Saturday, December 14, 2019

Not Recommended: PARKER LOOKS UP by Parker Curry, Jessica Curry; illustrated by Brittany Jackson

This evening, I did a thread on Twitter about Parker Looks Up. 

Using the Spooler app, I am pasting the thread here.
Parker Looks Up
Published by Aladdin (Simon and Schuster)
Year published: 2019 
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Status: Not recommended

As you read through the series of tweets, you will see I am critical with a specific page. It is not an insignificant error. Parents and children of the tribal nations in the original illustration will notice that the headdresses are incorrectly depicted. 


Oh no!!!!

You recall the excitement over this photo of a little girl named Parker, gazing up at the painting of Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery?

People in children's lit know that it was going to be turned into a picture book. Well, it came out on Oct 15, 2019. Today a friend wrote to me about this image in it... and I was taken aback. There's a lot to say...

The illustrator's rendering of that art was familiar to me. I've been to that gallery but I did not recall a wall-sized piece of art that size. 

I did a little bit of research and put together this comparison:

So... the size is way out of whack (I found the dimensions at the National Portrait Gallery's website)...

But so is the rendering!

In the picture book, the emphasis is on feathers. 

"Feathers! Lots and lots of brilliant feathers!" 

This is utterly disappointing to me. 

I have no doubt the authors/illustrator and their editors at Aladdin (Simon and Schuster) wanted to do a good thing and show a range of representation.... but they MIS-represented Native people. 

Feathers. Think about that for a minute. 

Why did that happen? Why did feathers get added to that page?! If you look at the angles of the faces, the noses, etc., you know that the illustrator worked from an image of the actual painting...


It was not necessary to do that!

I would have loved to hand this book to young readers, but now? 

Absolutely not.

That page ruins the book--not just for Native kids--but for non-Native kids, too, who will come away from the book with their stereotypical ideas affirmed. 

The reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher's Weekly do not note this misrepresentation.

Please don't argue with me that the book lifts African American children. 

There is absolutely no reason to lift one marginalized group and misrepresent another. Parker Looks Up is not recommended because of its stereotypical treatment of Native peoples.

---On Dec 15, I added to the thread I did on the 14th:---

Back this morning with more to say about PARKER LOOKS UP.

"Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees" isn't in the National Portrait Gallery. It is in a different museum (the Smithsonian American Art Museum). Editing this info on Dec 16th: Several people have written to tell me that the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are in the same building, and therefore, Parker could have seen both, the Young Omahaw painting and the portrait of Michelle Obama during a single visit. I did not know the two museums were in one building and am glad for that information. 

In the back matter, we see a note that the paintings in the picture bk are "reimagined as Parker Curry experienced them during her unforgettable and memorable visit to the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Art Museum."

Parker Curry was two years old when she saw the painting on March 1, 2018 (see NPR story In 'Parker Looks Up," A 2-Year-Old Shares A Moment With Michelle Obama).

To be clear: I adore that moment in Parker Curry's life! It tells us so much about why representations matter!

What I question is the rest of the book... how the story was created and illustrated--by adults. 

Did a two-year old look at the painting of Pawnee men and think "feathers" when there is one feather in the original painting? 

If yes, then the adults in her life have a responsibility to help her understand what stereotypes are, and how they shape the ways we view the world. 

If two-year-old Parker did not think "feathers" when she saw the original painting, and it is her mother and the illustrator who added that to that page because they wanted to make the book inclusive... then somebody should have helped them understand stereotyping. 

That someone could have been their editor at Simon and Schuster.

This year (2019), @simonschuster intervened in what an author/illustrator did with IGLOO FARM. The book was redone, as SNOWY FARM. Their editor asked them to do that (see AICL's blog post, Igloo Farm Becomes Snowy Farm). 

I've read several articles this morning about Parker's experience with the Obama portrait. It seems to me that her mother took her to the Portrait Gallery specifically to see it. 

But in the picture book, that is not the story we're given. 

In the picture book, we're told that the family simply went to the museum, and when it was time to leave, they happened upon the Obama painting and Parker was transfixed.

That invented story takes away from the actual experience, the purpose of that day in their real lives. Who had the idea to make up this story, to get to that moment in Parker's life?

I'll be thinking about that treatment of that day in Parker's life because it matters. It takes away from the political motivation that her mother had, in taking her there in the first place. 

It is parallel to the many mis-representations of Rosa Parks as nothing more than a tired seamstress who made a decision one day (not to give up her seat on the bus) rather than the facts of her life as a political activist.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Recommended: SPOTTED TAIL by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Nineteenth-century Sicangu Lakota leader Spotted Tail (Sinte Gleska) is the subject of a new biography for middle grades, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Spotted Tail, Reycraft Books, 2019). Spotted Tail was highly influential, but is generally less well-known than other Plains leaders of his time such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

The book's four sections or chapters -- Early Years, Warrior, Family Life, and The Chief -- are followed by two pages that explain some Lakota customs, and 2 pages appropriately titled "A Short History of the Lakota People." (It's very short.)

This story of Spotted Tail's life opens with a description of his participation, as a boy, in a buffalo hunt. It ends with a brief account of his 1881 murder and its eventual repercussions for Indian law, and some paragraphs about his legacy.

In between, what stands out are Spotted Tail's efforts to understand and address the threat posed to his people, and to all Native peoples, by the ever-encroaching settler-colonizers. Weiden, who is Sicangu Lakota*,  shows how his subject's perspective changed with his experiences, from young Lakota fighter to prisoner of the US government to caring father to negotiator for his people. He even briefly sent some of his children to the Carlisle Indian boarding school. (When he discovered during a visit there just how the school was "educating" Native children, he took them home again.)

A real strength of the book is the way Weiden connects certain aspects of Spotted Tail's life with ongoing issues for Native people -- such as the Lakota people's efforts to keep/recover the Black Hills. The long-lasting legal and political implications are simply but clearly explained.

One of the Lakota customs Weiden explains is naming, specifically his Nation's customs around receiving a "spirit name." At first I winced on seeing that; too many non-Native people love the idea of "Indian names" and want to appropriate them! But a careful reading assured me that, unlike some authors who talk about naming practices, Weiden provides context and limits for Lakota naming. In the main text, he explains the circumstances of Spotted Tail's naming. In "Lakota Customs" at the end, he notes that many cultures give children spiritual or religious names, and explains that in Lakota culture, naming is often accompanied by a giveaway. Most importantly, in my opinion, he shows subtly that a Lakota spirit name is not something just anyone can get. That's a healthy perspective on the matter. He invites readers to consider whether they "like the idea of having two names" -- much better than inviting someone to choose their own "Indian spirit name."

The combined efforts of artists Jim Yellowhawk (Itazipco Band, Cheyenne River Sioux) and Pat Kinsella (White) -- especially the many dramatic 2-page spreads -- make Spotted Tail visually striking. Yellowhawk's ledger-style art and Kinsella's bright photos and montages provide imaginative windows on what life might have looked and felt like for Spotted Tail, in his time, while connecting readers to the present-day Lakota Country landscape.

Example of a 2-page mixed-media spread from Spotted Tail 
I'm not in a position to judge whether all Lakota readers will agree with the author's version of events surrounding the Grattan fight, during which Spotted Tail led Lakota fighters against US cavalry, earning honors from his nation and an order for his arrest from the government. Apparently more than one version is retold. Still, the author's account of those events and what happened after are likely to impress readers with Spotted Tail's courage, resourcefulness, and determination.

Discussion/reflection questions for readers are artfully incorporated into the illustrations, and interspersed throughout the book: "Do you think the government should apologize for terrible events that happened long ago?" "How would you feel if the government made you leave your home?" "What do you think it means to be wealthy?" The questions bring "added value" to the text, and adults who share or recommend the book may get good conversations started by asking young people to respond to them.

A few times when I was reading, it felt evident that Weiden is writing for a non-Lakota, non-Native audience -- for instance, he says, "If you are lucky enough to visit the Lakota Nation ..." But at no point did I have the feeling that he is "othering" anyone.

One wish for this and future biographies of historical Indigenous heroes:
Authors, please provide your sources. That allows your readers to follow your research trail, and become researchers themselves. [Edited 12/14/19 to add: Publishers, also take note -- help authors fit those sources into the finished work!]
[*Edited 2/25/2020 in response to a comment from Janessa: I apologize to the author and to readers for somehow omitting the fact that David Heska Wanbli Weiden is Sigangu Lakota. I have added it above. AICL remains committed to being clear about the tribal nation of Native book creators. Thanks for alerting us, Janessa.]

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

AICL's Best Books of 2019

Below is American Indians in Children's Literature's list of Best Books published in 2019.  Because we are not able to read and review every book that comes out in a given year by the time we create our annual Best Books list, we ask that you come back from time to time to see if we've added anything since your last visit (an "added on [date]" note will be included with books we add after we publish this list). 

Books are presented (primarily) by age of reader(s) but please don't assume that a teen can't get something from a picture book, or that a young adult book is inaccessible to upper elementary or middle grade readers. Your best strategy on selecting books is to get the book and read it yourself to see if it will work with your intended audience. 

In parentheses following the names of individuals, we provide information about each person's identity, such as tribal affiliation or citizenship in a country. This is in keeping with what we did in the index to An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. Doing this is part of "unmaking the white default." If we have an error in how we've listed you, please let us know.

We hope you share this list with parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers, professors... anybody who works with children and books! And if you know of a book that we did not list, please let us know in the comments.

And, we find ourselves in an awkward spot! Our adaptation of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States came out in 2019. We hope you'll get it. We're including it in the list, based on the review it received from the @OfGlades team at Indigo's Bookshelf. 



Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri (Chippewa of Nawash First Nation), Sonny Assu (Liǥwildaʼx̱w of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations), Brandon Mitchell (Mi'kmaq), Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inuit-Cree), Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley (Scottish-Mohawk), David A. Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation), Niigaawewidam James Sinclair (Anishinaabe), Jen Storm (Ojibway, Couchiching First Nation), Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, Chelsea Vowell (Métis); foreword by Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), and illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolatoqiyik), Kyle Charles, (Whitefish Lake First Nation) GMB Chomichuk (White), Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia), Scott B. Henderson (White), Ryan Howe (White), Andrew Lodwick (White), Jen Storm; Colour by Scott A. Ford (White) and Donovan Yaciuk (White). This Place: 150 Years Retold. Portage & Main Press. Canada. [Review forthcoming.]
  • Vermette, Katherena (Métis), and Scott B. Henderson (White) and Donovan Yaciuk (White). Red River Resistance (A Girl Called Echo book). Highwater Press, Canada.
  • Visaggio, Magdalene (White), Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache), art by Guillermo Sanna; cover by Dan Panosian. Strangelands (series). Humanoids, United States.

Board Books

  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Gitige She/He GardensBlack Bears and Blueberries Publishing, USA. Review added on 1/28/2020.
  • Joseph, Kaal.atk' Charlie (Tlingit),  Hlii'ilaang Kun 'Langay family (Haida), HIGaa'xatgu 'Laanaas family (Haida), Haayk Foundation, Nancy Barnes (Tlingit), illustrations by Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl. Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska. Sealaska Heritage. Added 1/28/2020.
  • Van Camp, Richard (Tlicho Nation). Photos by Tea & Bannock, a blog by Indigenous women photographers. May We Have Enough To ShareOrca Book Publishers. Canada. 

Picture Books
  • Blaeser, Kimberly (Minnesota Chippewa Tribe), illustration by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee). Flights in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul (White). Millbrook/Lerner, United States. 
  • Flett, Julie (Cree-Métis). BirdsongGreystone Books. Canada. 
  • Lindstrom, Carole (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), illustration by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee). Drops of Gratitude in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul (White). Millbrook/Lerner, United States.
  • Maillard, Kevin Noble (Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band), illustrated by Juana Martinez (Peruvian). Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition. Roaring Book Press (Macmillan). USA. 
Note about Fry Bread: the endpapers include names of over 500 tribal nations with a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States, but it also includes several groups recognized by a state (like the group anyone on earth can join--for a price--called the United Cherokee Nation that is recognized by the state of Alabama, but its offices are in New Mexico).  Those endpapers are empowering to legitimate nations, but inclusion of sketchy ones is of significant concern because including them legitimizes the harm they do. 
  • Minnema, Cheryl (Ojibwe), illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). Johnny's Pheasant. University of Minnesota Press, United States. 
  • Peacock, Thomas. (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), illustrated by Annette S. Lee (Ojibwe and D/Lakota). The Forever Sky. Minnesota Historical Society Press. Added on 4/10/2020.
  • Peacock, Thomas (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), illustrated by Jacqueline Paske Gill (White). The Dancers. Amazon On Demand Publishing LLC. USA. [Review forthcoming]
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Creek Nation), illustrated by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee). Stories for Dinner in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul (White). Millbrook/Lerner, United States.
  • Sorell, Traci (Cherokee), illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Scots-Gaelic). At the Mountain's BasePenguin. United States.
  • Sorell, Traci (Cherokee), illustrated by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee). College Degree in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul (White). Millbrook/Lerner, United States.
  • Vermette, Katherena (Métis), illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). The Girl and the Wolf. Theytus Books. Canada.

For Middle Grades
  • Coulson, Art (Cherokee), illustrated by Hvresse Christie Blair Tiger (Muskogee Creek). The Reluctant StorytellerBenchmark Education. United States.
  • Day, Christine (Upper Skagit). I Can Make This PromiseHarperCollins. United States. 
  • Dunbar Ortiz, Roxanne (White). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young PeopleAdapted by Jean Mendoza (White) and Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo). Beacon Books, USA.  
  • Gyetxw, Hetxw'ms (Brett D. Huson) and Natasha Donovan (Métis). The Grizzly Mother. Highwater Press. Canada. 
  • Hutchinson, Michael (Misipawistik Cree Nation). The Case of Windy Lake (Mighty Muskrat Mystery Series). Second Story Press, Canada.
  • Hutchinson, Michael (Misipawistik Cree Nation). The Case of the Missing Auntie. (Mighty Muskrat Mystery Series). Second Story Press, Canada. 
  • McManis, Charlene Willing (Grand Ronde), with Traci Sorell (Cherokee). Indian No MoreTu Books, United States. 
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Creek). A Girl's Best Friend in The Hero Next Door. Crown Books for Young Readers. USA.
  • Weiden, David Heska Wanbli (Sicangu Lakota), illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk (Itazipco Band, Cheyenne River Sioux) & Pat Kinsella (White). Spotted Tail. Reycraft Books. USA. Added on 12/11/19.

For High School

Cross-Over Books (Written for adults; appeal to young adults)
  • Rendon, Marcie (White Earth Anishinabe). Girl Gone Missing. Cinco Puntos Press. USA. [Review forthcoming]  


Picture Books

Recommended: BIRDSONG by Julie Flett

Add Julie Flett's Birdsong to your shelves! It is on several Best Books of 2019 lists and it got starred reviews from the major review journals.

Most of the reviews note Flett's artistic style and the seasonal arrangement of the story. Most note the growth of Katherena as she and her mom leave their home in the city, to a new one in the country where they meet an older woman named Agnes. And most reviewers note the Cree words in the book. It is great to see the reviews and the stars and the book being listed on year-end lists.

Now... what do I see, as I read Birdsong?

Well--this page in particular, caught my eye:

There, you see Katherena and her mom, together, beneath warm covers. I absolutely adore that page! When my daughter was little (well, to be honest, this happens even today), there were many times when we'd snuggle under the warm covers and she'd press her cold feet to my warmth, and squeal "icicles!" just before she did it. Such a fond memory, of warmth and of those cold feet, too!

There's another reason that particular illustration appeals to me. Parents and kids sleeping together is a natural thing amongst us at Nambé. So, it resonates with me as a Native mom. But--sleeping together sure as heck is not seen as natural in White society. I recall talking about it when we moved from Nambé to Illinois for graduate school. In my early conversations when we arrived in Illinois, White people expressed shock that our daughter was with us each night. I pretty much just kept that information to myself after that, but later (still in grad school), I learned that a lot of parents and kids sleep together--but nobody talks about it out of fear they'll be accused of spoiling their child. I also learned that parents and kids in many cultures around the world sleep together. During grad school, we lived in family student housing and made good friends with a family next door to us, from India. I'll never forget the many times Vijaya asked me "why?" about some thing that people in the US do, and I'd just shrug. Some things make no sense. In the ways my family live our lives, we are much more like Vijaya and her family than we are like White US families. And as noted earlier--more people in the US do it than admit to doing it, so I think there's gonna be a lot of folks smiling at that page as they read Birdsong. 

Teachers! Head over to the Greystone Books page for Birdsong and download the Teacher's Guide!

Clearly, I adore Julie Flett's Birdsong! Published in 2019 by Greystone Books, I recommend it, dearly.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Recommended: "A Girl's Best Friend" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, in THE HERO NEXT DOOR

Cynthia Leitich Smith's "A Girl's Best Friend" is one of the stories in The Hero Next Door. Published in 2019 by Crown Books for Young Readers, its main character is a 12-year old named Sophie Bigheart who is Muscogee-Osage and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She lives with her mom in a tiny apartment in Austin.

Sophie spends a lot of her free time looking at dogs on the animal shelter website, wishing she could get one--but that's against Miz Wilson's (their landlady) rules. Through their occasional visits, Sophie had learned that Miz Wilson's husband died the year before, and that they had a dachshund. It is clear that Miz Wilson is lonely.

Sophie's lonely, too, for a dog. Soon, Sophie and her mom are doing volunteer work at the shelter, walking and playing with the dogs. Miz Wilson--thinking they've adopted one--evicts them!

Then, Sophie comes up with a plan. By the end of the story, Miz Wilson has adopted a dog, Sophie's agreed to help take care of it, and Miz Wilson has decided to decrease their rent. It is a good solution for everyone. Set in the present day, with information about the main character's identity as a citizen of a tribal nation--and just the kind of story that resonates with a lot of kids--I'm pleased to recommend the story, and the book, too!

Recommended: MAY WE HAVE ENOUGH TO SHARE by Richard Van Camp; photographs by Indigenous Women

Published in 2019 by Orca Book Publishers, May We Have Enough to Share features photographs taken by Indigenous women who blog at Tea & Bannock. As I page through it, I can't help but smile over the expressions of joy and surprise on the faces of the babies and toddlers!

And I find myself peering closely at the stunning beaded artwork on each page. A note in the front of the book tells us it is by Caroline Blechert (Inuvialuit). It is traditional stitchwork that uses dyed and natural porcupine quills and delica beads. Her beaded artwork is beneath Van Camp's words, in a white circle that is placed inside of what looks to me like birchbark. Coupled with the photos, it makes for layers of image to study.

I don't know what Van Camp's intent was, but I read his words as a reminder to all of us that while world politics are in chaos, there are little ones in our lives who, in fact, count on us for their well being.

"May we" he writes on several pages, "have enough to share." Let's look a bit closer at his words. On the first page, I read
May we have enough to share, to know the sweetness of every day.
He doesn't say enough of what, on that page, or on any of the others. I see some reviews characterizing it as gratitude (probably because the words on the back cover include "gratitude"), but I think that's not quite what he's reaching for. I think he's talking about the human impulse to care and love the new and young lives in our own lives. With so much wrong with politics and the environment, we may lose sight of the need to make sure we're holding young ones close, all the time.

May We Have Enough to Share is just what we need!