Friday, January 29, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... I AM NOT A NUMBER by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

Earlier today, a reader pointed me to I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. Due out in September of 2016, Dupuis shared this image and said people could share it with their networks:



From what I read, Irene (the character) is Dupuis's grandmother. I hope I can get an ARC for this one!

Update: June 16, 2016

See my review of I Am Not a Number. 

Debbie--have you seen... THE LOST ONES by Michaela MacColl

Three different readers wrote to ask about Michaela MacColl's The Lost Ones, due out in October of 2016 from Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek.

From Amazon, here's the synopsis:

Despite her father’s warnings that their tribe is always in danger, Casita, a ten-year-old Lipan Apache girl, has led a relatively peaceful life with her tribe in Mexico, doing her daily chores and practicing for her upcoming Changing Woman ceremony, in which she will officially become a woman of the tribe. But the peace is shattered when the U.S. Cavalry invades and brutally slaughters her people. Casita and her younger brother survive the attack, but are taken captive and sent to the Carlisle Indian School, a Pennsylvania boarding school that specializes in assimilating Native Americans into white American culture. Casita grieves for her lost family as she struggles to find a way to maintain her identity as a Lipan Apache and survive at the school. Includes author’s note and bibliography.

From what I can tell, this is the third volume in the Hidden Histories series from Boyds Mills. The series is "spotlighting little-known tales from America's past, and the children behind those stories."

I hope that MacColl and her editor studied the problems in Ann Rinaldi's book, My Heart is on the Ground, also set at Carlisle, and that they aren't repeating errors Rinaldi made. If/when I get the book, I'll be back!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dear Scholastic: Given your statement about standards...

January 25, 2016

Richard Robinson, CEO
Scholastic Books

Dear Mr. Robinson,

Those of us who study and share children's literature in classrooms and libraries have been using social media to share our astonishment at each new development with regard to A Birthday Cake for George Washington. We--and you, too, I gather--have watched these conversations take place outside of our relatively small community. That is a plus for us, and should be for you, too.

Personally and professionally, I welcome the critical eyes of those who object to the book.

I assume that your public relations office is keeping track of key developments. For the benefit of my readers, I've put together a brief timeline of the key points. I think the dates are correct. For a more comprehensive timeline, see here.

Wednesday, January 6
Scholastic released A Birthday Cake for George Washington.

On the same day, there was a statement on the Scholastic blog. Written by the book's editor, it explained the thinking that went into the book. The statement referenced discussions that took place in 2015 over A Fine Dessert (not published by Scholastic).

Friday, January 15
Scholastic released an unsigned statement on its blog, acknowledging the discussions online.

Sunday, January 17
Scholastic released an unsigned statement that it was stopping distribution of A Birthday Cake for George Washington. It said "We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children..."

Friday, January 22 
The National Coalition on Censorship (NCAC), the PEN American Center, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors issued a statement that cast Scholastic's decision as one of self-censorship.

Monday, January 25
Scholastic issued a statement saying that NCAC and PEN "did not correctly read" their statement about withdrawing the book. The decision, they state, is not due to the controversy over the book, but because "it does not meet the standards which support our publishing mission." It attributed the decision to CEO, Richard Robinson.

The statement also includes this paragraph:
In addition to engaging children with great stories, all of us at Scholastic have an important responsibility to ensure that our history—both the good and the bad--is portrayed accurately in a way children can understand, as we prepare the next generation of young people who are being raised on our books, classroom magazines and curriculum programs widely used in schools and homes.

Speaking as a scholar who studies portrayals of Native peoples in children's and young adult literature, I can say that you publish many books that do not meet the "portrayed accurately in a way children can understand" statement that I assume is part of the "standards" that prompted you to withdraw A Cake for George Washington. 

My question, Mr. Robinson, is this: will you be withdrawing other books, too, for the same reasons?

On Twitter, I asked about a few you have in The Teacher Store pages. I've read and analyzed these ones. I know that they do not accurately portray Native peoples. Other scholars have written about their inaccuracies, too.

  • Hiawatha, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
  • Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
  • Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
  • The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble
  • Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George 
  • Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks
  • Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner


I also asked about your "Thanksgiving Feast Readers Theater Headbands and Play Script." I have no doubt that people mean well when they create and use these kinds of items, but they foster stereotypical thinking and encourage playing Indian in stereotypical ways.

Clearly, those headbands are meant to be used at Thanksgiving. That prompts me to say that I think you're failing to give young children an accurate picture of colonization.

I've seen a lot of smiling Indians in children's books that send the same message that the illustrations of smiling slaves send to readers: it wasn't that bad. Your statement tells me you know it was bad. Indeed, you called it evil, as you should. I agree. Slavery was evil.

The same is true about colonization and the genocidal policies of the early colonists and later, the men embraced as "Founding Fathers." I hope that your statement is an indication that you're convening meetings within the Scholastic offices and you're going to withdraw other books, too.

Is that, in fact, happening?

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

___________________

Note: I sent a link to this letter to Kyle Good. She is listed as the contact person for the statement, as shown here:

Kyle Good
kgood@scholastic.com
212-343-4563

Something that makes me smile...

Something that makes me smile is opening a package from a friend (Sarah), that includes a book I can't wait to read!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Where do you shelve Native American stories?

The title of this post, "Where do you shelve Native American stories?" is directed primarily at librarians but the information is important to teachers, too, and writers. The stories I have in mind are the ones that are broadly characterized as myths, legends, and folktales. It is a quick and short response to a question about shelving of folk and fairy tales.

Evaluate!

(1)
The book you have in hand may not be a Native American traditional story. Its art might suggest to you that it is. It might have the name of a specific Native Nation in it somewhere. This might be in the title, or in the story, or in an author's note. That doesn't mean it is actually a Native American story. If it is a "based on" story where the author has drawn from several different nations, then, it is not a Native American story. Even though it looks like a traditional Native American story, it is not! It is a fiction, created by the author. 

What to do:

If you keep the book, it ought to be shelved in fiction. If you keep it, consider using it in library programming or in classroom lessons about critical literacy. One non-Native writer who does this is Paul Owen Lewis. Here's a screen cap from his website, about Storm Boy:



The relevant text from that screen cap is this sentence in the second paragraph:
Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
What exactly does "Pacific Northwest Coast" mean? Do you know how many Native Nations there are in that area? Here's a list of the Northwest Regional tribes (from the Bureau of Indian Affairs website). Not all listed below are on the coast. And, this list doesn't include the Haida or Tlingit nations because they're served by the Alaska offices. Then, of course, there's the Haida and Tlingit peoples in Canada. 
Northwest Regional Office: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Klamath Tribes, Makah Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, & Siuslaw Indians, Coquille Tribe of Oregon, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Reservation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe BIA Agency: Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council
Colville Agency: Colville Business Council
Flathead Agency: Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Tribal Council
Fort Hall Agency: Fort Hall Business Council, Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation
Makah Agency: Makah Indian Tribal Council
Metlakatla Agency: Metlakatla Indian Community
Northern Idaho Agency: Kootenai Tribal Council, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
Olympic Peninsula Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Hoh Tribal Business Committee, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Council, Lower Elwha Tribal CouncilQuileute Tribal Council, Shoalwater Bay Tribal Council, Skokomish Tribal Council, Squaxin Island Tribal Council
Puget Sound Agency: Lummi Indian Business Council, Muckleshoot Tribal Council, Nisqually Indian Community Council, Nooksack Indian Tribal CouncilPort Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Puyallup Tribal Council, Samish Indian Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Council, Snoqualmie Tribal Organization, Stillaguamish Board of Directors, Suquamish Tribal Council, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Board of Directors, Upper Skagit Tribal Council
Siletz Agency: Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Coquille Indian Tribe, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation
Spokane Agency: Kalispel Business Committee, Spokane Business Council
Taholah Agency: Quinault Indian Nation - Business Committee
Umatilla Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Warm Springs Agency: Burns Paiute Tribe, General Council, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, Tribal Council 
Yakama Agency: Yakama Nation
That is a lot of different tribal nations, who (of course) speak distinct languages and have distinct creation and traditional stories.  So, again, what are we to make of "Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast"?

(2)
If you have determined the book you're holding is about a single nation and that the art and words of the story accurately depict that single nation, ask yourself if it involves the creation of some aspect of that nation's way of viewing the world. If you determine it is a creation story, then it should be shelved in the same place that you put Bible stories. Shelving it there is an important signal that these are stories that are sacred--as sacred as Bible stories are to Christians. Generally speaking, people treat Bible stories with a respect that ought to be given to the sacred stories of any peoples' religion.

For further reading:

  • The American Indian Library Association's bibliography of articles. 
  • Sandra Littletree & Cheryl A. Metoyer (2015) Knowledge Organization from an Indigenous Perspective: The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology Project, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53:5-6, 640-657. 

_____
Revised on October 25, 2016, to include the example of Storm Boy, and, to add links to items that can help readers understand the ways that standard cataloging systems marginalize and misrepresent Native knowledge. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Debbie--have you read... NEVER NEVER by Brianna R. Shrum

Over on Twitter, a colleague asked if I'd read Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum. I haven't, so here it is in the "Debbie--have you read..." series.

Never Never came out last year (2015) from Spencer Hill Press, which is an independent publishing house specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance for young adult readers. That description (from their website) makes me think I ought to go through their catalog. Based on my experience of reading children's books, including science fiction and fantasy, I know that a lot of writers create characters that have Native ancestry and because of this genre (SciFi/Fantasy), the characters have powers of some kind.

Here's the synopsis for Never Never:
James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Here's the last line from the School Library Journal:


Filled with familiar characters such as the Lost Boys, the Darling children, and a bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily, Shrum's retelling is a deeply satisfying dark fantasy that just might change readers' perception of Peter Pan and Neverland itself. 

See that? A "bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily." If I get the book and read it, I'll be back.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... DARK ENERGY by Robison Wells

A reader in Indiana wrote to ask me about Dark Energy by Robison Wells, due out in March, from HarperTeen. Here's a review, from Kirkus:
Wells is back with a new sci-fi adventure that comments on U.S. history. 
Half-Navajo Alice loves living in Florida, where every day is sunny and warm. She’s totally unprepared to follow her white, widowed father to Minnesota’s wind-swept snowfields. But when the first ship from outer space crash-lands, as NASA’s director of special projects, her dad absolutely, positively has to be there—which means Alice has to be there as well. Enrolled in a nearby boarding school with very few other students of color, she watches with fascination as the ship finally opens to reveal aliens that look very much like humans. Encouraged by her father to befriend two of the shipwreck survivors, Alice and her roommates welcome them to school. It all seems relatively easy…until the rest of the fleet arrives and starts to hunt for her new friends. Suddenly, nothing is easy, nothing is the same, and nowhere is safe. Wells displays an awareness of the need for ethnic diversity in books for kids. Alice is conscious of the parallels between the aliens’ landing and the arrival of white people in North America; her boyfriend is an Indian kid who’s grown up in the United States. Alice’s breezy narration and short chapters keep the pages flipping. A one-time resident of the Navajo Reservation, Wells discusses the challenges of writing about the First Nations in an author’s note.

The last line points to one reason I want to read the book. What, I wonder, does Wells discuss? Another is the first line, that this story comments on U.S. history. Hmmm. I'm going to see if I can get an ARC. I'll be back!

Update, March 28, 2016
I reviewed the book on March 27, 2016. In short: not recommended.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... Emily Henry's THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD

Due out on January 26 is Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. As the title of this post indicates, a reader has written to ask me about it. I poked around a bit and found two chapters at the Entertainment Weekly website in November of 2015. Here's one paragraph from chapter two. The main character is a girl named Natalie who will be going to Brown University. She's in her final year of high school:
One excellent thing about being adopted is that you always get to worry you’ll end up accidentally dating someone you share a gene pool with. If I were fully Native American, I wouldn’t have to think about that in a mostly white town like Union, but they tell me my biological father was white, so that complicates things.

In chapter one, she's visited by a figure who asks her to call her Grandmother. This figure has visited her periodically over the last three years. Not a person, mind you, but "an elderly American Indian celestial being:"

There she is, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner, as she has every time she’s visited me since I was a little girl. Her ancient features are shrouded in night, her thick, gray-black hair loose down her shoulders. 

This grandmother figure warns her about things and tells her a creation story. From what I see in those two chapters, this does not look promising. We'll see. It is published by Razorbill (Penguin). If I get it and review it, I'll be back.

Update, March 14: 2016

I did a Storify a few weeks ago that included some comments about Henry's book. I also had a conversation with K. Imani Tennyson of Rich In Color, about her initial review of the book. She wrote On Being An Ally as a follow up to her review and our conversation.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Not Recommended: Nancy Bo Flood's SOLDIER SISTER, FLY HOME

Some months ago, I learned that Lori Piestewa was being written about in a book by Nancy Bo Flood. My immediate reaction was similar to the reaction I had in 1999 when I read Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is On The Ground. In preparation for her book on Native children at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Rinaldi visited the cemetery there. She used the name of one of the children buried there as a name for one of her characters. That--and many other things about her book--astonished me. What happened to Native Nations and our children because of those schools is something we have yet to recover from. Rinaldi using the name of one of those children was wrong.

Flood is doing that, too.

Soon after the Iraq War began in 2003, Lori Piestewa was killed in Iraq. Her death was felt by people across Native Nations, who started a movement to rename "Squaw Peak" in her honor. Janet Napolitano (she was the governor of the state of Arizona at that time; the Hopi Nation is in Arizona) supported the move. Though it was a difficult change to make (due to governmental regulations), it did take place. What was once "Squaw" Peak (squaw is a derogatory term) is now Piestewa Peak. Each year, there are gatherings there to remember Lori Piestewa. Her family is at those gatherings, as are many Native people.

Tess--the main character in Flood's Soldier Sister, Fly Home--is Navajo. The story opens on the morning of a "ceremony" for Lori. Tess and her parents will go to it, but her older sister, Gaby won't be there because she is in the service. Tess is angry that her sister enlisted in the first place, but also angry that Gaby can't be at the service. The reason? Gaby and Lori were friends (p. 14):
Lori was the first of my sister's friends to join, the first to finish boot camp, the first deployed to Iraq. "Nothing fancy, nothing dangerous," Lori had emailed. "I'll help with supplies, help the soldiers who do the fighting. They're the real warriors. Before you know it, I'll be back."
It is implied that Lori wrote to Gaby. That passage feels wrong to me, too. Several news articles report that Lori sent an email to her mother. In it, she said "We're going in," and "Take care of the babies. I'll see you when I get back." Whether she used Lori's actual words or ones she made up and attributed to Lori doesn't matter. What matters is that she did it in the first place.

The "ceremony" for Lori that Tess and her parents go to bothers me, too. It is going to be held in a gymnasium in Tuba City. When they get there, Tess sees that there are "three large wide drums clustered together." Three different times during this "ceremony," the drumbeat is described as "boom-BOOM."

In newspaper accounts, I find that there was a memorial service held for her in a gymnasium in Tuba City on April 12, 2003, but I don't find any descriptions of it. What is important, is that it was a memorial. Not a "ceremony." At these kinds of Native gatherings (many are held in gyms, so that is not a problem with Flood's story), there is a drum and honor guard, but no "ceremony" of the kind that is implied. And characterizing the sound of the drum as "boom-BOOM" is, quite frankly, laughable.

On page 14 of Soldier Sister, we read that Tess's mother is going to give Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. Tess remembers her sister in that gym, standing at center circle ready to play basketball (p. 15):
Today Lori's mother stood in that circle, wrapped in a dark-purple blanket. Purple, the color of honor. Fallen Warrior. On each side of her stood two little children, Lori's children. Did they hope Lori would come home and surprise them?
Surprise them?! That part of that passage strikes me as utterly callous and lacking in sensitivity for Lori's children and family.

It is possible that, at the actual service that happened that day (news accounts indicate her family was given Pendleton blankets are other memorials since then), someone gave Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. It may have been one of the Chief Joseph blankets. They're available in purple. Pendleton blankets figure prominently throughout Native nations. I've been given them, and I've given them to others, too.

I doubt, however, that a purple one was chosen because purple signifies honor to Hopi or Navajo people. Purple carries that meaning for others, though. In the US armed services, for example, there's the Purple Heart.

All of what I find in Soldier Sister, Fly Home 
that is specific to Lori Piestewa, is cringe-worthy. 

In the back of the book, Flood writes at length about getting Navajo consultants to read the story to check the accuracy of the Navajo parts of the story and her use of Navajo words, too. There is no mention of having spoken to anyone at Hopi, or anyone in Lori Piestewa's family, about this story.

In her "Acknowledgements and Author's Note," Flood writes that (p. 153):
A percentage of the royalties from the sale of this book will be contributed to the American Indian College Fund to support the education of Lori's two children.
That, too, is unsettling. Using her children to promote this book is utterly lacking in grace. It may sound generous and kind, but the reality is that most authors have day jobs. They can't support themselves otherwise. Various websites indicate that an author may receive 10% (or up to 15%) of the sale of each book. Amazon indicates the hardcover price for this book will be $16.95 (it is due out in August of 2016). If we round that to $17.00 and use the 10% figure, Flood could get $1.70 per book. How much of that $1.70 does she plan to send to the American Indian College Fund? Did she talk with Lori's parents (Lori's children live with them) about this donation?

Update, August 24, 2016: An anonymous commenter wrote to say that in the final copy of the book, Flood revised the Author's Note. It now reads as follows:
The Piestewa family is pleased that a percentage of the book's royalties will support the education of Lori's two children. An additional donation will be made to the American Indian College Fund.

Given that Flood specifically names many Navajo people who helped her with this book, the lack of naming of Hopi people makes me very uneasy. Without their names, it feels very much like Flood is exploiting a family and a people. For that reason alone, I can not recommend this book.

I could continue this review, pointing to problems in the ways Flood depicts Tess as a young woman conflicted over her biracial identity. Doing that would help other writers who are developing biracial characters, but I think I'll save that for a stand-alone post.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood, published by Charlesbridge in 2016, is not recommended.

Update: January 26, 2016

There aren't nearly enough Native people in children's and young adult literature. It is a small community, and a good many of us write to each other, sharing news, concerns, etc. As I read Flood's book, I was talking with Joe Bruchac about author notes. What he says below is similar to what I said in my post about beta readers. I'm glad to share his remarks (with his permission) here:

I also am feeling increasingly leery about books which mention the names of people from whatever native nation the non-native person has written a book about as those who provided guidance in some unspecified manner.
For one, not every native person from a particular nation is an expert on that nation's culture, language, and history. I suggest doing what I have tried to do as much as possible, which is to work directly with tribal historians, linguists, and others from that particular nation who are regarded as expert, as elders, and spokespeople and so on-- recognized as such by their own tribal nation. (Such as Wayland Large, the tribal historian of the Shoshone Nation who reviewed my manuscript Sacajawea before it was published.)
I know of a few books in the past that mentioned supposedly American Indian people who were advisors, but were in fact not even Indian. One example is the infamous book brother eagle sister sky.
For another, when there is merely a list of names without any indication of what those people said or did to assist I wonder if there really was any actual significant input from those folks, or just a random conversation now and then.
I may have used this term before when discussing things with you but I find that a great number of books about American Indians by non- Indians tend to engage in what I call "cultural ventriloquism." They create a supposedly native character who is nothing more than a dummy through which the non-native authors voice is spoken. As a result, the worldview and the viewpoint is distinctly not Native American, but a mere pretense.

I first heard "cultural ventriloquism" back in the early 2000s, at a conference in Madison at the Cooperative Children's Book Center. Joe was talking, then, about Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is On the Ground. 

I am still working on my next post about Flood's book, mulling over what I will emphasize. I've got several thoughts in my head. When that post is ready, I'll provide a link here, to it.

Update, September 1, 2016
I finished my second post on the book. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ellen S. Cromwell's TALASI, A STORY OF TENDERNESS AND LOVE

Earlier this month I received a review copy of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. Written by Ellen S. Cromwell and illustrated by Desiree Sterbini, it purports to be about a Hopi child. The author is not Native.

Here's some of my notes:

Page 6

Talasi is the little girl's name, which, the author tells us "comes from corn tassel flowers that surround her pueblo home in Arizona."

I think readers are meant to think that her name may be a Hopi name. Let's pause, though, and think about that. The word tassel is an English word. The Hopi have their own language, and likely have a word for tassel. Wouldn't the child's name reflect that word rather than the English one?

As regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know, my grandfather is Hopi. I've been to Hopi. Homes on the mesas aren't surrounded by corn fields. The mesas are, so maybe that is what the author means, but written as-is, it reminds me more of farms in the midwest where homes are surrounded by corn fields.

Page 7

There's an error about materials used to build homes. The text says that "dwellings" (that word, by the way, sounds like an anthropologist, not a storyteller) are made from "adobe stone and clay." That ought to be "dried bricks and adobe clay" as stated in the "About the Hopis" at the end of the book.

We read that the best part of "multi-level living" is that Talasi can climb up and down a ladder. Sounds odd to me... let's think about a child in the midwest living in a two-story house. Is that child likely to say going up and down the stairs is the best thing about living in that multi-level home? I doubt it. Presenting that activity as a favorite thing for Talasi to do sounds very much like an outsider's imaginings of what life is like for a Hopi child. I suppose it is possible, but, not likely.

Page 10

The illustration shows Talasi and her grandmother, who sits in a rocking chair. The wall behind them has a six-paned glass window... which strikes me as an inconsistency. So does Talasi lying on the floor. It reminds me of a modern day house (again, in the Midwest) more than it does a Hopi home at one of the mesas. It also makes me wonder about the time period for this story.

On that page Talasi's grandmother tells her that she's going to move to a new home and that she'll go to a school to learn things that she (the grandmother) can no longer teach her. This foreshadows what is to come: Talasi's grandmother is going to die and upon her death, Talasi and her mom are going to move away to a city.

Page 14-15

On this page we have a double paged spread showing a city with tall buildings and bright lights. I wonder if it is Phoenix? And again I wonder about the time period for the story.

Page 16

Talasi goes to school but feels out of place. The text says that there are things to play with, but "no Katsina dolls to comfort her." Reading that, I hit the pause button. This, again, feels very much like an outsider voice. A "Katsina doll" isn't a plaything in the way that sentence suggests.

Page 18

Talasi brings a Katsina doll into the classroom. She wants to share it, and a story about it. I find that page especially troubling. It makes me wonder if Cromwell and Sterbini submitted this project to the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. The acknowledgements page in the front of the book thanks Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, the archivist at HCPO, for his "generous attention." His name there suggests that he endorsed Cromwell's book, but "generous attention" gives me pause. Given the care with which the HCPO protects Hopi culture from appropriation and misrepresentation, I doubt that HCPO approved what I see on page 18.

That said, the way that Talasi tells that story sounds--again--very much like an adult who is an outsider rather than how a Hopi child would speak.

***

I have too many concerns about the content of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. If I hear from any of the people in the Acknowledgements, telling me that they do recommend it, I'll be back to say so.

Debbie--have you seen... Sally M. Keehn's MOON OF TWO DARK HORSES

A reader wrote to ask me about Sally M. Keehn's Moon of Two Dark Horses. I'm adding it to my "Debbie--have you seen..." series. First published by Philomel in 1995, it is historical fiction about a friendship between Daniel (he's white) and Coshmoo (he's Delaware).

Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review. In that review I see that Coshmoo is the son of "the Delaware Indian Leader Queen Esther." Queen? I'm also curious about "Coshmoo." I think I need to take a look at this book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Comparison: D'Aulaire's ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1939 and 2015

On December 1, 2015, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Abraham Lincoln. For its 75th anniversary, it was reprinted with...
... minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him “standing erect.” 
That information was provided to Publisher's Weekly by Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books. In the "Note from the Publisher" in the back of the anniversary edition, Berg wrote:
"In this special edition we are pleased to present some minor modifications of the original art and text that more closely align to the spirit of Lincoln, the authors and their heirs, and this publishing house."
In addition to the changes to the Native content, significant changes have been made to the text and illustrations of African Americans. In my post, I am sharing the modifications to the Native content on one page (in an early post, I noted depictions of Native content on other pages, but those remain unchanged). As you'll see, I used a yellow highlighter to emphasize changes to the text. I begin with a photo of changes to the illustration on that one page. Later, I'll be back to analyze those changes. The pages in the books are not numbered.

***

This page is about Lincoln being chosen to serve as Captain of the Illinois militia. The year (1832) isn't mentioned in the original or the revision, and neither is Black Hawk's nation (Sac and Fox). You can see that the "peaceful old Indian" is standing more upright in the image on the right than he was in the original (on the left). I don't understand what difference it makes to change his posture. Do you?




ORIGINAL (1939)
His tribe had sold the land to the "paleface," but Black Hawk said: "Man-ee-do, the great spirit, gave us the land, it couldn't be sold."
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
His tribe had sold the land to the settlers, but Black Hawk said, "Man-ee-do, the great spirit, gave us the land, it couldn't be sold."


ORIGINAL (1939)
"Sold is sold," said the people of Illinois, and went to war to chase the Indians out.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
"Sold is sold," said the people of Illinois, and they prepared for war. 


ORIGINAL (1939)
But his soldiers had never taken orders from any man before, and Captain Abe Lincoln struggled hard to make them obey him. That was all the fighting he had. For Black Hawk and his warriors fled before the soldiers.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
But his soldiers had never taken orders from any man before, and Captain Abe Lincoln worked hard to keep discipline in camp. Struggling with unruly soldiers and battling hungry mosquitoes was all the fighting he had. For almost as soon as it began, the war was over.


ORIGINAL (1939
One day a peaceful old Indian came walking into camp.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
One day a peaceful old Indian with a safe-conduct pass, came walking into camp...


ORIGINAL (1939)
The soldiers were angry and wanted to kill him, but Abe said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." Because Abe was the strongest, they had to obey.
Soon after that, Black Hawk was taken prisoner, and the Indian War was over. 
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
...and the soldiers rushed to kill him. But Abe, glaring at his men said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." When some of the men called Lincoln a coward, he responded, "Then choose your weapons!" And the men skulked away in the face of Abe's courage.

Debbie--have you seen... Carol Trembath's WATER WALKERS

A couple of weeks ago, a reader wrote to ask me about Carol Trembath's Water Walkers. Published in 2015 by Lakeside Publishing (I can't find any information on that publisher), the book makes me uneasy. I haven't read it and don't know if I will get it, but here's my thoughts based on what I have seen online.

The synopsis (from Amazon):
Water Walkers is the story of a Native American girl named Mai.  Her family members are walking around Lake Superior to raise awareness about the damage being done to the Great Lakes.  At first, Mai is told she is too little to go, but grandmother says, “Even little people can do big things.”  As Mai walks along the lakeside, she tries to find ways she can help.  Will the secret messages from the animals of the Peace Shield help her learn more about how to help Mother Earth?  How can Mai prove that she can become a good water walker?
Water Walkers is a tribute to the many Native American women and men who have dedicated themselves to walking miles around each of the Great Lakes to draw attention to the condition of our water and responsible usage.

My hunch? Trembath means well. The synopsis indicates the book is a tribute to Native people, but so many of these kinds of projects are shaped by an author's romantic embrace of Native people that shape the content of the project in ways that actually work against children gaining accurate information about Native people.

On her Facebook page, Trembath shares these words, which she says were written to her by Josephine Mandamin, a member and founder of Mother Earth Water Walkers:

“I have had misgivings about what you are doing. Many offerings have been made for an answer to my misgivings. In our culture we tell oral teachings or draw. In your culture, it is different. To that I give my respect. I have pondered on the reason why you are doing this. I pondered about ego, money, fame. What is it she wants, I asked? Finally, the response came:
‘It is for the Water. Simple—for the water.’
“I give my blessings for the water. Now I can rest easy.”


Clearly, Trembath sees that as an endorsement for her book, but Mandamin did not say "I give my blessing to your book." I interpret her blessing as one that she hopes will inspire people who read the book to think about the water and what water means to all of us. I urge writers to listen carefully to what Native people say to them.

Trembath's book is not listed anywhere on the Mother Earth Water Walkers pages as a resource, and I can't find anything at all like a "Peace Shield" there either.  On her website, Trembath says a bit more about the shield:
On the journey, she [Mai] meets the four animals of the Native American Peace Shield and finds ways to help the water.
She uses the generic "Native American" to describe an item that is significant to her story, but, my hunch is that the shield itself is something she made up. I wonder if the book specifies a tribal nation for Mai? If it does, then perhaps I can find a peace shield from that nation's pages.

At the end of the book, there's a couple of pages of activities. One of them is called "Literary Connections." It asks readers to read Brother Eagle Sister Sky and compare it with Trembath's book. To me, that is another indicator that Trembath has very little understanding of how to approach this project. Brother Eagle Sister Sky has been soundly criticized many times.

If I get a copy of the book, I'll be back with a review.

Update: January 14, 2016

A colleague sent me some information from her copy of the book:

The "Native American Peace Shield" is mentioned in author pages that precede the story. As I suspected, the "Native American Peace Shield" is not specific to a tribal nation. I'm finding it online, connected to a person who goes by the name of "Rainbow Eagle" who says he is "Okla-Choctaw" (which is an odd way to identify, if you are Choctaw) and a "Wisdom Keeper." Looking over his site, I think he (like Trembath) means well but what he does is best characterized as New Age, which I view as appropriation and misleading with respect to what people can learn about Native people.

In her note, the author says that the animals of the story "represent the four directions of the Native American Peace Shield: eagle, deer, bear and hare." These are the four animals on "Rainbow Eagle's" shield. He--and I assume Trembath (informed by him or his writings)--suggest that these animals mean the same thing to all the Native nations. That's not the case. It is similar to someone using papoose as the word for baby. We have hundreds of languages, which means there are hundreds of words for baby!

As noted above, the main character's name is Mai. The author says that her name means coyote. I assume she means it is a specific word from a specific Native language, but which one? She doesn't say. Being from the southwest and familiar with Native peoples of the southwest, that bit of information suggests it may be Navajo. The Navajo word for coyote is Ma'ii. Trembath says that coyote is a teacher. Most often he is called a trickster, and is male, not female.

Though I haven't read the book yet, the information I have is sufficient for me to say that I do not recommend Carol Trembath's book, and, I'm wary of what she'll do in her next book. She is working on another one about Mai.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... Josephine Angelini's TRIAL BY FIRE

Update, Jan 5, 2017: -- I read Angelini's book. If I write a review, it will get a not recommended tag. Among the many reasons: inaccuracies. Lily (the main character) tells us there is an Algonquin tribe, and that she's "pretty sure there were no more Algonquin left in her world" (her world is modern day U.S.). Fact: There was not an Algonquin tribe. Another reason: overall, Angelini's book has a new-age stereotypical quality. 


__________

A reader wrote to me about Josephine Angelini's Trial By Fire. Published in 2014 by Square Fish (a Macmillan imprint), it is the first book in her Worldwalker Trilogy. Here's the synopsis (there were some typos in it that I corrected when pasting it):

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies make it increasingly difficult to live a normal life, and after a completely humiliating incident ruins her first (and perhaps only) real party, she's ready to disappear. "Come and be the most powerful person in the world." Suddenly, Lily finds herself in a different Salem. One overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women—including Lillian, this world's version of Lily. "It will be terrifying. It was for me." What made Lily weak at home, makes her extraordinary here. It also puts her in terrible danger. Faced with new responsibilities she can barely understand and a love she never expected, Lily is left with one question: How can she be the savior of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?
Sounds compelling, doesn't it? The first six chapters are available online.

Lily's love interest, I gather, is Rowan who is an "Outlander." The Outlander's are the story's version of Native peoples in a Salem, Massachusetts of the future. Rowan is a healer. There's time travel as Lily goes from present day to that future time. Are there Native people in the present, too? I'm wondering...

If I read and review the book, I'll be back to point to my review.



Debbie--have you seen... WAKE OF VULTURES by Lila Bowen

I get a lot of email, Facebook messages, and tweets from people who wonder if I've read or reviewed a book they came across. I want to keep a record of those requests, and with the start of 2016, will load posts titled with "Debbie, have you seen... _____" If I get the book in question and have time to review it, I'll be back to direct readers to the review.

Today, a reader wrote to me about Lila Bowen's Wake of Vultures. It was published in 2015 by Orbit, which I think is part of Little Brown. The main character, Nettie, is "half-Injun, half-Black." She is fourteen years old, but the book was not reviewed by the children's or YA literature journals. If I get a copy, I may review it, but if you see reviews specific to the depiction of the Nettie or Native people, do let me know!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Kenneth Oppel's THE BOUNDLESS

A few days ago, I began to see Sujei Lugo's tweets about Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless. Intrigued, I got a copy from the library. Published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!
When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.
In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?
The country that train is crossing is Canada. In chapter one, Will ends up driving the final stake--a gold one--into the tracks, thereby completing the track in Craigellachie, presumably in 1885.

Let's step out of the book and look at a little bit of history.

The final stake connecting the eastern and western portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven into a railroad tie on November 7, 1885, in Craigellachie. Here's a map showing where it is, in British Columbia:



And here's a map from the website of the Canadian Museum of History, showing the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway:



Prior to the arrival of Europeans, all that land belonged to Native Nations.

In the US, the last spike of the Transcontinental Railroad was driven into the track in 1869. Train stories about railroads are popular. I read them with a critical eye, wondering if the author is going to provide readers with any information about what the railroads meant for Native people. They were, in short, a key reason land was taken from Native Nations. It is with that knowledge that I read books about railroads and trains.

The Boundless came out in 2014--the same year that Brian Floca's Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal.

The synopsis (above) for The Boundless doesn't mention anything about Native people, but the story Oppel gives us has a lot of Native content. Let's start with Mr. Dorian. We first meet him at the end of chapter one, when he captures a sasquatch. The year for that chapter is 1885. Chapter two picks up three years later (1888).

The next time we see Mr. Dorian is in chapter three, where, in his role as circus master, he talks to passengers about the train, saying:
Cut from the wilderness, these tracks take us from sea to sea, through landscapes scarcely seen by civilized men.
I was intrigued about Oppel's treatment of sasquatch in chapter one. The sasquatch Mr. Dorian captured becomes part of the circus (though it doesn't do anything in performances) and is on the train three years later. I wasn't keen on seeing that one captured and put in a cage because the sasquatch is in Native stories of tribes in the northwest. And, I didn't like reading "scarcely seen by civilized men" either because it suggests that the peoples of the northwest tribal nations were uncivilized. Reading that line, of course, reminded me of the grueling discussions about "civilized" Indians in The Hired Girl (those discussions took place on Heavy Medal and prompted me to do a stand-alone post, A Native Perspective on The Hired Girl).

Those two concerns jumped to a whole new level when I got to chapter seven and learned that Mr. Dorian is Native. The bad guy, Mr. Brogan, is looking for Will (the protagonist). Brogan thinks Dorian is hiding him and threatens to throw Dorian and the entire circus off the train. Dorian doesn't think Brogan has the authority to do that, and Brogan says (p. 124):
"You'd be surprised. And I don't take my orders from circus folk--especially half-breeds like you."
We're not supposed to like Brogan, so having him use "half breed" is supposed to provide us with a cue that the use of the phrase is not ok. Even so, I cringed when I read it. Such words--even when uttered by despicable characters--sting.

That said, it was hard for me to think of a Native person capturing a sasquatch and keeping it in a cage (he also wants to catch a Wendigo, which is also a problem), and it is hard for me to think that a Native person would say that Native homelands were "scarcely seen by civilized men." Would he think that? Maybe it is a script he uses as a circus ringmaster? A performance designed to stir up the imagination of the (white) audience? If so, Oppel should have given readers a clue about those words, but he didn't.

Either way, portraying Native peoples and our nations as "primitive" or "uncivilized" fits with white supremacy and ideas that we didn't know how to use the land (as Europeans used land), and therefore the land itself could simply be claimed by European nations and Europeans who knew what to do with it (by their definition, of course).

Back to the story...

Mr. Dorian doesn't like being called a "half breed" and calmly replies that he prefers the term Métis. Will overhears their conversation and thinks:
Having grown up in Winnipeg, Will is familiar with the Métis--the offspring of French settlers and Cree Indians--and the insults they endured, especially after their failed uprising.
Is what Will says accurate? Partially, but there's a lot more to it than that. And, is the "failed uprising" about Louis Riel? And... why use "uprising" to refer to that period of Métis activism? What image of comes to mind with the word "uprising"? Is it one like this? This is Riel and men who were, in the late 1860s/early 1870s, part of a provisional government he formed:

Source: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/events/rielcouncillors.shtml 

Other words in what Will says about Métis are odd, too. Uprising is one, but so is "offspring." Technically, it does mean children, but why not have Will use children, or kids?

Skipping ahead now, to page 145 (chapter 8) where Maren (she's a main character, too) is showing Will around the train car where the circus performers practice. Specifically, they're looking at the trapeze artists (the train is huge):
Both men are lean and muscular. Their heads are bald except for a tuft of long hair at the back, which is gathered into three braids. 
Will asks Maren if they're Mohawk. She says yes, and that they're fearless, that heights mean nothing to them. I don't know about those three braids, but Oppel is definitely using what he knows about Mohawk steelworkers. Fearless, though? Nope.

In chapter nine, Will is headed up to the "colonist" cars which are overcrowded. The person who takes them through the cars tells them that (p. 177):
"These people are fortunate to get passage on the Boundless at all," Drurie says with a sniff. "They're the poorest of the poor, and they've washed up on the shores of our country to claim our land."

They're German, French, and Italian. Mr. Dorian replies to Drurie (he's white):
"My mother's people are Cree Indian. Perhaps it's people like you who have washed up on our shores. A stimulating thought, don't you think?"
Drurie ignores him, but let's pause. Remember what I pointed out about Dorian's use of "civilized" in chapter three? Dorian is expressing a very political point here, but didn't do so earlier. That is an inconsistency in his characterization. Of course, I like the point he makes here. That line gets at current political discussions about immigration.

There's more I could note (like the brownface Sujei Lugo pointed out), but I'll end with a brief discussion of the buffalo hunting scene. It takes place in chapter 12. The train has a shooting car, in which passengers can pay to use a rifle (provided by a steward) to shoot at wildlife they pass. Just at the moment that Will and Maren are in the shooting car, a herd of buffalo moves over a hill and toward the train. Passengers start shooting at them. Will thinks it unsportsmanlike. He's right, of course, but that activity was common on trains during that time. Mr. Dorian says (p. 251):
"This is how you exterminate a people," the ringmaster says bitterly, "You kill all their food."
Then, passengers see Indians riding behind the herd, driving the herd away from the train. Some have rifles and some have bows. The steward tries to get people to leave the car, but they don't want to. One man shouts (p. 252):
"Damn redskins! They're steering them away from us."
Angry, that man then takes aim at one of the Indians on horseback. Dorian grabs the rifle and tells the angry man that the Indians need those buffalo for food and hides. The angry man says he's helping them by shooting the buffalo. Dorian points out that the man was shooting at the Indians, and the man says:
"What's one less Indian?"
He's killed an instant later, by an arrow, and Dorian murmurs "one less white man." The steward manages to get everyone inside, where Will hears a man call out how they "showed those redskins."

Earlier, I talked about a bad-guy using "half-breed." Here, the people using "redskins" are not likable either, and that's supposed to help readers know that what those men are doing is not ok. I think it does that, but as before, such language stings. In this case, it is even worse.

I don't like The Boundless. Like many of Oppel's books, it has sold well. It got starred reviews from the major children's literature journals--stars, in my view, it does not merit. Given its inconsistencies and use of troubling ideas and phrases, I cannot recommend Oppel's The Boundless. 


Saturday, January 09, 2016

Revised! Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's ABRAHAM LINCOLN

On December 1, 2015, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Abraham Lincoln, which won the Caldecott Award in 1940. The article states that the book will be reprinted to mark the 75th anniversary. Gross interviews Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books. It is her press that is reprinting the book.

I have not seen one of the original printings of the book. Apparently, the art in the book published in 1940 suffered in prints in the 1950s, when printing techniques changed. Berg's reprinting will restore the color and quality of the original.

I often discuss the book when I do workshops and lectures, but haven't written about it here on AICL. In my workshops, these pages are the ones I draw attention to.

First is this enlargement of the upper left part of the endpapers:


Look at the upper left corner, where you see what the d'Aulaire's intended to be a tipi and an Indian man, with one foot raised. Why, I wonder, is he shown that way? And his tipi is more like a toy than a real tipi.

The next image I show is this page:


The book is a life history. It includes that page of Lincoln as a child. The text, "solemn like a little papoose," plays on stereotypes of Native people as being stoic. And I wonder if the d'Aulaire's knew that papoose is not the Native word for baby. It is one peoples' word, but there's hundreds of Native languages and each one has its own word for baby.

Later, the d'Aulaire's tell us about Lincoln fighting Black Hawk. Here's an enlarged image from that page. Relative to the people drawn on other pages, this "Indian" is tiny --- but look at how cartoonish it is drawn!


And here's the text for that part:
[T]he men of New Salem were called to war, for an Indian chief, Black Hawk, had come back to Illinois with his warriors.
and
[T]he people of Illinois [...] went to war to chase the Indians out.
Here's more from that part of the book. At the end of that war is this image:



The text for that page is this:
One day a peaceful old Indian came walking into camp. The soldiers were angry and wanted to kill him, but Abe said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." Because Abe was the strongest, they had to obey."
I wonder if that "peaceful old Indian" was modeled on this portrait of Black Hawk?



Some of the content in the 75th anniversary edition is going to be changed. In the Publisher's Weekly story is this:
Berg said they made minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him “standing erect.” 
Here's that particular image, again, of the cowering man who will be standing erect in the new edition. What, I wonder, was the thinking behind the decision to change that man from cowering to standing erect? In the original, it fits with the white savior theme. Changing him from cowering to erect doesn't change that theme.

On the other hand, there are many accounts of an old Indian man walking into camp and Lincoln saying to his men that they should not hurt him. The sources don't have the "fight me first" line. The accounts are more specific to how Lincoln was viewed by those men. They didn't really respect him and somehow, his defending the old Indian is part of that account.

When the new book comes out, I'll definitely do some comparisons. Now--if I'd been asked to suggest changes, I'd add a bit about the word, papoose, and I'd revise the text about Black Hawk, too. And, I'd include a page about Lincoln signing the order for the largest mass execution in the US: the hangings of the Dakota 38.





The other changes made are with regard to the depiction of slavery. Here's what the article says about that:
Another is when Lincoln is walking down the streets, with freed slaves bowing down to him. “The original text didn’t mention that he didn’t want them bowing down to him,” said Berg. “The original didn’t say that he actually shook hands with them. So we altered his face and made him shake hands with the former slaves and added in what he actually said in the historical record, which was, ‘Do not kneel to me.’ ”
It is a bit hard to make sense of what Berg is saying, but I think they're replacing the text in the book with text that matches the historical record. Here's the page in question (when I get a better image I'll use it instead):



I'll add a link to this post to the set of links I'm compiling that document changes to children's books and I'll be back with a better image of that page when I get to the library (current image is courtesy of Sarah Hamburg).


Thursday, January 07, 2016

Alaya Dawn Johnson's LOVE IS THE DRUG

I read Alaya Dawn Johnson's Love is the Drug in 2014 when it came out. I think Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, or maybe Edith Campbell, told me about it. Elsewhere, I've written about books with a problematic line about Native people or culture, or, what we could call a microaggression.

Johnson's book is not about Native people or culture, but she does have a few lines in it that I want to call attention to--because they are the opposite of a microaggression. Indeed, I find them affirming.

They're about the Washington DC professional football team. You know the one I mean: the Redskins. On page 44, Emily and her dad are talking about the team's losing streak. He tells her it is because of their name, that it gives them bad luck. She's a bit skeptical. She thinks it is more about the players and their abilities. I enjoy their banter. He also makes the point that the team name is offensive, when he asks her if the team could get away with calling themselves the Washington Niggers. Pretty bold, but also quite effective.

Later, there's a part where one of the bad-guy-characters is talking about Thanksgiving--and the football game scheduled for that day. He says (p. 215):
"I hear the Redskins are going to play Dallas in a demonstration game. The good American spirit, cowboys versus Indians. The Indians will lose, of course. Everything is going back to normal." 
I won't spoil the book for you by elaborating on what "normal" is... Here's the synopsis:
From the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, a novel that's John Grisham's THE PELICAN BRIEF meets Michael Crichton's THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN set at an elite Washington D.C. prep school. Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night. Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know. The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

I enjoyed the story. Published by Scholastic.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

"What will they say..." Or, Master Narratives of Smiling Slaves and Smiling Indians

Eds. Note: Please scroll to the bottom of this post to see links to discussions of A Birthday Cake for George Washington. The links are in two sets. The first is to items upon the release of the book. The second set is to items following Scholastic's decision to withdraw the book. 

Back in November or December, I started to hear that people in children's literature were wondering what we (by we, I mean people who objected to the treatment of slavery in A Fine Dessert) would say about the smiling slaves in a book due out this year. That book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, is out now.

It felt, then and now, too, like the people who think A Fine Dessert is ok were waiting to pounce on us. The line of reasoning is this: if the smiling slaves in A Fine Dessert were not ok, then, the smiling slaves in A Birthday Cake for George can't be ok, either. It seemed--and seems--that a test is being put forth. If we don't slam A Birthday Cake, then, our critiques of A Fine Dessert can be ignored.

That situation is disgusting.

A predominantly white institution filled with predominantly white people with hundreds of years of power to determine what gets published is waiting to pounce on people of color if they don't pounce on other people of color.

I ordered A Birthday Cake for George today. I'll study it. I may--or I may not--write about it.

What I want to focus on right now is power and the investment in that white narrative of the US and its history.

Smiling slaves in picture books that, in some way, depict slavery are a parallel to the smiling Indians in picture books set in colonial periods. Those smiles sell. They tell kids things weren't all that bad for those who lived in slavery or those whose communities were being attacked and decimated by those who wanted their land--in many instances--so they could turn those lands into plantations of... smiling slaves.

People in the US are so determined to ignore the ugly history of the US that they churn out narratives that give kids a rosy picture of US history.

Some of you may recall a post here a few years ago, written by a 5th grade girl named Taylor: "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"

I took a quick look this morning. It was easy to find smiling Indians in picture books for young children. Here's covers of two recent books:





That expectation that we have to throw the team that did A Cake for George Washington under the bus is (saying again) disgusting. Do Native and POC mess up? Yes, we do. We're human beings. Do we want Native and POC who create children's books to do right by our histories? Of course.

The fact is, we're peoples who've been through hell, and survived. Persisted. Indeed, we've thrived in spite of all that got--and gets--thrown our way time and time again.

In whatever ways we choose to write or speak about A Cake for George Washington, I think we'll be doing so from a space of care for each other, because publishing (and Hollywood, too) aren't all that welcoming of the things we want to give to children. Native and POC are, collectively, at a disadvantage. We face difficult decisions at every turn. Native actors need exposure so they can build profiles that give them power to impact what they do the next time, and what those behind them can do, too. Native writers and POC are in that same position. The stakes are high--no matter what one decides to do. Those stakes aren't necessarily the same for white actors, writers, and illustrators.

One of the most important children's books I've read is Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue. It is about working together so that we all continue, as people who care about each other. With that in mind, I think the ways that we respond and write about A Cake for George Washington may disappoint those who are waiting for our responses.

Note (Jan 9, 2016): I've been compiling links to discussions of A Fine Dessert and now, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, here:
https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/10/not-recommended-fine-dessert-by-emily.html

Or, you can go directly to them as listed here:


In an unprecedented move, Scholastic released a statement that they are withdrawing the book from distribution. The statement was released on Sunday, January 17. Here's the first paragraph of the statement:

Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.
Below are links to items specific to their decision. I am placing Ebony Elizabeth Thomas's Storify in a larger font because I believe it is the single most important response to #SlaveryWithASmile. Today (Jan 22) I am inserting Freeman Ng's page-by-page synopsis at the top of the set of links for those who wish to begin their reading with more information about the contents of the book.

Page-by-page synopsis with screen captures, of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Freeman Ng.






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The book is no longer available at Amazon. See the last line in this screen capture, taken at 3:12 PM on January 18, 2016.




Around 4:00 PM on January 19, 2016, the price of the book on Amazon got a bit inflated. It went away pretty quickly. I doubt it sold. Someone at Amazon must have... removed the private seller's account.