Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS

A few weeks ago, I featured Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots in a Google Search Story I put together. Then I started hearing from people that it is out of print. I checked with Joe, and yes, it did go out of print. Scholastic was the publisher.

Joe, however, was able to get rights to it, and he's bringing it out through his own press, Bowman Books. It'll have a new cover and he's worked on a better presentation of the form that appears on page 112-113 of the hardcover edition with the tree on the front. (Update, September 19, 2010: This is on hold for now...)

Those of you who have not read the book may not know what form I'm talking about. I'm not worried about spoilers here. I'm much more interested in telling you about the book and why you should order it as soon as its ready (I'll let you know as soon as I get the word from Joe.)

The form says (for ease of sharing it below, I'm leaving out the lines on the page that say "Strike out inappropriate words"):
We, Harmon P. Wilcox and Frederick Daniels Murtaugh, physicians and surgeons legally qualified to practice in the State of Vermont, hereby certify that on the 12th day of March 1932, we examined Sophia Lester, a resident of Highgate, Vermont, and decided:
(1). That she is an idiot feebleminded insane person and likely to procreate imbecile feebleminded insane persons if not sexually sterilized.
(2). That the health and physical condition of such person will not be injured by the operation of vasectomy salpingectomy;
(3). That the welfare of such person and the public will be improved if such person is sterilized;
(4). That such person is not of sufficient intelligence to understand that she cannot beget children after such operation is performed.

Signed in duplicate this 12th day of March, 1932,
     Harmon P. Wilcox
     Frederick Daniels Murtaugh
Who is Sophie Lester? She is the grandmother of the boy at the center of Hidden Roots. He's a sixth grader named Howard Camp. Called Sonny by his mother, father, and the man he's called Uncle Louis since he was a baby, he learns towards the end of the book that Uncle Louis is actually his grandfather, and, he learns that his grandmother was sterilized...  Sonny learns that he is Abenaki, and that his parents and many other Abenaki's have been hiding that identity in order to protect themselves from being sterilized. 

The book is set in 1954 in New York. When the story begins, Sonny doesn't know that he's Abenaki. He's growing up like other kids. By that I mean he watches cowboy and Indian films at the theater and picks up a lot of stereotypical information about Indians. His mother has taught him to sleep lightly, lest someone sneak up on him. Ironically, he imagines Indians sneaking up on him.

I was telling someone about these eugenics programs a few days ago, and he didn't know about them. I'm quite certain very few Americans know about it either.

In his Author's Note, Bruchac writes that Vermont was one of thirty-one states in the United States that enacted legislation to sterilize the "feeble-minded." The note also says that Abenaki's weren't the sole target of this law. The poor and those who were different from most Vermonters were also targets. Bruchac refers to Nancy Gallagher's Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, published in 1999. You can get her book, or, look at a website she's helped develop at the University of Vermont: Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary History.

Hidden Roots is a very important book and I look forward to it being back in print.
Further information:

There are several research articles coming out of American Indian Studies about the sterilization of Native women that took place as late as the 1970s.

"The Lost Generation: American Indian women and sterilization abuse" by Myla Vicenti Carpio was published in 2004 in Social Justice.  It is available, in full, online here.  Take time to read her entire article.

"The Sterilization of Native American Women" by Jane Lawrence, published in American Indian Quarterly in 2000. The first two paragraphs describe the experiences of a woman and her husband, and, two fifteen year old girls who went into the hospital for appendectomies and follows that with an overview of the Indian Health Service and its development over time. Because Native women began to come forward saying they had been sterilized, the Government Accounting Office conducted an investigation and found that
IHS performed twenty-three sterilizations on women under the age of twenty-one between July 1, 1973 and April 30, 1974, and thirteen more between April 30, 1974 and March 30, 1976. The doctors at the IHS hospitals didn't understand the regulations, and, the doctors under contract for IHS weren't required to follow the regulations.

In "The Continuing Struggle Against Genocide: Indigenous Women's Reproductive Rights," D. Marie Ralstin-Lewis writes that Congress authorized sterilization of the poor in 1970 through the Family Planning Act. In 1974, she writes that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW):
circulated pamphlets among Indian communities extolling the benefits of sterilization. One, called "Plan Your Family," contains a cartoon depiction of Indians "before" and "after" sterilization. The Indians before sterilization appear sad and downtrodden. The couple has ten little Indian children and only one horse, implying they are poor because they have too many mouths to feed. In contrast, the Indian couple in the "after" picture is happy; they have one child and many [ten] horses."
She also documents that DepoProvera and Norplant were used on Native women, the majority of them were mentally retarded, in the early 1970s. Neither drug was approved by the FDA at that time, and wouldn't be available for widespread use until the 1990s. Her article is in Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2005, pp. 71-95.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Marguerite Henry and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

Part of what I am doing with this website (American Indians in Children's Literature) is documenting the intersections of (1) writers who write for children and young adults and (2) American Indians or something meant to signify American Indians, whether it is accurate, romanticized, flat out wrong, etc.

This morning, I was trying to find information about a picture book called The Last of the Mohicans. Its a very old shape book, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. As I started digging for info, I came across one of those intersections. Maybe 'intersection' is not the best word for what I'm trying to describe...

Anyway, I found a biography of Marguerite Henry on the website for the Greenville Public Library in Rhode Island. Here's the passage that stood out:
On Christmas Day, 1909, seven-year-old Marguerite was greeted by the sight of a little red table that her father had set up for her. The table was complete with a small pitcher containing an array of pencils, scissors, paste, a hole punch, paper clips, and even a pencil sharpener. Best of all, were the stacks of colored paper that her father had included. On the top sheet was a hand-written note: "Dear Last of the Mohicans: Not a penny for your thoughts, but a tablet. Merry Christmas! Pappa Louis XOX." [6] It was this gift that started her on the road to her future writing career.
I wonder why her father called her "Last of the Mohicans"? Did he read that book to her? And, I wonder if the books she wrote for children include Indians? If so, are they like the ones that Cooper came up with?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sherman Alexie on THE SNOWY DAY

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Earlier this year, in "I come to school for this class," I wrote about a terrific project in Arizona through which students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona read literature by American Indian writers. The project was developed by James Blasingame and Simon Ortiz at Arizona State University.

I was pleased to see more about the project in "The Answer Sheet" --- a blog in the Education section of the Washington Post. Blasingame was their guest blogger. His wide ranging "An unusual introduction to Native American YA lit" touches on the writing of Joseph Bruchac and Sherman Alexie.

In his post, Jim points to one of his articles published in the Winter 2008 volume of The ALAN Review. Titled "From Wellpinit to Reardan: Sherman Alexie's Journey to the National Book Award, the article includes a lot of extensive quotes from Alexie. Here's one:

I have a vivid memory of when I was six years old and pulled The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, off the shelf in the elementary school library. On the cover was a dark boy in a red coat out in the snow. I instantly figured he was Indian, he wasn't, but I thought he was. I connected to that main character almost instantly in a lot of ways.
Alexie won the National Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There's a lot in the book that I really like because I connect with the character, the setting, the experiences...  It is real and brutally honest. In one sense, I find it a bit too real, and I wonder if it didn't need to be quite that way...  I'm thinking of his character's use of "faggot." I hear kids back home at Nambe toss that word around and I look at the young boys and wonder how that feels to those who may be gay?

Anyway, I am glad to learn that Alexie identified with the little boy in The Snowy Day and that he shared that memory with Jim. At the start of each semester, I ask students to bring in a book they remember. Tomorrow, I'll let them know about Alexie and his memory of The Snowy Day.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Yesterday when I opened Facebook, I had a handful of messages from friends who said "Did you see this?" The "this" is way cool... 

Last year, four university presses formed an initiative called First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies. The four are the University of Arizona Press, the University of Minnesota Press, the University of North Carolina Press, and Oregon State University Press. Their goal?
"Our initiative seeks to publish books that exemplify contemporary scholarship and research in Indigenous studies. We support with scholarship with unprecedented attention to the growing dialogue among Native and non-Native scholars, communities, and publishers."
In addition to books in Indigenous Studies, First Peoples publishes a blog. On September 8, 2010, Natasha Varner posted "Five Native Bloggers and Podcasters to Bookmark and Follow." Natasha wrote:
Over the past year, we've become increasingly aware of an impressive community of indigenous scholars and cultural critics producing blogs and podcasts that provide intelligent insight and critique of contemporary issues and popular culture. Here are five that we think you should follow.
American Indians in Children's Literature is one of those five! Can you tell I'm thrilled at being included? Here's a screen shot of the page.

Click on over to Five Native Bloggers and then click on the links provided. There's a lot to learn, whether you're an author, illustrator, editor, reviewer, or a parent, teacher, librarian or professor who works with children, young adults, or the books published with them in mind.

Note that I didn't say "books about" American Indians or indigenous peoples... I chose my words carefully. Images of indigenous peoples appear more often in books that have nothing to do with us than they do in books that are supposed to be about us! And most of the time, those images are, well, kind of messed up. Most of America doesn't see them as messed up because they're so prevalent, and most of us have been 'schooled' so well in that imagery that we don't know it is wrong!

All that imagery we're all surrounded by? To develop your eye for spotting it, read and follow Native Appropriations. I've been reading it for awhile. It, too, is one of the five blogs First Peoples listed. Over at Native Appropriations, Adrienne is doing a terrific job pointing to pop culture images and language.  Both, American Indians in Children's Literature and Native Appropriations use Twitter. To follow us there...

Debbie Reese on Twitter
Native Appropriations on Twitter

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Metafiction and American Indians

Over on his blog, Phillip Nel uploaded a video about metafiction. He defines it (loosely) as fiction about fiction. He invited his readers to submit examples of children's books that may be categorized as metafiction.

For some time, I've toyed with the idea of making a video in which I talk about children's books. This morning I decided to do it. Below is my video. You'll see right away that its too dark, which makes it fuzzy. It is dark because too much light in front of me creates glare on my eyeglasses that, in effect, obscures my eyes. I'll try other locations and see if I can get the lighting just right. For now...

To reiterate in text what I said in the video...  Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief is a story in which the author (Bruchac) has created characters who talk about another story. In this case, Chris, the middle-school boy who is the main character, talks about a highly problematic---yet widely acclaimed---work of historical fiction called The Sign of the Beaver.

Look over to the right side of this page and scroll down to the bottom. See the section called "Labels"? In that section you'll find "Sign of the Beaver." Click on it and you'll see several posts about the book.

There are other examples of metafiction. In his novel, Indian Killer, Sherman Alexie created Marie, a character who challenges her professor for using The Education of Little Tree in a course about American Indian Literature.  Indian Killer is not a book meant for children. Some young adults would be fine with the content; others would not.

Another good example is Thomas King's A Coyote Columbus Story. The fiction King pokes at? That one that goes "In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America..."

Monday, September 06, 2010

Margaret Manuel's I SEE ME

There's a handful of terrific board books that I recommend, and I'm adding this one to that list...

I See Me by Margaret Manuel is one of those books that can be personalized by its owner.

For example, the text on the first page is "I see me AWAKE."  Beneath that sentence is a blank line for me to write the Tewa word for awake. What language will you use on your copy?

The child shown on the cover is on each page. Some pages are about the things all babies do (smile, cry) and some are things specific to Native cultures. The cover page, for example, shows the baby with a drum. See the drumstick? (Note to authors and illustrations...  Native peoples in the US and Canada use drumsticks rather than hands to drum.)

Published by Theytus Books, I See Me was an Honourable Mention at the New York Book Festival in 2010.  Available from Theytus is a downloadable file of the Okanagan words for the ones in the book, and Theytus plans to add words from other First Nations languages, too.

If you want to know more about the Okanagan people, visit their website. When you click on the website for the Okanagan Nation Alliance, pause a moment and listen to the "The Okanagan Song" by Trish and Bruce Manuel before clicking through to the rest of the site.

Located in Canada, Theytus was established in 1980. It was the first publishing house in Canada owned and operated by Indigenous people.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

PETER PAN in China

Troubling info...
"[B]rowsing at Chinese bookstores reveals that the children's book sections mostly contains books translated from the Western popular folk tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, and Snow White."

That's from "The Cultural Significance of Reading Instruction in China." Written by Yang Hu, the article is in The Reading Teacher, Volume 57, No. 7 (April 2004). I found it as I started looking for information about the Chinese National Curriculum.

I was looking for info on the Chinese National Curriculum because a former student was home in China this summer and brought me a copy of Little House on the Prairie. I'll scan the cover and some pages from the book later today. Printed across the top front of the cover is a note that says the book is part of the Chinese National Curriculum. I'd like to know more about that curriculum, and how Little House on the Prairie ended up on it. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

To date: Most popular page at American Indians in Children's Literature...

On August 8, 2010, I created a video using Google's "Search Story" program. Since then, it has become the most popular page on my site, and, it appears on a lot of other sites, too.  I'm reposting it here today.

The books I featured are:

The People Shall Continue, by Simon Ortiz. I chose that because that book embodies our perseverance (by our, I mean indigenous people) in the face of a 400+ year history of warfare. It is a perseverance that includes all peoples who stand together in the face of adversity and persecution.

Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. This is second in my line-up because in the text and illustrations, readers can see the joy and vibrancy of our present-day lives---a joy and vibrancy I feel when I'm home at Nambe, dancing or helping my daughter or my nieces and nephews get ready to dance.

Hidden Roots, by Joseph Bruchac was next because in it, readers get a powerful look at just one of those moments in history when laws were passed to get rid of us.... this one was sterilization programs in Vermont in the 1930s.

Last is Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich.  In this, the first of several books about Omakayas, a young Ojibwe girl,  readers gain a Native perspective on the effects of Europeans moving on to homelands of Native peoples. Unlike the way that Laura Ingalls Wilder portrayed 'other' to her characters, Erdrich doesn't dehumanize other to the characters in Birchbark House.

The soundtrack I used was one of a small set of options. The music has that excitement I feel when I'm reading and writing about books that I cherish.  I'm happy to know its getting a lot of traffic, and I hope it is helping people find my site, and increasing their ability to look critically when selecting children's books.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Audio: Tim Tingle reading from SALTYPIE

A few minutes ago, I was reading Cynsations and found out that Teaching Books has an audio of Tim Tingle talking about, and then reading from his newest book, Saltypie. Click on over and listen to it. And get his book, too!

The photo here is also from Cynsations

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rosemary Wells illustration in MY VERY FIRST MOTHER GOOSE

In 1996, Iona Opie edited a collection of Mother Goose rhymes. The title of the book is My Very First Mother Goose. Illustrations are by Rosemary Wells. For the most part, I really like her work. Some books by her are among our family favorites.

My Very First Mother Goose is one of those books that got starred reviews, won some awards, and ended up on a great many recommended-books lists. Here's the cover:

When I saw the book that year, I pointed colleagues to page 60 and 61:

Let's look at those illustrations. On the left side, the text reads "Up the wooden hill to Blanket Fair, What shall we have when we get there? A bucket full of water and A pennyworth of hay. Get up, Dobbie, All the way!" We see a bunny lying down, covered with a blanket. See the designs on the blanket?

Now, look at the illustration beneath the text. There's two bunnies in a cart. To me, they seem kind of affluent, perhaps like tourists out west, going to visit a store, or gallery, or museum, or some place where they will "see the Indians!" and maybe purchase Native-made art.

Now look at that full-page illustration on the right. It is the Indians! Maybe, they're even meant to be Navajos. Anyone 'in the know' about American Indian tapestries would know that the Navajo, or Dine, people are well known for the rugs or blankets they weave.

But if we conclude that the bunnies are meant to signify Navajos, what is that thing that kind of looks like a tipi doing there?! Tipis are not used by Navajos...  In short: Wells is stereotyping... big time.

The rhyme (of the blanket fair) has nothing in it about Native peoples. My guess? Rosemary Wells has a Navajo blanket in her home and wanted to depict Native people for this rhyme about a blanket fair. Good intentions fueled by lack of knowledge = stereotypical illustration.

I wonder how parents, teachers, or librarians use that page?

*Updated for clarity and format on August 28, 2016.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tommy Hilfiger Playing Indian

Children's books and media are replete with characters (human and not) who put on a feathered headband or headdress and put their hand/paw over their mouths to make what they think is an "war whoop".

Given the pervasiveness of playing Indian, it is not surprising to see a kid doing just that in the new Tommy Hilfiger ad:

If you visit the Hilfiger page, you'll learn that the kid is named Eric, and that he "takes charge of art-directing the Thanksgiving table."

Here's one example:

The "Meet the Hilfer's" campaign (advertisement) is supposed to be oh-so-cool and quirky at the same time. I find it just plain offensive. It reeks of privilege and affluence. If I shopped there, I'd quit giving them any of my money.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Censorship of WANJA, a Picture Book by an Indigenous Australian Author/Illustrator

On Tuesday (August 17, 2010), listservs and Facebook were buzzing about author Pete Hautman's blog post, "The Nasty Thing in the Corner" wherein he talks about Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank and Impulse, being dis-invited to a Texas book festival because of the content of her young adult novels. Hautman's piece is definitely worth reading. Some of my colleagues in children's literature plan to add it to their required readings this coming semester.

The next day, I got an email from Katherine in the UK who reads American Indians in Children's Literature.  She thought I might be interested in Nigel Pearn's "Teaching children to read the Aboriginal world." She was right.

Pearn's article was published on August 18, 2010, in an Australian publication called Eureka Street. I'm unfamiliar with the publication, but really like Pearn's article. Like Hautman's blog post, it is about censorship. In Hautman's case, it was the author being dis-invited to a festival. In Pearn's article, it is about a book being removed from an Australian library.

The book at the center of Pearn's article is called Wanja, One Smart Dog. For some reason, I'm unable to upload the cover, but you can read the entire book online at Indij Readers.  As I clicked around the site, I see a lot of books I'd love to read. I'm glad to know about this publisher...  From their website:

Indij Readers is an innovative and unique, not-for-profit company that develops and publishes contemporary, Indigenous literacy materials for Indigenous and non Indigenous students learning to read and write. Indij Readers Ltd is listed on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations and donations to Indij Readers are tax deductible.

Indij Readers For Big Fullas and Little Fullas is a collection of literacy acquisition classroom stories, accompanying teachers’ guides and other support materials (CD/audio, VHS/DVD film). The collection comprises stories from urban and rural communities around NSW and Victoria.

The aim of Indij Readers’ stories is twofold: to help students learn to read; and to encourage and support teachers to explore with their students, contemporary Indigenous perspectives and issues, and thus progress Reconciliation in Australia. The stories deal in a relaxed and often amusing way with issues that affect the lives of all children: culture, family, self esteem, pride, setting goals and working toward them, good health, humour, tolerance and school attendance.
Their authors and illustrators are from Indigenous communities in Australia. Wanja, One Smart Dog is written by Aunty Barbara Stacey and illustrated by Adam Hill. You can read their bios here. Reading bios of other authors and illustrators there increases my interest in Indij Readers.  

As I started looking into the controversy over the book, I learned that Wanja was a real dog. He lived in "The Block" --- a neighborhood in downtown Sydney --- with the author, Aunty Barbara Stacey. In 2008, a documentary was made about the Block. You can view the trailer here. (Like the cover of the book, I'm having trouble with this upload!!!)

According to Pearne, parents thought the book is inappropriate because it teaches kids that police are bad. We would agree, I think, that we want children to view police as good, but, who is the 'we' that we are talking about? I hesitate to create binaries, but, there's ample data about police, racism, racial profiling... 

In the video and the picture book, Wanja chases police vans because they brought police into the neighborhood---police who harassed the indigenous people, including children, in the Block. That is what anyone wants a dog to do, right? Protect us and our children from those who threaten us?

Do read Pearne's article. He provides a lot of history and context that push us to think carefully about things that on the surface seem clear cut. I want a copy of Wanja (order it from the Indig Readers website) and I plan to teach the book, coupling it with Peane's article. The book is an important one for all of us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Images of Indigenous People in Shakespeare and Children's Literature

Last week I was in Stratford, Ontario at the Shakespeare Festival. We saw The Tempest. I can't recall seeing it before, but I had a vague idea of Caliban and who he is in the play...

When he came onstage, however, I couldn't help but notice his resemblance (in this production) to the ways that American Indians are depicted in the Newbery award winner, The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, published in 1941.

Here's the page from the book. The illustrations are by Paul Lantz.

And here's Caliban, Stratford, 2010. (Photo from Robyn's Review)


This moment is important to my study of the ways that indigenous peoples have been portrayed in children's books, both in the present day (as in The Matchlock Gun) and in the past.... (Elsewhere, I've written about the ways that John Amos Comenius depicted American Indians as devil-worshippers in his Orbis Pictus, published in 1657.) 

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest in the early 1600s. Caliban is written as a monster. Shakespeare describes his mother as a witch and as a "blue-ey'd hag" who gave birth to Caliban, "a freckled whelp" who was "not honour'd with a human shape." My cursory research indicates there's been a wide range of interpretation of the character. What was Shakespeare thinking of when he created that character?

Was his Caliban informative to Paul Lantz when he created the Indians in The Matchlock Gun? On the other hand, did the costume person for The Tempest we saw see Luntz's Indians?! Course, neither is likely, but the similarities between the two is striking. Indigenous peoples, less than human... Sadly, infuriatingly, outrageously persistent.