Thursday, December 05, 2019

Not Recommended: ENCOUNTER by Brittany Luby and Michaela Goade

Several months ago, we received a copy of Brittany Luby and Michaela Goade's Encounter. It came out in October of 2019 from one of the Big Five publishers: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Books published by the Big Five receive visibility that books from smaller publishers do not. It is exceedingly difficult for Native writers to get in those Big Five doors. We had long conversations about Encounter because of that, and because the author and illustrator are Native. Regular readers of AICL know that we are strong advocates for #OwnVoices.

In the end, we decided we cannot recommend it.

We hope to share our conversations about Encounter with AICL's readers but for now, we are giving you a short version of our thoughts on the book. The publisher's description of the book is below, followed by our respective thoughts on the book.
A powerful imagining by two Native creators of a first encounter between two very different people that celebrates our ability to acknowledge difference and find common ground.
Based on the real journal kept by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534, Encounter imagines a first meeting between a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisher. As they navigate their differences, the wise animals around them note their similarities, illuminating common ground.
This extraordinary imagining by Brittany Luby, Professor of Indigenous History, is paired with stunning art by Michaela Goade, winner of 2018 American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award. Encounter is a luminous telling from two Indigenous creators that invites readers to reckon with the past, and to welcome, together, a future that is yet unchartered.


Debbie's thoughts:

When I first learned of the book, my thoughts turned to Thanksgiving picture books that show Pilgrims and Indians (sometimes Wampanoags) meeting each other. In particular, Rockwell's Thanksgiving Day came to mind. In it, the children are doing a reenactment of the Pilgrim's landing. One child playing the part of a Pilgrim is thankful that the Pilgrims were "greeted kindly by the Wampanoag people who shared their land with them." Another child, playing the part of a Wampanoag, is thankful that the Pilgrims are peaceful. Another, playing the part of a Wampanoag leader, talked about how the Wampanoag and Pilgrim people shared a feast that autumn day. It is, in tone, idyllic.

Rockwell's book came out in 1999 but ones like it come out every year. Writers and illustrators, it seems to me, keep trying to tell that same story. Each year there is pushback to that story. On social media, people replied to tweets and posts from teachers who showed their classes of children, reenacting that "first Thanksgiving." It seems people in the US are determined to turn that idyllic story into the truth. And so--when I first saw Encounter--I was afraid that it would be celebrated for its storyline, and because of its author and illustrator. Over time, my fears were realized. It got starred reviews, was featured on NPR, and it is now appearing on Best of 2019 book lists.

It definitely appeals to White readers, but I could not--and cannot--imagine handing the book to a Native child or Native family. I'm glad for the visibility that it brings to both, Luby and Goade, and I hope that it leads to more opportunities with a major publisher. I don't think any library or home needs imagined stories like this one. I think we need ones that are honest tellings of history.


Jean's thoughts:

The Author's Reflection and the Historical Note in the back of the book help explain what Brittany Luby is going for with Encounter: an intentional contrast with actual events, a thought-provoking  counter-story. So I gave a lot of attention to how it felt to read and re-read the story and the author's comments, in light of all that still sits with me after Debbie and I adapted An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. What would it mean to kids -- Native kids and non-Native -- that this story about an imaginary innocent Native/white friendship is so far from what really happened?

Reading Encounter at this point in life turned out to be work. I'm white; my husband and our kids are Mvskoke Creek. I'm also of a generation that pretty much drowned in "cowboys/cavalry & Indians" imagery, and I had just spent several years immersed in Indigenous history.  I found that I did a lot of mental and emotional processing about Encounter. No need to go into all that, but it made me see that sharing it with kids would be complicated. Before long, we could tell the book was getting popular, and would inevitably be shared with lots of children, probably plucked off bookshelves for friendship-affirming read-alouds.

Debbie mentioned (above) those persistent Thanksgiving myths. "First contacts" between Europeans and Indigenous peoples are also heavily mythologized as part of the grand American narrative. That's what schooling tells us about US history, over decades of our lives, and it's hard to un-do. Some people don't want to undo it. (Many Native families provide the less shiny reality for their children, though.)

So how are professionals and parents (especially non-Natives) supposed to help children engage with a fantasy about "first contact" if they aren't clear on the reality, themselves? You can't expect non-Native children to grasp the import of a story like Encounter before they comprehend the reality. And if you present the fantasy in Encounter to Native children without showing that you know and believe the real history, and without making sure their classmates also get it, they will see the lie. They would feel -- as Debbie said in one of our talks about it -- betrayed.

We know, given the make-up of the school and library professions, it'll be mostly non-Native professionals who read or recommend Encounter to their students or patrons.  So for a while my head was full of caveats. The adults would need to be deeply intentional & thoroughly prepared, and give serious thought to their goals for sharing the book. There were things to be aware of, groundwork to lay, things to do and not do. Calling into question the entire settler-colonizer mindset...  Someone had suggested on Twitter that adults could read the Author Reflection and Historical Note to children first. But it seemed to me that the author's comments alone couldn't fill the gaps in many peoples' (mis)understanding of Indigenous history.

And here's the problem: How many teachers or librarians are able (or willing) to do that much work in order to share a specific picture book? Isn't it more likely to be shared as a sweet story of how people ought to treat each other?

During one conversation, after giving solid attention to my tangled thoughts, Debbie asked, "Would you read it to Jack?" (Jack's my 9-year-old grandson.) My brain started to say, "Mmmaybe, but only if --" But my heart said, "No. No, I wouldn't."

I've applied that question to critiques of many other books -- "What would it feel like to be one or another of my grandkids, reading this?" Why it wasn't with me from the beginning on this one is puzzling.

For non-Native (especially White) adults, there may be some value in personally, privately using counter-narratives like this one, with oneself, to face the chasm between respectful human relationships that sustain life and the real Indigenous history of the continent currently known as North America. But it doesn't feel like a book for children.


Debbie and Jean's thoughts:

We want to see books by Native writers and illustrators succeed. Our commitment to them, however, is superceded by our commitment to children. We'd like to think that a book like this has an audience, but at this point, we're not sure who that would audience would be.

As noted above, we hope that the book brings visibility to Luby and Goade, and we look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

Monday, December 02, 2019


Snowy Farm by Calvin Shaw, with illustrations by Oamul Lu, was published by Simon and Schuster on November 5, 2019. Before it was Snowy Farm, it was Igloo Farm and scheduled to be published in October of 2019. If you do an Internet search of Igloo Farm, you will be taken to pages about Snowy Farm.

I sure would like to know what led to the changes in the title, words, and illustrations for this book. Back in October, I saw the F&Gs for both. (F&G means the pages of a book, folded and gathered but not yet bound. See details about F&Gs at Editorial Anonymous.) On the cover, we see these changes:
  • The title word Igloo was replaced with Snowy
  • The illustration of an igloo was replaced with a horse
  • The skin color of the people was changed 
  • Two chickens were inserted on the Snowy Farm cover
  • The snowman's scarf was changed from green to orange 

Here's the front cover inside flap.

On the left is Igloo Farm. On the right is Snowy Farm. The words are identical.

They read, in part "Away on a farm in a snowy white home, a family lives life in a way of their own..."

The skin color (as we saw on the cover) of the people is different. In the original book, the man held a spear and his parka has what appears to be fringe at its hem.

Here's the first page of both copies:

The words in the original are:
There's an igloo windmill on an igloo farm, with an igloo house and an igloo barn.
The words in the revised book are:
There's a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn. 
In the original, "igloo house" has been replaced by "house" (the word 'igloo' was deleted) and in the illustration, the domed structure made of ice blocks has been replaced by a pitched roof structure with walls and two windows. The structure representing a barn remains the same in both copies.

In the original, the tree by the igloo is blue; in the revision, that blue color is used for the window of the house and the tree is the same color as the others. Other color changes are made throughout the book. In the original, the sky is gray-purple; in the revised one, the sky is a gray-blue. And, as shown on the cover and the cover flaps, the family's skin tone was changed. The illustrator, Oamul Lu, uses a computer to create his art. A wild guess: changing the skin tone was easily done with a series of keyboard clicks or commands.

Update on Dec 3, 2019 at 5:45 AM:
I continue to look around for information. I did an image search using "igloo windmill" and found that a Romanian artist, Vali Petridean, has the exact same words on some art that he did. Who wrote those words? Petridean? Or, Shaw? 

When I put the URL for Petridean's art into the Internet Archive page, I see that he loaded that image to his website on July 1, 2015. That was a few years before the first images from Igloo Farm began to appear.

Here's Petridean's text/illustration, juxtaposed with Shaw/Lu's (note on December 4 2019--I wrote to Petridean to ask about the illustration on his page. He said it is Shaw's poem):

----end update on Dec 3---

I don't think I can legally share all the photos I took because of copyright laws, so will now switch to descriptions.

Glance back up at the cover. The horse and the chicken shown on the cover of Snowy Farm are in the interior pages of Igloo Farm. In both versions, the farm animals (horse, chickens, goat) wear earmuffs. In both, the man is holding ice carrots, which is what the animals are fed. Later, the man is driving a tractor sled and pulling two boxes of snow apples, which is what he eats when he works the fields.

On one page we are inside the igloo/house where real food is being cooked (by "the wife" or "the mom"). In Igloo Farm, the words are:
The wife of the farmer is cooking inside, with cinnamon spices and eggs to be fried.
In Snowy Farm the words are:
The mom of the family is cooking a dish with savory spices and seasonal fish.
On a subsequent page, the kids come inside to eat. The table in Igloo Farm is white, like if it is made from snow or ice. The table in Snowy Farm is made of lumber. After supper the family sits around an open flame fire, inside. To the left of them is a teapot. In Igloo Farm, the teapot is on a counter made of ice blocks. In Snowy Farm, it is a low table with wooden legs.

When night falls they go to bed. Both families sleep on the floor, covered in brown blankets that seem to have fur on them. The family in Igloo Farm has pillows with a decorative cover (see below); the family in Snowy Farm has plain pillows.

At the end of Igloo Farm is an Author's Note where Shaw tells us that he lived in upstate New York as a child. He and his brother played in the snow, went sledding, built snowmen, and tried to build igloos. Igloo Farm is what he believes living in an igloo would be like. He also writes:
For thousands of years, a group of people known as Inuits have relied on igloos for shelter in the icy cold regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.
He says a few additional things about the Arctic, igloos and Inuits. In his "For Further Reading" list are four books about living in the Arctic, or about igloos.

At the end of Snowy Farm is a completely different Author's Note. No mention at all of Inuits, or igloos or the Arctic (at the North Pole). In fact, he writes about the Antarctic (at the South Pole). He says:
The people who travel to live in Antarctica fall into two main groups, those who live and work on scientific research stations or bases, and tourists. No one lives in Antarctica indefinitely in the way that people do in the rest of the world. Antarctica has no commercial industries, no towns or cities, no permanent residents. 
Curious about Antarctica, I did an Internet search using "who lives in Antarctica" and was--quite frankly--stunned to read those same words on the Cool Antarctica website (that website was the second hit in my search results). In the image below, the screen capture on top is from the website and the one below is my photograph of the Author's Note in Snowy Farm (Note: you see the word "Edited" after the file name? It is there because I used the Contrast option in the "Adjust Color" tool in my laptop's "Preview" app to make the words more legible.):

That plagiarism is stunning.

This book's journey, from start to finish, is striking.

The changes to the book title, the words and illustrations, throughout, are remarkable.

Why did nobody at Simon and Schuster catch the problems with igloo before the book was printed into F&G's?

Who spoke up and said 'hey, we need to revise this book..."

How did those conversations go, in the editorial offices? What did someone say, exactly? And, what did they say to the author and illustrator? Or--was it the author or illustrator who got in touch with the editors and said changes were necessary?

I doubt we'll have answers to any of those questions but I'll tag Simon and Schuster and see if there's any response. If you hear anything, let us know!

Update, 4:34 PM on December 3, 2019

As far as I'm able to determine, there are no professional reviews of Snowy Farm. And yet, when I look in WorldCat, I see that several libraries have copies of the book. That's another puzzle. I thought that libraries purchase books based on 2 or more positive reviews in a review journal. I'm looking into that lack of reviews and will be back with an update when I have some info to share.

Update, 12:30 PM on December 5, 2019

Earlier today, an anonymous person submitted a comment that consists of a link to a discussion on Reddit that appears to be about this post--specifically, the plagiarized author's note. The original poster ("Mister_B_Lank") at Reddit is seeking legal advice on Reddit. 18 hours ago (which would be December 4 in late afternoon), they wrote:
My publisher asked me write an “Author’s Note” that provides information as to what my story is about at the end of the book. I said sure, and submitted it to them. However, when I got the book, I saw that the Author’s Note was drastically changed.
I recently found out that they plagiarized some of the Author’s Note from a website. People online are noticing the plagiarism and are assuming it’s me who wrote the Author’s Note.
Not too sure how to handle this. Any help mucho appreciated. For the record I’m in the U.S.
Here's a screen capture of the post:

In the conversation that took place, the OP ("OP" is shorthand for "original poster") said that the publisher admitted to rewriting what he submitted:

I clicked on the OP's name ("Mister_B_Lank") and saw that, on November 15, he had posted that his book had come out but there wasn't much marketing of it. Another person asked for the book title but the OP did not want to disclose it. He did say this:
Well, I don’t want to disclose too much. But I will say this: It’s a kid’s book. We had to change the title, the characters, and the setting because I am a “non-native” who wrote about another culture. Not disparagingly, but there is a movement right now called “Own Voices” that is derailing the publication of YA and kid’s books written by non-natives (I’m white) . Because of this, I am worried the publisher is barely marketing the book due to some kind of backlash. 
Here's that screen cap:

Another person asked how the OP felt about the changes. The OP replied:
Honestly, it drove me kind of crazy through the publishing process that the book was being altered so heavily. When I finally held the book in my hands for the first time, I didn’t have that much of an emotional response. I’ve become a bit more disgruntled after the release of the book w the lack of marketing, and im currently having a very hard time getting my publisher and agent to respond to my emails about the release
And here's that screen cap:


To try to get my own thoughts in order, I'm constructing a timeline. Somewhere between July 16 2018 and September 7, 2019, somebody said 'stop' on the Inuit text and illustrations. The skin tone of the Inuit characters being lightened is the opposite of what we saw take place in publishing in past decades. To make books more inclusive, artists used a darker skin color but didn't change any other features. As noted above in the Author Note for Igloo Farm, Shaw (author) created the book out of his imagination of what life in an igloo would be like. But the book was radically altered. Here's the timeline.

2015 -- Romanian artist named Vali Petridean published an image he created for Shaw (author of Igloo Farm/Snowy Farm). It has the first few lines of Shaw's book on it.

April 10, 2017 -- Publisher's Weekly's Rights Report for April 10, 2017 says that Paula Wiseman at Simon and Schuster bought Igloo Farm by Calvin Shaw, and that Kirsten Hall of Catbird Productions negotiated the deal for world rights.

July 16, 2018 -- Librarian tweeted about Igloo Farm after seeing image of cover on "Reading With Mr. Teut" blog.

September 7, 2019 -- I saw and took photos of the F&G's for both, Igloo Farm and Snowy Farm. 

November 15, 2019 -- Calvin Shaw, the author, posted a question about book marketing, to Reddit. He said his publisher was barely marketing his book, and worried it was because they feared backlash because the original book had Native content and he is White. He referenced Own Voices, saying it is derailing books written by non-Natives. [Note: I learned of Shaw's post to Reddit on Dec 5, when an AICL reader submitted a comment with link to Shaw's December 4 post to Reddit.]

December 2, 2019 -- I published "Igloo Farm becomes Snowy Farm" here, on AICL.

December 4, 2019 -- At Reddit, Calvin Shaw, author of Igloo Farm/Snowy Farm posted his concerns about his publisher's revisions to his Author's Note. The plagiarism, he said, was done by the publisher, not by him.

December 5, 2019 -- Shaw deleted the November 15 post at Reddit, about marketing of the book. The conversation that ensued (where he referenced Own Voices) is still available.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Recommended: "Chubby City Indian" by Jana Schmieding in THE (OTHER) F WORD: A CELEBRATION OF THE FAT AND FIERCE, edited b Angie Manfredi

Jana Schmeiding is Lakota. She does comedy shows and hosts the Woman of Size podcast. Her essay, "Chubby City Indian" is in Angie Manfredi's The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce. Published in 2019 by Amulet Books, the book includes personal essays, prose, poetry, fashion tips, and art from 30 different people. 

Schmieding's essay is a searing look at her life, beginning with her childhood. She uses a river to capture her life as a Native child in a small town in Oregon in the 1990s, where social and educational experiences were dominated by Whiteness. That was, for her, the White Side of the River. It was hard for me to read what she went through in middle school: the pain of wanting to be accepted, and the pain of doing things for that acceptance.

On the Native Side of the River, however, we see something else entirely. Acceptance. A place of kinship with other Native girls, some who had to dress up as pilgrims for kindergarten pageants. She had a place where she could be with Native family, dancing at powwows.

And on the Native Side of the River, she felt joy--as depicted in Lisa Tegtmeier's illustration of her, dancing. She writes:
My bigness and boldness on the dance floor were a celebration of their courage and endurance in the face of so much historic silencing.
I've read that sentence several times. It is so affirming! It is the Fat and Fierce of the subtitle of Manfredi's book. I think Chubby City Indian is terrific, and that the book is a must-have, for every school and public library because of its many affirmations. In it you'll find David Bowles, Alex Gino, Julie Murphy, Isabel Quintero, Renée Watson, and so many others. This is the sort of book you'll want to have multiple copies of available. Thanks, Angie, for bring it forth!

Recommended: "Ballad of Weary Daughters"

It's hard to authentically tell stories from the POV of children and youth trying to keep family and self together in the face of parental loss, dysfunction, abuse, or neglect (or institutional abuse). One Native writer who has done that exceptionally well is Vickie L. Sears (Cherokee). Her devastating, often-anthologized "Grace" should be required reading for professionals who work with foster children or other young ones pushed too early into the role of looking out for themselves and their siblings.

"Ballad of Weary Daughters" by Kristine Wyllys (Eastern Band Cherokee) is another insightful story of young people carrying family survival on their shoulders. It's part of an anthology "starring disabled teens" in Unbroken (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2018, edited by Marieke Nijkamp). We're reviewing it on AICL because of several references to the Tsalagi people and language.

"Ballad" is told in the voice of contemporary high schooler River Smith. River is the daughter of a Tsalagi mother and a white Christian pastor who has recently abandoned his congregation and his family to run off with another woman. River's mother manages to keep putting one foot in front of the other, working long hours to keep food on the table. River steps into the caretaker role for her younger siblings, who are all showing signs of severe stress. It doesn't help that River has a mental illness and her doctors have had trouble getting her medications right.

River and her beloved friend, Lucy, are the "weary daughters" of the story's title. They both feel the stress of barely holding on, and they recognize that their relationship is what gets them through each difficult day. In teaching and social services, when we hear about "resilience factors," this is one of the factors they're talking about: friends who go beyond the typical expectations and serve as literal lifelines for the ones who are struggling. You can't imagine how either River or Lucy could get by without the other's sustaining presence. There is no one else to help them, no support services.

I've read other fiction about teens that feels like a circa-2005 Ruby Payne anecdote catalog of poverty-related dysfunction and catastrophe, where an author just won't stop dumping on the main character.  But "Ballad" works for me because Wyllys shows us a family in what could be called a slow-moving emergency -- one that ravels over time. In real life, those aren't the kind that tend to qualify for substantial official help for a family, but the burden on a teen can still be nearly unbearable. River and her family have lived through one emergency -- the days and weeks after the father's departure. Another may be brewing with one of River's sisters, and River's mental health could become more fragile.

The story ended with me loving both River and Lucy. I wanted more for them -- and more about them. I hope Kristine Wyllys will let us hear from them again.

The Cherokee (Tsalagi) content feels matter-of-fact; Wyllys is not teaching readers; she is saying "This is River's life, in which family conversations contain some Tsalagi words, absent Tsalagi family members are important, and the children are aware that their father's congregation views them as Other because they are not white."

I strongly recommend this story. Other entries in Unbroken are also definitely worth reading.