Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Post: Indigenous Knowledge and Children's Literature, by Katelyn Martens

Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, I gave an online lecture (via Skype) to the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Library and Information Science. Here's a description of TLAM from their website
In its fifth year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), TLAM is an experimental project to bring indigenous information topics to LIS education through service-learning, networking, and resource sharing with Wisconsin’s tribal cultural institutions. The TLAM Project currently encompasses a graduate topics course; the Convening Culture Keepers mini-conference series for Wisconsin tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators; numerous community engagement projects with our partners; and a brand new TLAM Student Group.

Today's post on AICL is by Katelyn Martens, a student in the TLAM class. Published on the TLAM blog, I'm pleased to be able to share it here, too. Thanks, Katelyn! And check out her post about Sherman Alexie, too.  


“Indigenous Knowledge & Children’s Literature”*

Think about the types of children’s books you grew up reading. Were American Indians present? What did you learn about them? Was it factual or a misrepresentation? How did you know?

On Thursday, TLAM had the pleasure of chatting with Debbie Reese, a respected educator who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Debbie is an advocate for authentic American Indian children’s literature, which led her to launch the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog in 2006. Through AICL, she challenges the all-too-common misrepresentation of American Indians in children’s literature and helps educators, librarians, and the general public find good materials.

Debbie highly recommends JINGLE DANCER

While Debbie shared her thoughts on sovereignty, sacred spaces, and politics, it was the issue of authenticity that I connected with the most. As a future school librarian, my goal is to have a well-balanced collection with titles that give students accurate, authentic representations of American Indian communities. To do that, though, especially with limited budgets, it’s essential that we all seek out reviews from respected, knowledgeable sources. AICL is a great place to start!

It’s especially important because, as Debbie noted, many books harbor “micro aggressions,” stereotypes that the majority culture may not even acknowledge but harm others. Clifford’s Halloween by Norman Bridwell (1986) is an example. Not only does Clifford wear a large headdress of feathers, he appears to be smoking a “peace pipe” and wears a serious expression. This image conveys many stereotypes to children, including that “Indians” are something to dress up as rather than people living in contemporary societies, working at contemporary professions, and living amongst the general American public.

It’s through librarian and educators in alliance with American Indian communities that we can present contemporary images, truthful histories, and well-researched stories to our young people. I’ll make a concerted effort to align my book choices with her suggestions.

Thank you, Debbie, for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

-Katelyn Martens

Debbie’s recommendations on what to look for in children’s literature:
  • Books giving information in contemporary society
  • Tribally specific texts
  • Books affirming American Indian cultures – these must be well researched

She suggests that librarians and educators should:
  • Know at least one nation in-depth through reading and research
  •  Visit tribal websites with children in order to learn about their everyday lives
  •  Speak up for great children’s books so they stay in print
  •  Speak out on problematic texts in order to promote better alternatives

*Disclaimer: All personal opinions are my own and do not represent all members of the TLAM class, TLAM student group, Debbie Reese, or other affiliated parties.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Inspired by Students at University of Redlands and Sherman Indian School

On Wednesday, March 6th, I spoke at Cal State Polytechnic University in Pomona. The next day (March 7th, 2013), I spent the day at Redlands University and Sherman Indian School. My hosts at Redlands were Heather Torres and Nora Pulskamp of the Native American Student Programs office. Here we are at the end of the day:

In the morning, I gave a guest lecture to a class on Native Women taught at Redlands University by Dr. Larry Gross. I talked about depictions of Native women in the media and children's books. The students were engaged and engaging. I showed them "What Makes the Red Man Red" from Disney's Peter Pan. Their response was similar to the ones I get when I ask teachers and librarians to read aloud from selected passages of Little House on the Prairie. Surprise, that is, at how racist the depictions are, and that they do not remember those depictions from when they viewed/read these two items as children. We focused on the sexualization of Tiger Lily, and talked about the Violence Against Women Act.

From there, Heather and Nora drove us out to Sherman Indian School. It is one of the boarding schools originally designed (by the federal government) to 'kill the Indian and save the man.' Like Santa Fe Indian School, it is now a different place. Native history and culture is affirmed, for example, by the murals in the hallways:

Murals at Sherman Indian School affirm Native identity

I spent an hour with Native students. I talked with them about mascots, showing them photos of "Chief Illiniwek" (the former mascot at the University of Illinois) and stereotypes in children's literature. They were very attentive. When I showed them the photo of "Chief Illiniwek" doing the splits in mid-air, they exclaimed aloud at how ridiculous it is.

I also talked about the need to have books about American Indians, written by Native authors. My favorite example is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer. I love showing that book to Native students, no matter how young or old they are. I was delighted that it slowly made its way through the group of 30 or so students, as they pored over the pages. Clearly, Cynthia's book touched them in a good way. After class was over, one young woman approached me to say she wants to be a writer. Her English teacher was also there and praised her work.

I was inspired by the students on both campuses. From them, I gained a strong sense of optimism and hope for the future.

The public lecture on campus last night reminded me that certain segments of society will not welcome them or the work they wish to do. That lecture drew Native people who live in the Redlands area, and Redlands students who tutor Native youth. All took note of the woman who entered the lecture hall wearing a "Chief Illiniwek" jacket. When she took her jacket off, I noticed she had one of the newer shirts fans of "Chief Illiniwek" wear. When the mascot was retired at Illinois, private vendors designed and sold several different kinds of shirts, including the one she wore. It has the word CHIEF in large bold letters across the front of the shirt. The woman sat alone and quiet throughout the lecture, but at the end, told us she is a Fulbright scholar who studies cultural genocide, and that "Chief Illiniwek" is not a violent mascot like the one at Florida State. She was belligerent and loud and said in her 30 years of being at Illinois, she never saw anything violent about it.

Her decision to be there, to dress as she did, to proclaim her credentials, and argue as she did, was puzzling to me. What motivated her to do that? Hate? Privilege? Both?!

Though I'm certain there are administrators at the University of Illinois who wish the mascot was still there, I think they would have been embarrassed at the behavior of this woman. She is, whether she realizes it or not, the embodiment of racism.

The students at Redlands and Sherman Indian School will encounter people like her. Change--for the better--will happen. It is never easy work, but change does happen. "Chief Illiniwek" no longer dances at Illinois because Native people and our allies fought to get rid of it. I leave California with the faces of the students in my head, inspired by each one of them.

Update at 9:45 AM, 2013
Added photo of mural from Sherman Indian School and cover of Jingle Dancer. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Cal State Polytechnic University: Talking about Playing Indian

On Tuesday, I flew in to California to give two lectures and visit some classes.

Before the first talk, I had lunch with two groups. One group was comprised of students who tutor Native students, and the other group was Native men and women of the San Manual Band of Mission Indians. We talked about the significance of our nations and identities as Native people, and we talked about how we are misrepresented in the materials our children are given at school. Amongst us are powerful stories of parents who stand by their children.

After lunch we headed over to the student center for my lecture, Native (Mis)Representations, which was primarily about mascots.

It is always heartening to organizers when crowds of people are streaming in and they have to call for more chairs. Irvin Harrison, the Director of the Native American Student Center at Cal State Polytechnic University, organized my two-day visit.

Here's a post-lecture photo of Irvin, myself, and Dr. Joely Proudfit. She's the Director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at Cal State University, San Marcos. We had a long conversation, sitting in the warm California sunshine, talking about youth, research, sovereignty and the work we're committed to doing.

In the lecture, I showed many examples in which someone is playing Indian. I started with mascots, pointing out the stereotypical aspects of it. We watched Trail of Cheers and What Makes the Red Man Red, noting stereotypes in it, too. That Disney clip is available online in several different languages, including French, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, and German! Sheesh!

I shifted, then, to playing Indian in a historical context.

Americans have been playing Indian a long time. Primary example: colonists dressing up as Indians at the Boston Tea Party. The thing is, they didn't wear feathers or face paint... but that is how that moment in history is shown. What they did was blacken their faces with soot from the fireplace and wear blankets around their shoulders.

I showed photographs of playing Indian in Thanksgiving reenactments in elementary school, and dressing up like Indians for Halloween and summer camps. For each one, I also showed an illustration from a children's book.

Then I showed a photo of how boy scouts in Order of the Arrow play Indian. THAT, it turned out, was the image that drew the ire of one person in the audience. He came up after the talk and kept trying to get me to say that it was ok for them to do that, because they were honoring and educating others about Native people. He is the perfect example of someone unwilling to consider the research I presented, the voices of Native people, and the misinformation perpetuated by their Order of the Arrow activities.

I asked him some questions about why they do it, and he said something like "because you [Indians] really know how to take care of the earth and do things..." I interrupted him (getting impatient) and said "some of youguys [not-Indians] know how to do that, too. That's not knowledge that belongs or belonged exclusively to us. Why don't you celebrate who you are?" And he said "but more of you do it than anyone else."

He (they?!) clearly have us on a pedestal. He may think that is honoring and respectful, but it is dehumanizing to do that to an entire group of people.

I don't want that kind of honoring or respect. What I'd rather he do is stop playing Indian and seeking ways to justify it, and start lobbying Congress. We've all--Native and not--got to write and call our Senators and Representatives and stop that Keystone Pipeline.

I may add more to this post later. For now, I've got to head off to the Redlands University. Time to start day 2.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Two free public lectures in Redlands & Pomona this week!

This week, I'll be giving two free public lectures in which I'll talk about misrepresentations of American Indians (dates/times/locations listed at bottom of this post). In both lectures, I'll draw connections between the stereotypes of American Indians in children's/young adult literature and mascots.

While I'm out there doing that, the University of Illinois student body will be voting 'yes' or 'no' on this question:

Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?

For those of you who are new to AICL, here's "Chief Illiniwek" (I use quotes around that phrase because I do not want to convey any idea whatsoever that I think the mascot ought to have that title):

See the words at the bottom of the photo? The organization "Save the Chief" was active in a campaign to stop the university from getting rid of the mascot. It was/is only one of many similar organizations that, in one way or another, keep up the idea that mascots like "Chief Illiniwek" honor American Indians. They do that in spite of the fact that Native organizations, associations, and tribes have called for an end to the use of Native imagery in this way. And, thank goodness, the university chancellor said that the university will not bring it back because the university wants to go forward in being inclusive, not backward.

It is hard to chip away at the embrace of this kind of stereotyping.

American's are taught to have an affinity for this stereotype. This starts when they're young. Do you remember Clifford the Big Red Dog? Dear, dear, Clifford... I like him, too, but not when Emily Elizabeth thought he could be an Indian for Halloween:

Are you a fan of the Berenstain Bears books? Do you remember the one where Brother Bear and Sister Bear go to camp and listen to Grizzly Bob tell stories dressed this way?

I plan to incorporate research on the harm of such stereotyping in my talk. Research studies show its detrimental impact on Native students, and, its impact on non-Native students, too.

The University of Illinois finally got rid of its mascot, but it wasn't due to any concerns about it as a stereotype. It was retired because if it continued, the university would not be able to hold NCAA championships on its campus. I'm certain that some of the people responsible for actually making the decision to get rid of it understood the harm of stereotyping, but too many people did not, and too many people do not understand it.

I believe that children's books play a role in maintaining the illusion that such stereotypes are honorable.

I hope you can attend one of the talks! Please let your child's teachers know about the talks, too. And the school librarian! Displacing stereotypes with factual information about who American Indians were--and are--is going to require that more people understand stereotyping and its harm.

Wednesday, March 6, 1:00 PM
Bronco Student Center - Centaurus
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Thursday, March 7, 6:30 PM
Hall of Letters, 100
University of Redlands

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

AICL Cringes: ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS is the all-time best selling Newbery Medal winning book.

Editor's Note: On 2/24/2014, I inserted "AICL Cringes" to the initial title of this post, to clarify how I feel about ISLAND being the all-time best selling Newbery Medal book. I also added a link to a presentation I developed on the book, using Prezi. 

Over at SLJ's 100 Scope Notes, Travis Jonker posted a infographic about books that have won the Newbery Medal. I like infographics. They are way cool, and I want to learn how to make them.

Here's a blown-up chunk of the infographic:

Island of the Blue Dolphins is making a lot of money for its publisher, but should any teacher be using it as though it is a reliable story about anyone who is in the book? The Aleuts? The people of San Nicolas?  Learning, as Jonker reports, that it is the all-time bestselling Newbery Medal winning book helps me understand why its publisher wants it listed on CBC Diversity's Bookshelf of "diverse" books. Having a "diversity" stamp on it gives it some credibility it does not deserve.

Lets take a look at some of the "knowledge" the book imparts. Check out this video, titled "Massacre on the Island of the Blue Dolphins" in which one student poses as a reporter who is "reporting live from San Nicolas Island." She is interviewing Kimki, who she says may be the next leader of the Ghalas-at people.

The massacre the reporter is talking about is one in which the Aleut people kill the Ghalas-at people.  One reason the book is a best seller is that it fits with what most people "know" about Indigenous people as warring savages who killed each other as a matter of course, but that's not the case.

There's always more to the story.

More context is vital to understand any warfare or killing. In this case, the Aleut men who worked on the Russian ships were enslaved and if they didn't do as they were told, their women and children would be killed. Whether or not O'Dell knew that when he wrote his book doesn't matter. What does matter is what kids "learn" by reading it today.

In reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, kids "learn" that Aleuts killed all these Ghalas-at people.

That alone is enough reason for me to say that IF it is going to be taught, it should be taught in a critical framework wherein children question what O'Dell wrote.

My source for the info about enslaved Aleuts is Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, published in 1996 by Garland Publishing.

Update on 2/24/2014: 

Please see the Prezi presentation I made of this book: "An Island of Well-Intentioned Ignorance"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Native authors at Tucson Festival of Books

The Tucson Festival of Books is coming up next month (March). If you're going (I wish I was!!!), check out this panel:

Destiny & Identity: Girls in Native American Literature
Sunday, 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Education Building, Room 349

Joy Harjo and S.D. Nelson will be on that panel, talking about their books. Though I can't say for sure, I imagine Harjo will talk about For A Girl Becoming. 

And, Nelson will definitely be talking about his new book, Buffalo Bird Girl.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


The subject of most biographies of Native women are Pocahontas and Sacajawea. I did a search of the Comprehensive Children's Literature Database to get a rough sense of how many books there are about each one. I limited the search to those published between 2000 and now. I got 188 on Pocahontas, and 192 on Sacagawea. Quite a lot, don't you think? Some critics say those two women are heralded by those who seek to celebrate figures in U.S. history because they helped Europeans. Some say they were diplomats; others say they were traitors.

My point in sharing those publication numbers is to say that I think publishers would do well to publish biographies of other Native women!

With S. D. Nelson's Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story, Abrams has scored a big win. It is racking up starred reviews by the mainstream review journals and by those who look more critically at the portrayals of American Indians. It is, for example, on the Cooperative Center for Children's Books CHOICES 2013 list.

Nelson's art invites the reader to pick up the book. Once inside, there's a mix of his art and photographs of Hidatsa people. The back matter provides a timeline that teachers will find helpful when using the book in the classroom. With the Common Core thrust upon them, this biography will surely get lot of use in classrooms.

I agree with the praise the book is receiving, but have one quibble. I wish that the book cover and text featured her Hidatsa name, Waheenee, which means Buffalo Bird Woman, instead of "Buffalo Bird Girl." I'm guessing the change from woman to girl was a strategy to help young readers identify with Waheenee as a girl, but I think Nelson's illustrations make that point quite well.

Some background

Nelson tells us that his source for this biography is Waheenee: An Indian Girl's Story; Told by Herself to Gilbert L. Wilson.  Wilson's book was published in 1921.

Scholars in American Indian Studies and American Indian Literatures point out that the audience for these early books was not a Native one. As evidence, we point to text in the books, where the author is speaking directly to the reader. Consider, for example, Wilson's Myths of the Red Children published in 1907. In the Foreword, Wilson wrote that fairy tales from Europe were delightful, but that with Myths of the Red Children, America's "little reading folk" could develop "a kindly feeling for a noble but vanishing race" (p. vi). I think it is fair to say he was not thinking of Native children as readers of Myths of the Red Children. 

Take note, too, of Wilson's use of "vanishing race." Wilson was part of the research efforts of the late 1800s and early 1900s that sought to document Native cultures before we died out. A major problem with that research effort is that many of the researchers did their work largely unaware of their own perspective, which is an outsiders perspective. Many did not understanding much of what they observed. A year after Myths of the Red Children was published, Wilson began his work with the Hidatsa people.

One outcome of that work was Waheenee. Like Myths of the Red Children, it was written for a child audience. Its final pages (beginning on page 183), speak directly to that young reader:
Young Americans who wish to grow up strong and healthy should live much out of doors; and there is no pleasanter way to do this than in an Indian camp. Such a camp you can make yourself, in your back yard or an empty lot or in a neighboring wood.
Following that passage are instructions for making a pole hunting lodge and several pages of recipes. I think it fair to say that Wilson was keen on playing Indian.

Nelson is wise not to echo Wilson on that point. His careful use of Wilson's material is important in other ways, too.

Buffalo Bird Woman was born in 1839 and died in 1932. She lived through a lot of changes. The Hidatsa were part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Subsequent violations of the treaty resulted in a huge loss of their land. During her lifetime, they were moved to a reservation. There were several devastating smallpox epidemics.

Of those significant events, only smallpox is included in Wilson's book. On page 9 of his book, Wilson says: "Then smallpox came." We all know that smallpox came from Europeans, but that information isn't provided anywhere in Wilson's book. In his picture book, Nelson does indicate the source for smallpox (p. 3):
It arrived with the coming of the white men. They did not bring the sickness on purpose, but Indians could not fight off this disease--they had no immunity to the dreaded evil spirit.

During Waheenee's lifetime, her people experienced tremendous loss of land and were moved onto a reservation, but these things aren't included in Wilson's book. When the word 'enemy' appears in the book, it is used only to describe other tribes. Doesn't that strike you as curious? Biased, perhaps? It seems to me that Wilson wanted his readers (remember, this book was written for white children) to develop a viewpoint of Indians as aggressors.

Nelson talks about enemy tribes, too, but doesn't leave out reservations. On page 39 of his Buffalo Bird Girl, Nelson (in Buffalo Woman's voice) writes:
Like-a-Fishhook is gone now. There are no buffalo left to hunt, and the fur trade ended long ago. The government of the United States said my people had to move from our village. They promised to provide rations of food and clothing if we lived on a reservation. The government built roads, schools, and churches. They told us that our children had to learn to live the white man's way. So we Hidatsa, as well as the Mandan and Arikara people, gave up our round earth lodges and began living in square cabins on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

I would have loved to see one more page about the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara people... In the "Today and the Future" section of the Author's Note, Wilson writes this:

The Hidatsa people are still here, as are the Mandan and the Arikara. They remain one sovereign nation. Each member of the nation has the same freedoms as every citizen of the United States. Like all other human beings, they face the many challenges of a rapidly changing world. Today they govern themselves with self-determination. Their words and actions give shape to their lives and hope for their children. 

I want teachers who use the book to put that information front and center of their use of Buffalo Bird Girl. Introduce students to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation website. Teach the book by teaching children about Waheenee's people---as they are today. Teach them what sovereign nation means! Show them the pictures on the site! And while you're at it, teach them about Nelson's tribe, too. Visit the website of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation!

We need more books like this one, by authors like S.D. Nelson. Thanks, Mr. Nelson, and you, too, Abrams, for Buffalo Bird Girl. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dear John Segal, author of PIRATES DON'T TAKE BATHS

On AICL, there's a page of "the foul among the good" that catalogs books in which Native people are stereotyped, objectified, and mocked in celebrated or popular children's books. Some of the images there are in old books that are still being published, and some are from newly published books. I've got another new one to add...

John Segal's Pirates Don't Take Baths is about a pig (kid) who does not want to take a bath. The pig proclaims "No! No! No! I'm not taking a bath. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Never." The pig parent says "Never?" 

From there, kid-pig imagines him/herself (gender not specified) as "someone else." Here's the summary from the publisher's page:

For any young child (or pig), there are few things more excruciating, more traumatic, more torturous than bathtime. And this little pig is putting his hoof down. No. More. BATHS. But how can he possibly accomplish this? Well, by being someone else, of course. After all, everyone knows that pirates, astronauts, and knights in shining armor - just to name a few - never, EVER take baths. Now if only he can convince his mother . . .

In his hilarious new picture book that is sure to become an integral part of bathtime routines, John Segal documents one particular skirmish in this never-ending battle of wills.

With each "someone else" pig-kid comes up with, pig-parent counters with a reason why the "someone" won't work. For example, pig-parent tells pig-kid that pig-kid can't be a pirate, because pig-kid gets seasick. So, pig-kid moves on to another "someone."

Most of the suggestions pig-kid comes up with are things someone can choose to be.

Astronaut? A job one might choose... Knight in shining armor? Ditto. Cowboy? Again, a choice. Same thing for treasure hunter.

In the midst of all this someone-elsing is Eskimo.

Pig-kid says "I'm an Eskimo. They can't bathe. Its TOO COLD."

Pig-parent says "Yes, but do you know what Eskimos eat? Whale blubber and walrus liver." To which pig-kid says "Blubber and liver? That's gross."

Come on, John Segal! Eskimos--who prefer Inuit, Inupiaq and their own names for who they are--take baths. You're having fun at their expense, and you're contributing to misinformation about people who Americans know so little about!

I'm curious, Mr. Segal...

You've got kid-pig playing Cowboy on one page, but you don't have the usual playing Indian alongside it. I wonder why you didn't do that? I'd like to think you knew better, but the Eskimo page tells me otherwise. Playing Eskimo is just as bad as playing Indian.

And---what's up with making fun of food Alaska Natives eat?! As Erin (a librarian who works with Inupiaq children) writes in her review at Goodreads,

The Iñupiaq people practice a subsistence lifestyle that many people may regard as “gross” because it is unfamiliar. Bowhead whales are harvested and used to feed the entire community. 

Erin writes that she's sending the book back to the publisher. I wonder if she included a letter stating why. I hope so! And, I wonder what would happen if ten people did that?

Segal's choice to make light of Alaska Natives backfires. For a thoughtful essay on humor, take a few minutes to read Uma Krishnaswami's article at Horn Book: "No Joke! Humor and Culture in Middle-Grade Books." Though her essay focuses on middle-grade books, her words apply to picture books, too.


Last night (Feb 21, 2013), I joined a Readers Advisory chat on Twitter. Held every first and third Thursday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, #readadv is hosted by Liz Burns @LizBurns, Kelly Jensen @catagator, and Sophie Brookover @sophiebiblio.

Last night's topic was weeding. It was a fascinating discussion, with participants being asked to respond (if they wanted to) to a series of questions. I learned that the process of weeding ranges from an individual doing it with no guidelines at all to individuals who are responsible for developing lists that are then used at libraries in a particular system. It was enlightening and lighthearted, too.

At one point in the discussion, participants were asked to name a book they'd recently removed from the collection. Among those named was Dances With Wolves: A Story for Children. I gotta say, I was glad to know it was weeded! I also gotta say that I'm not surprised the movie prompted a book for children. Money, you know. MONEY.

I know a lot of people love that movie, but.... Though you see Native people in it all over the place, who is the story about? Its really a love story about a white guy (Costner) and a white woman who lived with the Indians since childhood. Native people are just the backdrop for that romance.

Costner's film is derided enough within Native circles that its part of a joke we tell about the "B.C.'s" Native people have had more than just that one "B.C." We've had three. "Before Christ, Before Columbus, and, Before Costner." When Avatar was released, people added "Before Cameron" to the joke.

When I got up this morning, I saw that my daughter (she's working on a Master's degree at the University of Cambridge in the UK) had posted David Sirota's approropriately titled, Oscar loves a white savior article on my Facebook wall. Sirota's article is terrific. Among the films he critiques are Dances With Wolves and Avatar.  

So! Dances With Wolves: A Story for Children. Amazon tells me that James Howe adapted it for Scholastic in 1991. I can get a used copy for a penny... Shall I?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

LITTLE YOU, written by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

Richard Van Camp has another terrific book out... I've written before about his board books, his picture books, and his young adult novel, The Lesser Blessed. That guy has a gift with words. He does not disappoint. Richard, by the way, is Dogrib (Tlicho) Dene from Fort Smith, Northwest Territory, Canada. Check out his page at Goodreads.

Little You is his third board book. This one is illustrated by Metis artist, Julie Flett. I wrote about her alphabet book, Owls See Clearly at Night. Her work is gorgeous.

His words and her art. Stunning. Here's the cover:

And here's just one page from inside:

Each page of text has a few words on a crisp white background. I imagine myself reading that page to my little Liz, hugging her tight as I do, as we gaze at the family that Flett depicts so lovingly on that page and throughout the book. Sometimes we see just the babe, or the babe and mom, or the babe and dad... This book is sweet as can be. 

Little You is published by Orca Books. It'll be released April 1, 2013.

Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's WHEN I WAS EIGHT

The most powerful stories are those that pull you in such that you feel the emotions of the character(s) in the story and when you come to the end, you let loose a big sigh. When I Was Eight did that to me when I read it a few days ago.

Published in 2013 by Annick Press, the authors of When I Was Eight are Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. The story told in When I Was Eight is one from Margaret's childhood. Margaret is Inuit. Christy is her daughter-in-law.

Here's the first line from the book:
I knew many things when I was eight. I knew how to keep the sled dogs quiet while Father snuck up on caribous, and to bring the team to him after a kill. I knew the sun slept in the winter and woke in the summer. And I knew that when the sun-warmed Arctic Ocean shrugged off its slumbering ice, we would cross it to trade furs with the outsiders.
Those words are quite evocative. Ocean shrugging of ice! Wow! I like thinking about that image.

And, did you notice the word "outsiders" in the last sentence? Margaret's family traded with the outsiders, and as we turn the page, we learn more about the outsiders. We see two Inuit girls. One is reading to the other. The older one is Rosie, and the younger one is Olemaun (Margaret's Inuit name). Olemaun wants to read, too, like her sister does. But, that means going to the outsiders' school...

Olemaun's dad finally agrees to let her go. Once she gets there, though, we see and read about what happens to her.

Cutting their hair and taking their traditional clothing from them was the first step in stripping Native children of their identity once they got to boarding schools. Some schools, like the one in When I Was Eight, were mission schools.

The words and the art in When I Was Eight convey a frightful but honest story about perseverance.  Olemaun learned to read, in spite of the obstacles she encountered at school.

Some of us might like children's books to be light and pretty, but for many of us, life isn't always that way. Denying that reality and that history is a disservice to everyone. According to Amazon, it'll be available on February 26th. Look for it. Order it. Share it.

Why You Can't Teach U.S. History without American Indians

On May 3rd and 4th, 2013, the Newberry Library in Chicago will host a seminar titled "Why You Can't Teach U.S. History without American Indians." Here's the illustration they're using on the promotional materials:

Benjamin West. "William Penn's Treaty with the Indians when he founded
the Province of Pennsylvania in North American," 1771. Photo edited
by Catherine Gass, Newberry Library. 

Pretty eye-catching, isn't it?  Here's the accompanying description of the symposium:

For generations U.S. historians wrote the nation’s story as if Indians did not exist, or at best, they marginalized Indian peoples as unimportant actors in the national drama of revolution and democratic state formation. Despite the large number of faculty trained in American Indian history very little has changed and most college level students who enroll in large survey courses in U.S. history learn about Indians during the initial stages of encounter and then, Indians are often depicted as succumbing to epidemic diseases or being pushed of their lands by westward expansion.

Th e mission of this symposium is to change how historians teach U.S. history. Today, we are fortunate to have a large number of faculty who teach American Indian Studies and the knowledge base that these scholars possess is profound, thoroughgoing, and expansive. These new perspectives need to be better incorporated into the interpretation and writing of history. Repeatedly, we hear faculty proclaim that they would include Indians if they were more central to mainstream history. Th is symposium intends to challenge that perspective and to provide a new expanded resource for college level faculty.

Here's the line-up of panelists for the two-day session:

Friday, May 3, 2013, 9 AM - 3 PM
Session One: Land, Borders, and Sacred Spaces
  • Mikal Brotnov, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Margaret Jacobs, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Teaching American History as Squatter Imperialism”
  • Juliana Barr, University of Florida. “Borderlands”
  • Kiara M. Vigil, Amherst College. “Sacred Spaces: American Indians and National Parks in U. S. Cultural History, 1877 to Today”
  • COMMENTATOR: Scott Lyons, University of Michigan

Session Two: Religious Freedom, Citizenship, and Education
  • Jacob Betz, University of Chicago. “In the Eye of the Storm: American Indians and Religious Freedom in U.S. History”
  • Jeffrey D. Means, University of Wyoming. “Native Americans and Concepts of American Citizenship: American and Oglala Lakota Identity and Citizenship, 1848-1934”
  • Phillip H. Round, University of Iowa. “America’s Indigenous Reading Revolution”
  • COMMENTATOR: Ray Fogelson, Emeritus, University of Chicago

Session Three: Colonial to Early Republic
  • James D. Rice, SUNY Plattsburgh. “Rethinking ‘The American Paradox’: Bacon’s Rebellion, Indians, and the U.S. History Survey”
  • Sarah Pearsall, Cambridge University. “Re-Centering Indian Women in the American Revolution”
  • Margaret Newell, Ohio State University. “American Indians and Economic History”
  • Susan Sleeper-Smith, Michigan State University. “Rethinking the Fur Trade As a Culture of Exchange”
  • COMMENTATOR: Daniel Usner, Vanderbilt University

Session Four: The Opening of the West
  • Robert Miller, Lewis & Clark Law School, Oregon. “Lewis and Clark and the Doctrine of Discovery” 
  • Adam Jortner, Auburn University. “Cartography, Pedagogy, and the Indian Nations of the Early Republic: Remapping Diplomacy and Power on the Antebellum Frontier”
  • Jeani O’Brien, University of Minnesota. “The California Gold Rush: Mineral Strikes in Indian History”
  • COMMENTATOR: John Hall, University of Wisconsin

Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9 am – 3 pm

Session Five: The Civil War Era
  • Paul T. Conrad, Colorado State University-Pueblo. “Why You Can’t Teach the History of U.S. Slavery without Indians”
  • Luke C. Ryan, Georgia Gwinnett College. “Indians in Bleeding Kansas: Tribal Survival and the Coming of the Civil War”
  • Scott Manning Stevens, The Newberry Library. “American Indians and the Civil War”
  • COMMENTATOR: Dave Edmunds, University of Texas at Dallas

Session Six: Reconstruction and the Progressive Era
  • Jeffrey Ostler, University of Oregon. “Indian Warfare in the West” 
  • Malinda Maynor Lowery, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “Race between Reconstruction and Civil Rights” 
  • Brenda Child, University of Minnesota and John Troutman, University of Louisiana – Lafayette. “American Indian Education from Reconstruction to the New Deal”
  • COMMENTATOR: Fred Hoxie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Seven: From the Indian New Deal to the Postwar Era
  • Mindy J. Morgan, Michigan State University. “’Working’ from the Margins: Documenting American Indian Participation in the New Deal Era”
  • Sierra Adare-Tasiwoopa ápi, SUNY Buffalo. “Overcoming Barriers, Battles, and the Home Front: American Indians Helping to Win the War”
  • Andrew Needham, New York University. “Powering American Indian Energy and Postwar Consumption”
  • COMMENTATOR: Cathleen Cahill, University of New Mexico

Session Eight: Civil Rights, Indigenous Rights
  • David Beck, University of Montana. “The Civil Rights Movement and Indians” 
  • John J. Laukaitis, North Park University. “Positioning American Indian Self-Determination Movement in the Era of Civil Rights”
  • K. Tsianina Lomawaima, University of Arizona. “Exploding Federalism: Native Nations as Sovereign Partners”
  • Chris Andersen, University of Alberta. “Global Indigeneity”
  • COMMENTATOR: Robert Warrior, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Nancy Shoemaker of the University of Connecticut will deliver the symposium's concluding remarks. 
Librarians and teachers will gain a great deal by attending. Information provided will help librarians select and deselect materials, and it'll help teachers develop lesson plans. 
The seminar is free and open to the public. RSVP by April 26 to

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Naomi Bishop: Publishing and Diversity

Editor's Note: Today's blog post is by Naomi Bishop. She received her MLIS from the University of Washington iSchool in 2010. She is an American Indian Youth Literature Awards committee member, the American Indian Library Association secretary, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community (Akimel-O’odham/Pima). She lives in Tucson, Arizona. 


Publishing and Diversity
by Naomi Bishop

The face of American children has changed.

In 2012, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) established a committee to push “diversity” in children’s literature. They presented a panel on their diversity initiative at ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle in January of 2013. I attended it, after having read Debbie Reese’s blog post that says several books on their Good Reads shelf for Native Americans are stereotypical.

According to the CBC “Diversity” website,

CBC Diversity is dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's and young adult literature -- encouraging diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by kid lit.

While this is a noble initiative, there are flaws in its implementation. First, the initiative is only pushing books by members of the association and not supporting great books of non-member publishers. Second, considering the presence of stereotypes in some of their books about American Indians, the association has a non-critical viewpoint and method for evaluating the content of the children’s literature it promotes. Third, the CBC does not consult with ALA ethnic caucuses on the books selected. 

After attending the panel session presented at ALA Midwinter, I did more investigation into CBC. Here are more statements from the CBC webpage:

The Children’s Book Council is a national nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations.


Membership in the CBC is open to all children's book publishers, packagers, and related companies in the United States. Personal memberships are not available.

At the presentation I listened attentively and actively participated in the discussion. I asked the panelist three questions about the “diversity” initiatives.
  1. What does the CBC diversity group have as qualifications to recommend books and what is the personal background on each member?
  2. What process does CBC use to vet the books on the Good Reads shelf?
  3. If books on the Good Reads shelf are not representative of a particular group will the CBC take them off the list?

My questions were answered with mixed responses, but the overall message was that the CBC only promotes books by its members.

My overall reaction is that CBC is an economic publishing organization that does not care about the quality of the books published. This was particularly evident in their response to my third question. The CBC, I was told, does not say that the books are good or bad, they are just “diverse.”

As a Native American (Pima) librarian getting started in my career, I am upset with the CBC initiative, and disappointed that the American Library Association would allow such an economically driven “diversity” panel. The session would have been far better if other ALA affiliate groups and children’s awards committees were on the panel, too.

Within ALA and nationwide, conversations about multicultural youth literature are happening, but I think CBC Diversity is taking advantage of libraries and librarians. If libraries want to embrace diversity, they need to know about all the people writing and illustrating books about people of color. Librarians, me included, need to understand the economics of publishing and get to know editors, publishers, and authors. Small independent publishers like Cinco Puntos Press are a great example to the publishing world. They publish excellent, well-written stories for children by authors and illustrators of diverse backgrounds. We need to know about their books.

While at ALA we celebrated the Newberry, Caldecott, and other awards for outstanding youth literature, and we may have thought that the CBC was another means for us to celebrate diversity in children’s books. In reality, I think the CBC’s exclusivity is a disruption to inclusivity in children’s and youth librarianship, and I question ALA’s sponsorship of the panel. The American Indian Youth Literature Awards are recognizing the value and quality of books about American Indians, yet they are not a part of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I would like to see the American Indian Youth Literature Awards become a part of the big announcements in Children’s Literature alongside other awards committee.

If libraries want to high quality children’s literature about people of color on their shelves, librarians must take a look at what is being selected by APALA, AILA, REFORMA and other affiliates. It is not ok for stereotypical books to be part of a “diversity” Good Reads virtual bookshelf, or on any public library bookshelf or lists of books about diversity.

It is 2013! In order for our libraries to be truly inclusive, we need to start thinking critically. We need to think about information literacy! We need to think critically about accuracy, currency, definitions, and how we evaluate of characters, place, and time. We need to think about the people writing our stories! Are groups being represented as they wish to be represented? Are we promoting literature for the new faces of America? Are we selecting high quality books and supporting small independent publishers?
The children and librarians of the future deserve the best and it is our responsibility to educate, speak up, and participate in the discussions that are happening.

Naomi Bishop 


You may be interested in these publications by the American Indian Library Association:

Here's the American Indian Library Association's page about its literature awards:
American Indian Youth Literature Award

And here's two previous posts to AICL about the CBC Diversity Committee:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Public Lecture: Native American Misrepresentation in Books and Media

What are you doing on March 6, 2013, at 1:00 PM Pacific Time? If you're near Cal State Polytechnic University in Pomona, consider attending my lecture. It is open to the public, and there's no charge for it! I'll be speaking at the Bronco Student Center - Centaurus. Here's the flyer:

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Upon learning that Champaign Public Library's 110 Books for Every Child included books with blackface and that stereotype American Indians, Creek author Durango Mendoza wrote that children and their families "could feel ambushed by the foul among the good."

I'm going to ask him if I can use that phrase as a label for any time that I write about a book in which a child--Native or not--might be ambushed by the foul in a book that has received much acclaim by others.

Today's post is about three of those books.

First is Harry Allard's The Stupids Step Out. Though the text never mentions American Indians, James Marshall decided to put Kitty, their dog (so named because they're stupid), in a headdress:

In The Stupids Have A Ball, Marshall presents Kitty in a headband with one feather (leaf?!) in it:

The Stupids series is very popular. Scholars who write about how best to engage reluctant readers point to these books as ones teachers should use. Teachers that use those two books with Native children are likely giving then more reasons to be reluctant to read! And anyone with insight into stereotyping and why it is wrong will have found the foul among the good that Durango Mendoza expressed.

We can do better! If The Stupids books were the last books on earth, we might have to use them, but they aren't. We can set them aside, can't we?

And while you're in the 'setting aside' mode, take a look at Marshall's George and Martha, Encore. In it, he's got George playing Indian...

Why would we, in 2013, use books that stereotype American Indians? Doing so affirms (or introduces) playing Indian, and we don't affirm or introduce playing ______ (fill in the blank), do we?

Stupids Step Out, first published in 1974, by Houghton Mifflin
Stupids Have A Ball, first published in 1978, by Houghton Mifflin
George and Martha, Encore, first published in 1973, by Houghton Mifflin