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.