Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Note from Debbie on December 3, 2020: When we hit 'publish' on this post, all the images were viewable. They are not visible now. I don't know why that happened here, and on other posts, too, but will try to figure it out. Our apologies! In the meantime, you can see the original post at the Wayback Machine

On social media and in some newspapers, people are talking about a documentary about Laura Ingalls Wilder that is in development.

I've done a lot of writing about the books and Wilder. I am not a fan. I think they've got many problems that are not seen as such by most readers.

I've pulled a lot of my materials on Wilder out, and thought some AICL readers might be interested in seeing the original illustrations done by Helen Sewell, compared to what Garth Williams did. I'm using a hardcover copy of the Sewell book. I don't have the book jacket, but for your reference, it looked like this:

Little House on the Prairie: Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Illustrated by Helen Sewell.

Most of the books that have illustrations by Williams have the cover shown below (a notable exception was one that showed a photo of a little girl meant to be Laura).

So--here you go! I'll number the side-by-side photos as I place them here. If you want to, submit comments below and refer to the photo number when you refer to a specific one. Apologies for the rough quality of the photos! I don't have lighting or equipment to do a professional-looking presentation of the books. Today you'll see photos of the cover thru end of the first chapter. I'll add others as time permits.

As you'll see when you scroll down, I'm trying to match text on page whenever either book has an illustration. Why did Sewell make decisions she did? Or Williams? How much autonomy did they have? How much was determined by Wilder? Or by the book editor? Or by the art department?

I welcome your thoughts and if you can point to writings about any of this, please do! And if you use these for your own writing, please cite me (Debbie Reese) and AICL.


COVER (on left is Sewell; on right is Williams).

No description available.


No description available.

No description available.


No description available.


No description available.


No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

My only observations at the moment for chapter one are that the Williams edition has more illustrations than the Sewell one. Four illustrations of the wagon versus one illustration of the girls clinging to their rag dolls. Quite different in tone, isn't it?

Update: July 29, 2020--Back to add photos of illustrations in chapter two, "Crossing the Creek"

No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

Observations: The Sewell edition has no illustrations in chapter 2. The Williams one has illustrations on four pages. Three of the four have the wagon, and Williams is bringing a visual emotional tone of danger and loss to the story.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Open Letter to Roger Goodell, from American Indians in Children's Literature

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Roger Goodell, Commissioner
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Goodell,

We write to you today as the editors of American Indians in Children's Literature. Established in 2006, AICL is widely recognized in Education, Children's Literature, and Library Science for its analyses of representation of Native peoples in children's books. 

We hold PhDs in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois and we have taught in public and private schools, and in universities and colleges. A primary emphasis of our work as educators is helping others recognize stereotypes of Native peoples in children's books. We believe that the Washington NFL team mascot enables similar mascots in professional and collegiate sports and in K-12 schools. As the images below demonstrate, stereotypes in children's books look a lot like the mascots. There are many examples like this: 

We agree with the requests put forth in the letter from Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, and the growing list of Native leaders who are signing their letter. The requests are:
  1. Require the Washington NFL team (Owner: Dan Snyder) to immediately change the name R*dsk*ns, a dictionary defined racial slur for Native Peoples.
  2. Require the Washington team to immediately cease the use of racialized Native American branding by eliminating any and all imagery of or evocative of Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise including the logo. This includes the use of Native terms, feathers, arrows, or monikers that assume the presence of Native American culture, as well as any characterization of any physical attributes.
  3. Cease the use of the 2016 Washington Post Poll and the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey which have been repeatedly used by the franchise and supporters to rationalize the use of the racist r-word name. These surveys were not academically vetted and were called unethical and inaccurate by the Native American Journalist Association as well as deemed damaging by other prominent organizations that represent Native Peoples. The NFL team must be held accountable to the various research studies conducted by scientists and scholars which find stereotypical images, names and the like are harmful to Native youth and the continued progress of the wellbeing of Native Peoples.
  4. Cease the use of the offensive, racial slur name “R*dsk*ns” immediately, and encourage journalists, writers and reporters to use the term in print only by using asterisks "R*dsk*ns" and to refer to the term verbally as the “r-word”.
  5. Ban all use of Native imagery, names, slur names, redface, appropriation of Native culture and spiritually as well as violence toward Native Peoples from the League.
  6. Apply the NFL’s “zero tolerance” for on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs to all races and ethnic groups, especially Native Peoples.
  7. Complete a full rebranding of the Washington team name, logo, mascot, and color scheme, to ensure that continuing harm is not perpetuated by anyone.
Item #5 is especially important. The University of Illinois retired its mascot in 2007, but not its name ("Fighting Illini"), and there was no effort to introduce a new mascot for the team. The result is that many alumni and students have nothing to shift their attachment to, and in that void, they continue to use and call for the reinstatement of "Chief Illiniwek."

As parents of Native children, we have first-hand knowledge of how mascots impact Native lives. Research done by Davis, Delano, Gone, and Fryberg demonstrates the need to let go of these mascots. You may already be aware that the American Psychological Association (APA) recommended retiring all "American Indian" mascots and imagery in its 2005 resolution on the topic, as did the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 2007.

The time for decisive action is long past, and we hope you will take that action, now.

Debbie Reese
Tribally enrolled: Nambé Pueblo
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Jean Mendoza
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Sunday, May 10, 2020

AICL Making A Difference

AICL Making A Difference
Posted by Debbie on May 10, 2020

The emails I get from parents, teachers, librarians, and professors about how they used a post (or several) from American Indians in Children's Literature to speak up to problematic texts being used in schools... those emails give me such a lift! I read one of them this morning.

I started AICL in 2006. Reading old and new books with wonderful content also gives me a lift. But--for those wonderful books to be embraced, people have to realize that a lot of books they adore have terrible Native content that shapes what they think they know about Native people. Reading those books and finding the words to say "this is not ok, and here's why" is hard work. I've pushed through emotional and intellectual fatigue again and again (there's over 1000 posts on AICL), but earlier this year (before COVID), I had reached the point that I needed to step away for a while, to recharge. As some of you know, Jean Mendoza joined me at AICL in 2016 and has been posting reviews. I'll return to reviews as soon as I can. In the interim, I might upload some brief posts that say "recommend" (or not recommended) and that a review will be forthcoming.

In the meantime... if a post at AICL has been helpful to you in your work, let us know. Two things sustain me: photos of children in my family (they are the audience for the books reviewed here on AICL) and hearing from you (and how you will/will not use a book with children).

I'll close this post with some personal photos. I spend most of my days making face masks for the local hospital's distribution project. And I go for walks with my dear husband and take photos of plants and animals we see. I miss my daughter and her partner! And my mom! And my siblings! Sewing masks and going on walks help me pass the hours but gosh I want to get on the road and walk into their homes and laugh and eat and do all the things we do.


I took this photo of these baby geese and their mother today at Boneyard Creek in Champaign. I got to wondering why the creek is called Boneyard and looked over at Wikipedia... that paragraph about Indians.... Research for another day.

Image may contain: grass, outdoor, nature and water

This photo is early morning after a night of hard rain. We saw lot of those trails that earthworms make as they crawl out of rain-soaked earth. I intended to get home and crop out the right half of the photo. But I loaded the entire photo to Facebook and realized that the camera's auto-focus on honed in on the tree branches reflected in the puddle. People were intrigued by the accidental composition of earth and sky and everything in between. 

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature

Most of my photos are of flowers. Ones on plants and ones on trees. They're all so gorgeous! All photos are taken with my iPhone, by the way. This one is done using the "portrait" mode. I finally figured out how to use it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Recommended: Inconvenient Skin by Shane L. Koyczan

Inconvenient Skin/nayehtawan wasakay
Written by Shane L. Koyczan 
Cree translation by Solomon Ratt
Illustrations by Nadya Kwandibens, Jim Logan, Kent Monkman, Joseph Sanchez
Published in 2019
Publisher: Theytus Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Recommended

"The cure will take as long as the sickness, and the sickness isn't yet over." (Shane Koyczan)

Inconvenient Skin is a message, in the form of art works and poetry in English and Cree, to the people and government of what is currently known as Canada. It's a message about a shameful part of the Canadian past that continues to infect the present: its residential schools for First Nations children. Although Skin is "about" Canada, its main message is relevant in what is currently called the United States. It speaks back fiercely against the notion that Native people, or settler-colonizer descendants,  should "get over the past," forget historical horror and injustice, and move forward while still in denial.

The book was inspired, if that's the right word, by the discouraging net result of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The commission was convened in 2008 to study the history and legacy of the residential schools. Its work included gathering (often traumatic) testimony from survivors. The final report and "calls to action" were published in 2015.

From the outset, Indigenous people in Canada had expressed doubts about the project. There has been profound disappointment that the commission's work resulted in few, if any, of the positive changes it seemed to call for.

The book's title is taken from the passage:
we are not free to shed our history
like an inconvenient skin
Inconvenient Skin holds a mirror of truth to Canada's beliefs about its goodness: "[O]ur nation is built above the bones of a genocide."

Canadians, Koyczan says, aspire to certain traits as a nation (e.g., kind, honest, strong, free), but he warns:
if we ever become
who we hope we are
it will be because we see how far there is still to go
and we know that if we are not these things to everyone
then we are none of these things
And Canada has not been, and is not "these things to everyone." The same can be said of the United States.

As narrator, Koyczan uses the pronouns "we" and "us" to speak directly to anyone who identifies as Canadian. Having a same-page Cree translation of his words signals that Indigenous peoples are not silent in the discourse about Canada's identity. They've never been silent, though they have been ignored, and certainly the residential schools had the mission of destroying Indigenous languages.

Koyczan doesn't identify as Indigenous, but says his father "had first-hand experience with residential school". He is learning about "missing chapters" of his origins, he says, by beginning to reconnect with his father.

Biographical material about translator Solomon Ratt states that he is also a residential school survivor.  He is an educator, focusing on teaching the Cree language. You can see some of his teaching videos and other work on the Cree Literacy Network Web site, including a collection called "Stay home: Learn Cree!" inspired by COVID-19 regulations.

You could say that the "work" of Inconvenient Skin happens on 3 levels: Koyczan's call for reflection and change, Solomon Ratt's Cree translation, and the powerful Indigenous perspectives presented by the contributing artists.

Kent Monkman's (Cree) emotionally charged cover painting, titled "The Scream," depicts priests, nuns, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dragging children away from their families. The same image appears later in the book. One of Monkman's satirical paintings is also featured. The paintings by Joseph Sanchez (Taos Pueblo) consist of spare patches of color and indistinct figures that suggest trauma and the closeness of death. Several of the mixed media works by Jim Logan (Metis), incorporate text to depict a variety of residential school experiences; their overall effect is devastating. Nadya Kwandibens' (Anishinaabe) photographs highlight the "Idle No More" movement that began in Canada in 2012, signaling contemporary Indigenous sovereignty, and resistance to Canada's ongoing failures relative to First Nations.

Be forewarned that this was not meant to be a gentle book. The words are an admonition, an accusation, a call to action; the pictures depict the reasons behind the words.

Koyczan recorded a spoken-word performance of Inconvenient Skin in 2017 that's definitely powerful. The video incorporates vocals by Inuk throat-singer Tanya Tagak and Kym Gouchie (Lheidli T'enneh Nation). Before viewing or sharing the video, be aware that it uses some images of childhood trauma that are not used in the book.

Inconvenient Skin assumes that readers already know something about the residential/boarding schools. That may be true for Canadian teens. But teens in the US will probably need background information. They need to know, also, that the US and Canada have held (and hold) similar settler-colonial attitudes about Indigenous peoples, and that the goals, policies, and practices of the schools were very similar on either side of the border. It might help to first read the section about boarding schools in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. 

I doubt the US will have a truth and reconciliation commission in my lifetime. Awareness of the boarding schools may be increasing among non-Native people, but there remains a nearly bottomless pit of ignorance and denial about the aftermath of the schools for Native families and communities.

Inconvenient Skin can be a powerful catalyst for conversations about what the legacy of the boarding schools means for a country (be it Canada or the US), and those who identify as its citizens. We can predict that these conversations about ugly, painful stuff will be hard for descendants of settler-colonizers who allow themselves to engage in that work, be they adults or high school students. But they are necessary, because as Koyczan says,
this nation is not so sturdy
that it can sustain the weight of this blind spot in our memory
As the mother of Native kids, though, I'd ask that in high schools, Inconvenient Skin be recommended rather than required reading. Some of the art in particular depicts traumatic situations that may well be part of Indigenous families' experiences, and still "with them" in ways that can make discussion re-traumatizing. I'd insist that Native students be allowed to structure and direct discussions themselves on a purely voluntary basis, and that they could opt-in to those discussions. They should never be put on the spot or asked randomly to speak for their families, or for Native people in general.

That said, I think the foregrounding of Indigenous experience, and an Indigenous language, in Inconvenient Skin can serve as encouragement and empowerment for Native kids. If any readers of AICL have taught with this book, we'd like to hear how you went about it, and how it went.

This is one of the most compelling illustrated books I've seen about settler/Indigenous relations. No one should expect it to be something they can take lightly.

Edited 4/29/2020: You can buy a copy from Theytus Books, the oldest Indigenous publishing house in Canada. It's good to support Indigenous businesses!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: Grasshopper Girl by Teresa R. Peterson

Grasshopper Girl
by Teresa R. Peterson
Illustrated by Jordan Rodgers
Published by Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing
Published in 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly recommended

When you're little and you don't feel well, there's nothing quite like a hug and a story from someone you love to help you get better.

Grasshopper Girl is a warm-hearted little picture book about Psipsi, a 6-year-old Dakota girl. One day, Psipsi's legs ache and she has a fever, so her Ina (mother) sends her to bed early. She wishes Ate, her father, would come home from work and tell her a story. But Ina doesn't know when Ate will be back. So Psipsi lies there, thinking about her family, and what it will be like to have a friend at school, and how much she likes to jump. When Ina brings in Psipsi's baby brother for his nap, Psipsi sings him to sleep. She still doesn't feel well, though. Then the door opens. It's Ate! He hugs her, and tells her a Dakota story about Unktomi, the trickster. That's the comfort she needs. When that story ends, Ate tucks Psipsi in, and she drifts off to sleep.

Grasshopper Girl is the work of two Native book creators: author Teresa Peterson (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota) and artist Jordan Rodgers (Lakota). Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, a Native-owned press, is the publisher. So it's a tribally specific #ownvoices book.

The story takes place on "the Dakota reservation" in 1943. The author has said in interviews that elements of the book were drawn from her own mother's life, including the Unktomi story Ate tells. Psipsi's full name -- Psipsicadan Wicinyanna, or Grasshopper Girl -- is Peterson's mother's Dakota name.

The final page of the book includes a glossary of Dakota words, and the words appear throughout the story, followed by the English equivalent in parentheses. Non-Dakota readers who want help with pronunciation can refer to this alphabet video created by Dakota Wicohan (a language/culture revitalization project), and the Beginning Dakota Web site. Betsy Albert-Peacock at Black Bears and Blueberries recommended those resources. Thanks, Betsy!

Note that if you find other Dakota language resources, you may see that people have used more than one way to represent the sounds of the language. (Grasshopper Girl uses what's known as the Williamson and Riggs version.) The author's note explains a little about the Dakota language and efforts to keep it going. It feels great to be able to recommend a book that contributes to Dakota language preservation!

The author's note also gives some background information about the Unktomi story Ate tells Psipsi. If you've followed American Indians in Children's Literature for a while, you know how important it is for writers to be transparent about where such traditional stories come from. Peterson's explanation is very clear and credible. The fact that she embeds the old story in a realistic family situation is a strength of the book.

Jordan Rodgers' illustrations remind me of a good graphic novel, and I think they will appeal to the book's target audience. The characters' faces are very expressive (see example to right), and she brings in humorous details.

For example, in the "family photo" near the beginning of the book, Psipsi's two annoying older brothers are giving each other rabbit ears! I smiled at Psipsi's face when she pretends to be asleep while trying to see who has come into the room. And there's something comforting about Psipsi's quilt, and its presence on so many pages.

I also like how Rodgers represents Unktomi and the problems he creates for himself. You never quite see his face, even after his problem gets accidentally solved.

Grasshopper Girl would be a cozy bedtime read-aloud. Elementary age kids can read it themselves, too. You can order Grasshopper Girl directly from Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing, or from Birchbark Books. Either way, you'll be supporting a Native-owned small enterprise, and Native book creators.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Recommended! Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax
Compiled by the Haayk Foundation
Illustrated by Huk Yuunsk (David Lang)
Publisher: Sealaska Heritage
Published in 2019
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Recommended

Wilgyigyet: Learn the Colors in Sm'algyax is a board book which suggests it is meant for toddlers, but because it teaches color words in Sm'algyax (the Tsimshian language) anybody can use it! Course, you want to hear the words spoken, too, and you can do that with this video:

This gorgeous board book is part of the Baby Raven Reads, a culturally responsive kindergarten readiness program. The tribally specific art is stunning, and I can imagine Native peoples across the continent creating similar books.

Sealaska's website has great materials. Take a look, for example, at Practicing Our Values, which is a blog post about what we can do, now that Coronavirus is impacting our lives.  Get some of the books at the site, or... some of the clothing items! The scarves are especially spectacular.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Not Recommended: JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George

Not Recommended: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Post by Debbie Reese

With COVID19, parents are spending more time with children who are home. I see parents talking about classics they read when they were young and reminiscing about those books. That is a problem! Many are outdated and racist. They cannot be justified as "a product of their time" because that justification assumes that everybody thought alike at that point in time--and that's just not true!

People who are misrepresented in classic or award winning books 
do not think like the white writers who misrepresented them! 

A good example is Julie of the Wolves. Way back in 2006 when I first launched this blog, I did a short post about Julie of the Wolves that linked to a review done by Martha Stackhouse. She is Inupiaq. I'm pasting that post here. It includes a link to Martha's review. Below is that post from 2006.


First published in 1972 by Harper & Row, Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973. It is included on a wide range of recommended book lists. It is available in audio and video; there is a sequel to it. Numerous teacher's guide and activity books are available for teachers to use when teaching the book. This is the summary of the Julie of the Wolves (from the Library of Congress):
"While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen year old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack."
A few days ago on child_lit (an Internet listserv for discussion of children's books), a subscriber posted a link to a review of the book on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network webpage. The reviewer, Martha Stackhouse, is Inupiaq. She points out misrepresentations and misconceptions of Inupiaq culture, and says
 "I humbly would not recommend the book to be put on school shelves."
Spend some time on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network pages. Read Martha Stackhouse's review of Julie of the Wolves. There is much to learn on their site about this and many other popular children's books set in Alaska (i.e. Gerald McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest).

To find the book reviews, go to Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature, and click on "Examining Alaska Children's Literature" and "Critiquing Indigenous Literature for Alaska's Children."


Update, May 11, 2020
We've recommended several terrific books you can choose that don't have problem of bias, stereotyping, misrepresentation, or appropriation. Take a look at the Best Books page. It links to lists we do at AICL and to books that the American Indian Library Association selected for its book awards.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Highly Recommended: The Forever Sky by Thomas Peacock

The Forever Sky
Written by Thomas Peacock
Illustrated by Annette S. Lee
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Published in 2019
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

My husband Durango is an artist and writer, and I value his reactions to the children's books Debbie and I study. He isn't always drawn to what's in my Books to Review pile. But when The Forever Sky was delivered during our first day of "shelter in place", I invited him to look it over.  When he finished, he asked, "What age is this for?" I said, "I think it could be for older kids, but they're saying ages 3-7." "How about 74?" he asked. (He's 74).

That sounds right to me. The central idea of The Forever Sky has emotional impact across generations, though the vocabulary and plot are not complex. The book touches on familial love, loss and healing, imagination, and how humans tell stories that make sense of the world, all in the context of Indigenous (Ojibwe) knowledge and perspective.

The text by Thomas Peacock (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Anishinaabe Ojibwe) would stand on its own, but the paintings by Annette S. Lee (Lakota-Sioux) add considerable depth and nuance. Example: The end papers (front and back) consist of a two-page spread showing two small, shadowy figures seated on a blue-gray rectangle at bottom, slightly off-center. They are surrounded by swirls of deep night-time blues and greens that are freckled with white dots that might be stars or fireflies, or some of each. The same painting is the basis for the title page, and it appears again at the end of the book, as background for the brief glossary.

Two figures wearing shorts and tee shirts appear on the pages of dedications and publishing information. The first page of the story shows the same figures lying on a blanket, pointing at the sky. They are young Ojibwe brothers, Niigaanii and Bineshiinh. They miss Nooko, their grandmother, who died recently. Throughout the book, the boys return to the meadow to watch the ever-changing night sky. Niigaanii, the older boy, tells his little brother Ojibwe stories their uncle has shared with him about the sky and the stars. Their uncle has said that Nooko's spirit is in the stars. So are all those who have passed on. In the northern lights, they are dancing together. Finally, one night, something happens that helps ease some of the boys' grief. This is a story of serious matters, yet it conveys hope and healing.

Not many artists are astrophysicists in the rest of their lives. What Annette Lee knows about the sky is evident in The Forever Sky, as well as in her web gallery. She also collaborated on some tribally-specific resources including the Ojibwe Sky Star Map - Constellation Guide (2014) and D(L)akota Sky Star Map - Constellation Guide (2014)Some of those constellations appear in The Forever Sky. Clearly, "Western" science is only one lens on what's overhead.

"The sky is so big it goes on forever," Niigaanii says. "That is why we call it Gaagige Giizhig, the Forever Sky."

I'd love to share this book with kids, and hear their ideas about what's going on in each of the pictures. Are the brothers present in every illustration? Do any of the constellations show up more than once? What does the artist do to depict Niigaanii, Bineshiinh, and their parents and uncle, at the end of the story?  Every page holds mystery, like the night sky, in keeping with the gravity of Peacock's subject matter.

Especially important, I think, is how the author anchors the boys' experience in the cycles that are part of Ojibwe life. Niigaanii tells Bineshiinh that they need to know the stories their uncle tells, "So when we are uncles we can teach our nieces and nephews." "So they will teach their nieces and nephews," his brother adds. And so "the stories will go on forever," Niigaani says.

Readers may notice that some illustrations depict the boys in shorts and tee shirts, but in others they seem to be dressed as if for a ceremony. Perhaps this shows that time is passing -- not just astronomical time but the calendar of an Ojibwe community's traditional events. Or perhaps some of those figures are not the boys and their uncle at all, but past and future relatives, telling and hearing the stories across generations.

The night sky has always given humanity a focus for its most challenging questions. The Forever Sky foregrounds some of those, from an Ojibwe perspective. What is the meaning of all that darkness, those many lights that brighten it? What happens when a person dies? Given that individual life on earth is finite, what role does a person, a child for example, have in the continuity of their community's ideas about the world? Peacock has addressed Ojibwe attitudes about disabilities in at least two of his other books, and he presents another facet of those in The Forever Sky.

As I wrapped up this review, I started reading the Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide, mentioned earlier, which Annette S. Lee was involved with as first author (image below right).

This passage from its first page echoed what she and Thomas Peacock have created in The Forever Sky:
....Native star knowledge is disappearing as elders pass. One Ojibwe elder spoke of his vision of "the star medicine returning through the native youth." He specifically called them "star readers."
It struck me that Niigaanii and the uncle are some of those "star readers." Though I was already appreciative of what Peacock and Lee have done, my understanding of it has been deepened by the star map/constellation guide.

If you're among the many who can't leave home now because of COVID-19, this may be a good time to get more familiar with the night sky, and to do so with the children in your life, if you can.  Reading The Forever Sky together may be a way to start. And a book like the Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide can add even greater depth to your night-sky experience.

Hear an archived interview with Thomas Peacock on Native America Calling. It's really good. Kirkus gave The Forever Sky a starred review, and Debbie and I include it on AICL's Best Books of 2019. Thomas Peacock also wrote The Dancer, which is also on our Best Books of 2019 list, and which Debbie mentions in her post about social distance powwow books.

Edited on 4/11 to add: On Monday, April 20, 3:00 pm, the Minnesota Historical Society Press will post a video of Thomas Peacock reading The Forever Sky aloud here. And see MHSP's The Forever Sky web page to link to coloring pages based on Annette Lee's illustrations.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Children's Books for Social Distance Powwow


I typed the seven characters in COVID19 and then didn't know what to say.

I've been trying (but failing) to read new books, or to turn my notes on previously read books into a review. That fail is because of the weight--for me--of COVID19 on the heels of three years of work on An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. Adapting that book took a tremendous toll on me that I had not been fully aware of until I couldn't deny that toll any longer. I needed some rest! So, in February I made a recovery plan and started to feel better.

But then came COVID19. We've had a couple of scares but we're ok.

Some things lift my spirits. Most of you probably know that powwows are gatherings of Native people. One response to COVID19 is the Social Distance Powwow. If you're Native, you know what I'm talking about! Videos of Native people dancing--alone--are in our social media threads.

As I watch them--especially the ones of children--I think about some wonderful children's books I've reviewed here at AICL, that are about children and families at powwows or traditional gatherings.

Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life by Marcie Rendon (Ojibwe); photos by Cheryl Walsh Bellville (not Native). I first read it in 1995 when I started doing research on Native peoples in children's books and absolutely loved what Marcie Rendon shared in this nonfiction picture book! Bellville's photos are terrific.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek); illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (not Native). It came out in 2000 and is the book I wish I had when our daughter danced for the first time.

The Butterfly Dance written and illustrated by Gerald Dawavendewa (Hopi). This is another book I wish I'd had when our daughter first danced--especially because my grandfather was Hopi and this dance is similar to ones we do at Nambé.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe); illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe); translated by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation). Delightful and informative, it came out in 2018 and won the American Indian Library Association's 2019 Youth Literature Award in the picture book category.

The Dancers by Thomas Peacock (Lake Superior Anishinaabe Ojibwe) and illustrated by Jacqueline Paske Gill (not Native) came out in 2019. Told from the perspective of a little girl, one of the dancers in this picture book is her aunt, who is a Fancy Shawl dancer. Later, the auntie joins the army and is badly hurt. Doctors amputate her legs, and with encouragement of her Native family and community and doctors she eventually dances, again. I got the book in Minnesota from the Birchbark Books table at a conference. The women at the table told me it sells well in the store and I can see why it appeals to Native people. Many of us have family in the military. 

I'll close this post with this: on my to-be-read pile is Siha Tooskin Knows The Love of the Dance written by Charlene Bearhead (not Native), Wilson Bearhead (Nakota and Wabamun Lake First Nation), and illustrated by Chloe Bluebird Mustooch (Alexis Nakoda Sioux Nation). Due out in 2020, it is part of the "Siha Tooskin Knows" series published by Highwater Press. Have you seen it? If you have, what are your thoughts? And, are there other books in this theme (Native children/families at powwows or traditional gatherings) that you'd add?

If you want more information about the Social Distance Powwow, I recommend you see Mary Annette Pember's article "Dancing for the people (virtually)" at Indian Country Today. If you do search on your own, some of what you find may be sketchy or appropriative.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Not Recommended: JUST LUCKY by Melanie Florence

Note from Debbie: there is sexual abuse and self-harm in the book and in my review that you may have difficulty reading.  

Just Lucky
Written by Melanie Florence
Published in 2019
Publisher: Second Story Press
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended


Just Lucky by Melanie Florence came out in 2019 from Second Story Press. I read the book a few days ago, tweeting thoughts/summary as I read it (scroll down; I pasted the entire thread, for your reference).

I do not recommend Just Lucky. I find it deeply troubling and wonder why Second Story accepted and published it. The entire story feels shallow as it skitters from one horrific episode to the next before an all-too-quick happy ending, and one harmful depiction after another.

There is absolutely nothing in the book to help readers understand anti-Native attitudes that pervade Canadian and American society. Instead, we are invited to gasp at and condemn, for example, Lucky's mother who is an addict.

Today (Friday, March 6) I read The Guardian article on Oprah Winfrey's response to writers who objected to her decision to feature American Dirt in her book club. The article includes a powerful passage from a letter to Winfrey, written by 142 writers, that applies to Just Lucky. The writers said that the novel's treatment of migration, and Mexican life and culture, is
...exploitative, oversimplified, and ill-informed, too often erring on the side of trauma fetishisation and sensationalism...
That is precisely what Just Lucky does. It is exploitative and oversimplified. And in some places, it is literally sadistic. I'm thinking in particular of the scene where a foster father climbs into bed with 15-year-old Lucky and when she jumps out of the bed, follows her, rubbing himself as he approaches her.

Given the realities of Native children in foster care, Just Lucky strikes me as cruel. Who did Florence imagine as her audience for this book?

Just Lucky is laced with stereotypes that affirm and ensure the further mistreatment of Native children, families, communities, and nations. Many Native children who read this book will feel assaulted over and over by the story Florence created. Again: who is this book for? And what will it do to shape how people think about Native children?

At the top of this review, you see a red X on the book cover. I use those for books that I find especially horrific. To read more on that red X, see The Red X on Book Covers.

Saying again, I do not recommend 
Melanie Florence's Just Lucky. 

I invite you to share your thoughts (you can write to me directly or submit a comment).


Twitter thread I created as I read Just Lucky the week of March 2, 2020.

Melanie Florence's JUST LUCKY. Florence's JUST LUCKY is from Second Story Press, and came out in 2019. Florence has many books out. I've read a few of them and found them terribly lacking. Details here: (……)

But, her books keep getting published. Why? I think it is because they appeal to a white expectation of who Native people are. Many of those expectations are shaped by derogatory stereotypes. Florence seems to trade on that, which is very harmful. 


That derogatory depiction is in the second paragraph of the first page of JUST LUCKY.

Lucky is the name of the main character. She lives with her grandparents because her mom left her (as a baby) in the casino by a slot machine when she went outside to smoke crack. 

When the story opens, Lucky has been living with her grandparents for 15 years. She tells us her grandparents were "long done with their own parenting" and didn't give a second thought to "care and feeding of another kid."

To me that sounds like a White voice. 

Lucky has only seen her mother a couple of times in those 15 years. Certainly, a girl would have strong emotions about all of this but "I'm not even sure I could pick her out of a police lineup at this point" and thinking she WILL do that someday... it feels off, too. 

It is extreme... It is .... melodramatic. Yeah! That's it. In tone, this first chapter echoes what I saw in Florence's other books. 

Florence's writings about Native people are not without consequence. Rather than push back on derogatory images, she's feeding them. If you're reading tweets or news articles about #wetsuwetan, you know Canadians are using derogatory language about Native peoples. 

Still in chapter one, Lucky is trying to write an essay that is supposed to be autobiographical. She thinks about how her family isn't "normal."

Where does Lucky's family live? As I read on, will I learn that they're part of a Native community? Right now it seems, not. Now in chapter 3. Lucky's grandfather brought some books home for her from a used bookstore. One of them is GONE WITH THE WIND.

Anytime I see someone referencing GONE WITH THE WIND in a kid or YA book, I wait to see if they push back on its racism. Will Florence do that? 

Why drop that title into a story, as if it is just fine? FFS. Imagine a Black child reading this book. What does that child do when they come to this page and see this loving grandfather giving his granddaughter GONE WITH THE WIND?! 

WHY is that title in there? What purpose does it serve? Was/is Florence oblivious to its harm? And her editors at @_secondstory, too? Did they not notice that? 

Now in chapter 20 (chapters are very short). In previous chapters, we learn that her best friend Ryan was punched in the face by his father when he came out, that her grandmother's forgetfulness is serious, then, her grandfather dies.

When her grandmother forgets she's put something on the stove, there's a fire. She's ok but children's services gets involved and asks Lucky to call her mother because Lucky can't make decisions (she's a minor) about her grandmother's needs. 

Lucky calls her mom, Christina. 15 years have passed. I am wondering about the back story for Christina and her parents. What did they do? Kick her out of their lives? No mention of her parents (Lucky's grandparents) wondering how she is...

When Christina arrives at the hospital, Lucky notices her physical appearance (stiletto heels; short skirt; bleached hair; lots of make-up; ragged fingernails). She wants money to take care of her mom and daughter. Children's Aid person and doc are shocked at her ask. 

This scene... again, full of melodrama. 

Lucky gets placed in a foster home with a white Christian family that homeschools their son (he's an only child). The father leers at Lucky's breasts. Lucky and the son (Bobby) share an interest in comic bks. The mother warns Lucky not to lead Bobby into sin. 

Ch 28 is titled "An Unwelcome Visitor." Lucky is dreaming and thinks a spider is in her hair but it is Robert (the father) with his fingers entwined in her hair. She moves away from him; he gets into bed with her.

That scene feels gratuitous. Lucky leaps out of the bed; Robert follows her, "rubbing himself through the thin material."

Of course, things like that happen but for a Native person who has gone thru or knows someone who has gone through something like this, it seems callous. After he leaves she can't sleep. She goes to the bathroom and using scissors, cuts her hair off. Then she goes to the kitchen and gets a sharp knife to keep under her pillow. Then she falls asleep. 

Next day, she shaves her head with an electric razor she borrows from Bobby.

Remember: Bobby is 15, too. Why does he have an electric razor?

That night, Robert is back in Lucky's room, drunk. She raises the knife under her pillow, to his Adam's apple. 

She tells Robert that her grandfather taught her how to use a knife and that she can gut a trout in 60 seconds, and "I doubt you'd take much longer." He leaves.

I don't know what to make of that scene. This feels, over and over, like an outline. No depth. Just high points. 

The next morning, the mother confronts Lucky, telling her that Robert told her that Lucky had threatened him with a knife and demanded money, that she's "evil" and that she "won't have evil in my house." Lucky replies that evil was in the house before she arrived. 

I am realizing at this point that in addition to the gratuitous melodramatic scenes all thru the bk, the way that Lucky speaks doesn't ring true. She sounds tough/hard but her 15 yrs w/ her grandparents weren't harsh ones. So, her words don't fit w/ the loving grandparents. 

Another realization is that I'm nearly halfway thru the book, and it doesn't FEEL like a Native character. Any markers or values that would be from a Native home/community... they're not evident in character/story development, words, action, etc. 

As such, it feels like a lot of books by Native writers who tack on a Native identity for a character but leave it at that. 

Lucky has to leave that foster home (the Wilson's). Bobby tells her he knows his mother is covering for his father but he can't speak up because nobody will believe him.

Cynthia (social worker) goes to get Lucky, rips into her, insisting that the Wilson's are a good family. Error in tweet 27!

I meant to say that non-Native writers tack on the name of a tribal nation for a characters identity, but then never do anything else with it. That's decoration, superficial, wrong. 

As the social worker drives, she starts to listen to Lucky and says she'll investigate, and that Lucky's grandmother is now in a facility for people with dementia and Alzheimer's. 

Lucky is furious that she wasn't told about the move. Social worker hands her a paper w/ name of the facility: "Sunset Seniors." Lucky replies w/ some snarky jokes about the name of the facility. 

That snark (again) is jarring and is another instance in which the ways that Lucky speaks doesn't fit with that happy go lucky, warm childhood she's had with her grandparents up till now. 

Lucky is placed in a new foster home; husband/wife are nice and have 2 boys near Lucky's age that they are also fostering. Interactions much warmer than the first home Lucky was in (fundamentalist Christian/pedophile). At her new school, she meets a bunch of kids at lunch. 

The two foster boys, Charlie & Jake, show her around. Kids are friendly but most girls, including a redhead named Elyse, are not. Elyse seems jealous that Jake sat with Lucky instead of her. When Jake and Lucky get up for next class, Lucky is sure Elyse calls her a whore. 

She thinks about responding but remembers her grandfather saying "Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not enough, Lucky. You come from a long line of strong Indigenous people. Do them proud."

That seems an odd thought for her to have, then. 

Even if Elyse said "Indian whore" it wouldn't make sense, because Lucky's thought is abt not being "enough." It would only make sense if Elyse had said "half-breed whore."

What I am getting at is that I don't know enough about Lucky to understand why she would feel "not enough." The author (Florence) hasn't given us enough for Lucky's thought/her grandfather's words, to make sense at this particular moment in the story. 

The theater dept is doing a play. Jake plans to try out; so does Elyse; Jake wants Lucky to try out, too. She doesn't want to but he pressures her into reading with him when he tries out. Everybody--except Elyse and her friends--are impressed by her reading. 

When she's at her locker, she's surrounded by Elyse & her group. Elyse tells Lucky to leave Jake alone and not to walk around in her underwear (she knows Lucky lives in the same foster home as Jake). Lucky tries to leave but Elyse stops her, calling her a "nasty little slut."

In reply to Lucky's 'what did you say' Elyse says "Are you going to go all 'war party' on us?" and starts to whoop and dance around Lucky. Elyse's friends do it, too.

Lucky punches Elyse in the face and then stomach, knocking her down. Lucky is the one in trouble. 

As Lucky is led away by a teacher, Elyse says "What do you expect from someone like her? She's trash." One of the others says "Indian trash."

Several times up to this pt, Lucky has characterized these girls as hostile. As noted in an earlier tweet in this thread, it doesn't feel like there's enough story IN the story so far for this "hostile" characterization or this stereotypical anti-Native scene to make sense. 

Sarah (the new foster mom) is called to school because the initial plan is to expel Lucky, but Sarah listens to Lucky's account, believes her, and persuades principal to give her another chance. 

In ch 43 Lucky talks abt how her grandparents would be ashamed that she got into this fight, but, that she "never had much patience for racist pieces of garbage like Elyse."

As noted before, I'm having a hard time reconciling the things Lucky says/does with the happy home she had with her grandparents for 15 yrs. Overnight (literally), she's got an intense attitude and ready to fight in an instant, several times. 

Jake is in the play; Charlie and Lucky make sets for it. One day as Charlie and Lucky are ready to leave, Elyse appears and implies they are involved. Her tone reminds Lucky of the Wicked Witch; Lucky thinks of her as the witch and her friends as flying monkeys. 

That reference--to the Wizard of Oz--strikes me as odd.

Maybe Florence (the author) is not aware that L. Frank Baum wrote editorials calling for the extermination of Native people. It reminds me of that earlier chapter when Lucky's grandfather gives her GONE WITH THE WIND. 

In neither instance do we see Florence pushing back on either writer or book. Does she not realize that they are problematic? Who was her editor? Did that person not know? Or ... did they discuss these? Will this get resolved in later chapters? 

Elyse starts in on Charlie's identity, telling Lucky "You got yourself a little Mexican boy to play with."

Charlie yells "I'm Dominican!"

Elyse replies "Dominican, Mexican. Who cares? They're both brown. Why don't you just go back to wherever it is that you came from?"

That scene is more of the melodrama I noted in earlier scenes. These scenes are needlessly full of hurtful content.

Things like that get said, today, in the US and Canada, but as written, they seem to revel in the hurt. There's little regard for readers. 

Charlie starts yelling at Elyse, in Spanish. Elyse tells him he can do better than an Indian whore, spits at Lucky and tells her nobody wants her "worthless ass" and that's why she's in foster care. And, she says...

"You're nothing. An Indian whore who has nothing to offer except what's between your legs."

Come on, @_secondstory... part of what you try to do is provide books for Native readers. This book assaults Native readers! 

We (readers) are supposed to know that Elyse is mean, racist, etc. but it is a failure of the writer to inflict hurt in the ways that Florence does. It does not feel to me like she cares about a Native reader. 

Furious, Lucky throws a punch at Elyse but just at the last second Charlie steps between the two girls. The punch knocks him to the pavement where he hits his head, hard. Elyse and friends saunter away, ambulance is called, Charlie has a concussion. 

Lucky imagines that she's killed him, that he'll have brain damage.

Doctors say he'll be ok.

School is expelling Lucky again, so she has to go to another foster home. 

That third foster home is good but the father is being transferred to another location, so, Lucky has to go to another home. This one has several girls near her age in it; Lucky is burned out from trying to make things work at the other foster homes. 

In the morning she puts on one of the sweaters her grandmother had knitted for her. When she initially packed clothes she packed the sweaters, even though they were small. This one is tight. Mia (one of the other girls) says it is a "slutty sweater."

The mom (Janine) works at the school. By the time they get to school and are by the school office, Lucky shoves Mia and gets ready to hit her but Janine stops her and then tells Lucky info from her file that is, to Lucky's surprise, accurate. 

All through her stays in these foster homes, Lucky has visited her grandmother in the senior facility she's in for Alzheimers. Sometimes she recognizes Lucky; sometimes not. To visit her this time, Lucky took $5 from Janine's purse, thinking she'll pay her back later. 

When Lucky gets back that night, Janine is waiting and Lucky expects her to accuse Lucky of stealing and that the social worker is coming to get her but instead, Janine hugs her, saying she was worried about her. Lucky tells her about taking the money. 

But Janine tells her she'll drive her next time. When she goes to her room she sees that Janine left a book for her on the nightstand. The book is Stephen King's THE SHINING.

Again... odd choice, given the Indians in it...

At breakfast next day Janine makes pancakes. The syrup reminds Lucky of maple butter, so she tells them about putting maple butter on bannock. Mia asks what bannock is and--finally! We read a specific tribal name! I'm rdg a Kindle copy and am at Location 2175 of 2367. 

Lucky tells them "It's a kind of bread... we're Cree. My grandparents and I."

Janine suggests Lucky teach them; Mia says she doesn't like Indian food. Lucky thinks Mia is racist. 

As days pass, Janine continues to make Lucky feel welcome. Lucky holds on to hope that her grandmother will get better and that they'll return to their home, but on one visit, her grandmother tells her that isn't going to happen and that she's put their house on the market. 

She gonna put the money from the sale into an account for Lucky to go to college and is updating her will so that Lucky's mother can't get at any of it. In the car, Lucky cries and Janine comforts her.

At Janine's, Mia continues to harass Lucky. 

One day Mia asks Lucky if she likes "showing off your tits" and Lucky ignores her. Mia asks "Are all Indians deaf or just you? Or maybe you're stupid? Is that it?" Lucky clenches her fists. Mia says "Give it your best shot. I've fought girls more savage than you, Pocahontas."

As I noted earlier in the thread, these conflict scenes feel gratuitous and Florence (the author) seems oblivious to how they might impact a Native reader. 

There's warmth in ch 66 when Janine brings Lucky's grandmother, Jake & Charlie and Lucy (from previous foster homes) over for Lucky's birthday. Mia had watched Lucky make bannock and has made some for the party. 

Ryan is there, too (Lucky has stayed in touch with him throughout the book). There are thoughtful gifts; Lucky feels that this is finally like home. The story ends with her blowing out the birthday cake candles.

Keeping an Eye Out: Thoughts on The Dactyl Hill Squad

A draft version of a post on the Dactyl Hill Squad series was published here by accident the morning of 3/6/20. I apologize for any inconvenience. -- Jean Mendoza

Spoilers ahead! This isn't a review; it's more of an essay about looking at Native content in a book series, as it unfolds.

The Dactyl Hill Squad is a middle-grade series by Daniel Jose Older. It's fun to read. The plot moves lightning fast. The characters are interesting, there's real pathos as well as humor, and the fantasy elements (ride-able dinosaurs) combine surprisingly well with realistic Civil War Era settings and characters.

The "Squad" of the title is group of courageous kids from the Colored Orphans Asylum in New York City. In the Dactyl Hill Squad: Book One, they band together after the asylum burns down in a riot, leaving them homeless and targeted by a band of racist kidnappers. The kids (and their enemies) ride dinosaurs.

I started the series aware that one character, Amaya, is Native, and have kept an eye on how the author represents her among the other orphanage children, who are Black. She is described as having dark skin, and the black-and-white illustrations show her with very long, straight-ish hair and skin about the same tone as that of Magdalys Roca, the series protagonist. Amaya's father is still living and still in touch with her and the orphanage staff. Amaya doesn't seem to like or trust him. Near the end of the first book, she reveals to Magadalys that he's a general, a war hero who secretly trained her for combat ("tactics and strategies, weapons ... everything"). In the same conversation, Amaya tells Magdalys that she's "half Apache" and that her father's students at the Citadel thought of her as savage.

I'm not finding stereotypes or tired tropes about Native people in Older's depiction of Amaya. She's not "magical," exceptionally "spiritual," or stoic. She guards her feelings and personal history, psychologically consistent with her life experience. She gives special care to one of the younger orphans, and shows warmth toward fellow Squad members. She prefers machines to riding on dinos. (In the illustration shown on the right, Amaya is in the dark dress.)

Amaya's character continues to develop in the second Dactyl Hill book, Freedom Fire. Other than "long strands of jet-black hair," the author again leaves her physical appearance to the reader's -- and the illustrator's -- imagination. (I'm not treating that as stereotypical, though some might disagree. Plenty of kids with one Native parent and one White have the very dark hair, though not all do.)  Amaya continues to put her military training to good use, and she's still courageous, but no more so than her fellow Squad members.  By the end of the book, she has left the Squad behind to find and help her family, guided by a mysterious note.

We can consider Amaya in the context of something Cynthia Leitich Smith has said about the secondary characters she created for her novel Hearts Unbroken. Does Amaya have her own narrative "hinted at through beats and brush-strokes"? Or is she a "standard bearer," a "moral compass" or a symbol of a larger cause? Seems to me Older gives this Native character those beats and brush-strokes. So far, so good!

Freedom Fire features a second Native character. Colonel Ely S. Parker, who in real life was an aide to General Ulysses Grant, tries to find information about Magdalys' missing brother. Older includes a biographical sketch of Parker in the Notes. If Grant makes an appearance in the next Dactyl Hill book, perhaps Parker will, too.

I'm also keeping an eye on what the author does with Major General Philip Sheridan, an actual 19th Century US military figure. The Dactyl Hill kids end up in a camp where Sheridan commands the troops. In real life, Sheridan was an advocate and practitioner of scorched-earth tactics that targeted non-combatants, both during the Civil War and in his campaigns against Indigenous nations.  He advocated exterminating the buffalo herds to starve Indigenous people into submission. A number of people, myself included, consider him a war criminal.  He's also infamously supposed to have said, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." He claimed he didn't say those words, but that's irrelevant, as his desire to get rid of Native people was evident.

In Freedom Fire, Sheridan is ambitious, strategy-oriented, kind of humorously pompous, smart, and on the right side of the war. He covets Magdalys' ability to communicate with and control the dinosaurs, and she resents his purely strategic interest. Amaya is blunt: she doesn't trust Sheridan because she "grew up around those types" and knows that to them, everything but winning is "expendable." She and Magdalys and another key character have the following conversation:
"You guys are black and I'm Apache," Amaya said. "I don't think they know how to see us as anything but expendable." ....
"Whether there's a war going on or not," Cymbeline agreed. 
"Exactly, and anyway, there's a whole other war going on that nobody wants to talk about it. A perpetual one. The beloved savior Lincoln hanged thirty-eight Dakotas in a single day at the end of last year, and that's not even to mention the ones who were massacred in the run-up to that."
Cymbeline nodded sadly.
You won't see truths like those in many middle grade fantasy adventures, or even realistic historical fiction! Not only does Daniel Jose Older show young people talking about how racism affects them -- he also brings in the Dakota 38. This passage makes me think that he won't ultimately give Philip Sheridan the hero treatment in the next Dactyl Hill Squad book.

My antennae went up, however, when Mardi Gras Indians appear in Freedom Fire. The Mardi Gras Indians are secret societies of African-American New Orleans residents who create remarkable, elaborate, colorful regalia for celebrations that include Mardi Gras. In the Note at the back of the book, Older explains that this dates back to the 1800s, "when black Americans wanted to honor the Native Americans who had helped them out during slavery."

Most explanations I found online are not specific about the actual origins. Unfortunately, even if the goal is to honor, the tradition draws heavily on stereotypes & tropes. There's a Big Chief. Names of the groups include "Yellow Pocahontas."  Adrienne Keene (Native Appropriations) expressed her ambivalence about it back in 2010. Some other Native people are not ambivalent -- they don't like it. And a 2016 NPR segment on a somewhat-related topic indicates that one leader, knowing Native people's objections, decided to rename their group to reflect African-American heritage.

For Older's Dactyl Hill Squad, the Mardi Gras Indians are a positive presence. Amaya is curious and excited at the first mention of them, and mildly disappointed to find they aren't part of a real tribe, but still finds them "beautiful." An illustration shows a few of them in a parade setting, with abundant long plumes that don't really resemble traditional regalia of Indigenous groups of what is currently called North America. And they heroically save Magdalys from certain death. So I'm watching what else happens with the Mardi Gras Indians in Book 3. I'll have more to say after June 2, 2020, when it's available.