Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Remarkable Headline

Typically, AICL looks at books for young people. Today, I (Jean) am inspired to do something a little different: a close reading of a headline about a book for young people. Its origin is Alaska's News Source, (KTUU/KYUS in Anchorage) September 17, 2023. Here's a screen shot, and the whole story is here. (To view the video, you have to wait a bit to skip an advertisement.)

Context: The woman holding the book in the photo is Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson. I met her when Debbie and I attended Loonsong Turtle Island in 2018. She's from the North Slope of what's currently known as Alaska. 

It's a remarkable headline for several reasons. Let's go piece by piece. And you should know that I'm learning as I go, and I hope someone will tell me if I get something wrong! The headline reads, 

Iñupiaq author and illustrator's book "Eagle Drums" sells out at book signing

1) Iñupiaq... That's not a word often seen in headlines where I am, in what's sometimes known as The Lower 48. Here's what the Alaska Native Language Center website says about it:

The name "Iñupiaq," meaning "real or genuine person" (inuk 'person' plus -piaq 'real, genuine'), is often spelled "Iñupiaq," particularly in the northern dialects. It can refer to a person of this group ("He is an Iñupiaq") and can also be used as an adjective ("She is an Iñupiaq woman"). The plural form of the noun is "Inupiat," referring to the people collectively ("the Inupiat of the North Slope").

So, the person who's the focus of the photo, the headline, and the story is from the homelands of the Inupiat -- an Iñupiaq woman. It's significant that the headline-writer didn't use a generic term like "Alaska Native." Eagle Drums is a specifically Iñupiaq book.

2) and illustrator's...  Not only did Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson get her story published -- she also made the art for it! That's not unheard-of in child lit circles, of course, but it's still a bit out of the ordinary. And the pool of Iñupiaq author-illustrators is small indeed. There's a chance she's the only one. 

Check out her art and info about her other publications on her website, which features the covers of two anthologies that include short stories she wrote.

3) ... book Eagle Drums ... This middle grade novel came out just this month (September 2023) from Macmillan, which has also published Turtle Mountain Ojibwe author Carole Lindstrom's We Are Water Protectors (illus. by Caldecott Medal winner Michaela Goade, Tlingit/Haida). Here's what the publisher says about Eagle Drums:

A magical realistic middle grade debut about the origin story of the Iñupiaq Messenger Feast, a Native Alaskan tradition.
As his family prepares for winter, a young, skilled hunter must travel up the mountain to collect obsidian for knapping—the same mountain where his two older brothers died. When he reaches the mountaintop, he is immediately confronted by a terrifying eagle god named Savik. Savik gives the boy a choice: follow me or die like your brothers. What comes next is a harrowing journey to the home of the eagle gods and unexpected lessons on the natural world, the past that shapes us, and the community that binds us.

4) ... sells out at book signing. Let's sit with that for a moment. When a book sells out at a signing event, it's because readers have shown up for it. That's evidence of a demand for the material. For far too long, we would hear that there just wasn't a market for Indigenous stories told by Indigenous people. Non-Indigenous writers were the ones who could tell --and sell -- stories about Native lives. But as the headline suggests, people were at this event, eager to buy a new book by an Indigenous (specifically Iñupiaq) author, and to have her sign it!

Much more could be said about the event, about Eagle Drums, and about Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson herself, but I came here to share a close look at that unusual headline. 

Here's what the book cover looks like. Take a close look at the art -- it tells readers just enough about the story to invite them in. And I think it's gorgeous!

We hope you'll get your own copy of Eagle Drums, read it, share it -- and if the book tour comes to your area, ask the author to sign it in person! 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Debbie--have you seen TREE IN THE TRAIL or PADDLE-TO-THE-SEA by Holling Clancy Holling?

Every once in awhile I get an email or comment asking if I've seen a book by Holling Clancy Holling. It might be Tree in the Trail (published in 1942) but more often, people ask about Paddle-to-the-Sea. It came out in 1941 and won a Caldecott Honor. 

Can a book with Native content, published 80+ years ago, be used in classrooms today?

This post is intended to help teachers (or anyone who is considering a book's Native content) make a decision about the book they're considering. 

First, what is your goal? I'm going to assume that you're trying to provide children with stories that accurately depict Native peoples. That means providing the name of a specific nation. That means a story that is tribally specific. If it is about an "Indian" or "American Indian" or "Native American" or "Indigenous" character, that story is not tribally specific and there's likely to be a hodgepodge of content that is not educational. An example of a hodgepodge is a story about an Indian who lives in a tipi and next to it, a totem pole. 

Second, who is the author? If you're trying to give students an authentic story, it is important to know if the author is of the particular Native Nation or community the story is about. If they are not and if they did not live there, what are their sources for creating the story? Sometimes you'll find that information in an author's note, but older books generally do not include that information. 

Let's use Paddle-to-the-Sea to answer these questions. 

Holling Clancy Holling wrote and illustrated Paddle-to-the-Sea. He is not Native. Now let's look at his book. 

Chapter 1 is "How Paddle-to-the-Sea Came To Be." The first sentence is "The Canadian wilderness was white with snow." The second paragraph begins with sounds. Here's the rest of that paragraph: 
'Geese! cried the Indian boy standing in the door of the cabin. 'They come back too soon. I must hurry to finish my Paddle Person!'
"the Indian" is all we're told about him. We are not told the name of his Tribal Nation or community. We do learn that the "Paddle Person" he is making is an Indian he's named Paddle-to-the-Sea. The carved Indian is placed in a foot-long birchbark canoe the Indian boy has made. It is then placed on a snow bank. When "Sun Spirit" shines on it, it will melt and be carried to a river, and then to the Great Lakes, on adventures the boy wold like to have. The rest of the book is about its travels. 

We're given a name for the sun: "Sun Spirit." With the word "Spirit" in there, it takes on something that sounds like it is part of a Native peoples' spiritual teachings, but is it? 

I see that there are curricular materials available. The book has appeal because of the Great Lakes. It provides teachers with a way to teach science. 

But should it be used that way when we know the Native content is not tribally specific? My answer to that question is no. What do you think?