Thursday, November 07, 2019


One of the questions I (Debbie) get around this time of the year is whether or not I recommend Joseph Bruchac's picture book, Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving. The book was published in 2000 by Harcourt Brace. Illustrations are by Greg Shed.

I do not recommend Squanto's Journey because I view it as a feel-good story that is a lot like other books about Thanksgiving. This line is one example:
"Perhaps these men can share our land as friends." 
See the red question mark on the book cover? I'm using that today to pose some questions. In Squanto's Journey, Bruchac speaks as if he is Squanto. The first sentence in the book is:
My story is both strange and true.
See? First person. As far as I've been able to determine, there are no records of anything that Squanto said to anyone. I'm going to keep looking, and if you find something, let me know.

My general position about creating speech and thoughts for a person who actually lived, hundreds of years ago, is that it is not appropriate. I usually say--for example--that a white woman imagining what a Native man said and thought hundreds of years ago is making huge leaps from her own existence to that Native man's time, place, culture, and language. If there are no written records to draw from, I think it ought not be done. To me, it doesn't matter if the work being created is fiction. If it is a person who actually lived, and for whom there are records a writer can draw from to quote the writings or speech of that person, then, ok. I think that can work. But otherwise, no. (The exception I make is when the book in question is written by someone of the subject's own nation who can draw from stories they tell about that person.)

So, a question: are there any documents or writings that quote the man we know as Squanto (more on that in a moment)?

Towards the end of the first paragraph, the text reads:
My name is Squanto.
Though many people call him that, other sources say his name was Tisquantum and that "Squanto" was more like a nickname.

So, another question: What did that man actually say his name was?

I have more questions about the history told in Bruchac's book, but for now want to look at Squanto (Bruchac) learning that his wife, children, parents, and others who were close to him had died. Squanto says he will speak to them again when he walks on the "Road of Stars" to greet them. In the glossary, Bruchac says:
Road of Stars: The Milky Way, which is seen as a trail to reach the afterlife walked by those who have died.
Is there evidence that Squanto and his people used that phrase? Regular readers of AICL know that I'm critical of white folks who make up things like that... I wonder what Bruchac's source for that is?
Update: a reader replied right away, saying "Isn't Bruchac Abenaki? This sounds like you're saying he's white." My answer: for most of the time that I've been studying children's books, I understood that Bruchac is Abenaki. More recently, he has said he is "Nulhegen Abenaki" which is a state recognized tribal nation. And even more recently, I have been reading Dr. Darryl Leroux's research that calls into question claims made to Métis identity/nationhood and, relevant to Bruchac, the four Abenaki tribes that the state of Vermont has recognized (Nulhegan Abenaki is in Vermont). So, I am not saying Bruchac is White, but I've definitely got questions about the Nulhegan Abenaki, now, given the research Leroux has done. Get his book, Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity" and see what you think. Respected Native scholars are sharing and recommending his book.  I know that the responses to this update will be intense. Some will question my reference to Leroux's work. Some will be indignant that I am citing it, but I think it is important work that has bearing on my own work in children's literature. 
On another page, Squanto (Bruchac) uses the word "sachem." That word, as defined in the glossary, is supposed to mean "a leader of the people." Is that the word that Squanto would have used? What are the roots of that word?

Those are a few questions, for now. I might be back when I have more time, with additional questions (and maybe some answers). They're examples of the kinds of questions that I want teachers to ask when they read children's books, and to teach students to ask, too.