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.