Friday, July 19, 2019

Highly Recommended: AT THE MOUNTAIN'S BASE by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

In February, 2018, Penguin announced it was launching a new imprint, Kokila, that would center "stories from the margins with books that add nuance and depth to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it." 

On September 17 of this year (2019), Kokila will release At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell (she's a citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (she's Tongva/Scots-Gaelic), it is an all-to-rare book: it is written and illustrated by Native people, and published by one of the Big Five publishers. Being published by a major publisher means a lot of visibility. The book will be sent to bloggers, copies will be given away at conferences, and review copies will be sent to the major review journals.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!


On the opening pages, the words and art invite us to come closer and closer with each page turn. It starts with us looking at a mountain, and then a hickory tree, and then a cabin, and then, we look in the window of that cabin and see a person sitting by a wood stove. 

That person is a grandmother, weaving. Her grandchild watches her fingers, weaving the strands of fiber that frame the illustrations up to this point in the story. But, this grandma is worrying, as she weaves. The grandchild is not the only person with the grandmother. Other members of the family are there, too, singing. 

On the wall behind them is a photograph of a woman in uniform that tells us what the worry is over. The song they sing is about the person in that photograph. Turning the page, we see--from above--the cockpit of an airplane. Inside the cockpit is the woman in the photograph. She's a pilot, and as she flies her plane, she prays for peace, because of the people inside that cabin at the base of that mountain. 

If I were to count the words in this book, I think there would be less than 50, but they carry so much power, so much beauty, so much strength! The art is that way, too. The colors and arrangement convey a quiet strength. Together, they are breathtaking!

****

The first paragraph of the author's note tells us that Sorell's poem is about a fictional Cherokee family but that Native women have served and continue to serve in wars, and that they receive strong support from their families. Note that Sorell (and I, in writing this paragraph) did not specify US wars. Sorell starts by saying that women have served in intertribal conflicts. Those pre-date the US. That's a seemingly small detail but it shifts that "center" from the US and US wars to Native people and the wars that our people have fought over time. 

The second paragraph tell us about a specific woman: Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat, who was an Oglala Lakota pilot in World War II. In 2009, she received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and in 2017 (a few months after her death), Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota renamed and dedicated a building in her honor. 

****

Facing that author's note is the final illustration of the book. From behind, we see that pilot, walking up to the cabin at the mountains base. It is a stunning work of art. 

I highly recommend At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell and Weshoyot Alvitre. I hope you'll pre-order it. And thank you, Kokila, for bringing this book into the lives of Native and non-Native children. 

Virginia Mathews (Osage) had a hand in Margaret Wise Brown's THE RUNAWAY BUNNY

I am following up on my post, earlier today, about Virginia Mathews and Margaret Wise Brown. A brief recap: Mathews was an Osage librarian, and a leading advocate for Native peoples. Brown wrote two popular books, Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. In my previous post, I wondered about how Brown could create stereotypical material, given her friendship with Mathews.

In his biography of Brown, Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, Leonard Marcus wrote that the two women visited museums together, in Paris. Among them was a trip to the Musée de Cluny... (p. 243-244):
... where the author of The Runaway Bunny surveyed the famed Unicorn tapestries, the fifteenth-century allegorical hunting scenes that filled an entire gallery with a picture book writ large. On their way out of the Cluny, Margaret purchased a set of postcards of the tapestries. "Wouldn't it be interesting," she said to her companion, "to make up a new story to go along with the pictures?" [45] She wanted to reorder the scenes, she explained, in such a way that the unicorn might elude his captors. At a nearby stationer that Margaret knew, she bought a parchment album. Returning to her hotel, they began rearranging the cards.
In time they had their story, and after inscribing it on the album's leaves Margaret said that it "would certainly be interesting to have the album bound in red leather." 

The reason I'm honing in on those passages is that, according to Marcus, Virginia Mathews had a significant role in the creation of The Runaway Bunny. I wonder if I can find any books or articles that say more about Mathews and her role in the creation of that book?

Note: the passage above has "[45]" in it, which is a superscript in Marcus's book for a source note that reads "Virginia Mathews, 18 July 1984." It refers to an interview Marcus did of Mathews. Earlier in the notes section, there is a more complete reference to the interview: "Virginia Mathews, interview with author, Hamden, Conn., 18 July 1984."

I also wonder why, in the recent exhibits on children's literature at NYC and Minneapolis, Marcus makes no mention of the influence Mathews and her father had on Margaret Wise Brown.

Virginia Mathews and Margaret Wise Brown

Upon learning about Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby's new picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown, I asked some questions about what should be included in a children's biography. The story and illustrations in two of Brown's books are stereotypical. They are Little Indian (illustrated by Richard Scarry) and David's Little Indian (illustrated by Remy Charlip).

My questions prompted me to take a look at Leonard Marcus's biography of her, Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened By the Moon. I wondered if there's information in it that might help me understand why she'd do such demeaning writing about Native people. Marcus's book was published in 1992 by Beacon Press.

I came across something that surprised me. Margaret Wise Brown and Virginia Mathews were friends.

First, some information about Mathews. She was Osage, and a significant leader in the American Library Association. In recognition of her work, the American Indian Library Association has a scholarship named after her. I received that scholarship when I was in library school. Here's a paragraph about her, from ALA News, on Feb 7, 2012:
In 1971, Virginia Mathews, Lotsee Patterson and Charles Townley formed a Task Force on American Indians within the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. She was a member of the first OLOS Subcommittee on Library Service for American Indian People, which led to the founding of the American Indian Library Association in 1979. She was involved with the Library Project at the National Indian Education Association, which supported three demonstration library projects — Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center, the Rough Rock Demonstration School and the Standing Rock Tribal Library—and all three served as models for the early development of tribal libraries on reservations. She worked tirelessly with the National Council of Library and Information Services to create the first White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library Services in 1978 whose delegates attended the 1979 White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. She was responsible for inclusion of Title IV for tribal libraries in the Library Services and Construction Act Reauthorization in 1984. This special status and funding for tribal libraries is retained in current Library Services and Technology Act legislation. She was the first American Indian to seek candidacy for the ALA presidency and was a proud member of the Osage Nation.

All of that is about her work in the 1970s and later. Twenty years earlier she was in Europe. On page 242 of Leonard Marcus's biography of Brown, he wrote: 
Margaret generally traveled alone, meeting friends at various points along her itinerary. Among those she had arranged to see in Paris was Virginia Mathews, an American in her twenties whom she had known since the war. Mathews until recently had managed Brentano's children's book department. She was already a great admirer of Margaret's work when they met, and was soon equally impressed by her generosity of spirit. [...] 
She [Margaret] enjoyed her talks with Mathews, taking a particular interest in her family history. (Mathews, in contrast, learned very little about Margaret's family). Virginia's mother had attended Margaret's Swiss boarding school, the Chateau Brillantmont. Her father, a full-blood Osage Indian, was the tribe's historian. In 1945 John Joseph Mathews published a book of Osage nature lore, Talking to the Moon, which Margaret had soon read. Its title alone might well have struck a responsive chord in the writer who later that year would awaken one morning to compose the text of Goodnight Moon. 
I find that interesting for several reasons.

First, some people say that knowing someone who is of a different racial or cultural background than you are can help you recognize stereotypes of those individuals race or culture. Second, some of us say that it is important to read #OwnVoices because that can help you avoid creating stereotypical content in your own writing. Margaret Wise Brown had a friendship with a Native person and read books by Native people--and yet, she created these two books: 



I'm going to see if I can find a copy of John Joseph Mathews's book, Talking to the Moon. Marcus suggests it influenced Brown to write Goodnight Moon. I'll be back!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Should biographies include an author's stereotypical thinking? Case in point: Barnett and Jacoby's THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN

In May of 2019, Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby's picture book biography of Margaret Wise Brown came out from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Titled The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, it is getting glowing reviews. I haven't seen it yet.

Many people have warm thoughts about Margaret Wise Brown's books. You probably remember Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. In their book, Barnett and Jacoby tell us that Brown wrote over 100 books.

On page four, they tell us that authors are people who do the things other people do, like falling in love, going to the supermarket, making jokes, and making mistakes. The last line on page four is this:
But which of these things is important? And to whom?
Provocative line, isn't it? It draws from Brown's The Important Book (I think it came out in 1949)When I get Barnett's biography of her, will I see a page about mistakes that Brown made? If yes, what will that page be about? Is it anything to do with the stereotypical content of some of Brown's books?

Here's some examples of that stereotypical content:

In 1954, she wrote a Little Golden Book, titled Little Indian. Richard Scarry did the illustrations. In it, she wrote "The big Indian lived in a big wigwam and the little Indian boy lived in a little wigwam. The big Indian had a big feather in his hair and the little Indian boy had a little feather in his hair."




In 1956, she wrote David's Little Indian. Remy Charlip did the illustrations for it. In it, David finds a real Indian--a little one--in the forest. Here's some words from it: "The boy and his Indian decided to become blood brothers, so they pricked their fingers and let their blood mingle together."



The Kirkus review of David's Little Indian says it is the last book she wrote. She died in 1952. I was, frankly, surprised to see that those two are among the last books she wrote. Her most famous book, Goodnight Moon, came out in 1947. Leonard Marcus wrote a biography of her in 1992. He called it Awakened By the Moon. I wonder if he says anything about those two books? Does Barnett say anything about them? When I get his book, I'll be back.

I titled this post, "Should biographies include an author's stereotypical thinking?" At the moment, I think the answer is yes. What do you think?


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Recommended: THE GRIZZLY MOTHER and THE SOCKEYE MOTHER written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson); illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Teachers! Get The Grizzly Mother for your classroom--and ask your librarian to get in on the library shelves, too! Written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) and illustrated by Natasha Donovan, it will be released on September 1, 2019 from Highwater Press.



Gyetxw is of the Gitxsan Nation in British Columbia and Donovan is of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. The Grizzly Mother is nonfiction that begins with a section called "Awakening." As you might imagine, the contents of that section are about the grizzly mother and her cubs waking in the springtime. It concludes with "A Final Run" that takes place three years later at a salmon run.

The final page in The Grizzly Mother is about the Gitxsan Nation. I especially like the first sentence. It begins with information about where the Gitxsan Nation is located and also says:
... land that cradles the headwaters of Xsan or "the River of Mist," also known by its colonial name, the Skeena River.
What I mean, of course, is "also known by its colonial name." It provides teachers and parents with the opportunity to teach children that Indigenous peoples were on this land already when Europeans arrived and colonized it. We need that factual information in nonfiction and fiction set in what is currently called North America.

Gyetxw and Donovan worked together on The Sockeye Mother a few years ago. It got starred reviews and high praise from science teachers. See the gold seals on the cover? I anticipate similar praise will be forthcoming for The Grizzly Mother.

Both books include Gitxsan words throughout, and both show the relationship between human beings and animals without romanticizing that relationship or anthropomorphizing the animals.




Over at the Highwater Press web page for the The Sockeye Mother is a video of Gyetxw talking about the Gitxsan words in the book. He says them so that you can learn how to pronounce them when you read the book aloud. The video is also available on Youtube, which means I can insert it here!





I highly recommend The Sockeye Mother and The Grizzly Mother published by Highwater Press. They are pitched at children in grades 5-7 but I think they can be used with younger children. And of course, picture books should be used with people of any age.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Infographic: Diversity in Children's Books 2018

You know that saying: "a picture is worth a thousand words"? We most often associate it with art but it applies to any image. Take a look at the 2018 Diversity Infographic that Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen shared on June 19th, 2019. The infographic displays CCBC's data using the "mirrors" part of the "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors" metaphor that Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop developed in 1991:



If you click on the link above you'll go to her page, where you can download the image and use it in your work. I hope you do. This information needs as much visibility as we can give it.

Let's zoom in on the Native kid on the far left:


At the time the infographic was being designed, the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) had received and categorized 3,134 books. Of those, 23 had sufficient content to be included on CCBC's list of American Indians/First Nations books. But see the kid's frown? See his mirror? See a piece of it at his feet?

The data shown in the infographic is strictly numerical. It does not capture the quality of books. His frown and the broken mirror convey more than a thousand words.

In recent years I've tried to do a careful study of a specific aspect of the data. For 2018 data, I did a close look at the fiction and picture books published in the US. Every year, it is clear that most Native writers are finding that small publishers are interested in their work. For several reasons (none of them good), the major publishers seem not to care about Native #OwnVoices.

Let's zoom in even further on that data and look at quality of picture books.

In 2018, three picture books by Native writers/illustrators were published in the US. All three are from small publishers:

  • Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, and translated by Gordon Jourdain, was published by the Minnesota Historical Society. 
  • We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac (who is not Native), was published by Charlesbridge.
  • First Laugh--Welcome Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood (Flood is not Native), illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, was published by Charlesbridge.


My research sample only had one book picture book in it by a non-Native writer:

  • Tomo Explores the World written and illustrated by Trevor Lai, published by Macmillan.


Now, let's do a comparison. The three by Native writers are doing precisely what we want children's books about Native people to do.

  • They are tribally specific. That means that they depict a specific Native nation. Bowwow Powwow is an Ojibwe story; We Are Grateful:Otsaliheliga is a Cherokee book, and First Laugh--Welcome Baby is about a Navajo family. 
  • They include an Indigenous language. 

Tomo Explores the World does none of that. It is stereotypical in words, ideas, and illustrations. Earlier today I made this image to show what I mean:



#OwnVoices is important. As you're out and about in the coming days, ask for books by Native writers--ask for them at your library and local bookstore, too. When you're there, show the librarian or bookseller the infographic. In short: share what you're learning. Help us provide more books by Native writers.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mvskoke poet, Joy Harjo, named as U.S. Poet Laureate (And, #BringBackTheGoodLuckCatByJoyHarjo)

The last twenty-four hours of my social media feeds have been wonderful because so many people are sharing the news that Carla Hayden named Joy Harjo as the U.S. Poet Laureate.

Most news headlines say "Native American" but I'm quick to name her nation, as it appears on her website:
Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation.
I've written about Joy's work several times. I have many of her books and CD's, but, as you might expect, I focus on her children's books. There are two: The Good Luck Cat and For A Girl Becoming. I especially like The Good Luck Cat because it is about a little girl and her cat, and because it is set in the present day. Here's the cover:



And one of the interior pages:



When I tweeted the news yesterday, I also suggested that people make sure they have The Good Luck Cat. I said they would probably have to get a used copy because it is out of print. I subsequently learned that the few used copies are very expensive.

 I know Joy was trying to get it back into print. So how about asking for it to be brought back into print? Will you join me in that?



Thursday, June 13, 2019

Looking back: The American Indian Youth Literature Award

The American Indian Library Association (AILA) was founded in 1979. If you don't know about it, visit our website. There's a lot of resources there!

I don't recall when I first became a member of AILA. It may have been in the 1990s, or early 2000s. One thing for sure: I was on the committee that drafted the criteria for its Youth Literature Award. I've got emails on an old Dell computer that has been in a drawer for years--that still works! It has emails from 1997-2006. Some of the people who are in those early conversations include Naomi Caldwell, Beverly Slapin, Carlene Engstrom, Victor Schill, Loriene Roy, Susie Hustad, Mahaleni Merryman, Stephanie Betancourt, Elayne Walstedter and me. 

I've not been on the committees that have selected books that win the award, choosing to do the in-depth reviews and work I do here on American Indians in Children's Literature. If you've never been on a book award committee, one thing you need to know: you will need to read a lot of books on specific timelines! Back in the 90s, I think, I was on the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award committee. The boxes of books that arrived at my house, unending! 

I've been looking back at conversations that took place early on, and I'm glad to see that AILA's newsletters have included articles about the award. Here's a brief look back at what AILA did (note: I won't list books that won AIYLA's awards. You can see them by going to the AILA page for the awards.)

The Fall, 2007 association newsletter included an article by Carlene Engstrom that included an image of the first seal. Here's a screen cap:



And here's what it says:
During the 2008 ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia, AILA will announce the 2008 American Indian Youth Literature award winners. The awards will be presented in Anaheim, 2008, during the Annual ALA conference at a gala ticketed event that promises to be memorable. Keep your eyes posted for this event when ALA’s Conference Events come out about information on ordering tickets. 
The award was created as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians in the field of children’s literature. It is presented in each of three categories—picture book, middle school, and young adult. 
Naomi Caldwell, chair of the AILA American Indian Youth Literature Award committee, says” We are thrilled to have this opportunity to honor authors and illustrators who best portray American Indian Culture for young readers. The rich literary heritage of this nation includes the oral and printed stories of its indigenous peoples. American Indian literature always has been and continues to be an integral part of our literary tapestry.” 
The first awards were presented during the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, October 2006. The Picture Book Winner was Beaver Steals Fire by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Middle School Winner went to Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich, and the Young Adult Winner was Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac. 

****

The Winter 2008 newsletter included Naomi Caldwell's article, "A Short History and Promising Future: AILA Youth Literature Awards." There, she wrote that:
  • The people on the committee that chose the 2006 winners were Naomi Caldwell, Victor Schill, Carlene Engstrom, and Gabrielle Kay. 
  • Each 2006 winner received a $500 monetary award and a plaque with the seal, designed by Corwin Clairmont (note: there's a 1993 article about his work in Tribal College.
  • Funds for the plaques were provided by the Mashantucket Pequot Nation. 
  • The committee in 2008 included Caldwell and these individuals: Carlene Engstrom, D’Arcy McNickle Library, Salish Kootenai College; Gabriella Kaye, Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center; Lisa A. Mitten, Choice Magazine; Sarah Kostelecky, Institute of American Indian Art; Cindy Carrywater, Montana State Library Commission; and Jolena Tillequots, School Library Media Specialist, Yakima Nation.
  • Recipients of the 2008 award received the plaque, the monetary award, and a beaded medallion by Linda King (note: if I find a photo of the beaded medallion I'll add it.)
****

I love knowing these details! I gotta get some other work done and wanted to share that info before ALA next week. 

Oh! Follow AILA on Facebook. A few minutes ago they posted the new award seals. I'll paste them below. Aren't they gorgeous? And an important note from their FB page: 
If you are going to ALA annual make sure you stop by the ALA store and pick up AILA youth literature award seals for your library. They come in silver and gold and will be $14.50/ 24 pack. Limited quantities available at ALA annual. All proceeds help AILA sustain the awards! Not available online for ordering. Seals are new and were created to celebrate AILA youth literature awards joining the Youth Media Awards in 2020!

Support AILA's work! Buy the seals directly from them.






Thursday, June 06, 2019

Recommended! I CAN MAKE THIS PROMISE by Christine Day

I've read and most definitely recommend I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day. A review is forthcoming. Here's the description:
In her debut middle grade novel—inspired by her family’s history—Christine Day tells the story of a girl who uncovers her family’s secrets—and finds her own Native American identity.
All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.
Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.
Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now?

The cover art by Michaela Goade is stunning!

Day and Goade are Native. The book comes out on October 1st. Order it today!


RECOMMENDED!
AICL is pleased to recommend
I Can Make This Promise



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Personal news: AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES -- FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Book cover for Indigenous Peoples History of the United States


On July 13, 2015, I received an invitation to adapt An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, for young adults. Written by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, I had already spent time with the book and was intrigued with the idea. Originally published by Beacon in 2014, it is packed with information and spans hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

photograph of Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese
Was it possible, I wondered, to shape it into something that young adults and classroom teachers could use? I responded to the invitation by saying "only if Jean Mendoza can do it with me."

Their answer was yes, and so, we got to work. A little over four years will have lapsed when the book is released on July 23, 2019. We worked several hours almost every day for three years, taking week-long breaks for holidays or vacation, revising the text.

Jean and I are parents but we've also taught schoolchildren, and we taught in teacher education departments at the University of Illinois and elsewhere. We had children, teens, and teachers in mind every step of the way.

"Shall we do a map, here?" and "Maybe we need to add a definition box, right here..." and "Let's add a provocative question box, here!" are some of the things we'd say to each other as we worked.

In a few weeks we'll have finished copies in hand. I can't wait to see the finished book! Right now, we've both got a bound ARC that doesn't have the index and some final revisions in it.

I think we did some really good work. I know we'll be reading it with fresh eyes and groan about something we said or didn't say--that's the nature of writing--and will be keeping track of such things for (we hope) a second or third printing, or an updated version if the book sells well enough.

I've been using Twitter to share some photos I've taken from inside the ARC:


As of today it has gotten starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. That's cool, but we want to hear from readers. We are especially interested in hearing from Native readers (students, parents, teachers, scholars), especially about passages that have errors or other problems. Let us know! We look forward to hearing from you.

****

Back on July 3 to post reviews! 

On April 22, 2019, the book received a star from Kirkus. Here's an excerpt: 
With an eye to the diversity and number of Indigenous nations in America, the volume untangles the many conquerors and victims of the early colonization era and beyond. From the arrival of the first Europeans through to the 21st century, the work tackles subjects as diverse as the Dakota 38, the Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee, the American Indian Movement’s takeover of Alcatraz, and the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance. 
The June 1 issue of Booklist included a starred review. That review appeared online on July 2nd as Booklist's Review of the month. Here's an excerpt:
There is much to commend here: the lack of sugar-coating, the debunking of origin stories, the linking between ideology and actions, the well-placed connections among events past and present, the quotes from British colonizers and American presidents that leave no doubt as to their violent intentions. Built-in prompts call upon readers to reflect and think critically about their own prior knowledge. Terms like “settler” and “civilization” are called into question. Text is broken up by maps, photographs, images by Native artists, propaganda, and primary-source texts that provide more evidence of the depth to which the U.S. economy was—and still is—rooted in the destruction of Indigenous lives. 
The July issue of School Library Journal (if the review is shared online, I'll be back with a link) includes a starred review, too! An excerpt (from the Barnes and Noble website):
Source notes and a recommended list of fiction and nonfiction titles, picture books, and novels by Indigenous authors are in the back matter. VERDICT Dunbar-Ortiz's narrative history is clear, and the adapters give readers ample evidence and perspective to help them to engage with the text. A highly informative book for libraries serving high school students.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

When Professional Associations (like the International Literacy Assoc) Fail...

Yesterday I saw a tweet about the International Reading Association's blog post, #ILAchat: Why Students Need #OwnVoices Stories. I clicked on it and saw that, in the third paragraph, there was a link to their 2019 ILA Choices reading lists. As an advocate for #OwnVoices, I was excited to see what Native writers they had on their lists. I was naive. As you can see, the title of my blog post has the word "fail" in it. The book lists and the subsequent exchange I had with ILA were disappointing--and infuriating.

There are three booklists on their site:

  • Children's Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 100 books on it.
  • Teacher's Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 30 books on it.
  • Young Adults Choices: 2019 Reading List, with about 30 books on it.


I looked at all three. Not a single Native writer. So, I tweeted to them. Here's a compilation of my thread to them:
Hey, @ILAToday... I read your article on the importance of #OwnVoices... And I followed links to your bklists, and I guess #OwnVoices doesn't apply to Native people. Three booklists and zero Native writers?! Why?
Even worse, your booklists include books that misrepresent Native people [actual tweet said writers; I meant people.] On example is LOVE, PENELOPE.  That bk is full of problematic imagery about Native people. My review: Not Recommended: Love, Penelope
Books that misrepresent Native people feed a cycle that works AGAINST Native writers because their stories and characters and content don't match the "Indian" stories/characters/content that White writers have in their books. THIS IS UTTERLY DISGUSTING.
And you, YOU, ILA--an international literacy organization--are supposed to help kids. 
Is it your goal to miseducate kids about who Native people are?
Is your goal to hurt Native kids and their sense of well-being with these problematic representations?

ILA replied (I have screen captures of their tweets if anybody wants to see them). Here's one (see below for the entire thread):

Image of tweet from the International Literacy Association that says books on their lists are selected by readers and not influenced by publishers or by the International Literacy Association.


ILA could have said "You're right. We don't have any Native writers on the lists. We will examine the process by which we put those lists together so that this doesn't happen again."

They didn't do that.

They began a threaded reply to me:
Thanks for your feedback. We have edited the blog post to better reflect how books are selected for inclusion on the #ILAChoices reading lists. 

Their edit (as near I can tell; I don't have the pre-edited post for comparison) was this note, at the bottom of the post:
This blog post was edited on 5/8/2019 to more accurately reflect the process by which books are selected for the Choices reading lists. Publisher participation in the Choices lists, and the titles they choose to submit to the project, are at their discretion and not selected by ILA as could be inferred from the original writing.
Their next tweet in the thread is this:
Project participants read and vote on hundreds of titles that publishers submit across the three Choice projects. Titles selected to the list are determined solely by reader networks and not influenced by ILA or the publisher. 
That edit and that tweet sounded like they feel they are not responsible for books on the list. Doesn't that sound kind of... pathetic? These are their publications. This is their website. But content on it... not their fault if something's not right about them. My reply:
So, ILA, it isn't your fault that these lists are the way they are? Ok. At the very least they should tell ILA how much your association could do to inform membership about Native writers, Native bks, and problematic representations. 
Later I saw that they had continued with their thread:
We encourage contributions to our list by smaller and more diverse publishers and authors with specific language in our Call for Submissions form; however, publisher participation, and the titles they choose to submit to the project, are at their discretion.
It's the same for our conference. Each year, publishers are invited to submit a list of authors they are willing to bring. We seek out additional pitches when necessary to include more diverse and representative authors. 
For example, we sought out @tim_tingle to be featured at #ILA18 and extended invitations to other Native American authors. 
Here is the slate for Author Meetups at #ILA19. [They provided a link; it has one Native writer listed.]
We do the work because we believe it is important. We always encourage authors and publishers to participate across our venues and platforms.
ILA believes that Children have the right to read texts that mirror their experiences and languages, provide windows into the lives of others, and open doors into our diverse world.
And ILA believes that children have the right to choose what they read.
The tweet that says they encourage contributions by smaller and more diverse publishers, is familiar. In 2012, the Children's Book Council launched a diversity initiative and a Goodreads bookshelf that had problematic books on it. Their initiative was going to be launched at the American Library Association's midwinter conference. Naomi Bishop attended their session and wrote up her thoughts. The reason I'm bringing that initiative up here, is because the CBC is involved with ILA's Children's Choices list:
Children's Choices is cosponsored by the Children's Book Council and includes children's recommendations of approximately 100 titles.
There was a lot of discussion about the Council. It is expensive to join and smaller publishers can't afford to be members. I don't recall where any of that ended up. If I recall right, CBC was very resistant to letting smaller publishers--like Lee and Low--put their books on that CBC Diversity Bookshelf. I may write to Jason (at Lee and Low) to ask him about it.

ILA using CBC as they did--as they do, to make books available to kids for this Children's Choice project--means that the kids are getting books from major publishers, some of which have problematic content... like Love, Penelope. 

ILA's response is disappointing.

I wish they had said (as noted above), that they didn't realize their lists had no Native writers on them, and that they would make sure that doesn't happen again. But there's more necessary!

It is good that they invited Tim Tingle last year, and Traci Sorell this year, to their conference but what are they going to do about the fact that they offered a problematic book to children? I'm pretty sure that if Little Black Sambo had been sent to them by the CBC, they would have set it aside. We need that same sort of decision-making with respect to Native images.

Instead of acknowledging any of their responsibility as educators, they are putting forth the "right to read" defense. I agree: children do have that right to read but let's not kid ourselves. Teachers have an educational responsibility. They make decisions on what books to use, all the time. They can't use every book. They make choices. Students in their classrooms have the right to read what they want to, but teachers are also teaching about racism, racist texts, and critical literacy.

I'm incensed that ILA is floating the "right to read" in this particular exchange with me.

And I'm further incensed that they're using Bishop's mirrors and windows metaphor in this exchange with me. Love, Penelope is not a mirror for any Native child. So why invoke her work in this exchange?

There's an ILAChat twitter tonight (May 9). The topic: #OwnVoices. I plan to join in.

ILA failed many times. They failed to notice that a book list on their website did not include Native writers. Then, they failed to acknowledge their own failure in not noticing the lack of Native writers. Then they failed in how they defended the book list. They threw CBC under the bus and they misused freedom to read and Dr. Bishop's metaphor.



Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Chronological Look at Events Launched by Harassment on April 11 at the Children's Book Guild of Washington DC

Note from Debbie: If there are additional items to insert or add, please let me know. If I've made errors in my documentation below, please let me know about that, too. 


****

Thursday, April 11th, 2019, 12:30 Central Time 

I received a phone call from Carole Lindstrom. She is Ojibwe. I wrote about her picture book, Girls Dance Boys Fiddle in 2014. Carole had just left a luncheon at the Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC. Author Jacqueline Jules had invited her to attend. Carole had been to Guild events before.

At the luncheon, Carole told me, Jules asked her about my work. But it wasn't a straightforward question. The tone in which questions were asked told Carole that Jules did not like my work. Carole told her right away that she considers me a friend but Jules ignored that and continued to press her. Carole told her that within the Native writers community, they value my critiques. Jules persisted. It became increasingly uncomfortable for Carole, so she stood to leave. Jules stood, too, blocking Carole's path to the door, and placed her hands on Carole's arms. Carole asked her to remove her hands. Jules did so, and Carole left the table. Jules followed, and even though Carole asked Jules to leave her alone, Jules followed her out of the private dining room of the restaurant, out of the building, and down the street, calling to her that I am keeping Native writers from telling our stories. Carole ducked behind a city bus, Jules returned to the building, and a few minutes later, Carole sent me a Facebook message asking if she could call me. I said yes, and we talked for several minutes. She reached out to others, too, who offered comfort and solace. What happened to her was not acceptable, at all.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019 (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Carole wrote to Rhoda Trooboff, 2018-2019 President of the Guild, documenting her experience.


Thursday, April 18, 2019, 9:38 AM (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Trooboff acknowledged receipt of Carole's letter and that she would be in touch with Carole the following week.


Thursday, April 18, 2019, 1:20 PM (this item added April 28 at 5:55 PM)

Trooboff wrote again to Carole, telling her that she has forwarded her letter to Jules and that a Guild member will be in touch with her. She took these steps (rather than wait, as the morning email had indicated) because she had learned that details about what happened were posted to social media (the post Trooboff is referencing is a private--not public--conversation).


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Martha Brockenbrough, Julie Foster Hedlund, and Ishta Mercurio posted an Open Letter to the Children's Book Guild. Reading While White hosted the letter. People were asked to cosign it using the comment option or by writing directly to Reading While White.


Thursday, April 25, 2019, 9:00 AM

The editors at Reading While White added a note to the top of the Open Letter, indicating that they would close the comments at 8:00 PM Eastern Time and that the letter would be sent to the Guild the following morning. By 8:00, there were approximately 400 signatures on the letter, including many from Native readers, writers, and librarians. The letter documents

  • What happened at the luncheon
  • That nobody at the luncheon intervened to stop Jules or comfort Carole
  • The inappropriate sharing of Carole's letter about the incident, with Jules

It also states that they believe the Guild owes an apology to Carole and to me. (I agree they owe one to Carole. The harassment did not happen to me; even if I had been there, I'm skeptical of apologies as I said in this thread on Twitter, because I think they too often function to alleviate guilt of the harasser and when extended, shift the weight of the incident to the person who was harmed in the first place. When the incident is one like this, the harm is usually the most recent one inflicted on a Native or person of color. With that as context, an apology without action is meaningless.)


Thursday, April 25, 2019, 4:13 PM


Using their Twitter account (@BookGuildDC), the Guild said:

Screen capture of tweet
The Guild's board met to work on an action plan spurred by events during and following our last meeting. To those of you who have made suggestions on how we can be and do better: thank you. We will continue to work and learn. childrensbookguild.org/april-11-lunch…



The tweet included a link to Guild Statement Regarding Incident at April 11 Luncheon, at their website. The apology was also posted to their Facebook page at 4:11 PM. I am highlighting a word in the paragraph to compare it with a revised apology issued later:
Guild Statement Regarding Incident at April 11th Luncheon
Screen capture of the
first paragraph of Guild
statement. Click to enlarge. 
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. This interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and seemed to demonstrate racial and cultural insensitivity. Please know that these actions were not intentional and do not reflect the core values of the Guild. We apologize for the additional distress caused when the complaint was shared with the member involved in the incident.

Friday, April 26, 2019

People objected to their use of "seemed" and "not intentional." The Guild subsequently revised the language but did not note their revision. Not noting the revision hides the initial error and, in effect, obscures the fact that they recognize their initial error. The revision was to remove "seemed" and insert "gave the guest reason to believe" (highlight below is mine):
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. This interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and gave the guest reason to believe that the member demonstrated racial and cultural insensitivity. Please know that these actions were not intentional and do not reflect the core values of the Guild. We apologize for the additional distress caused when the complaint was shared with the member involved in the incident.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Guild statement was revised again! At present, "gave the guest reason to believe" is gone:
The Board and members of The Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., apologize for the incident that occurred at our luncheon recently. It is clear that this interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and demonstrated racial and cultural insensitivity. 
I am glad to see--with this latest revision--this note at the bottom of the page:
*This wording has been revised to reflect the statement originally approved by the Board of the Children's book Guild."
But it raises questions, too. That note suggests that the statement we saw was changed by someone before it was published on the 25th, but, who modified statement that the Board originally approved? And why? If there are more developments on this, I will be back to add them.

The remainder of the Guild's statement includes steps they will take, including "Adopt an anti-harassment policy and take other steps to prevent harassment or intimidation of any form at Guild events."

****

Before hitting "publish" on this post, I also want to address an apology Jules posted to the Guild's Facebook page with their statement. As noted above, the Guild published their statement on their Facebook page at 4:11 PM on Thursday, April 25th.

On Friday, April 26, at 5:45 PM, this comment appeared in response to my question about their use of "seemed" (on Facebook, when you submit a comment, the comment appears with blue letters to indicate who is posting the comment. Jules comment was posted from The Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC, which suggests she manages their Facebook page. She added her name to the comment, making clear that this particular comment is from her and not the Guild):

The Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC I am very, very sorry. I made a serious lapse in judgment in my conversation at the Children’s Book Guild Meeting on April 11th. I had hoped to discuss two particular books that touched me deeply. It was inappropriate and insensitive of me to ask a Native American guest to interpret or discuss Dr. Reese’s critical analyses of these two books. My intention was to discuss two particular books and not to criticize Dr. Reese. 

When the guest became angry and got up to leave, I saw my mistake and tried to apologize. I followed her outside to apologize further. I honestly thought I was demonstrating how sorry I was. I realize now, much too late, how very differently my attempts to apologize came across. I am mortified that the guest felt harassed, and I am extremely sorry I offended her. I have written to the guest twice to apologize. 

Jacqueline Jules

In her comment, she writes that "it was inappropriate and insensitive" for her to "ask a Native American guest to interpret or discuss Dr. Reese's critical analyses."

When conversations about the incident at the Guild began to take place, I learned from several other Native and Writers of Color that they have been in similar positions at functions. They are pressed to respond to queries about my work. When I saw that, I tweeted a request that people with concerns about my work can talk to me directly about their concerns. That's a sincere request.

Without question, people at writers gatherings can--and should--talk about criticism but the way that it is done is important! Jules wrote that what she did was "inappropriate and insensitive." To me, her words affirm Carole's account of how the questions were asked at the luncheon.

Jules second paragraph says "When the guest became angry" -- but written that way, it obscures the fact that it was her words and actions that caused Carole to respond as she did. She says she's "mortified" that Carole "felt harassed" -- but written that way, Jules hides the fact that Carole was, indeed, harassed. Jules tells us that she's written to Carole "twice to apologize." If the content of the apologies was anything like what she wrote in that second paragraph, those apologies are not sincere.

****

I'll be adding links to additional responses to the Guild. There's a lot on Twitter that I may add, but will start with these two. If you see others, let me know!

April 26, 2019

An Open Letter to Ms. Trooboff and the Leadership of the Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC by Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth

White People Apologizing by Monica Edinger at educating alice


May 1, 2019

Luncheons Shouldn't Come with a Side of Harassment: An Interview with Author Carole Lindstrom by Lisa Krok at School Library Journal's Teen Librarian Toolbox blog. (Note on May 2, early morning: late yesterday afternoon/early evening, Krok's article was taken down "for review." When the article is restored I will restore the link. For now it goes to a pdf copy of it.) Update, May 2, evening: holding off on that pdf till there is further clarity on why the original post was taken down.)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Debbie--have you seen THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE MAMMOTH HUNT?

A reader asked if I have seen Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt. Written by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, it came out on January 1, 2019 from Simon and Schuster.

This page, with the Indian hiding behind a tree, prompted the question:

Image from inside of book, showing Thomas Jefferson on a horse, an Indian peeking from behind a tree, and an Black woman (likely enslaved), holding a US flag.

As I study the page, I have these thoughts:

See Jefferson holding up the Constitution? With its "We the People" declaration? Some people weren't included in that "We the People" idea. Enslaved people were not included. Neither were Native people (see Rights Matter for details).

My guess is that the Black woman holding the flag was enslaved. And see the Indian hiding behind the tree (when, oh when will writers and illustrators stop with that particular image?!)? Is it misleading to readers to have those two individuals there when they were not included in "We the People"?

The facing page starts with "In the New World, called America" changes were coming. What's wrong with that? To Native people, it wasn't a new world, and it wasn't called America. In the coming pages, will the author/illustrator acknowledge that fact? Or... leave it out?

 "We're still fighting with the British" and "join our brave new nation" are also on that page. What about the peoples of Native Nations that the settlers were fighting?

Those two pages look, sound, and feel a lot like Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. I've ordered the book and will be back with a review.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Reflections on #Arbuthnot19

Note from Debbie on Sunday April 28, 2019: Scroll to the bottom to see links to other reflections on the lecture. If you know of one that isn't there, please let us know. Thanks!

A week ago (Friday April 19) I was in Madison, Wisconsin to give the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. Titled "An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature," it was co-sponsored by:
  • the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC is a division of the American Library Association) 
  • the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) 
  • the UW-Madison School of Education
  • the UW-Madison Information School 
  • the Friends of the CCBC 
  • the Ho-Chunk Nation

Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) did a livestream of it that you can watch at their site. Scoot ahead to the 12:35 minute mark. At some point, WPT will make another video of it that will more smoothly incorporate the images that I used during the talk. My remarks will be published in ALSC's journal, Children and Libraries


Photograph of Debbie Reese beside a poster about her lecture
Photo by Durango Mendoza

I give a lot of talks and workshops but preparing for and delivering this one felt different. I've been reflecting on why, and am sharing some thoughts on that, tonight.

The 2019 Arbuthnot lecture began with people of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The University of Wisconsin is on the homelands of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The evening opened with the Wisconsin Dells Singers. Elliott Funmaker took the podium to welcome people to the event, and to tell them that the 2019 Arbuthnot lecture was taking place on their homelands.

Photograph of Elliott Funmaker of the Wisconsin Dells Singers, Ho-Chunk Nation, standing at a podium
Elliott Funmaker, Wisconsin Dells Singers, Ho-Chunk Nation
Photo by Durango Mendoza

He also said that he and some of the other people in the Wisconsin Dells Singers are in the Bear Clan. Their role is to provide security. If anyone in the room tried to disrupt the event, he said, the Bear Clan would ask them to leave. His words are significant. He provided some history and conveyed a clear message that Indigenous peoples are here, today, exercising sovereignty on our lands. After their songs, Hinu Helgesen Smith welcomed us.

Photograph of Hinu Helgesen Smith of the Ho-Chunk Nation, speaking at a podium
Hinu Helgesen Smith, Ho-Chunk Nation
Photo by Durango Mendoza

She is the Legislator for District 1 of the Ho-Chunk Nation. She brought a group of Ho-Chunk teens with her to the lecture. The Ho-Chunk presence--from their youth to the Bear Clan to the tribal leadership--made the 2019 Arbuthnot an Indigenous event. I don't think that has happened before at an Arbuthnot.

The Ho-Chunk presence was, for me, a warm embrace as the first Native person selected to give the Arbuthnot lecture. It was a hard lecture for me to prepare for, and to deliver. I could feel the excitement and expectations, several weeks before the lecture date. In the weeks I spent writing and editing my lecture and the slides I used, I had children in mind. Native and non-Native children are harmed by misrepresentations of Indigenous people. They're harmed by the Whiteness that creates stereotypes, and the Whiteness that defends it with little regard for the impact it is having on children. Their well-being matters tremendously. It felt to me that every word had to strike just the right note. I worried that my remarks would fall short of expectations. I told myself "if it is a thud, it will at least have given the DiversityJedi a couple of days of hanging out together in the same city." Small groups of us gather at conferences from time to time but at conferences, we're often pulled in many directions. The gathering in Madison was different. Because it wasn't a conference, Jedi had many opportunities to just be together, quietly or to have conversations about the goings on in our personal lives and professional work. Some flew from California, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and others drove from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota.

I hope that everyone there felt the significance of the gathering. I'll be thinking about it for some time.

____________________________

April 18, 2019: Seizing the Narrative by Nina Lindsay at Reading While White.
April 21, 2019: Truth and Love: Dr. Debbie Reese's 2019 Arbuthnot Lecture by OfGlades at Indigo's Bookshelf

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hear Debbie's May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture!

Dear Friends of AICL,

Many of you already know that Dr. Debbie Reese, founder of the American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) blog, was invited to deliver this year's May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Saturday, April 13 at 7:30 PM in Madison, WI.

The Arbuthnot lecture is sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) of the American Library Association. This year, support is also provided by the Friends of the CCBC, Inc and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Debbie is (in my opinion) uniquely deserving of this honor, and you should have heard the roar of approval when it was announced at an ALSC meeting!! (Some of you were there, and contributed to that fantastic roar!) Her influence in the field has been considerable, and more people need to hear her and learn about what she has found in her decades of (sometimes extremely challenging) work with publishers, writers, families, teachers, librarians, and other folks who care about what children read.

The title of Debbie's Lecture is "An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children's Literature."

Tickets to the event are all taken (admission is free). But even if you aren't able to get to Madison, Saturday, there's good news: Wisconsin Public Television will host a live-stream of the lecture (update from Debbie on Wed, April 17: scoot ahead to the 12:35 minute mark if you want to watch the livestream).

I hope lots of people will be able to watch it that way. Spread the word to your friends -- educators, librarians, students, parents, anyone who cares about literature for young people and how Native lives are represented there -- and tell them to tune in Saturday at 7:30 PM (maybe a little earlier just to be sure you're there for the beginning) and hear what Debbie has to say!

Sincerely,
Jean Mendoza



Monday, March 25, 2019

2019 Summer Reading List from the We Are Kid Lit Collective


In 2015, #DiversityJedi Edith Campbell invited me, Sarah Park Dahlen, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nathalie Mvondo, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas to create a Summer Reading list. That summer, we launched our first We're The People Summer Reading List.

The composition of the group has shifted each year based on our availability and this year, we changed the name of the group. It is now the We Are Kid Lit Collective.

This year's collective includes Tad Andracki, Edith Campbell, Sujei Lugo, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, and Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez. Here's our Purpose Statement:
The We Are Kidlit Collective works to create materials and opportunities to recognize the humanity of Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC) in youth literature. Our work is premised upon the principles of social justice, equity, and inclusion and centers IPOC voices in children’s literature in order to identify, challenge and dismantle white supremacy and both internalized and systematic racism.  Our intended audience includes educators, librarians, caregivers and young people. We look for ways to improve the literacies of IPOC children, promote books written by and about IPOC, and to encourage gatekeepers to bring a lens of critical literacy to their work.

I am pleased to work with the collective and to share the 2019 Summer Reading List! It is our fifth year of creating the list. Head on over and take a look. Make sure you check out the lists for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Not Recommended: LOVE, PENELOPE by Joanne Rocklin

Editor's Note: Below is a twitter review of Love, Penelope a book I started reading last week. When I came to a passage with Native content, I paused the read, noted the content and in some instances, added a resource. I used "Spooler" to capture my twitter review and have edited them below, for clarity. If something doesn't make sense to you, please let me know through a comment. New information I provide is in brackets. When you see "You" in the tweets, it is because "You" is what Penny uses in her letters to her as-yet unborn baby sister.




A twitter review of a book called LOVE, PENELOPE by Joanne Rocklin. Published in 2018 by Abrams. 

The subtitle is "Letters from a big sister who knows about life." Penelope is excited about this new life growing in her Mama and writes to her in "Dear You" letters. 

In the second letter, Penelope talks about a heritage project she has to do for school, about where her family lived before they went to California (where the book is set). 

Her project gets off to a rough start (she's in 5th grade) because of a lie she told to her teacher. 

In the letter on Nov 29, Penny (Penelope) writes to You, that they have two mamas: Becky, and Sammy. 

Becky was married to a man, William. He died in a motorcycle accident when Penny was little. Then, Becky met Sammy. The three live in Oakland where Sammy has many relatives who have been there forever. 

With that bit of info on Sammy, you can probably guess why I'm reading LOVE, PENELOPE. 


"Many of Sammy's relatives have been here forever. Ohlone forever. OH-LO-NEE. As in native Californian."

That's cool [the thing that I thought is cool is that Rocklin tells readers that the Ohlone have been there forever] but then... 

"Sammy is 50 percent Ohlone."


Is that what a real-life Sammy would say? Generally, a person who is a tribal member or citizen of a specific nation is 100% a citizen of that nation. Most ppl rdg this thread are citizens of the US. If your mother was born in France, that doesn't make you 50% American [and 50% French]. 

People get into messy spaces when they equate citizenship in this or that nation with the racial or ethnic identity of their parents. 

Now, back to my twitter review of LOVE, PENELOPE. 


(Oh, meant to say a bit more about the Ohlones being "real Californians." That's like calling Native peoples "the First Americans." It is an error. Ohlones (and any Native nation) pre-date "the United States" or any of its 50 states.)

In her letter to You on Tuesday, December 2, Penny tells us about that heritage project she has to do for Mr. Chen. 

He [Mr. Chen] says that "The United States has always been a nation of immigrants." 

I hope that Penny challenges him on that...


And... she does! 

As she hears classmates talk about where their family is from, she says "My ancestors were always, always here. They didn't ARRIVE from anywhere. They were already here!" 

Good, Penny! 


Mr. Chen asks for more info. She says:

“I am descended from a native Californian tribe. The Ohlone, to be specific.”

She thinks that is a lie because Sammy isn't her biological parent. [For the most part she uses "fabrication" instead of "lie" to describe what she's done.] 


She goes on: 

"And princesses." Not ones with gold crowns and gowns, but "The brave kind with clothes made of animal skins."

Oh, dang. Did Sammy tell her THAT? Is that going to get corrected somewhere as this story unfolds? 


At the moment, I'm thinking of how an Ohlone child would read/respond to this story. Or any Native child. It seems to me that the author's audience isn't a Native child. 

On Saturday, December 6, Penny's letter to You is about Sammy's brother, Ziggy. He plays a ukelele. Penny, her mom, and Sammy are helping Ziggy update his resume. He's looking for work. 

Sunday, December 28, Penny is visiting Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace (Sammy's mom and grandmother). Penny plans to get some info "about Ohlone artifacts and rituals and ceremonies" so she can continue with her "fabrication."

Grace is "probably way over eighty" and has wrinkles, but soft skin. And she's got "long black hair, as black as a raven, as black as coal, as black as a deep, dark night." And, she has "pretty designs of dots and lines on her chin in the traditional Ohlone way."

Ok.... time for me to look over resources on the Ohlones. 

Two things to note: there are 109 tribal nations in California that have federal recognition. None of them have Ohlone in their name. 

But, INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY has an article about the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe's effort to get that recognition. Do read it! 


Here's the Muwekma Ohlone's website, with details. 

Before you begin creating Native characters, you gotta do a lot of research. The fruits of your research may not appear on the page, but it will be there, in the quality of the character and Native content. 

I noted the Muwekma Ohlone's page on their history with the fed gov; another resource is Deborah Miranda's BAD INDIANS. 



Dr. Miranda is Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen. Here's their website: Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation.

They're at Monterey Bay (not San Francisco, like the Muwekma Ohlone), but I think Dr. Miranda's book would add some depth to an author's knowledge. 


There's lot of articles on the Muwekma Ohlone website.

Back to LOVE, PENELOPE. In the letter to You on Sunday, Dec 28, Penny is visiting Sammy's mother and grandmother. 

"Both of them are 100 percent Ohlone. Sammy is only 50 percent because Grandma Lorraine married the late Mr. Henry Bach, who was German."


Rocklin (the author of Love, Penelope) did this percent thing earlier, too, in the Sept 29th letter. 

Oh... Rocklin responded to my tweets about that. Here's mine and her first tweet-reply:
And here's the second part of her reply:
[Inserting her reply for people who use screen readers. Rocklin wrote: "I agree with the importance of sensitivity to this issue, the conflation of ethnicity, citizenship and place of residence. To be fair, Penny was asked to tell the story of how her family came to live in California, a common assignment in California schools. She realized that her stepmom's Ohlone community had "always" been there, yes, before the US existed, and she had an important story to understand.]

I'm thinking about Rocklin's reply. She understands why it is not ok to conflate ethnicity, citizenship, and place of residence but wants me to be fair because this is Penny's story. Hmm. 

It seems it might be one of those stories where a white character is going to unlearn stereotypical things about a Native people. One goal in this kind of story is for others to unlearn those stereotypes, too. When the author/white character are outsiders to the particular culture that is being stereotyped, the readers (children) of that culture have to... bear with it so that white character/white readers 'gets it.' 

That's a huge ask of a Native child. 


Reasons why "50 percent Ohlone" is a problem are related to monied efforts to undermine Native sovereignty by denying a nation's status and efforts to take Native children from their nations and place them in non-Native foster or adoptive homes. See National Indian Child Welfare Act. 

For non-Native writers, creating Native content and characters--especially in this period of diversity--has allure, but for Native people impacted by that writing, the stakes are very high. These non-Native fictions can work against our well-being. 

So, Penny is visiting Sammy's mother and grandmother to gather info for her heritage project. Her first question is about ceremonies... "...what was your wedding ceremony like?" Clearly, Penny thought there was some Ohlone ceremony for marriage. 

Grandma Lorraine told her that she got married in Vegas by a guy who looked like Elvis. I like what Grandma Lorraine said! Penny's question reminds me of undergrad students I taught who were curious about Native weddings. There's a lot of bogus info online--so be wary of that! 

Course, a Vegas wedding ceremony is of no help to Penny and her heritage project, so she moves on to "precious artifacts of their Ohlone heritage." She knows Grandma Lorraine has an abalone necklace, so she asks her to put it on, take a photo, print it out, and give it to her. Penny asks Great Grandma Grace if she has "an Ohlone artifact that is precious to her." 

Artifact is an interesting word. I don't use it when I'm talking with friends of other Native nations... or Jewish friends, or Catholic friends... Do you? 


Great Grandma Grace says "Well, MY precious artifact is a beautiful round red-and-white basket with green and red feathers and shiny abalone beads." 

Artifact, again. Do you use that word to talk about things specific to your culture or nation? I don't. 


Grace tells Penny about Ohlone baskets. Penny wants a photo of the basket but Grace tells her that it "is a memory of a story about the basket. Memories and stories are just about the most precious things the Ohlone have left. We've lost a lot, Penny."

Grandma Lorraine goes on, telling Penny about a memorial park they go to every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Penny recalls going there once with Sammy. She remembers "chanting and the drumming." Some Native ppl will object to use of "chanting" to describe singing. 

"Chanting" is an outsider word. 

The park is the site of a shell mound that was where Ohlone buried their dead. Americans built an amusement park, and later, a paint factory on it. Grandma Lorraine says they begged developers to leave it but nobody listened to them. 


So, every year, they go to that place and tell others what happened. Penny understands, now, why Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace won't shop at the mall that is on the site now. 

Penny is now wondering if she should tell Mr. Chen she isn't Ohlone. 


In her letter on Jan 17, 2015, Penny tells You that she was going to tell Mr. Chen that she isn't Ohlone. Before she could, though, she showed him a drawing she had done of the basket that Great Grandma Grace had described. He was, to use Penny's word, BONKERS over it. 

He asks if it is in her family; she says yes; he is surprised because he thought all the baskets had been taken to Russia or Britain. 

Some, no doubt, did go there but why leave out the US museums and private collectors who have them? 


Mr. Chen tells Penny the local museum has a reproduction, but the one her family has should be in that museum. Penny feels pride over his words.

Now--we know there is no real basket--but even if there was a real one, Mr. Chen's idea that it should be in the museum is messed up. 


Penny tells Mr. Chen that the (non-existent) basket is on its way to the museum. That's kind of messed up, too. Why would it be going to that museum rather than, maybe, a museum or office run by the Ohlones? 

Mr. Chen looks at other parts of her drawing, especially the "wren feathers in the Indian chief's headdress; and the real sticks for the teepees." 

What is Penny's source for that? Mr. Chen asks if the dark marks at the top are storm clouds. Penny meant them to be bison and isn't sure "if the Ohlone ever met up with bison" so she says yes, she meant them to be storm clouds. 


Mr. Chen tells her she needs to "rethink that headdress and, also, the tepees." (Noting the two spellings Rocklin used for tipi: teepee and tepee.)

He also thinks she's drawn "too much warfare. All those spears! You may have forgotten some of what you learned about the Ohlone in third grade. And, most important of all, information about your own heritage."

He leaves the classroom and comes back with a handful of books for her to use. She admits she got her info from old movies (note: new movies have those same stereotypes). She says she knows "the teepees aren't right, but it was fun gluing on those twigs."

He asks if her parents saw it, and she said yes (another lie). He tells her to interview the people in her family. 

Fact: teachers/professors do that sort of thing all the time. Handing Native people books to learn abt our culture = not good practice! 


Mr. Chen, reminding Penny of what she learned about Ohlone people in third grade made me cringe. He seems to be saying that whatever she learned was good. For those who don't know, third graders in California do a lot of projects where they visit missions...

... and sometimes make dioramas of Indians being cared for in the missions as if it was a good. In reality, Native ppl were kidnapped, put in chains, enslaved, raped... those missions are far from "good." I know teachers who aren't doing that anymore. Thank goodness. 

Earlier in this thread I referred to Deborah Miranda's book. She also did some writing about those lessons (also done in 4th grade classrooms): Lying to Children about the Missions and the Indians.  

And I know Native parents who don't want their kids doing projects like that. Please--if you're a teacher, don't do them! I wish Mr. Chen had apologized to Penny for that third grade Ohlone unit. 

That night at home, Penny starts reading the books Mr. Chen gave her. She's a huge basketball fan, so when she reads that the Ohlone liked to throw spears through a hoop, she decides it is close enough to basketball to say "THE OHLONE INVENTED BASKETBALL."

That throw-a-spear-through-a-hoop... Some day I might dig into it because it is one of those "Indian" things you see attributed to many tribal nations. It is possible [that many different ones did that activity], but I'd like to know more abt it. In most descriptions, a hoop is rolled on the ground, not hung on a pole. 

It sounds like the book Mr. Chen gave Penny to read is biased. She doesn't know that, though (and I guess he didn't either). She's going to use info from the bk plus info from Grandma Lorraine abt the shellmound for her heritage project. 

I like that Penny wants to provide her classmates with info about the mound. That's recent, and real, and people should learn about it. 

In the letter on Feb 10, 2015, Penny tells You that she had asked Sammy what her Ohlone heritage means to her. Sammy tells her that she has two heritages: German, who had come here 100 years ago, and Ohlone, who have lived here almost forever. 

Penny sees that Sammy is "starry-eyed and proud thinking about her heritage." Sammy tells her that her Ohlone heritage has a bigger part of her heart, that "you cherish something more when it's in danger of being erased."

Given that the two Ohlone tribal nations I've referred to in this thread seem to be the ones that Sammy might belong to, and given that both are working on federal recognition, Sammy's focus on erasure, without mentioning recognition, is a missed opportunity. 

It strikes me as the writing of someone who doesn't know much about sovereignty. Far too many ppl in the US think of Indigenous ppls as cultural groups rather than as sovereign nations. 

With "culture" as the framework, we get material aspects of life--like drumming and baskets--but not sovereignty. Indeed, sovereignty is THE most important attribute. 

In that same Feb 10 letter, Penny tells her mom and Sammy that Grandma Lorraine and Great Grandma Grace had told her about the shell mound. Her mom tells her that her and Sammy had been trying to protect her frm that sad story. 

But... earlier in the book when these grandma's were telling Penny about the mound, Penny told the she remembered going there before with her mom and Sammy and that she remembers "chanting" and drumming. Remember? 

Sammy goes on to tell her "the important thing to remember" is that the "Ohlone didn't disappear." that "A long time ago, people took our land. They made us live in the California missions. They tried to force us to forget our language and our customs and our stories."

This makes me wonder what Sammy told Penny when Penny was in third grade. Did she go to the school to tell Penny's third grade teacher anything? Also, those missions aren't really "California missions." They are Catholic missions in California. 

In Penny's letter on Sunday, March 22, she tells You that she had told Hazel her secret. "...I do not possess any Ohlone DNA, and that I had borrowed Sammy's heritage. Sammy is a relative by adoption and by domestic partnership only." 

Ohlone DNA? What is that? 


How are readers expected to interpret "Ohlone DNA"? Surely Sammy knows there's no such thing? 

A real Sammy would know there's no such thing. Does the author of LOVE, PENELOPE know? Or... has she fallen for the (false) promises of all those DNA testing services? 


A DNA test cannot tell you a specific tribe. For information on that, please read Dr. Kim TallBear's article, There is no DNA test to prove you're Native American and read her book, too [and tell others! The massive ignorance on DNA testing is something you can interrupt if you just take the time to share the information.] 


I'm reading quicker now, not noting as much of the Native content as I have been so far because it is kind of repetitive. 

In the letter on June 8, Penny tells You that she told Mr. Chen that she isn't Ohlone, that Sammy is her mom's domestic partner, and that Sammy adopted her. 


She also tells her mom and Sammy that she had "borrowed" (she uses that term throughout; I find it annoying) Sammy's Ohlone heritage. Sammy tells her to go ahead and talk about it because they are a family. 

Sammy asks Jenny "why do you have to say 'parent by domestic partnership'? Can't you drop a few words and just say 'parent'?" 

I like that correction. I wish Sammy asked Jenny to quit with the "50% Ohlone", too. But I don't think the author understands why that's not ok. 


On June 10, Penny does her presentation. The letter on June 26 is about the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, so, Penny's mom and Sammy plan to get married. On July 7, You is born and named Mary Joy, and the story ends. 

In the Acknowledgements, the author thanks Corinna Gould, an activist and educator in Ohlone culture, of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, but doesn't say what that person helped her with. 

And she thanks Linda Yamane, an Ohlone basket weaver, "for her beautiful basket in the museum." So, it doesn't seem that Yamane had a role in the book's content. In one of the letters Penny wrote, she described Yamane's basket. [It is important that students learn to read Acknowledgements with the same critical eye they read a book. This particular thanks (to Yamane) is odd. It tells us that Rocklin thinks that Yamane's basketry is important, but, ultimately, it means nothing for the quality of the Native content of Love, Penelope.] 

I'll end this twitter review of Joanne Rocklin's LOVE, PENELOPE. If you've read it over the last few days as I read Rocklin's book, you can guess that when this twitter review goes onto my blog, it will have a Not Recommended label. 

I haven't read reviews of it but my guess is that some people are pleased that Jenny has two mom's. That aspect of the story, some will argue, is so important that it matters more than problems with the Native content. Obviously, I disagree. 

Recently, many scholars and critics in children's and young adult literature are noting that an author carries the weight of their book, but there are others who play significant roles in a book getting published. 

In her Acknowledgements, Rocklin tells us her agent is Erin Murphy, and her editors are Susan Van Metre and Maggie Lehrman. From my point of view, their knowledge of Native peoples is lacking and contributed to the failures throughout LOVE, PENELOPE. Some will feel that the content of this thread and naming the agent/editors is "shaming" them publicly and that I should have written to them privately. 

Contacting them privately would help them, but it wouldn't help all the librarians who are selecting and deselecting books in their collections, and it wouldn't help teachers who, if they read this thread, might decide not to use the book. This review is not a "call" for the book to be withdrawn from shelves. It is criticism. It is not censorship. 

Criticism is not censorship. It is something writers study to improve their writing. I hope it proves useful to others.