Friday, November 20, 2009

Dene writer blogs about HOUSE OF NIGHT

Sending you to "displaced Dene," a blog run by Tenille Campbell. She's got some things to say about the House of Night series... New link to Tenille Campbell's post about the House of Night series. (And thanks to Jennie for pointing me to the new link. Note: Link changed on April 26, 2011.)

Tenille Campbell is Dene (First Nations) from Northern Saskatchewan. From reading her site, I gather Campbell is studying writing at the University of British Columbia with the AWESOME Richard Van Camp. Regular readers know I think Richard's work is terrific. If I'm not mistaken, Nicola I. Campbell also studied writing with Richard. As noted earlier today, Nicola's book, Shin-chi's Canoe just won a major literature prize. So! We should keep an eye out for Tenille Campbell. She says that Richard has a new comic book out...  I should follow up on that!

Congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell... Shin-chi's Canoe wins major award

Sending my congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell, author of Shin-chi's Canoe. In the news today...  "Residential school story wins $25,000 kids' book award."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009

In this morning's "Google Alert" email (the one I set up using "Debbie Reese" +blog), I learned that Carol Rasco, the CEO of Reading is Fundamental, had blogged about Thanksgiving on her RIF blog. There, she wrote about American Indians in Children's Literature, and how it has impacted her thinking about Thanksgiving. (I must say, though, that as I read the excerpts she used from my site, I saw how unpolished my writing can be.)

Some time ago, I was invited to be on the Reading is Fundamental Literature Advisory Committee. Prior to that, I had come across the RIF's page for November and was, frankly, pretty upset. As I recall that day (this is a two-year-old memory), I was multi-tasking on my computer. I had several websites open in my browser, moving from one to the other. (As I compose this particular post, I've got seven pages open. This morning I watched the Cherokee Nation's video "What is a real Indian Nation? What is a fake tribe?" and I read an article on Slate about book trailers.) That morning, I went to the RIF page for November. It was garrish in appearance, with cartoon Indians and a mish-mash of elements of different tribes.

While I was studying that page, a song started playing. It was a Pueblo song that I know and listen to often because of its meaning for me. I quickly started looking around my computer, wondering how I had managed to turn it on with realizing it. (Think absent-minded professor.) None of the ways that I listen to the song were activated. I realized it was coming from the RIF page. Something there, with good intentions, had created that November page using stereotypical images and a Pueblo song. It was a grab-bag. Anything Indian, slammed together. Good to go. Of course, it was not good to go.  Through my work with RIF, they took that page down.

And so this morning, one week before Thanksgiving Day, reading Carol's blog, I am heartened to learn that my interaction with RIF is making a difference in Carol's views. Among other things, she wrote:

"I hear you, Debbie, and have several copies of The Good Luck Cat and Jingle Dancer among other titles in the “to be wrapped pile” for the coming holidays for presentation to special young friends."  

Saying "awesome!" to those words doesn't begin to capture how I feel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Debby Edwardson said...

I've spent the last week engaging in an online conversation on a site called Through the Tollbooth. There, like on American Indians in Children's Literature, I push writers to think about appropriation. Some people understand what I mean, others do not. It may be a failing in the way I say things. Debby Edwardson, one of the hosts of that week-long conversation, has some closing thoughts that I am sending you to read. She understands issues of appropriation, stereotyping, power, retellings of stories...  And, she did a terrific job of laying them out for her fellow writers on the Tollbooth site.

Here's an excerpt:

Debbie Reese said, “There are some things that I think non-Native writers ought to stay away from: religion, spirituality, worship.”

She also said something very provocative: “Most Native writers don't even put that in their books. Why do non-Native writers feel the need to do it?”

The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important.

Okay. Time's up. Let’s be totally honest here. We all know that if we as writers are, say, Christian, it is not okay to preach in our books, not even obliquely. It’s not even okay to mention religion except in passing, very casually, in a nondenominational sort of way. Unless of course it’s a problem novel in which religion is the problem. These are the rules and we all know that if we don’t follow the rules we will not sell our books, except maybe to Christian niche publishers.

In fact, what Debbie said about Native writers not writing about their religious beliefs is also true for most Christian writers—writers like Katherine Patterson, for example, or Madeline L’Engle. They do not take us into their inner sanctuary of their own spiritual world. CS Lewis has been soundly criticized for sliding his Christianity in sideways.

See what I mean? Go over and read the rest of what she said. And, if you're inclined, read over posts going back to November 9th.

Friday, November 13, 2009


For some time now, I've been aware of the HOUSE OF NIGHT series of vampire stories. I picked one up in a bookstore and skimmed it, but put it back down. I did not want to spend time on it. I am still not sure how much time I will give to it...

Here's the final words from the first chapter of the first book. Reading this online from the House of Night website:

I stared at the exotic looking tattoo. Mixed with my strong Cherokee features it seemed to brand me with a mark of wildness... as if I belonged to ancient times when the world was bigger... more barbaric.

From this day on my life would never be the same. And for a moment--just an instant--I forgot about the horror of not belonging and felt a shocking burst of pleasure, while deep inside of me the blood of my grandmother's people rejoiced.

Exotic. Cherokee. Wildness. Ancient. Barbaric. This "Cherokee" girl is now a Vampire, too!!! And her Cherokee grandmother's people rejoice. Why? Because this girl is now going to feel like she belongs? Is that why P.C. Cast says her character's ancestor's rejoice? Or is it something else?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Erdrich does THRILLER

On Louise Erdrich's blog is a video of Erdrich, staff of her store, and people in the neighborhood, doing Jackson's zombie dance. Fun! At her site, it says she's in the back...  I can't spot her. Can you?

Click on over to her store, Birchbark Books, and buy a copy of Birchbark House! And, get a copy of The Game of Silence and Porcupine Year, too.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Indians in Daugherty's DANIEL BOONE

Peter D. Sieruta's blog is called Collecting Children's Books. I read it from time to time. Today, I read "The Mural in the Gym" (posted on November 3, 2009), wherein he writes about the works of James Daugherty.  I recommend you click over to his blog and read about Daugherty's Daniel Boone. It won the Newbery Medal in 1940. Sieruta posted pages from inside the book, including this one:

The Newbery Project has a particularly troubling excerpt from the book, but reading customer reviews at Amazon, it is pretty clear to me that the racist depictions in text and illustration are not seen as problematic (racist) by at least some readers. I gather it is out or print (rare for a Newbery winner), but, it looks like a lot of libraries own it. I wonder if it circulates? I wonder how it is used in classrooms?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Back from Madison, and, Sewell Illustrations in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Yesterday afternoon I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Janice Rice. We were there at the invitation of Ryan Comfort of the American Indian Curriculum Services office in the School of Education.

Working with the theme "Expanding the Narrative," I talked about problems with "the Narrative" as exemplified by Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, and, uncritical observance and activities about Thanksgiving. Janice highlighted books that have been selected for the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award. We also talked about Best Practice, Censorship and Selection. 

Time sped by! The turnout was terrific, and it was wonderful to spend time with people in the Native community there---Janice, Ryan, JP, Adrienne, Crystal (I hope I've spelled your name right!)---and, friends at CCBC---KT, Janice, Megan, and Amanda.

In the CCBC, I had a few minutes to myself and realized they probably had a copy of the 1935 edition of Little House on the Prairie---the version I wrote about last week. I asked Amanda, and she got it out for me. Hurray! I started paging through it, and realized (in hindsight, I'm doing a "doh!") that Helen Sewell and Garth Williams illustrated different stories in the book. Page through your copy of the Williams-illustrated-edition and note how many times his illustrations are of Indians. Sewell, on the other hand, has a single illustration of Indians. Hers is in the chapter, "Indians Ride Away." She shows a naked Indian riding a horse. The caption reads "The little Indians did not have to wear clothes."

When I got home from Madison late this afternoon, my mail included that 1935 copy I ordered last week. Again, hurray!  I can now do a close comparison of the 1935/Sewell with the 1953/Williams editions of Little House on the Prairie, looking at text and illustration. Questions! Williams did a lot of Indian illustrations. Was this his choice? Was he cued by Nordstrom? Wilder? What prompted Williams to do so many Indians?

Thanks, Ryan, for inviting me, and thanks, Janice! I think we did a good job with our presentation. Thanks, too, to all of you who came to hear what we shared.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


After spending the last 24 hours re-reading and making notes on Geraldine McCaughrean's Peter Pan in Scarlet, I feel a bit like the character, Mr. John.  The book opens with him saying "I'm not going to bed." (p. 2) He doesn't want to go to bed, because he'll have another dream. These dreams are unsettling to him. The worst night are when John dreams of Captain Hook.

Riffing off Mr. John's feelings...

As I read Peter Pan in Scarlet, I'd take time out for meals, teaching, talking with students, and the like. It was a relief to set the book aside to do those things! Tasks finished, then, I was a lot like Mr. John (avoiding something unpleasant). I didn't say "I'm not going to bed." I was thinking "I'm not going to pick that book up again." (But I did.)  Mr. John's worst nights are when he dreams of Captain Hook. The worst parts for me, as I read this book, are McCaughrean's references to Indians:

  • Head-dress
  • Warpaint
  • Redskins
  • Tepee
  • Warpath
  • Totem Poles
  • Hidden warpaths
  • Cannibals
  • Chief
  • Signal fires
  • Tribes

And then.... the Indians themselves.

  • Waist high
  • Wearing full warpaint
  • Armed with hatchets, bows and arrows, bowie knives
  • Child warriors
  • Long silken hair
  • Buckskin tunics
  • Scalping
  • Papooses
  • Squaws
  • Braves
  • Throat slitters
  • Warpainted pirates
  • Warriors
  • (Puppy eaters)
  • Throat-slitters ready to shoot arrows

In all of what I've listed above, McCaughrean, (apparently in the same style as Barrie), provides readers with a specific viewpoint or portrayal of Indians.  Like countless writers, she provides her readers with a stereotypical Indian... a mish-mash of tribes...

Tipis (she spells it tepees) and totem poles do not originate with the same tribe!

Her Indians are warriors and squaws in warpaint, carrying bows and arrows and knives. They know about scalping. And her Indians are also throat slitters. Throat slitters??? That's a new one for me. I've never seen it before (that I can remember) in any children's or young adult book. Just now, I've done a search on "throat slitters" and the hits are all related to terrorists.  Do any of you know of a book that says Indians were throat slitters? If you do, please comment below or write to me (dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com).

Not only does McCaughrean use just about every stereotypical image of Indians and just about every word to describe them, she adds a new one... One that is brutal, violent, and graphic. Where did McCaughrean get throat slitters? And why did she add it? I don't think it was in Peter Pan.

Moving forward in the book now, to chapter 24, "Back Together." There, we learn of the "Tribes of the Eight Nations." What is that? I can't pin it down to anything I know of, but, McCaughrean tells us what it is made up of:

War Bonnets
Peace Pipes
Coup Sticks
Bows and Arrows

Some list, eh?! This "Tribes of the Eight Nations" came in response to the "smoke signals" (p. 280) that Peter sent from the top of Neverpeak.  These tribes are from the north, south, east, west, and "the other place" (p. 280). What is that other place?!

When these tribes see Peter and the Explorers, they "bang on their shields and drums and papooses..." (p. 280). Their papooses?! Doesn't McCaughrean know what papooses are?! My question shouldn't be read to mean that I think that's an ok word.... I've written elsewhere that it IS a word for baby, but it is not EVERY tribal nations word for baby. Unfortunately, it has come to be seen as the universal Indian word for baby. It isn't.

They have a potlatch, during which a Princess smears their faces with warpaint and tells them they are now honorary members of the Eight Nations. Oh dear. I don't know what to say to that... 

And just as suddenly as they appeared, the Indians go away, moving off in eight different directions, to:

Kivas or Longhouses
Under the stars

Why does McCaughrean say kivas or longhouses? Does she think they're the same thing? (They aren't.) Bivouc and stockade?! I associate those with the army. And, under the stars? Did she add that to reach her tidy number of eight? Eight tribes, eight directions, eight kinds of houses...  And what is it with eight??? Is that from Barrie? Or is that all McCaughrean?!

Peter Pan in Scarlet got great reviews. Only one reviewer (to my knowledge) mentioned the stereotypical Indian content. Over on  Amazon, there are 45 customer reviews (I'm looking at the page on November 3, 2009). 30 readers give it four or five stars.  None of the reviews, good or bad, mention the Indian content.

Of course, I object to all of it. It's all stereotypical, and the addition of throat slitters really bothers me. All of that aside, the story is dark. Bleak. Scary. A lot of the imagery is nightmarish. Let's hope it doesn't trouble my sleep tonight. I have more questions than answers or analysis... 

To see my extensive notes, read Notes and Summary:  Peter Pan in Scarlet.

Notes and Summary: PETER PAN IN SCARLET

Back when Geraldine McCaughrean's Peter Pan in Scarlet (nearly everytime I type the words "Peter Pan" I have to fix a typo.... instead of Pan it comes out as Pain) was published, I posted some initial notes. I finished the book, but, events at that time were such that a follow-up post was lost. A colleague wrote to me asking if I'd done anymore work on the book. His query prompted me to dig out the book and my notes (thanks, PN!).

I begin, anew. Below are notes and pretty thin chapter by chapter summaries.

Chapter 1 -  The Old Boys

Atop John's wardrobe are things from Neverland. Among the things is "an Indian head-dress" (p. 3). At night, John has bad dreams about Neverland. In the mornings, things from Neverland are in the bed. Mrs. John puts them on the wardrobe.

The Old Boys (Mr. John, Judge Tootles, Dr. Curly, Honourable Slightly, Mr. Nibs, and, the Twins) meet to talk about their dreams. The Twins say they tried to avoid the dreams by staying awake all night for a week. They finally fell asleep on the London omnibus and when they woke up, they were "both wearing warpaint" (p. 5). 

At the end of chapter one, Wendy says something is wrong in Neverland, and that they must go back.

Chapter 2 - First Find Your Baby

In response to Wendy's suggestion, the Old Boys reply (on page 10):

"Go back!? Go back to Neverland? Go back to the mysterious island, with its mermaids, pirates, and redskins?"
They are incredulous at the idea of going back. Wendy ignores their protests, and by the end of the chapter, they have found a baby, made it laugh its first laugh (which hatches a fairy), and collected fairy dust from that fairy.The fairy's name is Fireflyer.

Chapter 3 - A Change of Clothes

Fireflyer is living in "a kind of tepee" (p. 22) that Wendy made out of a lampshade. He has red hair, tells "extraordinarily big lies" (p. 23) and is always hungry.

Each of the Old Boys must have clothes of a child in order to go back to Neverland. Most have children of their own, and take clothes from them. But Honourable Slightly does not have children, and the other Old Boys have apparently forgotten that he has no child from whom to take clothes. Throughout all the planning, he remains quiet. McCaughrean says that he had no children, "no one whose clothes he could borrow, no one to make him young again." (p. 26)

She goes on to say,

"Because, of course, that's how it is done. Everyone knows that when you put on dressing-up clothes, you become someone else."(p. 26)

The Old Boys put on their children's clothing, which magically fits them, and off they go, to Neverland. As they fly there, they remember their days there and call out to each other. One of them says

"If the redskins are on the warpath, I'm going too!" (p. 30)

They arrive over the island, look down, and see that it is completely changed.

Chapter 4 - The One and Only Child

As they fly over the island, they see that all is not well.

"The redskin totem poles leaned at crazy angles, felled by wind or war, and roped in creepers and ivy." (p. 36)

Clearings where they'd had fires and meetings are gone. It is autumn (hence "Scarlet" in the title).

"If there were redskins on the warpath, their warpaths were hidden from sight." (p. 36)

They eventually find Peter Pan. When Wendy asks if he's in trouble, he replies, baffled:
"How 'in trouble'? In a cooking pot with cannibals waiting to eat me, you mean?" (p. 39)

He describes a few other trouble-scenarios, none of which he's experienced. Tootles asks
"Are you quite well, Chief?" (p. 41)
and takes Peter's pulse and temperature. Peter says he is dying, of boredom, and now that they are back in Neverland, they can have adventures.

Chapter 5 - Tootles's Quest

The chapter is about fighting dragons. The Twins find a Forest Dragon and kill it with fire. Wendy finds a circus and meets Ravello, the ring master. At the end of the chapter, the adventures over, Peter wants to play War, but the Old Boys don't want to. They're remembering "the Big War" during which Michael Darling was "Lost" (p. 63). Peter doesn't understand what "lost" means, and, the text reads,
"No one tried to explain. They knew that Peter Pan (and foolish young fairies like Fireflyer) were much better off not knowing about the War. (p. 63)
Chapter 6 - A Ravelling Man

After rejecting Ravello's offer of a place to sleep, Wendy asks Peter if he smells smoke. He replies
"Signal fires," he said. "Or bonfires...Maybe the Tribes are feasting." (p. 71)
They hear a great crackling sound and the cries of frightened and agitated animals. Peter remembers the Twins saying they had killed a Forest Dragon. He asks them how, they say "with fire" and they realize they've set the forest on fire. They're trapped on the beach, face the lagoon, and see a boat.

Chapter 7 - A Certain Coat

The boat is the Jolly Roger. Somewhat fearful, they go on board. Finding Captain Hook's chest, Peter pulls out a red coat. In a pocket he finds a treasure map. They head off to find the treasure.

Chapter 8 - All At Sea

Out at sea, they come upon another boat, a steel steam-cutter called the SS Shark. On board are pirates (p. 88):
They made an unnerving sight, because these pirates, though no more than waist high, were wearing full warpaint and were armed with hatchets, bows and arrows, and bowie knives.

"Starkey's redskins!" said Peter under his breath.

The Shark rams the Jolly Peter (he changed its name from Roger to Peter), pushing the Jolly Peter ahead of it. The Jolly Peter is helpless.

The captain of the steam-cutter was carried for'ard from the bridge, borne aloft on a swiveling leather captain's chair carried by four child warriors. (p. 89)
Of Starkey's crew, McCaughrean writes:
Half were girls, with long silken hair and cleaner buckskin tunics. But they were all armed. Drawing back their bowstrings to full stretch, they bowed (or curtsied), blinked their large dark eyes at the crew of the Jolly Peter, and shouted, "Hello. Thank you very much. How do you do. Delighted I'm sure. Kindly shed your loot in our direction, then lie face down on the deck or, sadly, we will have to slit your gizzards and feed you to the fishes. Deep regrets. Please do not ask for mercy, as refusal can give offense. Thank you very much. Nice weather we are having."  (p. 89)

Captain Starkey approves of what they said, and then says
"Very good, buckos, but you forgot about the scalping. You must always mention the scalping." (p. 89)

At this point, Starkey recognizes the coat Peter is wearing. Peter, humiliated to have the Jolly Peter being pushed about by the SS Starkey (they realize it was not called Shark) yells out to Starkey, trying to humiliate him. Peter says:
"I heard you were captured by the redskins, Starkey! After we routed you in the Great Battle? I heard you were put to looking after their papooses! Terrible fate for a man who calls himself a pirate!" Peter loaded the words with contempt, as he would have loaded a musket. (p. 90)
Starkey agrees that it was beneath him, calling it a fate worse than death, but, Starkey says, he made the best of it:
See what a job I done on 'em, my little squaws an' braves? You won't find better manners in the King of England's parlous. An' I trained them up in a trade, too, which is more'n you can say for most schoolmasters. Learned 'em everything I knowed. Turned 'em into pirates, every Jack-and-Jill of 'em. Got some real talent in there, I can tell you! Pride of me heart, these little throat slitters are! Pride of me heart." (p. 91)

He orders "his little throat-slitters" (p. 91)  to board the Jolly Peter and look for loot. The "warpainted pirates" (p. 91) jump onto the Jolly Peter. Finding nothing, they put the Darlings into their pirate bags. Starkey says he "I can get me a good price for slaves!" (p. 91). His "warriors" (p. 91) were very polite and their hands were "soft and well washed." They talk to each other, discussing "whether Puppy was best cooked with giner, squid, or piri-piri sauce." (p. 92) [Note: Puppy is a real puppy brought to Neverland with the Old Boys.]

Starkey orders Peter to empty his pockets.  Peter replies "Never!" (p. 92), and Starkey says
Turn out your pockets, cock-a-doodle, or I'll have my throat-slitters shoot you full of arrows, and take a look myself, after." (p. 92)

Wendy sees that Peter plans to jump ship instead and calls out to him.

Starkey laid a fatherly hand on the shoulder of one young squaw, whose bowstring was pulled taut. "On my word, bucko... shoot him in the thigh," he said, and the squaw took careful aim. "Let's see what an arrow can do to puncture his pride!" (p. 93)

Out in the sea, five small islands are approaching the two ships. On the islands were inhabitants:

Grappling irons came over the ship's rail like gigantic claws. After that came... well, gigantic claws. The redskins saw the tigers first. (p. 94)

In addition to the tigers, there were panthers, bears, baboons, and palmerions. [Note: What IS a palmerion?!]

No doubt Starkey's sprogs were, in the normal course of things, wonderful at archery and throat slitting. (p. 94)

But, they were afraid and went down a hatch, below decks. From one of the islands came Ravello.

Chapter 9 - Fair Shares

The animals are all under the command of Ravello. All except the bears go back to their islands. The bears dip their paws into the hatch.

The little redskins inside could be heard screaming and whimpering and calling for their mothers. (p. 98)

Ravello wants to work for Peter Pan. They learn that Starkey's cargo is "Silverskins." Nobody but Ravello knows what that actually is. Ravello asserts that Peter should keep half and divide the rest among his crew. That starts the "Silverskin War" (p. 101) as they argue about who should get what. Amidst all the arguing, Starkey tries to get away. Peter grabs him and shouts at him (to turn over the booty):

After years spent teaching manners to redskin sprogs [babies], Starkey said it without thinking: "Now now, son. What's the little word that gets things done?" (p. 104)

The cargo is opened, and out pops Fireflyer who had eaten all the booty. Silverskins are onions.

Chapter 10 - Lodestone Rock

On board the ship, Ravello is very helpful. Among the many things he does is to make "the redskins sew their blankets ito warm coats for the League" (p. 108)

As they sail, they tow Starkey and his crew. They are guarded by bears from one of the floating islands. Wendy asks Peter what he plans to do with them:

"We'll sell them for slaves or spit-roast them for supper!" (p. 109)

The text says he doesn't mean it, but that in saying those words, he sounds decisive. They're looking for the treasure, studying the map. On that map is a "vast blank" labeled "Unknown Territory" (p. 110). Here's what they say:

"We shall map it as we go!" said Peter.

"And find the source of the Nevva River!"

"Discover new animals!"

"Take rock samples!"

"You might also care to name mountains and lakes, sir," suggested Ravello, setting down the afternoon tea.

Then Ravello says, that since Captain Hook had put the treasure there, the territory should be named Hook's Territory. Peter cries out that the territory is his, not Hooks, and that the treasure is also his. Wendy says that she thinks Peter meant 'ours.'  Peter is flushed and says:

"Pour me a tot of Indian courage," he commanded. "The smoke from Starkey's filthy pirate barge has turned my stomach." (p. 111)

Suddenly the Starkey began dragging the Jolly Roger. Nobody can see smoke coming from the Starkey's smokestacks. They fear what may be causing it to move through the water with such force. Ravello looks at the maps and sees Lodestone Rock, which is magnetic. It is drawing the Starkey to it [the Starkey is made of steel]. The bears abandon the Starkey, and:

"the redskins swarmed on deck, weeping and shrieking and struggling into cork life-jackets." (p. 112)

The Starkey hits Lodestone Rock, and the chain between the Starkey and the Jolly Roger breaks. Peter thinks they're safe, since their ship is made of wood, but all the nails are pulled out of the Jolly Roger and it falls apart. The Old Boys use fairy dust,and  muster enough good thoughts (when Peter reminds them of the treasure) to fly up. Wendy sobs, remembering that Fireflyer was locked up in the ship that just went down. Ravello is in the water, holding on to Hook's chest.

Chapter 11 - Grief Reef and the Maze of Witches

Fireflyer is ok and joins the "Company of Explorers" as they fly, looking for land. They sight land and head for it. There, they find Ravello, and, the five islands, too. On the shore are hundreds of prams and baby carriages. Ravello explains these are prams of babies left unattended. Babies who became Lost Boys. The prams got to this shore, called Grief Reef, by the nursemaids who, fired by angry parents, set out to search for the lost babies, not to find them, but to seek revenge. The thought frightens the Lost Boys. Peter reminds everyone that grown-ups can't get into Neverland, and

"everybody felt so much better that they decided to overlook all the grown-up pirates, redskins, and circus masters known to inhabit Neverland." (p. 121)

The Company of Explorer's head inland and come upon a Maze. In it are the nursemaids. This place, Ravello tells them, is the Maze of Witches. Their failure and temper turned them into witches. As witches, then, they could enter Neverland. Eventually, the Company makes its way out of the Maze.

Chapter 12 - Fare Shares

Slightly plays his clarinet. Fireflyer likes the music. The higher the note Slightly plays, the higher Fireflyer goes. Slightly asks what he sees as he flies higher. Then Slightly puts the clarinet aside and whistles, which sends Fireflyer even higher. Slightly asks what he can see:

"Oooo. Right into the past! I see the Aztecs and the Vikings!" (p. 136)

Peter doesn't like the whistling and tells Slightly to stop. Gradually throughout the latter few chapters, Peter's appearance and behavior are changing. Peter shoves Slightly. This scares the others. Wendy says she hardly recognizes him. He is also no longer able to imagine food for them to eat. They remember biscuits in Hook's chest, but find out Fireflyer has eaten them. Peter banishes Fireflyer. They're all increasingly hungry and go to bed. To their surprise, they wake and find Peter has berries for them. They eat and head off into a forest where Peter says he got the berries. All except Slightly are too short to reach any. Thinking he can get back into Peter's good graces by picking some, he pulls down three bunches. Peter is outraged, calling him a traitor. Turns out, Slightly is growing up, which makes him a traitor. Peter imprisons him, and they leave him behind.

Chapter 13 - Taking Sides

Though they've left him behind, they still hear Slightly playing his clarinet. Ravello says that the Roarers may get him. They, Ravello explains, are boys who've grown up. Banished by Peter, they roam around, living as bandits. The Company enters and leaves a desert, finds a waterfall, and are suddenly in a blizzard that turns out to be fairies, thousands of them, that bury them. These fairies are having a war: the Reds fight the Blues. The fairies ask the Company to take sides. Peter goes into the waterfall and holds up a rainbow. This confuses the fairies. They leave, and the Company presses on to Neverpeak Mountain to find the treasure.

Chapter 14 - No Fun Anymore

They can't find food, so eat the last of the berries Peter had given them earlier. They finally get to Neverpeak, which is shaped like a cupcake with steep granite walls. The Company asks Peter to go up there alone. He chides them and sets out alone. Ravello tells them Roarers are all around, which prompts them all to start climbing trees to scale Neverpeak. They struggle through mosquitos and hail as they go. Ravello cuts away the shadows of all but Peter and puts them into the chest.

Chapter 15 - Nowhereland

The story shifts in this chapter, from Peter to Nowhereland, where Slightly and Fireflyer are now. Fireflyer wants a story, so Slightly tells him about their first visit to Neverland. He describes Hook, and realizes that Peter has become just like Hook. Slightly and Fireflyer turn in for the night but are surrounded by Roarers. They tell Slightly that they think Peter used poison to turn them into grownups. He also put poison in the Lagoon, which caused many changes in Neverland, including the fairies war. Slightly asks who told them all that, and figures out it is Ravello, and that Ravello is a danger.

Chapter 16 - Shadow Boxing

Back to Peter and the quest for the treasure. The Boys, without their shadows, climb easily. Peter struggles, and so, Ravello cuts it off, too, and begins to croon and then roar about how awful mothers are. Ravello sees all the Explorers staring at him:

"What language is he talking?" asked John. "Is it Esquimeau?" (p. 187)

Wendy asks Ravello if he's a Lost Boy, which he vehemently denies.  Puppy is missing. Next morning, they set off again, calling out for Puppy as they go. Its very cold and icy. Crossing an ice bridge, Peter looks down, sees something, slips, and falls. He clings to an icicle. He tells them he saw his reflection in the ice and that it was Hook. Hook. Ravello tells him it is only a bad memory and reaches to help Peter. Peter realizes he should be able to fly, and asks Ravello why he can't fly. Ravello ignores the question, and helps everyone across the bridge. Ravello and the sea chest nearly fall into the ravine. Ravello chuckles in an ominous way.

Chapter 17 - Not Himself

They get to the top of Neverpeak and look across the territory, noting places they had been. Snow is very deep. Peter starts to dig, cued by Ravello. He finds the chest. They open the lid and find things in there that they'd wished for. Twigs to make a fire, fairy dust to fly home with, food, and, Tinker Bell. There is also a trophy. Peter, gazing at it, sees his reflection again. He tells Wendy he is not himself. Ravello appears and tells Peter that he has become Captain Hook. And, he tells Peter, that he has groomed him well, that it all started when he convinced Peter to put on his second-best jacket.

Chapter 18 - Taking Deadness

Ravello says that, putting on clothes makes the wearer into that person. Peter has become Hook. Ravello once was Hook, but now, Peter is Hook. Peter takes off the coat, but Ravello tells him that shedding the coat does not change who he has become. The Boys are afraid and want to go home. Wendy gives them dust, readying them to leave, but Ravello reminds them that he has their shadows and can no longer fly. He tells them his life story, including what Peter did to him and how it came to pass that Peter became Hook. Ravello asks Peter what he wants to be now, and then, Slightly appears and tells Peter not to answer the question. Slightly tells everyone how he was tricked by Ravello, and thereby started to turn into a grownup. He tells them that he's figured out Ravello.

Chapter 19 - Burned

The boys start a fire to keep warm. They cook the food that was in the chest and

"sent smoke signals summoning help (though the blizzard did its best to smudge them out)." (p. 229)

Chapter 20 - Ill Luck

The Company decides to leave the mountain. They're exhausted. Peter starts coughing and then suddenly disappears over a ledge. He lands on Hook (Ravello is now Hook again). The boys tumble down, too. Peter lies there, still, and they think he has died.

Chapter 21 - Coming of Age

Peter needs a doctor. Curly had grown up to be a doctor. To save Peter, he asks Hook to ask him the question (what do you want to be when you grow up) which will trigger his growing up and ability to help Peter. Slightly reminds him that he'll grow up and be a Roarer, never able to go home. Curly goes ahead, and then saves Peter, removing a strand of London fog from Peter. Peter is restored to health and vigor. The renew their descent from Neverpeak, and find themselves surrounded by Roarers.

Chapter 22 - Consequences

The Roarers bind their prisoners to trees and discuss what to do with Peter. Ravello is in the trees overhead, watching Peter as he starts to sink in quicksand. The Roarer's blame Peter for their growing up and subsequent banishment by him, but Wendy tells them Ravello is the one who poisoned them. They recognize and remember him, and move towards him. He summons his circus animals. The Roarer's scatter, and John and the Twins rescue Peter. The Company lay on the ground, together, recovering, when they realize that Ravello's beasts are closing in on them.

Chapter 23 - The Red Coat

First Twin has the red coat tied around his waist. He throws it up into the air. The animals paw at it, and Peter cries out "Red! Do you See? Red!" (p. 267) which summons the blue fairies. This distracts the animals and the Company sneaks away. Ravello pleads for the animals lives, Wendy remembers the rainbow, and the fairies let up. The animals recover. Peter and Hook prepare to fight each other. Just before Hook kills Peter, Puppy returns, but is now fullgrown. Puppy attacks Hook, saving Peter. Wendy kisses Hook on the cheek and leaves him there to sleep, drifting to death. Peter is furious with her and tries, unsuccessfully, to banish her.

Chapter 24 - Back Together

The Company sets out again, walking across the island, to get to Neverwood. The going is tough. As they go (extended excerpt, spanning p. 280 to 282),

...the sky ahead turned ochre yellow with flying dust. Sandstorm, they thought. Then they topped the rise, and a sight met their eyes that none would ever forget. There, streaming towards them across the flat skilet of the sear desert sands, came all the bison and appaloosas and travois and squaws and dogs and braves and thunderbirds and drums and papooses and war bonnets and peace-pipes and braids and coup sticks and moccasins and bows and arrows that went to make up the Tribes of the Eight Nations.

The smoke signals Peter had sent from the top of Neverpeak had never been smudged out completely. Now Tribes from north, south, east, west, and the ohter place came thundering over the Thirsty Desert as fast as their appaloosas and bisons would carry them. At the sight of Peter and his fellow Explorers, the Tribes began to bang on their shields and drums and papooses and so forth in a triumphant chorus of greeting.

The Tribes threw a potlatch for the League: A party that consisted of eating and drinking and giving away most of their belongings. They gave a lot of these to Peter and Wendy and Tootles and the Twins and John (who was thrilled to the core). Bud sadly, because they had nothing of their own to give, the children had to give away the gifts they had just been given.

At the feast that followed, a lovely Princess came and smeared their faces with warpaint and told them that now they were honorary members of the Eight Nations.

"Hello, Tiger Lilly," said Peter. But the Princess looked at him strangely and said she was Princess Agapanthus, actually. "Ah. I could never remember names," Peter said. "Or faces."

"Twins? Whatever is the matter?" asked Tootles. "Just because you had to give away those bowie knives..."

But the Twins were not crying because of the bowie knives. They had just remembered riding on an omnibus to Putney and falling asleep and waking to find themselves wearing warpaint. "Will we ever see Putney again, Wendy?" they asked.

Wendy put on her most businessslike face. "We shall just have to wait for the fairies to stop quarrelling and for our shadows to grow back. Look: yours are starting to come already." The Twins brightened--then, of course, their shadows stopped growing again, which rather defeated Wendy's efforts.

They travelled on in a cloud of dust, with an escort of Eight Nations (not to mention the bison)--through the Elephant's Graveyard, over Parcel Pass and the primaeval ruins of Never City and the Groves of Academe. If there were Roarers or lions lying in ambush, the bison and travoises flattened them, because suddenly the horizon was plush with the trees of Neverwood, and the Tribes were saying good-bye and moving off in eight different directions--to tepees, hogans, kivas or longhouses, roundhouses, bivouacs or stockades; some to sleep under the stars. (p. 282)
The Company of Explorers curl up to sleep, too. Puppy is with them, but, suddenly he runs off, starts to dig, and next thing he's dug a hole into the den where Peter and the Lost Boys lived. What follows are reunions and lots of storytelling.

Chapter 25 - The Heartbroken

In this chapter, Lost Boys find their parents, the Darlings get back home, Peter heads back to Neverwood. Ravello wakes up, no longer Ravello but Hook, once again, waiting to tangle with Peter Pan.


That's it. Now to think about it...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Edit(s) to 1935 edition of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE?

While doing research on Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur, I came across information about a revision to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. When it was first published in 1935 by Harper, the illustrations were done by Helen Sewell. I knew the publisher asked Garth Williams to redo illustrations for the book in the 1950s, but I did not know text had also been changed.

In Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, is the following letter. Nordstrom was the editorial director at Harper from 1940 to 1973, and she was Wilder's editor. The letter writer's name is not provided in Dear Genius. Here is Nordstrom's response (page 53 and 54)

October 14, 1952
Dear _____
Your letter to Mrs. [Laura Ingalls] Wilder, the author of Little House on the Prairie, came several weeks ago. We took the liberty of opening it as we do many of the letters that are addressed to Mrs. Wilder. Often we can send the writers the photographs and biographical material they want. Mrs. Wilder is now in her eighties and we try to handle much of the correspondence here.

We are indeed disturbed by your letter. We knew that Mrs. Wilder had not meant to imply that Indians were not people and we did not want to distress her if we could possibly avoid it. I must admit to you that no one here realized that those words read as they did. Reading them now it seems unbelievable to me that you are the only person who has picked them up and written to us about them in the twenty years since the book was published. We were particularly disturbed because all of us here feel just as strongly as you apparently feel about such subjects, and we are proud that many of the books on the Harper list prove that. Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that though such a statement could have passed unquestioned twenty years ago it would never have appeared in anything published in recent years.

Instead of forwarding your letter to Mrs. Wilder I wrote her about the passage and said that in reprinting we hoped that she would allow us to change it. I have just received her answer. She says: "You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not." We are changing the next printing to read "There were no settlers."*

We appreciate your letter, but we are terribly sorry that ___ could not have the book for her eighth birthday. The new printing will be available for her ninth one though, and we are making a note now to be sure that you receive a complimentary copy. As a children's book editor, I was touched by your not wanting ___ to know only the Saggy, Baggy Elephant and I was therefore all the more upset by your very reasonable complaint against Mrs. Wilder's book.

I am sorry this is not a better letter and I am particularly sorry that I have not written you long before this. I wanted to wait, though, until I had written Mrs. Wilder and received her answer.

The asterisk above is actually a numeral one in Dear Genius but I can't do footnote numbering in Blogger so used an asterisk instead. That asterisk corresponds to a note at the bottom of the page that says

The passage in question appears in the opening chapter. As revised it reads as follows: "There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no settlers. Only Indians lived there."
Hmmm...  And, WOW!!! Reading all of that, I wondered what the original text said. I posted a query to LM_NET (over ten thousand librarians subscribe to LM_NET) hoping someone had a copy of the 1935 edition.

A few hours later, I had a reply (thanks, Sonja!). The 1935 edition read "a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people." Wilder and Nordstrom changed people to settlers.

Interesting, eh?

I ordered a copy of the 1935 edition and when it arrives, I'll study it closely. I wonder if additional changes were made?

I'd like to see the letter Nordstrom responded to. I wonder if the person who wrote the letter to Wilder objected to more than just that one passage? That passage appears very early in the book. In the copy I'm looking at right now, it is the fifth paragraph of the book. Perhaps the letter writer read that far and quit reading to compose her letter. I'll write to Leonard Marcus to see if he has more info. He is the editor of Dear Genius.

For now, let's go back to Nordstrom's letter.

Nordstrom says "we" (her staff, I assume) feel as strongly as the person who wrote the letter. Suggesting that Indians are not people is not ok with Nordstrom. But! There are many passages in it that equate Indians with animals. Wilder's Indians yip and yap and howl at each other. What about all those passages?

My question is, why not discontinue the entire book? If I had met with Nordstrom, would she have made more changes to the book? Or pulled it?

[Note: I've written about Little House several times. If you're interested in my (Native) perspective, scroll waaaay down to the bottom of this page and see the set of links at the bottom.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

George Littlechild's THIS LAND IS MY LAND

Among my favorite books is George Littlechild's This Land Is My Land, published in 1993 by Children's Book Press. Written and illustrated by Littlechild, the book won the Jane Addams Peace Award.

The title, of course, is familiar. Across the United States, in schools and gatherings, people sing "This land is my land, this land is your land..." with a certain patriotic warmth and fervor. But when a Native person utters those words, it is quite different. Those five words have a different meaning...

Littlechild is a member of the Plains Cree Nation. Opening the book, I pause at the dedication, which is a set of black and white photographs of Littlechild, his mother, his grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, and his great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers.

The title page shows a Native man and a white man, facing each other. I look at that illustration and the words above it--This Land Is My Land--and I'm reminded of a film I watched recently. (The title of that film is You Are on Indian Land and I highly recommend it.) That illustration appears later in the book. Its title is "Mountie and Indian Chief." The accompanying text reads:

This picture brings you face to face with two different cultures. The Mountie is a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman sent by the Queen of England and the Government of Canada to enforce the law of the Europeans. The Chief is a leader of the Plains Cree. He is protecting our people and our way of life.

That last line "...protecting our people and our way of life" is beautifully said. With those words, Littlechild provides readers with a different view of Native people who fought Europeans in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s. Throughout, Littlechild's words carry a great deal of information. What he says, and what he does not say, too...  For example, on the first page of the book, titled "I love the moon, the stars, and the ancestors," he writes

In those days our Nation, the Plains Cree people, followed the buffalo in the spring and summer.

My response to his "our Nation" is a joyful "AWESOME!!!"  Immediately, he provides teachers with the opportunity to teach children that Native peoples in the US and Canada were and are members of nations. Note, too, that he uses the word "followed" instead of "roamed." Far too many times, in too many children's books, Plains Indians (and others, too) are described as "roaming" over the land. It's a good word for obscuring Nationhood and intellect. He doesn't use it, and neither should any teacher.

Littlechild's art (in words and illustration) is about Columbus, significance of the number four, boarding school, and racism. Each page, each illustration, is worth an extended study. I highly recommend This Land Is My Land.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Has Stephanie Meyer read this?

I do not recall seeing "Please read Indian Country Etiquette" on the Quileute Nation website last time I was on there...  Clicking on the link (located bottom right of the main page) will take you to a statement, that reads in part:

Traditionally, our people are hospitable and generous in nature. However, spiritual teachings, sacred ceremonies and burial grounds, are not openly shared with the public.

We are proud of our teachings, and our heritage. They have been passed to us by our ancestors, and represent thousands of years of our individual histories. Your patience and understanding of our traditions and cultures is appreciated.

I wonder if it is in response to crowds of Twilight fans showing up there? Meyer's books have a lot of material in them that may be interpreted by her readers as Quileute. She does, of course, present it that way. But is it? What did she use as a source? As the statement above indicates, this information is not shared with the public...

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the right side of this page. Scroll up or down till you see the section labeled TWILIGHT SAGA. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

"Evolution" video

Have you seen the video that shows a girl being made-up, photographed, and then the photograph retouched for use in an advertisement?  It's pretty stunning and is one (of many I've seen) good example of how the media tinkers with image to create "beauty."

Here's the link:[cp-documentid=9150719]/

(Update: Oops. I meant to put this on the blog for a class I teach. I'll leave it here anyway. There is nothing about the video that is specifically about American Indians.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Available in a pdf from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Ten pages in length, it begins with:

Each November educators across the country teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday. They try to give students an accurate picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give an incomplete, if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first Thanksgiving, particularly of the event's Native American participants.

Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic "Indians" who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims.

The pamphlet is designed for use in 4th through 8th grade classrooms. It is divided in sections:
  • Environment: Understanding the Natural World
  • Community: Group Identity in Culture
  • Encounters: Effects on Cultures
  • Sharing: New Perspectives Year-Round

Each section includes several photographs as well as "Ideas for the Classroom." As I read through it, I was struck by the verb tense.

"Native peoples were and continue to be..."
"The Inupiaq people of Alaska are..."
"The whalers are..."
The Yakama continue to celebrate..."

Download American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving and study it as you prepare for the upcoming month (November).

DO spend time at the Education pages of NMAI. The NMAI staff is working hard at developing materials for teachers.

And, order and use these children's books, too! Here's some:

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) and Catherine Grace O'Neill. 
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Jake Swamp (Mohawk).
    And, read books to your students that portray American Indian children of the present day. There's some terrific picture books you can use. Among my favorites are:

    The Good Luck Cat, by Joy Harjo 
    Less than Half, More than Whole, by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa
    Muskrat Will be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau 
    Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith 
    What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses, by Richard Van Camp

    Last year, School Library Journal published a list of 30 recommended books: "Native Voices." I introduced and link to the article here.

    And if you want to see other things I've written about Thanksgiving, look to the left of this page, scroll down to the section called POSTS ABOUT THANKSGIVING.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Who is John Smelcer (author of THE TRAP and THE GREAT DEATH)

    John Smelcer, author of The Trap, has a new young adult novel out (The Great Death). Many believe he is a good writer. That may be the case, but, I find his claims to Native identity troubling, for two reasons. First, in schools, students often do author studies. Smelcer's website says he is Native. But, John Smelcer is not a Native person by birth or, and, according to the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer), he did not grow up on a reservation or with Native people. Second, in schools, we teach children to be honest. It seems that, if we herald an author who has not been honest with his identity, we are saying one thing (be honest) and doing another (by assigning his books, we say his deceit does not matter).

    This particular blog post about John Smelcer is a difficult one to post for several reasons. First, it treads on concerns regarding adoption and identity of an adopted child. That is a body of literature that I have not studied. Second, Native identity is a contentious issue in many ways, with people claiming to be Native for personal or professional gain within a society (America) that does not understand the complex issue of Native identity and claims to Native identity. There are over 500 tribal nations in the U.S. Each one has its own determinations as to who it lists or otherwise recognizes as members or citizens. Last year, I was at a conference in Michigan at which Ojibwe elders spoke about this issue. Among their most powerful statements was that our ancestors fought like hell to defend our nations against Europeans who came here and wanted our land. They fought to protect the land, and their families, elders, grandparents, men, women, and children.  If they had not done that, we would not be here today as sovereign nations. It is in that framework that I offer this post.

    December, 2007
    I learned of a young adult novel titled The Trap, by John Smelcer, who said he was Ahtna (Native Alaskan). I ordered a copy of the book.

    January 27, 2008
    I started reading The Trap. The opening pages reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen. I blogged the memory. Upon uploading that blog post, I began hearing from people in Alaska who told me that Smelcer is not Native. The next day, I posted an updated to the Jan 27th entry.

    January  29, 2008
    I posted another update. In this one, I shared what I'd learned in the Anchorage Daily News. I'm pasting it here, for your reference. In brackets [ ] and bold are comments I'm adding today.

    "UAA Finds Professor Isn't Native. University Reviewing Records." It was in the Metro Section of the Final Edition on May 3, 1994, on page 1.

    • Smelcer was hired the previous year by the University of Alaska Anchorage in their effort to increase the ethnic diversity among its faculty. Administrators at the university were under the impression he was Native. [Why did they think he was Native? Because...]
    • In a letter sent to UAA prior to his hire, he said he was "affiliated with Ahtna" and referred to his "Native American Indian heritage." [Ahtna is Ahtna, Inc., which is, quoting from the website, "one of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations" and is comprised of eight villages, all of which are federally recognized tribes.]
    • The head of Ahtna , a man named Roy Ewan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Smelcer, that said "Ahtna recognizes John Smelcer's tribal membership."
    It isn't clear to me yet how or why his identity was challenged. Information about that identity was brought to the attention of the university. Some of that [as reported in the newspaper] is:
    • John Smelcer was adopted by a Native man named Charlie Smelcer, who said "He's a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian just like anyone else is." ["He" is John. Here's a photo from John Smelcer's website. He's older now. The mess at the University of Alaska took place in 1994, or, 15 years ago. ]
    • Ewan said his letter was a mistake. He said "When they told me this guy was Charlie Smelcer's son, I just assumed it was his blood son," Ewan said.
    The article said that Smelcer did not believe he had misrepresented himself. This is an excerpt from that portion of the article:
    "I was very careful with the dictionary, finding that word 'affiliated,'" he said, "After all, I was an English major." [Very careful? Why? And "after all"??? He seems to, rather boldly, proclaim that he had to be careful with his word choice. Why?]

    Smelcer also said he knew his letter would leave the impression that he was an Alaska Native by birth. [He knew the ramifications of presenting his identity the way he did...  That's disingenuous.]  He said he considered himself a Native even though his parents were not. "My entire life has been surrounded by my Alaska Native family," he said.

    But in a telephone interview from Juneau, Charlie Smelcer flatly denied that description. The senior Smelcer, a retired Army officer, said that, "in no way, shape or form" was John Smelcer raised in a Native environment.

    "He was a middle-class kid who grew up around a military environment, with cars and television and everything else like that," Smelcer said. "If he's used my Native heritage for his personal or professional gain, then that's wrong."
    John Smelcer said that nobody at UAA ever asked him "point blank" if he was "a blood Indian." The article concludes with this:
    But Smelcer said he did not know whether he would be able to pursue his academic career now. The recent interest in his birth and background had left him feeling confused, he said. "Suddenly, I don't know who I am anymore." [He said he is confused, and it sounds like he was also troubled by this not-knowing who he is. Yet, he continues to identity and mislead his readers. Does he not care that he is confusing and misleading the young people who read his books and think he is Native by birth?]
    Additional articles in the Anchorage Daily News indicate that he resigned his position in the middle of the university's investigation--not about his identity--but on "whether he told the truth about having poetry accepted for publication in the New Yorker magazine and other journals," (see "UAA Professor Quits among Credentials Probe," August 3rd). The paper says there was a forged letter in his files from an editor at the New Yorker. Smelcer says he didn't put it there. Other presses Smelcer was going to have poems published in denied that they were going to publish his poems.

    January 31, 2008
    Charlie Smelcer wrote to me. In short, he verified everything in the newspaper article. On Feb. 3, 2008, I posted his confirmation as an update to the post pasted above.

    March 26, 2008
    I was away at the Returning the Gift conference where I received a Native Writer's Circle Award for my blog. While there, I got two emails from John Smelcer, asking me to remove what I said about him on my blog. He said he wanted to avoid a libel suit, and that he would mail me documentation showing he is Alaska Native. In the second email, he said that he has never lied about who he is. I did not respond to either email from him.

    March 28, 2008
    Still at the conference, I got a third email from John Smelcer. He said that, after 1994, he did "everything to 'straighten out' the Native issue." That he corrected the problem to the satisfaction of all. He said, that since 1994, his work has been published in many Native literature anthologies because he was able to "give them all my documents." Again, he asked me to remove what I'd written on my blog. I replied that I had spoken with his Charlie Smelcer and that he had verified everything in the newspaper. John Smelcer did not write to me again.

    October 20, 2009
    Earlier this year, I learned that John Smelcer has a new book coming out. It is called The Great Death. The November-December "Stars" in Horn Book include The Great Death. As yet, I don't know who reviewed it for Horn Book, but I do know that they review books for literary merit only. It doesn't matter who the author is. In this case, it obviously does not matter that the author is misrepresenting who he is.

    So... what IS the story about John Smelcer? How does he happen to have those documents to prove he is enrolled at Ahtna? Charlie Smelcer told me that John tricked Charlies's mother into giving him some shares in Ahtna, Inc. Because of those shares, he has a document that he presents as though it proves he is Native. Charlie has talked with John about misrepresenting who he is, but John continues to mislead people. 

    Right now, Smelcer's website says he "John Smelcer is the son of an Alaskan Native father from the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska." and "John's mother is white."

    And, in "The Future of Native American Literature: A Conversation with John E. Smelcer," published in MELUS (a journal published by the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) in Fall 2002 (Volume 27, Number 3), the interview says "His Tennessee-born mother is part Cherokee and his half-blood Indian father was born and raised in the Copper region of Alaska." (p. 135). So, what IS the story on his mother? Charlie Smelcer told me that his wife (the woman John says is his mother) is not Cherokee and that John is misrepresenting this, too.

    John Smelcer has a champion out there who sticks up for him, explaining that there is friction and dysfunction in the family, and that Charlie Smelcer's brother is the one who taught John what he knows about Ahtna traditions, but that brother has yet to speak up himself.

    I've got a question for librarians and teachers who work with young adult and high school students. When you ask them to do an author study of John Smelcer, what will you tell them about him? Will you let them believe he is Native by birth? What are you going to say?

    News about Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO

    Nicola Campbell's picture book, Shi-shi-etko, was recently released as a short film. Here's the trailer. As soon as I have info on its availability, I will post that information. Campbell's story and the illustrations in the picture book, by Kim LaFave, are stunning. I highly recommend the book and its sequel (Shin-chi's Canoe) and look forward to the film.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Ann Rinaldi's LEIGH ANN'S CIVIL WAR

    Last week I made some preliminary notes about Ann Rinaldi’s Leigh Ann’s Civil War. I’ve finished reading the book and am sharing some thoughts.

    The protagonist is Leigh Ann, a girl living in Georgia on a plantation. She is the youngest of four children. Her sister is named Viola and she has two older brothers, Teddy, and Louis. They all live with their father (Pa) who is going mad.

    I think the reviewer at Kirkus (their reviews are unsigned) is dead-on:
    “Veteran Rinaldi spins a tale that combines low melodrama, cringeworthy faux-Indian mysticism, a back story only the author could possibly understand, a saccharine depiction of slavery, two pregnancies of convenience and only a passing regard for historical accuracy for a nearly 300 page slog that seems to have enjoyed zero editorial intervention.”
    As I slogged through the 300 pages, I thought Rinaldi's Leigh Ann is a lot like Scarlett O'Hara. Young, pretty, bratty. Some of the content surprised me. Jon, for example, and what he does to Leigh Ann. He is a man Teddy and Louis hire to look after Pa while they're away. Viola doesn't trust him. On page 82, the text reads: 
    My sister had confided to me that she thought Jon wanted to "take liberties" with her, and told me never to be alone with him. "And if he starts anything with you, scream, kick him, bite him."

    Apparently, Viola makes Leigh Ann promise that she will not tell Teddy about Jon's advances, because on page 91, Leigh Ann considers telling Teddy but, remembering her promise, she does not tell him. In chapter thirteeen, Leigh Ann is collecting clothes for the children who work at the mill. Teddy asks Jon to drive her. She objects, he wonders why, she drops her objection, and keeps her promise to Viola. Then as she's getting out of the carriage, Jon:
    ...put his hand on my bottom. I stomped on his foot.

    "Ow! You little witch!"

    "Don't you dare touch me! Ever!"

    "Or you'll what? Tell your big brother?"
    This dialogue continues with Jon telling Leigh Ann that if she tells him, he would kill Teddy in the likely duel, and that he'd killed someone that way before. So, Leigh Ann keeps quiet.

    On page 113 (in chapter fifteen), Louis asks Leigh Ann why she does not want Jon to drive her somewhere. The text reads:

    I couldn’t lie to Louis. With his Indian powers he saw through lies.

    “He touched me.”


    I blushed. “On my bottom.”

    She goes on to tell Louis that Jon said he'd kill Teddy in a duel. Louis says only gentlemen duel, and that Jon is not a gentleman. Louis then takes him out to the barn and whips him. 

    This child molestation thread stood out to me. So far, none of the reviews (professionals, bloggers, or customers at Amazon) have noted it. Another thread that caught my eye has to do with Leigh Ann's behavior towards boys. Teddy talks with Leigh Ann about proper ways for a young girl to behave around a boy she likes…  Twelve-year-old Leigh Ann meets a 16 year old boy and kisses him on the cheek. Teddy is angry with her for doing that. She doesn’t understand what is wrong with kissing a boy on the cheek. Teddy tells her (p. 135):

    “About boys and how they become aroused. I got embarrassed, but he didn’t care. “That kiss was a sign,” he said. “It is not fair to give such encouragement to a boy unless you are willing to carry through with it. Do you know what I mean by ‘carry through with it’?”

    Oh, sweet God in heaven, will he never stop?

    He sighed. “It means to let him go further,” he said. “Much further. And touch you in other ways.”

    Please don’t let him tell me the ways!

    “Now, a young man of honor cannot act upon his impulses, but once aroused must suffer instead. And when a girl acts like that she is known as a ‘tease’ and there is nothing worse to be known as among boys than a tease.’”

    Again, none of that is mentioned in reviews I've seen. But, back to the way that Rinaldi brings Native content into her story... 

    In chapter one, Pa, referencing the Yankees, says (p. 16):

    “They want the Southern lands,” he shouted. “First the Indians wanted it and now the Northerners. I’d rather give it all back to the Indians, though they didn’t have the courage to fight for it but let the white man take it from them!”

    These words make Louis angry and he comes storming down the stairs. Leigh Ann bursts into tears. Pa pulls her onto his lap at the bottom of the stairs and says (p. 17):

    “Don’t worry your pretty little head about Louis,” he soothed. “He acts like that because he’s part Indian.”

    I just started up at Pa’s face. Was this part of his “madness” coming on?

    “He most positively is,” he assured me. “Can’t you see his dark hair? And eyes? And how he’d rather ride with no saddle? And his high cheekbones? And how good he is working with silver?”

    I saw only one thing. That if Louis was part Indian, he was not my brother. Mother’s hair was fair. Pa’s was white. Violet’s and mine was light brown and sun-streaked. Teddy’s hair was the same as ours.

    Leigh Ann runs outside and hides under some trees, crying. Louis finds her there, and that closes chapter one. Chapter two opens with Louis saying (p. 18):

    “Come on Leigh Ann, before I come over there and scalp you.”

    They bicker back and forth, and then he says (p. 19)

    “You’ve been told by Pa that I’m an Indian. Am I correct?” […] “And you’ve been shocked and hurt and you likely have come to the ugly conclusion that I’m not your brother. Am I right, sweetie?”

    I looked at him. “What did you study at college? Hoodoo?”

    Louis laughed and replied:

    “I have the gift of hoodoo because I am half Indian. Do you want to know about it?”

    The hoodoo thread is odd. I did not know what hoodoo was, so I looked it up. It is African American healing/folk medicine. I read Zora Hurston's "Hoodoo in America" published in October-December, 1931 in The Journal of American Folk-Lore.  Is Rinaldi confusing African American traditions with American Indian ones?

    At the stream, Louis has a box with him. Leigh Ann asks what is in it. Louis tells her its contents are a secret that he will reveal shortly. The two walk towards the stream. Across the way, Leigh Ann sees two deer. She feels a sense of peace like she’s never felt before. Louis says (p. 20):

    “Pa is a full-blooded Indian,” he said quietly. […] “A Cherokee,” he elaborated, just in case I needed to know.

    He goes on (p. 21):

    “It’ll take time,” he said, “for it to sink in. But not long. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

    My first thought was, Do I look Indian? My hand flew to my face.

    “No, you don’t,” Louis said, reading my thoughts. “You don’t look Indian at all.”

    He tells her (p. 22):

    “You should know that the Cherokees were the first American Indians to have an alphabet and written language. One of their chiefs, Sequoyah, was a talented silversmith. They had the first American Indian newspaper. They tried to get along with the white people. They had their own shops and businesses.”

    “Where does Pa come in?”

    “He was one of the Cherokees who was living with the white men. He worked for one named Hunter Conners, who had no children and who gave him a fine piece of land and, in the end, his name. Then gold was discovered and hundreds of settlers came and the government took the land back from the Cherokees.”

    In chapter three, Louis opens the box. Inside are silver necklaces, bracelets, rings, and armbands. He gives Leigh Ann a medallion on a silver cord. On the medallion is a profile of  Sequoyah. Leigh Ann asks him if she can wear it in front of others, and he says (p. 27):

    “I’d like to see anybody try to take it away from you. I’ve got these special Indian powers, remember. I can do some bad things with smoke and prayers.”

    Rinaldi makes Louis more Indian than Teddy, Viola, or Leigh Ann. He looks different, and, he has powers. That is just, well, hokey. Or, as the Kirkus reviewer said "cringeworthy faux-Indian." He does "bad things" with smoke and prayers. This does not make sense at all!

    In chapter four, Leigh Ann goes back to the house and talks with Teddy who tells her

    “Look,” he said, “just because we’re half Indian, you’re not to confuse us with wild Indians out west. Even Pa’s generation removed themselves from that culture.”

    Then, moving all the way up to chapter sixteen, Louis, now Mayor of Roswell, wants to rejoin the Confederate Army, but his ankle (it was shot while he was in the army earlier in the story) did not heal well, and he is persuaded not to go back. He is unhappy, though, and takes to spending a lot of time alone. One night, Leigh Ann and Teddy (who is now running the mill) look for him. They find him by the stream (page 126).

    He had built a small fire. Four long logs jutted out on each side and in the middle of these were smaller pieces of wood. Cooking in the center were pieces of venison. A great deal of smoke curled up overhead.

    His only clothing was a leather breechclout to cover his private parts. His legs, folded under him, were bare, as was his chest. Around his neck he wore a large silver medallion. He huddled in an old gray blanket. His hair was wet, as if he had just come out of the stream. He was moving his lips, praying.

    And on his shoulder was a hooty owl. It stared at us out of yellow-green eyes. But it never moved.

    I became frightened and moved closer to Teddy, who put a protective arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

    But I was. This was my beloved Louis, my darling brother, whom I looked up to so. Had he gone mad? I looked up at Teddy.

    “Eh, Louis,” he said, “you going to include us in your prayers?”

    Louis nodded yes. He had heard.

    “Look at that,” Teddy told me. “There’s wind around us. But none around him.”

    It was true. The bitter February wind that whipped around us stopped in the line bounding Louis. My mouth fell open. Teddy grinned down at me.

    “Damn, that venison smells good,” he said.

    That Teddy was taking this all so lightly made me feel better.

    “Is he going to stay here all night?” I asked.

    “He better not. Or I’ll have Primus fetch him in. Well, good night now, brother. I’ve got to get to the mill. Can I trust you to tell the Indian powers good night and come in soon to see to the safety of our women?”

    Louis looked at us placidly, first at Teddy, then at me. “Go in peace,” he said. It was in his regular Louis voice.

    We turned and left. I felt a sense of peace come over me, as if everything was going to be all right and I would never have to worry again.

    By the time chapter 22 rolls around, the war is not going well for the south. Louis is sending the women to a grandmother in Philadelphia. His wife, Camille, asks him if he wants her to go (p. 157).

    “Everyone was silent for a moment.

    Louis’s face had about it that Indian mask that you could not read. It was a long enough moment for him to contact his inner spirit.”
    Contact his inner spirit?! No comment. Things continue to go downhill. Leigh Ann begins working as a bummer for the Yankees. She must search for food. On page 241:

    I stopped to fill my canteen and in the distance saw what appeared to be a peach orchard. Beyond that I could have sworn I saw wigwams.

    I stood up to better focus my vision. I was right! Just on the other side of the peach orchard were at least six wigwams that seemed to be built out of bark and evergreen boughs.”

    She goes towards them. She’s surprised because she thought Indians had been driven out “ages ago.” She wonders if she’s dreaming, wonders if Louis had guided her there, She enters the camp:

    The women looked up as I approached and smiled. And what I had feared, that they would be afraid of my rifle, did not happen.

    Though they were all busy, either sewing beads on moccasins or ornamenting deerskin pouches or frying bacon, they looked up and smiled as I approached. They nodded their heads.

    “You’ve come at last,” one said.

    At last? Had they been waiting for me? Known of me?

    “Yes,” I said. “I suppose I lost my way. But now I have found you. Have you been waiting for me a long time?”

    “Long enough,” another said. “We were told by the owl that a little girl of our people would soon come and she would be in trouble and we were to help her. From where do you come, little one?”

    So they knew I was a girl, in spite of my boys’ clothes. “Roswell,” I said.

    They nodded to one another. They said something in Indian language. What language. Cherokee? Oh, why had I never asked Louis to teach me Cherokee?

    And then, in the middle of the Indian language I caught his name. Louis.

    So I was right. He had guided me here. They knew of him.

    “Do you travel with the Yankees?” the one who was beading the moccasins asked me.

    I told them yes, I traveled with the Yankees. I was being sent to Marietta with the other women who had been arrested.

    “Well you are not to worry,” the one who was frying bacon said. “Your Father in heaven will protect you. And the two who travel with you. Last evening we saw it in the smoke of our fire. Now, how can we help you today?”
    Your father in heaven?! What about Louis and his powers with smoke and prayer?! Leigh Ann tells the women that Mulholland has sent her to look for a turkey. They laughed and told her “Mulholland Bad Face” knows there are no turkeys and that he intends to whip her for not finding a turkey. The women tell her:

    But we tell you now, that if you go to the other side of the bridge that goes over the stream that is pure, you will see one standing there and waiting for you. Shoot him. Then kneel over him and tell him you are sorry. And thank him for his life. And bring him back to Mulholland Bad Face.”

    Leigh Ann embraces each one of the women. They “said some Indian prayers" over her. They give her a cake from the ashes. She leaves the camp, looks back, but they entire camp is gone. She still has the cake in her hand. She walked to the bridge and found the turkey. She shoots it and kneels, as she was told to do, and thanks the turkey for its life.Leigh Ann returns to the army camp and gives “Mulholland Bad Face” (her words, not mine) the turkey. He takes her into the forest, and tells her there have been no turkeys there for two years. He thinks she’s lying to him, so starts to whip her. Then out of nowhere came an owl---Louis’s owl. (What about her Father in heaven?!) It attacks Mulholland. Leigh Ann calls to it “It’s all right, Owl, it’s all right now. He won’t hurt me anymore. Thank you, thank you. It’s all right now.” The owl stops its attack and then goes to her, resting on her shoulder. Mulholland thinks she’s crazy, talking to birds.

    I'm tempted to say that Rinaldi is crazy. Her editor must be equally crazy. How did this novel get published?! The Native-related content makes no sense.  Most children and young adults know very little about the Cherokees, and this novel doesn't help. What makes it more troubling for me is the blurbs on the back of the book. Titled "Praise for Ann Rinaldi's Historical Fiction, the blurb at top is from Kirkus. It reads:

    "Readers will not soon forget these characters, whose actions and passions illuminate and enliven a historical era about which they may have heard much, but understood little. Vivid in the best sense of the word."

    I've read the entire Kirkus review for Leigh Ann's Civil War, and those words do not appear in that review. In fact, the reviewer's last two sentences are:

    Dialogue is breathtakingly wooden, character development arbitrary, sentiment sodden. A mess.

    What book does the blurb on the back of the book refer to??? What are the people over at Harcourt trying to do? Isn't this false advertising? I haven't seen the Booklist review yet, but, the blurb says:

    "Rinaldi's books are always impeccably researched, vividly detailed, and filled with very human characters; they are also about something that matters."

    As the extensive review of Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground demonstrated, her books are not always impeccably researched. Why then, does Harcourt have that particular blurb on the back of the book? And, when did Booklist say that about Rinaldi's work?

    My study (thus far) of this book is intriguing and raises many questions. Years ago, Rinaldi told me she'd never write a book about American Indians again. She obviously changed her mind, and, that change-of-mind was a mistake.

    UPDATE: Tuesday, Oct 20th.
    In this "impeccably researched" book, here's more of what the Kirkus reviewer had to say...

    The painful trials endured by Southern civilians are given only perfunctory mention; the loving negroes (not called slaves) stay with the family even after the brother graciously frees them after the end of the war, in blatant narrative disregard of the Emancipation Proclamation.

    The book is in the "Great Episodes" series. Wondering what that means...

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Joy Harjo

    Joy Harjo was our Artist in Residence this semester. We (faculty, staff, students of UIUC's Native American House and American Indian Studies program) had a gathering on Thursday evening to mark the end of her residency. The photograph was taken by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert.

    On Thursday, October 7th, she gave a reading of her children's books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming. She read to a group of about 20 children and a larger group of adults. When reading The Good Luck Cat, she cued us when to make a purring sound as she read.

    While here, she gave a concert at the student union. A few days later, we learned that she had won Best Female Artist at the 2009 Native American Music Awards

    While reading For a Girl Becoming, she sang to us. Before reading For a Girl Becoming, Joy told us about moments of becoming, how they are powerful and dangerous, and that good words in those moments can help by providing a path. As she read For a Girl Becoming I thought of my own daughter and her moments of becoming.

    Both of her children's books are rooted in her own life, in the experiences of her own family. Each one speaks to a different moment, a different need.

    I'm taking a signed copy of For a Girl Becoming with me to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in early November, to give away there at an event hosted by the American Indian Curriculum Services.

    If you're available, please attend! Thursday, November 5, 2009, at 3:00 in the afternoon. Janice Rice and I will talk with you about children's books about American Indians. My talk will include both of Joy Harjo's picture books.