Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Not Recommended: HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy
Written by Louise Fitzhugh
First published by Harper and Row in 1964
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended

A biography about Louise Fitzhugh is in the news. She is much-loved for Harriet the Spy. The biography description says that Harriet is "erratic, unsentimental, and endearing." But like many (most?) people,  Fitzhugh and her character have problematic views of Native people. The biography will likely prompt people to purchase Harriet the Spy again, and gift it to children. Should they do that? 

For those who did not read Harriet the Spy (first published in 1964), here is the description of the book:
Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Will Harriet find a way to put her life and her friendships back together?

In chapter one, we meet Harriet and her friend, Sport. Harriet is drawing and writing in her notebook. Sport looks over her shoulder (location 67 in e-copy), watching her. She says:
"Now, as soon as you've got all the men's names down, and their wives' names and their children's names, then you figure out all their professions. You've got to have a doctor, a lawyer--"
"And an Indian chief," Sport interrupted. 

Harriet ignores Sport's suggestion, saying she needs someone who works in television. There is no further mention of Sport's comment. 

Some of you may know the rhyme that Sport was going with as "Tinker Tailor." It is a counting or jump rope rhyme for girls that is supposed to tell them about their future husband. It starts out with "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief." It juxtaposes "good" things, like being rich with being poor, or being a thief. Given that pattern, I think it is safe to say that it is preferable that a future husband be a doctor or a lawyer, but not an Indian chief. Near as I can tell, the rhyme with "Indian chief" in it is dated to the late 1800s in the US. I did a lot of jump rope rhymes when I was a kid but don't remember this one. Do you? Do you see kids saying it, today? If yes, where?

Not mentioned in the book description is Ole Golly, but she figures throughout the story. In the midst of Harriet and Sport's conversation in chapter one, we read "Harriet! Get up out of that mud!" from someone in the brownstone behind them. It is Ole Golly, her nurse. In chapter five, Harriet spies on Ole Golly when she goes out to be with her boyfriend, Mr. Waldenstein. She hears him tell Ole Golly that she is attractive, who is embarrassed by the compliment and changes the subject. She blushes. The text there is (location 1007):
The crimson zoomed up Ole Golly's face again, making her look exactly like a hawk-nosed Indian.
Big Chief Golly, Harriet thought, what is happening to you?
In the space of a few words, we see stereotypical depictions of Native people: the hawk nose, the red skin, and the use of "Big Chief" to describe someone with authority. 

When I call attention to this kind of content in popular or classic books, someone invariably replies that there's a lot in the book that is important, and that those things are more important than the problematic Native content. Those who say that are pretty much saying that the impact of this derogatory content on a Native reader doesn't count as much as the others who will, in some way, be affirmed by the rest of the story. But I hear that a lot. Over and over, Native kids are expected to push through that kind of content, for the sake of the other kids. 

That's deeply troubling! It is spoken as if there is only one book in the entire world that can do what Harriet the Spy does. And of course, that isn't true! You may have an attachment to it because it did something for you when you were a kid, but come on. You can let it go, right? 


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

2020: AICL's Best Books of 2020

This is the time of the year when annual "Best of" booklists come out. AICL has published our own Best Books lists for many years now. We like to make sure teachers have those suggestions as they think about what to bring into their classrooms. And as the winter holidays approach, we want families to know what's new and good in books with Native content, that they can give to the young people in their lives.

The year 2020 has been difficult for us at AICL. We've only been able to create 38 posts. We've read some books that we like and haven't yet created reviews for, but will list them below and when we can we'll get a review done. We also find ourselves in the unusual position of not having been able to get to all the 2020 books by Native creators -- this may be one of most prolific years ever for publications by Native and First Nations writers and illustrators. So we promise to add to the Best Books list as we have a chance to read the ones we may have missed. 

In not posting reviews for all books on our Best Books list, we realize we are asking you to trust us but we hope that 15 years of work on AICL demonstrates that our assessments are careful and attentive to children and how they may be impacted by the Native content in a book. 

That said, below is AICL's list of Best Books published in 2020. Books are arranged by age of reader but any book in any category can--and should be--read by every reader. Teens and adults can gain tremendously by studying the words and illustrations in a picture book and you can share content of middle or young adult books with younger children. 

In parenthesis following the names of individuals, we provide information about their tribal nation. We use information that the individual uses. Some writers say they are an "enrolled citizen" and some say "tribal member." Some only list a nation (or more than one) but due to those nation's determinations of its citizenry, there are people who can't be enrolled or claim to be citizens of any nation. They are, however, recognized by people of those nations. 

We hope you share our list with parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers, professors... anybody who works with children and books! Don't miss Best Books of previous years! And if there is a book that we did not list, please submit a comment to let us know. 

Best Books of 2020
American Indians in Children's Literature

Books by Native Writers or Illustrators

Comics and Graphic Novels
  • Vermette, Katherena (Metis). Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson & Donovan Yaciuk. A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 3: Northwest Resistance. Highwater Press. Canada

Board Books

Picture Books
  • Baker, Darryl (Inuit). Kamik Takes the Lead illustrated by Ali Hinch. Inhabit Media, Canada.
  • Begay-Kroupa, Jolyana (Navajo). Becoming Miss Navajo. Salina Bookshelf. US.
  • Brink, Heather (Ojibwe), illustrated by Jordan Rodgers (Lakota). Rez Dog. Black Bears and Blueberries. US.
  • Callaghan, Jodie (Listuguj First Nation). The Train. Second Story Press. Canada.
  • Cooper, Nancy (Band member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. E Meshkwadooniged mitig/Trading Tree illustrated by Heather Charles (Member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation), translated by Myrtle Jamieson (Waaseyaankwot Kwe). The Prince's Trust and Clear Water Farm, Canada.
  • Erdrich, Louise (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians). The Range Eternal, paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher). University of Minnesota Press. US.
  • Gyetxw, Hetxw'ms (Gitxsan) The Eagle Mother, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. Highwater Press. Canada. [Note: the author includes his English name, Brett D. Huson, in parenthesis after his Native name. For our list, we put an author's tribal nation in parenthesis.]
  • Lindstrom, Carole (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit, member of the Kiks.ådi Clan). We Are Water Protectors. Roaring Brook Press. US.
  • Sammurtok, Nadia (Inuit), illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko (Ukrainian/Canadian). In My Anaana's Amuatik. Inhabit Media. Canada.
  • Smith, Monique Gray (Cree/Lakota), illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Diné), translated by Mildred Waters (Diné). When We Are Kind. Orca Books. 

For Middle Grades
  • Note from Debbie on Nov 28, 2023: Due to my concerns over Art Coulson's claim of being Cherokee, I am no longer recommending his books.  Coulson, Art (Cherokee), illustrations by Carlin Bear Don't Walk (Crow and Northern Cheyenne). The Reluctant Storyteller. Includes "The Energy of the Thunder Beings" by Art Coulson, illustrated by Roy Boney Jr. (full blood citizen of the Cherokee Nation) and "Cherokee Life Today" by Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Reycraft Books, US.
  • Day, Christine (enrolled, Upper Skagit). The Sea In Winter. Heartdrum (HarperCollins), U.S. [Note: we read an advanced copy of the book; its official publication date is 2021.]
  • Engleking, Jessica (White Earth Band of Ojibwe), illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Peggy Flanagan: Ogimaa Kwe, Lieutenant Governor. Wise Ink Creative Publishing. US.
  • Ferris, Kade (Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Canadian Metis descent), illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher. Wise Ink Creative Publishing. US.
  • Hopson, Nasuġraq Rainey (Inupiaq). "The Cabin" in Rural Voices edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, Candlewick Press. US.
  • Peacock, Thomas (Ojibwe). The Wolf's Trail: An Ojibwe Story, Told by Wolves. Holy Cow! Press. US.
  • Pokiak-Fenton, Margaret-Olemaun (Inuvialuk of the Inuvialuit) and Christy Jordan-Fenton. Fatty Legs (10th Anniversary Edition). Annick Press. 2020.
  • Rogers, Andrea L. (Cherokee). Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Story. Stone Arch Books (Capstone). US.
  • Sorell, Traci. (Enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). "The Way of the Anigiduwagi" illustrated by MaryBeth Timothy (Cherokee), in The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. Random House Children's Books. US.
  • Wilson, Diane (Dakota Mdewakanton Oyate enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation), illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector. Wise Ink Creative Publishing. US.
For High School
  • Boivin, Lisa (Member of the Deninu Kue First Nation). I Will See You Again. Highwater Press. Canada.
  • Gansworth, Eric (Enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation). Apple (Skin to the Core). Levine Querido. US.
  • Little Badger, Darcie (Lipan Apache). Elatsoe. Levine Querido. US. 

Cross-Over Books (Written for adults; appeal to young adults)
  • Harjo, Joy. (Mvskoke). When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. Edited by Joy Harjo. W. W. Norton and Company. US.
  • Kwaymullina, Ambelin. (Palyku of the Pilbara region of Western Australia). Living on Stolen Land. Magabala Books. Australia.
  • Rendon, Marcie. (White Earth Anishinabe). What's an Indian Woman to do? In When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. Edited by Joy Harjo. W. W. Norton and Company. US.

Books by Writers or Illustrators Who Are Not Native

For Middle Grade
  • LeZotte, Ann Clare. Show Me A Sign. Scholastic.

*We are grateful to readers who write to tell us about errors we make in our lists. We welcome your emails. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Debbie Reese's Notes on Larry Watson's MONTANA 1948

Note from Debbie: This is a page of notes I'm taking as I read Larry Watson's Montana 1948. Originally published in 1993, it is taught in high school classrooms. In the last couple of years, I've had a few inquiries about it. It received starred reviews and though it does not look to me like it was put forth as a book for teens, it appeared on year-end lists of best books for young adults/teens. I have excerpts below but not page numbers because I'm reading an electronic copy of the book. And please note: there are graphic excerpts about rape, in my notes. 

Debbie's Notes:

Chapter 1

The setting includes the "Fort Warren Indian Reservation" which is not a real place. It is described as "the rockiest, sandiest, least arable parcel of land in the region." And, "its roads were unpaved, and many of its shacks looked as though they would barely hold back a breeze." The town, Bentrock, is also fictional. 

The story is told from the point of view of David (Davy). In it, he is 12. His mother, Gail, works out of their home. His father, Wesley Hayden, is the sheriff. Wesley's brother, Frank, is a doctor. Their father was the town sheriff before Wesley accepted the job.

On page 12, Davy tells us that they have a housekeeper who lives with them during the week. Her name is Marie Little Soldier, a Hunkpapa Sioux who is from the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Marie's mother married a Canadian who owned a bar called Frenchy's in Bentrock. There is a rumor that Frenchy 
"kept locked in his storeroom a fat old toothless Indian woman whom anyone could have sex with for two dollars." 
Some think it is Marie's mother, but Davy knows that isn't true because Marie's mother is a thin, shy woman. Marie was nearly six feet tall and had a "fleshy amplitude" that made her seem soft and strong, "as if all that body could be ready, at a moment's notice, for sex or work." She had "a wide, pretty face and cheekbones so high, full, and glossy I often wondered if they were naturally like that or if they were puffy and swollen. 

Marie has a boyfriend named Ronnie Tall Bear. Davy adores both of them. 

One time, Davy saw Marie naked when she stepped out of the shower. They were both embarrassed. He saw (location 290): 
Dark nipples that shocked me in the way they stood out like fingertips. A black triangle of public hair below a thick waist and gently rounded belly. 
Marie gets sick. Gail puts blankets on her to sweat out the sickness like Sioux people do (location 290): 
To this day many Sioux practice a kind of purification ritual in which they enclose themselves in a small tent or lodge and with the help of heated stones and water steam themselves until sweat streams from them.
Marie doesn't want Davy's mother to call Dr. Hayden. She prefers Dr. Snow. When she gets worse, Wesley reaches for the phone and Davy tells him again that Marie doesn't want a doctor. Wesley tells him it is Indian superstition. Davy's father (location 354):
... did not like Indians. No, that's not exactly accurate, because it implies that my father disliked Indians, which isn't so. He simply held them in low regard. He was not a hate-filled bit--he probably thought he was free of prejudice!--and he could treat Indians with generosity, kindness, and respect (as he could treat every human being). Nevertheless, he believed Indians, with only a few exceptions, were ignorant, lazy, superstitious, and irresponsible. I first learned of his racism when I was seven or either. An aunt gave me a pair of moccasins for my birthday, and my father forbade me to wear them. When I made a fuss and my mother sided with me, my father said "He wears those and soon he'll be as flat-footed and lazy as an Indian."

His father asks Davy, sarcastically, if Marie needs a medicine man, then calls his brother. Davy listens to the phone call. 
"She didn't say why. My guess is she's never been to anyone but the tribal medicine man." 
He laughs, and hangs up the phone. He says: 
"Frank said maybe he'd do a little dance around the bed. And if that doesn't work he'll try beating some drums." 
Frank arrives and goes into Marie's bedroom. She calls for Davy's mother. Gail goes into Marie's room, too, but Davy can still hear Marie saying no. When Frank comes out, Davy's dad asks what is wrong with her, and Frank says: 
"Like you said on the phone. They're used to being treated by the medicine man. Or some old squaw. But a doctor comes around and they think he's the evil spirit or something." 
Davy's father says: 
"They're not going to make it into the twentieth century until they give up their superstitions and old ways." 
They talk about Marie's care, that she might have pneumonia. Gail says Marie will stay with them. She seems irritated at Frank. He leaves, and she asks Davy to go inside because she needs to talk with Wesley. Davy sneaks around the house to listen and hears (location 527):
The reason, Wesley, the reason Marie didn't want to be examined by Frank is that he--he has... is that your brother has molested Indian girls." Wesley starts to leave but she insists he stay and listen. she tells him "He's been doing it for years, Wes. When the examines an Indian he... he does things he shouldn't. He takes liberties. Indecent liberties." 
She goes on (location 561):
Your brother makes his patients--some of his patients---undress completely and get into indecent positions. He makes them jump up and down while he watches. He fondles their breasts. He--no, don't you turn away. Don't! You asked and I'm going to tell you. All o it. He puts things into these girls. Inside them, there. His instruments. His fingers. He has... your brother I believe has inserted his, his penis into some of these girls. Wesley, your brother is raping these women. These girls. These Indian girls. He offers his services to the reservation, to the BIA school. To the high school for athletic physicals. Then when he gets these girls where he wants them he... Oh! I don't even want to say it again. He does what he wants to do." 
Wesley decides to talk to his deputy, Len, and his wife, Daisy, in a way to see if either of them has heard what Marie shared. Daisy says (location 631): "The word is he doesn't do everything on the up-and-up." and she adds who he does things to by saying "Just the squaws, though." 

When they leave, Davy hears his parents talking. His mother says that people in town know about Frank. Davy realizes that both he and his mother see their husband/Davy's dad as a brother to a pervert. Looking at him, Davy doesn't want to see the ways his uncle Frank's features and his dad's are similar. Wesley says he doesn't want this talk spread over town because there's no proof, and that it will be upsetting to their father (he was sheriff, too), who heroizes Frank. 

Chapter 2

Wesley decides to investigate. He talks to Ollie Young Bear, a Native vet who he holds in high regard as an example of what someone can be if they choose to work hard, if he knows anything about Frank's abuse of Native women. Then Wesley, Gail, and Davy go to visit Julian. Frank is already there, at Julian's ranch house. Julian is waiting on the porch. Davy listens to the two men talk. Julian says Wesley and Gail only had one child, and that they should have had more. They talk about Frank and Gloria (his wife) not having children but that Julian only wants white children. Wesley asks him what that means, and (location 924):
Grandfather laughed a deep, breathy cuh-cuh-cuh that sounded like half cough and half laugh. "Come on, Wesley. Come on, boy. You know Frank's always been partial to red meat. He couldn't have been any older than Davy when Bud caught him down in the stable with that little Indian girl. Bud said to me, 'Mr. Hayden, you better have a talk with that boy. He had that little squaw down on her hands and knees. He's been learning' from watching the dogs and the horses and the bulls.' I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't some young ones out on the reservation who look a lot like your brother." 

A couple of days later, Marie dies. 


I am pausing my reading to look for reviews and articles about the book. So far, I see that Frank poisoned Marie to protect himself from the accusations. Based on what I've read of the book, it is one that will eventually have a Not Recommended label. In the excerpts I provided above, we see horrific things being said about Native people. Some are said by characters we are not meant to like, but some are stated as fact (Daisy using "squaw" rather than "women"). It is one of those books, I think, where the author intends readers to see anti-Indigenous attitudes. The author does not, I think, imagine that any of his readers might actually be Native. He may not have anticipated how his writing would impact Native readers--or the dynamics in a classroom of Native and non-Native readers. I may have more to say, later, if I come back to read more of the book and share notes and eventually (perhaps), a review. 

For now, I will say that I do not recommend Montana 1948 for any classroom of young people.