Sunday, April 15, 2018

Debbie--have you seen Marie Lu's "The Journey" in A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS?

A Native reader wrote to ask me about Marie Lu's "The Journey" in A Tyranny of Petticoats" published by Candlewick Press in 2016, and edited by Jessica Spotswood. The reader said:
  • There aren't any Alaska Native authors in the anthology - just an outsider writing about one.
  • The story is about the Inupiaq protagonist's 1st contact with white people, and that alone is something I'm not really ok with non-Natives writing. On top of that, the protagonist's parents are both killed by white people - her mom is shot on the page and dies on the page, and then white people burn her village. Why is this necessary for an outsider to write?! Who is Marie Lu writing for? Because Natives already know how violent our deaths were at 1st contact at the hands of white people. We don't need to see that on the page in a non-Native's words. This is trauma porn for settlers.
  • The protagonist is rescued by missionaries. They're portrayed as the good guys. One of them even says "We are not all like them." Did Marie Lu just use "Not all settlers"!? I get the impression Marie Lu has no idea about the depth of atrocities against Natives committed by missionaries. Most Native authors would never write missionaries as the saviors of a story.
  • In the author's note, Marie Lu says Julie of the Wolves was one of her favorite childhood books. That book seems to have inspired her to write this story. Considering how problematic Julie of the Wolves is, which Marie Lu would know if she did a simple google search or actually talked to Native people, that's a big red flag.
  • The author's note also says "I loved reading about the Inuit culture." What sources did she read from? Because non-Native sources are always problematic. And did she do any research besides reading? Did she consult with Inupiaq/Inupiat people?
  • That leads me to my next question - since the protagonist is Inupiaq, why did Marie Lu say she read about "Inuit culture"? Inupiaq/Inupiat and Inuit aren't the same thing.
  • And more from the author's note: "The facts already feel magical." I'm uncomfortable when non-Natives use the word "magic" to describe our cultures. Both the author's note and the story itself come off as exotifying us.
The Native reader also said:
I'm sure an Inupiaq person could find a lot more problems. This anthology prides itself on diverse representation, so this is especially disappointing. The rest of the stories might be good, I don't know, but I'm not going to read the rest because it obviously wasn't put together with Native people in mind.

If I get the book, I'll be back with a review. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A reader wrote to me to ask about a line in DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone

Have you read Nic Stone's Dear Martin? Published in 2017 by Random House, it got favorable reviews, including a starred review from Booklist.

I haven't read it yet, but last week, I got an email from a Native reader who had started reading it. When she got to page 22, she was struck--not in a good way--by a class discussion the characters in the "Societal Evolution" class are having. The main character is Justyce McAllister, a 17 year old senior. He's a scholarship student at Braselton Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. He's one of eight black students at the school.

Chapter three opens with Justyce walking into Societal Evolution class. The teacher ("Doc") writes "all men are created equal" on the digital chalkboard. He asks the class about the origin of those words. Jared says it is from the Declaration of Independence. 

Here's the dialog. Earlier, we read that SJ is Sarah-Jane Friedman, who has been Justyce's debate partner since they were sophomores. She's likely to be the valedictorian (page 21-22):
Doc: Now, when we use our twenty-first-century minds to examine the quote within its historical context, something about it isn't right. Can you explain what I mean? 
Everyone: [Crickets]
Doc: Oh, come on, y'all. You don't see anything odd about these guys in particular making a statement about the inherent "equality" of men?
SJ: Well, these were the same guys who killed off the indigenous peoples and owned slaves. 
Doc: Indeed they were.
Jared: But it was different then. Neither slaves nor Indians--
Justyce: Native Americans or American Indians if you can't name the tribe, homie.
Jared: Whatever. Point is, neither were really considered "men."
Doc: That's exactly my point, Mr. Christensen. So here's the question: What does the obvious change in the application of this phrase from 1776 to now tell us about how our society has evolved?
[Extended pause as he adds the question to the digital chalkboard beneath the quote, then the scrape of a chair as he takes his regular seat in the circle.]
Jared: Well, for one, people of African descent are obviously included in the application of the quote now. So are "Native American Indians." 
Justyce: [Clenches jaw.]
It is SJ's comment that the Native reader wrote to me about. Let's look at it:
"Well, these were the same guys who killed off the indigenous peoples and owned slaves."
If you're a regular reader of AICL, you likely know why that line is a problem for a Native reader. Today, too many people think that all of us were "killed off" and that we no longer exist. That line reflects that idea--but it isn't true. We're still here.

As the conversation continues, Justyce corrects Jared's use of "Indians." That's great! Though I haven't read the book yet, it seems to me that Jared is a character who is meant to signify resistance to social change. That's reflected in the author's use of italics to emphasize Jared's use of "Native American Indians" in his reply to Doc.

Several writers have asked their publishers to make small changes to future printings of their books. In particular, those are instances in which an author used "low man on the totem pole" or "spirit animal." Their publishers agreed to their request.

Jared's comment that people of African descent and Native peoples are "obviously" included in "all men are created equal" might be how Stone intended for readers to understand that we're still here, but I don't think it is explicit enough to have readers move away from the vanished Indian idea.

In that conversation, Justyce corrected Jason. In future printings of Dear Martin, I think Stone could use Justyce to correct what SJ said, too. Or, she could modify what SJ says. What do you think? What kind of edits could be made? 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Two Cool Tweets (about me)

At the Kweli Conference in NYC on April 6-7, Ibi Zoboi spoke on a panel about how she wanted to "Debbie Reese" a book about Haiti. I saw that just at the moment when I was taking my highlighter to a copy of Little House on the Prairie to highlight passages that I wanted to focus on at an upcoming workshop. I snapped a photo of me doing it and tagged Ibi, telling her I was doing that 'Debbie Reese' thing right at that moment:




A few days later, on Twitter, Ibi replied:
To ‘Debbie Reese’ is to read closely & critically, w/ love & deep compassion for your people, w/ a keen understanding of history & power structures & how that affects young readers.
Cool, right? WAY COOL. And then, Rita Williams-Garcia replied in that tweet thread, too. She said 
Common use: "Yes, but has this galley been ?" "Yes. Thoroughly ." Error: "thoroughly" is redundant here.
Again, cool, RIGHT? I was delighted but beneath that delight was a powerful surge of appreciation for the meanings that my work has for Ibi and Rita. I like my name being turned into a verb that has such significance!

Debbie--have you seen BLOOD MOON: AN AMERICAN EPIC OF WAR AND SPLENDOR IN THE CHEROKEE NATION by John Sedgwick?

Update: April 17, 2018 

Last night (April 16, 2018), Jace Weaver, the director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia, posted a comment about John Sedgwick's Blood Moon to his Facebook page. With his permission, I am quoting parts of it.

Dr. Weaver began with this word: "Warning." He then said that the publisher, Simon and Schuster, had asked him and Colin Calloway (a professor of history and Native American Studies at Dartmouth) to vet Blood Moon. It was already typeset in galleys, and, Dr. Weaver said, "it was horrible." It had "numerous factual errors" and "faulty interpretations." It bought into and trafficked in "the worst stereotypes." Both professors provided detailed readers' reports, but Sedgwick (the author) did not correct all the factual errors, and he "did nothing about tone or stereotypes."

Dr. Weaver's post ends with this:

"The worst of it is, we're thanked as 'two of the most authoritative contemporary scholars of Native Americans.' Arg! Avoid this book!" 

Here's a screen cap from the book:


See that? Sedgwick writes that he owes Weaver and Calloway "great debts." I think he owes them an apology. And that last line "I take full responsibility for any mistakes that remain" is Sedgwick's shield. It is a disclaimer that tells us, without telling us, that he ignored some of their input. His use of "mistakes" is also worth thinking about. Factual errors are one thing but the tone that Weaver objected to? That sort of thing can be put forth as point of view. What Weaver and Calloway (and me, below) say is derogatory stereotyping, Sedgwick can say he sees it differently. Someone once told me that what I call a negative stereotype can be seen by someone else as a heroic image.

Based on what Weaver said in his Facebook post and what I saw of the book, John Sedgwick's Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation is definitely in the Not Recommended category. 


Because of Simon and Schuster's marketing budget, it is going to be crucial that we use word-of-mouth to let others know there are problems in this book. It should not be used in high school classrooms.

____________

Below is my original post, published on April 12, 2018.

A reader wrote to ask if I've read John Sedgwick's Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation. It isn't for children or young adults, but, the reader notes, some people might get it for a young adult or a young adult collection in a library.

I haven't read it. I can make some initial observations, based on how I go about analyzing books. I'm using what I see in the preview from Google Books for some of these observations and I'm using information made available about the book, including the book trailer at the Simon and Schuster website. Let's start with that video.

Sedgwick begins with "who knew" in an astonished tone, that Native people fought in the Civil War. Whenever someone uses that "who knew?" phrase that way, we are told a lot about that person. In this case, Sedgwick means that he didn't know, and that people he knows didn't know. From that body of people who did not know, he utters the "who knew" phrase. You know who knew? Cherokees. They know. So do a lot of Native people, including those of us who read beyond the master narratives of history. Then, he talks about how people know about the Trail of Tears, but that they don't know about a disagreement within the Cherokee Nation, about removal.  That's what his book is about.

Now, the book itself: 

First: Is Sedgwick (the author) Cherokee? Answer: No. Does that mean he cannot write this book? Obviously, no. The book is out there, from a major publisher. Does it mean he should not write the book? Again, no. Anyone can write about anything they want to. The significant questions are these: are the contents of the book accurate? Who vetted the book? When/if I get the book, will I find that Sedgwick worked with the Cherokee Nation on this book? Was their feedback used? If their feedback was ignored (that happens in children's lit, for sure), it sure would be good to know, but, that sort of feedback isn't usually provided. Sometimes, it comes out, post-publication.

Second: What is Sedgwick's source for what he says about a blood moon? In his "A Note on the Title" page, he writes this:
A blood moon is a rare form of lunar eclipse. For the Cherokee, any vanishing from the night sky was troubling, as it threw their cosmos out of order. A blood moon was especially terrifying, since the moon did not disappear, but turned bloodred. Meteorologists now see that a blood moon is actually lit by an unusual sunset glow picked up from the earth's atmosphere as the sunlight brushes past. But the Cherokee considered the sight an ill portent. The moon was red with rage over what lay below.
Some will find that note compelling. Obviously, Sedgwick is taken with it. He used it as the title and framework for his book. If I was doing an in-depth analysis, I'd try to find out what his source is. Is there a source for it in the back matter of the book? Maybe. If there is, I'd verify that source, too. There's a whole of of "knowledge" out there that gets put forth as being from this or that unnamed Native person that is actually some of the White Man's Indian imaginings. The note is also one that puts one peoples ways of viewing the world into a framework that casts them as simple, primitive, superstitious, etc. Opposite of them are meteorologists. Science. There's a whole lot of denigration and misrepresentation going on in that sort of binary!

Third: What is Sedgwick's orientation to Indigenous peoples? The introduction gives us a lot of insight to it. He writes:
While the Indians were skilled as scouts, trackers, horsemen, and sharpshooters, their greatest value may have been their fighting skills. Shaped by a warrior culture, most were used to violence, and they took to battle. Their long black hair spilling out from under their caps, their shoddy uniforms ill-fitting, their faces painted in harsh war colors, they surged into battle with a terrifying cry, equipped not just with army-issue rifles but also with hunting knives, tomahawks, and often, bows and arrows. Even when mounted on horses, they exhibited a deadly aim, and their arrows sank deep, leaving their victims as much astonished as agonized. They'd close fast, whip out a tomahawk to dispatch their man, then pounce on the corpse with a bowie knife to shear off a scalp to lift to the sky in triumph.
Sedgwick says they were "shaped by a warrior culture." I think Sedgwick's thinking is shaped by that master narrative and its stereotypes. Shall we count them?

  1. warriors
  2. long black hair
  3. face paint
  4. terrifying (war) cry
  5. knives, tomahawks, bows and arrows
  6. scalping

A few pages later, I see "Great Spirit" and another problematic binary (would they "run to the wild" or to the "bright promise of industrial civilization").

Having read that much, I have serious doubts about this book. Sounds to me like stereotypes form the foundation of how he's writing. If I get the book and read it, I'll be back with a review. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.




Sunday, April 08, 2018

What's On Your Shelves? (A workshop, led by Debbie Reese)

I've been spending the last week days preparing for my visit to Eureka, California, where I'll work with school, public, and tribal librarians on collection development! Hope you can come! Thank you, Jessica, of the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria for arranging it, and thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for supporting it!


Friday, March 30, 2018

Not recommended: ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL by Christina Baker Kline


In 2013, Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train was published. In 2017, a young readers’ edition came out. Here’s the description:
This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a twelve-year-old foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman.


Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era. This book is especially perfect for mother/daughter reading groups.
Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience. So when Molly’s forced to help an a wealthy elderly woman clean out her attic for community service, Molly is wary. 
But from the moment they meet, Molly realizes that Vivian isn’t like any of the adults she’s encountered before. Vivian asks Molly questions about her life and actually listens to the answers.
Soon Molly sees they have more in common than she thought. Vivian was once an orphan, too—an Irish immigrant to New York City who was put on a so-called "orphan train" to the Midwest with hundreds of other children—and she can understand, better than anyone else, the emotional binds that have been making Molly’s life so hard.
Together, they not only clear boxes of past mementos from Vivian’s attic, but forge a path of friendship, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
As the description indicates, there are two main characters in this story. The one of interest to me is the sixth-grade girl, Molly, who is Penobscot. She is named after Molly Molasses (p. 64):
…a Penobscot Indian born the year before America declared its independence. […] The Penobscots said Molly Molasses had powers, m’teoulin, given by the Great Spirit. People with those powers, her dad told her, could interpret what dreams meant, cure diseases, and tell hunters where to find game. It’s too bad Molly didn’t wind up with any of those powers herself. 
Kline's story is set in Maine. Molly spent her early years living on the reservation on Indian Island with her dad, who was Penobscot, and her mom (her identity is not specified, which means, she's white. You know--the default is always White). 

When she turned eight her mom made macaroni and cheese for the two of them and then they waited for Molly’s dad. Her mom tries calling his cell. He doesn’t pick up, but Molly hears her mom hissing into the phone “How could you forget your daughter’s birthday?”  After a while she goes to bed and wakes him when her dad is there, shaking her shoulder telling her to hold out her hand (p. 166-167):
She did, and he pulled three little cards out of the bag. On each one a small charm was wired into place. “Fishy,” he said, handing her the small pearly blue-and-green fish. “Raven.” The pewter bird. “Bear.” A tiny brown teddy bear. “It’s supposed to be a Maine black bear, but this is all they had,” he said apologetically. “I was trying to figure out what I could get you for your birthday. And I was thinking. You and me are Indian. Your mom’s not, but we are. So let’s see if I remember this right.” He moved over to sit on the bed and plucked the bird charm out of her hands. “Okay, this guy is magic. He’ll protect you from bad spells and stuff.” Then he picked up the teddy bear. “This fierce guy is a protector.” 
She laughed, relaxing. Her dad was home. Now her mom wouldn’t be mad anymore. Everything was all right, and it was okay that she’d had a birthday after all. 
“No, really. He may not look like much, but he’s fearless. And he’ll make you brave, too. All right. Now the fish. This one might be the best of all. He’ll give you the power to resist other people’s magic. How cool is that?”
She smiled sleepily. “But magic’s not real. Just in stories.” Her father’s face grew serious.  
“No, there’s a real kind of magic, Molly Molasses. You’re old enough to know about it now.” She felt a thrill that climbed up from her stomach, hearing her father say that. “It’s not like bad spells. It might be stuff that looks real good and sounds real nice. It might be—oh, I don’t know. Like maybe somebody telling you it’s okay to steal a candy bar from the Mini-Mart. You know it’s wrong to steal a candy bar, right? But maybe this person has a lot of magic and he’s saying, ‘Oh, come on, Moll, you won’t get caught. Don’t you love candy, come on, just one time?’” He wiggled the fish in his fingers and pretended that it was talking. “‘No, thank you! I know what you’re up to. You are not putting your magic on me, no sir, I will swim right away from you, y’hear?’”
Molly smiled. Her dad smiled back. “But now you’re protected from that sort of magic. Nobody can make you do stuff you don’t want to do. Nobody can tell you who you are, nobody but you.” 
Before then, her dad had given her a corn husk doll but she didn’t much like it. She would have rather had a Barbie doll. Two weeks after that birthday evening is the car crash. Her mom is having a hard time with his death, so, a case worker steps in, and six months later she's put into the foster system (p. 10): 

There weren’t any foster families on the reservation who could take her, so she ended up getting shuffled around before landing with Ralph and Dina.
That placement with Ralph and Dina is where this story takes place. There's a lot about emotional interactions Molly has with foster families and other children but almost nothing about emotions over her parents. She's snarky about her mom, but her dad is pretty much just... not in her head or heart. 


Molly’s social studies class is studying the Wabanaki Indians, and for the first time since she started at this new school, she’s interested because she’s learning things about the Wabanakis that she didn’t know. She’s angry, for example, when she learns about the treaties and how land had been taken from the Wabanakis, and how people called them “dirty, redskins, savages” (p. 125). When someone in the class says that the Wabanakis just have to deal with what happened, she raises her hand, tells them she’s part Wabanaki, and that (p. 125):
… what happened to the Native Americans wasn’t a fair fight. You can’t take everything away from someone, everything they own and care about, and then just say, ‘Deal with it.’ That’s not okay.”


****

That, in short, is pretty much all that Kline tells us about Molly and her identity. Orphan Train Girl is really about the girl who was, in fact, an orphan train girl. That girl, Vivian, is the other character in the story.  The book description tells us that Vivian asks Molly about her life, but there's very little of Molly's life in comparison to what Vivian tells her about her own life. Molly’s identity and purpose for being in this story is to provide a way for Kline to tell a story about Vivian.

In the Acknowledgements, Kline wrote that when she was writing this book, her mother was teaching a class at the University of Maine. That class was “Native American Women in Literature and Myth.” A final assignment was to (p. 226):
…use the Indian concept of portaging to describe “their journeys along uncharted waters and what they chose to carry forward in portages to come.” The concept of portaging, I realized, was the missing strand I needed to weave my book together.  
Kline’s mother used portaging for her own purposes. Kline apparently liked that idea so much that she had Molly’s teacher give Molly’s class that same assignment. They were to interview a parent or grandparent and (p. 63-64): 
… interview someone in your family. Someone older. Your mother or father, a grandparent, someone who’s lived through things you haven’t. And ask them about a time they had to take a journey of some kind. Maybe it was an actual journey, maybe just a change of life, trying something new. Ask what they took with them from their old life and what they decided to leave behind. You’ll turn the answers they give you into a report for the class.” 
And that, speaking frankly, is how a major publisher can turn a best seller into something that will bring in more money: adapt it for young readers and put it forth as if it is a Native story. It isn't. Orphan Train Girl is (if you can't tell), rubbing me the wrong way. 

But there's more. I think somebody read Orphan Train and told Kline that Molly's identity as a Native child being put into the foster system was a problem. Someone told her about ICWA. But, she (or perhaps--Sarah Thompson--the person who adapted the story for young readers) didn't incorporate any of that into the story. Instead, Kline put this in a note in the back (p. 227):
In a case like Molly’s, when a Native American family is not available to foster a child, the Tribal Court will allow her to be fostered to a non-Indian family.
She also says, in that note, that Donna Loring, a member of the Penobscot Nation read the manuscript (p. 227):
...advising me on issues related to the ICWA, and adding shading and nuance to some complicated questions about Native American symbols and laws.
As I noted, though, there's no ICWA in the story. I assume the "symbols" has to do with those charms that Molly's dad gave to her. But all in all, the story that Kline tells is one where she's using a Native character and Native content to tell a story that is--at its heart--about a White woman. It is a history Kline clearly wants to tell but she could have done that without this decorative use of Molly. 

In short: I do not recommend Orphan Train Girl. Published in 2017 by Harper, this is another instance of a book written by a non-Native writer who is using Native content (poorly) and getting published by a major publisher. For the sake of every child in the US, this has to stop. 







Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Recommended! With joy! BOWWOW POWWOW, written by Brenda J. Child, translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder


Due out on May 1 of 2018 is an absolutely terrific book, Bowwow Powwow written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe). The story she tells was translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation), and Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) did the extraordinary illustrations.

Here's the description:

Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. Windy can tell such stories herself–about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. 
When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle's stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow. 
This playful story by Brenda Child is accompanied by a companion retelling in Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain and brought to life by Jonathan Thunder's vibrant dreamscapes. The result is a powwow tale for the ages.

Frankly, there's so much I love about this book that I'm not sure where to start!

Direct your eyes back up to that cover. That's Windy with her uncle, in his truck. Right away, I am grinning. See, when we were kids, my dad had a white truck, but my little brother's favorite color was green, so my dad took his truck to one of those discount paint shops (ummm.... I suppose a lot of you are going, 'what is that'? but some of you know EXACTLY what I mean) and had it painted green! And we all went everywhere in that truck. Our dogs, did, too. Sometimes they were up front in the cab, and sometimes they were riding in the back, just like Itchy Boy is on the cover. What I mean to say is that the cover for Bowwow Powwow has an immediacy that Native kids are gonna respond to. It is, in other words, a mirror of the life of a Native kid.

Moving beyond the cover, I can tell you how much Native kids who do every thing with their dogs are going to like it. By every thing, I mean Every Thing. For Windy, that includes fishing (the page of ice fishing is hilarious) or, curling up together for the night, like she does with Itchy in this bit I'm inserting below... Or I can tell you that parents and teachers helping kids learn Ojibwe are going to like it. I love seeing Indigenous languages in kids books!




Or I can tell you that kids who go to powwows are going to love it. That illustration of Windy sleeping launches Bowwow Powwow into a dream sequence that I adore. At that point in the story, Windy is at the end of a very good powwow that is going on, late, into the night. She's fallen asleep, listening to a drum.

She dreams of the elders who teach her, and the veterans who are in the Grand Entry, and the traditional dancers, and the grass dancers, and the jingle dancers, and the fancy dancers... but they're all dogs!

I cannot say enough how perfectly Jonathan Thunder's illustrations capture each one of those dancers, in just the right moment. That just-so tilt of the head, or the arm, or a knee... 



On their way to the powwow, Windy's uncle told her about dances that came before the powwow. As they drive, he's passing along some oral history about dancers going from house to house, singing "we are like dogs." And, the people in the houses gave them gifts of food, or maple sugar candy, or beads. The dance is about generosity, about sharing. In the back of the book, there's a note about that particular dance and how it was misunderstood and misrepresented by anthropologists who erred in calling it a "begging dance." We Pueblo Indians have a similar problem. Outsiders didn't understand a dance we do that includes a sharing of foods and other items. One outside writer, in particular, wrote a children's book where she misrepresented it as a food fight like you see in a cafeteria. Outsiders. Ugh.

I can tell you that those of us who know something about sovereignty are going to spot something in here that's gonna make us say "YEAH" (it is the license plate on the truck).

What I mean is this: there's many points in Bowwow Powwow where the words or art tell us that this is an #OwnVoices story! The three people who gave us this book know what they're doing. I highly recommend it for every school and public library. I know--I'm going on a bit about its significance to Native readers--but non-Native readers will enjoy it, too. It is tribally specific, and it is set in the present day, and it beautifully captures Ojibwe people. Pardon my corny "what's not to love" --- because this book? It is an absolute delight! Head right on over to the Minnesota Historical Society's website and order it!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Not recommended: A CONSPIRACY OF STARS by Olivia A. Coles

I'll start with this: I do not recommend A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Coles.

Published in 2018 by Katherine Tegan Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), there is a sequel in the works. Here's the description (I'm highlighting a couple of words):
Enter the vivid and cinematic world of Faloiv in the first book of this dazzling YA sci-fi/fantasy series, perfect for fans of Carve the Mark, Red Rising, and These Broken Stars.
Octavia has always dreamed of becoming a whitecoat, one of the prestigious N’Terra scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. So when the once-secretive labs are suddenly opened to students, she leaps at the chance to see what happens behind their closed doors.
However, she quickly discovers that all is not what it seems on Faloiv, and the experiments the whitecoats have been doing run the risk of upsetting the humans’ fragile peace with the Faloii, Faloiv’s indigenous people.
As secret after disturbing secret comes to light, Octavia finds herself on a collision course with the charismatic and extremist new leader of N’Terra’s ruling council. But by uncovering the mysteries behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family, she threatens to be the catalyst for an all-out war.  

The highlighted words in the third paragraph in that description tell you why people brought A Conspiracy of Stars to my attention. It has Indigenous people of another planet. That planet? Faloiv, where the Indigenous people are the Faloii.

Octavia is 16 years old. As the book opens, she's with her father in a chariot, driving outside their compound (the "Mammalian Compound some call "the Paw"). They're from the "Origin Planet" and got to Faloiv aboard a ship they called the Vagantur. When it left that planet, there were 500 people on it, but as the story unfolds, we learn that some of them went missing. That's an important hint of what is to come.

Five pages in, Octavia pulls up to the "wigwam" that serves as a gatehouse. The word 'wam appears 49 times. Octavia and the people from the Origin Planet refer to their homes as 'wams. Why did Coles choose wigwam/'wam? If you're a regular reader of AICL and, in particular, the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich, you know that a wigwam is an Ojibwe house made out of birchbark.

Is Octavia (and the people from the Origin Planet) Ojibwe? I doubt it. Octavia is using an Ojibwe word, though. Why, I wonder? What's the backstory there (backstory is the reasoning behind an author's choices)?

On page 162, Alma (one of the teens in Octavia's group) speaks a few Latin words. Octavia teases her about it and asks why she cares about things from the Origin Planet. Alma says:
"This dead language is just one, the one they decided should survive. Think about how many other languages we probably left behind!" 
Octavia is unhappy with what she hears herself saying (that they should focus on the future, not the past), and Alma tells her that the future might make more sense if they knew more about the past. Of course, they're talking about earth and -- given the wigwam -- I'm going to guess they're talking about European colonization of the places currently known as the Americas.

A Conspiracy of Stars is meant to address colonialism. Does it work? I suppose it does, for an audience that hasn't thought carefully--if at all--about colonialism. I get the appeal of these books, but, all this "learning" through these books kind of demands that Native kids either not read the book, or, grin and bear it as their non-Native peers learn about the evils of colonialism.

Over on Goodreads, there's several reviews that note its similarity to Avatar (you know--the movie with the blue people who shoot arrows). That movie didn't work for me, and A Conspiracy of Stars doesn't either. Horrible things are done to the Faloii.

As the story progresses, we're going to learn that the buzzing Octavia 'hears' is an ability to communicate, telepathically, with other beings. Her brain, it turns out, is different. She's been given a gift from the Faloii and from her grandmother.

Through all but the last few pages of the book, we are meant to think that Octavia's grandparents are dead, but they aren't. They are among the 100 that split apart from the main group. They're alive, and living with the Faloii in a Faloii city.

The last words in the book are spoken by Rasimbukar, a young Faloii (who is meant to be similar in age as Octavia). She beckons to Octavia:
"Come. Your grandparents are waiting."
That, for me, elicited a deep sigh of disappointment. Octavia's grandparents weren't dead after all. They had "gone Faloii" -- or to use more familiar words, they've gone Indian.

Most readers on Goodreads are taken with those last words and cannot wait for the next book. Going Indian has appeal. Allying with the oppressed has appeal to progressive thinkers. I assume that the next book will start out there, in the Faloii village.

A Conspiracy of Stars is an old story dressed up (admittedly, there are some parts that are well-written) as a sci-fi fantasy set on another planet but it depends on a lot of the stereotypes that we're all too familiar with. That is why it is getting a not-recommended here, on AICL.

-----
Back with a note: Octavia isn't White. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Native American Literary Symposium's 2018 "Welcome" Includes Statement about Sherman Alexie; Public Backlash to American Indian Library Association's Decision to Rescind Alexie's Award

In 2001, a group of Native writers organized as the Native American Literary Symposium (NALS). As I write, it is in its second day of its 2018 symposium. The final program includes a Welcome, that has this statement in it about Sherman Alexie (I am highlighting a portion of their statement):

For 19 years, NALS has been a place where Native worldviews can be expressed and considered in all their variations. From our beginning as “clan mothers” through today, we have focused on bringing forward as many voices to American Indian literary and creative studies as possible, and fostering this environment in our own indigenous ways. NALS is not just another academic conference, but a true family of scholars and artists and thinkers. So, it does, but does not, come as a surprise that the predominant literary world is reacting to recent events as if we have “only one literary giant,” Sherman Alexie. And while sad, nor are many of us surprised at the accusations against him, nor will we be surprised when others in our field also fall. We are not responsible for the actions of those abusers. We are responsible for listening to all of those who have been hurt. We are responsible for understanding that while we may be shaken to our core, our roots are strong and deep. We are responsible for finding paths forward when those we have admired, whose works we have admired and taught others to admire, fall from grace. 

On March 21, 2018, I published a letter from the American Indian Library Association (AILA), about its decision to rescind the youth literature award it gave to Alexie in 2007 for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. The School Library Journal (SLJ) published a news item that includes the letter.

The comments to the SLJ article and on electronic listservs tell us a lot about the power of a "literary giant." 

  • Rather than listening to the women who spoke out about Alexie, commenters are discrediting them in sickening ways.
  • A man said that AILA should revisit its "intellectual honestly" (sic) and said "AILA is demeaning itself by being victim to cultural correctness along with raising that despised ole specter of “Indian giver” in the eyes of the general public." 
  • A librarian reports librarian staff saying that "they" [Native people] are criticizing Alexie because he writes about "the darker side of contemporary American Indian life instead of making it all look good."  That, in particular, is evident in his remarks about alcoholism in this video from 2012. If a Native story doesn't have an alcoholic in it, some librarians maintain, it isn't an authentic story. 
  • One woman thinks the "apology" Alexie issued is so good of him, that she went out to buy another of his books, to thank him for apologizing. 

Mainstream society's response to this #MeToo about Sherman Alexie points to how much power he has--and still holds--over public sentiment. It does not bode well for any Native writer---other than him or someone who chooses to write like he does, giving readers that narrow slice of Native life.

It is a fact that we have alcoholism in Native communities. But it is also a fact that alcoholism is a disease that occurs in White communities at the same rates that it does in Native ones. People don't insist that every book about White families have an alcoholic in it. Calling for that -- as Alexie does in this video -- is destructive.

It is a fact that some Native people want to leave our reservation communities, but it is also a fact that many of us do not want to leave.

For hundreds of years, White writers have written stereotypical books about Native peoples. Those books have done harm to our youth, and to non-Native youths, too, by misinforming them about who we were, and who we are. Indeed, many of those books end with us vanishing.

I know it feels to you that Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian -- set in the present day -- is a significant book, but it is ONE STORY of Native life. With that one story, he--and you--have created a situation in which the Indian life he chooses to tell has become, in your mind, the truth.

You've made Alexie, his writing, and what he's given to you into something that you refuse to view, critically. In doing that, you are doing what those White writers did for all these hundreds of years. You're providing stereotypes, and you are doing a disservice to Native and non-Native youth.

Most readers of AICL are educators--whether they are teachers or librarians or professors or writers--who have a responsibility to the young people for whom they write for, or for whom they provide a service or instruction.

Don't perpetuate stereotypes. 
Expand what you offer. 
Expand what you know! 
Step away from your adoration of Alexie.
Believe Women. 

It is excruciating to see that the Native women who spoke up about Alexie are being tried in public by people who choose Alexie and his books over their lives. It is a clear example of why women won't speak up. The risks are too great--for all of us. Please rethink what you say, and what you do. And speak up, too. If someone you know is discrediting women who speak up, speak back to them. You might need to rehearse what you'll say. Be ready to do that. The well-being of so many of us depends on everybody speaking up about abuse, harassment, and destructive stereotyping. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

American Indian Library Association Rescinds its 2008 Young Adult Literature Award from Sherman Alexie

Yesterday, Naomi Bishop, the President of the American Indian Library Association, wrote to AILA's membership to let us know that the Executive Board and the Youth Literature Committee decided to rescind the Youth Literature Award it gave to Sherman Alexie in 2008 for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. 

This is a significant decision. AILA is a Native organization that is stepping forward to hold Alexie accountable for his actions.

Earlier today, School Library Journal published AILA's letter, and characterized the decision as "shocking." Characterizing it that way shifts the focus from Alexie's actions to the actions of an organization who said, publicly, that his behaviors are not acceptable. It is, of course, his behaviors that are shocking.

With permission, I am sharing AILA's letter here:

March 16, 2018 
Dear AILA membership, 
The Youth Literature Awards Committee and the Executive Board write to express full support for the people harmed by Sherman Alexie. We believe and commend the writers who have spoken up and extend our heartfelt compassion to those who have chosen to remain silent. 
As librarians we have a significant influence on books that schools and libraries select. The AILA Youth Literature Awards were established in 2006 to honor Native authors and illustrators. The books we select represent the very best for our kids and our communities. 
We believe that writers are members of our communities who we can look to as role models for our youth. We cannot, therefore, recommend Mr. Alexie’s books, and we have decided to rescind our 2008 Best YA Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In rescinding this award, we hope to send an unequivocal message that Alexie’s actions are unacceptable. 
Sexual harassment and abuse are not easy to report and discuss. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault or harassment, one resource you can turn to is the Strong HeartsHelpline
Hope and healing can be found in books like #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. We selected it as our Best YA Book for 2018. #NotYourPrincess is a powerful anthology by Native American and First Nations women sharing their experiences through poems, essays, interviews, and art. It is one of many that AILA has selected for its awards. See information about the 2018 winners at 2018 AILA Youth Literature Awards Announced
The youth we serve today are here because their ancestors fought for their future and the well-being of their nations. It is in that spirit with which we write to you today. 
Sincerely, 
AILA Youth Lit Committee 
AILA Executive Board

-----

Update: as anticipated, comments at the School Library Journal article (and elsewhere) are about "due process" and that these are "allegations" that are unproven. When NPR did its article on Alexie, it was very careful to substantiate the information provided to them.  For further reading on Alexie, you can start with my Open Letter on February 25, 2018. It includes a TIMELINE with links to articles about the #MeToo movement, specific to Alexie and Native people. AILA's letter will be added to the TIMELINE.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Not Recommended: TOMO EXPLORES THE WORLD (and the TOMO series) by Trevor Lai

A few days ago, I learned about Tomo Takes Flight by Trevor Lai. Published in 2017 by Imprint/Macbooks.com (Macmillan), it is part of a series. Based on suggestions that it has Native content, I decided I ought to take a look.

The first of Trevor Lai's Tomo books, Tomo Explores the World, was published in 2017. Two others are due out in 2018.

According to Animation World Network, Lai was born and raised in the area currently called Vancouver.* His parents are of "Hangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwanese descent." In 2012, Lai founded UpStudios. Here's a couple of paragraphs from the article that help me think about his Tomo books.
Up Studios may be based in China, but Lai stresses that neither location nor nationality defines his company. He looks for universal stories rather than those based on Chinese culture or heritage. “We definitely consider the Chinese market for all [our properties] but they don’t necessarily have to launch here first,” he explains. “I’m really proud of the fact that we make shows as a Chinese company, and the success we have in the local market is wonderful. But, I think the international validation of the concept has to be, ‘Now its on the BBC, now it’s on CBC in Canada, and oh, by the way, it was created in China.’”
Indeed, some of his main achievements to date are with international publishers. In 2015, Bloomsbury Children’s Books signed another of his characters, Piggy, on a six-figure picture book series contract, the largest ever US debut deal for a children’s author in China. That was followed by a deal with Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for a book series based on his explorer, Tomo.
A "universal" story can often fall into a very slippery (not recommendable) space. Tomo is a good example of that. Tomo is apparently meant to be a Native kid--but his nation--to Lai, doesn't matter. Tomo lives on a tiny island. Tomo's people fish. He doesn't like to eat fish, and he doesn't like to fish, either. Here's his dad:



Here's his grandfather (I'm wondering if this wise man with ear to ground is based on that Hollywood image of an Indian with his ear to the ground...):



Here's his great grandfather (do the Indigenous peoples of the area currently called Vancouver tell a traditional story about a fisherman taking a fish from a shark? If so, then Lai is appropriating an Indigenous story):



And here's Tomo:



Given that the author grew up in Vancouver and the Tomo books are about a fishing people, I'd at least expect the illustrations to reflect the art and culture of one of the Indigenous peoples in that area, but here's where that "universal" part gets the author in trouble. Instead of being specific, Lai gives kids stereotypes. In the illustrations I shared above, note the geometric designs on their clothing, the turquoise jewelry, the bear claw necklace, and the pendants they all wear (each with a unique image on them). That sort of imagery is throughout the book.

Lai's work is, I gather, doing quite well. That's good for his pocketbook, but not for children whose ideas of Indigenous peoples will be warped by the Tomo books. In short, I do not recommend the Tomo series of books by Trevor Lai.

-----

*Several weeks ago, I read a series of tweets from Indigenous scholars in Canada who are using "currently called" or similar phrases for places. While some will obviously find that sort of thing threatening, I think it is also accurate and a terrific way for us to remind readers that all these places were, and are, known by different names to the original peoples of the places currently known as the United States and Canada.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Not Recommended: LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Legends of the Lost Causes, written by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester was released on Feb 20 of 2018 from Henry Holt (Macmillan). I read a NetGalley copy of it, and it is on my Not Recommended list.

Here's the description of the book:
A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.
This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.
With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.
But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.
Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.

~~~~


As you glean from the description, the main character is Keech Blackwood. He's an orphan, living with Pa Abner (who isn't what he seems). As we read this book, we learn that Keech is "half" Osage. The story is set in 1855 in Missouri.

Macmillan (the publisher) has a page for the book that includes a blurb for Legends of the Lost Causes from the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center (that's part of the Osage Nation), which suggests someone there read the book. I wonder, though, if they were given the whole book? Or just the snippets about Osage culture? We don't know. I also wonder if anyone who is Abenaki (or who has expertise about Abenaki people) was asked to look over the Abenaki parts?

Here's some of my questions for the authors--for all authors, in some ways--and some initial research findings.

  • When will writers stop making up names like "Wolf" for Native characters who hunt? Do Osage people use that method for naming each other? Did the authors of Legends of the Lost Causes do some research on Osage naming? 
  • Why did McLelland and Sylvester use Abenaki words for the creatures who are raised from the dead? 
  • Where did McLelland and Sylvester get the Abenaki words ("gita-skog" in chapter 3; "tsi'noo" in chapter 7; "P'mola" in the Interlude) they used? 
The first hit for "gita-skog" is a site I do not recommend (Native Languages.org). Another one is to a horror movie with that title, made in 2015.
The first hit for "tsi'noo" is also to the Native Languages.org site, to an another spelling for that word, "chenoo". The second one is to the "Abenaki mythology" page on Wikipedia. (Note to everyone: please don't rely on Native content you find on Wikipedia! You can start there but be very careful. Look at sources critically!)
I didn't find "P'mola" outside of this book. I gather the authors (via a character named Reverend Rose, a missionary amongst the Abenaki who did something to betray their trust) made it up.   
  • Is there--in fact--an oversized black bear (a monster) in Osage culture, called a "wasape"?
  • Where did McLelland and Sylvester get the Osage words ("Zh-sape", "A tha no ko", "Shto be" and Wasape in chapter 18) they used?
Some of those words, or words close to them in spelling are in Carolyn Quintero's Osage Dictionary but I don't know if her book is used by the Osage people in their language courses. I'll see what I can find out. 
  • I assume the authors wanted Granny to be realistic--with that realism being that she thinks Native people are heathens, but is it necessary for a good character (like Granny) to use derogatory words like "heathen" or even "uncivilized" in her remarks to any character?
  • What is a "buffalo hair breechcloth"?! Keech finds a dead man wearing one and declares that the dead man, clad in that buffalo hair breechcloth, is Osage. When I do a search on an item and the only result is the book that item appears in... I think the author has made it up. Attributing it to a particular tribal nation, then, is really arrogant. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is such a thing. If yes, please let me know in the comments and I'll come back up here and revisit this bullet item. 


And here's my concluding thoughts:


The White man who took Keech in when his parents were killed is the one who "taught" him Osage culture, but the things Keech says and thinks throughout this book sound like a White Man's Indian (see Berkhofer's book of that title). By that, I mean, a Native character created from the imaginings of a White Man, based on "knowledge" gleaned from other White Men. In other words? Stereotypical. Whether bloodthirsty or romantic, they are wrong, and that's what I see in Legends of the Lost Causes. The use of Native languages, in the ways they are used in this book is also troubling, and the digging up of Native graves in chapter 26 and 27 is grotesque and utterly tone deaf (see NAGPRA, please!). 

What we have in Legends of the Lost Causes is another round of appropriation, misrepresentation, and desecration--in a series (which means we'll get more of the same) -- from a major publisher (which means this book series will get into a lot of libraries, and a lot of kids will "learn" from it.)

The major review journals didn't pick up on any of these problems. The reviewer at School Library Journal said that the book "eliminates harmful stereotypes of Native populations." I disagree. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called it an "easy read for fans of Westerns." That sentence ought to be revised to read "easy read for white fans of Westerns" or something like that. Yeah, I'm being a bit snarky, but clearly, there are problems in this book that reviewers are missing. Editors of these journals might consider steps they can take to help reviewers remember that Native kids read these books, too. 

In short, I do not recommend Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester. 

~~~~

NOTES:


Chapter One: Bad Whiskey

Right away, we meet 13-year-old Keech Blackwood and his brother, Sam (who has a scar on the side of his face). Sam is doing a "champion's dance" after besting Keech on a game they play. Because Keech is Osage (we don't know that, yet), I wonder if the "champion's dance" is meant to signal that Keech is Osage? And, I wonder if the author's use of "champion's dance" is our first indicator that they don't know much about Native culture? I've not seen or heard of a "champion's dance" before--and am thinking that the authors heard or read about a victory dance (which is a real thing) and somehow that morphed into "champion's dance" in their heads?

We also meet the character, "Bad Whiskey" when he comes upon the boys. They think he's creepy, Sam tells Keech they can run from him, and that he (Sam) is "the Rabbit" and can run fast.

Whiskey asks if the boys remember the Alamo. Which one, he asks, is being Jim Bowie, and which one has "the awful job of playin' Santa Anna?" Keech thinks about how Davy Crockett is "their favorite hero of the Alamo." I'm wondering what the author's back story is for the boys making Davy Crockett their hero?

The boys make it home, and for good luck, slap the sign that borders the yard. It says:

CARSON'S HOME 
FOR LOST CAUSES
PROTECT US, ST. JUDE, FROM HARM


Chapter Two: The Guardian

We meet Granny Nell who gives Sam heck (calling him Samuel) for leaving his bible on the stairs. She says, "Samuel, we may live in a home built square in the center of nowhere, but that does not mean you can act like a heathen. You are twelve years old and can use a bookshelf like the rest of us civilized folk."

When she asks the boys where they were, Keech says they were tracking rabbits. She says to them, "Then tell me, Lewis and Clark, what do your keen eyes see when you gaze at yonder empty table?" They tell her what happened and she sends them directly to tell Pa Abner (he's the man who took them in when their parents were killed.)

Chapter Three: Pa Abner's Secret

As they approach, Pa tells them "Well, well, its the Wolf and the Rabbit, back from their adventure." My guess is that Keech's "Indian" name is Wolf. Pa wears a silver pendant that is "at the center of Keech's earliest memory. He'd been three years old and something terrible had happened to his real parents, but he couldn't remember what that memory was." What he does remember, is being in Pa Abner's arms when a "whirlwind of dust" flew about them. Keech felt a dry heat, and pressed his cheek into Pa, touching the pendant and feeling an icy chill pulsating from the pendant.

Pa tells them that Whiskey is part of a gang that called itself the "Gita-skog, a name stolen from the Abenaki tribes up north. Means 'big snake' or some such." Why, I wonder did the author choose this name for this gang? The book is set after the battle at the Alamo, which was December 1835. Where is this particular plot point going to go?

Pa tells the boys not to say their last name, Blackwood. When Whiskey arrives, he talks about spring of 1845, and that a decade has passed, so, this story is set in 1855. We learn that Pa was in the gang but left it and that he doesn't know what happened to the Char Stone, which is what Whiskey is after. Whiskey says he is the Gita-Skog. Pa rebuffs his claim.

Whiskey is described in ways that make him seem not human.

Chapter Four: A Message of Grave Importance

Pa takes Keech to his study, where the boys got weekly lessons on "the Native peoples, particularly the Osage, who had once inhabited the river lands south of the county. Having been close friends with important Osage leaders, Pa kept the study festooned with a veritable treasure trove of gifts and traded objects--a beaded vest of red, yellow, and blue; a pair of dress moccasins; a hand-carved box of sumac leaves and dried tobacco for smoking. It was here, in this room, that Keech and Sam had first learned how to make Osage parfleches from rawhide and how to speak the names of all the sacred animals of the forest."

Pa tells Keech some history of the gang. It used to be called Enforcers, led by "Reverand Rose." He directed gang members to do bad things. Pa was in that gang and did bad things, but quit. Those who stayed loyal to the leader changed the name to Gita-Skog. The gang killed Keech and Sam's parents.

Pa wants Keech and Sam to take a message to the telegram office in Big Timber, to be sent to someone named Embry.  Pa gives them sandwiches, that they put into Sam's bag, which already has his bible in it.

Chapter Five: The Code Breakers

Keech and Sam figure out the message, which is drawn from numbered passages in the Bible:
"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of the hosts." 
and
"For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night."
and
"Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none."

Chapter Six: The Peg-Leg Bandit

When they get near the town they see a sign:
WELCOME TO BIG TIMBER, A FREE TOWN FOR ONE AND ALL, SLAVERS NOT WELCOME! POP. 405 

They head to the telegram office but there's someone there, with a peg leg, who has destroyed the telegram machine. He is holding someone hostage, and the boys help end that situation. They also learn that someone has been destroying telegram machines everywhere. The man with a peg leg is shot, and they figure out that his name is Tommy Claymore and that he had already been killed a month before. There's been talk of this gang that can do unnatural things.

As the boys return home, Keech sings "Ol' Lonesome Joe" to Sam.

Chapter Seven: The Whispering Crow

When the boys get home, they see that Whiskey and his gang are already there. They tie their horses to a tree where Keech had carved the head and face of a wolf (his favorite animal) into the bark and sneak closer to the house. Pa comes out of the house. A large crow lands on Whiskey's shoulder and seems to whisper to him. Whiskey tells Pa that the Reverend said he can't leave (Missouri) without the Char Stone and "all the sacred objects" and that he commands the "Tsi'noo" now. The Reverend also wants to know where the rest of the Enforcers are hiding. Pa ducks back into the house, the crow flies to and scratches the door, which Whiskey interprets as the signal for violence. He whistles.

Chapter Eight: The Siege

The whistle is a summons for "the thralls" to attack the house. They break down the door, and the boys watch Pa shoot one of them (named Cooper), but, he gets back up. Whiskey says "you know lead can't stop the Tsi'noo". When the man steps towards Pa again, they see him touch Cooper with the pendant, which turns Cooper into a lifeless corpse. But, Pa gets shot and they take the pendant from him. Keech decides to help.

Chapter Nine: Smoke and Ash

Keech is no match for Whiskey, the house is on fire, Pa won't tell Whiskey anything. Then, Whiskey points a gun at his head and Pa says he doesn't know where the Stone is, that "After the shoot-out at the Blackwood place, I had it hidden! It's lost, even from me." Keech flinches at hearing his last name and doesn't recall Pa ever talking about a shoot out. Pa says he thinks it is in a graveyard somewhere west, but doesn't recall where.

A fight breaks out, Keech grabs the pendant and runs and looks back. Whiskey says "So long, Enforcer" and shoots Pa. He keeps running but hears Whiskey tell the others to "Get the shard." Keech puts it on as he runs and feels its "otherwordly chill" on his chest. He's able to hide from Whiskey's men. When he gets home, the house is a smoldering pile. Keech thinks his brother, Granny, and the others must have died in the fire. His plan is to find their remains and bury them, and then "because he was the Wolf, he would hunt." I wonder if the Osage consultant said ok to the authors giving the characters names like that.

PART TWO: THE YOUNG RIDERS

Interlude: Whiskey on the Trail 

This interlude opens with Whiskey looking at a crow. Text reads:
The P'mola, the Reverend Rose called them. A name derived from the Abenaki tribes who had once welcomed him into their villages--till the Reverend's lust for power betrayed their trust. The P'mola were his emissaries, the darkest of all creatures. Long ago, when the Reverend had awakened in the Palace of the Thunders, they were the first things he had created.
You lost the amulet shard the crow said now. The words were not spoken aloud, but came to Whiskey as a terrible rasp--the Reverend's rasp--deep inside his head.  

Whiskey and his men are headed towards Whistler (a village) which is the location of the nearest graveyard. They're going on an "all but forgotten Indian buffalo trail." The P'mola (crow) tells him that he let a boy defeat him.

The boy, the P'mola says, was raised by Isaiah Raines (AKA Pa Abner) and that he taught him "the ways of the Enforcer." Whiskey tries to say he's just a boy, but the P'mola says "You fool. The boy is Blackwood's won." Whiskey is taken aback and realizes that Keech is "the son of Screamin' Bill Blackwood." Whiskey says he needs more thralls, but the P'mola says "I gave you the Prime. I taught you the Black Verse. And you failed me." The P'mola says he's going to take the Prime from him, and Whiskey feels "the invisible essence that kept him whole, the force known only as the Prime, the darkest of all chaos magics" drain from him. He turns, blames one of the thralls for having let Keech escape, and because he has enough power left to remove the life force from one of the thralls, he does so.

Chapter Ten: Ambush at Copperhead Rock

This chapter opens with a flashback to three years before. Keech remembers another lesson from Pa. He remembering being uneasy because he's not fully embraced "the warrior's way" that makes you fearless in combat, as well as Sam had. These training sessions start with Pa speaking this phrase "Now, my young warriors, let's begin."

Awake, he starts digging in the smoldering remains of the house but realizes it is too hot and that he's got to find Whiskey and take vengeance on him, for his family. We learn that Sam is not his biological brother. He had been dropped off at the Home, later.

Keech gets jumped by three boys who are also seeking vengeance. Turns out, Keech and one of the boys both want to kill Whiskey (who the other boy calls El Ojo).

Chapter Eleven: I am the Wolf

The town sheriff comes upon the boys. They've got Claymore (one of Whiskey's men) in shackles. The boys want to go with the Sheriff to track Whiskey, but the sheriff's group thinks the boys are not up to the task. Keech remembers the pendant and its powers and tells the sheriff that to catch a deadly snake (Whiskey) they'll need a predator who is not afraid of the snake's poison. Keech says "I am the Wolf. And with or without you, I'm gonna find this murderer, and lead him straight to the end of a rope." He doesn't tell them about the pendant.

Chapter Twelve: A Revelation at Swift Hollow

The sheriff and boys ride on together to Whistler, to find Whiskey. Keech wonders if he should tell them that Claymore isn't alive, that's he's a zombie (they don't use that word). The revelation is that the boys father was Noah Embry (Bennett Coal), who had been in the Embracer gang with Pa Abner.

Chapter Thirteen: The Escape

Claymore escapes. They set off to find him; Keech gets the pendant, puts it on and sets off on a different route than the others. Suddenly he feels an unnatural cold and realizes it is the pendant, which is also now glowing. Claymore is near, fails in his attempt to attack Keech, and says that "the Master" wants what Keech has. Cutter (one of the boys) comes upon Keech and Claymore and knocks him down.

Chapter Fourteen: The Interrogation

Cutter (Herrera) notices bullet holes in Claymore and asks why a man can still breathe, with holes in his heart. Keech tells him that Claymore is not a man, and that Whiskey had called him something like a "See-New" and that Keech thinks he is a thrall, which is a dead man raised from the grave, and commanded by Whiskey.

Keech dangles the pendant in Claymore's face. He learns that Whiskey has left Whistler and that the Char Stone is "life". Claymore's expression changes and Keech sees that Whiskey has taken over his body. He calls Keech a pilgrim again (he did that when he first came upon Keech and Sam in chapter one).

Whiskey tells Keech that Nat and Duck's dad, Embry, betrayed Pa Abner, telling the Gita-Skog where to find him. Keech is furious and tells Whiskey he'll regret the day he met Keech. Whiskey replies:
"Strong lip for a pup! I am the Gita-Skog, boy, the Big Snake that consumes all. I regret nothing."

Whiskey says they are all going to die, and then, tendrils of dark smoke come from Claymore's nose, which means that the force that had made his body move, is gone. The sheriff finds them and they all head on, to Bone Ridge, or, the Withers graveyard.

Chapter Fifteen: What Happened at Whistler

They cross a river that Keech says "the settlers" named Little Wild Boy. When they get to Whistler, the buildings are all on fire. In the middle of the street is a gazebo where townspeople are huddled. One calls out, speaking German, and they run away, thinking the sheriff/posse are more of Whiskey's gang.

Keech decides it is time to tell them all he knows about the stone and that Claymore had called it "life." They go to the church graveyard where they figure Whiskey had probably dug into the graves to find the stone. Some graves are empty; Whiskey has raised some of the dead there, to replace Claymore and others he'd lost. They learn the nearby forest is called Floodwood and that the townspeople think it is cursed. They hear a monster there sometimes and nobody who goes in, ever comes out. Duck says something that pins blame for all of this on Keech's dad; Keech shoves Duck and then Keech and Nat get into a fight. Turns out that Duck is a girl.

Whiskey's gang appears and attacks them.  Keech heads into Floodwood, trying to escape. Two thralls (Scurvy and Bull) are chasing him but reluctant to go into Floodwood.

Chapter Sixteen: Floodwood

In Floodwood, Keech hears an erie droning, constant. He falls asleep, wakes, and sees numbers painted on a stone. 40 7:7. He realizes why the place seems familiar; in his study, Pa had a painting of the red outcropping of the Floodwood. He realizes the numbers are from the bible. Then, Scurvy and Bull attack Keech. He knocks Scurvy (the smaller one) down, lets the pendant touch him, which returns him to the dead. Bull (the larger one) bears down, and Keech thinks it is time for him to be the Wolf.

Chapter Seventeen: A Bread-Crumb Trail

Keech figures out that the Floodwood gets people lost, walking in circles. He has the pouch Pa had given him, with pennies to pay to send the telegram. he uses the pennies to make a path. He lures Bull to a quicksand, knocks him into it. He realizes that the pendant is a beacon, letting the thralls find him.

Chapter Eighteen: The Red Mountain 

Keech makes a shelter, rests, and winds begin to sound like something Pa taught him. "Zh-sape," the wind said. It is an Osage word. "A tha no ko. Listen. Shto be. See." As he gazes at the night sky, he thinks
"Perhaps it was there, among those brilliant lights, that the souls of fallen braves encountered their next home, the hunting land where they found their spirits reunited with the lost warriors of old. The idea reminded Keech of his brothers."
The stars seem to form images, into a story. He thinks he sees Pa Abner in those stars, lifting a bear cub from
"... the dark of a lonely den. Other sparkling characters gathered around Pa, and they whispered to the tiny cub. Before Keech's eyes, the cub began to grow. It became the shape of a giant bear, a monstrous form, something that should not be."
The group whispers "Wasape" -- Keech closes his eyes and opens them and its gone. He tries to sleep, then gets up and starts out again. He comes upon three thralls and hears Cutter and Duck's voices. The thralls hear them too; the boys take off together, chased by the thralls.

Keech decides to show Nat and Duck the pendant. Turns out Duck and Nat have one, too. They hold them together and figure that they are two shards, and that other shards would form a circle. They make their way back to the stone with the bible verse on it. Duck knows what it is:
Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Chapter Nineteen: The Climb

They climb the red mountain looking for a door; Whiskey's men catch up; Keech figures out Whiskey is also one of the dead, raised back to life, and that he's not doing well.

Chapter Twenty: The Doorway

The boys cause rocks to come loose on Whiskey's men. Duck tells them she's found the doorway. It looks like a rotten log but is really a woodworked door. Keech has the key (pendant). It opens into a cave.

Chapter Twenty-one: Cutters's Decision

Cutter doesn't want to go in; he'd rather go back and make sure Whiskey is dead. They go into the dark cave. After awhile, Keech's pendant starts to glow. Duck gets her out. It glows too. She remember that they do that when Whiskey's magic is nearby. Then suddenly, they hear his voice. He and his gang are coming in, with torches. Cutter insists on going back to fight Whiskey and give the rest of them a chance to get away. They've all been aware of the smell of rot.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Wasape

They find a body:
A bundle of cloth lay around the corpse's legs--a pair of deerskin trouser sleeves and a buffalo-hair breechcloth covered in thick, dried blood. Beside the body lay a slender longbow. Slung over the corpse's shoulder was a quiver made from raccoon pelts. Tucked inside was a single dogwood arrow, its feathers white and brown.
Keech studied the longbow and says the body was an Osage warrior, that the bow was made from the wood of a hedge apple tree, and that the breechcloth has Osage designs on it. That the "fella" had gotten lost in Floodwood and ended up in the case.

Duck notes that the bony index finger is gesturing at the cave wall, to a picture painted in dried blood. Keech is filled with cold dread because it is Wasape. He tells them it was a bear that killed the man, and that it would have to be a mammoth one to take down "a skilled brave with a full quiver." They wonder where the bear is. They hear a gigantic road. Keech crouches at the skeleton's feet, says "If we ever meet on the spirit path, I'll be sure to give you proper thanks" and grabs the longbow and quiver, then joins the group as they try to find their way out of the cave. They come to a pillar with another bible number passage. Keech remembers it was one of Sam's favorites: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

They think it means to jump into the river in the cave but before they do, Whiskey and his gang catch up to them. Keech thinks they have one chance, if he's able to distract them with the Osage warrior's arrow. He shoots it at Whiskey's chest but it does nothing. Keech threatens to drop the pendant in the river. Then, a road. It is the bear. It is double the e\size of a Missouri black bear, but its pelt is gray and ragged and has skinny brown sticks protruding everywhere. It is the Osage warrior's arrows:
The Wasape, Keech thought, remembering his dream in the evergreen ring. The Wasape contains the Floodwood curse! That's what Pa was doing in the vision. He and the Osage were putting a blight upon the bear and tying the creature to this area.
The bear rampages in the cave, making it unstable. A falling piece of the ceiling knocks the pendant out of Keech's hand. He tries to find it, but they decide to leave by jumping into the river.

PART THREE: THE SULLIED PLACE

Interlude: Whiskey in the Dark

Whiskey remembers a song from before the Gita-Skog, before the Reverend Rose. Around him, the other thrall are dead. "The orphan boy--the son of Screamin' Bill--had crushed the last of the Tsi'noo under rubble." The Prime (dark energy) that the Reverend had given him is almost gone. The bear is trapped under the fallen ceiling. Whiskey sees the pendant nearby, hears flapping wings and knows that one of the Reverend's P'mola has found him. It whispers the Reverend's words, that he is useless and that Ignatio and Big Ben will finish the hunt, but then, he gives Whiskey one more chance to get the Stone, by midnight. He feels the Prime flowing back into his limbs. The Reverend tells him to finish off the bear, that doing so will end the magic that holds him there in Floodwood. Whiskey uses the pendant to kill the bear, leaves the cave, and then uses his powers to bring Pa Abner back to life.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Exite

The kids swim out of the river, and notice the buzzing and confusion of the woods are gone. They head for the Withers (the Sullied Place).

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Reunion

Hundreds of graves... all marked with the same year of death: 1832. He stumbles on Abraham Nell, Granny's husband. On the stone is "WATCH THERE FORE FOR YE KNOW NOT WHAT HOUR YOUR LORD DOTH COME which is the 4th set of numbers from Pa's telegram. He figures out the numbers are coordinates.

Pa appears, as a thrall. Whiskey mutters a chant and other thralls rise. He says "Tsi'noo, rise, and git to work!"

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Tsi'noo

Pa tells Keech to run to Duck, who is on Whiskey's horse and still has her pendant.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Treasure Hunt

The Tsi'noo start digging to find the stone. Whiskey has till midnight to find it. As they dig, Keech figures out where the stone is. Whiskey realizes Keech knows and instructs Pa to beat him till he says where it is, but Keech doesn't give it up. Whiskey tells him that his own father was Screamin' Bill Blackwood, terror of the West. When they had found the stone, Keech's dad led a revolt against the Reverend. Screaming Bill killed Whiskey, shooting him "straight in the eye with an arrow."

They dig up the grave, and Keech can see...
...the traces of a breechcloth and buckskin tunic, secured around the old bones with frayed cords. Upon the Enforcer's chest lay a lone tomahawk, the cracked wooden handle studded with brass and animal teeth, the iron blade degraded to black rust.
There is no stone in that grave, so they dig up Keech's mother's grave.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Destruction Cometh

In her hands is a doll. Whiskey holds it and just then, the Reverend takes over his body.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Cut from the Reins

Pa Abner has a bit of life left and tells Keech that he took an Osage "Oath of Memory" that cleansed his mind of knowledge of where the stone is hidden. The Osage have a secret place that they call "Bonfire Crossing".

Pa Abner tells Keech that his father was a "fierce fighter. Terror of the West" and a "half" Osage man named "Zh-Sape" -- which means "Black Wood". He was named that because "no enemy could find him" when he was hunting in the forest. Blackwood is Keech's name now, to "preserve his honor. [Debbie's comments: Why was he called Terror of the West? Who did he, um, terrorize, and why?!]

Just before he finally dies, Pa Abner tells Keech to go to the Bonfire Crossing, and that "the People of the Middle Waters await." The last thing he tells him is "You are the Wolf." [Debbie's comments: Did the authors read The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters by John Joseph Mathews? If Keech is supposed to find "the People of the Middle Waters" -- does that mean he's going to find other Osage people? But why, I wonder, did Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester change "Children" to "People"?]