Saturday, December 16, 2023

About Native Women

Earlier this week I was at a holiday gathering in Washington DC. Across the room, I saw the Native woman who wrote one of my all-time favorite children's books: Sharice Davids. Her book, Sharice's Big Voice came out in 2021. Here's the cover:

Some context: 

Back in 2016, Native people were excited when Sharice Davids was running to represent Kansas in the U.S. House. She's Ho-Chunk. During that same time, Deb Haaland was running to represent New Mexico. She is Laguna. There was a lot of joy when they won!

And when they were sworn in, Native people shared the footage from CBS of Davids and Haaland embracing. From then on, they were Representative Davids, and Representative Haaland.  Here's a screen capture from the CBS video:

I remember being so excited! And of course, I thought that we need some children's books about them. Now--in 2023--there are several books. What made meeting Sharice Davids even better was when I was saw she had Laurel Goodluck's biography of Deb Haaland with her. 

The event was hosted by Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland. In 2021, President Biden selected her to serve in his Cabinet. On the other side of the wall where that photo of me and Representative Davids was taken, Secretary Haaland was about to speak to all of us who were there for the holiday gathering. 

Why was I there? Well, my daughter--Elizabeth Hidalgo Reese--invited me to go with her. In April of 2023, she began working as the Senior Policy Advisor for Native Affairs in President Biden's Domestic Policy Council. When Secretary Haaland delivered her remarks that night, she said a few things about Liz and her work on the 2023 Tribal Nations Summit! Of course, I was beaming. I am so proud of her! 

As I reflect back on that night, I feel a tremendous sense of community. The community of Native women who devote time and energy to make change in the lives of Native people. I'm in that community, too, like my mom is, and like my grandmother was. As 2024 approaches, the memory of that gathering warms my entire being. I'll close by saying Kú'daawó'háa to Liz and everyone who works for the well-being of Native children, in whatever way you do. It matters. 

Again, Kú'daawó'háa. 


Ask for the books at your local library!
Sharice's Big Voice by Sharice Davids
She Persisted: Deb Haaland by Laurel Goodluck
Deb Haaland: First Native American Cabinet Secretary by Matthew Martinez and Jill Doerfloer
What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me: Deb Haaland's Historic Inauguration by Alexis Bunten
Native Women Changing Their Worlds by Patricia J. Cutright


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

AICL's Year In Review for 2023


American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share our annual year-end list of books we want you to know about. We'd like multiple copies of them to be in every classroom, school, and public library. (Download AICL's 2023 Year In Review pdf if you wish.)

Our emphasis is books by Native writers and illustrators whose Nations are on the continent we know as North America. Most are ones that came out in 2023. In some way, they've touched our hearts as parents of Native children or as former school teachers who want children to have accurate and honest books about Native peoples. 

For each book, we list the Tribal Nation of the author/illustrator and we encourage you to use that information when reading the book. For example, in the picture book category you'll see A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers. We encourage you to introduce the book by saying something like:

"This is A Letter for Bob. It is written by Kim Rogers, an enrolled member of the Wichita Affiliated Tribes. The illustrations are by Jonathan Nelson. He's Diné." 

You'll modify that according to the way you're using the book. The main point is that we want you to be tribally specific. That means you specify the author and illustrator's Tribal Nation. If possible, show students the websites of the author/illustrator and of their Tribal Nations. 

Now, it is important to say a few things about claims to Native identity. In October of 2023, Native people in the US and Canada were shocked to learn that an iconic singer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, is not Native. People who follow Native news media know that–in the past few years–there have been several expose’s of individuals who assert a Native identity and use that identity in their professional or academic work. It touches children’s literature, too. In 2023, we withdrew our recommendations of books by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joseph Bruchac, Marge Bruchac, James Bruchac, and Art Coulson (click on their names for details). One way that investigations of such claims begin is by someone noticing that the ways a person asserts that identity shifts over time in problematic ways. The shift may be in the tribal nation(s) being claimed, or by shifts in language used to make the claim. 

Sometimes, however, a change marks an effort to be more accurate. Using Debbie as an example, she used to say “Nambé Pueblo” but now says “Nambé Owingeh” because “Pueblo” is an externally imposed word, while Nambé and Owingeh are Tewa words (Tewa is the language spoken at Nambé). She also says she is “tribally enrolled” because she meets the requirements at Nambe to be included on the tribal census. Her father and grandmother are enrolled at Nambé. Her mother is from Ohkay Owingeh; her mother’s father is from Hopi. Debbie does not list either one in her email signature line because she grew up at, and is enrolled at, Nambé. In a biographical statement, she might include both because they are part of her life and experiences as a Native woman. She would have a lot more to say about Ohkay Owingeh because she spent a lot of time there as a kid and very little time at Hopi.  

In some cases, the membership or citizenship requirements of a person’s Nation mean that a person’s child cannot be included on a tribal census but they are considered part of the community. We encourage you to read Christine Day’s note in We Still Belong. Her main character cannot be enrolled in the Nation her mother is enrolled in. 

There are hundreds of Tribal Nations, which means there are hundreds of ways in which a person’s nation decides who its citizens are. We are not suggesting that there is a single ‘best’ way of stating a Native identity. Indeed, we learn more about Native identity each year. This year, we learned that some Tribal Nations issue ‘descent’ cards to children of family members who–like the character in Christine Day’s book–can’t be enrolled in their mother’s Nation. Many Nations have moved away from “blood quantum” requirements to lineage. We encourage you to read an interview that NPR did with Elizabeth Rule (she is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and her book, Indigenous DC, is on our list this year in the Crossover section).

You will also see “not Native” because there are non-Native writers (like John Coy and Debby Dahl Edwardson who are on last year’s list, or Charles Waters on this year’s) whose writing includes Native content or characters in respectful ways. Several books on this year’s list also are illustrated by non-Native artists.

Before moving on to our list, we want to note that claims – like the one made by Buffy Sainte-Marie – have a harmful impact on Native people who were disconnected or removed from their Native families and communities. Across North America, there are Native people trying to find their way home. It is not an easy process. For many it is full of obstacles put there by agencies that sought to destroy Native Nations. When false claims are called out, people who are trying to find their families and those who are trying to build relationships with their families may feel vulnerable and fearful of being challenged about their search. That vulnerability is an unseen harm done by false claims. 

In our list you will find an author’s Tribal Nation in parenthesis after their name. We use an author’s identity as they name it (and the spellings/capitalizations of their personal names) on their own website (sometimes we write to them to ask for clarification). If they do not have a website, we use what their publisher uses.  We are happy to make edits as needed! Let us know.

Though our list is organized by age/grade levels, we encourage you to use picture books with readers of any age, and we want every teacher and librarian to read all the books. They are far better than the books most people read in their childhood. These will help you understand who Native people really are. We welcome your questions and comments about these introductory paragraphs, or the books we list, below.

And join us in celebrating the growing number of books we list each year!* Many win awards, and the range of what we’re all able to read is outstanding! Across genre, format, and author/illustrator’s Tribal Nations, Native literature is something to pay attention to!

Comics and Graphic Novels 

Cohen, Emily Bowen (Jewish and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation). Two Tribes, illustrated by the author. Heartdrum (2023). US.

Van Camp, Richard (Thlicho Dene), The Spirit of Denendeh, Vol. 2: As I Enfold You in Petals, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson (not Native) and Donovan Yaciuk (not Native). Highwater Press (2022). Canada.

Van Sciver, Noah (not Native), Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend includes an introduction by Lee Francis (Pueblo of Laguna), stories and art by Marlena Myles (enrolled Spirit Lake Dakota), and a postscript by Deondre Smiles (citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe). Toon Graphics (2023). US.

vermette, katherena (Red River Métis),  A Girl Called Echo Omnibus, illustrated by Scott Henderson (not Native) and Donovan Yaciuk (not Native). Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Board Books 

Taos Pueblo Winter, illustrated by Leonard Archuleta (Taos). Seventh Generation. US. 
Taos Pueblo Spring, illustrated by Frank Rain Leaf (Taos). Seventh Generation. US.
Taos Pueblo Summer, illustrated by Janell Lujan (Taos). Seventh Generation. US.
Taos Pueblo Fall, illustrated by Deanna Autumn Leaf Suazo (Taos). Seventh Generation. US

Picture Books 

Barrett, Elizabeth S. (Red Lake Ojibwe). Mashkiki Road: The Seven Grandfather Teachings, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe). Minnesota Historical Society Press (2022). US.

Bunten, Alexis (Unangan and Yup'ik). What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Diné of the Kiiyaa'áanii Clan). Christy Ottaviano Books (2023). US. 

Cooper, Nancy (member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation), Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe, member of Wasauksing First Nation). Owl Kids (2023). Canada.

Dupuis, Jenny Kay (Member of Nipissing First Nation). Heart Berry Bling, illustrated by Eva Campbell (not Native). Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Goodluck, Laurel (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian), Rock Your Mocs! illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (member of the Chickasaw Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Greendeer, Danielle (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Citizen, Hawk Clan), Anthony Perry (citizen of the Chickasaw Nation), and Alexis Bunten (Unangan and Yup'ik). Keepunumuk: Weeachumun's Thanksgiving Story, illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. (tribe). Charlesbridge (2022). US. 

Harjo, Joy (member of the Mvskoke Nation), Remember. Illustrated by Michaela Goade (enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). Random House (2023). US. 

Janicki, Peggy (Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation). The Secret Pocket, illustrated by Carrielynn Victor (a descendant of Coast Salish ancestors). Orca Book Publishers (2023). Canada.

Lindstrom, Carole (Anishinaabe/Metis and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior. Illustrated by Bridget George (Bear Clan from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation). Roaring Brook Press (2023). US.

Lindstrom, Carole (Anishinaabe/Metis and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.) My Powerful Hair, illustrated by Steph Littlebird (member of Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes). Harry N. Abrams (2023). US.

Newell, Chris (citizen of Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township). If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving, illustrated by Winona Nelson (member of Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa). Scholastic (2021), US. 

Rogers, Kim (enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes). Just Like Grandma, illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). Heartdrum (2023). US. 

Rogers, Kim (enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes). A Letter for Bob, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Diné). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Sapiel, Minquansis (Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nation). Little People of the Dawn, illustrated by Minsoss Bobadilla-Sapiel (Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nation). Black Bears and Blueberries (2023). US.
Sorell, Traci (enrolled citizen, Cherokee Nation), Powwow Day, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (member of the Chickasaw Nation). Charlesbridge (2022). US.

Sorell, Traci (enrolled citizen, Cherokee Nation), Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series, illustrated by Arigon Starr (enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma). Kokila (2023). US.

Early Chapter Books 

Buckley, Patricia Morris (Mohawk). The First Woman Cherokee Chief: Wilma Pearl Mankiller, illustrated by Aphelandra (Filipino and Oneida ancestry). Random House Books for Young Readers (2023). US.

Day, Christine (citizen of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe). She Persisted: Maria Tallchief, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2021). US.

Goodluck, Laurel (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian). She Persisted: Deb Haaland, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2023). US.

Quigley, Dawn (enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe). Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolatoqiyik). Heartdrum (2022). US.

Quigley, Dawn (enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe). Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolatoqiyik). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Sorell, Traci (citizen, Cherokee Nation). She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (not Native) and Gillian Flint (not Native). Philomel Books (2022). US.

For Middle Grades 

Anselmo, Anthony (Sault Ste Marie Band of Ojibwe), The Spirit of the North Wind. Black Bears and Blueberries (2023). US.

Coombs, Linda (member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah). Colonization and the Wampanoag Story. Crown Books for Young Readers (2023). US.

Day, Christine (Upper Skagit), We Still Belong. Cover art by Madelyn Goodnight (citizen of Chickasaw Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Hobson, Brandon (Cherokee Nation), The Storyteller. Scholastic (2023). US.

Hopson, Nasugraq Rainey (tribally enrolled Inupiat). Eagle Drums. Roaring Brook Press (2023). US.

John-Kehewin, Wanda (Cree), Hopeless in Hope. Portage and Main/Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Martinez, Lorinda (Lok' aa' Diné'e). Running With Changing Woman. Salina Bookshelf (2023). US.

Waters, Charles (not Native) and Sorell, Traci (Cherokee Nation), Mascot. Charlesbridge (2023). US.

Young, Brian (Diné). Heroes of the Water Monster. Cover art by Shonto Begay (Diné). Heartdrum (2023). US.

For High School

Boulley, Angeline (enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Warrior Girl Unearthed. Cover art by Michaela Goade (enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). 

Dimaline, Cherie (Metis Nation of Ontario), Funeral Songs for Dying Girls. Tundra Books (2023). Canada.

Graves, Byron (enrolled member of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe), Rez Ball. Cover illustration by Natasha Donovan. Heartdrum (2023). US.

Mosionier, Beatrice (Metis), In Search of April Raintree, 40th Anniversary Edition. Foreword by katherena vermette (Metis); afterword by Raven Sinclair (Cree/Assiniboine/Salteaux, Gordon's First Nation). Portage and Main/Highwater Press (2023). Canada.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich (citizen of the Muscogee Nation). Harvest House. Cover art by Britt Newton (citizen of the Muscogee Nation). Heartdrum (2023). US.

Crossover Books (written for adults; appeal to teens/young adults)

Blackhawk, Ned (Western Shoshone), The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of US History. Yale University Press (2023). US.

Powers, Susan. A Council of Dolls. Harper Collins (2023). US.

Rule, Elizabeth. Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation's Capital. Georgetown University Press (2023). US.


*AICL differs from review journals like Horn Book or School Library Journal. Publishers send them books. At AICL, some publishers send us books, but for the most part, Debbie and Jean buy books themselves, or check them out from a library. It is just the two of us, talking with each other about books. There are some we haven’t yet read and they will–no doubt–be on next year’s list.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

My Thoughts on Claims to Cherokee Identity -- and Art Coulson

I've been reading, studying, and writing about children's books for over thirty years. The ones I write about are those about Native people, and those written by Native people. 

How do I know if someone is Native? 

For most of those thirty years, I've taken a person's word. In some cases, they were circulating with people I know to be Native. My assumption is that a person that claims to be Native and hangs out with other Natives is who they say they are, but as I reflect on that assumption, I see it as naive. 

When I find out later there's no substance for a person's claim, I go through a range of emotions: humiliation, embarrassment, and dread. Dread, because now I have to withdraw my previous support or recommendations of their work. And I try to remember editors to whom I've said "work with this person" to let them know. I hate all of that. It feels awful. 

From past experience, I know the author will be upset and may write to me and have their friends write to me, angry, or pleading with me not to withdraw my support. 

The bottom line for me is this: I recommend books in which Native kids see themselves. Native kids are at the center of my work. I imagine myself, back in a classroom, handing a child a book and saying "this author is from the same tribe you are from!" And then I imagine myself trying to figure out what to tell that child when I learn the person is not who I thought they were. I could ignore it but that wouldn't be ethical. 

I agonize over saying anything at all, here on AICL, but I know that AICL creates ripples. What I say here is cited in book chapters and articles. What I say here is used by acquisition editors looking for books by Native writers. 

So here's where I am with respect to writers who say they're of Cherokee descent. 

In 2020, a group of Cherokee scholars, writers, and educators launched "Think Tsalagi: A Cherokee-centric place by Cherokee scholars." On their site is a statement called Cherokee Scholars' Statement on Sovereignty and Identity. I'm noting key parts of it here:
  • In 2008 at a joint council meeting of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a resolution was adopted that opposed non-citizen self-identified Cherokee individuals. 
  • In bold, they write "Only individuals recognized as citizens of the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians should claim a Cherokee identity as part of their professional or personal identity."
  • They encourage individuals who believe they are Cherokee to contact the appropriate Cherokee government to inquire about citizenship. If that government determines they do not have a right to Cherokee citizenship, they should immediately cease identifying as Cherokee. 
The Cherokee Scholars' Statement also says:
Any person who publicly identifies as Cherokee has initiated a public discussion about their identity. It is appropriate to ask such persons to explain the verifiable basis upon which they are claiming a Cherokee identity.
So, I think that's what I'm doing with this blog post. I'm initiating a public discussion with Art Coulson about his claim to being of Cherokee descent. 

Since 2013, I've been talking about his books. I often include information about them in collection and curriculum development workshops I do with librarians and teachers. Two weeks ago, I was developing a presentation. In recent years, I've included a sentence that suggests how a teacher or librarian could introduce an author's book. I talk about that sentence and what it does, educationally. One: it has present tense verbs, which interrupts the idea we no longer exist. Two: it names an author's tribal nation, which interrupts the idea that we're all the same. 

So with Art Coulson, I was going to say "Art Coulson is ... " 

When I write those sentences, I often go back to an author's webpage to make sure I use what they say. I went to Art's page and clicked on the "About Art" tab. Not a word, there, about being Cherokee. I went back to the home page and there, I saw "Art Coulson is a writer of Cherokee, English and Dutch descent..."  

I was taken aback. I had been sure he was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I've met Art. I've talked with him online and in person. So I wrote to him to ask about the information on his website. He said it is correct and that he is ineligible for citizenship because his grandmother's family is not on the Dawes Roll, which is what the Cherokee Nation uses to determine who its citizens are. That did not sit well with me, and so I did not recommend his book in that presentation. 

With the Cherokee Scholars statement and the 2008 resolution in mind, it is important to respect their request and withdraw my recommendations of Art Coulson's books. If you're a person who asserts that you are Cherokee, I think it is important that you respect the Cherokee Nation, too. If you think you are a citizen of Cherokee Nation, get that figured out before you start using that information in your professional work. If you think your ancestry is from one of the other two Cherokee Nations, check with them.  

Saturday, November 11, 2023

About Buffy Sainte-Marie

On October 27, 2023 CBC News published Who is the real Buffy Sainte-Marie? and The Fifth Estate did a segment, Investigating Buffy Sainte-Marie's claims to Indigenous ancestry. In Native networks, people were asking questions in the days leading to the broadcast. 

Since then, many Native people have written about her and the investigation. Below is a set of links to the items I read. It is a curated list. I do not include articles that repeat the information shared in the CBC and Fifth Estate broadcast. I selected articles primarily by Native people, or that include interviews with Native people. These are being shared in Native circles. Based on all I've read, I've decided to withdraw my recommendation of her picture book, Still This Love Goes On, published by Greystone Books in 2022. I will insert a note to the page where I recommended that book. The articles are arranged chronologically. The date on which I added an item is provided in brackets. The list is a work-in-progress. 

October 25, 2023
Canadian documentary focuses on 'icon' who based career on Native identity by Acee Agoyo at [Date added: November 11, 2023]

October 27, 2023
Who is the real Buffy Sainte-Marie? by Geoff Leo, Roxanna Woloshyn and Linda Guerriero at CBC News. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

Investigating Buffy Sainte Marie's claims to Indigenous ancestry at The Fifth Estate. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

Buffy Sainte Marie is an icon of mythic proportions. There's nothing simple about questioning her origins by Drew Hayden Taylor at The Globe and Mail. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

October 29, 2023
I loved Buffy Sainte-Marie. Now, like many Indigenous people, I feel betrayed by Darrel Mcleod at Toronto Star. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

October 30, 2023
An advocacy group devoted to amplifying the voices of Indigenous women says Buffy Sainte-Marie, a musician known for decades of Indigenous activism, appears to have engaged in a great deception regarding her origins as an Indigenous Sixties Scoop Survivor.

Two Indigenous artists react to questions raised about Buffy Sainte-Marie's ancestry at CBC Arts. The artists are ShoShona Kish and Michelle Good. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

Those who pretend to be Indigenous distract from the things that really matter by Tanya Talaga at The Globe and Mail. [Date added: November 12, 2023]

October 31, 2023
Unmaking an Icon Named Buffy Sainte Marie.  by Kevin Ward at The Tyee. [Date added: November 11, 2023]
As much as anyone, I want the allegations of her deception and dishonourable conduct to be untrue. I want her to stay firmly on the pedestal I and many others have put her on. But the evidence against her, as hard as it is to say, does not look good. And now I'm reeling, as are all Buffy fans, especially Indigenous ones like me. 

November 2, 2023
The supposed unmasking of Buffy Sainte-Marie doesn't bring vindication--only more hurt by Eden Fineday at IndigiNews. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

November 5, 2023

Unraveling the Buffy Sainte-Marie controversy with journalist Tanya Talaga at Global News. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

November 7, 2023
'Duped': Indigenous musicians upset over Buffy Sainte-Marie ancestry story, at North Delta Reporter. [Date added: November 11, 2023]

November 8, 2023
What's the Point of "Pretendian" Investigations? by Michelle Cyca at The Walrus. [Date added: November 11, 2023]
Whether we like it or not, at least part of the truth has been revealed. It is up to Indigenous people to make sense of it, to reconcile our pain and disbelief, and to figure out how to move forward with care and respect for one another's responses to these revelations. That's our burden, one that the CBC, or any major news outlet, does not have to carry. They can move on to the next story.

November 9, 2023

Tim Johnson, an Ohsweken resident and the artistic producer for Celebration of Nations held annually at the Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, said Sainte-Marie's deception about her Indigenous identity has caused incalculable reputational and financial damage to authentic Indigenous musicians. 

"When you are a Juno Award-winning artist, opportunities open for you both in terms of notoriety, income and prestige," said Johnson, a Mohawk, Wolf Clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving, by Chris Newell and Winona Nelson

If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving
Written by Chris Newell (citizen of Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township)
Illustrated by Winona Nelson (member of Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa)
Published in 2021
Published by Scholastic
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Highly Recommended


There are many sentences and passages in If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving that I wholeheartedly welcome. Here's one from page 8:

"The story of the Mayflower landing is different 
depending on whether the storyteller 
viewed the events from the boat or from the shore."

That line jumped out as I started reading Chris Newell and Winona Nelson's nonfiction picture book. The cover art positions the reader in a different place. Think for a moment about the cover of most books you've seen about Thanksgiving. They show "Pilgrims and Indians" gathered around a table, or, they show the Mayflower en route. With the cover art of If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving, readers are invited to revisit this moment from the vantage point of a Native person. Here's a close up of that part of the cover:

Published in 2021 by Scholastic Press, it offers teachers a Native perspective--not just on Thanksgiving--but on history. Most readers are likely familiar with the "If You Lived" series that includes ones that purport to be about Native peoples but that are chock full of errors and bias. I'm glad to see this book -- written and illustrated by Native people. From that vantage point, everything in the book is different from the hundreds (thousands?!) of children's books about Thanksgiving. 

In this review, I'm choosing to select a few passages like the one on page 8 that are different than what you have probably seen in other books, before. 

Many books say the Mayflower arrived in the "New World." Newell's book says:
...the ship arrived in Wampanoag territory at the village of Meeshawm, in what is now known as Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Newell names the tribal nation (Wampanoag) and the name of their village, Meeshawm. I bet you've never seen "Meeshawm" before. And he used the phrase "what is now known." As you spend more time reading newer books and articles you'll see more and more writers using that phrase. It may feel awkward but those words are powerful. They tell readers there's a longer history to that place and its name. The phrase invites readers to ask 'what was it known as before?' and 'who called it that?' 

Throughout the book, Newell provides "Did You Know?" boxes in bright colors, like this one in yellow: 

The complete text in that box is:
The English commonly used the labels "Indians" or "savages" to describe the multiple nations of peoples and cultures they encountered in America. "Savages" was incredibly demeaning. Even though the terms were inaccurate and dehumanizing, they became familiar in English terminology. Today the language has changed and generalized terms like "American Indian," "Native American," "First Nation," "Indigenous," or 'Native" are all in use. However, Native peoples prefer to be called by their tribe or nation whenever possible. 
In professional development workshops I do, I talk about the importance of being tribally specific. That's what Newell is asking readers to do. Use the name of a person's nation. When you talk about Newell's book, you can say "This book is by Chris Newell, a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township. It is illustrated by Winona Nelson, who is a member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa." You could show students the website of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township and the website of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa.  You can use their sites as primary sources of information. 

In many books you'll find information about Pilgrims camped on shore in December of 1620, huddled around a campfire for warmth. Illustrations will also show "Indians" in very little clothing shooting arrows at those Pilgrims. The "Indians" are shown that way throughout these books, no matter the season. Winona Nelson's illustrations in If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving are different. They are accurate. In winter, she shows them in clothing appropriate for the cold temperatures: 

I recommend you study illustrations carefully. In many books you'll see the "Indians" barefoot--again, regardless of season or what they are doing. In If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving, the only bare feet you'll see are those of this toddler-in-arms. Another reason Nelson's illustrations stand out is because they include women and children. 

I recommend that teachers get a copy of If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving and study it carefully. Use it with students, in part or in whole, but use it! What you gain from reading it yourself will help you improve your instruction about Native peoples, overall. What you learn by reading it will help you spot problematic text and illustrations in whatever book you're reading. It'd be great if you do more with it: consider forming a study-group with fellow teachers where you use this book to revisit the ways that the Mayflower or Thanksgiving or Native content is presented in your school. The possibilities! There are many. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Debbie--have you seen ALONE by Megan E. Freeman?

A reader submitted a comment to my open letter to Kate DiCamillo about Island of the Blue Dolphins, asking if I've seen Alone by Megan E. Freeman. 

Freeman's book refers to Island of the Blue Dolphins. I haven't seen it, but am glad to know about the book and plan to get a copy as soon as I can. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

House and Senate Resolutions Regarding Book Banning and Threats to Freedom of Expression in the US

On 9/27/2023, the US Senate introduced S.RES.372 (a resolution). You can read and track the resolution here. I'm pasting it below, as part of the record that AICL maintains. It specifically mentions Kevin Noble Maillard's Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. The House has a similar resolution: H.Res.733. I maintain a log of Native-authored books that have been challenged or banned. As of today (Oct 2, 2023) there are 29 different books, many of them challenged or banned in more than one location. The 29 books are by 31 different Native authors and illustrators from 22 distinct Native Nations.


S. RES. 372

Expressing concern about the spreading problem of book banning and the proliferation of threats to freedom of expression in the United States.

September 27 (legislative day, September 22), 2023

Mr. Schatz (for himself, Mr. Reed, Mrs. Feinstein, Ms. Hirono, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Merkley, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Booker, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Padilla, Mr. Markey, and Mr. Blumenthal) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


Expressing concern about the spreading problem of book banning and the proliferation of threats to freedom of expression in the United States.

    Whereas the overwhelming majority of voters in the United States oppose book bans;

    Whereas an overwhelming majority of voters in the United States support educators teaching about the civil rights movement, the history and experiences of Native Americans, enslaved Africans, immigrants facing discrimination, and the ongoing effects of racism;

    Whereas, in 1969, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate”;

    Whereas, in 1982, a plurality of the Supreme Court of the United States wrote in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), that schools may not remove library books based on “narrowly partisan or political grounds”, as this kind of censorship will result in “official suppression of ideas”;

    Whereas the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects freedom of speech and the freedom to read and write;

    Whereas Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”;

    Whereas PEN America has identified nearly 3,400 instances of individual books banned, affecting 1,557 unique titles from July 2022 through June 2023 alone, representing a 33-percent increase in bans compared to the prior year of July 2021 through June 2022;

    Whereas of the 2,532 bans in the 2021–2022 school year, 96 percent of them were enacted without following the best practice guidelines for book challenges outlined by the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Council of Teachers of English;

    Whereas the unimpeded sharing of ideas and the freedom to read are essential to a strong democracy;

    Whereas books do not require readers to agree with topics, themes, or viewpoints but instead allow readers to explore and engage with differing perspectives to form and inform their own views;

    Whereas suppressing the freedom to read and denying access to literature, history, and knowledge are repressive and antidemocratic tactics used by authoritarian regimes against their people;

    Whereas book bans violate the rights of students, families, residents, and citizens based on the political, ideological, and cultural preferences of the specific individuals imposing the bans;

    Whereas book bans have multifaceted, harmful consequences on—

    (1) students, who have a right to access a diverse range of stories and perspectives, especially students from historically marginalized backgrounds whose communities are often targeted by thought control measures;

    Whereas classic and award-winning literature and books that have been part of school curricula for decades have been challenged, removed from libraries pending review, or outright banned from schools, including—

    (1) “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley;

    Whereas books, particularly those written by and about outsiders, newcomers, and individuals from marginalized backgrounds, are facing a heightened risk of being banned;

    Whereas, according to PEN America, 36 percent of instances of books banned or otherwise restricted in the United States from July 2021 to June 2023 have LGBTQ+ characters or themes that recognize the equal humanity and dignity of all individuals despite differences, including—

    (1) “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; and

    Whereas 37 percent of instances of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been banned or otherwise restricted in the United States from July 2021 to June 2023 are books about race, racism, or feature characters of color, including—

    (1) “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford;

    Whereas the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has reported a dramatic surge in challenges at libraries and schools to the inclusion of graphic novels that depict the diversity of civic life in the United States and the painful and complex history of the human experience, including—

    (1) “New Kid” by Jerry Craft;

    Whereas books addressing death, grief, mental illness, and suicide are targeted alongside nonfiction books that discuss feelings and emotions written for teenage and young adult audiences that frequently confront these topics;

    Whereas, during congressional hearings on April 7, 2022, May 19, 2022, and September 12, 2023, students, parents, teachers, librarians, and school administrators testified to the chilling and fear-spreading effects that book bans have on education and the school environment; and

    Whereas, according to PEN America, from July 2022 to June 2023, States across the country limited access to certain books for limited or indefinite periods of time, including—

    (1) Florida, where at least 1,406 books in total have been banned or restricted in 33 school districts;

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) expresses concern about the spreading problem of book banning and the proliferating threats to freedom of expression in the United States;