Friday, June 14, 2013

Susan Cooper on GHOST HAWK: "The only major liberty I've taken is..."

In the Author's Note of Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk, she says "The only major liberty I've taken is in copying for John Wakeley the whipping inflicted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Baptist Obadiah Homes in 1651" (p. 327).

I beg to differ.

From my point of view, Cooper took many liberties in the ways that she portrays Native peoples in Ghost Hawk. There are so many, that it will take a great while for me to address the questions I've raised in part one, and typing up/uploading/addressing the questions I've got about part two, three, and four.

In part one, we met John Wakeley (he was five years old) when he and his father were visiting an Indian village to learn how to fish. John met Little Hawk (who was several years older than John) at that village. About five years later, John and his dad are chopping down a tree. It falls on John's dad. Little Hawk is nearby and tries to chop a branch to free John's dad, but is shot by a Pilgrim man who thinks Little Hawk was going to kill John.

In part two, the story is told by Little Hawk, but since he was killed at the end of part one, he tells the story as "a spirit" who can see past and present and understand any language, which is why he can tell us what happens to John in the rest of the book. Another important piece of information: As a spirit, he can choose to be seen and speak. In part one, he revealed himself to John and taught John how to speak the Wampanoag language (below, Cooper says "Pokanoket" but the Mashee Wampanoag use "Wampanoag" at their website).

This scene is in chapter 11 of part two.

John is an adult and visiting Plymouth. Little Hawk (the ghost) tells us that there are lot of people in Plymouth, including several Indians. As John walks, he sees a large group of Pokanokets. A wagon comes down the street, and from the group, John sees a small boy run into the wagon's path, chasing a ball.
"Instinctively he dived forward to grab the child, and caught him just in time" (p. 248).
The child is whimpering, and John speaks to him softly in Pokanoket, "it's all right, don't be afraid, everything's all right." (p. 248).

I've got a lot of questions about that passage, but am focusing on one for this post. The child, according to Cooper, is called Trouble. A few pages later, John visits Yellow Feather/Massasoit's village and home. We learn that Trouble is Massasoit's youngest son, Metacom, or King Phillip.

In Cooper's story, a white person (John) has saved the life of a Native person (Metacom) who will become an important leader (King Philip).

That is a major liberty Cooper has taken in telling this story. She's made John Wakeley into a savior. Where would the Wampanoag's in her story be without him?!

Lest you think that Cooper is relating something factually accurate in that passage, I should also tell you that in her author's note, she says John Wakeley is a fictional character. Did a white person actually save Metacom's life? I'll be looking for that info. If you find it, submit it in a comment or send it to me by email.

In Cooper's story, John is so important that the Wampanoag people gather round to see him. Here's that passage:
Gradually the house filled with people eager for a sight of the white man who had saved Yellow Feather's son" (p. 261).
And later on when John leaves the village, people gather round again. One man holds his son up high overhead so he can see the Speaker. The images those two scenes bring to my mind are gross.

I know a lot of people (looking at you, Richie) love this book, but stop and think about WHY you love this story. Why is it tugging at your heart strings?

If you're a writer, don't create a character who rescues a Native person. No doubt that happened, but the larger picture is not one of benevolence.

If you're a reviewer and you read a book where that happens, point it out.

If you're a librarian or a teacher, don't buy books like this. If it is too late and you've already bought it, discuss what Cooper does. Or, see if you can get your money back. Write a letter to the publisher objecting to the story. If they hear from enough of us, hopefully they won't publish a book like this again.

Creating a character that saves Indian lives obscures the reality of what happened. Let's not hide reality. And let's not whitewash it, either.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Update from Curtis Acosta and the shut-down of TUSD's Mexican American Studies program

Editor's note: Late last week, Curtis Acosta wrote to me, asking if I'd share his open letter regarding his work. I'm glad to do it. If you are completely new to what happened in Tucson last year, one place to start is with the chronological set of posts I wrote during that time. See the menu bar across the top of the blog? See the "Mexican American Studies" tab? Click on it. Read through the history and then come back to read Curtis's letter. In his email, he titled the letter "Next Steps."


May 30, 2013

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and I from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of education malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will be receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago – a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate through the following link: Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing. 

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences. You can find more information on the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership through my website ( Facebook page.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply to unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children in any way.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than budding market place or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners, support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public school throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),
Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ


Editor's follow-up: A video of Acosta's press conference is available on YouTube. And, Acosta will be participating in an Ethnic Studies National Assembly at Free Minds, Free People 2013 in Chicago on July 14th. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Reading: Part One of Susan Cooper's GHOST HAWK

Editor's note, November 3, 2013: Discussion of this book over on the Heavy Medal blog started on October 15th. There, you'll see that some readers have read this post and are waiting for me to provide documentation of errors/inaccuracies in the book. As you read, you'll see where I've inserted updates regarding such inaccuracies. Some of what I object to is not a factual sort of thing. A good bit of what is wrong with Cooper's book has to do with imagining of Native culture, with that imagining rooted in romantic and biased views of Native peoples. These biased views are of several types. Indians as mystical. Indians as animal-like. Indians as stoic. Indians as tragic. Those--and others--are part of this book, which is a white lament of what happened to Native peoples. For me, that lament is first-cousin to those who wish to honor American Indians with things like mascots, or those who love movies like Dances with Wolves. For my additional writings on Ghost Hawk, see:

Friday, June 14, 2013: Susan Cooper on Ghost Hawk: "The only major liberty I've taken is..."
Tuesday, October 15, 2013: Where would we be without whites who like Indians?  

And read Elizabeth Bird's review, too: Review of the Day: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper.

Below is my first post on Ghost Hawk, posted on June 5, 2013.


On Monday, June 3rd, I received (from a colleague) an advanced reader copy of Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk. My thoughts, as I read, are in italics.

Primarily a writer of fantasy, Cooper has a great deal of stature in children's literature. One of her books won the Newberry Award, and her series is much acclaimed. As such, she's got some built-in credibility for her writing and people will be eager to read Ghost Hawk. The question is, though, does she have the depth of knowledge, or did she do the research necessary, to give readers a book that doesn't lapse into stereotypes? 

We'll see. Below, I am sharing my chapter-by-chapter notes for part one of the book. In some cases, I paused and did some research that I share right away. In some places, you'll see I'm still digging.

Ghost Hawk opens with two epigraphs. The first is from Roger Williams and is dated 1643. Williams tells not to be proudful because "thy brother Indian" was made by the same God that made the English. That Indian, the epigraph says, is just as wise, fair, and strong as the English man. 

The second epigraph is a verse from Woodie Guthrie's song, This Land is Your Land. 

Why, I wonder, did Cooper choose those two? It was, by the way, rather patronizing of Williams to assume that his God made Indians. How does he know it didn't happen the other way around, with the Indians god making the Englishmen?! And what is the rationale for choosing Guthrie? Was Cooper giving readers a heads-up with the Guthrie song, perhaps, that someone (Cooper?) thinks the land doesn't really belong to the Indians? Is she defending her right to own land? In the Author's Note, she writes that "Seven years ago I built a house on Little Hawk's island" where she "listened to the land, and to its past" and decided to write the book. What is the name of the island? Is it one that the Wampanoag people lost to land-hungry Europeans? Is its ownership contested today? 


Chapter 1

Spring or summertime. A man approaches a small bitternut hickory tree and gives it "a respectful greeting and explained what he was about to do" (p. 6). Then, he puts a stone blade in the 'v' of two branches of a young hickory tree and tightly binds the two branches above the blade. Over time, the branches will fuse, enclosing the stone. This is the way that a man makes a tomahawk for his son. This particular blade is precious to the man because it was part of the tomahawk used by his grandfather and father until the handle broke. As he returns to his canoe, he uses his bow and kills three ducks for the feast celebrating the birth of his son. the closing words of the chapter are:
"I was that son. Because Flying Hawk was my father, the name they were giving me was Little Hawk" (p. 6).
My thoughts: I spent a few hours trying to find information about that technique of putting a stone blade in a tree, and so far... nothing about that, specifically. I did find an old text that describes how the branch of a young tree could be bent around a stone blade and then then the branch tied to itself beneath the blade. And, I learned that hickory is a very hard wood and because of that, it is a great for tool handles.

Regarding the names Cooper gave to her characters...  How names are given is important, but rarely portrayed correctly. I don't know who the tribe is yet, so can't say much other than that Cooper's choice of Little Hawk fits within a mainstream expectation of how Native people give names.

Speaking to the tree also fits a mainstream expectation in which Native peoples live within an ethical framework in which they see themselves as part of a web of life rather than having dominion over the earth. While that ethic is valid, there's a tendency for writers to overdo it when they imagine living a life with that ethic as part of ones daily life. It is helpful to think of a character who is a devout Christian. That information could be established up front, and need not be reiterated on page after page.   

Chapter 2

Little Hawk is now eleven years old and his dad takes him out to the site of the hickory tree where he had bound that stone blade on the day of Little Hawk's birth. In the eleven years that passed, the two branches fused and became one, above the blade. Flying Hawk cuts the tree down. Before he does, though, he gives a pinch of tobacco to the tree's spirit, and Little Hawk says "Thank you, my brother" (p. 9). 

My thoughts: This giving of tobacco...  Some tribes use tobacco to make offerings, but would it be done before cutting down a tree? I don't know, but Cooper's use of tobacco and thanking the spirit of the tree definitely fits within a mainstream expectation of what Native people do/did. I initiated some discussion on child_lit about Ghost Hawk. Emails I got from Charlotte, in particular, are helpful in thinking about this aspect of Native spirituality. As I noted above, Native peoples see themselves as part of the world rather than dominant over it. That sensibility pervades life. Cooper, however (and many writers who over-do this spirituality) do it only in response to an act of taking. When they have a character taking something, they pack that taking with this "thank you, my brother" kind of activity and dialog. As Charlotte said, when that happens again and again, it takes on a caricature rather than a view of the world. 

The tomahawk will be made by wintertime, when it will be time for Little Hawk to "be taken deep into the woods, blindfolded, for the three-month test of solitude that would turn me into a man" (p. 9).

My thoughts: Three months? Dead of winter? Eleven years old? I did several searches on various combinations of Wampanoag, manitou, boy, and vision. When I used "Wampanoag vision quest" I found a book by David J. Silverman called Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, published in 2005. It has information that supports some of what Cooper says. Specifically, boys did vision quests at adolescence, but, I've traced Silverman's sources and am not finding a specific age or duration of this test. I'm also not finding any reference to a blindfold. I've sent emails asking for help on this three-month-test-of-solitude.

Chapter 3

In their longhouse, Little Hawk's mom and sister are getting him ready to head out for that three-month test of solitude, which is also called his "proving time" (p. 10). His sister, Quickbird, is a tomboy. We learn that there are three other boys in the village who will also be sent out on this test. The other three are named Leaping Turtle, White Oak, and Spring Frog. 

My thoughts: Names, again... I wonder (here I am being snarky) why these three boys don't have "little" in their names like Little Hawk does? Does the naming convention Cooper used for Flying/Little Hawk not apply to everyone?   

Little Hawk's mom and sister plan to give him several items to take with him, but Flying Hawk glares at them. He is only supposed to take a boy, an axe, and a knife. With these things, he will "come back a man" (p. 14). 

Little Hawk and his dad go to a sweat lodge where they "sit naked in the hot steam" (p. 15). Sometimes whole families go there to sweat out "the dirt on our bodies" but this time, it is just the men, and they're going to sweat out "the fears in our minds" (p. 15). 

My thoughts: Sweat lodge as family bathing? I don't think I've seen THAT before! But---I'm checking on it.

The day after the sweat, Flying Hawk gives Little Hawk a knife with a metal blade. Such knives are rare. It was made by the white men. The three-month test of solitude starts out with Flying Hawk putting a blindfold on Little Hawk, and then handing him one end of a long deerskin strap. With the leash, Flying Hawk leads him into the forest for a long time (no mention of hours/distance) and then removes the blindfold, hugs him, and takes off. Because some snow has fallen already (it is early winter), they wear snowshoes.

My thoughts: The blindfold part of this whole thing adds to my skepticism of it being something anyone would actually do, especially to an eleven year old boy. Course, I need to do some research to see if I can find anything that supports what Cooper describes.

Alone in the forest, Little Hawk is not afraid. He likes to be alone. He remembers a story about him as a two-year old. He'd wandered off and people had looked for him all day. They found him beneath a maple tree they'd set up to tap its sap. He'd eaten the sap in the birch bark bucket and was waiting, mouth open beneath the tap, for more of the sap. "For some time after that I was called Little Maple, because--they said, making my poor mother cross--I had chosen to be suckled by a tree instead of a woman" (p. 21).

My thoughts: Changing his name, even in jest, as Cooper does here fits within the mainstream notion that Indian names are given based on something near in the proximity of the child. There's lot of crude and insensitive jokes about naming out there. Cooper isn't being insensitive but it is ignorant.

Little Hawk sets out walking. He promptly falls into a tangle of greenbrier vines and hurts his ankle. He makes a shelter beneath the vines and builds a fire. He is hungry, and remembers his grandmother, Suncatcher, teaching him how to dig roots. He thinks he'll dig greenbrier roots but then remembers he's supposed to be fasting. He decides to dig the roots up anyway and save them for later, when he can eat. 

Chapter 4

Little Hawk wakes, thinking of his grandmother. She is a member of the tribal council. She had not been home the day Little Hawk left because she was with his older sister, Southern, at the "women's house" (p. 27) where women go when they're menstruating (on page 12, Cooper called this "moontime bleeding.")

My thoughts: Some tribes use "moon" but "moontime bleeding" is not something I remember reading or hearing about. In my research so far, "moontime bleeding" pulls up New Age items.

Several days pass. Little Hawk gets hungrier and more tired, but he's got to fast until the Great Spirit sends his Manitou to him. One night he wakes in his shelter and finds that it is covered with deep snow. He is cold and scared and starts to cry, but since "a man does not show weakness, ever" (p. 32), he forces himself to howl instead, like a coyote. He falls into a "trance of despair" and in that state, his Manitou comes to him. It is an osprey, or, a fish hawk. It tells him to "stop this" (presumably the despair), and that it will show him his strength. Little Hawk flies into the sky with the osprey. As they fly, the osprey tells him many things "that I may not tell to you." 

My thoughts: I so badly want to quit reading this book. Ah well. This is stoic-Indian for sure. Or, stoic-male! 

Little Hawk wakes up, pushes the snow away, and sees a red-tailed hawk and knows that his Manitou sent that hawk and that he must follow it. It leads him to a pond, and, a deer trail. 

Chapter 5

Little Hawk waits for the deer to come by on the trail. He breaks his fast by chewing on pine bark. He cuts branches to make a bed in a little cave nearby the pond. In the cave he finds a cache of acorns and uses them to sets snares to catch squirrels. He cooks the greenbrier roots and eats them slowly. When he wakes up the next morning, there's a squirrel in his trap. He kills and eats it, working its hide for later use. 

My thoughts: He doesn't do any kind of prayer for the squirrel. In fact, what he does think kind of flies in the face of a reverence for the earth and its creatures: "Perhaps I had caught him with one of his own acorns, but he would save me from starving" (p. 38). 

He sees a lone wolf but manages to scare it away. Little Hawk is getting weaker without foot and then, he sees two deer. He wounds one and spends several hours tracking it. When he finds it, he sees that the lone wolf got to it first and is eating it. He yells at it, it turns on him, and he shoots it. It is wounded and takes off. Little Hawk gives thanks to the Great Spirit, his Manitou, and the spirit of the deer. He breaks the skull open with a rock so he can get the brain, which he'll use to tan the deerskin. He skins the deer, cuts off one of its legs, hauls the brain/skin/leg back to his cave and goes back for more meat.  

That night at his cave, he is "very tired and very dirty" and thinks about the sweat lodge. He cleans up with snow, makes a fire, cooks some meat, and goes to sleep. Over the next few days, he understands that the squirrel and the deer and he himself have a "part in a long harmony of things, a balance" and that is why his people send the boys out on this "solitary voyage of learning" (p. 46).

Chapter 6

One day when he's out, the wolf goes into the cave and eats Little Hawk's deer meat. He and the wolf fight. He kills the wolf but gets a deep gash on his face during the fight. He has to honor the wolf by burying it, which he does. He remembers one of his grandmother's bark remedies for cuts, finds some of it, and uses the squirrel skin and some sinew to make a bandage. He must find more food, too, so makes a hole in the frozen pond below his cave. His first catch is an eel. In pulling it out of the hole, his knife falls into the hole, gone forever. 

A few days later he sees the stars dancing in the sky (something his father showed him) and interprets that as a sign that he should make ready to return home. He imagines his return, and then after awhile, heads home.

Chapter 7

He runs into the center of the village but there is nobody around. He stumbles over a body (covered in snow) and then runs home. Inside, he finds his grandmother. She's weak, and tells him that the white man's sickness has killed everyone. Little Hawk figures out that the sickness was brought into the village by his father, who had traded with a white man for the knife he had given to Little Hawk. His grandmother grows stronger. One day, the flap door opens wide, and Leaping Turtle is there, wondering what has happened.

Chapter 8

Little Hawk, Suncatcher, and Leaping Turtle live together. One day the boys see smoke to the west of them. There's a break in the smoke, followed by a puff of smoke, and then two more breaks/puffs. The people in the village to the west of them are using smoke signals to talk to them. "Three smokes--remember? It's the greeting for anyone who sees it. Three just means 'I am here'" (p. 83). They decide to respond. One puff means danger, two puffs means come, four means I am coming. They choose to send three smokes but get no response. Darkness falls and they return to the house.

My thoughts: Aha! Smoke signals! And these ones even have the code!!!!! You could interpret my use of many exclamation points as me alternately rolling my eyes and laughing aloud at how ridiculous this is. I'll look, though, to see if I can find some old sources that give that code... It will be useful to see what Cooper's source for this is. In the meantime, the National Museum of the American Indian has a book called Do All Indians Live In Tipis. In it, there's a section on smoke signals

Suncatcher thinks the two boys should go to that village without her. She can't make a journey because the cold had "done something bad to her feet" (p. 84).  Little Hawk saw that the skin was very dark and tight.

My thoughts: Apparently, Suncatcher got frostbite before Little Hawk returned to the village. But, several days have passed by this point in the story. Wouldn't they be needing medical care? And, she's the one who knows how to do things... why is she not taking care of her feet?!

Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle decide to make a litter so they can carry her. They also decide to bury the body Little Hawk tripped over, which is that of Suncatchers brother, Morning Star, who was a medicine man. Before they start out for that village, however, three men from there arrive: Hunting Dog, Wolfchaser, and One Who Waits. One Who Waits is the sachem. They've built a new village and someone from Little Hawk's village is at the village, but they won't say who it is. When they all get there, Little Hawk sees that it is his little sister, Quickbird.

Chapter 9

Quickbird recounts the last days in their village. Morning Star told her to go to the other village because "The gods are angry with our people here." Listening to her, Wolfchaser agrees about the gods being angry and thinks they should pray that the anger of the gods is satisfied.

My thoughts: Sounds like Christian theology... a god who punishes his people... 

Suncatcher disagrees with the idea that angry gods would do this. She says the plague is from the white men and that it kills Indians, not white men. Wolfchaser thinks that perhaps the gods aren't angry with the white man. One Who Waits tells them that the white men came on a ship. Little Hawk remembers that he heard the story of this ship. 
"South of here, not far from the Pokanoket village of Sowams, where our great sachem Yellow Feather lived, a trader from across the sea had invited a number of our people aboard his ship and suddenly, for no reason, had killed them all." (p. 94)

My thoughts: Finally! Cooper gives us the name of a tribe! Yellow Feather is Massasoit, but I'll need to do some research to see who that trader was. All this angry-gods stuff also fits within the mainstream expectations of a primitive people. These Indians think they've brought these troubles onto themselves. They're to blame. 

In the weeks and months that follow their move to the new village, they hear a lot about the white men. The people in the village, including Spring Frog (he ended his test at their village rather than his own) work hard to build houses and get winter stores of food ready. Wolfchaser seems to be sweet on Quickbird. As time passes, they get ready for a deer drive. A deer drive is a technique in which deer are herded into an enclosure where they are more easily shot. 

My thoughts: I never heard of a deer drive and will need to look it up. 

As they wait for the drive to start, Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle talk with Wolfchaser. He tells them that his father (One Who Waits) has gone to Sowams because Yellow Feather has called all the sachems together. "Many white men have come in a big boat--not just traders, but whole families. Yellow Feather is not happy; he would like them to go away" (p. 99-101). 

My thoughts: I've pulled up the transcript for "After the Mayflower" from the PBS We Shall Remain series. Its consultants are amongst the top Native and non-Native scholars in the country. Reading the transcript, I learned that there was a plague from 1617 to 1619 but that nobody knows what exactly it was. Historian Neal Salisbury says that sickness was usually interpreted as the invasion of hostile spiritual powers. Not---as Cooper tells us---as gods that are angry. 

Wampanoags were especially devastated by this plague, and the Narragansetts, who did not get that plague, set upon them while they were vulnerable. In 1620, an English ship lands. On it is Miles Standish and many families. They enter Patuxet, an abandoned village that was hit hard by the plague. Colin Calloway says that the English think that God killed its inhabitants to make way for them (the English).  Jill LePore says that Wampanoag's view this ship of people different than others because they've brought families, which means they're not there to make war. Through the winter, Massasoit watches the small group in the village they've called New Plymouth. He thinks they could be allies for them in their struggles against the Narragansetts. 

The group stops talking about the white families when the deer come towards them. They kill 23 deer. The share for their village is 14. Swift Deer, who is in charge of the drive, cuts off the tongue and left hind foot of each deer as an offering. He calls out a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth and the deer spirit. 

My thoughts: So.... what will they do with the other nine deer? And what is this business of cutting off the tongue and the left foot? Why the left foot???!!! Remember what I said earlier about exclamation points...  

When they get back to the village, there's a traditional celebration of the hunt. They sing, dance, and eat. One Who Waits is back from meeting with Yellow Feather, and he seems uneasy. A few days later, One Who Waits is visiting Suncatcher. He tells Suncatcher and Little Hawk that Yellow Feather has decided to offer help and friendship to the white men, "now that our pleas to the spirits have not sent them away." One Who Waits also says that Yellow Feather does not enjoy war, and that the Wampanoag, weakened by the plague, are paying tribute to the Narragansetts. Little Hawk asks what the white man wants, and One Who Waits replies "I think our father Yellow Feather fears that they want the land" (p. 103). 

My thoughts. So, their spirits are again leaving them hanging. Prayers unanswered, the only recourse is to make friends. Again---this praying stuff makes me very skeptical. But the history itself is correct. Massasoit did make that treaty, and the white man did want the land. 

Chapter 10

Springtime brings the fish run when herring, shad, and bass rush from the sea into the rivers to spawn. The villagers head to the streams. They catch so many fish that Quickbird complains that they all smell like fish and she can't wait to get back to the village and the sweat lodge to clean up. 

My thoughts: Again---sweat as a way to get cleaned up? Gotta check on this. I was talking with Jean Mendoza about this, and she asked an obvious question. They were at the river! Why couldn't they get cleaned up there, in all that fresh running water?! 

As they fish, the villagers see One Who Waits and Swift Deer walking from the camp towards the river with a group: "there were some strangers with them: an important-looking warrior wearing an ornate beaded headband with an eagle feather, and three others" (p. 106). Two are white men and one is a five year old boy. They gather round.  "Swift Deer and Wolfchaser came forward to join us; Swift Deer was very wet, and shook himself like a dog" (p. 107).

My thoughts: Oops. That's a bit confusing. Swift Deer was in the river? Or in the camp? I'm thinking he was in the river and that's why he was wet. But... shaking like a dog to rid himself of the water?! COME ON, SUSAN COOPER!!!  

One Who Waits calls out to the villagers "My sons! You remember the one they called Squanto?" (p. 108).  Swift Deer and Wolfchaser greet offer greetings but Little Hawk detects uncertainty in their voices. Squanto is the important man wearing the beaded headband with a feather. One Who Waits goes on to tell them that Yellow Feather wants them to be helpful to the white men because "they are friends of our people. They are in care of Squanto, because he speaks their language" (p. 108). Little Hawk thinks Squanto "clearly knew he was somebody special" (p. 108). Squanto tells them the names of the Englishmen and that he has taught them how to catch eels and how to plant, but wants them to learn how to fish the fish run, so has brought them to watch and learn how to do it. Suncatcher steps forward with bowls of soup for Squanto and the Englishmen, but they decline her offer. Squanto tells them that "The white man is not good at eating our food" (p. 109). 

My thoughts: Was Squanto dressed that way?! And, I wonder if Cooper is going to tell her readers why Squanto knows English? As the historical record shows, he was kidnapped and taken to Europe where he learned to speak English. He eventually made his way back, but his village (Patuxet) was gone. And, he was a troublemaker. 

Wolfchaser demonstrates how they use woven mats to catch the fish. Squanto translates for the Englishmen. The little boy wanders off to Quickbird and two children that are with her. One of them shows him a toy and they start playing. Quickbird watches them and says "Look how different they are!" and "The same, but so different!" (p. 110). 

My thoughts: Nice touch, to demonstrate the humanity in children, regardless of who they are.

Quickbird decides to teach the white boy their names. She takes his hand, points to herself, and says "Quick bird." Turtledove (one of the children) does the same thing, and "with some difficulty" the boy says "Turtle dove" and then "Bird." 

My thoughts: I guess we ought to be, in our minds, thinking that the Wampanoags are speaking in their own language, and as such, it would be hard for the little white boy to enunciate turtledove or quickbird in the Wampanoag language. Without the actual use of those names in the story, that learning-of-names seems a bit odd to me. 

The boy then taps his own chest and says "John." John then looks around and sees Little Hawk and the scar on his face (from the wolf attack). John reaches up to gently touch the scar. He wants to know Little Hawk's name. He listens to it, and then and says "Hawk."

Again---the use of English translations for their names rather than their names makes this learning of names awkward. 

Quickbird has given Turtledove and Little Fox some pellets made from the boiled-down maple sap. Little Hawk gives some to John. John's father comes over, and Little Hawk detects a sour, unwashed smell about him. John points to Little Hawk and says "Hawk," and then Squanto comes over and leads them on their way. The villagers insist on giving them two baskets of fish.

In the sweat lodge where they've gone to get rid of the fish smell, One Who Waits tells Little Hawk, Wolfchaser, and Swift Dear that Squanto knows English "by living in their country. He and some others were carried there in a boat to become slaves, and he was there for some years before a white man from a different tribe brought him back again" (p. 112). When he got back, he found the plague had taken most of his village. He is "useful to Yellow Feather, because without him we could not talk to the white men" (p. 113). 

My thoughts: Good to see that Cooper does tell her readers why Squanto knows English, but I don't know what to make of the white man from "a different tribe." 

The fish they took is to be used as fertilizer for their corn. Swift Deer says that the corn they're going to plant was stolen from the Nausets. Wolfchaser says he'd heard the corn they took was from a village where the Nausets had all died of the plague. One Who Waits tells them its time to leave the sweat lodge so others can use it and get clean, too. 

Chapter 11

The new village grows as more families move to it. Little Hawk is glad of that because it means more children to scare crows, raccoons, woodchucks, and jays away from the fields. The children are taught that they must never kill Brother Crow "because it was his ancestor who brought mankind the corn and bean seeds in the first place, one seed in each of his ears" (p. 116).

My thoughts: Crows have ears? I really don't know much about birds. I need to see what I can find out about Wampanoag traditional stories about crows. 

Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle return to the old village twice. Once to get a birchbark canoe they had made there the year before, and a second time to do Suncatcher's bidding, which was to dig "a memory hole" (p. 117) in honor of the people who died in the village. A memory hole "was a round hole about a foot deep, lined with stones, and now that it was there it would be kept open by generations of people to come. These memory holes were all over our land, on our trails; they were the record of the people who lived before us, and of what happened in their time" (p. 117). 

My thoughts: Memory holes? I gotta look that up! Added to Heavy Medal blog on October 17, 2013; added here on November 3, 2013: Memory holes. I do have an answer on that one. When I called the Mashpee Historic Preservation office in June, I asked specifically about memory holes. The woman I spoke with said it sounded like something from Philbrick’s MAYFLOWER. So, I got a copy and found memory holes on page 105. The woman was rather derisive in referencing Philbrick’s book. I remembered that Indian Country Today (ICT) had run an article about a forum on the book, and that I’d pointed to their article, so I went back into my site to find it. My link doesn’t work right now because ICT is redoing their website and not all of their items are archived/available yet, but I was able to find the article in its entirety at another site. Here’s the link: The article does not specifically address memory holes, but I think it is fair to say that the response to the book casts a lot of doubt on Philbrick’s book. I haven’t read it, but from the reviews, it sounds a lot like he did what Cooper tried to do.

Bearclaw, a friend of Swift Deer's, has been keeping watch on a white settlement nearby the Massachusetts tribe. He's on his way to give Yellow Feather a report. The people in the settlement are not doing well and the Massachusetts are using some of them as laborers in exchange for food. One Who Waits asks Bearclaw to give his greetings to Yellow Feather and hopes that he is well, but Bearclaw says that Yellow Feather is not well. 

All year long, the people have been talking about the treaty Yellow Feather made with the English. There is a lot of unrest. Disagreements abound, including ones Squanto incites between Yellow Feather and the English.

My thoughts: I recall that Squanto does this sort of thing... He's definitely an opportunist. 

Leaping Turtle doesn't trust the white people, but Little Hawk has faith in Yellow Feather's wisdom. Winter comes and rumors prompt One Who Waits to call a council meeting. He tells them Yellow Feather had been sick, but was healed by a white man named Winslow. He also tells them about a white man named Standish who invited two Massachusetts warriors named Wituwamet and Pecksuot to eat with him, but that was a ruse. He killed them and three other men. One Who Waits reminds the people that they are aligned with the English, and that the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts have acted aggressively towards the Wampanoag. The English, he reminds them, are their friends, and he also says that the English know that the Wampanoag's are not the same as the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts. Swift Deer asks to speak. Reluctantly, One Who Waits lets him talk, and he tells the people that Standish beheaded Wituwamet and put his head on a pole at Patuxet. The people are upset but One Who Waits tells them that they should not seek war. In the silence, Suncatcher sings a song in which the lines tell Little Hawk to fly in peace. The meeting ends and they all leave.

Chapter Twelve

Leaping Turtle and Little Hawk are chosen to be runners who will carry messages for Yellow Feather. They are now about 17 years old. On the way, they hear the sound of a tree falling, followed by screams. They race to the sounds and find that a white man had cut the tree and it fell on him. 

Another white man is pinned. Little Hawk wants to help get the man out, especially when he realizes that the boy is John, now 10 years old. He raises his tomahawk to cut away at the tree to free the man. At that moment he is shot and killed. 

My thoughts: That is how Little Hawk becomes Ghost Hawk!!! Naming! Again! 

----end of part one---
On to part two, but, based on what I've read so far, I can't recommend Ghost Hawk. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

American Indians in Children's Literature's "Show Me The Awesome" post

Design by John LeMasney via
Launched by Liz Burns (she blogs at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy at School Library Journal), Kelly Jensen (she blogs at Stacked), and Sophie Brookover (she's over at Sophibiblio), Show Me The Awesome is a month-long series in May of 2013 in which people in library land write a post that promotes something about their work that they're especially proud of.

I began my post on Thursday (May 30), but storms that made their way across the nation interrupted me by messing with my electricity and the trees in my back yard, too. So, I'm loading my contribution to Show Me The Awesome today (June 1, 2013)

The storms, in their own way, mark what I try to do with American Indians in Children's Literature, and with my lectures and publications. Storms uproot trees. They change the landscape.

In significant ways, the landscape of children's literature changes organically, as society changes. There are exceptions, of course, and that's what is at the heart of my work.

I've been working in children's literature since the early 1990s. I started publishing American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) in 2006. It has steadily garnered a reputation as the place that teachers and librarians can go for help in learning how to discern the good from the bad in the ways that American Indians are portrayed in children's books. People who sit on award committees and major authors, too, write to me. So do editors at the children's literature review journals, and, editors at major publishing houses.

Right now, I'm very proud to have played a role in getting a certain book published. That book is Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here. Its publisher is Scholastic, and its editor is Cheryl Klein. It is due out in a few weeks. In it, you'll read this in the acknowledgements:
Nyah-wheh to Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) and her essential work at American Indians in Children's Literature for her courage, kindness, activism, and generosity, and for introducing me to my editor at Arthur A. Levine. Thank you to Cheryl Klein, that very editor, for actively seeking out indigenous writers, and investing in my work over the long haul.
The introduction took place over email a few years ago. Once it was made, I was out of the picture. I wondered, though, if the introduction would bear fruit. And when I learned a book was in the works, I wondered what it was about. Would I like it? Would I be able to recommend it? Now, I know. With Eric's book in my hands, I can Show YOU The Awesome. 


My essay about why it is awesome is here: What I Like about Eric Gansworth's IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE. 

Years ago, illustrator James Ransome was asked (at a conference at the Cooperative Center for Children's Books at the University of Wisconsin) why he hadn't illustrated any books about American Indians. He replied that he 'hadn't held their babies." I've written about his remark several times because it beautifully captures so much.

Lot of people write about (or illustrate) American Indians without having held our babies. They end up giving us the superficial or the artificial. They mean well, but, we don't need superficial or artificial, either. We need the awesomes. Yeah--I know--'awesomes' isn't a legitimate word, but I'm using it anyway. We have some awesomes. I've written about them on AICL, but we need more awesomes. Lots more, so that we can change the landscape.

Won't you join me in promoting 
Awesome Books about American Indians? 

Order Eric's book, and those I mark as 'Recommended' on AICL. You could also check out the short lists (by grade level) at the top of the right-hand column of AICL. Join me. Let's change the landscape together.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Not-Recommended E-Book: THROUGH THE HIDDEN DOOR by Rosemary Wells

You know how kids can be cruel? Cruel kids are the opening for this novel. A group of cruel boys is throwing rocks at a dog that belongs to the headmaster of their ritzy private school in Massachusetts. Barney Pennimen, the novel's protagonist, isn't quit the bully the others are and yells at them to stop. They don't, of course. Their cruelty ends when a guy named Snowy charges through the bushes and helps the dog. The gang hopes Snowy, who has lost his glasses at that point, can't tell who they are. Course, the gang of boys is caught.

As you may have noted, the title of this post is "Not-Recommended" (and as you can see, I've put a 'not recommended' banner over the cover). As you read about the cruel boys, you might think that is why I've given it a not-recommended tag, but that's not why I'm giving it a thumbs down...

Through the Hidden Door was first published in 1987. It was a nominee for a prestigious award. I've read reviews online in several places, but haven't seen a single reference to the fact that Wells incorporates quite a bit of information about American Indians in the first chapters, let alone reference to the errors and biased information about American Indians in those chapters.

Through the Hidden Door is now available in e-book format, which is why I'm writing about it today, and because it is an e-book, I can't give definitive page numbers for the quotes I use below. I'm reading a copy of the e-book that I got from NetGalley.

Like I said, the boys get caught because Snowy heard Barney yelling. Barney is called to the headmaster's office. His name is Finney. While there, Barney sees an "Indian mask with a horsehair mustache" and wonders if it is real. As the son of an antique dealer, Barney knows a lot about old things.

Part of Barney's punishment is to write long research reports in the library (kind of twisted, eh?). Snowy is there every day, doing research, too, but not due to punishment... He's doing research on a bone that is "no bigger than a joint on one of his fingers." Snowy is trying to figure out what kind of bone it is.

Snowy shows the bone to Finney, who sends it off to the University of Massachusetts for testing. Turns out, it is over 50,000 years old! Who or what it came from is unknown. Finney thinks Indians carved it for some kind of ritual.  

Snowy finds out where the bone came from - a cave. By the time he takes Barney to the cave, he's moved in with Finney, but he hasn't told Finney much.

Once they descend into that cave, they find a tiny set of marble stairs, "each no more than half an inch high and two inches wide." Barney says:
"It must have been an Indian toy, a game, maybe an Indian ritual of some kind... Just like Mr. Finney and the guy at U. Mass. said. Maybe it's what kept the squaws busy when the braves were away hunting. Maybe they made sort of architectural models of things before they built them full scale." 
Squaws? Braves?! Both those terms are problematic because far too many people use them instead of women or men. Read that sentence again, substituting women for squaws and men for braves. It might seem inconsequential, but it goes a long way to humanizing American Indians. Words like squaw and brave only summon stereotypical images that frame Indian people as not-like-us-white-people. While there are differences, one fundamental similarity is that we are all human beings. It seems silly, doesn't it, to have to assert that fact, but for me---that is a starting point. So many children's books describe Native people in derogatory and animalistic ways. Too many have illustrations that show Native people in animalistic poses.

Snowy replies:
"Except Mr. Finney told me about the Indians who lived here before the white man came. They were Mohicans. They built wigwams. Nothing like this." 
The boys decide they have to dig to find out more. After many days of digging they find two stone figures that are almost two feet tall, tiles that form a miniature road, and carved markers along that road. Barney makes a rubbing of the carving on one of the markers.

By the time we get to chapter ten, Barney decides he's got to ask Finney about Indians who "were here long ago." Finney says there were:
Wampanoags, some Mohicans from the north. None of the more famous tribes like the Apaches or the Mohawks. These were peaceful people. They were hunters. They grew some corn, and they were set upon and lost everything to our white ancestors. That was a great shame because they were far ahead of our ancestors in some ways. They were not greedy, and they did not make war. It was the end of them. Our ancestors were greedy, and did make war, and that will be the end of us."
Did you notice all the past tense verbs in what Finney said? I sure did, and I'm guessing that any Wampanoags who read the book will notice them, too! We can also read what Finney says as anti-capitalism, which is fine by me, but "the end of them" is definitely incorrect. There are two federally recognized Wampanoag nations: the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

Barney asks Finney if the Indians wrote, and Finney unloads more misinformation:
"No. They did some painting. Animals on hides. But no native North Americans had written language whatsoever. They didn't need it. [Finney puffs on his pipe and then continues.] They didn't trade."
Finney is wrong about trade amongst American Indians and he's wrong about written forms of communication, too. He goes on to talk a bit about clay tablets, and that people learned to keep accounts, write history, etc. because of business. He says:
"The original occupants of this continent did not trade in volume, in other words run businesses like the Egyptians or the Greeks. They never started any written languages whatsoever, although some Missouri Mound Builders came very close."
Barney asks whether or not they did any stone carvings, and Finney says that other civilizations did that, but not Indians. Is Finney (Rosemary Wells?) really that ignorant?! Barney asks about roads, and Finney says:
"Roads! No! What on earth would they need roads for? They didn't have wheeled vehicles. No regular going from town to town. No towns." 
Sheesh! The more Finney says, the more his ignorance shows! Or, should we say arrogance! When Barney shows him the rubbing, Finney says
"This has nothing to do with Native American history, early, late, or in between. They did not make this. They did not know about roads. And this is a primitive language, hieroglyphics..."
The reference to hieroglyphics is the turning point for what Snowy and Barney have been exploring in that cave. Can't be made by primitive Indians, Wells tells us. She's wrong about all of that. The depth of her stereotyping is seen in the next part.

Finney points to the curly hair of the figure in the rubbing and says:
"This man or god has a curly beard. Every American Indian ever born had hair as straight as a die."
Imagine me sighing. Deeply sighing. As the synopsis for the book says, the boys find artifacts buried for centuries. And because of the character of the artifacts, Finney can't imagine them being created by American Indians. So---at this point---the story veers sharply away from anything at all to do with American Indians.

Readers are left with incorrect and stereotypical information. With this book, Wells has merely affirmed misinformation. Through the Hidden Door was first published in 1988. It came to my attention because it is now available as an e-book. Given the factually incorrect information, I do not recommend it. Spend your library resources on something else.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What I Like about Eric Gansworth's IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE

America--or any nation--celebrates moments and events in its history that show that nation in a good light. Noting those moments is important, but so is noting that there is not a single story within any nation. Not everyone celebrates those same moments. Some people have a different view of those moments.

Take, for example, the celebration of United States Bicentennial. In the opening pages of his If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gansworth's protagonist looks down the street at his elementary school. He imagines teachers getting ready to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial, and notes that the teachers would be puzzled that the celebrations would not be a priority on the reservation.  

Knowing that Gansworth pokes at that celebration might turn you off. You might think that his book is an anti-American screed. 

Rest easy. It isn't. 

It also isn't one of those 'eat your veggies' kind of books...

It is, however, a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn't beat anyone up as he does it. 

Gansworth's novel is told in three parts. Here's my thoughts on Part 1, Chapter 1. I've got lots of notes on the rest of the book and will share them later.

Part 1 – If I Ever Get Out of Here

Do you remember the photo on the album sleeve for Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run? A group of people, clad in black, is standing and crouched in front of a brick wall. Caught in a spotlight, they are ‘on the run.’ 

That album cover is the inspiration for Gansworth’s graphic introduction to part one of his novel, but Gansworth’s group is facing the wall. What, I wondered, does that suggest to us about his novel? 

Of course, each reader will answer that question in a different way, based on what he or she brings to the reading itself. Our baggage, so to speak, impacts how we read. 

The image is provocative. So are the people we meet when we start reading part one. In the first chapter, Gansworth introduces us to key people in the story, telling us just enough about them to know how they'll figure in this story about a Native kid named Lewis and his friendship with George. He's the son of a guy in the Air Force. George is not Native. In fact, George's mother is German, which adds a lot to the story.

Meet Lewis Blake. He’s a smart kid. He lives on the Tuscarora Reservation. He’s just about to start seventh grade in one of the “brainiacs” sections set aside for the above-average kids.  As the only Native kid in the brainiac classes the year before, Lewis had been lonely.

The teasing ways he made friends at the reservation school didn’t work when he tried them out with the white kids in his class at the middle school. He thinks he might have a better year if he cuts the braid he has worn since second grade and tries harder to fit in. He enlists the help of Carson, a Native kid he’s known all his life, but Carson’s cousin, Tami—who doesn’t know tribal ways—takes the scissors and makes the cut before Lewis and Carson have tied off both ends in the way such cuts are customarily done.  Dejected, Lewis leaves Carson’s house and walks home.

On the way home, he passes the reservation’s elementary school, where the teachers are getting ready to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. Lewis thinks about how the families on the reservation aren’t impressed by the 200th birthday of the United States, with good reason!  “[W]e’d been here for a lot longer than two hundred years" (p. 5).  He thinks back to third grade, when his teacher asked him to demonstrate his fluency with the Tuscarora language at Indian Culture Night. The memory is packed with conflicting emotions. Lewis was happy at the recognition, but history made his mom cynical. She is dismissive of the event and the motivations for it, too. 

I understand her cynicism.

Lot of people think educational programming at schools can help tribes recover what was lost in the boarding school period, when the educational policy was to ‘kill the Indian,’ to ‘save the man.’ Erase their culture, that is, and replace it with ‘the man’ who happens to be the white man.  Lewis's mom is right to be cynical. Teachers in reservation schools and elsewhere have good intentions, but for those of us who have lost language and culture, it is going to take a lot more than Indian Nights at school to recover language and traditions. Too much of what is done to address treatment of American Indians in law, policy, and education--is a band-aid that just won't work. Lewis is fortunate that he knows more than most, but his mom asks, with whom is he going to speak Tuscarora? Other kids on the reservation don’t know it… Deftly and succinctly, Gansworth is hinting that we've got a long way to go in the U.S., with regard to the well-being of American Indians. 

While giving us a lot of information about American Indians, Gansworth also taps into our love of music. 

While he was at Carson’s house, Lewis spied a guitar. He longed to pick it up, but Carson won’t let him. 

That guitar echoes what the book title, and the chapter titles tell us, too: music is a significant part of Lewis’s life. When he gets home, we have another reference to music when his older brother takes one look at his shorn hair and says that Lewis looks like David Bowie on a bad night. Reading that made me laugh out loud. I love Bowie's music. The persona and images he puts forth are always mesmerizing. I'm sure you've got your favorite Bowie pic and song! 

The title for each chapter in the book is the title of a song. At the end of the book, Gansworth provides a discography, which is way cool, but even better than that is knowing he's going to have that discography online! 

Facts of life: being in the armed service, being poor 

On seeing Lewis's bad haircut, his mom gives him a buzz cut, which introduces us to another significant thread: military service. Lewis’s uncle, Albert, was in Viet Nam. He remembers getting a buzz cut, too. Albert lives with them, sharing a room with Lewis. They have a strong relationship that figures prominently several times in the novel. And remember, too, that the relationship at the heart of this novel is between a Native kid and a kid whose father is in the Air Force. 

Last thing to note about the first chapter is that after Lewis’s mom gives him the buzz cut, she says he looks like a Welfare Indian. He replies that they are, in fact, Welfare Indians. As you read, you’ll learn about how poor they are in material things, and how that poverty plays into Lewis’s thinking and experiences as he develops a friendship with the son of a serviceman from the local air force base. And, you'll learn that things like poverty itself is a relative term. People can look like they live in poverty, but there's more to life than things. 

Oh. One more thing before I hit 'upload' on this post: Lewis loves comic books.

So, what do I like about the novel? 

Within children's literature, there's a metaphor about how literature can be a mirror or a window. For some readers, the novel is a mirror of the reader's own life. For another reader, the novel is a window by which the first reader can peer in and see what someone else's life is like. Gansworth's debut novel is  more than a mirror or a window. 

Reading If I Ever Get Out of Here, I sometimes felt it was a mirror. As a Native kid meeting non-Native kids from really different communities than my own, I identified with the things Lewis went through. 

But as a Pueblo Indian woman who grew up on a reservation in northern New Mexico, the novel was more than a window onto the life of a Native family on a reservation hundreds of miles from my own. With his writing, Gansworth brought me inside Lewis's home and heart. Does that mean it was a door that I entered? I don't know. 

Certainly, the music played a part in how he managed to bring me inside. As I read his book, the songs in it played in my head, and when I hear those songs now, on the radio, I'm back in Gansworth's novel. As research studies show, music is a powerful thing. It taps into a part of us, makes us feel things, and know things... 

That's what Gansworth's novel does. I feel and know things I didn't feel or know before. That's what I like about If I Ever Get Out of Here. Thanks, Eric. Thanks, Cheryl, Thanks, Arthur. And thanks, Scholastic, for getting this book in our hands. 

Update: 12:20 PM, Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Praise for Gansworth's novel:

On the cover of the ARC (advanced reader copy), Francisco X. Stork says: "The beauty of this novel lies in the powerful friendship between two young men who are so externally different and so internally similar. Wonderful, inspiring, and real."

Online, Cynthia Leitich Smith writes that it is a "heart-healing, moccasins-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship."