Friday, July 09, 2010

Recent insider/outsider discussion...

A new article in Horn Book Magazine is prompting some discussion of the insider/outsider debate. Titled Too Gay or Not Gay Enough, the article is by writer Ellen Wittlinger. Some of her books feature gay characters, which made them eligible for awards given by the Lambda Literary Foundation.

The foundation has now changed criteria for their award. Now, the books they consider and select for distinction must be written by a LGBT writer. As a result, Wittlinger's books are no longer eligible for the Lamba awards.

Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I push books by Native writers. I think it matters to a Native child to be able to read a story written by a Native writer. Words have power. Who utters or pens those words also matters when the people the stories are about are ones whose identity has been, or is, under threat by mainstream society.

At his blog, Arthur A. Levine wrote about Wittlinger's article. Because it is a blog, there is conversation taking place in the comments. Because Levine is a major player in children's literature, I joined in the discussion. Scholastic has an imprint with his name on it. I think he was the individual who got J.K. Rowling to publish with Scholastic. Reading his "about" page I see that he was the editor for Rafe Martin's The Rough Face Girl.  In my post about Marcie Rendon's work, I noted, briefly, that Martin's book has problems....  I've not yet written up my notes and analysis of that book.

WHO SAID IT matters.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Rebecca R. wrote to me this morning about Dyan Sheldon's new book, My Worst Best Friend. Specifically, Rebecca pointed me to the last line in the Kirkus review of the book, where the reviewer writes that:
somebody should tell Gracie that despite her family’s annual “Remember the Wampanoag Day” celebration, feeling like “the last Wampanoag” is dismissive of the 2,000 living members of the Wampanoag nation.
I'll look for the book at the library. In the meantime, I looked online and so far, I've not found any references to Gracie's Wampanoag identity. I wonder about that not-noticing or not-commenting about her identity. 

Obviously, Sheldon chose to make Gracie Wampanoag for a reason. Reviews say Gracie cares about the environment. Is that it? Is Gracie a modern-day Chief Seattle ala Jeffer's deeply problematic Brother Eagle Sister Sky

There's an interview of Sheldon at Teens Read Too. One of the questions is about a book she wishes she'd written. Her answer is:
This may seem like a stretch, since I’m not Colombian and have a very limited imagination, but I wouldn’t mind having authored ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE.
Posted on February 23rd, 2010, the interview begins with a brief discussion of My Worst Best Friend. She, like the reviewers, doesn't mention that Gracie is Wampanoag. Another question is about a historical event. What, if she could, would she change? Her answer:
Columbus never discovers “America”. Nor does anyone else. In fact, the Great Nations of Europe never get off land. Every time they make a boat it sinks, so they are never able to colonize the world and destroy other people’s lives and cultures on a grand scale. They have to stay where they are and settle for making each other miserable.
Interesting answer! I've never read Sheldon's novels but look forward to reading this one, to studying how she develops Gracie. 


Sunday, June 27, 2010


Flipping channels this morning, I paused on Cartoon Network when I saw two little mice in feathered headbands...  Did a little research, and found the episode, "Two Little Indians." Watch the video below.  It's all there...  All the stereotypical imagery...  Made in 1952, being shown--and taught--to children. Today. With this imagery being recycled, it is no surprise that little progress is made with regard to getting rid of it. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blog: Debby Dahl Edwardson

Through child_lit (see info about the childlit listserv here), I became acquainted with Debby Dahl Edwardson. I subscribed to child_lit in 1995 or thereabouts. Sharing my perspective---one that challenges a lot of what gets published in children's books---I encountered a lot of resistance from people on child_lit.

Since then, there's more people on child_lit who are willing to challenge the status quo. Debby is one of them. I'm glad to see she's started a blog. Take a look, and bookmark her site.

Also see:
What Debby Edwardson said...

Friday, June 18, 2010

2011: World Cup Fans...

I know these fans meant well, but...

Help me figure this out...

The guys are in red, white, and blue clothes. The guy in blue has his face covered. Obviously, he's showing the world (literally) a stereotype. Dead center...  Captain America. The guy on the left in white and the guy in red.... Who or what are they supposed to represent? 

REEL INJUN: Film about portrayals of American Indians in movies

There's been a lot of buzz amongst friends and colleagues about the film Reel Injun. The title itself says a lot. "Reel" ---a reel of film---and "Injun"---a derogatory word for Indian---but the title also points to what is missing from film and from children's and young adult literature: real Indians.

Saying the phrase, "real Indians", makes me cringe. First, it is the year 2010, and we---people who are American Indian---encounter people who think we were all wiped out by enemy tribes, disease, or war.  Or, people who think that in order to be "real Indians" we have to live our lives the same ways our ancestors did. Course, they don't expect their own identities and lives to look like those of their own ancestors... In principle, we are a lot like anyone else. We have ways of thinking about the world and ways of being in that world (spiritually and materially) that were--and are---handed down from one generation to the next. Though we wear jeans and athletic shoes (or business suits and dress shoes), we also maintain clothing we sometimes wear for spiritual and religious purposes. Just like any cultural group, anywhere.

Second reason "real Indians" makes me cringe is the word "Indians". We use it. In fact, I use it in the title of this blog. But I know it references all the indigenous nations and tribes and bands and communities and pueblos in the United States, all with unique ways of doing things.

That said, I want to talk more specifically about the trailer.

Watch Clint Eastwood say he wanted real Indians but couldn't find one. I wonder where he looked?

Watch Cheyenne/Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre say it is funny to watch white people playing Native roles. The trailer shows a series of them: Anthony Quinn, Burt Lancaster, Charles Bronson, Daniel Day Lewis, Chuck Connors, Burt Reynolds, Boris Karloff, Sylvester Stallone, and, William Shatner...  All of them playing tough, savage, or tragic Indians. Watching them do it, as someone who is Native, can be hilarious, but only if you know more about who we are.

Filmmaker Jim Marmusch Jarmusch notes that John Wayne signals a moral standard of what it means to be American. His remark is followed by a clip from one of John Wayne's movies, where he is shown kicking someone. That clip may be from The Searchers, a film hailed by many as a critique of racism.

Then there's a critique of Dances With Wolves....

Though I've not had the opportunity to see the film, I love what I see in the trailer, and I think anyone who works with children's literature ought to see it! I think it holds great promise for helping critique portrayals of American Indians in the books we give to children.

Visit the website for Reel Injun and find out when and where you can see it.