Friday, December 21, 2018

William Flood and Nancy Bo Flood: A History

On Dec 19th, I recommended the wonderful illustrations that Jonathan Nelson did for First Laugh: Welcome, Baby! and briefly noted my concerns with Nancy Bo Flood (she is listed as the second author of that book). This post is a follow up to that review.

At this point (2018) I have a ten-year history with Nancy Bo Flood and her husband, Dr. William Flood. Some people are aware of this history. Some will be upset that I've written it up here because to them it will feel mean-spirited and unkind. I hope that you can set aside your emotional attachments to Flood and other White writers and see my history with them from an Indigenous point of view that is embedded within a much longer history of interactions between White and Indigenous people.

The history of White people taking from Native people is hundreds of years long. Most of you know about that, and some of you think it is horrible. Some of you go down that "to the victor go the spoils" way of thinking. Those "spoils" include Native stories. There are a great many non-Native people who made and make careers by using something that belongs to Native people.

The history of White people taking from Native people is also filled with White people befriending Native people out of a genuine sense of caring--about our souls. I'm talking here about missionaries who go (yes, it still happens) onto reservations and into Native communities with the goal of converting us to their particular religion.

And, the history of White people taking from Native people is also filled with White people who befriend us because they have found themselves living in or near our communities.

Of that latter group, I wish they could form those friendships without saying "look at me and my Native friend." Or, "look at the good I do for my Native friends!" Or, "I worked with them and they asked me to write this story about them." Or, "I taught their kids and I learned from them and so, I am able to write books about them that you should buy because I know what I'm talking about." Or, "Look! My book has a note inside from my Native friend or colleague. You can trust what you read in my book."

They mean well. But, I wish they could see past their good intentions. What they're doing is exploitation. Ultimately what they are doing is the same as those who take without care. And all those who help get their books published, you are complicit in the taking and exploitation. You can rationalize it any way you want to, but ultimately, you're complicit.

I know--that sounds harsh. I know plenty of people will read this and think I should just be quiet or that I am wrong. You'll find examples to counter what I'm saying here. There are always exceptions but my larger concern is that we should all ask why someone feels the need to justify their tellings of Native story by pointing to their work with Native peoples. Anybody can do good work without using our faces and our names to justify your work. Can't you just do good without holding us up as evidence of your good work?


In 2007 or 2008 I received an email asking if I was interested in serving on the Advisory Board for a new initiative within Reach Out and Read. It was to be the American Indian/Alaska Native Reach Out and Read project (ROR AI/AN). I don't have that email or ones through 2009 because I changed computers and email providers and am not able to retrieve them. I do have ones from 2010 through 2014.

The two doctors who were starting the American Indian/Alaska Native initiative of Reach Out and Read were Dr. William Flood and Dr. Steve Holve. By the time they had written to me, I had already had a lot of experience with well-intentioned people who did not see the problems in children's books that I was seeing.

I had a long phone conversation with Dr. Flood or Dr. Holve. I remember it clearly. I remember where I was standing (just outside my mom and dad's home at Nambé; I was visiting them when the call came through) as we talked. I remember telling them that I had strong points of view on the ways that Native people were depicted in children's books, who wrote them, etc.

Whichever doctor it was, they assured me that the sort of expertise I'd bring to that project was precisely why they had contacted me. With that assurance, I said yes, enthusiastically. I was excited, thinking about how we would get books by Native writers into the Indian Health Service clinics.

The doctors had invited another individual with history and expertise in Native writing/books to serve on the board. Things looked good!

But then...

We learned that the doctors had done some work on a video they wanted to play on the televisions in the waiting rooms. We were asked to provide input on the video.

In it, a Native woman was shown reading and recommending a book written and illustrated by a non-Native writer. Though I don't have an email that confirms my memory, I think the book was one of those written and illustrated by Paul Owen Lewis. It could have been Frog Girl or Storm Boy. Lewis says similar things about each one. Looking at the covers, you'd likely conclude that these are Native American stories.

They aren't.

Paul Owen Lewis is not Native. In the author's note, he tells us that Frog Girl is "an original creation" that is "carefully composed entirely of Native story elements in both its narrative and its art." He also says it is an adventure story that reflects Joseph Campbell's "three rites of passage" in which
"... a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. In no place is this universal theme more powerfully represented than in the rich oral traditions and bold graphic art of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America."
The other individual and I expressed our concerns with it and books like it. Our concerns were met with resistance. Anybody could write what they wanted to, we were told. That's true, of course, but that wasn't the point. Instead of problematic books like Frog Girl, we argued, why couldn't the project select and promote books by Native writers? We were getting nowhere. That second person resigned from the board. I don't recall what happened after that and don't have emails to help me reconstruct what happened.

Then, on July 16, 2010, I received an email with the subject line "Welcome to Reach Out and Read for AI/AN sites." It gave us several updates, including one that indicated the video project was still being worked on. I asked for an update about the concerns that we'd discussed previously.

Dr. Flood replied that ROR AI/AN had discussed them at a meeting and that those present had determined that the project goal was to encourage parents to read to their children, and that it "is not our goal to tell parents what to read, or what not to read. That would be a form of censorship and that is not our role."

As you might imagine, I was frustrated.

The entire reason I and the other individual were asked to be on the board was to bring our expertise on selecting books to the project so it could provide children with books that were accurate, respectful, and ideally, written by Native writers. Our objection to Lewis was being characterized as censorship.

I'd had similar conversations elsewhere, on listservs of writers, editors, librarians, professors, and reviewers who work specifically in children's literature. Whenever I or anyone talks about the importance of insider perspective (what is referred to, today, as #OwnVoices), someone invariably raises the accusation of censorship.

Somewhere in all those listserv conversations, I had become familiar with a person named Nancy Bo Flood. I had been to her website, which has photographs of her on it. In those children's literature conversations, she had been saying things that were similar to what Dr. Flood had said.

Then one day I realized that the emails I was getting from Dr. Flood and the ones I was getting from Nancy Bo Flood were from the same account! Below is a screen cap of the top of an email I got from Dr. Flood. The photo is of Nancy but the name on the email is her husband (I blocked out part of his email address):

In my mind, several threads started to come together. I remembered that she said somewhere that she was teaching Native students in Flagstaff. She had also said that her husband was a doctor in that area.

I wondered what all (children's books) she had written.

I did a search at Amazon and saw that, together, Nancy and William had published Pacific Island Legends: Tales from Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia in 1991 from Bess Press which is "retellings of their [people of the Pacific] traditional legends" (p. xiii). Without a doubt, the Floods and the third author, Beret E. Strong, felt they were doing a good thing with this book. In the preface, they wrote (page vii):
"Legends that were once part of an oral tradition become available to readers throughout the world. They cross oceans, continents, even generations. These legends speak a universal language. People everywhere and throughout history wonder about the questions found in these stories: How was the world created? Why do we have both good and evil? Why do families fight? What is the meaning of life and death?"
Clearly they understand the significance of the stories to the people the stories belong to, but their appraisal--that the stories speak a universal language--erases the distinct aspects of those people. Finding that book, I understood why Dr. Flood was so resistant to our concerns about Frog Girl. He had, in short, a conflict of interest.

The Flood's aren't alone in appropriation of Indigenous stories, and they certainly are not the first White people to do it and to think well of themselves for doing it. The historical record is full of White people doing that sort of thing and people are doing it today. Take a look, for example, at For Your Consideration: Part 2 at Indigo's Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth and their critique of Rosanne Parry.

Today many people are growing in their understandings of appropriation. Today, items taken from tribal nations are being returned.

Stories don't have the legal protections that artifacts do but increasingly, tribal nations are writing protocols and policies that ask outsiders not to use their stories. Those documents don't have a section that says "if you have a good friend who is of our nation (or if you taught our kids, or lived near or in our community), go ahead with what you want to do." Those documents are being written because appropriation keeps on going. It started hundreds of years ago and continues, today. And--it is harmful to the well-being of tribal nations.

In 2017, the USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) selected Nancy Bo Flood to sit on a panel titled "Indigenous Experience in Children's Literature." I objected. So did Naomi Bishop. And Naomi Caldwell. And Christy Jordan-Fenton. Our objections are available on a round up post I did about them. Eventually, USBBY announced she would not be on that panel.

From what I read, she had been asked to be on it because people (like me) had objected to her appropriations and USBBY felt that she could speak to concerns of outsiders writing Native stories. My guess is she would cite Native friends who she's asked for help with her books. In other words, she'd use those friendships to justify her appropriations.

-----Editing on Saturday, Dec 22, 2018, in response to Therese Bigelow's comment on Facebook, suggesting that I use Ed Sullivan's response to my query regarding how Flood came to be on the Indigenous Experience panel. He said:

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.

-----End of addition on Dec 22, 2018-----

Her writings and the objections are what got her onto that USBBY panel. In essence, she was going to gain even more visibility from an international organization. That's great for her career as a writer. What was she going to say? Was she going to use her friendships to assure people that it was ok to do what she did? If yes, she would be giving other White writers a how-to guide for appropriating Native stories.

But--does that sound like genuine care for us?

To me, obviously, it does not. Ultimately, what she's doing is no different from that group that claims "to the victors go the spoils." It might feel different, but it really isn't.

First Laugh did not need Nancy's name on it, did it?  That her name is on the cover is troubling. It doesn't have to be there. The only person who is served by it being there is Nancy. Ultimately, she's gaining from her name being there, from her work with Rose Ann Tahe.

I've got more to say but am hitting the 'publish' button this blog post because I promised someone I'd do it as soon as possible. I may be back to say more, later. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts. If there are things I've said that are unclear, let me know. This has been a very hard post to write. It also occurred to me that, perhaps, Nancy Bo Flood was going to use her time on the USBBY panel to say she wasn't going to keep on, as she had been, but First Laugh tells us otherwise. Again, I welcome your thoughts.

Previous posts about Flood:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: WILD BIRD by Wendelin Van Draanen

This post started out as a "Debbie--have you seen" one but turned into a Not Recommended one pretty quickly...

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen. It was published in 2017 by Knopf. Here's the book description:

3:47 a.m. That’s when they come for Wren Clemmens. She’s hustled out of her house and into a waiting car, then a plane, and then taken on a forced march into the desert. This is what happens to kids who’ve gone so far off the rails, their parents don’t know what to do with them anymore. This is wilderness therapy camp. Eight weeks of survivalist camping in the desert. Eight weeks to turn your life around. Yeah, right.
The Wren who arrives in the Utah desert is angry and bitter, and blaming everyone but herself. But angry can’t put up a tent. And bitter won’t start a fire. Wren’s going to have to admit she needs help if she’s going to survive.

The description has no mention of the Native content that Kirkus noted in their review and that prompted AICL's reader to write to me. Kirkus noted that content:
Traditional tales told by Mokov, an elderly Paiute who visits the camp... 

Hmm. Sounds like Wild Bird has a Native elder imparting wisdom, doesn't it? Let's look a bit more. Using the Google Books preview, I see that Mokov comes into the story in chapter 24 (it starts on page 101). My comments are marked in italics following each summary I do as I take a look at Wild Bird.

It is nighttime, Wren is in her tent, the other girls are sitting around a campfire when one of them squeals "Mokov!" Wren sees a man come out of the darkness. He's got "two long silver braids" and is wearing a leather vest, a dark green shirt, and pants and hiking boots that are just like the jailers who guard these girls in this camp. But, something about him seems different. The girls get to their feet. He greets them, and Dvorka (one of the girls at the camp) comes to get Wren for "Legend time. He's Paiute." What, Wren asks, is that?

Debbie's comments: I gotta say--girls "squealing" when he appears is kind of unsettling. And that name: Mokov. Is that a Paiute word? And his purpose? It does look like he's there to use Native stories to teach these girls.

On page 102, Dvorka tells Wren: "It's a Native American nation."

Debbie's comments: I like that Wren asks that question. It is an accurate depiction of the level of ignorance many (most?) people in the US have. If, for example, Dvorka had said "He's Native American" instead of "He's Paiute" -- Wren would know what Dvorka was talking about, but the author's "He's Paiute" is a good move. It makes Wren ask a question that is followed by very important information: the Paiutes are Native peoples of a particular nation. 

The girls offer Mokov food and drink but he says that the land has nourished him. Then he "spreads his arms" and asks the girls to sit and tell him how they've been. They talk about using rainwater to wash their hair with yucca root.

Debbie's comments: He spreads his arms?! I'm getting snarky pretty quick but that snark reflects my frustration with these kinds of representations of Native characters. Think about that movement for a minute. Who does that, for real? Remember--this is a campfire setting. In the White imagination, wise Indians do that sort of thing. You can probably recall an image or two or three, of that very thing. The one that comes to mind, for me, is Grizzly Bob! He's a good example. Grizzly Bob, of course, is not a Native character. He's just playing one at camp. (And that bit about land nourishing him plays into the stereotype of Native peoples being one-with-the-land.)

Mokov nods his approval, and then asks them about their quests. They look away, or down, telling him it isn't easy. One says she is still so angry. Mokov nods, then says (102):

Anger is a dry riverbed. You should follow it only if it leads you to the springs of forgiveness.
Debbie's comments: I feared it would go that way... along with that holding up of the arms is this wise-Indian-speak. It is not a good thing. It is a term that describes the ways that White Writers imagine Native people's speech to be. It is romantic in style, and the opposite of the "heap big" sort of thing that some writers do, but done this way, either one is stereotypical. Both are misrepresentations that get in the way of seeing Native people as people. 

Then the girls Mokov for a story. Wren wonders if the girls are serious. Dvorka says (p. 103):
"There's nothing like a story told by Mokov." Then she adds, "Traditionally, the full legends were only told in the winter or fall, but he thinks there's value in sharing shortened versions with us." She lowers her voice even further as we watch the others. "Most Native American tribes have nature-centered spiritual traditions where everything has life and the power to direct its energies. The humans and spirits in their stories often take on the forms of animals." She zeroes in on me. "Storytellers were the ones who passed along the tribe's history and beliefs. These are sacred legends, told in a traditional way. They are not to be ridiculed." 
The girls hold their breath, waiting for him to speak. "Even the fire is quiet" and "the smoke rises straight up." Then he tells the story.

Debbie's comments: Is there an author's note in this book, I wonder? Do we get a source for what Dvorka says? Is there a source for these "sacred legends" that Mokov is telling? 

Later in the book, another Native guy is the object of their adoration. This time, it is "Silver Hair." Turns out that he is Mokov's grandson. The girls, as Wren says, are definitely fawning over him. She is too, by the way, but is more subtle about it.

Debbie's comments: This White adoration of Native men is unsettling and reminds me of the too-many romance novels that have a white woman on the cover, in the embrace of a very sexualized Native man. Will Wren and Silver Hair (that name, by the way, is another problem). I know a lot of you will object to a "Not Recommended" tag when I haven't read the entire book, but come on! You see the problems, right? I hope so. Books like this one -- published by one of the Big Five publishers -- do a lot of damage. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


This year, Charlesbridge published First Laugh: Welcome, Baby!

When I learned that Jonathan Nelson (illustrator of the way-cool The Wool of Jonesy) was doing the illustrations for this book, I was excited. When I got the book and saw that Nancy Bo Flood was listed as a co-author, I groaned. More on that later. For now, let's look at the art and what Nelson tells us with his art. Here's the cover:

Image result for "nelson jonathan" "first laugh"

So much to love, there, in his art! We see two adults clearly loving the child in their arms. We see a modern day house. Regular readers of AICL know that I think stories of Native people set in the present day are crucial to help non-Native people know that (and I hate saying this every single time I write or speak it) we are here, part of the present day.

When you open the book and look at the title page, you see that baby, lying in a baby bouncer, playing with a mobile... of sheep! On a blanket with sheep! See? So perfect!

From there we see babies in different places, surrounded by family members who are trying to make the baby laugh. Then, a baby smiles and laughs!

And then there's a gathering to celebrate that baby's first laugh. Take a look at it! So much joy and details to note, like the satellite dish on the house and the electric pole.

Did you know that there's a lot of writing about photographers and post card makers removing such things from photos because they wanted the Native people and places being depicted to look "authentic." Infuriating, for sure that they made decisions that if we had clocks or sewing machines or electricity or glass in our windows, we weren't "real."

Published in 1999
As I study Nelson's painting of all those folks gathered there, I am remembering Luci Tapahonso and Anthony Chee Emerson's Songs of Shiprock Fair, published in 1999 by Kiva Publishing.

I like it a lot, too, for the same reasons I like what I see in First Laugh: Welcome Baby! Set in the present day, family, crowds.

Both books provide Navajo children with mirrors of their lives and tribally specific experiences.


Now let's look at the authors.

In the back matter, the first author's note is listed as "Author's Note from the Late Rose Ann Tahe." In first person, she tells us her English name and her Navajo name. Then, she introduces herself in the traditional way, telling us that she was born into her mother's clan, and her father's clan, and what her maternal grandparents' clan is, and her paternal ones, too. That note ends with "This is who I am and where I am from."

It is followed by an author's note from Nancy Bo Flood who tells us that "Just weeks after Rose and I completed the manuscript for this book, she contracted a sudden illness that took her life." So, Flood asked Tahe's family what they wanted to do. They agreed, Flood writes, that "their mother's wish was to have this book become real."

And so--we have First Laugh: Welcome Baby! with Flood listed as the second author. On the strength of Nelson's illustrations, I am recommending First Laugh. I think his work is terrific and I want to see more of it.  

Rather than put the concerns--including appropriation--with Nancy Bo Flood here, I'll be doing a stand-alone post (12/22/18: see William Flood and Nancy Bo Flood: A History). I'll be back to add the title and link to it, soon.

Do take time to visit Nelson's website, and of course, get a copy of The Wool of Jonesy. 

I adore that book and was delighted to see a 3D version of Jonesy at Returning the Gift last year.

He's awesome!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Highly Recommended! Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock, by Dallas Hunt and Amanda Strong

I settled in to do some reading last night. I reached for Dallas Hunt's Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock. Amanda Strong's illustrations drew me in as I turned the pages, following Awâsis as she sets out to take her her grandma's world-famous bannock to a relative. 

Image result for awasis and the world famous bannock

Illustrated by Amanda Strong (you absolutely must watch her stop animation videos!) and published in 2018 by Highwater Press, I'm pleased as can be to recommend it. Here's the description:
During an unfortunate mishap, young Awâsis loses Kôhkum’s freshly baked world-famous bannock. Not knowing what to do, Awâsis seeks out a variety of other-than-human relatives willing to help. What adventures are in store for Awâsis?
Like I said, I was reading along, enjoying the story. Awâsis talks to several animals on her way. Instead of the English words for them, Hunt gives us the Cree ones. When I got to her conversation with Ayîkis (frog) I smiled to see her words in bold and capital letters because Ayîkis is far away and Awâsis has to shout.  

Then, I got to the page where she comes to Ôhô (Owl), who is drifting off to sleep. Awâsis speaks softly. The font is smaller. I like that, too. Ôhô wakes up and looks at Awâsis... and then I read this sentence and sat right up!
They swiveled their head back and forth and hooted.
They?! THEY?! (Yeah, I am using bold and capital letters to convey my delight...) Here's that page:

Right away I started writing to friends in children's literature to ask if they've seen a gender neutral pronoun before in a children's picture book. The answer so far? No. This might be the first time a writer has put a gender neutral pronoun in a children's picture book. 

The one exception I've come across so far is a nonfiction picture book, They, He, She, Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzales and Matthew Smith Gonzales, published in 2017. Are there others? If you know of one, let me know.

For now, I'm going to shout about this book to friends and colleagues in children's literature. Published in 2018 by Highwater Press, Awâsis and the World Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt and Amanda Strong is highly recommended! 

And make sure you check out the recipe and pronunciation guide at the end of the book... and the video, too! 

Last bit of info: Hunt is a member of Wapisewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, and Strong is Michif out of the unceded Coast Salish territory also known as Vancouver, British Columbia. That's from the book flap. 

Below, I will list other picture books that colleagues recommend. If the book is by a Native writer, I'll note that writer's nation. 

Gonzales, Maya, (2014). Call Me Tree/Llamame arbol. Children's Book Press.

Thom, Kai Cheng and Kai Yun Ching, (2017). From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea. Arsenal Pulp Press. 

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Recommended: NEW POETS OF NATIVE NATIONS, edited by Heid E. Erdrich

There are very few books of Native poetry for teachers looking for poems to use with children and young adults. They can, however, get a copy of New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich.

There are several poems in it that I'd use with teens. Consider, for example, Layli Long Soldier's "38." Most people, I'd be willing to bet, need help understanding the significance of that number. The opening stanza's of 38 are a comment on rules, on writing, on storytelling, on history, on expectations, on integrity of telling... terrific words that a teacher would want to spend time on. From that powerful set up, Long Soldier moves on to tell us about the 38:
You may or may not have heard about the
Dakota 38.
If this is the first time you've heard of it, you
might wonder, "What is the Dakota 38?"
The Dakota 38 refers to thirty-eight Dakota men
who were executed by hanging, under orders
from President Abraham Lincoln.
To date, this is the largest "legal" mass execution
in US history.
The hanging took place on December 26, 1862--
the day after Christmas. 
This was the same week that President Lincoln
signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

There's a lot more, after that. Long Soldier's poem is a history told with integrity and respect for the 38 and for Native people.

If you've read Eric Gansworth's young adult novels, you'll definitely want to read the poems he's got in New Poets of Native Nations. His "Speaking through Our Nations' Teeth." It opens with him asking:
When you see me
for the first time
at a powwow or social
across the circle
we dance
in which language and world view
do you form your first

In the next parts, he talks about some of the things we do in school (diagramming sentences)--which is one world view--and the other? Well... it isn't one where anybody diagrams sentences. That poem is followed by "It Goes Something Like This" which is about two children, going to Carlisle Indian School. And "Snagging the Eye from Curtis" is a brilliant critique of those sepia-toned photographs that far too many people view as authentic.

There are, in total, 21 Native poets in New Poets of Native Nations. Make sure you read Erdrich's introduction, also available online at Lit Hub. There, she talks about putting this volume together. I want to paste the entire Introduction here, but will put one paragraph, instead:

As I conceived of this book, I wanted to select and present a substantial and strong gathering of work by U.S. Native writers. I wanted to avoid the ways Native American poetry, most edited by non-Natives, has been presented—with a lot of apparatus and within binary notions of an easily digestible “American Indian” history or tradition in order to tie contemporary to past in a kind of literary anthropology. I did not want to add to the body of literature that allows “Indians” to exist in the past, or in relation to the past, but remain invisible in the world we all inhabit now.

New Poets of Native Nations. Get several copies! Give them away. Some books are described as "a gift" to readers. This one is that, for sure. Published in 2018 by Graywolf Press, I highly recommend it.

Highly Recommended! Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families, by Richard Van Camp

You know how some things are so dear that you hold that thing close to your heart and give it a squeeze? Every year, Richard Van Camp creates books for young people that make me want to do that. This year, it is Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families. His oh-so-perfect words in this board book were translated into Plains Cree by Mary Cardinal Collins.

It starts with "One kiss, two kiss, three kiss, four!" and so on. Facing these pages of words in English and Plains Cree are delightful, endearing photos of babies and toddlers and grown-ups, planting kisses. 

That cadence is interrupted by this photo, and, a smooch!

That smooch launches us into a series of pages where we read "Your kisses are so sweet!" and "Your kisses are so fun!" and "Your kisses are as welcome as the light from the sun!" 

I read Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina after having spent a raucous hour playing with my niece's little girl. We played with a stuffed bear and a snowman, chasing each other around my mom's house. After each spree down the hall, she looked up at me with her twinkling eyes that said 'let's do that again'--and so we did. The photo on the right is the two of us, at one moment in that zany playtime!  

That 'let's do it again' look is where Kiss by Kiss ends, too. The final page is "Please can we start again at kiss number one?" It'd be fun to read this book to her (and the bear and snowman)! 

This is one of those books you'll want to give to lots of people. And--lots of people are in it! Some people might look at the photos and think the people in them don't "look like Indians" because far too many people carry stereotypical ideas of what Native people should look like. In fact, every person shown in the book could be a tribal member or citizen of a Native nation! 

In every book, Van Camp gives us so much. Native people see things others may miss, but that's ok. Those are, to use Cynthia Leitich Smith's phrase, "brushstrokes" that are subtly placed mirrors for Native readers. 

Published in 2018 by Orca, Richard Van Camp's Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina is highly recommended. Get a copy. You'll see. It is a delight!

Friday, December 07, 2018


Aslan and Kelly Tudor's Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock is a non-fiction photo-essay published by EagleSpeaker Publishing.

The "about" page tells us that the author, Aslan Tudor, was eight and nine years old during the period depicted in the book, and a citizen of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Information provided is his first-hand account of time spent at the camps when he was there in 2016.

Told from the point of view of a child, 
Young Water Protectors is a rare kind of story 
of a unique period of activism 
with Native people from so many nations 
standing together to fight a company
exploiting people and hurting earth's resources. 

There's a lot to think about, packed into this slim book. Tudor touches on the school at the camp, and what he learned there but he also notes that activity at some of the construction sites wasn't safe. It was safer for kids to stay in camp. For readers who want more information about that, adults can fill in the gaps according to what they know about the reader.

AICL's Best Books of 2018

We are starting AICL's "Best Books of 2018" today (December 7) and will update it as we read other books published in 2018. Please share this page with teachers, librarians, parents--anyone, really--who is interested in books about Native peoples. As we come across additional books published in 2018 and as we finish reading and writing up reviews, we will add them to this list. If you know of ones we might want to consider, please let us know! For now, a partial list of to-be-read books by Native writers is at the bottom. 


Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Henry, Gordon and Elizabeth LaPensée. (2018). Not [Just] [An] Other. Makwa Enewed. United States. (review in process)

Board Books

Picture Books

For Middle Grades
  • Boney, Roy. (2018). "Tell It In Your Own Way" in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Cheryl and Wade Hudson. Crown Books for Young Readers. United States.
  • Quigley, Dawn. (2018). Apple in the Middle. North Dakota State University Press. United States
  • Smith, Monique Gray. (2018). Lucy & Lola. McKellar & Martin. Canada
  • Tingle, Tim. (2018). When A Ghost Talks, Listen. Roadrunner Press. United States. (review in process).
  • Tingle, Tim. (2018). Trust Your Name. 7th Generation. United States (review in process).
  • Van Camp, Richard. (2018). When We Play Our Drums, They Sing! McKellar & Martin. Canada

For High School
  • Day, Christine. (2018). "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity" in Our Stories, Our Voices. Simon and Schuster. United States. 
  • Erdrich, Heid E., ed. (2018). New Poets of Native Nations. Graywolf Press. United States.
  • Gansworth, Eric. (2018). Give Me Some Truth. Scholastic. United States.
  • Gansworth, Eric. (2018). "Don't Pass Me By" in Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles. Random House Books. United States. (review in process)
  • Jones, Adam Garnet. (2018). Fire Song. Annick Press. Canada (review in process)
  • Smith, Cynthia Leitich. (2018). Hearts Unbroken. Candlewick. United States.
  • Wylls, Kristine. (2018) "Ballad of Weary Daughters" in Unbroken, edited by Marieke Nijkamp. 


Comics and Graphic Novels

Board Books

Picture Books
  • Morales, Yuyi. (2018). Dreamers. Holiday House. United States. 

For Middle Grades

For High School

These include books intended for the adult market, but that we might think can be read by older teens. 
  • Francis, Lee and Alvitre Weshoyot, Sixkiller 
  • Hobson, Brandon. Where the Dead Sit Talking
  • Mailhot, Terese. Heart Berries: A Memoir
  • Orange, Tommy. There, There
  • Rice, Waubgeshig. Moon of the Crusted Snow
  • Robinson, Eden. Trickster Drift (book two in her Trickster trilogy)
  • Whitehead, Joshua. Jonny Appleseed

This list include books intended for the adult market, but that we might think can be read by older teens. 
  • Warner, Andrea. Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Recommended: UNPRESIDENTED: A BIOGRAPHY OF DONALD TRUMP by Martha Brockenbrough

I haven't done a rigorous study of biographies of US presidents. The ones I have looked at over the years are lacking in one way or another. Most leave out Native peoples and nations that presidents interacted with--or the information that is included, is biased.

In Who Was George Washington? (one of the books in the very popular "Who Was" series published by Penguin), we read that when he was young, George Washington worked as a surveyor--someone who measures and marks property boundaries--to make money. It was "a rough life" in the "wilderness," sleeping on the ground, cooking over open fires, and, he had to "steer clear of hostile bands of Indians" (page 18). That book came out in 2009. Many people in children's literature think that Russell Freeman wrote excellent nonfiction for kids, but his writing was biased, too. In his biography of Abraham Lincoln, he wrote that Lincoln's father was "shot dead by hostile Indians in 1786, while planting a field of corn in the Kentucky wilderness" (p. 7). Titled Lincoln: A Photobiography, it won the Newbery Medal in 1988. I hope that a book that has bias like that in it would not be selected, today, for that medal.

Was Washington racist? What about Lincoln? And--are the authors of those books racist? The point: there's a lot to consider in how someone writes about a president.

Let's turn now to Martha Brockenbrough's Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump, due out on December 4th from Feiwel and Friends. Anybody who has followed the news about the current president of the US knows that he's said a great many racist and sexist things. Brockenbrough doesn't shy away from any of that. I'm glad it is all here, documented, for young adults (the book is marketed for kids from age 12-17). I'm also glad that she's included information about Native people.

On page 98 she provides an account of trump's (I do not use a capital letter for his name) 1993 testimony at a hearing in Congress, at the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. She quotes him saying that "they don't look like Indians to me..." He was talking about Native people of tribal nations in Connecticut who had casinos that hurt "little guys" like him. At the time, trump was trying to make a deal with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

A few pages later, Brockenbrough provides readers with the name of another tribal nation. In 2004, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians ended their contract with trump's hotel and casino company, because his company was in financial trouble.

It is terrific to see Brockenbrough being tribally specific. By naming these nations, she is pushing back on a widespread ignorance in the US. Too many people use the word "Indians." And it often leads people to think of Native peoples in stereotypical ways.

Another good point of Unpresidented is information on page 100, about tribal membership. Succinctly, Brockenbrough writes that tribal nations make determinations about their citizens. What they look like doesn't matter.

Oh! Another thing to note is the part about arrowheads! It tells us a lot about the trump family and its values. I recommend Unpresidented and welcome your comments if you read it. And--kudos to Brockenbrough for writing this book! Reading the news every day is tough on my psyche. Spending the time necessary to write this very comprehensive and in-depth book must have taken a toll on her.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Recommended: A Day with Yayah

As a grandmother and longtime teacher of young children, I'm delighted to share my enthusiasm for A Day with Yayah, a 2018 Crocodile Books release by award-winning author Nicola I. Campbell (Interior Salish), illustrated by another award-winner, Julie Flett (Cree-Metis). 

A Day with Yayah is a visual feast for fans of Julie Flett’s art, which just seems to get more amazing all the time. Start with the cover, where a little girl in a yellow sweater gazes into the face of a silver-haired woman. Both are seated on the ground and surrounded by dark green grass, scattered flowers, and light blue sky.

Move to the endpapers with their seemingly simple, graceful plants and insects. One more page-turn and there’s a bright yellow warbler-type bird perched atop some tiny white flowers. On the facing page, the bird flies past the title. Turn the page again and it sits above the dedications. The facing page features another Indigenous child wearing red boots and a baseball-type cap, holding a yellow flower. One more page turn, and Nicola Campbell’s story begins as the little yellow bird looks on.

It’s springtime, and Nikki and her grandmother ("Yayah" in their Indigenous language) are tanning a hide. (They’re the pair on the cover.) Along come two kids from next door, eager for their lessons from Yayah. She has been teaching them to identify edible wild plants AND to speak their Indigenous language, Nłeʔkepmxcin. She’s about to go gathering, and the kids want to go along. Yayah packs them a lunch, phones their families, and soon they’re all piled into Auntie Karen’s red minivan along with some other family members -- heading for a place where many significant plants can be found.

Flett’s illustrations show readers what a beautiful day it is, and Campbell has Yayah teach the children “beautiful” in their language. Yayah talks with them about specific plants – how they grow, their uses, and what to avoid (like poison ivy).  She uses the English names, but also tells them what those things are called “in our language,” and helps them with their pronunciation (for example, one sound “is made at the back of your throat”). Campbell weaves this vocabulary into the story multiple times, and many of the words are also set apart from the main text on the pages where they first appear, so child readers who are learning the language have several chances to practice each one. 

The story ends as the sun begins to go down, and the children give the food they have gathered to their elders. On the next page is Campbell's author’s note about Nłeʔkepmxcin, which is spoken by the Interior Salish people of what is currently known as British Columbia. I can’t make the proper spellings of the words because my keyboard lacks a lot of the characters.

Facing the author’s note is a glossary/pronunciation guide to the words Yayah teaches in the story. On the final page before the end papers, that little yellow bird is back on the white flowers.  

This is probably the most beautiful “didactic” book I’ve ever encountered. Yes, it's meant for teaching, but it also conveys a particular way of teaching and learning -- grounded in solid, caring Indigenous family/community relationships, and in profound respect for children's need to interact closely with things that are worth investigating in their world. I think children will relate well to the characters' curiosity and eagerness to find out more about words and about the natural world. There's even some humor to further enrich the book-sharing experience.

Speakers of Nłeʔkepmxcin reading today's post -- can you recommend a good resource for non-Salish adults who want to read aloud using the Nłeʔkepmxcin words in A Day with Yayah? The glossary and Campbell's in-text clues are extremely helpful, but some teachers may still hesitate to share it because of concern that they will mispronounce. 

Of course, with help from the glossary, non-Salish readers can always simply substitute the English meanings as they read, and talk with the non-Salish children about the Nłeʔkepmxcin words without trying to say them. If they're fortunate enough to work with Salish families, one of the parents might be willing to do the reading. No matter what, it's essential for the teacher, parent, or librarian to model effective ways to encounter unfamiliar languages. Children who feel uncomfortable with "foreign" sounds and letters may giggle or mock. The adult's job is to show them how to meet the challenge of "not understanding" appropriately, with 
1) humility ("I don't know this way of communicating but I can learn about it.") 
2) respect ("This language is worth knowing more about it.") and 
3) curiosity ("Wonder how I can find out more about it? Wonder what it would feel like to know what people are saying in that language?"). 

So far I haven't found recorded read-alouds of this book online. We can hope there will be some good ones soon!

Campbell has Yayah and the children thank the Creator for what they find. This seems to be done in a general way, perhaps a bit like saying grace before a meal, and does not appear to involve ceremonial matters that shouldn't be shared outside their Indigenous community. In her dedication, Nicola Campbell honors Auntie "E.I." Ethel Isaacs for "our childhood memories of traditional food gathering." She also thanks a woman who has been a champion for preservation of Nłeʔkepmxcin.

A Day with Yayah has all the features of an #ownvoices effort, and it’s strongly recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Jill Lepore's These Truths: A History of the United States came out this year (2018). Published by W. W. Norton and Company, teachers will be drawn to it as a source for developing lesson plans. As regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know, I will occasionally take a look at books marketed to adults because I think teachers might use them. I cannot recommend Lepore's book.

Here's why I cannot recommend it. Lepore is an acclaimed historian, but when I got to page 23 and read what she wrote about Zuni, I hit the pause button right away. She wrote (yellow highlights are mine):
In 1540, a young nobleman named Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an army of Spaniards who were crossing the continent in search of a fabled city of gold. In what is now New Mexico, they found a hive on baked-clay apartment houses, the kind of town the Spanish took to calling a pueblo. Dutifully, Coronado had the Requerimiento read aloud. The Zuni listened to a man speaking a language they could not possibly understand. "They wore coats of iron, and warbonnets of metal, and carried for weapons short canes that spit fire and made thunder," the Zuni later said about Coronado's men.
Some people use "hive" to characterize a state of activity but Lepore uses it to refer to the construction style of Native homes. Others have done it, too. For many (most?) people, it might seem fine, but to me--someone whose ancestors built those kinds of homes--I think the association of work with bees rather than human beings is a problem. For hundreds of years, white people have written about Native people in ways that overtly and subtly denigrate us, casting us as inferior. We were not, and it is wrong that such words continue to be used.

Then, this acclaimed historian uses a problematic quote! Let's take a close look at "They wore coats of iron..."

Lepore cites David Weber's The Spanish Frontier in North America for that quote. I looked at his book. He has it as an epigraph for chapter one, and cites "Zuni tradition" (see the screen cap to the right).

Lepore is a professor, teaching students how to become historians.  When I was a professor in American Indian Studies, it was important to me that students learn that they must be critical of sources they used in their studies. Presumably, Lepore saw Weber's source when she chose to use it for her book. Did she think "Zuni tradition" was sufficient? Apparently, she did.

With the internet, it is simple enough to figure out sources.  Though Weber didn't provide a footnote for his source, he does list Woodbury Lowery's book, The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States, which was published in 1901. Lowery has "They wore coats of iron..." in his book. Here's a screen capture of that passage (purple highlight is mine):

On the previous page, Lowery tells us his source: Frank Hamilton Cushing! Cushing--acclaimed by some--is far from a reliable source of Zuni history. He misrepresented them in his writings so much that his name is still spoken there, with derision. In the early 1990s, Zuni cartoonist Phil Hughte did a series of paintings about Cushing. They were published in book format in 1994 by Zuni's publishing company, Zuni A:shiwi. Hughte's book is titled A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing and there's a PBS video, Another Side of the Story, about Hughte's work (I cringed at the flute rendition of Amazing Grace at the opening to the video, but the content is definitely worth your time.)

Lowery failed in using Cushing as a source. 
Weber failed in using Lowery as a source. 
And Jill Lepore failed in using Weber as a source. 

I'm spelling that out--in that way--because it is important that teachers and professors take care in the sources they use then writing or teaching students. It is important to see how errors get recycled. And, it is especially troubling to see Lepore replicating this error, in 2018!

Integrity of research is important. She's definitely failed in her passages about Zuni. It makes me wonder about the rest of the content. It should make you wary, too.

On Twitter, I've seen several historians raise similar questions about her book. I'll write to them and ask if I can add their remarks here. If you've read the book and see problems with how Lepore has represented Indigenous history and people, let me know. I'll add your comments to this post.


Update, November 27, 1:03 PM:

With her permission, I am adding Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant's tweets on Oct 31, 2018. She is on the faculty at the University of Buffalo and specializes in Haudenausounee history. She was responding to a tweet from Jeff Ostler (he's a historian at the University of Oregon), who shared a photo of a passage from Lepore's book and asked if it was a serious problem for Lepore to write that Jackson's removal policy only applied to the southern nations. The passage Ostler shared says (highlight is mine, and I've inserted [sic] to mark Lepore's spelling errors.):
Jackson's first campaign involved implementing the policy of Indian removal, forcibly moving native peoples east of the Mississippi River to lands to the west. This policy applied only to the South. There were Indian communities in the North--the Mashpees of Massachusetts, for instance--but their numbers were small. James Fennimore [sic] Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826) was just one in a glut of romantic paeans to the "vanishing Indian," the ghost of Indians past. "We hear the rustling of their footsteps, like that of the withered leaves of autumn, and they are gone forever," wrote Justice Story in 1828. Jackson directed his policy of Indian removal at the much bigger communities of native peoples of the Southeast, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chocktaws [sic], Creeks, and Seminoles who lived on the homelands in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, Jackson's home state. 
On twitter, Dr. Mt. Pleasant replied to Ostler, saying:
Since you asked...this is egregious. On so many levels. Any scholar of American Indian history could write an essay about the numerous problems with this passage. Because it’s 2018 and we all know that this is a tired, debunked narrative.
Folks who are curious about this need look no further than John Bowes 2016 book _Land Too Good for Indians: Northern Indian Removal_ The book has been widely reviewed, so it’s well known (or should be) among historians.
Thinking further about the seriousness of the problem, beyond its disconnection from current scholarship, I worry that a passage like this reinforces all the negative stereotypes about History and historians that circulate in Indian Country.
And I think about the role that passages like this play in discouraging Native youth from studying History, because the stories they know about themselves, their families, their communities & their nations are misrepresented in narratives like this.
And as a Native person who is a professional historian, I know that this sort of discouragement comes early and often, it can contribute to unwelcoming classroom environments, and it may be part of the reason there are so few Native people who hold PhDs and teach History.
Happily, though, there are ways to address this. Together w my co-authors, we developed a larger discussion of *both* the problems and the solutions in our article “Materials and Methods in Native American and Indigenous Studies: Completing the Turn”.

Dr. Mt. Pleasant recommended this post as part of this conversation: The Miseducation of the Public and the Erasure of Native Americans, written by Lewis Borck and Ashleigh Thompson, was posted on Nov 22, 2018 at the American Anthropological Association's blog.


Update, November 27, 1:55 PM:

Dr. Christine DeLucia, a historian at Mt. Holyoke, shared my review and thanked me for:
"delving into a specific example of how and why Jill Lepore's treatment of Indigenous histories--and the methods she employs--are so problematic. Uncritical use of colonialist sources that purport to speak for Indigenous people is a deeply rooted issue in Euro-American scholarship."

Update, Jan 10, 2019, 3:40 PM:
See Dr. DeLucia's review of Lepore's book. It is at the Los Angeles Review of Books.