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. 


Ellen Fleischer said...

I'm not a librarian or a teacher. I'm an aspiring YA novelist with an idea for a story about a gang of kids from all walks of Canadian life. And it just seemed 'right' to include an Indigenous character in the gang. I started coming here mainly to figure out what NOT to do. (I know I'll need to involve sensitivity readers in the process at some point, of course, but I'm trying to avoid making as many mistakes as I can before I do. Sort of like running the manuscript through spellcheck before involving an editor.)

Not that it hasn't hurt sometimes seeing books I loved reading when I was a kid taken to task for things that seemed pretty minor to me when I read them, but, well, I've also shaken my head at times over seeing my own ethnicity misrepresented and I've come to appreciate your points.

Thanks so much for all you do. And hopefully, I'll manage to 1) get my novel published eventually, but 2) not see it up here with a bold red line through it and a 'not recommended' tag!

Gabrielle Balkan said...

Whenever I have an opportunity to talk about my work as a writer and sometimes editor, often to people who are interested in learning more about writing for children and the publishing industry, I always devote a portion of my time to Debbie and AICL. Debbie has been my mentor, even though we have never communicated directly with one another. When I'm not horribly behind on deadline, I'll have to come back to share more about how Debbie has improved by reading and writing and critical awareness. I am so grateful to Debbie's for sharing her process.

Anonymous said...

The best thing about AICL is the way that it has sensitized people to the overly casual use of American Indian and Native nations tropes in literature. There are certainly fewer as a result of Debbie's efforts. There is more visibility to Native nations. Writers are thinking about them more. There is more care being given to them. Native writers are being boosted. That is to be commended. The worst thing about AICL is the way that it has legitimized giving an "up" or down" vote to a book solely on the way it treats or omits one narrow aspect. Especially omits, and especially in short texts. That is to be deplored.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Ellen and Gabrielle.

Anon: I erred in okaying your unsigned comment. See our note below the "Leave your comment" heading? Moving too quickly this morning, I okayed it and so there it is. Can you say more about how AICL legitimized an up or down vote? I think you're giving AICL more credit on that than it deserves. We do Recommended/Not Recommended tags. Most review journals have rating systems. They give starred reviews. Some have number rating systems; some have "get this book if..." sorts of tags.... I don't think what we do is that different than review journals. My thoughts on "narrow aspect": for Native kids and Native readers who have read derogatory passages or words in books, year after year, it isn't a narrow aspect. It is part of a larger body of words -- and that's what we try to get people to see. In your opening sentence you seem glad for the ways that AICL helps people see the "overly casual use of American India and Native nations tropes" -- but your "narrow aspect" concern contradicts that first sentence.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Thank you for all you do, Debbie. It serves all children.

Alison B. said...

As a youth services paraprofessional in public libraries, I have found your work to be an invaluable resource for fighting my own internal biases and assumptions as well as those of the publishing and library worlds. Thank you so much for all you do.

Erika said...

I check AICL every time I'm putting together my monthly book order for items that might have been overlooked in the big review publications or books that have a lot of buzz but could be hurtful to my Native patrons. Recently I had a more specific reason to be grateful for AICL: The director of a preschool on the reservation my library serves emailed to say their beloved bus driver had passed away, so could I come to them instead of them making their usual field trip to the library, and did I have any books for young children about loss? I don't quite have words for the feeling--relief, gratitude, joy-despite-heartbreak--of having The Forever Sky and Nimoshom and His Bus at my fingertips to offer them, and I probably wouldn't have had them in my collection if not for the reviews at AICL and the way it reminds me to always have an eye out for Native authors and content.

Rebecca said...

Thank you so much for your incredible website. I have been reading it for years, because I love children’s books and want to read books by Native authors that accurately represent Native people. I discovered books like The Birchbark House series, The Jingle Dancer and other wonderful books through you. I also started to recognize the problems in books I’d read as a child like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Now as a mom of a 2 year old and 5 year old, we have read so many fantastic books through your recommendations: Whale Snow, Fry Bread, Little You, The Dreamers, and I’m much more aware of what books to avoid. The way I approach thanksgiving is so different now, and I noticed that my local bookstore doesn’t display children’s books on thanksgiving like they do for most other holidays. Thank you for making a difference to our family.

Polly said...

I have learned and changed so much since I began regularly reading AICL. I buy everything I can for my library that you recommend, and I have moved from a position of "but those are great books" to understanding how much classics and not classics can hurt people (and trying not to stock those which do in my library). I am a long way from really doing this right, but I now understand how much there is to do, and some of what I can do to help things along. This is entirely due to AICL. Thank you so much for all you do, and for helping to make me a better librarian.

Gwen Tarbox said...

Debbie, just dropping in to let you know how much I value this blog. I’m finishing up an undergrad course on the new Disney+ channel, and I was not surprised to see that much of the programming from the 1930s to the 1980s included stereotypical depictions of indigenous peoples. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer scope of these depictions - it is clear that the Disney Co went out of its way to include pejorative indigenous depictions in almost every program, film, and theme park attraction. The Disney+ channel has a blanket statement on most pre-1980s content that warns viewers about “outdated cultural depictions,” and the majority of these programs are only found via the search function, However, they are very much a part of the package to which young readers will be exposed. I’m grateful to you and your blog because in addition to going out of my way to find less racist and historically inaccurate content to share with my students, I was also able to provide students with your blog as a resource. Thank you so much. Best, Gwen.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Gwen. I cut back quite a lot in the last three years to do the adaptation with Jean Mendoza, of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the US for Young People. And then in January I hit a wall. I couldn't push through the exhaustion! I'm definitely taking it easy this year. Disney using "outdated" suggests it was ok "back then" but of course, the people who were misrepresented "back then" objected to those depictions, then! Words like that (outdated) are convenient masks to hide facts. Those depictions were racist from the start.

Rebecca, Polly, and Erika, I'm delighted to see titles of books by Native writers in your comments!

erin said...

I can't remember when I was pointed to your blog, but I am so glad it happened. I have been a youth services librarian for 10 years and an avid reader my entire life. I was obsessed with the Little House books as a kid. Reading your blog and then reading Little House again made my stomach hurt. Like, how could I not have picked that up? I was an adjunct instructor for the university library program in my city, teaching Children's Literature. You better believe I had them review your blog, and then we read Little House on the Prairie and Birchbark House. So many of the students had the same reaction as I did.
I am so much more aware of the stereotypes now and have weeded many books in my current position, replacing them with much higher quality books now. I still make mistakes (hello, National Geographic Kids Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture: Stories, Timelines, Maps, and More); there is still work to be done. I am sure thankful and appreciative of all the work you have done, are doing, and will continue. And I purchased your Indigenous Peoples' History book as well.