Saturday, November 01, 2008

Posters for your classroom or library

The American Library Association has this poster available at their site. It is the art from the cover of Tim Tingle's outstanding picture book, Crossing Bok Chitto. That art is by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. What is especially cool is that the poster includes the title in the Choctaw language. Awesome! The poster is $16.00, and there are bookmarks, too, for $8.50.

You can order the book from Oyate.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Alexie on Colbert Report

If you're in Canada and unable to see the video clip above, click here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Copies of Tomson Highway's picture books....

Great news! For those who act fast, that is! Lakehead University bookstore has copies of Tomson Highway's three picture books. According to their website, they've got seven or eight copies of each one. To get to the books, start here. Enter "Highway" in the search box on the top right.

Back in 2002, Highway was interviewed (click here to listen) and spoke about his writing, language and the Cree language specifically, and the influence of television.

Highway is at Lakehead University (in Canada) this semester as Artist-in-Residence in the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

American Indians and November

With a few days left in October, librarians and teachers across the country are (likely) in the midst of planning activities about American Indians. Why? Because that month is "American Indian Heritage Month."

I urge parents, teachers, and librarians to provide children and patrons with books that portray American Indians in the present day. Given that Thanksgiving happens in November, there is strong precedent for doing the "Pilgrim and Indian" theme. Don't do it! You have the opportunity to disrupt the deeply embedded notion that American Indians and instruction about American Indians belong in the past.

The single best resource for you is an excellent book called A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. It's got critical reviews of hundreds of books that portray American Indians. If you can, get the book from Oyate. A paperback copy costs $37.00. If you were to try to get all the information on your own, you'd spend hours and a lot of money in copy machines and you still wouldn't get the perspective and depth you'll find in A Broken Flute. The phone number for Oyate is 510-848-6700.

If you have a friend who is a teacher, get him/her a copy as a gift. If you are able, get a copy for your local library and donate it in the name of someone you care about.

And, don't confine reading or teaching about American Indians to the month of November. Read books by writers like Cynthia Leitich Smith all year long.

Did Rasmussen call you?

Rasmussen Reports called my home a few minutes ago... I guess the information I gave them will be folded into the next "Daily Presidential Tracking Poll."

Among the questions asked was one where my choices were:

African American
Asian American

Why isn't "American Indian" or "Native American" among the options?

I was asked a slew of questions about favorability, party affiliation, age, gender, education, issue I am most concerned with...

And the final question of "if the election were held today, who would you vote for? Press 1 for Obama, and 2 for McCain."

I pressed 1 for Obama. I am among First Americans for Obama.

I'm also following the campaign of Denise Juneau. She's running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana. Juneau is tribally enrolled with the Three Affiliated Tribes. Those tribes are the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Juneau's opponent calls Juneau "a young Indian."

Did reading that last sentence give you pause? It should, but I'm not surprised if it didn't. Try substituting "a young Indian" with, say "a young Black." Her opponent is saying "Vote for me (white woman)! I'm running against a young Indian." Indian Country Today ran a piece on Juneau.

I've written before on this blog about Montana's Indian Education for All initiative. As director of Indian education in Montana, Juneau has oversight for the initiative. It is a model worth looking at.

I hope Ms. Juneau prevails.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Books by and about American Indians: 2007

According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin...

In 2007, approximately 5000 children's books were published. CCBC received approximately 3000 books for review. Here are stats:

Forty-four of the 3000 books they received were about American Indians. Of those 44, 6 were written by Native authors. Looking at stats they compile by year:

Year---Number of bks---About Amer Ind---By Native writer

If you go here you can see stats I laid out above, and stats for other groups, too: African/African Americans, Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, and Latinos.

One of the publications you can get from CCBC is CCBC Choices. You get it by becoming a Friend of the CCBC. In the 2007 essay (included in the 2007 CCBC Choices) is this:

These statistics represent only quantity, not quality or authenticity. Additionally, a significant number—well over half—of the books about each broad racial/ethnic grouping are formulaic books offering profiles of various countries around the world.

The statistics, of course, tell only one part of the story. Throughout the year, it wasn’t the numbers but individual books that made a profound impact on us— compelling, vivid works that represent some of the finest creative output of authors and artists in 2007: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie...

As readers of this blog know, I've written about Alexie's book several times. It's a huge hit and is being used in literature classes across the country, from high schools to universities.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Following up: John Smelcer

A colleague, Perry Nodelman, author of The Pleasures of Children's Literature (a textbook I use), has blogged about John Smelcer here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Indigenous Languages on Indigenous Peoples Day

Today is Indigenous Peoples Day. If you're interested in bringing a Native language into your classroom, library, home, or office, order a wall clock from the Indigenous Language Institute. Yesterday I posted a photo of my wall clock, with Tewa words in the place of numbers.

The Institute has clocks available in the languages listed below, but will work with you to get one in your language:

  • Anishnabemowin
  • Anishinaabemowin—Michigan
  • Chickasaw
  • Chinuk-Wawa
  • Chemehuevi
  • Comanche
  • Diné
  • Hopi
  • Kanien’kéha
  • Keres
  • Kiowa
  • Lakota
  • Luiseño
  • Lushootseed
  • Maliseet
  • Māori
  • Mi'kmak
  • Mikasuki/Seminole Tribe of FL
  • Nimipu Nez Perce
  • Nomlaki
  • Okanagan
  • Oneida
  • Passamaquoddy
  • Penobscot
  • Potawatomi
  • Sauk
  • Seneca
  • Tewa
  • (Northern) Tewa
  • (Northern) Tiwa
  • Tolowa
  • Umoⁿhoⁿ
  • Ute Mountain Ute
  • Yup’ik

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Native Americans don't use watches"

The clock shown here is hanging in my home. If you look closely, you'll see that the numbers are Tewa words (Tewa is the language we speak at Nambe). I've put it here today for a specific reason. A Native reader wrote to me earlier this week to say that her cousin's middle school daughter's teacher said that Native American's do not use clocks or watches to tell time. The girl rose her hand, told the teacher that she's Native, and that she uses a watch. The teacher replied saying that most Native Americans do not.

Maybe this teacher is among those who think that 'real' Indians live today in the same way Indians lived hundreds of years ago. Maybe this teacher is doing a Columbus "discovered" America unit, and his/her head is in that time period. Whatever the case, I wish more teachers would be comfortable admitting mistakes..

They aren't alone, of course, in their misinformation about who American Indians are! Newspapers play a role in 'what we know' about this or that topic. The Native American Journalists Association has conducted studies on the ways that newspapers cover Native news. Their most recent study is called "The Reading Red Report: 2007." Among the findings is the on-going use of stereotypes and cliches in headlines. With details about the method for the study, I think middle and high school teachers might want to read it and conduct similar studies with their students.

Note: I got the clock from the Indigenous Language Institute.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Slapin review of Erdrich's THE PORCUPINE YEAR

[Note: This review may not be used elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Erdrich, Louise (Ojibwe), The Porcupine Year, b/w illustrations by the author. HarperCollins, 2008, grades 4-up

It is 1852, and Omakayas, the little girl we have come to know and love, is 12 winters old—“somewhere between a child and a woman—a person ready to test her intelligence, her hungers. A dreamer, who did not yet know her limits. A hunter, like her brother, who was beginning to possess the knowledge of all that moved and breathed. A friend who did not know how far her love might extend…. A girl who’d come to know something of her strength and who wanted challenge, and would get it, in the years of her family’s exile from their original home…”

Her little brother, Pinch (soon to be called “Quill”), has determined (all by himself) that the little gaag, the baby porcupine he’s convinced Omakayas not to kill for soup, has been given to him as his “medicine animal.” In this “porcupine year,” as it will come to be known, the ever-encroaching chimookomanag, the white people, have forced the large extended family to embark on a perilous journey away from their beloved home, the Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker. As they travel north toward Lac du Bois to reunite with Mama’s sister’s family, there are hard decisions to make, the enemy Bwaanag (Dakota) to avoid, raging fires to escape, lost chimookomanag children to take care of, treachery that leaves them near starvation, and the heroic death of a tough-as-leather old woman whom Omakayas had thought was “unkillable.”

This porcupine year is indeed challenging, and another writer might have mired this book in tragedy and unrelenting sorrow. But Erdrich does not abide maudlin drama: here, children can be silly, parents can overreact, grandparents can allow space to learn, and baby porcupines (especially those destined for soup) can be really, really cute.

Omakayas is a loved and treasured member of her family, growing into a strong young woman with a clear mind and a heart open to all that awaits her. She knows that nothing will ever take the place of her original home, but she will learn to love the new place her family now inhabits: land, culture and community are still intact. The Porcupine Year, as its predecessors, The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, will resonate with young readers long after the last page has been turned.—Beverly Slapin

Note from Debbie: If you've got a choice, get Erdrich's books from Oyate, a non-profit organization that does a lot of terrific work that benefits all children.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"READ" in Native Languages

Last year I posted about a graphic of the word "READ" in several Native languages, developed at the Tulsa City-County Library. A few minutes ago, they sent me an updated graphic that you can use. The word is in these languages: Ojibwe, Coast Miwok, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Cherokee, Seminole, Lenape, Wyandotte, Wanarama, Ponca, Comanche, Mvskoke, Caddo, Miami, Northern Paiute, Pawnee, Citizen Potawatomi, Chickasaw, Omaha, Choctaw, Sauk, Wasq'u, and Osage.

Thanks, Sue, and all others involved in creating this graphic! For those of you who are preparing materials for November (Native American month), download the graphic. Put it on display, surrounded by books by Native writers. Cynthia Leitich Smith, Joseph Bruchac, Joy Harjo, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Richard Van Camp, Nicola Campbell....

Click here to get the graphic in pdf.

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Another source for books by Native authors is Below is the text on their "About Us" page.

About us

The North American Native Authors Catalog ( specializes in work by American Indian poets, writers, historians, storytellers and performers. Our online catalog was the first of its kind when we launched in 1996, featuring more than 700 titles from over 90 different publishers, complete author bios, and tribal information. Our publications range from novels and books of poetry to children's literature, historical analysis, journals and newspapers, sacred traditions and more. Compact Disks (CDs), and Cassette tapes cover several of these areas, including traditional storytelling, poetry and Native American music. All books and tapes listed in this catalog are authored or co-authored by people of Native American ancestry. This catalog grew our of the Native American Authors Distribution Project, which has been selling books at Northeastern Pow Wows, book fairs, and by direct mail since 1980.

In 1992, we helped put together Returning the Gift, a gathering of Native American writers held at the University of Oklahoma. Returning the Gift, the first major meeting of Native American writers ever held, brought together more than 200 Native authors from across the continent. Most of the authors who participated have publications found in this online catalog, and more will appear in the future.

The overall goal of the North American Native Authors Online Catalog is to increase the distribution of creative work by Native writers, and to raise public awareness of the range, strength, and beauty of contemporary Native American writing, research, storytelling, and performance.

The North American Native Authors Catalog is a project of the Greenfield Review Press, a Native owned and managed 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The Greenfield Review distributes and has published many of the works included in this catalog, in addition, a percentage of proceeds are used to support Native American cultural and literary foundations, including, but not limited to the Returning the Gift Project and the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Monday, September 29, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Duncan, Barbara, The Origin of the Milky Way & Other Living Stories of the Cherokee, illustrated by Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee). University of North Carolina Press, 2008, grades 4-up

Duncan, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, selected these stories from her earlier publication, Living Stories of the Cherokee (University of North Carolina Press, 1998). The 26 short, appealing stories are grouped by seven themes, a reflection of the sacred number: living with people, living with animals, living with plants and the earth, living with spirits, living with monsters, living with Cherokee language, and living with the past and future. The living stories—because they’re still being told, they remain alive—teach in a traditional way what’s important in Cherokee culture.

Told by Cherokee elders Davy Arch, Robert Bushyhead, Edna Chekelelee, Marie Junaluska, Kathi Littlejohn, and Freeman Owle, these stories are effectively put down in a style known as “ethnopoetics,” which reflects the words and speech pattern of the storyteller by breaking a line when a teller pauses. So, in reading the stories, one can almost “hear” the story being told.

The stories told here teach that everyone has something to contribute (even if you are a rattlesnake, a small clumsy child or a bird with big feet), that bragging and boasting will get you nowhere (except maybe a ratty-looking tail), that generosity can get rewarded in a number of ways (including being taught all the cures of the forest), and that the sight and smell of strawberries can remind us not to fight with those we love. All of the stories—which range from very funny to very sad to very scary—teach connection to land, culture and community.

Shan Goshorn’s luminous cover painting shows an elderly storyteller sitting on a porch, surrounded by Grandmother Spider bringing fire, two Little People, the Corn Woman Spirit, the dog who created the Milky Way, and the wolf whose clan was taught the medicine ways. Duncan’s introduction for young people, explaining past and present Cherokee life and the nature and purpose of Cherokee storytelling, avoids the overbearing tone that is all too common in collections compiled by people who lack a relationship with the community. Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: This book is available from Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization.]

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO being adapted for film

Nicola Campbell's terrific picture book, Shi-shi-etko, will be available as a short film! It is currently in production. Details here: "Short film reflects Sto-lo culture."

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Nicola Campbell's SHIN-CHI'S CANOE

Keep an eye out for Nicola Campbell's new book, Shin-chi's Canoe. Her first book, Shi-shi-etko, is astounding in so many ways, honestly, poignantly, telling the story of Shi-shi-etko in the days before she leaves her family and community for a residential school. Shin-chi is her little brother, and this story is set at the school. I've not seen it yet, but look forward to it with great anticipation.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

There is a "supplier of library promotional materials and reading incentives" called Upstart that sponsors a contest called "Vote for Books" (thanks, Christine, for writing to tell me about this contest). It is loosely timed to follow the presidential election cycle, with the votes tallied on November 4th and winners announced November 5th.

As I understand it, this is how it works:

January 1 to April 31st: Visitors to the site nominated books in these categories: Picture Books, Chapter Books, Series for Young Readers, and Series for Older Readers.

May 1st: Most-nominated books were announced.

Sept 1: Voting begins on top eight finalists in each category.

Sept. 22: Round 2 begins with top 4 in each category.

Oct 13: Two top finalists will "face off" in the final round of voting.

Nov 4: Votes will be tallied

Nov 5: Winners will be announced

This "voteforbooks" campaign is relevant to American Indians in Children's Literature because two of the books in the current round (round 2) in the "Series for Older Readers" category are Meyer's Twilight and Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. Both books have Native characters, but as I and others have noted on this blog, both writers do a poor job at depicting Native culture.

But! Both are top sellers. Erroneous presentation of American Indians, apparently, doesn't matter.

Odd, too, that LHOP is in the same category as Twilight. LHOP for older readers?!

That category, Series for Older Readers, has two other books still in the running. They are Harry Potter and The Spiderwick Chronicles. I don't know how the sponsors decided what books to put up against each other in the brackets, but it does seem (to me) that it was arranged so that the "face off" would be between Harry Potter and Twilight. We'll see.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Carlson, Keith Thor, and Albert “Sonny” McHalsie (Stó:lo), I am Stó:lo! Katherine explores her heritage, photos by Gary Fiegehen, illustrations by Rachel Nicol-Smith. Stó:lo Heritage Trust, 1998, grades 5-up

As a school project about cultural heritage is planned, fourth-grader Katherine McHalsie is not happy when another student voices his thoughts about Native peoples based on a cowboy-and-Indian movie he saw on TV. So Katherine sets out to research her heritage.

In conversations and hands-on experiences with her large extended family and Stó:lo (Coast Salish) elders, Katherine learns about the importance of story, community, ceremony, history, and her ancestors. And she learns that everything—the trees, the fish, the land—is alive, everything has spirit, everything has volition, everything has purpose.

From learning history while watching her father transform a small piece of cedar into a carved sturgeon, to learning about keeping safe while listening to her brother relate a particularly scary story, to learning about traditional foods while helping her mother pick and clean stinging nettles, to learning about traditional fishing while helping her father mend a eulachon net, to learning about traditional basketry while helping an elder gather and split cedar roots, to learning about the responsibility that goes with being given a traditional name, to learning about the land and place-names while watching a gigantic whirlpool arise seemingly out of nowhere, Katherine learns about the Stó:lo people by living in the community, by listening to and working with her elders, and by, as her father tells her, “being Stó:lo.”

When she returns to school ready to present her report, Katherine is more confident about what she has learned and what she has yet to learn. She informs the class that she is not going to talk about “horses and buffalo,” but rather about “something that has special significance for me.” Unwrapping the carved sturgeon her father has made, she begins.

The engaging narrative is enhanced by lovely photos of Katharine and her extended family. Maps, archival photos, artwork, a glossary, and a key to the Stó:lo writing system all work together to complement the story and set it in time and place. In a lengthy preface well worth reading, Carlson relates the collaborative process by which I am Stó:lo! came to be; it’s an honest discussion by a non-Native author of how serious obstacles and ethical dilemmas were dealt with by the Stó:lo chiefs and elders who guided the project, and by the McHalsie family with whom he worked. Highly recommended.—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie... I am Sto:lo! is available from Oyate. Using their online catalog you'll find it in the section labeled Grades four & up.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Charlie Brown Halloween - Indians?

I was in a local department store and saw this t-shirt. Is this from the Charlie Brown Halloween show?

Obviously, I'm inquiring about Peppermint Patty (I think that's her name), 2nd from left...

Update, 2:31 PM CST, Sept. 18th---Thanks (Rodney) for the info. The image is not Halloween costumes; it is from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving." What was their Thanksgiving pageant about?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Alphabet materials with "I is for Indian"

A friend wrote to me yesterday, telling me of a school-sanctioned alphabet program that has "I is for Indian" materials. The program is called "Sunform Alphabet." Produced by Sundburg Learning Systems, based in Illinois, it is not an old item. The copyright is 1991.

For decades, educators have written about why "I is for Indian" is inappropriate. While I can't think of a recent alphabet book that has that sort of thing in it, there are older ones that still circulate. One example is Alligators All Around, by Maurice Sendek. With the brilliant and beautiful alphabet books published these days, the older ones with stereotypical images of Indians are being displaced. That is progress.

The Sunform Alphabet program, though, is a problem. If it is being used in your school, the following items may help you have it withdrawn.  From the American Indian Library Association are two publications:

"I is not for Indian: The Portrayal of American Indians in Books for Young People"
Compiled by Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa A. Mitten
June 29, 1991, published by the American Indian Library Association

"I is for Inclusion: The Portrayal of American Indians in Books for Young People"
Compiled by Naomi Caldwell, Gabriella Kaye, and Lisa A. Mitten
Updated in October of 2007, published by the American Indian Library Association

You might also find statements issued by the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association helpful in developing your argument. Both issued statements calling for an end to the use of Native imagery for school mascots. These statements are based on the association's review of studies about the effects of this sort of imagery on Native and non-Native children.

Comparing mascot images with stereotypical images in children's books and school materials makes a compelling case. You might find the illustrations below helpful in making a case for talking about mascots --- with the goal of getting rid of them. Shown below is "Chief Illiniwek" a mascot no longer in use. Also shown is Grizzly Bob, from Berenstein Bears Go To Camp.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Joseph Bruchac at 2008 National Book Festival

Among those invited to participate in the 2008 National Book Festival is Joseph Bruchac. He will be in the "Teens and Children Pavilion" from 11:10 to 11:45 AM, and sign books from 12:30 to 1:30 on Saturday, September 27th.

Last year, two Native writers were there: Cynthia Leitich Smith, and N. Scott Momaday. View the webcast of her talk here and his here.

Note (Sept. 12, 2008):

I neglected to say that the National Book Festival takes place in Washington DC at the National Mall. Here's a link to the homepage for the festival.

Also! there's a "toolkit" for each author. Bruchac's materials include an interview that starts out with this question: "What sparked your imagination for your newest book, March Toward the Thunder?" Click here to get to that page.