Monday, October 25, 2021

Highly Recommended: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith; cover art by Floyd Cooper


Sisters of the Neversea
Written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)
Cover art by Floyd Cooper (Muscogee Creek Nation)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Heartdrum (HarperCollins)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today AICL is pleased to give a Short and Sweet Rec* to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Sisters of the Neversea. We recommend you get it for your children, your classroom, or your library. Here’s the description:

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.


A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

And here is our Short and Sweet Rec! 

Four reasons why AICL recommends Sisters of the Neversea 

First, the author is Native. Cynthia Leitich Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, telling us a story where the primary character is Muscogee Creek.

Second, Sisters of the Neversea shows readers who Native people are, for real. J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan have mis-informed generations of readers. His stories encourage others to play Indian in stereotypical ways, and the characters in his story that are meant to be Native (Tiger Lily) are straight-up stereotypes. We are nothing like the “Indians” in his stories. Smith’s take on Peter Pan pushes back on those stereotypes.

Third, Sisters of the Neversea includes Black Indians. Upon seeing Floyd Cooper's cover art, Smith writes that she thought "There you are!" With his art, she saw Lily as Black Muscogee. Later in the book, we meet Strings, a Black Seneca Indian from the Bronx. 

Fourth, Smith's author’s note includes several questions that she poses about the Native people in Barrie’s stories. “How did they get there?” she asks, and “Why were they described in hurtful language?” are two of them. Teachers who use the book in the classroom can draw attention to those questions and encourage students to ask similar questions about Native characters in other books they read.  

We hope you’ll get a copy ASAP, read it, and tell others to read it, too. When you’re at your local library, ask for it! If they don’t have it yet, ask them to order it. 


*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.  

1 comment:

Beverly Slapin said...

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation) is an awesomely talented educator and writer with a great sense of humor and a giant heart. She and I have worked together and laughed together in the past, and I’m honored to call her “friend.”

I don’t know Floyd Cooper (Muscogee Creek Nation), but he is amazingly talented as well. Unlike other so-called “children’s books about Indians,” his remarkably beautiful cover portrays three beautiful children with differing skin tones and features—who are Native. They are Lily, Wendy, and Peter Pan, and Sisters of the Neversea is a Native-centered reworking of one of the most racist—and most read—children’s books ever.

Great congratulations, Cyn, Floyd, and everyone at Heartdrum (Harper / Collins) who dreamed about and worked on Sisters of the Neversea! And thank you, Debbie, for bringing this lovely book to public attention. I can’t wait to get a copy (or several to give away to friends and colleagues). If it’s anything like Cyn’s and Floyd’s and Heartdrum’s other books, it’s a winner for sure!