalys mostly had to be content with watching the great beasts cavort along outside her window: The lamplighter’s iguanodons would pass first thing in the morning, extinguishing the lanterns as the day broke. Then the commuter brachys would stomp past, passengers cluttered on the saddles and hanging from straps along the side. By noon the streets would fill with stegosaurs lugging supplies and the duckbill riders in fancy dress clothes, heading off to important meetings, while microraptors scurried across the roads, carrying messages or making nuisances of themselves. Most of the trikes and raptors had been sent down south to fight the Confederates, but every once in a while she’d see one of those too.
As I read those words, of these specific dinosaurs and what they did, I could see them, in my minds eye. Pretty cool world, Older is building!

What the description doesn't tell us is that one of Magdalys's friends is a Native girl. Her name is Amaya. Her mother is Apache; her father is a White general. We get to know a little about her, in tiny bits as the story unfolds. When she was little, her father worked at a military school in South Carolina. There, he taught her military tactics and weapons. When the war broke out, her father took command of a Union regiment and left her at the Colored Orphan Asylum. The things her father taught her prove helpful as the squad works to rescue the kidnapped orphans from the slaver who intends to take them south. That's all we know about her when the Dactyl Hill Squad ends.

I'm thinking about Amaya's back story. How did her mother and father meet? I'm curious and wonder what we'll learn in the next book in the series! Given what I've seen so far, I think Native kids will like seeing her in this book. And so, I recommend Daniel José Older's Dactyl Hill Squad. And I know my little sister's grandson is gonna like this series. He wants to study dinosaurs.  


Debbie--have you seen THE RANSOM OF MERCY CARTER by Caroline Cooney?

A reader wrote to ask if I've reviewed The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline Cooney. It was published in 2001 by Random House. Here's the overview:
Deerfield, Massachusetts is one of the most remote, and therefore dangerous, settlements in the English colonies. In 1704 an Indian tribe attacks the town, and Mercy Carter becomes separated from the rest of her family, some of whom do not survive. Mercy and hundreds of other settlers are herded together and ordered by the Indians to start walking. The grueling journey — three hundred miles north to a Kahnawake Indian village in Canada — takes more than 40 days. At first Mercy's only hope is that the English government in Boston will send ransom for her and the other white settlers. But days turn into months and Mercy, who has become a Kahnawake daughter, thinks less and less of ransom, of Deerfield, and even of her "English" family. She slowly discovers that the "savages" have traditions and family life that soon become her own, and Mercy begins to wonder: If ransom comes, will she take it?
The Ransom of Mercy Carter is a captivity story. These kinds of story started with Mary Rowlandson's account of her captivity in 1676. There have been many since then, including

  • Lois Lenski's Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, published in 1941. Like Cooney's book, it  also won a Newbery Honor Medal.
  • Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive, published in 1957, and based on the capture of James Johnson and his family in 1754. 


It'd be interesting to do a chart of plot points across these three books. Cooney's opens with the place (Deerfield, Massachusetts), the date (February 28, 1704) and the temperature (10 degrees below zero). The first page is about Mercy's family settling into bed for the night, and praying:
Dear Lord, prayed Mercy Carter, do not let us be murdered in our beds tonight.
I'll see if I can get a copy of the book, but some things I see (like that first line) suggest that the book is a sensational telling--more of a thriller than anything else. The word "savage" appears in it 29 times.

Skimming what I can see online, I see there's a scene where the captive kids watch a Native man who had "taken four scalps" earlier. The description of his actions is very detailed as he scrapes flesh away. Pretty gross, isn't it? So, I have a hunch that The Ransom of Mercy Carter will end up with a not recommended tag.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Open Letter: "Trail of Lightning is an Appropriation of Diné Cultural Beliefs." Does the Letter from the Diné Writer's Collective Mark a Turning Point?

On November 5, 2018, Indian Country Today published Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs. It is from the Diné Writer's Collective and is signed by Esther Belin, Sherwin Bitsui, Chee Brossy, Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, Tina Deschenie, Jacqueline Keeper, Dr. Lloyd Lee, Manny Loley, Jaclyn Roessel, Roanna Shebala, Jake Skeets, Dr. Laura Tohe, Luci Tapahonso, and Orlando White.

All the people that signed the letter are Diné (Navajo). They write poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Some are professors or teach writing. As far as I know, this letter is the first of its kind. These writers are telling everyone not to appropriate Diné culture and beliefs.

Although their letter is specifically about Rebecca Roanhorse and her book, Trail of Lightning, they name others, as well:
There are other examples of literary appropriation of our culture by non-Navajos. Notably Tony Hillerman and his "mystery" books that appropriated and continue to profit off Navajo culture and stories without shame — all while portraying us inaccurately. Once again, there was no Diné "board" or "intellectual property committee" that denounced Hillerman’s use of our property (in the 1970s-90s when he published the bulk of his books) for his gain and it has gone largely unchecked. We think of other non-Navajo writers such as Oliver LaFarge, Scott O’Dell, the infamous Nasdijj aka Timothy Barrus, who constructed Navajo people and our stories from an outsider’s perspective. 
Hillerman, LaFarge, O'Dell, and Barrus aren't Native. Though Hillerman and LaFarge did not write specifically for children or teens, O'Dell did. His Sing Down the Moon came out in 1970. Published by Houghton Mifflin, it won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1971. I have not read Sing Down the Moon but can see that O'Dell brought what he thinks of as Diné spiritual beliefs into his novel (p. 44):
"Jesus Cristo," Rosita said, "is like all our gods if you put them together. He is Falling Water and Spider Woman. But he is not cunning like Falling Water, nor is he vengeful like Spider Woman."
The Diné writers go on to say (I've highlighted a few words):
In doing so [constructing Navajo people our stories from an outsider's perspective], a disservice was done to the Navajos, as it also reinforced old and new stereotypes. Furthermore, Roanhorse’s appropriation, especially as an in-law who married into and lived on the Navajo Nation homeland and as an Indigenous relative, is a betrayal of trust and kinship. We do not want to let such breaches of faith and cultural contract slide any longer. So we write this letter objecting to the book.
Are the writers going to speak up about other books and writers in the future? It sure sounds like it to me, and while it makes me nervous for writers, I also welcome the letter because I think it can have a positive impact on writing.

During Twitter conversations, someone asked if other Native writers have been challenged for writing stories of a Native people that is not their own. Two people came to mind: Joseph Bruchac, and Tim Tingle. Bruchac's Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two came out in 2004 from Dial Books. There are passages of ceremony in that book. More recently, Tingle wrote a series about the Long Walk. Published by 7th Generation, it featured a teenager named Danny Blackgoat. In the third book, there is a chapter called Grandfather's Healing during which Danny recites a prayer.

Did Bruchac or Tingle do what Roanhorse did? The fact is, I don't know. I am of Nambé Pueblo. I don't know what is appropriate regarding the use of Navajo spiritual or cultural ways. When Trail of Lightning came out, I promoted it on social media because I believed Roanhorse had the guidance necessary to share what was ok to share. But then I started to hear from Navajo readers who had concerns over its content. After much thought, I withdrew my recommendation of Trail of Lightning, and as best as I've been able to do, I've inserted a note to that effect on social media in spaces where I had recommended it. That may strike some as an extreme act on my part. Why did I do that? Because Native spiritual ways are so horribly misunderstood and misrepresented in books and films. Instead of the respect that ought to be accorded to our belief systems, they often get characterized as folk or fairy tales rather than sacred stories that guide our lives. The Nov 2018 Scholastic book club flyer is a recent example (red x and words to the left of the image are mine): 




I've shared the Diné letter in several places because I think what they said is important. Some have responded to the letter (not necessarily to me, specifically) by asking questions like 'who gave the Diné writers authority to write this letter?' As the writers indicated, the Diné Nation does not have a committee that has oversight over this but they are--as citizens of a sovereign nation--defending that sovereignty and acting to safeguard their spiritual beliefs. We could turn that particular question onto a writer and that writer's cultural advisors: who gave them authority to write/endorse the book's contents?! Indeed, who gave me (Debbie Reese) authority to review books, at all? Clearly, some of these conversations go nowhere but other ones can help us with our work.

What does the letter mean, for AICL, and for me as a critic and scholar of representations of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books?

For now, it means that I will be even more careful in what I do in my review and analysis of children's books. This is where I am, today:


  • when I use the #OwnVoices tag, I will only use it for a book by a Native writer who is writing of their own nation. And I will take care to identify the nation of the writer who is writing outside their own nation. Joseph Bruchac's newest book, Two Roads, is about a Creek boy. We have not yet reviewed it on AICL but when we do, we'll note that Bruchac is Abenaki. Earlier this week, I saw an announcement that, in 2019, Tim Tingle will have a Choctaw detective book out for middle graders.  He's Choctaw; the character is Choctaw, so that would be an #OwnVoices book.
  • when I see any references to the spiritual or religious ways of Indigenous people in a not-own-voices book I am reviewing, I will include a note that I cannot speak with authority about that particular content. If there is a note in the book about a sensitivity reader, I will note that information, but also note that there is a continuum of what people think regarding what can and cannot be shared. Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning is a good example of that. She's not Diné, but Diné readers disagree in their determinations of what can and cannot be shared. 

At this moment, I am most concerned when the content is about religion or spiritual practice. I don't think that other subject matter (like events of the Long Walk) is as problematic but for sure, I'll be paying closer attention than ever before.

One thought is this: how to enforce any of this? Well, the fact is--nobody can enforce anything. This is not a question of a body or bodies of people forcing something to be undone. This is a question of ethics and decision making.


I think that scholars of Indigenous literature will be citing the Diné letter in the future. I don't know what that will look like. Will they embrace it? Or will they reject it, in parts or in its entirety? What do you think about it? If you work as an editor in a major publishing house, has anyone brought this letter to an editorial meeting? Will you take it to the next one you attend? Have you seen the contents of the letter being discussed as a conference yet? Has it been discussed in your social media networks? If you have any thoughts to share, or, if you have seen things said that you'd like to bring to this post, please submit them in a comment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: The Oregon Trail - The Race to Chimney Rock

A few days ago, people started sharing the books that Amazon has listed as "Best Children's Books of 2018." In the ages 6-8 category, Amazon has The Oregon Trail: The Race to Chimney Rock. 

As you might imagine, it is in that category of books that AICL usually describes as NOT RECOMMENDED.

Published on September 4, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it is book 1 in a 4-book series. The series is like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books where readers make a decision about what they want to do at a specific point in the story. Instead of an adventure, readers of this series choose their own trail. The publisher of The Race to Chimney Rock made a marketing decision that people who liked the Choose Your Own Adventure series and/or those who liked playing the Oregon Trail video game, would buy this series. That Amazon lists it as one of the best books of 2018 tells us that the publisher was right. With this series, it is adding to its profit margin--but miseducating children. Of course, that doesn't matter. What matters more and more in the US is $$.

If we were being accurate about history, the information kids get would be different than what they get in this book. Here's the first sentence in the book (p. 7):
You are loading up your covered wagon to head out to Oregon Territory, where a square mile of free farmland awaits your family. 
The first decision point happens several pages later, but if I was editing that book, I'd edit that sentence a bit, add some more information, and offer a decision point right away. It might be something like this:
As you and Pa load your covered wagon to head out to Oregon Territory, he tells you about the square mile of free farmland you are going to claim. You had read Section 4 of the Donation Land Act of 1850, and know that land was only available to certain people. You know it was designed to displace even more Native peoples from their homelands, and that to get land, you had to be a "white settler" or "American half-breed Indian." You know the law is wrong and racist. What do you do?
If you speak up, turn to page __. 
If you decide to keep quiet, turn to page __. 
I don't have an edit or suggestions beyond that, but I wonder what kids would come up with in a class where their teacher helps them map out different choices than the ones in Race to Chimney Rock? The teacher would have to begin by providing students with an in-depth unit about the history of the area that came to be called the Oregon Territory. It would take a lot of preparation, but wouldn't it be interesting to see it, in action?

It'd have content in it kind of like what Joseph Marshall has in his book, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. That book is set in the present day. A Lakota grandfather takes his grandchild, Jimmy, on a road trip. At one point, the grandfather asks Jimmy if he's heard of the Oregon Trail. Of course, Jimmy says yes, and his grandpa says (p. 29):
"Before it was called the Oregon Trail, it was known by the Lakota and other tribes as Shell River Road. And before that, it was a trail used by animals, like buffalo. It's an old, old trail." 
Isn't that terrific? I think Marshall's book is terrific, and I wish publishers would stop putting out books about the gold rushes (there was more than one) and the Oregon Trail! Those books glorify periods of history--and in that glorification, mislead readers about the facts of history. Teachers who use the books, uncritically, are mis-educating their students. To conclude, I do not recommend The Oregon Trail: The Race to Chimney Rock. I've got notes stuck in my copy here and there... there's so much wrong! Avoid it. If you already bought it for your child, see if you can get your money back.