Monday, November 29, 2021



Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer
Written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis)
Published by Millbrook Press
Published in 2021
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Sorell's Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer is receiving starred reviews from the major children's literature review journals. And, I'll add, with good reason! Sorell is Cherokee. The book, focusing on a Cherokee aerospace engineer, is tribally specific. And people interested in STEM will love what they'll find in this picture book. You can read it aloud, and you can watch the video format where DeLanna Studi provides the narration. Like Sorell, she is Cherokee. 

Back when I was a kid, I liked biographies and I would have liked this biography of Mary Golda Ross. Some things beckon to me in a personal sense. She worked at Santa Fe Indian School as a girls advisor. My parents and grandparents went there, and I taught there for awhile. I didn't know about her, then. From what I can tell, she worked at SFIS after my grandmother was there, and before my parents attended the school. The timeline in the back of the book says she was there to advise female students. These advisors played significant roles! I remember both my parents talking fondly about their advisors.  

The word "classified" is part of the title because Ross was part of the Skunk Works division, which was a top-secret group working on planes that could fly beyond Earth. Hence, "aerospace" is also part of the title. One page of the book says that "She designed concepts for space travel to Venus and Mars" and her work helped send astronauts to the moon! That is, to use a Cherokee word, osdadv! 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her, and studying the illustrations Natasha Donovan did for the book. Teachers will love all the materials Sorell has on her webpage for the book. Scroll down to find the Teaching Guide, a Resource Toolkit, and a classroom poster. Scroll down even further to find audio files for Cherokee words. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021


the OTHER talk: reckoning with OUR my white privilege*
by Brendan Kiely, with an introduction by Jason Reynolds
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication in 2021
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


In the last few years, the word "reckoning" has appeared a lot. In meaning, it has to do with facing up to truths. Way back in the 1990s when I started graduate school, I read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. She was learning whites are taught not to recognize white privilege. It was, she wrote, unacknowledged privilege. It was vivid writing that stuck with me.

As I read Brendan Kiely's the OTHER talk: reckoning with OUR my white privilege, I thought back to McIntosh's essay. It was published in 1989. In a way, what Kiely offers to us, 32 years later, is a more in-depth reckoning. I'm sure McIntosh got push back for what she wrote, and I wonder what sorts of pushback Kiely is getting for his book. We are in a very heated period in society. Social media has been a great tool for social justice but it has also been used in harmful ways. I don't want to go on about that, so I'll turn back to the book.

Those of you who pay attention to visibility or invisibility of groups of people in the US know that one report after another leaves Native people off, or uses an asterisk that says data on us is statistically insignificant, so none is provided. In chapter 15 of the OTHER talk, Kiely writes about an anti-racist training he went to, where Native people were not included in an exercise the group was doing. He and others there did not notice that omission, but then, he writes (p. 154):
The facilitators were about to move on to their next exercise when a Native American woman in the audience stood up. She wanted to know why the racetrack model, why the entire workshop, did not include or allude to, in any way, Indigenous people in the United States. "This," she went on to explain, "is the kind of erasure we face every day." 
Kiely writes that he was floored. The facilitators had not realized what they were doing, and neither had he or other participants. It seems to me that one wave of realization was washing over him when another one struck. What made it all worse, he says, is that the workshop was taking place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and part of the focus was to acknowledge local Indigenous cultures. Each day, the conference started with a welcome from the Navajo, Apache, or Pueblo Nations. He recounts all that, and more, on those pages. 

There's more to that experience in chapter 15 than what I shared above, but I'm sitting with that particular part of it. It happens to Native people all the time. We're here, right here beside you, and still so unseen, on lands that were/are homelands to Native people. The welcome to the workshop (provided by Native people) feels to me a lot like land acknowledgements. Something is said, and then forgotten.  Kiely's book starts with praise for the book, offered by a wide range of people. I assume his publisher sought out people to write those paragraphs of praise. I can't help but notice there is not a Native person amongst them. That, I think, is unfortunate but also reflects precisely what spoke to me about that passage in chapter 15 of the book. 

I deeply appreciate that Kiely shared that experience in Albuquerque.  There are other reasons why I'm highly recommending the OTHER talk but I'll leave that for you to find, on your own. 

Get a copy and talk about it with others. It is written for young people, but every adult should read it, too. As far as I know, neither Kiely or Jason Reynolds are Native. 

*I was not able to include "my" as a strike-thru on the title for this blog post. It is part of the title of the book. 

Highly Recommended! LOOK GRANDMA! NI, ELISI! by Art Coulson; illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight


Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! 
Written by Art Coulson (Cherokee Nation)
Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw Nation)
Published by Charlesbridge
Publication Year: 2021
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Look at the cover of Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! See the purple rectangle on the top right corner that says "storytelling MATH" in it? This book is a story about math! And I am delighted to share it with AICL's readers. On the first double-paged spread we meet Bo. In his hands is a large stone marble. He's drawn a redbird on it and is showing it to his Uncle Ben. "Osdadv" his uncle says to him. That word is in the glossary at the back of the book. It means very good, or, excellent. Next time you want to say "Awesome" or "Good" or something like that to someone, say osdadv instead. 

Coulson's book offers so much! From teaching you Cherokee words that you can use, to telling you about diyadayosdi (Cherokee marbles). It is a game played with balls that are the size of the ones people use to play pool. In the back of the book, we learn how the game is played and that it is played every year during the Cherokee National Holiday. But there's more! 

In this story, Bo makes the balls. This year, his uncle has told him he can help sell them at their booth at the Cherokee National Holiday. Having been to many Native gatherings where Native people sell traditional and contemporary items they make--and especially right now (November/December)--I wish I was at the ones where my sister and her daughter are selling baked goods! Last week, I was looking at photos of their booth, noticing how they lay out all their goods. Planning what to put, where, and how, is important! That's the task for Bo. He can sell his marbles but he needs a container for them and it has to be a specific size. What we have, in Coulson's story, is an exercise in volume. Bo has to find just the right container for his marbles. When I started out teaching way back in the 1980s, I taught kindergarten and first grade. I would have loved to use this book with my students! In addition to the glossary in back and information about the game, there's a page about volume, and some "Try This!" STEM activities.

Get a copy! And give a copy to a teacher during this holiday season. And if you sell Native books at a holiday gathering, put Coulson's book on that table!

I highly recommend Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! 


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Highly Recommended: JO JO MAKOONS, THE USED-TO-BE BEST FRIEND by Dawn Quigley; illustrations by Tara Audibert


Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-to-Be Best Friend
Written by Dawn Quigley (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)
Illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey)
Published by Heartdrum
Publication Year: 2021
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today's Short and Sweet Rec is for Dawn Quigley's Jo Jo Makoons, The Used-to-Be Best Friend. For starters, here's the description of the book (from the publisher):

Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Full of pride, joy, and plenty of humor, this first book in an all-new chapter book series by Dawn Quigley celebrates a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

And now, the Short and Sweet Rec:

First: It is a first! By that, I mean that it is the first Native-authored early chapter book series that I know of! If you have children, you know what these "early" books are about. They're the ones that kids who are starting to read on their own look for, and then hold close to their hearts because of the sense of accomplishment, confidence, and joy that independent reading delivers. What sets this one apart from all others is that it is about an Ojibwe kid. I've seen far too many early reader books with stereotypical words and illustrations of Native people. Books like that hurt a Native reader and they misinform a non-Native reader. They do a lot of harm. But this book... it makes my heart soar! We've got an Ojibwe girl in the present day, living her life, which leads to my second point.

Second: Native children who grow up with their Native communities say things. They do things. They know things. All those things are unique to their specific community. In Jo Jo Makoons you will see Ojibwe words that Jo Jo uses, just because they're part of her life. Instead of grandpa, she says Mooshoom. And right there on page 3 when you first see "Mooshoom" you also get Jo Jo, talking to the reader in the way that people talk to each other (p. 3):
Do you wanna know what mooshoom means? It means "grandpa" in the Michif language. 
Just before that passage, Jo Jo tells readers "My name is Jo Jo Makoons Azure." But she also asks readers if they want to know how to say that sentence, in her language:
Try saying: "Jo Jo Makoons Azure nindizhinikaaz." 
Jo Jo acknowledges that some will feel challenged by the "big last word" and reminds them that they learned how to say Tyrannosaurus rex, and that they can also learn how to say nindizhinikaaz. 

Third: On page 6, we read that Jo Jo's mooshoom died the year before and that her kokum (grandmother) moved in with them. That is very common within Native communities. Grandparents are a significant presence in the life of Native children--and Jo Jo's kokum is a big part of her life. 

Fourth: This last is, perhaps, coincidental. When I first read Jo Jo Makoons (I've been recommending it in just about every workshop and lecture I've done this year), the final paragraphs of chapter one did not stand out but they sure do now! In them, Jo Jo hears her mom and kokum talking about Jo Jo's cat needing shots. Jo Jo remembers back to the summer before, when she needed shots. Her kokum told her (p. 9):
My girl, shots help you to be healthy. There are many sicknesses out there, and shots give good protection.
Obviously, that stands out to me now because across the U.S., children are getting shots to protect them from COVID. I hope that little bit there helps kids know these shots are necessary for their well-being. I don't know what Quigley intended when she wrote that passage but it strikes me as more of the care that permeates the world of Jo Jo and her family. It feels a bit like concentric circles of care. 

As I write this review, newspapers are filled with reports of parents challenging books that make them uncomfortable. At present we are seeing a terrific growth of diversity in what is being published and embraced by educators, librarians, and readers. Diversity feels like a threat, to those who are unsettled by it, but I hope that books like Jo Jo Makoons -- with the care infused throughout it -- can help those parents see that care of each other, and care of community, is central to the well-being of everyone.

Get a copy! Feel that care. And share it with others.  

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Friday, November 26, 2021


The Case of the Burgled Bundle
A Mighty Muskrats Mystery
Written by Michael Hutchinson (Misipawistik Cree Nation)
Published by Second Story Press
Publication Year 2021
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Oh, the joys of a good mystery! This year saw publication of the third book in the middle-grade Mighty Muskrats series by Michael Hutchinson (Cree). This is a "Short and Sweet" review.*

The publisher, Second Story Press, says this about The Case of the Burgled Bundle:

The National Assembly of Cree Peoples has gathered together in the Windy Lake First Nation, home to the Mighty Muskrats -- cousins Chickadee, Atim, Otter, and Sam. But when the memory bundle, the center of a four-day-long ceremony, is taken, the four mystery-solving cousins set out to catch those responsible and help protect Windy Lakes reputation!... [P]rime suspect and long-time bully Pearl takes off to the city with her older brother and known troublemaker, Eddie. If they've brought the burgled bundle with them, the Mighty Muskrats fear it may be lost for good.

Here's my first reason of four to highly recommend this book: Authenticity. The author is Cree, and the setting is a fictional Cree community in what is currently known as Canada, with Cree characters who are believable, likable, and never stereotypical. The mystery confronting the young sleuths is plausible and meaningful in their community (though it can certainly resonate with non-Native readers). The resolution is surprising (to me, at least) but logical and satisfying in that context. 

Second reason: Contemporary setting. As in the other two Mighty Muskrat books, current and ongoing issues for Indigenous people are central to the action. But it doesn't feel like like the author merely wants to make the story more timely or "more Indigenous," and he's not talking down to his readers, either. For example, from the very beginning, the reader gets a sense that unwelcome changes are afoot: without consulting all the leaders, someone with influence has changed the location of the important opening ceremony. It's a political decision that excludes most of the Cree people who expected to witness it. This developing situation especially concerns the Muskrats' Grandpa, who's an important recurring character. 

Third reason: What's in the details. Hutchinson continues to embed factual information about Cree history and present-day life into his stories to convey the significance of what's going on. In the first chapter, for example, there's an especially poignant image of a middle-aged Cree man speaking in Cree to "an ancient woman," a frail elder seated beside him. He's telling her what he hears as he tries to listen in to the ceremony that was supposed to be public, but isn't. In one brief passage, readers see that Cree is a living language, that respect for elders is important, and that people are distressed but resourceful in response to being cut off from an important cultural event.

Fourth reason to highly recommend The Case of the Burgled Bundle:  It's just a really engaging mystery. 

A word of caution: I'm not Cree, and can't speak to the authenticity of the descriptions of the meeting of Cree nations or  Cree traditions. If Cree readers of AICL see that I've missed something important, please let me know so I can note it here.

*A Short and Sweet rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Highly Recommended! Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Published in 2021
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Today's "short and sweet" review is of a 2021 picture book -- Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Unspeakable is one of the last books to be illustrated by the remarkable Floyd Cooper.

Here's a description of Unspeakable. 

"... a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all."

There is so much to say about this book. It was not easy to choose only four reasons to recommend it. 
Reason One to recommend Unspeakable: The subject matter. Events similar to the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred far too often but are rarely, if ever, addressed in school history classes. Nor is the sociopolitical climate that produced them. I didn't know about the Greenwood Massacre until I was in my 50s, visiting family in Tulsa, where official recognition of it was just beginning to surface. Widespread awareness is long overdue.

Reason Two: Carole Boston Weatherford's way with words. She conveys historical information simply but effectively. Her use of the old fairy tale beginning, "Once upon a time", feels especially powerful and poignant to me, expressing optimism on one hand and laying the groundwork for horror on the other. Her descriptions alone could, I think, be used instead of whatever might be in college textbooks about Greenwood. 

Reason Three: The way the text and Floyd Cooper's illustrations work together. The illustrations add concreteness and intensity to Weatherford's prose by telling a fictional story of one family that escapes the South to settle in Tulsa, only to have their dreams of a better life destroyed along with the entire Greenwood community. That story, told in pictures, can help young readers or listeners connect more deeply as Weatherford recounts the history of Greenwood. I really do feel this book should be part of the curriculum in high school and university history classes because it so skillfully blends the facts about a place and events with an engaging individualized story.

Reason Four: Acknowledgement of Black Indians. On the second page of text in Unspeakable, Weatherford says the residents of Greenwood "descended from Black Indians, from formerly enslaved people, and from Exodusters who moved West in the late 1800s...." And Floyd Cooper, who was himself Muscogee (Creek) and Black, signals the family's dual heritage on the page where a little girl holds a corn husk doll. Making corn husk dolls is a Muscogee tradition. (The Muscogee Nation has a video showing how to make one.)

Get this book. Read it, learn from it, share it with young people. We need its truth.

*A Short and Sweet rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Monday, November 22, 2021

"Debbie, can you recommend some books about Thanksgiving?"

I get a lot of email during October and November, from people who are growing in their awareness that children's books about Thanksgiving:
  • Misrepresent historical facts
  • Stereotype Wampanoag people
  • Erase the Wampanoag people by failing to name them (defaulting to the general "Pilgrims and Indians" or "Pilgrims and Native Americans") 
Invariably, the books as a whole depict a happy gathering. Some people want "the other side of the story" or what they imagine as a "balanced" depiction of "the First Thanksgiving." 

That might seem a reasonable thing to want, but it limits our presence to the past tense. You might be surprised to learn that a lot of Native people tell stories about how this or that person was shocked to learn that we are still here. 

With their stories in mind, I offer something other than "books about Thanksgiving." I recommend books written by Native people. The topic is unimportant. What is important is that you--the adult reading the story--can use present tense verbs to talk about the author and book you have chosen to read. Using these books, you are interrupting the massive ignorance out there in so many people (the shock on learning that we're still here). 

Choose Josie Dances.  When you read it, you can say "Josie Dances is written by Denise Lajimodiere and illustrated by Angela Erdrich. Both of them are citizens of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe." 

As you read it you can point out the parts of the story that show readers it is set in the present day. You could draw attention to the page that talks about how Josie's family worked all winter long, to get her ready to dance. I especially love this page, of a woman at a sewing machine: 

There are a lot of terrific books you can use! I won't list them here. Instead, I recommend you spend time with the book lists we've got at AICL's Best Books page. It means stepping out of that quest you're on for a book about Thanksgiving. It means re-orienting yourself. It means thinking hard about the holiday itself. I think it also means that you care about your children or students and what they get from you. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Highly Recommended: ALL BOYS AREN'T BLUE: A MEMOIR-MANIFESTO by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
Written by George M. Johnson 
Cover Art by Charly Palmer
Published in 2020
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (Imprint of Macmillan)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


The author of All Boys Aren't Blue is not Native, but on occasion, someone will ask me about the Native content in a particular book. That's the case this time. Here's the description:
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
I finally got a copy of the book and like so many others, was pulled in to Johnson's writing. There is such care in these essays! Some evoked tears. Chapter 10, "A Lesson Before Dying" is about his grandmother. The tears are about death but more than that, they're about truth. About being real with each other. What that feels like, why it matters so much. 

My heart squeezed as I read Johnson's essays about his identities. He is Black. He is gay. I thought of the many young people who have already read his book and through Johnson's words, been wrapped in an embrace of who they themselves are. As I write this review, Johnson's book is showing up on banned book lists. My heart aches for those who are watching all that happening. It is an assault, on them, but the outpouring of support for Johnson signals a perseverance in the face of hate. 

Now: the Native content. Chapter 5 is titled "Honest Abe" Lied to Me. 

When I read the words in that title, I nodded. In that essay, Johnson writes about elementary school, third grade, especially, and the history they were taught (and performed) in a play about Thanksgiving, the Revolutionary War, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. He writes about a Thanksgiving poster that used to hang on the school that showed (p. 87):
... American Indians sharing food with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. 
   *takes deep breath*
What it doesn't show is that the Pilgrims stole the American Indians' food when they first arrived on the Mayflower, because they weren't prepared for winter. 
I like that Johnson includes that because that particular holiday is coming up and kids across the country are being miseducated about it. Johnson's critique might not be noticed by some readers, but others--Native ones, especially--will notice and appreciate it. 

Johnson's in-depth questioning of the history he'd been learning began in junior high (page 93): 
We learned that Abraham Lincoln wasn't all he was cracked up to be. We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation, but also read some of the statements he made that weren't in the history books. The ones that were disparaging toward Black Americans and the fight for equality. 
And (p. 93-94),
We learned that Lincoln had many thoughts that never seemed to make it into the pages of the history books.

He shares some of those statements made by Lincoln, including this one (p. 94):

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

Two years ago when Jean Mendoza and I visited a high school class that was using An Indigenous Peoples' History of the US for Young People we learned that Black students were taken aback by what we included about Lincoln. 

There was--and is--no reason for anyone to go through painful moments learning the facts about Lincoln or any other person or moment in history. The information is available. Johnson and the students we worked with that day are, essentially, speaking clearly to those who will listen: tell the truth about history! 


That's what I find in All Boys Aren't Blue. The book is about Johnson's identities and it is about a country's identity. It is searing, and delivers one truth after another. I highly recommend it--and I recommend you read it. Pushing back on misrepresentations or mischaracterizations of books requires knowing what they say.  

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Update on AS AN OAK TREE GROWS (originally reviewed on Oct 12, 2014)

In October of 2014, AICL reviewed the opening pages of As An Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas. 

Last week, a reader wrote to tell me that she had received a copy of the book, via Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. It appears that Karas and his editors at Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers) decided to make a change to the original edition. 

Here's a description of the book (from the publisher's website):
This inventive picture book relays the events of two hundred years from the unique perspective of a magnificent oak tree, showing how much the world can transform from a single vantage point. From 1775 to the present day, this fascinating framing device lets readers watch as human and animal populations shift and the landscape transitions from country to city. Methods of transportation, communication and energy use progress rapidly while other things hardly seem to change at all.
This engaging, eye-opening window into history is perfect for budding historians and nature enthusiasts alike, and the time-lapse quality of the detail-packed illustrations will draw readers in as they pore over each spread to spot the changes that come with each new era. A fact-filled poster is included to add to the fun.

Due to the content, I do not recommend the book. Here's the original cover:

My 2014 post about the book did not say anything about the cover, but I want to say a little about it, today. Too often, children's books and textbooks about the continent of North America (and the country currently known as the United States) start with European arrival, as if the continent was empty of people, before then. That is the choice made for the cover of As An Oak Tree Grows. On the left half of the cover we see colonial-time imagery and on the right we see present day. But inside, the book double-paged spread starts with Native people. Their tribal nation is not specified, which is a problem. The second one has the same people. But on the third page, they're gone. In the original, the text on that page read: 
The boy grew up and moved away. Farmers now lived here. 
The copy in the Imagination Library is different. On that page, the text is:
The boy no longer lived here. New people came and made their homes around the oak tree. 
For your reference, here's screen caps for the two pages:

So--the question is: does the change to the Imagination Library edition make it better? 

In the original edition, that page and the ones before it show just that boy and an adult. They don't seem to be part of a community. They don't seem to live in a village. And, they aren't identified at all as people. All we're given is "the boy" (specifically, "a young boy planted an acorn" and then "the boy grew up and moved away"). 

In that original edition, it sounds like the boy grew up and decided to move. What's missing is what was happening to him, his people, and his tribal nation. The second sentence says that "Farmers now lived here." The unsaid part is "white" farmers. Native peoples had already been farming for a very long time. Why wasn't "farmer" used to describe them? Far too many materials tell kids that Native people were primitive, roaming around, hunting and gathering -- but they were farming, too! 

Looking at the Imagination Library website, I see that the book is listed on Feb 28, 2018. The cover there shows the Imagination Library seal on the cover. Here's an enlarged image of it:

The Imagination Library edition says "the boy no longer lived here." We don't know why. Instead of "Farmers" living there (as in the original), the Imagination Library copy says "New people came and made their homes around the oak tree." How would it feel if it said "White people came and made their homes around the oak tree"? 

I wanted to do this updated post because AICL tries to keep track of changes to books. Most of the changes I've written about are good. In this case, I don't know... It doesn't strike me as an improvement. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Highly Recommended! Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence, by Nicola I. Campbell


Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence

Written by Nicola I. Campbell (Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis)
Cover illustration by Published in 2021
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today's Short and Sweet Rec is for Nicola I. Campbell's memoir, Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence. I'll begin with the description from the publisher's site:

If the hurt and grief we carry is a woven blanket, it is time to weave ourselves anew.

In the Nłeʔkepmxcín language, spíləx̣m are remembered stories, often shared over tea in the quiet hours between Elders. Rooted within the British Columbia landscape, and with an almost tactile representation of being on the land and water, Spíləx̣m explores resilience, reconnection, and narrative memory through stories.

Captivating and deeply moving, this story basket of memories tells one Indigenous woman’s journey of overcoming adversity and colonial trauma to find strength through creative works and traditional perspectives of healing, transformation, and resurgence.

And now, the Short and Sweet Rec:

First, Nicola I Campbell is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis, and she's written several excellent books we've recommended before, such as Shin-Chi's Canoe. 

Second: "remembered stories." I don't know why, but those two words are--for me--searing and joyous within the same instance. It it like an eruption of emotion within me. 

Third, the table of contents. I love the words I find in Campbell's picture books. There's a quiet and compassion and strength to them. I see that in the words of the table of contents that tells us what is coming. There are ten sections in this memoir, meant for young adults. These section titles nest within the book's subtitle, A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence.  
Prairie Letters
Her Blood is from Spetetkw 
Nłeʔkepmxcín Lullaby
Land Teachings
Coming to my Senses
yemít and merímstn 
this body is a mountain, this body is the land

The section titles hint at recovery. Reading through the entries in each one, I was at times on edge, anxious. Afraid. And laughing. That deer in the basement... that made me laugh, and evoked in me, a remembered story. Or many, really, because at Nambé, our guys hunt and bring deer home. Like the child in this particular story (titled Little People), I remember that moment, walking into a room and there, right there, was a deer.

Fourth, Campbell's use of words. In some instances, she uses poetry. In others she uses story. Some words are in her languages, and some are in English. It isn't ever jarring. It just is. Is, in the way that Native people speak when they use words of their language mixed in with English. It just is. And arrangement of those words! When I turned the page to "alpine mountains" I just looked, for a minute or so. And I was delighted when I turned to "frog whisperers." 


From those Prairie Letters about Nikki's birth, through her childhood, her teen years, college, and deaths in the subsequent sections... I release a deep sigh when I get to the end. And as I look back on what I'm saying in this review as I revisit the book, I see some ambiguity, some hesitation in how much to say. I want you to find it, yourself. 

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Highly Recommended! A Girl Called Echo, Volume 4: Road Allowance Era


A Girl Called Echo, Vol.4: Road Allowance Era
Written by Katherena Vermette (Red River Metis)
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson; Colors by Donovan Yaciuk
Published in 2021
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

This will be a "Short and Sweet"* recommendation of the fourth book in the "A Girl Called Echo" graphic novel series. Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk have teamed up again for another chapter in the story of Echo, a time-traveling contemporary Metis teen. 

Here are four of the many reasons to recommend it:

First: Katherena Vermette is Red River Metis, and her story is about Red River Metis people -- historical and contemporary -- in what is currently called Canada. Pivotal, and often traumatic, moments (such as the execution of Louis Riel, and government-sanctioned destruction of Metis communities) are given an Indigenous focus they don't receive in typical history classrooms. As with the previous Echo books, Vermette includes a timeline and other Metis-specific resources to deepen the reader's understanding of Echo's experiences when she travels to the past, and to help create a through-line to her current distresses. 

Second: Meeting one's forebears while time-traveling is a prospect that intrigues writers and consumers of speculative fiction. It may be presented as comedy (e.g., the Back to the Future films), or as drama (as in Octavia Butler's devastating Kindred). Road Allowance is primarily dramatic, though it has some very sweet, tender moments. I appreciate that Vermette keeps Echo from interacting directly with the major historical figures. That would have been a mess. Instead, what's foregrounded is the Metis: how they lived, what they hoped for, what they endured, and how the past may be present in a Metis child and her family, today. 

Third: One of my favorite things about this fourth volume is that it shows Echo and her contemporary family healing from whatever trauma led to Echo's mother being in an institution. Mother hugs daughter. Echo smiles big.  An ancestor tells her she is beautiful. A school friend listens to her expressions of anger and pain, and offers a helpful perspective. And Echo finds that she can decide when she will go to the past, and when she will go home.

Fourth: The story is thought-provoking even though Echo's far from the only fictional character ever to be what Vonnegut called "unstuck in time." For me, an especially lovely bit for thought lies in ways to think about the protagonist's name. Intergenerational trauma reverberates in Echo, at school and at home. She embodies the idea of "echoes of the past." But, when she interacts with her ancestors during their times, she also embodies what I think of as echoes of support or hope from future generations to the forebears who needed reasons to carry on in the face of racism, dispossession, betrayal, and genocide. 

We hope you'll share the whole series, including Volume 4: The Road Allowance Era, with middle schoolers and teens you know. Though it's set in what's currently called Canada, the Indigenous people didn't make the border, and the experiences on either side of it run parallel, when they don't directly intersect.

*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Highly Recommended: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith; cover art by Floyd Cooper


Sisters of the Neversea
Written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)
Cover art by Floyd Cooper (Muscogee Creek Nation)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Heartdrum (HarperCollins)
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Today AICL is pleased to give a Short and Sweet Rec* to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Sisters of the Neversea. We recommend you get it for your children, your classroom, or your library. Here’s the description:

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.


A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

And here is our Short and Sweet Rec! 

Four reasons why AICL recommends Sisters of the Neversea 

First, the author is Native. Cynthia Leitich Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, telling us a story where the primary character is Muscogee Creek.

Second, Sisters of the Neversea shows readers who Native people are, for real. J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan have mis-informed generations of readers. His stories encourage others to play Indian in stereotypical ways, and the characters in his story that are meant to be Native (Tiger Lily) are straight-up stereotypes. We are nothing like the “Indians” in his stories. Smith’s take on Peter Pan pushes back on those stereotypes.

Third, Sisters of the Neversea includes Black Indians. Upon seeing Floyd Cooper's cover art, Smith writes that she thought "There you are!" With his art, she saw Lily as Black Muscogee. Later in the book, we meet Strings, a Black Seneca Indian from the Bronx. 

Fourth, Smith's author’s note includes several questions that she poses about the Native people in Barrie’s stories. “How did they get there?” she asks, and “Why were they described in hurtful language?” are two of them. Teachers who use the book in the classroom can draw attention to those questions and encourage students to ask similar questions about Native characters in other books they read.  

We hope you’ll get a copy ASAP, read it, and tell others to read it, too. When you’re at your local library, ask for it! If they don’t have it yet, ask them to order it. 


*A Short and Sweet Rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.  

Thursday, October 07, 2021


On November 3, 2019, Mike M. submitted this comment to AICL's post about Lois Lenski's Indian Captive
I've come to Dr. Reese's review of Indian Captive because of its appearance in Alan Gratz's 2017 novel Ban this Book. Gratz's story is about a schoolgirl standing up against book-banning in her grade-school library. At one point the avid young reader is suspended and grounded with nothing to read except Indian Captive. There is no commentary about the merits of the book, but it is mentioned several times, giving it a prominence above many of the books named in the story -- enough to send me to investigate. I can see no particular reason why this book was chosen for its role in the story (unless it's a very subtle indication that some books are not as good as others -- but it's quite a stretch to find that interpretation), other than mere carelessness by the author, indifference to the reasons a book may be offensive, or lack of awareness of the harm that books can perpetuate -- a naive belief in the magical goodness of every written word. It seems odd considering the theme of the story. Also odd given another theme of the story: good intentions that lead to bad consequences. As adults, we can understand the complexity of the real world, and the value of ambiguity in literature, but seeing that the issues raised by this one book's inclusion is not developed at all, and this in a novel for children, I can only see it as a flaw in an otherwise worthwhile book.
Gratz's Ban This Book came out in 2017. Published by Starscape (an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates with is part of Macmillan), the cover showed a school locker piled high with books. That same year, it was released as an ebook. The cover for the e-book showed three kids on the cover. More on that, later.

Here's the publisher's description of the book:
In Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, a fourth grader fights back when From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is challenged by a well-meaning parent and taken off the shelves of her school library. Amy Anne is shy and soft-spoken, but don’t mess with her when it comes to her favorite book in the whole world. Amy Anne and her lieutenants wage a battle for the books that will make you laugh and pump your fists as they start a secret banned books locker library, make up ridiculous reasons to ban every single book in the library to make a point, and take a stand against censorship.
The story opens with Amy Anne and her friend, Rebecca, arriving at school. Amy Anne wants to go to the library to check out her favorite book (again) From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When she gets to the library shelf where her favorite book should be, it is not there. She sees the librarian, Mrs. Jones, enter the row. She describes her as being "a big white lady" (p. 12).

That detail, that Mrs. Jones is white, gave me pause. I paged back (in my electronic copy of the book) to see if Gratz had identified Amy or Rebecca in similar ways. On page 9, I saw that Rebecca's last name is Zimmerman and her parents are lawyers. When I paged back to the cover, I saw that the child featured prominently on the cover is African American. That is probably meant to be Amy Anne. 

On page 16 we read: 
I like a lot of other books too, especially Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Hattie Big Sky, The Sign of the Beaver, and Julie of the Wolves. Basically any story where the main character gets to live alone. Indian Captive is pretty great too, even though Mary Jemison has to live in an Indian village. But I would rather live with Indian kidnappers than live with my two stupid younger sisters.
As you might imagine, I was taken aback by her list of favorites. They are full of stereotypes. And, they are old. Island of the Blue Dolphins came out in 1960, Sign of the Beaver in 1983, Julie of the Wolves in 1972, and Indian Captive in 1941. 

The other three favorites have a word or two about Native peoples. 

In Hatchet the main character, alone in the forest after a plane crash, imagines monsters he's read about, including Big Foot. He's talking about Sasquatch, a figure who has been misrepresented over and over in children's books! Sasquatch is not a monster. In chapter two of Charlene Willing McManus's Indian No More, the main character (Regina) is on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in Oregon. When Regina was little, she was afraid to play in the woods. Her dad told her that "Old Sasquatch won't bother you. First, he's shy. Second, he's over six feet tall and smells like a wet dog. And third, well, if he does bother you, you must've been misbehaving." In My Side of the Mountain the main character, Sam, imagines "feathers in an Indian quiver," thinks that "Indian bread" is flat and hard, and when looking at aspen and birch trees, sees that they are "bent like Indian bows." The main character in Hattie Big Sky moves from Iowa to work her uncles homestead in Montana. Several times, there are references to "free" land, but no mention of how or why that land is available in the first place. Hattie must know something about Native people, because when a character's face is covered in soot when a barn burns down, she imagines that he has warpaint on his face. 

I wonder how these seven books shape what Amy Anne knows about Native people?!    

There is no reason for any of these books to be named as favorites in 2017, by any reader. And yet, there they are. Why these ones, I'd like to ask Gratz. His book is well regarded by people who fight censorship, but in that fight, did he have to throw Native readers under the bus?  

There's more.

As the book description noted, Amy Anne and others get organized and start filling out the library's Request for Reconsideration forms that people submit when they believe a book is inappropriate in some way. The goal is to make up reasons to ban every book in the library. On page 212, Janna (a student) has "every one of the Little House on the Prairie books in her arms. She starts to fill out the form and pauses. Janna says this to Amy Anne: 
"But what do I say? There's nothing bad about Little House on the Prairie."
And here's what follows:
She was right. But no--that was true about all the books. I had to think like Mrs. Spencer. 
"They get malaria in that one," I said. "That's scary, right? And the settlers think it's because they ate bad watermelon! But that's not how you get malaria. That's deliberately misleading. That could make a kid think you get malaria from watermelons!"
Nothing bad in Little House on the Prairie?! It, too, is old, and full of dehumanizing stereotypes of Native peoples.  

Remember--Ban This Book--came out in 2017. What's up with the books Mrs. Jones is offering to students? Does she have no money to update the collection, adding books that would in some way, be mirrors for the Amy Anne's who are in that school, and, windows for them, too, so they could get better information about Native peoples? Does Mrs. Jones not know about the hashtag, #OwnVoices? It took off in 2015. 

My questions are really for Alan Gratz. He wrote a book about an important topic. But on the way, he just dumped stereotypes all over Native kids and non-Native kids, too. 

Did his editor notice this problem? Did any of the people who gave it positive reviews notice it? Or, any of the people on state award committees that gave it an award? I guess I know the answer. If anyone had any concerns, they probably stayed quiet. The book is about banning books, after all. 

If Amy Anne's favorites included books that have won a Coretta Scott King Book award, I wouldn't be writing this post. If one of her favorites included a book that won an award from the American Indian Library Association, I'd be giving Gratz's book a "recommended" label instead of its "not recommended" one!

But, here we are. Bummer.