Thursday, November 03, 2016

Debbie--have you seen CONTINENT by Kiera Drake?

I received a question about The Continent by Kiera Drake. Due out in January from Harlequin Teen, here's the synopsis from Amazon:
"Have we really come so far, when a tour of the Continent is so desirable a thing? We've traded our swords for treaties, our daggers for promises—but our thirst for violence has never been quelled. And that's the crux of it: it can't be quelled. It's human nature." 
For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two "uncivilized" nations remain perpetually locked in combat. Most citizens lucky enough to tour the Continent do so to observe the spectacle and violence of war, a thing long banished in the Spire. For Vaela—a talented apprentice cartographer—the journey is a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she's drawn of this vast, frozen land. 
But Vaela's dream all too quickly turns to a nightmare as the journey brings her face-to-face with the brutal reality of a war she's only read about. Observing from the safety of a heli-plane, Vaela is forever changed by the bloody battle waging far beneath her. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, Vaela finds herself much closer to danger than she'd ever imagined. Starving, alone and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? People who live in "the Spire" covet the opportunity to watch people on "the Continent" engage in bloody violence. Those two "uncivilized nations" on "the Continent" can't help it. It is their nature.

There's a lot of people tweeting about it. From what I glean, one of the "uncivilized nations" is described in ways that suggest it is Asian and that the other one is Native. If I get the book, I'll be back.

Updating on Nov 7, 2016 to add the Storify I did on the response to criticism of Drake's book:

A Native Perspective on Response to Kiera Drake's THE CONTINENT

  1. I started to see conversations about Kiera Drake's The Continent on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. The next day, I started a thread about what I was seeing.
  2. My remarks, as the title for this Storify indicate, are from a Native perspective. For those who don't know who I am, I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. I'm a former schoolteacher and assistant professor in American Indian Studies. I've got a PhD in Education, and a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science. I have research and professional articles in a wide range of books, journals, and magazines. I bring all that to bear on the analyses I do of children's and young adult literature.
  3. If you follow YA twitter, you likely know that people are talking about Kiera Drake's THE CONTINENT. Some use the hashtag #TheContinent.
  4. By then, I'd gotten some questions about it from readers of my site. Based on those questions, I did one of the "Debbie--have you seen" posts about it:
  5. The ways Drake depicts Native and characters of color is why people are talking about her book. My copy of #TheContinent is in the mail.
  6. Based on what I've seen in screen caps and excerpts, I am likely to agree that the book is a wreck.
  7. What I saw, specifically, were Justina Ireland's photographs of passages in her ARC (advanced reader copy) of the book.
  8. ...I mean, this isn't a great leap of logic here...
    ...I mean, this isn't a great leap of logic here...
  9. Justina's "great leap of logic" was about Drake using "Topi" as the name of the Indigenous nation. Change that letter T to an H an you've got Hopi. The Hopi Tribe is a federally recognized sovereign nation in Arizona.
  10. Feeling preeeety lucky the one black dude was the groundskeeper right about now.
    Feeling preeeety lucky the one black dude was the groundskeeper right about now.
  11. Justina's critique drew a lot of attention, with a lot of people condemning The Continent based on her critique. There were, of course, a lot of responses from people who said those who hadn't read The Continent, or, who hadn't finished reading it, shouldn't say anything at all about it.
  12. That response reminded me of work I did on Martina Boone's Compulsion, so I shared links to my review of it and an especially powerful comment.
  13. This "read the whole book" request is one that is put forth a lot. In summer of 2015, I read Martina Boone's COMPULSION. Did you?
  14. COMPULSION is the 2nd in a 3 book series from Simon Pulse (Simon and Schuster). It has problems, too: 
  15. In an interview, Boone said that all of this mess would be resolved in book 3.
  16. I received an anonymous comment to my review of COMPULSION that applies to Drake's #TheContinent:
    I received an anonymous comment to my review of COMPULSION that applies to Drake's
  17. I hope writers reading this thread on #TheContinent will share that anonymous comment with fellow writers.
  18. The conversation about The Continent is taking place in November, which is designated--by Presidential Proclamation--as Native American Heritage Month. Overall, I think designated months (or days) for this or that are best used to share resources and SHOUT that books by Native writers should be used all year long. So, I shared some terrific books.
  19. I have a request. If you've been tweeting about #TheContinent, could you take time to also boost Native writers?
  20. Or, maybe you're not tweeting about #TheContinent, but are nodding in agreement with criticism of it... can you boost Native writers?
  21. The last two tweets are bks/stories in science fiction/fantasy, by @CynLeitichSmith@aaronpaquette@JosephBruchac@TheDHTaylor...
  22. ... @ShiningComic@DaveAlexRoberts, and so many others! Get the books! Know their names! They do write other books, too.
  23. It is crucial that people move away from thinking abt how they can "honor" Native ppl w a story they write abt us, to BUYING BOOKS WE WRITE!
  24. Instead of writing a Native character or Native content into your story so you can "help" or "honor" Native ppl, buy bks by Native writers.
  25. Instead of honoring us by writing Native characters/content in your stories, buy and read stories by Native writers.
  26. And get some for younger sibs or nieces/nephews! Here's 30:  #NativeReads
  27. I'm picturing you all, driving to your local bookstore with the list in hand and not finding them on the shelves there...
  28. And given your reaction to #TheContinent, I'm picturing you walking to the order desk with the list in hand and asking for the books.
  29. My guess is you will probably get them online. If so, please consider getting them from @birchbarkbooks.
  30. If you DO go to your local store and look for them, could you please come back to Twitter and this thread and tell us abt your experience?
  31. Then, I asked people to go read Justina's thread. I'm asking you (who are reading this Storify) to go read her thread, too.
  32. In response to her critique, some childish and vicious things happened:
  33. These are not reviews. They are personal attacks driven by childish motives. Who are you, "Meg"?
    These are not reviews. They are personal attacks driven by childish motives. Who are you, "Meg"?
  34. I asked if people had seen those attacks on Justina, and, if they'd read that someone wrote to her editor, Jordan Brown. I linked to his response. Click through and read what he said.
  35. And that someone wrote to Justina Ireland's editor, anonymously? 
  36. As I continued to follow all this, I remembered another book from Harlequin Teen:
  37. Lest anyone think these problems are rare, I took time to point to Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts, which is a best seller that misrepresents the missions in California and Dia de Los Muertos.
  38. I know people love Raina. With good reason. But... she messed up in GHOSTS. See @booktoss review  or, see...
  39. As far as I can tell, @farre is the first to write a critical rev of GHOSTS:  That is 4 Native/WOC saying no to it.
  40. If you pay attn to graphic novels, you know Telgemeier is at the very top in terms of sales. GHOSTS first run was 500,000 copies.
  41. In the conversations about The Continent I began to read that Kiera Drake had sensitivity readers who'd read her manuscript.
  42. Author of Harlequin Teen's HOOKED had sensitivity readers too, but it was also a fail. White saviors. 
  43. On Sunday morning, I picked up the thread again. Sometime on Saturday night, Drake posted a statement to her blog.
  44. 5:00 AM, 11/6/17: Adding to the thread I started yesterday, on #TheContinent by Kiera Drake, to add to what others said overnight.
  45. Drake posted a response to conversations about her book: . What she says in it make things worse, not better.
  46. My guess is she had friends look it over, which tells us there's a lot of ignorance out there. Course, some of us know that ignorance.
  47. I shared examples of things that I think a lot of people never see, because they're living in bubbles of Whiteness that blind them to what I and a lot of other people see all the time.
  48. Some of us see it ever time we turn to a sports channel (think: Cleveland mascot), or, walk by dairy case (think: Land of Lakes maiden).
  49. Or, when we walked into a Halloween costume store (think: "Indian" costumes). And now, everywhere (think: Pilgrims/Indians narrative).
  50. My guess is that Drake and those defending her, and those at Harlequin who had eyes on her manuscript, don't see any of that.
  51. My social media feeds are full of updates from #NoDAPL. I wonder if Drake, her friends, and ppl at Harlequin know what is going on there?
  52. On Friday, I'd wondered if Little House on the Prairie was one of Drake's favorites. In her statement, Drake told us that Lord of the Rings is a favorite and that it influenced her work on The Continent:
  53. Anyway, in her response to criticism of #TheContinent, Drake said one of her favorite books is Lord of the Rings. The "Topi" are savage...
  54. ... like the Uruk-Hai. On Nov 4, I wondered if LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE might be one of her favorite books: 
  55. You could read through that thread. I think LITTLE HOUSE is one of the worst books ever, because it is so widely & uncritically, embraced.
  56. With Drake's disclosure that LORD OF THE RINGS is a fav that she reads once/yr, I think it is the same thing, causing same problems.
  57. Native writer @CyborgN8VMari used Justina's photo and two others to create a powerful image that challenges Drake's claim that she wasn't thinking of Native peoples when she created the Indigenous people in The Continent:
  58. When you read this passage ask yourself which one you really imagine.
  59. Here's a screen capture of Drake's post:
  60. In her statement, Drake says she and her editors are revisiting the manuscript.
    In her statement, Drake says she and her editors are revisiting the manuscript.
  61. That suggests to me she thinks they can take out phrases like "painted face" and "reddish-brown" skin and it will all be ok.
  62. I do not think it will be ok. Changing phrases will not change the underlying premise of the book.
  63. If @HarlequinTEEN decides to hold off on their planned Jan release of #TheContinent, it will join @Candlewick re WHEN WE WAS FIERCE.
  64. #TheContinent is due out on Jan 3, 2016. If Harlequin releases it & pulls it later, it'll be like A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON.
  65. Here's another part of Drake's post about her book:
  66. Setting #TheContinent itself aside, I join others who noted that Drake's response included a claim to having Native American heritage.
    Setting #TheContinent itself aside, I join others who noted that Drake's response included a claim to having Native American heritage.
  67. She said "nationality and race." Is "race" in there because of the Native American part of who she is? If so, I wonder if she knows that...
  68. ... we're nations of people.
  69. And of course, claiming "Native American" rather than a specific nation tells us a lot, too. Does she not know, specifically?
  70. Drake offers up pride in her "Native American" ancestry in the same paragraph where she said the savage Topi in #TheContinent aren't Native.
  71. I guess she's telling us she wouldn't create savage Natives because she's Native herself.
  72. That's a fail, too. Read @Kate_Hart's thread on that. She wrote it some time ago and shared it again last night. 
  73. And, another screen capture. This part is about sensitivity readers:
  74. Drake's statement about #TheContinent also says she had sensitivity readers on the manuscript:
    Drake's statement about #TheContinent also says she had sensitivity readers on the manuscript:
  75. I pointed to a post I wrote about who you (writers/editors) hire to do vetting, or, sensitivity reads. In short: readers take your work seriously. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by getting sensitivity readers who can't, or won't, give you the critical feedback you need.
  76. Who you have, writers/editors, as sensitivity readers, is important. I wrote about that in 2015: 
  77. I did vetting for awhile and then quit. It was too exhausting to have the same conversations over and over with writers.
  78. Two years ago, I asked an editor at a major house if the editors of that house ever sit down together & talk abt all this. The answer? No.
  79. I think the many levels of fail of #TheContinent can be attributed to lack of diverse staff AND ignorance of staff, at Harlequin.
  80. To Kiera Drake, I'd say, your educational system failed you. From early childhood to university, people failed to educate you.
  81. My saying that is not an effort to hold you blameless. Anyone writing a bk like yours MUST read critical writings abt privilege/race/nation.
  82. So should your editors and all those who gave and are giving your manuscript rave reviews at Goodreads.
  83. From another of Justina's tweets (this was a photo of the acknowledgements), I read that Natashya Wilson was Drake's editor.
  84. Curious, I looked back at Hooked to see if, by any chance, Wilson had been the editor of it, too. Fichera acknowledged Wilson but didn't say she was the editor. Re-reading Fichera's note, however, I decided to share this screen cap of it.
  85. I see that Wilson was editor of HOOKED, which had problems. Oh, and this in acknowledgements from its author (Fichera):
    I see that Wilson was editor of HOOKED, which had problems. Oh, and this in acknowledgements from its author (Fichera):
  86. Which prompts me to ask Native friends/colleagues: just how do YOU share your "enduring spirit" with white people?
  87. And of course, dear Native friends, how do you share your "beautiful cultures and lands" with white people?
  88. Fichera's thank you is sick. It reminds me of picture bks abt Thanksgiving where Pilgrims thank Indians for sharing land, resources, etc.
  89. I'm pretty sure Natashya Wilson at @HarlequinTEEN is following all this abt #TheContinent. I want to hear from her abt it, and HOOKED, too.
  90. Later on Sunday, I saw that a petition was circulating:
  91. I also saw tweets from another person who was reading The Continent:
  92. Tell me again how this isn't a White  Savior narrative
    Tell me again how this isn't a White Savior narrative
  93. This morning (Monday, Nov 7), I see that @amzngbookshelf has posted a review:
  94. When I get my copy, I'll read and review it. As usual, I will focus on the Native content. If the publisher and Drake decide to withdraw the book, my review will still be useful to writers who are doing similar stories--or contemplating doing one.


Last night, I received an email about Runs With Horses, by Brian Burks. It was published in 1995 by Harcourt Brace. My quick look into the book indicates that Scholastic published it in 1996.

Based on a review of it in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, I'm tagging Runs With Horses as "not recommended."

Here's the description, from Amazon:
Sixteen years old in 1886, Runs With Horses is a member of the last small band of Apaches continuing to resist the U.S. Army. His training for manhood as a Chiricahua Apache has been difficult but thrilling, and he is eager to accomplish the final two of the four raids required to become a warrior. Sadly, this is not possible when they at last surrender to the U.S. Army.

The review is by Beverly Slapin. She made several points in her review that I believe I'd make, too, if I read Runs With Horses. Here's one:

About the line, "My son, you are not yet a Chiricahua Apache warrior.", Slapin writes that a person of that time period, speaking to another person of their nation, would use their own name for their nation. They wouldn't use an outsider name. Realistically, that line ought to read "My son, you are not yet an Ndee warrior."

"Chiricahua Apache" versus "Ndee" might seem a small point to most readers, but if it was a story about someone of my tribal nation and the people in it were speaking about us in ways that outsiders do, I'd object.

Get a copy of A Broken Flute. Use it when you are selecting books to use in your classroom and to make decisions about what to remove from your classroom or library. You can get a new copy from Birchbark Books.

Monday, October 31, 2016

John Herrington's MISSION TO SPACE is exceptional!

Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I emphasize several points when reviewing children's or young adult books, especially:

  1. Is the book by a Native author or illustrator?
  2. Does the book, in some way, include something to tell readers that we are sovereign nations?
  3. Is the book tribally specific, and is the tribally specific information accurate?
  4. Is it set in the present day? If it is historical in structure, does it use present tense verbs that tell readers the Native peoples being depicted are part of today's society?

John Herrington's Mission to Space has all of that... and more! Herrington is an astronaut. He was on space shuttle Endeavor, in 2002. Mission to Space begins with his childhood, playing with rockets, and ends with Endeavor's safe return to Earth.

Here's the cover:

That is Herrington on the cover. Here's a page from inside that tells readers he is Chickasaw.

While he and the crew were waiting for Endeavor to blast off, the governor and lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation presented a blanket to NASA.

Those are two of the pages specific to Herrington being Chickasaw, but there's photos of him, training to be an astronaut, too. There's one of him, for example in a swimming pool, clad in his gear. And there's one that is way cool, of his eagle feather and flute, floating inside the International Space Station:

I absolutely love this book. There is nothing... NOTHING like it.

Native writer? Yes.
Sovereignty? Yes.
Tribally specific? Yes.
Present day? Yes.

The final two pages are about the Chickasaw language. In four columns that span two pages, there are over 20 words in English, followed by the word in Chickasaw, its pronunciation, and its literal description. And, of course, there's a countdown... in English and in Chickasaw.

Published in 2016 by the Chickasaw Nation's White Dog Press, they created a terrific video about the book. You can order it at their website. It is $14 for paperback; $16 for hardcover.

I highly recommend it! Hands down, it is the best book I've seen all year long.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What is wrong with the phrase "First Americans"?

Characterizing Native peoples as "First Americans" is not accurate. You've probably seen that phrase used to describe Native peoples, right?

The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose, with illustrations by Bryna Waldman, is one example. Here's the cover. As you see, I've put a large red x over the cover to let you know, visually, that I do not recommend the book:

So: what is wrong with the phrase "First Americans"?

The Native peoples of this continent were not "Americans". They were--and are--organized societies who chose/choose their leaders and who engaged in trade with other Native Nations.

See? We were nations before the United States of America was a nation. Our nations decided who its citizens were, and, we still do that.

The other problem with this book? The use of past tense verbs, as shown in these two sentences from the book:
Tribes like the Chinook, the Makah, and the Salish made their homes near the water along the northwest coast of America.
The Makah were very good whale hunters. 
Aimed at pre-school and elementary aged children, The Very First Americans was published in 1993 by Grosset & Dunlap. You can still get a new copy which probably means, unfortunately, that it is still in print.

Divided into several geographic locations, the book provides an overview of several nations, but the language is all past tense.

And then, on the final page, the author opens with present tense, saying that
Today, almost two million American Indians make their homes in this country. More than a third live on reservations. The rest live in cities and towns. Many Indians say they "walk in two worlds." 
But her final sentence goes back to that error, calling Native peoples "first Americans":
They are part of today's America, but at the same time, they keep the ways of their people--the very first Americans.
I wish that I had a nonfiction book, in-hand, to recommend for young children... A book that would give them accurate information. The only one that comes to mind is Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue, but it is out of print. You can get a used copy online. Find one, get it, and use it instead of ones that use "First Americans" in them. You can also choose picture books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, that provide children information that is accurate. In it, a young girl is learning to do a dance. Through the author's note, Smith tells us that the girl is a member (citizen) of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Resources for #NoDAPL

It is October 26, 2016. There is so much going on. 

Download Water Is Life

Very few news outlets are covering Native people who are taking action to protect water from Big Oil. #NoDAPL is a hashtag people are using to write and share news and support of the Standing Rock Nation in its resistance to a pipeline. Early in that pipeline's development, it was supposed to go into the ground near Bismark, but the people of Bismark said no. They didn't want the risks it posed to their water. It was subsequently moved to a location where it is near Native people. Their objections were dismissed. The outcome is a gathering of thousands of Native people from hundreds of different tribal nations, and non-Native allies who are moving there, setting up camp, and using their bodies and presence to say no to that pipeline.

Did you know people who have been arrested are being strip searched

Did you know journalists are being arrested

Did you know that, early on, a security team hired by the pipeline unleashed attack dogs on people there? Amy Goodman of Democracy Now was there when that happened. Have you seen her news casts? There's a segment in one about a dog whose mouth is dripping with blood of someone it bit. 

Did you know that people gathered there were using drones with cameras to document what is happening there, but that the Federal Aviation Administration has now determined that area is a No Fly Zone

You must inform yourself! 

In addition to the Standing Rock website and their page on Facebook, I use two sites that are putting forth information that provides Native points of views, and historical context:

You can also get information by using the #NoDAPL hashtag on Twitter. Follow @DemocracyNow and @UnicornRiot

Be wary! Don't get duped! There are a lot of pages online where you are invited to purchase items related to #NoDAPL. Those sites say that proceeds will go to #NoDAPL but there's no evidence of that happening. I'm sending my donations directly Standing Rock. They set up a PayPal page. I'm also sending donations to the site raising funds for the Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa school. On their Facebook page, they tell you how to donate. I know it is tempting to send items but I believe the teachers know best what they need. Sending them funds lets them get what they need.  

Update on Oct 28 2016: 
Adding a link to a pdf of information put together by Indian Country Today. It is a special issue devoted to Native responses to the Dakota Access Pipeline. 


Across the country, baseball fans are watching and following news about the World Series. One of the teams uses a racist mascot. That mascot is everywhere, doing damage to those who view it. Research studies on the harm of such imagery actually used the one from Cleveland as part of the study. The outcome? Images like that have negative consequences on the self esteem, self efficacy, and "possible self" (what someone imagines they can be as an adult) of Native youth who see them. The study, Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses, is available for download on line. It was published in a psychological research journal, Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Get it. Read it. Study it. Share it. And, act on what you read! Native people have been objecting to mascots for decades. And yet, many remain. Clearly, there isn't enough of a critical mass to effect change in those mascots. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Today (October 23, 2016), via Twitter, I received a photo of a page from Horrible Harry and the Christmas Surprise by Suzy Kline, published in 1991 by Viking.

Here's the photo:

Mr. Cardini (the principal) asks Doug (one of the main characters) if he's finished with a get well card he's making for his teacher, Miss Mackle, who is in the hospital. Doug replies:
"I just need to color in my Indian's headband. I gave him 15 feathers."
"You're putting an Indian on Miss Mackle's get well card?"
"Well, sometimes the Indians didn't have a very good Christmas. It was cold and there wasn't always enough food. I just thought it would make Miss Mackle feel better if she knew the Indians had hard times, too."
"Good thinking, Doug. There's a saying for that--misery likes company."
I gather that Viking is part of Penguin Puffin. Horrible Harry and the Christmas Surprise was apparently part of Scholastic's offerings, too. There's a lesson plan for using it at the Scholastic website. Not a word there, of course, about the problems in that passage. Horrible Harry is a series... I wonder what I'd find in the other 24?!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Debbie--have you seen BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD by Monika Schroder?

A reader writes, today, to ask if I've seen Monika Schroder's Be Light Like A Bird. Published in September of 2016 by Capstone, it is pitched at grades 3-7. Here's the description, from the author's website:
After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she's ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don't seem to deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

I understand that there is a character who is half Cherokee... and an Indian burial ground... When I get a copy, I'll be back.

Friday, October 07, 2016

News: We Need Diverse Books will launch an app called "OurStory"

Yesterday, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about the OurStory app, due out in January of 2017 from We Need Diverse Books.

As readers of AICL know, I am a strong advocate for WNDB. But, readers also (likely) know that, at my core, I'm an advocate for education and what children learn in the books they read.

My first response to the news about the OurStory app was "Cool!" I looked at the graphic at the top of the article and was thrilled to see Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost there. But I also saw Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever. So, I felt a bit less enthused...

Federle's book is praised because of Federle's treatment of Nate's sexuality. I welcome that, too, because Native boys need books that normalize homosexuality, but how, I wonder, do those Native boys feel when they read that part where Nate sits "Indian style"? And, how do they feel when they get to the part where Nate's aunt sees cowboys (in costume at Halloween) approaching and says "look out for Indians." She's corrected right away, but the correction doesn't work. She's told to say "Native Americans" instead of "Indians." So, a Native kid is supposed to be ok with her saying "Look out for Native Americans"? (See my review of Federle's book.)

I completely understand that we need books for middle grade kids with characters like Nate--but not ones that fail with respect to the Native content.

Seeing Better Nate Than Ever, then, makes me wonder about the books in the app. Did the people who selected the books decide that the needs of LGBTQ kids is so important that they can look the other way regarding the Native content?

That happens a lot. People who care about misrepresentation of groups that have a history of being omitted or stereotyped come across a book that gets things right about one group, but, that has same-old problems with Native content. They choose to look away from the Native content. I hear that all the time about Touching Spirit Bear. And I heard it when I raised concerns about The True Meaning of Smekday. I heard it last year, too, in my critique of Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger. People say that this or that author tried and deserve credit for trying. I understand that thought, but again, my commitment is to the children and teens who will read and learn from their books. I will not throw children under the "they tried" bus.

Last year when WNDB worked with Scholastic on diversity fliers that included books with problematic Native content, I was disappointed. I'm disappointed again. I want to wholeheartedly say "Get the app!" but I can't. When it is available, I'll be back with a review.

Debbie--have you seen Kenneth Oppel's EVERY HIDDEN THING

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Kenneth Oppel's Every Hidden Thing. Due out on October 11, 2016 from Simon & Schuster (one of the "Big Five" publishers), it has Native content.

When I do these "Debbie--have you seen" posts, I usually copy the description of the book, but this time, it doesn't help! The Native content is not included in the description, which I find a bit ironic, given that the word "hidden" is in the book's title:

The hunt for a dinosaur skeleton buried in the Badlands, bitter rivalries, and a forbidden romance come together in this beautifully written new novel that’s Romeo and Juliet meets Indiana Jones.
Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt it’s the “rex”, the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.

But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. Because if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.

As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. And with both eyeing the same prize, their budding romance seems destined to fail. But as danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light, Samuel and Rachel are forced to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry—and with it a new life together—or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?

See? Nothing there that references Native content. Reviews, however, provide more information. These are excerpts from the Barnes and Noble page for Every Hidden Thing.

Publishers Weekly's review says (in part):
As their friendship develops into romance, their camps are endangered by the local Sioux tribe after Rachel and her father remove relics from a burial site.

School Library Journal's review says (in part)
... the rival camps must also deal with realities of life in the historical American Wild West: lack of supplies, possibility of wildfires, and potential violence at the hands of the "badlands" inhabitants (often referred to as natives, Indians, or Sioux). 

And, the Kirkus review says
Rachel’s narrative reveals that she’s one of the few white characters with enough conscience to reflect on the savagery of the explorers’ treatment of the local Pawnee and Lakota Sioux.

I reviewed Oppel's The Boundless last year and found serious problems with it. If I get a copy of Every Hidden Thing, I'll be back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Recommended: WE SANG YOU HOME by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett

In the last month or so I've been using the phrase "being loved by words" or "being loved by a book." I don't know if that works or not. Some might think it sounds goofy. It does, however, capture how I felt, reading the stories in Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two Spirit Science Fiction Anthology. It is definitely a book I recommend to young adults.

The emotions it brought forth in me are spilling over again and again, of late. I don't know what to make of that tenderness that I feel, but it is real.

Around the same time that I read the anthology, I got an electronic copy of We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett. I had that same response to it. Indeed, there were moments when I was blinking back tears! Now, I've got a copy:

I've thought about it a lot since first reading it, trying to put words to emotions. Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett are Native. I've read many of their books and recommend them over and over. Working together on this one (their first one is Little You), or apart, the books they give us are the mirrors that Native children need.

Just look at the joy and the smile of the child on the cover! That kid is loved, and that's what I want for Native kids! To feel loved by words, by story, by books.

We Sang You Home is a board book that, with very few words on each page, tells a child about how they were wanted, and how they came to be, and how they were, as the title says, sang home where they'd be kissed, and loved, and... where they, too, would sing.

Here's me, holding We Sang You Home. See the joy on my face? Corny, maybe, but I wanna sing. About being loved, by this dear board book.

I highly recommend We Sang You Home. Published by Orca in 2016, it is going to be gifted to a lot of people in the coming years.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Totem pole" will not appear in future printings of Robin Talley's AS I DESCENDED

On Friday, I read On Making Mistakes on Robin Talley's Tumblr page. There, she wrote:
Two weeks ago, my latest book, As I Descended, was released. One week later, I received an anonymous message from a thoughtful reader who’d just started the book. This reader, who’s Indigenous, noticed that I’d used the term totem pole in chapter 1 to describe where a character stood in her school’s social hierarchy ― in the sense of the phrase “low man on the totem pole.”
Talley's response to that reader was similar to the one I got from Sarah McCarry when I wrote to her about that phrase in her book (see her post), and the response I got from Ashley Hope Perez when I wrote to her about the phrase in her book (see my post).

In short: they listened.

Talley wrote that she'd shared that reader's message with her editor, Kristen Pettit at Harper Teen, and that the term will be taken out of future printings of the book. Here's the photo of the page that Talley posted:

The line is "Maria was almost as high up the totem pole as Delilah." I'm guessing that the book's title "As I Descended" is a reference to that totem pole. My guess is that Delilah is going to descend from a high point on the social status hierarchy.

The book itself has nothing to do with Native peoples. I haven't read it, so do not want anyone to think that this post is an endorsement of the book.

In her post, Talley apologized:
I profoundly regret that I used the term this way, and I apologize to any readers who have been hurt by it.
I shared Talley's Tumblr post, adding this:

Really glad to see another person speak up about this, and another writer and editor acknowledge its use as being wrong! Very glad it’ll come out of the next printings, too, and that it is all being made public for us to know! Thank you, Robin! 
A thought, though, about apologies. 
I get why people offer them. They’re a social grace. But sometimes, they carry some things that don’t work. They suggest that __ is hurt by the word that misrepresents their particular demographic, when maybe __ isn’t actually hurt. Maybe __ is just pissed off. Yeah, I know, being angry can be characterized as hurt. Still, though, saying someone of that demographic is the one who should be apologized to suggests they’re the only one who is hurt by the word, when I think everyone who doesn’t know it is a problem is impacted by it. 
Instead of “I profoundly regret that I used the term this way, and I apologize to any readers who have been hurt by it,” maybe something like (and yeah, I know, this is pretty audacious of me to tell someone how to apologize, but I think we’re talking about larger issues) “I messed up. I didn’t know I was messing up. Lot of us don’t know. Let’s not do that, ok, ourselves, anymore, ok? And let’s tell others about it, too.” 
On Twitter, I retweeted her "On Making Mistakes" tweet, and that I had a response to her post (crossing lot of social media platforms with this post!). Talley replied that she agrees with my points.

In brief:

1) A Native reader wrote to Talley.
2) Talley listened.
3) Talley wrote to her editor.
4) Talley and her editor are revising that line.
5) Talley wrote about this error, publicly.

Change happens, when we speak up, and when we listen. With more of this speaking up, and listening, I feel optimistic that change can happen.

Update: November 8, 2016
As I Descended is published by Harper Teen.