Showing posts sorted by relevance for query finger plays. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query finger plays. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Debbie, Can you recommend any Native American folk songs?"

This post is long overdue. A few times since launching AICL, I've received a question similar to:
"Debbie, can you recommend any Native American folk songs" (or music or finger plays) "that I can use with young children?"
Each time, I write back to the person but each time, I've failed to fashion the reply into a blog post that I can point the next questioner to, so, today I'm trying to do that.

First thing to say is not a surprise: most of what is out there is stereotypical. I searched the Internet and found so very much---so very much---and it is so very, very bad. I found Hollywood's version of Native music (think about the music you hear in Westerns). I found songs about specific Native people---all of them with lyrics that slot Native people into the mythical story about the founding and history of the U.S.  And of course, I found the "Indian" counting song.

Given that many children walk into the school holding stereotypical ideas of Native peoples, chances are high that they'd be able to hear the Hollywood Indian music theme and say "that's Indian music" (or Native American, or American Indian).

The task, then, is to help them unlearn what they think they know about Native music by pointing out that the Hollywood Indian music was made up by someone who wasn't Native and that what they see in those Westerns is not accurate.

Move, then, to some music appreciation activities where kids listen to Native musicians. You could start with the familiar nursery rhymes---sung by Native singers.

Start by having your students sing Old McDonald Had a Farm. Then, show them this photograph of the Black Lodge Singers. Point out that they dress much like your students do, and that there are times when they wear traditional clothing, but that most of the time, they're dressed pretty much like everyone else.

On the right side of the drum are Kenny Scabby Robe, who is Blackfeet, and his wife, Louise, who is Yakima. The other people in the photograph are their children. They live on the Yakima Reservation in Washington. Pull out a map and show them where the Yakima Reservation is:

Tell students that the Black Lodge Singers are a well known drum group in the pow wow circuit. Read them Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer so they learn what powwows are about:

And then, watch some of the videos of the Black Lodge Singers in action. Here they are singing Old McDonald Had a Farm:

And here they are singing "Kuna Matata." The footage includes Native children getting ready to enter a pow wow arena, and inside the arena, too.

There are other videos, too, but do make sure to buy their CDs. You can also talk with students about the Grammy Awards, and tell them that the Black Lodge Singers won a Grammy for their music.

From there, you can introduce them to Native musicians like Sharon Burch. She is Navajo, plays guitar, and her songs are a mix of Navajo and English. Though it isn't marketed for children, her CD, "Colors of My Heart," has many songs children can listen to, and can learn the lyrics, too.

At the Canyon Records site--an excellent resource, by the way--you can listen to portions of the songs on Colors of my Heart. 

Talk to them, too, about Robbie Robertson, by reading Rock & Roll Highway to them:

In a post I did last year, I pointed to work that Robertson did with The Band, and with Ulali, an acapella group. Check out this video:

Now--I realize that my suggestions don't fit within what you usually do in a music lesson or activity, but that's ok. You're a teacher, expanding what kids know. Give them something like I've suggested. Help them unlearn those dreadful stereotypes. And--for yourself and older children--spend time at the Canyon Records site. Get to know Native musicians.

I'll close this post with Buffy Sainte-Marie, singing Up Where We Belong. You may associate that song with Joe Cocker, but it is written by her, and performed by her here: I no longer recommend Buffy Sainte Marie's work. Details here: About Buffy Sainte Marie

Note: If you have something you want me to consider adding to this post, do let me know! Especially if you use something developed by Native people in your area.

Update: 11:42 AM, Oct 30, 2015

In comments, Art Coulson, author of The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse, suggested Joanne Shenandoah's "All Spirits Sing" for children. She is Oneida. I don't see that CD at Canyon Records, but they do sell three of her CDs and you can hear segments of her songs at their site. Reading the material on the page, I had one of those "Doh!" moments. I failed to point to Floyd Crow Westerman earlier! His songs aren't for young children, but they're definitely among my favorites.

Art also recommended songs by the Mamas and the Papas, because Papa John Phillips was an enrolled Cherokee. I didn't know that! Thanks, Art!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Still Not Recommended: THE SECRET PROJECT by Jonah and Jeanette Winter

Some conversations about my review of Jonah and Jeanette Winter's The Secret Project suggest that I didn't say enough, back in March. I'm back, therefore, to say more. Some of what I wrote in March is being interpreted as innuendo and destructive. In saying more, this review is much longer. I anticipate that some who read it will continue with the "nit picking" charge that has already been leveled. 

Some people read my reviews and think I'm being too picky because I focus on seemingly little or insignificant aspect of a book. The things I pointed out in March were not noted in the starred reviews by the major review journals, but the things I pointed out have incensed people who, apparently, fear that my review will persuade the Caldecott Award Committee that The Secret Project does not merit its award. 

In fact, we'll never know if my review is even discussed by the committee. Their deliberations are confidential. The things I point out matter to me, and they should matter to anyone who is committed to accuracy and inclusivity in any children's books--whether they win awards or not. 


The Secret Project, by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, was published in February of 2017 by Simon and Schuster. It is a picture book about the making of the atomic bomb. 

I'm reading and reviewing the book as a Pueblo Indian woman, mother, scholar, and educator who focuses on the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. 

I spent (and spend) a lot of time in Los Alamos and that area. My tribal nation is Nambé which is located about 30 miles from Los Alamos, which is the setting for The Secret Project. My dad worked in Los Alamos. A sister still does. The first library card I got was from Mesa Public Library. 

Near Los Alamos is Bandelier National Park. It, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde are well known places. There are many sites like them that are less well known. They're all through the southwest. Some are marked, others are not. For a long time, people who wrote about those places said that the Anasazi people lived there, and that they had mysteriously disappeared. Today, what Pueblo people have known for centuries is accepted by others: present-day Pueblo people are descendants of those who once lived there. We didn't disappear. 

What I shared above is what I bring to my reading and review of The Secret Project. Though I'm going to point to several things I see as errors of fact or bias, my greatest concern is the pages about kachina dolls and the depiction of what is now northern New Mexico as a place where "nobody" lived.

"In the beginning"

Here is the first page in The Secret Project:

The words are:  
In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape, 
The illustration shows a vast and empty space and suggests that pretty much nothing was there. When I see that sort of thing in a children's book, I notice it because it plays into the idea that this continent was big and had plenty of land and resources--for the taking. In fact, it belonged (and some of it still belongs) to Indigenous peoples and our respective Native Nations.

"In the beginning" works for some people. It doesn't work for me because a lot of children's books depict an emptyness that suggests land that is there for the taking, land that wasn't being used in the ways Europeans, and later, US citizens, would use it.

I used the word "erase" in my first review. That word makes a lot of people angry. It implies a deliberate decision to remove something that was there before. Later in the book, Jonah Winter's text refers to Hopi people who had been making kachina dolls "for centuries." His use of "for centuries" tells me that the Winter's knew that the Hopi people pre-date the ranch in Los Alamos. I could say that maybe they didn't know that Pueblo people pre-date the ranch--right there in Los Alamos--and that's why their "in the beginning" worked for them, but a later illustration in the book shows local people, some who could be Pueblo, passing through the security gate.

Ultimately, what the Winter's they knew when they made that page doesn't really matter, because intent does not matter. We have a book, in hand. The impact of the book on readers--Native or not--is what matters.

Back in March, I did an update to my review about a Walking Tour of Los Alamos that shows an Ancestral Pueblo very near Fuller Lodge. Here's a map showing that, and a photo of that site

The building in Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be the Big House that scientists moved into when they began work at the Los Alamos site of the Manhattan Project. Here's a juxtaposition of an early photograph and her illustration. Clearly, Jeanette Winter did some research.

In her illustration, the Big House is there, all by itself. In reality, the site didn't look like that in 1943. The school itself was started in 1917 (some sources say that boys started arriving in 1918), but by the time the school was taken over by the US government, there were far more buildings than just that one. Here's a list of them, described at The Atomic Heritage Foundation's website:
The Los Alamos Ranch School comprised 54 buildings: 27 houses, dormitories, and living quarters totaling 46,626 sq. ft., and 27 miscellaneous buildings: a public school, an arts & crafts building, a carpentry shop, a small sawmill, barns, garages, sheds, and an ice house totaling 29,560 sq. ft.
I don't have a precise date for this photograph (below) from the US Department of Energy's The Manhattan Project website. It was taken after the project began. The scope of the project required additional buildings. You see them in the photo, but the photo also shows two of the buildings that were part of the school: the Big House, and Fuller Lodge (for more photos and information see Fuller Lodge). I did not draw those circles or add that text. That is directly from the site.

Here's the second illustration in the book:

The boys who went to the school in 1945 were not from the people whose families lived in that area. An article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says that:
The students came from well-to-do families across the nation, and many went on to Ivy League colleges and prominent careers. Among them were writer Gore Vidal; former Sears, Roebuck and Co. President Arthur Wood; Hudson Motor Co. founder Roy Chapin; Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby; and John Shedd Reed, president for nearly two decades of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The change from a school to a laboratory

Turning to the next double page spread, we see the school principal reading a letter from the US government. The man's name was A. J. Connell, and he was the director of the school. The letter (shown here, to the right) was sent to the director on December 7, 1942, saying the boys would have to leave by Feb. 8, 1943. Facing that page in the book is the scene where the boys had been playing games earlier, but now, there's no boys there. They've left behind a ball and a pair of shoes. 

In his review of The Secret Project, Sam Juliano wrote that this take over was "a kind of eminent domain maneuver." It was, and, as Melissa Green said in a comment at Reading While White's discussion of the book,
In her review Debbie Reese observed an elite boy’s school — Los Alamos Ranch School — whose students were “not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time.” Of course not: local kids wouldn’t have qualified — local kids wouldn’t be “elite”, because they wouldn’t have been white. The very school whose loss is mourned (at least as I can tell from the reviews: I haven’t yet read the book) is a white school built on lands already stolen from the Pueblo people. And the emptiness of the land, otherwise…? It wasn't empty. But even when Natives are there, we white people have a bad habit — often a willful habit — of not seeing them.
Green put her finger on something I've been trying to articulate. The loss of the school is mourned. The illustration invites that response, for sure, and I understand that emotion. Green notes that the land belonged to Pueblo people before it became the school and then the lab ("the lab" is shorthand used by people who are from there). There's no mourning for our loss in this book. Honestly: I don't want anyone to mourn. Instead, I want more people to speak about accuracy in the ways that Native people are depicted or left out of children's books. 

The Atomic Heritage Organization has a timeline, indicating that people began arriving at Los Alamos in March, 1943. On the next double paged spread of The Secret Project, we see cars of scientists arriving at the site. On the facing page, other workers are brought in, to cook, to clean, and to guard. The workers are definitely from the local population. Some people look at that page and use it to argue that I'm wrong to say that the Winter's erased Pueblo people in those first pages, but the "nobody" framework reappears a few pages later.

By the way, the Manhattan Project Voices site has oral histories you can listen to, like the interview with Lydia Martinez from El Rancho, which is a Spanish community next to San Ildefonso Pueblo. 

The next two pages are about the scientists, working, night and day, on the "Gadget." In my review, I am not looking at the science. In his review, Edward Sullivan (I know his name and work from many discussions in children's literature circles) wrote about some problems with the text of The Secret Project. I'm sharing it here, for your convenience:
There was no "real name" for the bomb called the Gadget. "Gadget" was a euphemism for an implosion-type bomb that contained a plutonium core. Like the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Gadget was officially a Y-1561 device. The text is inaccurate in suggesting work at Site Y involved experimenting with atoms, uranium, or plutonium. The mission of Site Y was to create a bomb that would deliver either a uranium or plutonium core. The plutonium used in Gadget for the Trinity test was manufactured at a massive secret complex in Hanford, Washington. Uranium, used in the Hiroshima bomb, was manufactured at another massive secret complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There are other factual errors I'm not going to go into here. Winter's audacious ambition to write a picture book story about the first atomic bomb is laudable but there are too many factual errors and omissions here to make this effort anything other than misleading. 

The art of that area...

Turning the page, we next see two outdoor scenes:

The text on those pages is:
Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings.
In my initial review, I noted the use of "nobody" on that page. Who does "nobody" refer to? I said then, and now, that a lot of people who lived in that area knew the scientists were there. They may not have been able to speak about what the scientists were doing, but they knew they were there. The Winter's use of the word "nobody" fits with a romantic way of thinking about the southwest. Coyotes howling, cactus, prairie dogs, gorgeous scenery--but people were there, too. 

I think the text and illustration on the right are a tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe who lived in Abiquiu. I think Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be O'Keeffe, painting Pedernal. That illustration is out of sync, timewise. O'Keeffe painted it in 1941, which is two years prior to when the scientists got started at Los Alamos.  

The next double-paged spread is one that prompted a great deal of discussion at the Reading While White review:

The text reads:
Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries. Meanwhile, inside the laboratory, the shadowy figures are getting closer to completing their secret invention.
In my initial review, I said this:
Hopi? That's over 300 miles away in Arizona. Technically, it could be the "faraway" place the Winter's are talking about, but why go all the way there? San Ildefonso Pueblo is 17 miles away from Los Alamos. Why, I wonder, did the Winter's choose Hopi? I wonder, too, what the take-away is for people who read the word "dolls" on that page? On the next page, one of those dolls is shown hovering over the lodge where scientists are working all night. What will readers make of that? 
Reaction to that paragraph is a primary reason I've done this second review. I said very little, which left people to fill in gaps.

Some people read my "why did the Winter's choose Hopi" as a suggestion that the Winter's were dissing Pueblo people by using a Hopi man instead of a Pueblo one. That struck me as an odd thing for that person to say, but I realized that I know something that person doesn't know: The Hopi are Pueblo people, too. They happen to be in the state now called Arizona, but they, and we--in the state now called New Mexico, are similar. In fact, one of the languages spoken at Hopi is the same one spoken at Nambé.

Some people thought I was objecting to the use of the word "dolls" because that's not the right word for them. They pointed to various websites that use that word. That struck me as odd, too, but I see that what I said left a gap that they filled in.

When I looked at that page, I wondered if maybe the Winter's had made a trip to Los Alamos and maybe to Bandelier, and had possibly seen an Artist in Residence who happened to be a Hopi man working on kachina dolls. I was--and am--worried that readers would think kachina dolls are toys. And, I wondered what readers would make of that one on the second page, hovering over the lodge.

What I was asking is: do children and adults who read this book have the knowledge they need to know that kachina dolls are not toys? They have spiritual significance. They're used for teaching purposes. And they're given to children in specific ways. We have some in my family--given to us in ways that I will not disclose. As children, we're taught to protect our ways. The voice of elders saying "don't go tell your teachers what we do" is ever-present in my life. This protection is there because Native peoples have endured outsiders--for centuries--entering our spaces and writing about things they see. Without an understanding of what they see, they misinterpret things.

The facing page, the one that shows a kachina hovering over the lodge, is not in full color. It is a ghost-like rendering of the one on the left:

We might say that the Winter's know that there is a spiritual significance to them, but the Winter's use of them is their use. Here's a series of questions. Some could be answered. My asking of them isn't a quest for answers. The questions are meant to ask people to reflect on them.

  • Would a Hopi person use a kachina that way? 
  • Which kachina is that? On that first page, Jeanette Winter shows several different ones, but what does she know about each one? 
  • What is Jeanette Winter's source? Are those accurate renderings? Or are they her imaginings? 
  • Why did Jeanette Winter use that one, in that ghost-like form, on that second page? Is it trying to tell them to stop? Is it telling them (or us) that it is watching the men because they're doing a bad thing? 
The point is, there's a gap that must be filled in by the reader. How will people fill in that gap? What knowledge will they turn to, or seek out, to fill that gap?

In the long exchange at Reading While White, Sam Juliano said that information about kachina dolls is on Wikipedia and all over the Internet. He obviously thinks information he finds is sufficient, but I disagree. Most of what is on the Internet is by people who are not themselves, Native. We've endured centuries of researchers studying this or that aspect of our lives. They did not know what they were looking at, but wrote about it anyway, from a White perspective. Some of that research led to policies that hurt us. Some of it led to thefts of religious items. Finally, laws were passed to protect us. One is the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (some good info here), and another is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990. With that as context, I look at that double-paged spread and wonder: how it is going to impact readers?

The two page spread with kachinas looks -- to some people -- like a good couple of pages because they suggest an honoring of Hopi people. However, any "honoring" that lacks substance is just as destructive as derogatory imagery. In fact, that "honoring" sentiment is why this country cannot seem to let go of mascots. People generally understand that derogatory imagery is inappropriate, but cannot seem to understand that romantic imagery is also a problem for the people being depicted, and for the people whose pre-existing views are being affirmed by that romantic image.

Update, Monday Oct 23, 8:00 AM
Conversations going on elsewhere about the kachina dolls insist that Jeanette Winter knows what she is doing, because she has a library of books about kachina dolls, because she's got a collection of them, and because she's had conversations with the people who made them. Unless she says something, we don't know, and in the end, what she knows does not matter. What we have is in the book she produced. In a case like this, it would have been ideal to have some information in the back matter and for some of her sources to have been included in the bibliography. If she talked with someone at the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, it would have been terrific to have a note about that in the back matter, too.

Other conversations suggest that readers would know that kachinas have a religious meaning. Some would, but others do not. Some see them as a craft item that kids can do. There are many how-to pages about making them using items like toilet paper rolls. And, there are pages about what to name the kachina dolls being made. Those pages point to a tremendous lack of understanding and a subsequent trivialization of Native cultures.


One result of these long-standing misrepresentations and exploitations is this: For some time now, Native people have drawn curtains (in reality, and in the abstract) on what we do and what we share. As a scholar in children's literature, I've been adding "curtains" to Rudine Sims Bishop's metaphor of books as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. There are things people do not share with outsiders.

Tribal nations have protocols for researchers who want to do research. Of relevance here is the information at the website for the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. There are books about researchers, like Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, now in its 2nd edition.

My point: there are resources out there that can help writers, editors, reviewers, teachers, parents and librarians grow in their understandings of all of this.

The Land of Enchantment

The last page that I want to talk about in some detail is this one:

The text is:
Sometimes the shadowy figures emerge from the shadows, pale and tired and hallow-eyed, and go to the nearby town.
That nearby town is meant to be Santa Fe. See the woman seated on the right, holding a piece of pottery? The style of those two buildings and her presence suggests that they're driving into the plaza. It looks to me like they're on a dirt road. I think the roads into Santa Fe were already paved by then. See the man with the burro? I think that's out of time, too. The Manhattan Project Voices page has a photograph of the 109 E. Palace Avenue from that time period. It was the administrative office where people who were part of the Manhattan Project reported when they arrived in Santa Fe:

You can find other photos like that, too. Having grown up at Nambé, I have an attachment to our homelands. Visitors, past-and-present, have felt its special qualities, too. That’s why so many artists moved there and it is why so many people move there now. I don’t know who first called it “the land of enchantment” but that’s its moniker. Too often, outsiders lose perspective that it is a land where brutal violence took place. What we saw with the development of the bomb is one recent violent moment, but it is preceded by many others. Romanticizing my homeland tends to erase its violent past. The art in The Secret Project gets at the horror of the bomb, but it is marred by the romantic ways that the Winter's depicted Native peoples.

Update, Oct 19, 9:15 AM
Below, in a comment from Sam Juliano, he says that the text of the book does not say that the scientists were going to the plaza in Santa Fe. He is correct. The text does not say that on that page. Here's the next illustration in the book:

That is the plaza. Other than the donkeys, the illustration is accurate. Of course, a donkey could have been there, but it is not likely at that time. If you were on the sidewalk, one of those buildings shown would be the Palace of the Governors. Its "porch" is famous as a place where Native artists sell their work. In the previous illustration, I think Jeanette Winter was depicting one of the artists who sells their work there, at the porch. Here's a present-day photo of Native artists there. (It is, by the way, where I recommend you buy art. Money spent there goes directly to the artist.)  


Some concluding thoughts

The Secret Project got starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, The Horn Book, Booklist, and Kirkus. None of the reviews questioned the Native content or omissions. The latter are harder for most people to see, but I am disappointed that they did not spend time (or write about, if they did) on the pages with the kachina dolls. 

I fully understand why people like this book. I especially understand that, under the current president, many of us fear a nuclear war. This book touches us in an immediate way, because of that sense of doom. But--we cannot let fear boost this book into winning an award that has problems of accuracy, especially when it is a work of nonfiction.

There are people who think I'm trying to destroy this book. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, it got starred reviews. My review and my "not recommended" tag is not going to destroy this book.

What I've offered here, back in March, and on the Reading While White page is not going to destroy this book. It has likely made the Winter's uncomfortable or angry. It has certainly made others feel angry.

I do not think the Winter's are racist. I do think, however, that there's things they did not know that they do know now. I know for a fact that they have read what I've written. I know it was upsetting to them. That's ok, though. Learning about our own ignorance is unsettling. I have felt discomfort over my own ignorance, many times. In the end, what I do is try to help people see depictions of Native peoples from what is likely to be their non-Native perspective. I want books to be better than they are, now. And I also know that many writers value what I do.

Now, I'm hitting the upload button (at 8:30 AM on Tuesday, October 17th). I hope it is helpful to anyone who is reading the book or considering buying it. I may have typos in what I've written, or passages that don't make sense. Let me know! And of course, if you've got questions or comments, please let me know.


If you've submitted a comment that includes a link to another site and it didn't work after you submitted the comment, I'll insert them here, alphabetically.

Caldecott Medal Contender: The Secret Project
submitted by Sam Juliano, who asked people to see comments, there, about me (note: tks to Ricky for letting me know I had the incorrect link for Sam Juliano's page. It is correct now.)

Guidelines for Respecting Cultural Knowledge (Assembly of Alaska Native Educators, 2000)
submitted by Melissa Green

Indigenous Intellectual Property (Wikipedia)
submitted by Melissa Green

Intellectual Property Rights (Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)
submitted by Melissa Green

Reviewing While White: The Secret Project
submitted by Melissa Green

Monday, February 01, 2021

Not Recommended: THE BRAVE by James Bird

The Brave
Written by James Bird
Published by Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
Publication Year: 2020
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended

A reader wrote to ask if we have read or reviewed The Brave by James Bird. I was aware of the book but had not yet ordered or reviewed it. The reader's question prompted me to see how it was being received. I see it has some starred reviews from major children's literature journals. But I also saw that Ojibwe scholar David Treuer gave it a scathing review in The New York Times. It was similarly criticized in the review at The Circle: Native American News and Arts located in Minneapolis. 

Editor's Note, Feb 17, 2021
Please see additional reviews by Ojibwe women:

I was able to get an e-copy a couple of days ago. First, here's the book description:
Perfect for fans of Rain Reign, this middle-grade novel The Brave is about a boy with an OCD issue and his move to a reservation to live with his biological mother.

Collin can't help himself—he has a unique condition that finds him counting every letter spoken to him. It's a quirk that makes him a prime target for bullies, and a continual frustration to the adults around him, including his father. 

When Collin asked to leave yet another school, his dad decides to send him to live in Minnesota with the mother he's never met. She is Ojibwe, and lives on a reservation. Collin arrives in Duluth with his loyal dog, Seven, and quickly finds his mom and his new home to be warm, welcoming, and accepting of his condition. 

Collin’s quirk is matched by that of his neighbor, Orenda, a girl who lives mostly in her treehouse and believes she is turning into a butterfly. With Orenda’s help, Collin works hard to overcome his challenges. His real test comes when he must step up for his new friend and trust his new family.

In what follows, I share summary in regular font, and I'm using italics for my comments and analysis. 

The book cover shows the title in capital letters. The author's name is also in capital letters but instead of an s, there is a numeral 5: JAME5 BIRD. On the title page, numerals replace letters in the title: TH3 BRAV5. The description refers to "an OCD issue" where Collin counts every letter in every word spoken to him before he replies to the person who spoke to him. 

Debbie's comments: I assume the use of numerals (instead of alphabet letters) on the cover and title page are meant to cue readers to the main character's "issue". Though the description of the book says it is OCD, nowhere in the book do I see "OCD." I see only repeated references to Collin's "issue." How it plays out is this: If I said "Hello, Collin, how are you?" he would say "Twenty. I'm fine." That manner of speaking occurs throughout most of the book. When he gets to Minnesota, it isn't an issue for Native people in his family or in the home of the Native family next door. 

Right before chapter one begins, the word BRAVE appears and is defined as you'd see it in a dictionary. 
a. (noun) a Native American warrior
b. (adjective) ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage
Debbie's comments: When I saw that, I wondered if the author (through his character) meant to return to that definition in the story, telling readers the definition is problematic. I wondered if he might use the story to tell readers what they'll find if they look in most dictionaries. When I look at a few of them online, I see that definition ("a Native American warrior") but I also see a note that the noun is outdated, old-fashioned, or offensive. In my experience, white writers use "brave" instead of man or boy. I've never heard any Native person call a Native man or boy a "brave." In interviews, I read that Bird's mother is Ojibwe. I figured then, he might take up that definition in the book, pushing back on it but that didn't happen. Instead, by the end of the book, he has overcome that "issue." In the second from final chapter, the title is "I AM THE BRAVE." In the last chapter, Collin writes directly to the reader and signs his letter with "Collin, THE BRAVE." 

I didn't know it when I started reading the book, but as I reflect on it, the uncritical depiction of that definition told me that there would be problems with the Native content in the book. 

The story opens with 13-year old Collin and his father in the school principal's office. Collin has had another run-in where he's blamed for a fight. Yet again, he is being told he has to change schools. This time, his father tells him he'll be going to live with his mother on a reservation in Minnesota. 

Collin has never met or heard from his mother. He doesn't even know her name. His father has told him very little about her. When he was six, his father told him that he has his mothers high cheekbones and "almond shaped eyes." (Collin has his father's pale skin.) A few years later when he is drunk (his father drinks heavily), he tells Collin a bit more. They had met her at a rock concert when she was 25. She was very pretty and very funny. She ended up pregnant but was from "the other side of the tracks" and so marriage wasn't an option. His wealthy parents, however, agreed to raise the baby boy, to carry on the family name. But the speech issue was more than they could manage, and when Collin was six, they sent him back to be with his father.  

Collin and his dog, Seven, fly to Duluth. He wonders what his mother will be like. He doesn't think she'll be like the Indians in westerns who jump out of bushes in warpaint and feathers, wielding a tomahawk, but he thinks Native Americans are tuned in to nature, and that an animal might have spoken to his mother and told her that he would be too much trouble to raise, with that speech issue, and maybe that's why she's not part of his life. He wishes he knew more about his "half people." 

At the airport he's waiting for someone to pick him up, and suddenly, standing in front of him is "the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." Her skin "is like what a fire would look like if it were perfectly still. It's the color of darkened flames, brown, orange, and red mixed together to make one color: fire-skin." She's got long black hair and cheekbones that look as if they were chiseled by an artist. And she has beautiful eyes. He realizes he doesn't even know her name, and doesn't know what to say. She says to him that he will enjoy her family because "we only speak when we have something to say." 

The author seems to be trying to push back on some stereotypes, but others are depicted as if they are facts. Cheekbones, in tune with nature, and speaking very little... those are stereotypes, too. That line where he says "half people" feels odd but is plausible that a 13 year old who had no prior interactions with his Ojibwe family would think that way. 

I've read and reviewed hundreds of books. I've seen many instances of an author describing how a Native character looks. It is usually awkward. I see that in this book, too. "Fire skin" is a new term to me, but it is as awkward as others I've seen. 

Collin's life up to now makes it an unusual book to review. I'm trying to read it from Collin's space of not knowing much about Ojibwe people, because I know that it is not a unique situation. Many Native kids grow up away from their Native family and community, for a wide range of reasons. When they try to connect with that family and community, it can be difficult. I'd like to find books where a Native child who has that experience can feel seen by an author/book. If you know of one, let me know in the comments! Generally, in real life, Native people welcome individuals like Collin by inviting them to their homes, introducing them to other tribal members, helping them learn and understand aspects of their history, culture, spirituality, etc.      

Collin's mother reaches out to touch his face and he pulls back. He's never had that sort of physical affection from his dad. Then he wonders if she knows he meant no harm. And, he wonders if the gesture is "a Native American thing" he doesn't know about and he hopes he hasn't insulted her. They go to the parking lot and he knows it is stereotypical to want them to be heading to a horse rather than a car. They stop in front of a truck. She asks him if he was expecting a horse. He wonders if she can read his mind. She opens the tailgate and Seven hops up. Collin asks if he can ride with Seven. She says ok. 

Debbie's comments: With Collin's worry about having insulted his mother by pulling back when she reaches out to touch his face, it seems the author is trying to convey Collin's lack of knowledge of Ojibwe ways. Remember, Collin has had no contact with his Native family until this moment. I understand the author trying to convey Collin's ignorance of Ojibwe culture, but it feels awkward. In U.S. society (well, truly, around the world), there's so much misinformation about Native people that I think this strategy would have been more successful if the author had used an existing stereotype to convey Collin's lack of knowledge.  

Time-wise, the story takes place sometime after 2016. The year isn't specified anywhere, but later in the story, the neighbor (more on her later) asks Collin to read Adriana Mather's young adult novel, How To Hang A Witch. I looked it up. It came out in 2016. Mather, by the way, is married to the author. When one author's character refers to another author's book, the writing community has mixed reactions, depending on the author's and the books. I try to document when a writer has their characters loving a book like Little House on the Prairie or Gone With the Wind. I wish that didn't happen. Little House is anti-Indigenous and Gone With the Wind is anti-Black. I have not read Mather's book, but I gather it is about belonging/rejection, which is what Collin is experiencing. I like it when a Native author refers to another Native author's book. That's a way that a Native author can shine a light on other Native authors. Mather is not Native. In a video about her book, she says she is a descendent of Cotton Mather. 

They drive for a couple of hours and then turn off just after a sign to the Fond du Lac Reservation and then another that says "HOME OF THE OJIBWE." Collin wonders if any of those letters are silent. He also does a mental screen cap of the sign so he can count its letters and use the right number when someone speaks the word Ojibwe to him. His mother opens the sliding window of the cab and shouts to him "We're Ojibwe." He again thinks she can read his mind, and thinks it is magic. 

"I'm Ojibwe." he thinks. But he also thinks he knows nothing about the Ojibwe people. He read in school that Native Americans were fearless warriors who fought many battles with the US government and he saw Westerns of super-wise wrinkled up old Native men who give white men messages just when they need to hear them. And, he remembers that some are shown as violent savages. He also thinks his mom would be an instant star if Hollywood saw her. 

After another hour they pull up (it is now dark) to a house. An older woman opens the door and turns on the porch light. The woman is his mom's mother (Collin's grandmother). There's some humorous banter among the three. When his grandmother reaches out to touch his face, he lets her do it, again wondering if it is an Ojibwe thing. He and Seven go inside, he is shown his bedroom, and before he goes in, he asks his mother what her name is. She tells him it is Cecilia but that he should call her Mama. He falls asleep. 

Debbie's comments: If I went to Albuquerque to pick up a kid (my own or anyones), I wouldn't let that child ride in the bed of my truck. It isn't safe, and it is against the law. If we were on the reservation going to get wood and driving on small dirt roads to get that wood, then yes, people could ride in the truck bed. Beyond safety and law, it is cold in October especially when the sun goes down.  I wonder what an Ojibwe mother from Fond du Lac would do when picking up a child in Duluth? That aspect of the book is possible but it doesn't seem plausible. 

Some of my criticism might seem nit-picky to readers. Some of what I point to is the sort of thing that Toni Morrison talked about. In her experience, editors in major houses did not attend to the writing of authors of color with the same care they took with white writers. I don't recall if Morrison talked about why that is the case. It may be that an editor feels they don't have the expertise to edit a Native writer, so, they just let things slide. That's not ok!  If they don't have that knowledge, they should hire editors who can do that for them. (I'm not looking to be hired for that, by the way.) 

The next morning, his mother tells him about his brother, Ajidamoo, who died, fighting "for this country." She keeps his ashes in an urn on a shelf. She gives Collin a necklace made of bone, leather, and turquoise that used to belong to Aji (short for Ajidamoo, which means squirrel). He was named Ajidamoo because as a boy he was always climbing trees. Collin asks how, when Aji was a baby, his mother would know he would do that. "Mothers just know" she says. Outside when Collin sees a squirrel he imagines it is Aji. He grabs onto the fence and looks into the back yard of the house next door. The fence breaks, he falls and as he walks back to his house he's hit in the head with a baseball. He looks up and sees the girl next door in her treehouse. Looking at her, he thinks that her skin is "a different shade of flame" than his mother's, and it is like it was dipped in gold before it was set ablaze. Back inside he finds photographs on the wall of Aji, in his mother's bedroom. In one he's wearing "a colorful costume" which Collins assumes is "traditional Ojibwe attire." 

Debbie's Comments: I'm noting Aji and the squirrel because there's more on them later in the book, and there's a lot more coming, about the girl. The sentence about the photo of Aji in his traditional clothing is kind of clunky. In the first half, the author uses "costume" which is plausible, given Collin's life so far, but the second half of the sentence doesn't follow that ignorance. He apparently knows how to describe it, so why is the word "costume" in there at all? That's what I mean about editing from an editor who is paying attention. But it may also be an editor who trusts what a Native writer is doing. 

Collin's mother drives him to school. She's a math teacher. On the way, he learns the girl's name is Orenda. Collin has a rough morning and leaves school two hours early, and hangs around waiting for the bus. When he gets dropped off, he sees his grandmother walking towards him. Rather than go home they go on what she calls an adventure. She teaches him to see things from many perspectives. When they walk home, she goes in the front door and tells him to go around to the back sliding glass door. When he gets to it, it is locked and he realizes she's locked him out again (she did this the day before, too). He thinks it must be a test of some kind and he's confused about the broken fence. The night before when he looked at it, it was fixed but now, it is broken again. He decides to go through the fence, out their gate and back to his house where he thinks the front door will be unlocked. But he sees that the grass in their yard has gone from dead to lush, overnight. As he walks through the grass he notices peaches scattered everywhere, and butterflies on the peaches. He thinks it is too cold for peaches and butterflies. But, there they are, fluttering about everywhere. That gate is locked, too, so he calls out Orenda's name, hoping she can help him get out. 

Debbie's comments: If I can, I may look up the word Orenda. It is the title of a book by Joseph Boyden. Some people really liked that book but some of the Native people whose nation is in it, did not like it at all. 

From the treehouse, Orenda tosses down a rope. Collin climbs up and sees it is a bedroom, decorated with paintings of butterflies and butterfly figurines. Orenda is there, painting. She has a line of red paint on her face, going from under her right eye to her right ear. He asks if it is war paint. She asks if the two of them are at war; he says no; she replies that she's just a messy painter. He also sees a wheelchair in the corner and asks her about it. (Later he learns that she has ALS.) He expresses sympathy when she tells him she needs it for the rest of her life, but she says not to feel sorry, because she's just changing, that this is part of her metamorphosis. She offers to train him to fight his letter counting issue. He is doubtful and she says "You don't think we can defeat it?" She says that she can, that "all we need to do is to teach you how to be brave as a brave." When her dad calls her in to dinner, she lowers her wheelchair and herself down the rope. Collin is there alone, wondering why she likes butterflies and why she "can't walk like a normal person." 

Debbie's comments: This reference to war paint is another example of Collin's ignorance. I appreciate the author's efforts to show Collin's ignorance but as before, it is kind of awkward. 

Orenda telling him that she can help him defeat the OCD issue by teaching him to be "brave as a brave" is a touch back to the definition of the word (brave) at the beginning of the book. 

The ways that the OCD, and Orenda's ALS are treated in the story are unsettling. The use of "normal" means that we are supposed to see both characters as abnormal. 

Back at school the next day, Collin is taunted again by students. He takes off early again but rather than wait around for the bus he starts walking and is surprised his grandmother is there, waiting for him. They do another walk and when they get home, she tells him to go around back again. She winks, telling him it is her way to help him hang out with Orenda. He goes to her yard and to the treehouse. She invites him to help her feed her family, which means cutting peaches in half and tossing them out the window. Collin knows he'll be in trouble for taking off from school. When he goes back to his house his mom asks him to build a fire. He gets firewood he saw in the garage and gets it going. Then he thinks about how this is the first time he's made a fire, and he feels "very Native American about this whole thing" because he's done it on an Ojibwe reservation for his "fire-skinned mother." He wonders if he'll get so good at it that people will refer to him as FireStarter or Boy Who Makes Fire. When his mom sits beside him, he mimics all her gestures (pulling her hair back, putting her hands together over her heart, closing her eyes).  He asks her if this is "something our people do." 

Debbie's comments: I really wish that an editor had flagged these learning/wondering how to be Indian sections for the author so he could take them out. There's too many of them! 

Collin's mom tells him that the fire will tell him what his options are, for having taken off from school. She tells fire to tell him he can be grounded the white way or the Ojibwe way, and that the white way teaches nothing. In the Ojibwe way, she tells fire to tell Collin, they build a fire and sit with it, reflecting on their actions as the "flames are given birth, live their life, serve their purpose, then slowly die." They think about why they did what they did and what they can do differently, the next time. When the flames die, "we are only then no longer punished." He chooses the Ojibwe way. She leaves and as he looks at the fire, he thinks he should have used fewer logs.

Debbie's comments: Is this a common Ojibwe thing? I don't know but whether it is or not, I imagine kids across the US that are into scouting or Native people using that method. Reflection rather than being grounded in your room is definitely a better option, but as done here it feels kind of Indian wisdom-y. And I suppose we're supposed to think that "should have used fewer logs" is clever, but I find it dismissive of care being extended to him. 

Collin makes it through his third day of school ok. When he gets home, his own backyard has changed from dead grass to being green and full of life. He heads through the fence to hang out with Orenda, stepping through "the minefield of peaches." Inside the tree house, Orenda has him listen to a recording. In it, a young man speaks to Orenda, telling her a story about a baby boy being swept away from his tribe, in a flood. The people looked for him but figured he must have died. But, a wolf mother had found him and the wolves decide she should determine what to do with him. She says she'll raise him. Others laugh at her, saying he'll be too slow, or too weak. That's all Collin hears of the story. Orenda says he can listen to more of it later, when he is "ready" for it. 

She says it is time for her to teach him to be strong and fast, in the same way she taught Aji. Collin is surprised. he didn't know they had known each other. They head to Collin's house, and once inside, he watches as Orenda pauses and speaks to Aji's urn. He thinks she must be speaking Ojibwe. She turns to him and says that Aji supports her decision to train him. She goes into the garage where the punching bag is (his mother had shown him Aji's things before this). She tells him to punch the bag for three minutes straight. It is hard to keep going, but he does. After, he replies to one of Orenda's comments, without counting the letters in her words.  He didn't notice that happened, but she points it out to him. After two more 3-minute rounds, she gives him a book. It is the young adult novel (How to Hang a Witch, written by the author's wife) I noted earlier in this post. She tells Collin it is one of Aji's favorite books and that it is his voice telling the wolf story in the recording he listened to earlier. She leaves and he's tired but he is also excited to read the book. He thinks "if I don't give up, I'll soon be a brave. And braves fight. I'll be able to defeat my counting condition."

There again is the reference to being a brave. 

Another day at school, Collin leaves early and goes to Orenda's treehouse. She lets him listen to more of the wolf story. They plan to head back to the garage to do more training, but when Collin asks to meet her mother, Orenda says "Let's go see my mama." In a golf cart that is in Orenda's garage, they drive along the shoulder of the highway and turn at an exit marked ANISHINAABE and drive out of the forest to a green clearing on a bluff. In the center of all this green is a garden of flowers and a small river running through it. She tells Collin her family is coming to meet him. They are butterflies that fly to them from the garden. He asks if this is real; she says yes. One lands on her fingertip and then flutters to him. He recognizes it as the same one that had been at his window in California the night before we caught that plane to Duluth. Collin and Orenda kiss and then head back home. He stays up late to finish How To Hang a Witch. 

Collin is back in school. After math class he dashes to the bathroom to pee. While at the urinal, boys who have been taunting him come in. He tries to ignore them. They start laughing and he realizes why. One of them is peeing on him. He's angry but remembers that throwing a punch will get him in trouble again so he chooses to ignore what happened. He washes his hands, leaves the bathroom and gets on the bus to go home. Walking up to his house he sees Orenda's dad, Foxy, sitting cross-legged in the center of his yard, staring up at the sun, eyes closed. The urine on his jeans is now frozen. Inside, he hand washes his jeans and goes to Orenda's tree house. They hang out, argue, she cries, and goes inside her house. Collin goes home. 

Debbie's comments: That pee scene. I don't know what to make of it. I guess it is the ultimate assault, depicted here to see if Collin can control his reactions, but it is gratuitous, grotesque, and not necessary. 

The next day is a Saturday. Collin's mom is happy because her boyfriend is being deployed after a year and will be home, soon. Collin goes to visit Orenda, who is on her way to "get her wings." She asks Collin to feed her family. He climbs into the treehouse, eats two peaches, slices the rest of them, and tosses them out the window. He lies on her bed and finds that she's left the audio recording for him to listen to. When it is over he is crying. He feels that Aji knew about Collin's struggles to fit in, to feel cared for.  He sees a photo album on her shelf and looks through it, at photos of her and Aji, and in a prom photo, Aji with a guy. Collin wonders who that is and if Aji and Orenda were in love with each other. Back in his house, his mother won't answer his questions about Orenda and Aji. He goes into the garage and punches the bag, for hours. 

I think that a week or a few days more than a week have passed since Collin flew to Duluth. A lot has happened in that week. That is plausible. What is unbelievable, though, is that he can punch that bag for hours, having only done a couple of days of 3 sets of 3-minute rounds. I suppose I could look up boxing training to see how it progresses. 

Orenda is gone overnight. Collin spends 3 hours the next day punching the bag, he runs two miles, and then he reads the sequel to How to Hang a Witch. On Sunday, mid-day, his mom comes into his room and tells him to get up because they're going to meet his ancestors. She's wearing a red flowing dress with black birds on it. They leave the reservation, go through a forest, deep into darkness and then they pull off the road to a hidden dirt lot. He sees a campfire, several cars, some horses. Before getting out of the truck, his mom pulls what looks like a thin piece of charcoal out of a case, rubs her fingertip on it, and then presses her finger on his forehead, creating a line from his forehead and down below his cheekbones. He tells her he feels like he is going into battle. She says he's been in a battle all his life, and that this will help him win. He feels a presence in the truck and asks what it is. She says "That's our blood waking up." They walk to the fire where people are dancing and singing. They look like giant birds, feathers bouncing as they dance. He sees Orenda in her wheelchair, her eyes fixed on the "fire-dancers."

From the start I've felt uncomfortable with the talk of battle and winning the battle. Though he doesn't call this substance war paint, it has that meaning, underneath the other words being spoken. I know that Native peoples gather in ways that might be similar to what the author is describing, and I know that some prefer that these gatherings be kept private. I don't know where this falls on the continuum of public or private sharing of Native ways of being. 

Of all the people there, Collin has the lightest skin. Someone calls out "Who invited the white boy?" Three boys approach him. He thinks he's about to get beat up but one of the boys looks closely at his face and says "Wait... You knew Aji?" Collin starts to tell him who he is, and another person approaches and tells them Collin is Aji's brother. Collin recognizes that person as the one from the prom photo. The three boys are apologetic. Orenda comes over and Collin decides to ask her if she and Aji were in love. She says no, he was like her big brother and that Aji was gay. 

I have not been keeping note of chapters. At this point, we're at chapter 23, titled "Spirit Questing." 

Collin's mom takes him to a teepee. He's never seen one in real life. She leads him in. It is pitch black until a torch is lit and carried to the center of the teepee. An old man sits cross legged. Collin sits, too, and his mom leaves. He asks the old man what he should do. The man claps his hands together, once, and four people enter. They're wearing long robes, each one is a different color (red, black, yellow, green). With tongs, each one is carrying a stone that is the same color as their robe. The stones are placed in the fire, where they sizzle and send clouds of smoke into the teepee. Collin imagines this is what a sauna feels like. The four leave, it gets hotter. The man tells Collin that there is a battle within him. Collin starts to sweat. The man tells him to become the heat and to close his eyes, and look deeper inward. He does and sees himself, then joins with that self and hears a whimper. It is a large angry wolf, growling and drooling. In its fur, numbers and letters shimmer. A hind leg is tied with a thick rope. He realizes he has a knife in his hand. He wonders if the wolf is the battle in him. As the wolf approaches him he wonders if he should run or fight. He lifts the knife but the wolf jumps up, knocks Collin down and bites him, tearing his flesh, breaking his bones. He screams and then, opens his eyes and is back in the teepee. He asks the old man what that was all about, and the old man says "You failed" and point to the teepee flap. He says he tried to face his fear by trying to kill the wolf. The old man says "Courage takes many forms. Now go." Collin leaves. His grandmother is waiting and says "next time" and tells him it is a "spirit test" or a "spirit quest" and that "the test is a quest."

As they drive home, Collin's mother tells him he didn't run and that he should learn from his failures. He thinks that she's giving him some "deep wisdom" and that while he's used to losing fights, he's never "fought an imaginary wolf before in some spirit test-quest battle that all took place inside my head while my body was cooking in a teepee." He thinks he's not a brave yet, but is getting close to something big. He asks where Orenda is, and his mom said she had a test, too, and that Foxy (her dad) took her home to celebrate. Collin is excited, thinking she is cured and that they'll be able to run, dance. 

Debbie's comments: that scene in the teepee raises many questions. The characters are calling it a test, a spirit test, and a spirit quest. Do the Fond du Lac Ojibwe's do this? If they do, do they share it publicly as the author has done in this book? In a Facebook discussion of the book, the author said his family is enrolled with the Grand Portage Band. I wonder if the Fond du Lac folks are ok with someone from a different band including this "test" in his book. It is of significant concern to me (I'm not Ojibwe). Historically, white people misrepresented, misunderstood, and mischaracterized our ceremonial ways, and that caused a lot of harm to tribal peoples as outside entities sought to destroy ceremonial spaces, items used in ceremony, and tried to stop Native worship, altogether. Not surprisingly, other outside entities sought to replicate what they read in books, creating or contributing to New Ageism. 

In the final paragraphs in chapter 23, Collin asks his mom why her relationship with his dad didn't work out. She tells him that when they met, she was in a dark place. Aji's father had been killed in a car accident, that she fell into a depression, and that she and Aji had to move in with her mother on the reservation. A friend took her to a concert, where she met his father and then, she became pregnant. Though it would be tough to raise another child, she was ready to do it. But, his father's parents said they'd give Collin the life that she couldn't. She wanted him to have all the opportunities she never had, so she agreed. 

Debbie's comments: It doesn't say, but I guess the friend flew her from Duluth to California for that concert (or maybe Collin's dad had flown from California to Minnesota--but that seems unlikely). We also don't know how long Collin's parents were together before she got pregnant. If I recall correctly, his father's parents didn't want a baby whose mother was from "the wrong side of the tracks." But then, the baby turned out to be a boy, so they changed their mind. Where was Collin's mom during the pregnancy? Back in Minnesota? Was she then flown to California for Collin's birth? To me, this feels like a big hole in the story that an editor could have helped with. 

The subject itself, giving up a child, is emotionally painful. As I read the book, it has felt like Collin's mother had a very supportive community and positive, caring relationships with her mother and others. But, was that warmth not there when she was younger? What are the opportunities she wanted to have that she felt she couldn't give to Collin? That is the reason she decided to leave him with his father in California. If you've read the book, I'd like to know your thoughts on that. 

Right before chapter twenty-five starts, Collin is on his way into the house and sees Foxy washing white paint off his body. He thinks about his grandmother's teachings about seeing things from a different perspective and imagines how she'd explain what Foxy is doing. He then thinks that he's starting to see things differently, that the books he's reading and Orenda's training are helping his Native American side to wake up. Chapter twenty-five starts with Collin in the house telling his grandmother he's going to visit Orenda.  She tells him that his mother went to pick up her boyfriend, and then she says "pupa" and he wonders why. When he gets to the tree house, he sees it has been painted white and kids are coming down a newly installed ramp, carrying paintings that had been on the walls. Collin is confused about the ramp. He thought she had passed her test and would be better now. Inside, her bed is now a canopy bed draped in white. She tells him that is in stage three of her transformation and her treehouse is now a cocoon. 

In chapter 26, Collin goes home after spending time with Orenda. He walks in and sees "a tall, dark, and handsome black man" who is fit (bulging muscles) with his mom. He is her boyfriend, Ronnie. He gives Collin a silver chained necklace with two dog tags on it: his own and one that has Aji's name on it. He tells Collin that he won't try to replace his father, but that he wants Collin to think of him as his father, too.  

From Ronnie, Collin learns that Orenda has ALS and that her mother had it, too. He tells Collin that the chances of two people in one family getting it are one in a billion. A week passes with Collin not seeing Orenda. She and Foxy are in Canada at a hospital. When they get back, Collin visits her in the tree house. She is much weaker and has episodes of extreme pain as if an invisible man is stabbing her. Foxy moves her from the treehouse to her bedroom in the house. 

Debbie's comments: having a character who is Black is a plus. The physical description is a bit of a cliche (tall, dark, and handsome) but again--this is a 13 year old boy's point of view. As I write that, I imagine some of you thinking I'm being generous with the author, and that there were other ways he could have done some of this that would work better. 

In a dream, Collin dreams he is a wolf. A squirrel as big as he is approaches him. It is Aji, who tells Collin that they have to save Orenda from the invisible man, who has taken her. They go to a cabin where they find her tied to a bed. Collin can see the invisible man's sword. He is stabbed and Aji attacks him. As Aji fights him, he becomes more visible. He looks like a conquistador. He kills Aji; Collin attacks, beheading him. He watches the head roll away. Orenda is no longer on the bed; she is now hovering over him, as a butterfly. She kisses him; he wakes from the dream. 

Collin thinks about the dream, realizes he's slept all day, and rushes to Orenda's house. Lot of people are there, including the "old Native American man who gave me the test in the teepee. Yeah, the test I failed." He's pacing like a wild tiger, chanting words Collin things are Ojibwe. He beats a small drum. Collin sits with Orenda. He asks the people there why nobody came to get him. The old man says he had to finish his dream. He asks what is going on and suddenly nobody is there except he and Orenda. Orenda closes her eyes, and as she tells Collin she loves him, butterfly wings spread out on her back, she lifts from the bed, tells Collin he knows where to find her, and then, she flies out the open window. 

Collin wakes in his bedroom and realizes that he had not been in Orenda's room. That was also part of his dream. His mom tells him he has to go see Orenda right away. He rushes over and it is like it was in his dream. The old Native American man is there with his drum. Collin says aloud that he just dreamt all this and the old man says that they know he did, and that truth comes to them in dreams. Orenda dies, and the old man stops drumming and tells Collin to come see him again. Collin goes home.

Debbie's comments: I wish Collin's mother had told him the name of the "old Native American man" when Collin first went into that teepee. It is jarring to me to read "old Native American man" over and over. 

The next day when Collin wakes, he asks his mom to take him to the place where he thinks Orenda will be. The chapter title is "Memengwa." His mom seems to know where to go. It is that green clearing where he went with Orenda in the golf cart. When they get there, he goes to the edge of the bluff and shouts Orenda's name. He thinks that if he let himself fall forward over the edge of the bluff, he would not have to cry over her again, but, he thinks he is not weak anymore. Orenda had taught him how to be brave. He shouts her name again and then there's a shift in the air and butterflies rise from the flower garden and flutter to him. Then, Orenda flies to him. Her dad, Foxy, is there, too. He tells Collin the name of the place they're at is Memengwa. He's got a bag of peaches with him. He tells Collin he's going to meet his family. As Collin leaves with his mom and Ronnie he turns and sees two butterflies land on Foxy's outstretched arms. He drops to his knees and howls to the sky. Collin thinks he would make a great wolf. 

Debbie's comments: In reviews on Goodreads I see people calling the dreams, the transformation, the butterflies... all of this, to them, is magical realism. I do not use the word "magic" or variants of it to refer to what may be spiritual or culturally based content of a specific tribal nation (in this case, Ojibwe). It may help to think of a specific religion, like Catholicism. Is the word "magic" used to describe things that happen within its teachings? Do miracles get cast as magical happenings? I think the answer is no. People generally respect Catholics and Catholicism. I know--there's exceptions--but I hope my example helps you understand why I think it is important not to use words like "magic" for any peoples' religious ways. 

Back at home again, Collin is looking for his grandmother. His mom tells him she went home. Collin is confused because he thought their house was hers, too. His mom tells Collin "My mother died many years ago." Collin is even more confused but then realizes that he believes Orenda changed into a butterfly, and there's no reason not to think his grandmother was a spirit the whole time he's been living there. His mom reminds him that he's got to do his test that night. 

This time, there's not a fire with dancers or anyone else. Collin goes into the teepee. The same thing happens again. Collin sees the wolf and the knife in his hand. The wolf growls and steps to him and realizes he's not afraid of the wolf. He's afraid of the numbers that shimmer in its fur. He remembers his dream, where he was the wolf. He shouts "I am the wolf" suddenly, the fear is gone. He steps to the wolf, says to himself "As brave as a brave" and then cuts the rope from its hind leg. The wolf runs off into the forest, free, and Collin thinks he, too, is free.

He feels like he's floating in space and then feels a sharp slap on his face. He opens his eyes. The old Native American man is standing over him. Collin asks if he had slapped him. The man says yes, and to stop thinking of him as an old Native American man. His name, he says, is Henry. The two leave the teepee and Henry tells Collins mom and Ronnie "He passed." A brief conversation takes place and Collin realizes he's not counting letters. He can't wait to talk to people. 

Debbie's comments: I am unsettled by this "test," passing/failing it, and Collin having won the battle and now, is no longer having the counting issue. 

In the final chapter Collin finds a letter from Orenda. She tells him that she has made her transformation and that he's made his from dork to brave. She wants him to keep reading and to talk. She says he has realized he still counts but that he does not need to blurt out the number unless he wants to do so. In the last pages, Collin writes a letter to the reader (he did this in chapter three, too). It says that he was gonna write a book and tell the world about Orenda. He wants people to know that magic exists in everyone. He ends the letter, signing off as "Collin, (THE BRAVE)." 

Debbie's comments: As I noted at the very top of this close read of The Brave, I felt the uncritical use of "brave" was a problem. Rather than push back on the idea that a Native person with courage is "a brave," the author has affirmed the problematic use of the word. 


As I read the book a second time to do this analysis, I saw that the book was being discussed (primarily by Ojibwe women) on Facebook. Someone tagged Ojibwe writer and scholar, David Treuer, and he participated in the discussion, briefly. I shared some of my concerns because mine align with Treuer's. As noted above, his review appeared in the New York Times. 

There is a Native newspaper in Minneapolis, called "The Circle: Native American News and Arts." I read that review, too. It is titled "The Brave" is compelling, but could do without the stereotypes.  Because Bird's book got a couple of starred reviews from mainstream review journals (most reviewers and staff at the journals are white) and is on a couple of "Best Of 2020 book lists, I think people agree that it is compelling, but they did not see the stereotypes the Circle's reviewer, David Treuer, and I, saw. 

And I was astonished to see that on his social media accounts, James Bird (the author) is sharing a collage that consists of a screen capture of The Circle's masthead, the first four words of the review title ("The Brave is compelling), a photo of the book, and a photo of himself. That is a misrepresentation of the review. 

Conversations are on-going. There will be a Zoom book club gathering to discuss the book. I asked if I could join. The answer was yes. James Bird asked if he could join, too. He too received a yes. 

There's a lot more research/analysis that can and should be done, particularly on depictions of Collin's counting issue (though "OCD" is not mentioned in the book, that is how the author describes it elsewhere) and ALS. I am more aware than I was, prior to 2020, that some of what I write in my reviews is anti-Black, or ableist. I'm reading, studying, thinking, and working hard to be more aware. Please do not hesitate to tell me when you see it! 

As is clear, I do not recommend James Bird's middle grade novel, The Brave, and I hope that my analysis is helpful to anyone who is trying to understand what I see when I do my work. If there is confusing summary/analysis above, let me know and I'll revise. Clarity is so important.