Saturday, December 29, 2018

Not recommended: Pocahontas (a pocket bio)

According it its website, Macmillan's "Pocket Bios" are "pocket-size picture book biographies" that are "full of personality" and that introduce readers to people of the past and present using "simple storytelling and cheerful illustrations."

Given the oversized head, seems they're trying to appeal to consumers who are buying those other series with oversized-headed people on the covers. Ugh!

A quick look at the bios they have planned for this "Pocket Bios" series tells me they think they've hit on something that will line their pockets (yeah, I'm being a bit snarky).

They plan to release Pocahontas in March of 2019. Over on Edelweiss, I found some interior pages. Take a look at how they depicted John Smith's "she saved my life" moment:


Tied to a tree?! Hmm...

Did she, in fact, save his life? That's not clear. Some say his life was never in danger, and that what happened was a ceremony. None of the accounts I've seen say that he was tied to a tree. What is the source for this, I wonder? The name associated with the book, sometimes as author but usually as illustrator, is Al Berenger.

Macmillan: have you no shame? Well--that's not a good question, is it. For publishers--especially the Big 5--bottom line means they'll publish crap like this because it will sell.

Don't waste your money, librarians!

This book is definitely not recommended.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Not Recommended: HAMILTON (the musical)

In 2017, I saw Hamilton in Chicago. Before I went, I listened to the soundtrack and studied the lyrics. Today's post is my notes on the lyrics. As you might expect, they are rooted in who I am: a Native woman who has spent the last 30 years studying and critiquing representations and misrepresentations of Native people.

I did a short thread on Twitter after I saw it in 2017. (These next sentences inserted on Jan 5 for your convenience). The hardest moment for me was when the people in the theater were sobbing when the two fathers stand behind empty chairs and sing about the future their children would not have (they're dead). I could not stop thinking of all the Native fathers and mothers whose children had been killed by the likes of those two men and those who invaded Native homelands.

In August of 2016, Dr. Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, published Where are the Natives in Hamilton at her blog, Native Appropriations. I would especially like to link to Native critiques of Hamilton. If you know of one, please let me know. I'm also interested in critiques by anyone who is also asking where the Native people are in the musical. If you've had conversations with others about Miranda's erasure of Native peoples, I'd like to hear about them.



Sometimes, I publish a post-in-progress to give people a look at what I'm doing before I'm finished. I'm doing that today with this review of Hamilton. Each time I add to it, I will begin the addition with an italicized note that includes the time and date of the addition. My notes will consist of brief summary, my comments in italics, and links to items related to my comments.


~~~~

I am publishing my notes on Act I: Song 1. Alexander Hamilton at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2018. I welcome your comments here, on FB, or on Twitter. I'll add to this post, as time and energy permit. 

Act I
Song 1. Alexander Hamilton

Aaron Burr introduces us to Hamilton, asking how this particular man came to be "a hero and a scholar." John Laurens speaks next telling us that Hamilton worked so hard that by the time he was 14 years old, he was in charge of a trading charter.

Then, Thomas Jefferson tells us that while slaves were being slaughtered and "carted away across the waves," Hamilton kept his guard up, ready to "beg, steal, borrow or barter" to be a part of something.

Debbie's comments: Most people think of Andrew Jackson as the person most responsible for the Indian Removal Act--commonly called the Trail of Tears--but the idea originated with Jefferson. See his letter to William Henry Harrison, written on Feb 27, 1803.  As you will see when you read his letter, Jefferson was quite ready to do whatever it took to get Native lands. 

More of Hamilton's history is delivered by James Madison, Burr, and Hamilton himself. Eliza Hamilton tells us that Hamilton's mother died, and George Washington tells us that a voice inside told him that he had to fend for himself.

Debbie's comments: Most people think well of George Washington, but Native people do not. Did you know, for example, that a group of Seneca Chiefs wrote to Washington on Dec 1, 1790, to tell him that they called him "Town Destroyer" in their language and that when that name is heard, their women "look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling lose to the neck of their mothers."? 

Then Burr tells us that learning to fend for himself included "scammin' for every book he can get his hands on, plannin' for the future" and then, "see him now as he stands on the bow of a ship headed for a new land, In New York you can be a new man."

Debbie's comments: I'm noting that Miranda wrote "headed for a new land" instead of "headed for a new world" which is how people then and now--speak of what Native people had called home for thousands of years. So--Miranda chose "new land" instead of "new world." Why? Was he aware of the problems in that "new world" phrase? Or was it because "land" and "man" ("be a new man" is the last line) rhyme better? What do you think? 

That ship gets to New York and Burr says "Another immigrant, comin' up from the bottom."

Debbie's comments: That line is one reason so many people are enthralled by this musical. It frames America as a nation where immigrants can have the American dream. Every dollar of those dreams, though, came from lands that belonged to Native peoples that were in the way of the riches the immigrants wanted. 

Part 1 of Act 1 ends with people saying they fought with Hamilton, died for him, trusted him, loved him, and one of the final lines is Burr, saying "I'm the damn fool that shot him."


--Update, Friday, December 28, 1: PM--
On Twitter, Dr. Jeff Berglund told me about The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is a two-act play by Ishmael Reed and will be at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City from Jan 4 through Jan 7, 2019. The website for the play says:

“The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda" is a two-act play by Ishmael Reed, about a playwright who is misled by a historian of white history into believing that Alexander Hamilton was an abolitionist. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a musical based upon this falsehood. Other historians would agree with Hamilton's grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton, author of The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, who writes, "It has been stated that Hamilton never owned a negro slave, but this is untrue. We find that in his books there are entries showing that he purchased them for himself and for others." The ghosts of those slaves who were trafficked by Hamilton attempt to educate Miranda, including Harriet Tubman who teaches him about “The Underground Railroad.” 
The main issue of the times during which "Hamilton" takes place was the expansion into Native American territory, yet no Native Americans appear in "Hamilton." Two Native American scholars educate Lin-Manuel Miranda about Washington and Hamilton's policy regarding the Native-American presence. Not only are Native-Americans omitted from “Hamilton", but so are white indentured servants, even though indentured servants worked on both the Washington plantation and the estate of his wealthy father-in-law, General Philip Schuyler. After his education, Lin-Manuel Miranda confronts Ron Chernow, the author of "Hamilton." It is Ishmael Reed’s hope that this play will form a rebuttal to the musical "Hamilton," which has misled thousands of students.

If I lived in NY, I'd be in the audience for sure. I hope to hear from people who do attend! And, thanks, Jeff, for the info! Back again at 1:33 PM to say that I started looking for interviews of Ishmael Reed about his play but haven't found anything yet. I did find a terrific article he wrote for Counter Punch on August 21, 2015: "Hamilton: the Musical:" Black Actors Dress Up like Slave Traders... and It's Not Halloween. Go read it!


--Update: Dec 29 2018, 10:46 AM--

I received two excellent comments about Hamilton. I am pasting them here (in the body of the post) so that people can see them (a lot of people choose not to read comments to posts). The first is from Ava Jarvis:
By all rights Hamilton the musical should make people uncomfortable, and the fact that it doesn't make more people uncomfortable is just very... 
Well, I'd call it "very assimilative." There's a very pervasive way that society takes what the mainstream considers perverse (like people of color, black music, etc) and assimilates it and changes it to make it palatable for the mass audience. Cultural phenomena like the white legend of Pocahontas are a very clear example of this process.
Hamilton is also a case of this, but very different. Whereas the white legend of Pocahontas is not intended to bring Native Americans into the mainstream as anything other than "one with nature" resources to be possessed and exploited by white socio-economic-political structures, Hamilton has the effect of incorporating non-Native POC into the history of white power structures so that we (I speak as a Vietnamese person, so I'm a non-Native POC) will feel affection for and subliminally support the history of our oppressors.
And it... grudgingly... works to do that. Even for me. I feel the thrill of hearing rap music on the Western musical stage, so traditionally white in terms of music; I see people of color on that stage in prominent starring roles and my heart sings; it is too, too easy to forget that this is a siren song to accept that US history was just when it was clearly very much not. 
So, unfortunate as it is, because of how history is, the effect of Hamilton feels very horrific to me. I would actually say that, reflecting on the effects the musical has on my mind, it's almost Lovecraftian in the way it urges me to forget every crime committed by the US government on multiple continents and in multiple countries, including my own family's ancestral home. To forget that I have friends and acquaintances and followers who've suffered greatly at the hands of the US government.
Hamilton urges us to forget the genocide, the slavery, the racism, the usurpation of foreign democracies, and nowadays draconian and cruel immigration "policies", and does it in such beautiful tones that it is so easy to remember the fantasy called "America" instead of the bloody true reality.
We can't forget that reality. If we do, we will not change it; we just end up accepting white power structures instead of resisting them. 
And I think Miranda was very, very purposeful in leaving out Native Americans. It would ruin the narrative effect he was going for. I really, really don't think he did this by mistake.   

The second one is from Dina Gilio-Whitaker and begins as a response to Ava's comment:

I certainly cannot say it more beautifully or concisely than Ava Jarvis above has stated it. I have not seen Hamilton, nor will I because I’m not really interested in paying to be entertained by false historical narratives. I will say, however, that I am deeply suspicious of anything by Lin Manuel Miranda. I didn’t know who he was until I reviewed Disney’s film “Moana” two years ago for Indian Country Media Network ( i’d post a link to it but the link is not working due to the technical issues involved in creating the new Indian Country Today site). 
I was part of a media junket that was treated to a full day at Disney’s Moana studio, in which they paid for several International journalists to come and be part of this tour (raising the questions of conflicts of interest immediately). I might add, that I received no travel benefits from the Disney company given that I live in Southern California. Anyway, I was very critical of the film in my final review of it, and I was later referred to by one of Disney’s staff to my editor as having “terrorized” them because of the tough questions I raised. My written critique was very balanced, but did note how Disney went so far out of its way to erase the colonial histories of Polynesia while it created a work of art that would make people fall in love with it without realizing its bigger problems, and also noted the kind of money the company would make of the images of other peoples cultures. 
The way it did this was by creating what they called the “oceanic brain trust“, a collection of Polynesian artists, elders, and other cultural people to lend a sense of authenticity to the film. All of those people were bound by non-disclosure agreements, which meant that they could not talk about what they were being compensated to be part of this “trust,” naturally raising suspicions for many in the Polynesian community who were also critical of the film. Too many people benefitted monetarily from the film to think more deeply about what they were contributing to. This is just one of the problems the film raised. 
Manuel wrote the music for Moana. He is an entertainer, not a historian. His job is to make people feel good, not to tell an accurate story. In Moana he does this at the expense of telling the truth, and to make people not think about the fact that Hawaii is basically an illegal, fake state. Although Miranda is Puerto Rican, he was raised in mainland US with a degree of economic privilege, and his father was a Democratic Party operative. He is steeped in party politics, and appears to be committed to multicultural liberalism, which is never about understanding history in terms of colonialism. It is thus no surprise that he would bring a sanitized pop culture rendition about Hamilton. Making people feel good pays a lot better than making them rethink their hideous history. 


~~~~

I am publishing my notes on songs 2, 3, 4, and 5 on Sunday, Dec 20, 2018 at 3:45 PM. My last note on the lyrics for Act I, Song 1 is that Burr was saying he's the fool that shot Hamilton. 

Act I. 
Song 2. Aaron Burr, Sir

The year is 1776; the place is New York City. Hamilton introduces himself to Burr because he'd heard that Burr had finished Princeton in two years and he wanted to do that, too. The two agree to have a drink together. Burr advises Hamilton to stay quiet about what he's for and against. When they get to the bar, they meet Laurens, Lafayette, and Mulligan, who are talking about joining the revolution. Burr tells them he's going to sit it out. Hamilton is taken aback by Burr and asks him "If you stand for nothing, Burr, what'll you fall for?"

Song 3. My Shot

Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette sing "ooh, Who are you" and wonder what Hamilton is going to do. Hamilton replies that he's not throwing away his shot. "Just like my country" he says, he is "young, scrappy and hungry." He brags about his brains and says that they are "a colony that runs independently" and that Britain "keeps shittin' on us." He says King George taxes them and then goes on a spending spree. He won't ever "set his descendants free, so there will be a revolution in this century." Lauren sings that they'll never "be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me." Burr cautions them to lower their voices. He's on their side but thinks they sould be careful. They sing "When are these colonies gonna rise up?" Hamilton sings of how they'll "roll like Moses, claimin' our promised land." Song 3 ends with them all singing about how it is time for them to take a shot.

Debbie's comments: Hamilton's question to Burr (about what he'll stand for) are about integrity. They tell the audience we should like Hamilton. He's a good guy, with principles! But if you're a Native person, where is Hamilton's care for the Native people who called New York City their homeland? If Britain is shitting on the colonies, what -- in fact -- are the colonies doing to Native people? Hamilton calling the colonies "our promised land" affirms American beliefs--then and now--that God made this land for them and did things like clear the land of Native people via smallpox, on their behalf. [Back at 4:00 PM to add that what is currently known as Manhattan was homeland for the Lenape people.]

Song 4. The Story of Tonight

Hamilton sings that "when our children tell our story..." they will tell about that night when Hamilton, Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette are together in the pub, planning the revolution. They "raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away."

Debbie's comments: The irony in those four men singing about freedom... This "our story" part is worth noting, too, because "our" does not include Native people. Later in the musical, there's a "who will tell your story" song. 

Song 5. The Schuyler Sisters 

Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy are the Schuyler sisters. Burr sings that they're there (downtown) to gawk at the men at work. Angelica says she's looking for "a mind at work." She's read Common Sense by Thomas Paine. The sisters sing "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" and Angelica says that when she meets Thomas Jefferson she's going to tell me to include women. They sing that they "just happen to be" in the greatest city in the world (Manhattan).

Debbie's comments: More irony as they sing "all men are created equal" when so many men didn't view enslaved African as equal and told themselves a convenient lie, that Native peoples were inferior to them.  


~~~~

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Highly Recommended! Christine Day's "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity" in OUR STORIES, OUR VOICES

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing up Female in America came out in 2018. Published by Simon and Schuster, the editor--Amy Reed--describes it as a love letter from the authors to young people who, after the 2016 election, were hurting or afraid for the future.



It includes Christine Day's "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity." As I read her essay, I highlighted one passage after another. It reminded me of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Hearts Unbroken. In both, I found truths about life for a Native teen in the US.

Day's essay ranges from her experiences in high school and in college in Washington. In high school, she was uneasy. She gives us a snapshot of her experiences in history, science, and English courses. When Day recounts a teacher who didn't pronounce the name of her grandmother's tribal nation right, she describes a physical reaction. Her cheeks burned and her bones turned to ice. "He wasn't saying it [Nez Perce] right." She knew something that her teacher did not. What to do with that knowledge?

That 'what to do' moment is something Native children and teens have to deal with all the time.

There are exceptions. Day had a high school teacher who taught them about bias. She had a college program that centered Native experiences. Like Day, our daughter had a teacher that stood out for the right reasons. Like Day, our daughter found affirmation in a programs designed to see Native people, as we are.

There's so much in her essay that I want to note! The way she refers to places. The way she reflects on appropriation. The words she uses! The light she sheds on things like the Indian Child Welfare Act!

I highly recommend her essay--not just for young adults--but for everyone. It will affirm the experiences of Native teens, and their parents, too. As I read it, I highlighted parts of it but there were times when I was blinking back tears, too. This is powerfully written.

Here's how she ends:
My name is Christine Day. I’m descendant from four Indigenous nations and an enrolled member of the Upper Skagit. I’m a graduate student, working toward my master’s degree in Indigenous Research and Documentary Film Production. I’m currently filming interviews to accompany my film, my future thesis. And I’m also working on projects in prose. I still haven’t given up on those. 
I’m a work in progress. I’m young, and I’m growing; I always have been. And it’s taken me a long time to understand this. But listen: You are never alone in these in-between places. Your thoughts, your complex feelings, your unknowable questions—they mean something, and they’re important.

Day has a book coming out in 2019: I Can Make This Promise. It will be published by HarperCollins. I'm watching for it and hope you do, too.

Friday, December 21, 2018

William Flood and Nancy Bo Flood: A History

On Dec 19th, I recommended the wonderful illustrations that Jonathan Nelson did for First Laugh: Welcome, Baby! and briefly noted my concerns with Nancy Bo Flood (she is listed as the second author of that book). This post is a follow up to that review.

At this point (2018) I have a ten-year history with Nancy Bo Flood and her husband, Dr. William Flood. Some people are aware of this history. Some will be upset that I've written it up here because to them it will feel mean-spirited and unkind. I hope that you can set aside your emotional attachments to Flood and other White writers and see my history with them from an Indigenous point of view that is embedded within a much longer history of interactions between White and Indigenous people.

The history of White people taking from Native people is hundreds of years long. Most of you know about that, and some of you think it is horrible. Some of you go down that "to the victor go the spoils" way of thinking. Those "spoils" include Native stories. There are a great many non-Native people who made and make careers by using something that belongs to Native people.

The history of White people taking from Native people is also filled with White people befriending Native people out of a genuine sense of caring--about our souls. I'm talking here about missionaries who go (yes, it still happens) onto reservations and into Native communities with the goal of converting us to their particular religion.

And, the history of White people taking from Native people is also filled with White people who befriend us because they have found themselves living in or near our communities.

Of that latter group, I wish they could form those friendships without saying "look at me and my Native friend." Or, "look at the good I do for my Native friends!" Or, "I worked with them and they asked me to write this story about them." Or, "I taught their kids and I learned from them and so, I am able to write books about them that you should buy because I know what I'm talking about." Or, "Look! My book has a note inside from my Native friend or colleague. You can trust what you read in my book."

They mean well. But, I wish they could see past their good intentions. What they're doing is exploitation. Ultimately what they are doing is the same as those who take without care. And all those who help get their books published, you are complicit in the taking and exploitation. You can rationalize it any way you want to, but ultimately, you're complicit.

I know--that sounds harsh. I know plenty of people will read this and think I should just be quiet or that I am wrong. You'll find examples to counter what I'm saying here. There are always exceptions but my larger concern is that we should all ask why someone feels the need to justify their tellings of Native story by pointing to their work with Native peoples. Anybody can do good work without using our faces and our names to justify your work. Can't you just do good without holding us up as evidence of your good work?

~~~~ 

In 2007 or 2008 I received an email asking if I was interested in serving on the Advisory Board for a new initiative within Reach Out and Read. It was to be the American Indian/Alaska Native Reach Out and Read project (ROR AI/AN). I don't have that email or ones through 2009 because I changed computers and email providers and am not able to retrieve them. I do have ones from 2010 through 2014.

The two doctors who were starting the American Indian/Alaska Native initiative of Reach Out and Read were Dr. William Flood and Dr. Steve Holve. By the time they had written to me, I had already had a lot of experience with well-intentioned people who did not see the problems in children's books that I was seeing.

I had a long phone conversation with Dr. Flood or Dr. Holve. I remember it clearly. I remember where I was standing (just outside my mom and dad's home at Nambé; I was visiting them when the call came through) as we talked. I remember telling them that I had strong points of view on the ways that Native people were depicted in children's books, who wrote them, etc.

Whichever doctor it was, they assured me that the sort of expertise I'd bring to that project was precisely why they had contacted me. With that assurance, I said yes, enthusiastically. I was excited, thinking about how we would get books by Native writers into the Indian Health Service clinics.

The doctors had invited another individual with history and expertise in Native writing/books to serve on the board. Things looked good!

But then...

We learned that the doctors had done some work on a video they wanted to play on the televisions in the waiting rooms. We were asked to provide input on the video.

In it, a Native woman was shown reading and recommending a book written and illustrated by a non-Native writer. Though I don't have an email that confirms my memory, I think the book was one of those written and illustrated by Paul Owen Lewis. It could have been Frog Girl or Storm Boy. Lewis says similar things about each one. Looking at the covers, you'd likely conclude that these are Native American stories.

They aren't.

Paul Owen Lewis is not Native. In the author's note, he tells us that Frog Girl is "an original creation" that is "carefully composed entirely of Native story elements in both its narrative and its art." He also says it is an adventure story that reflects Joseph Campbell's "three rites of passage" in which
"... a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. In no place is this universal theme more powerfully represented than in the rich oral traditions and bold graphic art of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America."
The other individual and I expressed our concerns with it and books like it. Our concerns were met with resistance. Anybody could write what they wanted to, we were told. That's true, of course, but that wasn't the point. Instead of problematic books like Frog Girl, we argued, why couldn't the project select and promote books by Native writers? We were getting nowhere. That second person resigned from the board. I don't recall what happened after that and don't have emails to help me reconstruct what happened.

Then, on July 16, 2010, I received an email with the subject line "Welcome to Reach Out and Read for AI/AN sites." It gave us several updates, including one that indicated the video project was still being worked on. I asked for an update about the concerns that we'd discussed previously.

Dr. Flood replied that ROR AI/AN had discussed them at a meeting and that those present had determined that the project goal was to encourage parents to read to their children, and that it "is not our goal to tell parents what to read, or what not to read. That would be a form of censorship and that is not our role."

As you might imagine, I was frustrated.

The entire reason I and the other individual were asked to be on the board was to bring our expertise on selecting books to the project so it could provide children with books that were accurate, respectful, and ideally, written by Native writers. Our objection to Lewis was being characterized as censorship.

I'd had similar conversations elsewhere, on listservs of writers, editors, librarians, professors, and reviewers who work specifically in children's literature. Whenever I or anyone talks about the importance of insider perspective (what is referred to, today, as #OwnVoices), someone invariably raises the accusation of censorship.

Somewhere in all those listserv conversations, I had become familiar with a person named Nancy Bo Flood. I had been to her website, which has photographs of her on it. In those children's literature conversations, she had been saying things that were similar to what Dr. Flood had said.

Then one day I realized that the emails I was getting from Dr. Flood and the ones I was getting from Nancy Bo Flood were from the same account! Below is a screen cap of the top of an email I got from Dr. Flood. The photo is of Nancy but the name on the email is her husband (I blocked out part of his email address):



In my mind, several threads started to come together. I remembered that she said somewhere that she was teaching Native students in Flagstaff. She had also said that her husband was a doctor in that area.

I wondered what all (children's books) she had written.

I did a search at Amazon and saw that, together, Nancy and William had published Pacific Island Legends: Tales from Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia in 1991 from Bess Press which is "retellings of their [people of the Pacific] traditional legends" (p. xiii). Without a doubt, the Floods and the third author, Beret E. Strong, felt they were doing a good thing with this book. In the preface, they wrote (page vii):
"Legends that were once part of an oral tradition become available to readers throughout the world. They cross oceans, continents, even generations. These legends speak a universal language. People everywhere and throughout history wonder about the questions found in these stories: How was the world created? Why do we have both good and evil? Why do families fight? What is the meaning of life and death?"
Clearly they understand the significance of the stories to the people the stories belong to, but their appraisal--that the stories speak a universal language--erases the distinct aspects of those people. Finding that book, I understood why Dr. Flood was so resistant to our concerns about Frog Girl. He had, in short, a conflict of interest.

The Flood's aren't alone in appropriation of Indigenous stories, and they certainly are not the first White people to do it and to think well of themselves for doing it. The historical record is full of White people doing that sort of thing and people are doing it today. Take a look, for example, at For Your Consideration: Part 2 at Indigo's Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth and their critique of Rosanne Parry.

Today many people are growing in their understandings of appropriation. Today, items taken from tribal nations are being returned.

Stories don't have the legal protections that artifacts do but increasingly, tribal nations are writing protocols and policies that ask outsiders not to use their stories. Those documents don't have a section that says "if you have a good friend who is of our nation (or if you taught our kids, or lived near or in our community), go ahead with what you want to do." Those documents are being written because appropriation keeps on going. It started hundreds of years ago and continues, today. And--it is harmful to the well-being of tribal nations.

In 2017, the USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) selected Nancy Bo Flood to sit on a panel titled "Indigenous Experience in Children's Literature." I objected. So did Naomi Bishop. And Naomi Caldwell. And Christy Jordan-Fenton. Our objections are available on a round up post I did about them. Eventually, USBBY announced she would not be on that panel.

From what I read, she had been asked to be on it because people (like me) had objected to her appropriations and USBBY felt that she could speak to concerns of outsiders writing Native stories. My guess is she would cite Native friends who she's asked for help with her books. In other words, she'd use those friendships to justify her appropriations.

-----Editing on Saturday, Dec 22, 2018, in response to Therese Bigelow's comment on Facebook, suggesting that I use Ed Sullivan's response to my query regarding how Flood came to be on the Indigenous Experience panel. He said:

I invited Nancy Bo Flood long after the other panelists were invited. She was already registered for the conference and presenting a breakout session on another topic, so I asked her if she would be willing to participate. Since cultural appropriation will be a topic of discussion for the panel, having someone who has been criticized for that can offer an interesting perspective to the conversation. When I invited Nancy, she stressed she was not Native American, and I am sure she will be quite clear about that on the panel when she speaks, too. I hope that answers your questions.

-----End of addition on Dec 22, 2018-----

Her writings and the objections are what got her onto that USBBY panel. In essence, she was going to gain even more visibility from an international organization. That's great for her career as a writer. What was she going to say? Was she going to use her friendships to assure people that it was ok to do what she did? If yes, she would be giving other White writers a how-to guide for appropriating Native stories.

But--does that sound like genuine care for us?

To me, obviously, it does not. Ultimately, what she's doing is no different from that group that claims "to the victors go the spoils." It might feel different, but it really isn't.

First Laugh did not need Nancy's name on it, did it?  That her name is on the cover is troubling. It doesn't have to be there. The only person who is served by it being there is Nancy. Ultimately, she's gaining from her name being there, from her work with Rose Ann Tahe.

I've got more to say but am hitting the 'publish' button this blog post because I promised someone I'd do it as soon as possible. I may be back to say more, later. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts. If there are things I've said that are unclear, let me know. This has been a very hard post to write. It also occurred to me that, perhaps, Nancy Bo Flood was going to use her time on the USBBY panel to say she wasn't going to keep on, as she had been, but First Laugh tells us otherwise. Again, I welcome your thoughts.

_______________________
Previous posts about Flood:



Thursday, December 20, 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: WILD BIRD by Wendelin Van Draanen

This post started out as a "Debbie--have you seen" one but turned into a Not Recommended one pretty quickly...

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen. It was published in 2017 by Knopf. Here's the book description:

3:47 a.m. That’s when they come for Wren Clemmens. She’s hustled out of her house and into a waiting car, then a plane, and then taken on a forced march into the desert. This is what happens to kids who’ve gone so far off the rails, their parents don’t know what to do with them anymore. This is wilderness therapy camp. Eight weeks of survivalist camping in the desert. Eight weeks to turn your life around. Yeah, right.
The Wren who arrives in the Utah desert is angry and bitter, and blaming everyone but herself. But angry can’t put up a tent. And bitter won’t start a fire. Wren’s going to have to admit she needs help if she’s going to survive.

The description has no mention of the Native content that Kirkus noted in their review and that prompted AICL's reader to write to me. Kirkus noted that content:
Traditional tales told by Mokov, an elderly Paiute who visits the camp... 

Hmm. Sounds like Wild Bird has a Native elder imparting wisdom, doesn't it? Let's look a bit more. Using the Google Books preview, I see that Mokov comes into the story in chapter 24 (it starts on page 101). My comments are marked in italics following each summary I do as I take a look at Wild Bird.

It is nighttime, Wren is in her tent, the other girls are sitting around a campfire when one of them squeals "Mokov!" Wren sees a man come out of the darkness. He's got "two long silver braids" and is wearing a leather vest, a dark green shirt, and pants and hiking boots that are just like the jailers who guard these girls in this camp. But, something about him seems different. The girls get to their feet. He greets them, and Dvorka (one of the girls at the camp) comes to get Wren for "Legend time. He's Paiute." What, Wren asks, is that?

Debbie's comments: I gotta say--girls "squealing" when he appears is kind of unsettling. And that name: Mokov. Is that a Paiute word? And his purpose? It does look like he's there to use Native stories to teach these girls.

On page 102, Dvorka tells Wren: "It's a Native American nation."

Debbie's comments: I like that Wren asks that question. It is an accurate depiction of the level of ignorance many (most?) people in the US have. If, for example, Dvorka had said "He's Native American" instead of "He's Paiute" -- Wren would know what Dvorka was talking about, but the author's "He's Paiute" is a good move. It makes Wren ask a question that is followed by very important information: the Paiutes are Native peoples of a particular nation. 

The girls offer Mokov food and drink but he says that the land has nourished him. Then he "spreads his arms" and asks the girls to sit and tell him how they've been. They talk about using rainwater to wash their hair with yucca root.

Debbie's comments: He spreads his arms?! I'm getting snarky pretty quick but that snark reflects my frustration with these kinds of representations of Native characters. Think about that movement for a minute. Who does that, for real? Remember--this is a campfire setting. In the White imagination, wise Indians do that sort of thing. You can probably recall an image or two or three, of that very thing. The one that comes to mind, for me, is Grizzly Bob! He's a good example. Grizzly Bob, of course, is not a Native character. He's just playing one at camp. (And that bit about land nourishing him plays into the stereotype of Native peoples being one-with-the-land.)



Mokov nods his approval, and then asks them about their quests. They look away, or down, telling him it isn't easy. One says she is still so angry. Mokov nods, then says (102):

Anger is a dry riverbed. You should follow it only if it leads you to the springs of forgiveness.
Debbie's comments: I feared it would go that way... along with that holding up of the arms is this wise-Indian-speak. It is not a good thing. It is a term that describes the ways that White Writers imagine Native people's speech to be. It is romantic in style, and the opposite of the "heap big" sort of thing that some writers do, but done this way, either one is stereotypical. Both are misrepresentations that get in the way of seeing Native people as people. 

Then the girls Mokov for a story. Wren wonders if the girls are serious. Dvorka says (p. 103):
"There's nothing like a story told by Mokov." Then she adds, "Traditionally, the full legends were only told in the winter or fall, but he thinks there's value in sharing shortened versions with us." She lowers her voice even further as we watch the others. "Most Native American tribes have nature-centered spiritual traditions where everything has life and the power to direct its energies. The humans and spirits in their stories often take on the forms of animals." She zeroes in on me. "Storytellers were the ones who passed along the tribe's history and beliefs. These are sacred legends, told in a traditional way. They are not to be ridiculed." 
The girls hold their breath, waiting for him to speak. "Even the fire is quiet" and "the smoke rises straight up." Then he tells the story.

Debbie's comments: Is there an author's note in this book, I wonder? Do we get a source for what Dvorka says? Is there a source for these "sacred legends" that Mokov is telling? 

Later in the book, another Native guy is the object of their adoration. This time, it is "Silver Hair." Turns out that he is Mokov's grandson. The girls, as Wren says, are definitely fawning over him. She is too, by the way, but is more subtle about it.

Debbie's comments: This White adoration of Native men is unsettling and reminds me of the too-many romance novels that have a white woman on the cover, in the embrace of a very sexualized Native man. Will Wren and Silver Hair (that name, by the way, is another problem). I know a lot of you will object to a "Not Recommended" tag when I haven't read the entire book, but come on! You see the problems, right? I hope so. Books like this one -- published by one of the Big Five publishers -- do a lot of damage. 



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

FIRST LAUGH: WELCOME, BABY! by Rose Ann Tahe

This year, Charlesbridge published First Laugh: Welcome, Baby!

When I learned that Jonathan Nelson (illustrator of the way-cool The Wool of Jonesy) was doing the illustrations for this book, I was excited. When I got the book and saw that Nancy Bo Flood was listed as a co-author, I groaned. More on that later. For now, let's look at the art and what Nelson tells us with his art. Here's the cover:

Image result for "nelson jonathan" "first laugh"


So much to love, there, in his art! We see two adults clearly loving the child in their arms. We see a modern day house. Regular readers of AICL know that I think stories of Native people set in the present day are crucial to help non-Native people know that (and I hate saying this every single time I write or speak it) we are here, part of the present day.

When you open the book and look at the title page, you see that baby, lying in a baby bouncer, playing with a mobile... of sheep! On a blanket with sheep! See? So perfect!



From there we see babies in different places, surrounded by family members who are trying to make the baby laugh. Then, a baby smiles and laughs!



And then there's a gathering to celebrate that baby's first laugh. Take a look at it! So much joy and details to note, like the satellite dish on the house and the electric pole.



Did you know that there's a lot of writing about photographers and post card makers removing such things from photos because they wanted the Native people and places being depicted to look "authentic." Infuriating, for sure that they made decisions that if we had clocks or sewing machines or electricity or glass in our windows, we weren't "real."


Published in 1999
As I study Nelson's painting of all those folks gathered there, I am remembering Luci Tapahonso and Anthony Chee Emerson's Songs of Shiprock Fair, published in 1999 by Kiva Publishing.

I like it a lot, too, for the same reasons I like what I see in First Laugh: Welcome Baby! Set in the present day, family, crowds.

Both books provide Navajo children with mirrors of their lives and tribally specific experiences.



~~~~

Now let's look at the authors.

In the back matter, the first author's note is listed as "Author's Note from the Late Rose Ann Tahe." In first person, she tells us her English name and her Navajo name. Then, she introduces herself in the traditional way, telling us that she was born into her mother's clan, and her father's clan, and what her maternal grandparents' clan is, and her paternal ones, too. That note ends with "This is who I am and where I am from."

It is followed by an author's note from Nancy Bo Flood who tells us that "Just weeks after Rose and I completed the manuscript for this book, she contracted a sudden illness that took her life." So, Flood asked Tahe's family what they wanted to do. They agreed, Flood writes, that "their mother's wish was to have this book become real."

And so--we have First Laugh: Welcome Baby! with Flood listed as the second author. On the strength of Nelson's illustrations, I am recommending First Laugh. I think his work is terrific and I want to see more of it.  

Rather than put the concerns--including appropriation--with Nancy Bo Flood here, I'll be doing a stand-alone post (12/22/18: see William Flood and Nancy Bo Flood: A History). I'll be back to add the title and link to it, soon.

Do take time to visit Nelson's website, and of course, get a copy of The Wool of Jonesy. 

I adore that book and was delighted to see a 3D version of Jonesy at Returning the Gift last year.

He's awesome!


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
  • Day, Christine. (2018). "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity" in Our Stories, Our Voices. Simon and Schuster. United States. 
  • 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)
  • 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
  • Robinson, Eden. Trickster Drift (book two in her Trickster trilogy)
  • 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.