Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Christy Jordan-Fenton's Response to Conversations About USBBY's Oct 2017 "Indigenous Experience" Panel

Eds. note: At 9:00 CST, on July 27th, Therese Bigelow, USBBY's Board President, announced that Nancy Bo Flood would not be on the panel. Bigelow said
We are changing the program on Indigenous Voices in Children’s Literature. Nancy Bo Flood will no longer participate. Panel presenters are all from Canada which reflects the international scope of the conference theme. The panel had already begun working on their program together and the Fenton's, through Christy Jordan-Fenton, have requested that Sarah Ellis continue In her role as moderator. This change will be reflected on the program schedule as soon as I return to my home computer next week.

25 July 2017

About a year ago, myself, and my mother-in-law, Margaret/Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuk), were invited to attend the 2017 IBBY Regional Conference in Seattle, to sit on a panel about “The Indigenous Experience in Children’s Literature”. At the time, the only other participant we knew of was Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot'in), and we assumed there would also be Indigenous authors from the US included. We were thrilled to accept the invitation, especially Margaret/Olemaun, who as an 81 year old great-grandmother, still finds herself overwhelmed by gaining a measure of fame and attention so late on, and to her shock, for sharing stories she had been ashamed of her entire life.

To explain a bit about who we are, Margaret/Olemaun is a Inuvialuk Indian Residential School (Indian Boarding School) survivor, best known as the indomitable character in Fatty Legs (Annick Press 2010), along with three other books. Having been raised by a residential school survivor myself, it was important to me to have my children see their grandmother as the strong resilient hero she is, and not through a lens of colonial suffering that has become so much a part of Indigenous identity (one dictated by a colonial narrative, and not an authentic Indigenous one). And so in 2008 we began the slow, extremely painful process of sharing her story. It was a two year ceremony of transmutation we held each other through. I don’t think I could possibly convey how much this journey has asked of Margaret/Olemaun, and how much she has put into it for the future generations, and for herself, or given to me toward my own intergenerational healing, and how far she has come on that journey. What she has given with that journey…what any elder who shares such a journey gives, is sacred, and needs to be held as such.

My job when we speak, which we do about 100 times a year, is to help her in sharing her voice, sometimes to encourage her to share that story she didn’t think was a big deal but was phenomenal and I know the audience will love (she tells great stories), and also sometimes to buffer questions and comments that dig very deep into the trauma she carries from her years at residential school, and a life of experiencing subtle, overt, and systemic racism (think: What are some examples of how they physically hurt you at the school? Or on the other end of the spectrum: Weren’t there any good things about the schools?) A major part of my job is maintaining a good space for her to share her truth and shine as the beautiful elder she is.

It is from this place of needing to hold a good space for her, that I am now addressing the situation that has arisen in an unexpected change of dynamics on the “Indigenous Experience in Children’s Literature” panel. First, I admit it was very naïve of me not to look further into who we would be sharing that space with. I took for granted that the other authors would all be Indigenous. I took for granted that the focus would be about “Indigenous Experiences”. As of a few days ago, it was communicated to me that the dreaded “permission” question of appropriation was one that we should all strategize about ahead of time, for the sake of not letting it hijack the forum (at this point I didn’t realize why that was going to be such a major issue).

However, I have found out today, in a public comment from Ed Sullivan of IBBY, that Nancy Bo Flood was invited to be a part of the panel precisely so that this question could be debated. Normally I would be discreet in handling these matters, but as I myself only found out about this other agenda today, and publicly… and really, I think too many of us spend too much time trying to negotiate and navigate these situations in private, or remain silent, when transparency is needed, here I am responding publicly.

What was originally a panel about “Indigenous Experiences” where we believed Indigenous experiences would be the focus, is now being shifted to a situation that calls the attention to being a discussion on “White Authors’ Experiences”. The panel is now made up of a non-Indigenous moderator, an author called out numerous times for appropriation, and well…if I look in the mirror, I present pretty white too. My role in the panel is not supposed to be to explain why I felt I could represent my mother-in-law’s voice, or about who claims me, what traditions I practice, and the lineage of my teachings. It’s to support Margaret/Olemaun. (And I am completely open to sharing those things. Find me on Facebook if you feel compelled to discuss it and we’ll start a dialogue). But I see no good way to do that when it takes away from the voice of Margaret/Olemaun, and from Lisa Charleyboy. I see no respectful place to discuss that in the setting of this panel.

But more importantly, why has the responsibility of defending their culture and their right to control how their stories are told, been assumed? Why does the IBBY committee feel that it is acceptable to place this, without even asking, on the shoulders of an 81 year old elder who is still working through her healing from trauma, who is still navigating her relationship with decolonization (a journey her great-grandchildren’s grandchildren will be working through generations from now), who was expecting to go and share her childhood experiences in a children’s literature context, in a safe way…why is it deemed acceptable to assume it is her place to educate others against appropriation and defend her indigeneity against it? Again, she wasn’t even asked. Why is it deemed acceptable to assume Lisa Charleyboy, who has so much to offer when it comes to discussing carving out space for modern Indigenous identity…why is it assumed she wants to attend to instead discuss why non-indigenous authors shouldn’t appropriate, thus giving the floor over from what Indigenous artists themselves are doing, so white permission can be the focus?

I am left feeling that if I sit visibly white on this panel, as it is currently composed, next to an author very arguably guilty of appropriation, at a conference where last I knew of the keynote speaker was slated to be an Indigenous author who repeatedly claims to be the only one out there with books people read (despite knowing better), I will be contributing to that message—the message that there are no Indigenous authors out there, and so we need to have white people discuss Indigenous experiences. I know different. I know this isn’t true. My shelves are filled with works by Indigenous authors. And so to stand in my truth, and above all ensure safe space for Margaret/Olemaun, and to honour what my elders and mentors have taught me about my responsibility as someone entrusted to amplify (not appropriate) a small portion of the Indigenous experience, my integrity asks that we, Margaret/Olemaun and myself, do not participate in this panel, as it currently is, with Nancy Bo Flood participating.

What I would suggest, is that if the conference committee deems the topic of appropriation one worthy of exploring, and I think it is, this conversation take place within the context of a separate panel, and I would also like to suggest that such a panel include Indigenous voices like Lisa Charleyboy’s (provided she was asked respectfully and wanted to participate), and that such a panel be moderated by an Indigenous voice who knows Indigenous literature, such as Debbie Reese (Pueblo), or Louise Erdrich (Anishinabe).

And, I suggest that the “Indigenous Experience in Children’s Literature” panel be left as a space to discuss “Indigenous Experience”.

As my elders have taught me, mistakes are really just opportunities to learn, in disguise. I invite the committee of the IBBY to please examine their decision to include Nancy Bo Flood, knowing it would co-opt the conversation from Indigenous voices to a discussion on appropriation. Please make space for Margaret/Olemaun and Lisa Charleyboy to share what they are doing and what they have experienced, and also consider adding an Indigenous voice or two to represent peoples from territories within the colonial boundaries of the US.

Indigenous peoples and all peoples of colour are constantly expected to defend their cultures against appropriation at the cost of opportunities to discuss their own art. Please, make space for the art. And as this incident demonstrates, there is a need for the appropriation conversation also. We should have it. I would like to have it. I think the attendees would like to have it. But that needs its own forum, and to be guided by Indigenous experience and knowledge.

It is not my mother-in-law’s job to defend her people’s right to control how their stories are told. Her voice is for sharing her experiences. It was under an invitation for her to do so that we agreed to participate. If the panel is now openly forcing her into a position of defence, we will have to decline the invitation. However, if we can all work together to realize our learning opportunity from this, and use it as a catalyst to find a better way together, we would be honoured to participate.

Christy Jordan-Fenton
coauthor of Fatty LegsA Stranger at HomeWhen I Was Eight, and Not My Girl

See also:

Naomi Bishop's Open Letter Regarding USBBY's 2017 "Indigenous Experience" Panel in Seattle

Debbie Reese's Open Letter Regarding USBBY's 2017 "Indigenous Experience" Panel in Seattle

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Debbie Reese's Open Letter Regarding USBBY's 2017 "Indigenous Experience" Panel in Seattle

Eds. note at 9:00 CST on July 27th, 2017, Therese Bigelow, USBBY's Board President, announced that Nancy Bo Flood would not be on the panel. Bigelow said:
We are changing the program on Indigenous Voices in Children’s Literature. Nancy Bo Flood will no longer participate. Panel presenters are all from Canada which reflects the international scope of the conference theme. The panel had already begun working on their program together and the Fenton's, through Christy Jordan-Fenton, have requested that Sarah Ellis continue In her role as moderator. This change will be reflected on the program schedule as soon as I return to my home computer next week.

A few days ago, I was invited to join USBBY's page on Facebook. I accepted the invitation and saw posts there about its 2017 conference. Because it will take place in Seattle, I decided to take a look and see what they had planned.

I was--quite frankly--furious to see Nancy Bo Flood's name on the "Indigenous Experience in Children's Literature" panel. As regular readers of AICL know, I've been studying the ways Native peoples are depicted in children's literature for decades. In that time, I've come to know the work of many people who--like Flood--are not Native, but write books about Native peoples. Amongst that body of White writers, there are many instances in which the writer has done particularly egregious things.

Undermining Native identity and nations is one of those egregious violations.

That happens in Flood's book, Soldier Sister, Fly Home. When that book came out, I wrote two posts about it. One was about the Hopi content, the other was about the Navajo content.

The main character is Tess, a thirteen year old girl. Her father is white. A theme of the book is Tess trying to understand her mixed identity. Her Navajo grandmother has a key role in Tess's efforts to understand who she is.

As a child, this Navajo grandmother went to boarding school. U.S. government boarding schools (residential schools in Canada) were created in the 1880s by Richard Pratt. The goal was to 'kill the Indian and save the man.' Tess's grandmother didn't like what they did to her there, and so, she ran away.

She tells Tess about running away part way through Flood's story when Tess pulls a book of Emily Dickinson's poems off her grandmother's shelf and turns to a marked page. Her grandma asks her to read it aloud. Before she reaches the end, her grandmother joins her, reading the last stanza aloud together. She tells Tess that it is a good poem and says:
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 could not. But I read and reread that poem.
There are several ways to interpret that passage. The goal of the boarding schools was to "kill the Indian and save the man." I guess it worked on Tess's grandmother. She no longer observes Navajo teachings about speaking about death.

And now--as a grandmother--she's asking her granddaughter to read that poem aloud. Essentially, she's continuing the "kill the Indian" goal.

My guess is that most readers think that Tess's grandmother is really nice, kind, and helpful. But is she, really?

Is Flood -- the White writer who created that character -- a modern day Richard Pratt?

One of the other people on the Indigenous Experience panel is Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. With her daughter-in-law (who is White), she's written three stories from her childhood in boarding school. The stories are wrenching.

Do you see why having THIS particular White writer (Nancy Bo Flood) who created that kind of grandmother, sitting beside Margaret Pokiak-Fenton is just plain wrong?


I strongly urge Nancy Bo Flood to step down from the panel. This is not her place. I understand why she accepted the invitation but she should not have done so. In the conversation on the USBBY Facebook page, I asked for details as to why she is on the panel. Did they deliberately create a seat for a White writer was my specific question. Ed Sullivan, Chair of the planning committee, answered my question:
"The answer to that is no. I invited Nancy Bo Flood long after the other panelists were invited. She was already registered for the conference and presenting a breakout session on another topic, so I asked her if she would be willing to participate. Since cultural appropriation will be a topic of discussion for the panel, having someone who has been criticized for that can offer an interesting perspective to the conversation. When I invited Nancy, she stressed she was not Native American, and I am sure she will be quite clear about that on the panel when she speaks, too. I hope that answers your questions."
His answer prompted other questions. There is also a panel on Asian American Experience (both session titles use the singular "experience" which is also an error). It has one moderator and three Asian American writers. Why, I wonder, did Sullivan decide that the Indigenous panel needed a fourth person--a White writer--on it?

This is one of many similar confrontational conversations I've had with people in children's literature. Dominated by White people, they work pretty hard at defending the right to write whatever anyone wants to write. In the abstract, I support that concept, but on the ground, things are very different.

Our lived realities as Native people today, and those of our parents, grandparents, and ancestors, is one where White people were intent on taking and destroying our land, our lives, our languages, our ways of worship, and... our stories. The initial invasion has been followed by wave after wave of invasion.

With this panel, USBBY is continuing that invasion.

See Naomi Bishop's Open Letter Regarding the "Indigenous Experience" Panel at USBBY's 2017 Regional Conference. 

Naomi Bishop's Open Letter Regarding the "Indigenous Experience" Panel at USBBY's 2017 Regional Conference

Eds. note on Jul 25, 2017: For context on this post, see the extensive conversation on USBBY's Facebook page

Eds. note: At 9:00 CST, on July 27th, Therese Bigelow, USBBY's Board President, announced that Nancy Bo Flood would not be on the panel. Bigelow said:
We are changing the program on Indigenous Voices in Children’s Literature. Nancy Bo Flood will no longer participate. Panel presenters are all from Canada which reflects the international scope of the conference theme. The panel had already begun working on their program together and the Fenton's, through Christy Jordan-Fenton, have requested that Sarah Ellis continue In her role as moderator. This change will be reflected on the program schedule as soon as I return to my home computer next week.


The United States Board on Books for Young People's (USBBY) 2017 Children’s Literature Conference is happening this October in Seattle at my alma matter, the University of Washington. It is a prestigious event, but I am not happy. 

One of the general sessions (that everyone attends) is titled: The Indigenous Experience in Children’s Books. The presenters on this panel include four Canadians (Lisa Charleyboy, Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Sarah Ellis -moderator) and one American, Nancy Bo Flood. In an email to me, the USBBY President stated that Nancy Bo Flood is not Native. 
“Nancy Bo Flood is the fourth speaker. She has written a number of children’s books several of which have Native American themes.  She is not Native American.”  

The problem with Nancy Bo Flood is not just that she is non-native, but that she appropriates Navajo culture. She states that she lived on the Navajo reservation, taught college students there, and writes books about Navajo’s, but she is not Navajo. It is disappointing to see Nancy on this panel because there are so many wonderful Native American authors and illustrators publishing awesome books here in the US. I am pleased to see First Nations writers on the panel, but wonder why the organizers did not select any writers from U.S. Tribal Nations?

US Native American children’s authors deserve to be on a panel for speaking about the Indigenous Experience in Children’s Literature!

Here are some names that should have been considered for the panel at USBBY: Joseph Marshall III, Tim Tingle, Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, Joseph Bruchac, Eric Gansworth, Anton Treuer, Louis Erdrich, Jonathan Nelson, John Herrington, Arigon Starr.

When will the publishing community reach out to the American Indian Library Association (AILA) for Indigenous Children’s Literature? AILA has advocated for Native Children’s literature for decades.

When will the library community and organizers of conferences on youth literature listen to Native voices and let our stories be heard?

Our libraries, schools, and communities deserve to have stories from Indigenous authors on bookshelves and in classrooms all across the United States and the world. We are still here and are still telling our stories through picture books, easy readers, young adult books, graphic novels, oral histories, songs, art, film, theater, dance, and other mediums. There is no excuse for the USBBY conference planning committee to not listen to our stories and voices. Native authors, illustrators, and publishers are here in the US providing opportunities for everyone to learn, read, and enjoy. 

If you are looking for authors to invite to your conference, library, or event take a look at those authors listed above. These writers are some of my favorite authors and deserve to be acknowledged for their amazing books!

Naomi Bishop, MLIS
Akimel O’odham, Member of the Gila River Indian Community

See Debbie Reese's Open Letter Regarding USBBY's 2017 "Indigenous Experience" Panel in Seattle


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Recommended: LOLA LEVINE AND THE VACATION DREAM by Monica Brown; GHOSTS IN THE CASTLE by Zetta Elliott

Yesterday (July 21, 2017), I did some work with teachers on evaluating materials about Native peoples. In the Q&A, someone asked if there were some topics that ought not be given to young children. In the years since I've been studying children's books, that has often been a heated discussion. Some people argue that certain topics are "too hard" for children. There's an effort to "protect" them from "harsh" realities of the world.

Who, though, is being protected?

Today's post is about two books--both of which have characters who speak the truths of history to the children in the books. First up is Monica Brown's Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream. 

I read Monica Brown's Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream this morning.

Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream is the 5th book in her very popular Lola Levine series of chapter books (see her post at Latinx in Kid Lit for some background on why she created this series featuring mixed race characters).

In Brown's story, Lola, her brother, and their parents are going to Lima, Peru, where her Tía Lola lives, and where that aunt and Lola's mom grew up.

Lola's little brother is in kindergarten. Lola is in second grade. Their age is one reason I began this post with the question about appropriate content for children. Their aunt doesn't hesitate to talk with them about their Indigenous ancestry and that history in the matter-of-fact way that happens in many Native families.

See that (p. 68)?:
"But around five hundred years ago, Europeans from Spain came and wanted to conquer the indigenous peoples and take their gold and use their land."
"That's not nice!" says Ben. 
"No, it isn't," says Tía Lola. "But even though many died, and the Spanish destroyed this temple and stole the gold, Indigenous people are strong, and we found ways to survive. We're still here. Some are like us and have a mix of Spanish and indigenous backgrounds. But not all are mixed. There are many indigenous groups in Peru who speak their native languages and maintain their traditions."
That page and ones like it in Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream make this book a stand-out. It is definitely going onto my Best Books list.

Lola's aunt is awesome! She reminded me of Aunt Jocelyn--or, Aunt Joss, as Zaria (the main character) calls her--in Zetta Elliott's The Ghosts in the Castle. 

The Ghosts in the Castle is also an all-too-rare series that features Native or children of color. Here's one page from Elliott's book that I am taken with:

At that point in the story, Aunt Joss, her son, and Zaria are in a museum. Aunt Joss hears a father tell his son that the diamonds in that display were from a country that Britain owned, and that they were a gift. Aunt Joss tells the boy:
"If I invite you into my house, you are a guest. Right?"
The boy nods and Aunt Joss continues. "If I don't invite you into my house--if you break into my house--what does that make you?"
"A burglar!" cries the boy, proud to know the right answer. 
The boys father takes him away before Aunt Joss can start talking about empire, invasion, stolen artifacts and words like "savages."

See what I mean? Through these two aunts, Brown and Elliott are telling truths that empower children who too often see their heritage denigrated or misrepresented. Click over to Cynsations and read an interview, there, of Elliott.

And then either buy these two books, or get them from your local library. And if they're not on that library shelf, speak up--like Tía Lola and Aunt Joss! And tell others about these books, too. They're terrific!

Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream is a 2017 book from Little, Brown; The Ghosts in the Castle is a 2017 book from Rosetta Press.

Recommended: YOU HOLD ME UP by Monique Gray Smith

Due out in October of 2017 is Monique Gray Smith's You Hold Me Up. Published by Orca, it is a picture book about ways that people can hold each other, and hold each other up, by helping each other, or playing together, or singing, or cooking. 

Smith's text is heartwarming! And the illustrations, by Danielle Daniel's, reflect Native people in the present day. 

Like My Heart Fills With Happiness, this new book by Smith is one that parents, grandparents, pre-school and elementary teachers, and librarians, will want to have on their shelves, but I encourage everyone to read Smith's note in back and -- if you don't already know about it -- learn all you can about residential schools in Canada, and boarding schools in the United States.

Friday, July 21, 2017


This morning, I read Elisa Gall's review of Medical Mayhem, a book in the "Twisted True Tales from Science" series published by Prufrock. She shared these two images:

At 5:06 AM on July 21, 2017, I used twitter to thank Elisa for that review. I tagged the publisher.

At 10:14 AM, Prufrock replied, saying
"We should never have allowed these images in a book by Prufrock Press. We are deeply sorry."

At 10:16 AM, Profrock said
"This is inexcusable. We are in the process of destroying that inventory and replacing it with a corrected edition."

I assume they know that it is not just the images, created by Eliza Bolli, that are a problem. The text, by Stephanie Bearce, also needs attention.

The editor, Lucy Compton, did not see the problems in text or illustration. Neither did any of the "experts" who reviewed it at the Prufrock page for the book. Elaine Wiener, a gifted education communicator, missed it. So did Terri Schlichenmeyer, of New York Parenting, and Lori Cirucci of NSTA Recommends (NSTA is the National Science Teachers Association), and Paula Young of Science-Nook, and Muhammed Hassanali of the Seattle Book Review. If you go over to the Goodreads page for the book, you'll see lot of praise there, too.

Prufrock is an educational publisher. Looking at their products, I see page after page of materials for teachers. There's other children's books, too. There's one on the Wild West and one on the Civil War. What, I wonder, lurks in those two books--and the professional materials, too?

I'm glad that Profrock is going to destroy this inventory and replace it. For that--this post about the book and their response is going on to the Revisions to Racism page here on AICL.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

First look at PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL by John Demos

John Demos has a book coming out in October of 2017 from Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams). Some of you who read history books may recognize his name because of his book, Entertaining Satan, or because of his Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. Demos is a history professor at Yale, but I don't know if he's teaching there or not on a regular basis.

In doing the background work for my review of his Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl, I see that he did another book for young readers, back in 1995. That one is The Tried and the True: Native American Women Confronting Colonization. I'll see if I can find a copy of it.

The story Demos tells in this book is about Eunice Williams. Its audience is children who are 8 to 12 years old. Here's the description at Amazon:

In this riveting historical fiction narrative, National Book Award Finalist John Demos shares the story of a young Puritan girl and her life-changing experience with the Mohawk people.
Inspired by Demos’s award-winning novel The Unredeemed CaptivePuritan Girl, Mohawk Girl will captivate a young audience, providing a Native American perspective rather than the Western one typically taught in the classroom.
As the armed conflicts between the English colonies in North America and the French settlements raged in the 1700s, a young Puritan girl, Eunice Williams, is kidnapped by Mohawk people and taken to Canada. She is adopted into a new family, a new culture, and a new set of traditions that will define her life. As Eunice spends her days learning the Mohawk language and the roles of women and girls in the community, she gains a deeper understanding of her Mohawk family.  Although her father and brother try to persuade Eunice to return to Massachusetts, she ultimately chooses to remain with her Mohawk family and settlement. 
Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl offers a compelling and rich lesson that is sure to enchant young readers and those who want to deepen their understanding of Native American history.

Eunice Williams was a real person, born in September of 1696. As a child, she was captured in a raid. The story Demos tells in Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl is described (on the back cover of the ARC) as a historical novel inspired by The Unredeemed Captive. His Unredeemed Captive is cataloged as biography.

Todays "First Look" is the first in a series of blog posts I'll do on Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl.

The Cover 

The words "PURITAN GIRL" are in black font. They're easy to see. The words "MOHAWK GIRL" are in a tan font. They're harder to read. I don't know what the cover designer was going for with the two different colors but I find the tan one less prominent. Visually, that makes Puritan more visible than Mohawk.

Look, too, at the 'R' in the first use of Girl and the R in the second use. See the difference? This reflects a design element in which font style is used to signal "other." You may have seen this on some book covers--where the shape and design of letters are used to visually signal "other." The R in the Puritan girl is what most would recognize as the way R's look, but the R in the Mohawk girl is angular. Visually, this different treatment of the R signals difference in how we're to think of these two peoples. Some would see the difference as good; others would not.

What are your thoughts on these visual ways of setting Puritan apart from Mohawk?


The first line in the preface is
When Christopher Columbus and other explorers got to America from Europe, they found millions of people already living there. 
Right off the bat, I see problems there.

First,"explorers" is the default word for Columbus and other "explorers." That idea--of exploration--is generally seen as a good, or, something positive. The word 'explore' means to investigate, study, analyze, become familiar with.  The word "explorer" means one who explores. But, I think we all know there is more to Columbus's voyage than "explore." He was looking for something that would make him, those who sponsored his voyages, and others, too, wealthy (and wealthier).

Second, Demos used "America" to describe a place that wasn't--at that time--called America. The millions of people who were living there when Columbus arrived had their own words for it. The word "America" -- according to the Oxford dictionary -- dates back to the early 16th century and is believed to be a derivation of the name of Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed along the west coast of South Africa in 1501.

In the 2nd paragraph, Demos writes
They saw America as a "new world." They settled on the land and claimed it for themselves. They started farms, villages, and towns. They organized "colonies" that belonged to their home countries in Europe. They didn't ask permission from the Indians; they just went ahead with their plans. They viewed Indians as inferior to themselves--as "savages" living in a primitive way. 
Demos is following a well-trod way of depicting this "new world." By that, I mean he fails to note that Native peoples had farms, villages, and towns before Europeans got here. In the next paragraph he says that the two groups had certain advantages over the other, which is accurate, but what he says pretty much affirms the "primitive" and inaccurate imagery so many people have. More about that, later.

I'm also curious about using the idea of "asking for permission" to characterize what happened. It doesn't work, right? Let's bring it to something of the present day. Say you have some acreage that someone thinks you're not using. Let's say someone from Spain comes over, sees it, and thinks they'll build something there. They knock on your door and say "with your permission, I'd like to build my house on that spot over there." See why the idea of "permission" doesn't work?

I gotta dash off for now to do some other work. I welcome your comments on what I've said so far about this book.

Debbie--have you seen BLACK SHEEP WHITE CROW by Jim Kristofic?

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Jim Kristofic's Black Sheep, White Crow.

Published in 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press, I'm hoping that anyone who buys it will read the preface carefully and then set it aside. By that, I mean--I hope they choose not use it with kids, as-is.

Here's why. In the preface, Kristofic writes:
Some stories were told to me while I was growing up on the Rez. Some stories are blends of my own imagination with the traditional ideas of the Animal People and the lessons they can teach.

That passage in the preface prompts several questions. For starters...

Did Kristofic have permission from the tellers to publish the stories told to him? If yes, how did he get that permission? Did he use the tired and exploitative "if we don't do this, the stories will be lost forever" approach?

Does Kristofic realize that--in blending his imagination with those stories--he is, in effect, assuming that he has the right to tinker with the religious stories of another peoples' traditions? Of course, that's been done a lot, so he may think it is fine. I do not, and neither do a lot of Native people. Too many writers think they can just add, willy nilly, to our creation stories. That they can come up with their own stories, based on ours. That's disrespectful to us. Maybe Kristofic would do that cherry picking sort of thing to the Bible, too, but would he then label the stories as "Bible Stories"? I think not. They wouldn't be Bible stories. They'd be his fictions.

Because of the preface alone, I'm tagging Kristoff's book with a not-recommended. I know I'll catch heck from some people for saying "not recommended" before I've "read the whole book" but that's ok. I stand on what I said.

When someone who is not of the people a book purports to be about, the act of rewriting and adding to that peoples stories and then labeling them as stories of those people, is not ok. It is, in my view, misleading to the reader and disrespectful to the people who shares stories with the writer.

In summary: I do not recommend Jim Kristofic's Black Sheep, White Crow. 

Saturday, July 08, 2017


A teacher wrote to ask if I've seen The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli. Out in June of 2017 from Viking Books for Young Readers, it is getting starred reviews. Here's the description:

British explorer Percy Fawcett believed that hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest was an ancient city, lost for the ages. Most people didn’t even believe this city existed. But if Fawcett could find it, he would be rich and famous forever. This is the true story of one man’s thrilling, dangerous journey into the jungle, and what he found on his quest for the lost city of Z.

Rich and famous. Explorer. British. Why the starred reviews for another in a long line of stories that celebrates exploitation, colonization, and, well, capitalism?!

Page one (and the title, too) tell us that this story is about the Amazon rainforest:
Less than one hundred years ago, maps of the world still included large "blank spots": distant and dangerous lands that mapmakers and scientists had not yet explored.
Critical readers will ask--right away--about the point of view of this story. That land was not "distant and dangerous" to the people that lived there. And it was not unexplored by them, either. Here's one possible rewrite of that sentence:

Less than one hundred years ago, British maps of the world still included large "blank spots": distant and dangerous lands that British mapmakers and British scientists had not yet explored. 

Here's another:
Less than one hundred years ago, British mapmakers and scientists, imagining themselves superior to all other peoples of the world, called the homelands of those peoples "distant and dangerous" and could not imagine that those peoples also had mapmakers and scientists. Those British people were racist. 

It is frustrating to see books like this one... Do you have a copy? How might you re-write it? Might you do a re-write of it--with kids? It would be an excellent exercise in point of view, racism, and the ongoing refusal to decenter Whiteness.

I may be back, later, with more to say...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Native Perspective on the Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse

Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share this open letter about the upcoming total solar eclipseWritten by Naomi Bishop (Gila River Indian Community), currently serving as President of the American Indian Library Association, we think teachers and librarians -- and parents, too -- will find it useful. 


July 5, 2017

Dear librarians and teachers, 

Eclipse viewing glasses and library programs are big in social media and libraries right now. It is a great opportunity to share STEM programs with the public. However, some cultures view an eclipse differently. While I can’t speak for all cultures impacted, I can speak for some Native American communities. In Navajo culture the shadow that is made by the sun is very important and viewing the eclipse is not encouraged. Many Native American families visit our libraries, attend our programs, read our books and view us as part of their community. 

If you decide to host an eclipse program, please be aware that some families might not be receptive. If a family does not want to participate, respect their choice. Please avoid placing children in a position where they need to explain their beliefs or identify themselves as Native American. Give them a safe way to back out, or to decline participation. 

If you would like to learn more about Navajo Astronomy there is a great book you can order for your library called Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy by Nacy Maryboy and David Begay. 

Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy.
Author: Nancy C Maryboy; David Begay; Indigenous Education Institute.; World Hope Foundation. Publisher: Tucson, Ariz. : Rio Nuevo Publishers, ©2010.

Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy was published by a Navajo scholar and educator. David Begay is one of the founders of the Indigenous Education Institute. He lives on the Navajo Nation and works with UC Berkeley, Space Science Labs in the areas of Western and Indigenous science with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Nacy Maryboy is a Cherokee/ Navajo scholar and focuses on Indigenous science and astronomy. She is President and Executive Director of the Indigenous Education Institute. This book was published as a resource for teachers and families. It is a beautiful book and an excellent collection to any library.  The authors note in the beginning of the book has this important cultural information: 
"Although this book is available year round we encourage teachers to be sensitive to the cultural protocol and use this book primarily during the winter months." 

Here are some more resources for teachers and librarians focused on Indigenous STEM programs. 

Indigenous Education Tools - University of Washington

Implementing Meaningful STEM Education with Indigenous Students & Families

Teaching STEM In Ways that Respect and Build Upon Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Indigenous Education Institute

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society 

Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science

I hope this information is helpful and encourages more learning and discussions among educators and librarians. Feel free to contact me with any questions. 


Naomi Bishop, MLIS 
Member of the Gila River Indian Community 
AILA President 2017-2018
Northern Arizona University Cline Library 
Teaching, Research, and Learning Services
Science and Engineering Librarian