Thursday, August 30, 2018

Best Graphic Novels by Native Writers

This morning, I read Diversity in Graphic Novels at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) website. I hoped it would include graphic novels by Native writers, and I was disappointed. [Note: this blog post is being added to the article. Thanks, NCTE!) I clicked through a few of the links and saw that Laura Jimenez's list of Graphic Novels to Keep includes Trickster, edited by Matt Dembicki. But there's so much more than that, NCTE! There's anthologies, super heroes, historical and realistic stories... See?

I've read many! And reviewed several, and so, I decided to create a list. I hope NCTE will add it to their article. Hurray! NCTE is going to add it to their article. Some links below are to my reviews; others are to author sites, articles about the graphic novel, or Native bookstores I recommend. This is a list-in-progress! I'll be back to add to it from time to time. It will help if you submit ones you know of (use comment option below or send me an email). I'll add it to the list and credit you with the suggestion.  And... I don't have age-of-reader listed for any of these because that varies tremendously, depending on the reader! My request: order them for your library and then decide where, on your shelves, they ought to go.

Suggestions for anyone interested in graphic novels by Native writers:


And now... the list (in progress):

Henry, Jr., Gordon and Elizabeth LaPensée. Not [Just] [An]Other, (Sovereign Traces, Vol I), Makwa Enewed, 2018.

LaPensée, Elizabeth. Deer Woman: An Anthology. Native Realities, 2017.

Nelson, Jonathan. The Wool of Jonesy. Native Realities. 2016.

Nicholson, Hope, (ed). Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Vol I. Alternative History Comics, 2015.

Nicholson, Hope, (ed). Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Vol II. Alternative History Comics. 2017.

Robertson, David Alexander. Will I See? HighWater Press. 2017.

Starr, Arigon. Super Indian Vol. IWacky Productions Unlimited. 2012.

Starr, Arigon. Super Indian Vol. IIWacky Productions Unlimited, 2015.

Starr, Arigon, (ed). Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. Native Realities Press. 2016.

Storm, Jen. Fire Starters. HighWater Press. 2017.

Tso, Theo. Captain Paiute. Native Realities. 2015.

Van Camp, Richard. The Blue Raven. Pearson. 2015.

Van Camp, Richard. A Blanket of Butterflies. HighWater Press. 2015.

Van Camp, Richard. Spirit. South Slave Divisional Education Council. 2016. 

Vermette, Katherena. A Girl Called Echo. HighWater Press. 2017.

Update: I'll be adding suggestions from readers, below:

Grant, Andrea. Minx: Dream War, published in 2011 by Copious Amounts: Ardden; recommended by Lorisia MacLeod.

Hope, Ishmael. Strong Man, published by the Association of Alaska School Boards in 2007; recommended by Kelly Eldridge and by L'aakaw Éesh Kyle Wark. 

Laboucane-Benson, Patti. The Outside Circle, published in 2015 by House of Anansi Press, recommended by Gail Arlene de Vos. 

Mitchell, Brandon. Various titles in the comics for youth, published by The Healthy Aboriginal Network

Odjick, Jay. Kagagi, The Raven, published in 2010 by Arcana Comics, Inc. 

Robertson, David Alexander. 7 Generations series, published by Portage and Main Press; recommended by Monique Woroniak. 

Robertson, David Alexander. Tales From Big Spirit series, published by Portage and Main Press; recommended by Monique Woroniak. 

Van Camp, Richard. The Three Feathers, published in 2016 by Portage and Main Press, recommended by Allie Jane Bruce. 

Wade, Katherine. Tsaani (The Grizzly Bear Story), published in 2005 by Nay'dini'aa na' Publishing; recommended by Kelly Eldridge. 

Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll. Red: A Haida Manga published in 2014 by Douglas & McIntyre; recommended by Gail Arlene de Vos. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Highly recommended! DREAMERS by Yuyi Morales

The first library I knew as a child was a cardboard box full of books. You see, I went to a government day school on my reservation. We didn't have a library. What we had was a librarian from the nearby public school, who would drive to our school every couple of weeks, with a box full of books. That was our library. That I remember it is an indicator of how much books mattered to me then, and now.

Libraries of books are, indeed, special places.

Books in libraries, can be very special, too. A lot of people have warm memories of a book they liked. They've also got memories of horrible books, too, so I'll note that as well!

The point is, books touch our lives. Some of them find a place in our beings. They snuggle in and keep us warm in ways that we might not be conscious of all the time, but, they are there. That warmth is what I've feeling today (again) as I read (again) Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

Why? Because within its pages are books that have found a place in my being, and seeing them in the pages of Dreamers warms me all over again. (A note to my friends and colleagues who study children's books: what is the word to describe an author or illustrator referencing the work of another author or illustrator in their book? Is it intertextuality?!)

Let me show you what I mean. Here's Home to Medicine Mountain by Chiori Santiago. Its illustrations are by Judith Lowry. Published in 1998 by Children's Book Press, I remember it well because it was the first picture book I found that did right in telling readers about boarding schools.

And here is When We Were Alone. Written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett, it is also about boarding school. It was published in 2017 by HighWater Press.

Dreamers is essentially a book of memories wrapped up in the embrace of what is possible. We see a mom, and the love she has for her baby as they take journeys together: from one country to another, from one book to another, from one age to another.

Gosh--as I pore over the art and the words and the book covers, I smile again and again. I remember reading some of the other books Morales depicts to my kindergarten and first grade students (they're all grown up now) at Pojoaque Elementary School in the late 80s and early 90s and when I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, I read those books to my dear little one (she's all grown up now, too!).

Dreamers is one I would definitely have read to my students and my daughter. Today, it will invite conversations that will vary tremendously, depending on locale, students, and the dreams of the teachers who gathers students around them at storytime. And the back matter will appeal to puzzlers. Well, maybe "puzzlers" isn't the right word. The back matter includes a list of books that inspired Morales. Finding their covers would be lots of fun! And she's got a paragraph called "How I Made this Book" that lists items she photographed to create the book. With a little one on my lap, I'd be reading that list and looking for the items in the pages of the book. [Back to say that if you head over to The Making of Dreamers at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, you can see photographs of those items.]

My heart is warmed, too, by Yuyi Morales, the person who I've come to know over the last few years. I met her in person in June of 2018 in New Orleans for the American Library Association's annual conference. After lunching together in a tiny eatery, we walked over to the convention center so I could register. My name tag said "retired" because that's what I said when I registered. She said something like "you're not retired" and I told her I didn't have a university affiliation. I didn't really know what to put on the registration form. I said something like "I wonder if I can submit something like bad ass as my occupation (my daughter said that to me once, which was way cool). We laughed and she told me to put it on there. Then the next day when I got my copy of Dreamers, she signed it for me...

See? It says "To Bad ass Debbie!"

That day, we walked and talked for a couple of hours. Laughing and learning from each other: two women who want the world to be better than it is and who--with our work and our words--are trying to help it become a better place. Here's a photo she took:

I didn't mean to make myself such a big part of this review, but in fact, I guess I'm coming full circle at this point.

Books can wrap us in warmth, and those who create them can be beacons for us in difficult times. That's Yuyi Morales. A beacon of warmth, of light, of delight, of life.

Note: Yuyi is not a Native woman. On her website, she writes that was was born in Xalapa, Mexico, and that she is Mexicana. Her book is being reviewed on AICL because it includes Native content.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Highly recommended: We Are Grateful/Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell

I love to see Indigenous languages on book covers! Check out the cover of Traci Sorell's We Are Grateful/Otsaliheliga: 

What you see on that cover is the words "We Are Grateful" in English, and then in Cherokee, and also in the Cherokee syllabary. The illustrations in We Are Grateful are by Frané Lessac.

Sorell is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. The weekend of September 1st, she will be at the Cherokee National Holiday, signing her books. If you click on the link for the Cherokee National Holiday, and then go to the link for the online Google map tour, you'll see that there will be a lot of activities taking place that weekend. I'm pasting a screen cap of the book signing here, because it is WAY COOL!

The Google map on the Cherokee Nation that shows the cover of We Are Grateful, somehow, echoes what I see in the book. It is about a nation of people who go through each year, each day--really--being mindful of the world they're in, where they've come from, and why all of this is important to the well being of their community. With its seasonal arrangement, we see families planting gardens and playing in snow. In various ways, the events of the Cherokee National Holiday reflect the seasons, too.

What makes We Are Grateful exquisite is that Sorell's book touches on the Trail of Tears, naming of children, and the importance of listening to elders at the Cherokee National Holiday. These parts of the book are depicted in a matter of fact way. They aren't emotionally weighted--and they don't need to be. They are parts of the lives of Cherokee citizens. I think it is Sorell's identity that makes it possible for these parts of the story to work as beautifully as they do!

It is easy for me to say that We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, published in 2018 by Charlesbridge, is highly recommended!

Oh! You gotta take a look at this video... it is the Cherokee Nation choir singing Celebrate in Cherokee--and interspersed in the singing are the words you'll find in We Are Grateful! 

Congratulations, Traci Sorell! I look forward to reading a lot more, from you, in the coming years.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Highly Recommended: HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I'll start by echoing the title of this post. I highly recommend Cynthia Leitich Smith's Hearts Unbroken. Lou, the main character, is a senior in high school. There's a lot in here that I love, for several reasons. There are spoilers below, so you might want to read the book and come back, later. 

My ARC (advance reading copy) of Hearts Unbroken book has so many corners turned up or down. See? The top end looks that way, too.

I wasn't marking my place. I was marking a page that has something I want come back to. Something that moved me--to a smile, a squeeze of my heart, a laugh, or an UGH--because it captured life for so many Native teens who most of America doesn't see, even though they are right there, in front of you.

By that, I mean that Native people are everywhere. Too much of America thinks that we no longer exist. Or that if we did make it to 2018, we are living in some remote place. In a tipi. And that we have dark skin. And long black hair. And high cheekbones. And wear fringe and feathers. Today, in 2018. 24/7. If that is what you expect, you're hurting Native and non-Native kids and teens in your schools and libraries.

The Native kids in your schools and neighborhoods may be invisible to you but they see a lot that is also invisible to you.

For example, most people see right past the hurt embodied in an "Indian" mascot. Most don't even see the stereotyping in the "Indian" woman on the butter they buy at the grocery store (yeah, I'm talking about Land O'Lakes). A lot of Native kids see these things. Their families see them, too...


Here's the description of Hearts Unbroken:
When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?
Lou, we learn on page 7, is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She reminds her then-boyfriend, Cam, of that fact when he goes on about how his mom doesn't like Andrew's (his brother) fiancée because "the girl is a Kickapoo Indian, so, you know" (p. 6). Lou asks for more info, and Cam says that the girl wants Andrew for his money (Cam's family is rich). Then he says that his mom thinks that Kickapoo sounds like a dog (p. 7) : "peekapoo or cockapoo. Get it?"

Ugh. Cam is speaking to Lou as if her Native identity is of no importance. And then he claims to be "part Cherokee." What will Lou did with any of that?! What does any Native teen--where hears this sort of thing--do with it?

Lou is upset about all of that but tries to stay calm.

Staying calm is a cost to her. It is a cost to other Native teens, to, when people around them don't realize they are, in fact, Native or that a Native identity has tremendous significance. Later in the book, Lou has a heck of a mess to deal with when she tries to tell Joey (her boyfriend) that she's Native. She thinks he doesn't know. He does, and that all works out fine, but it is the struggle that Lou has that makes me think that Hearts Unbroken will be embraced by Native teens like Lou.

When and why would a girl like Lou speak up about their identity, or about something they see or hear that is stereotypical, or biased, or outright harmful? What are the costs, to Native kids, when they share their Native identity with peers or teachers who don't know enough about Native peoples to understand the significance of being a Native teen, today? What do they risk when they speak up? Sometimes, it is easier to just be quiet. But what is THAT cost?


The description (above) of Hearts Unbroken is primarily about The Wizard of Oz.  The movie was part of my childhood, growing up on our reservation. The movie and book are, even today, everywhere. I always thought it was a bit creepy. Maybe it was just too White. In the author's note, Smith writes that she didn't know--until she was an adult--that L. Frank Baum was racist. I learned that, too, as an adult.

In Hearts Unbroken, Lou's brother, Hughie, is in a tough spot when he learns about Baum. Does he stay in the play? Be the Tin Man, thereby standing in solidarity with the other cast members, against the racist townspeople who think Native and students of color ought not be playing those White roles?

I had such a lump in my throat as I read through those parts, and my heart swelled with Hughie's decision.

And I think Smith did all of that with such care! Lou and Hughie's parents knew about Baum but they let Hughie learn about it on his own. They were there to support him once it became known to him. But they let him sort through it. My heart clenched, thinking about all the Native parents all across the country who make these kinds of decisions all the time. Bring it up? Or not? Like Lou's struggle with her identity. Speak up? Or not?

That is Native life.

There's so much love and warmth and reality all through Hearts Unbroken.  And so much hope! And some absolutely terrific ground-breaking moves! On page 122, my heart (hmm... I've written the word 'heart' a lot in this post. That's worth pondering!) did a flip. I was reading Hearts Unbroken in an airport and when I read page 122, I wanted to stand up and shout out "HEY EVERYBODY! Eric Gansworth's book is in THIS book!" At that point in the story, a library aide gave Lou a book that Hughie had asked for:
The novel for Hughie was If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth of the Onondaga Nation. It was lacking a clear protective jacket cover or any library catalog markings. The price sticker on the book was from an independent bookstore in Lawrence.
There's a lot in that passage. First, of course, my joy at seeing Gansworth's book get that attention in a book by another Native writer. That's a huge move on Smith's part. There's a lot of books for kids that reference racist ones, like Little House on the Prairie or Gone With the Wind. Writers who write those books insert a reference to those two books from a place of nostalgia that--in fact--does a disservice to Native and African American readers, in particular, because the stereotyping and bias in those two books is harmful to them. That is not what Smith did, though. What she did was help readers find a book by another Native writer that can reflect their lives as Native youth in the US.

I have a lot more to say about Hearts Unbroken that I will save for later. Clearly, I love this book and highly recommend it. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is published by Candlewick and will be released in October. Pre-order it!