Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Do you read Writer's Against Racism, Amy Bowllan's Blog at School Library Journal? She interviews a range of people, from critics (like me) to writers, like Cynthia Leitich Smith. Click on over to read her interview with Cynthia, author of one of my favorite picture books of all time, Jingle Dancer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2010: Best Books Recommended for Elementary School

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Editor's Note: January 18, 2014 - The title of this post has been edited to reflect its year of publication. See also 2013: Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School

If I was starting a library in an elementary school, these are the first ten books I'd buy. In reading these books, students would be reading stories Native writers create about Native people and places. The books I list here include fiction, historical fiction, traditional story, and poetry.
  • Campbell, Nicola. Shi-shi-etko
  • Campbell, Nicola. Shin-chi's Canoe
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story
  • Harjo, Joy. The Good Luck Cat
  • Messinger, Carla. When the Shadbush Blooms
  • Ortiz, Simon J. The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa 'kashtyaa'tsi hiyaani: A Native American Tale
  • Sockabasin, Allen J. Thanks to the Animals
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer
  • Tingle, Tim. Crossing Bok Chitto (If you can, also get When Turtle Grew Feathers and Saltypie)
  • Waboose, Jan Bourdeau. SkySisters
For annotations, see my article Native Voices in School Library Journal.

See also:
Top Ten Books Recommended for Middle School
Top Ten Books Recommended for High School

Download a pdf titled "Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians that includes an introduction and all three "Top Ten" lists.

2010: Best Books Recommended for Middle School

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If I was starting a library in a middle school, these are the first ten books I'd buy.  In reading these books, students would be reading stories Native writers create about Native people and places.  The books I list here include fiction, historical fiction, and poetry. 

  • Bruchac, Joseph. Hidden Roots
  • Carvell, Marlene. Who Will Tell My Brother?
  • Dorris, Michael. Sees Behind Trees.
  • Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House
  • Loyie, Larry. As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School
  • Ortiz, Simon. The People Shall Continue
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Indian Shoes
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name
  • Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. High Elk's Treasure
  • Sterling, Shirley. My Name is Seepeetza
For annotations, see my Native Voices article in School Library Journal.

Update: Jan 7, 2012
Though she is not Native, Debby Dahl Edwardson has lived her adult life with her husband in his Inupiaq village in Alaska. Her commitment to Native lives and story is not abstract or romantic. Add her book, My Name is Not Easy to this list of must-have books for middle grade students.

See also:
Top Ten Books Recommended for High School
Top Ten Books Recommended for Elementary School

Download a pdf with all three lists:
Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians

2010: Best Books Recommended for High School

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If I was starting a library in a high school, these are the first ten books I'd buy.  In reading these books, students would be reading stories Native writers create about Native people and places.  The books I list here include fiction, historical fiction, poetry, short stories, and, prose.

Update on Feb 24, 2018: I am doing a strike-thru on Alexie's book. Given the news reports about harassment, I no longer recommend his book. When news stories break, I will be back to post the links here.

  • Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Broker, Ignatia. Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative
  • Carlson, Lori Marie (ed.). Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today
  • Deloria, Ella C. Waterlily
  • Kenny, Maurice (ed.). Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers
  • King, Thomas. One Good Story, That One
  • Ortiz, Simon J. Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories
  • Tapahonso, Luci. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories
  • Taylor, Drew Hayden. The Night Wanderer
  • Van Camp, Richard. The Lesser Blessed

For annotations, see my Native Voices article in School Library Journal.

See also:
Top Ten Books for Middle School
Top Ten Books for Elementary School

Download a pdf with all three lists:
Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians

Monday, July 26, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Michigan Teachers of English - Autumn Assembly 2010

On Friday, October 29th, 2010 I will be in Lansing, Michigan for Michigan NCTE's Autumn Assembly 2010.  Details here: Focusing the Kaleidoscope: Re-imagining English Language Arts in Michigan. If you're attending, please stop by and introduce yourself!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Update:  July 22, 2010

Soon after I uploaded the information below, Carl Waldman wrote to me. We exchanged emails. I'm grateful for the exchange because it provides a learning moment for all of us. 

Waldman was incorrectly cited in Healy and Orenski's book about flags and the website about flags (see below). Waldman's encyclopedia does not say that Nambe is "of the Tiwa Nation, one of four tribes of Pueblo Indians along the Rio Grande."  Waldman is cited a LOT in the flag book. I hope he goes through it and gets in touch with the authors. Anybody using either the flag book or website should use it with great caution.

I erred in assuming that the flag book was reliable in its citation of Waldman. Believing their citation of him was accurate, I was critical of him for those errors. Those errors, in turns out, are Healy and Orenski's---not Waldman's.

Since then, I've read through Waldman's entry on Pueblo Indians. Some things about it reflect socialization/education that teaches Americans that American Indians are exotic peoples. For example, he uses the word shaman. That word is generally used to describe spiritual leaders, but it isn't used to describe spiritual leaders in the world religions. I think words like that (ones that invoke the exotic) are not helpful because they diminish our religious ways of being.  

Another way in which Waldman inadvertently trivializes our ways is his description of a kiva. He says they are "ceremonial chambers or clubhouses." Ceremonial chambers is right, but clubhouses doesn't work at all. There are certain societies within our religion but they're not clubs.

A major concern with his entry is the order with which he presented the information. I'd prefer it start with present day information because I believe doing it that way goes a long way to displacing the idea that we no longer exist.

We generally use "Pueblo Revolt" rather than "Pueblo Rebellion" when talking about our movement against the Spanish in 1680. The Pueblo leader named Po'pay was from Ohkay Owingeh (formerly known as San Juan Pueblo) but worked from Taos in planning the revolt. 

Last, Waldman ends the section called "Later History" with this sentence: 
"Not all historic pueblos survived to modern times. Attacks by raiding tribes, such as the APACHE, NAVAJO and COMANCHE, took their toll as did diseases carried by Europeans and Euroamericans." 
Definitely, there were struggles with other tribes, but, it was warfare, persecution, and disease from Europeans and Euroamericans that had the greater impact on us. 

I'll stop here for now. Below is the original post.

A couple of days ago, my "Nambe" Google Alert included a link to a page at the site Flags of the World that has the flag of our tribe, Nambe, at the site. As I read the information provided about Nambe, I noted some errors. I asked my nephew, Will, to come over (I was at his house) to read the page. He's thirteen. Right away, he noted the errors, too.

I did some research and found that the site contains the same information in a book called Native American Flags, by Donald T. Healy and Peter J. Orenski. Let's take a look at the entry (on the site and in the book) for Nambe:

The 19,000-acre Pueblo of Nambe (NAA, 281) is home to about 400 members (REAI, 30) of the Tiwa Nation, one of four tribes of Pueblo Indians along the Rio Grande (ENAT, 206-209). The others are the Keres, Tewas, and Towas.
Our pueblo is 19,000 acres in size. That information is correct. Healy and Orenski's source for that is Hirschfelder and de Montano's The Native American Almanac.

Home to about 400 members? Census figures change over time. We were that size at one time, but according to the 2000 census, we were about twice that size. We'll see what the 2010 census says.

The rest of the information is incorrect.  We are not "of the Tiwa Nation." There are not three others called Keres, Tewas, and Towas.  Those four words are language categories. Nambe's language is Tewa. There are nineteen pueblos in New Mexico, and, some of the pueblos speak Tewa, some speak Keres, some speak Tiwa, and some speak Towa. Some of the nineteen pueblos are located along the Rio Grande, but Nambe is not one of them. We are alongside our own river, the Nambe River.

The source for that incorrect material is Carl Waldman's Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes: Facts on File Library of American History, first published in 1988. It was revised in 1999 and received favorable reviews from School Library Journal, Library Journal, and Booklist. The reviews are available at Amazon. One of the Amazon customer reviews is from L. Hunter, a writer using the book:
I'm writing a fictional novel with a Native American character and needed help in knowing him and his background. I was impressed with how easy it was to look up information by tribe and get interesting tidbits, that if I so desired, I could research further. This is definitely a writer's dream. I feel confident writing about a character from any tribe with this book in my collection.
I hope that L. Hunter isn't using that information about Nambe. Waldman's encyclopedia is a good example of incorrect sources that unfortunately get used again and again, in non-fiction and fiction. I've written about reliable sources here.  If you have a copy on your shelf, and your tribal information is incorrect, please let me know and I'll add it to this blog post.

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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...