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

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"We" the People?

A few years back, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association began a "We the People" Bookshelf program that was designed to, on an annual basis, select a handful of books with specific themes. These books would reflect the peoples of the United States of America. That first "shelf" of books was troubling in many ways. Those who view literature critically for its representation (or lack thereof) of American Indians took great issue with that list. We wrote letters to NEH and ALA to document our concerns, but no changes were made to that first shelf, and books chosen in the ensuing years give evidence that our concerns were not taken seriously. Or, perhaps they were, but the NEH in the Bush administration has a specific agenda driving the selection of books that dismisses us.

Conversations about those "bookshelfs" continue. Below is a post written by Professor Jean Mendoza, a colleague and friend with whom I celebrate and commiserate about life and books. Jean's post was part of conversation taking place recently on the CCBC-NET listserv. I share it here with her permission.


Date: Friday, May 18, 2007

Oh, goodness, this mention of "We, the People" touches a nerve.

A colleague and I have decided the NEH and ALA should call it, "We, Some People" because significant voices are left out and others effectively silenced in and by several of the selections each year.

If one believes (as I do) in the notion of "mirrors and windows" (per Sims-Bishop and others) -- that good literature for children offers them mirrors of their own lives and windows on the lives of people who are "different from them" -- several "WE, the People" selections are highly problematic, distorting both the reflections and the view....

After the first "Bookshelf" list came out, several Native scholars and parents noted the complete absence of books by Native writers, while two of the books, Little House on the Prairie and The Matchlock Gun, contained extremely negative representations of indigenous people. There was no way that a Native child could find in that collection (called Courage) any images of people of his/her heritage suggesting that his/her ancestors might in fact have been courageous, or even fully human and equal in importance to the "settlers". There were more problems with that year's list, but I'll just stick to the problematic representations of indigenous North Americans.

The next year, "Freedom" was the metaphor/topic and again no works by Native writers (or illustrators) were included, though one story with a Native protagonist, by a white writer, appears -- the problematic The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble. The implication of this absence is that Native people's stories have no relevance in discussions of "Freedom". The irony grows painful.

The next year's collection is called "Becoming American". Probably I shouldn't get started on that choice of title. Who was here first? Who may have struggled the most with what it means, or meant, to "become American"?? And who is unrepresented, except in a book by a white author? As my husband sometimes says, "The irony rusts me out."

And as for this year's shelf, entitled "The Pursuit of Happiness" -- apparently, in the eyes of the "We, the People" selection committee, no indigenous writers of books for young people have made their characters pursue happiness in a manner worthy of inclusion in the collection.

This bookshelf idea seems great -- who doesn't like free books? -- but the practices of those making the selections seem to me (as a parent, grandparent, and aunt of Native kids) blatantly exclusionary. The NEH and ALA have been hearing every year from people (parents, scholars, educators) who practically beg them to choose books that reflect greater accuracy, authenticity, and inclusiveness. And each year, it seems to me, the exclusions simply compound those of previous years. Ignoring voices of protest can, at least for a time, be effective in silencing discourse and perpetuating historical "whitewashing". If that is NOT the underlying purpose of "We, the People", then those who work on the project really ought to make some significant changes. (And if silencing voices and whitewashing history actually were an underlying purpose, then would such a project deserve participation by libraries and schools?) There is no reason to continue to present the distorted (or painted-over) mirrors and windows as the project has done since its inception.

In my humble and deeply frustrated opinion, the "We, the People" bookshelf project really ought to get in synchrony with reality.

Jean Mendoza

Jean Mendoza, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Early Childhood Education
Millikin University
Decatur, Illinois

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Cover for Eric Gansworth's GIVE ME SOME TRUTH

If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know I think Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here is outstanding. I recommend it all the time when I work with teachers and librarians.

Today, Nerdy Book Club was the host for the cover reveal for his next book, Give Me Some Truth, which will be out in 2018.

Here's some of what he said:

[W]hen I’m getting ready to write a new novel, I look at my existing cast of characters, and develop a new one by first identifying which other characters they’re related to. I ask the new character, “Now whose kid are you?”

As a Native person, I smiled as I read "whose kid are you" and I wondered who would be at the center of Give Me Some Truth! Who, I wondered, would take me back into a Native community that feels very real to me.

Gansworth doesn't have to sit there at his computer and think "how would a Native kid" think or feel or speak. He's writing from a lived experience. His writing resonates with me and so many Native people who have read and shared If I Ever Get Out of Here.

Head over to Nerdy Book Club and see what else Gansworth said, and keep an eye out for Give Me Some Truth. 


Back to add Gansworth's bio:
Eric Gansworth (Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ) is Lowery Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and was recently NEH Distinguished Visiting Professor at Colgate University. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eric grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Nation, just outside Niagara Falls, NY. His debut novel for young readers, If I Ever Get Out of Here, was a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick and an American Indian Library Association Young Adult Honor selection, and he is the author of numerous acclaimed books for adults. Eric is also a visual artist, generally incorporating paintings as integral elements into his written work. His work has been widely shown and anthologized and has appeared in IROQUOIS ART: POWER AND HISTORY, THE KENYON REVIEW, and SHENANDOAH, among other places, and he was recently selected for inclusion in LIT CITY, a Just Buffalo Literary Center public arts project celebrating Buffalo’s literary legacy. Please visit his website at    

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We the People 2009

Last night I learned that Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House was on the 2009 "We the People" bookshelf. I mentioned that books on that shelf in previous years had been disappointing. This morning, JPM submitted an excellent comment to that post, so I'm reposting it here:

This is an interesting "first" from a group that so far seems to have focused its selections on perpetuating the dominant narrative of "American history". I'm curious about some of their other choices this year. Am not familiar with Kathleen Krull's book on Cesar Chavez (illustrated by award-winner Yuyi Morales), but I see that she also wrote something titled Pocahontas: Princess of the New World (illustrated by David Diaz, whose cover "princess" has a romanticized look) which according to the author's Web site is "fascinating birth-to-death account of this true American princess."

A Chavez book that would have been VERY interesting to see on the list is Rudolfo Anaya's Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez. Though "too old" for the age group NEH has chosen for the Krull bio, Elegy is a straight-from-the-heart look at what Cesar Chavez meant to many, many Mexican-Americans and countless others who observed, took part in, and/or benefited from his tireless activism. AND the dust jacket is this amazing time-line poster, perfect for teachers. Illustrator Gaspar Enriquez did some remarkable work. So I am curious about the decision-making process for that "Picturing America" option.

Two other WTP selections raise questions for me regarding representations of indigenous people in this year's "Bookshelf". For example, what does The Captain's Dog have to say about the Lewis and Clark project, especially about the Native people encountered encountered by the expedition? And Freedman's Life and Death of Crazy Horse I read years ago - but what might have been the reason to choose it over a biography by someone of indigenous background? Insider perspectives continue to be a problematic absence for the WTP bookshelves; let's hope that the inclusion of Birchbark House signals the beginning of a trend.

Also noted: this year's shelf has a repeat -- a version of the Paul Revere "midnight ride" story was also part of the 2005-06 Bookshelf on "Freedom". Wonder if the committee/s had any conversation about choosing David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride instead (for older readers) which unlike the Longfellow poem, focuses on historical accuracy.

And if you want to read past posts on this discussion, here they are:

June 7, 2007: "We" the People?

April 4, 2009: BIRCHBARK HOUSE is on "We the People" Bookshelf, 2009