Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Highly Recommended: Cherie Dimaline's THE MARROW THIEVES

I first came to know Cherie Dimaline's writing last year, when I read "Legends are Made, Not Born" in Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two-Spirit Sci Fi Anthology. The character she writes about in that story is named Auntie Dave. 

I wrote, then, that I had to "just be" with Auntie Dave and that story for awhile. There's a quality in Dimaline's writing that reached from the page, into my being. 

That's the case, too, with The Marrow Thieves. I paused again and again as I met and came to know 16 year-old French, and then the people who would become his family: Miig, Wab, Zheegwon, Tree, RiRi, Minerva, Chi-Boy, and Slopper. 

Later, French will meet and fall in love with Rose. On page 32, there's a line about her that squeezes my heart. "We had a future and a past all bundled up in her round dark cheeks and loose curls." 

French (sometimes called Frenchie; his given name is Francis) and the rest are on the run, running away from "the Recruiters." Here, I'll share the description from the back cover:
Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The Indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. 
In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden.... but what they don't know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves. 
The hunters in Dimaline's story are "the Recruiters." They're the ones French and all the others are hiding from, running from. The Marrow Thieves begins when French is 11, being chased by those Recruiters who want to take Indigenous people to schools to take their marrow. That's a specific reference to the residential schools of the past, where so much was taken from Native children. It is one of many points in The Marrow Thieves where--painfully or with exquisite beauty--Dimaline's story resonates with me. It will resonate with other Native readers, too, especially those who are Anishinabe. Several tribal nations are mentioned in here, too.

One moment that made my heart swell is when the group has come to an abandoned hotel. After months of sleeping on the ground in tents, they cautiously enter the hotel, and then later, enthusiastically say good night, each in their own rooms, on beds. For the first time, French and Rose are curled up together. They're startled when they hear little Ri say "French, can I sleep with you guys?" and then a minute or two later, Slopper (he and Ri are the two children in the group) appears and says "Move over, French. I can't sleep." They drift off to sleep. That's how it is.

There's a passage in The Marrow Thieves that, for me, embodies what matters for any society. French thinks about how, when a people don't have their youngest and their oldest, they are without deep roots, and without an acute need to protect and make things better.

That's a key piece of why this story is one I'm carrying. It is about caring, about love, about how people can continue, and will continue.

There's so much more to say. About... song. About Miggs and Isaac, about Ri, about Minerva, about French.  But I'll stop and let you be with these achingly dear characters.

I highly recommend The Marrow Thieves. I ordered my copy from Canada. Published by Dancing Cat Books (an imprint of Cormorant Books), it isn't available in the US till later this year.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Doris Seale, 1936-2017

Back in the early 1990s when I started graduate school, I learned of the work of a Santee, Cree, Abenaki woman named Doris Seale. I read her writings about the ways that Native people are depicted in children's books. Those words were fierce. I learned a lot from her. She also wrote two books of poetry: Blood Salt, and Ghost Dance. 

In 2001, she won the American Library Association's Equality Award for the work she'd been doing, for over 40 years. That year, ALA's meeting was held at a Marriott Hotel in San Francisco that was in a labor dispute with its workers. Rather than cross a picket line to accept her award, Doris Seale joined that picket line.

Source: http://libr.org/juice/pics/4.23/Marriott.html 

Doris started her work as a librarian a year before I was born, in the children's department of the Brookline Public Library, in Brookline Massachusetts. She passed away this year. That marks 60 years, or so, of her words, doing work, for children.

She founded Oyate, too.

In her honor, I'm going to start compiling a bibliography of her writings. It will be on this page. At this point in time, people in the fields of education and library science point to me as an important voice in understanding the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's books. I learned a lot of what I know from Doris Seale. I invite you to read her work. Cite it, and share it. And let me know of ones I've missed, too.

***

Doris Seale's Writings about Native Peoples in Children's Literature

Seale, D. (1981). Bibliographies about Native Americans—A mixed blessing. Interracial Books for Children Bulletin12, 11-15.

Seale, D. (1984). Indians without Hope, Indians without Options--The Problematic Theme of Hatter FoxInterracial Books for Children Bulletin15(3), 7.

Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (1988). Books without bias: Through Indian eyes. Oyate.

Seale, D. (1991) 1492-1992 from an American Indian Perspective. In Lindgren, M. V. The Multicolored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults. Highsmith Press, W5527 Highway 106, PO Box 800, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538-0800..

Seale, D. (1992). Let us put our minds together and see what life we will make for our children. Slapin and Seale, Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, 7-12.

Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (1992). Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. New Society Publishers, 4527 Springfield Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143.

Slapin, B., Seale, D., & Gonzales, R. (1996). How to tell the difference: A guide to evaluating children's books for anti-Indian bias. Berkeley, Calif.: Oyate.

Seale, D. (2001). Parting Words: The Works of Paul Goble. Multicultural Review10(1), 120-120.

Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (2001). Presenting the Wounded Knee Massacre in Books for Children: A Review Essay on Neil Waldman's Wounded KneeMultiCultural Review10(4), 54-56.

Seale, D., & Slapin, B. (2006). A broken flute: The Native experience in books for children. Rowman Altamira.

Seale, D. (2007). Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa. Review at American Indians in Children's Literature

Dow, J., & Seale, D. (2009). Tomie de Paola's The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Review at American Indians in Children's Literature _________

See: 
Doris Seale: In Memorium at Dawnland Voices
Doris Marion Seale (obituary at The Boston Globe)



Sunday, June 04, 2017

About DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR

Last month, Harper Collins celebrated the 60th anniversary of its I Can Read books. I wondered if they would remove this page from the new edition of Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff. The book was first published in 1958.




I went to the Harper Collins website and saw that they've got worksheets up for some of the I Can Read books. They had some for Danny and the Dinosaur, including this one, which told me that they clearly had not revisited that page. I did a screen capture of it, added the red arrow, and tweeted to Harper Collins, asking them about that page.



They wrote back to me that same day (May 9, 2017), saying:

"We appreciate your valuable feedback and sincerely apologize that this activity was offensive. It has been removed from the site."

It is, indeed, gone, and when I pressed them about the page in the actual book, I got a DM (direct message) that said "We are reviewing the book and will be in touch in the future." I thanked them. When they get in touch, I'll be back with an update. Let's hope they're getting rid of that page.

Some thoughts on Chelsea Clinton's SHE PERSISTED

Chelsea Clinton's picture book, She Persisted, was released on May 30, 2017. Parents and teachers will buy it. So will activists. Published by Philomel Books (an imprint of Penguin), it is already marked as a best seller at Amazon.

The title, as many AICL readers will likely know, is based on Mitch McConnell's remark about Elizabeth Warren, who persisted in trying to read Coretta Scott King's words on the Senate floor in February of 2017. Some of you may recall that I've written about Warren before, when she persisted in making a claim to Cherokee identity. That persistence showed a lot of willful ignorance. I don't want to get sidetracked, though, in this post that focuses on one page in Clinton's She Persisted. 

I like the concept: a picture book about women who push back on those who want them to be quiet, to sit down, to go away... that's a great idea. But the execution--with respect to the page about Maria Tallchief--fails to push back on the ways that most people think about Native peoples.

Here's a screen capture of the text about Maria Tallchief. It says:

"After MARIA TALLCHIEF's family moved to California, partly to support Maria's dreams of becoming a dancer, she was teased by students in school for her Native American heritage and later was encouraged to change her last name to something that sounded Russian (since many professional dancers at the time were from Russia). She persisted, ignoring all the taunting and poor advice, to become to first great American prima ballerina."



At first glance, that info about her sounds great, doesn't it? It is based in fact. An Entertainment Weekly interview points to the autobiography Clinton read (Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina). Here's that part from Tallchief's book. This took place in 1933:
Some of the students made fun of my last name, pretending they didn’t understand if it was Tall or Chief. A few made war whoops whenever they saw me, and asked why I didn’t wear feathers or if my father took scalps.
When you hear "Native American" or "American Indian," what image comes to mind? For a lot of people, it will be a large feathered headdress, some war whoops, a tomahawk, a tipi, and maybe a herd of buffalo. In other words, the same things that Tallchief had to deal with in 1933.

It is way cool that Clinton is showing us a Native person as a ballerina. That image counters the other imagery that comes to mind, but calling her a Native American leaves the generic or monolithic "Native American" term itself, intact.

In other words--I wish Clinton had written in there, somewhere in those 60 words, that Maria Tallchief was Osage. It is a missed opportunity for Osage kids to see the name of their nation, in print, in a picture book that millions of children are going to read.

That bit about her name is interesting, all on its own.

Clinton tells us the ballet company wanted Tallchief to change her last name to something so that it sounded Russian. In her autobiography, Tallchief wrote that they wanted her to add an 'a' to Tallchief and swap that 'f' for a 'v' so it would be "Tallchieva." Sheesh! She didn't want to do that, but did agree to use "Maria" rather than her given name, Betty Marie. 

If I was teaching She Persisted, I'd substitute "Osage" for "Native American." And of course, I'd talk about the Osage Nation. I've not studied how Clinton writes about the other women in the book. If you have, let me know in the comments.

Book cited:
Tallchief, Maria. Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina. Henry Holt and Co.







Friday, May 26, 2017

Not Recommended: THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF RED CLOUD, AN AMERICAN LEGEND by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin (adapted by Kate Waters)

In 2013, Simon and Schuster published The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend. White people loved it. They bought it. They praised it. It became a New York Times Bestseller. White people love The White Man's Indian. 

And so--unsurprisingly--Simon and Schuster decided they ought to make it available to young people, too. The "young readers edition" came out in February of 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. It was adapted for young readers by Kate Waters. 

(An aside: as I write this post, I throw down snark--and then delete it--again and again.)

Shall we take a quick look? First is the subtitle "The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend." 

Untold? What does that mean?! To me, it means that Drury and Clavin see themselves as saviors. Gonna tell the world, they are, the "untold" story of Red Cloud. Untold... to what person, in particular? 

Oh, I get it... What they mean is a different kind of story about Red Cloud! Their book, we are expected to believe, will be different than the 2,272 books that came up when I searched WorldCat using "Red Cloud" in the search box. 

Is it, though?

I have doubts, because being Good White People means... lot of blind spots! 

Like how Drury and Clavin think of him, right there, on the cover. To them, he is "an American legend." Would Red Cloud call himself an American? 

The dedication page tells us that the book is dedicated to "the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation." Oh. Ok. Sounds a lot like all those ways that White people think they honor Native people. Dedicating books to us, donating a percentage of their sales to us, creating stories about us... how nice! (Yeah, that "how nice" is me being snarky). 

So, let's think about a Native kid, maybe even one of "the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation" who picks up this book. One thing that kid is going to come across is the word "brave" to refer to Native boys, men, and elders... Here's an example from page 14: 
Veteran braves grunted and yipped in approval.
See that? They grunt. And yip. 

Frankly, I don't want to finish this book. I looked at the professional reviews at Barnes and Noble's website. The unsigned Kirkus review says (all their reviews are unsigned):
This adaptation will diminish Red Cloud's legacy, perpetuate negative stereotypes, and provide incorrect information to young readers: skip." 
I concur with Kirkus. Kudos to their reviewer! The review by Laura Simeon at School Library Journal says: 
"Not recommended for purchase. Consider Joseph Marshall III's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse instead for a fictional look at a Lakota leader."
Laura is right! Get Marshall's book instead! 

I hope you didn't order this young readers edition because the adult version did so well. You should take a look at this essay in Indian Country Today: The Heart of Everything That Isn't: The Untold Story of Anti-Indianism in Drury and Clavin's Book on Red Cloud.  

In short, I do not recommend the 2013 or the 2017 editions of The Heart of Everything That Isn't by Drury and Clavin. 

_________________
Update: I'm glad people read my blog. Within a half hour of loading this review, I got a comment from Jamalia Higgins that I'll paste here so I can respond to it:

Excuse me? "White people loved it. They bought it. They praised it." Do you have any statistics to back up these claims? Were white people the only buyers of this title? The only ones who loved it? 
I do not disagree with your review of either version of this title, but this language is extremely concerning to me and other POC who are readers, book buyers, library users, and book review readers and writers.

The call for statistics to "back up" a claim is familiar. She does ask a question that I can toss back out as this: does anyone think that it is Native and People of Color who made this 2013 edition a best seller? I could just say "People loved it." Shall I go back and say that? She's right, though. I'm sure some people of color loved it. In children's lit and elsewhere, people disagree about things. Institutionalized racism is everywhere.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Debbie--have you seen SISTERS IN BLUE/HERMANAS DE AZUL by Anna M. Nogar and Enrique R. Lamadrid?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Sisters In Blue/Hermanas de Azul by Anna M. Nogar and Enrique R. Lamadrid. Illustrations are by Amy Cordova; publisher is UNM Press, and the publication year is 2017.

Here's the description:
Sisters in Blue tells the story of two young women—one Spanish, one Puebloan—meeting across space and time. Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda, New Mexico’s famous Lady in Blue, is said to have traveled to New Mexico in the seventeenth century. Here Anna M. Nogar and Enrique R. Lamadrid bring her to life, imagining an encounter between a Pueblo woman and Sor María during the nun’s mystical spiritual journeys. Tales of Sor María, who described traveling across the earth and the heavens, have traditionally presented her as an evangelist who helped bring Catholicism to the Pueblos. Instead this book, which includes an essay providing historical context, shows a connection between Sor María and her friend Paf Sheuri. The two women find more similarities than differences in their shared experiences, and what they learn from each other has an impact for centuries to come.
Frankly, I'm usually suspicious of books that emphasize similarities amongst people when the history of interactions between these particular peoples is so fraught with horrific and oppressive actions. If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Debbie--have you seen PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL by John Demos?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl by John Demos. It is due out on October 31, 2017 from Amulet Books (which is part of Abrams) Books. Here's the summary:
National Book Award finalist John Demos brings to life the compelling story of Eunice Williams, a Puritan girl who was captured and adopted by Native Americans
In this riveting historical fiction narrative, National Book Award Finalist John Demos shares the story of a young Puritan girl and her life-changing experience with the Mohawk people.
Inspired by Demos’s award-winning novel The Unredeemed CaptivePuritan Girl, Mohawk Girl will captivate a young audience, providing a Native American perspective rather than the Western one typically taught in the classroom.
As the armed conflicts between the English colonies in North America and the French settlements raged in the 1700s, a young Puritan girl, Eunice Williams, is kidnapped by Mohawk people and taken to Canada. She is adopted into a new family, a new culture, and a new set of traditions that will define her life. As Eunice spends her days learning the Mohawk language and the roles of women and girls in the community, she gains a deeper understanding of her Mohawk family. Although her father and brother try to persuade Eunice to return to Massachusetts, she ultimately chooses to remain with her Mohawk family and settlement.
Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl offers a compelling and rich lesson that is sure to enchant young readers and those who want to deepen their understanding of Native American history.
If I get a copy, I'll be back with a link to my review. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Not recommended: JUNIE B. JONES, TURKEYS WE HAVE LOVED AND EATEN by Barbara Park and Denise Brunkus

Series books are popular. Kids come to know and love the characters. They eagerly read one book after another and wait for new books to appear. Publishers happily comply. Often, though, you'll come across one that has stereotypical or factually inaccurate content about Native peoples.

Turkey We Have Loved and Eaten in the Junie B. Jones series is one. Written by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, and published in 2012 by Random House, it is a good example of a book with problematic content.

As such, the red x overlaid on the title is meant to signal that I do not recommend it.

Here's the description:
Meet the World’s Funniest First Grader—Junie B. Jones! Room One is getting ready for their very own Thanksgiving feast! There’s even a contest to see which room can write the best thankful list. The winners will get a pumpkin pie! Only it turns out being thankful is harder than it looks. Because Junie B. is not actually thankful for Tattletale May. Or scratchy pilgrim costumes. And pumpkin pie makes her vomit, anyway. Will Room One win the disgusting pie? Can May and Junie B. find common ground? Or will this Thanksgiving feast turn into a Turkey Day disaster?

No mention, there, of Native people. But once you start reading...

The books open with an image of a "Dear first grade journal" letter written by Junie B. Jones. Writing errors are crossed out. That's a clever device and I'm sure teachers especially enjoy those letters. With spelling and grammar errors corrected, here's what the letter says:
Dear first-grade journal,
Today is the month of Thanksgiving.
At Thanksgiving we draw a lot of turkeys.
Also we draw Pilgrims and Native Americans.
They are eating at a table usually.
If Barbara Park or her editor had been thinking critically, "Native American" would be crossed out, too, and Wampanoag would be written, instead. That's the first error in Turkeys We Have Eaten. 

There's more to the letter. Junie says she doesn't understand the Pilgrims. Their "costumes" (her word) look to Junie like they would make the Pilgrims hot and sweaty. There's the second error. Those weren't costumes. The clothing they wore was... clothing. Junie goes on to write that they're going to have a Thanksgiving feast. Their families will join them at school for this feast.

Junie and another girl in the class, May, don't quite get along. This may be a thread in all the books. In this book, they both brought the same item for show and tell. They start to argue about it. Somehow, the Pilgrim costume is brought up, and then, Junie tells May that if she was an Indian.... and that right there (her use of Indian) is the third error. How does that line up with the letter that used "Native American"?

When chapter 9 opens, Junie wrotes about how all the kids have to dress up like Pilgrims or Native Americans. She writes that she told her mother that she didn't want to be a Pilgrim but that her mom had asked her grandmother to make the costume and... it is a Pilgrim dress. She has to wear it to school anyway.

At school, May comes into the classroom, and she's "dressed like a Native American Indian girl" (Kindle Location 705-706). Remember what I said earlier about being specific? Just what does it look like when someone dresses like a Native American Indian girl? If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know that I've written a lot about how many tribal nations there are, how diverse we are in terms of material culture, social organization, and on and on and on. Obviously, what Park and Brunkus are delivering to readers is stereotypical information. We could call this their fourth error.

May taunts Junie, saying (Kindle Location 709-711):
“Look how great this costume is! Look at the fringe on the bottom of my dress! Look at the beads around the collar! Look at my cute moccasins! Look at the long braid in my hair!”
Junie turns away from her, but May continues (Kindle Locations 712-714):
“Guess what my name is, Junie Jones? My name is Chief May—Chief of Everybody. And I will be bossing around the Native Americans at the feast today. Plus I will be bossing around the Pilgrims, too." 
And then... (Kindle Locations 717-720):
“What is your name, little Pilgrim girl?” she asked. “Do you have a name?” I made squinty eyes at her. “My name is Get Out of My Face, Chief Nutball,” I said back.
Those early errors are bad, but this whole scene, with the stereotypical clothing and the mockery of Native names takes this book to a whole different level.

Now, Turkeys We Have Loved isn't just miseducating kids, it is also mocking Native kids. This is the sort of thing that makes me furious. I think of Native kids in my family, being asked to read things like this. Becoming, via things like this, the target of jokes like this from their peers... Do you see why this is not acceptable?

Clearly, Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten, published in 2012 by Random House, is not recommended. For anyone.