Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"read" in Native Languages

Tulsa City-County Library has given permission for people to use this graphic for educational, non-commercial purposes. If you have questions please contact Sue Anderson at

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Books about Thanksgiving

I've had a lot of email of late... People want me to recommend good books about Thanksgiving.

There's only a handful of ones that I'd recommend. Actually---I concur with those recommended by Oyate, and I'll list them below.

Here's the thing. I want teachers, parents, and librarians to consider that a lot of American Indians don't necessarily "celebrate" Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the mainstream American holiday scheme.

Many of us get together----it IS a major holiday, with almost all offices shut down and stores closing early, etc.----and many of us eat turkey, but there are no Pilgrim and Indian salt shakers on my table...

Think about it this way. Just for a moment. Europeans invaded the homelands of Native peoples and their nations all over the Americas. There were wars. Death. Incarceration. Brutal programs designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us we have a different view of this holiday. A lot of people tell us "get over it" and the like.


That's like asking the bully and his/her victim to hug without recognizing the harm and the hurt, without having honest conversations with the bully about his actions. I'm a bit reluctant to put forth these analogies, because I don't view myself or Native peoples as victims.

What I'm getting at, in part, is that I don't want to be a player in your story. I don't want to be on your stage. I want you to see me and Pueblo people (in my case) as a people that existed and exists on its own merits---not as minor characters, or colorful ones, in the story that America tells about America.

You want to know about Native people? Do you really want to know about us? Or do you just need/want us so you can 'do your thing' (celebrate Thanksgiving)? You want me to tell you what I do for Thanksgiving. I understand that, but I think it more important that you ask about (in my case) the Pueblo people. Who are we? Where are we? What are OUR celebrations? When are they? What are they about?

And... instead of asking a Native person what they're doing for Thanksgiving, how about asking yourself about what you are doing, and why.

That said, here's some books Oyate recommends. The list is from their page about Thanksgiving. I highly recommend you read it.

Recommended Books about Thanksgiving

Bruchac, Margaret M. (Abenaki), and Catherine Grace O’Neill, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2001, grades 4-up

Hunter, Sally M. (Ojibwe), Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1997, grades 4-6.

Peters, Russell M. (Wampanoag), Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Regguinti, Gordon (Ojibwe), The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Seale, Doris (Santee/Cree), Beverly Slapin, and Carolyn Silverman (Cherokee), eds., Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective. Berkeley: Oyate, 1998, teacher resource.

Swamp, Jake (Mohawk), Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low, 1995, all grades.

Wittstock, Laura Waterman (Seneca), Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1993, grades 4-6

Sunday, November 11, 2007


In the 1990s during graduate school, I read a book called Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Prior to grad school, I had been teaching elementary school and was continually disappointed with the ways that American Indians were portrayed in children's books. I was very glad to know about Through Indian Eyes. Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, the book is packed with critical reviews, essays, and poems. Today, I'm listing the books reviewed in Through Indian Eyes. If you don't have a copy, you should get one. It is available in paperback from Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization, for $25.

Books reviewed in Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children (Note: this is NOT a list of recommended books! Some are worth having; others are not.)

  • Ashabranner, Brent. Children of the Maya; Morning Star, Black Sun; To Live in Two Worlds
  • Armstrong, Jeanette. Neekna and Chemai
  • Awiakta, Marilous. Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery
  • Baker, Betty. Three Fools and a Horse
  • Baker, Olaf. Where the Buffaloes Begin
  • Banks, Lynne Reid. The Indian in the Cupboard; The Return of the Indian
  • Baylor, Byrd. Before You Came This Way; The Desert is Theirs; A God on Every Mountain Top; Hawk, I'm Your Brother; They Put on Masks
  • Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book
  • Bierhorst, John. Doctor Coyote
  • Big Crow, Moses Nelson/Eyo Hiktepi. A Legend from Crazy Horse Clan
  • Blood, Charles, and Martin Link. The Goat in the Rug
  • Brescia, Bill (ed). Our Mother Corn
  • Brewer, Linda Skinner. O Wakaga
  • Broker, Ignatia. Night Flying Woman
  • Brown, Dee. Tepee Tales of the American Indian
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Iroquois Stories; Iroquois Stories: Heroes and Heroines, Monsters and Magic; Songs From This Earth on Turtle's Back; The Wind Eagle and Other Abenaki Stories
  • Charging Eagle, Tom and Ron Zeilinger. Black Hills, Sacred Hills
  • Collura, Mary-Ellen Lang. Winners
  • Cooper, Amy Jo. Dream Quest
  • Kleitsch, Christel and Paul Stephens. Dancing Feathers; A Time to be Brave
  • D'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. George Washington; Pocahontas.
  • DePaola, Tomie. The Legend of the Bluebonnet
  • Durham, Jimmie. Columbus Day
  • Fleischer, Jane. Pontiac, Chief of the Ottawas; Sitting Bull, Warrior of the Sioux; Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief
  • Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union Title IV Indian Education Program. Finding One's Way
  • Friskey, Margaret. Indian Two Feet and His Horse
  • Fritz, Jean. The Double Life of Pocahontas; The Good Giants and the Bad Puckwudgies
  • Goble, Paul. Buffalo Woman; Death of the Iron Horse; Star Boy
  • Green, Richard G. Wundoa: "I'm Number One"
  • Haseley, Dennis. The Scared One
  • Henry, Edna/We-Cha-Pi-Tu-Wen/Blue Star Woman. Native American Cookbook
  • Henry, Jeanette and Rupert Costo. A Thousand Years of American Indian Storytelling
  • Highwater, Jamake. The Ceremony of Innocence
  • Hirschfelder, Arlene. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children; Happily May I Walk
  • Hudson, Jan. Sweetgrass
  • Hungry Wolf, Beverly. The Ways of My Grandmothers
  • Jassem, Kate. Chief Joseph, Leader of Destiny; Pocahontas, Girl of Jamestown; Sacajawea, Wilderness Guide; Squanto, The Pilgrim Adventure
  • Johnston, Basil. How the Birds got their Colours
  • Katz, Jane. This Song Remembers: Self Portraits of Native American in the Arts
  • LeSueur, Meridel. Sparrow Hawk
  • Lyons, Grant. Pacific Coast Indians of North America
  • Maher, Ramona. Alice Yazzie's Year
  • Martin, Bill and John Archambault. Knots on a Counting Rope
  • Martinson, David. Real Wild Rice; Shemay: The Bird in the Sugarbush
  • Mathers, Sharon, Linda Skinner, and Terry Tafoya. The Mamook Book: Activities for Learning about the Northwest Coast Indians
  • Mayne, William. Drift
  • McGovern, Ann. If You Lived with the Sioux Indians
  • Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One
  • Munsch, Robert and Michael Kusugak. A Promise is a Promise
  • Nabokov, Peter. Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992
  • New Mexico People and Energy Collective. Red Ribbons for Emma
  • Norman, Howard. Who-Paddled-Backward-With-Trout
  • North American Indian Travelling College. Legends of Our Nations
  • O'Dell, Scott. Black Star, Bright Dawn
  • Okahagan Tribal Council. How Food Was Given; How Names Were Given; How Turtle Set the Animals Free
  • Oppenheim, Joanne. Black Hawk; Oscela; Sequoyah
  • Ortiz, Simon J. The People Shall Continue
  • Paige, Harry W. John Stands
  • Patacsil, Sharon and Colleen Neal. Daybreak Star Preschool Activities Book
  • Poatgieter, Hermina. Indian Legacy: Native American Influences on World Life and Cultures
  • Rock Point Community School. Between Sacred Mountains: Navajo Stories and Lessons from the Land
  • Roth, Susan. Kanahena: A Cherokee Story
  • Siberell, Anne. Whale in the Sky
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver
  • Steltzer, Ulli. A Haida Potlach
  • St. Paul Community Programs in the Arts and Sciences. Angwamas Minosewag Anishinabeg: Time of the Indian
  • Staheli, Julie West. Kachinas Color and Cut-Out Collection
  • Steptoe, John. The Story of Jumping Mouse
  • Strete, Craig Kee. When Grandfather Journeys into Winter; The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories
  • TallMountain, Mary. Green March Moons
  • Tapahonso, Luci. A Breeze Swept Through
  • Tohono O'odham Tribal Council. Tohono O'odham: Lives of the Desert People
  • Trimble, Stephen and Harvey Lloyd. Our Voices Our Land
  • Wallin, Luke. Ceremony of the Panther; In the Shadow of the Wind
  • Weeks, Rupert. Pachee Goyo: History and Legends from the Shoshone
  • Yue, Charlotte and David Yue. The Pueblo; The Tipi: A Center of Native American Life
  • Zitrkala-Sa/Gertrude Bonin. Old Indian Legends

Saturday, November 10, 2007

American Indians and Bias in Cataloging (Shelving)

I've had a couple of questions lately, about shelving of books about American Indians. It led me to ask my colleagues in the American Indian Library Association about the sorts of things they learn in library school, about shelving these books.

I was referred to a bibliography about the topic. If you're interested in it, I encourage you to read Holly Tomren's paper, "Classification, Bias and American Indian Materials."

She reviews previous studies of cataloging of American Indian materials, noting that they are generally assigned to the 970 "General History of North America" section, even if they're not necessarily history. In that area, you'll find art and religion. Bias is unavoidable, but, she asks, how might a Native student feel when, in looking for info about his tribe, the librarian sends him to the history shelves? That student obviously knows his people are not extinct, but does his non-Native peer know that? Does finding the material in the history section affirm the idea that we've all vanished?

Tomren also discusses the Library of Congress subject headings and drawbacks in them, too, and she describes alternative systems developed by Native people in the US and Canada.

Her article is definitely worth reading. It's a little technical in parts, but overall, much can be learned about the ways that bias is present in shelving systems.

Friday, November 09, 2007


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.
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
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.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The word "read" in Native languages

Was reading Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog this morning and saw this graphic. Isn't it nifty? If you click on the graphic, a larger image of it will open in another window.

Cyn's first three books are perfect for November reading.

  • They are works of fiction by a Native author.
  • They are about Native kids and their families.
  • They are set in the present day.

Cyn has extensive info about each one at her web page. Click on the title to get to her page on each one:

I said "perfect for November" because this is designated as "Native American Month" but... Read her books all year long! Don't confine them or any/all of your reading/teaching about American Indians to November... Do your part to bring us out of the past and into the present.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stereotypes, Children's Books, and the Mental Health and Well Being of ALL Children

Earlier this morning I listened to a speech (on the radio) given by a clinical psychologist to an audience in Indiana. He was there to talk about the mental health and well-being of children.

Right after he was introduced, he said something like "I'm glad to be here... Just for you, I'll put on my Cleveland Indians baseball cap." His remarks were greeted with laughter and applause.

I understand his gesture, an effort to connect with his audience, but that particular gesture indicated that he has not considered the effects of these mascots on American Indian people. It was especially troubling because, as I listened to his speech, he spoke of the need for mental health workers to become culturally competent so they are better prepared to serve diverse populations.

I can be cynical and label him a hypocrite, but I don't think he is a hypocrite. I think that he---like most Americans---has never critically looked at stereotypes of American Indians, nor has he considered the effect of those stereotypes on American Indian children.

The American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association, both issued statements calling for an end to the use of American Indian imagery in sports mascots.

The APA's statement reads, in part:

Self-esteem is an important ingredient in resiliency and positive mental health adjustment. It is important that a group does not feel compromised in this important area of psychological functioning, as impairment of self-esteem can contribute to negative behaviors such as substance use and abuse, self-harming, and interpersonal violence (Witko, 2005; Cook-Lynn, 2001; Coombs, 1997).

It also reads:

For American Indian people, whose history is not often portrayed accurately in public education systems, the stereotypes that mascots, symbols, images, and personalities portray become the norm and miseducate American Indians and non-American Indians about American Indian culture, society, and spirituality (Gone, 2002; Connolly, 2000; Moses, 1996; Churchill, 1994, Nuessel, 1994; Banks, 1993).

And here's part of the statement by the American Sociological Association:

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association recognizes that racial prejudice, stereotypes, individual discrimination and institutional discrimination are socially created phenomena that are harmful to Native Americans and other people of color;

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association is resolved to undertake scholarship, education, and action that helps to eradicate racism;

WHEREAS social science scholarship has demonstrated that the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport reflect and reinforce misleading stereotypes of Native Americans in both past and contemporary times;

WHEREAS the stereotypes embedded in Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport undermine education about the lives of Native American peoples;

These statements are issued by professional associations, and both address stereotypes in the form of mascots. I think it necessary for we, as educators, to look at stereotypes of American Indians in children's books. They are rampant this month, in the children's books about Thanksgiving, in the lesson plans about "Pilgrims and Native Americans," in the bulletin boards teachers are putting up this month, and in the decorations going up in your local grocery stores.

It is easy to feel defensive if you're using stereotypical materials. It may feel like a personal attack on your decisions. Please know that I view us all as products of a society that "did this" to us all---not in an intentionally harmful way---but in an unthinking way. There is no one place to lay blame for this massive lack-of-knowing, and laying blame is not the purpose of my writing on this blog.

Instead, my purpose is to provide a different perspective on American Indians as taught by books, schools, and society. I ask you to set aside that book, or that lesson plan, or that bulletin board display, and provide your students with solid information about American Indians.

Friday, November 02, 2007

CD: Native Writers Read Their Work

Available from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) at the Smithsonian Institution is a wonderful CD called Pulling Down the Clouds: Contemporary Native Writers Read Their Work.

All year long, visitors to the museum can view the exhibits, but there are also opportunities to listen to Native writers, scholars, and musicians.

Pulling Down the Clouds includes the following writers, reading their work:

N. Scott Momaday
Louise Erdrich
Sherwin Bitsui
Ofelia Zepeda
Karenne Wood
Simon Ortiz
Jim Northrup
Joy Harjo
M. L. Smoker
Duncan Primeaux
Debra Magpie Earling
Tomson Highway
LeAnne Howe
Nora Marks Dauenhauer
Susan Power

Quite a list, eh?!

Debra Magpie Earling.... She's got a terrific YA novel that I've not yet blogged. Her novel is called Perma Red. You recognize Joy Harjo's name? She wrote the picture book, The Good Luck Cat. Simon Ortiz? The People Shall Continue. LeAnne Howe---I've written recently about her new book, Miko Kings. And Louise Erdrich, author of Birchbark House and The Game of Silence.

None of them read from their work for children, but they are gifted writers, and if you do author studies with your students, you may find the CD useful. It is available from the NMAI's on line store. Click here to get there.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thanksgiving Picture Books: THANKSGIVING MICE

Earlier this week I visited a local public library to take a look at their picture books with the word "Thanksgiving" in the title. I did not look at non-fiction or poetry, and I looked only at books published from 1999 to 2007 that were on the "easy" shelf. I also excluded books on the easy-to-read shelf and obviously could not read those that were checked out at the time.

I read 18 books. Eleven of them had no references in text or illustration to American Indians. They were stories primarily about families getting together for Thanksgiving (example: Franklin's Thanksgiving by Paulette Bourgeosis); many were about what the family members are thankful for.

Seven of the 18 books included content (text or illustrations) about American Indians. They include:
  • Thanksgiving Mice, by Bethany Roberts
  • Thanksgiving Day, by Anne Rockwell (there were six copies of this one on the shelf)
  • Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play!: A Lift-the-Flap Story, by Andrew Clements
  • The Memory Cupboard, by Charlotte Herman
  • The Thanksgiving Door, by Debby Atwell
  • Fat Chance Thanksgiving, by Stacey Schuett
  • This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story, by Laura Krauss Melmed

Perhaps the most striking observation is that 3 of the 7 books were about doing a Thanksgiving play. It points to, I think, the degree to which that practice is central to the Thanksgiving lesson plans that teachers do in early childhood and elementary school classrooms. In a series of posts this month, I'll discuss the books I read. I begin with...

Thanksgiving Mice, by Bethany Roberts

As the title suggests, the characters are mice. In the first four pages, they prepare the props for their play. Next, other critters are shown coming in to see the play. The stage has an easel announcing the play: "The Story of Thanksgiving."

The play begins, and we see "Act 1" which is an English street scene. A male and female mouse head for the dock to board their ship. They male is shown in a black hat with a buckle, signifying Pilgrim. The next few pages show the mice being seasick, hungry, thirsty. They arrive at Plymouth Rock, build new homes, but are still hungry and weak.

Spring comes, and Act 2 begins. Here's the illustration:

The text reads:
One day they met some friendly folks, who gave them corn to sow.
The "friendly folks" are represented on that page as a mouse wearing a fringed shirt, trousers, blue beads, and a feather hanging down from beneath his ear (no headband). He has a bowl of corn kernels and offers one to the female Pilgrim mouse.

On the next double-page spread is a four-panel illustration, done that way to show the progression of time. In the first panel the Indian watches/directs the Pilgrim man as he plans the kernel of corn. The Indian is not in the next three panels, or on the next two pages, where the mice are shown in the midst of their abundant harvest of corn, squash, and pumpkins. On the next page the text reads:
And so they said to their new friends, "Let's feast! Let's dance! "Let's play!"
The Pilgrim female and the Indian male dance together. The next page shows the mice actors bowing before their cheering audience. The closing page shows the mice, a squirrel, a bird, and two worms, and the text reads:
Come one, come all, come feast with us---on this Thanksgiving Day!"
Thanksgiving Mice was published in 2001 by Clarion. It's illustrations are by Doug Cushman. The reviewer in The Horn Book Guide gave it a '5' which means "Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality." Booklist's reviewer suggests it can be used as a "light introduction to the holiday."

I'm not sure what the "redeeming quality" is, and I don't think it should be used as a light introduce children to this holiday. What purpose does it serve to teach young children this romantic story that is little more than myth? All this feel-good stuff is junk that only has to be unlearned later on. And, as I've said before on this blog, the college students I teach feel betrayed by these feel-good lessons. Perhaps James Loewen's book title captures it best. This simplified story about Thanksgiving is among the "Lies My Teacher Told Me."

Some people ask me if I'd prefer to have nothing at all said about Native peoples. My reply? I'd prefer nothing if the 'something' is error, bias, etc. To me, this is akin to "first do no harm." I much prefer books that leave out Native imagery completely, as is the case with Franklin's Thanksgiving.

Children must be provided with honest instruction about the history of this country. Books like this can be used to teach children about bias and perspective.

Update: July 17, 2014

In comments, Allie Jane Bruce notes that Thanksgiving Mice is available now as a "Green Light Reader." To the right is the new cover, showing it as a "Level 1" reader.  Published by Harcourt, the "Green Light" series is:

  • "Created exclusively for beginning readers..." 
  • "Reinforces reading skills..."
  • "Encourages children to read..."
  • "Offers extra enrichment through fun, age-appropriate activities unique to each story."
  • "Developed with Harcourt School Publishers and credentialed educational consultants."

I'd re-write those bullet points! This particular book, we might say, was

"created exclusively to mislead beginning readers"
"reinforces ignorance"
"encourages ignorance"
"offers kids the opportunity to learn how to play Indian in offensive ways"

AND---I wonder about the credentials of those educational consultants!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween, 2007

I was asked, recently, if it would be ok if a person wanted to dress like Pocahontas for Halloween, but that they'd make sure every detail of their costume was accurate.

My response? Accuracy in costume for educational purposes is a must. In my mind, that includes theater productions.

But is Halloween an educational moment? Can it be? Does it provide a "teachable moment?"

Just imagine how that 'teaching' might take place...

Can one really expect to teach others while out gathering candy, or in the case of college campuses, getting "treats" (alcoholic drinks)?

I think a college student would be ridiculed for trying to 'educate' others while dressed up like Pocahontas?

So, would it work? I don't think so.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NEA's "Native American Booklist"

A friend wrote to ask me about NEA's "Native American Booklist." (Update: Wed, Oct 31, 2007... Here's the link to the booklist: Native American Booklist.)

I visited the site. There are 61 books listed, in three categories: Grades K-4, 5-8, and 9 and up. I recognize and would agree with many--but not all--of their recommendations.

Some of the books they recommend are ones I have recommended on this blog. Some examples are the books by Richard Van Camp, George Littlechild, and Joy Harjo.

Some books on NEA's list are problematic. The books by Tony Hillerman, for example, ought NOT be on such a list. They're entertaining, best selling books, but his use (misuse) of Native ways is pretty awful.

Rather than say more about the books on the list, I think it important that I recommend a reference book that provides Native perspectives.... Half of the books on the NEA list are reviewed in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Published in 2005, A Broken Flute includes reviews written by Native scholars, writers, teachers, and parents. It has---literally---hundreds of reviews.

I am a former schoolteacher. I know how little time teachers have to seek out, for example, a Native perspective on books they want to use in their classrooms. I also know that, due to the dismal support for education in this country, teachers use their own money to purchase the things they use to teach America's children. Knowing these things, I highly recommend that you spend $35 on A Broken Flute. It is available in paperback from Oyate.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A Teacher's Thoughts on "squaw" in 4th Grade Classroom

My post about "squaw" and "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" in historical fiction was much-discussed on YALSA (YALSA is an American Library Association listserv for young adult librarians). Most of the objections to my post were along these lines:

  • It is wrong to censor books.
  • That is what people said/thought at that time.
  • Books with this language provide 'teachable moments' that are invaluable.

I wondered why the word 'censor' entered the discussion. I didn't ask that it be taken off the shelf. I posed the ramifications of using books with such language in an elementary school classroom and NOT engaging students in critical discussion of such words and phrases. What I'm advocating is the selective use of books like Sign of the Beaver and Little House on the Prairie and Matchlock Gun. What grade level should they be used? I think they ought to be used in high school classes that teach history, or social justice, or in college classes for teachers and librarians.

Below are the words of a classroom teacher. They were submitted as a comment to my post about "squaw" and "the only good Indian..." The teacher was responding to a previous commenter (her initials are DS) who suggested teachers at every grade level have dialog's with their students, in which they discuss these kinds of words, across race, gender, sexuality, etc.


DS, I see what you are saying, however, I think there is a point where you don't continue to use the word, even in teaching about (improper) use of the word. By analogy, would you choose and then discuss books that called people "Kike", "Yid", "Spic", "Chink", at the 4th grade level (which is more or less the age and grade that Sign of the Beaver is for)? I can see having a discussion and comparison of that as a lesson for older kids, but I think at this level, their thinking is still too concrete for a full discussion and it is best to use other books for literature instruction. I've taught grades 3, 4 & 5 for over 10 years, so I think I have a handle on kids' thought processes. Middle or high school as a comparative study for combined literature and social studies or social psychology possibly. But not as reading instruction for elementary school. I'm not saying to avoid discussion of that sort by any means at the elementary level - saying that in my opinion reading of this book for reading instruction at the elementary level would not be the way to go.


If you're teaching in a 3rd/4th/5th grade classroom, and have used books like these, and have done significant---not cursory---work on these words and phrases and way of thinking, I'd love to hear from you!

Or, if you're in a middle, high school, or college classroom, and have used these books, I'd love to hear from you, too.

Or, if you're a teacher and want to reread Little House and write a response to it in light of my perspectives on it, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pueblo Indians and Catholic Missionaries

I got an email from someone who read my post yesterday about kachinas in The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for a Pinon Tree. He noted simply the err in mixing two religions. His email reminded me of a short story my daughter, Liz Reese, wrote when she was 15. With her permission, I post it today. I think it provides some history and context for, in our case, Pueblo objections to the ways that our spiritual and religious ways are appropriated for the entertainment of others.

Liz's story is untitled. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.



It’s so dark. Sitting in the back of the car, I look out my window and see nothing, just blackness. The moon is dark, and we are miles away from the small town of Espanola, leaving the little light it provides behind. As we get closer to the monument, Donald turns off the headlights. If we are caught now, all our work will be in vain. We pull into the parking lot, only car there, good sign. Donald pops the trunk of his Toyota and Will and I hop out to get what we will need for our task.

Going out late like this is not something I usually do. I don’t go out and party like a lot of teenagers do. But tonight is different. Our reason for being out late is different. Everyone is sober. Our elders tell us that alcohol on your breath is disrespectful in a sacred place. This place is not sacred, but what we are about to do is, in a way, sacred, as we go forth to protect and protest that which oppressed and oppresses our sacred ways of being. Being, that is, Pueblo Indian.

I am from Nambe and Ohkay Owingeh. When we eat, we remember to give food to our ancestors. I can see vividly my grandmother cooking and humming to herself, songs that mean nothing and everything. She stops to pick up a tiny piece of bread or meat and offers it, in our way, to our ancestors. Her brown hands are no longer clad with jewelry like mine are; hers are old and bare, wearing only their wrinkles.

She is old now. She couldn’t carry what I have to carry tonight. I unload the box with the heavy battery inside. In the darkness it takes me a few seconds to find the carrying handle. I am nervous, my heart pounding. The last thing I want is a criminal record. That could destroy everything I have worked for, leaving home to get an education at a school that prepares me to fight for our people.

Will pulls out a chainsaw and shuts the trunk. The sound of it slamming echoes out through the valley. All three of us flinch, the sound was too loud, but the empty darkness kills it slowly. Donald almost scolds him, but he knows better than to make any more noise. I stumble on the curb. It is so dark, I can’t see anything. But Will puts a hand on my shoulder and leads me toward the statue. Standing 12 feet high, Don Juan de Oñate is in full uniform and mounted on his horse. I wonder if that’s what he really looked like, or if they used some random model for the statue. Is this the face of a killer? A man who, because we refused to give him grain, ordered the enslavement of Acoma pueblo’s women and children, and the mutilation of its men? Onate is heralded in history books as an explorer, but few say that he was charged with turning us into Catholics, and fewer still mention the generation of Acoma men who had to make their way on their one remaining foot.

Will feels around for Onate’s foot, finds it, and turns on the saw. Sparks fly as metal meets metal, but we are ready for that. Donald holds up a tarp to block some of the light from the sparks. But we can do nothing about the sound. All we can do is tell Will to go faster. I hear a car off in the distance, and see a light coming up Highway 68. It gets closer and I pull the plug. We are back in the darkness, but we stand like deer in headlights, our hearts beating faster than any drum. Once the car has passed, we finish cutting. The right foot of the “first conquistador of the West” falls onto the base the statue is mounted on, and then bounces off, landing almost silently, masked by the roar of the chainsaw. We grab the foot and head for the car. We don’t run, we are too blind to do that, but we move quickly, together like dancers for feast, liberated by what we have taken.

It is a small victory, but we live for these small victories. Not enough people care about the troubles of Indian country. If our little bit of vandalism makes the papers nationally, maybe a few people will learn who Onate was to us, and why his foot is significant. And pueblo people who pass the statue will feel the same victory we feel, and know why. We did this for the Pueblo people.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree

It is generally poor form to comment on a book that you have not seen, so I'm sure to get criticized for doing so today...

A reader wrote to ask me about a book called The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree. It's a new book out this year. She wrote because there is a page with kachinas on it, and she wonders if it is an appropriate use of kachinas.

The review in Publisher's Weekly says the book has "10 kachina leapin'" and the review in School Library Journal says "a wild party ensues with kachina leaping, coyotes yowlin'..."

Based on those reviews and my study of the book cover, this use is way over the line of cultural sensitivity and respect.

Obviously, a lot of people have no idea what kachinas are.

Who messed up in the creation, publication, distribution, and review of the book?

  • Author
  • Illustrator
  • SLJ Reviewer
  • Publisher's Weekly Reviewer
  • Editors at Little, Brown

Kachinas are not playthings. They are sacred. They are deities. In their significance to the Pueblo and Hopi peoples, they are of the highest order. Trying to draw analogies from one culture to the next in order to help someone see the significance in another is difficult, and these analogies break down.

Though you can buy a kachina doll when you're out west (or over the internet), your purpose in having it is different from that which a Pueblo or Hopi person. For you, it is a piece of art. For us, kachinas are central to our spirituality and way of life.

I will not say more, because too many charlatans mimic Native spirituality, selling it to desperate people.

For kachinas to be used in a children's book in this way is, in a word, shameful. Their use in this book is evidence that we have a long way to go in helping mainstream America understand who we are.

Note: Thanks to my friend and colleague, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert, from the village of Upper Moencopi, Arizona. Matt is Hopi, and a historian here at UIUC.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Elementary School Lesson Plans on American Indians

Are you looking for lesson plans that incorporate American Indians? With Thanksgiving approaching, teachers across the country are getting ready to teach children about Native Americans. Unfortunately, October (Columbus Day) and November (Thanksgiving) are often the only times of the year that Native peoples make an appearance in the curriculum. That is not educationally sound and its a long way from "best practice!" I urge teachers to teach about American Indians throughout the year.

Here's one book to help you do that: Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw.

Published in 2002 by Redleaf Press, the book has a lot to offer. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
Throughout this book, we have often relied on outstanding children's literature, usually by Native authors, to introduce positive, accurate images of Native peoples to children. It is our view that, with the possible exception of classroom visits by American Indian people, excellent children's literature is the most effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and help children focus on similarities among peoples as well as cultural differences. The literature serves as a catalyst to extend related activities into other areas of the curriculum.

And here's an excerpt from Chapter 1:
Omission of Native peoples from the curriculum, inaccurate curriculum, and stereotyping all amount to cultural insensitivity. This is heightened, however, when well-meaning teachers introduce projects that are culturally inappropriate.
Jones and Moomaw go on to discuss pitfalls in projects teachers design, including:

  • feathers and headdresses 
  • peace pipes 
  • totem poles 
  • dream catchers 
  • sand paintings 
  • pictographs
  • rattles 
  • drums
  • brown paper bag vests

There's great suggestions, throughout. Chapter 2 includes a lesson plan called "Children and Shoes" that uses Bernelda Wheeler's Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? and Esther Sanderson's Two Pairs of Shoes. It includes suggested activities in dramatic play (Shoe Store), math (Shoe Graph) and science (Shoe Prints), all of which convey similarities across cultures. Chapter 6 is about the environment. Featured are two of Jan Bourdeau Waboose's books, SkySisters and Morning on the Lake.

In the "not recommended" section that closes each chapter, the authors of Lessons from Turtle Island tell us it is not recommended to ask children to make up Indian stories, and explains why.

As a former first grade teacher, I highly recommend this book to anyone working with young children.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


A documentary produced by Patty Loew, a colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be broadcast in the coming weeks on PBS. Titled Way of the Warrior, the documentary is about American Indians in the armed services.

The article about the documentary includes an excerpt, and a photograph and image of a diary (shown here) kept by Loew's grandfather, Pvt. Edward DeNomie. He served in the military during a period when American Indians did not have the right to vote.

There is much to learn about American Indians in the US armed forces. I'm looking forward to viewing this film, and it seems an important one for US history teachers.

To read the article and view the excerpt, click here:
Professor's film on Native American soldiers to air on PBS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The word "squaw" in SIGN OF THE BEAVER

The word "squaw" is commonly used in place of the word "woman" in historical fiction for children. I wonder if its entrance during childhood, during formative years, is what makes adults of today think it is an appropriate or acceptable word to use today?

A recent editorial in Indian Country Today describes the modern day use of the word. A small town in Maine is deeply embroiled in a struggle over the word. Insensitivity abounds. The town is near the Penobscot Nation. Tribal members attend city meetings to discuss the issue. Here's an excerpt from the editorial:

One woman, who is a teacher, asked me, "What do we call you Native American Indian women if we can't call you [squaw]?"

That question is loaded, and it prompts me to ask all of you who work with children's books---writers, teachers, librarians---what role might the use of the word in children's historical fiction play in the way that teacher responded to the Native woman?

Let's look at the award winning Sign of the Beaver. Remember---the author of the book and the perspective in the book are not Native. The main character is a white boy named Matt. He meets a Native boy named Attean. This isn't Attean's story. It is Matt's story. According to Amazon's nifty "search inside this book" option, the word 'squaw' appears on 8 pages.

The characters who use the word 'squaw' are Native.

  • In his spoken words, Attean is scornful of women and their work. That work includes care of the garden (weeding) and preparing a bear Attean has killed.

  • A Native girl also uses the word. She says "Attean think squaw girl not good for much"

I doubt that Attean would have the sentiments he has about women, especially women who are his elders. I don't think he would be scornful of them. Moreover, I don't think he would use the word "squaw" at all. If we are considering accuracy of his speech, he'd probably use the word his people would use for women in their language. If you're interested in the Penobscot language, take a look at their website.

In contrast, Matt uses the word 'woman.' The word "woman" appears on seven pages in the book, in Matt's thoughts as we read what he thinks when he sees Native women. He doesn't think "squaw" when he sees them. He thinks "woman." He does think the word 'squaw' as he does his chores, after hearing Attean use it.

Ironically, Sign of the Beaver is set in Maine.

We obviously can't say that any children's book is responsible for the views espoused by the teacher quoted in the Indian Country Today editorial, but I do think children's books and the work we do with them in the classroom setting makes a difference.

Do we affirm misrepresentation and misinformation by failing to engage students in a critical discussion of words like 'squaw' when we read books like Sign of the Beaver? If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know my answer is YES. You know that I think parents, teachers, and librarians must actively engage our children and students in these discussion.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Halloween Costumes

With Halloween approaching, a lot of people---teachers, parents, students, children---are thinking about what they will "be" this year.

Costume shops down the street and on-line include all manner of apparel for those who want to be an "Indian Brave" or a "Sassy Squaw." It is interesting to study the photographs of the models in these costumes...

Some little boys and little girls smile at the camera, others stand with arms crossed, and still others hold one hand up in that goofy and classic "how" pose.

The women stand seductively.

I saw one that especially troubled me... It is for a little girl, it is the "Indian Princess" costume, and the selling line is "Every chiefs little dream."

The men? They stand tense, ready to spring, with tomahawk raised and a threatening scowl on their faces.

The ways in which these models are posed tell us a lot about what people think about American Indians. We are taught to think these ways from our earliest years. Images on television, and in children's books, and in the market place.... they all play a role in what Americans think they know about American Indians. Below is a post I made to the blog last year about Halloween.

I hope that you will think carefully about choosing a costume this year, and that you will choose not to dress like an "Indian."

Friday, October 13, 2006

"An Indian?" in Clifford's Halloween

Across the country, kids know who Clifford the Big Red Dog is. A long-time favorite in a series of picture books by Norman Bridwell, even more kids are meeting Clifford by way of his television program, broadcast on PBS.

In the book Clifford's Halloween, Emily Elizabeth is trying to figure out what Clifford will be for Halloween. One option is an Indian. That page shows him in a large multi-colored feathered headdress, with what Bridwell must have intended to be a peace pipe in his mouth.

Many books about Halloween have illustrations of kids dressed up as Indians, and due to society's embrace of things-Indian and playing Indian, we don't give it a second thought.

Let’s pause for a moment, though, and think about this seemingly innocent act of dressing up as an Indian for Halloween.

What else do kids dress up as at Halloween? I don’t mean animals or superheroes, but people-costumes. They can be policemen, firefighters, cowboys, doctors, nurses, pilots, astronauts, baseball players, cheerleaders, soldiers, football players, princesses, belly dancers…. All these are occupations or positions one can, in fact, be at some point, with the proper training.

Now---what about an Indian? You can’t train to be an Indian. You can’t become one. It is something you are born into.

Does that distinction matter? A lot of people would say “No. It’s all in good fun, no harm done.” So you help your child apply his/her “war paint” and put on feathers and other items that complete the costume. Can you imagine yourself painting the child’s face so he/she could be a black person? A minstrel performer, or perhaps a slave, or even Martin Luther King? I’m guessing a parent wouldn’t do that. That parent would know it was wrong. (Doing it in another context----a school play, for example, is a different context.)

Another question to consider: What sort of Indian are we encouraging children to be when we endorse an Indian costume, and what does it teach them? Are they savage Indians, the ones who, according to history books, were murderous, bloodthirsty killers? Or are they the tragic ones, heroic, last-stand, looking into the sunset, riding away despondent over loss?

In either case, the costume they wear is stereotypical. And—savage or heroic—both place Native peoples in the past, not the present, reinforcing the idea that we are an extinct people.

If the book you select for a Halloween read-aloud in storytime has characters that dress up as Indians, turn that illustration into a teachable moment with your students. And, if you’re the parent of a child who wants to dress up as an Indian, talk with your child about that choice and what it means.

In choosing NOT to think about this, are you, unwittingly, fostering the development of stereotypes?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2008 Lacapa Spirit Prize - Call for submissions

The Lacapa Spirit Prize --- a literary prize for children's books about the peoples, cultures, and landscape of the southwest --- is accepting submissions for the 2008 prize.

For prize information and application materials, click here: Lacapa Spirit Prize. Posted there is information about last year's winners.

An excerpt from the website:

Named for Michael Lacapa, children’s book illustrator and writer who died in 2005, the award honors the legacy of his artistic vision and talent for storytelling. This prize acknowledges great books for children that best embody the spirit of the peoples, culture and natural landscape of the Southwest. Books published in the two years prior to the award are eligible for consideration.

Michael's book Less Than Half, More Than Whole, profoundly impacted me. It demonstrated---in a beautiful way---that our stories and experiences as people of today, could be portrayed in children's books.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"The only good Indian is a dead Indian"

Did you know...

the phrase "the only good Indian is a dead Indian"

appears in the acclaimed Little House on the Prairie three times?

Could you/would you hand that book to a Native child?

Could you/should you hand that book to a non-Native child?

How would you/could you/should you use that book?