Friday, April 22, 2011

Are your kids going to Summer Camp?

Today's post is prompted by Nicole, a reader who wrote to tell me about an article called Boys Gone Wild in baystateparent: Massachusetts' Premier Magazine for Families. The article describes the activities of boys who attend Night Eagle Summer Camp in Vermont. I hasten to add that the boys and their leaders do a lot of playing-Indian activities...

In February 2011, I wrote about learning that a group of boy scouts from Louisiana who had been at Nambe Pueblo (that's where I'm from) to study our dances with the intent of performing them in Louisiana. I pointed out that I don't think the scouts would go to a Catholic mass, study the priest and then perform what he did. Our dances are sacred, just like the prayers offered by a priest.

Maybe (I say, with hope) those scouts did not know they were being insensitive. That is probably because they've been in the scouting program for several years where they did all kinds of "Indian" activities that, bit-by-bit, made them unaware that those activities are inappropriate.

When we tell our stories, for example, we don't tell them around a campfire as a means of entertainment. They--like stories from the Bible--are significant to us in some way. In American society, however, they aren't seen as religious stories. Instead, they're "myths" and "legends" and "folktales" that anyone can tell, anytime they want to, as shown in this page from The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp published in 1982. At the time of its publication, the review in Reading Teacher said
"Though Grizzly Bob's Day Camp looks exciting, Brother and Sister Bear are apprehensive. But after spending a few days trying things out, they discover they can have fun."
A chunk of that fun means doing Indian things. Or, in other words, playing Indian. On the page shown here, the cubs are gathered round as Grizzly Bob tells them a story. The clothing Grizzly Bob wears and the way he stands reflect stereotypical pop culture images of Indians.

You can see that sort of stereotypical imagery on things like council patches of the Boy Scouts of America. In Studying Native America: Problems and Prospects (1998 Univ of Wisconsin Press), Russell Thornton writes (p. 299):
Of all the institutions in American society, the Boy Scouts of America have probably done the most damage in miseducating the public about Native American cultures. Although their "Indian Lore" merit badge has recently experienced a dramatic improvement through the advice of anthropologist David Hurst Thomas, the honorary society called Order of the Arrow annually initiatives thousands of boys into the martial, romantic version of Indian culture through ceremonies drawn from the writings of Longfellow and James Fenimore Cooper."
I agree with Thornton but my net is a bit wider. I think the camps children go to each summer are equally responsible. The Boy Scouts of America creates space for this sort of play-Indian activity to continue. The Y-Indian Princess program is similarly problematic. As Thornton says, the BSA has made some changes. So has the Y-Indian Princess program. But, this sort of thing continues, especially in summer camps. Every semester, students in my courses tell me about the summer camps they went to and how they played Indian. After studying American Indians---real ones, not the images of pop culture---they see the summer camp activities in a different light. Some call them embarrassing; others call them racist.

So... are your kids going to Summer Camp? Will you be attentive to the stereotypical activities sanctioned by the camp? Will you say anything, to your children or to the camp? I hope so, because studies show that stereotypical images like these mis-educate children and that they have a negative effect on the self-esteem of Native children. Two good reasons, don't you think, to stop doing this sort of thing?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers

Some time ago, I posted three "Top Ten" lists of books about American Indians. Each list was about a specific age/grade level. You will find links to those three lists at the top right side of AICL in the IF YOU'RE STARTING A LIBRARY... section of the site.

Today, I'm adding a Top Board Books list to that section. It isn't a Top Ten list because some of the books are from the same author and titling it "Top Ten" doesn't work. Each of the books are written or illustrated by a Native author or illustrator, and in some way, they are "tribally specific."

Baby Learns about Colors, by Beverly Blacksheep. Published in 2003 by Salina, it is one of a series of eight bilingual books with Dine (Navajo) and English text that feature a baby girl, her growth, and things she learns in a tribally specific context. Other books in the series are Baby Learns about Animals, Baby Learns about Seasons, Baby Learns about Senses, Baby Learns bout Time, Baby Learns about Weather, Baby Learns to Count, and Baby's First Laugh.  For more information, see my essay: Beverly Blacksheep's Board Books.

Boozhoo, Come Play With Us, by Deanna Himango. Published in 2002 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this bilingual board book features photographs of toddlers at play. In some of the photos you can see the tribally specific decor of the classroom. The languages in the book are Ojibwe and English. The last page features a pronunciation guide.

I See Me, by Margaret Manuel. Published in 2010 by Theytus, the book can be personalized. By that, I mean that each page has a line of English text about the photo, and, a blank line for parents/teachers to write a caption in their own language. If you wish, the publisher provides captions in a specific language. This book is being given to families through the American Indian/Alaska Native Reach Out and Read program.

Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Art. Published in 2010 by Garfinkle Publications, this board book is one of several that are illustrated by First Nations artists. The back cover provides information about the item and artist whose work is featured on each page. The other book from Garfinkle that I know and recommend is Learn to Count with Northwest Coast Native Art. They also sell puppets, plush animals, stickers, and stamps. Though I don't have any of the items, I think they can be used to enhance the study of the art in the books.

Our Journey, by Lyz Jaakola, illustrated by Karen Savage-Blue. Published in 2001 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this bilingual book bids Anin (hello) and Miigwech (thank you) to the east, south, north, west, and to the sun and earth, and to "the One who gave me my birth." Because the illustrations are primarily of pre-contact scenes, you'll want to make sure to use present tense verbs when using the book in settings where you don't have day-to-day interactions with Native children and their families.

Welcome Song for Baby: A lullaby for newborns, by Richard Van Camp. Published in 2007 by Orca, it was given to every baby born in British Columbia in 2008.  Richard is Dogrib (the Dibrib people are in Canada). The book was very well received and reviewed as a book primarily for parents.

That's it... for now. Fourteen books. If you know of others, please let me know! A hearty thanks to Jean Mendoza for working with me on this list, and for being my dear friend.

Update, March 6, 2012

Add Debby Slier's Cradle Me to this list! Published in 2012 by Star Bright Books, each page has a photo of a Native baby doing something (sleeping, smiling, etc.) and a blank line for you to write down that word in another language. The final pages identify the tribal nation each baby is from.


Update, November 18, 2014

Add Julie Flett's exquisite We All Count. It has words in Cree and English.


Update, November 4, 2016

Delighted to add these!

Good Morning World, by Paul Windsor (see review):

Debbie Slier's Loving Me (see review):

Celebrate My Hopi Corn and Celebrate My Hopi Toys by Anita Poleahla and Emmett Navakuku (see review):

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett (see review):

And, David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett's When We Were Alone (see review):

And, Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett's We Sang You Home (see review):

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jacques Duquesne's OUKALA LE PETIT INDIEN (Oukala the Little Indian)

Cover, propped up on laptop
Yesterday at the local library book sale, I picked up Oukala le Petit Indien by Jacques Duquesne, illustrated by Phillipe Thomas. The story told in the book spans 39 pages. It was published in 1969 in Paris by Pomme d'Api. (Any assistance you can send my way about the book, the author, or the illustrator will be greatly appreciated.)

When I come across books in other languages that are about---or reference---American Indians, I buy them if they're in my budget. Can't beat $1.00 at a library sale!

I don't speak or read French, so am using online translation programs to figure out what the book is about. I can't find a translation for Oukala. "le Petit Indien" is either "the Little Indian" or "the Small Indian." His horse is named Super.

As you can see, the book is laid out much like a comic book.  Oukala likes to ride his horse and play with his bow and arrow (frame 1). His dad is the chief of their tribe (frame 3). He wears a warbonnet and a suit and tie (like a businessman). And, he drives a car. In frame 4, Oukala's father tells him that he has to prove himself as able to be a chief, too. To do that, he's got to take a trip around the world.  The two guys in frame 5 in striped green shirts are brothers (not related to Oukala) who (brothers to Oukala?) eavesdrop on the conversation.* One is named Rika, and the other Beka. One of them wants to be the chief, and the two plot against Oukala. They take his horse. Oukala is sad and doesn't want to take a trip without Super (frame 8). But Super is pretty smart and gets away. In frame 14, Oukala sets out. Everyone wishes him good luck.

That is the set up. From there the book is in sections: New York, Canada, the Wild North, the Voyage on the Ship, England, Super is Injured, Super Runs a Race, the Metro in Paris, a Visit to the Zoo, Winter Sports, Italy, Venice, Airplane Trip, and last, the Desert.

In New York City, Oukala admires the buildings. I don't know if he knows it (yet) but Rika and Beka have followed him. They're in a red car. They tell a policeman that Oukala has stolen the horse from a circus. The police, Rika, and Beka chase Oukala. He and Super duck into a skyscraper and ride the elevator to the top. The police follow but figure out they've been tricked by Rika and Beka. Oukala and Super get away, while Rika and Beka end up in jail. The End. (It doesn't say "The End." I'm adding that myself to mark the end of that section/chapter/story.) On to...

Canada. There, Oukala meets Canadian Mounties who invite him to the camp where they train their horses. While there, Rika kidnaps Oukala. Super is sad but eventually finds him and sets him free. They run away. The End.

The Wild North is the next stop on the world tour. Oukala and Super hang out with Eskimos and their dogs who will take them to catch the ship. Beka and Rika arrive in a helicopter and try to chase them but slip and slide on ice. Oukala and Super make it to the ship, named Tabeth.

On the ship, they pay their passage by Super doing tricks and Oukala helping out in the kitchen. The ship hits an iceberg and the captain orders everyone into lifeboats. The captain looks back at the ship, and sees Beka and Rika onboard.  Turns out the ship is ok and they head back to it where Beka and Rika chase them again---again, unsuccessfully.

In England, Oukala and Super admire Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. They meet a little girl who invites them to a costume party. Everyone there thinks Super is a person-in-costume, and when they figure out he's really a horse, Super and Oukala are thrown out of the party. But, a man named Tom Godart asks Oukala if he's a real Indian and if he wants to be in a television movie. Oukala agrees to do it.

Oukala and Super  go with Tom and filming starts. Newspapers feature the film, "Oukala!" In the film, Oukala and Super are being chased by a cowboy. They leap off a bridge, into the river that flows beneath it. Super's leg is injured in the leap. An ambulance arrives and takes him to a hospital. The newspaper reports the injury. Beka and Rika read about it and head to the hospital, but Oukala and Super (on crutches) leave and there is no chase this time.

Oukala and Super get on a plane for Paris. Being on the plane makes them nervous, but they land and go to a horse race. They join it, heading for a hedge. Behind it is Rika with a lasso. He throws it to catch Super, but Oukala cuts the rope with his knife and they go on to win the race.

In Paris, they see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, and go beneath the city to ride the metro. They figure out they're on the wrong train. Getting off, Super's tail is caught in the door. A worker makes the train wait and Super is ok, but Oukala and Super are lost. A boy named Martin helps them find the right train and invites them to go to zoo...

Martin, his family, Oukala, and Super get into a car and go to the zoo where they see lions, monkeys, and elephants. Rika and Beka are there, too, disguised as zoo workers. They ask Oukala if he wants to see a panther, but it is a trick. Oukala and Super are caught in a cage. Martin rescues them. The monkeys throw banana peels at Rika and Beka, and the elephant sprays them with water.

Ok... I think I'll stop with the summaries! Each place Oukala and Super go, they have an adventure related to the place, and usually, Rika and Beka are in pursuit. The stories remind me, somehow, of the Three Stooges or similar slapstick stories where goofy things happen. In the end, Oukala's world tour is over and in the last story (the Desert) nomadic (nomades) people ride up on camels and save him while police arrive and take Beka and Rika to prison. In the very last frame of the book, Oukala and Super get on another boat and head home.

It is a curious story. It is set in the present time (cars, metro, etc.), but throughout, the Indian characters wear feathers. Oukala's dad and brothers wear Western clothes, but Oukala doesn't. He's the star of the book and the television movie, too. An odd story all around.

I wonder how it fared in France?

*Thanks, Elizabeth and Isabelle for writing to tell me the Kossar brothers aren't brothers to Oukala.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Audio archive of "An Indigenous Scholar's Use of Social Media"

On Wednesday (two days ago) I gave a lecture at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. It was cosponsored by the Community Informatics Initiative and the Center for Children's Books.

The talk itself is titled "An Indigenous Scholar's Use of Social Media." The audio recording and slides I used are available at GSLIS Lectures. Please note: The slide with "Skype" across the top has a typo at the bottom. "Florida Illinois State" should be "Florida" on one line and "Illinois State" on the next line.  (As I made edits and created new slides the morning of the presentation, my computer blue-screened. As you'll hear at the top of the audio, I gave a shout out to Sarah Park for pointing me to Dropbox a few months ago. Thanks to Sarah and Dropbox, I didn't have to start all over. But I didn't catch this typo.)

I ended my presentation by playing the Google Search Story video I made a few months ago. Each time I show that video, I learn that people in the audience created one for their own site. Case in point: Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert added one to his blog, Beyond the Mesas. Take a look at Matt's video. Matt's is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe in Arizona.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Free lecture: An Indigenous Scholar's Use of Social Media

On Wednesday at 3:00 4:00, I'll be giving a lecture at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. The talk is sponsored by UIUC's Community Informatics Initiative and the Center for Children's Books.

Community Informatics is (quoting from their website):
a research and teaching center focused on working with communities to address their information and technology needs. Our mission is to address literacy in the Internet age, equitable access to the means of digital production, and policy related to communities and information technology.

And the Center for Children's Books is (quoting from their website, too):
a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. 
My talk is titled "An Indigenous Scholar's Use of Social Media." I'll talk about how/why I use available social media tools (my blog), Twitter, Facebook, listservs, contrasting their reach with traditional print materials (books and journals), and their audience, too.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Better Book Titles new title for INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD

Better Book Titles. The site is new (to me) and interesting...  Its description is
"This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through the cryptic crap and give you the mat of the story in one condensed image...."  
The blog archive reaches back to July 2010. There are Better Book Titles for a handful of children's and young adult books. To the right you see the Better Book Title for Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks, posted on April 5th, 2011.

For those of you who object to obscenity, you best not look at the site. For those of you who enjoy bawdy and edge humor, you can see thumbnails of the entire set here.

Relocation---for those who did not learn about it in school---was a federal government policy where the goal was assimilation that would also result in the weakening of tribal identity and thereby the ultimate demise of Native Nations.

The creator of the Better Title suggests that putting Indians under the full control of children, where the child has power over the life and death of an Indian by putting (relocating) that Indian in a cupboard, is worse than the actual Relocation policy.

Update on Berenstain Bears Give Thanks

Last week I published an excellent letter from Kim, a reader who wrote to tell me about The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks.

I ordered a copy from the library. It arrived Thursday. I read it the next day. (My thoughts are in italics.)


The book begins by telling us "It was autumn in Bear Country" with leaves turning colors, cooler air, geese heading south, and Farmer Ben harvesting his crop. Papa Bear had made some furniture for Farmer Ben, and Papa, Brother, and Sister Bear were delivering it. In payment, Papa was going to get something from Farmer Ben's farm. Papa Bear thinks about some honey, but Farmer Ben suggests his tom turkey, Squanto. Sister Bear asks why he is named 'Squanto' and Ben tells her:
"That was the name of the Native Bear who helped the Pilgrims plant their corn when they settled in their new home. Squanto celebrated the first Thanksgiving with them after their harvest. I couldn't think of a better name for a turkey."
Debbie's thoughts: Native Bear? But not Pilgrim Bear? Why the difference?

Sister Bear doesn't like the idea and asks Papa Bear if she can keep Squanto for a pet. Papa tells her no, that turkeys don't make good pets. Sister Bear likes Squanto and visits him every day, growing more and more attached to him, and sadder over what is going to happen to him. Mama Bear consoles and distracts Sister Bear by suggesting they put on a Thanksgiving show. It works. Sister Bear throws herself into writing a script for the show. They make "Pilgrim and Native Bear" costumes using Squanto's feathers.

Debbie's thoughts: The text doesn't say "Pilgrim Bears" anywhere, but "Native Bear" appears several times. 

On Thanksgiving Day, they perform the play. Sister kicks it off, dressed as a "Pilgrim maiden."

Debbie's thoughts: Not a Pilgrim Bear maiden---just a Pilgrim maiden. 

Brother Bear says:
The Pilgrims lived in the Old Country. They wanted to worship God in the way they believed was right. But the rulers of the Old Country would not let them do this. The Pilgrims wanted to leave their home and seek a new land where they could worship in freedom.
Debbie's thoughts: Ok, but what did the people seeking freedom from persecution do once here?! In case you don't know... they set out to "civilize" and Christianize the Indian people here who were living in well-established societies with religious practices of their own.  

The show continues:
After going to shore, they found a good place to live. They called it Plymouth.

They gave thanks to God for bringing them safely to the new land. Then they got to work building houses for their village. Finally it was finished. Everyone had a home.
Then, Sister Bear points to a doorway where the illustration shows a silhouetted figure on all fours. Sister Bear's line is:
Look, who is that coming into the village? It is a Native Bear. I hope he is friendly!
Turning the page, we see a bear in the turkey feather headdress. This bear is on hands and knees, but raises one paw up.

Debbie's thoughts: I could say she's waving, but it is also likely she was raising that paw to say "How" (because pop culture has persuaded us that is the way Indians say hello). 

The "Native Bear" doesn't actually say "How." Instead, she says "ME, SQUANTO." Her line is in caps. All other dialogue (in voice balloons) are in lower case.

Debbie's observations: I gather we're meant to understand that she speaks loudly. I'm saying "she" because this Native Bear is wearing a headband with a heart on it. On one of the last pages in the book, she is shown in a high chair. Given her age, I could say that she entered the room on all fours because she doesn't yet walk. But let's consider some larger context.  Native characters are often "less than" other characters, and they're often portrayed as animal-like.

The dialogue continues, with Brother Bear saying:
Squanto was friendly. He helped the Pilgrims grow more food. He showed them how to plant corn. Without Squanto, they would have starved.
The show continues with the Thanksgiving feast. Squanto came to it, too, joining all of them in bowing their heads and giving thanks to God for their new home "where they could live in peace and freedom."

Debbie's thoughts: Who is "they" that lives in peace and freedom?

The show is over, and it is time to eat. Sister Bear suddenly remembers Squanto. Papa Bear tells her that he changed his mind. She can keep Squanto as her pet.

Debbie's thoughts: As I noted last week, the Squanto storyline is very troubling. This Squanto lives in a pen, is traded as a foodstuff, fattened up, saved from death, and then turned into a pet. And who does all of that to him? The Bear family who is meant to be the Pilgrims. They've got full control over his life and his death---a life meant to represent Indians.

In the story, the Pilgrims are never called Bears, but Squanto the Native is always a "Native Bear." Isn't that a double standard? They're ALL bears, right?!

And why is this Squanto played by a baby who has no name of her own? Why does she speak that way ("ME, SQUANTO")??? In caps??? Overall, the book is worse than any other book about Thanksgiving that I can think of. I hope it isn't in your home or your library.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Did you see... PaperTigers post about Larry Loyie's books?

Larry Loyie's As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School is on my list of recommended books. It is nice to see other bloggers who write about his books, too. Case in point is Larry Loyie's Work at PaperTigers.

Do you read CYNSATIONS? And have you read JINGLE DANCER?

Yesterday I was at Urbana Free Library (my local library) and was happy to see Cynthia Leitich Smith's new novel, Blessed, on the TEENS NEW FICTION shelf. See it on the third shelf? It is Smith's third gothic fantasy. The first one was Tantalize. Next was Eternal. It debuted at #5 on the New York Times best-seller list. The reviewer at The Bloomsbury Review said that "Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rick for teen readers." Pretty cool, eh?

I'm glad Cynthia's gothic novels are well-received. She is a terrific writer. She's one of my favorite authors. Get her books! And read her blog, Cynsations. It is a great place to read about authors, new books and general news about literature for children and young adults.

Cynthia is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the author of one of my favorite books, Jingle Dancer. It is the book I wish I had when my daughter (Liz, who is now in her 20s) was dancing for the first time at home (Nambe Pueblo)...

Shown here on the left is the cover of Jingle Dancer. It is the story of a young Muscogee girl named Jenna who wants to do the Jingle Dance at the upcoming powwow. Family members help her get ready. Getting ready means learning the dance and her regalia ready. Note that I didn't say "costume." A lot of people think we wear costumes to do these dances. Like a Jewish prayer shawl, the items we wear are worn at a specific time for a specific purpose.  With the help of her family, Jenna dances at the powwow.

If you're looking for romantic or noble Indians who wear feathers 24/7, you won't find them in Jingle Dancer, and you wouldn't find them in my house either. That sort of thing is stereotypical and gets in the way of seeing us as people of today who---like other people---have ways of doing things that are specific to our heritage and yet, live lives like other people of the present day. Most of the time I wear shoes I buy at the mall, but that doesn't make me less-Indian because I'm not wearing moccasins.

Back in 1994, we were getting Liz ready to dance for the first time. "We" is primarily the women in our family: my mom, my sister's, and my nieces, but it also includes men who help us get items we don't have within our own families. Liz was three years old. It was right around this time of year (spring). I remember that period with great warmth. Those are powerful memories! It was the first time we were both dancing. Two of her older cousins, Berna and Brooke, also danced that day.

Over on the right is a photo of Liz at the end of that day. (Note: We were doing a ceremonial dance that is best thought of as prayer-in-motion. It wasn't dancing for fun, or to entertain anyone, or to perform for anyone, either.) Liz is standing in front of our kiva (like a church). She's danced many times since then and we often tell the story of the day. When she was in elementary school during the mid to late 90s, I'd go in to her classrooms and the two of us would tell part of the story there. It would have been cool to give her teachers a copy of Jingle Dancer, but it came out in 2000.

As we're all aware, the economy is hitting us in many ways. People are being furloughed and laid off, and budgets for buying books are almost nonexistent in many schools. If you've got $20 to spare, get a copy of Jingle Dancer and donate it to your local library.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Unexpected intersections: Thanksgiving and Karen Russell's SWAMPLANDIA!

Earlier this week a reader wrote to ask me about Karen Russell's Swamplandia! Not familiar with it, I read reviews and learned that it is the story of a not-Native family who uses Native names to pass as Native people who run an alligator-wrestling theme park. I've got a copy on order so I can read it.

Here's what I know so far (reading from the "look inside" option at Amazon):

Swamplandia! is the name of the theme park. It is run by the "Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers." The star of their show is Hilola Bigtree. She is described as being "brown-skinned" and muscular. She's married to "Chief Bigtree" and their children are Kiwi (a boy), Osceola (a girl) and the protagonist, Ava. In the billboard promoting the theme park, the family is shown gathered round an alligator. On page five, Ava tells us that they:
"are wearing Indian costumes on loan from our Bigtree Gift Shop: buckskin vests, cloth headbands, great blue heron feathers, great white heron feathers, chubby beads hanging off our foreheads and our hair in braids, gator "fang" necklaces.
The text continues:
Although there was not a drop of Seminole or Miccosukee blood in us, the Chief always costumed us in tribal apparel for the photographs he took. He said we were "our own Indians." Our mother had a toast-brown complexion that a tourist could maybe squint and ball Indian--and Kiwi, Grandpa Sawtooth, and I could hold our sun.
Osceola, we learn, is "snowy white" and that getting her ready for the photos required that she be "colored in with drugstore blusher." Later we learn of Ossie's boyfriend (Ossie is short for Osceola), Louis Thanksgiving.

I'm guessing you can see why I ordered the book. The family, calling itself Bigtree, is posing as Indians. They're playing Indian. Ava tells us so. It isn't something that is hidden from readers, but I'm guessing the visitors at the theme park have no idea the Bigtree family is not Native.

Identity and race seem to figure prominently in the book. On page 166, we learn that when he was 14, Kiwi (Ava's older brother) declared:
"I'm a Not-Bigtree. A Not-Indian. A Not Seminole. A Not Miccosukee."
We're given that information because in that part of the story, Kiwi is keenly aware that he is white and in the minority of his mostly not-white class of students in a GED class. On page 191, we learn about Seminoles ghosts who "haunt" the swamps, and, that Ava's father (Chief Bigtree) envied
...the "real" Indians... in a filial and loving way...
I wonder if there are any Seminole characters in the book? I'll let you know when I get the book. It got rave reviews. RAVE reviews. At the Amazon page, there are blurbs from everyone from Stephen King to the reviewer for Oprah's magazine. I don't see any comments at all about the fact that the family is playing Indian. If they were playing Black, would that be noted?

Two of my recent reviews are about Thanksgiving picture books: The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks, and, Jon Scieszka's Trucksgiving. (Note: A reader wrote to chastise me for having a myopic viewpoint, saying there are more important things to worry about. In a response to that sort of criticism, I've written 'why it matters' as part of the "ABOUT AICL" page.)

Given those two reviews, I've been doing a bit of reading about Thanksgiving and how it is taught. I came across "On Education: Pilgrims, No Thanks in Mohawk County," a terrific article published in the New York Times on November 26, 2003.  (If the link doesn't work, send me an email and I'll send it to you directly.)

In the article, a 6th grade boy says that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. That boys name leaped out at me because I've been reading and thinking about Swamplandia! The child's name? Gage Bigtree. He goes to school at St. Regis Mohawk Elementary, a public school near the Canadian border where all 450 students in the school are Mohawk. Here's an excerpt from the article:
It is a fine balance, teaching American history at a public school so different from the mainstream, a place where so much American history is taken personally and negatively. These are young children, and while their teachers -- many themselves Mohawk -- do not want them to be naïve about history, they do not want them embittered, either.

And so a fair amount of time is spent focusing, not on what the Pilgrims did, but on the richness of the Indians' own culture and history. When Mrs. King and Carole Ross attended this school as children in the 1950's and 1960's, students were barred from speaking Mohawk; today, the two women work full time teaching the Mohawk language to every child.

Students learn that centuries before the Europeans arrived and held the ''first Thanksgiving,'' the Mohawks were celebrating nine Thanksgivings a year, commemorating the first running of the sugar maple sap; the first thunder (and warming) of spring; the first strawberries; and the great harvest -- the ninth Thanksgiving and the one that coincided with the Europeans' Plymouth celebration.

This week, each class, from kindergarten to sixth grade, went over the Thanksgiving Address, recited at the start of all ceremonies and played each morning at dawn on the Mohawk Reserve radio station, CKON. They give thanks for the earth, the plants, the fish, the waters, the birds, the nighttime and daytime suns. In first grade, Mrs. King had them name all the types of water they could give thanks for, from bottled water to the St. Lawrence. At Gage's Thanksgiving celebration, his family will recite the address together. ''If we make one mistake -- like my sister messing up, we have to start all over,'' he said.
So. Lots of interesting intersections this week... Thanksgiving, names, playing Indian, real Indians. All of it in the world of children, young adults, their books, and their education. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

2011 New Mexico Library Association Annual Conference

On April 26th I'll head home (yeah!) for the 2011 New Mexico Library Association Annual Conference. It will be in Albuquerque. I'm doing a pre-conference workshop there on evaluating books with American Indian content, and a session the next day about books specific to Native peoples in New Mexico.

I'm looking forward to it, and to green chili at the Frontier Restaurant!

Monday, April 04, 2011

A reader writes to me about Jon Scieszka's TRUCKSGIVING

Amongst the email I received this morning is one from Danielle, who wrote to ask if I'd seen Jon Scieszka's Trucksgiving.  While at the local library earlier today, I picked up a copy of it.

Like The Berenstain Bear's Give Thanks, Scieszka's Trucksgiving is new; the publication year is 2010. The illustrators are David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon.  Trucksgiving is one book in Scieszka's "Ready To Roll" series of easy readers published by Simon and Schuster.

On the back cover is the website for the series:  I typed it into the search window on my computer, and WOW! Way cool. I can see lot of kids really liking the site. Truck horns blare, and Jack greets me, saying welcome. Constantly playing in the background is the low sound of a motor. Rolling my cursor over the other trucks on the page, Jack introduces each one.

If you study gender, you might want to take a look at the gender of the trucks. The pink garbage truck is "Gabriella Garbage Truck." She picks up garbage. The blue dump truck is "Dump Truck Dan." More analysis might not hold up, but some of it looks to me to be rather....  stereotypical.

The white ambulance is "Rescue Rita." There's a green wrecker (truck with a wrecker ball) named "Wrecker Rosie" (her wrecking ball is pink). There's bios for each truck, and a lot of things kids can do... listen to sounds, print out coloring pages...

Clicking on the "Parents Section" opens a "Grown Ups Section" that says the site is about fun and games, and that there is little to read on the site.

Some might say the title of the book "Trucksgiving" is clever. It reflects Scieszka's play with words. I like word play, but not in this case. The word play is at the expense of a specific population. Scieszka did that before in Me Oh Maya, one of the books in the Time Warp Trio. I've written about two other books Long illustrated. If you're interested, see what I said about his illustrations for Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing, and, Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could.

On the first double-paged spread of Trucksgiving, we learn that many years ago, "the first trucks came to Trucktown" (part of the spread is used on the cover). In the foreground are two trucks: Jack Truck (the star of the series) and Gabriella Garbage Truck. He's wearing a black hat with a buckle on it and she's wearing what I think is supposed to be a white bonnet. They've just come off a ship. Beside the ramp is a rock---Plymouth Rock, perhaps?

On the next double-paged spread, we see Payloader Pete and Dump Truck Dan scooping and dumping dirt. They're both wearing black hats with buckles. Turning the page, we see Cement Mixer Mike in a black hat and Grader Kat (she's described on the website as "sensitive, creative, and mature") in a bonnet. They are making roads. On the next double-paged spread we see four cabins on a scroll. Above the scroll the text reads:
They built Trucktown. And they saw that it was good.
Somehow, "they saw that it was good" reminds me of Genesis. Was that deliberate on Scieszka's part? A gesture towards the Puritan's spirituality?

On the next double-paged spread, the trucks wanted a way thank every truck that helped. On that page, the trucks are gathered around a long table that is set with plates full of nuts and bolts and oil cans. Here, for the first time, we see a truck wearing feathers:

"Big Rig" is the truck chosen to be an Indian. His bio page (on the website) says:
Big Rig is a bully. He's a tailgating, horn blasting, black exhaust spewing, license expired, outlaw. And those might be the nicest things you could say about him. The best thing to do with this guy is steer clear.
Gabriella and Big Rig
Instead of round eyes like all the other trucks have, he's got rectangular ones with orange instead of white eyeballs.

On the next two double-paged spreads, Big Rig glares at Lucy the fire truck when she suggests they spray water to celebrate, and, he glares at Gabriella when she suggests they smash garbage.

On the next double-paged spread, Izzy the ice cream truck suggests they eat ice cream. Next to him is another truck wearing feathers. This is Monster Truck Max. His bio (on the website) reads:
Max is everything you would expect a monster truck to be. Especially ACTIVE! He is oversized, jacked up, and nitro-boosted to the MAX! He's always getting his wild self into trouble and it's a good thing he's got friends like Jack and Dan to help him along the way. 
On that page, Izzy is shown on the table. The plates of nuts and bolts are flying about. Was it Max's nitro that upset things?!

For the sake of comparison, I'm including bios for Jack Truck:
Jack is a prankster action hero! He is active, rowdy, messy, loud and goofy. He is the fastest truck and the best-at-truck-sports truck. Jack's work is to play. And he plays, and plays, and plays, and plays.
And Dump Truck Dan's bio...
Dan is Jack Truck's best friend. He is one strong truck and loves to show off that strength, whether its pushing rocks, loading up dirt, or getting into trouble with Jack. 
Max doesn't have the scary appearance that Big Rig does. Max has eyes like the others (round and white).  He is "wild" and perhaps it is his "wild" characteristic that led the illustrators to put feathers on him. Feathers on the bully, and feathers on the wild guy.

The story continues with Jack suggesting they have a race each year instead of the ideas posed by others. Big Rig and Max aren't shown objecting. The final page shows Rita (the ambulance) crossing the finish line, dressed as a turkey.

Overall, the book is stereotypical.

Scieszka's language play is troubling, and the story itself doesn't quite make sense to me. The trucks want to do something to say thanks to all the trucks who helped build Trucktown. The two Indian characters object to ideas put forth. Why? I'm stretching to say that maybe these two "Indian" characters are making a statement about the entire idea of Thanksgiving and how it is observed in the United States.

But, that is wishful thinking. Instead, we have two male trucks. One is a bully and the other is a wild guy. They shut down options put forth by the two female trucks.  

On the website, Szieszka says that the stories are ones that reflect the ways that 4 year old kids act. Perhaps, but it still doesn't make sense to me. Have you read it? Does it work for you?

Letter from reader about THE BERENSTAIN BEARS GIVE THANKS in which the Bears fatten up Squanto (their turkey)

Last week, Kim in Canada wrote to me...

Hi Debbie,

Here's another book to add to your poison pile of inappropriate, misleading Thanksgiving resources (if it's not already there).

I found it on my nephews' bookshelf when I was reading them bedtime stories a couple of weeks ago. I was immediately suspicious as soon as I saw the cover, but before I could talk my nephews into reading another book, the 6-year-old caught a glimpse of one of the illustrations inside and the first thing out of his mouth was "That's a First Nations bear!" (he's in the middle of a unit on treaties at his school). At 6, he's apparently already absorbed the dominant society's misconception that all Aboriginal peoples in North America are signified with headdresses. Sigh.

I asked my sister where she got the book, and she said the boys chose it from a book fair at their school. I explained to her why I didn't want to read it to my nephews, and she donated it to the library where I work so we can include it on our shelf of "not recommended" kid lit (our main clientele are Metis and First Nations students studying to be elementary school teachers).

I just assumed that a book this bad (it manages to include every single bit of American Thanksgiving misinformation and stereotyping out there; to add insult to injury, the turkey in the book is named Squanto) would have been written in the 1970s or 1980s with all of the other Berenstain Bears books I grew up with, so I didn't give it much thought. As I was cataloging it today, though, I was shocked (well, more dismayed than shocked, I guess, as I'm a regular reader of your blog) to see that it had been published in 2009. And in a series of books called "Living Lights," which professes to "help children learn how God wants them to live every day,"  no less.

Sorry to go on for so long. Thanks so much for your blog. Reading it has been a big part of my education over the last couple of years.


I read Kim's email and clicked on the link she provided. On that page you can read most of the book.


Well. I have literally been stuck on that "I..." ever since I got Kim's email and looked at the book. I don't know what to say. I'm shocked, and not shocked. I'm surprised, and not surprised. Maybe the right word is disgusted.

I'm disgusted.

They named the turkey Squanto! And they're fattening him up so they can KILL him and EAT him. In the end, he is saved and turned into their PET. Kristina Seleshanko, managing editor of the Christian Children's Book Review, writes on Amazon that:
when Mama calls "Dinnertime!", Sister suddenly remembers Squanto. But she's relieved when Papa points out the window at the pen he's made for the family's new pet: the turkey Squanto. A fine salmon is the center of the family's Thanksgiving dinner and when prayers of thanksgiving to God go round, Sister adds, "And I am especially thankful for my wonderful new pet, Squanto the turkey!" "AMEN!" everyone cries. 
Amen?! Can you see why this book is problematic? Are Jan and Mike Berenstain that obtuse?! Or do they know perfectly well what they're doing???

Is The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks in your library?  If it is, can you move it, as Kim is doing, to a place where it can be used as a teaching tool?

You can also write to Jan and Mike Berenstain at this email address: Or directly to Zondervan (the publisher) at

Note: Sunday, March 11, 2012
See the follow-up at Update on Berenstain Bears Give Thanks
You might also be interested in the stereotyping in Berenstain Bears Go to Camp. 

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Dear Mr. Goble: Questions for Paul Goble about THE GIRL WHO LOVED WILD HORSES

Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses was published in 1978. It won the prestigious Caldecott Medal.

Due to the popularity of his style, and the Caldecott, too, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses has been printed and reprinted lots of times. The copy I'm looking at right now (dated 2001) indicates I have one that was in the 12th reprinting.

As we saw in the discussion of Robert Lawson's They Were Strong and Good, books can be revised, with problematic language removed in the process.

I'm wondering if Paul Goble or an editor at Simon & Schuster might do some revising of The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses?

Well---maybe not revising, but an addition to the book. By that, I mean information about the story itself. I mean a source note!

Let's look at his book, using criteria developed by Betsy Hearne in her "Cite the Source: Reducing Cultural Chaos in Picture Books, Part 1" article. It was published in 1993 in School Library Journal. Betsy called her criteria "A Source Note Countdown."

Before I start, I'll say I find the book as problematic as the other "Native" book that won the Caldecott in the 70's: Gerald McDermott's Arrow to the Sun. The subtitle for McDermott's book is A Pueblo Tale. There are nineteen different pueblos... which one does he mean? Does he think we're all the same? What is the source for the story he tells? Does McDermott know that the pueblos in the northern, mountainous part of New Mexico are not the same as the ones located in more southern areas of the state, where the geography is not as mountainous? There are significant differences, in fact, even within a single pueblo, from one society or clan to the next one...  Without providing a source, McDermott introduces the chaos Betsy points to by being non-specific. An elementary school teacher who chooses to use his book to supplement teaching about Pueblos people heads down a rather risky road...

Course, his book---and Goble's, too---were written in the 1970s...  Because of that, some might argue that it isn't fair to judge them by today's standards. Still, given their status as Caldecott books, maybe we can ask them to be updated with a solid source note...

In her source note countdown, Betsy writes about five ways an author can acknowledge his or her sources. Worst case is #5, "The nonexistent source note." Next is #4, "The background-as-source-note." Number 3 is "The fine-print source note." At #2 is "The well-made source note." And the best note, #1, is "The model source note."

In Betsy's countdown, the worst note is "the nonexistent source note."  In this case, the subtitle or jacket copy makes a vague claim that is, as Betsy writes, "faithfully picked up and authoritatively echoed in the Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication statement." To the right is the cover of The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. No subtitle. The text on the jacket book flap, however, says "In simple words and brilliant paintings that sweep and stampede across his pages, Paul Goble tells of a Native American girl's love of horses."  And here's the CIP info:
Summary: Though she is fond of her people, a girl prefers to live among the wild horses where she is truly happy and free. [1. Fairy tales. 2. Indians of North America-Fiction. 3. Horses-Fiction] 
I'm guessing the Library of Congress cataloger used the jacket copy to assign the book its 2nd category (Indians of North America-Fiction). There isn't an author or source note anywhere in the book. The only information we are given is the Library of Congress summary. No "background as source note" or "fine-print source note" or "well-made" or "model" note. In interviews, Goble says he does extensive research. So...

April 3, 2011 

Dear Mr. Goble, 

Can you tell your editor at Simon and Schuster that you'd like to add a well-made source note to this book? One that tell us the specific source (or sources) you used to tell this story? Can you give us a description of the cultural context in which this story was/is told? And, can you tell us what you've done to change it, and why you've changed it as you did (if you did)? 

Debbie Reese

(I'll send this on to Simon and Schuster, and to Mr. Goble, too, if I can find a way to contact him. I'll let you know if I hear back from either one.)

Update, June 11, 2014:
I did receive a reply to my letter. In it, Mr. Goble said that I could not quote him. The gist of his short letter is that publishers cannot afford to add pages like the one I requested. I find that answer curious because his later books include that information.

Friday, April 01, 2011


In 2007, I published Beverly Slapin's review of Liza Ketchum's Where the Great Hawk Flies. Today I'm pointing you to Perry Nodelman's review of the book.

Reading his review made me laugh aloud. He references several other novels he analyzed for his chapter in Home Words: Discourses of Children's Literature in Canada (I highly recommend his chapter, "At Home on Native Land: A Non-Aboriginal Canadian Scholar Discusses Aboriginality and Property in Canadian Double-Focalized Novels for Young Adults").

Perry writes:
And the novels almost always resolve the dispute by giving the disputed thing or place over to the care of anyone of any race or background who adopts what are presented as being aboriginal values–which usually are some version of a new-agey ecological spirituality about respect for the planet and all creatures on it, and a dislike for fatcat capitalists, factories and frozen entrees.  
That hits my funny bone! There's a lot of people like that...

He also writes about how, in Ketchum's novel, the hawk (from the title) always appears at key moments. Those of you who watch or study film are well-acquainted with the hawk's cry...  It signifies "Indian" just as much as faux-Indian-music does.   

Seriously, though, Perry writes about multiculturalism in the novel. About the impulse to create a multicultural world that is safe, that feels the need to "defang" (Perry's word) aboriginal culture, making it less authentic, and therefore less dangerous, so it can be something everyone can embrace. 

Most everyone wants to think they're not racist, that they embrace others, value diversity, etc.  But what is it they're after? For too many people, it is a superficial understanding that ends up being window-dressing.

I, for example, don't want people to embrace traditional Native stories and reject objections that American Indian scholars or tribes put forth regarding appropriation and misrepresentation of Native stories. The stories feel safe. Thinking about appropriation and misrepresentation of the stories is POLITICS, and that isn't safe.  To "defang" the objection, a writer will talk about how stories are always changed when retold, no matter who tells them. Or, the writer will talk about freedom of expression... 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Multiracial" identity and American Indians

The US Census released 2010 demographic data a few days ago. Among the data being pointed to in articles and essays is that "...American Indians and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the most likely to report being of more than once race. Blacks and whites are the least likely." That excerpt appears in the New York Times, in the March 24, 2011 article by Susan Saulny.

It suggests that more American Indians claim more than one race than was the case in the past, that there is more mixing than ever before. I don't doubt that, but let's hit the pause button...

I'm tribally enrolled with Nambe Pueblo. I grew up there. My daughter and I, like my parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc., live our identity as Indians of Nambe Pueblo.

I teach at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In every class I teach, I've got a handful of students who say they have a great grandparent who was Native. They don't know what tribe that ancestor was, and, they usually have only a vague idea of what it might mean to be Native. Most of them have no idea of Native Nations, of Native sovereignty, of being on a tribal census, what treaties mean, that dances might be sacred...   A great many of them romanticize an Indian identity based on popular culture and (sadly) biased teachings in school. Some of them manufacture that identity, putting it on in the form of, for example, a bone choker. They mean no harm. In fact, they wear such things with great pride. But! They don't live a specific Native Nation identity.

Yet, many of them check a box on school enrollment forms, and, likely on the U.S. Census, that says they're part Indian. And so, the statistics are kind of... skewed.

A few months ago, the Times ran another article in which college students reported being mixed, some of them with Native heritage, but that none of those distinct identities mattered.

Identity matters for those of us who are raised Indian. We work very hard at maintaining our nationhood and our sovereignty, and, we work to protect the integrity of our traditions from being exploited by people who don't understand them... 

The students interviewed for that Times article mean no harm when they say their Indian identity doesn't matter. It doesn't matter---to them. But it does to me, and it does to Native Nations. The students' well-meaning embrace of a mixed identity, in effect, obscures a lot, and in that obscurity, it does do harm. It contributes to the lack of understanding of who American Indians are...  And it takes the US down a merry melting pod road where we all hold hands and smile in ignorance.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is ignorance.

You don't have to be ignorant. You can learn a lot about American Indians, and know us---and maybe your own ancestry---for who we were and are, rather than some abstract stereotypical notion you've been carrying around. 

Spend some time on American Indians in Children's Literature, learning about who we are and what we care about. Read our newspapers! Check out Indian Country Today. Read Mark Trahant's columns there, and see how ICT covers mascot stories. Listen to our radio stations! Start with National Native News. Did you know we have Tribal Colleges? And a journal called Tribal College Journal that you can read online? There's a lot to know!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Settler ponies" and buffaloes in MY LITTLE PONY (new TV series)

I did not know that there is a new My Little Pony television show being aired... 

I watched a segment today, prompted to do so by reader, DV, who told me about a recent episode called "Over a Barrel."

You can see the whole episode on YouTube... This is the second half:

In it, the ponies visit a western town of ponies that have planted apple orchards all around the pony town. The orchards are on the lands belonging to the buffaloes. The ponies did not know the land belonged to the buffaloes.

The buffaloes use that land "for stampeding." It is their "sacred tradition" to stampede. The buffaloes want the ponies to take the trees down.

The ponies say they've worked hard to get those trees planted and growing, and therefore do not want to take them down.

Neither group backs down, so, they have a fight at high noon.

The town ponies are led by a sheriff; the buffaloes have a chief. In the fight, the ponies hit the buffaloes with pies that knock the buffaloes out. The chief is barreling down on the sheriff. He is hit by a pie and everyone thinks he is dead. Sad music plays. But, apple pie filling drizzles down to his mouth, and he wakes up. He loves the pie.

They settle the dispute. The ponies keep the orchard and land. In return, the buffaloes get apple pies and apples.

Sound familiar?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Peter Sieruta on Laura Adams Armer's WATERLESS MOUNTAIN

Peter Sieruta publishes the blog, Collecting Children's Books. On Friday, March 25, 2011, he wrote about Laura Adams Armer's Waterless Mountain. Published in 1931, it won the Newbery Medal. He wondered what I think of it.

Some time ago, a reader wrote to me, also asking about Waterless Mountain.

So.... I went out to the library today and got a copy. For now, you can see the conversation Peter and I are having in the comments section of his post.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Wounded Bird" in RANGO, and a note about Johnny Depp playing Tonto

Several people have written to ask me if I've seen Rango.

I haven't, but I just came across a critique of the character, Wounded Bird, at the Drawing on Indians blog where blogger Stephen Bridenstine says "Wounded Bird draws his inspiration directly from the scores of Indian depictions in countless Hollywood Westerns."

The image here is from Bridenstine's site. See the bone choker? (Imagine me groaning.) Bone chokers have become one of the things anyone (and anything) who wants to be marked as "Indian" wears (or is shown wearing.)

Johnny Depp does the voice for Rango in that film. Depp has gotten a lot of press lately because he's playing the part of Tonto (the Lone Ranger's Indian sidekick) in a remake of the Lone Ranger. Depp says he's seen stereotypical portrayals of American Indians in films and plans to do something different in his portrayal. I wonder what it'll be? Depp was in Dead Man with Gary Farmer. I wonder if he learned anything from Gary? For those who don't know Gary's work, watch him in Smoke Signals.

News on Scholastic's "Dear America" series

Are you a fan of the Dear America series of historical fiction diaries published by Scholastic?

Many of the students in my classes at the University of Illinois remember them fondly. And many are disillusioned when we spend time studying Ann Rinaldi's book in the series. That book is My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, A Sioux Girl. Several years ago, I co-wrote an extended review of the book. Today, I reproduced that review for those of you who are having trouble locating it in the Way Back Machine (Internet Archive).

The news about the series is that Scholastic is relaunching it.

"Relaunching" means they're adding new books to the Dear America series, and, they're reissuing five of the older books. Rinaldi's is not among the five, and neither is the one about the Navajo Long Walk. I'm glad Scholastic decided not to reissue those two. I haven't read the five, so can't say (yet) whether or not the Native content in them (if there is any) is accurate.

For information about the launch, see "Fresh Approaches" at School Library Journal's website.