Wednesday, December 18, 2019

RECOMMENDED: Red River Resistance: A Girl Called Echo, V.2

Red River Resistance: A Girl Called Echo, Volume 2 
Written by Katherena Vermette (Metis)
Illus. by Scott B. Henderson. Colors by Donovan Yaciuk 
Published in 2019
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza 
Status: Recommended

Red River Resistance is the second graphic novel in Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo series. The Metis teen protagonist of Volume 1 (Pemmican Wars) is still quiet, still spends a lot of time with earbuds in, listening to her music, but she's becoming less isolated. She is befriended by a classmate named Micah. She gets involved with the school's Indigenous Student Leadership group, under the guidance of teachers Mr. Bee and Mx Francois. She plays in the snow with her foster family. And she smiles a bit. But powerful dreams and daydreams still take her into the Metis history of what is currently called Canada. This time, her dream episodes are set in 1869-70, when political machinations in Canada focused on pushing Indigenous and Metis people further and further west. Metis leader Louis Riel is a central figure in the dream events Echo experiences. 
The first Echo book established that Echo is in foster care because her mother is in some sort of facility (mental health care? halfway house?). We can guess that historical or intergenerational trauma may be affecting the family. Echo's dreaming translates facts she learns in class into stories of her Metis ancestors. More than once, Echo wakes with tears streaming down her face. She feels the impact of historical events viscerally, (re)living hopeful and joyous moments as well as the pain of betrayal and shattered hopes, displacements, departures, and violence witnessed.  

Though it's not the story's only "message," teachers and others who work with young people need to be mindful that children and their family members may be affected in the present by what happened during earlier stages of settler-colonization. Intergenerational trauma may not be easily recognizable, but it's real. It can be a factor in depression, loneliness, child neglect, and other problems that are generally considered mental health issues, and the effects of those are communicated from generation to generation through actions and beliefs.

The more time I spend with this book, the more I appreciate the author's and the illustrator's & colorist's craft:
  • Character development. Echo's teachers, Mr. Bee and Mx Francois, are believable and rounded-out, though Mx Francois (pronouns they, them, their/s) hasn't yet had as much to say as Mr. Bee has. Mr. Bee, for example, stands in front of a classroom of benignly disengaged students and talks about what he loves: history. Notice how he seems to just assume his dozing, note-passing students are getting what they need from the information he's sharing. 
  • Detail in the graphics. Take time to read the screen on Echo's mp3 player. Notice the subtly pleased looks on the faces of the two teachers as they watch Echo and the other students talking together after the Indigenous Leadership bake sale. And spend a moment with the panel that shows the exhilaration Echo and her friend feel when they believe, briefly, that Louis Riel's efforts have succeeded -- wow!    
  • Things that pique interest: Such as -- Echo's foster mom -- what's her story? She has a houseful, including a child with special physical needs (seen in Pemmican Wars). Yet she treats Echo with great concern and respect, and when Echo seeks her out after a very bad dream, she seems surprised but her from-the-heart response is perfect. 
  • The back matter. A detailed Red River Resistance timeline and the Metis List of Rights from 1870 helped me better understand Mr. Bee's lectures and Echo's dreams. Both were essential, in fact.
A particular strength of the Echo books is that so far, Katherena Vermette has not had Echo interact directly with real historical figures in her dreams. Her relationships of the past are with people about her age, who seem to be her guides (Marie in Pemmican Wars, Benjamin in Red River Resistance.) I hope that trend continues. It's much more effective, in my opinion, to have her be primarily an observer, than to imagine fake dialogue between a 21st century middle schooler and someone such as Louis Riel.

Something to watch for: Volume 3 of A Girl Called Echo is due out in February 2020!

Not Recommended: Elisha Cooper's RIVER

Written by Elisha Cooper
Published in 2019
Publisher: Scholastic
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Not Recommended

I'll begin with the book's description, from Scholastic:
A breathtaking adventure as a traveler and her canoe begin their trek down the Hudson River. In a mountain lake, the canoe gently enters the water's edge, paddling toward the river. The nautical journey begins. 
'She is alone, far from home. Three hundred miles stretch in front of her. A faraway destination, a wild plan. And the question: can she do this? 
In Cooper's flowing prose and stunning watercolor scenes, readers can follow a traveler's trek down the Hudson River as she and her canoe explore the wildlife, flora and fauna, and urban landscape at the river's edge. Through perilous weather and river rushes, the canoe and her captain survive and maneuver their way down the river back home. 
River is an outstanding introduction to seeing the world through the eyes of a young explorer and a great picture book for the STEAM curriculum. Maps and information about the Hudson River and famous landmarks are included in the back of the book.

My thoughts on River began as a Twitter thread I did on December 9, 2019 about Elisha Cooper's "A Note on the Hudson River" in the closing pages of River:

Notes can help a teacher, tremendously.

But when the note uses past tense words to talk about Native peoples... that book loses so much potential. And when that author fails to include Native peoples in the pages of the book itself, I am compelled to give it a Not Recommended label.

Stating the obvious: we (Indigenous Peoples) are here, in spite of all that was done to get rid of us. Children's books must not use past tense, exclusively--especially when a book has present day information! Past tense verbs affirm the idea that we no longer exist. They represent a significant flaw in a book that some think is worthy of the Caldecott Medal.

As Cooper's note demonstrates, he knows about several different Native Nations (scroll down to the tweet thread for details). Why couldn't Cooper have included some information about Native peoples in the journey the woman takes in her canoe? Cooper imagines a lot of people the woman interacts with on her canoe trip--but none of them are Native. On the endpapers where Cooper shows us maps of the states that the Hudson River passes through, he could have included "Homelands of the ___" and use his author's note to add that information to the maps. Any author or illustrator makes a lot of decisions as they create a book. Cooper has some knowledge and chose not to include it in the book. Why did he make that decision? Did it not occur to him? Did it not occur to his editors? Or, did they talk about it and decide not to use that information?

There is an expectation in children's literature that you should review the book in front of you, and not what you think the book could have been. Roger Sutton wrote about that recently at his blog (see Reviewing the book thats in front of your face). To use Roger's words, I'm committing a "cardinal sin" for questioning Cooper's omissions. His choice of words to describe that act is worth noting because it is rooted in a religion (Christianity) that was, and is, destructive to other religions and cultures. Regular readers of my work know that I've committed that "sin" a lot when I review books. Not asking questions about what is left out means letting the status quo continue as the status quo.

And of course, I won't stop asking questions!

And I hope you join me in asking them, too. River is published by Scholastic--the publisher who does book fairs in schools. You probably remember buying Scholastic books when you were a kid! They're a powerful company in schools. They shape what kids know. They can do better! #StepUpScholastic is an action to pressure them to do better.

I imagine some people saying, as they read my critique of River, that I should be grateful that Cooper included Native peoples in his note. I am, but, limiting his references to past tense is a selective inclusion that is insufficient when the book is set in the present day.

Before moving on to the Twitter thread (which has been slightly edited), I'll say again: I do not recommend River by Elisha Cooper.


Hey, Editor (at @Scholastic) of Alisha Cooper's RIVER:

She He used past tense verbs about Native peoples in his book about the Hudson:
It was called Cahohatatea ("The River") by the Iroquois who canoed it...

You do know that the peoples of the Haudenosaunee Nations are still here, right? So... why past tense?

You repeated the past tense error when you wrote parenthetically that
(Mohicans called it Huhheakantuck, or "The River that Flows Both Ways"). 
Did you talk to anybody at the Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Mohican Indians?

Your past tense tells us one of two things.

First, past tense when referring to Native peoples affirms the idea that Native peoples do not exist, today. Of course, that is an error. Second, if we assume that you think readers know that we are still here, then, you're telling readers that these nations no longer use those words.

If they don't, can you offer us evidence that you talked to someone who told you not to use those Native languages? Cooper's THE RIVER is getting lot of praise. You know... white woman going on a canoe trip alone... Whiteness loves that sort of thing. So, I'm not surprised it is getting praised.

BUT, COME ON, @Scholastic! What's with that Author's Note?! 

Note: Cooper’s first name is Elisha, not Alicia. And Cooper is he, not she. My apologies for that error. 

And a note to folks at Kirkus, School Library Journal, Horn Book, and ALA Booklist: if you have an in-house style or review guide, add something about verb tense! You have a lot of power to increase knowledge about this.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Not Recommended: CODE WORD COURAGE by Kirby Larson

Code Word Courage
Written by Kirby Larson
Published in 2018
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Not Recommended


In 2018, a reader wrote to ask me about Kirby Larson's Code Word Courage. Here's the description:

Billie has lived with her great-aunt ever since her mom passed away and her dad left. Billie's big brother, Leo, is about to leave, too, for the warfront. But first, she gets one more weekend with him at the ranch.
Billie's surprised when Leo brings home a fellow Marine from boot camp, Denny. She has so much to ask Leo -- about losing her best friend and trying to find their father -- but Denny, who is Navajo, or Diné, comes with something special: a gorgeous, but injured, stray dog. As Billie cares for the dog, whom they name Bear, she and Bear grow deeply attached to each other.
Soon enough, it's time for Leo and Denny, a Navajo Code Talker, to ship out. Billie does her part for the war effort, but she worries whether Leo and Denny will make it home, whether she'll find a new friend, and if her father will ever come back. Can Bear help Billie -- and Denny -- find what's most important?
A powerful tale about unsung heroism on the WWII battlefield and the home front.

In May (of 2019), I saw Code Word Courage on the International Literacy Association's "Teachers' Choices 2019 Reading List" of books. Books on it are described as being "exceptional for curriculum use." That means that teachers are being encouraged to use the book to teach children. What do they learn from Larson's book?

Code Word Courage is a story about a White girl named Billie, a dog named Bear, and a Diné (Navajo) man named Denny Begay (and Denny's friend, Jesse, who is also a Code Talker).

The author, Kirby Larson, is White.

What we have in Code Word Courage is a White woman of the present day (Larson), creating dialogue, thoughts, emotions and actions of Native men who were born on the Navajo reservation in about 1926.

That is a difficult task.

In her Author's note, Larson writes:
Though I had tremendous input from people like Dr. Roy Hawthorne, one of the Navajo Code Talkers, and Michael Smith, son of Code Talker Samuel "Jesse" Smith, Sr., it is possible that I have made some mistakes in relating this story. I beg forgiveness in advance.
She says in that note, that it is possible she has made some mistakes and she begs forgiveness if those mistakes are there. Sounds good, but that disclaimer doesn't work for teachers in a classroom who don't know the mistakes are there. And if those mistakes are there, she's asking teachers--and students--to forgive her for making them. She wants them to feel bad for her--not for the people who are misrepresented by her errors.

In her Acknowledgements, Larson writes that she asked Michael Smith to read the parts about Denny. She said that she's
"so grateful for his guidance, corrections, and encouragement. In honor of his kindness, and with his permission, I have named one of the characters in this book after his father." 
See "corrections" in that first sentence? Michael Smith told her some things she had written were in need of correction. We can assume that she made those corrections, but she didn't say something like 'I made every correction he asked for' -- so, we don't know for sure. Instead, she tells us that she named a character after his father. What is the impact of that naming, on him? Is it something he feels good about? Maybe. But maybe not--and if he doesn't like what she did--is his dad's name in the book causing him to be quiet about problems that didn't get corrected?

I know--that's a lot of speculation on my part but I find it unsettling.

In the story Larson tells, we learn that Denny spent his early years with his family and then went to boarding school when he was eight. In chapter 7, we read his thoughts about "customs" his people did "after the Long Walk."

This is the text on page 49 (the first page of chapter 7):
"His mother had awakened him before dawn since he could remember, sometimes throwing him in winter's first snow to toughen him up, sometimes urging him to run east as far and as fast as he could. His grandmother said these customs started after the Long Walk, when so many People perished. Every Diné mother wanted her children strong enough to survive should such an atrocity ever happen again." 

Through Denny, Larson is telling readers that an event that took place in 1864 led the Navajo people to create two "customs" so they would be able to survive "atrocity" if it happened again. The two "customs", she says, are 1) throwing a child in winter's first snow to toughen them up, and 2) running east as far and as fast as they can.

Fact: tribal nations have cultural ways and traditions going back centuries. We have words--in our languages--for things we do. White writers (especially anthropologists) use "custom" for some of these things. Sometimes, Native scholars and writers use that word, too. So, presumably Larson is using "custom" because that is what she read in her sources.

Larson tells us that one of her sources is Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez, with Judith Schiess Avila. In that book, Nez wrote about his childhood. In that book, Nez writes (Kindle location 969):
Grandma told us about her childhood. My eyes drifted close. It had been a long day. In less than a month, school would resume for me, Coolidge, and Dora. I wished that I could stay home and spend the winter with my family. As I drifted to sleep, I pictured snow, deep around the hogan. When I was very young, sometimes my brothers and I stripped naked in the snow, and Father rolled us in a snowbank. This Navajo tradition toughed us children against winter cold. 
I highlighted those last two sentences. Remember, Larson tells us that children were "thrown" into the snow. Nez says they were rolled in a snowbank. He also says it was done to toughen them against winter cold. No mention of anything to do with the Long Walk. Nez talks about directions (east, especially) several times in his book, but none of those instances have anything to do with the Long Walk.

I think the information Larson presented in chapter 7 is incorrect. It will, however, be the sort of thing that students will "learn" as they read this book--especially given that the International Literacy Association is encouraging use of the book in schools.

There are other problems in the book. I did a Twitter thread on May 11, 2019, as I read Larson's book. I'm pasting it below, for your reference. In short, I do not recommend Code Word Courage.


May 11, 2019

Been unable to get to CODE WORD COURAGE by Kirby Larson for too long. It is top of the stack today. 

One of the resources I'll use as I read it is Laura Tohe's CODE TALKER STORIES. Tohe is Diné. (Kirby Larson is not.)

I'm on page 32 of Larson's book. I have many post it notes in the book already but am pausing on page 32 because of the way the Diné (Navajo) character's identity is presented in the book. "Big-Water Clan" and "Red-Cheek-People Clan." It is the hyphens that give me pause.

One reason I'm reading CODE WORD COURAGE today is because it is on the International Literacy Association's "Teachers Choices" book list.

Re Larson's use of hyphens, I don't see them used in Tohe's book or in Jennifer Denetdale's RECLAIMING DINÉ HISTORY, where she writes that she "was born for 'Áshiihí (Salt People).

I wonder why they're in Larson's book? An editor's decision, maybe?

Finished rdg CODE WORD COURAGE by Kirby Larson. Now, adding my notes/thoughts to this thread.

On page 13, we meet Denny Begay, the Diné (Navajo) character. He's been at boot camp with a white guy named Leo. They're on their way to see Leo's aunt and sister.

The book is arranged (mostly) in alternating chapters. Chapter 1 is "Billie" (Leo's sister) and chapter 2 is "Denny" and so on thru the rest of the book.

Leo and Denny are hitchhiking but cars pass them by. Leo is surprised because that hasn't happened to him before. We're reading Denny's thoughts. He's surprised Leo doesn't realize that he (Denny)--an Indian--is the reason people are not picking them up.

He thinks abt being taken to boarding school when when he was 8, where the principal would wash his mouth w soap when he spoke Navajo.

Denny hears a sound that Leo can't hear. "All those years of watching his mother's sheep had trained him to recognize the sound of an injured animal" (p. 14).

CODE WORD COURAGE is one bk in Larson's series of dog stories. The sound Denny hears is a dog.

What we have in these chapters about Denny is Larson imagining his thoughts and feelings. In short: a white woman of the present day is imagining the words, thoughts and feelings of a Diné man of the 1940s.

In her Acknowledgements, Larson writes that Michael Smith, son of Code Talker Samuel Jesse Smith, "read the Denny portions of this book." He gave her "guidance, corrections, and encouragement."

To "honor his kindness, and with his permission," she named a character after his father. That character is with Denny in the chapters where Denny is learning the code and then on a ship and finally, on shore at Iwo Jima.

Jesse and Denny both have corn pollen with them. Jesse uses his and says Diné prayers; Denny does not.

Those parts (use of the corn pollen, words spoken) make me uneasy. Are they accurate? Did Michael Smith say anything about that being in the bk?

My personal and professional preference is that content specific to a Native peoples' spiritual ways NOT be in a bk written by someone who is not of that tribal nation.

Last yr I thought that what Roanhorse had in TRAIL OF LIGHTNING was ok because she had a Diné reader.

And so, I recommended the book. I came to regret that recommendation, as I've written, here. Please follow that link. Many Diné writers feel that Roanhorse appropriated their ways.

And they feel that she mis-used those ways, too. For your convenience, here's a letter they wrote about her and her book: Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs.

I wonder how they'd feel about what Larson has done? She says Michael Smith guided her. Roanhorse had a Navajo reader, too. It didn't matter. It is an example of disagreements within a specific group.

My position is to protect religious ways from being exploited.

I think Larson is on slippery ground with those parts of her book. Jesse's praying (with corn pollen) could have been included without any of those details.

As noted in tweet 8, Denny finds a dog. In its eyes, Denny sees the "familiar pain of rejection." He thinks they have rejection in common and "In eighteen years, the first time he'd felt accepted was at boot camp" (p. 15) where everyone was treated like crap.

That "eighteen years" is a problem for me. He lived at home until he was eight, remember? So... did he feel rejection when living at home as a child? (Answer is, no.) That "eighteen years" is something an editor should have caught.

Something passes between the dog and Denny as they look at each other. I'm noting that moment because later in the story when Denny is at Iwo Jima, the dog seems to appear to him.

I haven't read Larson's other dog bks. Is that a theme in them (a special relationship between a person and a dog, and then the dog appearing in a spiritual way, later)?

Once they get to Leo's house and are eating dinner, Denny tells Billie that his dad's favorite author was Jules Verne. That's possible but it stuck out to me, especially when later, Denny thinks about a John Wayne movie. To many Native ppl, John Wayne gets a thumbs down.

Denny says that "Uncle Sam put all us Navajos in the Marines" (p. 32). I don't think that is accurate. Thousands of Navajos enlisted. I doubt every one of them was put in the Marines.

How would Denny have that information? He just got out of boot camp.

On page 49, Denny is remembering his mother waking him before dawn, sometimes throwing him in the snow "to toughen him up" and sometimes telling him to run east as fast and as far as he could. His grandmother said they started doing these "customs" after the Long Walk.

Getting up and facing east every morning, and running is something he still does. It is habit.

That feels to me like a consistency error. He probably did that before boarding school but once there, could he have done that running east? Doubtful.

And I'd like to know Larson's source for that "custom." Why run east, fast? To get away from the soldiers who were forcing the Navajos on that Long Walk? Something feels off about "east" and these "customs" after the Long Walk.

On p. 68 Denny reaches into the buckskin bag he wears around his neck (on p. 33 when Billie saw it, he could tell she wondered what was inside; what he kept in it was personal/private but that he could tell her a little--that it has "corn pollen and tokens") and gives her a turquoise stone as a way of thanking her for being so nice to him while he was visiting them.

Billie wonders if it is magic and can grant wishes.

I wonder how kids are interpreting that? There's no check on that idea on the page (or elsewhere).

On p 103, Denny is on duty, in a room where there will be a "little test" of the code, which is in development.

The way he and the other 18 Diné men reply to the Lieutenant reminds him of boarding school where people "could see only skin color."

That's a bit slippery, too. The boarding schools weren't about the color of Native people's skin. They were about their status as tribal members/citizens of sovereign nations. The schools were a govt assimilation program to undermine Native nationhood status.

Denny remembers getting to the school and the matron examining his long hair for lice three times. She didn't find any but cut his hair anyway.

I don't think that's accurate. Hair was cut, no matter what. The way Larson writes that part suggests that if a person had long hair and no lice, they could keep their hair long. That did not happen. Hair was cut, period.

There's a Mexican American family in Larson's bk, too. The father works for Billie's aunt, managing her ranch. The boy, Tito, is in Billie's class at school. They become friends. The bully in the story picks on Tito a lot.

The bully picks on Billie, too, but the taunts at Tito are because of his identity. At Valentines Day the class makes heart cards to send to the hospital at Camp Pendleton. Tito writes a message in Spanish.

The bully tells their teacher that the cards are "going to Americans" and "should be in American." The teacher tells him "you mean English" and then realizes why the bully is asking the question.

It is good that she's not racist like the bully, but her pushback on him is not ok. She talks abt a newsreel that had "white faces, brown faces, black faces. Even the faces of men of Japanese heritage." (p. 162).

She pats her heart and says "It reminded me that, here in America, we may all come from different places" (p. 162).

No. That sounds like the "we are all immigrants" thinking that, in essence, erases Indigenous people.

Several times, Billie refers to things that Tito's family makes, like tamales. The references to food are superficial decorative in nature. And the references to "home made tortillas" are odd. The story is set in 1944. Were there factory-made tortillas then?

Some of the things I'm pointing out might seem picky, but if you're of the people whose ways are being used by Larson in ways that don't jibe with you and what you know, they are not small problems.

On page 168 is a chapter for the dog. Oh! I should have said earlier. His name is Bear. In this chapter, Larson imagines Bear's thinking. It is nighttime and he's uneasy. He feels like he is being called. He paces. "Soon, he must answer that call."

Immediately following that line is a Denny chapter, dated Feb 19, 1945. He's heading to Iwo Jima. Skipping past some Billie chapters, there's another Denny chapter, dated Feb 19 to Feb 22. That's when he imagines Bear is with him.

And Bear, as Larson told us in the Bear chapter, feels that he is being called. Way back in the early part of this thread, I noted that when Bear and Denny first made eye-contact, Larson wrote that some thing passed between them.

I think we're supposed to feel the love of a dog/human relationship. Maybe that's what this whole WWII Dogs series is about, but given Billie's wonderings abt magic (the turquoise stone), how are kid-readers making sense of all this?

CODE WORD COURAGE ends somewhat abruptly. There's some chapters near the end abt Tito getting hurt and rescued, with Bear playing a role in that. But then it leaps ahead about 30 years. Denny is living in a hogan on the reservation. Billie (now a woman in her 40s) visits him.

They sit to have coffee; she pulls a book from her bag: NAVAJO CODE TALKERS. He hadn't talked with the author but some of his friends had. Billie asks if this is his story, too. He says yes.

She says "When you were little, they tried to prevent you from speaking Navajo, and then the language ends up winning the war for us." He says he wouldn't say that. She wants to know what he would say...

Denny pats his pouch. The last words on page 233 are:
"The Diné custom was to tell stories during the winter, when snow blanketed the ground. But Denny decided today he could make an exception. For Billie."
Indigenous people tell stories at certain times of the year. But I think that is certain kinds of stories, not all stories.

In this ending (created by a White woman), a Diné man is going to break his peoples custom to tell a White woman a story that we're supposed to believe should not be told till winter?

I really don't like White people creating stories where their Indigenous characters break traditional teachings.

Conclusion, now that I'm finished reading and thinking about Kirby Larson's CODE WORD COURAGE? When I pull these thoughts into a review on American Indians in Children's Literature, it will have a NOT RECOMMENDED tag.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Not Recommended: STONE RIVER CROSSING by Tim Tingle

In the Acknowledgements of Stone River Crossing, Tim Tingle thanks me as a friend and colleague "in the drive to educate" and it is with that drive that I offer this critique of his book.
Stone River Crossing
Published in 2019 by Lee and Low
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Status: Not recommended


As I've said before about Tim's books, it is important--crucial, actually--that teachers take note that he emphasizes the sovereign nation status of the people in the stories he creates. He does that with Stone River Crossing, too. The time and location of the story are the first words we see after the title of chapter 1. Those words:
1808, City of Bok Chitto, Choctaw Nation
The story opens with a Choctaw family. A Choctaw girl, specifically, named Martha Tom. There's a wedding planned for that day and her mom sends her out to pick blackberries [Note on Dec 16: I typed "blueberries" in the review and have since corrected that error]. All the blackberries on their side of the river are gone, so, she crosses the river. On the other side is a plantation. There are many berries there, because:
No one ever picks berries on that side of the river. They're too busy picking cotton, and the guards never let the slave workers get close to the river.
She goes on picking and eating berries and gets lost. She remembers her mother's warnings not to play by the river:
The plantation guards will capture you. They will make you a slave, just like the field workers. 
Reading "slave workers" and "field workers" stopped me. Those words reminded me of news articles in 2015 about a McGraw Hill textbook that used the word "workers" as follows:
The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.
An African American parent, Roni Dean-Burren, posted a screenshot of her text exchange with her 9th grade son, over that passage in his textbook. You can see their texts on Instagram. McGraw Hill subsequently issued a statement that said, in part:
"...we conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves."
"Workers" or variations of it appear several times in Stone River Crossing. Some examples:

  • The church on the plantation is "the field workers' church"
  • "Field workers" toss cotton bolls into their shoulder bags
  • "House servants" greet Choctaw visitors
  • "Well dressed household workers" tie Choctaw ponies to a railing
And, the Choctaw girl who is enslaved in the home of a plantation owner is referred to as a "household worker" by her father, Hattak Chula.

My question is: why is the word "worker" used so much in this book? Is it an effort not to use "slave"? There's been a lot of writing in recent years about that word. Instead of "slave" people are asked to use "enslaved" person/man/woman/child so that people are not objectified and so that the institution of slavery is seen as something that people did to other people.

To work on this review, I listened to a Teaching Tolerance podcast, Teaching Slavery Through Children's Literature. Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas was the guest. There's a lot of hard thinking going on, about how to--and how not to--include slavery and enslaved peoples in children's books! It is a very complex conversation.

As I think about that conversation and the words used in Stone River Crossing, I wonder if Tingle and his editor were having those hard conversations and chose to use workers to avoid objectifying the Black characters in this story? Of course, intent doesn't matter. And, in fact, the word slave appears 52 times (I have a Kindle copy of the book).

What matters is the impact on the reader, and I think that "worker" is like the problem in the McGraw Hill textbook. Stone River Crossing, then, doesn't work.

I'm still thinking--hard--about this! We are in a moment of that "drive to educate" that Tim said in his acknowledgment. I'll be back if/when I've done more reading and have more to say. And--I'm not sure what I've said makes any sense! That's the complexity of the topic of writing about slavery.