Thursday, February 09, 2023

Highly Recommended: POWWOW DAY by Traci Sorell

Powwow Day
Written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee)
Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw)
Published in 2022
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Powwows are an Indigenous tradition that many non-Native readers (child or adult) have at least heard of, though misconceptions abound. Most seem to emphasize the entertainment -- the drums, the singing, the dancing -- with little awareness of the reasons Native people hold powwows in the first place. 

That awareness can be gained from several contemporary picture books by Native creators. There's White Earth Anishinaabe author Marcie Rendon's photo-essay Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life (1996/2013; photos by Cheryl Walsh Belleville). The protagonist of Jingle Dancer (2000/2021) by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) gets ready for a powwow, and in Bowwow Powwow (2018) by Brenda Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), the main character dreams about a highly unusual powwow. And I don't want to forget Josie Dances (2021) by Denise Lajimodiere (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), in which a girl, her mom, and three other family members prepare for her to dance at the next powwow.

A 2022 addition to that list is Powwow Day, by Cherokee author Traci Sorell and illustrator Madelyn Goodnight, Chickasaw. 

Here's what the book jacket says about Powwow Day:

Today is powwow day. Then River remembers: no dancing for her this year. Even though she's feeling  better lately, she's still not strong enough. Maybe she can at least dance Grand Entry? Join River and her family as they enjoy a cultural tradition -- their tribal powwow. As River tries to make peace with her temporary limitations,  she reminds herself that her beloved jingle dress dance is to honor the Creator, the ancestors, and everyone's health -- including her own.

And here are 4 reasons why AICL strongly recommends Powwow Day.

Reason #1: The story line is emotionally resonant.

Many children have had to temporarily stop doing something they love due to illness or injury. It won't be hard for them to empathize with River's sadness, frustration, and (ultimately) hope as she stands apart from activities that mean a great deal to her.

Reason #2: The illustrations emphasize a Native child's personal experience of a public traditional event. 

Every time I look through this book, I find something else to appreciate about Madelyn Goodnight's depictions of the characters and the event. Tenderness and a sense of loving community are on every page.  Illustrations and photos of powwows can feel impersonal or disconnected from the individuality of the people pictured. But Goodnight's powwow-goers have a range of skin tones, facial shapes, hair styles, and expressions. And several of them wear glasses! Each dancer's regalia is unique. 

Yes, there's beautiful, bright, sound-filled spectacle, but the personal elements are foregrounded, showing River's deeply-felt connections to her family and community. No one, least of all River, is there to be entertained.

Reason #3: It's tribally specific, indirectly.

Powwow Day doesn't name River's Native Nation, but the author's use of the term "tribal powwow" suggests that this event may be smaller, more local, than the intertribal powwows that draw participants and audiences from far and wide. The back matter is more specific about the tribal origins of powwows and of the jingle dress dance. In her note, Traci Sorell also makes clear that she didn't attend powwows until college; they were not part of her Cherokee heritage. That's an important point to make for many non-Native readers who tend to assume that all tribes had powwows, historically (a variant of the "Native tribes are all alike" stereotype).

Reason 4: It doesn't have to stand alone.

Sharing Powwow Day with children, along with any or all of the other 4 powwow-themed books I mentioned earlier, can begin to give them a multi-dimensional picture of what powwows are like. Kids can watch for details and make comparisons. What does each book say about the jingle dress dance, and other dances? About the drums? What does each main character do to get ready for a powwow? What's depicted in the background at each powwow? (For example, can they spot the rows of portable toilets in Powwow Day? That's a most welcome feature of contemporary powwows.)

If you teach about powwows, we'd love to hear what you're doing, and what place books like Powwow Day have in your planning.

EDITED by Jean 2/10/23: Some cool additional information from author Traci Sorell, via comment on Facebook: "We do share the tribe in the art on the Grand Entry page. Look for the black flag behind the eagle staff. It's the flag of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in MI's UP. The short story "Secrets and Surprises" I wrote in ANCESTOR APPROVED continues with this family and begins in the tribe's rez up in the Soo."

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Use/Misuse of the Word "Treaty" or "treaty" in Children's Books

Last week, I had a conversation with an educator who told me about conversations they'd had with teachers about Sign of the Beaver. Here on AICL we've had several posts about the book. I can't recall why I decided to take a look at it again, but I did. 

In particular, I noticed the way that the author used the word "treaty":

On page nine, we see:
Since the last treaty with the tribes, there had not been an attack reported anywhere in this part of Maine. Still, one could not entirely forget all those horrid tales.

The book is set in the 1768; I will try to figure out what treaty the author is having the white character refer to. Obviously the second sentence about "horrid" tales is meant to tell us that white people were being viciously attacked by Native people. There's bias in that passage but use of "treaty" is ok. 

The next use is not. 

On page 30, Matt (the white protagonist) is grateful to Saknis (a Native man) who helped Matt recover from bee stings and a fall. He gives Saknis a book (his copy of Robinson Crusoe). Matt realizes Saknis can't read. Saknis asks Matt if he can read. When Matt says yes, Saknis says:
"Good," he grunted. "Saknis make treaty." 
"A treaty?" Matt was even more puzzled.
"Nkweniss hunt. Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man's signs.
"You mean--I should teach him to read?"
"Good. White boy teach Attean what book say." 
There, the use of treaty is wrong. Treaties are the outcome of negotiations between heads of state. They are not something that a person and another person do. Using the word in that way, Elizabeth George Speare misrepresents their significance of the word. Why did she do that?

Her book won a Newbery Honor in 1984. Did anyone on the Newbery Committee that year notice the word being misused? Did Speare's editor notice? I have not seen any articles that address that point. I do see lesson plans that note the passage, but not in the way I am noting it. The reason Saknis wants Matt to learn to read is so that Native people won't be tricked by words in treaties. I find that a bit ironic because I think readers of Sign of the Beaver are being subtly led to a misunderstanding of the word. That may be due to a lack of understanding (in the author, editor, reviewers, etc) that Native peoples are citizens of nations. Somehow, they seem to be framing a treaty as a cultural artifact specific to Native peoples rather than a political one specific to diplomatic negotiations between heads of state. 

It reminded me of the way that Stephanie Meyer used it in her Twilight series. She has a treaty between vampires and a pack of wolves. She misused it, too. 

With that in mind, I posed a question: how are writers using the word in their books for children/young adults? I asked it, on Twitter, and will use this post to keep track of replies. At some point I hope to write a blog post about what I find. 

If you see the word in a book for children/young adults, let me know and I'll add it below. I am not limiting my question to anything other than books for children and young adults. Fiction, nonfiction, by Native writers, not by Native writers, set in the past or not.... I want it all. An analysis of its use will be interesting! I anticipate lot of misuse but hopefully, some good uses, too! Metaphorically would be fine -- if done carefully. We'll see what turns up, and thank you for suggestions! 

Children's and Young Adult Books that use the word "treaty"

Note: Initial list created on Jan 28, 2023; books added after that date will be noted with "[added on...]"). This is not a list of recommended books; it is a list of books that have the word treaty in them.
  • Belin, Esther, Jeff Berglund, and Connie A. Jacobs. The Dine Reader. Published in 2021 by the Arizona Board of Regents.
  • Boulley, Angeline. Firekeeper's Daughter. Published in 2021 by Henry Holt.
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Published in 2008 by Scholastic Press.
  • Craft, Aimée. Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow. Published in 2021 by Annick Press.
  • Crawford, Kelly. Dakota Talks About Treaties. Published in 2017 by Union of Ontario Indians.
  • Cutright, Patricia J. Native Women Changing Their World. Published in 2021 by 7th Generation.
  • Davids, Sharice. Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman. Published in 2021 by HarperCollins.
  • Davis, L. M. Interlopers: A Shifters Novel. Published in 2010 by Lynberry Press. 
  • Day, Christine. I Can Make This Promise. Published in 2019 by HarperCollins.
  • Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. Published in 2017 by Dancing Cat Books.
  • Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Published in the US in 1952 by Doubleday.
  • Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here. Published in 2013 by Scholastic.
  • Gansworth, Eric. Give Me Some Truth. Published in 2018 by Scholastic. 
  • Gansworth, Eric. Apple Skin to the Core. Published in 2020 by Levine Querido
  • Gansworth, Eric. My Good Man. Published in 2022 by Levine Querido.
  • General, Sara and Alyssa General. Treaty Baby. Published in 2016 by Spirit and Intent.
  • George, Jean Craighead. The Buffalo Are Back. Published in 2010 by Dutton.
  • Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. Published in 1957 by Harper.
  • Marshall, Joseph III. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. Published in 2015 by Amulet.
  • McManis, Charlene Willing. Indian No More. Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books.
  • Merrill, Jean. The Pushcart War.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Alanna, the First Adventure; Wild Magic, First Test, Trickster's Choice. 
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. Cold Falling White.
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. The Crosswood. 
  • Sorrell, Traci. We Are Still Here. Published in 2022 by Charlesbridge.
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Published in 1883 by Cassell and Company.
  • Tingle, Tim. How I Became A Ghost. Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press.
  • Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Published in 2021 by Levine Querido.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Published in 1876 by American Publishing Co.
  • Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Originally published as a serial in 1870 in France.
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. Published in 1935 by Harper (Harper Collins).

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Nostalgia for Margaret Wise Brown's DOCTOR SQUASH THE DOLL DOCTOR

Yesterday (Monday, Jan 17, 2023) this image appeared on the timeline of my Facebook account. Specifically, it was shared to a Facebook group about children's literature. I paused when I saw it:

Those of you who read AICL would probably have paused when you saw it, too. There's derogatory stereotypes on that page. I wish it was being shared to call attention to the problems but that is not the case. 

The illustration is from Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. Written by Margaret Wise Brown, the first edition was illustrated by J.P. Miller. It came out in 1952. 

An author shared it on her page, and an administrator for the Facebook group shared it to a Facebook group for children's literature. Right now (Tuesday Jan 17, 6:26 AM Pacific Time), there are 40 likes and hearts on the author's original post. There are five comments saying things like "Love this!" and "Oooh, a vintage one to check out" (followed by a smiley face with 3 hearts on it). The original post was shared, uncritically, by five people. 

When I saw it on the FB group page, it had 36 likes and hearts and one comment from a person who has the book and quoted a line from it ("Whenever you are sick, sick, sick, call for the doctor quick, quick, quick!"). 

There's clearly a lot of nostalgia for what is--speaking honestly--racist imagery!

I submitted a comment to call attention to the stereotyping. I also anticipated the responses I'd likely get defending it, and included arguments to counter them ahead of time. This morning, the share to the children's literature group is gone. My guess is that the administrator who initially shared it decided to delete it. I wish they had left the post there, for discussion. 

You may recall that I wrote an open letter to Kate Di Camillo last year, about her Facebook post where she had warmly shared a memory of reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. She read my letter and asked her followers to read it, too. I think I'll share that post to this facebook group. There was a time when I had warm feelings about a book I read as a child. That book is The Five Chinese Brothers. I didn't see the stereotyping it in until I was an adult looking critically at images. I definitely see it now and when I work with teachers and librarians, I'll usually talk about that memory and letting go of the book. 

Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor is one I want to dig into a bit. The illustration above is from the first edition. Here's that cover (screen capped from an Etsy page):

In 2010, it was reissued (I think as an e-book) by Random House with new illustrations by David Hitch. Here's the 2010 cover:

Here's the review of the 2010 e-book from School Library Journal:
K-Gr 3–This newly illustrated reissue of a 1952 Golden Book recounts the illnesses of various dolls–squeaky soldier, teddy bear with a bloody nose, fireman with a broken leg, Indian with poison ivy, etc–and Doctor Squash, who comes running to dispense medicine and advice as needed. When the good doctor falls ill, the toys get the chance to return the favor and take care of him. Hitch's cartoon illustrations complement the text well with bright colors and great facial expressions. They are updated from the original (no Mammy doll) but still have an old-fashioned look. References to the snowman doll's illness and “wild Indian” have been removed. Perplexingly, the story does continue to refer to cough drops as “good as candy and just as pretty” and to mention writing prescriptions for measles, mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough. Updated, but still a bit out-of-date.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the library edition.

Here's the review from Kirkus: 
A Little Golden Book first published in 1952 with illustrations by J.P. Miller sees new life with new art, proving yet again that Brown is synonymous with timelessness. When dolls are sick or in pain, there’s really only one doctor to call: the good Doctor Squash, who attends to their every need. From broken legs and poison ivy to coughs and the mumps, the doctor always has the right cure on hand. And when the doc falls ill, the dolls take care of him in return. Some of the original text has been updated to suit the times (for example, the Wild Indian Doll becomes simply the Indian Doll). Gone too are such anachronistic images as the mammy doll. Appropriate though these changes may be, it is a pity that there is no mention of them in this new edition. Nevertheless, playing doctor with dolls never falls out of style, and Hitch’s retro style and modern toy updates work overtime to ensure that this book becomes a classic all over again. Entertaining and charming. (Picture book. 4-8)

As both SLJ and Kirkus noted, the 2010 one does not have the Mammy doll. Neither review pointed out that the doll with a sombrero, huge mustache, serape, and guitar is also gone. (SLJ noted that the snowman is gone; in the original the snowman got frostbite on his left foot.) 

Here's the page with "the Indian Doll" (screen cap is from the Internet Archive):

If the text in the 2010 version is the same as the text in the original 1952 edition, the words on that page were "The wild Indian Doll fell off his horse when he was out for a ride one day." Do you think "The Indian Doll" is an improvement? I don't. 

At the website for the Smithsonian's American History Museum, I was able to find illustrations (but not text) for the original book. Here's the way Miller drew that page:

The "Indian" doesn't have a big nose, feather and tomahawk in the updated version. I suppose Hitch and the art director at Random House thought that was a good change, but it isn't. Not really. We still have use of a single image to represent "Indian" as though we're all the same. And I suppose they decided it is not ok to have a Black or Latinx doll -- that perhaps they can't be playthings, but did they decide a toy Indian is ok? I think they did. They are wrong, of course. They seem more knowledgeable than the people on FB who feel warmly towards the original, but the "Entertaining and charming" line from the reviewer at Kirkus is disappointing. Overall, from the readers on a FB group page to the professional reviewers, we see lot of room for growth. 

Obviously, I do not recommend Doctor Squash the Doll Doctor. 

That's all I have for now. On to other things. As always, I welcome your comments. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

"Tlingit don't exist for the benefit of bad teenagers."

In a recent conversation, an educator told me about people in her networks who are still using Touching Spirit Bear.  That educator has read my posts about the book and is frustrated by those who continue to use it. Here, I'll paste the cover and overlay it with a red X:

In reading through comments about the book and Slapin's review of it, I remembered the one submitted by Mike M. in February of 2018. I'm sharing it here to bring it more visibility. Mike is Tlingit. Here's what he said:
Tlingit don't exist for the benefit of bad teenagers.

Sorry I seem to be late to this party. I've known about Touching Spirit Bear for years, but have avoided reading it, until just this week. I'd read about it here, and in Clare Bradford's essay, and figured that I would not like it. Now I have read it, and I do not like it. The book bothered me. Many of the comments here bother me. Some who defend the book use the argument that reading it is helpful for many troubled young readers, so any minor factual inaccuracies don't matter. There seems to be some formula that can be used to balance the benefits against the harms; I don't know what that formula is. The harms do seem to be undervalued by those who make the argument. I have to ask: if thousands of sports fans are made happy by acting out an ugly caricature, does that joy outweigh the tragedy of dehumanizing whole groups of people? How many happy fans balance one young suicide? What exactly is the Stereotype to Redemption exchange rate--and is it a fair transaction?

I am fairly certain that I am not the only Tlingit person who has been informed, as soon as his tribal affiliation is discovered, that "Ooh! I loved Touching Spirit Bear." This has happened to me, more than once, if not in these exact words. That it is intended as a positive statement does not erase the realization that a whole culture is reduced to a couple of characters. (And worse, that these are characters whose creator claims that their culture is not relevant to the important matter of his book.) One wonders how many young readers (or adult readers--many of them teachers, apparently) put down this book, fiction or not, believing that at.oow is kind of like Linus Van Pelt's comic-strip blanket, or that Tlingit villagers can cure a sociopath by letting him dance out his feelings after dinner.

The book may indeed be helpful for some troubled youth. I can't say, but I don't like the cost. Touching Spirit Bear would have been better if the whole Tlingit angle had been left out. The character of Edwin, the Tlingit elder, was more Hippie than Tlingit. Garvey, the parole officer, could have been anyone from Southeast Alaska. Rosey, the Tlingit nurse, was believable, as were the teenagers who carried the stretcher: they would have been acceptable as irrelevant Indians. I read that the author claimed that Touching Spirit Bear was not based on the controversial real-life Tlingit banishment case that hit the national news a few years before his book; neither have I seen any mention of the real-life Circle Peacemaking Program in the Tlingit village of Kake (rhymes with Drake): so it must be assumed that the Tlingit connection in Touching Spirit Bear is mere New-Age appropriative garbage.

Mike is not the only Tlingit person who has said no to Touching Spirit Bear and he's not the only Native person who has said no, either! 

Many people talk about a book that changed their life. Some argue that Touching Spirit Bear changes lives of children who bully others. That is certainly possible but it does that at the expense of other peoples and factual knowledge of Tlingit people. Does that make it ok? If the book that changed your life had derogatory content of a people, would you use it with young people? My hope is that you'd hold on to the lessons you took from it but that you'd not use it with others.

Teachers: let go of this book! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Back Matter in 2022 book from Charlesbridge -- THE GARDENER OF ALCATRAZ

This morning on Facebook (in a discussion of books by region), I saw mention of The Gardener of Alcatraz. Written by Emma Bland Smith and illustrated by Jenn Ely, it came out in 2022 from Charlesbridge. In my experience, Charlesbridge is one of the publishers that is really trying to be conscious of content about Native peoples. 

I know the history of Alcatraz. Would any of that history, I wondered, be in The Gardener of Alcatraz

The answer is yes. Information is included in the back matter. I think solid info in a book's back matter as a step in the right direction. 

Here's the description for The Gardener of Alcatraz:
When Elliott Michener was locked away in Alcatraz for counterfeiting, he was determined to defy the odds and bust out. But when he got a job tending the prison garden, a funny thing happened. He found new interests and skills--and a sense of dignity and fulfillment. Elliott transformed Alcatraz Island, and the island transformed him.

Told with empathy and a storyteller's flair, Elliott's story is funny, touching, and unexpectedly relevant. Back matter about the history of Alcatraz and the US prison system today invites meaningful discussion.
I do hope that the back matter invites meaningful discussion! Many (most?) kids won't read the back matter--but teachers, parents, librarians--you certainly can! Read and study it so you can give more depth to students when you teach or book talk The Gardener of Alcatraz. Here's what I see:
  • In the Time Line is "1969-70: Native American occupation of Alcatraz" (p. 36).
  • In Alcatraz and Its Gardens (p. 37), there are several subsections:
The first paragraph of "The Early Years" says "Because there was no source of water, Native people did not live on the island (although historians believe the members of the Ohlone tribe may have hidden there to avoid being captured and forced into slavery in the California Mission system)." 

The second paragraph says "Native Americans were also imprisoned there for refusing to allow their children to be taken away and placed in boarding schools." 

There's an entire subsection called "The Native Occupation." The first paragraph is about the prison being expensive to maintain, and so it was shut down. The second paragraph is: 

Then, in 1979, a group of Native activists from different tribes occupied Alcatraz. Their goal was to raise awareness about the brutal ways in which Native people had been treated and to protest the recent closings of reservations across the country. The Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for nineteen months before the government evicted them. Signs of their presence remain on the island to this day, inspiring visitors to reflect upon Indigenous people's ongoing fight for their rights.

I wish the author had included sources or books for this information. There's a selected bibliography but none of the primary sources, books, online resources, or DVD's that they list are specific to Native people at Alcatraz. She cites books that are not ones for children. For example, she cites Michael Esslinger's Alcatraz: A History of the Penitentiary Years. She could have cited one of Adam Fortunate Eagle's books. You can read his Heart of the Rock: The Indian Invasion of Alcatraz at the Internet Archive (or get a copy from your library). Another option is Troy Johnson's books about the occupation. They are primarily photo records of that period and I find them gripping. The National Park Service hosts a page he wrote about the occupation: We Hold the Rock.  She includes links to online resources and could have added ones about the Hopi parents who were imprisoned there. The National Park Service has this one: Hopi Prisoners on the Rock.  

  •  In Author's Note, Smith writes that Corrina Gould, Tribal Chair of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, "went over the passages concerning Native people's relationship with Alcatraz." (p. 40). 

I am psyched to see Smith's note -- and that she worked with Corrina Gould! I met her (virtually) last year when we were doing a session for caregivers in the San Francisco Bay area. 

As noted earlier, I think it is great to see inclusive back matter! I hope teachers use it when they use the book in the classroom. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Highly Recommended: Two for 2022 from Highwater Press!

Highwater Press often sets a high bar for Indigenous-centric publishing. This post recommends two of their 2022 releases: Returning to the Yakoun River and Dancing with Our Ancestors. Both are by Sara Florence Davidson and her father, Robert Davidson, illustrated by Janine Gibbons. Dancing with Our Ancestors is among the Globe & Mail's top-10 children's book for 2022. Both are on AICL's list of the best books we read in 2022, and here's a "short and sweet" summary of why.

Returning  to the Yakoun River
Written by Sara Florence Davidson (Haida/Settler) and Robert Davidson (Haida descent)
Illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida Raven of the Double-Fin Killer Whale Clan)
Published in 2022
Publisher: Highwater Press (Portage and Main)
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Dancing with Our Ancestors
Written by Sara Florence Davidson (Haida/Settler) and Robert Davidson (Haida descent)
Illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida Raven)
Published in 2022
Publisher: Highwater Press (Portage and Main)
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Reason #1 to recommend these two books: Emphasis on Indigenous pedagogies

Both offer a close "insider perspective" on two traditions of Haida communities -- fish camp (Returning to the Yakoun River) and potlatch (Dancing with Our Ancestors). The text and the illustrations work together to portray intergenerational Indigenous teaching and learning.

Reason #2: The story-telling

Both are based on the authors' experiences. The writing is clear and straightforward, yet effective at conveying both informative and emotional content. See, for example, Sara Davidson's closing words in Dancing about her brother, or the descriptions of the children's fish camp experience in Yakoun River. I couldn't help but smile at their pleasure over breakfast of "tiny boxes of cereal that we are never allowed to eat at home" and their dash to climb into a little boat so they can ride the wake of a passing motorboat. 

Janine Gibbons' illustrations are powerful, and play a key part in the storytelling -- for example, in Returning, you'll see panoramic scenes (such as the end papers), extreme close-ups (such as a cereal bowl, a salmon head seeming to threaten a finger) and more, not just matching but accentuating portions of the text.

Reason #3: The supplemental information

In the back of each book is a map of Haida Gwaii, where the action in the books takes place, as well as some information about the Davidson family.

Take a look at this video on the Portage and Main Web site (less than 30 minutes long) about the potlatch on which Dancing with Our Ancestors is based. 

The archived virtual book launch for both books is available for viewing, and is full of interesting information.

Highwater Press sells a teacher's guide to go with the Sk'a'da Stories, and there's a link to a free pronunciation guide to the Haida words that appear in the books.

Reason #4 to recommend these two books: They're part of a strong series.

The two previous Sk'a'da Stories, Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii and Learning to Carve Argillite, created by the same author/illustrator team, were among CBC Books' Best Children's Books of 2021. Throughout the series, they interweave cultural and historical information with storytelling about their family and community. The information goes beyond the basic "Here's what our tradition looks like", in line with an essential purpose of the series -- to actively preserve Haida culture for future generations:

As I watch from the side, I think about the laws that tried to stop us from gathering .... They wanted to stop us from being Haida. No laws stop us today. Today our history is recorded in our art, our stories, our dances, and our songs. Today we dance with our children so our culture cannot be stolen again."

In short, Dancing with OurAncestors and Returning to the Yakoun River are two books to learn from and to appreciate for storytelling and for the Indigenous knowledge shared. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

AICL's Year In Review for 2022

New! AICL's Year In Review for 2022

Each year, AICL puts together a list of books we recommend, that we call "Best Books." Our emphasis is on books by Native writers and illustrators published that year. 

"We" at AICL is two people: Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza. AICL is not an association or an organization or an employer of any sort. It is a blog Debbie founded in 2006. In 2016, she invited Jean to join her as co-editor. We are two people with lived experience, knowledge, and expertise who study and write about depictions of Native peoples in children's books. 

The care we take, we think, is why AICL has a high profile as a reliable source of information. Our work helps educators, librarians, parents, professors, and editors at publishing companies. Our annual lists are not comprehensive. We can’t read every book in the year of its publication. 

This year’s list is different.

This year, we are departing from our goal of populating the annual Best Books list with recommended books published in that year. With the 2022 list, we will be listing books we recommend that were published in any year. Here’s why: these past few years have held challenges for both of us -- some of them positive! -- that have made it difficult for us to keep up with the new books coming out. We have some catching up to do. "So many new books by Native creators" is a good problem to have! We're so pleased by that development. In 2021, for example, we were unable to review Adrienne Keene's Notable Native People, but we did recommend it this year once we got a copy. And, one of our favorite books, Where Did You Get Your Moccasins, by Bernelda Wheeler, came out before we started doing annual Best Books lists. Wheeler’s book initially came out in 1986, and was reissued as an e-book in 2019. 

You will see both of those books on this year’s list. 

A word about the knowledge and lived experience we bring to our reading of books with Native content: there’s always something to learn. For example, we’ve changed how we alphabetize author/illustrator names in Indigenous languages, thanks to correspondence with a writer. That writer is Hetxw’ms Gyetxw. His English name is Brett D. Huson. We’ve included several of his books on our Best Books lists. Recently, he let us know that, for alphabetizing purposes, the usual “Surname comma First Name” does not work for the Gitxsan name. So on this year’s Best Books list, we use the Gitxsan name without treating the second word as a surname. And we put his English name after his Gitxsan name.

Finally, we want you to use books we recommend all year! Of course, you can use them during Native American Heritage Month but Native children are Native all year round, and they should see themselves in books, all year round. (And November’s not the only time non-Native children should see accurate, positive images of Native people, either!)  If you’re doing a classroom lesson or library programming on Native women in politics, include Deb Haaland: First Native American Cabinet Secretary by Doerfler and Martinez and She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller by Traci Sorell. Make room in your science curriculum for books like The Raven Mother by Hetx’wms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson). Have students in art classes do illustrator studies of award winners Michaela Goade or Julie Flett. Most libraries have many patrons that come in for mysteries. Tell them about Sinister Graves: A Cash Blackbear Mystery by Marcie Rendon. 

We also hope AICL’s lists of recommended reading will inspire you to choose great books by Native creators as gifts during the holiday season, or any time. 

– Debbie and Jean

Comics and Graphic Novels 

Van Camp, Richard (Tłı̨chǫ Dene), The Spirit of Denendah Volume 1: A Blanket of Butterflies, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk. Highwater Press (2015/2022), Canada. (This is Richard Van Camp's 2015 graphic novel, re-released in full color in 2022!)

Board Books 

We didn't read any board books during 2022.

Picture Books 

Albert-Peacock, Elizabeth (Ojibwe), Firefly: A Boarding School Story, illustrated by Anna Granholm (not Native). Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing (2022), US.

Coy, John (not Native), Shannon Gibney (not Native), Sun Yung Shin (not Native), and Diane Wilson (Dakota). Where We Come From, illustrated by Dion MBD. Carolrhoda (2022). US.

Davidson, Sara Florence (Haida), and Robert Davidson (Haida), Dancing with Our Ancestors, illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida). Highwater Press (2022), Canada.

Davidson, Sara Florence (Haida), and Robert Davidson (Haida), Returning to the Yakoun River, illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida). Highwater Press (2022), Canada.

Dumas, William (Cree), Amo's Sapotawan, illustrated by Rhian Brynjolson (not Native). Highwater Press (2022), Canada.

George, Bridget (Kettle & Stony Point First Nation) It's A Mitig!, illustrated by the author. Douglas and McIntyre (2022), Canada. 

Goade, Michaela (Tlingit, member of the Kiks.ådi Clan) Berry Song, illustrated by the author. Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2022), US. 

Goodluck, Laurel (Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian member) Forever Cousins, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Diné). Charlesbridge (2022), US.

Sainte-Marie, Buffy (Cree), Still This Love Goes On, illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Metis). Greystone Kids (2022), Canada. Note from Debbie on Nov 12, 2023: I no longer recommend Buffy Sainte-Marie's work. For details, see About Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Spillette-Sumner, Tasha (Inninewak (Cree) and Trinidadian), Beautiful You, Beautiful Me, illustrated by Salini Perera. Owlkids (2022), Canada.

Thundercloud, Ria (Sandia Pueblo and Ho-chunk Nation) Finding My Dance illustrated by Kalila J. Fuller (not Native). Penguin Workshop (2022), US.

Vandever, Daniel W. (Dine'), Herizon, illustrated by Corey Begay (Dine'). South of Sunrise Creative (2021), US.

Wheeler, Bernelda. (member, George Gordon First Nation), Where Did You Get Your Moccasins, illustrated by Herman Bekkering (not Native). Highwater Press (2019), Canada. This e-book version of Wheeler's book was originally published in 1986 by Manitoba Education. 

Early Chapter Books

Quigley, Dawn. (Citizen, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey). Heartdrum (2022), HarperCollins, US.

For Middle Grades

Doerfler, Jill (White Earth) and Matthew J. Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), Deb Haaland: First Native American Cabinet Secretary. Lerner (2022), US. 

Hetxw'ms Gyetxw/Brett D. Huson (Gitxsan), The Raven Mother, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis). Highwater Press (2022), Canada. 

Keene, Adrienne (Cherokee), Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present, illustrated by Ciara Sana (Chamora). Ten Speed Press (2021), US.

Sorell, Traci (Enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation), She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller illustrated by Gillian Flint and Alexandra Boiger. Philomel, (2022) US.

For High School

Gansworth, Eric (Enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation), My Good Man. Levine Querido (2022), US.

Rogers, Andrea (Cherokee), Man Made Monsters, illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Cherokee). Levine Querido (2022), US.

Cross-over Books (written for adults; appeal to young adults)

Harjo, Joy (Muscogee), Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years. W.W. Norton and Company (2022), US.

Rendon, Marcie (White Earth Anishinabe), Sinister Graves: A Cash Blackbear Mystery. Soho Crime (2022), U.S. 

Zimmerman, Sam (Ojibwe)/Zhaawanoogiizhik,  Following My Spirit Home: A Collection of Paintings and Stories. Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing (2022), US.
Books Written by Non-Native People

Edwardson, Debby Dahl, Blessing's Bead, cover illustration by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson (tribally registered Inupiaq). Tu Books (2009/2022), US. (This is a re-release of Edwardson's 2009 novel for young people, with a new cover and Author's Note.)

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Scott O'Dell and Changes to California's Department of Education "Recommended Literature List"

"No results found." it said. Surely, I thought, that can't be right! 

Let me explain. In 2021 and early in 2022 I was doing some work with teachers in California. A key emphasis in my work involves a critical look at award-winning, classic, and popular children's and young adult books like Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. Most have stereotypical writing and illustrations that mis-educate readers. 

When I do these professional development sessions, I often look at a state's department of education website to see if there are recommendations for children's books, and had looked at California's Department of Education site. It has a database of recommended books. I was not surprised to find Island of the Blue Dolphins in the database. Here's a screen capture of it:

The annotation in the database says there are scientific inaccuracies. I'd love to know what "scientific inaccuracies" refers to! I've analyzed the book. There are many problems with it. For details see A Critical Look at O'Dell's ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. (Note: Author Kate DeCamillo was persuaded not to write uncritically about the book after she read my post and Professor Eve Tuck's tweets that are part of my post.) 

In October of 2022 I was doing some work with another California school system. I went back to the California Recommended Literature List to get a fresh screen capture of the entry for Island of the Blue Dolphins. I entered the title in the search bar, but instead of the annotated entry, I got "No results found." I took a screen cap and shared it on social media, sure that I was doing something wrong in my search of the database. I asked others to search for it and they had the same experience. The book was no longer in the database!

I started looking around the Department of Education website and found this paragraph:
Traditionally, the Recommended Literature List was updated periodically, with new titles being added to the previous lists. This resulted in a Recommended Literature List with over 8000 titles. As of 2022, the CDE is pleased to take the Recommended Literature List in a new direction, with an annual updated and refreshed list of the latest and best in children’s and young adult literature.
An updated and refreshed list of the latest and best? That was exciting! Of course, I did a few searches of names of Native writers and was thrilled to see their books in there!

In February (of 2022) I had also looked up Leo Politi's deeply flawed Song of the Swallows. Published in 1949, it won the Caldecott Medal. It, too, had been in the database and it, too, is not there anymore!
The next paragraph on the site tells us that the previously curated lists are available to download. So I downloaded the "Recommended Literature List through 2020" as an XLSX document and started looking through it. 

I am delighted with what I learned! These books that AICL does not recommend are also not in the database anymore: 
  • Brink, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn
  • Gardiner, John Reynolds. Stone Fox
  • Joossie, Barbara M. Mama Do You Love Me?
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie
Because my initial look into the database was for Island of the Blue Dolphins I wondered if the database had other books by Scott O'Dell. The answer is that it did. Below, I am listing the ones that focus on, or include, Native content. I know teachers use many of them but I hope they will revisit their use. I've read several of his books but have not written about them. If I had reviewed them for AICL, they'd carry a Not Recommended label. 

  • The Serpent Never Sleeps: A Novel of Jamestown and Pocahontas 
  • Sing Down the Moon
  • Thunder Rolling In the Mountains
  • Zia
  • Black Star, Bright Dawn
  • The King's Fifth
In the last few years, there have been significant changes in many spaces! From monuments that are taken down or renamed, to names of children's book awards that are changed... These changes are unsettling to some people but for so many others, these are profound moments of justice. I look forward to more of this. I try to keep up with changes. If you see one that I missed, do let us know!

Sunday, November 27, 2022



Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, 
Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present

Written by Adrienne Keene (Cherokee)
Illustrated by Ciara Sana (Chamora)
Published by Ten Speed Press
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza

I am so happy to have this book, which does even more than its cover indicates. In a world where Native people still are so frequently treated as invisible, or as stereotypes, Adrienne Keene (co-host of the podcast All My Relations) provides realistic, positive pictures of Native lives. Some years back, I wrote here about a time my young grandson sang at the top of his voice about "500 brave Native Americans" -- mis-hearing the lyrics to an old whaling song, and leading me to wonder if we could in fact find solid information for children about 500 notable Indigenous people. Since that time, a few new books have been published about Native folks who aren't 19-century military leaders. This is one, and I've already given a copy to my grandson's family.

This is one of our "short and sweet" reviews -- a quick look at why we feel enthusiastic about a book.

Reason #1 to recommend Notable Native People: Thoughtfully-chosen one-page bios.

The sketches are brief and reader-friendly but substantial about Native people who have had (are having) a positive impact on their communities and the wider world. Fifty of them!! Plus a bonus of 15 even shorter bios of additional Indigenous notables! This feels like such a gift to young people who want and need to have dozens of Indigenous "leaders, dreamers, and changemakers" lighting the path as they decide what to make of their own lives. Many of the bios incorporate direct quotes from the subjects -- letting them speak for themselves.

Reason #2: Balanced representation, including representation of Black Native and LGBTQ+ people. 

Adrienne Keene explains that her process of selecting people to be in the book was collaborative. And she went over the final list with community members and friends to ensure that it was inclusive. As a result,

"The people in this book represent a small slice of the Native experience, balanced across the three broad cultural groups of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Kanaka Maoli, as well as various gender identities, ages, locations, tribal affiliations, and work." 

You can read more of what Adrienne Keene says about working on the book here.

Reason #3: Sections that highlight key issues affecting Native people.
In several places, the text shifts focus from individuals to ongoing issues that have affected Native communities and the 50 notables. These summaries of such topics as "Settler Colonialism 101", "Who Belongs?" and "Representation Matters" give context to the Native lives being discussed. Great info for readers!

Reason #4: The illustrations.

Using photographs to illustrate biographies lets readers see a person as they were in a given moment, but sometimes photos don't age well. Many of us can remember seeing a photograph of someone famous, and feeling distant from the subject because of outdated hair style, clothing, glasses, or other superficial aspect of appearance. And if the bio is about someone who lived before cameras were used, a photo won't be available. So Ciara Sana's portraits, which are expressive, warm, and pleasing to the eye, engage readers and (I think) extend the life of the book in ways that might not be possible with photographs.

Librarians and educators: Put multiple copies of this book on your shelves, and encourage young people to find out even more about the 50+ notable Natives on its pages! 

Friday, November 25, 2022


Back in October of 2020, I wrote about Dino-Thanksgiving by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott. It is about dinosaurs gathering to eat at thanksgiving. At one point they gather around the television to watch the "Redscales" game. Players wear uniforms the same colors as the NFL Team now known as the Washington Commanders. 

People at the publishing house saw my post and replied to say they would be making edits to reprints. 

A few days ago, Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books (imprints within Lerner Publishing) wrote about the edits on Lerner's blog. They changed the name of the team name to Rippers. The uniforms they wear are now different, too. Below on left is my screen capture of the first edition. I added the arrows to draw attention to the team name and uniform colors. On right is a sample of the edits Hinz wrote about.  

Those changes, I think, indicate progress. Lots of people at Lerner were involved in the changes. Each one of them now know something they might not have known, before. 

I'm writing this post on Friday, November 25--the day after the 2022 observance of thanksgiving. Some Native families gather on that day to visit and eat, but many do not. Many choose to mark the day as a National Day of Mourning and have been doing so, since 1970, in Plymouth Massachusetts. 

I'm glad to see that change to the mascot name in the series. 

This particular thanksgiving book doesn't repeat the the popular--and wrong--story of Pilgrims and Indians feasting together that hides the facts of imperialism and genocide. That story is one of the many U.S. myths that hurts everyone--Native and not--because it looks away from the horrific things one people can do to another. 

I think there was a time in my life when I thought that the best option was to mark the day as one of gratitude without the Pilgrim and Indian story but in a way, that's like sports teams getting rid of mascots but keeping the team name. It doesn't work. Opposing teams will use those team names to taunt the fans whose team holds that name. Without a massive educational effort to help others see why the mascot is not ok, it lives on in peoples hearts and too often--in their actions.  I've seen that firsthand at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. The mascot itself is gone but the team name is unchanged and fans of the now-absent mascot continue wearing apparel that is easy to get. Worse is that fans of mascots will go on to work in positions where their actions--like doing reenactments of "the first thanksgiving"--will misinform children. 

All of this is part of a cycle that must be interrupted! There are a few new picture books that seek to interrupt the Pilgrim and Indians thanksgiving story. I've not studied them yet. 

One is If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving by Chris Newell (citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe) and illustrated by Winona Nelson (Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa). Dennis Zotigh at the National Museum of the American Indian has an article about it at Smithsonian Magazine: 'If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving' by Chris Newell Exposes New Truths about the American Holiday. 

Another is Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story written by Danielle Greendeer (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Citizen), Alexis Bunten (Unangan/Yup'ik), Anthony Perry (Chickasaw), and illustrated by Garry Meeches, Sr. (Anishinaabe). In my quick look at this book, I see a lot I like. I groaned at the back matter for the inclusion of a map by a mapmaker whose methods received criticism from many who observed that he misrepresented their nations and people on his maps. For more information about that, I did a couple of posts here at AICL

A few years ago, We Are Grateful/Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (Cherokee) came out. I like what she did in her book and highly recommended it. Much older is Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk). These two don't take the pilgrims as their starting point. 

Before social media took off, people would submit comments to AICL's posts but that dropped significantly as people chose to respond to AICL's posts on Twitter. Media analysts say that Twitter is on its last legs. Your contributions to conversations are likely going to be lost. If you're leaving Twitter, we invite you to submit your comments here. I'm really interested in your observations about thanksgiving and thanksgiving books. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Ku'daa, University of New Mexico Native Alumni Chapter!

I am deeply honored that the University of New Mexico's Native American Alumni Chapter chose me to receive one of its Outstanding Alumni Awards for 2022.  I received this stunningly beautiful plate, painted by Sherry L. Aragon of Acoma Pueblo

Here's the flyer announcing the gala:

Due to prior commitments, I wasn't able to travel to Albuquerque for the gala, but I did send in a recorded message for them. The gala itself was on the same day as the Brackeen v Haaland oral argument at the Supreme Court on Nov 9. This is what I said:

Good evening. 

This morning, Native people from across the country were gathering in Washington DC or online to listen to the Supreme Court oral arguments in Brackeen v Haaland. 

I’m living in the San Francisco Bay area right now. Wherever I am, I talk about kids and books. or more precisely, the ways that stories in books tell others who we are. That work is why I can’t be with you tonight. I’m in the midst of working with teachers in this area. 

I tell teachers and librarians that our status as sovereign native nations has been left out of popular, classic, and award winning books. Those books shape what people know about us. They shape what the Brackeen’s know about us. Those books are part of why the Indian Child Welfare Act is at risk, right now.

Those books are a threat to our sovereignty. 

I’m grateful to UNM’s Native American Alumni Chapter for selecting me to receive this award. It acknowledges the importance of the work I do to help educators understand what is wrong with those popular and award-winning books. 

And it acknowledges the work I do to bring visibility to Native writers who are creating books that affirm who we are. 

In October, an absolutely terrific picture book by two Native people came out. That book is Forever Cousins. Written by Laurel Goodluck and illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, it is about cousins growing up together in the Bay Area. 


In the Author’s Note, Goodluck writes about the Indian Relocation Act. It is why she grew up in the Bay Area. She also writes about sovereignty! 

I talked about Forever Cousins in a workshop I did earlier this week. After the workshop, one of the participants approached me. She was deeply touched by Goodluck’s book. She is from Tesuque Pueblo, and like Laurel, grew up in the Bay Area. 

Forever Cousins is one book, but it sits amongst a growing number of books by Native writers and illustrators who are creating books that should be in every classroom, and every library.

Like many of you, I’m deeply worried about Brackeen v. Haaland, and, I am confident that as we continue to raise our voices and use books by Native writers, we are disrupting the harms done by older classics that misrepresent who we are. Buy books by Native writers, and talk about them to everyone you know. Help me to bring visibility to books that lift our children and our nations. 


I offer my congratulations to Nicolle Gonzales. She, too, was honored by the Native Alumni chapter. She founded the Changing Woman Initiative. Here's a video of her:

If you are able to support her work, go to the Changing Woman Initiative's website. Down at the bottom of the page is a Donate button.