Saturday, September 05, 2015

Deborah Wiles, Debbie Reese, and Choosing a Revolution

Eds. note: A couple of people wrote directly to tell me they're having trouble submitting a comment. If you've had trouble, too, please write to me directly and I'll post on your behalf. If you wish to be anonymous, I will respect your request. My apologies! 

I spent the first three days of this week at Georgia State University. I gave a lecture in their Distinguished Speaker series and several guest lectures to classes in GSU's Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education. All meals were with students and faculty. It was a full schedule, but I enjoyed and learned from all of it and am sharing one part of it here.

Just before I got on my plane for Atlanta on Monday morning (August 31, 2015), I learned (via Facebook) that the author, Deborah Wiles, wished she'd known I was going to be there, because she wanted to meet me. I didn't know her work at that point.

Deborah was able to get an invitation to dinner on Tuesday evening. There were five of us (three professors, Deborah, and myself). I've had meals with writers before, but don't recall one like that one. I was, in short, rather stunned by most of it.

Deborah's experience of it is different from mine. Early Wednesday, she provided a recap on her Facebook page (note: sometimes that page is viewable, sometimes it isn't; no idea why!):
Last night's dinner at Niramish in Little Five Points, ATL. I got excited when I saw that Debbie Reese was speaking to students in the School of Education at Georgia State and I... um... invited myself to dinner. No I didn't. But I did squee a liitle (a lot) about the fact that she was coming. I was invited to dinner and was ecstatic about the invite, so much so that I brought everyone a book and foisted it into their hands. They were so gracious. I loved talking about children's literature and who gets to tell the story about careful, close reading, and about thoughtful critical discourse (for starters). I have long admired Debbie's work and have been getting to know my teaching friends at the College of Education & Human Development, Georgia State University this year, whom I admire more with each encounter... Thank you the invitation and generosity! Rhina Williams, Cathy Amanti, Debbie Reese, and Thomas Crisp.
I replied to her on Friday afternoon (September 4):

Deborah, you read my blog and my work, so you know I'm pretty forthcoming. I'll be that way here, too. When you brought up the who-can-write topic at dinner, there was an edge in your words as you spoke, at length, about it and criticisms of REVOLUTION. Since then, I've spent hours thinking about that dinner. I don't think we had a discussion, but I am willing to have that discussion with you. You indicate that white writers feel they can't get their books published if their books are about someone outside the writers identity. With regard to non-Native writers writing books about Native people, I don't see what you're describing. What do you think... do you want to talk more about this? On my blog, perhaps?

And she responded:

Sure, we can talk more about that. I want to make sure I am clear about what I said (or tried to say). I don't think white writers can't get their books published if they write outside their culture, not at all... these books are published all the time. I've published them. We were bouncing around quite a bit at that dinner, topic to topic. Part of what I said was that I got push-back in certain circles for writing in Ray's (black) voice in REVOLUTION, but I know that voice is authentic to 1960s Mississippi because I lived there and heard it all my life and wrote it that way. Sometimes in our (collective) zeal to "get it right" we point at a problem that isn't there. I'm happy to talk more on your blog! Thanks for thinking about it with me.

So, here's my post about that dinner. Obviously I wasn't taking notes. Deborah's comment above ("what I said (or tried to say)") demonstrates that neither of us is sure of what was said. This is my recollection and reflections on the evening.

On arriving, Deborah immediately began by talking to me about my work, saying that writers read what I say. She specifically mentioned my work on Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground and how that made an impact on writers.

I was, of course, glad to hear that, but then she turned the conversation to current discussions in children's literature, saying that this is a dangerous time for writers, because they are being told that they can't write outside their cultural group and that if they do write outside their culture, their books won't get published. Note that in her Facebook comment above, she said these books are getting published and uses her book as an example. I recall saying that I think these are exciting times, because we need diverse voices. It was that exchange--with her characterizing these times as dangerous and me describing them as exciting--that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Deborah started talking about her book, Revolution. She said that she'd shown Jackie Woodson some of the work she was doing on that book, or that she'd talked with her about the African American character, Ray, in Revolution, or maybe it was that she'd talked with Jackie about white writers giving voice to black characters. Whatever it was, the outcome was that Deborah had a green light (my words, not hers) from Jackie. I don't doubt any of it, but I am uneasy with that sort of report. It implies an endorsement from someone who isn't there to confirm it. I'm very attentive to this because, knowingly or not, writers who do that are, in my view, appropriating that person in a way that I find inappropriate. If Deborah could point to a statement Jackie made about Revolution, that would be different.

Deborah went on to to tell us that she had lived in Mississippi and that the voice she gave to Ray is based on what she heard when she lived there. But, she said, "fervent" people didn't like what she did. Someone (me or one of the professors at the table) asked her who the "fervent" people are, and she said that she wasn't going to say if I was going to tell them.

I was taken aback by that and responded immediately with "well don't say then, because I will tell them." She went on to say that it is SLJ's Heavy Medal blog, and that Heavy Medal discussions are dangerous, that they have too much power in terms of influencing what people think.

Deborah seemed angry. She was talking at me, not with me. I don't recall saying anything at all in response to what she said about Heavy Medal and fervent people.

I share my recollection of the dinner--not to solicit sympathy from anyone or to embarrass Deborah--but to convey my frustration with the incredible resistance Deborah's words and emotion represent within the larger context of children's literature.

The who-can-write conversation is not new. In 1996, Kathryn Lasky wrote an article titled "To Stingo with Love: An Author's Perspective on Writing outside One's Culture." In it, she wrote that "self-styled militias of cultural diversity are beginning to deliver dictates and guidelines about the creation and publishing of literature for a multicultural population of readers" (p. 85 in Fox and Short's Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children's Literature, published in 2003 by the National Council of Teachers of English).

I count myself in that "self styled militia." One need only look at the numbers the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin puts out each year to see that we've made little progress:



CCBCs data shows some small gains here and there, but overall, things haven't changed much. One reason, I think, is the lack of diversity within the major publishing houses. I think there's a savior mentality in the big publishing houses and a tendency to view other as less-than. For some it is conscious; for others it is unconscious. All of it can--and should be--characterized as well-intentioned, but it is also unexamined and as such, reflects institutional racism. The history of this country is one that bestows privilege on some and not on others. That history privileges dominant voices over minority ones, from the people at the table in those publishing houses to the voices in the books they publish. That--I believe--is why there's been no progress. Part of what contributes to that lack of progress is that too many people feel sympathy for white writers rather than stepping away from the facts on who gets published.

At the end of the meal, Deborah brought out copies of her books to give to us. I got the picture book, Freedom Summer but it felt odd accepting the gift, given the tensions of the evening. I think she was not aware of that tension. She ended the evening by praising my blog but the delivery of that praise had a distinct edge. She banged the table with her fist as she voiced that praise.

I hope that my being at that dinner with Deborah that evening and in the photograph she posted on Facebook aren't construed by anyone as an endorsement of her work. Yesterday, I went to the library to get a copy of Revolution, because, Deborah said she is working on a book that will be set in Sacramento, and, she said, it will include the Native occupation of Alcatraz. I want to see what her writing is like so that I can be an informed reader when her third book comes out.

Before going to the library, I looked online to see if there was a trailer for it. In doing that, I found a video of Deborah reading aloud at the National Book Award Finalists Reading event. Watching it, I was, again, stunned. She read aloud from chapter two. Before her reading, she told the audience what happened in chapter one. The white character, Sunny, is swimming in a public pool, at night. She touches something soft and warm, which turns out to be a black boy. She screams, he runs away. Then she and Gillette (another white character) take off too, but by then, the deputy is there. She tells him what happened. The last lines of that chapter are these (page 52):
There was a colored boy in our pool. A colored boy. And I touched him, my skin on his skin. I touched a colored boy. And then he ran away, like he was on fire.
As readers of AICL know, I keep children foremost in my mind when I analyze a book. In this case, how will a black child read and respond to those lines? And, what will Deborah think of my focus--right now--on that part of her book? I haven't read the whole book. No doubt, people who read AICL will be influenced by my pointing out that part of the book. Will Deborah think I am, like the people at Heavy Medal, "dangerous"?

Deborah said, above, that "Sometimes in our (collective) zeal to "get it right" we point at a problem that isn't there." She means the people who criticized her for Ray's voice in Revolution. The dinner and Deborah's remarks are the latest in a string of events in which people in positions of power object to "fervent" people. Jane Resh Thomas did it in a lecture at Hamline and Kate Gale did it in an article at Huffington Post.

I'll wind down by saying (again), that I've spent hours thinking about that dinner. It seemed--seems--important that I write about it for AICL. This essay is the outcome of those hours of thinking. I was uncomfortable then, and I'm uncomfortable now. I wanted to say more, then, but chose to be gracious, instead. I'm disappointed in my reluctance then, and now. I don't know where it emanates from. Why did I choose not to make a white writer uncomfortable? Is Deborah uncomfortable now, as she reads this? Are you (reader) uncomfortable? If so, why? Was Deborah worried about my comfort, then, or now? Does it matter?!

I can get lost in those questions, but must remember this: I do the work I do, not for a writer, but for the youth who will read the work of any given writer. For the ways it will help--or harm--a reader's self esteem or knowledge base.

The imagined audience for Revolution isn't an African American boy or girl. It is primarily a white reader, and, while the othering of "the colored boy" in chapter two may get dealt with later in the book, all readers have to wait. Recall the words of Anonymous, submitted to AICL as a comment about Martina Boone's Compulsion. They have broad application:
I find the idea of a reader -- particularly a child -- having to wait to see herself humanized an inherently problematic one. Yes, it might accurately reflect the inner journey many white people take, but isn't the point that our dehumanizing views were always wrong? And therefore, why go back and re-live them? Such ruminations could definitely be appropriate in an all-white anti-racist group, in which the point is for white people to educate each other, but any child can pick up a book, and be hurt--or validated--by what's inside. Asking marginalized readers to "wait" to be validated is an example of white dominance as perpetuated by well-intentioned white folks.
It is long past time for the industry to move past concerns over what--if anything--dominant voices lose when publishers actually choose to publish and promote minority voices over dominant ones. It is long past time to move past that old debate of who-can-write. Moving past that debate means I want to see publishers actually doing what Lasky feared so that more books by minority writers are actually published.  

In 1986, Walter Dean Myers wrote that he thought we (people of color) would "revolutionize" the publishing industry. We need a revolution, today, more than ever. Some, obviously, won't join this revolution. Some will see it as discriminatory against dominant voices but I choose to see it as responsive to children and the millions of mirrors that they need so that we reach a reality where the publishing houses and the books they publish look more like society. In this revolution, where will you be?

To close,  I'll do two things. First is a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Thomas Crisp at Georgia State University, for years of conversation about the state of children's literature, and, for assistance in writing and thinking through this essay. He was at that dinner in Atlanta. Second is a question for Deborah. Why did you want to meet me? Usually, when people want to meet me, there's a quality to the meeting that was missing from our dinner in Atlanta. There's usually a meaningful discussion of something I've said, or, about the issues in children's literature. That didn't happen in Atlanta. In the end, I am left wondering why you wanted to meet me.


Update, September 6, 2015

Several readers submitted comments. Please read them. They are quite thoughtful. Deborah Wiles submitted a comment, too. I am inserting it here, in the body of the original post, for your convenience.

Debbie Wiles said...
Hi, Debbie, I just want to say that I enjoyed meeting you on Tuesday evening, and was looking forward to it all day. I don't believe these are dangerous times to be publishing for young people, I don't believe writers are being censored by publishers in what they write (that's not my experience), and I do believe writers are getting published when they write outside their cultures. I did say that wielding power for personal gain can be dangerous, and that thoughtful, critical, informed discourse is important. My experience of the conversation was different from yours. We bounced around all over the place with different topics, weaving in and out. Everyone laughed a lot. I had a good time. I was glad to be included. I agreed with you that these are exciting times to be publishing! They are. I still think you should write the book about the Occupation of Alcatraz. My best, Debbie WilesSaturday, September 5, 2015 at 4:57:00 PM CDT

A similar conversation regarding this topic took place on Twitter yesterday. B. R. Sanders responded to it. Please read A Response to Colten Hibbs and Maggie Stiefvater on Writing the Other

And--if you're having trouble submitting a comment, you can send it directly to me and I'll post it on your behalf.


Update, September 6, 2015 - evening

Maggie Stiefvater wrote a response to the pushback she got on her post on writing the other. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

If Claire Kirch was Kate Gale's editor...

Dear Claire Kirch,

In your article, today, you wrote this about Kate Gale's essay in Huffington Post:
The article--which can be seen in full in these screen shots captured by PW--attempted to defend AWP against recent complaints about the lack of diversity represented in its programming, as well as the lack of transparency in its actions. Gale's article, however, featured inflammatory language that drew its own backlash. (Among other things, the article referred to Native American as Indians.)

Really, Claire? If you were Kate Gale's editor, you'd suggest she change this sentence:

I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Indians.

 so it reads like this:

I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Native Americans.

Really? I'm astounded. Tell me, Claire, why you think that's better. Seems to me you're as clueless as Gale. I hope you'll take time to read what I wrote yesterday: About Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." But even if you don't read what I said, please tell me why you think it would be better if Gale had used Native American instead of Indian. 

Sincerely,

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature




Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us"

Eds note: Earlier today, Gale deleted her post at Huffington Post. If you are looking for it, here is a link to download a pdf: AWP Is Us

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Yesterday (8/24/2015), I read Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." Here's a screen cap of the second and third paragraphs in her post:



Gale recounts being at a dinner where a woman leaned over to her and said that AWP hates Native Americans. She writes that she took out a pen and paper and asked the woman who, at the AWP office, hates Indians. Gale says that she imagined David Fenza saddling a horse and going out to shoot Indians. She says the woman fumbled around and couldn't tell her who the "Indian hater" was.

Her unstated conclusion is that the woman's remark has no merit. I take whatever fumbling there was as a sign that the woman was astounded at Gale's response. Reading Gale's post, it is clear that her demeanor towards the woman was aggressive.

What are the conditions in Kate Gale's world, in her head and heart, that prompt her to hear the words "hate Native Americans" and imagine someone getting on a horse to shoot Indians? She probably thinks her imaginings are clever. Those imaginings, however, illuminate a lot about what-is-wrong-with-literature, and with AWP, and with a huge swath of society.

Past Tense

I wonder if Gale has Native friends or colleagues? I wonder if she reads Native writers? The answer to those questions may be yes, but none of them came to mind in her imagining. Instead, she went to a historical time period. That reflects the tendency to think of Native peoples as part of the past, not present.

Shooting Indians

I wonder if Gale is aware that, today, Native people are on the list of people most likely to be killed by law enforcement?  Here's a chart from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, published on August 26, 2014:




Gale's imaging (horse/Stetson) sound like something out of a Western, but let's consider a common phrase: off the reservation. That phrase goes back to a period when, if a Native person left a reservation without permission of the government agent, that person could be shot. Indeed, Carlos Montezuma's mother left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, without permission, to try to find her little boy. She was shot in the back, and killed, by an Army scout.

My point is that Gale's imagining's aren't funny. 
They aren't clever. They are offensive. 

Her post was much discussed amongst Native writers and scholars yesterday. Those conversations continue, today. Will there be a response from AWP? from Gale?

We're not the only group that objects to what she said. Others are responding, too. Just before I hit the upload button, I saw a tweet from AWP:



Will Gale have one, too? Will this and other high profile AWP problems, prompt change within AWP?


Update, 9:20, August 26, 2015

I posed the question: what is in Gale's head and heart, such that she imagined a white person shooting an Indian. What classic, popular, and award-winning books did she read as a kid? These two, perhaps, that are assigned across classrooms, today? That haven't gone out of print?

Maybe it is Pa, of Little House on the Prairie, imagining himself stalking wild animals and Indians. That's in Little House in the Big Woods on page 53.

Maybe it is Edward, in The Matchlock Gun, shooting the Indians who are after his mom (note: I object to bias like this because the men being shot at are husbands and fathers who were defending their families and homelands from outsiders intent on getting their lands by whatever means possible). It won the Newbery Medal and, during the Bush administration, it was recommended as a book that would teach kids American history under the theme of courage):



Update, 10:20, August 26, 2015
A colleague pointed me to Kate Gale's blog, a post in 2013, about taking it easy at Thanksgiving. She opens with this...



Update, 7:15 AM, August 28, 2015

Publisher's Weekly ran a story on Kate Gale's essay yesterday. The reporter, Claire Kirch, suggested that one of Gale's errors was in using Indians rather than Native Americans. In other words, Gale's essay would be improved if she had written "shooting Native Americans" rather than "shooting Indians." I was astonished that she made that suggestion, AND that her editors at Publisher's Weekly didn't flag it. Here's my open letter to Kirch. If Claire Kirch was Kate Gale's editor

And, see A Series of Unfortunate Events by Linda Rodriguez of the Indigenous-Aboriginal Writers Caucus of AWP.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chapter-by-chapter notes on Erin Bowman's VENGEANCE ROAD

I'm reading an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road, published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Here's my notes as I pick up and start to read Vengeance Road. Summary is in standard font. My questions, comments, observations are in italics.

Notes on August 23, 2015

The front cover: Cactus, skulls (human and animal), pistols.
Debbie's thoughts: This is a western. 

The back cover: Blurb tells me the story is about 18 year old Kate Thompson. Her father is killed "for a journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine."
Debbie's thoughts: Hmmm... an old west story, something to do with gold mines. Anytime a story is about the west and mining, I wonder if it'll include the fact that those mines were on Native homelands. I wonder if it'll include the violence Native peoples endured by those who staked claim to those homelands. 

The map that appears on two pages, after the title, CIP, and dedication pages: Dated "Arizona Territory, 1877.
Debbie's thoughts: I don't see any Native spaces on the map. It has things like "Thompson Homestead" but I think it is fair to say the map erases Native presence from their homelands. Obviously, we're talking about point of view. I wonder who made the map? Was it made by someone in the story? Carlos Montezuma was born, in Arizona, around 1866. He was afraid to be kidnapped. By then, Native peoples were doing all they could to protect their homelands, AND, protect their families from being abducted and forced to work in mines. I'll need to get Ned Blackhawk's book, Violence Over the Land, out again if I need/want to say more about this! 

Chapter 1

Kate (the protagonist) is at the river "yanking a haul" on her Pa's plot of land, which she calls "the best plot of land 'long Granite Creek" (p. 1).
Debbie's thoughts: wondering how that plot of land came to be his? And what makes it best? I think yanking a haul means hauling water.  A search of Google maps tells me that Granite Creek is north of Prescott and southwest of Flagstaff. 
Smoke and yelping cause Kate to head to the house but it is too late. Her father is dead, swaying from a tree, and the house is on fire. She sees figures riding away and shoots at them. One falls. Scene switches to the Quartz Rock Saloon in Prescott (five miles away), where Kate, dressed like a boy, is watching the person who fell. She's sure he won't last long. She listens to conversation around her, which includes "a pair of uniforms from Fort Whipple" who are "hammering 'bout the Apache."
Debbie's thoughts: Apache. First mention of a tribe. That's important, but will there be context for the existence of that fort? And, context for why the Apaches are the subject of conversation?

The guy leaves the saloon. Kate follows him to an outhouse where she yanks open the door and points her pistol at him. He's inside it, sitting on a pot that is set into a wooden seat in the outhouse. He isn't using the outhouse for its purpose; he's sitting in there to look at his gunshot wound.
Debbie's thoughts: Small point, but a pot inside an outhouse? Doesn't make sense to me. 

He tells Kate that her dad had a secret, told to him and his friends by Morris, a clerk at Goldwaters. He won't tell her what that secret is. She shoots him.

End of chapter 1.
Debbie's thoughts: Bowman is using the shoot-em-up style of writing in a way that will definitely appeal to readers who like this style, but it is, so far, very much within the master narratives of US history. By that, I mean the praise of prospectors who set out to "strike it rich" on resources that belonged to someone else. Of course, that someone else is dehumanized in these stories. "Savage Indians," you know, who don't "properly use the land" -- which justifies what was done to them, in the name of capitalism and manifest destiny. Yeah, I didn't use caps for manifest destiny. Just don't want to right now.   

That's it for now. Other things to do before I start chapter 2, but hitting the 'publish' button on this. I'll be back.

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Notes on August 24th, 2015:

Chapter 2

Kate heads to Goldwaters (a general store) and asks Morris (he's sweet on her) if anyone had been in to ask about her dad. Morris tells her yes, and asks her if anything happened. She doesn't answer, mulling over what he'd say if she did tell him. One option is to report her father's murder to Fort Whipple, but, Kate thinks "Whipple's soldiers protect settlers 'gainst Apache raids, not attacks from their own kind."
Debbie's thoughts: Apache raids. As before, good that Bowman is specific in naming a tribe, but again, context? Why would Apache's be raiding settlers? And, what about the use of "settlers" -- will Bowman provide more information on them? Again--how did they come by the land they're "settling" on?

Back at their house, Kate finds a few items, in a lunch box, that didn't burn in the fire. One of them is a photograph of her and her parents, with Kate as a baby. Her mother is Mexican. She recalls her father saying there wasn't a more beautiful woman in the territory. Gazing at the photo, Kate notes her mother's piercing eyes, high cheeks, and stern expression.
Debbie's thoughts: Hmmm... we could say that Vengeance Road merits a "diverse" tag because Kate is biracial. But--so far she hasn't struck me as identifying as biracial. Maybe that will come later. Another thought: Could a white man marry a Mexican woman in 1859? At that time, it was still called New Mexico Territory. It became Arizona Territory in 1862. And, I'm assuming Kate's parents were married. Small point: I'm curious about that lunch box. A quick look suggests there were lunch pails then. 
Kate thinks it is a blessing "in a way" that her mother died young, of consumption, because Prescott "ain't taking kindly to Mexicans lately." They're spat on, and "the cowardly part of me's happy" she (Kate) has skin "caught somewhere between his fair complexion and her golden bronze" (p. 14-15).
Debbie's thoughts: I guess thinking it is good her mother is dead fits in this "True Grit" style of writing. About that "golden bronze" skin: descriptions of skin tone are always fraught with layer upon layer of risk. In this case, I'm coming up short trying to imagine a golden bronze Mexican. "Golden bronze" sounds more like the words used to describe a fair skinned person who has a tan... like maybe a Spanish woman from Spain. In my experience, Mexicans, being Indigenous people, are darker than people from Spain. I'll also say that I feel like I'm on that slippery slope as I try to sort this out!
The lunch box also has a deed to their acreage, acquired through the Homestead Act, and a note from Pa telling her to go to Wickenburg and see Abe. It is something he's told her, over and over, as she's grown up. If something happens, go see Abe. Wickenburg is south, and Kate can't head there till the morning. Trying to go in the dark, she would need a light, and "fire's nothing but a beacon for the Apache" (p. 16).
Debbie's comments: Ah, yes. The Homestead Act of 1862, by which 160-acre plots of land in the "public domain" were made available to a head of household who would improve it. Recall what I said about who owned that land? Those Apache's were fighting for their homelands, also known as "public domain." 

Chapter 3

In the morning, Kate (still disguised as a guy) heads for Wickenburg. "Apache raids" aren't a "guaranteed occurrence" anymore and she "can't remember the last time a freighter lost a haul to a burnt wagon on account of Indians" (p. 20). She's following the Hassayampa, a river "that flows upside down" (p. 20). She says she "ain't fond of having to follow it" (p. 20) because Indians and crooks like the water. At one point she stops to let the horses drink and spots someone crouched on the trail, who she thinks is an Indian that is tracking her. Back on her horse, she heads on to Wickenburg, but stops in a saloon at Walnut Grove and learns where she can find Abe. She also asks about "a friend" who is really one of the guys who shot her dad, and finds out that the gang who killed her dad are called the Rose Riders. The people in the saloon think she's part of the gang and run her off. That night when she makes camp, two guys after a bounty on members of the Rose Riders try to get her but she kills one. The other takes off, but so does she.
Debbie's comments: Saying (again) that Apaches were defending their families and homelands. If you're interested in knowing more about Apaches during that time, see the transcript (or video) of the PBS series, We Shall Remain. Here's a quote: "Some miners were barbarous—poisoning the Apaches’ food with strychnine, cutting fetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women, selling Apache girls into slavery. When Americans decapitated a venerated Apache chief and sent his boiled skull back East as a gruesome trophy, they pushed Cochise too far." By the time of Bowman's story, many Apache's were on reservations. Geronimo resisted being put on a reservation and was captured in 1877. 

Chapter 4

Kate (she introduces herself as Nate) finds Abe's home, but he's gone (died two years prior). People there, however, know all about her dad and give her a letter from her dad that Abe had been keeping. It has details about a journal her parents found that led them to a cache of gold from a mine located in the Superstition Mountains.  The letter tells Kate to stay there, to live with Abe, but Kate sets out again, wondering why the Rose Riders killed her father rather than just beat him till he turned over the journal. They wanted the gold, and she thinks on what Pa said about gold making monsters of men and women.
Debbie's comments: As I read, I wonder about other works of historical fiction... are there stories wherein an oppressed people is ignored, for the glory of the oppressor? I know the answer, I suppose. Most children's books about Thanksgiving do that, too. Will I read, later in this story, how the miners are monsters, too, killing and raping Native women? Or is that fact not going to be part of this story?

Chapter 5

As she rides, someone fires (she thinks) at her. Turns out to be Jesse and Will (who she met at Abe's house), who fired a bullet into the sky to get her attention.  They want her to ride with them to Tucson to get some cattle but she doesn't want to do that. She tells them she's after the Rose Riders. They ride on together anyway.

Chapter 6

The three make camp for the night and take turns keeping watch for Apaches and the Rose Riders, just in case. She thinks back on what her dad taught her, including how to read. He made her read aloud from a book of poems. She thinks "Poetry don't make yer crops grow better or keep Apache from raiding yer land" (p. 53). They come across a burning carriage and remains of a family. The Rose Riders are responsible. They've left their mark, which is the image of a rose, carved into the forehead of the driver. It was also on Kate's dad's forehead.
Debbie's comments: Bad guys to watch out for are the Rose Riders who mutilate people, and, the Apaches. 

Chapter 7

The three camp again for the night, in the mountains where there's some pools, of water to bathe in. Kate declines the bath (the boys don't know she's a girl); the two boys get in the water. Kate goes for a walk, finds some "tribal markings" and heads back to camp, preferring awkwardness with the boys over "Apache arrowheads." At camp, the boys tell her what happened to their mother: "The Apache raided that afternoon." and "We'd murdered and pillaged their kind plenty, and when the federal troops went east to repel the Confederates invading New Mexico, I bet it looked like a surrender. Like we'd given up and it were time for revenge. Whatever the reason, the Apache rode through town and destroyed everything they could that day." Jesse saw what happened. Their mother was dragged off, and he watched her pull her derringer out and shoot herself in the mouth. he also watched them "scour and kill. Watched 'em drag women off."
Debbie's comments: Ok, a gesture towards violence whites did to the Apaches, but more striking is the graphic description of what the Apaches did. 
That is all for today. Hitting the "update" button.

______________________________________________

August 25, 2015

Chapter 8

The next day, Kate and the boys spend part of the day showing each other their shooting skills. When they start out again, they see two of the Rose Riders.

Chapter 9

The two groups exchange fire. Kate gets shot in the shoulder, falls, and hits her head hard as she falls. When the shooting stops, the boys take off her shirt to check her wound. They realize Nate is not a guy. They take her to Phoenix where a whore named Evelyn doctors her. When she wakes, she tells him what she's doing (seeking vengeance).

Chapter 10

Well enough to move around, Kate figures out the Rose Riders are in Phoenix, too. Kate, Will, and Jesse come up with a plan to kill Waylan (leader of the Rose Riders). Kate will put on one of Evelyn's dresses and make a fuss about wanting to play poker (women aren't supposed to do that). One of the Riders steps up and escorts her to a table. On the way to it, Kate trips. He catches her and the kicks what she tripped up on. It was "an Apache girl" who is on "all fours scrubbing the floorboards." He calls her a "goddamn injun." She says something in her language and gets kicked again. Around them, men snigger and Kate thinks about the difference in how they are treating her versus how they treat the Apache girl. The man gets ready to kick the girl again, and Kate puts her own leg out to stop him, saying that she'll scrub better if he isn't kicking her. She ends up taking the kick on her shin.
Debbie's comments: Some people will read that part of the book and think well of Kate. It is a good thing to intervene when someone is being abused, but this is also within the White Savior trope.  

As Kate continues to the table, she catches the girl's eye. She looks confused and suspicious, and Kate isn't sure why she intervened. She thinks "I wouldn't expect an ounce of kindness from an Apache if I was to fall into their hands and I reckon she don't expect much from us, neither." She can tell that her leg is bruising and thinks "That's the last time I help an Indian who don't even thank me."
Debbie's comments: Who is this Apache girl? What is her role in this story? Bowman is clearly setting out the conflict between "us" and "them." This makes me think Kate doesn't identify at all as Mexican. Not sure what to think about that... Apaches did, in fact, fight Mexicans, too, which means it makes sense for Kate to collapse her Mexican and American identities as an "us" who sees Apaches as "them." 

Kate joins Waylan at the poker table. As they play, the Apache girl refills drinks and empties ashtrays. Whenever she walks by the man who kicked her, he spits at her back.
Debbie's comments: Not sure this makes sense. One minute she's scrubbing floors, and the next she's serving drinks? Setting that aside, was this spitting part necessary? We already know that guy detests her. He kicked her and called her an injun, remember? 

Kate sees that Waylan has her dad's pistol. A bit later, Waylan puts the journal on the table as part of his bet. A fight breaks out, and a fire. Kate has the journal. As she heads for the door she hears "Help" and finds the Apache girl, who doesn't look like an Apache anymore. Now she's just a scared girl. Kate shouts at her to run towards her, through a burning doorframe but the girl won't. Kate leaves. Outside she thinks of the people who burned in the carriage (chapter 7). Finding a blanket and a water barrel, she pushes the barrel to the saloon and runs inside where she wraps the blanket around herself and the girl and brings her out.
Debbie's comments: Saves her again... 

Kate is ok but the Apache girl's palms are blistered. She looks at Kate with astonishment. Kate leaves her to find Jesse and Will. Together again at Evelyn's, they learn that the Rose Riders are on their way up to get them. They climb out a window, just in time.

Chapter 13

Kate and the boys ride out of town, with the Rose Riders chasing them. They find an abandoned house to hide in. Waylan tracks them to it, but the townspeople are tracking him. Waylan takes off. The townspeople leave.

Chapter 14

Kate and the boys take turns sleeping and keeping watch for Waylan. Kate and Jesse talk. Kate realizes she wants Jesse to be a person that Jesse trusts.

Chapter 15

In the morning, Kate studies the journal's maps and notes. They make a plan to head into the Superstitious Mountains but Will is worried about the ghost shooter. He tells Kate that the ghost shooter is a sharpshooter who is in the mountains, killing people who enter. Some say the sharpshooter is "an Apache spirit protecting their land" (p. 159).  As they ride towards the mountains they realize they're being followed by the Apache girl. Through the binoculars, Kate sees that "her hair's parted into two long braids, and they hang over her shoulders looking like suspenders."
Debbie's comments: Hmmm... So far no mention that living Apaches might be protecting their land. Just this spirit can do that. And this description of the Apache girl... braids. Why that detail? 

Kate rides over to the girl, who says she isn't following them, but that they're on the same path. Kate tells her to go back to the saloon but the girl says "I'm never going back to that saloon. I used to have family and purpose and hope. White Eyes came and took it. They marched my people to camps like a herd, commanded my life like they were my god" (p. 162).
Debbie's comments: Clearly, this Apache girl is emerging as a new character. A plus: Bowman gives her good English speaking skills. Wondering how the girl came to work in a saloon? Why isn't she on the reservation with the rest of her people? 

Chapter 16

The girl tells Kate that the Superstitious Mountains are "sacred land, not to be tampered with. Angry land. A guide might be useful." Kate thinks over what the girl might provide. She thinks the girl knows her way around and could be helpful, kind of like the Indians who become scouts at Fort Whipple. She wonders who is crazier: "the Indians who desert their own kind or the ones fighting an endless supply of uniforms" (p. 162).
Debbie's comments: Bowman's reference to those scouts indicates she's done some research... 

Kate asks the girl if she knows the area well, and she replies "My people move when it suits us. When White Eyes came, the men had gone west to what you call Fort McDowell, along the Verde, to retaliate against a recent raid. Us women and children stayed behind only to be rounded up by the very men ours went to fight. The lucky ones got away, the rest walked to a prison White Eyes called a reserve. I was fortunate to escape the march but was picked up and taken to that saloon to work" (p. 163).
Debbie's comments: Aha! Now we know why she was in the saloon. That said, kind of odd imagining an Apache girl, speaking to a white/Mexican girl, and saying "White Eyes." She could say "your people" couldn't she? I've got to see what the source of "White Eyes" is, too. And the attack the girl is recounting must be something that happened around 1867 (guessing she's about same age as Kate, and since she was girl, subtracting 10 which puts her at childhood, age 8). 

The girl is looking for others who might be in the mountains and asks Kate what she seeks in the mountains. Kate replies "justice." The girl says, again, that the mountains are sacred and that "if you wish to pray to Ussen, there is no better place." Kate repeats that name and the girl tells her "the creator of life" but Kate thinks "Heaven forbid she just call him God."
Debbie's comments: With her thought that the girl should say "God" instead of "Ussen," Kate is disdainful of the girl's religion. 

Kate tells the girl that she thinks the men who hung her Pa may be at the gold mine. The girl frowns, saying "It is one thing to pick up gold scattered on the ground and another to dig in Mother Earth's body for it. To do so will bring Ussen's wrath and awaken the Mountain Spirits. They will stomp and stampede, causing the ground to heave and destroy everything near."  Kate asks her if she means that mining causes earthquakes. The girl replies "The Mountain Spirits serve Ussen. They will bring ruin upon those who dig for gold. I cannot help you. Not if gold is what you seek."  Kate tells her she's after the men, not the gold. The girl decides she can help her but will leave if she comes across her own people, and she'll leave when they get to the mine and find the men "violating the earth" because "It is sacred land, not to be tampered with" (164-165).
Debbie's comments: Wonder about the source for all of that? Native peoples do, in fact, hold lands sacred. What I see here, though, sounds a bit romantic. It'll work, though, for readers who like that romantic Indian stuff. 

The girl says "I am Liluye" and that it means Hawk Singing. She thanks Kate for what she did for her at the saloon. Kate calls her Lil and hears her tell her horse "My name is not Lil, but it's a start" (p. 166).
Debbie's comments: Finally! The girl has a name. I put it into a Google search and found a variation of it on a baby names page. Here's a screen shot:





Here's another:





It is also in Kroeber's book, Arapahoe Dialects, Volume 12, as an Arapahoe word meaning chicken hawk singing when soaring. What is it, I wonder? Miwok? Arapahoe? In my quick look I can't find it noted anywhere as being an Apache word or name... 

That's it for now. Lot of research to do with notes I took today, but for now... other things to do. Hitting that update button... And, I'll be back!

Update: Feb 24 2016 - I have not yet finished reading this book, but based on what I've read so far, it is going onto the Not Recommended list.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dorling Kindersley's POCAHONTAS (Beginning to Read Alone Level 2)

Hey all... you know that Pocahontas did not marry John Smith, right? Check this out:



Here's the synopsis:
In this book, children learn the story of Pocahontas. Famous for helping maintain peace between the English colonists and Native Americans, this brave Indian woman befriended the settlers at Jamestown, saving the life of their leader, Captain John Smith, whom she later married.
I wonder if the synopsis is wrong? Does the book actually have that error in it?


Friday, August 14, 2015

Kathleen Krull's POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD

I'm at the Oak Park Public Library, in Oak Park, Illinois for the afternoon. While here, I thought I'd take a look to see their holdings about Pocahontas. I found Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz. Published in 2007 by Walker Publishing Company, its title is the first indication that it is not a book that can provide young children with solid information about Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was not a princess! 
On that fact alone, librarians can 
deselect (weed) books about her that 
say she was a princess. 

Here's the opening paragraph from Krull's biography of her:



Sounds like a European princess, doesn't it? And therein is a clue: if it sounds European, it probably is, and here's why. When Europeans first came to the homelands of Native peoples, the incorrectly applied their knowledge of how European societies are structured to Native societies. We know better now, and have for a long time, and yet, we still see the word "princess" used in children's books about Pocahontas.

The "Storyteller's Note, or What Happened Next?" (presumably written by Krull), begins with this:
"All the information we have on Pocahontas is from English sources--we have nothing from her perspective. Dramatic accounts of her role are often inaccurate."
Interesting, eh? That word--inaccurate? It applies to Krull's book, too. She also says that she's tried to make sense of "the known facts" and that she has, especially, used Helen Rountree's Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries and David Price's Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation, both of which are listed in her sources. However, Rountree doesn't use the word "princess" anywhere. Price uses it twice, without explanation. The first source Krull lists is Paula Gunn Allen's Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat. Princess is not one of the words she used in her book title, and, in the book itself, in several places, she puts "Indian Princess" in scare quotes.

So what are we to make of Krull's use of that word?

My recommendation is to remove this book from your shelves. If children in your library are using it to do research on Pocahontas, they are being ill-served by Pocahontas: Princess of the New World. 




In the works: VENGEANCE ROAD and THE EVAPORATION OF SOFI SNOW

Yesterday's email from Publisher's Weekly included two items that caught my attention.

First is a new book due out this year: Vengeance Road. As far as I can determine, the author, Erin Bowman, is not Native. Here's a screen capture from the Amazon site, which tells us there is "a young Apache girl" in Vengeance Road (see 3rd line from the bottom of this screen capture).



I don't know who did the trailer for the book, but it has a dreamcatcher in it. The book is set in 1877. Given that date, I don't think the dreamcatcher belongs in this story. Is there one in the book? I'll let you know when I get a copy. Or--if you've read it, do let me know!

Second is an announcement of a book deal, with the title The Evaporation of Sofi Snow:



I visited the author's website and don't see anything there that indicates she is Native either. The blurb makes me uneasy because her character is "Native American" and named "Sofi Snow" and there's going to be some hunting. Oh, and the title has "evaporation" in it, which means changing from a solid to a gaseous state...  Is Sofi going to evaporate?! I'm having serious doubts about this character!

Vengeance Road is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is from HarperCollins. Both are major publishers. Will these two books be ones I recommend? We'll see.

Before hitting upload on this post, I'll say this: I do not contend that a non-Native person cannot or should not write Native characters. They can, and they should, but they must be done with care so that they don't affirm existing stereotypes or introduce new ones.

 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"How shall I describe your skin color?"

A colleague in children's literature asked (on Facebook) how people of color, or people who write about people of color, would like the skin tone of characters of color to be described. Specifically she gave this example: a character who is Latina and has "caramel skin." Because there are objections to using food to describe skin color, she asked people of color and writers who create characters of color to weigh in: what would they prefer to "caramel skin"?

The question itself assumes that a character who is Latino/a will have skin coloring that means they won't visibly look white, or, that they won't be mistaken for white by other characters in the story. The question embodies the fact that the character's identity matters to the story.

Growing up in the southwest amongst people who might be called Latina or Hispanic or Spanish or Mexican or Mexican American, I know that there's a wide range of skin color amongst them, but, because northern New Mexico is an area in which people deeply identify with their specific heritage, I also know that the color of their skin is not what makes them feel Latino/a, or Hispanic, or Spanish, or Mexican, or Mexican American, or.... Pueblo Indian. Certainly, we've all experienced prejudice or acceptance based on our appearance, but I don't think skin color is what any of us would say as one of the first things we say about ourselves.

I think my colleague's larger point is that characters are more than the color of their skin, and I think she's pushing people to dig more deeply so that a character's culture is the defining feature, or, a feature that shapes how they move about in the story. We all know, too, that physical description is somewhat of a default when writers introduce a character. Writers want us to visualize that character's physical presence, but the descriptors used often take the whole story off the rails.

Because this colleague and I have talked before about Native people and our status as members/citizens of a specific tribal nation rather than people of color, I assume she was thinking specifically about people who aren't Native but are "of color."

But, because so many people include Native peoples in the "people of color" framework, I decided to write this post in response to her question.

First--read my post, "We Are Not People of Color" to understand why the phrase doesn't work well when talking about Native peoples. Some of us do have "color" that makes us look, in appearance, like societal expectations of what a Native person looks like (dark hair, dark skin), but some of us don't. This video from the Cherokee Nation makes the point very well:



See the range in appearance that I'm talking about? It makes the case that assumptions about skin color and a Native person's identity are likely to get a writer in hot water. I cringe opening a new book. Invariably, the descriptions of Native characters reflect those assumptions.

I love when Native writers, like Cynthia Leitich Smith, speak back to those expectations in their stories! Here's the opening of her story in Moccasin Thunder, edited by Lori Marie Carlson. Published in 2005 by HarperTeen, Smith's story starts on page 33:



I love that story--and others in Moccasin Thunder, too.

I appreciate my colleague's question about skin color, but I also gotta say it was (for me) a bit uncomfortable. In essence, she was asking "How shall I describe your skin color?" I imagined sitting with someone who wondered what I would like them to say about my skin color. Would they ask the question if we were face to face? As I imagined that conversation, I looked down at my hands and wondered what I'd say. I definitely felt unsettled, imagining the conversation, even though the question is meant to help people avoid pitfalls. I'm usually more than happy to help people with questions, but this one... this morning... it just feels icky. I might be back to this post to say more about that icky feeling later, if I figure it out! For certain, I'd want to be described as a tribal member at Nambe. Indeed, I'm often asked how I should be described for a brochure or poster announcing a lecture I'm giving. I say that I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. That description means a lot. It opens doors to conversations that are rooted historically in the land, and in the political landscape of U.S. government/tribal nations. My skin color doesn't open that door.

An aside about nationhood: Did you notice the people in the video say "I am Cherokee" rather than "I am part Cherokee"? That is important. It speaks to their nationhood. I don't know anyone who says "I am part American." Do you? Or "Part of me is a citizen of the U.S."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Looking for nonfiction?

People write to me asking about the merits of this or that nonfiction book or series, which one(s) I recommend, etc. Keeping up with them, and/or writing a comprehensive review is daunting, and something I have not done. A lot of nonfiction has photographs that I like. For example, Marcia Keegan's books (listed below in the not recommended section) are about Pueblo people. I like the photos! The captions... not so much. I'm pretty sure Pueblo kids would like those photos, too, and I'd love to sit with them and write new captions for the photos. Maybe we'd use a Sharpie! And we could re-write problematic text, too! That would be an excellent activity, showing them that books have errors--that, in this case, the kids know more than the author... that books are not perfect. 

Though I've not done any reviews of series, I can offer this:

In A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin, you'll find a section titled "Reviews: Photoessays of Indian Children." 

I strongly encourage you to buy A Broken Flute and read the reviews in their entirety. You'll learn a lot from studying those reviews. That study will help you in your collection development (decisions on what to get/what to weed) in the future. Here's my sorting of the reviews into three categories, recommended/recommended, but some parts uneven/not recommended and in two parts. First are books that stand alone, and second are books in a series. 

Recommended

Ancona, George:
  • Earth Daughter: Alicia of Acoma Pueblo
  • Mayeros: A Yucatan Maya Family
  • Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead
  • Powwow

Jenness, Aylette and Alice Rivers. In Two Worlds: A Yup'ik Eskimo Family

LaDuke, Winona and Waseyabin Kapashesit. The Sugar Bush

McMillan, Bruce. Salmon Summer

Rendon, Marcie. Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life

Rose, LaVera. Grandchildren of the Lakota

Thompson, Sheila. Cheryl Bibalhatsl/Cheryl's Potlach


Recommended, but some parts uneven 

Brown, Tricia. Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska. 

Gravelle, Karen. Growing Up: Where the Partridge Drums Its Wings 

Kendall, Ross. Eskimo Boy: Life in an Inupiaq Eskimo Village

Sola, Michele. Angela Weaves a Dream: The Story of a Young Maya Artist

Wolf, Bernard. Beneath the Stone: A Mexican Zapotec Tale


Not recommended

Garcia, Guy. Spirit of the Maya: A Boy Explores His People's Mysterious Past

Hazen-Hammond, Suzan. Thunder Bear and Ko: The Buffalo Nation and Nambe Pueblo

Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane.
  • Apache Rodeo
  • Arctic Hunter
  • Buffalo Days
  • Cherokee Summer
  • Day of the Dead: A Mexican-American Celebration
  • Lacrosse: The National Game of the Iroquois
  • Potlatch: A Tsimshian Celebration
  • Pueblo Storyteller
  • Totem Pole

Keegan, Marcia
  • Pueblo Boy: Growing Up in Two Worlds
  • Pueblo Girls: Growing Up in Two Worlds

Mott, Evelyn Clarke. Dancing Rainbows

Reynolds, Jan. Frozen Land: Vanishing Cultures

Wood, Ted, with Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk. A Boy Becomes a Man at Wounded Knee


SERIES

Recommended, but parts uneven

"My World: Young Native Americans Today"
Published by Beyond Words, in association with the National Museum of the American Indian
  • Belarde-Lewis, Miranda. Meet Lydia: A Native Girl from Southeast Alaska
  • Secakuku, Susan. Meet Mindy: A Native Girl from the Southwest
  • Tayac, Gabrielle. Meet Naiche: A Native Boy from the Chesapeake Bay Area

"We Are Still Here"
Published by Lerner
  • Braine, Susan. Drumbeat... Heartbeat: A Celebration of the Powwow
  • Hunter, Sally. Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition
  • King, Sandra and Catherine Whipple. Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer
  • Mercredi, Morningstar and Darren McNally. Fort Chipewyan Homecoming: A Journey to Native Canada
  • Nichols, Richard and D. Bambi Kraus. A Story to Tell: Traditions of a Tlingit Community
  • Peters, Russell M. Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition
  • Regguinti, Gordon. The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
  • Roessel, Monty. Kinaalda: A Navajo Girl Grows Up
  • Roessel, Monty. Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave
  • Swentzell, Rina and Bill Steen. Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters
  • Wittstock, Laura Waterman and Dale Kakkak. Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Sugarmaking
  • Wittstock, Laura Waterman and Dale Kakkak. Sugar Bush: Ojibway Maple Sugarmaking
  • Yamane, Linda. Weaving a California Tradition: A Native American Basketweaver


Not recommended

"The Library of Intergenerational Learning: Native Americans"
Published by PowerKids/Rosen

Kavasch, E. Barrie. 
  • Apache Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Blackfoot Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Crow Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Lakota Sioux Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Seminole Children and Elders Talk Together
  • Zuni Children and Elders Talk Together

"The World's Children" (exception is Grandchildren of the Lakota by LaVera Rose)
Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner

Hermes, Jules. Children of Guatemala

Pitkanen, Matti A. The Grandchildren of the Incas

Staub, Frank. 
  • Children of the Sierra Madre
  • Children of the Tlingit
  • Children of Yucatan

One more thing!

Another reason to get a copy of A Broken Flute is its guide to evaluating photo essays! Here's a photo of the top part of it (the guide is by Naomi Caldwell, Debbie Reese, and Beverly Slapin):




Update, 8/22/2015

In a comment, Ami said the Kavash book about Apaches is well received where she is. I don't know Ami or where she is. I don't know if she's read it. I asked and told her I'd see what A Broken Flute says about Kavash's books. Here are screen caps of the review, by Beverly Slapin (note: I added Slapin's name to this update later in the day, on 8/22/2015):







Monday, August 03, 2015

Babar Playing Indian in BABAR COMES TO AMERICA

I am always grateful to readers who write to me. Sometimes they write with a question. Sometimes they write to thank me for a review. Sometimes, they send me something to take a look at. This morning's mail had one of the later.

Tricia wrote to tell me about a page in Babar Comes to America. As I read her email, I remember seeing that book in a bookstore and snapping a photo of the page she sent to me. I'd lost track of it and am grateful to Tricia for sending it along so I can include it in AICL's Foul Among the Good page.

Published in 1965 by Random House and again in 2008 by Abrams, Babar Comes to America is by Laurent de Brunhoff.  One of the places Babar visits is the Grand Canyon, where "Babar and Arthur pay a visit to the Indians":



Helen Therese Frank writes:
To source this new title about America, de Brunhoff and his wife were invited to the United States in 1963, with expenses paid by the American publisher and several American companies who are acknowledged in the text and illustrations (Hildebrand, 1991).
Presumably, de Brunhoff and his wife were actually at the Grand Canyon, but what Indians did they see there? Was there really one called "Chief Sitting Bull" who was telling "hunting tales" and "the legend of the White Buffalo"?! Was he sitting on a drum? Was he barefoot?!

It is possible--but not likely--that de Brunhoff saw a "Sitting Bull" but this all strikes me as the imaginings of an outsider who was there but didn't understand what he saw. Rather than depict what he saw with accuracy, de Brunhoff turned to stereotyping when he created this in 1963.

Why, I wonder, did that page go unchanged when the book was published again in 2008? Who, I wonder, edited the book at Abrams? If changes can be made to Curious George playing Indian, I think they can be made to Babar Comes to America, too. What do you think?

This is the second post I've done on Babar. The first one was about Babar's World Tour.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Native Writers and Illustrators on Twitter

Do you have a Twitter account? Do you follow or want to follow Native writers and illustrators? Here's a list! Some tweet a lot, some a little. Some tweet about books, some tweet about their nations, and some tweet about a wide range of topics.

If you know of Native writers/illustrators who I haven't listed here, submit their name/Twitter ID in a comment and I'll add them to this list. The list started out, primarily as a list of Native writers or illustrators whose work has been discussed on AICL. It has evolved over time. Now, it also includes many who I've not written about because their work is for adult readers. I'm adding them here because reading Native writers--regardless of what they write--can be of enormous help in understanding what Native writers choose to write about. There's a lot to learn from their fiction, but from their tweets, too. And it includes Native activists and scholars who I follow. I learn from them (and you can, too).

Sherman Alexie
https://twitter.com/Sherman_Alexie
@Sherman_Alexie

Shonto Begay
https://twitter.com/shontobegay
@shontobegay

Roy Boney
https://twitter.com/royboney
@royboney

Trevino Brings Plenty
https://twitter.com/larrydrake
@larrydrake

Joseph Bruchac
https://twitter.com/JosephBruchac
@JosephBruchac

Margaret Bruchac
https://twitter.com/MargaretBruchac
@MargaretBruchac

Nicola I. Campbell
https://twitter.com/NicolaCampbel20
@NicolaCampbel20

Lisa Charleyboy
https://twitter.com/UrbanNativeGirl
@UrbanNativeGirl

Allison Hedge Coke
https://twitter.com/AAHedgeCoke
@AAHedgeCoke

Art Coulson
https://twitter.com/UpWithTheMooses
@UpWithTheMooses

Marilyn Dumont
https://twitter.com/dumont_marilyn
@dumont_marilyn

Jenny Kay Dupuis
https://twitter.com/JennyKayDupuis
@JennyKayDupuis

Lisa J. Ellwood
https://twitter.com/IconicImagery
@IconicImagery

Heid Erdrich
https://twitter.com/HeidErdrich
@HeidErdrich

Julie Flett
https://twitter.com/julie_flett
@julie_flett

Lee Francis
https://twitter.com/leefrancisIV
@leefrancisIV

Adam Gaudry
https://twitter.com/adamgaudry
@adamgaudry

Joy Harjo
https://twitter.com/JoyHarjo
@JoyHarjo

Daniel Heath Justice
https://twitter.com/justicedanielh
@justicedanielh

Adrienne Keene
https://twitter.com/NativeApprops
@NativeApprops

Mari Kurisato
https://twitter.com/CyborgN8VMari
@cyborgN8Vmari

Bojan Louis
https://twitter.com/BojanLouis
@BojanLouis

Lee Maracle
https://twitter.com/MaracleLee
@MaracleLee

Janet McAdams
https://twitter.com/JanetEMcAdams
@JanetEMcAdams

Kathryn NicDhana
https://twitter.com/nicdhana
@nicdhana

Aaron Paquette
https://twitter.com/aaronpaquette
@aaronpaquette

Marcie Rendon
https://twitter.com/MarcieRendon
@MarcieRendon

David A. Robertson
https://twitter.com/_DaveARobertson
@_DaveARobertson

Linda Rodriguez
https://twitter.com/rodriguez_linda
@rodriguez_linda

Vincent Shilling
https://twitter.com/VinceSchilling
@VinceSchilling

Loralee Sepsey
https://twitter.com/LSepsey
@LSepsey

Kim Shuck
https://twitter.com/RabbitandRose
@RabbitandRose

Monique Gray Smith
https://twitter.com/ltldrum
@ltldrum

Cynthia Leitich Smith
https://twitter.com/CynLeitichSmith
@CynLeitichSmith

Arigon Starr
https://twitter.com/superindun
@superindun

Vincent Shilling
https://twitter.com/VinceSchilling
@VinceSchilling

Kara Stewart
https://twitter.com/artinphotgrphy
@artinphotgrphy

Drew Hayden Taylor
https://twitter.com/TheDHTaylor
@TheDHTaylor

Tim Tingle
https://twitter.com/tim_tingle
@tim_tingle

Anton Treuer
https://twitter.com/antontreuer
@antontreuer

Richard Van Camp
https://twitter.com/richardvancamp
@richardvancamp

Chelsea Vowell
https://twitter.com/apihtawikosisan
@apihtawikosisan

Richard Wagamese
https://twitter.com/richardwagamese
@richardwagamese

Taté Walker
https://twitter.com/MissusTWalker
@MissusTWalker

Jordan Wheeler
https://twitter.com/JordWheel
@JordWheel

Kimberly Wieser
https://twitter.com/meonahanehe
@meonahanehe

Daniel Wilson
https://twitter.com/danielwilsonpdx
@danielwilsonpdx

Tanaya Winder
https://twitter.com/tanayawinder
@tanayawinder

Erika Wurth
https://twitter.com/etwurth
@etwurth



Thursday, July 23, 2015

POPCORN by Frank Asch

Eds. Note on July 31, 2017: This racist book is now available as a board book for the youngest readers. Racism sells. 

Dear Editors at Aladdin/Simon & Schuster,

A reader of AICL wrote to ask me about Frank Asch's Popcorn. It is an older book (pub year 1979, from Parents Magazine Press) that I haven't written about before. As a former elementary school teacher, I do remember one of the books about Sam (the bear). Not this one, though. Perhaps I saw it and decided not to use it. With good reason. In it, Sam (the bear) is having a Halloween party. Here he is in his costume:

Source: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/_RDXFS33SaM/maxresdefault.jpg


Here's the old cover:
Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5474/10652326993_4d45e9c8a1_b.jpg



And, here's the new one, published in 2015 by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster. The synopsis at Amazon tells us "This refreshed edition of a beloved classic features the original text and art with an updated cover." 




It must have made a fair bit of money for you, Aladdin, to be giving it to us again in 2015, with this "updated" cover---but it has racist material! Do you not follow any of the national conversations around stereotyping of Native people? Or, about mascots?

Giving children this book, in 2015, suggests that either you're ignorant of those conversations and the research studies about the harm of such imagery, or, you know about it and don't care.

It is definitely a Book to Avoid. And, it is definitely another book for AICL's "Foul Among the Good" page.

Any chance you can 'stop the presses' so to speak? Or maybe recall what you've already sent out?

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature





Set One: Links to Oyate's BOOKS TO AVOID pages

A few years ago, Oyate removed its Books to Avoid page. A great many people miss that page and write to me asking if I saved those reviews. I didn't--but they aren't gone forever! They're available on the Wayback Machine.

In order to fit within the 200 character limit on "Labels" (the labels are on the right and serve as an index of what is in the post itself), I am creating several pages of the links, arranging them alphabetically. This post includes B thru I.

I'm also going to save a pdf of each one, just in case the Wayback Machine goes down.

Banks, Lynne Reid, The Indian in the Cupboard (and The Return of the Indian)
Cooper, Michael L., Indian School: Teaching the White Man's Way
Dalgliesh, Alice, The Courage of Sarah Noble
Edmonds, Walter D., The Matchlock Gun 
Jeffers, Susan. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky
Irbinskas, Heather, The Lost Kachina

See also:
Set 2
Set 3

Set two: Links to Oyate's BOOKS TO AVOID pages

A few years ago, Oyate removed its Books to Avoid page. A great many people miss that page and write to me asking if I saved those reviews. I didn't--but they aren't gone forever! They're available on the Wayback Machine.

In order to fit within the 200 character limit on "Labels" (the labels are on the right and serve as an index of what is in the post itself), I am creating several pages of the links, arranging them alphabetically. This post includes M through T.

I'm also going to save a pdf of each one, just in case the Wayback Machine goes down.

Marrin, Albert, Sitting Bull and His World and additional comments
Martin, Bill and John Archambault, Knots on a Counting Rope 
Mikaelsen, Ben. Touching Spirit Bear
Rylant, Cynthia. Long Night Moon 
Speare, Elizabeth George. Sign of the Beaver
Taylor, C.J., Peace Walker: The Legend of Hiawatha and Tekanawita
Turner, Ann. The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl

See also:
Set 1
Set 3

Set three: Links to Oyate's BOOKS TO AVOID pages

A few years ago, Oyate removed its Books to Avoid page. A great many people miss that page and write to me asking if I saved those reviews. I didn't--but they aren't gone forever! They're available on the Wayback Machine.

In order to fit within the 200 character limit on "Labels" (the labels are on the right and serve as an index of what is in the post itself), I am creating several pages of the links, arranging them alphabetically. This is the last set.

I'm also going to save a pdf of each one, just in case the Wayback Machine goes down.

Waldman, Neil. Wounded Knee
Wargin, Kathy Jo. The Legend of the Petoskey Stone
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie 

See also:
Set 1
Set 2

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

About Jane Resh Thomas and Hamline University's Writing Program

This week, Hamline University's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults is holding its one week residency. On July 13th, Jane Resh Thomas gave a lecture there.

Based on what I read at On Kindness, On Intention, and On Anger in Children's Writers by V. Arrow, Thomas's remarks were primarily about race. As I read responses--online and privately--to what she said, I have several thoughts.
One: she gave voice to concerns of white writers who feel threatened by the new (to some) and renewed interest in the accurate representation of people who are not white.
Two: she gave voice to concerns of white writers who feel threatened by the new (to some) and renewed interest and commitment to publish writers who are not white.
Discussions on social media are evidence that people were clearly uncomfortable with what Thomas said. Was she, herself, uncomfortable as she delivered that lecture? Does she, today, feel unfairly criticized by what people are saying? Are you a white writer who agrees with what Thomas said? Do you think the criticism directed at her, today, is unfair? Mean, perhaps?

As a Native woman and mother, I ask that you set aside your feelings of discomfort. Instead, I'd like you to think about the millions of children of color, and Native children, who've read horrible things about themselves in the thousands of books that white writers have written.

Did you know, for example, that Little House on the Prairie has "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" in it three times? Can you imagine how a Native child feels reading that line?

Let me tell you. A few weeks ago, a young Native boy visiting me saw that book on my table. His eyes widened and his voice rose as he said:
Is that Little House on the Prairie? I had to quit that book. 
He shook his head a bit as he talked about the Indians stealing furs. And then his voice got even louder when he said
That part where it says 'the only good Indian is a dead Indian? That's when I really had to quit that book!!!
It is for that child, and millions of other children like him, that I do the work I do on my site and in my lectures and workshops.

It is uncomfortable for writers who read criticism of their work that points out that ideas and words they've carried in their head all their lives is problematic. These ideas and words appear on the page as a norm for one of their characters. For some, having it pointed out to them generates a huge feeling of embarrassment. For others, there is a defensive reaction, too.

As I read V. Arrow's post, knowing that she was in that room as a student--that she is someone who wants to be a writer of children's books--I knew that she took a great risk in writing her post. As I read through twitter conversations about what she shared, I was glad to see established writers like Anne Ursu and Laura Ruby thanking her for that post. Later, Mary Rockcastle (the director of the program) issued this statement:
Our MFAC program at Hamline is committed to creating a truly diverse and inclusive community. Where ALL of our students can create and do their best work without the noise and pain of ignorance, intolerance, and denial in the larger world that gets in the way.
A faculty member's words yesterday sent the absolute wrong message about how we should deal with each other's anger and pain--as a community and as a culture. It is unacceptable to deny, denigrate, minimize or otherwise deepen this pain.
Our goal is to educate each student about how this happens, how we purposefully or unintentionally get it wrong, so it does not happen again. So the community we've been building learns, grows, and prevails.
I gather that everyone was required to attend Thomas's lecture and that there were others that they could choose from. I hope that the program selects someone to deliver a required lecture each residency term--a lecture that takes up this moment at Hamline. It was one moment--one hour in a day--but it was far more than that. For Hamline, the stakes are high right now. I read tweets from people who said they were crossing Hamline off the list of writing programs they're applying to.

The stakes are high for Hamline, but they're far higher for the children and young adults who will read the books Hamline students write. It is 2015. For over one hundred years, people have been objecting to the ways that people of color and American Indians are portrayed in children's books. This is not new to me and others who have studied children's literature, but to far too many people, it is a new discussion because it is beyond the spaces they spend their time in.

Hamline can bring it into that space.

Every intervention individuals and institutions make is absolutely vital so that we all get to a point in time when all children can read books that are free of the noise and pain of ignorance, intolerance, and denial in the larger world that intentionally, or not, denies our existence and humanity.

_______________

For further reading:

MFA vs POC, by Junot Diaz, April 30 2014
On Being a Person of Color in an MFA Program, by Justine Ireland, July 13 2015



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dear Writers Who Think You're Cherokee

Over the last few weeks, people in American Indian, Native American, or Indigenous Studies have been deeply engaged in discussions of identity, trying to help people understand what it means to be a member or citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

This discussion was prompted when the identity of a key person in this area of research and teaching was featured in an article in The Daily Beast on June 30, 2015. The person is Andrea Smith. The identity she claims is Cherokee.

Several years ago, Smith asked David Cornsilk of the Cherokee Nation to help her verify her belief that she was Cherokee. In an Open Letter at Indian Country Today Media Network, David goes into great detail on his findings (bottom line: she's not Cherokee). Many people knew about this and hoped that Smith would 1) stop saying she is Cherokee, and, 2) that she would take steps so that people would stop calling her Cherokee when they introduce her at lectures she is invited to deliver.

She didn't do either one. It was only a matter of time before her misrepresentation of her identity would become more widely known.

The article at The Daily Beast pulled heavily from a Tumblr page that documented a long history of Smith's efforts to get her claims verified. This led to many blog posts and discussions on social media and at Native news sites.

I wrote a post (on July 3, 2015), too, because lack of knowing what it means to be Cherokee results in a lot of problems in children's literature. They range from:
1) claims that are, in fact, empty (when will every copy of "Forrest Carter's" The Education of Little Tree be moved from autobiography to fiction, if not removed entirely from the shelves?).
2) ignorance in portraying Cherokee culture, as seen--for example--in David Arnold's Mosquitolandor Francesa Lia Block's Weetzie Bat series, or P.C. and Kristin Cast's House of Night series, or Gail Haley's Two Bad Boysor Martina Boone's Compulsion
3) mis-identifying people as Cherokee when they say otherwise, as was done in Alko's The Case for Loving
As I packed for a family trip to North Carolina on Thursday, July 9, 2015, my head was filled with what I'd been reading about Andrea Smith.

Our first stop was in Atlanta. Along the walls in the passageway from Terminal B to Terminal A is an exhibit of Atlanta's history. It includes panels on the Cherokee Nation. I stood there looking at the exhibit and thought about Cherokee people I know, and what their ancestors have been through. Sometimes, my Cherokee friends and colleagues are furious over another instance in which they are misrepresented or when someone on a national level (like Elizabeth Warren) says they're Cherokee. Other times, they are weary.

Like their ancestors, they persevere.

On Saturday morning, David Cornsilk was out and about in Tahlequah, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Being out with family and friends in the Cherokee Nation isn't unusual for David. Later that day, he wrote about it on his Facebook page. With his permission, I share some of what he said, here:

Today seemed different though. Every Cherokee I came into contact with gave me a heightened sense of what it means to a part of the Cherokee community. At breakfast I saw cousins and old friends, all Cherokees. When I went to the estate sales I saw and visited with Cherokees. And again, at the theater, the room was filled with the people I and my family associate with, Cherokees. As I looked around the room I saw the faces of Cherokees laughing, joking and socializing. These are spaces that fill my memory from childhood to the present.
As these contacts built in my minds eye on what is just another Saturday, I was suddenly struck by a profound truth in the context of the Andrea Smith controversy. Even if she could prove some smidgen of Cherokee ancestry, of course she can't, but if she could, what I experienced today, in just four short hours, was more Cherokee community and culture than someone like Andrea will experience in a lifetime.
After the movie and the see-Ya-later hugs from my grandchildren, their innocent little Cherokee selves facing a world that wants nothing more than to take everything away from them, I became more resolved to fight harder for their future as citizens of the Cherokee Nation, to defend their tribe's sovereignty from all comers. Because like the saying we hear so often, the land is not ours, it's only borrowed from our children, so too is our sovereignty.
When someone says they are Cherokee without any concern for the rights of the tribe, they erode the sovereignty and self-determination that rightfully belongs to our children and grandchildren. As the current defenders of that sovereignty, our generation must do all we can to defend what is not really ours, but our grandchildren's.

David knows what it is to be Cherokee, what life is like for someone who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

What he shared brings me back to you, Writer Who Thinks You Are Cherokee. Are you an Andrea Smith? Did someone in your family tell you that you're Cherokee? Did you use that story to identify yourself as Cherokee? Does that identity inspire you to create stories to "honor" Cherokees? Or some other Native Nation?

If the answer to those questions is yes, hit the pause button. If you're not living life as a Cherokee, you're likely to add to the pile of misrepresentations Cherokee people contend with, day in, and day out. Do you really want to do that?

But returning to Andrea Smith, and speaking now, to my friends and colleagues in activist circles: please reconsider inviting Andrea Smith to deliver a keynote lecture at your conference or workshop. My request may sound mean-spirited or unfair to her, but consider the Cherokee Nation itself. Consider the Cherokee children David speaks of. Do you want to, as Smith is doing, thumb your nose at their sovereignty? Their rights to say who their citizens are? Do you really want to do that?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Curious George and his... tomahawk

Over 2000 libraries have H. A. Rey's Curious George Learns the Alphabet on their shelves.  The book was first published in 1963 by Houghton Mifflin. Here's the bottom of the 't' page:




With that foot in the air, I think it is fair to say that George is doing what he (Rey, really) thinks is some kind of Indian dance. Regular readers of AICL know that I find this sort of play problematic because it immediately lapses into stereotyping.

As noted above, the book was first published in 1963. But, it has been published again and again... most recently (I think), in 2013, with a set of flashcards. That year (2013) was the 50th anniversary of the book, hence, a special 50th Anniversary edition. The local library doesn't have it. I wonder if the 't' page was revised? Do you have that version on your shelf? If yes, I hope you'll take a look and let me know.


Update: Thursday, July 9, 2015

A librarian at the Homewood Library sent me a photo of the 't' page. Here are the two pages, side-by-side:



In 1963, George was using that tomahawk and his tepee to play Indian. In 2013, we don't know how he is using it. He takes it with him outside. Readers are invited to fill in the gap as they imagine what George does with that tomahawk once he gets outside.

I'm glad the revisions were done. I would love to have access to the conversations that took place about the page and how it ought to be changed, and I'd love to know how children fill in that gap.

Here's some things that might cause a child to imagine George playing Indian with that tomahawk:

  • The child attended/attends a summer camp or event that invites kids to play at being Indian.
  • The child attended/attends a birthday parties where playing Indian is the theme.
  • The child goes to sports events where the mascot is meant to be an Indian.
  • The child chooses an Indian costume for Halloween.

What would your child, or the children in your library, imagine?

Monday, July 06, 2015

KAMIK'S FIRST SLED by Matilda Sulurayok and Qin Leng

Two years ago I read--and recommended--Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Storya delightful story about a puppy named Kamik and his owner, a young Inuit boy named Jake. In it, Jake is trying to train Kamik, but--Kamik is a pup--and Jake is frustrated with the pup's antics. Jake's grandfather is in the story, too, and tells him about sled dogs, imparting Inuit knowledge as he does.

Today, I'm happy to recommend another story about Kamik and Jake. The author of Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story is Donald Uluadluak. This time around, the writer is Matilda Sulurayok. Like Uluadluak, Sulurayok is an Inuit elder.



As the story opens, the first snow of the season has fallen. Jake thinks that, perhaps, he can start training Kamik to be a sled dog, but Kamik just wants to play with the other dogs. Of course, Jake is not liking that at all! Anaanatsiaq (it means grandmother) sees all this going down. She reminisces about her childhood, telling Jake how her dad taught her to train sled dog pups--by playing with them:




In her storytelling of those memories, Anaanatsiaq is teaching Jake. Then she fastens a small bundle on Kamik and suggests Jake take Kamik out, away from the other dogs, for a picnic. They set off walking.

After awhile, Jake opens the picnic bundle. Inside, he finds things to eat, but he also finds a sealskin and a harness.

Playtime training, then, is off and running!

Things get tense, though, when Kamik takes off after a rabbit in the midst of a darkening sky, and Jake realizes he hasn't taught him the command to stop. The rabbit, as you can see, gets away.

Jake is scared, but in the end, Kamik gets him home, where he learns a bit more about sled dogs and their sense of smell.

Through Kamik, Jake, and his grandparents, kids learn about Inuit life, and they learn some Inuit words, too. A strength of both these books is the engaging, yet matter-of-fact, manner in which elders pass knowledge down to kids. Nothing exotic, and nothing romanticized, either.

I highly recommend Kamik's First Sled, published in 2015 by Inhabit Media.