Showing posts sorted by relevance for query cheyenne again. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query cheyenne again. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, November 09, 2007

Eve Bunting's CHEYENNE AGAIN

Below is a review of Eve Bunting's book, Cheyenne Again. The review is written by Beverly Slapin at Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization. This review of Cheyenne Again originally appeared in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. As you read the review, you will see that it is not a book that could be used to educate children about American Indians and boarding schools they attended. In A Broken Flute, you will find reviews of books that can be used for that purpose. A Broken Flute is available from Oyate for $35. In it, over 700 children's books are discussed and/or reviewed. I highly recommend it. The review below may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin.
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Bunting, Eve, Cheyenne Again, illustrated by Irving Toddy (Navajo). New York: Clarion (1995). 32 pages, color illustrations; grades 2-3; Cheyenne

In Cheyenne Again, Bunting tells the story of a 10-year-old Cheyenne boy who, in the late 1880s, is taken far from his family and sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School, more than 1,000 miles away, to “learn the White Man’s ways.” “The corn is drying out,” his father says. “There will be food in this place they call school. Young Bull must go.” 

Toddy’s acrylic and oil paintings are perfect for a boarding school story, especially when he contrasts the open, light expanse of the Great Plains with the depressingly dark confines of the school. The child’s pain also, as Young Bull’s hair is forcibly cut while others, with short hair, look on. And his running away, with only a thin blanket for cover, into a blizzard. Toddy has been there. As a former student at Intermountain Indian School in Utah, he holds the stories in his heart.

In Bunting’s telling, on the other hand, conditions appear far better than they were. “Kill the Indian, save the man”—Captain Richard Henry Pratt’s harsh motto—was much more indicative of the treatment meted out to the lonely, miserable children than Bunting cares to reveal. Children whose parents voluntarily sent them to Carlisle went there, not to “learn the White Man’s ways,” but to learn English. Bunting does not mention the many deaths—from malnutrition, from diseases, from beatings, from broken hearts. Nor does she mention the jail cells and the arbitrary punishment such as having lye rubbed into young mouths for the sin of not knowing what was expected. She whitewashes the abject wretchedness of the children’s lives.

There would have been no kindly teacher to offer “salve to sooth the place the chain has rubbed,” to console a child by telling him, “Never forget that you are Indian inside. Don’t let us take your memories.” Pratt’s “teaching” methodology was designed to force the children to deny—and later, forget—their Indianness, inside and out. Any teacher encouraging a child to remember who he was would have been fired on the spot.

On the last page, Young Bull, having drawn pictures in a ledger book of warriors riding on painted ponies, breaks through “the lines across the page” and rides once again with his relatives “across the golden plain.” He has again become, as Bunting so facilely makes possible, “Cheyenne again.”

By ending the story here, Bunting is able to sidestep, not only the misery of the boarding schools, but also their legacy. It’s ongoing, and many people still bear the scars.

—Beverly Slapin
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Note from Debbie: To learn more about boarding schools, visit these websites:
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Paula Giese's essay about Cheyenne Again provides in-depth information about Intermountain Indian School.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Eve Bunting's CHEYENNE AGAIN


Not Again! Boarding School Story Misses the Mark*



Last year, Debbie and I analyzed several picture books about children in Indian boarding school for a book chapter. We intentionally left out of our chapter a fairly popular 1993 book, Cheyenne Again, by European-American writer Eve Bunting, illustrated by Dine artist Irving Toddy. I recently saw it in a display of children’s books about Native people in the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument bookstore (which also featured several good books created by Native people.)

Young Bull, the narrator of Cheyenne Again, is 10 when the story starts. It’s apparently set in the late 1800s, when boarding schools began to proliferate. A white man and a uniformed, fully assimilated Native man come to Young Bull’s community and tell his family that he must go away to school.

The boy doesn’t want to go. But his father tells him he “needs to learn the White Man’s ways”– and there will be food for him at school. How the father can be sure of that is not explained.

So Young Bull rides the train to an unnamed school. School officials cut his hair, take his clothes, make him wear a scratchy uniform, disrespect his heritage. With dozens of fellow students, he marches in formation, goes to church, and helps repair the school dormitories. He learns to read, and notices that the school’s history books say nothing about how Cheyenne and Sioux (sic) defeated Custer at Greasy Grass. He cries for home in his bed at night.

Then one night he runs away -- into a blizzard. He’s caught and shackled for a day as punishment. A sympathetic teacher then encourages him to “Never forget that you are Indian inside.” He finds that drawing scenes of home and of Cheyenne heroism at Greasy Grass helps him feel that he is “Cheyenne again.”

In her review of this book for A Broken Flute: the Native Experience in Books for Children, Beverly Slapin comments that Irving Toddy’s illustrations vividly express the depressed, desperate boarding school ambience, in contrast to the bright golden scenes of Young Bull’s early boyhood and the heroic events he imagines. I agree: the illustrations feel psychologically “true,” which makes sense, given that Toddy himself attended a boarding school.

The historical record confirms elements of Bunting’s story: parents who were misled but hoped for the best, unpleasant or hostile school environments, children’s loneliness, the harm deliberately inflicted on students in service to the goals of conquest and/or assimilation.

Historical accuracy is essential but goes only so far in supporting authenticity. I wondered why Young Bull doesn’t seem to interact with peers. Boarding school survivors have reported social relationships and friendships among children, despite efforts at some schools to squelch such relationships (to reduce the chance of organized resistance to their regime). And would school officials have tolerated ledger book drawings of Cheyenne military glory? If not, Young Bull’s drawings are acts of resistance, and the author should make that clear to readers!

But Young Bull’s escape attempt feels especially out of touch. Many children ran from boarding schools. Some were caught and punished. Some died of hunger or exposure. Some made it home.

It makes sense that Young Bull wants to escape. He’s been there long enough to learn to read history books in English. But instead of carefully planning his get-away, this otherwise seemingly cautious character, from a region that has severe winters, seems to ignore everything he knows about blizzards and walks into one, barely clothed, at night, apparently on impulse.

This lack of clear motivation, for me, undermines the protagonist’s credibility and misses a chance to bring an important dimension to the story. An adult reader is likely to think, “Sure he hates it there, but he should know better than to run NOW!” Child readers/listeners may imagine themselves as more sensible: “I’d take food and a blanket and I’d wait for a warmer night.” It’s just hard to avoid the sense that the kid made a dumb move.

Bunting has depicted affronts to Young Bull’s dignity and well-being that might lead him to plot an escape. But running into a winter storm -- from a place that, for all its awfulness, at least provides shelter – suggests extreme, immediate fear and desperation. What could make death by hypothermia preferable to “staying put” a moment longer? What threat or actual harm has pushed Young Bull to run, after so long at the school? Was he assaulted or threatened by a teacher? Unfairly and cruelly punished? Humiliated once too often to bear? The story would be a clearer window on boarding school experience if it showed readers why fear/loneliness/anger overpower the boy, making him forget his own safety.

I feel that Toddy’s evocative illustrations are worth a look. But I don’t recommend Cheyenne Again as historical fiction for children about boarding schools or Native kids.

Try these instead!
Home to Medicine Mountain by Chiori Santiago (ill. by Judith Lowry)
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (ill. Gabrielle Grimard)
Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell (ill. by Kim LaFave)


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* "Not Again" was submitted by Jean Mendoza. 

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ann Turner's SITTING BULL REMEMBERS

[This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of Beverly Slapin of Oyate.]

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Turner, Ann, Sitting Bull Remembers, illustrated by Wendell Minor. HarperCollins, 2007. Unpaginated, color paintings, grades 3-5; Hunkpapa Lakota

The text of Sitting Bull Remembers is vaguely reminiscent of Eve Bunting’s awful Cheyenne Again, in which a Cheyenne youngster at the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School draws in a ledger book and, in his heart, is home again. Here, “Sitting Bull,” incarcerated at an unnamed place that is probably Fort Randall, remembers his life of freedom.

In this dark room,

in this place of fences, strange smells,

and men with yellow eyes

where finally I am caught

and cannot get free,

I close my eyes and am home again….

The name of the revered Hunkpapa visionary, philosopher and war leader was Tatanka Iotanka. When he autographed picture postcards during his gigs with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, he signed his name “Sitting Bull,” and his signatory pictograph shows a buffalo bull sitting on his haunches. Although he has come to be known as “Sitting Bull,” that was not how he referred to himself. Tatanka Iotanka was not a “chief,” although the whites called him that, and his people were not the “Sioux,” although the whites called them that. Turner’s historical note at the end of the book is full of inaccuracies.

Tatanka Iotanka was beloved by his people and respected by his enemies. As Doris Seale wrote about another author of another book dealing with the same people and the same time period, “Assigning thoughts, feelings and motivations to one biographee is risky business, especially when writing about someone who essentially inhabited a different universe.” Doing this in a picture book is doubly risky, because fewer words have to tell a larger story, and pictures have to convey a larger meaning. There aren’t too many people who can successfully bring this off, and Turner and Minor can’t either.

The problems they were unable to—or unwilling to—deal with include cultural markers that they don’t recognize, but apparently think they do. An example: Turner’s “Sitting Bull” narrates an episode to demonstrate to the young reader the important attribute of generosity. This is how it comes out:

Once, chasing buffalo, an older man’s

bow broke and he could not shoot.

Another hunter lost his horse early in the chase.

That day I shot four buffalo and gave away two,

so no one would go to his tipi empty-handed.

Minor’s painting here shows a solitary Sitting Bull shooting a solitary buffalo. Neither text nor painting contains any internal logic. Where, one might ask, is the rest of the hunting party? Where, one might also ask, is the rest of the herd? And what on earth, one would most probably ask, did Sitting Bull do with the other two buffalo? Eat them himself? He would’ve had to be very hungry.

Minor’s art integrates double-page watercolor and gouache paintings with two-dimensional colored pencil ledger-style illustrations. While some of the pictographs have been copied almost exactly from Sitting Bull’s visual autobiography (see, for instance, counting first coup at age fourteen), others are outrageously flawed. For instance, the pictograph representing Sitting Bull’s vision before the Custer fight of “blue soldiers riding upside down into our village” came straight out of Turner’s and Minor’s imaginations, rather than Sitting Bull’s experience. Sitting Bull actually recounted his vision of “soldiers falling upside down into camp” as a gift from the Creator, who told him, “I give you these, because they have no ears.” Minor’s painting of Sitting Bull sitting alone on an ammo box and holding a Calf Pipe is taken from a photo of him with Seen-by-the-Nation, the elder of his two wives, when they were prisoners at Fort Randall in 1882. And Minor’s representation of a monarch butterfly perched on Sitting Bull’s hat both on the cover and the first interior spread (implying that it has some spiritual significance, maybe a spirit guide?) was actually a dead butterfly pinned to his hatband in a well-known portrait.

There is more just like this, in word and picture. Turner’s “Sitting Bull” is incredulous at the “noise and smoke and greed” of the white people. “I do not understand such ways,” he says. “They are not the way of the Sioux.” And elsewhere, he asks, “How could they break their word for the sake of a yellow rock?” Tatanka Iotanka was a military genious and a diplomat as well. He was not ignorant and he was not blindsided by the ways of the enemy.

After Turner’s “Sitting Bull” has surrendered, he says,

Here I am—the one they wanted—

the medicine man, the war leader,

caught like a bear in a trap

without claws (they took my weapons)

and with only some of my people left.

Now the white men give us food,

and the once proud warriors are like toothless old ones,

dependent on gifts.

It is doubtful that Tatanka Iotanka ever felt sorry for himself. And it is doubly doubtful that he would have disrespected elders in this way. Yet this dreadful dirge-like account of his life continues all through this story.

In the final two-page spread, a meadowlark sits on a piece of deadwood in a barren meadow, and Turner’s “Sitting Bull” says,

But when I open my eyes

it is all gone,

and only my voice is left,

telling of how it used to be.

But Sitting Bull’s voice is Turner’s voice. It’s clear she doesn’t know anything about Sitting Bull or anything about the land he and his people inhabited and fought to keep. A Lakota friend said about this book, “What arrogance, what hubris, to put words in Sitting Bull’s mouth.” And another Lakota friend remarked, “This is kind of pathetic.”

The author’s and artist’s caveats nothwithstanding (Turner’s, that her work is an “imaginative exploration of the side of history that the facts cannot always give us” and Minor’s, that “artistic license has been taken to create the strongest visual story”), there is no excuse for what they have done. Sitting Bull Remembers is no better than Turner’s atrocious The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita.—Beverly Slapin

Friday, January 17, 2014

About "diverse" books and inclusivity in Brian Floca's LOCOMOTIVE

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Editor's note, March 1, 2014: The book discussed herein won the 2014 Caldecott Medal. Its win signals how much work there is ahead of us in terms of diversity and representation of everyone who "We the People" references. 
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Among the books that has gotten some buzz this year as a frontrunner for major book awards is Brian Floca's Locomotive. Published in 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, it is a celebratory treatment of the transcontinental railroad presented in a travelogue style. That railroad was completed in 1869.

In Locomotive, a white woman and her two children board the train in Omaha bound for San Francisco. As they get off the train at San Francisco, Floca's text reads:
Now your days on the train are done.
You are tired and dusty,
the smell of smoke in your clothes.
But now you are here!
Here where you needed to go,
here where you need to be...
Turning the page, one sees a man, arms outstretched. I assume he is the children's father and the woman's husband. The text on that page is:
...here with the people
you've waited
and wanted
and needed to see.
I won't deny the need and joy of any family's reunion, but in this review essay, I use Floca's text to pose some questions, particularly as people in children's literature take up the word "diversity" or "diverse books." So far, I haven't seen anyone say that his book is a "diverse" book, but I can see how it might garner that sort of characterization, because the first full page of the book shows Chinese men. For Locomotive to succeed as a "diverse" book, however, its readers need to see far more than Floca gave us.

On the page "The Great Plains" (the book is not paginated; the words "The Great Plains" are on the bottom right corner of the double-paged spread), the illustration is of a vast sky and an expanse of grassland. Moving through it is the train. Here's what Floca wrote:
The hours and miles roll by.
The country opens,
opens wide,
empty as an ocean.
I paused when I read "empty as an ocean." Describing land as empty is something that Laura Ingalls Wilder did, too. Describing a place as empty depends on the person using that description. Some years ago, I took my laptop in for servicing. The screen background I had at the time was a photograph I took of the view from my house on the reservation. The technician looked at that photo and said something about how empty it was and how it should be developed. To me, it wasn't empty. To me, it is my homeland. If the Great Plains were my homeland, I wouldn't call it empty. But that's what Floca's white family sees. I think that is what they want and need to see in order to be able to celebrate that railroad and their travels across those plains.

Floca's text on that page continues with this:
Here the bison used to roam,
by the hundreds, by the millions.
Here the Cheyenne lived,
and Pawnee and Arapaho.
Again, I paused.

Will Floca tell his readers that the railroad played a role in the demise--or rather, slaughter--of the bison? Will he tell them, for example, that white hunters shot buffalo from open train windows? Or that millions of hides were shipped on those trains by hunters who left bison carcasses to rot? (The answer to those questions is no. He doesn't. Is it fair to expect him to? Could he include it in the notes at the end of the book? Whether he should or not is debatable. More on that later...)

And what about the use of "lived" to describe the Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Arapaho. Does that sentence suggest to a reader with "vanished" Indians as part of his or her knowledge base that the Cheyenne, the Pawnee, and the Arapaho no longer exist at all? Will Floca say more about this? (The answer is no.)

On the page with "The Forty-Mile Desert" in the bottom right corner, we learn that the train is now in the Great Basin:
On the train rolls,
down through the desert,
the home of the Paiute and the Shoshone,
It's a land of dust and bitter rivers,
rivers that never reach the sea--
they sink away,
they vanish.
I like what he says there, "home of the Paiute and the Shoshone" much better than his use of "lived" regarding the Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Arapaho. I like that he names specific tribes, too, but that isn't enough--in my view--to make this a book that would appeal to a diverse audience that includes children of those Native Nations, or children who have learned a more critical history and view of history.

Let's flip to the end papers that open the book. I like that Floca has used them, too, to pass along information by way of his illustrations. There's a map showing the transcontinental railroad and all the states it passes through. There's some people drawn on the map, but none of them are Native. In fact, nowhere on the end pages do I see illustrations or references to Native people at all. The small illustrations that frame the map on the top of the page show what I take to be the Mayflower and a wagon train. Beneath the map is one that shows workers making a tunnel, one that shows them laying track, and then, one that shows the meeting point for the tracks the two companies built (the two companies were the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific).

If I was advising Floca, I'd have suggested--at the very least--that he add homelands of Native Nations to that map.

Let's turn now, to "A Note on the Locomotive" at the end of the book. There, Floca tells us about the thousands of Chinese who worked for the railroads in the West, and he tells us of the waves of European immigrants who settled along the railroads. Then, there's a long paragraph about Native peoples. All of the following excerpts are in that paragraph. He begins with this:
If the railroad offered change to some, it imposed change on others, none more so than American Indians, who variously accepted, cooperated with, and fought the railroads as the railroads pushed across the continent. In the West, the Central Pacific made agreements with the Paiute and Shoshone of the Great Basin, some of whom worked alongside Chinese laborers to help build the road. (The groups worked well together, although there is a story of the Paiutes alarming the Chinese by telling them that the desert was inhabited by giant, man-eating snakes.)
"[A]s the railroads pushed across the continent"? How about "as the railroads and the federal government did what they wanted to take Native land." And what are we to make of the story in parentheses? That the Paiutes were mean to the Chinese? Or, maybe we're meant to think of the Chinese as simple minded? Or maybe, superstitious? Maybe this is Floca's attempt to inject a bit of levity?

Floca goes on to say that Pawnees also chose to work with the Union Pacific, and it was when the railroad "pushed" through Nebraska that there were problems because it
disrupted the grazing ranges of the bison, or American buffalo, the animal at the center of the diet, economy, and culture of the Plains, and the Cheyenne responded with attacks on surveyors and work crews.
There's a section in the book that shows things that did not happen to the train the family was riding on. One is a train going too fast on a curve and derailing. Another is of the crew letting too much water boil away, leading to an explosion. I think Floca could have shown one of those Cheyenne attacks on that page. What he says next tells us that he has a good sense of the reason for those attacks. He could have used that information alongside an illustration of Cheyenne's attacking the trains:
(General Phil Sheridan, although as ruthless a campaigner in the Indian wars as any, observed that "we took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?")
The parenthesis in that excerpt are in the book. Parentheses are generally used to set off supplemental information that is an aside, or an afterthought, or something that is tangential to the information being presented. Seeing Floca's use of it in this instance sort of reflects his treatment overall of Native people in Locomotive. We're an aside. An afterthought. What happened to Native people is tangential to the information he wants to share in Locomotive. Therein is the problem. Did he not imagine us as his readers? And let's not forget that Sheridan said "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead"

Next is this:
The attacks were recurring and deadly, but the railroad--backed by the U.S. Army--could not be stopped. Once the line was completed, portions of it in Nevada were sometimes used by the Paiute and Shoshone, who through their treaties with the Central Pacific were entitled to rides on the train through their territories. 
First thing to note: tribes didn't make treaties with railroads. Treaties are agreements made between governments. The treaty Floca may have had in mind is the US government's 1863 Treaty with the Western Shoshone in which the Shoshone agreed to stop attacking the existing trains and also agreed not to attack the construction of "a railway from the plains west to the Pacific ocean."

Second, that excerpt tells us that Floca knew that Native people rode the trains. Could he have included illustrations of Paiute or Shoshone people riding the train? There's a page in the book that shows the interior of a train. A boy is walking down the aisle selling newspapers. In the foreground is a man reading Harper's Weekly. What if that was a Paiute or Shoshone man, looking askance at this illustration from an October 1874 issue?



The point I wish to make with this essay is that Locomotive is a one-sided presentation of history. It has to be, I suppose, in order for it to be celebratory, but shouldn't we be beyond one-sided celebrations?

A few years ago, the Children's Book Council established its CBC Diversity Committee. Among its goals are a dedication to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's literature. The experience that is missing in Floca's book is that of Native peoples. Including us probably wasn't his intent. Maybe one of CBC's actions towards diversity could be to ask authors to be more inclusive in what they create. Maybe another one could be to ask reviewers to note absences in books like Locomotive. 

There are other absences in Floca's book. He includes an illustration of Chinese laborer's on the first page, but doesn't say much about them in the text or in the Note at the end of the book. Though they constituted 90% of the work force, they weren't invited to that celebration of the railroad being completed. How, I wonder, does a child descended from one of the Chinese laborer's feel about so little of their experience being included in Locomotive?

And, there's more to say about San Francisco and Native peoples of California, too. Am I asking for too much? Some would say yes, others would say no. Some would be critical of me for criticizing the book for what it leaves out, but I'll say, again, we have to provide books that are more inclusive of all the peoples that live in the United States. Without them, we're still stuck in an all-white world of children's books, and demographics show---the United States is not an all-white world.

Editors note: My apologies for inadvertently using Locomotion instead of Locomotive in four places. That error has been corrected. 

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For further reading:
American Indians and the Transcontinental Railroad



Update: Jan 21, 2014, 5:15 PM

Brian Floca submitted comments to my critique. I am pasting them here for the convenience of readers of AICL and will respond once I have studied his comments. Here they are:

Debbie,

I appreciate your thoughts on “Locomotive,” critical and otherwise. “Locomotive” was always intended first and foremost as a book about what it was like to operate and travel behind a steam locomotive in 1869. The most difficult stretches in the making of the book were spent thinking about how best to handle the many people and stories connected with the first transcontinental line without taking the book too far from that core concern, from the book I most wanted and felt most able to make, and no story was more difficult to try to get right than that of the Native American relationship to the line. The balances I struck with all those stories will be right for some readers and not for others, I recognize. I appreciate your perspective on those choices, and would be glad for the chance to share a response to a few of the questions you raised.

I had text and illustrations to work with while making this book, and you’re right of course that the Native American material ended up represented in the text and not the drawings. Many factors led to the final shape of this information in the book, including pacing and availability of reliable visual reference material for particular moments and periods. I knew any images would be looked at critically, and I didn’t want to include them if I wasn’t sure I could get them right. I also had to consider the choice of scenes that might accurately and representatively be shown given the setting and period of the book. One thing I had to consider, for instance, was this difficult and restricting paragraph from Dee Brown’s “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West”: “The universal desire of all pioneer travelers on the transcontinental was to see a “real wild Indian.” Few of them did, because the true warriors of the plains hated the Iron Horse and seldom came within miles of it…. The Indians whom the travelers saw were mostly those who had been corrupted and weakened by contacts with the white man’s civilization—scroungers, mercenaries, or beggars by necessity.” It was also hard to find reference for the sort of interaction I would have wanted to show between the Paiute and Shoshone who rode with white passengers on the Central Pacific in Nevada, and this felt like another imposed limit. Your post makes me wonder again what other options I had and what else I might have done, but I assure you the effort was there as I was making the book.


Some of these questions about presentation and what’s included and what’s not are simply matters of taste and tone. The emptiness of the Plains is, of course, one of those matters of perspective, but it’s not described as empty for no reason. In various accounts, train passengers on the Plains in the 1860s were overwhelmed by an expanse so different than the forests, hills, valleys, mountains, or cities that many were used to. To Robert Louis Stevenson, for instance, the Great Plains were “a world almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and back, line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a cue across a billiard-board…. The train toiled over this infinity like a snail….” I wanted that feeling in the book. 

When it comes to word choices, the use of the word “lived” on that page was not meant to imply “vanished,” and I hope that for readers it won’t. I also hoped that “The railroad and the men who built it—they have changed it all” would indeed convey who was behind these changes, and that the herd of bison covering the land on the book’s cover, beneath the jacket, would suggest the destructive as well as triumphant nature of the rail line. 

On the front endpapers, the drawing of a clipper ship is there to illustrate the passage of text immediately to the right of the drawing, the description of trips taken by ship around Cape Horn. Across these endpapers I wanted to show the motives for the railroad and its construction and in the end, for better or worse, these filled the page. 

In the note at the back of the book, what I liked about the anecdote about the Paiute and Chinese was the surprise, humanity, and unexpected humor in the story. I often see stories about these workers presented rather stiffly, in my opinion; this story was a break from that tone. 

No Cheyenne attack is shown in the book for a few reasons, but the foremost is that the Cheyenne weren’t really attacking the first transcontinental railroad after it was constructed. In “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow,” Brown writes of passengers who were worried about such an attack: “Such perturbed passengers might better have been fretting over Anglo-Saxon train robbers, such as Jesse James, who were far more likely to wreck and rob a train in the 1870s than were the Indians.” One of the consolations of not being able to fit everything in a book is knowing that you’re surely not making the only book on the subject, though. I wonder what you think of Paul Goble’s “Death of the Iron Horse,” depicting the Cheyenne attack on a train at Plum Creek, Nebraska, in 1867? I can imagine “Locomotive” and “Death of the Iron Horse” paired together.

The parentheses around the Sheridan quote were a way of giving that quote, a change of tone from the rest of the note, a bit of its own space. Possibly they were unnecessary, and if because of them the quote reads as less important than it would otherwise, then they were a mistake. Sheridan’s ruthlessness, also mentioned in the note, I thought only added to the sting and surprise of the remark, and that was one of the things I found remarkable and provoking about it.

As for the treaties with the Paiute and Shoshone, while an agreement with a government may be one definition of a treaty, I don’t believe it is the only one. In “A Great and Shining Road,” John Hoyt Williams describes the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863 and then continues, “The Central Pacific, which was granted permission by the Nevada legislature to build through the state only in 1866, was taking no chances. In that year the company signed its own treaties with the dreaded Apache subtribes, Paiutes, and others.…” And here is Dee Brown again: “To avoid conflicts with Indians—such as had hampered the Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific on the Great Plains—the Central Pacific offered some of the [N]ative Americans employment and then signed a special treaty with the Paiutes and Shoshonis.” 

Finally, it’s incorrect to say that Chinese workers made up 90% of the workforce that built the transcontinental line. As is stated in the front endpapers of “Locomotive,” Chinese workers constituted up to 90% of the Central Pacific workforce, but the Union Pacific half of the line was built largely by Irish immigrants and former soldiers. It is also, happily, incorrect to say that no Chinese were invited to the celebration of the railroad’s completion. A. J. Russell’s stereograph “Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR” shows Chinese workers laying the last piece of rail at Promontory Summit, and a contemporary account tells us that “J.H. Strowbridge [sic], when the work was all over, invited the Chinamen who had been brought over from Victory for the purpose, to dine in his boarding car. When they entered all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road—a tribute they well deserved, and which evidently gave them much pleasure.” This was surely less than they warranted, but is worth remembering. More about the Chinese and Irish in this book might have been better, but there are other books the cover building the line, and the heart of this book is about traveling the line—thus the low proportion of attention given to the line’s builders (to say nothing of those who first envisioned the transcontinental railroad, advocated for it, legislated it, financed it, surveyed it, and engineered it). 

Like every book, “Locomotive” has its limits. I wouldn’t be able to and I haven’t tried to tell and show readers everything that I might, but I’ve hoped to make a book that will interest them and, ideally, make them want to know more. I hope that for most readers the book makes a contribution to their understanding of the period, events, and people it describes, including the Native Americans. I’m aware that no book will please all readers, though, and I appreciate your thoughts on my effort. Certainly working on the book was a learning experience for me, and indeed I feel like I’m still learning from the book and where it’s led me, this conversation included.

Best,
Brian Floca


Update, Monday January 27, 2014

Brian,

A few hours ago, your name was read as the winner of the 2014 Caldecott. While I'm trying to make myself feel joyful--because I love books, too--I'm not joyful. I'm angry. But my anger isn't necessarily at you. It's more at the status quo than anything. Your response indicates to me that you gave a lot of thought to what you included and how and why, and I'm glad of that. I'll address your comments in a moment.

For now, I'm addressing the whole-ness of children's literature. Or, maybe, the Caldecott committee. And maybe all those who cheered when your name was called out. Given all the attention to diversity of late, it seems LOCOMOTIVE is a choice that says "we don't care about diversity." Course, that assumes that people who are on the committee know and care about diversity in the first place, and I'm not privy to that information.

Some people are paying attention. Betsy Bird and Lori Ess held a "pre-game" event during which they noted the importance of my critique. Others are tweeting and sharing it via Facebook, so that's good, too.

So here I am, angry. It feels small and petty to be raining on your parade. Perhaps a bit later you can return here and we can continue to talk, because there is much to do, I think, and your assistance in helping us get a bit further down that road would be invaluable.

So. On to your comments.

I imagine you feel damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't when considering how you might illustrate anything to do with Native people. Myself and many others are deeply invested in those images being right, and you're right to be wary. Source material is highly problematic! Seems that Dee Brown is the go-to person for information about American Indians. Reading Brown's books can give some insight so that people avoid making certain kinds of errors, but goodness! There's so much better material available! I strongly urge authors/illustrators to move beyond Brown to Native sources.

The first place I'd go is right to the website of the tribe I was trying to illustrate. Lisa Mitten of the American Indian Library Association has a list of websites by tribe. Sites created by the tribe (rather than a company) are marked with a drum. Once at the site, I'd look for a tribal historian or tribal museum. I'd absolutely stay away from standard encyclopedias. Perspective in them is so biased! So---to authors and illustrators out there---your first stop ought to be a tribe's website. That's not saying someone there will talk to you. Some will, some won't. Some will be too busy helping tribal leaders who are defending the land and resources -- both of which are constantly under assault.

Some will be delighted that an author/illustrator wants to feature their tribe, and they'll be glad to help, but they may not know much about children's literature and critical analysis of image. Or they may not know how important it is to get it right. I'll use myself as an example. Before I started graduate school at the University of Illinois, I knew image was important, but leaving my reservation and living amongst a white population with white perspectives really made it clear to me how damaging stereotypes can be. To them, we didn't look "Indian" because we weren't wearing buckskin and feathers. I kid you not! As you travel in the coming year, talk to kids and teachers. See what they know about American Indians. I'm working with a teacher in a school in the Midwest who is dumbstruck by the things the gifted children she works with "know" about American Indians. I expect that the conversations you have will be similar to that. Her reports affirm what I said in my critique about "lived" and undergird my concern with the use of past tense. So--if you do find someone at the tribe who will work with you, be mindful of the need to triangulate with others, too. This isn't easy--I know--and though it'd be easier just NOT to depict Native people... we've got to try! And if your source is critical and asks you to change something, do it! Ann Rinaldi is Exhibit A in asking for and then disregarding input.

In your response about "lived" you noted that the book cover is a herd of bison. I had no idea. I only saw the jacket. And it is the jacket that is being shown on all sites. Everyone who is reading this conversation between me and Brian---look under the jacket. It is startlingly different in impact. You said you hoped that the line "The railroad and the men who built it--they have changed it all" would convey destruction and triumph. I haven't seen any reviews that say anything at all about destruction of land, killing of bison, or the taking of Native lands for the railroads and towns along them. If you had included---maybe on that page with the wreck and explosion---an illustration of bison dead all along the railroad, shot from train windows, that'd have made destruction very clear. I understand it may have taken you, in part, in a direction you didn't want to go, but I think it would have made your book so much more informative and inclusive if you had. Teachers and librarians reading this conversation--I'd love to know if you take up the destruction, or if you see it referenced in a review.

The anecdote about Paiute and Chinese: Right! Both populations are too often portrayed in stiff ways. Hence, your surprise at the story is understandable AND points to why it would have been great for you to have included illustrations that would counter that depiction.

The Cheyenne attack: Ok, they didn't attack the transcontinental railroad, but the wreck and explosion you showed on that double-paged spread weren't about the train the family was on. So--I think it could have been included. Your text could explain the attack, just as you explained the wreck and explosion.

Paul Goble's book? You see it as being paired with yours. I'll get it and see. I'm not optimistic, though. Native critics are not at all happy with his trickster books: About Paul Goble and his books.

Front endpapers: You write that you wanted to show motives for the railroad and its construction, but I'm not sure I see what you were getting at. I understand that there was a desire to have that railroad, but why? Saying the journey was "expensive, difficult, and often dangerous" describes the travel, but not why the travel was being done. Who was trying to get to California? Why were they trying to get to California? What did their desire to get there mean for the Native peoples who were already there?

Treaties: When looking for information on treaties, I generally turn to Native scholars. I pointed to one in my critique. Here's another one, which is the one you referenced in your comment. You cite the author of A Great and Shining Road as saying tribes made a treaty with the railroad company. The Treaty with the Western Shoshone starts out like this: "Treaty of Peace and Friendship made at Ruby Valley..." That treaty is between tribes and the US government, not the railroad. I don't have Hoyt's book, and maybe there is a treaty between the tribes and the railroad, but I kind of doubt it. I don't have Brown's either. Can you tell me what they cite?

Chinese and celebrations: Right. They were 90% of labor on the Central Pacific workforce. Thanks for sharing the info on Chinese being at the celebration. My info came from Gallery2 of the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Studies page, in the caption for the photograph "Joining the Tracks" which is the photo that I think you used for your illustration of that celebration. Their source is Lisa Yee's book, On Gold Mountain. 

Well. That's all I've got for now. Thanks, Brian, for your response, and I look forward to a continuing conversation. And do ask kids and teachers and librarians what they know about American Indians and see what they say.

Debbie


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Paul Goble's CROW CHIEF

This is a how-Debbie-analyzes-a-book post.

Earlier today, a librarian wrote to ask me about Paul Goble's Crow Chief. It was published in 1992 by Orchard Books. Here's the synopsis, from Amazon:
Crow Chief always warns the buffalo that hunters are coming, until Falling Star, a savior, comes to camp, tricks Crow Chief, and teaches him that all must share and live like relatives together.

I don't have the book itself in front of me but am able to look at the first pages via Amazon's 'look inside' option. The full title of the book is Crow Chief: A Plains Indian story. 

Goble opens the story by saying that a long time ago, all the crows were white. Then he says:
In those long-ago days, the Crow Nation once had a great leader. They called him Crow Chief.
With that sentence, Goble moves from the broad "Plains Indian" to the specific: "Crow Nation." When I turn back to his page of references, then, I expect to see a source specific to the Crow Nation, but there isn't one. Here's the list of books he references, and what I've been able to find in them.

Maurice Boyd, Kiowa Voices
The full title of Maurice Boyd's Kiowa Voices is Kiowa Voices: Ceremonial Dance, Ritual, and Song. I can't read it online, but the descriptions of it say Kiowa. My guess is that it does not have a Crow Nation story in it. It might have a Kiowa story about a white crow.

George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber's Traditions of the Arapaho
On page 276 of Traditions of the Arapaho, there is a story called The White Crow. This crow keeps all the buffalo for himself, hidden in a hollow mountain. The people plot to catch him. When they do, they tie him to their tent and he turns black. Later they let him go and follow him. They let the buffalo go. It is an Arapaho story, not a Crow one.

Richard Erdoes, The Sound of Flutes
I am unable to see this book anywhere online. It exists, but Amazon, Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Internet Archive don't have any portions of it that are viewable online. I do have a copy of American Indian Myths and Legends edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. In it is "How the Crow Came to be Black." It is on page 395 and is noted as a Brule Sioux story. In it the crow is thrown into a fire and his feathers are charred.

George Bird Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires
Grinnell's By Cheyenne Campfires has a story in it called Falling Star about a white crow, but it is a Cheyenne story, not Crow. It starts on page 182. On page 187, an old woman tells Falling Star she has nothing to feed him because a white crow has been driving the buffalo away. Falling Star catches it, takes it to the chief, who decides to put it in the smoke hole of his lodge to smoke the crow to death. It gets away, is caught again, and killed.

James LaPointe, Legends of the Lakota
LaPoint's Legends of the Lakota has a story about a white crow. I'm able to see snippets of the story that appear on page 74 and 75. There, I see that the crow used to be white, and that there were no buffalo. It is set in a Lakota encampment, so I suspect it is presented as a Lakota story rather than a Crow one. I ordered a copy of this book because it was published by the Indian Historian Press. That press is significant in Native studies.

John G. Neihardt, Eagle Voice
Neihardt's Eagle Voice - I couldn't find that title, but did find When the Tree Flowered: The Fictional Biography of Eagle Voice by Neidhardt. It was published in 1951. It has a story called The Labors of the Holy One. In it, Falling Star is a main character. There is a white crow that scares the buffalo when the hunters are coming. It is tricked by Falling Star and ends up being black. But, the story is a work of fiction by Neidhardt, who was not Native.

Vivian One Feather, Ehanni Okunkakan
I am unable to find Vivian One Feather's Ehanni Okunkakan, but information about it indicates the items she wrote are Lakota, for use at Red Cloud Indian School.

Ronald Theise, Buckskin Tokens
The full title of Theise's Buckskin Tokens is Buckskin Tokens: Contemporary Oral Narratives of the Lakota. I am unable to see it but given its title, my guess is that the stories in it are Lakota, not Crow.

Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall, Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians
Wissler and Duvall's Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians has an introduction that says the stories in it are Blackfoot. On page 40 is a very long story called The Twin Brothers, or Stars. On page 50 is where I come to a part of the story about crows driving buffalo away. Crows used to be white. On page 51, Crow is tied in a smoke hole and becomes black.


So where does that leave me at this point?

Looking through the references Goble used for this book, I am not able to find one that is about the Crow Nation and their stories. Do you know Betsy Hearne's article, Cite the Source? It is about traditional stories. In it, she talks about the importance of citing the source. Goble has cited a lot in Crow Chief but I'm thinking that what he's shared isn't really helpful for anyone who is trying to determine the accuracy of the story he tells. Some might argue that it is not fair to judge Goble's book from this point in time (2015) because it came out in 1992. Hearne's article came out in 1993. He, therefore, didn't have her article for guidance.

It is possible that Goble meant nation of crows-the-birds rather than the Crow Nation of people. If he did, then the story might be ok but I think viewing it that way injects too much confusion, and we still have too much ambiguity.

The Crow Nation is amongst the many Plains Nations, but that doesn't mean they are the same from one to the other. It is interesting to find that the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Blackfoot have stories about a white crow, but they aren't the same. There are variations. Some elements are similar but others are not. I wonder if the Crow Nation has a white crow story? I'll keep looking...

Update, 6:02 PM, Feb 3 2015:

An important bit of information that I must share. In the late 1800s, the Bureau of American Ethnography sent people to gather stories from the tribes out of a concern that we were dying off and our stories would be lost forever. The stories were published and seen as legitimate source material. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. Frank Hamilton Cushing, for example, collected stories at Zuni. His are not reliable. Some of the collectors were not aware of their own biases as outsiders. That bias and outsider perspective is in those stories.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

First Nations writers Larry Loyie and Nicola Campbell



Pointing you, today, to an interview at papertigers.org. In the interview (conducted by Aline Pereira) Cree writer Larry Loyie talks about his life, his books, and his views on books about First Nations people. Back in July of 2006, I included his As Long as the Rivers Flow in a short list of books about boarding schools that I recommend.

Since then, I've read Nicola Campbell's Shi-Shi-Etko and also highly recommend it. Read a review of her book here.

If you've got Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is On the Ground, replace it with As Long as the Rivers Flow. And if you've got Eve Bunting's Cheyenne Again, replace it with Nicola Campbell's Shi-shi-etko. Rinaldi and Bunting are well-established writers, but both missed the mark in their books about boarding schools. Keeping their books means, in effect, continuing a long history of mis-educating readers about American Indian and First Nations history, culture, and life. You have the option of providing your students with better books. It sounds corny, but I'll say it anyway: Seize that opportunity!

Monday, November 08, 2010

"Bestsellers in Children's Native American Books"

A colleague wrote to ask if I know of a study of the most-assigned Native author in schools. I don't know of one, but will be looking for one, or, trying to figure out how to get the answer to the question, which is basically, "What book about American Indians is most-often taught/assigned in school?" Course, that would vary by grade level and school and other factors like state, public/private, etc.

One thing I (always) wonder about is best-selling books. One source of info is Amazon. In their "Bestsellers in Children's Native American Books" (time/date of list: 7:23 AM, Central Time, November 8, 2010) are the following titles. Some are on their more than once. In some cases, its clear that the duplicate is a Kindle edition, but others seem to just be repeats. There isn't, for example, a note that says it is an audio copy.

It is, overall, a disappointing list and it makes me grumpy on this Monday morning...  I'm glad to see Native authors on the list, but duplicates of some really problematic books like Touching Spirit Bear?! And it is pretty easy to see that Amazon's customers want works of historical fiction or "myths, legends and folktales."  


#1 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
#2 - Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
#3 - One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims, by B. G. Hennessy
#4 - Island of the Blue Dolphins (Kindle), by Scott O'Dell
#5 - Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, by Joseph Bruchac
#6 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#7 - North American Indians, by Douglas Gorsline
#8 - Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times
*#9 - Encounter, by Jane Yolen
#10 - Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell
#11 - The Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin
#12 - Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Holling
#13 - Diamond Willow, by Helen Frost
#14 - Red Fox and His Canoe (I Can Read Book), by Nathaniel Benchley
#15 - The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
#16 - The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, by Tomie de Paola
#17 - Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale, by Gerald McDermott
#18 - Touching Spirit Bear (Kindle) by Ben Mikaelson
#19 - Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
#20 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#21 - Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, by Lois Lenski
#22 - Mountain Top Mystery (Boxcar Children), by Gertrude Chandler Warner
#23 - Grandmother's Dreamcatcher, by Becky Ray McCain
#24 - On Mother's Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
#25 - Horse Diaries #5: Golden Sun, by Whitney Sanderson
#26 - The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks
#27 - Sacagawea: American Pathfinder, by Flora Warren Seymour
#28 - Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II, by Joseph Bruchac
#29 - The Heart of a Chief, by Joseph Bruchac
#30 - Little Runner of the Longhouse (I Can Red Book 2) by Betty Baker
#31 - Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Hollins
#32 - Love Flute, by Paul Goble
#33 - Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, by Cornelia Cornelissen
#34 - The Journal of Jesse Smoke: A Cherokee Boy, Trail of Tears, 1838, by Joseph Bruchac
#35 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
#36 - The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich
#37 - The Legend of the Bluebonnet, by Tomie dePaola
#38 - Buffalo Woman, by Paul Goble
#39 - Cheyenne Again, by Eve Bunting
#40 - Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Carolyn Meyer
#41 - Julie, by Jean Craighead George
#42 - Children of the Longhouse, by Joseph Bruchac
#43 - Sacred Fire, by Nancy Wood
#44 - Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
#45 - Mama, Do You Love Me, by Barbara J. Joosse
#46 - The Year of Miss Agnes, by Kirkpatrick Hill
#47 - Sweetgrass Basket, by Marlene Carvell
#48 - Sitting Bull: Dakota Boy, by Augusta Stevenson
#49 - The Talking Earth, by Jean Craighead George
#50 - Rainbow Crow, by Nancy Van Laan
#51 - The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble
#52 - The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale, by Lydia Dabcovich
#53 - The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble
#54 - Song of the Seven Herbs, by Walking Night Bear
#55 - Ten Little Rabbits, by Virginia Grossman
#56 - The Lost Children: The Boys Who Were Neglected, by Paul Goble
#57- Moccasin Trail, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
#58 - Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, by Scott O'Dell
#59 - Meet Kaya: An American Girl, by Janet Beeler Shaw
#60 - When the Legends Die, by Hal Borland
#61 - Sacajawea, by Joseph Bruchac
#62 - Knots on a Counting Rope, by John Archambault
#63 - The Porcupine Year, by Louise Erdrich
#64 - Star Boy, by Paul Goble
#65 - Jim and Me, by Dan Gutman
#66 - Kaya: An American Girl: 1764/Box Set, by Janet Beeler Shaw
#67 - Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places, by Joseph Bruchac
#68 - Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
#69 - Weasel, by Cynthia Defelice
#70 - When the Shadbush Blooms, by Carla Messinger
#71 - On Mother's Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
#72 - The Captive Princess: A Story Based on the Life of Young Pocahontas
#73 - Powwow's Coming, by Linda Boyden
#74 - The Gift of the Sacred Dog, by Paul Goble
#75 - Streams to the River, River to the Sea, by Scott O'Dell
#76 - Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts - Rhode Island, 1653 (Royal Diaries) by Patricia Clark Smith
#77 - Indian Trail (Choose Your Own Adventure) , by R. A. Montgomery
#78 - Arrow Over the Door, by Joseph Bruchac
#79 - At Seneca Castle, by William W. Canfield
#81 - Pocahontas, by Joseph Bruchac
#82 - Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, by Joseph Bruchac
#83 - Christmas Moccsains, by Ray Buckley
#84 - The Game of Silence, by Louise Erdrich
#85 - Encounter, by Jane Yolen
#86 - Beyond the Ridge, by Paul Goble
#87 - Death of the Iron Horse, by Paul Goble
#88 - The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
#89 - Island of the Blue Dolphins (illustrated) by Scott O'Dell
#90 - Frozen Fire: A Tale of Courage by James Houston
#92 - Blood on the River: James Town 1607, by Elisa Carbone
#92 - The Give-Away: A Christmas Story in the American Tradition, by Ray Buckley
#93 - Mystic Horse, by Paul Goble
#94 - Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners, by Lucilee Recht Penner
#95 - Mysteries in Our National Parks: Cliff Hanger, by Gloria Skurzynski
#96 - Jim Thorpe, Olympic Champion, by Guernsey Van Riper Jr
#97 - Good Hunting, Blue Sky (I Can Read Book) by Peggy Parish
#98 - Guests, by Michael Dorris
#99 - Hiawatha and Megissogwon by Henry W. Longfellow
#100 - Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell


Observations? Books by four Native authors are on the list: Sherman Alexie, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Michael Dorris.  I'll return to this list later to share analyses and observations. Right now, I gotta head to class. The class? American Indian Studies 101, where, over the course of the semester, students gain insight and skills in recognizing problematic depictions of Native peoples. It is encouraging to see that development in them. I wish everyone in the US could take an Intro to American Indian Studies course. Then maybe there'd be some CHANGE in what they buy.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Thumbs down to some titles on CBC Diversity's Goodreads Bookshelf

The Children's Book Council's Diversity Committee is, perhaps, the most recent effort within the children's publishing arena to push for diversity in children's and young adult literature. The 'about' page on their website says they are "dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's and young adult literature."

Among their activities towards that diversity of voice and experience is their Diversity Bookshelf at Goodreads that "curates front and backlist books by CBC members in order to raise awareness of the diversity-friendly content already in existence."

I'm glad they're taking this on. We most definitely need organized efforts at diversifying voice and experience.

In December, CBC member Cheryl Klein announced their Diversity 101 series and asked readers to look over Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism and Sexism (available at Sarah Park's blog), published in the 1970s by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. She pointed to her own growth over the last twelve years. I've written about my own growth in the last 20 years. This growth is a process, not an endpoint, and I hope that the journey of CBC members leads them to reconsider what they've pointed to on their Diversity Bookshelf.

I've not read all the 58 books on the CBC's Native American-Inuit list. Remember---their list is provided "to raise awareness of the diversity friendly content already in existence." I'm hoping that CBC members study Ten Quick Ways and then remove the following books from the list. They are not diversity-friendly. Instead, they affirm stereotypes and bias. Until we recognize and acknowledge the problems in these books and then quit using them, we're not going to make much progress in diversifying voice and experience. I believe these authors had good intentions, but good intentions are never enough, right?

Here's critiques of some of the books on the CBC Native American list. When you click on a title, you'll go to a page with several posts about that particular book, or, to a single post about it.




CBC has Ann Rinaldi's A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials on its list, too. Though she is quite popular, she's among the worst offenders in terms of misrepresenting and stereotyping Native people. I haven't read A Break with Charity, but you might be interested in these critiques of two of her books.


I'll close today's post by saying that I'm concerned that the use of "diversity" and "diversity books" seems to be a new strategy within the industry itself to argue that stories can be written by anyone, and that insider perspective is not important. More thoughts on this later...

Updates, January 7, 2013
There's some books on the list that seem to be mis-labeled. Two of them are African or African American stories:

  • Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky by Elphinstone Dayrell
  • Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell