Friday, November 27, 2020

Highly Recommended: THE RANGE ETERNAL by Louise Erdrich

The Range Eternal
Written by Louise Erdrich
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Published by University of Minnesota Press
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

When I was a little girl on our reservation (Nambé Owingeh), I sat by my grandmother's wood stove and watched her cook and tend the fire in her stove. In The Range Eternal we see a mother and daughter standing at their stove, making soup. 

Here's a photo of that page. Look at the bottom right corner. See that dark rectangle next to that circle? That rectangle is a slot for a tool that lets you lift that circular cut-out of the stovetop so you can put wood right underneath that spot, to make the spot extra hot for your cooking. My grandmother would put a slice of bread just over that rectangle. As the bread toasted, a rectangular shape would emerge on my bread. I don't have a memory of talking about that rectangle. It is just something my grandmother did to my toast. In another spot on the stove, she used a copper bottom one-cup measuring cup to make my oatmeal. It is such a warm memory! 

But--there's also some scary memories, too. The ceiling of my grandmother's house was boards supported by beams. Those beams had once been trees. My grandfather cut the trees down, then cut the branches off, and then peeled the bark away, leaving a rough beam. In my childhood imagination, some of the spots where the branches had been cut away formed scary-looking faces. The nearness of my grandparents chased those frights away. 

Childhood imagination and the warmth of memory permeates The Range Eternal. The little girl standing with her mother by the stove imagines a Windigo, and deer, and bear, and horses, and the buffalo you see on the book cover. Time passes and the arrival of electrical wires means the stove is moved out of the house and an electric one takes its place. But--it is missed. More time passes and the little girl grows up and still, as an adult, feels like something is missing. One day she sees a Range Eternal in an antique store and knows what was missing. It is the stove. So, she gets it. The closing pages show us the woman and her children by their Range Eternal. 

It is a marvelous story that I absolutely adore! The Author's Note gives us something, too. The Range Eternal of this story was her grandmother's stove. Her mother talked about that stove, with affection. The illustration with the note is by Dr. Angela Erdrich--Louise Erdrich's sister. It is of their mother, standing in front of a Range Eternal. Dr. Erdrich's art adds layers of warmth to the story told in The Range Eternal. 

I've clearly made a personal connection to The Range Eternal. For me, it evokes a lot of memories. We had electricity in my grandmother's house but we did not have running water or gas, yet. Both would come before I was ten years old. Though they made life easier in some ways, other things are lost. Those things hold powerful feelings. On a low table, my grandparents had buckets of water that they'd get from the river each morning. I'd go with them, sometimes. In the wintertime, we'd have to chip away at the ice. Next to the buckets was a dipper to scoop water for cooking and cleaning. Sometimes, though, I'd drink right from that dipper.  Where is that dipper, now? 

I'd best bring this reminiscing to a close and say -- get a copy of The Range Eternal. First published in 2002, I'm thrilled that the University of Minnesota Press brought it out again. It is part history, part family story, and very Native. Spend time with it and your own memories!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Recommended: In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok

In My Anaana's Amautik
Written by Nadia Sammurtok
Illustrated by Lenny Lischenko
Available in English and Inuktitut
Published by Inhabit Media
Publication Year 2019
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

A while back, Victoria J Coe tweeted that Teresa Peterson's Grasshopper Girl is a "huggable book." What a great descriptor -- some books are just that! And we need those, in these strange times when hugging people we love can actually be dangerous. 

Another example of a book you might want to hug is In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok (Inuit). It offers peaceful illustrations of an adorable baby in snuggly situations, with loving word-images about the comfort and joy of being carried and cared for. What's more huggable than that? 

The book begins with a two-page illustration of a child's hand reaching toward a large sun that shines brightly over an Arctic landscape (by Lenny Lischenko, not Native) and these words:
In my anaana's amautik, I feel warm. The warmth of her skin feels like sunshine, keeping me safe from the cold. I love being in my anaana's amautik.
"Amautik", pronouced "a-MOW-tick," is defined in the brief glossary as "a pouch in the back of a woman's parka where a baby can be carried".

Every page of text begins with the words "in my Anaana's amautik," followed by sensory images of something the child loves to do, and ends with "my Anaana's amautik." That repetition makes it easy for toddlers or preschoolers to chime in when their adult pauses there in reading, once they're familiar with the book.

Some of the imagery is rooted in a specific environment: "Her breathing feels like ocean waves gently rolling in and out." But many images have a more universal feel, and are always linked to the natural world: "Her scent reminds me of flowers in the summertime."  It's a love poem, really, about caregivers and their little ones. 

In My Anaana's Amautik shows us how a baby's fundamental and lasting sense of security and well-being is woven from sensory experiences large and small. Family members, like the mother in the book, often provide such comforts without even thinking about it. (I'm smiling right now, remembering that one of our "grands" says they would sometimes "forget" their favorite blanket at our place, so we would mail it back to them. When they open the package, "It smells like Grandma's house.")

But worries can keep parents and caregivers from being "in the moment" with little ones: "Am I doing enough? Am I doing something wrong? Am I giving my baby a chance at a good future?" 

Where do we find our own sense of security as adults, as people with responsibility for generations to come? The mother in In My Anaana's Amautik is right there in the same experiences the baby is having, though from a different perspective. To me, this says that as adults, we can find and accept the comfort available in what the earth offers us: warm sunlight, rolling waves, lovely sounds, objects soft to the touch, a tender new life. We often overlook such things, take them for granted. But when we allow ourselves to be in the moment with them, maybe we can touch that sense of security, of being gently hugged and cradled in an amautik.     

In her 2016 review of  We Sang You Home (by Richard Van Camp), Debbie wrote of "feeling loved by words" or "loved by a book." For so long, there were no books that showed Indigenous children receiving such loving care.  In My Anaana's Amautik joins We Sang You Home and other titles like Grasshopper Girl and My Heart Fills with Happiness in putting unconditional familial love at the center. (And Inhabit Media makes it available in Inuktitut as well as English -- more love for Indigenous languages, and Indigenous kids.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Mural of Vine Deloria, Jr. at Haskell Indian Nations University's Tommaney Library

Ask just about any Native scholar or activist to name someone who inspired them to do the work they do, and you're likely to hear "Vine Deloria, Jr." over and over again. You can see that in the tributes to him in 2005 at the Indianz article about his impact: Vine Deloria, Jr. giant in Indian Country, dies at 72

Without question, his writings are tremendously influential in my work in children's literature. Every library should have his books and books by Native writers on their shelves. Together, we can #IndigenizeLibraries across the continent! 

And so, it was exciting to see a mural of him being done at Haskell Indian Nations University's Tommaney Library. With permission from Carrie Cornelius (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin & Prairie Band Potawatomi)--the extraordinary librarian there--I am sharing photos they put on Facebook as the mural was being done, live (via Zoom), on Tuesday, November 17th. The muralist is Steven Grounds (Euchee Navajo). Dr. Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma) delivered two lectures during the day.  

About the mural and the space it is in, Carrie Cornelius said "Every library needs safe places for Indigenous People." She's doing terrific work at the library. I'm glad to know her. She makes a huge difference in the life of Native students. 

Here's the photos. I've studied them more than once already. And take a look at that last one! Students approaching the library can see the mural through the windows. One day--I'll get there, and see it in person. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


On March 24, 2020, Chronicle Books published a new social studies-themed picture book for ages 8-12. Titled The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents, it is written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Adam Rex. As readers of AICL know, we approach our reviews with a Native reader in mind. How will a Native child feel about the contents of this book? How will that child’s parents feel about its contents? We are precisely those parents. 

Our post about The Next President differs from our typical posts in which we recommend, or do not recommend, a book based on its handling of Native content. The Next President is, in many ways, unlike most other books, particularly books about the presidency for young people. We found that we engaged differently with it. So this post is as much about that engagement as it is about the words and illustrations -- what we noticed, what we questioned, and where we went with our questions. We hope readers of the blog will find this approach useful. Part of our engagement involved a series of online, COVID-safe conversations, so we have inserted our names as appropriate, to show who said what.

Debbie: The Next President got some starred reviews. It uses an interesting concept. Rather than repeat what other books about presidents do--which is to talk about their presidency--it is an opportunity for children to see some aspect of each president’s life before they became president. The structure of that information is intriguing, too. Rather than a strict chronological presentation, it is framed by periods/years. Within that structure, Messner and Rex give us information about individuals who were born during that time and/or something they did. It is difficult to describe in words, so we’ll show you a page, here (this image is from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast's blog post about the book):

Jean: This is the first informational two-page spread in the book. It is focused on 1789, the year George Washington became president of the United States. As with most of the pages in the book, there’s a lot going on. On the left, Washington gestures from inside a portrait someone is painting. On the right, four of the men who would later become president are deep in serious conversation. The text above them provides pre-presidency facts about each of them in order: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. The text in the box for President 2 says: 

John Adams was Washington’s vice president. Adams was known for having a short temper and getting into arguments. He was the only one of the first five presidents who didn’t enslave people.

Now, look closely at what Adam Rex has created behind them. Several Black people are shown carrying a building. We thought at first it must be the White House, but it is actually what was called Federal Hall in New York, which no longer exists. In 1789, Federal Hall was a significant government building -- New York was the capital of the US then. Washington was inaugurated there, and Congress passed the Bill of Rights and established the federal judiciary in that building. A lot of the infrastructure of that time was built with enslaved labor (and slavery existed in New York at the time). So I think this illustration of the Black workers holding up Federal Hall might suggest a couple of things. One, it says that the labor of enslaved people was essential to the growth of the United States even in those early days of the country. And it may also say that when the seat of government picked up and moved (from New York to Philadelphia to Washington DC), much of that work was done by people who were enslaved, and whose human rights were denied by that government. It seems to me that illustrations like this one -- a depiction of people holding up an entire building --  invite readers to look further for meaning. 

Debbie: We like that the author/illustrator team tells readers about slavery, right away. We’re told that Presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Washington enslaved people. We wish that information extended to other presidents beyond these four. The website, “Slavery in the President’s Neighborhood” says 12 presidents enslaved Africans. In Messner and Rex’s book, the other eight pretty much get a pass. 

Another page we like a lot is the opening double page spread, where we see a range of people and families touring a gallery where they learn about each of the presidents. We especially like that this is a very diverse set of individuals and families (this image is from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast's blog post about the book):

Jean, as we looked at the book, what stood out for you? 

Jean: Ah … Aside from the nearly complete lack of reference to Native people …  I was struck by the range of pre-presidency experiences Messner and Rex depict. We see Andrew Jackson scowling at a bird, along with text about his temper. (Later there’s a page about a duel in which he killed a man.) And on the facing page are pictures of 10-year-old Martin Van Buren, 16-year-old William Henry Harrison, and then 4-year-old Zachary Taylor playing in water with a stick. Jackson, Harrison, and Taylor later were known as “Indian fighters”, which boosted their political careers, and Van Buren eventually oversaw Indian Removal to Oklahoma. None were making war in the year 1789, but their interactions with Native people would prove significant, so I think it would have been good to have some mention of that in the book.

What’s something that stood out for you, Deb?

Debbie: When I first opened the book and saw the end paper art, I was really annoyed. You know how books have a nameplate in a book where its owner can write their name? This one says “This Country Belongs to” and has a line for a child to write their name. It reminded me of the uncritical singing of “This land is your land, this land is my land…” Both obscure the history of this continent, who those lands belong to, and the wars that Native people fought to keep their families safe on their homelands. Part of me wants to enjoy little Zachary playing with that stick but all I can think of is “whose land is that, Zachary, and how did your parents get it?!” That emotion carried, for me, as I went from one page to another in the book. 

As we paged through the book, we spent a lot of time on some of the things we noticed. Like that statue of George Washington. That is… interesting, isn’t it? Here's a screen capture of it, taken with my phone: 

Oh, gosh, yes. Adam Rex places a huge statue of Washington in the middle of the gallery on that first full 2-page spread. Is it a factual depiction or is it something imagined that Rex wants readers to think about, like the enslaved men holding up the building in the illustration we mentioned? We ended up down a research rabbit hole, wondering if that’s a real statue. It turns out it’s a real monument -- Washington in white marble, seated on a throne and half naked, holding a sword. Right behind him, Rex shows a strange, smaller figure which, it turns out, is literally the only representation of Native people in the entire book.

Deb, do you want to say more about what we found out about the statue and that figure? 

Debbie: The sculptor’s name is Horatio Greenough. As we dug in that rabbit hole we learned that the statue has two small figures behind the seated Washington. From a Smithsonian page about the statue, we learned that those two figures are an American Indian and Christopher Columbus, and that they represent the Old and New World (see the side-by-side comparison of the Greenough's "Indian" with Rex’s representation of it, below). I was already annoyed with the endpaper, and so, realizing that the only Native image in the book was presented in that particular context added to my disappointment.  

Jean: That statue has a strange history. When the work was unveiled in 1840, public opinion was strongly against it. People hated that it showed Washington partly clothed, and made him seem king-like. I have a negative reaction, too, for a different reason: unlike every other statue I’ve seen of a Native person created by a white person, this figure conveys purposeless, indecision, and maybe even laziness. The subject kind of leans forward and stares into the middle distance, and looks to be scratching his ear. Definitely not the heroic noble savage trope there, but definitely not any better. Think of how much time and effort went into creating a lackadaisical, confused Native man in white marble. I’d love to know the sculptor’s decision-making process. (Source for image of Rex's illustration is Debbie's camera; source for the photo on the right is George Washington Unclothed.)

Debbie: And I want to know why Rex included it! I hope teachers would want to dig in like we did but am not sure they’ll be able to do that, given the incredible demands on their time overall. A teacher could do a lot of fascinating research with students--just on that statue especially now, during a period when people are asking important questions about statues across the US and around the world. Who commissioned them, when, and why? As I did research on Greenough’s statue, I read Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape by Kirk Savage. He said that initially, Greenough meant to include a small statue of “a negro” (Savage used quotation marks around the word) to represent plantation slavery as the engine of U.S. expansion across the continent. But, someone argued that it would connect Washington to slavery and the role of slavery in national expansion. No monument had done that before. So he decided to use Columbus instead.

In Greenough’s statue, there was a desire to hide some truths about Washington. I wonder if Adam Rex found that out, too? I’ve been having so much trouble trying to figure out why he put this statue in the book, at all. Then I saw on Twitter that Rex said “[W]e get all these ancient Greek-looking Presidents because we like to imagine our country is the Platonic ideal of democracy.” Is the statue--and that Indian--there to invite kids to think about the failings of our democracy and how statues contribute to those failings? 

I wish there was a page of “why we did this” information in the back of the book. It would have been so useful! You and I come into this book with a lot of knowledge about imperialism and how that plays out in children’s books with the endless mythologizing of American exceptionalism. I took a look online to see if anyone noted anything remotely like that in their review of the book, and nobody has. Perhaps that points to the need for a “why we did this” page. 

As our deep-dive into the statue shows, we tend to ask a lot of questions and we wish we didn’t have to do that! I think picture book teams have a terrific model for what-to-do with respect to providing readers with information. That model is Kevin Maillard and Juanita Martinez Neal’s Fry Bread. It has eight pages of notes! I think that’s the first time I’ve seen that, and it would help tremendously with books like The Next President. As we read the book we saw many places where we thought more information would have helped us understand what Messner and Rex were doing. Like with the page on President Buchanan. Can you tell our readers what we wrestled with there, Jean? 

Jean: The text about James Buchanan states that he was the only president who never married. The illustration shows him walking in close, if not intimate, conversation with another man. There’s a long history of speculation about whether Buchanan was gay. When we looked for photos of the man who was his partner, it was clear to us that Rex had drawn a likeness of William Rufus King. We think it would be especially helpful for LGBTQ+ readers to be aware that there’s some convincing scholarship that says Buchanan was gay, and that King, who served as a US Senator, was his long-time partner. We imagine a teacher thinking that a child can go find the information on their own, but that suggestion is fraught with peril. Some contemporary sources, and others from Buchanan’s time, contain expressions of homophobia that could be harmful. 

Debbie: Yes! The goal should be affirmation, right on the page! I think of the article, “The All Heterosexual World of Children’s Nonfiction: A Critical Content Analysis of LGBTQ Identities in Orbis Pictus Award Books, 1990-2017 by Thomas Crisp, Roberta Price Gardner, and Matheus Almeida. They have a section in their article called “Give Us Names: Looking for Queerness in LGBTQ-Identified Focal Subjects” where they write that heterosexual identities are promoted explicitly, while “a code of silence and invisibility often surrounds any inclusion of queer-identified people.” In their study of all those Orbis Pictus Award books, they also write (p. 260):
While it is not impossible for readers to recognize the codes embedded in these depictions, the authors of these children's books squarely place the burden on their readers, and ultimately reinscribe queer invisibility for those who are not able to decipher the textual clues, would rather not acknowledge, or who are unaware there is a need to acknowledge queer existences.
Those are powerful passages, and if Messner and Rex read this post, I hope they address the way they may be contributing to the invisibility that Crisp, Gardner, and Almeida note! I am guessing that Messner and Rex felt that Buchanan’s identity as a gay man is not universally seen, at present, as a fact and that may be why they did not include it explicitly in the text, but that decision is contradicted by the illustration of that very man, William Rufus King.

Jean: We also wonder what scholars, or parents, or children who are Asian American or Latinx wish had been included in the book, or whether lives of Black people could have been depicted outside of enslavement and work. But we’ll return now to our original goal of analyzing the absence of Native content in The Next President. As parents, aunties, and grandmothers of Native kids, we want books like this one to show Native people as more than just part of a statue onto which a white sculptor projected his dream of a White republic. We know teachers are going to be using this book to support social studies curricula. We also suspect that publishers will want more books like this one, on different topics. So we are at work on two resources that we think would be useful in providing historical facts while acknowledging the influence of Native people on US history. 

One is a series of land acknowledgements -- one for each president’s birthplace. We’re finding this one to be challenging for a variety of reasons. But we think it can support any curriculum about US presidents. The second resource is a kind of rejoinder to The Next President -- we’ll have brief facts about each president’s dealings with Native people (pre-Presidency, if possible, in keeping with Messner’s approach). We plan to have those available as soon as we can.

A brief note: we are aware that many people feel that Messner and Rex left out President 45, but he's shown on page 33 as a teenager.

As always, we welcome your comments.


Note: "The All-Heterosexual World of Children's Nonfiction: A Critical Content Analysis of LGBTQ Identities in Orbis Pictus Award Books, 1990-2017" by Thomas Crisp, Robert Price Gardner, and Matheus Almeida came out in Children's Literature in Education (2018), 49, pages 246-263.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Redscales" (a stand-in for R*edskins) in DINO-THANKSGIVING

Last week I went to a local library to gather Thanksgiving books to see what I might see (patterns, etc). The library uses a turkey sticker on the spine. Rather than look up books, I scanned the top shelves in about half of the children's E section of the library, and on the "new books" shelf--pulling any book with a turkey sticker on it--until my arms were full. That was 19 books.

I got home and started reading, sorting, making notes, etc. This post is about one page in one of the books. The books have an array of problems but this one stands out because it came out this year (2020). The book is Dino-Thanksgiving written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott. In it, dinosaurs are gathering for a Thanksgiving feast. They do the sorts of things people do on Thanksgiving Day--like watching a football game:

That's a photo of the page. Those red arrows are by me, drawing attention to "Redscales" and the Pteros shown in a maroon and gold helmet and maroon and gold jerseys. There's no mistaking the parallel. The "Redscales" are a stand-in for the Washington DC professional football team. 

I assume the author and illustrator and art director and all the people in-house at Lerner Books thought it was cool or clever, but it isn't. I did a post about it on Facebook and tagged Lerner. The next morning, they replied, saying:
We appreciate those who have pointed out this insensitivity. We are changing the team name in reprints, and we’re discussing changes to the art as well. And we’re doubling down on our commitment to watch for things like this during our production process, and do better in the future.
I'm glad to know they're going to change it--but the question I and others have is--how did that happen in the first place? Resistance to mascots is national news! How did so many people involved with this book miss that problem? 

I'm sharing this with readers of AICL to encourage you to use social media when you see problems like this. Tag publishers when you speak up. Tag me if the content is specific to Native people, and I'll amplify what you say. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Anti-Indigenous Content in S. E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS

On October 13, 2020, S. E. Hinton replied to a tweet asking her to consider writing a graphic novel version of The Outsiders (first published in 1967). In her reply she said no, and that: 
"The Outsiders is the first book many people read in their life & it shows them they CAN read a book. Not that they can turn the pages of a graphic novel." 
If you're on twitter, you saw (or can go see) responses to her reply. A day later, she sent out another tweet saying she is reconsidering her earlier remark and apologized to fans of graphic novels. Watching it unfold, I remembered that The Outsiders is one of the classics that has anti-Indigenous content. 

Do you remember these passages, in Hinton's The Outsiders

On page 106-107, Two-Bit says: 
"I thought all the wild Indians in Oklahoma had been tamed. What little squaw's got that tuff-looking mop of yours, Ponyboy?" 
Early in the book, Hinton describes Two-Bit as the oldest member of their gang and "the wisecracker of the bunch" (page 9). People think his remarks are funny. He reminds Ponyboy of Will Rogers (I wonder if Hinton knew that Rogers was Cherokee?). 

The state currently known as Oklahoma is where you'll find thirty-nine sovereign tribal nations. Hinton grew up in Tulsa. I don't know what the population of Native people was in the 1960s in Tulsa or Oklahoma, but my guess is that Hinton may have had classmates that were Native. As a kid (she wrote the book while she was a teenager), did she carry stereotypical ideas of what Native people would look like? 

We certainly see stereotypical ideas in Two-Bits words. First is "Wild Indians." Two-Bit also uses what growing numbers of people recognize as a slur: "squaw." And what does he imagine that a "squaw" does? Scalp others. Some would argue that Two-Bits identity as a joker makes a difference in how readers are meant to interpret that passage. You've heard all the "it's a joke!" disclaimers for insensitive jokes, right? Humor like that does not humor me. Jokes like that are made at someone's expense. Defense of them are also made at that someone's expense. 

This passage is on page 135-136 (point of view in the book is Ponyboy):
Screeching like an Indian, Steve went running across the lawn in flying leaps, stopped suddenly, and flipped backward. 
With a happy whoop I did a no-hands cartwheel off the porch steps, hit the ground, and rolled to my feet.
See the stereotyping there? Indians "screech." And Ponyboy "whoops" -- presumably, like an Indian would.... and you know that means the woo-woo sort of thing you see in movies and television shows. 

I looked around a bit to see if I could find any lesson plans where teachers are teaching kids about the stereotypical content of The Outsiders. I found some worksheets here and there but they're all about class differences. Do you know of any worksheets that address the anti-Indigenous passages? 

On Twitter I see objections from many people. I'm noting the problematic Native content. Some are noting that Gone With the Wind is referenced several times. The book's content was bad when it came out in 1967. Most people did not notice it then, and some do not notice it now. Some think it does not matter. I disagree. It matters. Though I didn't create this post with the intent of reviewing the book, I think I'll just say that whether it is characterized as anti-Indigenous or anti-Black or outdated--it need not be taught today. There are better options. 

In short, I do not recommend The Outsiders. If the book is put forth as a graphic novel, I wonder if Hinton would do that edition and if she'd leave out the references to Gone With the Wind and the stereotypical Native passages?  


For your reference, a screen cap of Hinton's tweets:


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Highly Recommended: The Cabin, by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson

The Cabin
Written by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson
Published in Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions about Small Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter; Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2020
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese

I grew up at Nambé Pueblo. Back in the 60s, our home was one of the handful that was along the washboarded dirt road that ended at our waterfalls. During those years the US government constructed a black top road so construction workers could build a dam to control the river that fed the valley. Many days I'd go to the river with my grandma to bring buckets of water to the house.  I spent many days and nights with my grandma. Her house and the one my parents built for their growing family were connected at one end (forming an L shape). Our front doors were not that far apart but I was a scaredy cat! After spending a day with Gram, I'd just sleep with her rather than dash across the yard from her door to ours. Too dark outside! Who knows what might get me?! Staying the night with her meant I'd stay in bed until she got the wood stove going. From under the quilts I could watch her adjust the damper till she had the fire just where she wanted it. Then, she'd call to me and I'd sit by the warm stove as she made some oatmeal and toast for me. 

All of that is in my mind this morning because last night, I read Hopson's "The Cabin." From the first word to the last ones, I was right there--in that cabin, with her teenaged protagonist. Of her story, Hopson writes:
My short story ‘The cabin’ is about a young Inupiaq teenager who encounters something strange while trapping.
As that teen wonders what she's hearing outside the cabin, she thinks it might be a bear. She's got a rifle. I'm reminded of the time when a bear was around the pueblo, getting into corn. Some of us kids were afraid to be outside, playing! Our parents were worried, too. Some got their rifles out, just in case they needed them. 

Life on a reservation, in a remote area, was wonderful. I have nothing to complain about. What I have is terrific memories, brought forth by reading My Cabin. It resonates with me on many levels. There's elders in it--like my Gram--so that's one key piece of it but there's so much more! 

You should definitely order a copy of Rural Voices! Hopson's story is excellent, and I look forward to reading the others in the book. I highly recommend My Cabin. And I wonder what else she's working on? If you're interested in knowing more about her, head over to her website. On her "about" page, you'll read that she's a tribally enrolled Inupiaq. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Highly Recommended: APPLE (SKIN TO THE CORE) by Eric Gansworth

Monday, October 12 is Indigenous Peoples' Day. There will be many virtual events taking place. Top of my list is the one from Arizona State University. Eric Gansworth will open their day of events. When you click on through to register for his lecture (at noon, Central Time) you will see that Gansworth was selected to deliver the 2020 lecture in the prestigious Simon Ortiz Red Ink Indigenous Speaker Series. People in Native studies or who study the writing and scholarship of Native people will recognize names of people who have given that lecture. In the field, being selected to give that lecture has tremendous significance. Videos for most of the talks are available at the site. If you are new to your work in learning about Native writing, make time to watch and study all of them! 

Gansworth will be talking about his new book, Apple (Skin to the Core). Across the hundreds of  Native Nations, our life experiences differ. Census information has shown that about half of us grow up in suburban or urban areas. I'm glad to see books set in those spaces. 

Some of us grew up on our homelands or on reservations. Native-authored books for children and young adults that reflect a reservation sense-of-place with the integrity that Gansworth brings to his writing, are rare. On Indigenous Peoples Day, I'll be giving a talk, too. My audience will be Pueblo peoples. I expect a large segment of the audience to be people who are living on their Pueblo homelands. And so, I'm emphasizing books like Apple (Skin to the Core) that will speak directly to a reservation-based experience. Of course, everyone should read it and Gansworth's other two books, If I Ever Get Out of Here and Give Me Some Truth. 

As I read through his memoir, I linger over some of what I read... I want to tell you about this poem, or what I see on that page, but that's not the thrust of this post. A review is forthcoming. Today, I celebrate the gifts that Eric Gansworth gives to us, in every word he writes, in each poem, story, and book. 

Bio from Gansworth's website:
Eric Gansworth (Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ), a writer and visual artist, is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation.  He was raised at the Tuscarora Nation, near Niagara Falls, New York.  Currently, he is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

And a video about the book and the word "apple":

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians

 Editors Note: This post was created as a one-page document that would fit into a single page. It is also available as a pdf. If you have trouble opening or downloading the pdf, write to us directly (see the "Contact" tab for Debbie's email address). A one-pager was hard to do! We wanted to add resources for each of the ten points. Instead, we'll be adding resources in the comments section. We encourage you to share the link to this post and the pdf with others but do not insert Tips for Teachers in something you are selling! We created this as a free resource. If you see someone selling it, please let us know. 

Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians

Prepared by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White) 

American Indians in Children’s Literature 

As educators develop or adapt lesson plans to teach about Native peoples, we recommend attention to the following:

(1) “American Indian” and “Native American” are broad terms that describe the Native Nations of peoples who have lived on North America for thousands of years. Recently, “Indigenous” has come into use, too (note: always use a capital letter for Indigenous). Many people use the three terms interchangeably but educationally, best practice is to teach about and use the name of a specific Native Nation.

(2) There are over 500 sovereign Native Nations that have treaty or legal agreements with the United States. Like any sovereign nation in the world, they have systems of government with unique ways of selecting leaders, determining who their citizens are (also called tribal members), and exercising jurisdiction over their lands. That political status distinguishes Native peoples from other minority or underrepresented groups in the United States. Native peoples have cultures (this includes unique languages, stories, religions, etc.) specific to who they are, but their most important attribute is sovereignty. Best practice—educationally—is to begin with the sovereignty of Native Nations and then delve into unique cultural attributes (languages, religions, etc.)

(3) There is a tendency to talk, speak, and write about Native peoples in the past tense, as if they no longer exist. You can help change that misconception by using present tense verbs in your lesson plans, and in your verbal instruction when you are teaching about Native peoples. 

(4) Another tendency is to treat Native creation and traditional stories like folklore or as writing prompts, or to use elements within them as the basis for art activities. Those stories are of religious significance to Native peoples and should be respected in the same ways that people respect Bible stories. 

(5) In many school districts, instruction and stories about Native peoples are limited to Columbus Day or November (Native American month) or Thanksgiving. Native peoples are Native all year long and information about them should be included year-round. 

(6) Native peoples of the 500+ sovereign nations have unique languages. A common mistake is to think that “papoose” is the Native word for baby and that “squaw” is the word for woman. In fact, each nation has its own word for baby and woman, and some words—like squaw—are considered derogatory. We also have unique clothing. Some use feathered headdresses; some do not.  

(7) To interrupt common misconceptions, develop instructional materials that focus on a specific nation—ideally—one in the area of the school where you teach. Look for that nation’s website and share it with your students. Teach them to view these websites as primary sources. Instead of starting instruction in the past, start with the present day concerns of that nation.

(8) To gain an understanding of issues that are of importance to Native peoples, read Native news media like Indian Country Today, Indianz, and listen to radio programs like “Native America Calling.”

(9) The National Congress of American Indians has free resources online that can help you become more knowledgeable. An especially helpful one is Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction, available here:

(10) Share what you learn with your fellow teachers! 


Prepared on October 1, 2020. May be shared with others.
© American Indians in Children's Literature. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Highly Recommended: "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" in WHEN THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WAS SUBDUED, OUR SONGS CAME THROUGH

What's an Indian Woman to Do?
Written by Marcie Rendon
Published in
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through
Edited by Joy Harjo; Published in 2020
Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese

The first three lines in Rendon's poem, "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" are these:
what's an indian woman to do
when the white girls act more indian
than the indian women do?
From there we read about the Indian woman's ex-husband and what he expected her to do. The poem doesn't tell us this explicitly, but to me, that expectation is based on stereotypes he had acquired. We read about the Indian woman's mother and her work and how their life meant they didn't have time to make the sorts of things that white girls make and sell at powwows--and how they use what they think is a Native-sounding name and start using a reservation accent... And that bit about them correcting the Indian woman's use of Native language... What they are doing is claiming a Native identity.  

In the introduction to When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, Joy Harjo writes (p. 15): 
"Poems like Marcie Rendon's playful "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" both worry the edges of mixed identity and strongly claim Indigenous belonging."

Rendon's poem is about white women claiming to be Native, how they treat Native women, how they are embraced by others, and what that all feels like to a Native woman. If you follow Native people on social media, you likely know that we talk about sketchy claims to Native identity. From time to time, the national news will cover someone that has made a false claim to an identity. Most recently there were many articles about Jessica Krug a white woman who claimed to be Black. 

A few weeks before that, there were articles about "Sciencing_Bi"--a Native person created by a white woman named Beth Ann McLaughlin. That case was unusual. More often, we see a white person claiming to be Native in the ways that Jessica Krug was doing with her claim to being Black.

In Native communities, the word "pretendian" circulates as a term to describe someone who is making a fraudulent claim to being Native. Harjo addresses this issue in the Introduction to When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through (page 3):
Because we respect indigenous nations' right to determine who is a tribal member, we have included only indigenous-nations voices that are enrolled tribal members or are known and work directly within their respective communities. We understand that this decision may not be a popular one. We editors do not want to arbitrate identity, though in such a project we are confronted with the task. We felt we should leave this question to indigenous communities. 
When I launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006, I had already been studying children's literature about Native peoples for over a decade. In that capacity I, too, was confronted with the task of determining whether someone was Native or not. Generally, I take writers at their word when they claim to be Native. If an individual says they're enrolled or a citizen of a specific nation, I relax. I assume they are telling the truth. If they're not enrolled or a citizen, I take a closer look at their claim. Are they, as Harjo said, known in or working with their community? As you might know, all of this can get messy real quick! 

When someone's claim to an identity is questioned, some people (usually the person and their friends) quickly move to charge the questioner as "identity police." That label shifts the focus from the person making the claim to the person who is asking the question. The latter is criticized. In some cases, that has been me--Debbie, a Native woman. What, then, am I to do? To borrow Rendon's words, What's an Indian Woman to do?

Marcie Rendon's poem is about being a Native woman and seeing people who are not Native be embraced by society as if they are, in fact, Native. Can you see why Marcie Rendon's poem, What's an Indian Woman to Do?" might resonate with me? People trust what I write here on AICL and in my book chapters and articles. When a new book comes out and the author asserts a Native identity on the book jacket and in promotional materials, it is clear that their editor and publisher believe their claim. Have they vetted that claim? The care I take in studying and recommending (or not recommending) a book is important to a lot of people. I do the best I can do, given what I know about pretendianism, and the complexities of Native identity. Harjo continues:
And yet, indigenous communities are human communities, and ethics of identity are often compromised by civic and blood politics. The question "Who is Native?" has become more and more complex as culture lines and bloodlines have thinned and mixed in recent years. We also have had to contend with an onslaught of what we call "Pretendians," that is, nonindigenous people assuming a Native identity. When individuals assert themselves as Native when they are not culturally indigenous, and if they do not understand their tribal nation's history or participate in their tribal nation's society, who benefits? Not the people or communities of the identity being claimed.
One of the strengths of Harjo's work on this anthology is that teachers and librarians can learn from the many things she says in the introduction but there are other things to learn. Learn the names of the poets she's included. Learn the names of their tribal nations. For each poet she includes, Harjo provides information you need. Here's the entry for Rendon:
MARCIE RENDON (1952–), Anishinaabe, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, is a poet, playwright, and community activist. Rendon’s work includes two novels, most recently Girl Gone Missing (2019), as well as four children’s nonfiction books. She received the Loft Literary Center’s 2017 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. She is a producer and creative director at the Raving Native Theater in Minnesota.

As I read that entry and think about what it says, I think I know what Marcie Rendon's answer to "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" has been. She counters the claims to Native identity by being an activist, a writer, producer, and creative director whose works and words can help you see who we are--for real. 

Get a copy of When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and make room in your budget to get books by Native writers in Harjo's book.   

Highly Recommended! THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day

Jean and I both read Christine Day's The Sea in Winter and are thrilled by what Day has written! A review is forthcoming, but I wanted to give you all a heads-up. Day's book comes out on January 5, 2021. Pre-order it! And check out her website. She's an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. 

Here's the book description, from Day's website:

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?

I read an advanced reader's copy in August and tweeted my excitement about it. The Sea In Winter is the first book I saw with the Heartdrum logo on the spine. In that tweet, I said:

Honestly, I'm trembling a bit as I hold an ARC of Christine Day's THE SEA IN WINTER in my hands, and gaze at the Heartdrum logo on the spine, created by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson. Congratulations, and thank you, @CynLeitichSmith and all those who brought this imprint into being.

And I shared a close up photo of the logo:  

I passed my copy of the book over to Jean. She's spent a lot of time in that area and will be doing the review essay. Do order a copy, though, right now! 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not Recommended: Conrad Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST

The Light in the Forest
Written by Conrad Richter
Published in 1953
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended


More than once over the years, someone has written to ask me about Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest. Given its age (published in 1953), I suspected it would have problematic content and I suppose I didn't have the energy at the moment to do anything with it. Last week, I decided to give it a try. As you see by red X on the three book covers above, my initial suspicions were correct. The Light in the Forest is not recommended. The cover on the right is the spin off version that came out when Disney turned Richter's book into a movie in 1958. A fraud--Iron Eyes Cody--was the "technical advisor" for that film. 

I read the acknowledgements and chapter one of Richter's book and did a series of tweets as I read. I'm copying them here:

In the acknowledgements, Richter says he was struck by stories of white captives who had been returned to their white families, but who wanted to run away to rejoin the Indian home where they'd lived.
As a small boy, Richter wanted to run away to live "among the savages."

The acknowledgement is romantic (and stereotypical) in tone. It says Indians were repelled by American ideals and restrained manner. I don't know what ideals Richter had in mind but "restrained" on the heels of "savages" might be a hint of what is to come as I read the book.

The main character is 15. He's white and has been living with Indians as an adopted son since he was 4. The village has received word that they must give up their white prisoners.
He is shocked that it includes him.

Cuyloga (the Indian man who adopted him) had "said words that took out his white blood and put Indian blood in its place." He was thereafter called True Son.
I'm always curious as to how a writer comes up with a Native name for a character. I looked up Cuyloga...

... and got hits to Sparknotes and Cliffsnotes and gradesaver and enotes and quizlet and coursehero.... all of which tell me the book is used a lot in schools.

I think we're meant to think that "Cuyloga" is a Lenape word. The people in this village would probably speak Lenape. But Cuyloga gave this white child he adopted an English name: "True Son." I wonder if Richter will use "True Son" throughout, or if he'll use a Lenape name?

In the first para of ch 1, we learn that Cuyloga taught True Son to "endure pain." True Son holds a hot stone from the fire "on his flesh to see how long he could stand it." In winter, Cuyloga sat smoking on the bank while True Son sat in the icy river till Cuyloga said ok.

True Son doesn't want to be returned to the whites, so he blackens his face (why?!) and hides in a hollow tree. But, Cuyloga finds him. True Son is "tied up in his father's cabin like some prisoner to be burned at the stake."
Burned at the stake?! Again,
Woman facepalming

Cuyloga takes True Son to the soldiers nearby. True Son resists, which embarrasses Cuyloga. He leaves and True Son imagines their village and its "warriors and hunters, squaws, and the boys, dogs and girls he had played with."

I've read enough of Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST to know I will be asking people not to use it. It is old, stereotypical, and there are better choices. If the goal is to study conflicts between Native and White people, Erdrich's BIRCHBARK HOUSE is much better!

Today I'll expand a bit on some of what I noted in those tweets. 

Richter's idea that Native people teach their kids how to "endure pain" is something I see a lot. I've not traced that down to see where it came from and I'm not doing it now. Certainly, Native and non-Native parents in the past and in the present, teach their kids things they need to know to live. But come on: pulling a stone from a fire and putting it on your flesh... that would cause injury! It doesn't make sense to me. 

That "burned at the stake" bit is also a common occurrence and it, too, makes me wonder where it came from. If you've watched old westerns--or even new things like the television series of Little House on the Prairie--you've seen Indians tying someone at a stake and then lighting a fire to burn them alive. You probably remember that Europeans did that to people they thought were heretics or witches. (There's another popular trope that isn't in Richter's book but that you should be wary of: that a captive would be cooked alive in a pot and then eaten.) From what I can tell there's one incident of a white person being "tied to a stake" and tortured. That's William Crawford and I'll be doing research on that to see what I find. I welcome your research into all this, and if you find things of note, let us know in a comment.

I noted that "True Son" uses the word "squaw." A search of the text indicates it appears 20 times. Reading those passages, it is clear that "True Son" has a derogatory view of women, Native or otherwise. Richter's story depicts them as a beast of labor whose work is beneath that of a man. 

The word "Injun" eleven times, and scalp (or variations of it) appear 43 times. The emails I get from teachers who want to use the book... now, they make me cringe. Obviously the book is a lot like Little House on the Prairie: holding quite a solid space in peoples' reading memory, coupled with the idea that this is a good book. It is not. I do not recommend it.