Thursday, May 29, 2014

WHERE'S WALDO being added to The Foul Among the Good

Last week, Sharon H. Chang tweeted a couple of images from a 1987 copy of Where's Waldo (by Martin Handford, published by Little, Brown) that I am adding to AICL's page, The Foul Among the Good. Here they are:










My response?

May 29, 2014

Dear Waldo,

Yes, in fact, I've seen that a lot in children's picture books and in dog photos created by people who apparently don't know much about Native peoples. For us, feathers are not playthings. They are sacred. I am guessing you know that eagles are protected in the United States. I'm guessing that you do not know that there are also laws that recognize that eagle feathers have religious significance to Native people. If you want to know a bit more about it, the New York Times ran a story about this in 2011

I'd also like to note, Waldo, that your depiction of "Indian" people is stereotypical. You drew a tipi, the fringed clothing, and what I think you meant to be a "peace pipe." There are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations in the U.S. Rather than anything meaningful, you're giving your readers monolithic imagery that doesn't do anyone any good. 

I'm hoping that line in your post card, the dog, and the tipi are gone from later editions of your book. 

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature
    

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

COPPER MAGIC by Julia Mary Gibson, or, an emphatic "Cut it out!" from AICL

In Copper Magic, twelve-year-old Violet Blake is digging by a stream near her house in Michigan and finds a "talisman" -- a copper hand that she comes to call "the Hand." Violet feels that this hand has some kind of power. She thinks she can use it to make wishes come true. Course, her first wish (for a new dress) does come true (actually she gets TWO new dresses), so she's thinking about how she'll use it to get her mom and little brother back home. Her mother is half Odawa.

Well, it turns out there was more than just that copper hand in the spot where Violet was digging. There's also a skeleton there that is dug up (another kid finds it), reassembled, and displayed as a curiosity in a local hotel.

Cue some fake Hollywood Indian music...

Can't be messing around in them Indian burial grounds, right?! We've seen THAT enough times in movies and TV shows to know that messing with bones and artifacts means bad things are gonna happen. And of course, bad things happen to the people in Copper Magic. Lots of bad things. A wicked storm. Lake water behaving in odd ways. Death. Before all that happens, Mercy (Violet's new friend) talks about how there might be a curse on the grave... Violet and her mother (remember--her mom is half Odawa) have special powers, too. They can see things other people can't.

"Cut!"

Cut that fake Hollywood Indian music, that is, and an emphatic "Cut it out!" as my parents would say when I was doing something wrong.

Cut it out, Julia Mary Gibson! 
Cut it out, Susan Cooper! 
Cut it out, Rosanne Parry!


"Cut what?" you may wonder... Quit writing about Native spirituality! You mean well, but you don't know what you're doing. From a place of ignorance, you're adding to an already-too-tall pile of garbage that gets circulated as information about Native people.

A good many writers have a moment in their life that touched them in such a way that they feel they must write about Native people. Gibson's moment is described in her Afterword. When she was eleven years old, she and her family found some bones near their summer cottage in Michigan. "[A]n expert" said they were "most likely American Indian but not old enough to be archeologically significant" (p. 329), so her grandfather "pieced together a skeleton and mounted it on plywood." Her "superstitious" grandma didn't like it and insisted the bones be reburied. This took place in the late 1960s or early 1970s (my guess, based on Gibson's bio at Macmillan that says she was born "in the time of Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War").

Gibson goes on to say that her grandfather didn't know better.

In Copper Magic, Violet is Gibson. The person who puts the skeleton on display is Mr. Dell, a hotel owner intent on increasing his business. The superstitious person who wants the bones reburied? Well, that is Mrs. Agosa, an Odawa woman who tells Violet to "Watch out for ghosts out by you" because "mad ghosts can throw out curses" (p. 134).

Gibson, Cooper, Parry and many other writers poke around a bit and pack their stories with bits of info that make it sound like they know a lot about American Indians. Gibson does that in Copper Magic when she has some of her characters talk about grave robbing and why it is wrong. She also does that when she has Mrs. Agosa talk about the hotel owner burning her people's village and orchards because he wanted their land. In the Afterword, Gibson tells us that part of the story is true (p. 330):
"The real people of the Chaboiganing Band were yanked from their houses by a crooked land grabber and the local sheriff, who flung kerosene over homes and orchards and burned down the whole village, just as Mrs. Agosa tells it."
The burning of that village is important information. It is what major publishers like Macmillan (publisher of Copper Magic) ought to make known. I wish Gibson had made it the heart of her story. Instead, she chose to tell a story about grave robbing, curses, and mystical Indians. There's more to the "mystical Indians" theme... Interspersed throughout Copper Magic are pages about two ancient women: Crooked Woman and Greenstone. Those parts of Gibson's novel are presented in italics. They feed the mainstream monster of stereotypical expectations--where people love to read about "mystical Indians" and our tragic history.

In Copper Magic, Violet's dad is a steady voice saying that Indian graves deserve respect and ought to be left alone. Violet parrots some of what he says but doesn't really understand. Ironically, Gibson is more like Violet than she realizes. Her understanding is superficial. Violet wants to use the hand to get what she wants. Gibson uses the childhood story to do what she wants.

As you may have guessed by now, I don't like what Gibson has done in Copper Magic. And of course, I do not recommend it. Copper Magic is another FAIL from a major publisher (published in 2014 by Starscape, which is in Macmillan's Tor/Forge line.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Arigon Starr's SUPER INDIAN

If you're Kickapoo author/illustrator Arigon Starr, you gotta be dancing every time you pick up Super Indian and read what Charlie Hill, one of the best Native comedians ever (sadly, he passed away a few weeks ago), had to say about Super Indian:
"Great Scott! The long awaited indigenous super hero has arrived."
If you never saw Charlie Hill perform, those words probably don't move you the way they do me. His humor was perfect. His voice as he told jokes and stories? Perfect.

In Super Indian, Starr's own wit shines. From minute details in the art to the words on the page, I found a lot to like about Super Indian.

Starr opens with a jab at those who create The White Man's Indian. By that, I mean prose riddled with "ancient" and "proud" and "noble" and "fierce" and "sacred quest" and "mystical knowledge." Those words and more are on the very first page, but they're there to tell you that you will not find that guy in Super Indian. Instead, we have Hubert Logan who, as a boy, "attended a birthday party for the local bully, Derek Thunder." At that party, the boys "consumed mass quantities of commodity cheese tainted with "Rezium," an experimental element developed by Government Research Scientist Dr. Eaton Crowe."

My guess is that most readers of AICL are going "huh?" because they don't know what commodity cheese is, but I guarantee that Native people on reservations know exactly what that is, and they're laughing (like I was) as I read that part of the intro.

Cheese aside, Hubert is kind of like Clark Kent: a studious guy in glasses and braids. He works at the Leanin Oak Bingo Hall. "Leanin Oak" is another joke, by the way! It is a poke at a line of over-the-top greeting cards with bogus Native proverbs and the like. Hubert's alter ego is Super Indian. He's got some side kicks, and a dog, too that lends his own thread to the stories in volume one.

Volume one has three different stories in it. After introducing us to the characters we'll meet as we read Super Indian, we begin with "Here Comes the Anthro." It is a perfect opening. The art shows a scary looking anthropologist on the cover, about to grab Super Indian.

Yep--that title is another jab. This one is at the discipline that has been causing Native people headaches (to say the least) for a very long time. I gotta pause here, and drop in Floyd Crow Westerman's song, "Here Come the Anthros" so that you get a full sense of what anthropologists mean to Native people:



Starr's anthropologist is German. I think him being German is a jab at Karl May, a German writer who wrote a bunch of novels about Native people. Goofy ones, that is, that--unfortunately--people don't see as goofy. Starr clearly had a good time writing Super Indian. If you're Native or well-versed in Native life as-it-is (not as outsiders imagine it to be), you'll like Super Indian. One of the characters is a blogger! How cool is that?

Back in 2012, Indian Country Today published an interview with Starr. Check it out. It has good background info. Go to the Super Indian website. Order a copy of Super Indian, and if you're a fan of comics, keep an eye on the Indigenous Narratives Collective of Native American comic book writers and artists. Good stuff.

Published by Wacky Productions Unlimited in 2012.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SWEETEST KULU by Celina Kalluk

Sweet! Sometimes, that exclamation (Sweet!) means something is endearing, and sometimes, it means something is way cool. Both meanings apply to Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis.

Kulu is an Inuktitut term of endearment. The babe who is the sweetest kulu in this book is Inuit (Inuktitut is one of the languages spoken by Inuit people). I got it yesterday. The sense of peace and promise in Kalluk's book was just what I needed on a particularly trying day. See the cover?



Kalluk's words and Neonakis's art work beautifully together as we learn Inuit values in which people and animals coexist as caretakers of the land. In Kalluk's hands, this is not the stereotypical one-with-the-animals story that we see all too often.

This is a terrific book for those who have a newborn in the house... And for those of us who just need a book that rights the world for us, that reminds us of that world in all its richness.

Sweetest Kulu is another great book from Inhabit Media. By the way! If you're interested in Native music, you ought to add Kalluk to your playlist. She is a throat singer. Check out this video. She was performing in New York with a cousin. You MUST ALSO watch the set of short videos here.

Note (added May 27, 2014): Sweetest Kulu will be available in October. I reviewed it from a bound galley.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dear First Book: Step Up Your Game!

Editor's note, May 22, 2014: In response to concerns I raised about the information on First Book's Native American Heritage Month page, First Book removed the page. I look forward to one with accurate information about Native people. Thanks, First Book!
_____________________________________________

May 19, 2014

Dear First Book,

I've been tweeting at you over the last week or so, especially in the last 24 hours. Some might think I'm being unfair to an organization that is doing good work.

First...

I agree that you are doing some pretty good work. The list of books you have on your "Native Interest" page? For the most part, it is an impressive list. It includes a good many Native authors. That, in and of itself, is unusual. So, I am very glad to see it. It isn't perfect, though, and I'd really like to see some books come off that list, including:

Island of the Blue Dolphins --- Yeah, I know. It won the Newbery and is on umpteen lists of favorite books. It isn't on my list of favorites. Far from it! It has stereotypes, bias, and misinformation. I'm sure Scott O'Dell meant well, but he goofed. Given its ubiquity in American society, I am concerned that teachers, parents, librarians---whomever it is that orders books from your site---will see it and spend their precious dollars on it because they recognize the title. They may have fond memories of it that prompt feelings of nostalgia. But! I think it ought to be set aside in favor of books that do a far better job of providing children--via fiction--information about Native peoples.

Starfish --- I was astounded when I read that new book. The stereotypes and sensationalism in it are evidence, I think, of how powerful stereotypes of Native peoples are within the minds of writers (like Crowley) and editors at big publishers (like Hyperion).

You, First Read, are a non-profit. You're not trying to make money, right? You're trying to give kids good books, and you're especially interested in diversity. Seems logical to me that you'd stay away from books like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Starfish. 

Second...

Your page on Native American Heritage Month needs some work. You link to New Age music. Not cool. You feature Pocahontas: Princess of the New World. She was not a princess! The whole idea of royalty is European. Promoting that book, you promote misinformation! There are far better choices, many of which you actually have on your Native Interest list! Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, or Kunu's Basket are both excellent.

That page links to New Age music rather than Native music. In a tweet, I suggested you use the Black Lodge Singers instead. Their kid pow wow songs are terrific!

Third...

Your CEO, Kyle Zimmer, gave an interview to NPR this weekend. Zimmer noted that the We Need Diverse Books is the most recent effort to call attention to what some of us call 'the all white world of children's books.'

I wish that Zimmer had named the men and women who created this latest effort. Most of them are people of color. (For the record, I'm not one of the creators of WNDB.)

In an earlier blog post and in a twitter chat with First Book, I advocated for Native writers/illustrators because I think the identity of an author/illustrator makes a difference. It presents a child with a possible-self, which is a phrase used in psychology. It means 'what I imagine as being possible for myself as an adult.' That idea is more commonly known as a role model.

Imagine what a boost it would be for the children of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, if they'd heard the name of their mom or dad on the radio! White kids hear the names of people that look like them all the time. They get that in books, too. All the time. Lot of possible selves.

That is not the case for children of color. You can do that, First Book. You can offer lots and lots of possible selves.

I want First Book to use their power and influence to do precisely that. Feature and promote writers and illustrators who are outside what we call 'the mainstream' or 'the norm.'

As reported on your website, First Book, you are making a difference. Step up your game. You have nothing to lose and the entire country as everything to gain by such a move.

First Book! Step up your game!

Sincerely,

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

Saturday, May 17, 2014

San Jose State University, College of Applied Sciences, School of Library and Information Science, recognizes Debbie Reese for Exemplary efforts to enhance equity and diversity






"According to her nomination form, she was the recipient of the 2013 Virginia Matthews Scholarship Award for her “sustained involvement in the American Indian community and her sustained commitment to American Indian concerns and initiatives.” Her award-winning blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, shined the spotlight on the Arizona law that led to the recent shutdown of the Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. According to the American Indian Library Association, Reese not only works with the Nambe community and “she strives to inform the dominant culture about issues facing Indian people today.” --Melissa Anderson, SJSU


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Another 'thank you' to Cynthia Leitich Smith

A few hours ago, my daughter called to tell me she'd finished her last exam of the semester. With joy and enthusiasm, she said she was finished with Year One of law school.

I was happy to hear her voice as she described that last exam and reflected on the year. I carried her joy through my day. And then, a hour ago, I was on Twitter when a colleague tweeted a photo from Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer. If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know that I talk about that book more than any other. It is the one I wish I'd had when my daughter was a three year old and dancing for the first time at home. Our dance, by the way, is like prayer. Not entertainment, and not performance. Prayer. Everyone helps get ready for that first dance. Smith depicts that in Jingle Dancer. 

But the particular page that I'm thinking of right now is this one:



That is Jenna on the left. On the right is Jenna's cousin, Elizabeth. At that point in Smith's story, Jenna is visiting Elizabeth. Elizabeth can't be with Jenna on that special day. She's got a big case she's working on. You see, Elizabeth is a lawyer.

Need I say more about why that page is special to me today? Your book continues to give to me, Cyn. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I Advocate for Books by Native Writers and Illustrators/Gallery of Native Writers and Illustrators

Editor's Note: Scroll down to see the photo gallery of Native writers and illustrators.

I spent an hour today in a twitter chat hosted by First Book. The chat was part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

In the chat I advocated for authors who are Native. 


Right away--as usual--a white writer posed a question about white writers, asking the First Read host if authorship of a book matters.

Not surprisingly, First Book said that authorship does not matter. Diversity of characters is what they're after. That's the answer you get from, I'd guess, every publisher.

I persisted, though, because I do think it matters. Here's why:

Just about every book a kid picks up has white people in it. And, just about every book is written and illustrated by a white author or illustrator. For literally hundreds of years, white kids have seen themselves reflected in the books they read, and they've had the chance to see people who look like them as writers and illustrators of those books. By default, they've been able to see a possible-self. By default, they could imagine themselves as the writer or illustrator of that book. It may not have been a conscious thing, but it was the norm. The default. The air they breathe. Every day.

I want that for Native kids. I want them to see books written and illustrated by people who look like them. I want them to be able to think "Hmmm... I could be a writer, too, just like Cynthia Leitich Smith!" or "Hey! I could be an illustrator, too, just like S. D. Nelson!"

I understand that white authors and illustrators feel threatened by my advocacy, but my advocacy is for Native children who deserve the same affirmations white kids get all the time. 


It is also important that kids who aren't Native see books written and illustrated by Native people. Why? Because there are far too many people who think we no longer exist. There are far too many people that think we were primitive people who grunted and ran around half naked. When reading or booktalking a book written by or illustrated by a Native person, the parent/teacher/librarian can say "Eric Gansworth is Onondaga." That two-letter word, IS, is a powerful one and communicates a great deal to kids. That parent/teacher/librarian can then say "The office for the Onondaga Nation is in New York."

I'm closing this post with a tribute to Native writers and illustrators of books I've recommended on AICL. That tribute is photos of them. They are in no particular order. I'll keep adding to this gallery, because I don't have time right now to be comprehensive. I'll do my best, and I welcome you to write to me to let me know to add someone I've missed. Each person's tribe is beneath their name. If there are errors, I apologize, and please let me know.


American Indians in Children's Literature
presents 
A Gallery of Native Writers and Illustrators

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Muscogee Creek
Image source: Cynsations
http://goo.gl/0wneBW

Michael Lacapa
Apache, Hopi
Image source: Northern Arizona Book Festival
http://goo.gl/4POyCQ

Louise Erdrich
Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Image source: Cleveland.com
http://goo.gl/bXzSwn



Eric Gansworth
Onondaga
Image source: Milkweed
http://goo.gl/6FqBTB

Nicola I. Campbell
Nlel7kepmx, Nsilx and Metis
Image source: The Word on the Street
http://goo.gl/l284Ko


Tim Tingle
Choctaw
Image source: My Very Own Book
http://goo.gl/4KRgwp

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Lakota Sioux
Image source: Native Daughters
http://goo.gl/1mCbDU


Richard Van Camp
Dogrib
Image Source: Zimbio
http://goo.gl/Zg8TNR


Arigon Starr
Kickapoo
Image source: Starrwatcher Online
http://goo.gl/hyLzhc

S.D. Nelson
Standing Rock Sioux

Beverly Blacksheep
Navajo


Lee DeCora Francis, and her boys
Penobscot 

Simon Ortiz
Acoma


Joseph Bruchac
Abenaki

Cheryl Savageau
Abenaki

Donald Uluadluak
Inuit

Jan Bourdeau Waboose
Nishnawbe Ojibwe

Daniel Wilson
Cherokee


Joy Harjo
Mvskoke

Shonto Begay
Navajo

Cheryl Minnema
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Wesley Ballinger
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Luci Tapahonso
Navajo


Greg Rodgers
Choctaw

Marcie Rendon
White Earth Anishinabe

Art Coulson
Cherokee

Ofelia Zepeda
Tohono O'Odham

N. Scott Momaday
Kiowa

Laura Tohe
Navajo

Allan Sockabasin
Passamaquoddy 

Julie Flett
Metis


Richard Wagamese
Wabasseemoong Ojibway

Leslie Marmon Silko
Laguna






Heid E. Erdrich
Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Deborah Miranda
Esselen

Anton Trueur
Ojibwe





John Rombough
Chipewyan Dene
James Welch
Blackfeet/Gros Ventre

Tomson Highway
Cree


George Littlechild
Plains Cree



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cheryl Minnema's HUNGRY JOHNNY

A significant component of the We Need Diverse Books campaign is regarding the authorship of books. For AICL, that means books written and illustrated by Native authors. In the midst of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I received a copy of Hungry Johnny. Here's the cover:


The author of Hungry Johnny is Cheryl Minnema. She's Ojibwe, and so is the illustrator, Wesley Ballinger. And the story? It is about an Ojibwe kid. Named Johnny. Who is--as the title suggests--hungry!

When the book opens, Johnny is outside playing, but his tummy growls. He's hungry, and heads inside where his grandma is making wild rice. He spies that plate of sweet rolls on the table and makes a beeline for it, but she tells him "Bekaa, these are for the community feast." The word 'bekaa' is in bold on the page. It is one of several Ojibwe words in Minnema's book. Bekaa, by the way, means 'wait.'

As the cover demonstrates, Johnny lives in a modern home. His grandma, in jeans, sweater, and a ball cap, is at an electric stove, and as Johnny plods to another room, we see hardwood floors and photographs on the wall. When his grandmother tells him it is time to go, he leaps off the couch. He wants to eat, eat, eat! As they drive to the community center, he sings "I like to eat, eat, eat. I like to eat, eat, eat."

I've not said anything about a word that appears in the two paragraphs directly above this one. Community. There is a community feast at the community center. Such gatherings and spaces are common across the U.S. and Canada. It is one of the many ways that Native people maintain our traditions and relationships with each other.

At the center, Johnny has to wait again. An elder says a "very l-o-n-g prayer." Perfect! That is exactly what happens. As a kid, it seemed to me forever, too, waiting for elders to finish praying. But, wait we did, and so does Johnny. I gotta share a photo of that page:



See the elder's vest? That particular page highlights Ballinger's connections to his Ojibwe community. That is Ojibwe beadwork--the very kind that Minnema is known for! Here's a photo of some of her exquisite work:



Back to the story...

Elders eat first, so Johnny has to wait. His grandma waits with him, telling him to be patient. He wonders why she's not eating with the elders, and she explains she is a "baby elder" that is "too young to be old and too old to be young."

When Johnny and his grandma are finally at the table, he is crestfallen because the plate of rolls is empty. It is, however, a feast, and another plate of them is brought to the table. Just then, Johnny sees Katherine (an elder) arrive, and calls her over to take his seat. He isn't glum in calling to her. He understands that elders receive special treatment.

Course, this is a community with elders who pay attention to young ones, so, Katherine invites him to sit on her lap. Johnny finally gets his sweet roll.

There's a lot that I like about Hungry Johnny. The Ojibwe words, the teachings imparted, and, Ballinger's art. In 2000, Simms Taback won the Caldecott Medal for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. I was teaching undergraduates that year in the College of Education. The Jewish students in my class pored over it, pointing to things in the illustrations that affirmed Jewish culture. I didn't notice them, but the students did, and it mattered to them a great deal. That's what Hungry Johnny is like for me, and, no doubt, for Native children who go to community feasts. I imagine Hungry Johnny will be much loved by Ojibwe children who will spot more than I did. What a treat!

Hungry Johnny is published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. A new book, its copyright is 2014. I highly recommend it. When you (parent/teacher/librarian) reads it to a child, you could also pull out a map and show them where Minnema and Ballinger are from: Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

SLJ's "Diversity" Booklist in May issue includes flawed book about Native people

School Library Journal's much anticipated special issue on Diversity was uploaded today (May 1, 2014) in the midst of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, much of which focuses on promoting books by writers who are not white able-bodied males.

Looking over the list of books they recommend, I am astonished to see Rosanne Parry's deeply flawed Written in Stone on the list. Her outsider perspective is all through that book, and she made up several things (which, she says, is "what fiction writers do"), thereby adding to the already-too-high-pile of misinformation that circulates as information about Native peoples.

Why did SLJ choose here, simultaneously contributing to the invisibility of Native writers?

Why did they go with Parry over any of the 30+ authors of the books on the Focus On list that I wrote for them in November, several of which were singled out for distinction by the American Indian Library Association? Presumably they invited me to write that column (in 2008 and 2013) because they trust my work.

What gives, SLJ?

Additional thoughts:

I know many of you are reading my words and thinking that I'm being mean, that my critique and questions are personal and therefore inappropriate. I understand that concern. Nobody likes being poked or prodded. I don't like doing any poking or prodding, but I did and will continue when necessary, because in this day and age, Native children shouldn't have to read books that make them go 'huh?' A Makah mother told me that her daughter got Parry's book in the library, but they took it back because it didn't make sense. Moreover, non-Native children shouldn't have to read books that add to their already-too-big body of misinformation about Native people. Neither group ought to be encouraged to do craft activities that trivialize Native spirituality, either (the teachers guide for Written In Stone suggests that students make a mask).

Children's books are for children. As adults, that is who I think we ought to keep in mind.

Back in 1999 when Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground was published and got rave reviews from the review journals, editors of those journals were taken aback at how wrong they were in their reviews of that book. SLJ asked me to write an article about it then: Authenticity and Sensitivity: Goals for Writing and Reviewing Books with Native American Themes.

So again, SLJ, what gives?

Update May 1, 3:32 PM

The Cooperative Center for Children's Books at the University of Wisconsin published a critique of the entire set of books. It is excellent. I encourage you to read it:
Culturally Generic/Neutral?

Monday, April 28, 2014

We Need Diverse Books that aren't "Blindingly White"

If you're a white male, you'll have an abundance of opportunities to imagine yourself on the stage this year at BookCon. The list of authors is being called "blindingly white" by BookRiot. If you're a white male or a cat, you could imagine yourself on the Blockbuster Kid Lit panel.

If you're not a white male--or a cat--you're out of luck. Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries (which I haven't read), was offered a set of pre-written questions with which to use to interview what Rick Riordan (one of the panelists) called the "Four White Dudes of Kids' Lit" (see his tweet on April 11, 2014). Russell asked to be a panelist instead, and that apparently went nowhere.

If you've been following this situation, you've likely read some of the responses to it. Over the weekend, a new response emerged that involves ACTION. Here's the poster for the We Need Diverse Books event taking place this week:



Perusing the 15 books in that set, it is clear that the planners of the campaign envision diversity in a broad range. It isn't, in other words, just books by or about authors of color, or authors who are citizens or members of one of the 500+ federally recognized tribes. It is about body type. It is about sexual orientation. It is about all of us.

What can you do?

RIGHT NOW (or sometime before May 1), take a photograph that in some way states why you think we need books that represent all of us. The photo can capture whatever it is you want to highlight. The planners suggest holding a sign that says "We need diverse books because _____." Send your photo to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com or submit it via the Tumblr page. Starting at 1:00 PM EST on May 1, 2014 people will be using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to share the photos.

On May 2, 2014 there will be a Twitter chat--again using that hashtag--at 2:00 PM EST. Share your thoughts on existing problems with the lack of diversity in children's and young adult literature, and share the positives, too.

On May 3, 2014 at 2:00 EST there will be book giveaways and a "put your money where your mouth is" component to the campaign.

Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I encourage people to buy books from independent booksellers. My recommendation? Birchbark Books.

The poster (above) includes Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here, which you can get from Birchbark Books.  I want you to get it, but I also want you to get every book on my lists of recommended books. You can start with the lists I put together for the 2008 and 2013 "Focus On" columns I wrote for School Library Journal. Here's the lists:

Native Voices (November 1, 2008)
Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians (November 5, 2013)

Please join the campaign!

Update: Monday April 28 2014, 3: 15 PM

A good sign: BookCon making some changes! Rachel Renee Russell was offered a position on the KidLit panel:


2013: Best Books, High School

If I was starting a library in a high school, these are the first books I'd buy, along with the ten listed in 2010: Best Books, High School.    

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow

Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle

Code Talker Stories, by Laura Tohe

The Moon of Letting Go: And Other Stories, by Richard Van Camp

Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson 

Short annotations for these books are at School Library Journal in a column I wrote for them in November of 2013: Resources and Kit Lit about American Indians.

2013: Best Books, Middle School

If I was starting a library in an elementary school or if I was ordering books for a middle school library, these are ten books I'd buy right away, along with the ten listed in 2010: Top Ten Books Recommended for a Middle School Library.

With these books, students will read the works of Native and non-Native writers who know what they're talking about. 

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. Edited by Matt Dembicki.

My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson

If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth

Triple Threat, by Jacqueline Guest

Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin; illustrated by S. D. Nelson

Native Writers: Voices of Power, by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernst

Super Indian: Volume One, written and illustrated by Arigon Starr

How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle 

Annotations for the books are at a column I wrote for School Library Journal in November of 2013:
"Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians"