Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Use/Misuse of the Word "Treaty" or "treaty" in Children's Books

Last week, I had a conversation with an educator who told me about conversations they'd had with teachers about Sign of the Beaver. Here on AICL we've had several posts about the book. I can't recall why I decided to take a look at it again, but I did. 

In particular, I noticed the way that the author used the word "treaty":

On page nine, we see:
Since the last treaty with the tribes, there had not been an attack reported anywhere in this part of Maine. Still, one could not entirely forget all those horrid tales.

The book is set in the 1768; I will try to figure out what treaty the author is having the white character refer to. Obviously the second sentence about "horrid" tales is meant to tell us that white people were being viciously attacked by Native people. There's bias in that passage but use of "treaty" is ok. 

The next use is not. 

On page 30, Matt (the white protagonist) is grateful to Saknis (a Native man) who helped Matt recover from bee stings and a fall. He gives Saknis a book (his copy of Robinson Crusoe). Matt realizes Saknis can't read. Saknis asks Matt if he can read. When Matt says yes, Saknis says:
"Good," he grunted. "Saknis make treaty." 
"A treaty?" Matt was even more puzzled.
"Nkweniss hunt. Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man's signs.
"You mean--I should teach him to read?"
"Good. White boy teach Attean what book say." 
There, the use of treaty is wrong. Treaties are the outcome of negotiations between heads of state. They are not something that a person and another person do. Using the word in that way, Elizabeth George Speare misrepresents their significance of the word. Why did she do that?

Her book won a Newbery Honor in 1984. Did anyone on the Newbery Committee that year notice the word being misused? Did Speare's editor notice? I have not seen any articles that address that point. I do see lesson plans that note the passage, but not in the way I am noting it. The reason Saknis wants Matt to learn to read is so that Native people won't be tricked by words in treaties. I find that a bit ironic because I think readers of Sign of the Beaver are being subtly led to a misunderstanding of the word. That may be due to a lack of understanding (in the author, editor, reviewers, etc) that Native peoples are citizens of nations. Somehow, they seem to be framing a treaty as a cultural artifact specific to Native peoples rather than a political one specific to diplomatic negotiations between heads of state. 

It reminded me of the way that Stephanie Meyer used it in her Twilight series. She has a treaty between vampires and a pack of wolves. She misused it, too. 

With that in mind, I posed a question: how are writers using the word in their books for children/young adults? I asked it, on Twitter, and will use this post to keep track of replies. At some point I hope to write a blog post about what I find. 

If you see the word in a book for children/young adults, let me know and I'll add it below. I am not limiting my question to anything other than books for children and young adults. Fiction, nonfiction, by Native writers, not by Native writers, set in the past or not.... I want it all. An analysis of its use will be interesting! I anticipate lot of misuse but hopefully, some good uses, too! Metaphorically would be fine -- if done carefully. We'll see what turns up, and thank you for suggestions! 

Children's and Young Adult Books that use the word "treaty"

Note: Initial list created on Jan 28, 2023; books added after that date will be noted with "[added on...]"). This is not a list of recommended books; it is a list of books that have the word treaty in them.
  • Belin, Esther, Jeff Berglund, and Connie A. Jacobs. The Dine Reader. Published in 2021 by the Arizona Board of Regents.
  • Boulley, Angeline. Firekeeper's Daughter. Published in 2021 by Henry Holt.
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Published in 2008 by Scholastic Press.
  • Craft, Aimée. Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow. Published in 2021 by Annick Press.
  • Crawford, Kelly. Dakota Talks About Treaties. Published in 2017 by Union of Ontario Indians.
  • Cutright, Patricia J. Native Women Changing Their World. Published in 2021 by 7th Generation.
  • Davids, Sharice. Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman. Published in 2021 by HarperCollins.
  • Davis, L. M. Interlopers: A Shifters Novel. Published in 2010 by Lynberry Press. 
  • Day, Christine. I Can Make This Promise. Published in 2019 by HarperCollins.
  • Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. Published in 2017 by Dancing Cat Books.
  • Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Published in the US in 1952 by Doubleday.
  • Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here. Published in 2013 by Scholastic.
  • Gansworth, Eric. Give Me Some Truth. Published in 2018 by Scholastic. 
  • Gansworth, Eric. Apple Skin to the Core. Published in 2020 by Levine Querido
  • Gansworth, Eric. My Good Man. Published in 2022 by Levine Querido.
  • General, Sara and Alyssa General. Treaty Baby. Published in 2016 by Spirit and Intent.
  • George, Jean Craighead. The Buffalo Are Back. Published in 2010 by Dutton.
  • Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. Published in 1957 by Harper.
  • Marshall, Joseph III. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. Published in 2015 by Amulet.
  • McManis, Charlene Willing. Indian No More. Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books.
  • Merrill, Jean. The Pushcart War.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Alanna, the First Adventure; Wild Magic, First Test, Trickster's Choice. 
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. Cold Falling White.
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. The Crosswood. 
  • Sorrell, Traci. We Are Still Here. Published in 2022 by Charlesbridge.
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Published in 1883 by Cassell and Company.
  • Tingle, Tim. How I Became A Ghost. Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press.
  • Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Published in 2021 by Levine Querido.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Published in 1876 by American Publishing Co.
  • Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Originally published as a serial in 1870 in France.
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. Published in 1935 by Harper (Harper Collins).

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Nostalgia for Margaret Wise Brown's DOCTOR SQUASH THE DOLL DOCTOR

Yesterday (Monday, Jan 17, 2023) this image appeared on the timeline of my Facebook account. Specifically, it was shared to a Facebook group about children's literature. I paused when I saw it:

Those of you who read AICL would probably have paused when you saw it, too. There's derogatory stereotypes on that page. I wish it was being shared to call attention to the problems but that is not the case. 

The illustration is from Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. Written by Margaret Wise Brown, the first edition was illustrated by J.P. Miller. It came out in 1952. 

An author shared it on her page, and an administrator for the Facebook group shared it to a Facebook group for children's literature. Right now (Tuesday Jan 17, 6:26 AM Pacific Time), there are 40 likes and hearts on the author's original post. There are five comments saying things like "Love this!" and "Oooh, a vintage one to check out" (followed by a smiley face with 3 hearts on it). The original post was shared, uncritically, by five people. 

When I saw it on the FB group page, it had 36 likes and hearts and one comment from a person who has the book and quoted a line from it ("Whenever you are sick, sick, sick, call for the doctor quick, quick, quick!"). 

There's clearly a lot of nostalgia for what is--speaking honestly--racist imagery!

I submitted a comment to call attention to the stereotyping. I also anticipated the responses I'd likely get defending it, and included arguments to counter them ahead of time. This morning, the share to the children's literature group is gone. My guess is that the administrator who initially shared it decided to delete it. I wish they had left the post there, for discussion. 

You may recall that I wrote an open letter to Kate Di Camillo last year, about her Facebook post where she had warmly shared a memory of reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. She read my letter and asked her followers to read it, too. I think I'll share that post to this facebook group. There was a time when I had warm feelings about a book I read as a child. That book is The Five Chinese Brothers. I didn't see the stereotyping it in until I was an adult looking critically at images. I definitely see it now and when I work with teachers and librarians, I'll usually talk about that memory and letting go of the book. 

Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor is one I want to dig into a bit. The illustration above is from the first edition. Here's that cover (screen capped from an Etsy page):

In 2010, it was reissued (I think as an e-book) by Random House with new illustrations by David Hitch. Here's the 2010 cover:

Here's the review of the 2010 e-book from School Library Journal:
K-Gr 3–This newly illustrated reissue of a 1952 Golden Book recounts the illnesses of various dolls–squeaky soldier, teddy bear with a bloody nose, fireman with a broken leg, Indian with poison ivy, etc–and Doctor Squash, who comes running to dispense medicine and advice as needed. When the good doctor falls ill, the toys get the chance to return the favor and take care of him. Hitch's cartoon illustrations complement the text well with bright colors and great facial expressions. They are updated from the original (no Mammy doll) but still have an old-fashioned look. References to the snowman doll's illness and “wild Indian” have been removed. Perplexingly, the story does continue to refer to cough drops as “good as candy and just as pretty” and to mention writing prescriptions for measles, mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough. Updated, but still a bit out-of-date.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the library edition.

Here's the review from Kirkus: 
A Little Golden Book first published in 1952 with illustrations by J.P. Miller sees new life with new art, proving yet again that Brown is synonymous with timelessness. When dolls are sick or in pain, there’s really only one doctor to call: the good Doctor Squash, who attends to their every need. From broken legs and poison ivy to coughs and the mumps, the doctor always has the right cure on hand. And when the doc falls ill, the dolls take care of him in return. Some of the original text has been updated to suit the times (for example, the Wild Indian Doll becomes simply the Indian Doll). Gone too are such anachronistic images as the mammy doll. Appropriate though these changes may be, it is a pity that there is no mention of them in this new edition. Nevertheless, playing doctor with dolls never falls out of style, and Hitch’s retro style and modern toy updates work overtime to ensure that this book becomes a classic all over again. Entertaining and charming. (Picture book. 4-8)

As both SLJ and Kirkus noted, the 2010 one does not have the Mammy doll. Neither review pointed out that the doll with a sombrero, huge mustache, serape, and guitar is also gone. (SLJ noted that the snowman is gone; in the original the snowman got frostbite on his left foot.) 

Here's the page with "the Indian Doll" (screen cap is from the Internet Archive):

If the text in the 2010 version is the same as the text in the original 1952 edition, the words on that page were "The wild Indian Doll fell off his horse when he was out for a ride one day." Do you think "The Indian Doll" is an improvement? I don't. 

At the website for the Smithsonian's American History Museum, I was able to find illustrations (but not text) for the original book. Here's the way Miller drew that page:

The "Indian" doesn't have a big nose, feather and tomahawk in the updated version. I suppose Hitch and the art director at Random House thought that was a good change, but it isn't. Not really. We still have use of a single image to represent "Indian" as though we're all the same. And I suppose they decided it is not ok to have a Black or Latinx doll -- that perhaps they can't be playthings, but did they decide a toy Indian is ok? I think they did. They are wrong, of course. They seem more knowledgeable than the people on FB who feel warmly towards the original, but the "Entertaining and charming" line from the reviewer at Kirkus is disappointing. Overall, from the readers on a FB group page to the professional reviewers, we see lot of room for growth. 

Obviously, I do not recommend Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. 

That's all I have for now. On to other things. As always, I welcome your comments. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

"Tlingit don't exist for the benefit of bad teenagers."

In a recent conversation, an educator told me about people in her networks who are still using Touching Spirit Bear.  That educator has read my posts about the book and is frustrated by those who continue to use it. Here, I'll paste the cover and overlay it with a red X:

In reading through comments about the book and Slapin's review of it, I remembered the one submitted by Mike M. in February of 2018. I'm sharing it here to bring it more visibility. Mike is Tlingit. Here's what he said:
Tlingit don't exist for the benefit of bad teenagers.

Sorry I seem to be late to this party. I've known about Touching Spirit Bear for years, but have avoided reading it, until just this week. I'd read about it here, and in Clare Bradford's essay, and figured that I would not like it. Now I have read it, and I do not like it. The book bothered me. Many of the comments here bother me. Some who defend the book use the argument that reading it is helpful for many troubled young readers, so any minor factual inaccuracies don't matter. There seems to be some formula that can be used to balance the benefits against the harms; I don't know what that formula is. The harms do seem to be undervalued by those who make the argument. I have to ask: if thousands of sports fans are made happy by acting out an ugly caricature, does that joy outweigh the tragedy of dehumanizing whole groups of people? How many happy fans balance one young suicide? What exactly is the Stereotype to Redemption exchange rate--and is it a fair transaction?

I am fairly certain that I am not the only Tlingit person who has been informed, as soon as his tribal affiliation is discovered, that "Ooh! I loved Touching Spirit Bear." This has happened to me, more than once, if not in these exact words. That it is intended as a positive statement does not erase the realization that a whole culture is reduced to a couple of characters. (And worse, that these are characters whose creator claims that their culture is not relevant to the important matter of his book.) One wonders how many young readers (or adult readers--many of them teachers, apparently) put down this book, fiction or not, believing that at.oow is kind of like Linus Van Pelt's comic-strip blanket, or that Tlingit villagers can cure a sociopath by letting him dance out his feelings after dinner.

The book may indeed be helpful for some troubled youth. I can't say, but I don't like the cost. Touching Spirit Bear would have been better if the whole Tlingit angle had been left out. The character of Edwin, the Tlingit elder, was more Hippie than Tlingit. Garvey, the parole officer, could have been anyone from Southeast Alaska. Rosey, the Tlingit nurse, was believable, as were the teenagers who carried the stretcher: they would have been acceptable as irrelevant Indians. I read that the author claimed that Touching Spirit Bear was not based on the controversial real-life Tlingit banishment case that hit the national news a few years before his book; neither have I seen any mention of the real-life Circle Peacemaking Program in the Tlingit village of Kake (rhymes with Drake): so it must be assumed that the Tlingit connection in Touching Spirit Bear is mere New-Age appropriative garbage.

Mike is not the only Tlingit person who has said no to Touching Spirit Bear and he's not the only Native person who has said no, either! 

Many people talk about a book that changed their life. Some argue that Touching Spirit Bear changes lives of children who bully others. That is certainly possible but it does that at the expense of other peoples and factual knowledge of Tlingit people. Does that make it ok? If the book that changed your life had derogatory content of a people, would you use it with young people? My hope is that you'd hold on to the lessons you took from it but that you'd not use it with others.

Teachers: let go of this book! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Back Matter in 2022 book from Charlesbridge -- THE GARDENER OF ALCATRAZ

This morning on Facebook (in a discussion of books by region), I saw mention of The Gardener of Alcatraz. Written by Emma Bland Smith and illustrated by Jenn Ely, it came out in 2022 from Charlesbridge. In my experience, Charlesbridge is one of the publishers that is really trying to be conscious of content about Native peoples. 

I know the history of Alcatraz. Would any of that history, I wondered, be in The Gardener of Alcatraz

The answer is yes. Information is included in the back matter. I think solid info in a book's back matter as a step in the right direction. 

Here's the description for The Gardener of Alcatraz:
When Elliott Michener was locked away in Alcatraz for counterfeiting, he was determined to defy the odds and bust out. But when he got a job tending the prison garden, a funny thing happened. He found new interests and skills--and a sense of dignity and fulfillment. Elliott transformed Alcatraz Island, and the island transformed him.

Told with empathy and a storyteller's flair, Elliott's story is funny, touching, and unexpectedly relevant. Back matter about the history of Alcatraz and the US prison system today invites meaningful discussion.
I do hope that the back matter invites meaningful discussion! Many (most?) kids won't read the back matter--but teachers, parents, librarians--you certainly can! Read and study it so you can give more depth to students when you teach or book talk The Gardener of Alcatraz. Here's what I see:
  • In the Time Line is "1969-70: Native American occupation of Alcatraz" (p. 36).
  • In Alcatraz and Its Gardens (p. 37), there are several subsections:
The first paragraph of "The Early Years" says "Because there was no source of water, Native people did not live on the island (although historians believe the members of the Ohlone tribe may have hidden there to avoid being captured and forced into slavery in the California Mission system)." 

The second paragraph says "Native Americans were also imprisoned there for refusing to allow their children to be taken away and placed in boarding schools." 

There's an entire subsection called "The Native Occupation." The first paragraph is about the prison being expensive to maintain, and so it was shut down. The second paragraph is: 

Then, in 1979, a group of Native activists from different tribes occupied Alcatraz. Their goal was to raise awareness about the brutal ways in which Native people had been treated and to protest the recent closings of reservations across the country. The Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for nineteen months before the government evicted them. Signs of their presence remain on the island to this day, inspiring visitors to reflect upon Indigenous people's ongoing fight for their rights.

I wish the author had included sources or books for this information. There's a selected bibliography but none of the primary sources, books, online resources, or DVD's that they list are specific to Native people at Alcatraz. She cites books that are not ones for children. For example, she cites Michael Esslinger's Alcatraz: A History of the Penitentiary Years. She could have cited one of Adam Fortunate Eagle's books. You can read his Heart of the Rock: The Indian Invasion of Alcatraz at the Internet Archive (or get a copy from your library). Another option is Troy Johnson's books about the occupation. They are primarily photo records of that period and I find them gripping. The National Park Service hosts a page he wrote about the occupation: We Hold the Rock.  She includes links to online resources and could have added ones about the Hopi parents who were imprisoned there. The National Park Service has this one: Hopi Prisoners on the Rock.  

  •  In Author's Note, Smith writes that Corrina Gould, Tribal Chair of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, "went over the passages concerning Native people's relationship with Alcatraz." (p. 40). 

I am psyched to see Smith's note -- and that she worked with Corrina Gould! I met her (virtually) last year when we were doing a session for caregivers in the San Francisco Bay area. 

As noted earlier, I think it is great to see inclusive back matter! I hope teachers use it when they use the book in the classroom.