Tuesday, November 27, 2007


When Ten Little Indians came out in 2004, Alexie did an interview with Wisconsin's Public Radio program "To the Best of our Knowledge." Click here to listen to it. Ten Little Indians is a terrific collection of short stories.

The segment also includes an interview with Gayle Ross. She's a storyteller and writer. I really like her books. One is The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale, which she did with Joseph Bruchac. Illustrations for that book are by Virginia A. Stroud. The beauty and importance of this book begins with Stroud's "Illustrator's Note" and Bruchac and Ross's "The Origin of the Story," both of which precede the story. In these notes, readers learn how illustrators and writers can prepare their work in a way that conveys a fundamental respect for Native peoples, their histories, and their stories.

Equally important is what you see when you open the book and start reading the story:

See the family? They aren't in some fake tipi... They're in a living room, much like yours or mine, with a fireplace and a big comfy chair. This opening visually grounds the story and Native people in the present day.

The first line is "This is what the old people told me when I was a child." None of that "many moons ago" or "in the days of the ancients" kind of prose that too many non-Native writers use!

Note, too, that it is tribally specific, right up front in the title. It says "A Cherokee Tale."

The closing page returns to the present day, with the grandparent and two children outside looking up at the stars of the Milky Way.

This book is far better than Rodanas's Dragonfly's Tale, or Pollock's Turkey Girl. If you recently bought one of them, take it right back to the store and get your money back. Ask, instead, for The Story of the Milky Way. This is one you can count on.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alexie on Charlie Rose, 1998

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie

Knowing teachers spend a fair amount of time developing background to teach certain novels, I'm providing this interview of Sherman Alexie. He was on Charlie Rose, 1998, talking about his then-released film SMOKE SIGNALS. If you're going to teach Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, you may consider viewing SMOKE SIGNALS, too. Preview it first, though. Make sure it will fare well in your school's video policy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Interview with Richard Van Camp

More than once on this blog, I've written about Richard Van Camp's books for children and young adults. Two are picture books: A Man Called Raven, and, What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses. His novel is called The Lesser Blessed.

I just came across an interview of him, by Judi Saltman, done in June of 2003. Definitely worth reading. Interviews like this can chip away at those perceptions that we're super people, or tragic, or gone. Richard talks about how his children's books came to be, about finding out his hero, George Littlechild would illustrate them. He also talks about publishing houses, Native writers, his own life and identity... Richard is Dogrib (Tlicho).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"I" is for Inclusion

At their website, the American Indian Library Association recently uploaded "I is for Inclusion." Prepared by Naomi Caldwell, Gabriella Kaye, and Lisa A. Mitten, the article is 21 pages long and includes these sections, full of information useful to anyone selecting books about American Indians.

  • The Background
  • Introduction and Overview
  • Selective Bibliography
  • Resources for Evaluating Books and Identifying Stereotypes
  • Sources to Purchase Books
  • What to Look for

Download the pdf and share it with your fellow librarians and teachers.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cynthia Leitich Smith: LOC Webcast

Wondering if there were any videos on-line of Cynthia Leitich Smith, I did a bit of web searching and found one! In 2002, she was speaking at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Cynthia has three wonderful books: Jingle Dancer is a picture book, Indian Shoes is easy-reader short stories, and Rain is Not My Indian Name is a YA story. Cynthia reads from RAIN in the video. To view it, click here.

She was there this past year (2007), too. This time, she read from her new book, Tantalize, which is a work of fantasy, about vampires, set in a restaurant. To view this clip, click here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Alexie on YouTube re DIARY

This is a must-view clip on YouTube. It was filmed November 3rd, when Alexie was in Texas for the Texas Book Festival. He was on a panel of YA writers. (Thanks to Jeff Berglund at Northern Arizona University for pointing to this.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Native Astronaut & A Native Writer

I imagine the man who drive my cab in NYC Thursday night would be surprised to know that Commander John Herrington, who flew on the space shuttle in 2002, is, to use the cabby's words "a red Indian." The man is from Bangladesh, and as I got in his cab, he peered at me and asked if I was Indian.

"Yes, American Indian."

"From India?"

"No... Native American."



He then stumbled, with "I thought...." and "But...." We began a long conversation, during which he talked of how he didn't know we are still here and that there is nothing in his daughter's history schoolbooks about us. He was surprised to know that there are hundreds of tribal nations, each with its own language, culture, etc. He asked what work we do, too, and though I told him one of my sister's work in business and science, and my dad is a retired engineer, he seemed to think that wasn't possible.

The conversation pointed out (again) to me, just how powerful American Indian stereotypes are--not just here--but abroad as well.

"Red Indian" is the phrase used for us in other lands. Later that evening, reading email, I learned of a new book, published in England, called Apache Girl Warrior. In her on-line interview, the author didn't use "red Indian" but she does have that tragic-romantic image in her head. And with that, she's written a book in which she makes up a tribe "Black Mountain Apache." She talks about not having learned much about American Indians, and that she wants to change that with this book. Her protagonist witnesses her brother being killed, vows to take vengeance, trains herself to be a warrior, and then...

That synopsis makes me think 'oh dear' --- her book is not going to do much more than affirm stereotypes, but in making up a tribe, but she is also adding misinformation. All with good intent!

Getting back to the subject of this post! John Herrington the astronaut is Chickasaw. And Cynthia Leitich Smith the author is Creek. The two were speaking at the Norman Public Library in Norman Oklahoma for its Native American Festival.

Over on her blog, Cyn has a picture of Herrington, and an image of the cover of her book, Rain is Not My Indian Name. She's got a signed poster of Herrington. It and a copy of her book are in a giveaway Cyn is doing. If you are a teacher, librarian, or university professor, click on over to her site and sign up for the chance to receive the giveaway. She's drawing the winning entry the first week of December.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Where is your copy of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE?

That isn’t a trick question, but it is an important one. Where does your library shelve its copy of Forrest (Asa) Carter’s The Education of Little Tree?

Published in the 1970s, and passed off as autobiography, it was exposed as a work of fiction in 1991. It’s author, “Forrest” Carter was not Cherokee. He was Asa Carter, member of the KKK, and the person who wrote George Wallace’s “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech.

The Education of Little Tree was in the news last week. Around 6:00 AM on Sunday, November 11th, I did a Google search using [Oprah +”Education of Little Tree”] and got 572,000 hits that include news outlets in Canada, Ireland, the UK, and China. Obviously, Oprah is a person with international fame.

Oprah pulled The Education of Little Tree from her list of recommended books. She was a fan of the book, but decided, given its author, she could no longer keep it on her list. I wish that she knew there are additional problems with the book. It isn't only a hoax, it's deeply flawed in its presentation of Cherokee people and their ways.

As a person who studies children’s and young adult books about American Indians, I’ve known for a long time that the book is a hoax. A best-selling hoax. Curious about its reception, I logged on to Amazon to read some reader reviews there.

When I clicked on the link to customer reviews, the page that came up had a different format than what I’m used to seeing on Amazon. On the left side of the page is “The most helpful favorable review” and on the right side of the page is “The most helpful critical review.” The critical review is titled “Should not be shelved as Non-Fiction.” I like this dual presentation, and hope to see it more often.

I wanted to read more reviews, so clicked on the “Newest First” button. Scrolling down, I saw one titled “The WORST book I’ve ever recorded…” posted on June 6, 2006, by J. Woodman. The person named J. Woodman, apparently, recorded the audio book version: In his review, Woodman says

Reading the book to myself in order to prepare to record it, I found it annoying in the extreme -- the so-called prose is precious and poorly written, and the allegedly authentic colloquialisms are grating. When it came time to say it all aloud, for the first time ever (and I've narrated upwards of 200 audiobooks) I found it impossible to invest this piece of literary flotsam with any emotional content whatsoever. As declining the job was no longer an option, I merely tried to stay out of the way and give it as simple and logical a performance as I could, but I was unable to compensate for the God awful writing, and unable to disguise my contempt for the entire enterprise. It remains the worst recording I have ever done, and I was, for a time, quite ashamed of it. Now that I discover more about its hate mongering author, I'm actually quite pleased that the recording stinks. I now believe I gave this garbage exactly the reading it deserved.

Woodman’s remarks aside, review after review describes the story as “heartwarming” or “well-written, compelling” or “entertaining and thoughtful.” Many say they’ll pass it along to their children and grandchildren.

The thrust of the mainstream criticism of the book is about the author, about the hoax. Many say we should not discard a book because of its author, that it should be considered on its own merits. To many, it is a well-written book, and therefore, much-loved.


There are a lot of well-loved children’s books that miss the mark when viewed for the accuracy of presentation of Native content. These books are, in my view, bogus. A good example of this is Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. It is an award-winning, best-selling book that purports to be a speech given by Chief Seattle, who was the leader of a west-coast tribe, but Jeffers illustrations are the usual (stereotypical) Plains Indian-like items (fringed buckskin, tipis). Books like this do nothing to interrupt the cycles of misinformation circulating throughout mainstream America---and indeed---the world, about who American Indians actually are. Instead, they affirm stereotypes, of savage, heroic but always tragic Indians.

While those with little or no factually based knowledge of the Cherokee people think The Education of Little Tree is a wonderful story, those who are Cherokee find it deeply flawed. In his article “A Lingering Miseducation: Confronting the Legacy of Little Tree,” Daniel Heath Justice writes:

…Carter’s Indians live apart from their tribal community as much in spirit and philosophy as in geographic proximity. Grandpa, Granma, Little Tree, and Willow John are the only Indians around; reference to “the Nation” in Oklahoma is always with scorn or sadness. No mention is made of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. Carter’s Indians claim to carry the memory and “Way” of their people, but only as a vanished or vanishing memory. The tribal community is dead in Little Tree, and none of the so-called Cherokees seem interested in reclaiming it.

On the authenticity in the book, Justice says:

Granpa is the Noble Trickster, Grandma the dignified Indian Princess (and a Cherokee Princess, no less!), and Little Tree is just what so many generations of Boy Scouts have dreamed themselves to be: the Little Brave roaming wild in the forest, with few rules and all sorts of generic “Indian” woodlore to consume and exploit. In most ways they are generic Indians, with few if any attributes that are distinctly Cherokee. None of them have any connection to the Cherokee clan system, which would have been quite unusual for Cherokees like Granma and Granpa during that time period….


This fictionalization of Native lives and histories poses a very real threat to Native America, for it creates powerful stereotypes of Indians (what Anishinaabe writer and critic Gerald Vizenor calls “interimage simulations”) that take on a white cultural reality that is seen as a more “authentic” than the realities of living, sovereign American Indians.

Justice opens his article by speaking of reading it himself, as a young boy, and how it affected him. He is Cherokee, or as he prefers, Tsalagi. He closes his article with this:

Many generations have suffered from the stereotypes that Little Tree draws upon, stereotypes that find their deepest grasp in the minds and spirits of the children. We have spent many years resisting colonialist intrusions into our lives, histories, and identities, to varying degrees of success, sometimes with strategies that would make true understanding more difficult for the children and grandchildren who would follow. Until 1996, my parents and I didn’t know that The Education of Little Tree was a fraud; three generations of removal kept us ignorant of who we are among our people. But we know now. We’ve reclaimed the story from Asa Carter and others like him who would define Indians out of existence and take their places as the indigenes of the Americas. We’re reestablishing connections with our kin in the Nation and beyond, and we’re reading authors like Cook-Lynn, Vizenor, Owens, Wendy Rose, Diane Glancy, Marilou Awiakta, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, Sherman Alexie, D’Arcy McNickle, and other Indians hwo tell their own stories. The time of Little Tree is at an end; the voices have escaped. We know the truth: the stories are ours, and we will be the ones to tell them. That’s where the real education begins.

Justice’s article came out in a journal published by the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures. Published since the 1970s, it is among the handful of academic journals created by American Indians for the purpose of publishing research articles that provide American Indian perspectives on, in this case, literature. Older issues of the journal are on line at http://oncampus.richmond.edu/faculty/ASAIL/.

Other journals like it include American Indian Quarterly, Wicazo-Sa Review, the Journal of American Indian Education, and American Indian Culture and Research Journal.

The Library of Congress classifies The Education of Little Tree as fiction but at least 20 libraries in Illinois have it shelved as non-fiction. Opening the book and looking at the CIP information, it is clear that---at one time---LOC had it categorized as biography. When did they change its category from biography to fiction? Does LOC have a mechanism for letting libraries know when they make such a change?

The case of The Education of Little Tree illustrates the many problems in children’s books about American Indians. From writers who claim a Native identity, to the differences in reviews by mainstream and Native critics, to the problems involved in shelving books.

Things can be better, but only if teachers and librarians have time to do some professional reading in journals that aren’t necessarily among their regular readings. This blog is an attempt to help you find those articles. When they’re available on-line, I link to them (see column at right called ARTICLES.)

So…. I close this blog post with the question I started with: Where is your copy of The Education of Little Tree shelved?

[Note: Thank you, readers of YALSA and ISLMANET, for providing feedback on an earlier draft of this post.]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving in YA National Book Award

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award last night, for his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

There's a lot in his book that many readers may not know or understand... What is, for example, "The Indian Health Service." And what is that reference to a "white dentist"?!

Page after page has something I identify with, or laugh aloud with... Below are some excerpts from the book.

On page 35, Mr. P (Junior's teacher) says

"When I first started teaching here, that's what we did to the rowdy ones, you know? We beat them. That's how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child."

Alexie's protagonist asks Mr. P

"You killed Indians?"

And Mr. P replies

"No, no, it's just a saying. I didn't literally kill Indians. We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. Your songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything. We weren't trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture."
Mr. P is referring to boarding schools. Not fancy prep-schools, but schools designed to "Kill the Indian, save the man."

Take a look at the illustration on page 38, and the discussion of romance novels. When I do guest lectures, I bring along one of Cassie Edward's romance novels. They are hilarious to me, but they ARE bestsellers, consumed by... who? Women.... Librarians? Teachers? Parents? I bring one along to make the point that, if you're only reading junk, it is easy to understand why you don't recognize stereotypical content.

On page 61 are "The Unofficial and Unwritten Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs." Lists like that make the rounds often, moving through cyberspace, dropping into my mailbox. Native humor.

Page 101? New chapter, called "Thanksgiving"

I always think its funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that First Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

"Hey, Dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"

"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.

As you may know, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is very close to his own story. Given that, you may be interested in reading up on Alexie's people. Among the wonders of the Internet is that Native people and tribes can now get info available to the masses. Info about their history, culture, etc. from their perspective rather than something filtered through an outsider's lens. As you read/teach/discuss his novel with students and patrons, it will you and them to know the history and present-day life of his people.

Alexie is Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Here are the links to their websites:

Spokane Tribe of Indians

Coeur d'Alene

You might also want to order and watch two films based on his writing. The first is SMOKE SIGNALS, and the second is THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING. The latter might be controversial in some circles, because the protagonist is gay. Watch it, and keep an eye out for Alexie. He does appear in it. Then, watch it again, the second time listening to Alexie talk about the film in the directors commentary.


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 sanders@tulsalibrary.org

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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