Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Highly Recommended: THE FIRE by Thomas Peacock


The Fire
Written by Thomas Peacock (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe)
Illustrations by Anna Granholm
Published by Black Bears & Blueberries
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

I'm very happy to add a title to our 2021 Recommended Books list: Thomas Peacock's The Fire. This is my "short and sweet" review. As you may remember, "short and sweet" reviews are not in-depth; they cover four reasons for our decision about a particular book. 

Here's how the publisher, Black Bears & Blueberries, describes The Fire.
This story is a fictionalized account of the Great Fire of 1918 based on an interview of Elizabeth (Betty) Gurno, a Fond du Lac Reservation elder. Betty was a little girl when the fire swept the area. The Fire of 1918 destroyed the city of Cloquet, Minnesota and surrounding communities, including the Fond du Lac Reservation, and resulted in the loss of many lives.

Author Thomas Peacock frames Betty's telling of the story within a later-day classroom scene in Minnesota. Betty has come to her grandchild's classroom to share her memories of the fire. 

First reason to recommend The Fire: It focuses on Indigenous people's experience during a catastrophic event, and joins a fairly small pool of exciting and moving historical fiction picture books told from an Indigenous perspective. In The Fire, Ojibwe oral history is at the center. The author uses some words in Ojibwemowin and refers to Ojibwe traditions (such as offering asemaa, tobacco, to an elder who shares wisdom). 

Second reason: It's timely. Wildland fires have affected communities around the country in recent years. Children are wondering how such fires can happen, how people survive them, and what happens afterward. Young readers may want to do further research about the Great Fire of 1918, using sources like the National Weather Service article and a dedicated page on the Library of Congress Web site. 

Third reason: The illustrations amplify the storytelling. There's plenty of drama in the pictures. Burning boards fly through the air; dozens of animals join the people in the river as the fire rages. But there are also some important, more subtle touches. Look closely at the page that shows Betty's grandparents warning her family about the fire. The hazy trees and yellowish sky behind the horse and buggy aren't just meant to be pretty. That's the smoke, already drifting into Fond du Lac, a silent warning. 

Fourth reason: The story manages to locate modest, honest hope and affirmation in the aftermath of the disaster. Readers learn that no Ojibwe people died, but "more than four hundred fifty of our non-Native neighbors were lost in the fire," and several non-Native towns burned to the ground. (For comparison, I checked the estimated death toll of the Chicago Fire of 1871 -- around 300.) Grandma Betty recounts that her grandmother's home escaped the fire, and she shared what food she had with other Fond du Lac families, most of whom had lost everything. I love the final words of Grandma Betty's storytelling: "We help each other. That is what we do." (It reminds me of the values behind Richard Van Camp's little board book, May We Have Enough to Share.)

I also love that when Betty ends her storytelling, the children line up to hug her. Maybe that's a classroom custom. But I think it also shows that the children are moved by this elder's story of the trauma she and their community endured, and they are caring for her in their way, years afterward.

The Fire is a valuable book to have on your shelves, and to share with children you know.


Monday, December 20, 2021



The Sea in Winter
By Christine Day (Upper Skagit)
Published by Heartdrum
Published in 2021
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Back in September 2020, Debbie blogged about her positive reaction to reading the ARC of Christine Day's second novel for young people -- The Sea in Winter. Since then, the book has gotten positive critical attention, including a Kirkus starred review and School Library Journal "Best Book". Here, finally, is my "short and sweet" AICL review. 

The publisher, Heartdrum, says this about The Sea in Winter:

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions. Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels.... Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up. But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?

Reason One to recommend The Sea in Winter: The sense of place. 

The author writes from the heart when she describes the story's setting. It's good to have a book about a contemporary middle schooler, that celebrates geoduck clams and the removal of the Elwha River dam. It's set in much the same part of the continent as a certain popular vampire-and-werewolf series, but Day's storytelling is noticeably more attuned to the landforms, the weather, the animals, the sea. 

Reason Two: Respect for advocacy and activism. 

Advocacy for social and environmental justice, and for Indigenous rights, are natural parts of family life in Maisie's world. For example, readers learn that her family has been directly affected by treaty rights to harvest shellfish, and removal of dams that kept salmon from spawning in local rivers. And conflict around the 1999 Makah whale hunt (the tribe's first effort to hold its traditional hunt in 70 years) forced an important decision for some of Maisie's Makah relatives. 

Reason Three: The protagonist's unique perspective. 

The Sea in Winter offers the young reader a window on the experience of a child with an unusual level of ambition. Most children Maisie's age haven't discovered an activity that inspires the kind of commitment she has to ballet. What is it like, at age 12, to have your entire life, including peer friendships, revolve around ballet, because you love it that much? Who else understands such dedication? And how do you cope, at age 12, when you face the loss of your beautiful dream? Is that what depression feels like?

Reason Four: Maisie's solid, loving Native family. 

Leo Tolstoy famously, or infamously, wrote, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Though Maisie's family faces some challenges, including Maisie's depression, they are fundamentally "happy" together -- affectionate, thoughtful, supportive, respectful of boundaries, and knowledgeable about their Native identities. But they're by no means ordinary, stereotypical, or indistinguishable from other fictional families that are doing essentially okay. The author makes them interesting, not merely quirky or weird, as individuals and as a unit. 

In short, I add my voice to the chorus of recommendations: Read and share The Sea in Winter with young people in your life!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

AICL's Best Books of 2021

A Sample of AICL's Best Books of 2021

Those who study and write about children's books will mark 2021 as a significant year because it is the year that Heartdrum (an imprint of HarperCollins) released several books written and illustrated by Native people. Heartdrum's first book, The Sea In Winter by Christine Day (enrolled, Upper Skagit), is outstanding. We read an advanced copy of it in 2020 and highly recommended it. You will find it below, along with several books we read from Heartdrum. What Heartdrum represents is important. Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brought it into existence. For all that she has done, she was named as the recipient of the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature. Three of her books were republished this year. In our articles, book chapters, and presentations, we usually include one or more of her books. We're pleased to see the new updated versions and you'll find them listed below. 

The persistence of Native peoples who write, speak, and challenge the status quo in other ways is significant. Those who support Native people in that work matter, too. An example is Arthur A. Levine, who launched Levine Querido in 2019. They published Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Reader's Edition in April. Last year, they published Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth (Onondaga), which is on the National Book Award Longlist for 2020. It is joined this year at Levine Quierido by A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache). 

In an effort to keep track of accomplishments of Native people working in children's literature, we started Milestones: Indigenous Peoples in Children's Literature. We invite you to look it over, and share with others. And of course, we invite you to visit and share our page of Best Books

Two topics generated a great deal of conversation in 2021. We mention each one, briefly. First is pretendians, or, race shifting. The identity of writers we have previously recommended has come under question. We are considering how and when we might write about these questions. In the meantime, you can visit our page of resources, Native? Or Not? A Resource List. The second topic is a growing awareness amongst non-Native people of Native children who died at residential and boarding schools in Canada and the U.S. In June of 2021, reports of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds (or nearby) of the schools appeared in news media in Canada, and Interior Secretary Haaland announced an investigation in the U.S. We compiled a list of recommended materials that includes children's books, nonfiction for high school and adult readers, websites, and videos: Resources: Boarding and Residential Schools. We update those two pages when we find additional resources.

As was the case last year, we are not able to read and write a review of every book we've read. We try! If there is something you want us to take a look at, let us know. Over time we'll be revisiting and adding to the list we share today. As we look over it, we are pleased to see biographies of women of modern times! Though our books are listed below in distinct categories, we encourage you to use picture books with all readers--including adults--and hope that everyone who works with children or books will read all the books. Doing so can help you become better able to know who we are, and that knowledge can help you see stereotyping and misrepresentations. 

We hope you order these books for your classroom or school or home library.

--Debbie and Jean

Books Written or Illustrated by Native People

Comics and Graphic Novels 

Vermette, Katherena (Red River Metis). A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 4: Road Allowance Era, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson; Colors by Donovan Yaciuk. Highwater Press, Canada.

Board Books

Vickers, Roy Henry (Tsimshian, Haida and Heiltsuk) and Robert Budd, A Is For Anemone: A First West Coast Alphabet, illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers. Harbour Publishing, Canada. 

Picture Books 

Coulson, Art (Cherokee), Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw Nation). Charlesbridge, US.

Davids, Sharice (Ho-Chunk) with Nancy Mays (not Native). Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (member of Wasauksing, First Nation). Harper Collins, US.

Gyetsxw Hetx'wms (Brett D. Huson) (Gitxsan). The Wolf Mother, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis). Portage & Main Press, Canada.

Gyetsxw Hetx'wms (Brett D. Huson) (Gitxsan). The Frog Mother, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis). Portage & Main Press, Canada.

Lajimodiere, Denise (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa), Josie Dances, illustrated by Angela Erdrich (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa). Minnesota Historical Society Press, US.

Luby, Brittany (Anishinaabe descent), Mii maanda ezhi gkendmaanh (This Is How I Know), illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckle(member of Wasauksing First Nation), translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere (Anishinaabe from M'chigeeng First Nation). Groundwood Books, Canada.

Peacock, Thomas (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe). The Fire, illustrated by Anna Granholm. Black Bears and Blueberries, US.
Robertson, David A. (Member, Norway House Cree Nation), On the Trapline, illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). Tundra Books, Canada.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Nation), Jingle Dancer illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Heartdrum, 2021.

Sorell, Traci (Cherokee), Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis). Millbrook Press, U.S.

Spillett-Sumner, Tasha (Inninewak (Cree) and Trinidadian), I Sang You Down from the Stars, illustrated by Michaela Goade (enrolled member of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). Little Brown Books for Young Readers, US.

Weatherford, Carole Boston (not Native). Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Black and Muscogee). Carolrhoda Books, US.

Early Chapter Books

Quigley, Dawn (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-to-Be Best Friend, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey). Heartdrum, US.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Nation), Indian Shoes illustrated by MaryBeth Timothy (Cherokee). Heartdrum, US.

For Middle Grades 

Cutright, Patricia (Enrolled member, Cheyenne River Sioux). Native Women Changing Their Worlds. 7th Generation, US. 

Engelking, Jessica (White Earth Band of Ojibwe descent). Peggy Flanagan: Omigaakwe, Lieutenant Governor, illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Minnesota Humanities Center, US.

Ferris, Kade (Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Canadian Metis descent), Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher, illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Minnesota Humanities Center, US.

Hutchinson, Michael (Misipawistik Cree Nation), The Case of the Burgled Bundle: A Mighty Muskrats Mystery. Second Story Press, Canada. 

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Nation). Sisters of the Neversea, cover by Floyd Cooper (Black and Muscogee Nation). Heartdrum, US.

Wilson, Diane (Dakota). Ella Cara Deloria: Dakota Language Protector, illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinaabe). Minnesota Humanities Center, US.

Young, Brian (Navajo). Healer of the Water Monster, illustrated by Shonto Begay (Navajo). Heartdrum, US.

For High School

Belin, Esther, Jeff Berglund, Connie A. Jacobs, and Anthony K. Webster (editors). The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature. University of Arizona Press, US.

Boulley, Angeline (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Firekeeper's Daughter, cover by Moses Lunham, Ojibwe. Henry Holt (Macmillan), US.

Campbell, Nicola I. (Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis). Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence. Highwater Press, Canada.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (Muscogee Nation). Rain Is Not My Indian Name, cover illustration by Natasha Donovan (Métis), Heartdrum, US.

Treuer, Anton (Ojibwe). Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Reader's Edition). Levine Querido, US.

Cross-Over Books (written for adults; appeal to young adults) 

Harjo, Joy and Howe, LeAnne (eds.) When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, cover by Emmi Whitehorse (Navajo), WW. Norton and Company, US.

Peacock, Thomas D. (Ojibwe). Walking Softly. Dovetailed Press, US.

Books Written or Illustrated by non-Native People

Picture Books

Hannah-Jones, Nikole and Renée Watson, Born on the Water: The 1619 Project, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. Kokila, US. 

For High School

Johnson, George M. All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir Manifesto. Cover art by Charly Palmer. Farrar Straus Giroux, US.

Kiely, Brendan. the OTHER talk: reckoning with our my white privilege. Simon & Schuster, US.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021


 Nenaboozhoo and the Elk's Head
Nenaboozhoo miinawaa Adik Odishtigwaan
Written by Dr. Giniwgiizhig (enrolled, White Earth) and Niizhobines (Ojibwe)
Illustrated by Anna Granholm
Published by Black Bears and Blueberries
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Status: Highly Recommended

Nenaboozhoo is a prominent figure in the Anishinaabe traditional stories that have been published over the years. He appears in several picture books published in the past couple of years. I hope to review all of them eventually, but today I'm taking a "short and sweet" look at just one: Nenaboozhoo and the Elks's Head/Nenaboozhoo miinawaa Adik Odishtigwaan

Here's my quick summary of the story:

Nenaboozhoo tricks an elk into lending him a beautiful bow and arrow, and then kills the elk for food. The trees that witness this treachery let their displeasure be known, but Nenaboozhoo is quite pleased with himself. Before long, though, he gets his comeuppance, as he often does, showing listeners how NOT to act. 

I'd recommend this story for upper elementary age children, and older. 

First reason to recommend this book: Native people are involved at all levels of its publication. It's an Ojibwe traditional story retold in a collaboration between Dr. Giniwgiishig (a school principal) and Niizhobines, an Ojibwe elder and storyteller. It's bilingual, in English and Ojibwemowin. And the publisher is the Native-owned non-profit Black Bears and Blueberries. 

Second reason:  The book has a mission. Initially the story was part of the Indian Education Curriculum for Red Lake (MN) School District #38. The front matter includes this dedication:

This endeavor is for our children so that they will know who they are and where they come from and to learn our language so they will be strong and proud that they are Anishinaabe and stand up and lead and succeed.

There's another statement in the front matter of this book and several of the others mentioned under my Reason 4, below: "The stories in these books are told only when snow is on the ground and a tobacco offering is made." This tells the reader that even though this story and others like it are engaging, the sharing of them is important enough that there's a protocol for doing so. They were never intended just for amusement.  

Third reason: Kids who aren't Anishinaabe can engage with and learn from the book, too. Just seeing Ojibwemowin in print can affirm for them that specific Indigenous languages exist and have value -- Native people don't just "talk Indian". Like many traditional stories, this one is an opportunity for considering how to treat others, and how a person's self-centered actions can have uncomfortable consequences.  

Fourth reason to recommend Nenaboozhoo and the Elk's Head: It's just one of several bilingual English-Ojibwemowin books published by Black Bears and Blueberries that belong in classroom libraries. They include:

  • by Dr. Giniwgiishig and Niizhobines -- Why the Bear Has a Short Tail; How the Boy and the Rabbit Helped Each Other; Nenaboozhoo Steals Fire; and When the Boy Was Made into a Whirlwind.  
  • by Liz Granholm -- Rabbit and Otter; Rabbit and Otter go Sugarbushing
  • by Tara Perron -- Animals of Nimaamaa-Aki (Dakota version is Animals of Kheya Wita)

You can find out more about the bilingual books put out by Black Bears and Blueberries on their Web site. 

Highly Recommended: ON THE TRAPLINE by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett


On the Trapline
Written by David A. Robertson (Member, Norway House Cree Nation)
Illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis)
Published by Tundra Books
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Highly Recommended


When most kids visit or travel with a grandparent to a special place, they drive or fly on a commercial airplane. For this trip, this grandfather and grandson start out on a small propeller airplane. 

On the Trapline is based on Robertson's visit--with his father--to his father's trapline. In the book launch he talked about going to that trapline. His father had not been to it since his childhood. Robertson had never seen it. For that father and son, then, it was a special moment when they would be walking, together, on homelands known to the father but not to the son. When his father stepped onto that homeland, Robertson said (in the book launch) that his dad seemed younger. Many of you may have had an experience like that with someone you love. I have. There is a joy that radiates from within. For me, and for Robertson, there is also a quiet to it all. Filled with so much! 

The visit that Robertson and his father took to the trapline became the exquisite picture book, On the Trapline. On the way to the trapline, the grandson asks questions about things he sees, and about things his grandfather talks about. Readers learn, for example, about the school Moshom went to where "all of us had to talk about learn in English." The grandson asks "Did you still get to speak Cree?" and his grandfather replies, "My friends and I snuck into the bush so we could speak our language." That language is on most pages of the book. On the page about Moshom's school, you'll find this sentence:
Ininimowin means "Cree language."
That is a deceptively simple set of words. They seem straightforward, and yet, they are filled with meaning! Here's a bit of the art that Julie Flett created for that page:

See? Children, in the bush. They look like they are playing. I imagine they are--but as they do--they speak to each other in Cree. 

When they get to the trapline, "Moshom's eyes light up." He points and says "That's my trapline." Then, there's more and more and more for this young Cree boy to learn about his grandfather's life on the trapline. 

Robertson and Flett's book received starred reviews from the major review journals. This occurred before, when they worked together on When We Were Alone. As was the case then, I highly recommend you get a copy of On the Trapline. 


Monday, November 29, 2021



Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer
Written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis)
Published by Millbrook Press
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Sorell's Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer is receiving starred reviews from the major children's literature review journals. And, I'll add, with good reason! Sorell is Cherokee. The book, focusing on a Cherokee aerospace engineer, is tribally specific. And people interested in STEM will love what they'll find in this picture book. You can read it aloud, and you can watch the video format where DeLanna Studi provides the narration. Like Sorell, she is Cherokee. 

Back when I was a kid, I liked biographies and I would have liked this biography of Mary Golda Ross. Some things beckon to me in a personal sense. She worked at Santa Fe Indian School as a girls advisor. My parents and grandparents went there, and I taught there for awhile. I didn't know about her, then. From what I can tell, she worked at SFIS after my grandmother was there, and before my parents attended the school. The timeline in the back of the book says she was there to advise female students. These advisors played significant roles! I remember both my parents talking fondly about their advisors.  

The word "classified" is part of the title because Ross was part of the Skunk Works division, which was a top-secret group working on planes that could fly beyond Earth. Hence, "aerospace" is also part of the title. One page of the book says that "She designed concepts for space travel to Venus and Mars" and her work helped send astronauts to the moon! That is, to use a Cherokee word, osdadv! 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her, and studying the illustrations Natasha Donovan did for the book. Teachers will love all the materials Sorell has on her webpage for the book. Scroll down to find the Teaching Guide, a Resource Toolkit, and a classroom poster. Scroll down even further to find audio files for Cherokee words. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021


the OTHER talk: reckoning with OUR my white privilege*
by Brendan Kiely, with an introduction by Jason Reynolds
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication in 2021
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


In the last few years, the word "reckoning" has appeared a lot. In meaning, it has to do with facing up to truths. Way back in the 1990s when I started graduate school, I read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. She was learning whites are taught not to recognize white privilege. It was, she wrote, unacknowledged privilege. It was vivid writing that stuck with me.

As I read Brendan Kiely's the OTHER talk: reckoning with OUR my white privilege, I thought back to McIntosh's essay. It was published in 1989. In a way, what Kiely offers to us, 32 years later, is a more in-depth reckoning. I'm sure McIntosh got push back for what she wrote, and I wonder what sorts of pushback Kiely is getting for his book. We are in a very heated period in society. Social media has been a great tool for social justice but it has also been used in harmful ways. I don't want to go on about that, so I'll turn back to the book.

Those of you who pay attention to visibility or invisibility of groups of people in the US know that one report after another leaves Native people off, or uses an asterisk that says data on us is statistically insignificant, so none is provided. In chapter 15 of the OTHER talk, Kiely writes about an anti-racist training he went to, where Native people were not included in an exercise the group was doing. He and others there did not notice that omission, but then, he writes (p. 154):
The facilitators were about to move on to their next exercise when a Native American woman in the audience stood up. She wanted to know why the racetrack model, why the entire workshop, did not include or allude to, in any way, Indigenous people in the United States. "This," she went on to explain, "is the kind of erasure we face every day." 
Kiely writes that he was floored. The facilitators had not realized what they were doing, and neither had he or other participants. It seems to me that one wave of realization was washing over him when another one struck. What made it all worse, he says, is that the workshop was taking place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and part of the focus was to acknowledge local Indigenous cultures. Each day, the conference started with a welcome from the Navajo, Apache, or Pueblo Nations. He recounts all that, and more, on those pages. 

There's more to that experience in chapter 15 than what I shared above, but I'm sitting with that particular part of it. It happens to Native people all the time. We're here, right here beside you, and still so unseen, on lands that were/are homelands to Native people. The welcome to the workshop (provided by Native people) feels to me a lot like land acknowledgements. Something is said, and then forgotten.  Kiely's book starts with praise for the book, offered by a wide range of people. I assume his publisher sought out people to write those paragraphs of praise. I can't help but notice there is not a Native person amongst them. That, I think, is unfortunate but also reflects precisely what spoke to me about that passage in chapter 15 of the book. 

I deeply appreciate that Kiely shared that experience in Albuquerque.  There are other reasons why I'm highly recommending the OTHER talk but I'll leave that for you to find, on your own. 

Get a copy and talk about it with others. It is written for young people, but every adult should read it, too. As far as I know, neither Kiely or Jason Reynolds are Native. 

*I was not able to include "my" as a strike-thru on the title for this blog post. It is part of the title of the book. 

Highly Recommended! LOOK GRANDMA! NI, ELISI! by Art Coulson; illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

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.  

Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! 
Written by Art Coulson (Cherokee Nation)
Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw Nation)
Published by Charlesbridge
Publication Year: 2021
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Look at the cover of Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! See the purple rectangle on the top right corner that says "storytelling MATH" in it? This book is a story about math! And I am delighted to share it with AICL's readers. On the first double-paged spread we meet Bo. In his hands is a large stone marble. He's drawn a redbird on it and is showing it to his Uncle Ben. "Osdadv" his uncle says to him. That word is in the glossary at the back of the book. It means very good, or, excellent. Next time you want to say "Awesome" or "Good" or something like that to someone, say osdadv instead. 

Coulson's book offers so much! From teaching you Cherokee words that you can use, to telling you about diyadayosdi (Cherokee marbles). It is a game played with balls that are the size of the ones people use to play pool. In the back of the book, we learn how the game is played and that it is played every year during the Cherokee National Holiday. But there's more! 

In this story, Bo makes the balls. This year, his uncle has told him he can help sell them at their booth at the Cherokee National Holiday. Having been to many Native gatherings where Native people sell traditional and contemporary items they make--and especially right now (November/December)--I wish I was at the ones where my sister and her daughter are selling baked goods! Last week, I was looking at photos of their booth, noticing how they lay out all their goods. Planning what to put, where, and how, is important! That's the task for Bo. He can sell his marbles but he needs a container for them and it has to be a specific size. What we have, in Coulson's story, is an exercise in volume. Bo has to find just the right container for his marbles. When I started out teaching way back in the 1980s, I taught kindergarten and first grade. I would have loved to use this book with my students! In addition to the glossary in back and information about the game, there's a page about volume, and some "Try This!" STEM activities.

Get a copy! And give a copy to a teacher during this holiday season. And if you sell Native books at a holiday gathering, put Coulson's book on that table!

I highly recommend Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! 


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Highly Recommended: JO JO MAKOONS, THE USED-TO-BE BEST FRIEND by Dawn Quigley; illustrations by Tara Audibert


Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-to-Be Best Friend
Written by Dawn Quigley (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)
Illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey)
Published by Heartdrum
Publication Year: 2021
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today's Short and Sweet Rec is for Dawn Quigley's Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-to-Be Best Friend. For starters, here's the description of the book (from the publisher):

Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Full of pride, joy, and plenty of humor, this first book in an all-new chapter book series by Dawn Quigley celebrates a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

And now, the Short and Sweet Rec:

First: It is a first! By that, I mean that it is the first Native-authored early chapter book series that I know of! If you have children, you know what these "early" books are about. They're the ones that kids who are starting to read on their own look for, and then hold close to their hearts because of the sense of accomplishment, confidence, and joy that independent reading delivers. What sets this one apart from all others is that it is about an Ojibwe kid. I've seen far too many early reader books with stereotypical words and illustrations of Native people. Books like that hurt a Native reader and they misinform a non-Native reader. They do a lot of harm. But this book... it makes my heart soar! We've got an Ojibwe girl in the present day, living her life, which leads to my second point.

Second: Native children who grow up with their Native communities say things. They do things. They know things. All those things are unique to their specific community. In Jo Jo Makoons you will see Ojibwe words that Jo Jo uses, just because they're part of her life. Instead of grandpa, she says Mooshoom. And right there on page 3 when you first see "Mooshoom" you also get Jo Jo, talking to the reader in the way that people talk to each other (p. 3):
Do you wanna know what mooshoom means? It means "grandpa" in the Michif language. 
Just before that passage, Jo Jo tells readers "My name is Jo Jo Makoons Azure." But she also asks readers if they want to know how to say that sentence, in her language:
Try saying: "Jo Jo Makoons Azure nindizhinikaaz." 
Jo Jo acknowledges that some will feel challenged by the "big last word" and reminds them that they learned how to say Tyrannosaurus rex, and that they can also learn how to say nindizhinikaaz. 

Third: On page 6, we read that Jo Jo's mooshoom died the year before and that her kokum (grandmother) moved in with them. That is very common within Native communities. Grandparents are a significant presence in the life of Native children--and Jo Jo's kokum is a big part of her life. 

Fourth: This last is, perhaps, coincidental. When I first read Jo Jo Makoons (I've been recommending it in just about every workshop and lecture I've done this year), the final paragraphs of chapter one did not stand out but they sure do now! In them, Jo Jo hears her mom and kokum talking about Jo Jo's cat needing shots. Jo Jo remembers back to the summer before, when she needed shots. Her kokum told her (p. 9):
My girl, shots help you to be healthy. There are many sicknesses out there, and shots give good protection.
Obviously, that stands out to me now because across the U.S., children are getting shots to protect them from COVID. I hope that little bit there helps kids know these shots are necessary for their well-being. I don't know what Quigley intended when she wrote that passage but it strikes me as more of the care that permeates the world of Jo Jo and her family. It feels a bit like concentric circles of care. 

As I write this review, newspapers are filled with reports of parents challenging books that make them uncomfortable. At present we are seeing a terrific growth of diversity in what is being published and embraced by educators, librarians, and readers. Diversity feels like a threat, to those who are unsettled by it, but I hope that books like Jo Jo Makoons -- with the care infused throughout it -- can help those parents see that care of each other, and care of community, is central to the well-being of everyone.

Get a copy! Feel that care. And share it with others.  

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Friday, November 26, 2021


The Case of the Burgled Bundle
A Mighty Muskrats Mystery
Written by Michael Hutchinson (Misipawistik Cree Nation)
Published by Second Story Press
Publication Year 2021
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Oh, the joys of a good mystery! This year saw publication of the third book in the middle-grade Mighty Muskrats series by Michael Hutchinson (Cree). This is a "Short and Sweet" review.*

The publisher, Second Story Press, says this about The Case of the Burgled Bundle:

The National Assembly of Cree Peoples has gathered together in the Windy Lake First Nation, home to the Mighty Muskrats -- cousins Chickadee, Atim, Otter, and Sam. But when the memory bundle, the center of a four-day-long ceremony, is taken, the four mystery-solving cousins set out to catch those responsible and help protect Windy Lakes reputation!... [P]rime suspect and long-time bully Pearl takes off to the city with her older brother and known troublemaker, Eddie. If they've brought the burgled bundle with them, the Mighty Muskrats fear it may be lost for good.

Here's my first reason of four to highly recommend this book: Authenticity. The author is Cree, and the setting is a fictional Cree community in what is currently known as Canada, with Cree characters who are believable, likable, and never stereotypical. The mystery confronting the young sleuths is plausible and meaningful in their community (though it can certainly resonate with non-Native readers). The resolution is surprising (to me, at least) but logical and satisfying in that context. 

Second reason: Contemporary setting. As in the other two Mighty Muskrat books, current and ongoing issues for Indigenous people are central to the action. But it doesn't feel like like the author merely wants to make the story more timely or "more Indigenous," and he's not talking down to his readers, either. For example, from the very beginning, the reader gets a sense that unwelcome changes are afoot: without consulting all the leaders, someone with influence has changed the location of the important opening ceremony. It's a political decision that excludes most of the Cree people who expected to witness it. This developing situation especially concerns the Muskrats' Grandpa, who's an important recurring character. 

Third reason: What's in the details. Hutchinson continues to embed factual information about Cree history and present-day life into his stories to convey the significance of what's going on. In the first chapter, for example, there's an especially poignant image of a middle-aged Cree man speaking in Cree to "an ancient woman," a frail elder seated beside him. He's telling her what he hears as he tries to listen in to the ceremony that was supposed to be public, but isn't. In one brief passage, readers see that Cree is a living language, that respect for elders is important, and that people are distressed but resourceful in response to being cut off from an important cultural event.

Fourth reason to highly recommend The Case of the Burgled Bundle:  It's just a really engaging mystery. 

A word of caution: I'm not Cree, and can't speak to the authenticity of the descriptions of the meeting of Cree nations or  Cree traditions. If Cree readers of AICL see that I've missed something important, please let me know so I can note it here.

*A Short and Sweet rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Highly Recommended! Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Published in 2021
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Today's "short and sweet" review is of a 2021 picture book -- Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Unspeakable is one of the last books to be illustrated by the remarkable Floyd Cooper.

Here's a description of Unspeakable. 

"... a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all."

There is so much to say about this book. It was not easy to choose only four reasons to recommend it. 
Reason One to recommend Unspeakable: The subject matter. Events similar to the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred far too often but are rarely, if ever, addressed in school history classes. Nor is the sociopolitical climate that produced them. I didn't know about the Greenwood Massacre until I was in my 50s, visiting family in Tulsa, where official recognition of it was just beginning to surface. Widespread awareness is long overdue.

Reason Two: Carole Boston Weatherford's way with words. She conveys historical information simply but effectively. Her use of the old fairy tale beginning, "Once upon a time", feels especially powerful and poignant to me, expressing optimism on one hand and laying the groundwork for horror on the other. Her descriptions alone could, I think, be used instead of whatever might be in college textbooks about Greenwood. 

Reason Three: The way the text and Floyd Cooper's illustrations work together. The illustrations add concreteness and intensity to Weatherford's prose by telling a fictional story of one family that escapes the South to settle in Tulsa, only to have their dreams of a better life destroyed along with the entire Greenwood community. That story, told in pictures, can help young readers or listeners connect more deeply as Weatherford recounts the history of Greenwood. I really do feel this book should be part of the curriculum in high school and university history classes because it so skillfully blends the facts about a place and events with an engaging individualized story.

Reason Four: Acknowledgement of Black Indians. On the second page of text in Unspeakable, Weatherford says the residents of Greenwood "descended from Black Indians, from formerly enslaved people, and from Exodusters who moved West in the late 1800s...." And Floyd Cooper, who was himself Muscogee (Creek) and Black, signals the family's dual heritage on the page where a little girl holds a corn husk doll. Making corn husk dolls is a Muscogee tradition. (The Muscogee Nation has a video showing how to make one.)

Get this book. Read it, learn from it, share it with young people. We need its truth.

*A Short and Sweet rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Monday, November 22, 2021

"Debbie, can you recommend some books about Thanksgiving?"

I get a lot of email during October and November, from people who are growing in their awareness that children's books about Thanksgiving:
  • Misrepresent historical facts
  • Stereotype Wampanoag people
  • Erase the Wampanoag people by failing to name them (defaulting to the general "Pilgrims and Indians" or "Pilgrims and Native Americans") 
Invariably, the books as a whole depict a happy gathering. Some people want "the other side of the story" or what they imagine as a "balanced" depiction of "the First Thanksgiving." 

That might seem a reasonable thing to want, but it limits our presence to the past tense. You might be surprised to learn that a lot of Native people tell stories about how this or that person was shocked to learn that we are still here. 

With their stories in mind, I offer something other than "books about Thanksgiving." I recommend books written by Native people. The topic is unimportant. What is important is that you--the adult reading the story--can use present tense verbs to talk about the author and book you have chosen to read. Using these books, you are interrupting the massive ignorance out there in so many people (the shock on learning that we're still here). 

Choose Josie Dances.  When you read it, you can say "Josie Dances is written by Denise Lajimodiere and illustrated by Angela Erdrich. Both of them are citizens of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe." 

As you read it you can point out the parts of the story that show readers it is set in the present day. You could draw attention to the page that talks about how Josie's family worked all winter long, to get her ready to dance. I especially love this page, of a woman at a sewing machine: 

There are a lot of terrific books you can use! I won't list them here. Instead, I recommend you spend time with the book lists we've got at AICL's Best Books page. It means stepping out of that quest you're on for a book about Thanksgiving. It means re-orienting yourself. It means thinking hard about the holiday itself. I think it also means that you care about your children or students and what they get from you. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Highly Recommended: ALL BOYS AREN'T BLUE: A MEMOIR-MANIFESTO by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
Written by George M. Johnson 
Cover Art by Charly Palmer
Published in 2020
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (Imprint of Macmillan)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


The author of All Boys Aren't Blue is not Native, but on occasion, someone will ask me about the Native content in a particular book. That's the case this time. Here's the description:
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
I finally got a copy of the book and like so many others, was pulled in to Johnson's writing. There is such care in these essays! Some evoked tears. Chapter 10, "A Lesson Before Dying" is about his grandmother. The tears are about death but more than that, they're about truth. About being real with each other. What that feels like, why it matters so much. 

My heart squeezed as I read Johnson's essays about his identities. He is Black. He is gay. I thought of the many young people who have already read his book and through Johnson's words, been wrapped in an embrace of who they themselves are. As I write this review, Johnson's book is showing up on banned book lists. My heart aches for those who are watching all that happening. It is an assault, on them, but the outpouring of support for Johnson signals a perseverance in the face of hate. 

Now: the Native content. Chapter 5 is titled "Honest Abe" Lied to Me. 

When I read the words in that title, I nodded. In that essay, Johnson writes about elementary school, third grade, especially, and the history they were taught (and performed) in a play about Thanksgiving, the Revolutionary War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. He writes about a Thanksgiving poster that used to hang on the school that showed (p. 87):
... American Indians sharing food with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. 
   *takes deep breath*
What it doesn't show is that the Pilgrims stole the American Indians' food when they first arrived on the Mayflower, because they weren't prepared for winter. 
I like that Johnson includes that because that particular holiday is coming up and kids across the country are being miseducated about it. Johnson's critique might not be noticed by some readers, but others--Native ones, especially--will notice and appreciate it. 

Johnson's in-depth questioning of the history he'd been learning began in junior high (page 93): 
We learned that Abraham Lincoln wasn't all he was cracked up to be. We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation, but also read some of the statements he made that weren't in the history books. The ones that were disparaging toward Black Americans and the fight for equality. 
And (p. 93-94),
We learned that Lincoln had many thoughts that never seemed to make it into the pages of the history books.

He shares some of those statements made by Lincoln, including this one (p. 94):

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Two years ago when Jean Mendoza and I visited a high school class that was using An Indigenous Peoples' History of the US for Young People we learned that Black students were taken aback by what we included about Lincoln. 

There was--and is--no reason for anyone to go through painful moments learning the facts about Lincoln or any other person or moment in history. The information is available. Johnson and the students we worked with that day are, essentially, speaking clearly to those who will listen: tell the truth about history! 


That's what I find in All Boys Aren't Blue. The book is about Johnson's identities and it is about a country's identity. It is searing, and delivers one truth after another. I highly recommend it--and I recommend you read it. Pushing back on misrepresentations or mischaracterizations of books requires knowing what they say.  

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Update on AS AN OAK TREE GROWS (originally reviewed on Oct 12, 2014)

In October of 2014, AICL reviewed the opening pages of As An Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas. 

Last week, a reader wrote to tell me that she had received a copy of the book, via Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. It appears that Karas and his editors at Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers) decided to make a change to the original edition. 

Here's a description of the book (from the publisher's website):
This inventive picture book relays the events of two hundred years from the unique perspective of a magnificent oak tree, showing how much the world can transform from a single vantage point. From 1775 to the present day, this fascinating framing device lets readers watch as human and animal populations shift and the landscape transitions from country to city. Methods of transportation, communication and energy use progress rapidly while other things hardly seem to change at all.
This engaging, eye-opening window into history is perfect for budding historians and nature enthusiasts alike, and the time-lapse quality of the detail-packed illustrations will draw readers in as they pore over each spread to spot the changes that come with each new era. A fact-filled poster is included to add to the fun.

Due to the content, I do not recommend the book. Here's the original cover:

My 2014 post about the book did not say anything about the cover, but I want to say a little about it, today. Too often, children's books and textbooks about the continent of North America (and the country currently known as the United States) start with European arrival, as if the continent was empty of people, before then. That is the choice made for the cover of As An Oak Tree Grows. On the left half of the cover we see colonial-time imagery and on the right we see present day. But inside, the book double-paged spread starts with Native people. Their tribal nation is not specified, which is a problem. The second one has the same people. But on the third page, they're gone. In the original, the text on that page read: 
The boy grew up and moved away. Farmers now lived here. 
The copy in the Imagination Library is different. On that page, the text is:
The boy no longer lived here. New people came and made their homes around the oak tree. 
For your reference, here's screen caps for the two pages:

So--the question is: does the change to the Imagination Library edition make it better? 

In the original edition, that page and the ones before it show just that boy and an adult. They don't seem to be part of a community. They don't seem to live in a village. And, they aren't identified at all as people. All we're given is "the boy" (specifically, "a young boy planted an acorn" and then "the boy grew up and moved away"). 

In that original edition, it sounds like the boy grew up and decided to move. What's missing is what was happening to him, his people, and his tribal nation. The second sentence says that "Farmers now lived here." The unsaid part is "white" farmers. Native peoples had already been farming for a very long time. Why wasn't "farmer" used to describe them? Far too many materials tell kids that Native people were primitive, roaming around, hunting and gathering -- but they were farming, too! 

Looking at the Imagination Library website, I see that the book is listed on Feb 28, 2018. The cover there shows the Imagination Library seal on the cover. Here's an enlarged image of it:

The Imagination Library edition says "the boy no longer lived here." We don't know why. Instead of "Farmers" living there (as in the original), the Imagination Library copy says "New people came and made their homes around the oak tree." How would it feel if it said "White people came and made their homes around the oak tree"? 

I wanted to do this updated post because AICL tries to keep track of changes to books. Most of the changes I've written about are good. In this case, I don't know... It doesn't strike me as an improvement. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Highly Recommended! Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence, by Nicola I. Campbell


Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence

Written by Nicola I. Campbell (Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis)
Cover illustration by Published in 2021
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today's Short and Sweet Rec is for Nicola I. Campbell's memoir, Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence. I'll begin with the description from the publisher's site:

If the hurt and grief we carry is a woven blanket, it is time to weave ourselves anew.

In the Nłeʔkepmxcín language, spíləx̣m are remembered stories, often shared over tea in the quiet hours between Elders. Rooted within the British Columbia landscape, and with an almost tactile representation of being on the land and water, Spíləx̣m explores resilience, reconnection, and narrative memory through stories.

Captivating and deeply moving, this story basket of memories tells one Indigenous woman’s journey of overcoming adversity and colonial trauma to find strength through creative works and traditional perspectives of healing, transformation, and resurgence.

And now, the Short and Sweet Rec:

First, Nicola I Campbell is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis, and she's written several excellent books we've recommended before, such as Shin-Chi's Canoe. 

Second: "remembered stories." I don't know why, but those two words are--for me--searing and joyous within the same instance. It it like an eruption of emotion within me. 

Third, the table of contents. I love the words I find in Campbell's picture books. There's a quiet and compassion and strength to them. I see that in the words of the table of contents that tells us what is coming. There are ten sections in this memoir, meant for young adults. These section titles nest within the book's subtitle, A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence.  
Prairie Letters
Her Blood is from Spetetkw 
Nłeʔkepmxcín Lullaby
Land Teachings
Coming to my Senses
yemít and merímstn 
this body is a mountain, this body is the land

The section titles hint at recovery. Reading through the entries in each one, I was at times on edge, anxious. Afraid. And laughing. That deer in the basement... that made me laugh, and evoked in me, a remembered story. Or many, really, because at Nambé, our guys hunt and bring deer home. Like the child in this particular story (titled Little People), I remember that moment, walking into a room and there, right there, was a deer.

Fourth, Campbell's use of words. In some instances, she uses poetry. In others she uses story. Some words are in her languages, and some are in English. It isn't ever jarring. It just is. Is, in the way that Native people speak when they use words of their language mixed in with English. It just is. And arrangement of those words! When I turned the page to "alpine mountains" I just looked, for a minute or so. And I was delighted when I turned to "frog whisperers." 


From those Prairie Letters about Nikki's birth, through her childhood, her teen years, college, and deaths in the subsequent sections... I release a deep sigh when I get to the end. And as I look back on what I'm saying in this review as I revisit the book, I see some ambiguity, some hesitation in how much to say. I want you to find it, yourself. 

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.