Friday, September 23, 2011

Another pair of eyeglasses...

I am enjoying my courses as a student San Jose State's School of Library and Information Science. Prior to this, I felt proficient using a handful of databases, but I'm learning just how much I do not know about databases...  From ones I've never used to learning how to develop one...  At times it is overwhelming, and my blog posts are definitely impacted by my need to study and get homework done.

Today, I'm sitting at the Pueblo of Pojoaque Public Library, using their computers for some surfing. Next week I'll deliver an online lecture to Minjie Chin's class at UIUC's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I enter both spaces as a person with more knowledge about libraries than I had prior to beginning my coursework. You might say I've added another pair of eyeglasses that I'll be using from now on.

That said, I highly recommend Mitali Perkin's How to Write Fiction Without The "Right" Ethnic Credentials. She's speaking directly to writers but much of what she says can be used by anyone who is thinking about books and American Indians.  Reading her essay, and AICL, can give you another pair of eyeglasses, too, to use as you work with children's and young adult literature.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

AWESIINYENSAG, Wiigwaas Press, and the Minnesota's Best Read for 2011

This is terrific news! Awesiinyensag, a book published by Heid and Louise Erdrich's Wiigwaas Press, was selected as Minnesota's Best Read for 2011. That means the book will represent the state of Minnesota at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

As you might glean from reading the title, the text is not in English. Here's the blurb:
Awesiinyensag presents original stories, written in Anishinaabemowin, that delight readers and language learners with the antics of animals who playfully deal with situations familiar to children in all cultures. Suitable for all ages, this book can be read aloud, assigned to classes, shared at language tables, gifted to elders, and enjoyed by those curious about the language and all who love Anishinaabemowin.

Authored by a team of twelve and richly illustrated by Ojibwe artist Wesley Ballinger, Awesiinyensag will be the first in a series created to encourage learning Anishinaabemowin, the language of Ojibwe people.

The book will provide a challenge to those of us who do not speak Anishinaabemowin, but if you've got students in your classrooms or school who do speak that language, it will be a treasure. Or, if you've got students who loved the language they found in Erdrich's Birchbark House, you could get Awesiinyensag for them.  Get it at Birchbark Books. Among the authors included are Nancy Jones, Eugene Stillday, Rose Tainter, Anna Gibbs, Marlene Stately, Anton Treuer, Keller Paap, Lisa LaRonge, Michael Sullivan, John Nichols, Lucia Bonacci, and Heather Fairbanks.

An aside: On her Facebook page, Heid Erdrich noted that when you search Google using Awesiinyensag, Google asks "Did you mean: Awesomeness." For a lot of us, AWESOME perfectly captures the book and the press, too.   

Monday, September 05, 2011

Julie Luecke on Nora Raleigh Baskin's THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS

Julie Luecke, an Associate Professor of Education at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote to tell me about Nora Raleigh Baskin's The Summer Before Boys. I'm ordered a copy of the book and will write about it as soon as I can. In the meantime, here's what Julie said:
Another profound disappointment - The Summer Before Boys, the newest book by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Baskin has written insightfully in other books about the Jewish-American experience (The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah) and Autism (Anything but Typical, which won the Schneider Family Book Award), but here she disappoints. The story is set at the "Mohawk Mountain Lodge." Early in the novel there is a reference to reading the Little House books, and then at several points as friends Julia and Eliza pretend to be characters from the past, they imagine sneaking through the mountains to avoid being captured or scalped by "Indians." Sorry, I didn't keep track of page numbers. It's stunning to me that an author of this caliber and her editor/publisher, etc think this is appropriate in 2011.
Some will argue that Baskin is giving readers an accurate portrayal of her characters. Some might say that they see themselves in Baskin's twelve-year-old protagonists, Julia and Eliza.  Are you someone who, at age 12, pretended you were Laura, afraid of being scalped?

Update, Tuesday, Sept 6, 8:32 AM: 
Baskin submitted two comments in response to Leucke. She submitted the first one as herself, and the second one came in as "Anonymous" but was signed by her. I am pasting both of them below (with time stamps affixed when her comments were submitted). As Baskin notes, she is going to see if she can make changes in the paperback. If the publisher agrees to the changes, I hope that a page-of-explanation is also included in the book, explaining how and why the changes were made. Given her publishing record, Ms. Baskin is quite influential and can therefore effect a lot of change in others if she is able to get the changes done and the page-of-explanation included. I imagine it may be something she will share in one-on-one interactions and gatherings with fellow authors.  In my view, she joins Garth Nix as a thoughtful writer who gets it.  

Baskin's comment on Monday, September 5, 6:45 PM: you are right..and I feel so confused and bad about this. I am very very conscious of the Native American vs Indian terminology. It is also ironic given how I feel about the treatment of native americans in our country ..then and now.

My editor and I did discuss it..and sometimes a decision is made NOT as the author or publisher but as the character in the book. .in terms of the symbolism and authentic voice, and other considerations. But hearing your review deeply affects me. ..I wish there were something I could do. Perhaps I can. 
very sincerely,
nora raleigh baskin

Baskin's comment on Tuesday, September 6, 8:01 AM:. .I was up all night with this blog on my mind, tossing and turning. All I can say is that I've had my eyes opened..And those being eyes I thought were already opened!
I know if I were to read something (even IN character) about Jews or the holocaust that cast a negative or stereotypical slant..I would take it deeply personally.

so, are right. It is a tricky line..character realism vs what I as a human being want to put out into the world.

I am going to see what i can do about the paperback..if someone can perhaps contact me privately I can get it right. I do care very much.. 
thank you

Update, Thursday, Jan 25, 2018:
Baskin submitted a new comment (pasted here), indicating changes have been made to her book. My response is below her comment.

Baskin's comment on Thursday, Jan 25, 2018:  Not sure if better late than never applies here..but hopefully it does.. . A reprint is scheduled and the changes have been made to repair the offensive and hurtful reference in my book. As well, I have been sharing my tone-deafness and my journey to repairing it with students I speak to. It's not easy but I think it's important for them to hear and understand.  
I am not a fan of the angry, vitriolic call-out culture (to put it mildly) but I am more than grateful and appreciative of thoughtful criticism.  
Thank you.. 
nora raleigh baskin

January 25, 2018
Dear Ms. Baskin,

Thank you for what you said in your comment. The change is important, and it is great to hear that you talk about this with students. It is important to them and to other writers, to know that we can admit mistakes and talk about those mistakes with others. That's an educational response that we need to see more and more so that the mistakes decrease, overall.

I doubt that anyone likes being spoken to by someone who is angry about something they've done. Anger is a genuine emotion. It embodies not just the moment that invokes it, but the many ones that came before it. I understand that writers are uncomfortable with anger, but I ask that they step outside of their own space and think of their readers and how many times they've been uncomfortable and hurt by the things writers and others write or say about them.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Gertrude Doederlein's LIVING WITH OUR CHILDREN

Scarlett wrote to tell me about a blog post at Awful Library Books in which Holly Hibler (the blogger) wrote about Gertrude Doederlein's Living With Our Children. Part of Hibler's post is about playing Indian. Published in 1941, the book is old. I wish it reflects a past and practice that no longer occurs, but readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know the practice is still with us today... 

Mercer Meyer's JUST ME AND MY MOM

Bummer! (Using that word dates me, eh?!)

Susan Santee-Buenger at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wrote to tell me about this page in Mercer Meyer's Just Me and My Mom. When my daughter was little, we had--and enjoyed--several of the Little Critter books.

In this part of the book, Little Critter and his mom are at a natural history museum. Meyer is not alone in putting American Indians in natural history museums...  He does, in fact, reflect a reality. Putting us there is a problem! American Indians are often found in natural history museums with the dinosaurs and the bears...  Remember this page from Danny and the Dinosaur

Placing us in natural history museums is a problem! Placing us alongside dinosaurs suggests that is the proper time frame for us to be presented. It isn't. It suggests we are extinct. We are not. It suggests we are primitive. We are not. And, placing us alongside animals suggests we are animal-like, and we are not.

Course, maybe authors could interrupt that problem by having characters challenge the status quo. It would be way cool to have Little Critter or his mom say "Why are American Indians here with dinosaurs and animals instead of in a museum with other peoples?" instead of having Little Critter dress up that way...  Or, to have Little Critter ask a docent "what tribe is this supposed to be?!"  Is that too much to ask for? Is it too didactic?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

New book! GRANDPA'S GIRLS by Nicola Campbell

One of my favorite authors, Nicola Campbell, has a new book out. Titled Grandpa's Girls, I can't wait to see it! Here's the blurb from Groundwood (the publisher):
A young girl delights in a visit to her grandpa's farm. She and her cousins run through the fields, explore the root cellar where the salmon and jars of fruit are stored, swing on a rope out the barn loft window, visit the Appaloosa in the corral and tease the neighbor's pig. The visit is also an opportunity for this child to ask Grandpa what her grandmother, Yayah, was like, and to explore the "secret room," with its old wooden trunk of ribbons, medals and photos of Grandpa in uniform. 
Nicola's two previous picture books are set in Canada and are about Native families and the boarding schools Native children in the US and Canada were sent to---not by choice---to learn how not to be Native. Pick up a copy of each one: Shi-shi-etko and Shin-shi's Canoe, and look for Grandpa's Girls! I think my dear friend, Jean, is gonna love it... Here's the cover:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Thanks, Minjie, for writing to tell me that Caddie Woodlawn is being published in China. Here's the cover:

Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature may recall my daughter's encounter with Caddie Woodlawn... I wonder if it, like Little House on the Prairie, will be placed on the National Curriculum in China?

(A personal note: I've been away from AICL for 3 weeks to provide round-the-clock care for my mom. She lives on our reservation and doesn't have internet. When I left Nambe on Monday morning, she was more herself than she's been in years. It was a difficult six weeks for all of us with many scary moments, but she's made it through an emergency surgery and an extensive hospital stay, and she's literally dancing down her hallway these days.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

News about Richard Van Camp's THE LESSER BLESSED

Great news! Richard Van Camp's acclaimed The Lesser Blessed is now available on Kindle.  A couple of years ago, I included his novel in a piece I wrote for School Library Journal. There, I said this about The Lesser Blessed:
"Larry is a teenage Dogrib boy whose life includes alcohol, violence, and sex. Realistically drawn, his story is raw and unsettling, yet, in Van Camp’s skilled hands, the account is not depressing. From start to finish, Larry’s Native culture and history are gracefully infused into the compelling narrative."
Here, I'll say straight up that The Lesser Blessed rocks and I'm glad it is on Kindle. I absolutely love Richard's writing in The Lesser Blessed, but elsewhere, too. Readers of AICL know I've written about several of his books. If you want to know more about him, visit his page at Native Wiki.

For another perspective, visit Teaching Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed to see how Professor Jane Haladay uses his novel in a Native lit course. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Beginnings and a Million Page Visits

Earlier this week I began coursework in San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science. Most of you know I've got a PhD in Education and have been on the faculty in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois (UIUC) for several years.

UIUC is a "Research I" university driven by the "publish or perish" motto. Though I've written many book chapters and articles, the powers-that-be determined I was "not a good fit" for a Research I school. Not the right publishers, not the right articles, and, I wasn't "a good fit" in other ways, too. I'm a teacher at heart, and the work I do with teachers and librarians (including this blog) took time away from getting things published in the right books and journals.

In the end, I was (to use the jargon of a university) "not reappointed" to my position on the faculty. You can bet I was more than a little angry about that decision! But we always have to pick our battles, and I chose to quit fighting the University of Illinois. Those of you that have followed my blog and work since the 90s know that I am a founding member of UIUC's Native American House and its American Indian Studies program. You also know that I played a key role in getting rid of "Chief Illiniwek."

So... I was out of a job and contemplating what to do.

One afternoon while reading the newsletter of the New Mexico Librarian's Association, I saw an advertisement for Circle of Learning, an initiative at San Jose State University by which I could get an MLIS. I applied, got in, and as I noted above, my courses have started! The program itself is completely online. My goal is to establish a tribal library and resource center at Nambe. This degree will help me do that.

A few short weeks ago, I was the teacher giving undergraduates assignments for courses I taught at UIUC. Now, I'm completing assignments. It is quite the turn-about as I try to understand what the instructor wants me to do... 

Nonetheless, I am thoroughly enjoying it!

Due to my mom's illness, my posts to AICL over the last three weeks were very few. That will pick back up, though. I've got many books that I've not yet written about, like Gensler's The Revenant. And, I have more to say about being at ALA in June, too.

One last note for today... The "page visits" count on AICL rolled past one million this weekend. Thank you for reading AICL, for recommending it to students and colleagues, and for returning to it yourself.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Playing Indian and Catherine Bateson's BEING BEE

A reader of AICL wrote to tell me that the main character in Catherine Bateson's Being Bee plays Indian at one point in the novel. On page 65, Bee puts a feather in her hair:
That made me an Indian so I whooped around for a while and pretended to stalk some buffalo, but then Honey, the dog from next door, spotted me, so she stopped being a buffalo.
Bateson is Australian. Being Bee won the Children's Book Council of Australia Award in 2007. Obviously, Bateson is relying on stereotypes of American Indians that circulate around the world.

Bateson is portraying something that kids do (play Indian). Several weeks ago, I used Survey Monkey to see how common the activity is, not knowing that Survey Monkey's free service only applies to the first 100 responses, which I got within a couple of days.  Survey Monkey would let me see additional responses if I subscribed to their service, which is quite expensive!

I immediately closed the Survey Monkey survey and sent out an email letting people know I'd closed it. Several readers replied, suggesting I use Google's survey option next time. I'm grateful for the suggestion and will look into it.

Reading the 100 responses I got gave me some info about the "play Indian" activity, but it also taught me a bit about constructing surveys. For now, here's a summary.
12 of 100 said they've seen it in the last year. Three provided details. One said it was at a school event at Thanksgiving, and one said it was at a girl scout event and the third one person said it was teens, not young children.

12 of 100 saw it within the last ten years.  One provided details, saying it was at a birthday party for a five-year old.

23 of 100 saw it longer than 10 years ago.

20 of 100 saw it longer than 30 years ago.

33 of 100 respondents said they have never seen a child playing Indian at playtime.  Five said they did see it at a school Thanksgiving event, and two saw it at Halloween.

96 respondents saw the playing Indian activity in the US. Two respondents saw it in Australia and 2 saw it in Canada, with all four seeing it over 10 years ago.

What can we conclude from these responses? I could say that almost 10% of the respondents saw it in the last year. For me, that suggests the activity is common--more common amongst young children than I thought.

I see it at the University of Illinois all the time. Adults put on headdresses to go to Illinois basketball and football games, even though the "Indian" mascot is no longer being used here. There were people in headdresses at the World Cup games. My mother has been ill (her illness is the reason my website was not updated for so long), and as I sat with her in the hospital, I saw a patient watching The Price is Right game show. A contestant (is that the right word?!) was wearing a headdress. And the new fashion trend "hipster" is using a lot of "Indian" motifs...

All-in-all, discouraging.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg

Some years back, I came across "Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg. The poem is in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today's Child (1983) selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Here it is:
The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they
     pawed the prairie sod into dust with their great hoofs,
     their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
Sandburg was wrong, but is that what he thought when he wrote the poem in 1920? How many people, in 1920, thought "those who saw the buffaloes" were gone? It wasn't true then, and it wasn't true in 1983 when Jack Prelutsky chose the poem for the collection... Did Prelutsky think so in 1983? And when Lobel was drawing the buffalo herd that accompanies the poem, did he think so?    

Monday, July 18, 2011

AICL reader on McClure's THE WILDER LIFE

Editor's Note: Today's post is by a Teacher Librarian, NW of Chicago. She writes:

I have spent a long time pondering your comments about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books because, as you can guess, I loved the books when I read them as a child. However, something happened that put everything in perspective for me. I recently listened to the audio book, The Wilder Life: my adventures in the lost world of Little House on the Prairie, written by Wendy McClure. It is a memoir recording her year of visiting all the places Laura had lived and how she felt about the experience. As a Little House fan, I was riveted. I thought that throughout the book, McClure did an adequate job of pointing out Wilder's prejudices when writing about the Indians. However, toward the end of her book, McClure wrote of this incident:
p. 318

I bought a sunbonnet at the museum store, my sixth one.

"I had a feeling you would buy one on this trip," Kara said, as we walked back out to the car. "I bought something, too." She went through her bag in the backseat and pulled out a feathered headband, the kind they used to sell in dime stores for playing cowboys and Indians. "Picture time!" she said.

I started laughing. "Oh my God," I said. "Yes!" We put on our mythical headgear and took pictures of ourselves standing together in the parking lot. It seemed a fitting way to end the trip.
In my mind, the incident was a totally "unfitting" way to end the book. This scene ruined my empathetic feelings toward the author and illustrated how Wilder's stereotypes are still alive and well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

CHICKADEE, Erdrich's next book in BIRCHBARK HOUSE series

Back in May, Louise Erdrich blogged about Chickadee, the next book in the Birchbark House series. In it, Erdrich writes, Omakayas and her family have moved onto the Great Plains:
I realized that for the sake of this book series we had to move there around 1866.  This is a fascinating year for all sorts of reasons, but for the main character, Chickadee, it is a year of unusual adventure.   Some odd things happen to Chickadee.  He challenges a man named Skunk.  He is kidnapped by two brutish louts who want a servant.  He learns to cook a wretched concoction called bouyah.  Chickadee runs away from well meaning but heartless missionaries.  He learns to survive completely alone in the woods helped by his namesake, the chickadee, who teaches him a song that can heal.  There is lots more, including a visit to Saint Paul, the first city he has ever seen, and composed at the time of shacks, pubs, treeless mansions, and lots of trading companies.  
I'm definitely intrigued. In comments, Erdrich says the book will be out in November of 2012. In the meantime, you might want to get the first three and read (or reread) them. Consider getting signed paperback copies from Erdrich's store, Birchbark Books.

The Birckbark House 

The Game of Silence

The Porcupine Year

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Indians in the House" episode of LHOP TV show---deleted or not?!

Many of you may know that I've written about the "Indians in the House" scene of Little House on the Prairie. I don't think I've yet shared what is called a "deleted scene" from the pilot for the television series. Here's the specific segment. It is rather ominous in music and action of the Indians... 

In the book, Laura and Mary are definitely afraid for Ma and Carrie, but the TV segment is especially scary. I don't know if it was cut or not. Comments on the Youtube site say it wasn't. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anita Silvey recommends LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS

Yesterday (July 10, 2011) at "Children's Book-A-Day Almanac," Anita Silvey featured Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. She writes that the Little House books "remain one of the best-loved stories of childhood."

Best loved story for whom?

Are they "the best-loved stories of childhood" for everyone? Little Town on the Prairie has Pa in blackface. Dawn Friedman addresses it in her post "Pa in Blackface: Confronting racism in our children's books." I don't think everyone would look on this as a "best loved" story. Would you, for example, knowing it has blackface in it, call it one of your best loved stories? (Update, Feb 5, 2013: Added Garth Williams' illustration of blackface, from page 258.) Here's Pa in blackface:

Same thing with Little House in the Big Woods. On page 53, Pa regales Laura and Mary with his days of youth when he'd pretend he was "a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians." Here's the passage where he said that: 
When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.    

One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together  in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.    

I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.'
Would you call a book in which the characters romanticize hunting people one of your "best loved" stories?

And of course, there are multiple problems with Little House on the Prairie. (Scroll down to the "labels" section of AICL and you'll see that I've written about the book several times.)

There is no disputing the love and adoration readers shower on the series, but it is a blind love and a blind adoration that has ramifications for all of us. Thinking of a people as "wild" makes it easier to hunt and kill them. I'm thinking the uncritical embrace of these books is akin to planting seeds that will get watered later when someone deems it in America's best interests to go to war...  

I wish that Silvey would take a moment to give her readers a critical view of the Little House series. In her post about Julius Lester, she writes that Lester and Pinkney's Sam and the Tigers removed "the racial sting" associated with Little Black Sambo. "Racial sting" is a mild way to reference racist stereotypes, but she did acknowledge the problems with LBS. I wish she could do the same with LHOP.

Friday, July 08, 2011


Rethinking Schools is an excellent source of materials for anyone who looks critically at schooling. Their newest item is Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. It has outstanding essays including Herbert Kohl's "The Politics of Children's Literature: What's Wrong with the Rosa Park's Myth."

Essays specific to AICL's content are:

"Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving" by Michael Dorris
"A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas" by Cornel Pewewardy
"Human Beings are Not Mascots" by Barbara Munson

It also includes "Fiction Posing as Truth," the first short-essay I wrote with a group of Native and non-Native women who worked collaboratively on in-depth study of Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground

There are forty-eight different essays. Forty eight! The book is priced at $18.95 and well worth it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

10th Anniversary of RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME

Click over to Cynsations and read Cynthia Leitich Smith's reflections on Rain is Not My Indian Name. A gorgeous cover that I love to look at, a great story for ten thousand reasons (can you tell I like it?!), and, a hearty congratulations to Cynthia.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tim Tingle, ALA 2011

On Sunday at ALA 2011, I went by the Cinco Puntos booth, hoping Tim Tingle might be there. He was scheduled for a session at 4:00 to talk about the graphic novel, Trickster, edited by Matt Dembecki. He was there and we visited for awhile. It was terrific to hear him extoll American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) and the work I do. When he works with teachers, he tells them to spend a few days at AICL. I'm glad he recommends it.  Well---glad is not the right word... The right word is thrilled.

I'm working on a post about the session itself. The panel included Matt Dembicki, Tim, and another author with a story in Trickster, Michael Thompson. All three delivered remarks I want to share with readers of AICL.

As I write, I'm in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, watching the sun rise. I'm here for a couple of days to do some research in the de Grummond Collection. I read the galleys for a couple of books by Berta and Elmer Hader. There wasn't any correspondence in the Hader files or any notes at all that might give me insight to their thinking as they prepared these two books:

Prior to this trip, I had not read either book. Published in 1962 and 1943, both are told from the perspective of a boy who lives in a city and imagines the life of an Indian boy is better than his own.  In both, the white boy gets to be Indian for a day...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson

A friend wrote to me yesterday to tell me about Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse.

I looked it up and am blown away by the story and the author, too. It is a run-away hit in the adult market and Steven Spielberg has got the rights to turn it into a movie. I'm going to get it as soon as possible. I think it has the potential to cross-over and be a big hit in the young adult market, too.

Here's why I'm so psyched about it:

Wilson is Cherokee. A tribally enrolled Cherokee, that is, who grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma (regular readers of AICL know that I write a fair bit about claims to Native identity). Here's an excerpt from an interview from the Amazon page:
One of the most interesting robot battling groups in the book is the Osage Nation in Gray Horse, Oklahoma. You are part Cherokee and grew up in Tulsa. How did your upbringing shape the residents and setting of Gray Horse in the book?
In 1889, the United States government took Indian Territory away from Native Americans and gave it to settlers. Nevertheless, there are still dozens of sovereign Native American governments operating in Oklahoma. These mini-nations have their own governments, police forces, hospitals, jails, and laws – all while co-existing with the US government. Growing up as part of the Cherokee Nation, I always felt that even if the wider world were to crumble, the nucleus of these tribal communities would hold firm. That’s why in Robopocalypse the Osage Nation keeps operating as a bastion of humanity in the face of a total government meltdown. 
And here's a video of Wilson talking about the book. About halfway in, he starts talking about sovereign nations.

Regular readers of AICL will get why I'm so excited. I look forward to reading Wilson's book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Editor's Note: My critique of Alvin Ho was posted on Saturday, June 18th, 2011. I let the author know about the critique. She responded. I pasted her response below, and followed it with more questions. 

Today (June 16, 2016), I'm adding this: check out Sarah Park Dahlen's "Who is 'The Other?'" in THE EARLY READER IN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AND CULTURE, edited by Miskec and Wannamaker, published by Routledge Press. 
SATURDAY,  JUNE 18, 2011

In comments to "Chief Read Heap Much" on June 16, 2011, Wendy submitted a comment about Lenore Look's Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes (2010). The illustrations are by LeUyen Pham. It is pitched at children in 2nd through 4th grade.

Here's what Wendy said:
Have you all read the latest Alvin Ho book? There's an almost astonishing "playing Indian" theme. I can't understand it on multiple levels. Why did the author think this is something kids still do? As an Asian American didn't it seem at all "off" to her? And how on earth did it get past the editors and readers at the publisher? It's a major part of the plot. (My review: 
Her comment prompted me to dash over to the library and get a copy.  Reading the book, I can see why the Alvin Ho books (I think this is the third one) are appealing and getting starred reviews. In writing and format, it feels a bit like Alexie's Absolutely True Diary. By that, I mean it is a quick read, lot of humor, and cool illustrations throughout. See what I mean?

Engaging writing and cool art, but Wendy is right. Below are summary, excerpts, and illustrations. Beneath the summary is my discussion, in italics.


In chapter three, Alvin is going down the street and stops at Jules's house because there's a lot of noise coming from his yard. Alvin peers through the bushes and sees that a bunch of kids (he calls them "the gang") are playing "King Philip's War." Alvin tells us that it was the "war between settlers and natives that nearly wiped out all of Massachusetts a hundred years before the American Revolution wiped out everyone else" (p. 35). Here's the illustration on that page:

The child in the bottom right corner is Pinky, playing the part of King Philip. He tells Alvin that it is "settlers against Indians" and that they're practicing for an upcoming birthday party that Alvin doesn't know about:
"Do you have settler gear?" Pinky asked.
I shook my head no.
"How 'bout Indian gear?"
I shook my head again.
"No wonder you haven't been invited," said Pinky. "No war paint, no moccasins, no fun."
That night, Alvin makes a wish:
"I wish for the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit with fringe," I said, my breath dripping on the glass. "Complete with bow and arrow and the huge feather headdress that makes you look like a giant bird."
In the next chapter, Alvin hopes for the invitation to arrive, but he's sure he actually needs that outfit in order to be invited. He does get an invitation, but it is to Flea's party. She's a girl, and he hates girl birthday parties. His mom wants him to go, and Alvin thinks that if he agrees to go, maybe his mom will get the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit for him:

Having agreed to go to the girl party, he dashes to his room and makes a list of things to do (p. 51):
Get my new deluxe Indian outfit.
Eat breakfast in my new deluxe Indian outfit.
Go to school in my new deluxe Indian outfit.
Walk down the street in my new deluxe Indian outfit.
Sleep in my new deluxe Indian outfit.
Play settlers and Indians with the gang.
Go to Hobson's party in my new deluxe Indian outfit.
In subsequent chapters, Alvin continues to think about the party and how much he wishes he could get the outfit and the invitation so he can "play Indian" (p. 85). In chapter 12, he is at the mall with his mom. They are there to buy a present for Flea (her real name is Sophie). At the store, Alvin's mom pulls a box from the shelf and says "Wouldn't she look adorable in this?" and shows him the box (p. 141) :
I was staring straight into the plastic window of the Deluxe Indian Princess outfit with fringe, complete with baby carrier and explorer map and moccasins.
Alvin sees that the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit is on the shelf, too, but they aren't there to get something for him, and they don't buy it. As the story continues, Alvin gives up. In chapter thirteen, Alvin is hanging out more with girls than guys. He doesn't like that he is more aligned with the girls and the girl party than the guys and the guy party. At lunch one day, he is sitting with the girls. They're all talking about Flea's party and what they're going to wear to it. Alvin is furious, as he chews on his goldfish crackers and thinks (p. 144):
A man wears steel-toed boots. A man wears work gloves. A man wears war paint. A man wears an enormous feather headdress that makes him look like a giant bird. A man doesn't talk about what he's going to wear. He just wears it. 
Then, he burps, spraying the girls with chewed up bits of goldfish crackers. The girls are grossed out, and Alvin races out of the cafeteria. Spraying the girls with goldfish, it turns out, is what gets him invited to the party. On the playground, Hobson tells him to bring a present, and to dress as an Indian.

The problem is, he doesn't have the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit. Another problem, it turns out, is that Flea's party and Hobson's party are at the same time. He tells his dad about it, and his dad tells him that he's got a dilemma. Alvin doesn't know what that word means, and he shakes his head. His dad assumes that he's going to do the right thing and go to Flea's party.

The next morning, Alvin gets ready for Hobson's party, and puts on the Deluxe Indian Princess outfit. It doesn't have a headdress, so he makes one out of buttons, ribbons, and one hundred Popsicle sticks.

When the time comes, he heads to Hobson's party. Before he gets there, he runs into the boys in their outfits. Some are settlers in Pilgrim hats and some are Indians. They're practicing for the party because it isn't quite time to be there yet. Alvin joins in the play:
I ducked. Then I gave a loud whoop.
Loud whoops went round and round.
Invisible arrows went up and down.
Indians fell.
Settlers fell.
Indians rose from the dead.
Settlers rose from the dead.
Loud whoops went round and round.
It was terrific!
Then I stopped.
I could hear my dad's voice in my ears. "You know the right thing to do and you do it. No one has to tell you."
Alvin tries to ignore his dad's voice. He thinks of how fabulous his outfit is, and that playing settlers and Indians is great, but he doesn't feel wonderful. Finally, he decides he has to do the right thing: go to Flea's party instead. He takes off the outfit, puts it in a box and goes to Flea's party where, having eaten a lot of ice cream that gives him gas, he "explodes," excuses himself, and goes home. The books ends with "Alvin Ho's Creepy Glossary" of words.


When I got to the glossary, I thought, "This book needs another glossary entry... STEREOTYPE. And, it needs that word stamped in big letters on the front of the book." From the feathered headdress to the war paint to the war whoops and bow and arrow, all the elements of the stereotyped Indian are in this book.

I want you to imagine a Native parent, reading the book aloud to his or her children. They're having a good time, but then, they get to page 35.  

Or, imagine a Native child... All his friends are into a new series about an Asian American kid named Alvin Ho. He decides he'll check it out, too. So he does, and then... he gets to page 35. 

Suddenly, the fun of the book is gone. Suddenly, a stereotyped image of you is in your face... 

What some people see as harmless fun---dressing up as Indians for a birthday party---is not harmless fun. It is stereotypical, and it is racist. I don't often use that word in my writing. Using it puts up a barrier. Nobody likes to see the word, especially if it can be applied to something they have done. 

And what about that party theme.... settlers and Indians?! That's a new one for me, at least in terms of a child's birthday party. What was Look (the author) thinking as she developed the plot? Was she trying to develop authentic play-Indian scenario, and used King Philip's War as the way to bring in some authenticity? 

This might seem an in-your-face thing to do, but I'm going to hashtag Look on Twitter and see if she might explain what she was thinking about as she wrote this book. Did she, or as Wendy asks, her editor and readers at Random House not pause a moment and consider whether or not they ought to go forward with this book? 

In their review, Kirkus gets it right:
Troubling in this volume, however, is that at the coveted boys’ birthday party, everyone is dressing up as Indians and settlers, and Alvin figures his ticket is a "deluxe Indian Chief outfit." Although there is a brief note in the always-creative glossary regarding the colonization of Native peoples’ land during King Philip's War, there is no textual mitigation of a running joke that seems anachronistic at best--readers may well be left feeling uncomfortable with the stereotype. 

I was uncomfortable, and so was Wendy. How about you? 

Update, 4:24 PM CST, June 18th, 2011

See Sarah Park's blog post about the book. (Thanks, Allandaros, for letting me know the link was not working. I've fixed it.) Sarah wrote, in part:
I’m trying to process this as an Asian American scholar of Asian American children’s literature. How are Asian Americans complicit in perpetuating stereotypes of cultures not our own? Why? And from where (or from whom) do we learn these stereotypes? What makes us think it’s okay?It grieves me that we participate in the denigration of already oppressed cultures, whether intentionally or not (intentionality doesn’t matter – impact matters).
Update, 8:26 AM CST, June 19, 2011

Lenore Look responded in a comment. I'm copying it here as well:

Hi Debbie, thanks for alerting me on twitter. your comments deserve a more thoughtful reply than 140 characters, so i'll respond here. I'm terribly sorry that my work offended you. But stereotypes are offensive. My intention, as from the first of the series, is to highlight seldom-mentioned historical events/facts that textbooks and popular historians tend to exclude, many of which seem to involve a collective shame. In this case, it was King Philip's War, in which the Native population of New England, already thinned by smallpox and other European diseases, fought viciously against English encroachment and in turn was mercilessly slaughtered by the settlers, who were also nearly wiped out by the fighting. It happened 100 years before the American Revolutionary War and forged the beginning of a new national identity, separate from England, for the colonists. It was a seminal event for the later rebellion, yet when is this ever mentioned in the elementary classroom? Or mentioned anywhere at all?

As for the stereotyped play and costumes . . . well, when kids play "cowboys and Indians" or "settlers and Indians" (being that this is colonial Massachusetts history), that's how i imagined they would play and dress, based on how it's been done in the past and as recently as the Disney Pocahontas craze in the mid-to-late 90s. Politically correct? No. But do kids play politically correctly? No. Should I perpetuate play that is not politically correct? No. But I would not be TRUTHFUL if I were to fabricate a scenario for them that conforms to our current, enlightened-adult sense of how kids should play if that’s not the behavior that we’ve already passed to them. And good writing is about being honest, regardless of how discomforting it might be, especially when echoed in our children's play.

My job as a writer is not to erase unpleasantness, stereotypes, or even racism from a child's world. My job is to hold a mirror to that world and allow them to look at it more directly than they might otherwise. I believe in eradicating stereotypes as much as you, but eradication does not include erasing our shameful portrayal of Natives in the past and pretending that none of it has been passed down.

Are kids supposed to “get” this? I expect they will get what they need to ask about King Philip’s War and about juvenile behavior encouraged by adult-generated culture and props. If not, then the adults who get it, should start the conversation.

Thank you for your close reading of Alvin, and for starting the discussion.


Update: 3:08 CST, June 19, 2011:

Thanks, Lenore, for taking time to respond to my questions.

Incorporating history into your books is great, but I'm not sure I understand why you chose King Philips War.  You include that war because you think it is fundamental to an American identity. What do you think is the shame in that war? That's where I'm confused. Is it shame over colonization that you think keeps it out of history books? I'm not sure why textbook writers would feel shame at that moment of colonization. They certainly glorify other wars, periods of conquest...

If it is shame over treatment of Native peoples, then, it makes me wonder why you don't feel shame at using shameful stereotypes. You had other choices for a birthday theme. Like a Star Wars one...  Or a Harry Potter one! Something more contemporary. Course, both of those might have trademark issues, but I think you get my point.

I think in being "TRUTHFUL" to the way some kids in the US do birthday parties, you're passing that practice on to your readers as an ok thing to do. Nobody in your book says "wait a sec." You leave it up to kids and adults to say "oh, they shouldn't be doing that." You assume the adults are going to use it as a teaching moment, but most of the reviews don't even mention it. Kirkus did, but on GoodReads, Amazon... very rarely is someone saying anything about it. Maybe you had to cue them somehow, via an author's note?

If you're comfortable continuing this conversation, I'd like to know if you and your editor, or you and your illustrator, talking about those stereotypes. What did you say to each other?

Update, Friday June 24th, 10:06 AM CST

Author Cheryl Savageau tried to submit a comment but Blogger was not working. She submitted to me via facebook. I'm placing it here:

Cheryl Savageau said:

Look is kidding herself if she thinks what she is writing is in any way true. All it shows is her own ignorance and racism - I am not afraid to use that word. I am Abenaki, and from Massachusetts, and kids here do not, and did not, even in my childhood, play "settler and Indian." We played cowboys and Indians, because that's what we saw on TV. Kids these days (I'm using my grandsons and their friends as references) play aliens, Star Wars, and Mario Brothers. Does she want her children's book to start another bout of "play" that would not be tolerated about any other racial group? As for the King Philip's War reference - His name was Metacom. The "Indians" were Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Pawtucket people and yes, some Abenaki people later in the war. She describes the "Indians" as "fighting viciously." Why is that the "Indians" are the ones who are vicious? They were defending their lives, their land, their families from invaders. Did she mention that the English displayed Metacom's head on a stake in Boston for 20 years? Who's vicious? I suggest that this book is vicious in its stereotypes, its exploitation of a piece of history that she dug up to justify a silly, bigoted, and basically untruthful story. I am going to post on Amazon and I urge others to do the same. (I tried to post this on the blog site, but it didn't get posted somehow. Feel free to copy and post it as part of that conversation.)