Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Milestones: Indigenous Peoples and Children's Literature

Indigenous Milestones in Children's Literature
Compiled by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White)
American Indians in Children's Literature

In Milestones for Diversity in Children's Literature and Library Services (published in the fall 2015 issue of Children and Libraries) Kathleen T. Horning lays out significant developments in children's literature. In the article she makes the point that progress "is often measured by firsts--the first Newbery Medal given to an author of color" and so on. 

Debbie Reese (tribally enrolled, Nambé Owingeh) launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006 with the intent of sharing what she learned as she researched, analyzed, and wrote about representations of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books. In some places she has written about key moments that mark progress, but she has not gathered them together in a list of milestones--until now. 

With this post on July 21, 2021, American Indians in Children's Literature begins our effort to bring forth a list of milestones. It includes general milestones (like when the Newbery Medal was established) but its focus is on milestones of achievement--for Native peoples in children's literature. Its focus is on Indigenous Peoples of the Tribal Nations in what is currently known as the United States. Please submit comments about items that can be added, and corrections that need doing! Anything--by anyone--that attempts to list milestones is a work-in-progress. We find new things, and those milestones shift! What we share below is accurate to the best of our knowledge. When we learn that a milestone we've listed is not "a first" as we describe, we will make a correction. [Note: this post will be copy/pasted into a Page that you can see in the menu bar beneath AICL's logo. When updates are done, they will be made there rather than here.]



"Nedawi"--a short story written by Susette LaFlesche (Omaha) is published in the children's magazine, St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks. For the author's name, the magazine used "Bright Eyes" -- an English translation of her Omaha name. It is the first Native-authored story to be published in that magazine.


The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School by Francis LaFlesche (Omaha) is published by Small, Maynard & Company. The cover illustration was by Angel De Cora (Hōcąk Nīšoc Haci [commonly known as Ho-Chunk]). The original printing of the book is available online through Google Books. the book is an account of the author's life as a student in a Presbyterian mission school in Nebraska. On page 93, Robert is asked to read aloud from their reading lesson for the day. He reads "Come, come, come, the Summer now is here." That poem appears on page 17 of My Little Hymn Book published in 1850. For more on boarding schools run by the churches or the US government where the goal was to "kill the Indian, save the man" and to "civilize and Christianize" Native people, see AICL's list of recommended materials (children/YA books/college-level texts, websites, videos) on boarding and residential schools. The Middle Five was used at the Day School at Santa Clara Pueblo (day schools were part of the US government's boarding school system), in 1904. 


Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman (Dakota) is published by McClure, Philips & Co. Illustrated by E. L. Blumenschein (not Native). It is based on stories Eastman published in St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks in 1893.  Indian Boyhood was used at the Day School at Santa Clara Pueblo (day schools were part of the US government's boarding school system), in 1904. 


The Newbery Medal is established by the American Library Association, with the intent of encouraging distinguished writing for children. 


TayTay's Tales, illustrated by Fred Kabotie (Hopi) and Otis Polelonema (Hopi) is published by Harcourt, Brace and Company. Written by Elizabeth Willis DeHuff (not Native), it is advertised in Volume 130 of The Atlantic Monthly. Kabotie became known around the world for his art. In the preface, DeHuff writes that "Taytay" means "grandfather." It is, in Debbie's view, a phonetic spelling for the Tewa word for grandfather and is the word she used when speaking to her Hopi grandfather. Some of the stories in the book are from the pueblos that speak Tewa; some are not. Also in the preface, DeHuff calls the stories "folktales" but we disagree with that label, when applied to origin or creation stories told by Native peoples. We have not analyzed the stories for authenticity. 


Feast Day in Nambe is published by the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of Interior, with illustrations by students who attended Santa Fe Indian School, including Emilio Sanchez, Ben Quintana, Paul Lucardio, and Seferino Pino. It is the first in a series of primers for use with Native children. The Report of the Department of the Interior for 1936 states the primers were printed as student projects by the Haskell Institute and Chilocco printing department, that the selections were written by Native children (and were edited "only slightly"). 

School Days in San Juan is published by the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of Interior, with illustrations by students who attended Santa Fe Indian School: Jose Dolores Pecos, Tom Jay, Lorenzo Garcia, Margaret Naranjo, Clarence Gutierrez, Joe Aguilar, Marie Trujillo, Tomacita Vigil, and Ben Quintana. It is the fourth booklet in the primer series published at Haskell Institute. It includes writings by children at San Juan Pueblo (currently known as Ohkay Owingeh). 


Third Grade Home Geography is published by Tesuque Printers. Five children at Tesuque Pueblo's day school were the Tesuque Printers. Their teacher was Ann Nolan Clark. They made seven copies of the book in their classroom. The entries in Third Home Geography were written by Clark, based on the children's writings about their homes. Over the next years, Clark went on to do similar books for children at other U.S. boarding schools. Some of the books were also available in a tribal language. One example is Singing Sioux Cowboy / Lak'ota pte'ole hoksila lowansa, published in 1945. Written by Clark, it was translated by Emil Afraid-of-Hawk and illustrated by Andrew Standing Soldier. 


The Caldecott Medal is established by the American Library Association, to recognize the most distinguished American picture book. 


I Am A Pueblo Indian Girl a picture book written by E-Yeh-Shure (English name: Louise Abeita) of Isleta Pueblo was published by William Morrow and Company (founded in 1926 and now an imprint of HarperCollins). Illustration's were done by Allan C. Houser (Chiricahua Apache). E-Yeh-Shure was thirteen at the time of the book's publication. 



Velino Herrera of Zia Pueblo, wins a Caldecott Honor for illustrations in In My Mother's House. It was first published as part of a series of readers for Native children. In that series, its title was Third Grade Home Geography (for more details see the entry for 1936). 


Runner in the Sun: A Story of Indian Maize, written by D'Arcy McNickle (Flathead), illustrated by Allan C. Houser (Apache), is published by John C. Winston Company. It was listed in Anna Lee Stensland's Literature by and about the American Indian: An Annotated Bibliography for Junior and Senior High School Students, published in 1973 by the National Council of Teachers of English and we include it here as the first middle grade book published by a Native writer.


Summer Water and Shirley by Durango Mendoza, Muscogee, takes the Mahan Short Fiction Award at University of Missouri, Columbia. It is the first work by a Native writer to win this award. Mendoza's story has appeared in anthologies used with high school students.


Jimmy Yellow Hawk, written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Rosebud Sioux) and illustrated by Oren Lyons (Seneca) is published by Holiday House. Sneve's publication was the outcome of advocacy by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, founded in 1965 to promote literature that better reflected society. In 1969, the Council on Interracial Books for Children sponsored its first writing contest, designed to locate and encourage previously unpublished African American, Asian American, and Native American writers. Sneve was among the people CIBC selected. 


Simon Ortiz (Acoma) and Sharol Graves's (Absentee Shawnee) epic history, The People Shall Continue, is published by Children's Book Press. It is the first use of the word "Nation" in a book for children. A 40th Anniversary edition was published by Lee and Low in 2017.


Acoma Partners in Basics, a writing workshop funded by VISTA (a federally funded program created in 1964, called Volunteers in Service to America) to develop materials for instructional use in tribal communities like Acoma Pueblo, publishes two booklets for children of Acoma: Simon Ortiz's Little Blue and Little Red (illustrated by Hilda Aragon) in 1981 and in 1982, The Importance of Childhood.  Unlike the primers written by Ann Nolan Clark in the 1930s, these books are written by a tribal member.  


Homer Little Bird's Rabbit by Limana Kachel is published by the Montana Council for Indian Education. Illustrated by Northern Cheyenne children from Lame Deer School, and from Labre Indian School, it is the first children's picture book about boarding school. 


W. W. Norton & Co. publishes New Worlds of Literature  (Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter, eds.) its first intentionally "multicultural" anthology of US literature. The Norton anthologies were/are widely used in literature survey courses, as they both reflected and (to an extent) determined the canon encountered by freshman and sophomore university students. New Worlds features work by several Native-identified writers, including Lance Henson (Cheyenne), Carter Revard (Osage), Louise Erdrich (Ojibway), Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma), Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok), Paula Gunn Allen (Sioux-Laguna), Peter Blue Cloud (Mohawk), Ray A. Young Bear (Meskwaki), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Nora Dauenhauer (Tlingit), N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), Durango Mendoza (Muscogee).

The Birchbark House written and illustrated by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain) is a finalist for the National Book Award. Set in 1847 on Lake Superior, it is followed by several books that chronicle the story of an Ojibwe family through decades of life as they grow older and adjust to Europeans who come onto their homelands. They are The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year, Chickadee, and Makoons.


Our Journey written by Lyz Jaakola (Ojibwe) and illustrated by Karen Savage-Blue (Ojibwe) is the first board book written and illustrated by Native people. A bilingual book, it is published by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.


The American Indian Library Association presents its first biennial American Indian Youth Literature Awards (AIYLA) at the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. The awards honors the very best writing and illustration by Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples of North America in three categories. The inaugural award winning books are Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story in the Best Picture Book category; Birchbark House in the Best Middle Grade Book category, and Hidden Roots in theBest Young Adult Book category. 


Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns by Richard Van Camp (Dogrib) is gifted to every baby born in British Columbia that year. It is the first mass distribution of a book by a Native writer. 

Super Indian by Argon Starr (Kickapoo) is published. It is the first comic to be written and illustrated by a Native woman.

The American Indian Library Association's Executive Board and its Youth Literature Award Committee rescinds the youth literature award it bestowed on Sherman Alexie in 2008 for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian due to allegations of sexual misconduct. It is the first time a children's literature award has been rescinded. Their statement reads, in part, 
"The books we select represent the very best for our kids and our communities. We believe that writers are members of our communities who we can look to as role models for our youth.  We cannot, therefore, recommend Mr. Alexie's books, and we have decided to rescind our 2008 Best YA Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In rescinding this award, we hope to send an unequivocal message that Alexie's actions are unacceptable."


Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek) appointed to be U.S. Poet Laureate. She is the first Native poet appointed to that honor, and was appointed again in 2020 and in 2021. 


Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) is selected to deliver the 2019 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture by the Association of Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. 


HarperCollins launches Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint. It is led by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) and Rosemary Brosnan (white). Its logo is designed by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson (Inupiaq).


Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story written by Kevin Maillard (Seminole) is the first book by a Native writer to win the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal. 


Marcie Rendon, citizen of the White Earth Nation, is the first Native writer to win the McKnight Distinguished Artist award. 


When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry edited by Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek), is the first Norton anthology edited by a Native writer, and that contains only Native poets. 


We Are Water Protectors illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit) is the first book by a not-white woman to win the Caldecott Medal. Authored by Carole Lindstrom (Turtle Mountain) We Are Water Protectors is published by Roaring Book Press. Goade's acceptance speech is published in Horn Book on June 28, 2021 and is viewable at the ALA YouTube channel: 2021 Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Virtual Banquet


Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth (Onondaga) is the first Native author to win a Michael L. Printz Honor. The Printz awards exemplify literary excellence in young adult literature. It was established in 2000. 


Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend written by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) and illustrated by Tara Audibert is the first chapter book series for early readers. 


Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman, written by Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) and Nancy K. Mays (non-Native) and illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe) is the first picture book about one of the first Native women elected to the U.S. Congress.


The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature is the first publication of an anthology of all-Navajo literature.  


Healer of the Water Monster, written by Brian Young (Navajo) and illustrated by Shonto Begay (Navajo) is the first book for middle grade readers, written and illustrated by two people of the Navajo Nation. It is published by HarperCollins.


Sisters of the Neversea, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Muscogee), and published under the Heartdrum imprint of Harper Collins, is the first book written and illustrated by two people of the Muscogee Nation.


Josie Dances, written by Denise Lajimodiere (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) and illustrated by Angela Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) is the first book written and illustrated by two people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Nation. 


The first young adult hardcover to debut at the #1 spot on the New York Times best-selling books list is Angeline Boulley's (Ojibwe) Firekeeper's Daughter

Saturday, July 10, 2021


Healer of the Water Monster
Written by Brian Young (Navajo)
Illustrated by Shonto Begay (Navajo)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Heartdrum (HarperCollins)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


I am delighted to recommend Brian Young's Healer of the Water Monster. Below, I will share some of the reasons why I think you should have this book on your school library shelf, and in your classroom library, and in your home library. If there's a Little Free Library in your neighborhood, get one for it, too! And if you're on a road trip, get a copy of the audio version. It is terrific! To start, let's look at the book description:

When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer, with no electricity or cell service. Still, he loves spending time with Nali and with his uncle Jet, though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him.

One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds someone extraordinary: a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story—a Water Monster—in need of help.

Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to support Uncle Jet in healing from his own pain.

Now, here are some of the reasons I highly recommend Healer of the Water Monster:


Brian Young is Diné (Navajo). Whether you're an adult or child--but especially if you are a teacher--I suggest you begin with the Author's Note that starts on page 352. People who have attended my workshops or lectures know that I am deeply committed to Native writers. When teachers use their books in the classroom, they can say something like "We're going to start reading Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young. Brian is Diné." That last sentence in my scenario is what I want you to look closely at! Specifically, think about the word "is" in "Brian is Diné." A three-word sentence, with a powerful two-letter word. Those two letters push against the thousands of times students have heard past tense references to Native people. It tells students that we are still here. 

A teacher could then pull up the website for the Navajo Nation and say "Here is the website for the Navajo Nation." Of course, that's another use of present tense verbs but it also tells students that we use technology--that our nations have websites! I smiled as I read the early passages of Healer of the Water Monster when Nathan is trying to use his cell phone at his grandmother's home. 

When we do workshops with teachers, we ask teachers to become familiar with present-day life of the tribal nation in a given book. With his Author's Note, you learn that the Navajo people and their homelands have been exploited by the uranium industry, and that the mine in Healer of the Water Monster is an actual mine. The area of that mine remains radioactive, today. Brian's note also talks about coal mining and its devastation to Navajo homelands. 

Another dimension of Native life that Brian addresses is exploitation and misuse of Native stories. Some stories, he writes, are told during specific times. There are some beings within his own nation's spirituality that "cannot be replicated in drawings, writings, or films. Merely saying the names of certain Holy Beings outside of their ceremonial circumstance could diminish their healing abilities." He has more to say about that. It is a tremendous opportunity for teachers to think about respect of spiritualities different from their own. He knows of what he writes! That is what a tribally-specific voice can do that another one cannot. 

Indigenous Language

In spite of efforts to destroy who we are, our Native languages have persisted. There are revitalization efforts, everywhere, with elders leading the way in teaching our languages to our tribal members. When you read this book, you'll see Nathan's grandmother is teaching him their language. In real life and in this book, language revitalization is so exciting! In Healer of the Water Monster, this is what you'll see at the top of chapter one:

I love seeing Young using his language in that way! His book has thirty-three chapters. Each one opens with the Diné word on top and the English one beneath it. As you read through the book you'll see many Navajo words. Notice: none of them are in italics! Recently, the use of italics for non-English words is decreasing. That's a plus for all of us (to understand why this is an important shift in publishing, make time to watch Daniel Jose Older's video, Why We Don't Use Italics).

In the author's note for Healer of the Water Monster there's an excellent note about Young's thought process regarding a glossary of the words he uses in the book. It prompts readers everywhere to think about seemingly innocuous things, like glossaries. 

Young's use of Diné for chapter headings is terrific! I can see Diné language teachers--especially ones who have Navajo children in their classrooms--using this book to demonstrate that their language matters, and then of course, assigning the book to their students because the story itself is so good! 

The story

Calling Young's story "soooo good", Dr. Jennifer Denetdale (she's Navajo, too, and a professor at the University of New Mexico) went on to say:
It dawns on me that a marker of Indigenous fiction is how a writer centers the Indigenous/Diné world where the non-Indian worlds are peripheral and only appear at the edges, though the characters must grapple with what colonialism brings. 
She also said:
This book celebrates a Diné sensibility of a world radiant with living beings that most of us are not aware.
I often say that reviews by someone who is of the same tribal nation a book is about are the ones that matter, most of all. They know their tribal nation and its culture and history in ways that others won't know it. Dr. Denetdale's comment was on June 6, 2021 on her Facebook page (I am sharing it with her permission).  

I'll be thinking about what she said the next time I read Healer of the Water Monster. In what ways is the non-Indian world peripheral to the story Young has created? I definitely felt the radiance of a world that has living beings that some are not aware of... and I liked that radiance, very much! 

There are small passages that sparkle, too. I noticed, for example, the exchange between Nathan and a water monster who asked Nathan to tell her about her river (p. 308):
"River?" Nathan was confused. There were so many rivers. 
"You might know it by the name the pale people forced upon it. The San Juan River," the water monster said. "But its original name, my name, is Yitoo Bi'aanii."
Across the country, Native peoples have their own names for rivers and mountains and, well, the land. In that relatively small way, Brian Young reminds us that we are the original peoples of these lands. To some readers, this may pass unnoticed, but to others, they'll feel an immense pride as they read passages like that one.

Closing Thoughts

I'm pleased that Healer of the Water Monster received starred reviews from mainstream review journals! Those stars mean librarians will purchase the books for their libraries. When you book talk it, consider drawing attention to the cover art. I am currently researching and writing a "Milestones" post that notes the first this-or-that in books by Native writers. I think this is the first book for middle grade readers that is written by a Navajo writer and illustrated by a Navajo artist. That artist is Shonto Begay. If you don't already do so, follow him on Facebook. There, he shares art from time to time. I am especially blown away by his Etch a Sketch art. 

Like I said earlier, I highly recommend Brian Young's book. Ask for it at your local library and bookstore. Visibility is of utmost importance, and books like this one deserve warm spotlights, everywhere. 

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Indians, Eskimos, and guns in DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR

The original edition of Danny and the Dinosaur, written and illustrated by Syd Hoff came out in 1958 as an "I Can Read" book. It was published by Harper & Brothers:

Some years later, it was reprinted with brighter colors:

In the story, Danny visits a museum. When he goes into the museum, he sees "Indians" and "Eskimos." Hoff's book was edited by Ursula Nordstrom. When he submitted the manuscript to her, she thought his line about Danny wanting to "see how the world looked a long, long time ago" was unchildlike. She suggested he be specific and use "He saw Indians." (For more on this, see Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom edited by Leonard Marcus). He took her advice. People have objected to those stereotypes for years. We've written about them here on AICL. 

In 2017, the publisher celebrated the 50th anniversary of the book. On their website they had this worksheet. I put the arrow on it, shared my image on Twitter, and asked the publisher (HarperChildrens) to think critically about what Item E. invited non-Native kids to think about, with regard to Native peoples:

By the end of the work day, HarperChildrens responded, saying "We appreciate your valuable feedback and sincerely apologize that this activity was offensive. It has been removed from the site." (Screen shot below):

I asked if the image would also be removed from the book, but they did not reply. 

A few months ago, a Native parent told me that she and her daughter were reading Danny and the Dinosaur. She said that the page with stereotypical images of "Indians" and "Eskimos" had been edited. The stereotypes were gone.

Then, last month at the 2021 Children's Literature Association Annual Conference (online), I saw the edited image. Dr. Ramona Caponegro's presentation was about the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection archives at the University of Southern Mississippi. I've been there and have seen the Syd Hoff collection. Her presentation included information about Danny and the Dinosaur. I learned that the edited copy is part of a 5-book collection of stories about Danny, published in 2017. That was the 50th anniversary of the book. Edits were done to two pages that face each other in the book. 

First is the original (image is from a YouTube read-aloud of the book):

And here's the edited 2017 version from the 5-book collection (image sent to me by Dr. Caponegro):

The stereotypical Indian and Eskimo and the sentences "He saw Indians." and "He saw Eskimos." are gone. In the edited version we see a new bear. On the facing page, the guns and the sentence "He saw guns." are gone. These changes were not made to the hard cover that you can buy, today. 

Why were the changes made to one edition and not the other? 

A primary factor in edits is cost to the publishing house. When edits can be confined to a single page, they are more likely to be done because when edits cause a shift such that words move to a subsequent page, that may mean changes to every subsequent page--and that means more cost to the publishing house. I'm going to speculate that there's a different printer for the 5-book paperback collection than there is for the single hardcover, and that hopefully we'll see a change to the hardcover, too, but will we? Five years have passed since the edits were done. Why have the edits not been made to the hardcover?

And I wonder what prompted the edits in the first place? I'm speculating again that the publisher may have been hearing from parents who had concerns about the guns on page 7. So, perhaps a decision was made to remove them and, at the same time, remove the stereotypical Indian/Eskimo. No statements were made explaining any of this. 

Dr. Caponegro's research into the changes is on-going. Like Caponegro, I have many questions! When either of us has more to report, I'll be back!  

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Take Action: Contact Scholastic about Clifford's Halloween

This morning as I prep for an event that is framed as a book fair, I started looking for an image of book fairs to remind people that they make choices at fairs. They look carefully. I found a Scholastic Book Fair image that includes several of its more popular characters. One of them is Clifford the Big Red Dog. 

It is the perfect image to make my point. If you go to a Scholastic Book Fair and you see Clifford's Halloween on the table, pick it up. Page through it. What do you see? Newer editions of the book have "An Indian" or "An Indian Chief" in them. 

But, the very first edition, published in 1966, did not have an Indian. Instead, Clifford is shown as a zebra. Why did it get replaced with the Indian image, in 1986?! Scholastic--if you're reading this, can you tell us why that happened? (Screen caps below are from video read-alouds people have shared of them reading the book):

"A zebra" in 1966 edition

"An Indian" in 1986 edition

"An Indian chief" in 2011 edition

Do you have the 1986 or 2011 edition of the book on your home, classroom, or library shelf? 

If it is a personal copy, please send it to Scholastic. Ask them to revert to the zebra page or come up with a new costume for Clifford. And ask them to add a page to the revised book that tells readers they had "An Indian" and "An Indian chief" in their 1986 and 2011 editions. Sometimes, authors (or those who control their estate) decide to remove problematic text or illustrations from their books. A note about the revised content is not included in the book. Librarians write to me to ask for notes about that because it helps them in their collection development. They'd like to remove the problematic version and replace it with the newer one. Such notes can be very helpful! They can show us that people are capable of listening to concerns, and that they take action to incorporate what they've learned. 

If you send your copy of the book to Scholastic, please let me know! If you're comfortable in doing so, use social media to tell others what you're doing. You can use the #StepUpScholastic hashtag. 

Back to add their address:
Scholastic Inc.
557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012-3999

Monday, May 31, 2021

Debbie--have you seen Whitney Sanderson's GOLDEN SUN, (#5 in the Horse Diaries series)?

A reader wrote to ask if I've read Whitney Sanderson's Golden Sun. Published in 2010, it is part of the Horse Diaries series published by Random House Books for Young Readers. The books are historical fiction, told from the point of view of horses.

There are, I think, 16 books in the series. 

#16 is Penny, "a blue-eyed palomino paint" who, with a boy named Jesse, search for gold in California. Gold rush stories are -- to many readers -- exciting. They seem to line up with the "American dream" of success by way of hard work. What is left out or not even considered, is the life of Native peoples whose homelands existed for thousands of years before arrival of Europeans who were seeking riches.  

#3 is Koda, a bay quarter horse who is on the Oregon Trail. Stories about it are also problematic for the same reason that gold rush stories are (they celebrate something that was devastating to Native people, their families, and their homelands). 

I was able to see chapter one of Golden Sun online. Here's the description of the book:
Oregon, 1790 
Golden Sun is a chestnut snowflake Appaloosa. In summer, he treks through the mountains with his rider, a Nez Perce boy named Little Turtle, as he gathers healing plants. But when Little Turtle’s best friend falls ill, Golden Sun discovers his true calling. Here is Golden Sun’s his own words.

And here are some notes as I read chapter one. Notes in regular fond; my comments are in italics.
  • Several words are in italics, which I assume are meant to be from the language Little Turtle's people use. Is there a source note for those words in the back matter? I hope so. I did a quick search for one of the words used ("tawts"). The hits are to the Kaya books in the American Girls series. There is a Nimipuutimt language page online (in video and print) and I see "tá'c" there, pronounced like "tawts." [Note: The book came out in 2010. Today, writers are successfully having words in their language printed in a regular font (not italics). For an explanation why, see Daniel Jose Older's video.]  
  • An older horse told Golden Sun a story about horses who were born in Spain "where the land was hardly visible for all the people and horses and lodges crowded upon it." Describing European lands that way is a technique often used to make the point that it was necessary for Europeans to set out for "the New World" where there was a lot of land that, from a European point of view, was not being used. That idea and imagery is used to justify invasion of Native lands. 
  • Little Turtle uses an obsidian knife to cut some of Golden Sun's hair off. He puts it in his medicine bag. Think of someone using a knife versus using an "obsidian" knife. That word (obsidian) communicates a lot! It sends a "primitive" message that is characteristic of efforts to depict Native peoples as uncivilized. 

Based on what I see in chapter one, I would probably put a "not recommended" tag on this book. If I get a copy, I'll be back. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

An Open Letter to Anyone Writing or Editing or Reviewing or Using a Children's Book about Crazy Horse

May 30, 2021

Dear Anyone Writing or Editing or Reviewing or Using a Children's Book about Crazy Horse:

This morning I read an email from a teacher who is asking me about Crazy Horse. She is considering a particular book and wondered if it has merit. My library does not have a copy but I can see the first few pages online. The author of the Crazy Horse biography is Anne M. Todd. She is not Native. Chapter one opens with a quote that she attributes to Crazy Horse: 
"It is a good day to fight! A good day to die! Strong hearts, brave hearts, to the front! Weak hearts and cowards to the rear!"
That quote is what prompted this open letter. When I see something like that, I wonder if that person (in this case, Crazy Horse) said those words? And, I wonder about the source for the quote. 

Because I can't see the whole book, I don't know if the quote is sourced in a bibliography or back matter for the book. I find that quote in Stephen Ambrose's book, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, but he doesn't have a source for it either. So... where did it come from? 

I'm asking that people be mindful of quotes attributed to Native people. Quotes can take on a life of their own. When they're not the words the person actually spoke, that's a problem. 

Let's look at a recent example.

When Eric Carle died last week, a photo of a page that people took for an interview with him began circulating--but the "interview" was a joke in an April Fools 2015 issue of The Paris Review. That interview was cited as if it was something Carle wrote. It was cited on social media, and a passage from the joke also appears in Clare Pollard's book, Fierce Bad Rabbits. Avi Naftali pointed out the mistake and The Paris Review subsequently added a note to the top of the original joke. It says:
This piece was published as part of an April Fool's post in 2015, entitled "Introducing The Paris Review for Young Readers." It is a fictional interview, and intended purely as a parody. It is not intended to communicate any true or factual information, and is for entertainment purposes only.
The difference in the Crazy Horse quote and the Carle/not Carle joke is that we don't know the source of the Crazy Horse quote. Or rather--I don't know the source. I'll keep looking. My point, however, is that when something is repeated enough, it becomes taken as fact. To some people, the Carle/not Carle joke felt similar enough to things Carle said that people took the joke as fact. In the Carle/not Carle case, I think that all the players (so to speak) are white. 

With the Crazy Horse case, we supposedly have the words of a Native man but we don't know who recorded them. If it was a Lakota person who heard his words (presumably spoken in Lakota) who recounted them to someone else, that would feel like an authentic presentation of Crazy Horse. 

I've got doubts, though! That famous speech supposedly given by Chief Seattle is one example of what I'm getting at. He spoke some words but they aren't the ones attributed to him in books like Brother Eagle Sister Sky, by Susan Jeffers.

My doubts are affirmed as I read The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III. He's Lakota. I strongly recommend you get a copy of his book. Read the Introduction and the Reflections. He rejects Ambrose's characterization of Crazy Horse as an "American warrior" in the subtitle of his book and he does not include the quote in his book. Marshall's middle grade book, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, is outstanding. Get a copy of it for your classrooms and set aside all the biographies that might be in your classroom or library. It won the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award in 2016

I'll keep looking for the source of the quote. I'm guessing that Anne Todd got it from Ambrose's book. If you find or know the source, let me know! In the meantime, hit your pause buttons when you come across quotes attributed to Native people. Don't be complicit in misattributions. 


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher


 Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher 
Written by Kade Ferris (Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Canadian Metis descent)
Illustrated by Tashia Hart (Red Lake Anishinabe)
Published in 2020
Publisher: Minnesota Humanities Center
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Status: Highly Recommended

Biographies of Native sports figures have been few and far between, in my experience. Jim Thorpe and Tom Longboat are two that immediately come to mind. So it feels great to be able to recommend Kade Ferris' middle grade book about the Ojibwe man who invented a special pitch called the slider. 

Charles Albert Bender: National Hall of Fame Pitcher is part of the new series, Minnesota Native American Lives, edited by Gwen Nell Westerman and Heid E. Erdrich. AICL has already reviewed two others, about Peggy Flanagan and Ella Cara Deloria

Charles Bender was born near Brainerd, MN, in 1884. His mother Mary was an Ojibwe woman who cooked for a lumber company, and his father Albertus was a white (German American) lumberjack. After the trees were gone and the lumber company moved on, the family farmed on the White Earth reservation. One of the tasks that fell to Charles was picking up rocks in the field and throwing them out of the way of the plow. After a while, his aim was very good and his throwing arm was powerful. He credited this experience with the foundation of his success as a pitcher.

Charles and some of his siblings attended a boarding school in Pennsylvania for several years. He enjoyed his academic subjects there. When he was finally able to go home, he found living with his family intolerable. The crowded conditions and his father's brutality made him eager to leave again, this time for Carlisle Indian Industrial School. If you've read about Jim Thorpe's life and career, you'll remember that athletics were very important at Carlisle. Charles' talent for pitching caught the attention of Carlisle coach Glenn "Pop" Warner, and Warner eventually persuaded him to join the baseball team. 

Reading both the bio of Ella Cara Deloria and this book may have you pondering life trajectories. Ella Deloria was a multi-talented person who turned to academics amid ambient racism and sexism. Charles Bender, biographer Ferris tells us, also had multiple strengths. A very good student, he was drawn into athletics as a young man, and that world is where he spent much of his adulthood. Like Jim Thorpe, Charles excelled at several sports. He came to love golf and was so good at trapshooting that, in his day, he was nearly as famous for his marksmanship as for his pitching.

After graduating from Carlisle, Charles set aside an opportunity to continue his studies, and went to pitch for a semi-pro team in Harrisburg, PA. A scout for the Philadelphia Athletics noticed Charles' exceptional pitching during an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, and told the now-legendary Athletics' manager, Connie Mack, about him. Ferris centers the high and low points of Charles' time in major league baseball, like any biographer writing about a sports figure. For example, he notes that Charles' pitching for the Athletics in the 1911 World Series was hailed as "one of the most impressive feats in baseball" -- "striking out twenty batters in twenty-six innings and only allowing one earned run average in the three games he pitched." The reader can relish hard-won victories along with Charles and his teammates, and feels the sting of set-backs and defeats. The book includes a table of stats for Charles Bender's major league career. 

But Ferris also does not avoid the fact that, like many athletes who were not white, Charles endured racist micro-aggressions and even blatant aggression. There were the seemingly inevitable war whoops from "fans", being nicknamed "Chief" in the press against his firm objections, and sometimes worse. In 1907, he was even refused service and physically thrown out of an evidently whites-only soda shop in Washington DC when he ordered a soft drink. Ferris speculates that Charles did not let these situations "get him down," and he certainly did not let them define him.

The triumphs and tribulations of being an Ojibwe athlete and person in the world are likely to stand out for readers. I enjoyed the ways the author presents what major league baseball was like during its early years -- quite a contrast to today! I can't speak for other readers who are sports fans, but I was interested Charles Bender's life outside of his athletic career. The book mentions his oil paintings, gardening, and love of the natural world, but not (I had to look this up) the fact that he was married for about 50 years to the same woman. I don't see this as a flaw in the book so much as an indicator that this bio leaves the reader wanting to know more, and that's a good thing.

As with the other books in the Minnesota Native American Lives series, Tashia Hart's illustrations augment the text, sometimes poignantly. See how she signals that Charles was retiring -- hanging up his cleats -- on p. 37. At least one illustration includes a subtle nod to Ojibwe identity -- the floral design around the full-length portrait of Charles Bender in action, on p. 23.  

The book includes the same "Extend Your Learning" pages that are part of the other books in this series -- an excellent resource for educators. I sure hope editors Gwen Nell Westerman and Heid E. Erdrich have more of these middle-grade biographies in the works about influential Indigenous people. You can express the same sentiment by buying these books and/or sharing them with students!

Highly Recommended! I SANG YOU DOWN FROM THE STARS, written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner; illustrated by Michaela Goade

I Sang You Down from the Stars
Written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner (Inninewak (Cree) and Trinidadian)
Illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit, member of the Kiks.ådi Clan)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Highly Recommended


As I sit here at my computer on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 and think about the books that I reviewed last week, I notice that women and children, and grandchildren are at the center of each one. That continues with I Sang You Down From the Stars. With this book, we add a baby. I've written reviews of books about babies before (Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett's We Sang You Home is one) and am delighted to add this one! 

Spillett-Sumner and Goade's book was published on April 6. Right away, it was on the New York Times Bestseller list. Just look at that cover! Isn't it breathtaking? The words and the art in I Sang You Down from the Stars sparkle with warmth and love. 

Stories about family members working together always resonate with me, especially ones about sewing. These reflect our communities in such beautiful ways. Look at this double-paged spread in I Sang You Down from the Stars. On the left, we see people at a table, cutting fabric. We see a child, showing an elder a finished square. That scene tugs on my heart as this family gets ready to welcome a baby into the family and its community (I took this photo outside in the early morning light):

And when the baby is born, we read: 
Family and friends came from near and far to welcome you. 
One by one, they held you and greeted you.
Those words, too, invoke strong memories full of love! Mama's holding little children so they can cradle the new babies! 

Before you read this book to children, take time to read the notes from the author and illustrator. I'm seeing more space being given to authors and illustrators, where they can speak directly to readers about who they are and what they bring to the book. These notes are important! They add depth and tell you things that infuse and shape your reading of the book. 

When I think about "back matter" (that is the information provided after the story itself) that I've read over the decades that I've been doing this work, I realize that I've talked about it in individual reviews but I haven't written an article about that. Hmm. Maybe it is time for that. 

Get a copy of I Sang You Down from the Stars! When you're at your library, ask for it so that others can find and read it, too. And tell your friends and colleagues about it.