Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Close Look at CCBC's 2015 Data on Books By/About American Indians/First Nations

On February 23, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin released its statistics on the numbers of children's books by/about American Indians/First Nations and People of Color during the year 2015. Their data is based on books that are sent to them. It is raw data that does not address the quality of the books themselves. This data is important and I'm very glad they collect it. I use it in my work.

In 2015, CCBC estimates that they received about 3,400 books. Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen at St. Catherine University, working with illustrator David Huyck, Molly Beth Griffin, and several others (including me), created a graphic that depicts the CCBC data for 2015. Kudos to Sarah for getting it done. David Huyck's idea--to reflect the percentages by different sized mirrors--is excellent. Including animals, trucks, etc., is also excellent because it tells us that there are more books about animals, trucks, etc. than about any individual demographic. That's deeply troubling.

As of this writing (Thursday, September 15, 2016), the graphic has gone viral. It is being widely shared across social media. I'm very glad to see that, but I'm also seeing lots of assumptions about the data itself. My post today is a close look at the data specific to Native peoples and my attempt to look closely at that 0.9% on the graphic.

Earlier this year, CCBC sent me the list of books on their American Indian Log (it includes First Nations, Latin America, Pacific Islands, and New Zealand). There are a lot of ways to analyze their list. I may do more with the list in another post, but for now, I'm focusing on fiction (according to CCBC's tags) published by US publishers.

Fiction, US publishers:

Here's the list of fiction written or illustrated by Native people (titles in blue are ones that AICL has recommended, here or elsewhere; titles in black have not been reviewed)
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Trail of the Dead. Published by Tu Books/Lee and Low (Apache)
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Walking Two Worlds. Published by 7th Generation (Iroquois)
  • Robertson, Robbie. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. (Mohawk)

Now here's the books on the CCBC list, by writers and illustrators who are not Native (titles in red are ones that AICL reviewed here or elsewhere and did not recommend; titles in black have not been reviewed)
  • Bowman, Erin. Vengeance Road. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Apache)
  • Johnston, E. K. Prairie Fire. Published by Carolrhoda/Lerner. (Haida and Tseshaht)
  • Osborne, Mary Pope. Shadow of the Shark. Published by Random House. (Maya)
  • Rose, Caroline Starr. Blue Birds. Published by Penguin/Putnam. (Tribal nation not specified)
  • Shepherd, Megan. The Cage. Published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. (Maori)
  • Velasquez, Crystal. Hunters of Chaos. Published by Aladdin/Simon and Schuster. (Mayan and Navajo)
  • Voelkel, J & P. The Jaguar Stones: The Lost City. Published by EgmontUSA. (Maya)

Who publishes what?
In 2015, the Big Five publishers did not publish Native writers. Over half of the books the Big Five published misrepresent and/or stereotype Native peoples. As I found in the 2013 data set, Native writers get published by smaller publishers.

What does that mean?
If teachers/librarians wanted to get all 11 of the fiction from US publishers on the 2015 CCBC list, they'd likely have a harder time getting those from the smaller publishers because those aren't stocked in stores like ones from the major publishers. Given the poor quality in the books from the Big Five, children will most easily see problematic depictions of Native people.

Is there a focus on one Native people?
Yes. There are 3 books with content specific to the Mayan people. I think that's interesting because this sample is US publishers. We might expect that, in sum, we'd see them publishing books about US tribal nations, but, no! It is very hard to make generalizations based on such a tiny set of data, but what do you think?

What settings (chronologically) get published?
There are 11 books. Some are straight up historical fiction (Blue Birds). Several, like Shadow of the Shark are hard to categorize because there's time travel. I think this sample is not large enough to make any definitive statements about setting, but what do you see? What observations might you make?

The bottom line:

The Native child in the new graphic is holding a very small mirror. 

When you take a close look at the quality of the books that could be mirroring her in some way, what she gets is, primarily, distortions. 

This post was updated on September 16 to correct an error. Patty Loew's book was incorrectly listed in the CCBC log as fiction. It is nonfiction and has therefore been removed from the list of books by small publishers, above. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

THE MASK THAT SANG by Susan Currie

Susan Currie's The Mask That Sang was released on September 6, 2016, from Second Story Press. She dedicates the book to her "birth aunt, Bev Huzzard, who handed me the gift of my own identity."

That dedication--referencing a birth aunt and identity--prompted me to visit Currie's biography at the Second Story website. There, I read that:
Susan is an adopted person who made contact with a birth aunt a few years ago and subsequently learned about her Cayuga heritage. The Mask That Sang grew out of the experience of discovering those roots, and of learning that her grandmother attended residential school. 
On goodreads "Ask the Author" page, Currie writes that:
My most recent book, "The Mask That Sang," was inspired by my own experience of learning that I was Haudenosaunee. Because I was adopted, I did not know about my roots until I went searching for answers, and made contact with a birth aunt. She shared with me about my Cayuga heritage. It changed my life!  
And on her website, Currie writes that:
An important part of my history has to do with the fact that I am adopted. I have had a wonderful upbringing with my parents, Jean and Martin, and with my two brothers, David and Mike. As an adult I felt I wanted to know more about my own unique history. Following some detective work, I made contact with my amazing birth aunt, Bev (my birth mother, Louise, had passed away). She then provided me with the great gift of my own personal history. I was astonished and thrilled to learn about my own Haudenosaunee background. I am of Cayuga descent. My grandmother, Marjorie Hill, grew up at Six Nations and attended residential school in Brantford.
My heart aches for all the Native people who were taken from their parents and communities when they were infants or children.  We don't know the details of Currie's adoption. She may not have been part of that forceful removal. We do know, however, that the governments of the United States and Canada were determined to turn Native people into White people. These governments were determined to undermine our nations and our sovereignty. Some government programs, like the boarding schools (residential schools in Canada) are becoming known.

There were other efforts, too, by which Native children were taken from their communities. Adoption and child welfare service is one by which thousands of Native children were removed from their homes. In Canada, newspapers report on the Sixties Scoop, a term used to refer to the adoption of First Nations and Métis children in Canada, from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. The reports include interviews with adults who are being reunited with their families. The accounts are searing. In Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel writes that (p. 88):
When these people want to learn more about their culture, they have to wade through so many inaccuracies that it can feel impossible at times to reconnect.
As Currie's biography indicates, she was adopted and only recently became aware of her Cayuga heritage and that her grandmother was in residential school. As I read her book, I had empathy for Cass (her main character) and the struggle she was going through, but I also feel that the parts of the story about the mask sound very much like ones written by people who aren't Native.

Here's the synopsis for the book:
Cass and her mom have always stood on their own against the world. Then Cass learns she had a grandmother, one who was never part of her life, one who has just died and left her and her mother the first house they could call their own. But with it comes more questions than answers: Why is her Mom so determined not to live there? Why was this relative kept so secret? And what is the unusual mask, forgotten in a drawer, trying to tell her? Strange dreams, strange voices, and strange incidents all lead Cass closer to solving the mystery and making connections she never dreamed she had.
Remember: The Mask That Sang is inspired by what Currie learned as an adult.

Currie said that she found out about her identity through research. Cass, however, finds out because of a mask she finds in a dresser drawer in a home that is left to her and her mom by her grandmother, who has passed away. That grandmother is likely based on Currie's own grandmother, the one who went to residential school. In The Mask That Sang, we learn that Cass's mother was abandoned by her own mother, and she ended up in the foster care system (p. 10):
My mother abandoned me as a baby, she gave me up to Children's Aid and never tried to find me. I've been in over twenty foster homes, and I've lived at about as many addresses since.
It makes me wonder if Currie herself was abandoned by her birth mother.  Currie's grandmother, at residential school, would not have been able to maintain her Cayuga ways of being. She may have lost touch with the Cayuga community. From Currie's website, we know she gave birth to Currie's mother (she is deceased) and two other children. When Currie found that birth aunt, Bev, she began learning about her Cayuga heritage from her, but I wonder what Bev's sources are? Did she reconnect with the Six Nations community? Did she relearn ways of being Cayuga?

I pose that question because of what I've read about the ways that the Haudenosaunee peoples (this includes the nations in the US and Canada) treat the masks. Back in 1991, in their I is not for Indian bibliography, Naomi Caldwell Wood and Lisa Mitten, president and secretary of the American Indian Library Association wrote about Welwyn Wilton Katz's False Face. They said:
"Katz conjures up a ridiculously evil power that is supposed to inhabit the false face mask and alter the personalities of characters who attempt to possess the mask. This personalities of characters who attempt to possess the mask. This goes beyond the wild fantasies of a creative author. False face masks are an integral part of traditional Iroquois religion practised today on the very reserve that Katz describes so well. Her description of the mask as an absolute evil amounts to religious intolerance and goes far in fostering the conception of native, non-Christian religions as savage pagan rituals. A very harmful book."
Currie does that, too. In The Mask That Sang, Cass enters the house that had belonged to her grandmother. When she goes inside she hears "a mischievous purr" (p. 23) that becomes a hum and then a song as she nears the dresser where the mask is. It seems that the song she hears tells her that she won't be lonely anymore.

When she finally opens the drawer and unwraps the mask, she screams. Mr. Gregor, a neighbor they've just met, tells them it is a false face. Cass's mom says it is an ugly face, and Mr. Gregor replies that it is an Iroquois healing mask and that there's a large Aboriginal population in their new neighborhood. He asks if they're Aboriginal and they say no, because at this point in the story, they don't know they're Native. Cass thinks, though, that she somehow feels like she recognizes the mask.

That night at bedtime, Cass opens the drawer and looks the mask in the eye, telling it that she thinks she likes it, but "let's not go too far" (p. 37). The voices in the mask sing to her:
Too late, the voice seemed to sing, filled with satisfaction at their own funny selves, pleased with the mischief they had played while hiding and being found. Now they had a new playmate, and they darted around Cass as if they were strings binding her. But friendly strings, friendlier than what waited tomorrow.
"Tomorrow" is a reference to Cass's first day of school. She's dreading it because at previous schools, she's been bullied. As she drifts off to sleep, the mask's earlier message of her not being alone, is chanting as she falls asleep and into a dream where she and others are trapped in a school "like animals" who are "being groomed for something" and who are not "free creatures anymore, because free meant wild" (p. 40). She wakes, realizing the mask is singing to the children in her dream, comforting them. They were also telling Cass to go to school, and to be brave, chanting and "looping about Cass like an incantation."

As the story continues, the voices speak to her at key moments. They tell her to stick up for Degan Hill, a Cayuga boy she meets at school. She does, and the two become friends. He tells her about his aunt, who is a healer and has dreams. He tells her that dreams, spirits, and healing are part of their traditional ways. She tells him about the mask and he tells her that his aunt says they're tricky, that they move stuff, turn lights on and off, and that the masks can go either good or bad. She takes him to her house to show it to him but it is gone. Her mother has pawned it to get money to buy a computer.

The story, from there, is about recovering the mask. Cass continues to have dreams, and, Cass and Degan use the dreams to find the mask. At one point, Cass is feeling sorry for herself and tells her mother that her life would have been better if Cass had never been born. She feels intense rage, brought on by the mask. It music is now "deadly and dangerous" (p. 120). Her dreams also include the children she saw in the first dream. One night, she sees them, trapped by fire.

The ways that Currie is writing about the masks feels wrong. Turning lights on and off? That sounds more like a poltergeist story, and the use of some words, like incantation, puts the masks--as presented by Currie--into an inappropriate framework of Eurocentric magic and supernatural stories. It reminds me of what I saw in Shadows Cast By Stars. That author, Catherine Knutsson, is similar to Currie in this way: both came to know their Native heritage as adults. Knutsson's book has paranormal qualities to, it, too that feel inappropriate. I saw similar problems with dreams in Tara White's Where I Belong.

I really want to read stories from people like Currie and Knuttson and White, who come to know their heritage, later in life, but for me, they lose their potential and value when they sound just like the stories that White people write. Their stories can inform readers about racist programs and histories, but when those stories enter this magical and mystical thread, they misinform and even denigrate the very people their stories are about. These writers have not moved beyond the inaccuracies that Vowel referenced in Indigenous Writes.

On goodreads, Currie writes that she's working on another book:
I am beginning to work on a new story exploring the residential school experience. At present, it is starting to shape into a bit of a time travel story in which two parallel events are occurring - in one timeline, we follow a young girl in residential school who is fighting to hang onto her culture, and in the other, we follow a young girl in the foster care system who is searching for her missing mother. How these two timelines come together, and how the girls become friends, is tied up in visions and magic and the power of traditions....
Seeing "magic" there points, again, to a framework that I think is Eurocentric. I do think a time travel story that explores these two different periods of time would be one I'd want to read but I hope that Currie picks up a copy of Love Beyond Space, Body, and Time to see how other Native writers write that sort of storyline. That book is exquisite. It isn't for children. Older teens, yes. The full title is Love Beyond Space, Body, and Time: An LGBT and Two-Spirit Anthology. I've not yet reviewed it for AICL, but did a Storify on it a few days ago. In fact, anyone who wants to write Native characters ought to read that book. I highly recommend it.

In sum: I do not recommend Susan Currie's The Mask That Sang.

For further reading, see:

Haudenosaunee Confederacy's policy on false face masks, published in 1995 in Akwesasne Notes. 

Cayuga Museum Receives Replica Wampum Belt for Returning Haudenosaunee Spiritual Objects, published in 2013 at Indian Country Today. 

Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel, published in 2016 by Portage & Main Press.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Re-reading (and again, not recommending) Nancy Bo Flood's SOLDIER SISTER, FLY HOME

Back in January of 2016, I read the ARC of Nancy Bo Flood's Soldier Sister, Fly Home. I did not recommend it. I'm back today, with a review of the electronic copy of the book.

In the prologue, we learn that the protagonist, Teshina, is a 13-year-old "half Navajo" and that she looks White. Her sister, Gaby, who is six years older than she is, looks "like a woman warrior with gorgeous long hair." That information foreshadows a recurring theme in Flood's book, which is indicated by the first part of the book's description:
Thirteen-year-old Tess is having a hard enough time understanding what it means to be part white and part Navajo... 
Later in the story, we learn that Tess's dad is White, a Vietnam vet, and welcome at ceremonies. Flood is White. To tell this story, the publisher's website says that she "draws thoughtfully on her experience living for fifteen years in the Navajo Nation."

As I read and compare the ARC I had in January with the electronic copy I have now, I see that Flood made some changes, maybe some that are based on my review in January. I noted, for example, her use of the word "ceremony" several times to describe the memorial Teshina (Tess) was going to attend for Lori Piestewa. A "ceremony" and a "memorial" are really different, so I'm glad Flood made those changes in the story.

As the story opens, we learn that Tess is upset that her older sister, Gaby, enlisted in the army. Gaby had a future. She wanted to go to med school. Because she was a track star, she was planning on athletic scholarships to cover costs to go to college. But--she got thrown off her horse and broke her ankle. No more running, no more athletic scholarship, no college. She decides to enlist in the army.

The thing is... in real life? Navajo Nation has scholarship monies. She could have applied for them. In the story, though, we're told that she didn't learn to read until junior high school, so maybe her grades aren't very good enough to apply for, say, the Chief Manuelito scholarship. But we also know that she wants to go to med school, which suggests she's doing well in the sciences. A small point, perhaps, to someone who doesn't know about scholarship monies that tribes have set up, but they're important.

In chapter four, Gaby is back home for a visit. When she comes into the house (Tess lives in a modern home; next to it is her grandparents hogan, where they live), Tess notices that she no longer has her gorgeous long black hair. Tess wants to hug her but waits as Gaby greets their grandparents, and then when Gaby hugs their mom, Tess sees her crying (Kindle location 258-259):
It scared me. Mom never cried like that. Tears at Lori’s memorial, but not many. Mom was always so Navajo about not showing much emotion.
A moving scene? Maybe, but I read that bit about Navajo people not showing emotion as the stereotypical stoic Indian. It might sound good to readers who aren't Native, or aren't Navajo, but I ran that line by Navajo friends... Suffice it to say that they had pointed and amused responses to it.

Later, in her room, she waits for Gaby to come upstairs. She remembers times when she'd comb Gaby's hair, that Gaby had said she'd never cut it, and how different it is from her own "boring brown" hair. Gaby tells Tess that she's being deployed to Iraq. Tess is upset and they argue, with Tess asking Gaby if she wants to be a war hero, dead or alive. Gaby shakes her head, saying she doesn't want that, but that (Kindle location 385-386):
“I’m trying to figure it out, Tess, how to be me. Navajo? White? What’s me?"
Because Gaby is being deployed to Iraq, her family decides to have a ceremony for her before she leaves, in two days. In chapter six, the two girls argue again. Tess says (Kindle Locations 553-554):
"Why did you sign up in the first place? Trying to be a war hero? Trying to be Navajo?"
I am Navajo, Tess. Same as you!"
"Wrong! We're mixed bloods, half-breeds. Misfits. Kids at school remind me every day."
I've told you, Tess--ignore them. They'll stop."
"It doesn't work that way for me. You're the gorgeous Navajo princess. I'm the kid who looks like a mixed-up mutt."
The chapter ends with the fight over and Tess promising she'll take care of Gaby's horse. In return, Gaby promises to come home from Iraq, safe.

The title for chapter seven is "protection ceremony" (lower case is the style used throughout the book). Tess's dad is outside chopping and stacking wood in exactly the way the medicine man told him to do it. She remembers other ceremonies, when people would sit cross legged with their backs against the walls of the hogan, facing the medicine man who sat in the center, "the place of honor." Tess tells us a few details of the ceremonies she's been to. I don't recount such things in my reviews because tribal nations generally protect those ceremonies from outsiders. I respect their decisions to keep such things private.

Tess is in the kitchen for awhile but then goes outside with her grandpa who recounts how he felt the night before his brother left for war. He didn't go to his brother's ceremony. He tells her that he was scared, and then says (Kindle Location 626-627):
"I even thought that maybe I wasn't a real Indian. Maybe not a real brother." 
There again, we have an identity question. In this case, it is a Navajo man thinking that his being scared might mean he couldn't be Indian. I guess he thinks he's supposed to be fearless. But that--like the Navajo mom who doesn't show emotion--is another stereotypical depiction.

Tess helps him butcher a lamb for the stews they'll serve at the ceremony but then she does what her grandfather did: she doesn't go to her sister's ceremony. Instead she watches from a high place near the hogan, falls asleep, wakes at dawn, and waits outside the hogan for Gaby to come out. They visit a bit more before Gaby has to leave for Phoenix. The two girls text each other. Tess sends Gaby a poem:
Ten little Indian
grew up.
One became a doctor,
two work in Phoenix,
three went to college,
two got married,
one was a
And the last
little Indian,
a soldier-girl Indian,
ran, ran, ran, all the way,
all the way
Obviously with that poem, Flood has the 13 year old character riffing off of the racist rhyme, Ten Little Indians, but why? Is it an attempt, by Flood, to recast that horrid rhyme? Is it necessary to do that? Is it necessary, for this story?

The school year ends, and Tess is home from her boarding school in Flagstaff. She didn't like being there, where the White students taunted her, calling her names like "Pokeyhontas." She goes into town with Shima (her grandmother), where a little white girl named Rebecca yells out "Look, a real Indian!" and points at Tess's grandmother, who answers Rebecca's question and agrees to have her photo taken. Rebecca is with Megan, one of the girls in Tess's school. After their brief conversation, Tess's grandmother shakes hands with Rebecca and tells her (Kindle Location 868):

“Now we both walk in beauty, in harmony.”

As Tess and her grandmother go inside the trading post, Tess looks at her grandmother and thinks that she is as real as Indians can be, but wonders about herself. The two are there to sell a rug. Her grandmother is well known for her rugs. Does that, Tess wonders, maker her a real Indian?

As her grandmother and Mr. Snow, the owner of the trading post barter, in Navajo, Tess continues to wonder about what makes someone "a real Indian." She didn't go to her sister's ceremony, and she doesn't weave rugs or speak much Navajo. Mr. Snow speaks Navajo, but he's clearly not Navajo. She thinks about her grandfather who was a Code Talker, but he didn't go to his brother's ceremony and that made him wonder about his Native identity, too. Tess watches her grandma and Mr. Snow shake hands (Kindle Location 896):
Mr. Snow extended his hand. They had agreed on a price. Grandma shook it once, gently, the Navajo way, like a real Indian.
There may be protocols for the way that a Navajo woman would shake hands with a White man--or any man--but the use of "real Indian" here is jarring. It suggests there is a way that all Indians shake hands.

Tess and her grandmother leave the trading post. Outside, they talk about the interaction with Rebecca. Her grandma reminds her that pointing is rude "especially if you are a real Indian: and then tells her that (Kindle Location 905):
"When someone looks down on you, listen and learn. Walk with them.”
Though her grandmother is laughing about the encounter, she's also sounding (to me) like the wise old Indian giving advice. Tess is surprised, when next they go to a coffee shop and her grandma orders a latte and then walks to a computer in the coffee shop (Kindle Locations 917-920):
I couldn’t believe what she did next. Sitting in front of the computer, wearing her velvet skirt, satin blouse, turquoise jewelry, and green sneakers, my real Indian shimá sání logged onto the internet as if she’d been doing it all her life. “Got mail,” she announced. If I had been holding a cup of coffee, I’d have dropped it.
I get what Flood is trying to do, but this is kind of awkward. I think she means to make the point that Native people use the Internet. That scene might work if it was Rebecca (the white girl) making that observation, but it doesn't seem right, for Tess. I can imagine a Native kid being surprised at their grandma's technology skills... which makes the scene plausible, but here, it isn't working, for me, and it may be because it is a White writer doing this scene.

Grandma checks her email and has one, from Gaby. It opens with this:
Yá’át’ééh, Greetings, Hello Shimá Sání.
That, too, strikes me as awkward. Native kids who speak their language and send email to their grandparents aren't likely to use a greeting in their own language, followed by, in this case, the word "Greetings" and "Hello." I might use a Tewa greeting followed by its translation in English, if I was talking to a White person, but to another Tewa speaker... that would be silly.

Later in the story, Tess goes with her grandmother to sheep camp. There, on a shelf, is a book of poems by Emily Dickenson. Tess pulls it off the shelf and sees that one page has been marked. Her grandmother asks her to read it aloud. Before she gets to the end, her grandmother joins her and they recite the last stanza together. She tells Tess it is a good poem and that (Kindle Location 1354-1357):
When I was in school, I thought, I am Navajo, I should not read that poem. It was written by a white woman. She could speak of death. We do not. But I read and reread that poem.” Shimá reached for the book. “Do you sometimes feel like that?” 
“Like what?”
“The Navajo and white fight inside you?”
Tess tells her about being called an apple "red on the outside, white in the middle" by the kids on the "Rez" (Flood uses a capital letter for R in rez) and "Indian princess, heap-big squaw" in school. She doesn't feel like she fits in with either group and asks her grandmother if it was like that when she went to school. Her grandmother tells her she was in boarding school. She tells Tess what it was like, and that she left without her diploma. When she got home, her parents saw how angry she was and arranged a Blessingway ceremony for her. The medicine man greeted her in English, which made her angry all over again. The medicine man told her that her Navajo and English fight, but that the ceremony will bring them together, and that both will be able to walk in her, with beauty.

Then, Tessa's grandma talks about Becca, the little girl, and what Becca saw (Kindle Location 1387-1389):
“She did not see me, Tess. She saw a real Indian grandma with real Indian jewelry. She did not see this woman who loves her sheep, her stubborn goats, and a strong hot latte, who reads Emily Dickinson and sends letters to Iraq on the internet. Becca’s eyes did not see these things.”
That passage gives me pause, because in a way, it feels to me like Flood herself is Becca. Becca is the white gaze. She is so interested in real Indians. Flood--through her character--is so invested in figuring out what a real Indian is. I'll be thinking about how this passage offers some parallel to what Flood is trying to do with her writing of Navajo stories.

A few days later, Tess's grandma gives her some moccasins for an upcoming ceremony. The description feels off to me ("white doeskin with suede bottoms"). Several times, Tess dreams about Yé’ii, and as noted earlier, several times she talks about ceremony.

All of this makes me uneasy, as does the many times when Tess, her sister, or her grandmother talk about how it isn't very Navajo to talk about death--and then do it anyway. It seems to me that in this story about a young girl wrestling with her half Navajo/half White identity, Flood is giving the world characters who flaunt Navajo teachings.

The last line in the story is "All has become beauty again." For Tess, I suppose that is so, but using that 'beauty' reference to Navajo teachings bothers me. Those five words capture so much of what I find wrong with the book. Laden with ceremony and stereotypes.... it doesn't work, for me.

In the Acknowledgements, Flood writes that Navajo elders and educators have reviewed the manuscript to ensure that her portrayals of culture and language are authentic, accurate, and sensitive. She goes on to say "Any inaccuracies are my own." I don't know what to make of that. If those elders found it to be authentic, accurate, and sensitive, why does she need the "any inaccuracies are my own" at all? She goes on to say that she lived and taught on the Navajo Nation for 15 years and that the story was inspired by her incredible Navajo students. She talks about all the things she did for them. I think she tells us all this so that we think she is a good person, helping Navajo youth. She doesn't have to do that. I believe we can all assume that she means well. Putting all that, and her desire to honor Lori Piestewa in the Acknowledgements isn't necessary.

Today (September 1, 2016) I learned that Flood received a $2,000 award from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for this book. That is disappointing. In the Acknowledgements, she writes that the award is the Work-in-Progress multicultural one, which makes me all the more disappointed.

I think of all the Native writers who SCBWI ought to be helping and wish one of them had been the recipient of this award. Writing about identity is hard. I don't think Flood pulled it off. I'd much prefer to read something by a Navajo writer, wouldn't you?

To sum up: I do not recommend Nancy Bo Flood's Soldier Sister, Fly Home, published by Charlesbridge in 2016.

Use of "Columbus discovered America" leads to book being recalled

Those who follow developments specific to depictions of Native and People of Color in children's and young adult literature know that A Birthday Cake for George Washington and When We Was Fierce were recalled days after or before their release dates.

Another book is being recalled, days before its release. In this case, the book is Sky Blue Water. The error in it will be revised. The existing 4000 books are being recalled by the publisher.

On August 28th, author Shannon Gibney, posted a photo of the page in the forthcoming Sky Blue Water that said "Christopher Columbus discovered America" on her Facebook page. She has a story in the book, which is comprised of several short stories for children in grades 4-7.

Gibney wrote to the editors about that line and a few days later, the University of Minnesota Press (it is the publisher) decided to recall the book. It is not going away forever--which is good to know--because it has some terrific writers in it, including Marcie Rendon. She's an enrolled member of the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation. Marcie's story is "Worry and Wonder." It is about a child whose placement is being deliberated under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

That "Columbus discovered America" line is in the Foreword, written by Kevin Kling. Here's the paragraph (Kindle Locations 119-122):
From the Boundary Waters you can canoe all the way to Hudson Bay. Some believe that the Vikings navigated from the Atlantic Ocean to Minnesota more than a hundred years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. It’s possible we paddled the same waters, fought the same currents.
That sentence is jarring. And yet, there it is.... uttered by Kling, and okayed by the editors... I think Kling and the editors are probably aghast with that line. How, they're probably wondering did it get there? Kling is probably wondering why he put those words in that foreword, and, the editors are wondering why they didn't notice them and ask him to revisit them.* Obviously, that line is so much a part of the American psyche that it gets said, written, and then, not heard and not seen by millions of people as a problem. An error.

I'm glad that the press is recalling the book so they can correct that error.  Here's a passage from the The Star Tribune's article:
"In addition to the recall and reprint, we are going to examine how this error got by the editorial safeguards we have in place to prevent such inaccuracies from making their way into our published books," Hamilton said.

Hamilton is the assistant director of marketing.

University of Minnesota Press publishes some excellent books that I recommend to writers, editors, and book reviewers. Kim TallBear's Native American DNA and Jean O'Brian's First and Lasting are two examples. Books like this can help people learn things that aren't taught in schools--be that elementary school or a college classroom.

Thanks, Shannon Gibney, for speaking up about that line. I think it is another example of the ways that social media can be used to effect change.

I wonder what the revised Foreword will be? Will that line simply be cut? Or, will the editors use its appearance as an opportunity to tell readers about their collective blindness to the line in the first place?

High profile writers have stories in the collection. Will they, in their speaking engagements, talk about that error? I hope so! Only by having a lot of discussion of the problem will we get to a place where errors like that won't happen again.

Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan, was scheduled for release on September 15th.

*At 5:28 PM on Sept 1, 2016, Ms. Hamilton wrote to tell me the following:
The phrase "discovered the Americas" was introduced in editing and not written by Kevin Kling. It was introduced by an editor and was missed in review by the U of MN Press.
Kevin’s original sentence was: "It is believed that the Vikings navigated from the Atlantic to Minnesota over a hundred years before Columbus.” 
It was changed to: "Some believe that the Vikings navigated from the Atlantic Ocean to Minnesota more than a hundred years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.”
She said they deeply regret that phrase, because it is inaccurate and out of step with the book. They are taking immediate steps to correct it. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Want to support Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa (Defenders of the Sacred Water School)?

On Monday, August 29, 2016, I wrote about the Standing Rock Sioux and the actions they are taking to protect water. Thousands of Native people are gathering there, standing with them. Over one hundred other Native Nations and organizations have issued letters of support of Standing Rock.

Although most of what you see in the news is adults, there are children there, too. On Monday, people at the camp opened a school for the children. They named it Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa, which means Defenders of the Sacred Water School.

Among the Facebook pages that you should read to keep up with the school is that of Alayna Lee Eagle Shield. Below are links to her public posts.

She is posting many photos, but please do not repost her photos without permission. Because her posts are public, I believe you can share them on your own pages, but please ask permission to use the photos.

  • August 28, 2016: A photo of the daily schedule

  • August 29, 2016: A series of photos of the kids at the school, taken on Monday August 28. Note that it includes a list of supplies they need, but they've since received some of that and are working on a new list.

  • August 30, 2016 at 8:56 PM: More photos, and, an overview of Tuesday's activities that demonstrate this is an Indigenous gathering of people. Maori people are there, too. The children of the school were able to welcome the totem pole that arrived there yesterday from the Lummi Nation. 

This morning I had email with Joseph Marshall III, author of the outstanding In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. He has been at the camp and will return there. He's taking copies of his book to the school and will ask about sending other books. For now, here's an option: The Standing Rock Sioux tribe's website has a link to donate to their work if you want to do that.

And if you're on Facebook, you can get updates on the Standing Rock Nation's page. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

If You Care about American Indians... Keep abreast of Native news.

Dear Parents, Teachers, and Librarians,

If you care about American Indians, you're likely aware of what is going on in North Dakota. You may have read David Archambault's opinion piece in the New York Times on August 24th. He's the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He began with this:
It is a spectacular sight: thousands of Indians camped on the banks of the Cannonball River, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Our elders of the Seven Council Fires, as the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation, is known, sit in deliberation and prayer, awaiting a federal court decision on whether construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline from the Bakken region to Southern Illinois will be halted.
The decision to say 'no' to the Dakota Access Pipeline is one that matters for Native people and for anyone whose health will be at risk when that proposed pipeline leaks. As the people who are gathering there and elsewhere are saying, this is about water. We all need it. The people of Standing Rock are taking action to protect their rights, and everyone's water. With each day, I see resolutions from tribal councils who declare that they stand with Standing Rock. I'm also starting to see resolutions from entities that aren't Native.

You may have friends, or your children may have friends, who aren't where you are in terms of knowing that we're part of today's society. Far too many people think we no longer exist, and far too many think that if we wear jeans and drive cars, then, we aren't "real" Indians. They don't know what "real" Indians are!

American citizens don't dress like George or Martha Washington, but that doesn't mean we aren't "real" Americans. Somehow, there's this idea out there that if we don't live and dress exactly like our ancestors did, we can't possibly be "real" Indians. That's bogus. There's also this idea out there that Native people have high cheekbones. Or glossy black hair. Dark eyes. That's not accurate, either!

I hope you'll follow the news and tell others to follow it, too, but I also want you to make sure that the books you give to your children and students are ones that don't frame us in narrow, stereotypical ways. Check out, for example, this response from elders and leaders,  to a story at the New York Times that was clearly biased.

If you want to get your child or students a book that accurately depicts someone of the Great Sioux Nation, pick up Joseph Marshall's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. The main character in the story is a blue-eyed Lakota boy, on a road trip with his grandfather. It's a winner. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Not recommended: Michaela MacColl's THE LOST ONES

Update, September 4, 2016: Oscar Rodriguez of the Tribal Council of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas submitted a comment that I am pasting here for your convenience:

Official Statement by the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas:
We are aware of Michaela MacColl's imminent book and want to express our grave concern that, with this story, MacColl is violating our traditional ways by speaking of those who have passed on. She writes about two Lipan children in her book who were real and suffered terribly. Re-creating them and re-writing their story as she has is deeply hurtful to us. Indeed, the magnitude and scope of her violations are such that we will not go into detail about them. Suffice it to say that we hope that our children are never exposed in any way to MacColl's book. It is our wish that this book never see the light of day. We understand it is scheduled for release on October 4, 2016. In the strongest terms possible, we respectfully ask the author and publisher not to go forward with it.


AICL's Review, published on Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Right now, in my social media networks, private and public conversations are taking place. People are--to put it mildly--objecting to what Michaela MacColl has written in The Lost Ones. It purports to be a story about two Native children who ended up at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and is told from the perspective of the girl, Casita.

MacColl's book is due out in October of 2016 from Calkins Creek, which is an imprint of Highlights. It is in their "Hidden Histories" series, which begs a question. Who is this history "hidden" from? The Lost Ones is being marketed as one in which MacColl (she isn't Native) and her publisher, are doing A Good Thing. They are Saving Native People and our history from being hidden.

I wonder, though, is MacColl the right person to write and tell this story? The two children in the book were real children. Does MacColl have what she needs to tell this very delicate story, with the integrity the children deserve?

My short answer is no. The promotional language for the book echoes what I found in the story, too. With The Lost Ones, we have a story about Good White People Doing Good Things for Native Kids. Yuck.

The Author's Note

People may argue that MacColl did her homework. In the Author's Note, she says that she reached out to "Richard Gonzales, Vice Chairman of the Lipan Band of Texas." He met with her and in that meeting, suggested she talk with Daniel Romero, who is "Chairman of the Lipan Band of Texas."

Sounds legit, right? Here's the thing, reviewers and editors, and writers, too! It can be very hard to determine if your sources are ok.

I wonder if MacColl knows, for example, that this "Lipan Band of Texas" is not recognized by the federal government, or the State of Texas, either. The one recognized by the State of Texas is the Lipan Tribe of Texas. See the difference? The first says "Band" and the second says "Tribe." Does that matter? I think so. I may return to that later. (Please scroll down to the update on August 25th.)

For now, let's read more in the Author's Note.

In the first paragraph in the section titled "Lipan Apache or Ndé," MacColl writes that she uses Ndé in the story rather than Apache, because Ndé is what Casita would have used. That's right, but as I read the story, I saw one instance after another in which MacColl's outsider status was glaring. Using Ndé instead of Apache is an easy "fix" in a manuscript. All one needs to do is use those nifty word processing features that let you replace one word with another, in one fell swoop. I don't think MacColl did that, but when I read Casita thinking of Changing Woman as a goddess, I can't help but see MacColl's use of Ndé as superficial. Here's why.

MacColl uses an outsider word ("occupied") when she says, on page 236, that "Lipan Apache occupied southeastern Texas and northern Mexico." How does a people (in this case, Apaches) "occupy" their own homeland?

In the next paragraph, she writes that the Lipans conducted raids and often killed Texas settlers. She tells us that they "caused an estimated $48,000,000 worth of property damage (measured in today's dollars)" over a ten year period (p. 237). Most people reading this paragraph will be taken aback by that $48,000,000 of property damage. Sympathies will be with the White settlers. Where, I wonder, is her estimate of what the Lipans lost?

MacColl tells us that she's veered from the historical record as follows:

  • Casita and her little brother, Jack, were taken captive in 1877, but there's no record of it, so she uses details from an 1873 event in which the 4th Calvary went into Mexico, destroyed several villages, and took 40 captives.
  • Casita and Jack were taken in by "a military man and his wife, Lt. Charles and Mollie Smith" (p. 239) who traveled from base to base during the three years they had Casita and Jack with them, but for the story she chose to tell, MacColl kept the Smith's (and Casita and Jack) at Fort Clark. 
  • Because so little is known about Mollie Smith, MacColl created her as a Quaker interested in social justice, and writes that in her story "Mollie takes in two Indian children, despite the disapproval of her military husband, to prove the Quaker theory that the Indians can be tamed with kindness" (p. 239).

Quite honestly--I blanched when I read "tamed with kindness." This is in the Author's Note, where MacColl could discredit the "tamed with kindness" theory (I haven't looked it up), but she didn't. She lets it stand. The back cover tells us the book will be promoted at educational and library conferences, which means they plan to pitch it as something teachers can use to teach kids about these two children. As written, the note suggests that Native peoples needed to be tamed.

One could argue that the story itself is more important than the dates of when the children were captured, but would we make that argument about, say, a fictional work about Abraham Lincoln? I think not. And though the Author's Note tells us what MacColl did in writing the story, the language throughout the Note and the story itself, are ones that affirm and confirm a White perspective on Native peoples. In the note, MacColl wonders if Casita ever got to "perform" her "Changing Woman dance." Her use of "perform" is wrong. Our rituals are not performances. We wouldn't say that a girl performed her First Holy Communion, right? It is the same thing.

The Story

I finished reading The Lost Ones last night. As I read, I stuck tabs on pages. My copy has a lot of tags in it, see? I ran out of tabs, or you'd see more. (The different colored tabs mean nothing.)

Some of the tabs point to the places where the text reads "Changing Woman Goddess" or "the Goddess." One of them points to a part where Casita thinks "It seemed impossible that any ritual could really give someone as ordinary as herself magical powers" (p. 21). Because she is captured, Casita doesn't go through the ceremony. It is a recurring plot point in the story and is where the story ends, too, when Casita is at Carlisle. In the final chapter, a Lakota girl named Eyota is sick. The Lipan kids decide they can replicate the Changing Woman ceremony so that Casita can heal Eyota. The ceremony is described, in detail. That, I assume, is why the promotional material characterizes the story as one in which Casita tries to hold on to her Lipan Apache traditions. But there are problems with all of this! Neither "goddess" or "magical power" are appropriate! Remember in the author note, MacColl wrote about using Ndé because that is what Casita would use? I seriously doubt that Casita or her mother would use "goddess" or "magical power" and I strongly believe that the Lipan Apache people, today, would not be okay with the description of the ceremony. See, for example, a proclamation issued by the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas that speaks specifically to ceremonies being done by the Lipan Apache Band.

On page 27 when Casita's village is being attacked and she sees her mom standing defiantly with an axe, Casita "hollered a war cry" and "felt a thrill of pride; this was what it was to be Ndé!" MacColl, thru Casita, tells readers that fighting is what being Ndé is about?! That is definitely an outsider characterization!

On page 38, Casita "asked Usen, the chief of all the spirits, to bless this place" (the burnt village and bodies of her mother and others who were killed in the attack). I've never seen "chief of all spirits" used by Native people...

I could say a lot more about the book, but will stop. It is deeply flawed.

The book includes a two-page Afterword from Daniel Castro Romero. I wonder if he read the entire manuscript? Is he ok with the story that MacColl created? Did he think it okay, for example, for her to create Ndé women who use the word "goddess"? I hope not. But, as noted above, he's the Chairman of the Lipan Band, which is doing the ceremonies that the Lipan Tribe's proclamation is about. I think that MacColl was on a slippery slope from the very start. She wanted to do something good but there was far too much potential for this story to fail. And, for me, it did.

Update: August 25th, 2016 

Above I noted that I might come back to the paragraph where I referenced federal and state recognition.

Regular readers of my work know that I recommend that teachers look for a tribal nation's website when they are introducing a book by a Native writer to students. This creates the opportunity for the teacher to show students the website (if they've got the classroom resources to do so), making the point, visually, that we are part of today's society.

Regular readers also know that I recommend that writers, editors, and reviewers look at a tribal nation's website, too, as a primary resource to help them shape/review a book. That is what I did with my review. As noted, I found the Lipan Tribe and the Lipan Band, that neither are federally recognized, and that one is state recognized.

Some Native people and some tribal nations reject federal and/or state recognition as being definitive. This manifests in various ways. One example is the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and its citizens use of Haudenosaunee passports for international travel. For some time they were able to use them without any problems, but after 9/11, the United States and other nations changed their policies, and those changes meant that the Haudenosaunee's lacrosse team was not able to use their passports to travel to England for international championship games. See Passports Rejected at Indian Country Today and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy's page on Documentation.

That said, it is also important that people know that tribal politics within any of our nations can be just as ugly as what we see in US politics. People who follow identity and enrollment/disenrollment news know that determinations of a nations citizenship are also very ugly.

As I continue to read about the Lipan Tribe and the Lipan Band, I am finding and learning a lot. I read, for example, that one of the Tribe's tribal members won a court case about eagle feathers. That was a surprise to me, because my understanding is that federal laws state that only members of federally recognized tribes could have eagle feathers. I'll be doing more reading and research on that case in the coming weeks, and I plan to study the Anthropological Report on the Cuelcahen Nde: Lipan Apache of Texas, too.

In short, there's a lot to know about the many dimensions of what it means to be a Native person in a Native Nation in the United States. It is very political, and very complicated.

I think one thing, though, that is similar across all of our nations is that we protect our lands and resources. If you care about Native peoples, you ought to be following the current news about the Dakota Access Pipeline. You can start with Taking a Stand at Standing Rock, by David Archambault II, who is the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Another thing similar across all our nations is that we protect our ceremonies from exploitation and misrepresentation. And, we want to protect our children from misrepresentations of our ways of being. On its website, for example, the Lipan Apache Band writes:
Much of our culture, such as songs and traditions, are still protected today and we do not share them publicly.
In his comment below, Richard Gonzales of the Lipan Apache Band said that "there are errors in ceremony and words" in MacColl's book but that he thinks it important to bring visibility to Casita and Jack. I absolutely agree with him on the need for visibility. People must grow in their knowledge of who we are today, and things our peoples experienced, historically.

But I disagree with Mr. Gonzales that MacColl's book is a "good start."

MacColl's way of telling the story of the two children fits smack dab in the frame of how hundreds of non-Native writers have written about Native peoples. What they've written has become what publishers expect books about Native peoples to look like. The end result of that expectation is that Native writers who submit manuscripts to publishers get rejected again and again because they don't have ceremonies in their manuscripts! The fact is, Native writers are protecting their ceremonies by NOT writing about them. Meanwhile, non-Native writers churn out books that include those ceremonies--or their imaginings of them.

Based on the statement on their website, I have no doubt that if Mr. Gonzales had written this book, he would not have used "goddess" and he would not have included that ceremony, either. As it is, though, MacColl's book has the veneer of endorsement by him and by Mr. Romero. I hope that they withdraw that endorsement.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Debbie--have you seen THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS: YOUNG READERS EDITION by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin?

A reader wrote yesterday to ask if I've seen that The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin is being released in February of 2017, as a Young Readers edition.

The book became a best seller for Simon & Schuster. There's a critical review of it at Indian Country Today that I urge you to read. I wonder if Kate Waters (she's doing the young readers edition) or her editor at Simon and Schuster read that review?

The review's title captures the problems with the book: The Heart of Everything That Isn't: the Untold Story of Anti-Indianism in Drury and Clavin's Book on Red Cloud and links to a review by Tim Tiago, too.

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Spirit Animal" will not appear in future printings of Julie Murphy's DUMPLIN'

Last year, people were very excited about Julie Murphy's Dumplin. It is one of the books that, by word of mouth, I figured I would want to read sometime. Here's the synopsis:

Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . .  until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.  
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Last week, Jeanne, who I follow on Twitter, wrote that she was reading the book and had gotten to the page with "spirit animal" on it. The line is "Oh my God," says El. "I think you might be my spirit animal." It is at the bottom of page 361:

Some twitter conversations began. Today, Julie Murphy says, at her Tumblr page, that she's talked with her editor and the phrase will not be in future printings of the book. I wrote about "spirit animal" in 2014 when I saw it on Buzzfeed--and in Neal Shusterman's Unwind series. Murphy's use is one that is easy enough to revise. Same was true with taking "totem pole" out of Out of Darkness. But Shusterman... he'd have to do a lot of rewriting... Plus, that series is loaded with problems.

Thanks, Julie Murphy and Alessandra Balzer (she's Murphy's editor), for hearing and responding to the concerns. Julie has, with her Tumblr post, been very public about the change. I trust that Alessandra Balzer will carry this understanding with her to future projects and that she, too, will initiative conversations about appropriation with her editor peers. I wonder, for example, if she knows who edited One Little Two Little Three Little Children... 

Julie Murphy's decision is another model for those who have learned that something in their book(s) is problematic. Change is possible, as Julie Murphy learned.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A few words about Louise Erdrich's MAKOONS

Louise Erdrich's Makoons came out a few days ago. On August 13th, I took a look at Amazon, and saw that it was their #1 New Release in their Children's Native American Books category.

Erdrich is Ojibwe. The characters in her story are, too, which makes Makoons and the other books in the Birchbark House series an #ownvoices book (the #ownvoices hashtag was created by Corinne Dyuvis).

I love the series. I read the first one, Birchbark House, when it came out in 1999.

Birchbark House began in 1866 when we met Omakayas, a baby girl whose "first step was a hop" (page 5 of Birchbark House). Omakayas is an Ojibwe word that means Little Frog. Makoons is the 5th book in the Birckbark House series. In the 4th one, Chickadee, we met Omakayas as an adult with twin sons, Chickadee, and Makoons. I've got Makoons open and started reading it, but after reading the prologue, I'm pausing to remember the other books and characters.  The books and the characters in them live in my head and heart for many reasons.

When my daughter was in third grade, her reading group started out with Caddie Woodlawn but abandoned it because of its problematic depictions of Native people. The book they read instead? Birchbark House. One of their favorite scenes from the book is when Omakayas has gone to visit Old Tallow to get a pair of scissors and has her encounter with a mama bear and her bear cubs. Indeed, they wrote a script and performed that chapter for their class (and of course, parents!). My daughter played the part of Omakayas. The prop she made for their performance is the scissors in their red beaded pouch. I've got them stored away for safekeeping. They represent my little girl speaking up about problematic depictions.


Chickadee is captured in Chickadee. The story of his capture and his return is what Chickadee is about. Makoons was devastated by that capture. The worry over his brother makes him sick. That sickness is where Makoons opens. In the prologue, Makoons is recovering as he listens to Chickadee sing to him. They spend hours together. Makoons remembers, and tells Chickadee about, a vision he had while sick. Their family will not return to their homeland. They're going to be strong and learn to live on the Plains but they will, Makoons tells Chickadee tearfully, be tested. The two boys are going to have to save their family... but won't be able to save them all.

A gripping and heartbreaking moment, for me, as I start reading Makoons

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ashley Hope Perez's OUT OF DARKNESS

Note: There are a great many people who think Ashley Hope Perez is Latinx, but she is not. I thought she was but have since learned she isn't, and want to be clear about that for AICL's readers. 

Last year, Ashley Hope Perez's Out of Darkness got a lot of buzz in my networks (note: the author is not Latinx). Here's the synopsis:
"This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?" 
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
I got a copy and started reading. Then, I got to page 98 and paused at "I'm a low man on the totem pole." Prior to that reading, I'd had very limited--but positive--interactions with Ashley. So, I wrote to her about that line. Was it possible, I wondered, to take out or revise that one line in the next printing? Ashley wrote back, saying that she'd try.

Well... Ashley talked with her editor, and when the next printing was done, the line was changed. Ashley created a photo showing the change and shared it on social media, and she referenced our conversation. With her permission, I'm sharing her photo here:

I was--and am--gripped by, and deeply moved by the story she tells in Out of Darkness. It got starred reviews and went on to win awards. With that change ("Nah, I'm a low man on the totem pole" was replaced with "Nah, no such luck.", I can enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend it--with the caveat that it is not a book by a Latinx writer.

Here's my heartfelt thank you to Ashley for hearing my concern. For not being defensive. For not saying "but..." or any of the things people say instead of "ok." And of course, a shout out to her editor, Andrew Karre, and her publisher, Carolrhoda, for making the change.

Out of Darkness doesn't have any Native content. I'm recommending it because it is an excellent story, and because it is an example of what is possible when people speak up and others hear what they say.

Is Out of Darkness in your library yet? If not, order it today.

Please see Sarah McCarrey's post, On Totems, because she, too, listened and responded in a good way.

Debbie--have you seen MacMillan & Kirker's MULTICULTURAL STORYTIME MAGIC?

A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker's Multicultural Storytime Magic. Published in 2012 by ALA Editions, here's the description:
Storytime audiences grow ever more diverse, and it s important that the materials used in programs reflect that richness of experience. Multiculturalism need not be an occasional initiative attached to particular holidays. In this book best-selling authors MacMillan and Kirker offer a new paradigm for multicultural programs, one in which diversity is woven into any and every storytime, no matter what the topic. Arranged thematically around dozens of popular storytime themes, the authors
  • Present original and traditional resources from all over the world that will enrich storytimes for ages 2 through 5
  • Offer concrete book recommendations, fingerplays, and other activities that can be integrated into existing storytimes
  • Include download links for flannelboard and stick puppet patterns, and illustrations of American Sign Language signs
With numerous activities and programming suggestions, this book will seamlessly integrate and enhance cultural awareness for children all year round.

On ALA Edition's website, they've provided some of the worksheets for activities in the book. Here's a screen capture of the top half of one page for the "House for Me" guessing game:

Here's another:

This is not ok! I am guessing that the editor at ALA Editions who worked on MacMillan and Kirker's book, and MacMillan and Kirker, too, assumed that using an award winning book--Mary Ann Hoberman's A House Is a House for Me--seemed a good choice, but it isn't.  It wasn't ok in 1978 when Hoberman's book came out, and it sure as heck isn't ok for it to be in a resource book published by ALA Editions in 2012, either.

A House is A House for Me is set in the present day. It shows children in a tree house (which is generally considered something for children to play in), or a cardboard box (which is also considered something for children to play in), beneath a beach umbrella or a table, or in a snow house made on a snowy day. There's a castle for a duchess and one for a king, too. All the other "houses" are for insects, animals, or other items ("a sandwich is a home for some ham").

As the worksheet suggests, there's one other category of houses:

If you haven't been reading articles about the ways that Native Americans are depicted in children's books, that page might seem fine to you. It isn't. For decades, people have written about the problems in using igloo's and tipi's to represent Native peoples. They are real things and are in use by some people today but Hoberman's book moves the time frame to present day. Certainly some Plains Indians use their tipi's today as a home, but most live in houses and use their tipi's for gatherings. Not all Eskimo's today or ever, lived in igloo's. Their use is specific to a geographical location and, in many cases, purpose.

"A pueblo's a house for a Hopi." That is a bit clunky. I have a traditional adobe home. It is not attached to others in the village like the one in Hoberman's book, but some pueblo people live in those villages in some of the pueblos. That sentence could be improved if she wrote "A pueblo's a house for Hopis." Plural. As is, it tells us that the entire village houses one Hopi.

The wigwam for a Mohee? That's not ok. Who are the Mohee? I don't know. Do you? I can find "Mohee" in several sources about a folksong, My Little Mohee. I also find a bit of info about it in a book titled The Lasting of the Mohicans. But really: there is no tribal nation that I know of that is called the Mohee.

Another way to think about this page is the one put forth by Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw in Lessons From Turtle Island (which I highly recommend, by the way). They wrote:
Non-Native children often believe that all American Indian people live in tipis. There is a reason for this erroneous idea. Books, cartoons, and movies typically show all Native people living in the past, most often in the tipi, the traditional abode for the plains Nations. For example, What Can You Do With a Pocket? (Merriam 1964) shows generic Indians in front of tipis. Some teachers try to counter this by studying the historic abodes of various Native Nations. Few teachers or books, however, show the homes of Native peoples today. Books such as A House Is a House for Me (Hoberman 1978), still being sold in bookstores as of this writing, continue to lock Native peoples in houses of the past (p. 13):
An igloo's a house for an Eskimo.
A tepee's a house for a Cree.
A pueblo's a house for a Hopi.
And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.
This stanza is clearly an attempt on the author's part to reflect the diversity of Native Nations, and perhaps to counter the prevalent image that all Native peoples traditional lived in tipis. However, the attempt is flawed because the author portrays Native peoples in the past and not in the present. A House Is a House for Me is a clear example of how a well-meant effort to diversity curriculum can go badly astray if all the factors are not considered.
A third way to think about that page is this: why is there only a page about Native homes? Where's the pages about the kinds of houses that other peoples lived in? I hasten to add that I'm not advocating for those pages, because they'll just do what the one on Native houses does: tell children that a particular group lives in a house that is unlike the ones that children see as the norm. In other words, adding those pages would make other groups exotic, too, and cast them into time frame that may not reflect the houses they live in today.

Last, most of the structures the kids are shown in are places of play, of imagination. It is a bit jarring to think of the Native homes in that framework.

I have no doubt that everyone involved in the making of A House Is a House for Me and Multicultural Storytime Magic had good intentions, but it gets tiring to talk about good intentions, again and again.

When "good intentions" is our default, we're doing a disservice to the children who are on the receiving end of those good intentions, and we are likely contributing to the likelihood that we'll see other books that do the same thing. We saw that very thing, in fact, last year, in Home by Carson Ellis. See what Sam Bloom at Reading While White said about Home and see what I said, too.

We can do better, right?

Friday, August 05, 2016

When We Was Fierce + A Birthday Cake for George Washington + A Fine Dessert...

It has been a landmark year in children's literature. I don't mean the calendar year of 2016. I mean the year marked by August 4th, 2015 and August 4th, 2016, where depictions of African Americans in two picture books and one young adult novel were the subject of conversations that prompted responses from their creators, editors, or publishers.

This timeline is just the key moments. Elsewhere I've curated links to discussions of A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Edith Campbell has links to discussions of When We Was Fierce

August 4th, 2015
Elisa Gall, librarian, posted her concerns about problems in A Fine Dessert. 

November 1st, 2015
Emily Jenkins, the author of A Fine Dessert issued an apology (scroll down; her apology is the 9th comment, submitted on Nov 1 at 9:48 AM).

January 4, 2016
Vicky Smith, editor at Kirkus, pointed to the forthcoming A Birthday Cake for George Washington.

January 17, 2016
Scholastic, publisher of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, announced they were stopping the distribution of the book and that people could get a refund for it if they'd already purchased it.

July 21, 2016
KT Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, gave a lecture in School Library Journal's summer course designed to increase their reviewers skills in recognizing problematic depictions. In it she spoke at length about When We Was Fierce.

August 4th, 2016
Kelly, an editor at Book Riot, tweeted that she'd received an email from Candlewick (publisher of When We Was Fierce) indicating that the book, scheduled for release on August 9th, was being postponed.

I attribute this year to the power of social media. With its many platforms for reaching a wider audience than was possible before, more people are reading, listening--or rather, hearing--and responding. I hope this marks lasting change. We've been here before, many times. In the 1960s, for example, the people at the Council on Interracial Books for Children, pushed publishers very hard. What we've seen in this past year, however, is unprecedented, and I believe it speaks to the power of speaking back to misrepresentations.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Debbie--have you seen THE DRAGON HAMMER by Tony Daniel?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Tony Daniel's The Dragon Hammer. Here's excerpts from the review from Publisher's Weekly. In the excerpt I've highlighted a passage...
Beast-men, bitter feuds, and battles are just some of the elements in this epic coming-of-age fantasy, set in an alternate North America populated by Viking-like settlements, Romans who practice blood magic, and mythical creatures. 
First in the Wulf Saga, the story is a kitchen sink of fantasy tropes, with elves and gnomes existing alongside animal-human hybrids (who replace a native population in a regrettable worldbuilding decision), and a vaguely explained mythology involving stars and dragons.
Reviews indicate the story is set in the Shenandoah Valley. Shenandoah is a Native word. I assume the author needed some words in order to make this story identifiable as one in "an alternative North America." 

I wonder if Daniel or his editor saw the Publisher's Weekly review? I'm glad their reviewer questioned that worldbuilding! I'm questioning it, too!

The Dragon Hammer was released on July 5, 2016, by Baen, which is part of Simon and Schuster. Here's the synopsis:
Evil from the dawn of time is on the verge of domination—but Wulf von Dunstig figured none of that mattered to him. What could he do about it? After all, he was basically nobody—the sixteen-year-old third son of a duke destined for an uneventful life as a ranger. But when destiny comes calling, it turns out there is only Wulf to answer. After a devastating invasion of his native land, Wulf must rally the peaceful valley of Shenandoah. He must free his family and his land from the grip of intruders controlled by vampiric evil.
Wulf's "native land" is being invaded? I agree with Publisher's Weekly. This story sounds regrettable. 

Update, 5:35 AM, August 5th, 2016: As usual with the "Debbie--have you seen" posts, I'll be back with a review when I get a copy of the book.