Thursday, December 05, 2019

Not Recommended: ENCOUNTER by Brittany Luby and Michaela Goade

Several months ago, we received a copy of Brittany Luby and Michaela Goade's Encounter. It came out in October of 2019 from one of the Big Five publishers: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Books published by the Big Five receive visibility that books from smaller publishers do not. It is exceedingly difficult for Native writers to get in those Big Five doors. We had long conversations about Encounter because of that, and because the author and illustrator are Native. Regular readers of AICL know that we are strong advocates for #OwnVoices.

In the end, we decided we cannot recommend it.

We hope to share our conversations about Encounter with AICL's readers but for now, we are giving you a short version of our thoughts on the book. The publisher's description of the book is below, followed by our respective thoughts on the book.
A powerful imagining by two Native creators of a first encounter between two very different people that celebrates our ability to acknowledge difference and find common ground.
Based on the real journal kept by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534, Encounter imagines a first meeting between a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisher. As they navigate their differences, the wise animals around them note their similarities, illuminating common ground.
This extraordinary imagining by Brittany Luby, Professor of Indigenous History, is paired with stunning art by Michaela Goade, winner of 2018 American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award. Encounter is a luminous telling from two Indigenous creators that invites readers to reckon with the past, and to welcome, together, a future that is yet unchartered.


Debbie's thoughts:

When I first learned of the book, my thoughts turned to Thanksgiving picture books that show Pilgrims and Indians (sometimes Wampanoags) meeting each other. In particular, Rockwell's Thanksgiving Day came to mind. In it, the children are doing a reenactment of the Pilgrim's landing. One child playing the part of a Pilgrim is thankful that the Pilgrims were "greeted kindly by the Wampanoag people who shared their land with them." Another child, playing the part of a Wampanoag, is thankful that the Pilgrims are peaceful. Another, playing the part of a Wampanoag leader, talked about how the Wampanoag and Pilgrim people shared a feast that autumn day. It is, in tone, idyllic.

Rockwell's book came out in 1999 but ones like it come out every year. Writers and illustrators, it seems to me, keep trying to tell that same story. Each year there is pushback to that story. On social media, people replied to tweets and posts from teachers who showed their classes of children, reenacting that "first Thanksgiving." It seems people in the US are determined to turn that idyllic story into the truth. And so--when I first saw Encounter--I was afraid that it would be celebrated for its storyline, and because of its author and illustrator. Over time, my fears were realized. It got starred reviews, was featured on NPR, and it is now appearing on Best of 2019 book lists.

It definitely appeals to White readers, but I could not--and cannot--imagine handing the book to a Native child or Native family. I'm glad for the visibility that it brings to both, Luby and Goade, and I hope that it leads to more opportunities with a major publisher. I don't think any library or home needs imagined stories like this one. I think we need ones that are honest tellings of history.


Jean's thoughts:

The Author's Reflection and the Historical Note in the back of the book help explain what Brittany Luby is going for with Encounter: an intentional contrast with actual events, a thought-provoking  counter-story. So I gave a lot of attention to how it felt to read and re-read the story and the author's comments, in light of all that still sits with me after Debbie and I adapted An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. What would it mean to kids -- Native kids and non-Native -- that this story about an imaginary innocent Native/white friendship is so far from what really happened?

Reading Encounter at this point in life turned out to be work. I'm white; my husband and our kids are Mvskoke Creek. I'm also of a generation that pretty much drowned in "cowboys/cavalry & Indians" imagery, and I had just spent several years immersed in Indigenous history.  I found that I did a lot of mental and emotional processing about Encounter. No need to go into all that, but it made me see that sharing it with kids would be complicated. Before long, we could tell the book was getting popular, and would inevitably be shared with lots of children, probably plucked off bookshelves for friendship-affirming read-alouds.

Debbie mentioned (above) those persistent Thanksgiving myths. "First contacts" between Europeans and Indigenous peoples are also heavily mythologized as part of the grand American narrative. That's what schooling tells us about US history, over decades of our lives, and it's hard to un-do. Some people don't want to undo it. (Many Native families provide the less shiny reality for their children, though.)

So how are professionals and parents (especially non-Natives) supposed to help children engage with a fantasy about "first contact" if they aren't clear on the reality, themselves? You can't expect non-Native children to grasp the import of a story like Encounter before they comprehend the reality. And if you present the fantasy in Encounter to Native children without showing that you know and believe the real history, and without making sure their classmates also get it, they will see the lie. They would feel -- as Debbie said in one of our talks about it -- betrayed.

We know, given the make-up of the school and library professions, it'll be mostly non-Native professionals who read or recommend Encounter to their students or patrons.  So for a while my head was full of caveats. The adults would need to be deeply intentional & thoroughly prepared, and give serious thought to their goals for sharing the book. There were things to be aware of, groundwork to lay, things to do and not do. Calling into question the entire settler-colonizer mindset...  Someone had suggested on Twitter that adults could read the Author Reflection and Historical Note to children first. But it seemed to me that the author's comments alone couldn't fill the gaps in many peoples' (mis)understanding of Indigenous history.

And here's the problem: How many teachers or librarians are able (or willing) to do that much work in order to share a specific picture book? Isn't it more likely to be shared as a sweet story of how people ought to treat each other?

During one conversation, after giving solid attention to my tangled thoughts, Debbie asked, "Would you read it to Jack?" (Jack's my 9-year-old grandson.) My brain started to say, "Mmmaybe, but only if --" But my heart said, "No. No, I wouldn't."

I've applied that question to critiques of many other books -- "What would it feel like to be one or another of my grandkids, reading this?" Why it wasn't with me from the beginning on this one is puzzling.

For non-Native (especially White) adults, there may be some value in personally, privately using counter-narratives like this one, with oneself, to face the chasm between respectful human relationships that sustain life and the real Indigenous history of the continent currently known as North America. But it doesn't feel like a book for children.


Debbie and Jean's thoughts:

We want to see books by Native writers and illustrators succeed. Our commitment to them, however, is superceded by our commitment to children. We'd like to think that a book like this has an audience, but at this point, we're not sure who that would audience would be.

As noted above, we hope that the book brings visibility to Luby and Goade, and we look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

Monday, December 02, 2019


Snowy Farm by Calvin Shaw, with illustrations by Oamul Lu, was published by Simon and Schuster on November 5, 2019. Before it was Snowy Farm, it was Igloo Farm and scheduled to be published in October of 2019. If you do an Internet search of Igloo Farm, you will be taken to pages about Snowy Farm.

I sure would like to know what led to the changes in the title, words, and illustrations for this book. Back in October, I saw the F&Gs for both. (F&G means the pages of a book, folded and gathered but not yet bound. See details about F&Gs at Editorial Anonymous.) On the cover, we see these changes:
  • The title word Igloo was replaced with Snowy
  • The illustration of an igloo was replaced with a horse
  • The skin color of the people was changed 
  • Two chickens were inserted on the Snowy Farm cover
  • The snowman's scarf was changed from green to orange 

Here's the front cover inside flap.

On the left is Igloo Farm. On the right is Snowy Farm. The words are identical.

They read, in part "Away on a farm in a snowy white home, a family lives life in a way of their own..."

The skin color (as we saw on the cover) of the people is different. In the original book, the man held a spear and his parka has what appears to be fringe at its hem.

Here's the first page of both copies:

The words in the original are:
There's an igloo windmill on an igloo farm, with an igloo house and an igloo barn.
The words in the revised book are:
There's a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn. 
In the original, "igloo house" has been replaced by "house" (the word 'igloo' was deleted) and in the illustration, the domed structure made of ice blocks has been replaced by a pitched roof structure with walls and two windows. The structure representing a barn remains the same in both copies.

In the original, the tree by the igloo is blue; in the revision, that blue color is used for the window of the house and the tree is the same color as the others. Other color changes are made throughout the book. In the original, the sky is gray-purple; in the revised one, the sky is a gray-blue. And, as shown on the cover and the cover flaps, the family's skin tone was changed. The illustrator, Oamul Lu, uses a computer to create his art. A wild guess: changing the skin tone was easily done with a series of keyboard clicks or commands.

Update on Dec 3, 2019 at 5:45 AM:
I continue to look around for information. I did an image search using "igloo windmill" and found that a Romanian artist, Vali Petridean, has the exact same words on some art that he did. Who wrote those words? Petridean? Or, Shaw? 

When I put the URL for Petridean's art into the Internet Archive page, I see that he loaded that image to his website on July 1, 2015. That was a few years before the first images from Igloo Farm began to appear.

Here's Petridean's text/illustration, juxtaposed with Shaw/Lu's (note on December 4 2019--I wrote to Petridean to ask about the illustration on his page. He said it is Shaw's poem):

----end update on Dec 3---

I don't think I can legally share all the photos I took because of copyright laws, so will now switch to descriptions.

Glance back up at the cover. The horse and the chicken shown on the cover of Snowy Farm are in the interior pages of Igloo Farm. In both versions, the farm animals (horse, chickens, goat) wear earmuffs. In both, the man is holding ice carrots, which is what the animals are fed. Later, the man is driving a tractor sled and pulling two boxes of snow apples, which is what he eats when he works the fields.

On one page we are inside the igloo/house where real food is being cooked (by "the wife" or "the mom"). In Igloo Farm, the words are:
The wife of the farmer is cooking inside, with cinnamon spices and eggs to be fried.
In Snowy Farm the words are:
The mom of the family is cooking a dish with savory spices and seasonal fish.
On a subsequent page, the kids come inside to eat. The table in Igloo Farm is white, like if it is made from snow or ice. The table in Snowy Farm is made of lumber. After supper the family sits around an open flame fire, inside. To the left of them is a teapot. In Igloo Farm, the teapot is on a counter made of ice blocks. In Snowy Farm, it is a low table with wooden legs.

When night falls they go to bed. Both families sleep on the floor, covered in brown blankets that seem to have fur on them. The family in Igloo Farm has pillows with a decorative cover (see below); the family in Snowy Farm has plain pillows.

At the end of Igloo Farm is an Author's Note where Shaw tells us that he lived in upstate New York as a child. He and his brother played in the snow, went sledding, built snowmen, and tried to build igloos. Igloo Farm is what he believes living in an igloo would be like. He also writes:
For thousands of years, a group of people known as Inuits have relied on igloos for shelter in the icy cold regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.
He says a few additional things about the Arctic, igloos and Inuits. In his "For Further Reading" list are four books about living in the Arctic, or about igloos.

At the end of Snowy Farm is a completely different Author's Note. No mention at all of Inuits, or igloos or the Arctic (at the North Pole). In fact, he writes about the Antarctic (at the South Pole). He says:
The people who travel to live in Antarctica fall into two main groups, those who live and work on scientific research stations or bases, and tourists. No one lives in Antarctica indefinitely in the way that people do in the rest of the world. Antarctica has no commercial industries, no towns or cities, no permanent residents. 
Curious about Antarctica, I did an Internet search using "who lives in Antarctica" and was--quite frankly--stunned to read those same words on the Cool Antarctica website (that website was the second hit in my search results). In the image below, the screen capture on top is from the website and the one below is my photograph of the Author's Note in Snowy Farm (Note: you see the word "Edited" after the file name? It is there because I used the Contrast option in the "Adjust Color" tool in my laptop's "Preview" app to make the words more legible.):

That plagiarism is stunning.

This book's journey, from start to finish, is striking.

The changes to the book title, the words and illustrations, throughout, are remarkable.

Why did nobody at Simon and Schuster catch the problems with igloo before the book was printed into F&G's?

Who spoke up and said 'hey, we need to revise this book..."

How did those conversations go, in the editorial offices? What did someone say, exactly? And, what did they say to the author and illustrator? Or--was it the author or illustrator who got in touch with the editors and said changes were necessary?

I doubt we'll have answers to any of those questions but I'll tag Simon and Schuster and see if there's any response. If you hear anything, let us know!

Update, 4:34 PM on December 3, 2019

As far as I'm able to determine, there are no professional reviews of Snowy Farm. And yet, when I look in WorldCat, I see that several libraries have copies of the book. That's another puzzle. I thought that libraries purchase books based on 2 or more positive reviews in a review journal. I'm looking into that lack of reviews and will be back with an update when I have some info to share.

Update, 12:30 PM on December 5, 2019

Earlier today, an anonymous person submitted a comment that consists of a link to a discussion on Reddit that appears to be about this post--specifically, the plagiarized author's note. The original poster ("Mister_B_Lank") at Reddit is seeking legal advice on Reddit. 18 hours ago (which would be December 4 in late afternoon), they wrote:
My publisher asked me write an “Author’s Note” that provides information as to what my story is about at the end of the book. I said sure, and submitted it to them. However, when I got the book, I saw that the Author’s Note was drastically changed.
I recently found out that they plagiarized some of the Author’s Note from a website. People online are noticing the plagiarism and are assuming it’s me who wrote the Author’s Note.
Not too sure how to handle this. Any help mucho appreciated. For the record I’m in the U.S.
Here's a screen capture of the post:

In the conversation that took place, the OP ("OP" is shorthand for "original poster") said that the publisher admitted to rewriting what he submitted:

I clicked on the OP's name ("Mister_B_Lank") and saw that, on November 15, he had posted that his book had come out but there wasn't much marketing of it. Another person asked for the book title but the OP did not want to disclose it. He did say this:
Well, I don’t want to disclose too much. But I will say this: It’s a kid’s book. We had to change the title, the characters, and the setting because I am a “non-native” who wrote about another culture. Not disparagingly, but there is a movement right now called “Own Voices” that is derailing the publication of YA and kid’s books written by non-natives (I’m white) . Because of this, I am worried the publisher is barely marketing the book due to some kind of backlash. 
Here's that screen cap:

Another person asked how the OP felt about the changes. The OP replied:
Honestly, it drove me kind of crazy through the publishing process that the book was being altered so heavily. When I finally held the book in my hands for the first time, I didn’t have that much of an emotional response. I’ve become a bit more disgruntled after the release of the book w the lack of marketing, and im currently having a very hard time getting my publisher and agent to respond to my emails about the release
And here's that screen cap:


To try to get my own thoughts in order, I'm constructing a timeline. Somewhere between July 16 2018 and September 7, 2019, somebody said 'stop' on the Inuit text and illustrations. The skin tone of the Inuit characters being lightened is the opposite of what we saw take place in publishing in past decades. To make books more inclusive, artists used a darker skin color but didn't change any other features. As noted above in the Author Note for Igloo Farm, Shaw (author) created the book out of his imagination of what life in an igloo would be like. But the book was radically altered. Here's the timeline.

2015 -- Romanian artist named Vali Petridean published an image he created for Shaw (author of Igloo Farm/Snowy Farm). It has the first few lines of Shaw's book on it.

April 10, 2017 -- Publisher's Weekly's Rights Report for April 10, 2017 says that Paula Wiseman at Simon and Schuster bought Igloo Farm by Calvin Shaw, and that Kirsten Hall of Catbird Productions negotiated the deal for world rights.

July 16, 2018 -- Librarian tweeted about Igloo Farm after seeing image of cover on "Reading With Mr. Teut" blog.

September 7, 2019 -- I saw and took photos of the F&G's for both, Igloo Farm and Snowy Farm. 

November 15, 2019 -- Calvin Shaw, the author, posted a question about book marketing, to Reddit. He said his publisher was barely marketing his book, and worried it was because they feared backlash because the original book had Native content and he is White. He referenced Own Voices, saying it is derailing books written by non-Natives. [Note: I learned of Shaw's post to Reddit on Dec 5, when an AICL reader submitted a comment with link to Shaw's December 4 post to Reddit.]

December 2, 2019 -- I published "Igloo Farm becomes Snowy Farm" here, on AICL.

December 4, 2019 -- At Reddit, Calvin Shaw, author of Igloo Farm/Snowy Farm posted his concerns about his publisher's revisions to his Author's Note. The plagiarism, he said, was done by the publisher, not by him.

December 5, 2019 -- Shaw deleted the November 15 post at Reddit, about marketing of the book. The conversation that ensued (where he referenced Own Voices) is still available.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Recommended: "Chubby City Indian" by Jana Schmieding in THE (OTHER) F WORD: A CELEBRATION OF THE FAT AND FIERCE, edited b Angie Manfredi

Jana Schmeiding is Lakota. She does comedy shows and hosts the Woman of Size podcast. Her essay, "Chubby City Indian" is in Angie Manfredi's The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce. Published in 2019 by Amulet Books, the book includes personal essays, prose, poetry, fashion tips, and art from 30 different people. 

Schmieding's essay is a searing look at her life, beginning with her childhood. She uses a river to capture her life as a Native child in a small town in Oregon in the 1990s, where social and educational experiences were dominated by Whiteness. That was, for her, the White Side of the River. It was hard for me to read what she went through in middle school: the pain of wanting to be accepted, and the pain of doing things for that acceptance.

On the Native Side of the River, however, we see something else entirely. Acceptance. A place of kinship with other Native girls, some who had to dress up as pilgrims for kindergarten pageants. She had a place where she could be with Native family, dancing at powwows.

And on the Native Side of the River, she felt joy--as depicted in Lisa Tegtmeier's illustration of her, dancing. She writes:
My bigness and boldness on the dance floor were a celebration of their courage and endurance in the face of so much historic silencing.
I've read that sentence several times. It is so affirming! It is the Fat and Fierce of the subtitle of Manfredi's book. I think Chubby City Indian is terrific, and that the book is a must-have, for every school and public library because of its many affirmations. In it you'll find David Bowles, Alex Gino, Julie Murphy, Isabel Quintero, Renée Watson, and so many others. This is the sort of book you'll want to have multiple copies of available. Thanks, Angie, for bring it forth!

Recommended: "Ballad of Weary Daughters"

It's hard to authentically tell stories from the POV of children and youth trying to keep family and self together in the face of parental loss, dysfunction, abuse, or neglect (or institutional abuse). One Native writer who has done that exceptionally well is Vickie L. Sears (Cherokee). Her devastating, often-anthologized "Grace" should be required reading for professionals who work with foster children or other young ones pushed too early into the role of looking out for themselves and their siblings.

"Ballad of Weary Daughters" by Kristine Wyllys (Eastern Band Cherokee) is another insightful story of young people carrying family survival on their shoulders. It's part of an anthology "starring disabled teens" in Unbroken (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2018, edited by Marieke Nijkamp). We're reviewing it on AICL because of several references to the Tsalagi people and language.

"Ballad" is told in the voice of contemporary high schooler River Smith. River is the daughter of a Tsalagi mother and a white Christian pastor who has recently abandoned his congregation and his family to run off with another woman. River's mother manages to keep putting one foot in front of the other, working long hours to keep food on the table. River steps into the caretaker role for her younger siblings, who are all showing signs of severe stress. It doesn't help that River has a mental illness and her doctors have had trouble getting her medications right.

River and her beloved friend, Lucy, are the "weary daughters" of the story's title. They both feel the stress of barely holding on, and they recognize that their relationship is what gets them through each difficult day. In teaching and social services, when we hear about "resilience factors," this is one of the factors they're talking about: friends who go beyond the typical expectations and serve as literal lifelines for the ones who are struggling. You can't imagine how either River or Lucy could get by without the other's sustaining presence. There is no one else to help them, no support services.

I've read other fiction about teens that feels like a circa-2005 Ruby Payne anecdote catalog of poverty-related dysfunction and catastrophe, where an author just won't stop dumping on the main character.  But "Ballad" works for me because Wyllys shows us a family in what could be called a slow-moving emergency -- one that ravels over time. In real life, those aren't the kind that tend to qualify for substantial official help for a family, but the burden on a teen can still be nearly unbearable. River and her family have lived through one emergency -- the days and weeks after the father's departure. Another may be brewing with one of River's sisters, and River's mental health could become more fragile.

The story ended with me loving both River and Lucy. I wanted more for them -- and more about them. I hope Kristine Wyllys will let us hear from them again.

The Cherokee (Tsalagi) content feels matter-of-fact; Wyllys is not teaching readers; she is saying "This is River's life, in which family conversations contain some Tsalagi words, absent Tsalagi family members are important, and the children are aware that their father's congregation views them as Other because they are not white."

I strongly recommend this story. Other entries in Unbroken are also definitely worth reading.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Not Recommended: THE SACRIFICE by Diane Matcheck

A reader wrote to ask if we've seen The Sacrifice by Diane Matcheck. It was published in 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan). Based on what I have read about the book, I am changing the title of this blog post from a "have you seen" to "Not Recommended."

One of the things I (Debbie) do when I get questions about a book is to read the description of the book. Over at Barnes and Noble's website, I saw this:
An Apsaalooka (Crow) Indian girl has lived her life as a despised loner, overshadowed by her dead twin brother, who, it was prophesied at their birth, would become a "Great One" among his people. One night, she sets off on a forbidden journey to prove to her village, and her brother's spirit, that she is the one destined to become the true Great One. Her trek over the plains and into the mysterious region of modern-day Yellowstone National Park is a disaster, culminating in her eventual capture by a tribe of Pawnee. Strangely, these foreigners treat her with an unfamiliar respect, and the girl starts to let down her guard. But when it is suddenly revealed that she has been kept alive in order to be killed in a ritual harvest-season sacrifice, the girl is thrown back into her desperate battle for Diane Matcheck's The Sacrifice.
The words in that description prompted a lot of questions. First is the use of "Apsaalooka" (that word, spelled that way, is in the description and throughout the book). I'm glad to see writers using a tribal nation's own name for itself, in their language, but it is important to get it spelled right. When I put "Apsaalooka" in the Google search window, Google asked "Did you mean Apsaalooke"? 

On the website for the Crow Tribe of Indians, you'll find "Apsaalooke." 

I wondered if the sources Matcheck used might have been from older books when the word ended with an 'a' instead of an 'e'. I did a search in Google Books and was surprised to see Paulette Fairbanks Molin's critique of The Sacrifice in her book, American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. Molin's book came out in 2005. 

From the reader's question, I had assumed--incorrectly--that Matcheck's The Sacrifice is a new book. It isn't. As I showed above, the first year of publication for this book is 1998.

Obviously, people at Macmillan did not read Molin's critique. Were there any changes from the 1998 edition to the 2016 one? I doubt it, based on reviews I read of the 2016 edition.

Through agreements with review journals, Barnes and Noble is able to post the full review of a book on their website page for a given book. I am able to see, for example, the reviews of The Sacrifice from BookList, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal. The first two reviews are unsigned. The one from School Library Journal, however, is signed--by Dr. Loriene Roy who is enrolled at the White Earth Reservation. She's a former president of the American Library Association.

All three reviews begin with similar content (descriptions of what happens in the book). The first two unsigned reviews praise the book in their closing sentences, but Roy does not. Here's what she wrote:
Weakness lies in the characterization. The young woman appears to have a modern belief in independence and personal achievement and a defiance of the more Native perspectives of respect for elders and thanksgiving for the gifts of nature. Also questionable is the recounting of tribal religious practice, an act of cultural misappropriation.
Roy's last two sentences are important. It seems to me that Matcheck's Native character is one with White sensibilities. That's not ok, at all. And I'm glad to see Roy calling out the appropriations she saw in the book.

I opened the "Look Inside" option on Amazon to read what I could of The Sacrifice. Just prior to chapter one is a passage from the Bible. That doesn't bode well, at all. In fact, it shouts White Man's Indian (for those who don't know, a "White Man's Indian" is a white depiction of a Native person; for more info see Robert F. Berkhofer's The White Man's Indian, published in 1979). The Bible passage is this one:

For what is a man profited, 
if he shall gain the whole world, 
and lose his own soul? 
or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
--MATTHEW 16:26

On page 4, the author's description of the main character is rife with stereotypes. Her eyes smolder, "like a wildcat's eyes at night from within its den." She's got high cheekbones and a "fine, straight nose." Her hair is black but is "snarled in a grimy black nest" down her back. The very first sentence of the book is "The girl clawed the wind-whipped hair out of her eyes with bloody hands, and listened" (page 3). Her hands are bloody because she's killed three buffalo; the carcass of one is beside her. She imagines everyone praising her and giving her a new name, "the Great One" instead of the name she carries, "Weak-one-who-does-not-last." That desire to be known as "the Great One" is what Roy's critique is describing. Her father approaches her. Matcheck introduces him by talking about his speech, and his teeth. "His talk was stubby-sounding and full of whistles, because all but one of his front teeth were snapped off jagged or gone completely" (p. 6-7).

The passage from the Bible, the author's depiction of the main character and her father, and Roy's critique are enough for me to give The Sacrifice a Not Recommended tag.

Macmillan republished it (with a new cover) because it must be making money for them. That means people are buying it. Money drives book publishing. How about--if you bought it--you take it back to your bookstore and ask for a refund? If you're on Twitter, what if you ask Macmillan why they published it? In other words, I'm asking people to speak up about publishers reissuing old books. Don't be complicit with Macmillan's anti-Native nonsense! Speak up!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mark this day... there's a Native Imprint from a Major Publisher!

Way back when I started graduate school in the mid 1990s, I wanted to see so much more being published by Native writers... and here, in 2019, is the very best news that I could hope for...

Congratulations to Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) for making it happen!

Thank you, to Rosemary Brosnan and HarperCollins, for your commitment to Heartdrum, to Cyn, and to Native writers and illustrators.

And thank you, Ellen Oh! 

And Rainey--the logo... perfect!

[This news was first published by Publishers Weekly.]

Recommended: The Case of the Missing Auntie

 How often have you read a middle grade mystery novel that had you in tears just a few pages after making you laugh? That's what happened when I spent yesterday with an ARC of Michael Hutchinson's new Mighty Muskrats Mystery, The Case of the Missing Auntie (Second Story Press, 2019)

In The Case of Windy Lake, Hutchinson introduced four mystery-solving Cree cousins: Atim, Chickadee, Samuel, and Otter, known in their community as the Mighty Muskrats. Now he has the Muskrats head for the Big City to visit some more cousins, and to attend a big event called the Exhibition Fair. Hutchinson reveals a bit more about each character this time, along with a lot more about historical and contemporary Indigenous experience in the part of the world currently known as Canada.

Chickadee looks forward to the Exhibition (the Ex), but she's also on a mission. Their Grandpa has told her about his younger sister who was taken from a boarding school decades ago, and lost in "The Scoop" The family hasn't seen or heard from her since, and he wants very much to find her. "The Scoop" is the informal name for a set of Canadian policies that resulted in many First Nations children disappearing, forever separated from their families. Chickadee is determined to find out what happened to Auntie Charlotte, even if that means she has to guilt-trip her cousins into helping her. And even if she has to navigate the city transit system alone while Atim, Samuel, and Otter try to find a ticket for Otter to a sold-out concert by their favorite Indigenous band.

Hutchinson's storytelling is engaging. The kids find some good allies and face some unexpected challenges, even dangers. To say more about the plot lines might give something away. So.

Windy Lake featured some standout prose, and Hutchinson's way with words is evident in Missing Auntie as well. Here are a couple of examples.

a) Chickadee and her older cousin Harold are talking at breakfast about the contrasts between the Windy Lake reserve and the city. Harold says, "City people don't seem to know there is a different life out there. It's like the city mouse killed the country mouse and forgot he ever existed. Our people can get lost in the city." That sly reference to one of Aesop's fables made me smile and think, "Funny!" and "Yikes!" at the same time.

b) And here's part of the description of an arcade and pool hall the Muskrats enter during their effort to get that concert ticket for Otter: "The Crystal Palace was a mixture of deep shadows, colorful neon, and arcade lights. It smelled like the ghosts of greasy burgers and spilled pop....A palisade of pool sticks lined the outside walls. A scattering of players focused on their games. The smack and click of pool balls colliding kept a random tempo."

But you don't get the impression that Hutchinson is bashing urban life -- the Muskrats meet some good people, people of subtle courage and outright heroism, along with racists, criminals, and people who have lost themselves. It's clear that the city can be a combination of the strange, the unfriendly, the wondrous, and the ordinary. And the characters of the Muskrats are developing, too, in ways that are easy to appreciate. These are good-hearted, caring, smart young people, but they're all individuals.

Hutchinson also weaves in factual information as the kids sort out what happened to their Grandpa's little sister.  Occasionally that can seem like a lot of exposition, but some readers won't know otherwise about the boarding schools and the Scoop, about present-day bureaucracy, about Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and about how the old racist policies continue to affect First Nations families today.

I found the ending to be realistic and satisfying, even though it unfolded in a way I didn't expect. Overall, Missing Auntie is a good read, with an emotional "punch," and I can hardly wait for the Mighty Muskrats to take their next case. But Missing Auntie won't be out until spring 2020. Preorder your copy now from Second Story Press!

Recommended! THE RELUCTANT STORYTELLER by Art Coulson; illustrated by Hvresse Christie Blair Tiger

There's a specialness to Art Coulson's The Reluctant Storyteller that is moving through my head and heart. You won't find it for sale in the usual places because it is published by Benchmark Education, who publishes "leveled readers" for classroom use. Some people don't like books like this because they don't have the slick production values that you find in books in bookstores.


Don't look away! Benchmark Education offers books that I know--without a doubt--that Native children will be happy to read! One of my favorite books--ever--is Where'd You Get Your Moccasins by Bernelda Wheeler. When I was teaching children's literature way back in grad school in the 1990s, it was on the required list of books I asked pre-service teachers to buy. Some would look at the stapled spine and think less of it without reading the words in the book that made, and makes, my heart soar! They had to learn to set aside elite notions of what a book should be like, and think about the content and what that content could do for readers in their classrooms.

I ask that same thing for The Reluctant Storyteller. The things I look for in a book are all here. It is set in the present day, it is tribally specific, it is written and illustrated by Native people, and it rings true! Coulson knows what he's talking about. The family at the heart of this story is filled with storytellers who adore being out and about, telling Native stories. They're from Oklahoma, but live in the Twin Cities. They do visit, a lot, and a trip is coming up. Chooch, the main character in Coulson's book doesn't want to go. He's rather stay in Minneapolis for the Lacrosse tournament.

Chooch doesn't tell stories and can't imagine himself as a storyteller. His dream? To be a chef. But, nobody knows that he wants to be a chef. He enjoys cooking with his mom and grandma, making up recipes. Things he makes are tasty!

On the way to their Oklahoma, Chooch's uncle tells him a story about a Tsula, a fox who wishes he had a coat of feathers, like Totsuhwa, the redbird that he sees flying about in the trees, so that he could fly, too. One day he runs and runs and runs, so fast, that his feet are off the ground. Day moves into night and, well, he started flying. He's no longer Tsula, the fox. Now, he's Tlameha, the bat. People who read AICL regularly know that I'm careful about traditional stories and how a writer works with them, uses them, bringing them into a book. This story is one that the Cherokee people tell. Coulson is Cherokee. I trust that he's sharing a story that can be shared. And--I love the way he brought it to Chooch.

They get to Oklahoma, and Chooch is drawn to the cooking area of a Native gathering. By the time we get to the final pages of The Reluctant Storyteller, Chooch understands himself in ways he did not before the trip. He's learned that there are many ways to be storytellers.

And, there are many ways to tell stories--to bring stories to children and teens! That's what I mean, up top, where I say there's a specialness to this book. There's layers of truth in it. Layers of Native life, too... 

So, don't turn away from leveled readers. If you open the Benchmark catalog, you'll see other writers there, too. Like Ibi Zoboi! And David Bowles! And Jane Yolen! Jerry Craft, and, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve! These are names teachers and librarians are familiar with. Look at the catalog! You'll see others, too. 

I like The Reluctant Storyteller very much and recommend that you get it... but I think the books are hard to get. I got my copy from Art Coulson's website.

Recommended: JOHNNY'S PHEASANT written by Cheryl Minnema, pictures by Julie Flett

Johnny's Pheasant is written by Cheryl Minnema (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe) and illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis). New in 2019, it is a picture book I am pleased to recommend.

Grandma's are special, aren't they? Mine was, and I know my mom is special to my daughter and all her other grandchildren. In some families, grandma's make things. When I was a kid, I hung out with my grandma, a lot. I have such fond memories of those times, helping and watching her make things.

Back in the 1960s when the US government was putting a blacktop road on our reservation, they also strung barbed wire fencing to keep livestock off the road. That barbed wire came on wire spools that are about the size of a 5 gallon bucket. The end parts of the spool looked like flower petals. Here's a photo that sort of looks like what I have in my memory:

Image result for barb wire spool vintage

I walked with my grandmother for miles and miles, gathering up empty, cast off spools. At home, she bound them together in an array that she attached to a wood frame. These then became charming gates to the porch, and to the garden. She also worked with feathers. She especially liked peacock feathers. She'd trim them and attach them to fabric wall hangings. They were so pretty!

In Johnny's Pheasant, we see a grandma and grandson, out and about. Johnny spies something in the grass. Turns out, it is a pheasant! Grandma thinks it is dead and that she can use its feathers in her craft work. But Johnny thinks the pheasant is ok. He's right!

The pheasant comes to from its seemingly-dead state, and flies about the house, at one point, landing on Grandma's head! Johnny thinks the pheasant, lying there in Grandma's house, had heard his grandma say she was going to use its feathers--and her words roused it!

From grandma's head, the pheasant flies out the open door. Johnny and his grandma go outside and watch it fly away. But, a single feather flutters to the ground. When Johnny hands it to his grandma, she exclaims "Howah."

Howah is an Ojibwe expression meaning 'oh my!' I enjoyed reading this story, but when I read "Howah," I paused. Ojibwe kids are gonna love that! Johnny's Pheasant is a delight on many levels. Published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2019, I recommend it for every family, Native or not, who tells stories about grandma's. Its quite a heartwarming story! 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Dear _____: I got your letter about Thanksgiving

Today's blog post has an unusual title. It is my effort to reply, in one response, to the range of queries I get by email. These are emails that give me hope. They embody a growing understanding that Thanksgiving, as observed in the U.S., is fraught with problems.

Those problems range from the stereotyping of Native peoples to the pretense that peoples in conflict had a merry sit-down dinner.

Some emails are from parents who are dismayed when they visit their library and see children's books filled with those stereotypes and pretenses. These parents want their children to learn the truth. So they turn to the library for help.

Some parents tell me that, in a previous year, they had talked with librarians about the problems in the books. These parents felt hopeful that the librarians understood and would provide different kinds of programming and displays this year but that doesn't happen. Others tell me that the librarian interprets their questions as efforts to censor books. Some get lectured about censorship.

The thrust of the emails is this: what can I do?

Those of you who are writing to me have already taken the first step, which is to know there's a problem. Others have to know that, too. In order for changes to happen, more people have to understand what you already know. There is a problem. So, talking with friends and colleagues about it is a second step. Some of you already do that, which is great. Keep talking! And use social media! Though there are valid concerns about the merits of social media, I think it is why so many towns, cities, universities, schools, and states have instituted Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day.

With that in mind, I'm sharing a terrific resource that is available, online, at no cost.

Titled "Origin Narrative: Thanksgiving," it is a free teacher's guide to be used by people who have bought a copy of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People but I think people can use it without the book.

A brief note: In 2014, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States was released by Beacon Press. Teachers asked for a version that they could use with teens. Beacon asked if I would do it; I invited my friend and colleague, Dr. Jean Mendoza, to do it with me, and it was released in 2019, with "For Young People" as part of its title.

Here's a screen capture of the lesson plan. To download it, go to Beacon's website where you can see the webpage of it and the link to download a pdf. You can ask your library to get the book, and if you have the option, see if you can schedule one of the library's meeting rooms to have a conversation with others about the holiday.

I welcome other thoughts. What strategies have you used that seemed to help?


Ah! Meant to include a bit more. Some people write to me asking for Thanksgiving books that I recommend they use with children. My impulse is to offer some suggestions, but I am also trying to remind them and myself that the question is, in essence, one that centers the holiday itself. It seems to recognize that stereotyped and erroneous storylines are not ok, but it still wants Native peoples at that table.

Instead of providing a list of books that can be used for this week, I am asking that you use books by Native writers, all year long. Don't limit our existence to this holiday.

In the Best Books page here at AICL, you'll find lists that I create, and links to the pages about the Youth Literature Awards, given by the American Indian Library Association. I've also written several articles that are available online. Some are about books I recommend, and some are ones that invite you to think critically about books. Here's the links. They work right now but journals don't keep articles available this way, long term. You might have to ask your librarian for the article if a link no longer works.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Recommended! STRANGELANDS written by Magdalene Visaggio and Darcie Little Badger; art by Guillermo Sanna; Cover by Dan Panosian

Native teens! Go to the Humanoids site and get copies of the comic series, Strangelands. They're written by Magdalene Visaggio and Darcie Little Badger. The art is by Guillermo Sanna, and Dan Panosian did the cover.

I've read the first three...

.... and definitely recommend that you add them to your comic and graphic novel collection.

Here's info about the series:
Two strangers find themselves inextricably tied together by inexplicable superpowers. Fighting their connection could mean destroying the world.
Opposites attract? Elakshi and Adam Land aren’t married. In fact, a month ago, they were perfect strangers, dwelling in lands foreign to one another. But now, they’re forced to remain by one another’s side, for their separation could mean the planet’s demise. Their greatest challenge is to stay together — even if they have to tear the world apart to do so.
See that? Elakshi and Adam's last name is Land. A hint, maybe, about who they are and how and why they have the powers they have--and don't want? I'm intrigued!

Right now in the series they're at a lodge in Colorado where they can rid themselves of these powers. Adam doesn't like the decor of the "Wild Saints" lodge. In this passage, he's glaring at a dreamcatcher, and says:
 ... all this Indian kitsch brings back terrible memories of paper teepees and chicken feather headdresses. Trust me. You do not want to be the only Apache kid at summer camp.
From that passage, we know that Adam is Apache. One of the writers, Darcy Little Badger, is Lipan Apache. I think the first writing of hers that I read was in 2016 when I read "Né le," her space travel story in Love Beyond Body, Space and Time. (If you don't have that book, get it!).

And of course, get this new series, Strangelands. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019


One of the questions I (Debbie) get around this time of the year is whether or not I recommend Joseph Bruchac's picture book, Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving. The book was published in 2000 by Harcourt Brace. Illustrations are by Greg Shed.

I do not recommend Squanto's Journey because I view it as a feel-good story that is a lot like other books about Thanksgiving. This line is one example:
"Perhaps these men can share our land as friends." 
See the red question mark on the book cover? I'm using that today to pose some questions. In Squanto's Journey, Bruchac speaks as if he is Squanto. The first sentence in the book is:
My story is both strange and true.
See? First person. As far as I've been able to determine, there are no records of anything that Squanto said to anyone. I'm going to keep looking, and if you find something, let me know.

My general position about creating speech and thoughts for a person who actually lived, hundreds of years ago, is that it is not appropriate. I usually say--for example--that a white woman imagining what a Native man said and thought hundreds of years ago is making huge leaps from her own existence to that Native man's time, place, culture, and language. If there are no written records to draw from, I think it ought not be done. To me, it doesn't matter if the work being created is fiction. If it is a person who actually lived, and for whom there are records a writer can draw from to quote the writings or speech of that person, then, ok. I think that can work. But otherwise, no. (The exception I make is when the book in question is written by someone of the subject's own nation who can draw from stories they tell about that person.)

So, a question: are there any documents or writings that quote the man we know as Squanto (more on that in a moment)?

Towards the end of the first paragraph, the text reads:
My name is Squanto.
Though many people call him that, other sources say his name was Tisquantum and that "Squanto" was more like a nickname.

So, another question: What did that man actually say his name was?

I have more questions about the history told in Bruchac's book, but for now want to look at Squanto (Bruchac) learning that his wife, children, parents, and others who were close to him had died. Squanto says he will speak to them again when he walks on the "Road of Stars" to greet them. In the glossary, Bruchac says:
Road of Stars: The Milky Way, which is seen as a trail to reach the afterlife walked by those who have died.
Is there evidence that Squanto and his people used that phrase? Regular readers of AICL know that I'm critical of white folks who make up things like that... I wonder what Bruchac's source for that is?
Update: a reader replied right away, saying "Isn't Bruchac Abenaki? This sounds like you're saying he's white." My answer: for most of the time that I've been studying children's books, I understood that Bruchac is Abenaki. More recently, he has said he is "Nulhegen Abenaki" which is a state recognized tribal nation. And even more recently, I have been reading Dr. Darryl Leroux's research that calls into question claims made to Métis identity/nationhood and, relevant to Bruchac, the four Abenaki tribes that the state of Vermont has recognized (Nulhegan Abenaki is in Vermont). So, I am not saying Bruchac is White, but I've definitely got questions about the Nulhegan Abenaki, now, given the research Leroux has done. Get his book, Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity" and see what you think. Respected Native scholars are sharing and recommending his book.  I know that the responses to this update will be intense. Some will question my reference to Leroux's work. Some will be indignant that I am citing it, but I think it is important work that has bearing on my own work in children's literature. 
On another page, Squanto (Bruchac) uses the word "sachem." That word, as defined in the glossary, is supposed to mean "a leader of the people." Is that the word that Squanto would have used? What are the roots of that word?

Those are a few questions, for now. I might be back when I have more time, with additional questions (and maybe some answers). They're examples of the kinds of questions that I want teachers to ask when they read children's books, and to teach students to ask, too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thoughts on Patricia MacLachlan's THE HUNDRED-YEAR BARN (and my conclusion: Not Recommended)

On October 8, 2019, a reader wrote to ask me if I had seen Patricia MacLaughlan's The Hundred-Year Barn. Published by HarperCollins and illustrated by Kenard Pak, it came out recently.

Though the reader did not say why they were asking me about The Hundred-Year Barn, my hunch is that they read my article, An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children's Literature (write to me and I'll send you a copy of it). The article is a published account of the remarks I made when I gave the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture in Madison, WI.

In that lecture, I talked about the 2018 Caldecott Award winner, Hello Lighthouse (by Sophie Blackall) which I view as the epitome of Whiteness and the embodiment of the nostalgia we hear when we read the news ("Make America Great Again"). I said:
I have no doubt that people think books like Hello Lighthouse are "neutral" or "apolitical." That's Whiteness at work. From my perspective, the politics in Hello Lighthouse are front and center. Its nostalgia for times past is palpable. In Blackall's book, the life of a white family is affirmed and the lighthouse that they live in is on what used to be Native lands. There's no neutrality there. In fact, if we think about it, every children's book for which the setting is this continent, is set on what used to be Native lands. If we could all hold that fact front and center every time we pick up a children's book set on this continent, how might that change how we view children's literature? How might that shape the literature as we move into the future?

People did not (and do not) like me saying that about Blackall's book. That is, however, my sincere appraisal of it and my questions are sincere, too. What if we did think about the land every time we pick up a children's book like The Hundred-Year Barn?

Here's the description of The Hundred-Year Barn from the HarperCollins website:
One hundred years ago, a little boy watched his family and community come together to build a grand red barn. This barn become his refuge and home—a place to play with friends and farm animals alike.
As seasons passed, the barn weathered many storms. The boy left and returned a young man, to help on the farm and to care for the barn again. The barn has stood for one hundred years, and it will stand for a hundred more: a symbol of peace, stability, caring and community. 
In this joyful celebration generations of family and their tender connection to the barn, Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Kenard Pak spin a tender and timeless story about the simple moments that make up a lifetime.
This beautiful picture book is perfect for young children who are curious about history and farm life.

The barn was built in 1919. We aren't told where (geographically), but Lachlan's dedication to her grandparents suggests that she may have had North Dakota prairies in mind when she wrote this story. But, she was born in Wyoming and said that she carries a bag of prairie dirt with her, so it could be Wyoming rather than North Dakota. What was going on in those states in the early 1900s? North Dakota became a state of the US in 1889. Wyoming became a state in 1890.

I'll say this, just to be obvious: all that land belonged to Native Nations.

I wanted to read The Hundred-Year Barn to see if there was any mention of Native people. I wondered if there was an author's note that said a bit more about that land, that barn, that family. In short: no. I've got the book in front of me today and it is simply a white family and community. Not a single mention of Native people or communities. Its history starts in 1919 with a white family.

Now--I know some of you are saying "MacLachlan's book isn't about Native people!" and "Don't judge it for what it doesn't have in it." But those are thin arguments, aren't they? If we think back to children's books that, for decades, showed women in narrow ways, critics asked questions, right? Asking questions about the contents of books is one mechanism to drive change.

I'm pretty sure that, in 1919, Native people were watching White people building barns on what was once Native homeland. And that, in that hundred-year period, Native people watched more and more White people move on to Native homelands and build things.

I'd bet, as a matter of face, that there were lawsuits in federal courts, through which Native Nations were trying to get the US to honor treaties it made with them.

The Hundred-Year Barn is--to some--a lovely story. To a Native person--to me--it is one like so many others that erase Native people from existence. It denies truths to children. And it feeds a nostalgia for a time that never really was like what you see when you read MacLachlan's book. The Hundred-Year Barn is not a good that I would recommend, to anyone. All kids deserve better than that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Update from Debbie, Oct 26, 2019: Unfortunately, the endpapers include some state recognized groups (I won't call them tribes or nations) whose website information makes me cringe. I hope the team who put the endpapers for Fry Bread together can make edits immediately. I am in the process of looking at them carefully and am considering creating a post that tells you how/why I am saying I would not personally call them tribes or nations. 

All across social media, friends and colleagues are saying "Happy Book Birthday!" to Kevin Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal. That's because their book, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story is officially available, today, October 22, 2019.

There's a lot inside the covers of Fry Bread! What you find when you turn the pages is why I highly recommend it.

I wish I had slick video and video-editing skills so I could offer you a short and compelling film about the book. I don't have those skills, so... here's what I have:

Here's a screen capture (from my kindle copy of the book) of the last page I showed you in the video:

See those adults pointing out names of Native Nations? That's so wonderful! Mine--Nambé--is there, too. Here's my finger, pointing to it:

Those of you who follow AICL know that we emphasize the importance of sovereignty... Of knowing that Native Nations pre-date the United States. So many names inside this book! It will be empowering to so many readers!

There's more, though, to say about Fry Bread. 

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Santa Fe Indian Center, in Santa Fe, NM. I talked about the names of nations but I also talked about the range of hair color and skin tone in the book. See?

After the lecture, a family approached me to say how deeply moved they are by seeing a child with lighter skin and hair. Fry Bread pushes back on the expectation that Native people look the same (black hair, dark skin, high cheekbones etc.). That expectation means that adults don't hesitate to tell a Native child like the girl holding the cat that they are "not really an Indian" (or some variant of that phrase). That's such a damaging statement! When you hear an adult say that to anybody--but especially a child--stop them.

The final pages of Fry Bread can help you interrupt that kind of harmful statement. There, Maillard wrote that:
Most people think Native Americans always have brown skin and black hair. But there is an enormous range of hair textures and skin colors. Just like the characters I this book, Native people may have blonde hair or black skin, tight cornrows or a loose braid. This wide variety of faces reflects a history of intermingling between tribes and also with people of European, African, and Asian descent.
It is quite the challenge to impart substantive information in an engaging way, but Maillard and Martinez-Neal have done it, beautifully, in Fry Bread. I highly recommend it! Published by Roaring Book Press (Macmillan) in 2019, I hope you'll order several copies for your bookshelves, and to give to Native families, too.

Update: October 23, 2019
In a comment, I was asked if the book has information about the history of fry bread and its impact on health of Native people. It does--and that is yet another aspect of what makes this book stand out.

One double paged spread shows Native people in shadow. The woman on the cover is telling kids about the long walk. The text is:

Fry bread is history
The long walk, the stolen land
Strangers in our own world
With unknown food
We made new recipes
From what we had

In the Author's Note, Maillard provides teachers and parents and librarians who do not know this history, with information they can use to prepare to use the book with kids. It is an exquisite author's note! It spans eight pages that correspond with the illustrated pages that are the heart of Fry Bread. And--they're footnoted! I don't recall seeing footnotes in an Author's Note before.

Maillard writes that people think the Navajo (Diné) were the first to make fry bread. He talks about how, across the country, Native people and our ways are resilient and here, today, in spite of efforts to weaken and destroy our nations and communities.

He writes that there are some Natives who are pushing back on the making and eating of fry bread. He wrote:
For these critics, fry bread is an easy target for a much larger problem of being forced to deviate from a traditional Indigenous diet.
The larger problem, he writes, is a reality many Native communities face. There are no fresh food markets nearby, fast food is more readily available, and access to health care (like markets) is difficult. We know that fast food is unhealthy when eaten every day. Maillard makes that point about fry bread, too. Eating it everyday will lead to health problems.

As noted above, the Author's Note is exquisite for the depth of information it provides. I quoted that one sentence, but will also note that the sentence has a footnote! It goes to Devon Mihesuah's article, "Indigenous Health Initiatives, Frybread, and the Marketing of Nontraditional 'Traditional' American Indian Foods." In his Author's Note, Maillard provides 15 footnotes! Like I said... exquisite. And--I think--groundbreaking.

Monday, October 21, 2019

A First Look at Roanhorse's RACE TO THE SUN

In July of 2019, I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Rebecca Roanhorse's Race to the Sun. I did a short twitter thread as I looked it over. Below is that thread, with some light editing to the original tweets, for clarity. I assume that Roanhorse and Riordan, too, read my thread and that edits to the ARC will be made before the final printing of Race to the Sun.  The book is due out in 2020.


I have an ARC of Roanhorse's RACE TO THE SUN.

I was wrong to recommend her TRAIL OF LIGHTNING. Details: Concerns about Roanhorse's TRAIL OF LIGHTNING.

RACE TO THE SUN is in Rick Riordan's "Rick Riordan Presents" series. His use of his fame to launch writers of color is terrific. I haven't read the other book in Riordan's series.

His intro for RACE TO THE SUN is titled "The Original American Gods." That's a problem, for sure. His problematic intro looks like this:
Changing Woman. Rock Crystal Boy. The Glittering World. The Hero Twins.
Do you see why that's not ok? "Original American" erases the fact that the Diné people pre-date America.

Indigenous peoples weren't "Original Americans."

They weren't "First Americans" either.

They were people of their own unique nations, all of which pre-date the United States. 

Moving from Riordan's intro to the book itself, I am pretty sure the Diné Writers Collective would say no to it, immediately. In their Open Letter, they state that Roanhorse appropriated Diné culture when she wrote TRAIL OF LIGHTNING. But they are also concerned with the content. They write that
Roanhorse often mischaracterizes and misrepresents Diné spiritual beliefs.
Roanhorse turns deities into caricatures.

They reference others who have appropriated and misrepresented Diné beliefs, including Tony Hillerman, Oliver LaFarge, and Scott O'Dell. 

And they write that 
We are concerned that this book attempts to convert our true ancestral teachings into myth and legend.
Upthread, I linked to the Diné Writers Collective letter. I hope you go read the entire letter.

It is signed by Esther Belin, Sherwin Bitsui, Chee Brossy, Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, Tina Deschenie, Jacqueline Keeler, Dr. Lloyd Lee, Manny Loley, Jaclyn Roessel, 
Roanna Shebala, Jake Skeets, Dr. Laura Tohe, Luci Tapahonso, and Orlando White. 

In her Author's Note for RACE TO THE SUN, Roanhorse writes
I am just a writer of fantasy, not a culture keeper or scholar. This book should not be taken for a cultural text.
That is an icky, not-my-fault disclaimer because it echoes what Whiteness says (by "Whiteness" I mean white writers who argue that what they do in fiction doesn't have to be accurate because everybody knows that fiction isn't real. That is a disingenuous defense, no matter who says it.) 

In that note, she also thanks Riordan for allowing her to:
...share some of what I know of the beauty of the Navajo culture with Navajo readers and the rest of the world.
That kind of clashes with what she said, earlier (about the book not being a cultural text). First she says not to read the book as a cultural text, but then she says she's glad to share what she knows about Navajo culture.

How are readers going to know which parts are fantasy and which are not?


I am currently reading Race to the Sun, making notes as I do. So far, I've met the main character. She is a Diné girl named Nizhoni who can see monsters. Because of that power, the monster she sees in the opening chapters tells her that it has to kill her.

But, a small stuffed horned toad on her shelf speaks to her, telling her she has to slay that monster. To do that she has to go to the Glittering World where she will meet the Sun, who is also known as The Merciless One, and who will give her the tools she needs to kill that monster. 

Clearly, Roanhorse is using Navajo stories to create the characters in Race to the Sun. As such, people in the Diné Writers Collective will see this as appropriation. Would the Diné Writers view these characters as caricatures?

When I finish reading and thinking about the book, I will be back with a link to the review.