Monday, September 14, 2015

AICL's first look at Rae Carson's WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER

Eds. note: Scroll down to see update on September 22nd, 2015; and an update on September 23rd, 2015, and one more on September 25th, 2015. And see this Tumblr post, written after these notes were uploaded with a note that said I was astonished at how bad the book is: My Thoughts on What Happened on YA Twitter on Friday (9/25/15).

A few weeks ago, I started to hear about Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger. The first chapters are online. I've started reading the sample chapters today because her book is on the longlist for the National Book Award. I ordered a copy of the book and will be back to finish this review when I finish reading her book. In my notes below, I raise some questions.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is published by Greenwillow and has a character, Jefferson, whose mother is Cherokee. Here's the synopsis:

The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?
Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

Summary is in regular text; my comments are in italics. 

~~~~~

January of 1849

Chapter One

The main character, Leah, is out hunting. She’s wounded a deer and is tracking it when she comes across a sensation she’s come to know as one she gets when she’s near a gold nugget, or, a gold vein. She finds the deer, kills it, and wants to cut the parts she can carry but the “gold sense” overwhelms her and she starts digging in the snow till she finds a nugget the size of a large, unshelled walnut.  Her gold sense tells her it is about 90% pure, and will be worth a hundred dollars.

On page 8 we learn about Jefferson—or rather—his dad. Leah remembers him thinking she had a good aim. We learn that Leah works hard, hunting and farming, and panning for gold, too, because her dad has no sons who would do that work. Girls in town poke fun at her strong hands and strong jaw. She’s glad they don’t know about her gold sense. 


Chapter Two

We meet Leah’s dad, who is sick with a violent cough. He tells her a much-loved story about a nugget he’d found when she was a baby, and how he’d hid it, but two-year-old Leah had found it. He re-hid it, and she found it again. That’s how they learned about her gold sense. They keep it secret because people would want her to find gold for them, especially since “the Georgia gold rush played itself out long ago” (p. 13).  Surface gold is mostly gone, but Leah knows there’s more, deep underground. She also knows that it would take more than her and her dad and pickaxes to get at it. Her dad doesn’t want to buy slaves to get it because he was raised Methodist and that "back in the day" the church was against slavery.

Debbie's comments:
Georgia... homeland of the Cherokee Nation. They were forcibly removed from their homelands. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they were a sovereign nation, President Jackson defied the Supreme Court and ordered their removal. They were rounded up in 1838. Many were held in prison camps awaiting departure for Indian Territory. Carson gestures to history of Methodists and slaves, but doesn't give readers similar context for who owned this land prior to Leah and her family. 

Her dad asks her where she found the nugget and they realize she found it on McCauley land. She wants to keep it but her dad tells her she can’t keep it. Her dad says he’ll return it when he goes to Charlotte, NC to assay the bag of gold dust they keep hidden. Turning it in in town would draw people to their property. Taking it to Charlotte is better because no one there knows them. But, since he’s not well, Leah thinks her dad is not likely to make the trip. She offers to go but he won’t let her because it’d be dangerous.


Chapter Three

The next day, Leah takes their wagon to school. Something is not right. Kids aren’t rushing around playing. She looks for Jefferson (p. 20):
His face is framed by thick, black hair and a long, straight Cherokee nose he got from his mama. An old bruise yellows the sharp line of his cheekbone.
Debbie's comments:
Noting he is Cherokee and wondering how that will play out as I keep reading.

Jefferson has a newspaper in hand and tells her that gold has been discovered in California. It says that President Polk announced the discovery. Because gold is everywhere, Leah wonders how much is in California, such that the President would announce it. She tells him she thinks that everyone in the town, Dahlonega, are going to go to California. Dahlonega “was built on a gold rush of its own” (p. 21).

Debbie's comments:
Dahlonega. Sounds like a Native word. Carson tells us that Dahlonega was built on a gold rush but again, doesn't tell readers who that land belonged to. I'll look up history of that town. 

Jefferson thinks there’s plenty of gold out there and says “someone like me could…” We learn (by way of narration) that his dad is a “mean Irish prospector” and that is mom is “a sweet Cherokee mama who fled with her brothers ten years ago, when the Indians were sent to Oklahoma Territory” (p. 21). Nobody in town blames her for taking off.  His “someone like me” means (p. 22):
“a stupid, motherless Injun,” which is one of the dumber things people call Jefferson, if you ask me, because he’s the smartest boy I know.

Debbie's comments: 
Oh... this is interesting. His mom "fled" in 1839 when they were "sent" to Oklahoma Territory...  I think that's soft-pedaling what happened. Both words are accurate, but both also obscure the violence and the very important history of the Cherokee Nation's long fight to keep their land, that they ended up in the Supreme Court who ruled in their favor, that President Jackson ordered their removal! Cherokee's fled, but they were being chased by armed soldiers and the militia, too. I'm not sure why her son stayed behind. I'll dig in to some materials and see how that could have worked. It is possible, of course, but here's where I get into plausibility. 

That said, my gut clenches to think of Jefferson heading west to seek gold. Is he going to do to California Indians what was done to Cherokees? 

Good that Carson pushes back right away on the "stupid Injun" but wondering what it adds to the story to have it there in the first place. Right now it seems like it serves to make Leah out to be A Good White Person (using caps there, thinking of Anne Sibley O'Brien's comment to my post about dinner with Deborah Wiles).

Leah and Jefferson talk about how much it would cost for them to head to California. He invites her to go with him, that they can tell people they’re married, or a brother and sister. As she heads home after school, she thinks about marriage, and Jefferson. She hears two shots and when she gets home discovers someone has killed her dad. Her mom is also shot and tells her to trust someone, that they were wrong to be alone as they have been. She tells her to run, and then dies.


Chapter Four

Leah grabs a gun and heads to the McCauley homestead, seeking Jefferson. At his house, his dad is drunk. She finds Jefferson at the woodshed, chopping wood. He tells her that everyone in town thinks her dad has a stash of gold and that once they hear of his death they’ll be there, looking for it. Leah tells him it is true.  When they get to her house, she stays outside while Jefferson goes in to look around. As she waits, she can’t feel the hum of her gold sense and realizes the bag of gold dust is gone.


Chapter Five

Inside, she lifts the floorboards where they kept the bag. It is gone. It was worth over a thousand dollars.  She finds the nugget and gives it to Jefferson.  He says he wishes she had trust him with their secret and she thinks of how much else he doesn’t know (about her gold sense). The next few days are a blur. Nobody else’s home has been bothered, so the Sheriff thinks it was just someone passing through who had heard the stories of their stash. Finding nothing, that person kept on going.  

The day of her parents’ funeral, Jefferson tells her he’s going west and wants her to go with him. With her gold sense, she thinks that “California is the Promised Land” (p. 46) but thinks she can’t leave her home. Jefferson goes on without her, saying he’ll wait for a while, in Independence, Missouri.


Chapter Six

Leah goes to the funeral service for her parents. People are stirred up but it isn't about the death of her parents; it is about the news of gold in California.  Jefferson's dad is at the funeral. After the funeral he asks her if she knows where Jefferson is, but she doesn't tell him that Jefferson is on his way to Independence. Her Uncle is at the funeral, too, and she spots his revolver. She recognizes it as like the one her dad had. She figures out he is the one who killed her parents. He moves into their house. She decides to go to California. 

~~~~~

That's it for now. I'll be back when I get the book... 

~~~~~

Update, September 22, 2015

Chapter Seven

Hiram sends Lee (Leah) into town to sell two horses to make room for ones he's going to bring. He plans to live in her house for a year and then go to California, using her gift (he's figured it out) to get gold. In town, Lee gets advice from Free Jim, a storekeeper about the journey Jefferson is on, and, the one she'll be on, too. Advice that will help them get to California without getting caught by Jefferson's dad or Lee's uncle, who knows she is able to find gold.

Chapter Eight

Lee realizes the prejudice that Free Jim experiences. Banks won't let Negros have accounts. She sells the two horses her uncle wanted her to sell, follows Free Jim's advice to disguise herself as a boy, and takes off.

Debbie's comments:
I like that Carson is telling readers, through Lee, that the bank is discriminating against Negros. 

Chapter Nine

Lee spends her first night out.

Chapter Ten 

Lee has a good breakfast, thanks to a woman she meets as she travels. Later, Lee comes across two men who are talking about Lucky Westfall's (her dad) murder. One says he may have been murdered by the same people who killed some Indians by Dalton. The men talk about winter wheat, and, "whether it's really murder to kill an Indian" (p. 97). At the end of the chapter, three men come up on her. She worries about their intentions and manages to get away. She makes camp but wakes up and finds they have found her.

Debbie's comments: 
Carson doesn't address the men's discussion of whether its murder when an Indian is killed. The discussion is, I think, about the worth of an Indian person, and gets at the idea held by some that Native peoples were less-than-human. Perhaps she expects that readers will easily see the idea a racist and wrong, but I don't have that same expectation of readers. Many (most?) adult readers, for example, don't remember seeing "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" three times in Little House on the Prairie
  

Chapter Eleven

The men dig through her things. As they rifle through them, they spill her gold coins. One of them, Emmett, says that it reminds him of the old days. Ronnie replies "This kid don't look anything like a Cherokee." They remember getting a rifle from someone and that Zeke could never get it to shoot straight. Ronnie tells him it is because he "hit too many Indians in the head with it" (p. 106). The men start drinking and invite Lee (they think she is a boy) to ride with them. She creates a diversion, runs away, and hides. They look for her but don't find her.

Debbie's comments:
Carson doesn't address the wrongness of the hitting Indians with a rifle.   

Chapter Twelve


In the morning she finds a few gold coins that the men didn't gather. She also finds her saddle and then, her horse. She rides on and secures a job on a flatboat on the Tennessee River that will get her closer to California.

Chapter Thirteen

Lee helps load the Joyner family's possessions onto the flatboat. Mrs. Joyner says that "It's God's will for America to cover the continent from sea to sea" and that "We'll be part of something grand, helping spread civilization into the wilderness" (p. 138-139). That night Lee looks up at the stars and remembers Jefferson telling her that the Cherokees call the Pleiades "Ani'tsutsa" and that it means "the Seven Boys." The story is about "how eight boys got so mad at their mama they decided to run away, but as they leaped into the sky, she grabbed the eighth boy by the heel and dragged him back to earth, leaving his seven brothers to shine in the night."  Jefferson likes to think of himself as the eighth brother, "the one who stayed" (p. 143).

Debbie's comments:
Manifest destiny. Carson doesn't address what it means for Native people. Jefferson's story about the Ani'tsutsa story is incomplete. The boy that is pulled down is pulled down with such force that when he hits the ground, it closes over him. His mother sheds tears every morning and every night, and eventually, a tree sprouts. It becomes the pine tree.  And, the boys are not from a single family. Cherokee writer Robert J. Conley includes that story in War Woman: A Novel of the Real People

Chapter Fourteen

The flatboat reaches its destination. Lee helps unload the Joyner family, and travels with them for one day. Mrs. Joyner, however, comes to Lee that night and asks her to leave because the woman thinks Lee is a runaway and therefore a bad influence on her children. Lee leaves, alone.

Chapter Fifteen

Lee meets many people as she travels. One night, she remembers camping with her dad. In a wistful voice he told her stories of being on the frontier with his own dad seeking adventure and fortune. She thinks of how her mother, aware of his need to be out like that, let him take little Lee with him. He was "the kind of man who fled Boston to make a new life in Indian country" (p. 170) and that if she didn't let him do that trip, he might go west on his own.

Debbie's comments:
I wish Carson had inserted something in Lee's thoughts, that allows readers to think about Native peoples displaced by Whites who wanted to "make a new life" in Native homelands. And did people call Georgia "Indian country?" I don't know. 

Lee gets to Independence on April 1, 1849. She runs into Free Jim (Mr. Boisclair) in a general store. They get to talking and the storekeeper calls out, asking if they're going to buy anything, because if not, he doesn't want them to clutter his doorway. Lee calls back, saying "Show some respect" and that "Mr. Boisclair is a free Negro and a respected businessman..." (p. 173). Mr. Boisclair guides her out of the store and tells her he didn't need her help. She protests and he changes the subject, filling her in on news. Her uncle is on his way to California and plans to arrive there before she gets there. They arrange to meet the next day at noon. Meanwhile, Lee walks around, looking for Jefferson.

At lunch with Jim, Lee thinks that if she and Jefferson had left Dahlonega together, she wouldn't have been robbed. She immediately has a second thought about that (p. 178):
Then again, maybe his Cherokee blood would have made him a tempting target. The thought turns my stomach.
Jim tells her some family history. He also talks about her dad acquiring his land through a lottery. Her uncle didn't get any, and returned to Boston to practice law. Jim asks Lee to go with him on a wagon train to California but she wants to stay in Independence, looking for Jefferson.

Debbie's comments:
Based on what the three men said about beating Indians, Lee is probably right to think that Jefferson would have been a target of their violence. That line about the lottery was another opportunity for Carson to provide readers with important context about Native peoples and their homelands. 

Chapter Sixteen

Lee doesn't find Jefferson, but does run into Mr. Joyner. She arranges to go west with him and his family.

Chapter Seventeen

Mr. Joyner tells Lee they're going west with a small company led by "an excellent man, Major Wally Craven, a veteran of the Black Hawk War, who knows how to deal with Indians" (p. 193). She learns that Mr. Joyner hired another person, who turns out to be Jefferson. She notices he is wearing boots now. He tells her that he is going by his mother's name, Kingfisher, because he wants nothing to do with his father. He tells her (p. 196):
"My mother's people came out this way you know. The Cherokee crossed the border here, went up to St. Louis to trade. Figure if someone hears my name, and they know her, word might get back." 
The two catch up on how they got to Independence, and then Jeff (Jefferson) tells her about the wagon company they're part of. They ride alone the line of wagons. He points out to a group of 20 wagons that has joined last minute because "there aren't enough for them to feel safe from Indians" (p. 200).

Debbie's comments:
I understand Mr. Joyner saying "deal with Indians" but I don't know what to make of Jefferson saying "feel safe from Indians." Does he identify as an Indian? In his mind, are Indians and Cherokee's different? 

At the end of the line, Jefferson points to Major Craven. Lee tells him that she heard he was a major in "some kind of Indian war." Jefferson's face darkens and he says (p. 205):
"The Black Hawk War. An ugly bit of business. More than a thousand Indians killed. Craven was a sergeant. Only reason everyone here calls him Major is because of Mr. Joyner." 
They talk a bit more about Mr. Joyner wanting the status a title like Major confers.

Debbie's comments:
I am puzzled by what Jefferson says. I guess he's angry about the Indians that were killed. But, that emotion doesn't quite jibe with what he said early about that wagon group feeling safe from Indians. 

~~~~~

That's it for now. What I'm struck by is that Carson has figured out ways to push back on racism towards African Americans, but hasn't done that to the same degree with the racism directed towards Native peoples. I wonder what her source for the Seven Brothers story is. As noted above, it is incomplete and not quite right, either. All the sources I found are similar to the one I linked to, which makes me wonder (again) about Carson's source. And I am puzzled by Jefferson and what he thinks about Indians. Maybe that'll work out later in the book. That's all for tonight! I'll be back...

~~~~~

Update, September 23, 2015

Chapter Eighteen

On their first night, Lee tells Jefferson what Jim told her about Hiram (her uncle) losing her mother to her dad (the uncle was in love with Leah's mom but Leah's dad prevailed). She also tells him that something happened to her mom while living in Boston that "made her run away from her fine house and wealthy family to hack out a living in Indian country" (p. 207). The wagon company sets off the next day.

Debbie's comments:
There's that phrase again "Indian country" -- used to describe Georgia. 

Chapter Nineteen

One morning when Lee returns to the wagons from walking off to do her morning necessities, Major Craven tells her (p. 223):
"There's no need for you to go off--We're getting to Indian country, and you can never tell what those savages will do."
Lee replies "Maybe the Indians just want to trade" and recalls memories of her dad trading with Cherokees "before the government chased them out of Georgia." Craven says it is possible and suggests she take a dog with her when she's off on her own.

Debbie's comments:
Glad to see Lee pushing back on Craven. And--I think by that point in the trip they are in what was commonly called Indian country. 

One night at dinnertime, Major Craven stops by the Joyner's wagon and tells them to be on alert, that if the alarm sounds, men must grab their guns and women and children should stay low in the wagons. Mrs. Joyner says they would be safer running into the middle of the wagon circle, but Craven says they might get trampled there by the horses and cattle. She says (p. 227):
"Better that than being captured! I'd rather risk trampling than allow myself or my children to abandon civilization and become savages."
Craven tells her he thinks they are more interested in cattle and horses and things not nailed down. Craven leaves, and Mr. Joyner tells Mrs. Joyner that what Craven said is rubbish (p. 227):
"The part about not taking women or children. He only said it to make you feel better. Those savages would steal a comely lady like you in a heartbeat and make your life a misery or servitude. And they'll grab the children fast as a Gypsy." He makes a grabbing motion at the children. Olive squeals and shrinks away, then dashes back to her father and squirrels into the safety of his arms. "That's what they are," Mr. Joyner says. "Gypsies. Gypsies on the plains. The best thing to do would be to exterminate the whole race."
Jefferson freezes, hearing that. Mrs. Joyner says "Unless they turn from their savage ways" (p. 227). Lee leans to Jefferson and asks if he is ok. After dinner, the two talk and he tells her that "everyone talks about the Indians that way. At least a little" (p. 228). She tries to make him feel better by talking about the Seven Boys but he tells her he's not the eighth boy anymore, because he didn't stay behind (in Dahlonega).

Debbie's comments:
This is really unsettling. In my writing on AICL and elsewhere, I talk about what a Native child may feel when a teacher reads aloud passages like the ones Jefferson is hearing. I imagine that a teacher may comfort that Native child, like Lee is doing for Jefferson, but the damage is done. Nowhere does Carson push back on the idea that the Native people are savages or uncivilized. The gentle pushback on extermination is from Mrs. Joyner, who says if they change their savage ways, they can be allowed to life. That makes me cringe! There's no pushback on that either! CHANGE OR BE PUT TO DEATH. That's the message there, and there is no pushback on it.

That night, Craven is on watch. Lee is awake and sees him go from wagon to wagon, peeking into the family wagons. When he gets to the Joyner's wagon he lets out "Indians! It's Indians!" and runs around waving his arms. Lee thinks it might be a test, because Craven is watching the wagons, not looking outward. Some people respond, getting guns and forming a defense, but others wander around confused.

Craven climbs atop a trunk and rings a bell till they quiet down. He tells them it was a drill. He tells them they're now "deep in Indian territory" and that they have nothing to fear by day, when they'll come to trade but at night, they'll come to rob them and to steal horses and cattle. Someone calls out to him asking "How many Induns you kill in the Black Hawk War?" and then "Ten? A hundred?" Craven mutters that it was too many, and "hopefully, not a soul more" (p. 231). He tells them to go back to sleep.

Debbie's comments:
Hmmm... "Induns" must be a typo. It is good he doesn't want to kill more of them. 

Jefferson glares after Craven and tells Lee that what he said isn't true. Lee tells him that Craven wasn't talking about the Cherokee. Jefferson replies (p. 231):
"But back home they said all that about the Cherokee--that we were thieves and worse--and it's not true. You remember when Dan Hutchings killed his brother-in-law?"
Lee recalls that Dan killed his brother-in-law and was hung for it, and Jefferson says (p. 231-232):
"Dan was a white man, as white as they come," he says. "And nobody ever said he did it became white men are savages. But one Indian does something bad, and suddenly all of them are bad."
Watching him in the moonlight, Lee thinks he looks more Cherokee than ever. She remembers her mother saying he had a "noble dignity about him, which was her way of pointing out his Indian blood while pretending to be polite" (p. 232). She tells Jefferson that nobody thinks he is bad. Angry, he tells her "That's not... I mean..." and she replies that she knew a lot of Indians when she was a little girl and that he's the best person she knows. She asks if he wants her to go spit in Craven's eye, which makes him smile. They go off to find his boot, lost in the chaos of the drill.

Debbie's comments:
Jefferson is making a good point that gestures to prejudice and discrimination being much-discussed today, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement. I don't like what her mother said (noble dignity), and what Lee says (best person), however, because that echoes a good/bad binary, or--to use today's language--respectability politics.

Chapter Twenty

The next day they see a mound of dirt, ringed with rocks, on a hill. When they investigate, they find a grave that has been desecrated. Mr. Joyner tells them that the person in the grave is a girl and that Indians dug up the grave and stole her clothes and the blanket she was wrapped in. Lee thinks about saying that they don't really know what was stolen, since they don't know what she was buried with in the first place, but she stays quiet thinking it won't do any good. Mr. Joyner says (p. 235):
"Truly, these savages have no fear of God nor love of the white man."
Jefferson, listening to all this, rides off. Lee thinks (p. 235):
I don't know what to think about the Indians. Seems to me we don't really know anything about them. We don't even know what we don't know.
Later, Jefferson returns and tells Lee that others are saying the girl was killed by cholera and that some other men in the wagons further up in the line have it and are staying apart from the rest of the wagons but "they're afraid to go too far because of Indians" (p. 236).

Debbie's comments:
That passage, with Indians blamed for desecrating a grave makes me livid. Lee is right. It probably wouldn't do any good to push back on Mr. Joyner for saying that, but the larger question is this: why is this in here at all? Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows Native graves being desecrated. There's even a federal law about that--for those who don't know--it is NAGPRA. Its is meant to facilitate the return of human remains to tribes so they can be reburied. Yes, REBURIED. I read Lee's thoughts about what white people don't know about Indians and think that Carson is adding to that body of "knowledge" people have about Native peoples. 

And Jefferson saying, matter of factly, that others are afraid because of Indians? It reminds me of William Appess, a Pequot man raised by a white family, and his realization that he was afraid of his own people because of stories that white family told. The phrase for this unexamined racism towards ones own people is internalized racism. 

Others get sick. Jefferson tells Lee she shouldn't go off alone. He's not worried about Indians, but is worried she'll get lost. Mr. Joyner is sick, too. One of the Joyner's kids is missing. Lee thinks about all that could have happened to him, and then (p. 245):
And even though I'd never say it aloud to Jefferson, Andy could have been kidnapped by Indians. He might already be miles away.
Then, Mr. Bledsoe's slave, Hampton, appears, carrying Andy. Mrs. Joyner cries "What were you doing with him?" (p. 246) and Lee tells her "For God's sake, he was bringing him back to you." Mrs. Joyner relaxes and says "I suppose I should thank you."

Debbie's comments:
Again, Carson--through Lee--is pushing back on racism directed towards African Americans, but again, the racism directed towards Native peoples isn't treated the same way. The image of Indians who kidnap kids is left standing. 

~~~~~
Stopping here for the day. The more I read, however, the less I like Carson's book.
~~~~~

September 25, 2015

Chapter Twenty-One

Mr. Bledsoe dies of cholera. They put his body in a grave, but before they can shovel dirt in, Mr. Joyner runs up and asks Mr. Craven (p. 251):
"The Indians are going to dig up this grave, aren't they?"
Craven says there's no way to stop them, and Joyner suggests leaving them a gift. The gift is blankets from the Robichaud wagon, where the kids have measles. He heads to their wagon to get the blankets. Lee looks around for Jefferson but he's gone. Someone calls out to Joyner not to do this, but nobody stops him. Lee says "This is a terrible notion" but Craven tells Lee it is none of his business. Lee steps forward but is stopped by a person named Frank Dilley. Joyner throws the blankets into the grave. Nobody complains. They sing a hymn as the dirt is shoveled into the grave. They head to their wagons. Lee thinks (p. 253):
I've never felt so far from God's grace. I suppose I am a stranger walking on earth, but I'm no son of God. I'm no son at all.
Debbie's comments:
Now I see why Carson needed to have Indians as grave robbers earlier. It set up the scene above, and plays off of the history in which blankets infected with smallpox were given to Native people in Amherst Massachusetts by British soldiers. This was part of agreements made between tribes and the British, wherein the British would provide supplies to Native people in return for assistance. 

I'm looking for evidence of people like Joyner deliberately infecting blankets with measles during the Gold Rush. 

What bothers me about this episode in Carson's book is that factually, Whites distributed blankets to Indians, who were, in essence their allies in the war against the French. In Carson's story, she makes the Indians out to be barbaric. Having them take clothing and blankets from a young White female plays into the image of White women being defiled by African American men. 

A big question: why is this even in the story? We're obviously meant to really dislike Mr. Joyner and I suppose we're meant to like Lee, who is struggling with the evil embodied by Joyner and all the others who let this happen. Is there going to be some big reveal later, showing that those brothers who robbed Lee earlier in the story are the ones who desecrated the grave of the young woman? If so, we're all left in a state of thinking Indians are barbarous. 

Given that image and the pre-existing ignorance most readers have about history regarding Native peoples and the U.S. (individuals and institutions), Lee's attempts to intervene do not matter. 

The next morning, Craven tells them that Mr. Bledsoe's slave, Hampton, has run away. Joyner says that maybe the Indians will find him. Lee replies, in what is meant to be a sarcastic way, "Yeah, and then they can give him measles" (p. 254). Craven ignores her but warns them not to join the group that is going to go after him because the wagon train won't wait for their return.

The next night, when Lee returns from taking care of herself and clothes (cleaning her clothes) and turns in beside Jefferson (they sleep on blankets underneath Joyner's wagon), he asks her (p. 255):
"Aren't you afraid of Indians?" he says, and his voice has a mocking edge. 
The story continues with them moving on, passing more shallow graves, most of them dug up. Using Joyner's rifle, Lee and Jefferson ride out to hunt buffalo. Jefferson tells her that life, for him, on the trail is easier than life with his dad, mining and farming. To Lee's sarcastic "great" he amends what he said, saying (p. 259):
"I mean, no one likes me," he amends. "Or trusts me much. But that's no different from back home."
Lee tells him Therese (a young woman in another family) likes him. Jefferson says (p. 260):
"She does. And maybe I'm winning some of the others over too. Don't you think?"

Debbie's comments:
Wondering where the Hampton thread will go, and the buffalo hunting, too? 

I assume Jefferson's mocking tone is meant to convey that Indians aren't to be feared. I try to imagine myself as Jefferson, being Native and saying "the Indians" in the many ways he does. Here it is mocking. Earlier it was more of a factual thing (see notes for chapter 20). Jefferson's talk about being liked and trust, winning people over is unsettling, too. He wants these people, who clearly fear Indians, to like him. I assume we're to think that he is, by his actions, trying to prove to them (subconsciously, perhaps) that Indians are likable? Trustworthy? His darker skin marks him--to everyone in their wagon train--as "other" somehow but they apparently don't know he is Cherokee. He is, to use today's language, "passing as ___". I don't know what he'd be passing as, but I think, based on all I've read in Carson's book so far, these white people would kill him if they knew he is Cherokee. Recall what Lee said earlier about him being an easy target.  


Chapter Twenty-Two

They wake one morning and discover that a buffalo stampede is headed their way. Everyone runs to get into wagons. Some wagons are knocked over. Craven tries to scare them off by waving his shirt, turns, runs and then falls beneath their hooves. When the herd passes they find him with a badly injured leg. Frank offers to shoot him. Others tell him to get away but Craven says he'll go get him himself if the leg gets gangrene. About Craven, Lee thinks (p. 270):
I haven't cared for him much, not since he stood by and let Mr. Joyner put poxed blankets in Mr. Bledsoe's grave. But maybe I haven't given him enough of a chance. I like him a fair sight better than Frank Dilley, that's for sure.

Debbie's comments:
Curious she now says "pox" instead of measles. Which is the error? Early on, when Carson says that those children have measles? Did she mean smallpox then? Or is her use of pox here the error? I think measles is a rash, not a pox. I wonder about her thoughts on giving him a second chance. What would Jefferson think of that thought? 

One of the men on the "college" wagon (a wagon of three guys in college who have left college and are also headed to the gold fields) was studying to be a doctor. He sets Craven's leg. Other men start talking about who should lead if he dies. Lee looks around for, and finds, Jefferson. He's helping Therese. Lee heads over to the Joyner's wagon and hears "Indians" (p. 275).


Chapter Twenty-Three

The Indians are following the buffalo. Frank Dilley says that the Indians stampeded the buffalo herd on purpose. The Reverend's eyes brighten and he wants to hold services and tell them about the blood of Christ. Mr. Joyner worries they're going to steal his possessions. Lee watches them. There are about twelve of them. The men are in buckskin that is decorated with quills and colored beads. Some have cloth blankets thrown over shoulders, and others have buffalo robes. Most wear feathers in their hair. Lee thinks they understand English. Some of their faces are pocked with scars. One of them has blue eyes, and another one has freckles. She thinks, if Jefferson wore those clothes, he'd blend right in. She sees him watching them, too. He sees her looking at him and ducks away. Women and children follow the men. A little girl sees Lee's locket (earlier in the story she let Andy Joyner wear it as a way to keep track of him--her gold sense, remember) around Andy's neck and reaches for it. Lee steps between them and says no, the girl cries, Lee picks Andy up, Mrs. Joyner steps in and trades a silver hair brush for a buffalo hide. The Indian girl and her friends "take turns touching the shiny, silver handle." The Indians "melt away much as they arrived" (p. 278).

Debbie's comments:
I'll need to see what I find about small pox amongst the Omaha prior to 1849 (Omaha, because as the next summary shows, that is the tribe mentioned). Other things to research are relationships such that there would be Omaha people with blue eyes and freckles. I'm also going to try to find out about the everyday clothing of the Omaha's at that time. The much-acclaimed photographer, Edward R. Curtis, had props that he asked Indians to wear if they didn't look Indian enough for him. Other photographs did the photo-shop of that time period to remove items like clocks that Native people were using in order to make them look more "authentic" according to the photographer's definition. 

I've seen other writers depict Native characters (children) as attracted to shiny items or mirrors. In some instances it is plausible but it also fits into a pre-existing bit of "knowledge" of Indians as primitive peoples fascinated with shiny things of White people. Indians melting away fits into the stealthy Indian stereotype. Most stereotypes have a bit of truth to them, but some become THE thing. I think stealthy Indians is one of those things where the bit of truth has overtaken all else about how Indian people moved about. 

After they leave, a group of men from the wagon train set out to hunt buffalo. They think the Indians who went through the camp are Omaha, who "ought to be removed" so that "white men can settle the Nebraska territory" (p. 280). On the way to the herd, they catch up to the Indians. Frank points his rifle at one of the Indian men and says "bang," laughs, and waves "friendly-like" to the Indians. Frank and others talk of shooting all of them. Lee, riding alongside Jefferson, whispers that Frank and his men are snakes. Jefferson replies that "Men are men" and that "It's men thinking other men are snakes that's the problem" (p. 281).

Debbie's comments:
As we saw before, Frank is depicted in a way that tells us he is not-to-be-liked. 

Lee shoots and kills a buffalo and wants to go get it but Frank says they have to finish hunting first. He begins killing and wounding buffaloes, as do others, with glee. Jefferson and Lee put down the wounded ones to end their misery. It is a slaughter. After many miles of chasing the herd and killing buffaloes, they finally stop.

Debbie's comments:
Slaughters like that took place, but not in 1849/1850. That came later, especially with the railroad. The story as Carson tells it cues readers to further dislike Frank. It is possible that such a thing happened in 1849. The idea that killing the herds would deprive Native peoples of the Plains of a significant source of food was put forth in the early 1870s by Columbus Delano, Secretary of Interior. 

Lee bends to start butchering one but Frank stops her, telling her they're only taking tongues and humps. Astonished, Lee asks about the rest of the meat. Frank says they'll leave it to rot and that "If the Indians can't find anything to eat, maybe they'll go live somewhere else." When they stop to cook a tongue, Jefferson tells Lee that "This is one of the worst things I've ever done" (p. 283). He can't wait to get to California and away from Frank. Lee tells him that bad people are everywhere.  When they turn back to where they left the wagons, they come upon the Indian women who are butchering one of the dead buffalo. Frank and some of the others "kick their horses into a gallop, as if to run down the women and children" (p. 285). The women and children scream and run away. Frank and the men turn away at the last minute and laugh.

Back at camp they discover that Andy is missing again. Lee tries to use her gold sense to find him but realizes he's far away because she can't sense her locket (remember he is wearing it). Frank says that (p. 290):
"The Indians were eying him and his pretty blond hair. They wanted that boy of yours. We find the Indians, we'll find your son."
Lee remembers that they saw the Indians earlier and Andy wasn't with them. She's sure the Indians didn't take him but keeps quiet. A search party is organized.

Debbie's comments:
Frank is giving voice to the idea that Indians wanted blonde scalps. 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Late at night, Lee and Jefferson find Andy under a wagon. He wasn't taken by Indians. The next morning she is awakened by Henry, one of the men in the college wagon where Craven is recovering.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Craven is in bad shape. Jasper wants Lee to help him amputate Craven's leg. While there the college men invite them to work with them in San Francisco because "there's a place for us out there. To live the way we want to live, without interference" as "confirmed bachelors" (p. 312-313). Lee helps with the amputation.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Craven recovers and by July 4, when they stop midday to have a celebration, he is able to join them. Towards the end of the chapter, Lee rescues a little girl who has fallen on the tongue of her wagon. In that rescue, Lee is badly cut and bleeding. Jasper tells her he has to take off her pants to stitch her wound. She says no, Jefferson tells her she has no choice. She worries everyone will know she's not a he and then blacks out.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Everyone knows Lee is female. She learns that some knew it all along. For most, it doesn't matter. Mr. Joyner (who Lee works for), however, won't let her use a rifle anymore.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Mr. Joyner won't pay Lee's wages because women aren't supposed to work as she had been doing. Mrs. Joyner tells Lee she can still eat meals with them but that Mr. Joyner's decision is final. Lee can work, as long as it is the work women do, like gathering buffalo chips (that they use for fuel).

As they enter the Rocky Mountains people think about items to leave behind. Mrs. Joyner doesn't want to leave her dressing table and says "I... We will not live like savages," and with less conviction, "It's up to us to bring civilization to California" (p. 353).

At a steep slope they struggle to lower the Joyner's wagon. Lee helps but it is too heavy. A piece of furniture slides out, blocking the wagon. Mr. Joyner tries to get it out of the way, the people trying to hold it back can't do it, and Mr. Joyner is crushed to death. Mrs. Joyner takes over, telling them to leave the remaining furniture and re-hiring Lee.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

For a long time, Mrs. Joyner has noticed food stores missing. Someone has been taking them at night. They suspect Indians but have never caught anyone. Finally, Lee is awake when the thieves comes to their wagon. It is one of the college men, and, Hampton (the runaway slave). Since he ran away, the college men have been feeding him but when they took in Craven, they had to start stealing food from the Joyner's. Lee agrees to keep the secret.

At a trading post along the way, a general there tries to persuade them to go to Oregon to be farmers instead of California where it is lawless. And, he warns them with this (p. 369):
We had a situation here a few weeks ago, where an Indian offered a man three horses in exchange for one of his daughters. The settler joked that if the Indians gave him six it as a deal. This joke, as it were, at his daughter's expense nearly led to bloodshed, when the Indian came back with six horses."
Frank says, loudly (p. 370):
"That must be how the half-breed got hold of her."
Jefferson leaps forward but Lee yanks him back. Lee notices the Reverend watching her. Later, he proposes to her, telling her that Jefferson is unsuitable because of his parentage. She rejects his proposal.

Debbie's comments:
I'm a bit confused. I've been reading closely and had been thinking that nobody other than Lee knew that Jefferson's mother is Cherokee. I don't know about the truth of that popular idea that Indians traded horses for white women. I easily find it in white writings but will need to dig in my sources to see what tribes--if any--did that. 

Chapter Thirty

The Roubichaud family decides to go to Oregon. Lee is sad because they have treated her well. Jefferson tells her that Mr. Hoffman has forbade him from speaking to Therese because Frank told him that Jefferson is the one who has been stealing from others and that he's been giving what he steals to his "red-skinned brothers" (p. 379). Though it isn't true, Mr. Hoffman can't ignore the accusation. That night, Jefferson tells Lee he isn't sweet on Therese. He reaches for her hand beneath the blankets and fall asleep, holding hands.

Chapter Thirty-One

The size of the wagon train is smaller now. It travels on through barren areas. With little food or water for the horses and oxen, oxen die. Those remaining decide to cut by half the number of wagons. Just as they are ready to set out again, Mrs. Joyner goes into labor.

Chapter Thirty-Two

The majority of the train, including the Hoffman's goes on without the Joyner's wagon and the people using it (the Joyner's, Lee and Jefferson, the Major, and the college men). As Mrs. Joyner labors, Hampton walks up with a barrel of water. Lee wonders if the Major will be ok with Hampton staying, and Jefferson says the Major isn't so bad. Lee asks him "Even after the way he talked about Indians?" (p. 401) and Jefferson tells her the Major just spoke that way and did the drill to appease Frank.

Lee delivers Mrs. Joyner's baby. Both are ok. Just at that moment, Lee sees Therese Hoffman walking toward them. Her family had gone on with the others but the wagon axle broke and the rest of the train didn't stop to help. Therese walked back to the Joyner wagon for help. She dies of heat stroke.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Lee and the men set out to find the rest of the Hoffman's. Her gold sense leads her to them. They're all alive. Mr. Hoffman has a knapsack that, unbeknownst to Mrs. Hoffman, are gold. As they collect their things to walk back to the wagon, Mrs. Hoffman wants to leave the candlesticks but Lee offers to carry them, which raises Jefferson's suspicions. Back at the wagon they all argue about what to do. Keep going? Or turn back to a sure source of water. In the end, they decide to keep going.

Chapter Thirty-Four

On September 14, 1849, they make it to the Truckee River. They rest there a few days and build a rock pile as a memorial for the people who died along the way. As they continue, Lee worries more and more about her uncle finding her. She also starts to find gold, which she puts in her pockets. She decides to tell Jefferson about her gold sense and is surprised when he tells her he knows, that he figured it out. He leans in towards her and his lips brush her cheek and then he steps back and tells her, with eyes that dance, "You are going to be so rich" (p. 428).

They reach Sutter's Fort and are going to go in to "figure out this claim business" when Lee hears a voice call out "That's my horse" (p. 428). It is her uncle. He calls out that Lee is his girl and he's taking her back. Jefferson starts to load his rifle, and the men step forward saying she is with family already. Hiram's face darkens and he moves on, saying "I'll be seeing you again, my Leah. Very soon.". The group continues on its way as though nothing happened. As they approach the fort gate, Jefferson puts his arm around Lee and says "We made it." Smiling, Lee says "Let's go find us some gold" (p. 430).



~~~~~

That's it. For book one, that is. I'm hitting the Update button and stepping away to think about my overall review. For now I'll say this: How the heck did this get selected for the National Book Award? The answer, I suppose: ignorance on the part of the committee. In 2015, the depth of ignorance is astounding.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

About Christine Taylor-Butler's Facebook Post

On Monday, September 7, 2015, Christine Taylor Butler started a conversation on Facebook by talking about heated conversations that took place over some things that Maggie Stiefvater said about writing the other (if you didn't follow it, see her response on her Tumblr page). Christine wrote (quoting what she said in its entirety):

I am watching the Maggie Stiefvater controversy and finding myself thinking that we don't progress as an industry because the internet has developed a new phenomena. The "attack by blog" cowardice from narcissistic sociopaths who use it as a form of passive aggressive expression for their anger management issues.
We don't have dialogue - we have attacks. We don't invite debate. We demand rote adherence to a single point of view.
We anoint movements as surrogates for real action and change but ignore the others that were on the front lines of the battle.
We attack the white speakers, but not the conference organizers who perpetuated the problem.
Why attack Maggie, when we didn't attack the authors who were appointed to an all-white male BookCon panel.
This. Must. Stop.
Children's literature is about creating engaging works for children. Not wars between angry content creators who, unable to pinpoint the true villains, tear down each other.
This. Must. Stop.
For those who can't conceive of sharing the landscape so diversity has a broader meaning. For those who say whites can't write "other" instead of addressing the real problem which is that those of us who are "other" should be able to write across boundaries, too, I say get out of the kidlit business and write for adults. Because you don't understand where the real problem lies.

As people responded to her, I read some comments that indicated some people may be unaware that, in children's literature, the discussion of "who can write" is not a new one. I posted a comment with a link to my post about dinner with Deborah Wiles. That post includes a quote from Kathryn Lasky, a writer who called critics "self-styled militias of cultural diversity." That quote is from 1996.  A few minutes later I got a notification saying Ellen Hopkins had commented on Christine's post, so I went back to see how the conversation was developing. My comment was gone. Christine had deleted it. That was surprising to me. Right after Ellen's comments, I saw one from Christine:



In that comment, she didn't name the blogger. Because she'd just deleted my comments, I assumed she was talking about me. I had asked her for an ARC. I did review her book, The Lost Tribes. At that point I more or less shrugged it off.

Later, however, there was a longer post (below) sent to her 800+ friends that I felt I couldn't shrug off. In it, she replaced "Dine (Navajo)" with "another culture" and "Indian Outreach Center" with "Outreach Center". Even without the references to Native culture, people who she sent it to thought she was talking about me. They wrote to me to ask about it. They sent me the text itself. I also received screen shots of it. Here's the text (my apologies for the not-great quality of the screen caps):





In the longer comment, this line is the one that prompted me to write this post:
"She didn't bother to explain in her blog that over several months she and I had discussed the research I had done."
The reason that line prompted this post? Lot of writers and editors write to me, seeking my help with content specific to Native people. My worry about that line? She was scaring people away from seeking my help. If they assume--like I and others did--that she was talking about me, she was effectively casting doubt on my integrity.

Was addressing it, however, buying in to social media drama? Yesterday morning (Tuesday, September 9), I said (on Facebook) that I was thinking about writing this post. Yesterday afternoon, Christine said (in a comment to me) that she was not talking about me. Other things she said in that comment contradicted that assertion. She deleted that comment, too. I don't have a copy of it.

Contradictions aside, I can take her at her word. This post was intended to be my effort to make sense of what Christine was saying. In an early draft of this post, I wrote about our interactions via Facebook and email, quoting extensively from those interactions. I'm setting that draft aside.

As Christine's initial post (top of this page) indicates, this is a heated moment in children's literature as we (once again) engage the debate of who-can-write. It is heated in adult literature, too. As I write, people are discussing Sherman Alexie's post about why he decided, in his role as editor of The Best American Poetry 2015, to include a poem by Michael Derrick Hudson, a white man who submitted that poem with the name "Yi-Fen Chou" rather than his own name. I think Alexie was wrong to include it. Writers use pen names for many reasons. Names matter. There are studies that show that people with ethnic names are, for example, denied job interviews, loans, and opportunities to publish. In some of those studies, the very same content is submitted using names like Smith, and those applications get further in the process.  Hudson did the opposite thing. He exploited a marginalized population for personal gain. There are excellent responses to Alexie's decision. See, for example, the letter by Craig Santos Perez.

I'm on the record, for those who don't know, for preferring Native writers because when a teacher or librarian shares a Native-authored book with a child, that teacher or librarian can use present tense verbs to tell that child about that author and that author's tribal nation, that nation's website, and so on. Those present tense verbs push back on the idea that we're a primitive people, and ideas that we no longer exist. My review recommending On the Move by Flynn, who is not Native is evidence that I think a non-Native person can write a story about Native people.

As for what Christine said about bloggers attacking authors? Some writers view negative criticisms as attacks, or, as dangerous. I understand they feel that way to writers, but the work I do here on AICL and elsewhere privileges the children who will read what writers write.

Update, Wednesday, September 16, 2015
I continue to be puzzled by this incident. Though Christine said it is not me she was talking about, interesting things come my way. For example, I posted a review of her book at Amazon several weeks ago. I get notifications when someone comments on a book I reviewed there. I've gotten two notifications in the last few days that suggest I am the person she is talking about:



Obviously, I disagree with KCmomof2. I don't care what genre someone is working in; if there are Native people in the book, the presentation of them must be accurate. I'm also revisiting the premise of the book in its entirety. None of the main characters (including the Navajo girl) are actually human beings. They're all aliens, masquerading as human beings. It is a twist on playing Indian that I find troubling.

For the record: It wasn't me who discussed research with her over a period of months. Via Facebook messenger, we talked in November of 2014 about Native identity because she was forming an award committee and wanted me to sit on it to help the committee understand the nuances of Native identity. She never mentioned her book. When I learned about it in January, I asked for an ARC. She told me about the Navajo character, and that Serise (the character) would have a greater role in the next book. I provided her with my mailing address and cautioned her that the people she asks to vet it cannot be the teens she met when she was on the Navajo reservation for two weeks doing missionary work.

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

____________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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.