Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Day Two with Russell's SWAMPLANDIA

Editor's note: I finished reading Russell's book. I do not recommend it. I do not recommend playing Indian, in fact or fiction. 

Yesterday I started reading Karen Russell's Swamplandia, writing up summaries and my comments for each chapter as I read. I'm picking it up again today. Before reading below, go read Day One with Russell's Swamplandia where I wrote about chapters one thru five.

Note 1: My comments on each chapter are indented and in bold text. Plain font is for summary.
Note 2: Don't read any further if you don't want to know what happens in the book. In other words, Note 2 is a spoiler alert.
Note 3: I'm reading the book in ebook format. I don't have reliable page numbers for excerpts I use below. At some point I'll get a hard copy and add page numbers.


Chapter Six: Kiwi's Exile in the World of Darkness

Kiwi takes a job at the World of Darkness, which is the reason tourists have stopped going to Swamplandia. There, he meets some unusual people like the oblivious character, Leonard Harlblower. Kiwi thinks:
Even Chief Bigtree--an "indigenous swamp dweller" who was actually a white guy descended from a coal miner in small-town Ohio, a man who sat on lizards in a fathered headdress--even the Chief seemed like a genius of self-awareness next to this kid Leonard.
Debbie's comments:

In chapter six, Russell used "indigenous" but without quotation marks. Here, she uses them. Is this inconsistency in her writing, or is it a way for the different characters to show that self-awareness?

Chapter Seven: The Dredge Appears
With "the Chief" gone, Ava and Ossie take care of Swamplandia and their property. This includes cutting down melaleuca, an invasive tree:
Ossie was cutting the saplings down, and I was painting herbicide onto the stumps. We were tree warriors, I told Ossie. We had come to the Last Ditch for a massacre.

"This is a pretty boring massacre," said my sister. "When is lunch?"

Debbie's comments:

Playing savage Indians now?! Russell's writing has a good bit of humor in it, but this particular stereotype (bloodthirsty savage massacring Indian) is not in the least bit amusing. 

It is while they are out cutting down the saplings that Ava and Ossie find an old dredge. Ossie starts trying to communicate with its ghosts. She takes up with one in particular, named Louis Thanksgiving.

Chapter Eight: Kiwi's Debt Increases
Payday finally arrives and Kiwi finds out that things he thought were free (his uniform, food he eats while at work, and a room he stays in at the theme park) are not free. Instead of a check, he is given a bill.

Chapter Nine: The Dredgeman's Revelation
Ossie is in love with Louis, calling him her boyfriend. Ossie tells Ava his life story, from birth to death. He had friends in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): "calm men, family men, bachelors, ex-preachers, hellions, white men, black men, the children of Indians and freed slaves"

Debbie's comments:

The CCC was a government work relief program that ran from 1933 to 1942.  Grandpa Sawtooth bought the island that would eventually have Swamplandia on it in 1932. That means the barge and work being done by its crew was done while he was there. I don't know if that matters later on in the story or not. 

I'm not sure that the CCC was integrated in a way that would have made it possible for Louis to work with black men, or with "children of Indians and freed slaves." I'm wondering why Russell used "children of Indians and freed slaves" instead of whatever word they were called in the 1930s.  I'm not sure that Louis would have worked alongside anyone who wasn't white. For the most part, the CCC wasn't integrated.

From his work on the CCC, Louis went to work on the dredge, but his friends chose not to go:
...the lone Indian on the crew, Euphon Tigertail, who had survived subhuman conditions while working on the Panama Canal, decided that he couldn't work in the swamp any longer. He'd been undone by miniscule foes, the chizzywinks, and the deer flies. "You sure you want to be a dredgeman for this outfit, Lou?" Euphon had whispered, both of them staring at the hulk of the dredge. 
Debbie's comments:
Hmmm...  I think this is the first time in the book that Russell provides us with words spoken by a Native character. Cool that it isn't stilted Indian-speak ("Um, that right, Kemosabe")!

Studying maps they found on the dredge, Ossie tells Ava that Louis has told her about a door to the underworld. Ava recognizes it as an Indian landmark called Eye of the Needle that is a day's hourney by airboat from their island. They had not been there, but their grandfather had:
Grandpa Sawtooth took a photograph of the Eye of the Needle passageway during his rambles in the forties: a gray channel cut between two twenty-acre islands made entirely of shells. These islands looked like twin boulders to me, or like one island that lived net to its echo. Two intricate skulls rising out of the river. They are hundreds or maybe even thousands of years old--the Calusa Indians constructed the mounds out of clay and every kind of local shell: oysters and conchs and whelks. The Calusa Indians were well established in our swamp when Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513, and they probably hugged the shoreline of Florida for hundreds of years before the European contact; by the late 1700s their tribe had disappeared, undone by Spanish warfare and enslavement, and by microbes: smallpox and measles. The Calusa shell mounds, these seashell archipelagos, had outlasted their architects by at least five hundred years. You can find them scattered throughout the Ten Thousand Islands; visitors will drag their kayaks up a shell mound's glittery shoes and picnic there. On the Gulf side a 150-acre shell mound supports a modern township. But the Eye of the Needle was a special landmark, known only to locals, and very remote.

Debbie's comments:

This is a history lesson! In a Google Everything search, the first hit was a social studies page that has much of the information Russell shares. Thankfully, Russell does not replicate the bias on that page (it presents the Calusa's as the aggressors in conflicts with the Spanish). A Google Videos search turned up an interesting documentary that dates one of the layers in a particular dig at 2000 years old. Ava, Ossie, and Kiwi are homeschooled but don't really study. In one place in the book, they worry at what grade level they'd be placed if they went to public school. That worry suggests the kids are not very well educated, so, the idea that Ava would know all this about the Calusa Indians kind of doesn't work.

On the third weekend without their father, Gus (he runs the ferry) comes to check on them. He finds Ava coloring, using "our Bigtree tribal colors: Indian red and heron blue."

Debbie's comments:
I'm curious about the time period for this story. Due to a way-cool effort by teachers, that "Indian red" crayon was retired in 1999 in response to teachers who felt that children wrongly perceived that color was intended to represent the skin color of American Indians. because children were using it on coloring sheets when they were coloring Indians. Crayola responded and changed the name to Chestnut. Below is a screenshot of the relevant part of their webpage. If the time setting for Swamplandia! is pre-1999, then it makes sense that the crayon is in the box that Ava is using. If it is post-1999, she could be using an old box. So--it is plausible and not necessarily a critique. More than anything, I suppose, I'm seizing Russell's use of "Indian red" as a teachable moment.  (In chapter nine, Ava watches the news and learns of the famine in Uganda. That was 1980, and again, in 2011.)

A few days later, Gus arrives with a letter for Ava. This one is from the Secretary to the President at the University of Loomis. It reads:
Thank you for your inquiry. I have done some research on your behalf; unfortunately no such Commission or Committee or alligator-wrestling competition has ever existed. You might visit the Miccosukee Indian Reservation to watch a live alligator show.
Ava tears the letter into bits.
Debbie's comment:
Hmm... Are we going to find out that the trophy is a fake? Part of the hype for the park?

The chapter ends with Ossie going into the dredge again to see Louis. Ava meets and befriends the Bird Man (he's a guy who travels around driving birds away from places they aren't wanted). When Ava returns there the next morning, the dredge is gone.

Chapter Ten: Kiwi Climbs the Ladder
Back at the World of Darkness theme park, Kiwi gets a new job as a life guard.

Chapter Eleven: Ava Goes to the Underworld
In a panic, Ava tells the Bird Man about Ossie and the missing dredge. Reluctantly, she also tells him about Louis, the ghost boyfriend. To her surprise, he believes in ghosts and knows where the Eye of the Needle is. He agrees to help Ava find Ossie.

Chapter Twelve: Kiwi Goes to Night School
Kiwi goes to the local community college to begin a GED class. When it is his turn, he introduces himself and tells his classmates he needs to help his dad get out of debt and wants to go to college. Students immediately start ridiculing him, calling him "white boy." He wishes he could tell them about the island:
...about Chief Bigtree's "Indian" lineage; how as a kid they'd put makeup and beads on him, festooned him with spoonbill feathers and reptilian claws; how at fourteen he'd declared: "I'm a Not-Bigtree. A Not-Indian. A Not-Seminole. A Not-Miccosukee." This category "white" gave him a whistling fear, a feeling not unlike agoraphobia.
Debbie's comments:

Recall in chapter two, Kiwi is frustrated when his dad tries to talk to them in a booming "chieftain" voice? Here, we learn that Kiwi didn't like playing Indian. Seems like he thought he had no culture, and being called white, or realizing that his identity is being ridiculed, scares him. 

Chapter Thirteen: Welcome to Stiltsville
Ava and the Bird Man stop at an abandoned village on stilts (Stiltsville) for the night.

Chapter Fourteen: The Drowning Chain
The drowning chain is a net used to rescue swimmers. At the end of the chapter, Kiwi (not using the drowning chain) rescues and revives a girl. Crowds gather round and take photos of him.

That's it for Day 2 of Swamplandia!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Day One with Russell's SWAMPLANDIA!

Editor's note: I finished Russel's book, and do not recommend it. It is redface. It is playing Indian. At the end of this post you'll find links to Day Two and Day Three of my chapter-by-chapter summaries. 

7:30 AM, January 2, 2012
Back in April, a reader wrote to me about Karen Russell's Swamplandia! I got an ebook of it today and will start working through it, posting notes here as I go. Based on what I read in April, I am not looking forward to this book in which a family plays Indian. I doubt it deserves the praises it got from NPR and the New York Times.  

My comments on each chapter are indented and in bold text. Plain font is for summary. I'm reading the book in ebook format. I don't have reliable page numbers for excerpts I use below. At some point I'll get a hard copy and add page numbers.

Chapter One: The Beginning of the End
We meet the family:
the dad: "Chief Bigtree"
the mom: "Hilola Bigtree"
the older sister: "Osceola"
the older brother: "Kiwi"
the grandfather: "Sawtooth"
the protagonist: Ava

Debbie's comments:

That is quite a set of names! Will we find out that Ava also has a nickname? And how did Russell (the author) settle on Osceola as the name for Ava's sister? Osceola was a Seminole leader. On the Seminole Nation's website, he is described as follows: "Elegant in dress, handsome of face, passionate in nature and giant of ego, Osceola masterminded successful battles against five baffled U.S. generals, murdered the United State's Indian agent, took punitive action against any who cooperated with the white man and stood as a national manifestation of the Seminoles' strong reputation for non-surrender."

Ava tells us that her family, "the Bigtree tribe of the Ten Thousand Islands" runs an alligator theme park in Florida called Swamplandia! On promotional billboards, they wear
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.

Although there was not a drop of Seminole or Miccousukee 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 at and call Indian--and Kiwi, Grandpa Sawtooth, and I could hold our sun. But my sister, Osceola, was born snowy--not a weak chamomile blond but pure frost, with eyes that vibrated somewhere between maroon and violet. Her face was like our mother's face cast forward onto cloudy water. Before we posed for the picture on that billboard, our mother colored her in with drugstore blusher. the Chief made sure she was covered by the shadow of a tree. Kiwi liked to joke that she looked like the doomed sibling you see in those Wild West daguerreotypes, the one who makes you think, Oh God, take the picture quick; that kid is not long for this world. 
Debbie's comments:

We know right away that this is not a Native family. They play Indian for their theme park. It makes them money. They benefit by playing Indian. Will we, as I continue to read, find out that Ava is uncomfortable with playing Indian? Is someone going to challenge their playing Indian? I wish Russell had also said that the "tribal apparel" is also fake.

I don't like Kiwi's joke. Would he make a similar joke about other oppressed children in daguerreotypes? 

Ava's mother gets ovarian cancer and dies. Grandpa Sawtooth is placed in a home a month before her death. Ava starts doing her mother's act. A new theme park called The World of Darkness opens on the mainland and Swamplandia's visitors drop off dramatically. It is easier to get to (tourists have to take a 40 minute ferry to get to Swamplandia). Ava rarely thinks "dad" --- she usually thinks "the Chief" instead.

Chapter Two: The Advent of the World of Darkness
Without tourists to occupy their time, Ava and her sibs start reading more. Ossie (Ava calls Osceola "Ossie") takes interest in one called The Spiritist's Telegraph about an underworld. Kiwi spends more time studying for the SAT.

We learn that Grandpa's real name is Ernest Schedrach and that he is "the white son of a white coal miner in Ohio" who bought the land Swamplandia is on in 1932. Hilola Bigtree's maiden name was Owens and she, too, was born on the mainland. In one of the Swamplandia buildings is a display area that has family artifacts, including Schedrach's army medallions. "The Chief" works hard to make sure that nothing in the case sullies the manufactured Indian identity of the Bigtree family. He takes the medallions out, and makes sure there is no mention of the family's white roots.

Debbie's comment:

No mention, yet, of when Swamplandia was founded, or, when the family started playing Indian. 

The night Osceola turns 16, they have a birthday party for her. Partway through, she announces she's going on a walk but "the Chief" asks her to stay so they can "have a tribal meeting." Osceola leaves anyway and "the Chief" says:
"As you may have noticed," he said in his booming chieftain's voice, "we Bigtrees have a serious enemy. We have a new battle to win."

"Oh my God," said Kiwi. "Dad. This isn't a show. We are all sitting in the same room." 

Debbie's comments:

Go, Kiwi! And he called him "Dad" instead of "the chief." 

The family discuss the future of Swamplandia, with "the Chief" wanting to make improvements, and, Kiwi wanting to sell it and move to the mainland.

Chapter Three: Osceola K. Bigtree in Love 
Osceola starts leaving her bedroom at night. Ava is worried about her and her dates with ghosts. Ava tells Kiwi about it. They tell "the Chief" but he waves it off as a lovesick phase she's going through. Though they still have few if any tourists, "the Chief" continues to wear his costume. 

Debbie's comment:

Kind of pathetic, "the Chief" in his costume....

Chapter Four: Ava the Champion
Ava decides she wants to enter the same alligator wrestling competitions her mother entered. Her mother won a national championship in 1971. Ava starts sending inquiries by mail. Her dad continues to wear the headdress all the time:
The fan was blowing at the Chief's headdress, flattening every feather so that they waved in place, like a school of fishes needling into a strong current. Something lunged in me then, receded. A giggle or a sob. A noise. I thought: You look very stupid, Dad.

Debbie's comment:

In chapter 2, Kiwi pushed back on the play Indian activity of "the Chief" and now, Ava does, too. And they're both thinking "dad" when they do it. 

Ava remembers asking her mom why she didn't enter more contests, ones where she could "beat the Seminole wrestlers, to show the Miccosukee alligator handlers what we Bigtrees were made of" but her mother avoids answering the question, saying that her job is to be a mother to her children.

Debbie's comment:

According to the Timeline on their website, the Seminole's have been doing alligator wrestling for tourists since the 1920s.

Ava wonders if her mother is happy. She married "the Chief" when she was nineteen and "started her career as an alligator wrestler that same year." She also gave birth that year to Kiwi.  Ava remembers Kiwi telling her that their mother had married too young. When Ava repeated that to her mother, she says "Your father and I were sweethearts, you tell me what's too 'too' about that! Without Sam I'd still be on the mainland."

Debbie's comment:

Sam! "The Chief's" name is Sam. 

Ava watches a batch of alligators hatch. One is red in color and she starts caring for it secretly, hoping it will save Swamplandia. Towards the end of the chapter, the family goes to visit Grandpa Sawtooth who is rapidly losing his memory.  He no longer remembers, for example, "Seth of Seth", which is the alligator he first wrestled. As the family rides the ferry back home, two other passengers stare at "the Chief" with "Seth of Seth" in his lap:
These Loomis men were wealthy, or wealthy to me: they wore belts with shiny buckles, and their khakied laps held fancy red double-decker tackle boxes. They were most likely on their way to play Injun for a weekend at the Red Eagle Key Fishing Camp; they didn't know my father was a Bigtree, and you could see the sneer in their eyes.

Debbie's comments:

On their way to play "Injun"?! Geez...

Chapter Five: Prodigal Kiwi
When they get back to their island, Ava shows Kiwi what she discovered earlier in the day: their mother's wedding dress is missing. They conclude that Ossie has taken it. Ava tells Kiwi about Ossie's nighttime dreams in which Ossie seems possessed. Frustrated with their father, Kiwi takes off. A few days later, "the Chief" tells Ava he is going on one of his extended trips to the mainland. He used to do these month-long business trips while her mother was alive. This is the first one since her death. Ava imagines that he'll raise money to carry out some of his development plans--plans that will make them competitive again. Ava imagines that:
Soon the indigenous Bigtrees would be able to compete with our niche competitor, that exotic invasive species of business, the World of Darkness.

Debbie's comments:

I don't know what to say... What is Russell doing calling the playing-Indian family "indigenous"? From the perspective of those who say they are "Native American" because they were born in America, but that is a snarky thing to do. It is an attempt to discredit American Indians. Same thing here, I think. Russell is intentionally (or not) being dismissive of American Indians. Then, Russell tells us that this family is being invaded by the World of Darkness. These are interesting parallels... Where is she going with this?

See also:
Day two with SWAMPLANDIA
Day three with SWAMPLANDIA

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last month, a friend wrote to ask if I'd read Emerita Romero-Anderson's Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, published in 2011 by Texas Tech University Press.  I ordered it and am sharing my thoughts on the book.

Here's the preface:
This story, Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, gives us a peek into a time and place in history that is little known, but significant in helping tell America's story. Based on historical fact, there is ample evidence of a Spanish Colonial pottery tradition from about 1790 to 1890 in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Some archeologists would argue that only Native Americans made clay pots.
Clearly, Romero-Anderson wants people to know that Spanish settlers in New Spain (in what later became known as New Mexico) made clay pots. She's created this story and its protagonist to bring that knowledge forward. Her motivation is good but in giving us that information, she affirms stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Indian, and there are other problems, too.

Some of them are relatively insignificant. In chapter nine, the protagonist, Raymundo (he's Spanish) is successful in getting an old woman to teach him how to make pots. Her name is Clay Woman (she's genizaro). I'll say more about her later. Within the span of one day:
  • Raymundo shaped three clay pots, complete with rims and handles, by midmorning
  • By noon he made three more and polished all of them with a stone
  • After polishing them, he coated the inside of each one with brown paint
  • Clay Woman then takes him out to gather plants to use as dyes
  • On their return, Raymundo gathers dung chips so they can fire the pots the next day
  • Then, Raymundo heads off to water his bean patch 
  • But! He hears a "blood-curdling war cry"
  • It is the Comanches that killed his father a year ago. Now, they kidnap Raymundo and steal horses from Raymundo's village.
  • They ride for hours, stop, and then the Comanches kill a horse by shooting an arrow into one of its eyes before eating its raw liver. They roast the rest of it before going to sleep for the night.
My sister makes pottery, and so does one of my aunts. I called home and asked if they polish the pot on the same day they shape it. The answer? No. The shaped pot has to dry first, and that takes a couple of days. That said, I suppose it is plausible that all those things could have happened in a single day (the heat and drought figure prominently throughout the story), but is it probable? I don't think so.

For the remainder of this review, I want to focus on Romero-Anderson's depiction of the peoples that are in the story: the Spanish, the Genizaros, and the Comanches.

The Spanish
The year is 1790. Raymundo lives in a small Spanish village in the northern part of what is now known as New Mexico. In 1790, it was New Spain. He lives in a village of adobe houses Raymundo and his mother live in one room. They own two hundred varas (Romero-Anderson says a vara is 2 feet) of bottom-land acquired through a Spanish land grant. Some of the land grants were made to Spanish individuals who agreed to live in less-populated and less-protected areas. Given the Comanche raids in the story, that seems to be the case with Raymundo and his family.

The bean pot in the title is the only one Raymundo's family has, but it has a crack and no longer holds water. They need a new one, but, the genizaros who make the pots have stopped trading with the local Spanish people and sending their pots south, to Mexico.

I'm guessing genizaro is a new word to most people. As such, the way they are depicted is of utmost importance. And given the stereotyped and biased ways that American Indians have been portrayed in children's books, their depiction is equally important. Genizaros, Romero-Anderson tells us in the glossary, were "Christianized (Hispanicized) Indians" (p. 110). She introduces them in chapter two when Raymundo walks past their village:
His search for firewood took him to the crest, past the small village of genizaros, a group of Indians who were ransomed from captivity to the Spaniards. They were given land here far away from the capital and Spanish society before Reymundo was born.
Their village includes three adobe houses and two made of stone, surrounded by a fence.

To better understand who the genizaros were, I've been studying two books. One is Violence Over the Land by Ned Blackhawk, and the other is Captives & Cousins by James F. Brooks. They were primarily young Plains Indians who were captured by other tribes and Spanish soldiers, sold as slaves, and subsequently became detribalized (many did not know who their tribal nation was). Those who weren't successfully sold were killed, prompting some Spanish colonists to intervene by redeeming the captives and baptizing them. In return, the redeemed captive owed allegiance and service of up to 20 years to the person who redeemed them. In northern New Mexico, Brooks writes that they became like members of families in a fictive kinship relationship, but he that in the Rio Grande Valley, they were ostracized and looked down on.

In Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, we meet two genizaro characters. One is Clay Woman, who teaches Raymundo how to make pottery, and the other is a medicine man named Fools Crow. The  genizaros wear clothing much like the Spanish, except for Clay Woman and Fools Crow who stand out because they wear traditional clothing. The traditional clothing Clay Woman wears includes a manta, but that's an error because, as Blackhawk and Brooks noted, captivity as young children means the genizaros were detribalized. Later on, Fools Crow performs an Indian ceremony on Raymundo but, how does he know how to do that?!

From the Pablita Velarde gallery,  Bandelier Natl Monument
That article of clothing is actually worn by Pueblo women as seen in Pablita Velarde's illustration to the right. Velarde was from Santa Clara Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos in New Mexico. Her art is known worldwide and she's the author of Old Father Storyteller, a collection of stories.

Speaking of Pueblo Indians, where are the Pueblo people in Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot?! Romero-Anderson mentions them on page 13. Raymundo is on his family's land, looking at a dry wash: "It had once belonged to the ancestors of a Tewa Indian pueblo, Papa had said, but the native people were no longer allowed on land granted to the Spaniards by the Spanish Crown in the Kingdom of New Mexico." On page 20, Raymundo plays "chueco, an ancient game of the Pueblo Indians" but other than that, Pueblo Indians are absent from Romero-Anderson's story. All through that time period, Pueblo Indians were taking Spanish people to court for encroachment and other criminal matters. 

In some ways, Romero-Anderson misrepresents the genizaros. She does, I think, accurately portray the disdain that Blackhawk and Brooks report in their respective books. Romero-Anderson writes "The old crone's hair looked like a magpie's nest" and she says that Fools Crow's hair is matted and filthy, and that his torso is caked with grime. (p. 11). 

She also accurately portrays the ways that the Spanish feared and accused the genizaros of being witches. On page 15, Raymundo's aunt calls them "evil brujos" (witches). She tells Raymundo to stay away from them:
"Remember what happened to Father Ordonez? I believe the year was 1796. I had come for a visit and that's all everyone talked about. The genizaro witches put a curse on him, Raymundo, and he died a terrible death." (p. 15). 
Juan, a Spanish man, shoots and kills Clay Woman with an arrow in a dramatic scene that takes place on the day that Raymundo and Clay Woman fire their pots (Romero-Anderson repeatedly says "bake" which to me, sounds odd). 

There was, in fact, a Franciscan father named Felix Ordonez y Machado who founded a mission at a genizaro settlement in Abiquiu. Brooks covers this on page 136 of Captives and Cousins. Ordonez died in 1756 of suspicious causes. The new missionary, Juan Jose Toledo, was sick several times in the years after 1756. Then a genizara, on her death bed, accused a Kiowa genizaro named Joaquin Trujillo, of sorcery, the area erupted in accusations and counteraccusations that led to exorcisms during which "pagan" practices of Pueblo Indians were exposed as "evil" activities. Reading that section of Captives and Cousins, leads me to believe that Romero-Anderson borrowed heavily from that series of events.  Her Juan (who killed Clay Woman) is Juan Jose Toledo, and, Fools Crow is Joaquin Trujillo. The unnamed setting for her story is Abiquiu, 34 years after the actual event took place.

In the Acknowledgements, Romero-Anderson names Charles Carillo as a source for her writing. I think I'd probably find the Ordonez/Toledo/Trujillo/Abiquiu events in one of his books.

Comanches did raid and kidnap the Spanish and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, but not at the time period the story is set (1790). The Comanches in Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot are portrayed much as they are in popular culture, as blood thirsty killers. There is a lot more to any tribe than that narrow portrayal. There were a lot of Native and non-Native nations trading and raiding and inflicting violence on each other. The title of Blackhawk's book, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West effectively captures the coalitions and conflicts of that time. If you're interested in knowing more about it, I highly recommend his book.

Romero-Anderson tried to give readers a look into a little known piece of history about Spanish potters. We do, in fact, need stories about that, and about that period during which many nations interacted with each other, but the information has to be reliable. Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot falls short in that regard. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Race changes" in Tintin

In 2006 I learned about Tintin in America. I wrote about it then, but apparently failed to order it so that I could do an analysis of it for AICL. It is now on order...

Obviously, I'm thinking about Tintin because the movie is in theaters now. This morning on Slate, I read David Haglund's blog post about parent objections to Captain Haddock's love of alcohol. He provides some historical background for the American response to Haddock:
Sam Adams, who recently reviewed two Hergé biographies for Slate, pointed me to a third, Pierre Assouline’s Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin, which reveals that when the Tintin books began appearing in America, Hergé’s publishers demanded that he “attenuate the text here and there” to reduce Haddock’s drinking, in an effort to satisfy “puritanical American morals.” Hergé went ahead and “eliminated all images of Haddock drinking straight from the bottle,” telling one reader, “The blacks have been whitened, and Captain Haddock has to refrain from guzzling his drink.” (A PDF of this chapter from Assouline’s book is available online.)
I clicked on the PDF and read the chapter. In addition to portrayals of Blacks and alcohol, Assouline writes about the ways that Herge depicted Jews. I think it will prove useful when my copy of Tintin in America arrives.

I'm also intrigued by what I'm reading in Paul Mountfort's "'Yellow skin, black hair... Careful, Tintin': Herge and Orientalism" published in 2012 in the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture (Volume 1 Number 1): 
The original black and white version of Tintin in America (1931-32) offers a blistering critique of capitalism, both implicitly in its depictions of down-trodden urban Black Americans and in its explicit representation of American Indians as the victims of colonial dispossession and ongoing oppression at the hands of capital, backed by the US Army at gunpoint. (p. 38)
Eighty years later, "ongoing oppression" is about right, as the US is poised to, once again, come down on the side of companies who want resources on Native lands (see, for example, the resolution by the National Congress of American Indians ). It is too bad, however, that the Indians Herge presents are stereotypes (see the cover above). But how did he show them as "abject?":
the colour French (1946) and English (Herge 1978) editions progressively bowdlerized key scenes at their publishers insistence, so that, for instance, both a black doorman and mother with wailing child are literally bleached white in the colour version (Herge 1978:29 f12, 47 f15), along with their implications of ghettoization, due to the 'unsuitability' of mixing races in a children's book destined for an American audience. Similarly, frames depicting 'Red Indians' as abject were severely toned down (1978: 16 f7-8). (p. 38)
The copy I ordered is the 1978 edition. I'll have to see if I can get the black and white version to see what needed to be toned down. (If you've got access to it, perhaps you can scan relevant pages for me.)

Update, Saturday, December 31, 8:02 AM CST
Adelaide Dupont submitted a comment that says the Indians in the original are "Lakota Isnala." Items shown include a peace pipe, a tomahawk, a monastery, and a treaty. Using "Lakota Isnala" as a search term, I found a bit more information, also from Assouline's book. He says that Herge was looking for fresh ideas:
Then in the last months of 1957 he read an article on American Indians, reviving his youthful passion. He found his thread: Tintin finds himself on a reservation trying to prevent unscrupulous businessmen from evicting the natives in order to drill for oil. He immediately wrote to his old friend Father Gall to ask for his advice on the project. The Cistercian monk was an expert on the Plains Indians, who had named him "Lakota Isnala." He sent Herge five single-spaced typewritten pages filled with details and anecdotes about the geography of Little Rock and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indians' hostility toward white people, and the despoliation of their land by big corporations. He even wrote of how Indians had been on the front line when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Like the previous project, the story opens with an incident on the road to Marlinspike Hall. An accident, or is it an attempt on the life of a Sioux? At the hospital, in his delirium, the man mentions a peace pipe, a tomahawk, and a monastery. Going to the monastery and visiting an exhibit of Indian artifacts, Tintin discovers that the peace pipe has disappeared. It contains a precious official document proving the claims of the Indians to their hunting grounds. As all the other copies have vanished it is the last thing to prevent their being forced from their land by an oil company. Herge abandoned this project instinctively. (p. 187)

I read that excerpt in Google books preview. The excerpt prompts questions! What was that youthful passion? What was the article Herge read? Why did Herge abandon the project? I've got Assouline's biography on order...

"Lakota Isnala" also turned up in my search. Paul Goble also consulted with "Lakota Isnala" in writing Red Hawk's Account of Custer's Last Battle" in 1969. Interesting, eh?! I gotta learn more about "Lakota Isnala"!

Update: Saturday, December 31, 10:30 AM CST
"Lakota Isnala" is also in Benoit Peeters Herge, Son of Tintin, published by JHU Press in 2011. The Google Books preview offers a bit more info than the preview of Assouline's book allowed. Herge met "Lakota Isnala" at "the Trappist abbey of Scourmont near Chimay" (p. 204), where Herge went to rest. At first he was bored with the religious services there. Then, he met Father Gall, a monk who was "passionately interested by American Indians" (p. 204) who had entered the monastery in 1926.:
Without ever having set foot in America, he had learned the Sioux language in order to correspond with the tribe. Herge and Father Gall struck up an immediate friendship. The monk took the cartoonist into his den, an isolated circular room at the top of a small tower.
There, you don't know if you're still in an abbey or if you're in a Sioux tent. Eagle-feather headdresses, bows and arrows, tomahawks, guns, a peace pipe, and all sorts of other objects. Since I had read Paul Coze's book Moeurs et histoire des Peaux-Rouges (Customs and history of the Indians), I didn't feel too out of place. We talked for a long time. The names of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, all the famous Indian chiefs, came up again and again, mingled with mentions of Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, all the battles in which they became famous. He showed me photos of his friends Black Elk and Little Warrior, and told me their stories. Then he told me about his own life, or rather his grandmother's; she almost married a Sioux. He is Sioux by adoption himself; that is, he is actually part of the White Butte Band, a tribe of Ogallala Sioux! [31]
Herge, passionately interested since his youth in the world of the Indians, as totally fascinated by Father Gall. Gall was an extraordinary character, and he made a deep impression on the few people who were lucky enough to meet him. "My name is Lakota Ishnala," he would tell his visitors, "which means 'the solitary Sioux.' I am solitary in two senses; not only does this allude to the solitary prayers of the Indians, since I am a man of religion, but it is also a reminder that I am all alone here, far from my people and my family." [32]

The day after their first meeting, Father Gall took Herge into the woods, to the place he called his "reservation." There, the monk dressed in Indian clothing from head to foot, complete with a feather headdress, embroidered vest, loincloth and trousers, moccasins, and blanket. In a few minutes, the Trappist monk had transformed himself into a Sioux chief. Soon he suggested that Herge smoke the peace pipe with him, according to the very strict Indian rites: the bowl had to be stuffed with tobacco and special roots; the pipe raised toward the sky and lowered toward the earth, then turned toward the four cardinal points, before it could be passed around by the participants. This was a form of religious sentiment that Herge felt extremely close to. Father Gall spoke to him about the Indian soul, the desire for communion with all the beings in the universe, and the feeling of harmony with nature of which the white man was capable. He also tried to correct the misconceptions propagated by the Scouts on the subject, before describing the current situation of Indians on reservations. Fascinated, Herge decided to suggest that Paul Cuvelier work with Father Gall on an "illustrated history of the Indians."  (pp. 204-205).
LOTS of red flags all through there... How did this monk learn to write the "Sioux language"? At best, he learned Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota. And just who was he corresponding with? I don't think there is a "White Butte Band." Was Gall friends with Black Elk? I suppose that is possible, given that Black Elk was in England as part of the Wild West show that toured there. Do I need to do research on Gall?! His persona was convincing to Herge, and as noted earlier, to Paul Goble, too. Do these two European writers (Herge and Goble) mean to tell us that this was the best they could do in terms of reliable sources for their portrayals of American Indians?!!! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"...they're reading Twilight!"

Add caption
We spent some of this holiday watching Friday Night Lights.

In the fourth season, a leading character exits the show. His girlfriend is desperate to fill her time and signs up for every club posted on the school bulletin board. One of my favorite characters--Landry Clark--understands how she feels and says that the school beautification committee isn't a good choice, and that the Book Club "would be fine except this week 'cause this week they're reading Twilight." It is just one of many beautifully delivered lines by Jesse Plemons, a talented actor who plays a geeky football player.

Occasionally they refer to children's literature in some way. In the first season, the back-up quarterback was called "the little engine that could." There's some great writing on this series! I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I'd love to know what the writers meant when they dissed Twilight. Was it the problematic way that Meyer presents the Native content?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Anita Silvey is a powerful person in children's literature. Among her many accomplishments are that she was the editor at the The Horn Book Magazine, and has been on NPR and television news programs. According to the information on her website, her lifelong conviction is that “only the very best of anything can be good enough for the young.”

Going through her Book-A-Day Almanac with that conviction in mind, I'm a bit puzzled. On one hand, or rather, on one day, she hails Morning Girl by Michael Dorris for helping her to see Christopher Columbus in a new way...  Indeed, she was so moved by Morning Girl that she no longer celebrates Columbus Day.  Here's what Silvey wrote:
Morning Girl provides a different lens for history. As the saying goes, history gets written by the winners. But in this slim book, Michael Dorris makes it possible to view events in 1492 from the point of view of the people already living in the Americas, sailing no oceans. Because Dorris accomplished his mission so brilliantly, I have not celebrated Columbus Day since I read this small gem.
Though I've not written (yet) about Morning Girl on AICL, I agree with her assessment. It is a gem. Reading comments from her readers, I think she influenced several people to revisit how they view Columbus Day, too. That's a good thing because U.S. history is too-often romanticized and glorified, and too-often, stereotypes are not challenged. Dorris challenged these stereotypes, as Silvey tells us:
As a child, Dorris had found only stereotypical Indians in books; so he set out to craft a story with authentic Native American characters that children would want to read about, get to know, and grow to love. 
What she does not tell her readers is that the stereotypical Indians Dorris found in books he read as a child are the ones in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series---which is that 'other hand' I alluded to above. On one hand, Silvey praises Dorris, and on the other, she praises Wilder. (For my response to Silvey's recommendation of the series, see my post on July 11, 2011.)

In his essay, "Trusting the Words," Dorris wrote about sitting down to read Little House in the Big Woods to his daughters:
Not one page into Little House in the Big Woods, I heard my voice saying, "As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them."

Say what? Excuse me, but weren't we forgetting the Chippewa branch of my daughters' immediate ancestry, not to mention the thousands of resident Menominees, Potawatomis, Sauks, Foxes, Winnebagos, and Ottawas who inhabited mid-nineteenth-century Wisconsin, as they had for many hundreds of years? Exactly upon whose indigenous land was Grandma and Grandpa's cozy house constructed? Had they paid for the bountiful property, teeming with wild game and fish? This fun-filled world of extended Ingallses was curiously empty, a pristine wilderness in which only white folks toiled and cavorted, ate and harvested, celebrated and were kind to each other.

My dilemma, as a raconteur, was clear. My little girls looked up to me with trusting eyes, eager to hear me continue with the first of these books I had promised with such anticipation. I had made "an event" out of their reading, an intergenerational gift, and now in the cold light of an adult perspective I realized that I was, in my reluctance to dilute the pleasure of a good story with the sober stuff of history, in the process of perpetuating a Eurocentric attitude that was still very much alive. One had only to peruse newspaper accounts of contemporary Wisconsin controversies over tribal fishing rights, bingo emporia, and legal and tax jurisdiction to realize that many of Grandpa and Grandma's descendants remained determined that there could be "no people" except those who were just like them. (p. 271-272)
Dorris closed Little House in the Big Woods at that point, deciding he'd set that book aside and try again the next night with Little House on the Prairie. In that one, he recalled that the family had moved west. There, he figured, there would be Indians. Things seemed to be going fine as he read it to his daughters, but then he got to page 46 where Ma tells Laura she doesn't like Indians. Dorris writes:
What was a responsible father to do? Stop the narrative, explain that Ma was a know-nothing racist? Describe the bitter injustice of unilateral treaty abridgment? Break into a chorus of "Oklahoma!" and then point out how American popular culture has long covered up the shame of the Dawes Act by glossing it over with Sooner folklore? (p 274)
What he did instead, was start editing and leaving out words and passages as he read, doing what he could to counter the racism until he couldn't do it any longer. There was too much of it. He ended up putting the books on a top shelf and telling them to read them later on, on their own. He closes that essay by imagining a moment sometime in the future when each of his daughters would come to him with the book in-hand, outraged at its contents.

With someone as influential as Anita Silvey recommending the books, she is making sure the books stay on the bedside table, not the top shelf. So you see why I am puzzled by her conviction and the books she writes about on Book-A-Day.  How are the stereotypes in the Little House books "the very best" for children? Or the ones in other books she recommends, like Danny and the Dinosaur?

"Trusting the Words" is available in Paper Trails: Essays, by Michael Dorris, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE CHRISTMAS COAT by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

On December 6, 2011, I learned about a new book called The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Earlier this week, I read it, and like it very much. Here's the cover:

The book is subtitled "Memories of my Sioux Childhood" and that's Virginia on the cover. These are her memories. Perhaps the subtitle signals that there may be other books in the works. I hope so!

In The Christmas Coat, we come to know a young Virginia and her family in South Dakota in the 1940s or thereabouts. That's "a long time ago" to any young child, but in this "long time ago" story, we have Native children who, like other children of that time period, wear things like... green sweaters rather than the popular stereotype that suggests that "real" Indians wear buckskin and feathers.  Like people of any culture or nation, we have clothing that we wear at specific times for specific purposes. Virginia wore that green sweater, but doing so did not--and does not--make her "less" Native.


The Christmas Coat won the 

On the cover, we see three children in buckskin and feathered headdresses. The reason they're dressed that way is because they are playing the part of the Wise Men at a Nativity pageant. The accompanying text says "They wore headdresses that only the wise leaders and elders of the tribe could wear."

You see, Virginia's dad is an Episcopal priest in their village. That plays a major role in the story. People from church congregations in the eastern part of the United States would send boxes of clothing to churches on reservations. The winter boxes include coats. Virginia needs, and wants, a new coat... How she gets one is the plot of the story.  With Christmas 2011 a few days away, children all over the US are filled with wants, and needs, too. As such, the story will resonate with children and their parents, too.

Beneath that plot, however, is a wealth of information that children can pick up. As I said last week, Christmas at my mom's is a mix of traditional Pueblo ways, and, mainstream things like Christmas trees and Santa Claus (I played the part of Santa last year):

The Santa in Virginia's story brings a bag of gifts. Inside that bag is a mix of traditional and mainstream items. Virginia's present from Santa is one of the dolls you see in his bag (image from illustrator, Ellen Beier's website):

Beier's illustrations are terrific. See more of them here. She did a lot of research and work that helped her create the images that beautifully capture Virginia's story.

I hope Holiday House has more of Virginia's stories in the works. If you're still looking for a gift for someone, consider getting a copy of The Christmas Coat right away. Get two! One to give this year, and another copy for next year, too, for another child.

 The Christmas Coat was featured on NPR earlier this week.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
Written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier
Published in 2011 by Holiday House
Support independent, Native-owned bookstores! Order it from Birchbark Books

The Christmas Coat won the 2011 Youth Literature Award from the American Indian Library Association. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

AICL listed on HORN BOOK "Kids, books, and blogs" page

Back before The Horn Book redesigned its website, American Indians in Children's Literature was amongst the blogs it listed on its "Kids, books, and blogs" page. I grabbed a screen shot of it from its archive and am sharing it here. As far as I can tell, they haven't recreated the page on their new site.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Native students rebut ABC's "Children of the Plains"

In October of 2011, ABC broadcast "Children of the Plains" on its 20/20 program. Watching the promos for it, I shook my head. Diane Sawyer gave her viewers a very narrow program that did little to portray Native youth in the fullness of their existence.

Today (December 13, 2011) I'm sharing a rebuttal to Sawyer.

Please watch More Than That, and share it with as many people as you can. Those of you who work with children's literature in some way, keep this video in mind when you're reviewing books. We need literature that reflects the entirety of who we are rather than an outsiders romantic or derogatory misconception.

More Than That...  
by students at Todd County High School
Mission, South Dakota

Update: 6:15 AM, Wednesday, December 14, 2011

After posting the video yesterday, I watched some of the other videos the students have on Youtube. They do a video news broadcast at their school. That's what the first part of the video below shows, but the second half is a series of outtakes. While More Than That... blew me away, 12-12-11 (below) made me smile. These students are terrific! Right now, the school features More Than That... on their homepage.

12-12-11 Falcon News
Todd County High School
Mission, South Dakota

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

MY NAME IS NOT EASY... on Kindle Fire?

This news is interesting! If I read it right, I think that Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name is Not Easy is going to be available on Kindle...

The press release says something about "the brilliant touchstone screen" of Kindle Fire. I wonder if they plan to add images to Debby's book?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New book by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve!

Just saw something I must check out! Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve has a new book out... 

Read about it at Cynsations, where Cynthia Leitich Smith has an interview with the illustrator, Ellen Beier.

What I find intriguing about the cover is the children in traditional clothing looking at the Christmas tree. If you were at my mom and dad's home at Nambe Pueblo on Christmas Eve, you'd see something like that....  Those of us who were dancing that night would be in traditional clothes, and, there'd be a Christmas tree there, too.

Definitely looking forward to reading it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm taking a much needed break for a couple of weeks...  

I'll be back, though! See you then! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Indian Children" by Annette Wynne

Today's post is prompted by a comment submitted to me by Brendan, a regular reader of AICL. The comment was submitted via the "Contact AICL" button in the tool bar above.

In 1919, Annette Wynne's For Days and Days: A Year Round Treasury of Child Verse was published. In it is a poem that is easily found today. That poem is "Indian Children." You can find it, as Brendan did, on teacher lesson plan sites. When I started looking around, I saw that you can also find Youtube videos of children reciting it.

The poem tells us that American Indians no longer exist. You could read the poem as a lament, or you could read it as a celebration. Either way, it doesn't matter. The bottom line for Wynne, and, I suspect, for teachers who use it today, is that we are no longer here. We are, of course, alive and well.

Here it is:
Indian Children
by Annette Wynne

Where we walk to school each day
Indian children used to play-
All about our native land,
Where the shops and houses stand.

Note "we" in the first line and "our" in the third line. Neither word includes Native children. Both refer to white children and their families who now claim the land. What does a teacher tell her students about where those Indian children went? And, what does she tell them about how that land became theirs?

And the trees were very tall,
And there were no streets at all,
Not a church and not a steeple-
Only woods and Indian people.

References to religious structures and houses and shops, but not banks. Or saloons...  A pristine, but incomplete image.

Only wigwams on the ground,
And at night bears prowling round-
What a different place today
Where we live and work and play!

If read as a lament, there is sadness that there are no longer wigwams and bears. No mention, in that stanza, of the children mentioned in the first stanza. If read as a celebration, there is gladness that there are no longer wigwams and bears.

A troubling poem, no matter how you slice it. Do you know someone who uses it? Do you know how and why it is used?

Another thought: The title doesn't fit the poem! It isn't about Indian children. Can you suggest a new title for it?

Slapin's review of Debby Dahl Edwardson's MY NAME IS NOT EASY

Below is Beverly Slapin's review of Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name is Not Easy.  It may not be reprinted elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved.

Edwardson, Debby Dahl, My Name Is not Easy. Marshall Cavendish, 2011; grades 7-up

The elders say the earth has turned over seven times, pole to pole,
north to south.
Freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing,
flipping over and tearing apart.
Changing everything.

We were there.
We were always there.
They say no one survived the ice age but they’re wrong.
There were seven ice ages and we survived.
We survived them all….

The residential schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or various church denominations were established in Alaska in the 1920s. Until 1976, when the Molly Hootch settlement required the State of Alaska to establish local schools all over the state—even in the remote “bush” regions—Alaskan Native children were sent to these residential schools that were hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their homes and families. Being away for years at a time resulted in cultural ties and intergenerational relationships broken, and languages and ways of seeing the world unlearned. The wounds were deep and the scars remain. For the most part, people still don’t talk about their residential school experiences.

The young man we come to know as “Luke” does not say his Iñupiaq name because it’s “not easy” for white people to pronounce. Along with other Iñupiaq, Yup’ik, Athabascan and some white young people, he and his brothers have been sent to “Sacred Heart,” a Catholic residential school for children who live in the Far North.

There, spanning the period from 1960-1964, the lives of the Iñupiaq, Yup’ik and Athabascan students are turned upside down as they struggle to survive the harsh climate of the residential school. A harsh climate that includes heartache and loneliness. That includes the isolation of being thrust into an unknown place, away from home and family and everything that has meaning. That includes being forbidden to speak their languages. That includes being severely punished for minor infractions. That includes a system of being abducted and given in adoption to white families. That includes being forced to ingest radioactive iodine in an “investigation” of why “Eskimos” do so well in cold weather.

Edwardson’s writing is crisp and clean, and middle readers will hear the voices of the students, who need not interrupt the narrative to explain their cultures. The way Luke, for instance, sees the world—his cultural logic—is the way it is. This world that is Sacred Heart, far from home, is an alien world. Luke says:

This place is not right. You’re supposed to be able to see things when you’re outside. You’re supposed to be able to look out across the tundra and see caribou, flickering way off in the sunlight, geese flying low next to the horizon, the edge of the sky running around you like the rim of a bowl. Everything wide open and full of possibility. How can you even tell where you’re going in a place like this? How can you see the weather far enough to tell what’s coming?

Back home there’s a breeze coming in off the ocean ice, and I wish I could feel its cool breath on my sweaty neck right now. Wish I was sitting in a boat with chunks of ocean ice just sort of hanging there in between the smooth water and the cloudless sky—drifting with their reflections white and ghost-like against the glassy water…. How can anybody breathe in a place where there is no wind, no open sky, no ocean, no family? Nothing worth counting?

While My Name Is not Easy is fiction, the stories and events are essentially true. Luke’s and his brothers’ experiences are based on those of Edwardson’s husband, George, and his brothers at Copper Valley, a residential school that enrolled some whites as well as Iñupiaq, Yup’ik and Athabascan students. The historic events—the military’s horrific experiments with iodine-131, the massive 9.2 Good Friday earthquake, the act of civil disobedience known as the “Barrow Duck-In,” and Project Chariot, the proposed detonation to demonstrate the “peaceful use of nuclear power”—all happened.

But something else happened in the Alaskan residential schools, something that the government and church authorities probably never intended: the way the students—“Eskimo” and “Indian”—came together, the way that family was created, the unexpected thing that changed the force of history in the state, that drove the land claims movement and other political changes that gave Alaska Natives political power. “Across the state,” Debby Edwardson told me, “there’s a generation of pretty powerful leaders. George, for instance, who was known as ‘Pea Soup,’ is now tribal president.”

The younger generation of Iñupiat, she said, “has grown up with the pain of loss of the language because their parents and grandparents were punished for using it.” As in the rest of the country and Canada, New Zealand and Australia, language revitalization efforts continue, and “we are working on a language immersion preschool program that will also create an indigenous teacher track for educational strategies specific to our communities. So, in a sense, we are actually decolonizing the language and trying to heal so much pain.” 

My Name Is not Easy is really a political coming-of-age story; what starts out as Luke’s personal narrative ends as a community narrative. It’s only in the last pages that we’re told Luke’s Iñupiaq name. As Aamaugak reclaims his name, he, as the duck hunters of Barrow had, leads an act of civil disobedience that unites the students who, ultimately, come to realize that what brings them together is more powerful than what separates them.

The young students here are courageous. They’ve learned how to survive. “Yes, we learned,” Luke says. “We learned how not to talk in Iñupiaq and how to eat strange food and watch, helpless, while they took our brother away.” They’ve learned to withstand Father Mullen’s vicious beatings and “the words Father says that sting worse than the blows.” And they’ve learned, as Amiq and Sonny have, how to laugh softly, “when something bad happens and there’s nothing left to do but laugh.”

Here, Debby Dahl Edwardson relates the students’ stories with honesty and beauty—and without polemic, without hyperbole, without expository digressions, without the need that lesser writers seem to have to teach something. My Name Is not Easy is an antidote to Ann Rinaldi’s toxic My Heart Is on the Ground and all the other middle reader novels that romanticize “Eskimos” and “Indians,” and minimize the pain of the residential schools. Thank you, Debby.

were here.
We were always here,
hanging on where others couldn’t,
marking signs where others wouldn’t,
counting kin our own way. We
survived. The earth
can’t shake

—Beverly Slapin

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tune in tomorrow...

That sounds odd, "Tune in tomorrow"  --- but if you can, tune in tomorrow at 6:30 PM EST to Blog Talk Radio's Is That Your Child where I'll be the guest...

And, apologies for the lack of updates to AILC. Stuff happens.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Beverly Slapin's review of WOLF MARK, by Joseph Bruchac

Below is Beverly Slapin's review of Joseph Bruchac's new book, Wolf Mark.  It may not be reprinted elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved.

Bruchac, Joseph, Wolf Mark. Lee & Low, 2011, grades 7-up

Joe Bruchac is not yet known for his YA werewolf/vampire/espionage novels, but this talented writer can sure pull off the genre(s). Middle readers who have the ability to suspend disbelief will relate to the teen protagonist, an Abenaki wolf-boy with multiple challenges. Such as doing well in school and winning over the girl he really likes. Such as keeping himself from ripping out someone’s throat when he’s annoyed or angry. Such as rescuing his father from a megalomaniac gene-blending scientist who’s plotting to take over the world.

In Wolf Mark, everything is extreme: the action, the gore, the metaphors, the allusions to uncontrolled corporate greed that threatens to devour us all. And amidst all of this, Bruchac takes every opportunity to bust stereotypes: about American Indians, about women, about Muslims, about Russians, about werewolves and vampires.

In what may be a parody of badly written YA novels featuring Indian protagonists who abruptly break the narrative in order to insert for young non-Indian readers the supposedly required ethnographic expositions, our Abenaki wolf-boy hero breaks his narrative in order to posit a Freudian analysis of himself: “Was that bloodthirsty, drooling monster a virtual manifestation of my own out-of-control animal nature? Or an archetype? Not a creature threatening me from outside but the beast within?” Or maybe it’s a parody of such paragons of horror as H.P. Lovecraft.

Not dissimilar to what Thomas King did in Green Grass, Running Water, Bruchac places an allusion, covert or overt, on almost every page. There are snippets from poems cleverly disguised as the narrator’s own words and not-so-hidden references to “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” There’s a nod to the wisdom of Pogo. There’s a melding of Jack Kerouac and Jack London, and of Lon Chaney and Dick Cheney. There are quotes from Shakespeare, Stephen King and Joe Friday; lyrics from “The Wizard of Oz,” Piledriver and Bob Dylan; and rewriting of some of the winning entrants from the Bulwer-Lytton bad prose contests (my favorite being “a constellation of zits”). And, in homage to Thomas King, Bruchac gives his name to the protagonist’s father.

This reader wildly careened between being breathlessly swept up in the action and deflecting mixed metaphors and movie plots. And loved every minute.

The end, of course, is entirely predictable, yet ultimately satisfying. Sort of like when you’re sucking the last bit of vanilla ice cream down the bottom of a sugar cone after you’ve bitten off the tip.

So, Joe, when’s the sequel coming out and when do you expect Spielberg to call?

—Beverly Slapin

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

New resource online: INDIANS OF THE MIDWEST

Yesterday, the Newberry Library in Chicago launched a new online resource: Indians of the Midwest. I spent hours going through it, learning some things, and finding it an excellent source of information.

If you go to the site right now (I imagine the graphic will change over time), you'll see photos that cycle from one to the other. One is an 1842 drawing of a Menominee village. Immediately following it is a photograph of an Ojibwe neighborhood in Bad River, Wisconsin. It makes the point that Native peoples of today live in houses, much like anyone else.

The site is multi-media and very user-friendly. There is, for example, an "Ask a Question" option. If you submit a question, it will be answered on the page. Rather than go on about its merits, I'll just send you right over to Indians of the Midwest.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New (to me) publisher: Inhabit Media, Inc.

Sitting here on my couch this morning, I've come across the website for an Inuit-owned publishing house called Inhabit Media, Inc. located in Iquluit, Nunavut.  Using interlibrary loan, I've ordered a handful of their books and look forward to reading them.

Here's a couple from their catalog:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eric Carle's illustrations for TALES OF THE NIMIPOO

I like a lot of Eric Carle's books. I used The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I taught kindergarten and first grade. I read books he wrote and illustrated to my daughter, and I give them as gifts.

I was surprised, this morning, to learn that he had done illustrations for Tales of the Nimipoo from the Land of the Nez Perce by Eleanor B. Heady.

For one of my courses at SJSU I've been thinking about collection development. In that thought-space I visited the Awful Library Books blog, and went through one of their slide shows about weeding.

That led me to wonder what the oldest book about American Indians in a local library might be. I searched that local library's holdings and that is how I came across Tales of the Nimipoo from the Land of the Nez Perce. They do have it on the shelf, even though it is pretty old. It came out in 1970. When the library opens later today, I'll drive over there and check it out. 

Let's consider the title for a moment.

"Nimipoo" is Hardy's spelling of Nimi'ipuu, which is what the Nez Perce people call themselves. There's a good bit of info about the word on the website for the Nez Perce Tribe. We could say it is cool that Heady included Nimipoo in her title. It shows that she knows the people had their own name for themselves.  It is a bit awkward, though, to have both Nimipoo and Nez Perce in the title. Hopefully there will be a note in the book that explains her use of Nimipoo.

Next, let's consider the word "Tales" in the title. That one is a major problem for me...  Are these "tales" or are they traditional stories? Are they creation stories? If so, the book belongs on the shelf with creation stories of other world religions. What I am pointing to is problems in classification, wherein some people are "folk" and have "quaint" stories while others receive a different treatment in the classification system.

I'll let you know what I find when I get the book.

Update: November 1, 2011

Ok---got the book, read through the intro, read some of the stories. My conclusion? It is old, dated, and though the author is well-intentioned, her bias comes through. In the intro, for example, she says that the Nimipoo people have a dictionary where they use "tepees" instead of the term she uses, "tipis." Seems to me that using their spelling would confer a strong support and respect for them and their work in creating that dictionary. She thanks a couple of Nimipoo people for sharing their stories with her, and, she mentions stories in the archives at Washington State University.  The intro is date July 1969, which is, of course, way before critical essays like those by Betsy Hearne that ask authors to cite their sources, and respect those sources, too.  My suggestion? If you still have this in your library, weed it.

As far as Eric Carle's illustrations go, they're black and white and completely in keeping with his well-recognized style. Here's one page:

And here's another! I wonder if any reviewers noted that the woman is not dressed?!

Monday, October 24, 2011


I've just come across what looks to be an absolutely stunning video series called Wapos Bay. Set in the present day, the stop-motion animation format features a Cree family. I've watched several clips on YouTube. Some are in English, and some are in Cree. (By the way, from what I've seen so far, the episodes in Cree far surpass the Lakota versions of the Berenstein Bears that are getting a lot of press right now.)

With the upcoming release of Breaking Dawn, here's one timely clip from the episode "Too Deadly" Brotherhood of Vampire Killers":

Check out the Wapos Bay website. Enter the site by clicking on the television set and you'll be taken to an interactive page for kids to click around on. Once I get a copy of the series, I'll write more about it. For right now, I'm really impressed. If you've seen it, please submit a comment below. And if you want to order the series, it is available from Native American Public Telecommunications.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


While working as a librarian, Kathleen Horning of the CCBC, recommended children's books about American Indians whenever she could. For example, she recommended Bernelda Wheeling's Where Did You Get Your Moccasins whenever someone was looking for a story about grandparents, or a book about "where things come from" or one about clothing.

Among its many strengths is that Where Did You Get Your Moccasins is about a Native child of today.

If you work with preschool or kindergarten children and you're interested in a lesson plan for the book, Montana's Indian Ed for All developed one that spans five days. Click here to download a pdf of the lesson plan [note that it also has lesson plans for three other books: 1) The Gift of the Bitteroot, 2) Beaver Steals Fire, and 3) The War Shirt]. The lesson plans provide information about the author and illustrator and are keyed to content standards for the state of Montana.

Ginny Moore Kruse's 1992 article on Multicultural Literature

This morning I'm re-reading, Ginny Moore Kruse's 1992 article "No Single Season: Multicultural Literature for All Children" (published in Wilson Library Bulletin, volume 66) Here's what Ginny wrote (the article does not include the illustration I've added here):
A well-known picture book provides one example of a typical blunder. Amazing Grace, by British book creators Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch (U.S. edition: Dial, 1991), involves the indomitable Grace, a black child missing two front teeth but full of spunk and the capacity to dream. Grace loves stories, and she plays out the stories she's read or been told. Overall Amazing Grace is a welcome story about the power of story in an exuberant contemporary girl's daily imaginative play, about the appeal of the classics, and about self-esteem. Grace pretends to be people recognizable to some readers as from British, European, American, and African history and literature--people such as Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, Mowgli, and...Hiawatha. Are the book's multiple themes so welcome that the act of "playing Indian" escaped comment by most U.S. reviewers...that critics relaxed their standards for evaluation? No, such images recur so frequently that when they do, nobody notices. Well, almost nobody but the children who in real life are Indian.

Claiming that only American Indian children are apt to notice "playing Indian," "sitting Indian style," or picture book animals "dressed up" like American Indians does not excuse the basic mistake. Self-esteem is decreased for the affected peoples, and accurate portrayals are skewed for everyone else.
Well said, Ginny! Here's another terrific excerpt about how librarians can broaden the knowledge base of their patrons:
Perceiving the value of a book from several perspectives and for more than one audience, purpose, or use has long been a strength of good reviewers, perceptive children's librarians, and experienced school library media specialists. Kathleen Horning spoke of the day-to-day benefits of her firsthand knowledge of multicultural literature at the Association for Library Service to Children Preconference, "The Many Faces in Children's Books," held prior to the 1991 American Library Association Annual Conference. A children's librarian at the Madison (Wisconsin) Public Library, Horning told how Bernelda Wheeler's picture book Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? (Pemmican Press, 1986) has library and general user potential beyond its unique cultural content. She suggests the title when adults or children ask for a book with a school setting, or a story about a grandparent, or for information on "where something comes from," or books on clothing. If Horning had pigeonholed the book as one for use only when American Indian materials are needed, readers requesting her advisory services would lose a multifaceted book.
November is approaching, and given its designation as "Native American Month" teachers and librarians will be sharing American Indian stories with children. I encourage teachers, librarians, and parents to heed what Horning said.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Popular searches at the Smithsonian website

A few minutes ago I was at the Smithsonian's "CollectionsSearchCenter" page studying how they classify photographs (doing this for my Information Retrieval course at SJSU).

At the bottom of the page there is a list of popular searches. The format of the image is familiar, with more popular searches shown in larger font.

The program that does that list for them shows 21 popular searches. One is Cheyenne Indians, and the other is "american+indians". I wonder who is doing all that searching, and why? And, I wonder what that list looks like, say, in February? Would Martin Luther King be in the top 21?