Saturday, June 07, 2014

Martha Stackhouse's review of Barbara Joosse's MAMA DO YOU LOVE ME

In the spring of 2004, students in Education 493: Examining Alaska Children's Literature. The course was taught by Esther A. Ilutsik for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Reviews are on the website of the Alaska Native Knowledge Network.

Among the reviews is Martha Stackhouse's review of Barbara Joosse's Mama Do You Love Me. She points out errors in the book and recommends it, as long as the errors are pointed out.

Here's an excerpt:
The story has to have been after contact because the pictures are very colorful and the atikjuks, the outer part of the parka, are made from cloth. In looking at the pictures, the maklaks appear to be soft sole, where we mostly use hard crimped soles. The strings on the maklaks are tied forward, when we tie them towards the back. The mother also is wearing feathers in her braids. I have never seen an Inupiaq woman wear feathers before. This may be a cultural blend with the Interior Indians. The animals are cute, drawn mostly for kids. However on the page where the daughter asks "how long?" (No page numbers through out the book) there is a Yupik looking mask up in the sky. The inner part of the mask would be a better representative of the Inupiaq mask but the appendages to it makes it more like a Yupik style mask. On that same page, there is a puffin howling at the moon. There are no puffins in the northern regions of Alaska. 
In her conclusion, Stackhouse says the book can be used as long as the teacher points out the errors. There's so many errors! So many that if I was teaching elementary school, I'd use the book as an example of how writers make mistakes. Do head over to the site and read the entire review.

Published in 1991 by Chronicle Books.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Rubbing noses in Katherine Kirkpatrick's BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Katherine Kirkpatrick's Between Two Worlds is another fail from Random House, a major publisher. Published in 2014, it is getting good reviews, which represents another fail in the reviewing world.

The protagonist in Kirkpatrick's story is supposed to be an Inuit teen, Billy Bah, who was the seamstress for Robert E. Peary, one of the white men who claimed to reach the North Pole (I used 'white' deliberately because all the fuss over "first" white men to reach this or that place always make me pause).

As I read Between Two Worlds I thought 
"this does not strike me as an insider's voice." 

There are certain things about Inuit people that most people take to be fact. Here's two: They rub noses. The men get trade goods by offering sex with their wives as their unit of trade. Generally, there's a kernel of truth in such things, but when they seep into an outsider's conscience as THE thing(s) they know about a people, that outsider "knowledge" is vividly on display as ignorance and stereotype.

The degree to which that "knowledge" has come to pass as legitimate information explains 1) why Kirkpatrick could write such a book, 2) why her editor at Random House would not spot the outsider perspective, 3) and why reviewers give the book a thumbs up.

So. Rubbing noses. Everyone knows that is the way Eskimos kiss, right?

Wrong! It is actually a gesture of affection called a kunik by those who do it. In this article, David Joanasi, of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says "When you're an infant and a little kid, your parents and older siblings sniff you and rub your face with their nose", and Erin Eckman, who is Inupiaq and works for the Alaska Native Heritage Center said "Growing up in Alaska, I only really saw women do it to babies."

Kirkpatrick uses "rubbed noses" 17 times. I noted who is rubbing noses in parentheses.

p. 28: "We rubbed noses..."(sisters, parting)
p. 49: "We rubbed noses." (husband/wife, greeting)
p. 52: "We rubbed noses, ..." (little girl/woman, greeting)
p. 68: "I rubbed noses..." (husband/wife, greeting)
p. 74: "Sammy, rubbed noses..." (woman/little boy, greeting)
p. 77: "...rubbing noses..." (girl/girl, greeting)
p. 85: "We rubbed noses." (husband/wife, working together)
p. 132: "one last time, rubbed noses..."(woman/little girl, parting)
p. 133: "We rubbed noses." (father/daughter, greeting)
p. 137: "We rubbed noses." (husband/wife, greeting)
p. 142: "...we rubbed noses." (husband/wife, greeting and prelude to sex)
p. 145: "...rub noses..." (husband/wife, greeting)
p. 147: "But we rubbed noses." (husband/wife, in bed)
p. 149: "We rubbed noses." (woman/little girl)
p. 200: "...rubbed noses..." (husband/wife, during argument)
p. 230: "...we rubbed noses..." (husband/wife, greeting)
p. 232: "We rubbed noses." (woman/boy)

For the most part, Kirkpatrick uses rubbed noses to convey affection. Though I think she over-uses the phrase, we might think she's using it correctly. But, that is not the case...

That wife-trading I pointed to above? It happens in this book, too. A lot. Early on, Billy Bah's husband, Angulluk (that is his name but mostly she thinks of him as "Fat One") tells her that he's had three offers for her from men on the ship that has arrived at their village. Angulluk has chosen red-headed Duncan to trade with. Later that night when Billy Bah is with Duncan in the sailors quarters, she's thinking that he might "pounce on me like a bear as other sailors had." Note what she says. Other sailors. Plural. As it turns out, Duncan isn't like those pouncing sailors. He sits back and they talk for awhile. Billy Bah asks Duncan why he wanted her rather than Ally, who Billy Bah thinks is prettier. Duncan tells Billy Bah that he wanted her because she can speak better English than Ally, is smart, and he likes her long hair. Billy Bah moves closer to Duncan, who says he would never hurt her (p. 42):
Then he pressed his lips against mine. I drew back.
"No! Kiss me on the nose, never on the lips."
"Our people don't do that," I said. "We don't like it." 
See? That passage tells me Kirkpatrick does not know as much about rubbing noses as we might think! I've read some of her interviews. In one, she says that the inspiration for her book is Boreal Ties, which is a book of photographs of the Peary relief expedition. I read that and wondered what else she used as resources. I flipped to the back of her book and read the Historical Notes. She relies heavily on the work of Josephine Peary (Robert E. Perry's wife). Reading the excerpts there felt just like reading the story itself. Outsider perspective.

I have to stop for now, but maybe I'll be back with more to say about Katherine Kirkpatrick's Between Two Worlds. But like I said up top, it is a fail from Random House. I do not recommend it. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

About the much celebrated Oregon Trail...

A couple of weeks ago, Oregon's ban on same sex marriage was struck down. I was happy about that. In my timeline on Twitter, I saw this image:

I replied to the person who sent it out, noting that the Oregon Trail signaled loss for Native people. She thanked me. She 'got it' immediately.

Today I got a tweet from T. J. Tallie, a queer black scholar at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. The tweet is to an essay titled Failing to Ford the River: "Oregon Trail", Same-Sex Marriage Rhetoric, and the Intersections of Anti-Blackness and Settler Colonialism. Here's an excerpt:

The game offers challenges to American children, presenting them with the potential of a variety of means of death (dysentery, exhaustion, drowning, or others), while erasing the Indigenous peoples who were starved, removed, or otherwise subject to settler violence in the very same project. Indeed, the game offers a collective investment for American students into histories of colonialism and domination, notably through the participation in a game that structures simultaneous removal and forgetting of the very presence of Indigenous peoples, while celebrating the survival and endurance of white pioneers.

There's more. Lots more. I want you (readers of AICL) to read it and think about Tallie's words the next time you read or review (or write) a book about the Oregon Trail. Just now, I searched children's books at Amazon using "Oregon Trail" and got a list of 334 books.

This excerpt from Tallie's essay is about African Americans:

The history of the Oregon Trail is not simply a story of anti-Indigenous settlement, however. The history of the Oregon Territory, and subsequent state of Oregon, is one of profound white settler investment in anti-blackness as well. Beginning in 1844, Oregon Territory passed its first exclusion law, banning African-American immigration into the region, and in 1857, had the dubious distinction of becoming the only free state in the United States to have officially codified anti-black immigration into its constitution (decided by popular vote, no less), which was ratified the following year... 
What is on your shelf? What does it say about Native people? African Americans?

Take some time to read Tallie's essay. Share it with others. And let's all think about what we saw, write, share, and endorse about the Oregon Trail.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

"War whoop" in Gayle Forman's IF I STAY

One of the big names right now is Gayle Forman. Her book, If I Stay, is big and gonna be a movie, too. So--I figured I ought to take a look at the book. I opened the preview at Amazon and read the first page. I stopped reading...

The book opens on the morning of a snowfall. Not a lot of snow, but enough that school is cancelled (p. 3):
"My little brother, Teddy, lets out a war whoop when Mom's AM radio announces the closures."
Really? Did Teddy run around the house going woo-woo-woo by patting his hand over his mouth as he said "woooo"?!

"War whoop" is one of those phrases that yank me out of the story an author is telling.

If you look up "war whoop" you'll see that it is defined as being specific to Native people, but you probably already knew that, right? That is, if you even noticed that phrase as you read it (assuming you read Forman's book).

It isn't an innocuous expression. Subtly it affirms stereotypes people carry around. You know what I'm talking about.. The idea that Native people were warlike, barbaric, and savage. Another phrase like that? "On the warpath."

The truth? Native people were fighting to defend our homelands and to protect our women and children. You know damn well that you'd fight, too, and you'd definitely be yelling.

Gayle Forman did not have to use "war whoop" to describe the exuberance her character felt. Nothing is lost if she'd just said "My little brother, Teddy, shouts with glee when Mom's AM radio announces the closures."

Given that her book is going to be on the big screen---what will we see when that scene is turned into a script? Goodness! I hope Teddy doesn't emerge from his bedroom in a headdress. If you're reading this, Gayle, maybe you can make sure THAT doesn't happen.

For now, I'm not getting her book, and this post will be added to AICL's "All you do is complain" page on common phrases.

Monday, June 02, 2014

AICL Stands With We Need Diverse Books and Small Publishers

Saturday morning (May 31, 2014) I woke early with a feeling of joy and excitement. Several hundred miles away from me, a group of eight men and women were in New York City, getting ready for their session at Book Con 2014 (BookCon is part of Book Expo America, BEA for short). The weeks, days, and hours prior to their session were--for me--a roller coaster of highs and lows. I cannot imagine what it was like for them. What follows is the story of We Need Diverse Books as I experienced it. It is my thank you and shout out to a group that sparked a moment and movement that may mark the turning point in the all white world of children's books...

In April, two things happened. BEA announced a panel of blockbuster kidlit writers. That panel was composed of four men and a cat. And, BookCon announced its line-up of authors. This "blindingly white" situation prompted indignation amongst a lot of people. A group was formed. That group is We Need Diverse Books. Their goal was/is to promote books that showcase and promote diversity of content, and diversity of authors that create that content. On May 28th, Aisha Saeed wrote about the upcoming trip to NYC.

I followed the campaign when it was launched in late April, offering help as I could behind-the-scenes, but mostly I used social media to promote the We Need Diverse Books campaign. This is the first graphic the WNDB team released:

Gorgeous, isn't it? The energy radiating from the team was inspiring. With twitter driving it, the campaign took off around the world. Media covered it. The result? BookCon invited the team to do a session in NYC on Saturday morning.

On the 29th (Thursday), I made a graphic with the WNDB logo and location info for their session. I started to tweet it:

On Friday morning (May 30), excitement was building. Ilene Wong of the WNDB team sent this tweet:

My excitement grew when I saw tweets of photos of large displays announcing the location of the WNDB session:

That excitement was tamped down a bit as I read tweets from Cheryl Willis Hudson of Just Us Books. She was walking through the exhibit halls at BEA, looking for books within the diverse framework.  She didn't see much, but did take photos and sent them out. Aren't they terrific? Here's her photo of Because They Marched at the Holiday House booth:

And here's a photo she snapped of Jacqueline Woodson signing books. See what Cheryl said? "Long line" --- cool!

 Here's more photos Cheryl sent out:

As I read tweets from Cheryl and those in the We Need Diverse Books hashtag on twitter, I saw that Cinco Punto Press had tweeted a photo of Tim Tingle's House of Purple Cedar. It was there, on their table, at BEA. I retweeted their photo:

There were to be two other sessions at BEA that focused on diversity. I tweeted info on them, too. One was "Multicultural Publishers in Conversation." Here's that flyer. As you can see, Just Us Books and Cinco Punto Press were scheduled for that conversation on Saturday at 12:45.

Here's the flyer for the third session, "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?":

But look! See the time slot in the red bar at top of the graphic? Saturday, 10:00 AM... The same time as the We Need Diverse Books session! I was stomping mad about that, with various obscenities whirling in my head. Then I saw this set of tweets by Ellen Oh (retweeted by Ilene Wong):

What obstacles, I wondered? I figured one was the overlap of the WNDB session and the conversation with publishers session, but Ellen said "obstacles" (plural), so what else went wrong?! Lights out for me... I went to bed. 

Early Saturday morning I was up and catching up on tweets from the night. I learned that the hard copy of the conference program did not have the WNDB session in it. 

People at the Javits were sending out tweets and photos:

And Jacqueline Woodson snapped a way-cool photo of Matt de la Pena arriving at her house. They were going to head over to the Javits center together.

As 10:00 AM drew near, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tweets from the conference were growing in number.

I saw that the WNDB team had created swag!

And panelist Grace Lin had a "cheat sheet" handout with ways that booksellers can hand-sell books to consumers who shy away from books by or about people of color (get the pdf from her blog):

I wondered how big the room was but when the first photos of the room (as it filled up) started to come across twitter, I estimated 200 chairs. This photo was taken by Ilene Wong, as she notes, 35 minutes before the panel started.


And of course, people in the audience were taking/tweeting LOTS of photos of the panelists:

The room itself filled up and people were turned away (media reports later said there were 300 people in the room, with people in the aisles and three-deep along the back wall). Meanwhile, in the room, the panelists received a terrific reception from the audience:

Panelists delivered powerful remarks that were tweeted and retweeted. Again and again I wished I was in that room rather than hundreds of miles away. I was glad to see tweets indicating that Matt de la Pena had a few things to say about the shut down of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson Unified School district. Over and over, I was glad for twitter. The emotion captured in photos was astounding.

An unedited audio of the session is now available at the We Need Diverse Books tumblr. No doubt the panelists and WNDB team was bursting with joy once the session ended. Marieke Nijkamp's tweet captures some of their emotion:

I was especially moved by Mike Jung's tweets as he left the conference:

It was VERY poor planning on the part of BEA to offer WNDB and the "Where are the People of Color" session at the same time. I assume it and the "Multicultural Publishers in Conversation" session were both in the program. 

A curious thing, though, was the floor announcement, as captured in this photo tweeted by Daniel Jose Older (photo taken by Tiffany D. Jackson). See the title for the session? How small it is in comparison to the titles of other sessions? And doesn't it look like it was pasted on there? Why?!

Of course, Daniel's jab ("Diversity is so awesome!!!!) is directed at conference planners, and not diversity itself. I don't know if he made it to the 12:45 session. Cheryl Willis Hudson was there and tweeted some photos. Here's one:

Today (June 2, 2014), several recaps of BEA were loaded online. I especially liked what Lyn Miller Lachmann said in her piece, and what Allie Bruce said in hers. Both are committed to diversity, and their commitment shows in their writing. I loved hearing the voices of Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, and Jacqueline Woodson in their interview with NPR. Claire Kirch's recap for Publishers Weekly is here. Among the things you'll read is that WNDB is working with the National Education Association, and that Lee and Low is launching a "New Visions Award." The big news? That a book festival is being planned...

A good many people have been pushing for diversity for a very long time. With respect to Native people objecting, I think back to William Apes, a Pequot man who was raised by a white family for a portion of his childhood. He read the books they gave him, and because of what he read, was afraid of Indians! He wrote about that fear as an adult, in his Son of the Forest, published in 1831.

In June of 2014, it feels like some substantial change will take hold because the demographics in the country are shifting dramatically. I am optimistic. And--I look forward to meeting members of the WNDB team in Washington DC in 2016 at a festival of diversity in children's books! The plans are in the works. Till then, AICL stands with We Need Diverse Books. This is a cheesy closure but I'll use it anyway... STAY TUNED.

A special note of thanks to Cheryl Willis Hudson of Just Us Books for all that she shared from BEA. I know from 20 years of reviewing children's books that small independent publishers are more likely than the big publishing houses to give us wonderful books that accurately reflect the lives of people of color. For that reason, I've been standing with small publishers for a long time. They embody a commitment to truth over profit.