Sunday, July 22, 2018

Not recommended: LUMP LUMP AND THE BLANKET OF DREAMS by Gwen Jackson

Over the last year or so, I've had several emails asking me about Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. Written by Gwen Jackson, the subtitle is "Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore." It was published in 2016 by Friesen Press.

When I see "inspired" or "based on" in a book title or in related information about the book, my critical lens kicks in pretty hard. Non-Native people are inspired to create a whole lot of not-good things! Mascots, for example. Those who created them were often "inspired" by some imagined aspect of how Indigenous people fight. In this case, we have a writer who is inspired--by a weaver and by what the writer perceives to be Native story--to create a picture book.

The author of Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams is not Native. This is not an #OwnVoices story. Indeed, I think some would say (me, for example) that she's appropriating something for her own purposes. A quick look at the first page of her book shows me this:
Awake in beauty!
Awake in beauty!
Today we will live in beauty!
Those of you who are Diné (or Navajo), or who know something about people of the Navajo Nation, will recognize the "in beauty" phrase as something that is significant to Navajo people. It is part of the Blessingway Ceremony. Lot of not-Navajo people are taken with "in beauty." It resonates, of course, and so people.... use it. Like Jackson did. She uses the phrase elsewhere in the book, too.

In the story, Lump Lump is a little bear who doesn't like the idea of going to sleep for the winter. Blue Bird is a blue bird who is a storyteller who, on hearing Lump Lump's resistance to the idea of hibernation, tells him a story about a blanket of dreams. It is made up of items like "the white light of morning" and "the red light of evening." Lump Lump wants a blanket like that, and so, Blue Bird sets out to make it happen. With the help of others, all the items necessary to make this "blanket of dreams" are assembled and taken to Spider Woman, who makes the blanket for Lump Lump.

Do the Navajo people have a story like that?

Or did Jackson make it up? My guess is the latter, but we don't know. For hundreds of years, non-Native writers have been "inspired" by some story they think is Native, and go on to make their own. When that story is of that author's creation, I think it is inappropriate for the writer to use "inspired by" in the title, subtitle, or anyway in the book, because... it isn't of that nation any longer!

Jackson thanks several Indigenous people in the back of the book. I ask writers to consult with Native people before doing this sort of book, but I grow increasingly wary of how they go about it--especially when the outcome is like Jackson's Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. As you might imagine, Jackson's book is not recommended.

1 comment:

Beverly Slapin said...

Hi, Debbie,

My public library doesn’t have a copy of this book, so my notes are based on info from the Internet.

There are three reviews:

(1) “The prospect of downtime is tough on many a rambunctious young one. Lump Lump, a bear cub, is not keen on hibernation, until he hears Blue Bird’s song about “a blanket of dreams.” Lump Lump and his mother embark on a project to gather from other animals the various components needed to create the blanket (the white light of morning, a net of twilight), and hope to ask the Spider Woman to weave the blanket ….There are many sweet…lessons gathered into this tale drawn from Navajo tradition: Mother Bear’s encouragement, sharing (Lump Lump initially has a bit of trouble relinquishing his cache of honey), showing gratitude, and, above all, appreciating the wonders of nature. The illustrations…convey the narrative well…”—Sandy MacDonald, Booklist

(2) “There are numerous children’s picture book retellings of folk legends from around the world on the market today, and many for Native American stories—but Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams is an exceptional addition to the genre literature that deserves to be included in any picture book collections where Native American stories are a feature.”—Donovan’s Shelf, Donovan’s Literary Services

(3) “Numerous adaptations of folk tales from other countries appear as children’s picture books yearly, but few are as compelling and highly recommended at Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams:  Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore….  [F]ull-color illustrations are simply gorgeous, eye-popping productions that truly stand apart…Not only did Navajo weaver Barbara Teller Ornelas contribute a blanket to the story line for illustration, but she served as a consultant for the story, helping to fine-tune its Navajo cultural insights.  Ms. Ornelas’ weavings are in the Smithsonian, the British Museum, and many other galleries. …[E]vocative, soaring, image-filled language….will easily move beyond the category of ‘picture book folklore read-aloud’ and into the realm of Native American studies.”—Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Note, review (1): The Booklist reviewer has no knowledge of bears, bluebirds or Navajo stories or cosmology. Bear cubs do not hibernate; only adult bears do. Bluebirds sing soft, melodious warbles, but they don’t sing about blankets (much less about metaphoric ones). No one asks Spider Woman to weave for them; it’s part of Diné cosmology. This tale is made up by someone who knows nothing of Navajo tradition. And. Bears do not “relinquish (their) caches of honey.” They don’t save honey. They eat honey, along with bees and larvae for protein, as well as fruits, nuts, small animals, fish and carrion.showing gratitude and appreciating the wonders of nature are not bear characteristics.

Note, reviews (2) and (3): “Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review” is the same Diane Donovan of Donovan’s Shelf, Donovan’s Literary Services, an all-purpose for-hire service, including proofreading, copyediting and reviewing. So Jackson contracted for and paid for these reviews.

FriesenPress is the self-publishing arm of Friesens Corporation, the largest hardcover printer in Canada. Jackson paid FriesenPress to publish her book.

Jackson owns the copyrights to the text and pictures, so the illustrator (Lissa Calvert) and the weaver (Barbara Teller Ornelas) cannot reuse any of their illustrations without her permission.

Jackson hired Paul Apodaca as a consultant. His page at Chapman University says that he “provides academic research into American Indian folktales.” Jackson writes on her page that Apodaca suggested that she change the bird to a blue bird. This seems to have been the extent of his consultancy.

Jackson lists illustrator Lissa Calvert, and weaver Barbara Teller Ornelas as contributors, and writes in that Ornelas was a consultant, but doesn’t mention the content, if any, of her consultancy.