Thursday, February 08, 2018

Not Recommended: Keira Drake's THE CONTINENT (the 2018 revision)

You may recall that, back in 2016, there was a lot of pushback to Keira Drake's The Continent. 

I recommend you read Zoraida Córdova's critique on November 7, 2016, at YA Interrobang. It is excellent. 

In response to the intense conversations on social media, Drake and her publisher, Harlequin Teen (a division of HarperCollins), decided to postpone the release of The Continent to give Drake an opportunity to revise it. 

I wonder if their decision is based on a multi-book contract? 

The Continent is the first book in a series she is going to write. It is "Book 1" in the series, and will be released on March 27, 2018. 


In their announcement on November 7, 2016 (posted to their Tumblr page), Harlequin Teen said:
Over the last few days, there has been online discussion about racial stereotypes in connection with one of our upcoming 2017 titles, The Continent by Keira Drake. 
As the publisher, we take the concerns that have been voiced seriously. We are deeply sorry to have caused offense, as this was never our or the author's intention. We have listened to the criticism and feedback and are working with the author to address the issues that have been raised. 
We fully support Keira as a talented author. To ensure that the themes in her book are communicated in the way she planned, we will be moving the publication date. 
- HarlequinTeen

I wrote about the 2016 ARC (advance review copy) on January 31, 2017. Over the last couple of weeks, I've read the 2018 ARC. 

My conclusion? 
Drake's revisions are superficial. 
The Continent is not better now than it was in 2016. 


If you haven't read the book, here is what you need to know to make sense of my review:
The main character is a teen named Vaela Sun who lives on a land mass called the Spire. In their heli-planes, people of the Spire like to fly over a land mass they call the Continent, to see the battle there between two nations of people. It reminds them how far they've come. Vaela and her parents are on the tour with Mr. and Mrs. Shaw and their son, Aaden. When their heli-plane crashes on the Continent, Vaela is captured by the Xoe and rescued by Nomo, who is of the Aven'ei nation. 

Let's start with changes to the books description. The first and last paragraphs are unchanged. The middle paragraph has some changes. The word "uncivilized" is gone from the 2018 description. The significant change, however, as shown here in the highlighted text from the middle paragraph, is about who Vaela is:
For Vaela--a talented apprentice cartographer--the journey is a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she's drawn of this vast, frozen land. 
For Vaela, the war holds little interest. As a talented apprentice cartographer and a descendant of the Continent herself, she sees the journey as a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
In the revision, Drake has made Vaela a descendent of one of the nations on the Continent. That information is presented on page 18:
“Did you know, my mother says, addressing the Shaws, “that Vaela and I are of Aven’ei descent?”
 Aaden looks back and forth between the two of us. “Are you quite sure?” he says. “Many claim as much, but its rarely true.”
 She smiles. “We can trace it all the way back to one of my ancestors, a Miss Delia Waters. She was a cultural attaché for the East—an illustrious position, all told—and spent a great deal of time on the Continent, back in that all-too-short bit of time when we had contact with those living overseas. Anyhow, we haven’t all the details, but we know she married an Aven’ei by the name of Qia who died soon after their wedding. She returned to the Spire, kept her given name, and gave birth to a baby boy—Roderick—a man of considerable accomplishment, so the story goes.”

At her website, Drake said that she is Sicilian, Native American, French, Irish, and Danish and that she takes great pride in her ancestry. Vaela and her mother, in this revision, have pride in their Aven'ei ancestry. She's got it a bit odd, though. Miss Delia Waters was not Aven'ei. She fell in love and married an Aven'ei man. Their son, Roderick, is the ancestor with Aven'ei heritage. An interesting note: as this story unfolds, Vaela falls in love with Nomo, who is Aven'ei. 

For many years while I was at the University of Illinois, I worked towards helping the university get rid of its "Chief Illiniwek." It was stereotypical, but fans loved and love it. When I or others described its history and its stereotypical aspects, we were sometimes countered by a person who said "well I'm part Native American and I think it honors Native Americans." That claim was put forth as a shield to give their point of view credibility. When pressed, they could not specify a Native nation (some said "Cherokee" -- which is not surprising). For others, a research process was being done--much like the one that Vaela and her mother have done. It'd be interesting to know Drake's backstory for their claim. What was Drake thinking of as she developed this for them? And was she (or is she) undertaking similar research on her own Native American ancestry? Either way, her decision to give Vaela that ancestry feels to me like a shield that gives Drake a way to say that this is not a White savior story. If Vaela's actions in the rest of the story changed in some way as a consequence of that identity, it might have worked, but there isn't any change. That identity is just inserted. It is returned to at the end, but all those pages in the middle are unchanged.

When Vaela's mother tells Mrs. Shaw that they have Aven'ei ancestry, Mrs. Shaw has some racist ideas that she doesn't hesitate to speak aloud. Mr. Shaw replies to her. Here's that passage (p. 19):

“I do hope you haven’t inherited any violent tendencies,” says Mrs. Shaw, before sticking a forkful of duck confit into her mouth, chewing it carefully, and swallowing. “I suspect that sort of thing gets passed right down through the generations. Bit of a questionable lineage, isn’t it?

A hush falls over the table at this remark; my mother and father shift in their chairs, and I sit quietly, poking at my entrée, my face flaming even though I am certainly not the one who should be embarrassed. Eventually, Mrs. Shaw looks round at us, her eyes wide. “What? Have I said something off?”

Mr. Shaw clears his throat. “Now dearest,” he says, “that’s a rather singular way of thinking, isn’t it? An outmoded way of thinking? Violence itself is not a thing exclusive to the Xoe and the Aven’ei. After all, before the Four Nations united to become the Spire, the people of our own lands were ever locked in some conflict or another.”
In recent conversations about racist characters and the words they utter, writers and critics state that there has to be someway to immediately check that racism, on that page. Mr. Drake is doing that, above. But, seeing it in action...  it feels forced. It, like the passages about Vaela's identity, are simply pasted into this story. There's nothing to make them work as part of the story. Cut them out, and you wouldn't miss them. Why, then is all of this here? As I said above, it feels like Drake is inserting them as a shield to protect her from criticism. Another change to the 2018 ARC is that Vaela prays, here and there, to "Maker." I wonder if that is Drake's effort to turn that Aven'ei heritage into some semblance of an Aven'ei religion? That is possible, but I didn't find it significant enough to matter.  


Some of the changes Drake made were easy to do. She was able to easily replace every use of "Topi" with "Xoe." She was able to search for "natives" and replace that, too, sometimes making minor edits in the words before and after the change.  Here's an example (highlights are mine):
2016, p. 15:"Have you any thoughts, Mr. Shaw, about the natives on the Continent?" 
2018, p. 17:"Have you any thoughts, Mr. Shaw, about the Xoe and the Aven'ei?"
Those changes, however, are superficial. You can swap "natives" for "Xoe" and unless major revisions are done to the ways that group is depicted, it doesn't matter. We still see them as brutal, doing things like hurling a head at the heli-plane. There's one part in both books where Vaela tells Nomo that they are people, too, but--as before--that effort is overwhelmed by the rest of the book. Indeed, when the Topi/Xoe are attacking the Aven'ei village, Vaela sets out to kill one with her knife and she kills others, later, on a battlefield. Her statement to Nomo that they're people, too, is feeble in light of all else she says and does, and all the ways that Drake describes them. 

If you read my review in January of 2017, you may recall that I was especially troubled by Drake's description of the Topi village. That is gone, but the changes do nothing, because the Topi/Xoe's character (as a people) is unchanged. Here's a passage about their villages from the 2016 ARC. In each of these two excerpts, I'll highlight the major changes (p. 47):
The architecture is different from that of the Aven'ei: cruder harsher, yet terribly formidable, even in the frozen, icy territory the Topi call home. The little towns, too, are much closer together than Aven'ei villages; I am reminded of an ant colony, with many chambers all connected together, working to support a single purpose.

And here's the revised passage in the 2018 ARC (p. 51):

The architecture is different from that of the Aven’ei: the buildings are small, for the most part, with long triangular rooftops dipping low toward the ground. Roads and walking paths twist here and there, looking around and about the small homes and other structures. All is sturdy and formidable in this frozen, icy territory the Xoe call home. The towns, too, while small, are much closer together than Aven’ei villages. I have the sense of greater cooperation, of community, of connection—of something like we’ve established in the Spire. 
Where she used "war paint" to describe the Topi, Drake is using "colorful tattoos" instead. Instead of having "reddish brown" skin, their skin is pale. What they look like, though, doesn't ultimately matter. What they do, is unchanged. When the heli-plane flies over a field where the Topi/Xoe and the Aven'ei are fighting, there's blood everywhere, spattered on the snow. The Xoe have killed all the Aven'ei and decapitated an archer. The Topi/Xoe then scream, raise their fists in the air, "drunk with victory, reveling in blood" and heave the severed head at the heli-plane (p. 51/56). See what I mean? It doesn't matter if the Topi/Xoe are in face paint or tattooed. It doesn't matter how much Vaela's thoughts here and there seem to think well of them. 

At the end of the story, Vaela returns to the Spire to ask for help. In the 2016 ARC, her idea is that the Spire can use its resources to build a wall between the two nations of people. In the 2018 ARC, her idea is that the Spire can build towers. Here's those two passages:
2016 (p. 262):“Build walls. Destroy access points. Create defenses the likes of which have never been seen on the Continent! Spirian construction is vastly superior to anything the natives can contrive, don’t you see? You can save the Aven’ei without ever raising so much as a finger against the Topi. You have the power to end this. You have the power to stop another war." 

2018 (p. 265):“Build towers, so that the Aven’ei might see when a Xoe force is coming. Establish plain sight of all access points. Create defenses the likes of which have never been seen on the Continent! And then, down the line, perhaps the Spire can help the Aven’ei and the Xoe to meet in the middle, to accomplish a peace of their own accord. Don’t you see? You can help without ever raising so much as a single weapon. You have the power to end this. You have the power to stop another war." 
Having given Vaela Aven'ei ancestry, Drake must think that her not-Spire-alone identity solves the White Savior problem of those passages. Who Vaela is, however, doesn't matter. She went to the Spire--to the more "civilized" people--to get help. By the end of both versions, the Spire arrives. They are exercising their power to stop the war on the Continent. I should note that there's more than one nation on the Spire, and it isn't all four that come to help.

Back on Feb 9 to insert a screen cap of the method I use for this kind of analysis. First column is 2016 ARC; second one is 2018. These four pages are from the first chapter, where most of the book's new content appears.


I think that Drake was also criticized for the language she created for the Aven'ei. They, and the language they speak, she said on her website, were inspired by Asian and European peoples--in particular--Japanese. Here's some of them:

Name changes:
Inzu is now Kinza
Teku is now Nadu
Keiji is now Kiri
Shoshi is now Shovo
Yuki is now Raia
Hayato is now Kastenai

Some are words:
miyake is miyara (supposed to be a term of endearment)
takaharu is tanadai (supposed to mean something akin to a whore)

Some of the physical description of the Aven'ei is gone or changed, too. In the 2018 ARC, Nomo's eyes aren't described as being "almond shaped." 


As noted above, I do not think the revisions are substantial enough to address the issues raised in 2016. There are many who wonder what Drake could have done to fix The Continent. 

Frankly, I think these kinds of books rest on a flawed foundation. They're written by people who want to use race and racial issues, misrepresentations of the past and present, to help -- let's be real -- White readers learn about injustice. Along the way, readers of the groups that, historically and in the present, experience oppression and racism on a daily basis, are essentially asked to be patient. I think that's wrong. Drake is trying to be a savior. Her editor is enabling that motivation. Her publisher is putting money into this project. Those are my thoughts. I welcome yours.

Update, Feb 9, 2017: I will begin adding links here, to some of the conversations that are taking place elsewhere.

Courtney Milan, on Twitter, Feb 9, 8:13 AM: "It feels like the author thought the problem was 'this race described as violent and uncivilized is too much like earth races" and not "maybe your world-building shouldn't present an entire race as violent and uncivilized."

K Tempest Bradford, on Twitter, Feb 9, 8:32 AM: "Surprise, surprise, the revised version of #TheContinent is among us..."

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

BIG NEWS: A possible change in name of ALA's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award!

Editors note: If you are not attending ALA's Midwinter Conference, you can submit a comment directly to ALSC regarding the proposed change to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award name at the ALSC blog. If you are attending, you can go to the meeting on Saturday (Feb 10). I welcome your comments here, as well, but urge you to submit comments directly to ALSC. 


Earlier today, there was some big news!

Way back in 1954, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) established the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. It is given annually to an author or illustrator in the US whose books have made a "substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."

On Saturday, Feb 10 at the American Library Association's 2018 Midwinter Conference, ALSC will begin a discussion about changing the name of the award.

As I look at the logo for the conference, the line "The conversation starts here..." takes on new meaning!

In Nina Lindsay's (she is current president of ALSC) memo about the discussion, she included information that brought ALSC to this point. Here's some lines from her memo:
Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion--something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award.
A member wrote to me: “the Wilder is a monument that says something about our profession's history, but every year it is given out it also says something about our present.” 

My work has shown me that critical reflection on Wilder and her books is--for some people--uncomfortable. It is hard to look carefully--and acknowledge--that Wilder's depictions of African Americans and Native people, are flawed and racist.

Some will argue that at the time she wrote the books, things like blackface and stereotyping weren't seen as wrong. But, of course, African Americans and Native peoples knew them to be wrong. Here's some examples from the books:

In Little House in the Big Woods (1932), Pa tells Laura and Mary about his childhood in New York, where he'd pretend he was "a mighty hunger, stalking the wild animals and the Indians" (p. 53).

In Farmer Boy (1933), Almanzo and and Alice play "wild Indian" (p. 277).

In Little House on the Prairie (1935), the phrase "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" appears three times. I've written a lot about that book. The memo about the change points to one of my articles. They are depicted in menacing ways:

In On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), Mary tells Laura to put on her sunbonnet because if she doesn't "You'll be brown as an Indian, and what will the town girls think of us?" (p. 143).

In By the Shores of Silver Creek (1939), Ma recalls her fear of being scalped by "the savages" who had come into their house on the prairie (p. 100).

In The Long Winter (1940) when Pa mentions an Indian who told him that "heap bad snow come" (p. 61), Ma asks him what Indian, and she "looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian" (p. 64).

In Little Town on the Prairie (1941), Pa does blackface.  The newly released Kindle copies of the series changed the illustrations from black and white into color:

In These Happy Golden Years (1943), Uncle Tom tells about when he was on his way to the Black Hills, looking for gold, and had to go into a "strange depression" that, a prospector told him, the Indians called "the Bad Lands." The depression is a "heathenish" place with skulls and bones. Of it, Tom says "I think that when God made he world He threw all the leftover waste into that hole" (p. 106). When Laura and Almanzo are leaving, Grace runs out with Laura's sunbonnet, saying "Remember, Laura, Ma says if you don't keep your sunbonnet on, you'll be brown as an Indian!" (p. 284).

I was--and am--deeply moved by this news from ALSC! Here's their immediate plan:

In order to further move forward with a deliberate and open examination of our awards program, we suggest, at minimum, both of the following:  
1. Establish a task force to explore the ALSC awards program within the context of our core values and the Diversity & Inclusion goal of our strategic plan, beginning with whether to rename the Wilder Award. The task force should deliver recommendations regarding the Wilder in time for any changes to the 2019 award, soliciting feedback from members and other stakeholders, and consulting with the EDI within ALSC Implementation Task Force, ALSC Fiscal Officer, ALA Awards Committee, and other critical stakeholders upfront. Additionally, the task force may be charged with additional direction formed from the Board’s discussion.  
2. Immediately update the “About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award” webpage with more informed background on Wilder and her legacy, and a statement about ALSC’s values and current actions in regard to the award. A proposed rewrite will be shared with the Board for discussion, and if the Board approves could be uploaded immediately, in time for the 2018 YMA announcements. A rewrite would additionally reaffirm the honor bestowed upon Wilder Award recipients, whose life work contributes essentially to ALSC’s vision of engaging communities to build healthy, successful, futures for all children.
I am a member of ALSC and will find out how I can contribute to the Task Force. I am also going to see how Native patrons of libraries across the country might be able to submit comments to the Task Force.

For me--as a Native parent, educator, and scholar--this has been a momentous day.

Update, 6:45 PM
Nina Lindsay submitted a comment below, which I am pasting here for your convenience. Above, I referenced the announcement and memo. The proper name is Document 29.
Debbie, thank you for sharing this. As the current ALSC President chairing this discussion, I'd invite everyone to visit to find our board agenda and documents; this discussion is title "ALSC Awards Program in Context of Strategic Plan" and is Document 29. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Recommended: How Devil’s Club Came to Be

By Miranda Rose Kaagweil Worl (Tlingit)
Illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit)
2017, Sealaska Heritage Institute
Baby Raven Reads Education Program

Library bookshelves virtually overflow with “retellings” of Native American traditional tales “adapted” (stolen) by non-Native writers who then profit from something that’s intrinsically Muscogee, Lakota, Tsimshian -- something that’s not theirs to share. 

You may know that’s an abuse of tribal intellectual property, and that many Native nations now safeguard their traditional stories so that they (or many of them) can’t be shared with the general public. After so many of these stories were collected and disseminated without permission by non-Natives, keepers of the cultures created policies to stop the theft. Some stories are not to be shared, even among people of the nation that holds them, except in special circumstances.

So the following words caught my eye in the front matter of How Devil’s Club Came to Be:
“This is an original story by Miranda Rose Kaagweil Worl. Though inspired by ancient oral traditions that have been handed down through the generations, it is not a traditional Tlingit story.”
Info in the back matter tells us that both the author and illustrator are Tlingit. It also tells us their clans and Tlingit names. So it seems likely that they will not be misrepresenting Tlingit traditions in How Devil’s Club Came to Be. (We also see that Worl wrote this story when she was in high school.)

That statement, “This is an original story” and the detailed author/illustrator information may be part of the reason the Library of Congress designated Devil’s Club a “best practice honoree” in 2017. Readers can feel assured that the book’s Tlingit creators are NOT sharing a sacred or protected part of their culture.

The story starts with a sickness in Raven’s village. The shaman they look to for healing is nowhere to be found. Raven discovers that a terrible giant with a spiked club is kidnapping shamans. He tells his people that he’ll stop the giant – but then falls ill himself. He tells his niece that she must take over for him.

Raven’s Niece does her best to defeat the giant, but her plan fails. To escape, she jumps off a cliff – and finds herself among the Thunderbird people. Like her people, they are ill and missing their shaman. Their leader says they will help her. He drapes his Chilkat robe around her shoulders. The robe turns her into a Thunderbird. She finds the giant, shreds his deadly club, and drops him into the ocean.

She then becomes ill, but the voice of the Thunderbird clan leader directs her back to where she destroyed the club. There she finds an unfamiliar, spiky plant. She chews the inner bark and feels strong enough to get back home. She shares the medicine with her people, and they are cured. The plant (called S’axt in Tlingit and devil’s club in English), still “helps heal and protect us.”

Often I’m of two minds when authors create original stories based in oral traditions of their cultures. It was a bit disorienting to learn, as a child, that “The Ugly Duckling” and “Princess and the Pea” came from Hans Christian Anderson, and not from old Europe! But original stories that feel old can be engaging and worthwhile in their own right. How Devil’s Club Came to Be, with its uncomplicated plot and Miranda Worl's straightforward prose, has plenty of drama without seeming overwrought. It's easy to read aloud. Here's a sample:
The voice of the Thunderbird clan leader boomed in her head. She spread her arms outward, but they were no longer arms. They were the wings of a giant bird -- they were the wings of a Thunderbird.
Micheala Goade’s illustrations make dramatic use of color and line. Goade works in water color and India ink, then adds some digital elements. The end papers feature a misty green forest with black line drawings of large-leafed plants in the foreground – foreshadowing the arrival of something new in this ancient landscape. Raven is given a soulful expression that suits him in this incarnation. The giant and the Thunderbird people are depicted with the suggestion of traditional Tlingit formline designs. As for Raven’s Niece: the text doesn’t need the words confident, courageous, powerful and skilled to describe her, because the illustrations capture those traits.
Raven tells his niece
she must fight the

If you and the children you'll share Devil's Club with are not Tlingit, you’ll want to do some research first, to provide some background knowledge about where the story takes place and what Tlingit people say about themselves. Not being Tlingit, I may be missing some good resources to recommend here. But you can start by visiting the website of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. There's more at the Chilkat Indian Village website. Also, you might want to look in your library for books with photos of devil’s club, the Alaska coast and temperate rain forest, and some traditional and contemporary Tlingit art. 

You might want to keep in mind that, although the Thunderbird is a popular image among non-Native people, it’s not part of every Indigenous nation’s heritage. Shaman is another concept that appeals to many non-Natives, but is poorly understood. Not all Indigenous peoples refer to their healers as shamans. If you've laid the groundwork by offering children tribally-specific information, they're less likely to generalize to all nations from this Tlingit story.

I recommend How Devil's Club Came to Be. You can buy it online through Trickster Company or Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Note to Tlingit readers: I might have missed important points related to How Devil’s Club Came to Be. If that’s the case, we’d be grateful if you’d respond with a comment!