Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Open Letter to People Who Are Not "Fans" of "Call Out Culture" on Social Media

Dear People Who Are Not "Fans of "Call Out Culture" on Social Media,

Today (October 13, 2015), The Guardian ran an article on Meg Rosoff's "row" over her remarks on Edith Campbell's Facebook page. There, Rosoff wrote that there are thousands of books out there where kids can see themselves. In The Guardian, writer James Dawson said that he disagrees with Rosoff's remark that there are thousands of books, saying there are "numerous" books and that they're hard to find. Then, he said this:  


Just in case you didn't realize it, Mr. Dawson and others who aren't fans of "call out culture," you're asking me to shut up with my critiques of the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. 

Some of you are like Dawson, and think that buying books by diverse writers is enough. You think the mirrors in those books are enough.

But you forget, don't acknowledge, or maybe you don't even know, that the mirrors that Native kids get in classic, popular, and award-winning books aren't those nice shiny things you have in mind.

Far and away, what Native kids get are fun house mirrors like the ones we see at carnivals, fairs, and theme parks. The ones that take your image and distort it. That make it look funny. Or uber cool. Or scary. Or stupid.

Source: http://www.dianasprinkle.com/2011/12/funhouse/


We have to call out these distortions, and you should, too. Lift books that give kids accurate representations of Native people, but call out the ones that are not ok, too, so that your buds will know those books are not ok. So they won't be put onto those school reading lists.

I'm talking about Ghost Hawk. And Island of the Blue Dolphins. And Little House on the Prairie. And Brother Eagle Sister Sky. And The Education of Little Tree. And Walk On Earth A Stranger. And... I could go on and on and on.

Your silence affirms their existence. Your silence harms what Native kids get, and what non-Native ones "learn" from those distorted images.

Join me. Call out the bad. You're not being a "fan" of call out culture. You're being a person who cares about what kids get in books.

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

Sunday, October 11, 2015

About Meg Rosoff's next book...

Eds. note: Edith Campbell's Facebook page where Meg Rosoff went off on diversity is now set to public view. At the bottom of this post, I am adding links to responses to Rosoff.

Last night, friend and colleague Edith Campbell's page on Facebook had a visit from writer, Meg Rosoff, who objected in shameful ways to calls for diversity. Rosoff said kids who are looking for representations of themselves should "read a newspaper" and that people calling for diversity should "write a pamphlet" about it. She said that books don't have agendas. She said a lot of things.

Edi wrote it up at her site. Go read it. It sparked a great deal of conversation on Twitter.

Are you wondering what Rosoff's response to all of this is? Here you go:


God, Rosoff, you are something else. Last year, I started to read her Picture Me Gone. It was on the short list for the National Book Award. I got to this part and quit reading:



"Indian squaw"? At that point in Picture Me Gone her characters are in a cafe. Items on the wall are what look very old. She didn't need that line about that painting in her book. Removing it wouldn't change the book at all. Having it there, however, is a microaggression. She's using a slur.

I wonder what words she uses to describe that "native American woman" in her next book? I have lots of questions about that plot. Why is the black kid in love with that woman? What is her nation? What is her name?

She hasn't written characters like this before. My guess is she's trying to cash in on the call for diversity. But, as her remarks on Edi's page show, she is no ally to the call for diversity.

I'm hitting the upload button on this post. I may be back with updates...

_________________________
Update, Oct 11, 2015, 4:27 PM
Back to add links to blog posts in response to Rosoff.

October 12, 2015, 10:22 AM
More posts:

October 14, 2015, 3:35 PM
More posts:

October 15, 2015, 2:25 PM
More posts:

October 16, 2015, 8:45 AM




Thursday, October 08, 2015

Not recommended: Rae Carson's WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER

First, some basics.

Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger begins in 1849 in Dahlonega, Georgia. The protagonist, 15-year-old Leah Westfall and her parents are living on a plot of land her father got through a land lottery. Leah's dad, Rueben Westfall, his brother, Hiram, and the woman who would become Leah's mom are originally from Boston. The three were friends there and moved to Georgia for its gold rush in 1829.

Let's step out of the book to ask a question: what do you (reader) know about that lottery?

As a Native woman and professor who taught American Indian Studies courses at the University of Illinois, I know a lot about Native history. I know about that lottery. For decades before Georgia held that land lottery in 1832, the Cherokee Nation fought with the State of Georgia and its citizens who had been encroaching on Cherokee land.

The Cherokee Nation went before the Supreme Court where it was decided, in 1832 (yes, same year as that lottery) that the Cherokee Nation was a sovereign nation and that Georgia and its citizens had no standing or claim on that land. President Jackson, however, defied the Supreme Court and ordered the removal of the Cherokee people. At the Cherokee Nation's website, you can read some of the history. Forced removal started in 1838.

Leah would have been a little girl when that forced removal started. As a little girl, she was likely unaware of Removal and unaware of what that lottery meant to Cherokee people. For her, it is her daddy's land. Someone else in Walk On Earth A Stranger, however, knows about removal, first hand.

Leah's potential love interest is a guy named Jefferson McCauley. His father is an Irish prospector who drinks and beats Jefferson. His mother? She's Cherokee, but in 1839 (removal, remember), she fled Dahlonega with her brothers and left Jefferson behind. He remembers her and a Cherokee story she told him, too, that is significant to how Jefferson thinks about himself.

The story Jefferson tells is about eight boys who are brothers. Angry at their mother, they run away from her, and leap into the sky. She grabs one, bringing him back to earth. The seven brothers who got away become the Ani'tsutsa (Pleiades). Jefferson imagines he is the brother who was pulled down, that he stayed, and that he has something like brothers out there somewhere, and that he'll find them someday. When he leaves Dahlonga (Leah and Jefferson will soon be headed to California for the gold rush), he feels that he's done wrong, because he is supposed to stay.

The story Jefferson tells, however, isn't like the one the Cherokees actually tell.  The way they tell it, the boys that run away are not brothers, and the one that is pulled to earth strikes the earth so hard that it swallows him. He's gone, too. His mother sheds tears on that site and eventually, a tree sprouts. It becomes the pine tree. Quite different from the story Jefferson tells, isn't it! Regular readers of AICL know that I object to writers using/twisting Native stories to fit the story they want to tell.

In the Author's Note, Carson lists sources for the emigrant stories she used to create Walk On Earth A Stranger. She obviously found the Ani'tsutsa story somewhere, but doesn't tell us where.  She doesn't list any sources specific to the Cherokee Nation, at all, which makes me wonder how she created Jefferson and his voice. Could we say that she didn't need any Cherokee sources because Jefferson is sufficiently assimilated and is no longer Cherokee? Maybe, and yet, he remembers that story and thinks fondly of his mother. As the wagon train crosses the midwest, he never thinks of or expresses an interest in going to find his mother and his uncles. Maybe he's mad at them for leaving him behind.

Or maybe he is, as I suggested above, assimilated. That would explain why he is headed west to be a prospector, just like all the other people who did that. Certainly, it is plausible that a Native person would want to do that, but I find it unsettling to create a Native character--who lost his mother because of gold--wanting to head West to be a gold prospector on lands that belonged to other Native peoples.

That said, Jefferson looks Native, with black hair and sharp cheekbones. Along the trip west, he is conscious of his Native identity and concerned that people will figure out who he is. People know he's not White but don't know just what he is. Sometimes he is angry when racist men talk about Indians stealing from the wagon trains and kidnapping children, but he keeps that anger to himself. At another point, however, he speaks in a matter of fact way, saying that people are afraid of Indians. Leah is aware of all these incidents and his emotions. She commiserates with him--but sometimes she wonders about Indians, too, and hides those feelings from Jefferson.

Because Jefferson is seeking gold, and because his way of speaking/thinking about Indians is inconsistent, we might say he is conflicted about his identity.

Or... maybe something else is going on. Maybe he is just a device in the story. What he endures makes it possible for readers to view Leah as a Good White Person, worried for him and his well-being. She does this for other characters, too. "Free Jim" is one. The runaway slave, Hampton, is another. And the bachelors who are headed to San Francisco where they can live as they choose... Native people, Blacks, Gays... I think all are devices by which readers see this girl who gets across the country dressed as a boy, as a Good White Person.

~~~~

Thus far, the problems I've described are familiar ones that occur in depictions of Native people, culture, and history. By that I mean stereotypical and biased storylines that omit key points in history.

Carson does something that--for me--is reprehensible. Yes, that is a strong word, but let me explain.

People hold two kinds of images of Indians in their head. The noble one (that's Jefferson) and the savage one (that's the ones who steal and kidnap kids). Both are problematic because they shape what people know about us. When writers in children's and young adult literature do it, they're shaping what kids know. They are teaching something to readers. Through their words, writers are, in effect, touching the future (wise words from Christa McAuliffe). They are creating images for their readers. What kind of images of Indians--beyond Jefferson--does Carson give her readers? What did I find reprehensible?

Carson's Grave Robbing Indians

The image that Carson adds to what people carry around in their heads is one of Indians as grave robbers. This starts in chapter twenty. By then, Leah/Lee and Jefferson are working for Mr. Joyner. On his wagon are his household goods and his family. Carson has been presenting him as a racist white man.

We see his racism again when the wagon train comes upon a grave. Men from the wagon train investigate. When Joyner returns to his family's wagon, he tells them that Indians did it. Jefferson, "tight and coiled like a thunderstorm about to let loose," asks "Indians killed him?" (p. 234). Joyner says it wasn't a him, but a her. Lee wants to say there's no way to know what she was buried in but thinks it won't do any good. Joyner says (p. 235):
"Truly, these savages have no fear of God nor love of the white man." 
Jefferson rides away at that point. Further down the page, 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.
There is, for me, an irony to those words. They're meant to ask readers to pause and question what they know about Indians. But to get there, Carson introduces a new image: Indians who rob graves of Whites.

Did that happen?

One of Carson's sources is Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, edited by Lilian Schlissel.

In it is the diary of Catherine Haun. She writes of a woman named Martha. On the night of the 4th of July, Haun's wagon train is having a celebration. In the midst of it, Martha and a young child stumble into camp, incoherent and disheveled. The next day, Martha tells them what happened: her husband and sister got cholera. Because of that, the rest of their wagon train left them behind, in their own wagon. Martha's husband and sister died. Martha and her brother were burying her sister when Indians attacked. Martha fled with her little girl. Two days later, Haun's wagon train comes upon Martha's abandoned wagon. They find that her sister's grave is still open and Martha's husband is where they left him, dead, in the wagon. Their clothing is missing and there is no sign of Martha's brother or Martha's little boy. Later on the page, Haun writes that Indians spread smallpox among themselves by digging up bodies for their clothing, and later in Haun's diary, we learn that Martha was reunited with her son. Indians had taken him and traded him for a horse.

Hence, in Haun's account, Carson has a source for the grave-robbing Indians she depicts in Walk on Earth a Stranger. But take a look at this page from Schlissel's book. The column on the left is from Cecilia McMillen Adams's diary. On the right is an excerpt from Maria Parson's Belshaw's diary.

On the next page (not shown) is the account of Caroline Richardson. On June 1 she wrote "Graves now are often partly dug up." She doesn't say Indians did it. Might she have thought that? We don't know. Angeline Ashley noted 47 graves. Esther Hanna noted 102. Neither Angeline or Esther notes graves that have been dug up. Overwhelmingly, I think Carson's source notes a large number of graves, but ones dug up by Indians? No.

Enter, again, my own identity as a Native woman and scholar. Do you know about NAGPRA? That is a law passed in the United States Congress. It is all about graves being robbed. Native graves, that is. For literally hundreds of years, people have been digging up Native graves. Human remains and artifacts, dug up and sold on the black market, or collected and deposited in museums.

Through NAGPRA, those remains are being returned to Native Nations for reburial. That sort of thing is still happening. It was in the news just this week. Actors in the film, Maze Runner, were shooting at a Native cemetery. They took artifacts because "who doesn't?"

But let's come back to Carson's sources.

In the introduction to Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, Schlissel writes that the letters and diaries in her book are "accounts of singularities" and that only "when the patterns emerge with regularity can one believe the responses are representative" (p. 11). Is Haun's singular account one that ought to be introduced to young readers as Carson has done?

In Walk on Earth a Stranger, she introduces that image and leaves it open-ended for her readers to sort out.

Therein lies the problem. This image of grave robbing Indians fits what people think they know about Native peoples: primitive, depraved, less than human, savages. Carson doesn't come back to tell us that, in fact, it is not representative of the historical record.

What she did is quite the opposite. In the preface to Schlissel's book, Carl N. Degler writes that (p. xvi):
Whereas men usually emphasized the danger from the Indians and told of their fights with the native peoples, the women, who admittedly often started out fearful of the Indians, usually ended up finding them friendly in manner and often helpful in deed. Women, it seemed, had no need to emphasize Indian ferocity. 
Friendly Indians? Helpful Indians? That is the image of Indians women had at the end of their journey. It is not the image of Indians that readers have when Lee and her group get to California. Let's look at another episode Carson provides.

When Lee's wagon train is at Fort Hall (chapter twenty-nine), they hear this story (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 was a deal. This joke, as it were, at his daughter's expense, nearly led to bloodshed, when the Indian came back with the horses."
I found a similar story in another of Carson's sources: Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes. In it, the horse trading story ends like this. The Indian (p. 33):
"followed our wagons for several days and we were glad to get rid of him without any trouble."
Quite a different image, isn't it? I assume Carson read through her sources, but why does she give us such a different image of Indian people, given what her sources told her about them?

~~~~

One might argue that Carson is even-handed in depicting racism. Indians rob graves, but what about Mr. Joyner? He puts fear of Indians in his wife's mind again and again. He puts measles infected blankets in a grave so the Indians can get sick when they dig up that grave. Pretty dang racist, right?

On one hand, we have grave robbing Indians, and on the other, we have Mr. Joyner and Frank (another White man who is depicted as racist).

Notice that Carson gives us Indian people as a group who are horrible, versus specific White individuals who are horrible.

Carson effectively tells us to hate Mr. Joyner and Frank as racists, but why did she not individualize those Indians on the trail in some way, guided by her sources? Why does she have that grave robbing part in there?

It'd be terrific if she would tell us why.

As noted in the title of this post, Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger is not recommended. Published in 2015 by Greenwillow, it is currently on the long list for the National Book Award. I hope someone shares this review with members of the committee. Carson's book debuted on the New York Times best sellers list. That, I think, is based on her previous work, but I'm sure the publisher's huge marketing campaign helped get it on that best seller list.

_________________
For further reading:
Notes I took as I read Carson's book
A Tumblr post I wrote after I shared my notes




Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Look at Gender Swapping of Native Characters in Meyer's LIFE AND DEATH

Today (October 6, 2015), fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga were ecstatic about her new book Life and Death. In it, she "gender swapped" the characters. Bella is now a guy named Beau. Edward is now a gal named Edythe, and Jacob (the Quileute character) is now a girl named Jules (Julia). 

Here's part of Meyer's interview with CNN: 
Meyer said she was motivated to make the switch because of questions she received at signings about Bella being a "damsel in distress."
"It's always bothered me a little bit, because anyone surrounded by superheroes is going to be in distress," Meyers explained. "I thought, 'What if we switched it around a bit and see how a boy does,' and, you know, it's about the same."

I looked at specific passages in Twilight, comparing them to passages in Life and Death to see if Meyer made any changes to the Native content. In the passages I have below, I start each pair with Twilight first, because it was published first. Here they are:


Chapter 6: Scary Stories

This is the chapter where we meet Jacob/Jules, the Quileute character who is going to tell Bella/Beau scary stories about the werewolves and "the cold ones" (vampires).

Twilight (Kindle Location 7353-7355):
A few minutes after Angela left with the hikers, Jacob sauntered over to take her place by my side. He looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of his neck. His skin was beautiful, silky and russet-colored; his eyes were dark, set deep above the high planes of his cheekbones.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 1495-1497):
A few minutes after Allen left with the hikers, Julie came over to take his place by my side. 
She looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of her neck. Her skin was really beautiful, like coppery silk, her dark eyes were wide-set above her high cheekbones, and her lips were curved like a bow.

Debbie's thoughts: Jacob sauntering conveys attitude. Julie, on the other hand, walks without attitude. Because... why? I don't know. The descriptions of hair and skin and cheekbones are familiar ones. Not all Native people have long, glossy black hair or high cheekbones but that's generally how we're depicted in children's and young adult books. This is a problem for Native people who do not look that way. People say--without batting an eye--"you don't look Indian." 

~~~~

Twilight, Jacob speaking to Bella (Kindle Locations 7408-7411):
“Well, there are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Flood— supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark.” He smiled, to show me how little stock he put in the histories. “Another legend claims that we descended from wolves— and that the wolves are our brothers still. It’s against tribal law to kill them.

Life and Death, Jules speaking to Beau (Kindle Locations 1569-1572):
“There are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Great Flood— supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark.” She smiled, to show me she wasn’t taking this seriously, either. “Another legend claims that we descended from wolves— and that the wolves are our sisters still. It’s against tribal law to kill them.

Debbie's thoughts: That "legend" that Jacob talks about is supposed to be a Quileute one, but it that marks "the Flood" as a touchstone event. If it said "a" great Flood, that would work, but that "the" in there ties this story to Christianity. I've not done any research to see if the Quileute people have a flood story where they tied their canoes to tall trees. Maybe they do. Or, maybe this is something that Meyer made up. Regular readers of AICL know that I find it sacrilegious to twist Native stories to make them fit a narrative that a not-Native writer is telling.  Jacob has "little stock" in the stories; Jules doesn't "take this seriously." Is this dismissiveness on Jacob/Jules' part to throw Bella/Beau off track so that Bella/Beau don't know that these stories are real? The way Meyer presents this werewolf part of her story is not like the stories the Quileute's actually tell. As noted above, I think Meyer is twisting a Native story to fit her narrative, and I find that to be deeply disrespectful. (Updating to add this next line.) And as @travelingHeidi pointed out on Twitter, Noah isn't gender swapped! 

~~~~

Twilight, 
Jacob speaking to Bella (
Kindle Locations 7412-7416):
"There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land.” He rolled his eyes. “Your great-grandfather?” I encouraged. “He was a tribal elder, like my father. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf— well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves.”

Life and Death, Jules speaking to Beau (Kindle Locations 1574-1578):
"There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandmother knew some of them. She was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land.” She rolled her eyes. “Your great-grandmother?” I encouraged. “She was a tribal elder, like my mother. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf— well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into women, like our ancestors. You could call them werewolves, I guess.”

Debbie's thoughts: That is another part of Meyer's book that I find especially problematic because of her use of the word treaty. Readers are asked to believe that Jacob/Jules' great grandfather/mother made a treaty with a coven of vampires. Treaties are made between heads of state. Are we to think of this group of Quileute's and this coven of vampires as nations? 


Chapter 7: Nightmare

After hearing those "scary" stories, Bella/Beau has a nightmare. 

Twilight (Kindle Locations 7477-7480):
But Jacob let go of my hand and yelped, suddenly shaking, falling to the dim forest floor. He twitched on the ground as I watched in horror. “Jacob!” I screamed. But he was gone. In his place was a large red-brown wolf with black eyes. The wolf faced away from me, pointing toward the shore, the hair on the back of his shoulders bristling, low growls issuing from between his exposed fangs.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 1641-1643):
And then Jules dropped my hand— she let out a strange yelp and, suddenly shaking, she fell twitching to the ground. I watched in horror, unable to move. “Jules!” I yelled, but she was gone. In her place was a big, red-brown wolf with black eyes. The wolf faced away from me, pointing toward the shore, the hair on the back of her shoulders bristling, low growls issuing from between her exposed fangs.

Debbie's thoughts: Here, I direct you to an excellent series of tweets by Jeanne (I don't know her personally but she is one of the people I learn a lot from by reading her tweets and blog posts). One that is especially insightful is this one: "The supernatural world of Twilight is a construct that makes an abusive white man look like a hero and Native American men look like animals."


Chapter 11: Complications 

Twilight (Kindle Locations 8589-8592):
Jacob was already climbing out, his wide grin visible even through the darkness. In the passenger seat was a much older man, a heavyset man with a memorable face— a face that overflowed, the cheeks resting against his shoulders, with creases running through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient for the broad face they were set in. Jacob’s father, Billy Black.

Life and Death (Kindle Locations 2926-2929)
Jules was already climbing out, her wide grin visible even through the darkness. In the passenger seat was a much older woman, an imposing woman with an unusual face— it was stern and stoic, with creases that ran through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, set deep under the heavy brows, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient to match the face. Jules’s mother, Bonnie Black.

Debbie's thoughts: More of that stereotypical descriptors, this time of elders. Note the word "ancient" in there? That's another word that gets overused.

~~~~

Some overall thoughts: In Life and Death, Meyer just switched a few letters here and there to make the Native characters fit her gender swapping narrative. It is more evidence that she is clueless regarding Native peoples and cultures. In fact, her gender swapping of Native content strikes me as similar to all the people--male or female--who put on a headdress that is generally used only by men. It is superficial and adds a new layer of disrespect to what she's already done with the Twilight saga prior to today's release of Life and Death.  

I opened this post noting that people are very excited by Life and Death. Much of that excitement is because Twilight is credited with having launched young adult literature. That is something people who care about young adult literature can certainly applaud, but we must not lose sight of the problems in the series. 

There are plenty of young adult books out there that can counter the misogyny in these books. We cannot say the same thing about books to counter the misrepresentation of Native people. Indeed, Meyer's book also launched a slew of books that do precisely what she did: stereotype, misrepresent, appropriate. 

Meyer acknowledged concerns over the "damsel in distress" but the concerns over misrepresentation of Native peoples are just as important. 
__________

Meyer, Stephenie (2015-10-06). Twilight Tenth Anniversary/Life and Death Dual Edition, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. 

Beverly Slapin reviews SMUGGLING CHEROKEE by Kim Shuck

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin's review of Smuggling Cherokee may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2015. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.

~~~~~

Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Smuggling Cherokee. Greenfield Review Press, 2005; grades 7-up

Smuggling Cherokee is full of powerful insight: part autobiography, part musing, part outrageous wit, and part punch-in-the-gut startling. Kim Shuck is a visionary: she knows who she is, what she comes from, and what she’s been given to do. Her poems are honest and passionate, and, without polemic, will shatter just about every stereotype about Indians that anyone has ever espoused: 

The man asks me, 
“Do you speak Cherokee?”
But it’s all I ever speak
The end goal of several generations of a
smuggling project.
We’ve slipped the barriers,
Evaded border guards.
I smile,
“Always.”


Some of Kim’s poems are tenderly, achingly beautiful: 

The water I used to drink spent time
Inside a pitched basket
It adopted the internal shape
Took on the taste of pine
And changed me forever. 


And for those who didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, the many faces of depredation:

I call the slave master
Who lost track of my ancestor
A blanket for you
In gratitude.

I call the soldier
With a tired arm
Who didn’t cut deeply enough
Into my great-great grandfather’s chest to kill clean.
I return your axehead
Oiled and sharpened
Wield it against others with equal skill.

Will the boarding school officer come up?
The one who didn’t take my Gram
Because of her crippled leg.
No use as a servant – such a shame with that face…

Finally the shopkeeper’s wife
Who traded spoiled cans of fruit
For baskets that took a year each to make.
Thank you, Faith, for not poisoning
Quite all
Of my
Family.

Blankets for each of you,
And let no one say
That I am not
Grateful for your care.

Smuggling Cherokee, as with all of Kim Shuck’s poems, will resonate with Indian middle and high school readers. Students who are not Indian may not “get” some of them the first time around, but they will, eventually, if given the space to sit with them.

Kim Shuck—a poet, teacher, fine artist and parent of at least three—teaches college courses in Native Short Literature, creates phenomenal beadwork and basketry, curates museum collections, teaches origami to young children as an introduction to geometry, grows vegetables, converses with trees, takes long walks, and meditates while doing piles of laundry. She won the Native Writers of the Americas First Book Award for Smuggling Cherokee, as well as the Diane Decorah Award for Poetry, she has a fierce and gentle heart, and I’m honored to call her “friend.”

—Beverly Slapin

(Note: Smuggling Cherokee can be ordered from kshuck@tsoft.net. Discount for class sets, free shipping.)

Eds. note: Kim Shuck wrote to say that she is an enrolled with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Bonnie Bader's WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

October 4, 2015

Dear Bonnie Bader, Grosset & Dunlap, and Penguin Young Readers Group,

Your book, Who Was Christopher Columbus, published in 2013, has major errors in it (p. 4, Kindle edition):

The error is in that last line that reads "Christopher Columbus had discovered a new world." Maybe you think that the sentence before it makes it ok because it tells readers that no one in Europe knew about this land. It doesn't make it ok. Later, you tell readers he discovered an island he named Dominica. And that he also "discovered the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico" (p. 72-73 in Kindle version). Simply put, you can't discover something that someone else already had. With this book, you're misleading children. You're mis-educating them.

Your Who Was Christopher Columbus is loaded with other problems, too. My suggestion? Withdraw it from publication.

My suggestion to all the people who already bought Bader's Who Was Christopher Columbus? Do not use it with young children. Instead, write to Penguin and ask for your money back, or, use it with older children and adults in a text analysis activity. Read what Bader wrote, and compare it to other sources. A great set of resources for this activity is at the Zinn Education Project website. Another excellent resource is Rethinking Columbus.

You, Ms. Bader, and your editors at Grosset & Dunlap (it is an imprint of Penguin), can do better. I hope you do. Recall the book. Refund the money parents, teachers, and librarians spent on it, too.

And do better.

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


Friday, October 02, 2015

THE HIRED GIRL by Laura Amy Schlitz

Eds. note: Content in this post launched a discussion at Heavy Medal at School Library Journal. Please see A Native Perspective of The Hired Girl for an in-depth review that incorporates what I've said below. 

This is one of those posts people are gonna object to because it is one of the "one liners" -- which means that the book has nothing to do with Native people, but there is a line in it that I am pointing out.

It is "one line" to some, but to Native people or anyone who pays attention to ways that Native people are depicted in children's and young adult literature, those "one lines" add up to a very long list in which we are misrepresented.

Here's the synopsis for Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl, a 2015 book published by Candlewick (for grades 7 and up):

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Set in Pennsylvania in 1911, The Hired Girl has six starred reviews. It is currently listed at Amazon as the #1 bestseller in historical fiction for teens and young adults. Impressive. Hopefully, Schlitz and her editor will revisit the part of the book where a woman tells Joan "You, I think, are not Jewish." Joan responds:
"No, ma'am," I said. I was as taken aback as if she'd asked me if I was an Indian. It seemed to me--I mean, it doesn't now, but it did then--as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they're civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.
Let's look closely at what Joan said.

The word 'are' in "I know there are Indians out West..." is in italics. I like that, because I often speak/write of the importance of tense. Most people use past tense when speaking or writing about Native peoples, but we're still here.

But then, Joan thinks "they're civilized now." Does that mean Joan buys into the idea of the primitive Indian who became "civilized" by contact with White people? Do the "ordinary clothes" they wear mean they're civilized?

I'm pretty sure people are going to say that--in asking those two questions--I'm not leaving room for people to do well, or try well, in their writing about Native people.

The fact is, this book is already succeeding and so are ones I've written about before. This post* isn't going to hurt it, but if it does give people (who read AICL) the opportunity to think about words they use in their own writing, that is a plus for all of us.

Native peoples in the U.S. were living in well-ordered societies when Europeans came here. We weren't primitive. Indeed, European heads of state recognized the Native Nations as nations of people. That's why there are treaties. Heads of state, then and now, meet with other heads of state in diplomatic negotiations. Saying "well, Joan didn't know that" is a cop out. She could have known it. Plenty of people did! She's a fictional character. She can know whatever Schlitz wants her to know.

__________
*Replaced "My lone voice" with "This post" in hopes that I'll find other writing that points to this particular passage.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Big News about Hoffman's AMAZING GRACE

Eds. note (10/2/2015): See update at bottom. It appears the change is only to the U.S. edition. 

In a comment to his post about weeding books, Roger Sutton said that Horn Book just received the 25th anniversary edition of Amazing Grace and that the page on which Grace is shown playing Indian is gone (she's pretending to be Longfellow's Hiawatha). Here's his comment:


This is the illustration he's talking about. It was in the original version of the book, published by Dial in 1991. The author is Mary Hoffman; the illustrator is Caroline Binch:



For those who don't know the book, the main character is a girl named Grace who wants to be Peter Pan in the play her class is going to do. Other kids tell her she can't be Peter because she's a girl and he's a boy, and, that she's Black and he's White. Stung--as any kid would be--she imagines herself in all kinds of roles, including Hiawatha. That she's "by the shining Big-Sea-Water" tells us she is imagining herself as the Hiawatha of Longfellow's imagination (there was, in fact, a real person named Hiawatha).

But see how Grace "plays" Hiawatha? In a stereotypical way. She sits cross legged, torso bare, arms crossed and raised up (I don't know why so many statues show Indians with arms crossed and lifted off the chest that way), barefoot, with a painted face and stoic look.

Amazing Grace came out in 1991. In 1992, a person from whom I've learned a great deal, wrote about it. That person: Ginny Moore Kruse. In her article "No Single Season: Multicultural Literature for All Children, published in Wilson Library Bulletin 66 30-3, she wrote:
Are the book's multiple themes so welcome that the act of "playing Indian" escaped comment by most U.S. reviewers...that critics relaxed their standards for evaluation? No, such images recur so frequently that when they do, nobody notices. Well, almost nobody but the children who in real life are Indian. 
Claiming that only American Indian children are apt to notice "playing Indian," "sitting Indian style," or picture book animals "dressed up" like American Indians does not excuse the basic mistake. Self-esteem is decreased for the affected peoples, an accurate portrayals are skewed for everyone else.

This change is big news in children's literature. I'm grateful to Roger for sharing it. But let's return to his words. Roger suggested that the absence of Grace/Hiawatha in the new edition is the result of "public shaming."

Its absence can be seen as the result of public shaming---but it also be seen as a a step forward in what we give to children.

Might we say it is gone because its author, illustrator, and publisher decided that the self-esteem of Native children matters? And, maybe, they decided that having it in there was a disservice to non-Native readers, too, skewing what they know about Native peoples? Maybe they just decided it was dated, and in an effort to market the book to today's readers, that page would hurt sales.

Today, I wish I was near Ginny's hometown. I'd call her and see if she wanted to join me for a cup of tea. I'm sure it'd be a delightful conversation.


Updated on October 2, 2015 at 9:23 AM

Librarian Allie Jane Bruce wrote to tell me about a review of Amazing Grace at the UK website, Mirrors, Windows, and Doors. Based on what I read in the review, there are two versions of the 25th anniversary edition of Amazing Grace. The one Roger Sutton has is the US edition. The one in the UK remains unchanged. Here's an excerpt of the UK review:
The double-page that shows Grace as Hiawatha and then as ‘Mowgli in the back garden jungle’ does, however, need to be held up as a reminder that breadth of experience through reading is important for young children: whilst Grace’s story highlights a can-do attitude and the notion that you can be whatever you want to be because of what you do not what you are, the stereotypes that have been passed down through some of these classic stories can only be broken by ensuring that children read contemporary stories set within the cultures they represent.  There is still too much of a dislocation in the UK between dressing up in a feathered headdress with a painted face and awareness of how that sits within contemporary Native American culture.

I guess that the people involved in the 25th anniversary edition think it is ok to let kids in the UK have that page. Obviously, I disagree.

This, however, is familiar. In 2010, a British production of Peter Pan was slated for Canada. Changes were made to it in an effort to be sensitive to First Nations people. Given the debased depictions of Native peoples in kids books imported from the UK to the US, I think it is wrong to leave that page in Amazing Grace. Worse than wrong, actually. It is a disservice to the children whose stereotypical ideas of Native people are affirmed by that page, and a disservice to those who learn that image for the first time, when they read Amazing Grace. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Writers: Do not do a Peter Nabokov! Please respect tribal nations and our protocols.

In several places, I've written about the 1800s, when white ethnographers began going to reservations--uninvited--with the intent of documenting our stories. Those ethnographers were outsiders. Did they understand what they were writing about? Were their informants reliable? There are a lot of questions about those archived stories, and yet, present day storytellers use them to "retell" Native stories that get presented to children in classrooms as authentic. Some of those stories are ones tribes want to protect from outsiders.

To protect their stories, Native Nations developed protocols that researchers--and that means writers, too--are expected to use.

Dr. Peter Nabokov, a professor and author of several works of nonfiction about Native peoples, chose to violate those protocols with the publication of his newest book. In an interview published by the National Geographic on September 23rd, 2015, he was asked about the project:
You’re a white man yourself. How did the Acoma tribe regard this project?
They didn’t know about it. [Laughs] There was some concern about the republication of the Acoma’s Origin Myth. When it was published in 1942 by the Bureau of American Ethnology, it sat under-appreciated for a number of years. Later on, it appeared in excerpted form in anthologies. With the coming of the Internet, various people put it out in the public domain, including the pictures, the kachina masks, the maps and depictions of sacred altars.
I thought this publication of the Origin Myth deserved a second, more dignified shot. So I didn’t allow any pictures of the sacred altars or kachina masks to be republished, just the text. I feel this story deserves inclusion alongside the Bible, the Koran, and all the other great texts of world literature. 


See that? He knows there are concerns but he laughed that Acoma didn't know he was publishing the book. He tells us he wanted to be "more dignified." What he chose not to include in his book suggests that he is more dignified in his treatment. That he wants the story to be alongside other texts of world literature suggests that he is aware and sensitive to the place of Native story in a global context.

Sounds good, but is it? The short answer is no.

Here's an excerpt from a statement Acoma's Governor, Fred S. Vallo Sr., published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 23, 2015 (the same day as the interview at National Geographic). I am using bold text to draw your attention to protocol and Nabokov's disregard of those protocols:

Nabokov agreed to submit the manuscript to the pueblo for review and to appear before the Acoma Tribal Council to discuss possible publication of the book. Virtually every other modern scholar and professional working with the Pueblo of Acoma has sought this permission when seeking to disclose sensitive cultural information. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Acoma has approved of disclosure in the past. Some examples of published work with permission of the Pueblo of Acoma include publications by Dr. Ward Allan Minge, Dr. Alfred Dittert, Dr. Florence Hawley Ellis, Dr. Kurt Anschuetz and others.
While a manuscript of The Origin Myth of Acoma Pueblo was submitted to Acoma Pueblo at the pueblo’s insistence upon discovering Nabokov’s planned publication, and was being reviewed by traditional leaders, Nabokov did not follow through on any of his other promises prior to publication. Nabokov holds himself out as a scholar and “friend” of Indian tribes. His actions suggest otherwise, as he does not exhibit basic respect for tribal beliefs and practices.
I think it is fair to say that Nabokov is exploiting Native people for personal gain. There's no integrity in what he did, none at all. And his treatment of Acoma's wishes gives me pause. What, I wonder, about the rest of his books?

Are you planning to use a Native story in a work of fiction or non-fiction? Find out if it is ok to use it. Do not assume--as the author of a recent children's book did--that those protocols only apply to academic researchers. They apply to anyone. Don't assume a visit to a tribe's museum and a chat with a docent counts as authorization. It doesn't. Don't assume your friendships with people of that tribe are sufficient. They aren't. Do it right. Respect the wishes of the tribal nation from whom the story originates. Not doing so could mean you'll be written up in the news, exposed as someone with no basic respect for tribal peoples and on AICL, too.

Update, 7:30 AM, September 25, 2015
Read Governor Vallo's full statement in The New Mexican
Read the Public Statement issued by the Pueblo of Acoma

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Using the "Peanutize Me" Avatar to Send a Message

Have you seen the Peanutize Me avatars people are creating? It is a clever promotion for the Peanuts movie due out in November.

This morning, author Rene Saldana posted this one on his Facebook page*:

"I am the invisible brown."


Seeing his, I went back to the one I started making last night. Here's mine:

"Quit smiling, Snoopy. We have work to do. 
Crappy books about us keep getting published."

If you create one with a political message about children's or young adult literature, let me know and I'll add it.

~~~~~

Here's one from librarian Sujei Lugo, added at 11:48 on September 22, 2015:


Here's one from 8mph Ansible (on Twitter), added at 1:16 on September 22, 2015:

"Not only do we lack diversity in male chars
but male chars wearing kilts & skirt-like apparel."



Delighted to add artist Don Tate (Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015) who used his artistic skills to great effect!

"#We Need More Diverse Peanuts"


This one is from Gwen Tarbox, children's literature professor (added on September 23, 2015):

"I'm smiling because my children's literature students 
came to the realization that we ALL need diverse books."


____________________
*In later conversations with Rene, he told me that he was surprised when he downloaded his avatar and saw that he was invisible. In the part where you select skin tone, he had selected a light brown. We both wonder if invisible was an option, and why his avatar turned out invisible. I thought it was deliberate on his part. It echoed the invisible nature of books by Latino writers, and, reminded me of an essay he wrote at Latinos in Kidlit, Forgive Me My Bluntness: I'm a Writer of Color and I'm Right Here In Front of You: I'm the One Sitting Alone at the Table.

Cookie Thomas's CINNAMON AND THE BAT PEOPLE

Cinnamon and the Bat People by Cookie Thomas came out in 2014. Published in London, England by TMC London, here's the synopsis from the publisher's website:
A mysterious old woman invites a stranded family to sit on her porch while they wait for their car to be pulled out of a gulley. She weaves them a fascinating tale of a young indigenous couple, Rose and Charlie, from rural Texas during the depression, who run away to Illinois with their new born baby Cinnamon. Rose and Charlie are shocked to learn that the farmer they worked for bequeathed them all his money and a Model-T Ford after he and the whole town are destroyed by a ferocious tornado. They decide to return to Texas, only to be immersed in the battle between the Bat People and the Crow People…and the evil of a conniving witch, who has bad intentions for Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a "Native American" but important information is missing. What tribal nation does she belong to? We aren't told. Instead, the Native content is stereotypical in both, romantic and derogatory ways.

Some things about it are curious. This passage, for example, is right after the mysterious old woman tells the family that she'll tell them a story about "a little Indian girl" (p. 10):
"Did you say a little Indian girl?" Dan said with a raised eyebrow, looking relieved the crows were gone. "Do you mean Native American Indian?"
"Don't interrupt!" I said, scrunching my face. "Back then, we just called them Indians, and no one paid no mind." 
Who is "no one" in the old woman's mind? In the promotional materials for the book, it is clear that the author has a reverence for stories about Native peoples that she was told as a child, but much of what I read in the book--like that passage--is unsettling or just plain odd.

In short, I do not recommend Cinnamon and the Bat People. 





Sunday, September 20, 2015

A student's question about bias (AICL uses Deborah Wiles' REVOLUTION to look at bias)

A few weeks ago, I was at Georgia State's College of Education to talk with professors and students about Native peoples, how we're taught in the curriculum, choosing children's books, etc. A few days ago, a student wrote to me with a question about biased content and how a teacher could address it.

She had a specific example in which she imagined a fourth grade class being taught about specific Native Nations. She imagined a student asking the teacher why Native Americans were moved to reservations. She wondered how the teacher might respond in an unbiased manner.

Let's look, first, at the word "bias." It means prejudice in favor or against a thing, person, or group, compared with another, in a way that is unfair or partial to one of the groups.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that I was reading Deborah Wiles's Revolution. There's a passage in it that is a good example of bias. On page 263, Sunny (the protagonist) is at a movie theater and is approaching Mr. Martini, the man who takes tickets:
Mr. Martini is standing under the buffalo carving, which is my favorite of all the carvings on the lobby wall that depict the history of Greenwood, although Daddy says there would not have been buffalo east of the Mississippi River, which is where the Delta is. There would have been Indians, though--the Choctaw and Chickasaw including Choctaw Chief Greenwood Leflore, who was here first and signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek way before the Civil War. That's when most of the Indians moved to Oklahoma. Miss Coffee, my fourth-grade teacher, would be proud of me for remembering.
I want to focus on two passages from that paragraph.

First is the idea that Indians were "here first." It may seem innocent enough, but scholars in Native Studies see language that says Native peoples were here "first" as a way to undermine our sovereignty. If we were simply here first, followed by __ and then by __, one can say that everyone--Native peoples, too--are immigrants to this continent.

Second is "the Indians moved to Oklahoma." Written as such, it sounds like they--on their own--decided to move. Of course, they had not chosen to move. They were forcibly removed. Although Miss Coffee told Sunny about the Dancing Rabbit Treaty, I wonder if her bias in favor of White landowners and against Choctaws is evident by Sunny's takeaway: that Indians "moved" to Oklahoma. If Wiles had, in the backstory for this part of the book, a character who is Choctaw, that character could have corrected Miss Coffee. That paragraph I quoted above could then end with Sunny saying "but Joey, who is Choctaw, told Miss Coffee that his people didn't move. They were REmoved."

A plus in that paragraph is this: Sunny says "most" of the Indians moved. In that "most" she is correct. The descendants of Choctaws who refused to be removed were federally recognized as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in 1945.  And, Sunny's dad is wrong about buffaloes. They were, in fact, east of the Mississippi. Were they in the Delta? I don't know.

Let's return to the question posed by the Georgia State student. Let's say that the curriculum the teacher is using has the words "moved" in it and let's assume the teacher knows that the Choctaw's were forcibly removed. She could teach her students about bias right then and there, using moved/removed as an example of bias and she could provide students with information from the Choctaw Nation's website. It has a detailed account of removal. A teacher using Wiles's book could pause the reading on page 263 to correct what Sunny learned from Miss Coffee.

The point is that teachers can address bias in materials. This is, of course, teaching children to read critically--and reading critically is a vital skill.

Thanks, student at Georgia State, for your follow up questions! I hope this is helpful.