Saturday, January 11, 2014

HOOKED by Liz Fichera

I'm among those who wish that we had more books featuring Native protagonists in which the setting is today. Or last year. Or even ten years ago. Point is, stories about us as-we-are, with our cars and trucks (old or new) and our cell phones.... and, well, you know what I mean.

Course, I want those books to ring true. I want the ways that the characters speak and the things they say to sound like Native people. And I don't want the Native characters to be saved by non-Native ones. And though alcoholism is one of our realities, does an alcoholic mom or dad HAVE to be part of the story?

So let's turn, now, to Liz Fichera's Hooked, published in 2013 by Harlequin Teen. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:

When Native American Fredricka 'Fred' Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school's golf team, she can't say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred's presence on the team isn't exactly welcome -- especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred. But there's no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...

Hooked is set in the present day. Its geographic location? The southwest. Specifically, Phoenix and even more specifically, the Gila River Indian Community. On the right is their logo. Notice that word--community--in what I said and in their logo? They don't say "reservation" but that is what Fred, the protagonist in Hooked says. I have a dear friend from there. When we first met, he was always using "community" rather than reservation. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to hearing Gila River Indian Community. When I came to "Gila River Indian Reservation" (page 10) in Hooked, it irked me, and it pulled me out of the story. It made me wonder if Fichera had spent enough time with people at Gila River to know their speech and word choices.

The synopsis refers to Fred being invited to be on the school golf team. The person who invites her is Coach Lannon. When she accepts the invitation, the text reads that the coach "practically leaped into a full-blown Grass Dance" (p. 10). Ok, I thought, the author is giving us what she thinks might be a Native perspective on the coach's enthusiasm. Do you know what a grass dance looks like? Here's footage showing men doing the grass dance at the Denver March Powwow:

I can see how a coach might have done some footwork that looks like a grass dance... BUT. There's a footnote with Fichera's "full blown Grass Dance," and here's what the footnote says (p. 10):

A Native American ceremonial dance expressing harmony with the Universe.

That footnote stopped me cold. It is most definitely NOT what a grass dance is about! Or perhaps I should say, that is not the generally accepted explanation of what that dance is about. Indian Country Today has an article about the dance. Here's what it says:

The dominant legend is that a Northern Plains boy, born handicapped yet yearning to dance, was told by his medicine man to seek inspiration in the prairie. Upon doing so, the boy had a vision of himself dancing in the style of the swaying grasses; he returned to his village, shared his vision, and eventually was given back the use of his legs through the first-ever grass dance.

A practical origin is more generally cited, however: To settle a new area, create an appropriate venue for a tribal meeting, or secure an arena for a ceremony, high grasses had to be trampled down to ensure visibility. Scouts would stomp on the grasses to flatten them, and the grass dance grew from there. Yet another strain of the dance’s genesis points toward the importance of dried grass in the warrior’s life: It could be used as tinder, or even as makeshift stockings, for warmth. The regalia honors the role of grass in the warrior’s life—and indeed, grass dance societies often grew from warrior societies. In fact, a grisly theory states that once upon a time, warriors would do victory dances with scalps attached to their garments. Dried grass came to stand in for scalps, then yarn for grass.

So, red flags started popping up right away as I started reading Hooked. Then on page 11, the coach tells her that playing golf for the team could win her a scholarship to college. She really wants to go to college, so that idea weighs heavily in her decision. The thing is, though, that was another red flag! Gila River provides scholarships for students who want to go to college. Fred worried about money for college just doesn't make sense.

A few pages later (page 16) we're at the alcohol problem. Fred's mom is an alcoholic. That isn't a red flag, necessarily, but alcoholism figures all too often in stories about us. Couldn't Fichera write a story without alcohol?

Hooked is told in alternating voice, by chapter. The first chapter was Fred; the second one is Ryan, "the boy with the killer swing." That structure has great appeal. I like it. I kept reading, but kept coming across those red flags. Only five or so Native kids at the high school? Not realistic!

I read on, anyway, because it got a starred review from Kirkus and I thought I should know the book cover-to-cover.

By the time I got near the end, I was weary.

Then I was irate (again) because Fred's dad has a heart attack, and who gives him CPR? Who saves him? Ryan. And when he is taken to the hospital and they won't operate on him, who steps in and makes the operation happen? Ryan's mom, who is a surgeon there. If it weren't for white-boy-Ryan and his white-mom-surgeon, Fred would have lost her dad, who is the center of her world.

I see why the book has gotten favorable reviews, but I disagree. Vehemently.

I read that she asked Native people she knows to read a draft. She reports that they liked it, but some people like Native mascots, too, and don't care that they aren't accurate. There is, sadly, amongst so many of us, such a great need to be recognized that some of us give a nod to whatever image we see.

It saddens and annoys me that Hooked is a nominee for YALSA's Best YA Fiction. Its nomination, and the starred and positive reviews, point to how far we have to go towards really understanding who Indigenous people are so that the books we choose to celebrate are ones worthy of that celebration.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Travers (author of Mary Poppins): "I lived with the Indians..."

Eds. Note on Nov 14 2015: If you're here to see revisions to the Bad Tuesday chapter, scroll down!
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With the release of Saving Mr. Banks, my colleagues in children's literature are responding to Disney's presentation of P. L. Travers. In reading Jerry Griswold's '"Saving Mr. Banks" but throwing P.L. Travers Under the Bus,' I read that Travers had spent time on the Navajo reservation during WWII. In his interview of Travers in the Paris Review, I read this:

I lived with the Indians, or rather I lived on the reservations, for two summers during the war. John Collier, who was then the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was a great friend of mine and he saw that I was very homesick for England but couldn’t go back over those mined waters. And he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. I’ll send you to live with the Indians.” “That’s mockery,” I replied. “What good will that do me?” He said, “You’ll see.”

Collier---a name well known to us Pueblo people! Intrigued, I continued to read that interview. In it, she says that she liked the "wide, flounced Spanish skirts with little velvet jackets" that the Navajo women were wearing, and so, they made a skirt and jacket for her. Is there, I wonder, a photo of her in that skirt and jacket? For those of you who aren't familiar with these items, here's a board book with a child in that clothing:

In the interview, Travers also said "The Indians in the Pueblo tribe gave me an Indian name and they said I must never reveal it. Every Indian has a secret name as well as his public name. This moved me very much because I have a strong feeling about names, that names are part of a person, a very private thing to each one." Interesting! I have a Tewa (name of our language) name, but it is not secret. What pueblo, I wonder, did she visit? At the time of her visit, did that pueblo have secret names? 

I've got lots of questions! I'll add them, and answers I find, in the coming hours and days. If you're a scholar of fan of Travers and can send me info about her time with Navajo and Pueblo people, please do! 

Update: Sunday, January 5, 2014, 12:58 PM

Mary Poppins was published in 1934. Her visit to the Navajo Reservation was, I'm guessing, in the early 1940s. In the Paris Review interview, she is described as wearing "silver ethnic" jewelry. In the BBC video The Secret Life of Mary Poppins, there is a clip in which she is interviewed in 1982. I think she is wearing that jewelry in the interview:

That jewelry stood out in her granddaughter's memory. At the 50:00 mark of the documentary, Kitty remembers her grandmother "wearing all this extraordinary silver jewelry." At about that point in the documentary there is a clip of Travers at her typewriter. You can definitely see the jewelry is turquoise and silver. Whether it is Navajo or Pueblo in origin is hard to tell:

In the documentary, I learned that by 1959, Disney had spent 15 years trying to get the rights to make the movie. That means 1945, which fits with when she was in New Mexico and Arizona. Thus far, I haven't seen anything about why she was in the US at that time. Was it to meet with Disney?!

Next on my research exploration: reading Valerie Larson's biography, Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers. 

Before moving on to do that, I'm inserting a link to a short piece I did on Mary Poppins a couple of years ago: "You Will Not Behave like a Red Indian, Michael!"

Update: Monday, January 6, 2014, at 12:20 PM CST

Yesterday afternoon and evening I read the parts of Larson's biography that are about Travers being in New Mexico. It was not, as I'd surmised, to visit Disney. The following notes are from my reading of Larson's biography (Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers).

Travers was in the US due to the war.

In 1939, Travers adopted a baby boy named Camillus (in the BBC documentary, there's a lot of attention on the adoption. She didn't adopt his twin; when Camillus learned about his twin, he was 17. Until then, he'd thought he was born to Travers and that his father had died. Learning the truth caused problems between the two.) This was the period during the war in which people were leaving London for safer places.

In 1940, Travers left, too, on a ship that carried 300 children to Canada. She served as escort for some of the children.  Once in Canada, she flew to New York City. She had women friends there: Jessie Orage and Gertrude Hermes. Jessie moved to Santa Fe soon after to be with "a community of Orage and Gurdjieff followers." Prior to her move, she'd been very close to AE (Irish writer George William Russell), who knew John Collier (Larson calls him a 'minister' in Roosevelt's administration. Collier's position was actually Commissioner of Indian Affairs).

In the summer of 1941, Travers spent most of her time in Maine. In January of 1942, Jessie visited her in New York. "Gert" (Gertrude Hermes) and Travers separated that year. In 1943, her Mary Poppins Opens the Door was published and she was feeling very homesick.

Collier suggested she spent a summer or two on an Indian reservation. At first resistant to the idea, Larson writes that Travers (note: the following excerpts are from Chapter 10 in the ebook w/o page numbers):
later felt Collier's offer came as a kind of magic. The next two summers were to be among the great experiences of her life. She moved from the gray reality of New York to the brilliantly colored fantasy of the southwest, just as Poppins moves through a mirage door from her earthly Cherry Tree Lane to her heavenly friends in the sky. Here, Pamela discovered what so many artists and writers had found before and after her: spiritual peace and meaning within a beautiful landscape, brittle, red, gray-green.
Her first visit was in September of 1943, to Santa Fe, where Jessie was living. Though she may have visited the Navajo reservation then, Larson makes no mention of it. That came later, in the summer of 1944, when Travers was in the southwest for five months. Larson writes:

She had accepted John Collier's suggest that she live for some weeks in Window Rock, a tiny Navajo settlement in Arizona, near the New Mexico border. It looked like a train stop at the end of the world. 

Pamela like to say she spent the summer on a reservation, but photographs in her albums show that she and Camillus lived in a western-style building that Pamela indicated in one interview was a boarding house. On the grounds in front, grinning for the camera, Camillus sat perched on the back of Silver, a white horse. 

Larson writes that Travers was driven to the "reservations" (reservation is correct) where she tried to "speak little but hear much." During those storytelling sessions, Larson writes that Travers was "folding herself away so she did not seem to be listening to the Navajos' stories. She wanted to share the dances and songs, share the silence." (Note: I don't know what to make of that... perhaps she was trying to absorb what was happening around her in some metaphysical way.)

She also went to puberty ceremonies for Navajo girls and liked the matriarchal society. Larson writes:

Pamela took notes of the Navajo ways, religion, hierarchy, spiritual leaders: first the Holy Ones who can travel on a sunbeam or the wind, the Changing Woman, the earth mother who teaches people to live in harmony with nature, and her children, the Hero Twins, who keep enemies away. 

She saw relationships between Navajo stories and those of other people around the world. She ate in hogans, and, wrote that Camillus:

"was taken by the hand by grave red men, gravely played with, and, ultimate honor, gravely given an Indian name. Its strange beautiful syllables mean "Son of the Aspen."

Travers was also given a name, but, Larson writes:

Pamela was given a secret Indian name and told "I must never reveal it and I have never told a soul." Her secret name, she said, "bound her to the mothering land," that is the land of the Earth Mother--her own motherland was far away.

Travers also went out to ceremonial dancing that took place at night. She rode blue jeans, boots, and cowboy shirts as she rode a horse in Canyon de Chelly. As noted above, she liked the skirts and jackets Navajo women wore. Larson writes:

From these days she adopted two fashions she wore until old age: tiered floral skirts and Indian jewelry, turquoise and silver, with bracelets stacked up each forearm like gauntlets.

Travers wrote to Jessie that was returning to Santa Fe. On July 19th, Jessie visited her in a Santa Fe hotel and drove her to the writer/artist colony in Taos. In September she helped Travers find a place to live in Santa Fe. In November, Travers returned to New York and in March, moved back to London. Larson refers to the bracelets a few additional times in the remainder of the book.

Next up? Some analysis and hard thinking about the ways that Travers depicted/incorporated Native content in her stories.

Update: Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Before the analysis, I'll take a few minutes to note that the documentary "PL Travers: The Real Mary Poppins" says that Disney was, in fact, in touch with Travers in 1944. At around the 2:00 mark of this segment, you'll hear that Disney began negotiations with her in January. The documentary shows an inter-office communication dated January 24, 1944, with "Mary Poppin Stories" as the subject. There's a second item--a letter to Travers--dated February 1944 at around 2:10 in the documentary. It references Travers plan to visit Arizona and suggests a meeting. If you're interested in Travers and her relationship with Disney as they developed the script and movie, watch the video. It has screen shots of letters she wrote, and audio clips, in which she objected to aspects of the script.

In part 4 of that documentary, one of her friends talks about how Travers studied dance of other cultures because that was a way they told stories. At 4:51, the person who did choreography for the Disney film speculates that her interest in dance is evident in her stories, where dance and flying figures prominently. At 4:51 in the segment, there's a video clip of an Eagle Dance! It is a Pueblo dance, not a Navajo one. The choreographer talks about her lectures and then the segment goes to an audio recording of her from a talk she gave at Smith College in 1966 in which she says:

When I was in Arizona living with the Indians for two summers during the war, they gave me an Indian name and they said 'we give you this so that you will never never tell it to anybody. Anybody can know your other name but this name must never be spoken' and I've never spoke of it from that day to this. There is something very strange and mysterious about ones names. I myself always tremble when people I don't know very well take my Christian name. I tremble inside. I don't like it. 

All through that audio, there are clips of the eagle dance. Are those clips from her own footage? I recognize the Eagle Dance, and I recognize Taos Pueblo, too.

Patricia Feltman, her friend, says that Travers spent two summers with the Navajo Indians, who made the jewelry she wore every day of her life.

That's it for now.... More later.

Update: Wednesday, January 8, 2013, 1:57 PM CST  

Of interest to me is the ways in which Travers wrote about what is generally called "other." This happens in the Bad Tuesday chapter in the first book, published in 1934. It was turned into a Little Golden Book in 1953. Here's screen captures of two pages in the part of the book (I don't have the book myself) in which Mary Poppins and the children go West using the compass. The source for my screen captures is kewzoo's account at flickr.

As yet, I don't have the original book to compare the words in it to the words in the Little Golden Book above. I don't find any of that text in the 2007 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt copy that I'm reading. Those pages in which they travel using the compass were completely rewritten. As she says below in the interview, she kept the plot (of traveling) but apparently changed the people they met to animals. In the revised chapter, when they're in the West, they see dolphins, not Indians. That this is a revised chapter is clearly marked in the Table of Contents:

I turn now, to two of Travers' responses to objections. The first one was published in 1977, and the second one in 1982.

Travers granted an interview to Albert V. Schwartz, who was at the time of the interview, an Assistant Professor of Language Arts at Richmond College in State Island. His account is available in Cultural Conformity in Books for Children, edited by Donnarae MacCann and Gloria Woodard, published by Scarerow Press in 1977

When Schwartz learned that the chapter had been revised, he got in touch with the publisher, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich for details. He learned that the revisions took place in the 1972 paperback, at Travers' request. Schwartz then got in touch with Travers and set up the interview. He told her that the Council on Interracial Books for Children had been receiving complaints about stereotypical presentations of Africans, Chinese, Eskimos, and American Indians. Here's a quote from Schwartz's chapter (p. 135):

Sitting tall and tense, Pamela Travers was aware of every word as she spoke: "Remember Mary Poppins was written a long time ago when racism was not as important. About two years ago, a schoolteacher friend of mine, who is a devotee of Mary Poppins and reads it constantly to her class, told me that when she came to that part it always made her squirm if she had Black children in her class. I decided that if that should happen, if even one Black child were troubled, or even if she were troubled, then I would have to alter it. And so I altered the conversation part of it. I didn't alter the plot of the story. When the next edition, which was the paperback, came out, I also altered one of two things which had nothing to do with 'picaninny' talk at all. 

"Various friends of mine, artists and writers, said to me, 'No, no! What you have written you have written. Stand by it!' But, I thought, no, if the least of these little ones is going to be hurt, I am going to alter it!"

A few paragraphs later is this:

"I am not really convinced that any harm is done," she continued. "I remember when I was first invited to New York by a group of schoolteachers and librarians, amongst whom were many Black teachers. We met at the New York Public Library. I had thought that they expected me to talk to them, but no, on the contrary, they wanted to thank me for writing Mary Poppins because it had been so popular with their classes. Not one of them took the opportunity--if indeed they noticed it--to talk about what you've mentioned in 'Bad Tuesday.'" 

In his 1982 interview with Travers that is in the Paris Review,  interviewers Edwina Burness and Jerry Griswold asked her about the book being removed from children's shelves in San Francisco libraries because of charges that the book is racist and that it has unflattering views of minorities. She said:

The Irish have an expression: “Ah, my grief!” It means “the pity of things.” The objections had been made to the chapter “Bad Tuesday,” where Mary Poppins goes to the four points of the compass. She meets a mandarin in the East, an Indian in the West, an Eskimo in the North, and blacks in the South who speak in a pickaninny language. What I find strange is that, while my critics claim to have children’s best interests in mind, children themselves have never objected to the book. In fact, they love it. That was certainly the case when I was asked to speak to an affectionate crowd of children at a library in Port of Spain in Trinidad. On another occasion, when a white teacher friend of mine explained how she felt uncomfortable reading the pickaninny dialect to her young students, I asked her, “And are the black children affronted?” “Not at all,” she replied, “it appeared they loved it.” Minorities is not a word in my vocabulary. And I wonder, sometimes, how much disservice is done children by some individuals who occasionally offer, with good intentions, to serve as their spokesmen. Nonetheless, I have rewritten the offending chapter, and in the revised edition I have substituted a panda, dolphin, polar bear, and macaw. I have done so not as an apology for anything I have written. The reason is much more simple: I do not wish to see Mary Poppins tucked away in the closet. 
Interesting, isn't it? I'm still reading and thinking and will share more later. If you have other items to point me to, please do! And for those who have already done so, thank you!

Update: Thursday, January 9, 12:58 PM CST

Editors note, Jan 10, 2014, 5:26 PM CST --- the excepts described herein as 'original' are from a 1963 edition published by HBJ, prior to the revisions. From K.T. Horning, I've just learned that there were TWO revisions. In the first one, the human characters remained but the Black dialect was changed to what Travers described as "Proper English." I do not have a copy of "Bad Tuesday" that K.T. Horning referenced (in a comment on Facebook). If you do have that copy, please scan and send to me if you can!

Thanks to librarians, I now have the original chapter. Specifically, thank you, Michelle Willis! Michelle sent me the color scan of the compass and the chapter from which I created the side-by-side excerpts.

First up is the Mary Shepherd's illustration of the compass (illustrations for later versions were changed to match the changes to the text):

At the start of the Bad Tuesday chapter, Michael has gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. He's doing naughty things. Later in the day, Mary Poppins has taken Jane and Michael out for a walk. Mary Poppins sees the compass on the ground and tells Michael to pick it up. He wonders what it is, and she tells him it is for going around the world. Michael is skeptical, so Mary Poppins set out to prove to him that the compass can, indeed, take them around the world.

She begins their trip by saying "North!" The air starts to get very cold and the kids close their eyes. When they open them, they're surrounded by boulders of blue ice. Jane asks what has happened to them. (Below is the complete text from both versions for this section of the book. Blank boxes mean there was no corresponding text in the revision.) Here's an enlargement of the illustration for North:

Enlargement of Eskimo, illustration by Mary Shepherd

Next update? The South!

Update: Thursday, January 9, 2014, 2:25 PM CST

(I apologize for different size of the side-by-side images. I'm entering the text into a table in Word and then doing a screen capture according to the size of the boxes. It is clumsy, but it is the only way I know of for getting the text aligned side-by-side in Blogger.) An enlargement of "South" on the compass is followed by text:

Enlargement of Mary Shepherd's illustration for South

Here's the illustration for East, followed by the text:

Mary Shepherd's illustration of East

That's it for now. My next update will be West. 

Update: Friday, January 10, 2014, 4:12 PM CST

Here's an enlargement of West on the compass:

Mary Shepherd's illustration of West

And here's the side-by-side comparisons of the original and revised versions of the portion of the book about West:

After that they head back home. As the afternoon wore on, Michael got naughtier and naughtier. Mary Poppins sent him to bed. Just as he climbed into bed he saw the compass on the chest of drawers and brought it into bed with him, thinking he would travel the world himself. He says "North, South, Eaast, West!" and then... 

Then he hears Mary Poppins telling him calmly, "All right, all right. I'm not deaf, I'm thankful to say--no need to shout." He realizes the soft thing is his own blanket. Mary Poppins gets him some warm milk. He sips it slowly. The chapter ends with Michael saying "Isn't it a funny thing, Mary Poppins," he said drowsily. "I've been so very naughty and I feel so very good." Mary Poppins replies "Humph!" and then tucks him in and goes off to wash dishes. 


As the interviews above suggest, Travers made changes, but why? The two interviews differ in her reaction to objections. As far as I've been able to determine, the objections were to her portrayal of Blacks, but if you've seen articles or book chapters that described objections to the other content, do let me know! 

The book was written before her trip to the southwest. It seems to me that if she had understood the significance of names (as she says in the interviews), she would have--on her own--revisited the names she gave to the Indians in the West, and she would have come away (after seeing dances) knowing that her depictions of dance were inappropriate. If she'd have been paying attention to the Navajo people (and Pueblo people, if she did indeed visit a Pueblo) as people rather than people-who-tell-stories-and-make-jewelry-and-dance, she would have--all on her own--rewritten that portion of the chapter. She didn't do that, however, until much later. 

For now, I think I'll let things simmer and then post some analysis and concluding thoughts later. 

In the meantime, submit comments here (or on Facebook). I'd love to hear what you think of all this.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Phil Robertson: "The Almighty gave us this." Debbie Reese: "No. He didn't."

In the many excellent critiques of Phil Robertson's comments about gays and African Americans, I haven't seen anything that pushes back on his "The Almighty gave us this [northern Louisiana backwoods]."

I read that line in the GQ article and, of course, thought "No. He didn't."

That land belonged to Native people.

Does Robertson (like those early Europeans who believed their god had a hand in disease that devastated Native peoples, rendering them and their homelands vulnerable to Europeans who wanted that land) think his Almighty rid the land of the Indigenous peoples of Louisiana so Robertson and his family could have it?

Does Robertson know that the people of the land he's speaking of have their own belief about how that land came to be? I used have on purpose because, contrary to popular misconception, Indigenous people are still here and some of them are in Louisiana where Robertson is from.

Does Robertson know the history of the property (assuming he owns property in Louisiana) for which he has title?

I don't watch the show or pay any attention to it, but perhaps I should, given the size of its audience. Heading over, now, to see their list of episodes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Erin Hollingsworth's review of THE GIANT BEAR: AN INUIT FOLKTALE

I follow the reviews that Erin Hollingsworth, a librarian in Barrow, Alaska posts at goodreads. I met Erin a couple of years ago at the 2012 Pacific Coast Library Association's conference in Anchorage, Alaska. At that conference, I spent a lot of time with Debby Edwardson, author of Whale Snow and My Name Is Not Easy. It was a memorable trip that I look back on fondly.

A few days ago, Erin reviewed The Giant Bear, An Inuit Folktale. Written by Jose Angutingunrik and illustrated by Eva Widermann, I like what Erin says in her review and am passing it along to you. The Giant Bear was published in 2012 by Inhabit Media. Here's Erin's review:

This book combines a great story with terrific art. I cannot praise it enough. As to the reviewers who found it too violent, the polar bear is the largest land carnivore and it hunts and eats people. Polar bears are not cute cuddly animals; they are man killers. I think it is perfectly appropriate to share this fact with children. So many of them have had their brains addled by modern Coca Cola culture that it might do them some good to realize that the world around them is an all too real, and sometimes unfriendly place.

[Editor's note: This post edited on Dec 20th to include Erin's last name and a link to Goodreads.]

Friday, December 13, 2013

WILD BERRIES by Julie Flett

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In 2011, I read Julie Flett's alphabet book, Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer. In English, the title of that book is Owls See Clearly at Night. I wrote about it  in January of 2012, noting especially Flett's gorgeous art. Not long after that, I read Richard Van Camp's Little One. Flett did the art for it, and like Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer, the art is gorgeous. 

Today, I am sharing her newest book, Wild Berries with you. It is available in two versions. Here's the cover for the Cree version:

Beneath her name on the cover, the title of the book is printed in a Cree syllabary and in a Cree dialect. In English, the title is Wild Berries. Here's the first page of the English version of the book:

Lovely, isn't it? When you turn that page, you'll see Clarence walking behind his grandmother, no longer a baby. He is now five years old and sings along with his grandma as they gather berries.

Flett's art is both--bold and spare--and so are her words. Together or apart, they exquisitely convey the relationship of Clarence and his grandmother and the simple act of being outside gathering berries. That alone would make this a stand-out book, but there's other things to note that make it exceptional. The Cree language sprinkled throughout is one. Another is the recipe for wild blueberry jam. And yet another is that Flett is Cree Metis herself.

I'm really taken with this book!

Wild Berries is a 2013 book, published by Simply Read Books. If you order from Amazon, please consider using this link to place your order, because a portion of your purchase will go towards the American Indian Library Association, including its Youth Literature Award:

Saturday, December 07, 2013

"Mom, when Jesus was born, where were all the women?" Marcie Rendon's response is HANNAH: THE MIDWIFE WHO DELIVERED JESUS

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Marcie Rendon's daughters were raised in a matriarchal home. On Christmas Eve, 1990, one of her daughters asked her "Mom, when Jesus was born, where were all the women?" When I read that question, I thought to myself 'Oh yeah! There's only one female in that story!'

Marcie's response to her daughter's question is this e-book, Hannah: The Midwife Who Delivered Jesus. 

As I read the story Marcie created, I felt such warmth and goodness radiating from Hannah, and from that scene in the stable, and from the newborn babe, too. It is a deeply satisfying story. In addition to Hannah, you'll meet the innkeeper's daughter. It isn't graphic and it isn't anti-male in any way. It's just a beautiful story. I highly recommend it. 

Hannah: The Midwife Who Delivered Jesus is one of those books that you can't pin to a particular grade level. If you're not afraid of talking with students/patrons or your own elementary-aged kids about how babies are born, you can read this aloud to them. Older kids can read it on their own.

I had to create an account with SMASHWORDS to download it, but that was simple enough to do. The book itself is priced at $4.99. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

2013 Virginia Mathews Scholarship Awarded to Debbie Reese

In today's email, I received the Fall 2013 newsletter of the American Indian Library Association. In it is an announcement that I was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Virginia Mathews Scholarship Award.

Receiving the scholarship means a lot to me. There are a lot of terrific Native people in library school. Within that context, I'm humbled and honored to be recognized by the scholarship committee.

Here's a screen capture of the newsletter page. For your convenience, I'm including the full text below the screen capture.

The purpose of the Virginia Mathews Memorial Scholarship is to provide tuition to an American Indian individual who lives and works in an American Indian community, and who is enrolled, or has been accepted and will enroll, in a master's degree program at a university with a library and/or information sciences program accredited by the American Library Association for the 2013-2014 academic school year. The scholarship has been named to honor Virginia Mathews, one of the original founders of AILA. 

Further details and scholarship criteria are available at 

The American Indian Library Association is pleased to announce that its 2013 Virginia Mathews Memorial Scholarship has been awarded to Debbie Reese. Debbie is an enrolled member of Nambe Pueblo and is pursuing her Master of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science. 

Debbie exemplifies the scholarship criteria of “sustained involvement in the American Indian community and sustained commitment to American Indian concerns and initiatives,” and she has specific intentions and vision for returning to her community as a librarian. She has a track record of making an impact on the community and the profession. As one committee member stated, “Her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, is one of the best resources available for discussions, book reviews, etc. In addition, her publications are hard-hitting truths on what libraries should and should not have in their collections concerning Indigenous literature, and she lectures extensively on the issues. Not only does she work with the Nambe community, but she also strives to inform the dominant culture about issues facing Indian people today.” 

In 2012, the American Library Association published a press release about the scholarship. It reads, in part:

In 1971, Virginia Mathews, Lotsee Patterson and Charles Townley formed a Task Force on American Indians within the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. She was a member of the first OLOS Subcommittee on Library Service for American Indian People, which led to the founding of the American Indian Library Association in 1979. She was involved with the Library Project at the National Indian Education Association, which supported three demonstration library projects — Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center, the Rough Rock Demonstration School and the Standing Rock Tribal Library—and all three served as models for the early development of tribal libraries on reservations. She worked tirelessly with the National Council of Library and Information Services to create the first White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library Services in 1978 whose delegates attended the 1979 White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. She was responsible for inclusion of Title IV for tribal libraries in the Library Services and Construction Act Reauthorization in 1984. This special status and funding for tribal libraries is retained in current Library Services and Technology Act legislation. She was the first American Indian to seek candidacy for the ALA presidency and was a proud member of the Osage Nation.
While I never knew Ms. Mathews, I do know Lotsee Patterson and the work they did in the 1970s. Lotsee's work, in particular, touched my life through the librarianship programs she provided to the Pueblos. My aunt was one of her students. 

Kundawho'haa (thank you) AILA committee members, for your confidence in what I strive to do in my professional work. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Have you heard of the INJUNUITY project? It consists of a series of short videos about Indigenous people. The one I'm pointing you today is called Two Spirit. Here's some screen captures that convey the visual power of the videos.

Two Spirit starts without any music. We're shown a graphic of the title, and then we see a definition:

As the video unfolds, we meet several people who recount their experiences coming out. We start with a woman who is shown as a string puppet. She's transformed, though, and we see the string puppet dissolve into pieces. All the while she's talking, words slowly drift down the sides of the viewing window. They add an aesthetic dimension to the video:

There's a bit of history in Two Spirit. Prior to colonization, two spirit people were revered within Native Nations. That changed with the overwhelming force of Christianity:

Native resiliency and sovereignty are pushing back and embracing Two Spirit people. The stories shared in the Two Spirit video are evidence of personal resilience, and actions taken by some Native Nations to grant marriage licenses to individuals--regardless of gender--who are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe demonstrate the exercise of a tribal nations sovereignty.

I talked at length with Irvin Harrison, a close friend, about the Two Spirit video. I asked him if he could provide a comment about the film. He is the Director of the Native American Student Center at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Irvin is a smart and nurturing individual. Students at Cal Poly Pomona are fortunate to have him there. Here's what he said:

"I really enjoyed the use of visuals to create meaning to the words. I can directly relate to each person's perspective. For myself, I use the terms - gay, two spirit, nádleehé - interchangeably depending on with whom I have a conversation. I did not become fully open of who I am until I moved out of my family home. I learned the two spirit history from readings and articles. It was my "professional" family who were the first to acknowledge and appreciate me and my partner's relationship. However, it was when both of our parents came to accept that being who we are, as gay, two spirit, or nádleehé couple, that it came full circle." 

I highly recommend Two Spirit. It is beautiful and empowering and makes an additional point about where Native peoples live and what we aspire to:

I also recommend the other films at the INJUNUITY site and look forward to ones in development, too. They're ideal for use in high school classrooms. To read more about the project, check out their About page.

I'll also point you to a resource Irvin directed me to... It is called the Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) Tribal Equity Toolkit. Here's the description:

The Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, the Western States Center, the Pride Foundation and Basic Rights Oregon collaborated on the nation’s first guide for Two Spirit and LGBT equity in Indian Country.
It, too, is evidence that Native peoples are moving in positive directions with regard to Two Spirit and LGBT people.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


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Wow! I just blazed through Art Coulson's The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse. 

Coulson has a way with words. English ones, and Ojibwe ones, too, as he tells this story about Travis, a sixth grade Ojibwe boy who is starting out playing lacrosse.

Set in the present day, Travis lives with his mom and grandmother. He's struggling with the game and bummed each day after practice. But his grandma has confidence in him.

So does his grandfather, who passed away some time back, but comes to Travis each night. His grandfather was a strong and swift lacrosse player that everyone called Hummingbird.

There's a terrific blend here. Coulson's storytelling delivers nuggets of info about the ways that Ojibwe people play lacrosse, and, the way that Cherokee's play it.

Oh yeah--Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Dream Country figures in the story, too.

Perfectly paced, The Creator's Game is a terrific book. I think I'll give my copy to the Pima boys around the corner. I suspect they'll like it, and I'm going to send a librarian a link to this review. Just a few days ago, she wrote to me, asking for recommendations for a 4th grade reluctant reader. I suggested Joe Bruchac's Children of the Longhouse, which coincidentally, Coulson includes in his list of books for further reading.

Illustrated by Robert DesJarlait, The Creator's Game is published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. You can get a copy from Birchbark Books. And check out Indian Country Today's interview with Coulson.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Taylor (5th grader): "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"

This morning I received an email from a teacher who wrote to share what Taylor, a fifth grader, wrote in response to having studied a speech written by a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta (Frank B.) James.

Some context: Back in 1970, James was invited to an event in Plymouth, Massachusetts that was designed to celebrate "The First Thanksgiving." He was asked to submit his remarks ahead of time to the planners. When they read what he planned to say, the invitation was withdrawn. His speech is now titled "The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag" and is associated with an event that takes place in Plymouth. That event is "Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning."

Upon reading the speech that James intended to read, one of Taylor's initial responses was this:
"Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?" 
Struck by the fact that history was more complicated than she'd been taught, Taylor chose to skip recess and begin her assignment. Here it is, published with permission from Taylor, her teacher, and her mother.

My Response to “Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning”  
By Taylor M., Grade 5

Frank James, also known as Wamsutta, was correct in writing a protest speech on Thanksgiving in 1970. For James, Thanksgiving was a sad day, and this is true for many Native Americans even in the present day. The Pilgrims made the Native people into slaves. James wrote, “Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians and sell them for slaves.” The Pilgrims sometimes tortured the Indians. James reported, “Sometimes an Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as any other ‘witch’.” The Pilgrims punished the Indians if they didn’t believe in the Christian religion. James wrote in his speech, “If the Native Americans didn’t believe in [the Pilgrim’s] religion, [the Pilgrims] would dig up the ground and release the great epidemic again.” In conclusion, Frank James was correct to write his protest speech so people would look at Thanksgiving from his point of view. He illustrated how badly the European settlers mistreated his people, the Wampanoag and why Thanksgiving, for his people, is a day of mourning and reflection.

And here is a note Taylor wrote to me:

When I started this assignment in school about Pilgrims and Indians, I learned a lot at first, but then I read Frank James’ protest speech and to be honest, I was speechless. The way the Pilgrims punished the Indians was gruesome and I felt sorry for them. For a second, I had to put the packet down it was so horrible. I mean, the way my book and the speech were written it sounded like in the beginning that the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people started off well. But, when it started to get deeper into the story, the more Pilgrims started to spread out across the U.S.A, the more the Native American people realized that they were in harm and in danger, and that they were being kicked out of their land. The sad part for me was how the Pilgrims thought the Native Americans were savages just because they didn’t believe in the Pilgrims’ religion. 

I thought about all the way back to Kindergarten, right before Thanksgiving break we would always get these coloring worksheets of the happy little Pilgrims and Indians giving each other things. Up until now, I didn’t really realize that that’s not how it happened. Showing the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie. I think Kindergarteners and young children should know what actually happened, not with gruesome details, but they should know more of the truth. 

The way I felt after I read my book about Thanksgiving and Wamsutta’s speech, I was sad, angry, and heartbroken for the Indians. We should teach Americans not just to be happy for the Pilgrim’s survival, but we should also be respectful, reflective, sad, and even upset for the Wampanoag tribe and other Native American tribes.

I think it is fair to say that this experience was a life-changing moment for Taylor. She uses strong language ("the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie") and I think she is starting down a road where she will always question what she reads. Questioning is a good thing to do. I think she's going to love Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I think she'll like what she finds on the Zinn Education Project website. And, I think she'll also like the PBS series, We Shall Remain. I hope her school or public library has a copy of it. 

Reading her words gives me great hope. We need more Taylor's and we need more teachers who design lessons that encourage critical thinking. With that in mind, I'll point readers to an excellent piece that ran in Indian Country Today last year. Titled "What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving," it is an interview with Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.  

Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your response with me and my readers! I'd love to hear more from you. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013


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Heid Erdrich's Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest is a treat! I mean that literally (reading the recipes makes my mouth water!) and spiritually, too.

The stories she tells in the book take me to my childhood and time spent gathering plants with my grandmother, or, helping her with her garden. To do this gardening, Gram would wear old work shirts that belonged to my grandfather. They kept the sun off her arms, but there was another reason to wear them.... Gophers! See, she irrigated her garden with water from the 'high land' ditch. We'd walk up to the high land, 'turn down the water,' and walk back down to the garden, waiting for the water to meander down the bone dry bed of the ditch to her rows of corn and beans and squash and peas and cucumbers.

Sometimes, the water didn't get to the garden. When the water didn't arrive, we'd walk alongside the ditch till we got to the gopher hole that we knew we'd find. She'd rip pieces off of her shirt and stuff them, along with rocks and sticks, into the gopher hole. It was annoying as heck to her, but remembering those times gardening with my grandmother gives me cause to smile, and to--in effect--nourish my soul in the ways that Erdrich's stories do, too.

"A recipe is a story."

 "A recipe" Erdrich tells us, "is a story" (p. 12). That line perfectly captures what you'll find in her book.  Some of the stories in Erdrich's book are specific to gatherings with her family and friends. I especially like "The First Hunt and the Last" on page 84 and 85. On page 85 is her brother's recipe for venison stew. Some stories are traditional ones, and still others are about activism. Winona LaDuke, well known for her activism, has a piece in the book about gathering wild rice. She ends her piece by pointing to a company in California that has recently patented wild rice, which essentially put the Ojibwe people in a battle over who owns foods and medicines. For more on that, see LaDuke's "Ricekeepers: A Struggle to Protect Biodiversity and a Native American Way of Life" in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion Magazine. 

As you turn the pages of Original Local, there are lot of names you'll recognize if you read the work of Native writers and scholars. Louise Erdrich, for example. One of her recipes is in the book. Brenda Child is here, too. The recipes and photographs and stories make this cookbook an absolute delight. You can get an autographed copy from Birchbark Books

Friday, November 08, 2013


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Back in the 1990s when I started graduate school, I read Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life. Originally published by Carolrhoda Books in 1996, I'm delighted to see that it is back in print. This time, it is a paperback published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here's the cover:

Isn't it gorgeous? Powwow Summer is full of solid information about Native people of today. Its text and photographs are what captivated me when I first read it. It wasn't another book about long-ago-and-far-away-tribeless-stereotypical-Indians. As I turned each page, I learned a lot.

See, I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I grew up there. From my parents, grandparents, and elders, I learned about us and how we do things. That means the material things we do (cooking traditional foods) and the spiritual things we do, too (our dances are a form of prayer). My photo albums have photos of Nambe kids playing outside, helping their grandma's cook, and, photos of them in traditional clothing. I know a lot about who we are.

Marcie's book taught me about her people, which are the Anishinaabe (I met Marcie several years ago. See my review of her play, "SongCatcher: A Native Interpretation of the Story of Frances Densmore"). The text and photographs in Powwow Summer provide a depth of information that is tribally specific.

Marcie asks questions that help the reader frame the information within their own family context (p. 3):
Does your family have a ritual of going to church or synagogue every weekend? Does someone in your family play a sport, and do the rest of you attend to cheer that person on?
If you're looking for top notch books to add to your shelves this month (November is Native American Month), include this one. (Note: Back in 1996 when I launched American Indians in Children's Literature, one of the first books I wrote about was Powwow Summer.) 

The details:
Title: Powwow Summer
Author: Marcie Rendon
Illustrator: Cheryl Walsh Bellville
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Year: 2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Looking for Children's Books about Thanksgiving? (Part 1)

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(Editor's Note, November 8, 2013: I've been casting about trying to find words to explain what is wrong with the idea that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag's sat down together and had a wonderful meal together. Below, I note that things that happened before that meal are usually missing from the way the event is portrayed in children's books. But I think Jill Lepore's words get at what I find troubling about the "wonderful meal" idea. In the 'After the Mayflower" episode of the PBS documentary "We Shall Remain," Lepore says that everyone there was very nervous. The Pilgrims, the documentary says, were especially wary of close contact with the Wampanoag people. That anxiety, I think, makes the depictions of a meal characterized by warmth and happiness disingenuous.)     

Are you looking for children's books about Thanksgiving?!! The exclamation points convey my frustration with the insistence that this holiday be one in which people want Thanksgiving to be about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat a meal together--nevermind what happened to Native people before or after that! Did you know, for instance, that Tisquantum--more commonly known as Squanto--could speak English because he'd been kidnapped by a prior expedition and sold into slavery in Europe? And did you know that before the Mayflower arrived, the Wampanaog people had been devastated by disease from earlier European visitors?

If you've written to me or to other Native critics, educators, or librarians, to ask for children's books about Thanksgiving, it is likely because you want to give the children in your care or in your classroom something better than the standard Pilgrim/Indian story where everyone sits down to a lovely dinner.

Prompted by readers of AICL, I took some time today to head over to the local B&N and see what kind of books about Thanksgiving they might have on display.

Here's the shelf (sorry---photographs in this post are of low quality):

There are four rows of books on the display. Here's some photos and observations of them, starting from top left:

What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams, illustrated by Amy Wummer. Published in 2009 by Candy Cane Press, here's the synopsis (from Amazon):
Following the success of What Is Christmas? and What Is Easter?, Michelle Adams brings the same humor and warmth to this little Thanksgiving board book. Through the whimsical art and rhyming verse that's fun to read, even the youngest child will come to understand that Thanksgiving is really about showing gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. 
Adams and Wummer steer clear of any attempt to show Indians as part of their book. Their collaboration has Pilgrims, but no Indians:

I don't know about that... Doesn't seem right to just omit Native people, but I don't want the stereotypes OR the feel-good story, either. Sometimes I think that Thanksgiving books for young children should just focus on things people are grateful for. What is Thanksgiving? tries to do that, but having Pilgrims (and a turkey) but no Wampanaog people just doesn't seem right. 

Five Silly Turkeys does not have Pilgrims or Indians in it. 

Happy Thanksgiving Day by Jill Roman Lord is a 'touch and feel' book (for those of you who don't know what they are, touch-and-feel books have textures embedded in each page that young children can touch, thereby having a multi-sensory experience). Published in 2013 by Ideals Pub, this page shows the little boy's artwork taped to his wall. See? Pilgrims, but no Indians (the bear's belly has a swatch of fabric for a child to feel).

Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George by Cynthia Bartynski and Julie M. Young, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is also a board book. For most of it, George is shown in a Pilgrim hat. No Indians or feathers, anywhere, till one of the last pages:

See the Indian figurines in the left margin? They're also on the table. Those things on the back of everyone's chair are turkey feather decorations that George made.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean was published in 2013 by HarperFestival. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Starring in the school Thanksgiving play would make even the coolest cat nervous. But when Pete the Cat gets onstage, he makes learning the story of the first Thanksgiving fun. With thirteen flaps that open to reveal hidden surprises, this book is sure to be a holiday favorite for every Pete the Cat fan.
Though Amazon lists it (today) as their #1 children's book about Thanksgiving, the reader reviews pan it. One person said it is "superficial" but most others don't like it because it is missing the qualities of the other Pete the Cat books. Here's what I find problematic:

That character is supposed to be Squanto. Here's what the text says: "The Pilgrims had heard about the Native Americans, and they worried that they would not be friendly. Pete had never met a cat he didn't like, so he thought they would be kind."  Here's another page:

Moving along!

Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit! by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories, came out in 1999. Like Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving, it is from HarperFestival. I like the Biscuit books. He is so cute! In this lift-the-flap book, there are no Indians or Wampanoags. There are, however, Pilgrim dolls. 

See the man propped up against the bench that has Biscuit's food dish? The woman is face down by Biscuit's hind feet. 

The Night Before Thanksgiving is about a family getting ready for Thanksgiving. No pilgrims or Indians, either. Dare I say it? "Thankfully!" Some people really object to my being snarky. Ah well.

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B. G. Hennessey, illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath is pretty awful, in my mind. Just the idea of using that song makes me cringe! I did a bit of poking around and found a video of kids singing it, wearing Pilgrim hats and bonnets, and feathered headbands. But instead of saying Wampanoag, they sang "Native Americans." Why, I wonder? In the book, the two groups (Pilgrims/Wampanoags) are shown working (cooking, fishing, etc.) to get ready for their shared meal. Looking at the illustrations, I wonder why the Wampanoag's all have a dash of facepaint on their cheeks? In every illustration? Why? (Update, Nov 8: A reader noted that the Pilgrims also have that same dash of facepaint, suggesting it has something to do with the author's style of illustration. Good point!) Here's the cover:
Next up? Nate the Great Talks Turkey. Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Mitchelle Sharmat, the illustrations are by Jody Wheeler. Unlike the ones above, this is not a picture book. And, it isn't about Thanksgiving. Published in 2013 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers, it is about a turkey on the loose. There is, however, a gesture to Thanksgiving early on:

I don't know what happens later in the book. Maybe they're going to catch it, but I kind of doubt they'd kill and eat it. The last book on the second shelf is The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern. Illustrated by Elroy Freem, it was published in 1993 by Scholastic. Partway through the book, we're introduced to Squanto! On the page just before this one, the text tells us that the Pilgrims made a good friend who helped them, and that his name was Squanto.  

I wonder what children today learn about Squanto? Given that November is Native American Month, it is depressing to see how Native peoples are depicted (or not) in these books. I'm going to stop here and leave the last two shelves and another book that was on the backside of the display, for another day...  Your comments (and pointers to my typos) are welcome!