Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not Recommended: Conrad Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST

The Light in the Forest
Written by Conrad Richter
Published in 1953
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended


More than once over the years, someone has written to ask me about Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest. Given its age (published in 1953), I suspected it would have problematic content and I suppose I didn't have the energy at the moment to do anything with it. Last week, I decided to give it a try. As you see by red X on the three book covers above, my initial suspicions were correct. The Light in the Forest is not recommended. The cover on the right is the spin off version that came out when Disney turned Richter's book into a movie in 1958. A fraud--Iron Eyes Cody--was the "technical advisor" for that film. 

I read the acknowledgements and chapter one of Richter's book and did a series of tweets as I read. I'm copying them here:

In the acknowledgements, Richter says he was struck by stories of white captives who had been returned to their white families, but who wanted to run away to rejoin the Indian home where they'd lived.
As a small boy, Richter wanted to run away to live "among the savages."

The acknowledgement is romantic (and stereotypical) in tone. It says Indians were repelled by American ideals and restrained manner. I don't know what ideals Richter had in mind but "restrained" on the heels of "savages" might be a hint of what is to come as I read the book.

The main character is 15. He's white and has been living with Indians as an adopted son since he was 4. The village has received word that they must give up their white prisoners.
He is shocked that it includes him.

Cuyloga (the Indian man who adopted him) had "said words that took out his white blood and put Indian blood in its place." He was thereafter called True Son.
I'm always curious as to how a writer comes up with a Native name for a character. I looked up Cuyloga...

... and got hits to Sparknotes and Cliffsnotes and gradesaver and enotes and quizlet and coursehero.... all of which tell me the book is used a lot in schools.

I think we're meant to think that "Cuyloga" is a Lenape word. The people in this village would probably speak Lenape. But Cuyloga gave this white child he adopted an English name: "True Son." I wonder if Richter will use "True Son" throughout, or if he'll use a Lenape name?

In the first para of ch 1, we learn that Cuyloga taught True Son to "endure pain." True Son holds a hot stone from the fire "on his flesh to see how long he could stand it." In winter, Cuyloga sat smoking on the bank while True Son sat in the icy river till Cuyloga said ok.

True Son doesn't want to be returned to the whites, so he blackens his face (why?!) and hides in a hollow tree. But, Cuyloga finds him. True Son is "tied up in his father's cabin like some prisoner to be burned at the stake."
Burned at the stake?! Again,
Woman facepalming

Cuyloga takes True Son to the soldiers nearby. True Son resists, which embarrasses Cuyloga. He leaves and True Son imagines their village and its "warriors and hunters, squaws, and the boys, dogs and girls he had played with."

I've read enough of Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST to know I will be asking people not to use it. It is old, stereotypical, and there are better choices. If the goal is to study conflicts between Native and White people, Erdrich's BIRCHBARK HOUSE is much better!

Today I'll expand a bit on some of what I noted in those tweets. 

Richter's idea that Native people teach their kids how to "endure pain" is something I see a lot. I've not traced that down to see where it came from and I'm not doing it now. Certainly, Native and non-Native parents in the past and in the present, teach their kids things they need to know to live. But come on: pulling a stone from a fire and putting it on your flesh... that would cause injury! It doesn't make sense to me. 

That "burned at the stake" bit is also a common occurrence and it, too, makes me wonder where it came from. If you've watched old westerns--or even new things like the television series of Little House on the Prairie--you've seen Indians tying someone at a stake and then lighting a fire to burn them alive. You probably remember that Europeans did that to people they thought were heretics or witches. (There's another popular trope that isn't in Richter's book but that you should be wary of: that a captive would be cooked alive in a pot and then eaten.) From what I can tell there's one incident of a white person being "tied to a stake" and tortured. That's William Crawford and I'll be doing research on that to see what I find. I welcome your research into all this, and if you find things of note, let us know in a comment.

I noted that "True Son" uses the word "squaw." A search of the text indicates it appears 20 times. Reading those passages, it is clear that "True Son" has a derogatory view of women, Native or otherwise. Richter's story depicts them as a beast of labor whose work is beneath that of a man. 

The word "Injun" eleven times, and scalp (or variations of it) appear 43 times. The emails I get from teachers who want to use the book... now, they make me cringe. Obviously the book is a lot like Little House on the Prairie: holding quite a solid space in peoples' reading memory, coupled with the idea that this is a good book. It is not. I do not recommend it. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020


Recently, a reader of AICL wrote to me (Debbie) to say they'd been looking through editions of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses in their library. They had seen my 2017 post about depictions of Native peoples in various editions. 

They sent me photos of the poem, "Travel." Here's the edition illustrated by Tasha Tudor:

In Tudor's edition I circled a line. Here's the full verse:  

Where are forests, hot as fire,

Wide as England, tall as a spire,

Full of apes and cocoa-nuts

And the negro hunters' huts;


Here's the edition illustrated by Brian Wildsmith (I think it came out in 1966):

Instead of "and the Negro hunter's huts", the line is "And the brave hunters' huts". When the Wildsmith edition was being done, who made the decision to change that word? 

The "Travel" poem itself is a lot like "Foreign Children." Both poems center whiteness. Those who are not white are depicted in racist and exotic ways. 

Here's "Foreign Children" in the Tudor edition:

As people in the U.S. and elsewhere tend to racism and bias in statues, I wonder what we'll see in books like A Child's Garden of Verses? It gets published over and over with different illustrators. Will that taper off? Will changes to what gets included in it change? Do you work in a library? What versions are on your shelves? What do you see in them when you read them, or when you compare them with other editions? A growing awareness of racism and bias is a plus for everyone. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Some Things We're Learning: More about IPH4YP

Once An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People was out in the world, we heard from reviewers and other readers about topics they would have liked to see covered in the adaptation. Their suggestions included attention to Two Spirit people in Indigenous history, and to relations between Native peoples and Black people in what's currently called North America, from colonization to the present. 

We hope to one day be able to have a second edition of IPH4YP, where we can make those kinds of additions. But it's uncertain whether that will happen. Meanwhile, we're reading and doing research so we can write meaningfully about those subjects.

For about a year, we've maintained a companion website for the book, at We hoped people would go there to let us know what else they think should be part of IPH4YP, but the Comments section hasn't had a lot of action. 

We've decided to be more proactive. We're planning a series of posts on IPH4YP, to share what we learn about some of the topics suggested by readers. 

The first very large topic we're looking at is Native-Black relations, starting from questions and thoughts that come up as we do a close reading of Tiya Miles' Ties That Bind: The Story of An Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and in Freedom (Second edition).  If a second edition happens, we will draw on those to create new text. If there's no second edition, the posts can still be resources for educators, parents, and other readers who want to go beyond what's in IPH4YP. These posts will be pretty informal and will include information from our readings on the topics, plus questions we're asking ourselves for further study, and lists of resources people can use to follow up on their own. We'll direct them to some of our favorite research rabbit-holes.  

We invite you to take a look at our first entry in this project, which went up on 8/18/2020. "Slavery and Early Treaties" takes off from Dr. Miles' text, with a look at how some early treaties between the US and Native Nations talked about and positioned Black people. Future posts will look at things we find out about other treaties, British colonizer use of propaganda to influence Indigenous peoples against people of African descent, enslavement of people of African descent by Native people, and the experiences of "Black Indians". 

We hope you'll go there, and read and comment. What you have to say is likely to help us think more clearly about the topics at hand, and how we might eventually incorporate them into a second edition.

By the way, Ties That Bind is giving us lots to think, talk, and write about, and we think many of you might have the same reaction, so do see about getting a copy if you haven't read it. It's not a book for children, but Miles' scholarship, her ways with words, and the importance of the topic make it essential reading.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Monster That Eats Villages: White Anti-Indigenous Raceshifting in Canada

by Jean Mendoza

Pre-COVID, when Durango and I took road trips with our grandkids, they often asked to hear our storytelling CDs by Dovie Thomason (Lakota/Kiowa Apache). One of her creepiest stories, from Wopila: A Giveaway, is a tale that begins when some men, on the way home from hunting, hear a baby's cry. One man follows the sound, and returns to the group carrying an infant. The others are wary about this, but he insists that they take the baby to their village. 

There, the child is welcomed and given to a young woman to raise. But that night, she notices something strange about the sleeping child: echoes of human cries and screams seem to emanate from him. Soon, it's (quietly) determined that the "baby" is actually Iya, a shape-shifting monster that gains access to villages by trickery, then swallows them whole. 

I won't spoil Dovie's gift by giving away the ending. But I do want to talk about how that story intersects with some scholarly reading I've been doing.

Darryl Leroux's Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity (University of Manitoba Press, 2019) takes a close look at a particular set of non-Native people who claim Native identity. 

As you may already know, that phenomenon has been around a long time on what's currently called North America. The perpetrators tend to be white, and have a variety of motivations for their claims. Some "admire" Native people and view Nativeness as a space where they can somehow belong just because they want to. For some, it's a career boost. It helps them to stand out from other white people in otherwise crowded fields. Maybe it helps them get a job in academia or with a Native nation, or garners them extra attention as an artist, novelist, or speaker. Sometimes the motives (and the individual's confidence that they won't eventually get called out) are hard to figure out, as with white writers like Joseph Boyden, "Jamake Highwater," and John Smelcer who have falsely claimed to be Indigenous. Recently, Native and mainstream media covered a case of faux-Indigenous identity with an especially sick twist: a white person essentially created the persona of a Native scholar, and posted on social media under that identity for several years. This masquerade became public knowledge (though some, especially Native scholars, had long suspected it) when the perpetrator decided to kill off the alter-ego via COVID, and the "death" couldn't be confirmed.

Then there are the faux-"tribal" organizations that a white person in what's currently the United States can join, often for some amount of money. Many of these provide cover for non-Natives seeking personal gain, such as through lucrative government contracts that give priority to businesses owned by BIPOC.

Those fakeries are not a part of Leroux's research. Though they are examples of what he calls "raceshifting," what Leroux has studied takes the identity fraud to a whole different level. Leroux is not Native, by the way. He's looking at what amounts to a movement, in which large numbers of French-descendant white Canadians have begun "self-Indigenizing" with very particular anti-Indigenous goals. This practice, Leroux says, has been growing by leaps and bounds for the past 20 years. Though it's not confined to white-presenting people of French descent or to Canadians, his primary focus is on people who claim to be "Eastern Métis" (or sometimes "Quebec métis), a category that Leroux notes has no real historical basis.

To be clear: there are peoples with legitimate Métis identity. If what I say here is incorrect in any way, I hope Métis readers will jump in and correct me. Their homelands mainly are considered to be in what are currently known as Canada's Western provinces, and parts of the northern US. Their culture and language are based on kinship relations between early French-speaking settlers and the Plains Cree, Salteaux, Assiniboine, and Dene peoples. Métis in French is equivalent to the English word "mixed." According to what I've read about the language (Michif), it combines elements of French, Cree, and some Ojibwe, and has a complex grammar and syntax. It is considered an endangered language. 

The true Métis identity comes with a history of struggle, bloodshed, and heroism. You can find some of this history woven into the graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo by Katharena Vermette. We've recommended Echo books on AICL. 

But the self-Indigenizing "Eastern Métis" have no interest in that history. They do not claim to be descendants of people stolen from their Indigenous families by boarding schools, "adopting out", or other government policies and practices. They're not trying to find a way home. If they were, Leroux points out, First Nations have mechanisms for dealing with their circumstances.

Instead, these raceshifters tend to be openly contemptuous of Indigenous peoples. They hold (one might say they cherish) negative stereotypes and blatantly white supremacist beliefs about First Nations. They have no interest in traditions (unlike white New-Agers in the US), or in revitalizing endangered Native languages. French is the only language they express concern about preserving.

Their sole interest lies in Native rights -- specifically, in getting those rights for themselves. Hunting and fishing rights are particularly important to a number of the raceshifters. In fact, Leroux found, hunting and fishing organizations are where a great many of them got to know each other.  Some have met through white-rights groups. Leroux found them openly, actively committed to opposing Indigenous land and territorial negotiations. They make no secret of these goals -- not in online forums, in court, nor in their conversations with Leroux. You might say they are deeply and proudly committed to making sure the part of the world they're in stays as colonized as possible.

They have no real understanding of the background of the legal relations between Canada and First Nations and Métis, nor do they care about it. What they know is that the First Nations people seem to have some things they feel should be theirs (e.g., the right to hunt or fish freely in certain places over which Indigenous people -- with good reason -- have jurisdiction). They saw that the quickest way to get those things would be to claim Indigenous ancestry.

So how do these proudly white-presenting raceshifters go about making themselves Indigenous? 

They can't simply claim that Great-Grandma was an Ojibwe princess; that doesn't work any more. Instead, Leroux found, they use circuitous genealogical and legal-system maneuvers. They comb through genealogies -- readily available partly because of the long-standing French Canadian interest in European heritage. They manage to trace their lineages to a few specific 17th-century women. Those women's birth records, marriage records, etc. indicate that they were French immigrants to what is now called Canada. But (sometimes with the help of genealogists of questionable repute) the raceshifters concoct Indigenous identities for the women, "discovering" that this or that ancestor from the 1600s was Ojibwe, Wendat, or some other Native identity --even when records clearly show that the supposed forebear was born in France, to French parents. Often with encouragement from others on online forums, aspiring "Eastern Métis" sidestep or ignore or flat-out lie about evidence that in fact their ancestry is purely European. Some have gone so far as to claim that there were obviously TWO persons named X in a given area in the 1600s, and THEIR ancestor of that name was Indigenous. 

All of this might be comical if the raceshifters didn't pose a threat to the political well-being of First Nations/Métis peoples. The (white) "Eastern Métis" number in the thousands. One of their manufactured "tribal" identities has some 20,000 members. There may be enough of them to turn the heads of elected officials who need Métis votes. Leroux recounts a situation in which they worked hard to mobilize local residents against the Innu and Mi'kmaq First Nations. Raceshifters may even get elected to office themselves, with direct power over the interpretation of First Nations' rights. 

Leroux's Raceshifting Web site includes a map showing the locations of faux-Metis organizations, and lists the court cases they've been involved in. In none of those cases were the fakers seeking greater rights for actual Indigenous people. Invariably, they saw those rights as illegitimate, and sought to erode them.   

At first, I was reading Distorted Descent in the end-of-the-day calm when I could take in Leroux's careful scholarship and the complexities of his research (not having encountered words like "haploid" for many years). But after a certain point in the book, I was so angry and horrified it was hard to fall asleep. My dreams were populated by monsters and I was unable to shout to spread an alarm. 

It seemed to me that in those dreams, the faux-Métis were the monsters -- like the evil Iya in Dovie's story, they disguise themselves in order to destroy and devour. Their unapologetic contempt for actual First Nations and Métis peoples, their self-justification, their racism, their trickery, and their ultimate goals, are infuriating and terrifying. Now I read Leroux's book in the full light of day, in small doses. Horror has never been a good genre for me, and Distorted Descent is, to me, a real-life, research-based horror story.

So why talk about this academic work on AICL? Because I have no doubt that before long, someone who claims to be "Eastern Métis" will write a children's book in what purports to be an authentic Métis voice. Readers, educators, librarians: be wary. Be informed. 

By all means, read Vermette's A Girl Called Echo series! And buy Dovie Thomason's CDs, and go see her in person when the COVID monster is vanquished.  

I'm not done reading Distorted Descent yet. Not wanting to make any unwarranted negative judgments in this post, I skimmed the conclusion to see if at least some of Leroux's subjects found a conscience and moved toward more ethical behavior.  I am sorry to say that -- as is the case with the monster Iya -- the antagonists in this story have no redemption arc.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Historical Fiction by Native Writers

On August 3, 2020, Debbie received an email from a teacher looking for historical fiction. She wrote that teachers in her school use Island of the Blue Dolphins and she doesn't want to use it (or others like it) because she's learning about flaws in popular and classic and award-winning books. What, she wonders, would we recommend? 

She's been looking at AICL and wonders if we have a list of historical fiction by Native writers (affiliations listed for each writer are from bios in their book or on their professional website; if we've listed yours incorrectly, please let us know and we will change it). 

This post today is meant to work towards providing teachers with a list of historical fiction that we recommend. We'll add to it over time. We are organizing it in a way that we hope is helpful: chronologically. As you'll see when you read on, we're listing books by decade but also have a final category for books that are volumes that span a wide range of years. 

But what would our end-year be?! 

We enjoyed talking about it because the definitions vary. A book set in the 1970s doesn't feel like historical fiction to Debbie (those were her teen years). But how does that book feel to a teen reader, today? Read Write Think (a project from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association) defines historical fiction as 30 years in the past. In the third edition of Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, Sylvia M. Vardell writes that historical fiction "is set at least one generation in the past." But, she also says, "that bar is movable as time keeps moving on" (page 191). With that in mind, we're including books set in the 1970s and we welcome your thoughts! And book suggestions, too.  


How I Became A Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (Oklahoma Choctaw). Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press. 

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story by Andrea L. Rogers (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2020 by Capstone Press.


The Birchbark House (and subsequent books in the series) by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe). Published in 1999 by Hyperion Books for Children.


Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2013 by 7th Generation. 



I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation) and Kathy Kacer. Published in 2016 by Second Story Press.


At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish). Published in 2019 by Kokila Press.


Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua, enrolled in Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) with Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books/Tu Books. 

My Name Is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (Salish). Published in 1997 by Douglas McIntyre. 


House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press.


If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ, (enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eel Clan). Published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.

Books that Span a Wide Range of Years

Saltypie by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press.

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish), Kristina Bad Hand (Sicangu Lakota & Cherokee), Roy Boney (Cherokee), Johnnie Diacon (enrolled member Mvskoke Nation), Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo), Geary Hobson (Cherokee-Quapaw/Chickasaw), Jonathan Nelson (Diné), Renee Nejo (Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians), Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo), Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), Theo Tso (Las Vegas Paiute).  Published in 2016 by Native Realities.

This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing), Sonny Assu (not specified), Tara Audibert (Maliseet), Kyle Charles (member of Whitefish Lake First Nation), GMB Chomichuk (not specified), Natasha Donovan (member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia), Scott A. Ford (not specified), Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), Scott B. Henderson (not specified), Ryan Howe (not specified), Andrew Lodwick (not specified),  Brandon Mitchell (Mi'kmaq), Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inuit-Cree), Sean Qitualik-Tinsley (not specified), David A. Robertson (member of Norway House Cree Nation), Niigaawewidam James Sinclair (Anishinaabe, St. Peter's/Little Peguis), Jen Storm (Ojibway, Couchiching First Nation), Richard Van Camp (member of Tlicho Nation), Katherena Vermette (Métis), Chelsea Vowel (Métis), Donovan Yaciuk (not specified). Published in 2019 by Highwater Press. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


On social media and in some newspapers, people are talking about a documentary about Laura Ingalls Wilder that is in development.

I've done a lot of writing about the books and Wilder. I am not a fan. I think they've got many problems that are not seen as such by most readers.

I've pulled a lot of my materials on Wilder out, and thought some AICL readers might be interested in seeing the original illustrations done by Helen Sewell, compared to what Garth Williams did. I'm using a hardcover copy of the Sewell book. I don't have the book jacket, but for your reference, it looked like this:

Little House on the Prairie: Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Illustrated by Helen Sewell.

Most of the books that have illustrations by Williams have the cover shown below (a notable exception was one that showed a photo of a little girl meant to be Laura).

So--here you go! I'll number the side-by-side photos as I place them here. If you want to, submit comments below and refer to the photo number when you refer to a specific one. Apologies for the rough quality of the photos! I don't have lighting or equipment to do a professional-looking presentation of the books. Today you'll see photos of the cover thru end of the first chapter. I'll add others as time permits.

As you'll see when you scroll down, I'm trying to match text on page whenever either book has an illustration. Why did Sewell make decisions she did? Or Williams? How much autonomy did they have? How much was determined by Wilder? Or by the book editor? Or by the art department?

I welcome your thoughts and if you can point to writings about any of this, please do! And if you use these for your own writing, please cite me (Debbie Reese) and AICL.


COVER (on left is Sewell; on right is Williams).

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My only observations at the moment for chapter one are that the Williams edition has more illustrations than the Sewell one. Four illustrations of the wagon versus one illustration of the girls clinging to their rag dolls. Quite different in tone, isn't it?

Update: July 29, 2020--Back to add photos of illustrations in chapter two, "Crossing the Creek"

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Observations: The Sewell edition has no illustrations in chapter 2. The Williams one has illustrations on four pages. Three of the four have the wagon, and Williams is bringing a visual emotional tone of danger and loss to the story.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Open Letter to Roger Goodell, from American Indians in Children's Literature

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Roger Goodell, Commissioner
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Goodell,

We write to you today as the editors of American Indians in Children's Literature. Established in 2006, AICL is widely recognized in Education, Children's Literature, and Library Science for its analyses of representation of Native peoples in children's books. 

We hold PhDs in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois and we have taught in public and private schools, and in universities and colleges. A primary emphasis of our work as educators is helping others recognize stereotypes of Native peoples in children's books. We believe that the Washington NFL team mascot enables similar mascots in professional and collegiate sports and in K-12 schools. As the images below demonstrate, stereotypes in children's books look a lot like the mascots. There are many examples like this: 

We agree with the requests put forth in the letter from Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, and the growing list of Native leaders who are signing their letter. The requests are:
  1. Require the Washington NFL team (Owner: Dan Snyder) to immediately change the name R*dsk*ns, a dictionary defined racial slur for Native Peoples.
  2. Require the Washington team to immediately cease the use of racialized Native American branding by eliminating any and all imagery of or evocative of Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise including the logo. This includes the use of Native terms, feathers, arrows, or monikers that assume the presence of Native American culture, as well as any characterization of any physical attributes.
  3. Cease the use of the 2016 Washington Post Poll and the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey which have been repeatedly used by the franchise and supporters to rationalize the use of the racist r-word name. These surveys were not academically vetted and were called unethical and inaccurate by the Native American Journalist Association as well as deemed damaging by other prominent organizations that represent Native Peoples. The NFL team must be held accountable to the various research studies conducted by scientists and scholars which find stereotypical images, names and the like are harmful to Native youth and the continued progress of the wellbeing of Native Peoples.
  4. Cease the use of the offensive, racial slur name “R*dsk*ns” immediately, and encourage journalists, writers and reporters to use the term in print only by using asterisks "R*dsk*ns" and to refer to the term verbally as the “r-word”.
  5. Ban all use of Native imagery, names, slur names, redface, appropriation of Native culture and spiritually as well as violence toward Native Peoples from the League.
  6. Apply the NFL’s “zero tolerance” for on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs to all races and ethnic groups, especially Native Peoples.
  7. Complete a full rebranding of the Washington team name, logo, mascot, and color scheme, to ensure that continuing harm is not perpetuated by anyone.
Item #5 is especially important. The University of Illinois retired its mascot in 2007, but not its name ("Fighting Illini"), and there was no effort to introduce a new mascot for the team. The result is that many alumni and students have nothing to shift their attachment to, and in that void, they continue to use and call for the reinstatement of "Chief Illiniwek."

As parents of Native children, we have first-hand knowledge of how mascots impact Native lives. Research done by Davis, Delano, Gone, and Fryberg demonstrates the need to let go of these mascots. You may already be aware that the American Psychological Association (APA) recommended retiring all "American Indian" mascots and imagery in its 2005 resolution on the topic, as did the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 2007.

The time for decisive action is long past, and we hope you will take that action, now.

Debbie Reese
Tribally enrolled: Nambé Pueblo
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Jean Mendoza
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Sunday, May 10, 2020

AICL Making A Difference

AICL Making A Difference
Posted by Debbie on May 10, 2020

The emails I get from parents, teachers, librarians, and professors about how they used a post (or several) from American Indians in Children's Literature to speak up to problematic texts being used in schools... those emails give me such a lift! I read one of them this morning.

I started AICL in 2006. Reading old and new books with wonderful content also gives me a lift. But--for those wonderful books to be embraced, people have to realize that a lot of books they adore have terrible Native content that shapes what they think they know about Native people. Reading those books and finding the words to say "this is not ok, and here's why" is hard work. I've pushed through emotional and intellectual fatigue again and again (there's over 1000 posts on AICL), but earlier this year (before COVID), I had reached the point that I needed to step away for a while, to recharge. As some of you know, Jean Mendoza joined me at AICL in 2016 and has been posting reviews. I'll return to reviews as soon as I can. In the interim, I might upload some brief posts that say "recommend" (or not recommended) and that a review will be forthcoming.

In the meantime... if a post at AICL has been helpful to you in your work, let us know. Two things sustain me: photos of children in my family (they are the audience for the books reviewed here on AICL) and hearing from you (and how you will/will not use a book with children).

I'll close this post with some personal photos. I spend most of my days making face masks for the local hospital's distribution project. And I go for walks with my dear husband and take photos of plants and animals we see. I miss my daughter and her partner! And my mom! And my siblings! Sewing masks and going on walks help me pass the hours but gosh I want to get on the road and walk into their homes and laugh and eat and do all the things we do.


I took this photo of these baby geese and their mother today at Boneyard Creek in Champaign. I got to wondering why the creek is called Boneyard and looked over at Wikipedia... that paragraph about Indians.... Research for another day.

Image may contain: grass, outdoor, nature and water

This photo is early morning after a night of hard rain. We saw lot of those trails that earthworms make as they crawl out of rain-soaked earth. I intended to get home and crop out the right half of the photo. But I loaded the entire photo to Facebook and realized that the camera's auto-focus on honed in on the tree branches reflected in the puddle. People were intrigued by the accidental composition of earth and sky and everything in between. 

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature

Most of my photos are of flowers. Ones on plants and ones on trees. They're all so gorgeous! All photos are taken with my iPhone, by the way. This one is done using the "portrait" mode. I finally figured out how to use it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Recommended: Inconvenient Skin by Shane L. Koyczan

Inconvenient Skin/nayehtawan wasakay
Written by Shane L. Koyczan 
Cree translation by Solomon Ratt
Illustrations by Nadya Kwandibens, Jim Logan, Kent Monkman, Joseph Sanchez
Published in 2019
Publisher: Theytus Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Recommended

"The cure will take as long as the sickness, and the sickness isn't yet over." (Shane Koyczan)

Inconvenient Skin is a message, in the form of art works and poetry in English and Cree, to the people and government of what is currently known as Canada. It's a message about a shameful part of the Canadian past that continues to infect the present: its residential schools for First Nations children. Although Skin is "about" Canada, its main message is relevant in what is currently called the United States. It speaks back fiercely against the notion that Native people, or settler-colonizer descendants,  should "get over the past," forget historical horror and injustice, and move forward while still in denial.

The book was inspired, if that's the right word, by the discouraging net result of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The commission was convened in 2008 to study the history and legacy of the residential schools. Its work included gathering (often traumatic) testimony from survivors. The final report and "calls to action" were published in 2015.

From the outset, Indigenous people in Canada had expressed doubts about the project. There has been profound disappointment that the commission's work resulted in few, if any, of the positive changes it seemed to call for.

The book's title is taken from the passage:
we are not free to shed our history
like an inconvenient skin
Inconvenient Skin holds a mirror of truth to Canada's beliefs about its goodness: "[O]ur nation is built above the bones of a genocide."

Canadians, Koyczan says, aspire to certain traits as a nation (e.g., kind, honest, strong, free), but he warns:
if we ever become
who we hope we are
it will be because we see how far there is still to go
and we know that if we are not these things to everyone
then we are none of these things
And Canada has not been, and is not "these things to everyone." The same can be said of the United States.

As narrator, Koyczan uses the pronouns "we" and "us" to speak directly to anyone who identifies as Canadian. Having a same-page Cree translation of his words signals that Indigenous peoples are not silent in the discourse about Canada's identity. They've never been silent, though they have been ignored, and certainly the residential schools had the mission of destroying Indigenous languages.

Koyczan doesn't identify as Indigenous, but says his father "had first-hand experience with residential school". He is learning about "missing chapters" of his origins, he says, by beginning to reconnect with his father.

Biographical material about translator Solomon Ratt states that he is also a residential school survivor.  He is an educator, focusing on teaching the Cree language. You can see some of his teaching videos and other work on the Cree Literacy Network Web site, including a collection called "Stay home: Learn Cree!" inspired by COVID-19 regulations.

You could say that the "work" of Inconvenient Skin happens on 3 levels: Koyczan's call for reflection and change, Solomon Ratt's Cree translation, and the powerful Indigenous perspectives presented by the contributing artists.

Kent Monkman's (Cree) emotionally charged cover painting, titled "The Scream," depicts priests, nuns, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dragging children away from their families. The same image appears later in the book. One of Monkman's satirical paintings is also featured. The paintings by Joseph Sanchez (Taos Pueblo) consist of spare patches of color and indistinct figures that suggest trauma and the closeness of death. Several of the mixed media works by Jim Logan (Metis), incorporate text to depict a variety of residential school experiences; their overall effect is devastating. Nadya Kwandibens' (Anishinaabe) photographs highlight the "Idle No More" movement that began in Canada in 2012, signaling contemporary Indigenous sovereignty, and resistance to Canada's ongoing failures relative to First Nations.

Be forewarned that this was not meant to be a gentle book. The words are an admonition, an accusation, a call to action; the pictures depict the reasons behind the words.

Koyczan recorded a spoken-word performance of Inconvenient Skin in 2017 that's definitely powerful. The video incorporates vocals by Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagak and Kym Gouchie (Lheidli T'enneh Nation). Before viewing or sharing the video, be aware that it uses some images of childhood trauma that are not used in the book.

Inconvenient Skin assumes that readers already know something about the residential/boarding schools. That may be true for Canadian teens. But teens in the US will probably need background information. They need to know, also, that the US and Canada have held (and hold) similar settler-colonial attitudes about Indigenous peoples, and that the goals, policies, and practices of the schools were very similar on either side of the border. It might help to first read the section about boarding schools in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. 

I doubt the US will have a truth and reconciliation commission in my lifetime. Awareness of the boarding schools may be increasing among non-Native people, but there remains a nearly bottomless pit of ignorance and denial about the aftermath of the schools for Native families and communities.

Inconvenient Skin can be a powerful catalyst for conversations about what the legacy of the boarding schools means for a country (be it Canada or the US), and those who identify as its citizens. We can predict that these conversations about ugly, painful stuff will be hard for descendants of settler-colonizers who allow themselves to engage in that work, be they adults or high school students. But they are necessary, because as Koyczan says,
this nation is not so sturdy
that it can sustain the weight of this blind spot in our memory
As the mother of Native kids, though, I'd ask that in high schools, Inconvenient Skin be recommended rather than required reading. Some of the art in particular depicts traumatic situations that may well be part of Indigenous families' experiences, and still "with them" in ways that can make discussion re-traumatizing. I'd insist that Native students be allowed to structure and direct discussions themselves on a purely voluntary basis, and that they could opt-in to those discussions. They should never be put on the spot or asked randomly to speak for their families, or for Native people in general.

That said, I think the foregrounding of Indigenous experience, and an Indigenous language, in Inconvenient Skin can serve as encouragement and empowerment for Native kids. If any readers of AICL have taught with this book, we'd like to hear how you went about it, and how it went.

This is one of the most compelling illustrated books I've seen about settler/Indigenous relations. No one should expect it to be something they can take lightly.

Edited 4/29/2020: You can buy a copy from Theytus Books, the oldest Indigenous publishing house in Canada. It's good to support Indigenous businesses!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: Grasshopper Girl by Teresa R. Peterson

Grasshopper Girl
by Teresa R. Peterson
Illustrated by Jordan Rodgers
Published by Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing
Published in 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly recommended

When you're little and you don't feel well, there's nothing quite like a hug and a story from someone you love to help you get better.

Grasshopper Girl is a warm-hearted little picture book about Psipsi, a 6-year-old Dakota girl. One day, Psipsi's legs ache and she has a fever, so her Ina (mother) sends her to bed early. She wishes Ate, her father, would come home from work and tell her a story. But Ina doesn't know when Ate will be back. So Psipsi lies there, thinking about her family, and what it will be like to have a friend at school, and how much she likes to jump. When Ina brings in Psipsi's baby brother for his nap, Psipsi sings him to sleep. She still doesn't feel well, though. Then the door opens. It's Ate! He hugs her, and tells her a Dakota story about Unktomi, the trickster. That's the comfort she needs. When that story ends, Ate tucks Psipsi in, and she drifts off to sleep.

Grasshopper Girl is the work of two Native book creators: author Teresa Peterson (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota) and artist Jordan Rodgers (Lakota). Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, a Native-owned press, is the publisher. So it's a tribally specific #ownvoices book.

The story takes place on "the Dakota reservation" in 1943. The author has said in interviews that elements of the book were drawn from her own mother's life, including the Unktomi story Ate tells. Psipsi's full name -- Psipsicadan Wicinyanna, or Grasshopper Girl -- is Peterson's mother's Dakota name.

The final page of the book includes a glossary of Dakota words, and the words appear throughout the story, followed by the English equivalent in parentheses. Non-Dakota readers who want help with pronunciation can refer to this alphabet video created by Dakota Wicohan (a language/culture revitalization project), and the Beginning Dakota Web site. Betsy Albert-Peacock at Black Bears and Blueberries recommended those resources. Thanks, Betsy!

Note that if you find other Dakota language resources, you may see that people have used more than one way to represent the sounds of the language. (Grasshopper Girl uses what's known as the Williamson and Riggs version.) The author's note explains a little about the Dakota language and efforts to keep it going. It feels great to be able to recommend a book that contributes to Dakota language preservation!

The author's note also gives some background information about the Unktomi story Ate tells Psipsi. If you've followed American Indians in Children's Literature for a while, you know how important it is for writers to be transparent about where such traditional stories come from. Peterson's explanation is very clear and credible. The fact that she embeds the old story in a realistic family situation is a strength of the book.

Jordan Rodgers' illustrations remind me of a good graphic novel, and I think they will appeal to the book's target audience. The characters' faces are very expressive (see example to right), and she brings in humorous details.

For example, in the "family photo" near the beginning of the book, Psipsi's two annoying older brothers are giving each other rabbit ears! I smiled at Psipsi's face when she pretends to be asleep while trying to see who has come into the room. And there's something comforting about Psipsi's quilt, and its presence on so many pages.

I also like how Rodgers represents Unktomi and the problems he creates for himself. You never quite see his face, even after his problem gets accidentally solved.

Grasshopper Girl would be a cozy bedtime read-aloud. Elementary age kids can read it themselves, too. You can order Grasshopper Girl directly from Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, or from Birchbark Books. Either way, you'll be supporting a Native-owned small enterprise, and Native book creators.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Recommended! Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax
Compiled by the Haayk Foundation
Illustrated by Huk Yuunsk (David Lang)
Publisher: Sealaska Heritage
Published in 2019
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Recommended

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax is a board book which suggests it is meant for toddlers, but because it teaches color words in Sm'algyax (the Tsimshian language) anybody can use it! Course, you want to hear the words spoken, too, and you can do that with this video:

This gorgeous board book is part of the Baby Raven Reads, a culturally responsive kindergarten readiness program. The tribally specific art is stunning, and I can imagine Native peoples across the continent creating similar books.

Sealaska's website has great materials. Take a look, for example, at Practicing Our Values, which is a blog post about what we can do, now that Coronavirus is impacting our lives.  Get some of the books at the site, or... some of the clothing items! The scarves are especially spectacular.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Not Recommended: JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George

Not Recommended: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Post by Debbie Reese

With COVID19, parents are spending more time with children who are home. I see parents talking about classics they read when they were young and reminiscing about those books. That is a problem! Many are outdated and racist. They cannot be justified as "a product of their time" because that justification assumes that everybody thought alike at that point in time--and that's just not true!

People who are misrepresented in classic or award winning books 
do not think like the white writers who misrepresented them! 

A good example is Julie of the Wolves. Way back in 2006 when I first launched this blog, I did a short post about Julie of the Wolves that linked to a review done by Martha Stackhouse. She is Inupiaq. I'm pasting that post here. It includes a link to Martha's review. Below is that post from 2006.


First published in 1972 by Harper & Row, Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973. It is included on a wide range of recommended book lists. It is available in audio and video; there is a sequel to it. Numerous teacher's guide and activity books are available for teachers to use when teaching the book. This is the summary of the Julie of the Wolves (from the Library of Congress):
"While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen year old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack."
A few days ago on child_lit (an Internet listserv for discussion of children's books), a subscriber posted a link to a review of the book on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network webpage. The reviewer, Martha Stackhouse, is Inupiaq. She points out misrepresentations and misconceptions of Inupiaq culture, and says
 "I humbly would not recommend the book to be put on school shelves."
Spend some time on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network pages. Read Martha Stackhouse's review of Julie of the Wolves. There is much to learn on their site about this and many other popular children's books set in Alaska (i.e. Gerald McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest).

To find the book reviews, go to Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature, and click on "Examining Alaska Children's Literature" and "Critiquing Indigenous Literature for Alaska's Children."


Update, May 11, 2020
We've recommended several terrific books you can choose that don't have problem of bias, stereotyping, misrepresentation, or appropriation. Take a look at the Best Books page. It links to lists we do at AICL and to books that the American Indian Library Association selected for its book awards.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Highly Recommended: The Forever Sky by Thomas Peacock

The Forever Sky
Written by Thomas Peacock
Illustrated by Annette S. Lee
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Published in 2019
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

My husband Durango is an artist and writer, and I value his reactions to the children's books Debbie and I study. He isn't always drawn to what's in my Books to Review pile. But when The Forever Sky was delivered during our first day of "shelter in place", I invited him to look it over.  When he finished, he asked, "What age is this for?" I said, "I think it could be for older kids, but they're saying ages 3-7." "How about 74?" he asked. (He's 74).

That sounds right to me. The central idea of The Forever Sky has emotional impact across generations, though the vocabulary and plot are not complex. The book touches on familial love, loss and healing, imagination, and how humans tell stories that make sense of the world, all in the context of Indigenous (Ojibwe) knowledge and perspective.

The text by Thomas Peacock (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Anishinaabe Ojibwe) would stand on its own, but the paintings by Annette S. Lee (Lakota-Sioux) add considerable depth and nuance. Example: The end papers (front and back) consist of a two-page spread showing two small, shadowy figures seated on a blue-gray rectangle at bottom, slightly off-center. They are surrounded by swirls of deep night-time blues and greens that are freckled with white dots that might be stars or fireflies, or some of each. The same painting is the basis for the title page, and it appears again at the end of the book, as background for the brief glossary.

Two figures wearing shorts and tee shirts appear on the pages of dedications and publishing information. The first page of the story shows the same figures lying on a blanket, pointing at the sky. They are young Ojibwe brothers, Niigaanii and Bineshiinh. They miss Nooko, their grandmother, who died recently. Throughout the book, the boys return to the meadow to watch the ever-changing night sky. Niigaanii, the older boy, tells his little brother Ojibwe stories their uncle has shared with him about the sky and the stars. Their uncle has said that Nooko's spirit is in the stars. So are all those who have passed on. In the northern lights, they are dancing together. Finally, one night, something happens that helps ease some of the boys' grief. This is a story of serious matters, yet it conveys hope and healing.

Not many artists are astrophysicists in the rest of their lives. What Annette Lee knows about the sky is evident in The Forever Sky, as well as in her web gallery. She also collaborated on some tribally-specific resources including the Ojibwe Sky Star Map - Constellation Guide (2014) and D(L)akota Sky Star Map - Constellation Guide (2014)Some of those constellations appear in The Forever Sky. Clearly, "Western" science is only one lens on what's overhead.

"The sky is so big it goes on forever," Niigaanii says. "That is why we call it Gaagige Giizhig, the Forever Sky."

I'd love to share this book with kids, and hear their ideas about what's going on in each of the pictures. Are the brothers present in every illustration? Do any of the constellations show up more than once? What does the artist do to depict Niigaanii, Bineshiinh, and their parents and uncle, at the end of the story?  Every page holds mystery, like the night sky, in keeping with the gravity of Peacock's subject matter.

Especially important, I think, is how the author anchors the boys' experience in the cycles that are part of Ojibwe life. Niigaanii tells Bineshiinh that they need to know the stories their uncle tells, "So when we are uncles we can teach our nieces and nephews." "So they will teach their nieces and nephews," his brother adds. And so "the stories will go on forever," Niigaani says.

Readers may notice that some illustrations depict the boys in shorts and tee shirts, but in others they seem to be dressed as if for a ceremony. Perhaps this shows that time is passing -- not just astronomical time but the calendar of an Ojibwe community's traditional events. Or perhaps some of those figures are not the boys and their uncle at all, but past and future relatives, telling and hearing the stories across generations.

The night sky has always given humanity a focus for its most challenging questions. The Forever Sky foregrounds some of those, from an Ojibwe perspective. What is the meaning of all that darkness, those many lights that brighten it? What happens when a person dies? Given that individual life on earth is finite, what role does a person, a child for example, have in the continuity of their community's ideas about the world? Peacock has addressed Ojibwe attitudes about disabilities in at least two of his other books, and he presents another facet of those in The Forever Sky.

As I wrapped up this review, I started reading the Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide, mentioned earlier, which Annette S. Lee was involved with as first author (image below right).

This passage from its first page echoed what she and Thomas Peacock have created in The Forever Sky:
....Native star knowledge is disappearing as elders pass. One Ojibwe elder spoke of his vision of "the star medicine returning through the native youth." He specifically called them "star readers."
It struck me that Niigaanii and the uncle are some of those "star readers." Though I was already appreciative of what Peacock and Lee have done, my understanding of it has been deepened by the star map/constellation guide.

If you're among the many who can't leave home now because of COVID-19, this may be a good time to get more familiar with the night sky, and to do so with the children in your life, if you can.  Reading The Forever Sky together may be a way to start. And a book like the Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide can add even greater depth to your night-sky experience.

Hear an archived interview with Thomas Peacock on Native America Calling. It's really good. Kirkus gave The Forever Sky a starred review, and Debbie and I include it on AICL's Best Books of 2019. Thomas Peacock also wrote The Dancer, which is also on our Best Books of 2019 list, and which Debbie mentions in her post about social distance powwow books.

Edited on 4/11 to add: On Monday, April 20, 3:00 pm, the Minnesota Historical Society Press will post a video of Thomas Peacock reading The Forever Sky aloud here. And see MHSP's The Forever Sky web page to link to coloring pages based on Annette Lee's illustrations.