Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thumbs down to THE MAYFLOWER by Mark Greenwood

In July of 2014, Holiday House released The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood. Illustrated by his wife, Frane Lessac, some people think it is a contender for the Caldecott. I sure hope not, but America loves its birth narratives and many segments of America refuse to see it in a balanced or accurate light.

Greenwood and Lessac provide that same romantic story, as shown on these pages (source: Here's Squanto:

And of course, that meal:

For further reading:

BOOKLIST lists American Indians in Children's Literature as a Resource

Booklist's February 2015 issue is titled "Spotlight on Multicultural Literature." The feature article is online. Written by Sarah Hunter, the article opens with:
It’s no secret that children’s publishing has a problem. Numerous venues, from the New York Times to Twitter, have rightfully brought to light the significant disparity in the representation of diversity in kids’ books. So what can librarians do, both immediately and in the long term, to make things better?
She closes with a quote from two librarians at Chicago Public Library:
McChesney and Medlar similarly note, “These conversations may ‘feel’ uncomfortable to a librarian, but they are important to our kids and [they] help them gain power as both consumers and critics.” If librarians allow themselves the room to make mistakes, and openly and humbly accept feedback, they should be able to help create change, even it if is incremental rather than overnight.
And, she links to American Indians in Children's Literature and the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award as resources:

Click on over and read Hunter's article. If you can't get to it, let me know and I'll send you a pdf of the article. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

HOUSE OF PURPLE CEDAR selected by International Reading Association

Tim Tingle's exquisite House of Purple Cedar is among the books the Children's Literature/Reading group of the International Reading Association selected for inclusion in its list of Notable Books for a Global Society. (Note: I did two screen captures from their pdf to make the image above.)

Here's a bit of info about the Notable Books list, from their website:
The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.
I'm thrilled to see House of Purple Cedar receive this recognition. It is on American Indians in Children's Literature's list of Best Books of 2014, too, and I hope you'll add it to your shelves. Book talk it if you're a librarian. Assign it if you're a teacher. And if you're a bookseller, hand sell it to people who come in to your store.

Tingle was at the National Book Festival last year. Though the audio isn't great in this video, you won't regret taking time to listen to what Tingle has to say. He starts out with a great bit of humor. Do watch at least the first few minutes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

FERAL PRIDE by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Feral Pride is the third book in Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral series. She is Muscogee Creek. Books in the series consists of a series of chapters, each one told from the point of view of one of the characters.

Prior to this and her Tantalize series, Leitich Smith wrote three books I highly recommend: her picture book Jingle Dancer, the early reader chapter book Indian Shoes, and her young adult novel Rain is Not My Indian Name. Each one is a terrific story featuring Native kids and their families. All three are set in the present day.

Feral Curse, the second book in the Feral series, introduces a Native character. Her name is Jess. She is Osage. Kayla, one of the main characters in Feral Curse, is a shapeshifter. Kayla and Jess grew up together and are good friends. In her early teens when Kayla realized she is a shapeshifter, she started to keep to herself, afraid of what people and friends will think about her, and afraid that she might inadvertently hurt or frighten them.

Some people in the world Leitich Smith creates are fine with shapeshifters; others aren't. It is that facet of the story that stands out to me as a Native women. The world Leitich Smith creates--and the attitudes of people in it--reflect the real world. Here on AICL, I've written about U.S. assimilation policies. Some of those laws and policies took land from Native peoples as a means to destroy our nationhood, and others sought to "kill the Indian and save the man." Those laws and policies were driven by attitudes held by people who did not want 'other' in the U.S.

That history is in my head as I read Feral Pride, or any book. It doesn't matter what I read. I see gaps. And misrepresentations. But as I read Feral Pride, I see Leitich Smith filling those gaps, meeting them head on.

Here's an example from early in Feral Pride. It picks up where Feral Curse left off. Feral Pride opens with Clyde. Like Kayla, he is a shapeshifter. Clyde, Yoshi, and Kayla are on the run. Both Clyde and Yoshi have more experience with being hunted than Kayla does. Jess is driving them in her dad's squad car. He's a sheriff in the small town in Texas where Kayla and Jess are from. They're headed to the Osage reservation. Here's their conversation (p. 3):*
"None of this makes sense," Kayla says from the backseat of the squad car. "It's not illegal to be what we are. Why would federal agents be gunning for us?"
"Why wouldn't they?" answers Yoshi, who's beside her.

Clyde thinks:
They're both right. It's not illegal to be what we are. But whenever anything goes wrong, anything bloody and brutal, shape-shifters are presumed guilty.
As I read "It's not illegal to be what we are" I thought about all the young people in the US today who some segments of society think of as "illegal." I thought about them being hunted, living in fear of being deported. I thought about how they are unfairly blamed for one social ill after another. Those who aren't branded "illegal" may not notice the work this particular part of Feral Pride is doing, but you can be sure that those who are considered "illegal" will note that passage. It speaks to them, as does Jess, on page 9, when she says:
"Shifters are people. There are terrific people. There are terrible people. Most fall in between."
I keep reading Jess's words. The list of peoples in the world that have been dehumanized and demonized by terrible people is astounding. Feral Pride pushes us--if we're willing--to think about that and why it happens.

Weighty topic, I know, but Leitich Smith lightens that weight with the banter the teens engage in as they drive. They're into superheroes and science fiction characters.

And! The parts of the story where characters shift or are talking about clothes? Well, I find those parts exquisite and they make me wish I could see all of this on a movie screen. And the parts where characters from the Tantalize series join the characters in the Pride series? Well done!

There are other tensions throughout the novel that provide opportunities to think about, for example, relationships across race. Characters who experience these tensions reflect on the ways that their own flaws and experiences shape what they say, do, and think. Their reflections and conversations give them space to revisit what they think, say, and do--and of course, provide those opportunities to us, too.

Elsewhere, reviewers note some of what I did above, and they call Feral Pride compelling, action-packed, sexy, campy, and wickedly funny. I agree with all that, and am happy to recommend it.

Feral Pride is due out this year (2015) from Candlewick.

*I read an advanced reader copy of Feral Pride. Page numbers I noted above may not correspond to the book when it is published.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Injun" in Chris Kyle's AMERICAN SNIPER

When American Sniper opened in theaters last week, I started to see reviews that pointed out Kyle's use of the word savage to describe Iraqis. That word has been used to describe American Indians. I wondered if Kyle made any connections between "savage" and American Indians in his book. The answer? Yes.

In his autobiography, Kyle uses "Injun" in two places. Here's what he said on page 267:
Or we would bump out 500 yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys.
And here's what he said on page 291:
Our missions would last for an overnight or two in Injun country.
See? He made connections between "savage" Iraqis and "savage" Indians. In his book, he used the word "savage" several times. Here's page 4 (the book uses caps as shown):
SAVAGE, DESPICABLE EVIL. THAT'S WHAT WE WERE FIGHTING in Iraq. That's why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy "savages." 
Later on that same page, he says that when people asked him how many he's killed:
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.
On page 147:
On page 173:
It was near a hospital the insurgents had converted into a headquarters before our assault, and even now the area seemed to be a magnet for savages.
On page 219:
I hated the damn savages I'd been fighting.
On page 228:
They turned around and saw a savage with a rocket launcher lying dead on the ground.
On page 244:
They had heard we were out there slaying a huge number of savages.
On page 284:
There was a savage on the roof of the house next door, looking down at the window from the roof there. 
On page 316:
"...after we killed enough of the savages out there," I told him. 
On page 338:
I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it appeared on the street.
Of course, Kyle is not the first person to equate American Indians with Iraqis. In 2008, Professor Steven Silliman of the University of Massachusetts did a study of the use of "Indian Country." His article, The "Old West" in the Middle East: U.S. Military Metaphors in Real and Imagined Indian Country includes a chart of how it was used in the Middle East, by media and soldiers.

And, anyone who has paid attention to the use of "savage" or "Injun" in children's literature will be able to list several books that use either word to dehumanize American Indians. Here's a few examples:

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder used "savages" in her Little House on the Prairie.  
  • Carol Ryrie Brink used "savages" in Caddie Woodlawn.
  • Lois Lenski used "savage" in Indian Captive.
  • Elizabeth George Speare used "savages" in Calico Captive and "savage" in Sign of the Beaver.
  • Eoin Colfer used "savage Injun" in The Reluctant Assassin.

When we share books with the dehumanization of American Indians, do we inadvertently put people on that road to being able to dehumanize "other" in conflicts, be the conflict that takes place in war or on the streets of any country?

Update, 5:03 PM, January 26, 2015

In addition to the article I linked to above, please see the conclusion of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Indigenous Peoples History of the United States. Irony abounds within military activity. At one point in time, US soldiers dehumanized Native peoples so they could destroy us, our homelands, and our ways of life. Kyle's framing of Iraqis as savages is a present-day manifestation of that.

Dunbar-Ortiz documents the flip side of that stance, quoting Robert D. Kaplan, a military analyst who Foreign Policy magazine named as one of the top 100 global thinkers in 2011:
"It is a small but interesting fact that members of the 101st Airborne Division, in preparation for their parachute drop on D-Day, shaved themselves in Mohawk style and applied war paint on their faces."
She cites other instances of that sort of thing. Get her book, if you can from Teaching for Change


A few days ago, I wrote about the ways that Amazon is using a snippet of School Library Journal's review of David Arnold's Mosquitoland, due out this year

In contrast, Barnes and Noble uses the entire review. The reviewer, Angie Manfredi, pointed to Arnold's use of lipstick as "warpaint" and noted that the protagonist is "part Cherokee."

Today (January 26, 2015), David Arnold tweeted the photograph to the right as part of a hashtag started by Gayle Forman. I take it to be his way of showing us his protagonist in her "warpaint."

Mr. Arnold? Did you imagine a Native reader of your book? Did it occur to you that this "warpaint" would be problematic?  I see that this is the person in the book trailer. In it, she is shown putting on this "warpaint." How did the particular "warpaint" design come about?!

The book trailer ends with "Mim Malone is not ok." What you have her doing is not ok either.

Update, 2:04 PM, January 26, 2015
A couple of people have written to tell me that the cover of the book shows the girl with the "warpaint." Here is a screen capture of the girl on the cover. Though the image is pixelated, you can see the "warpaint."

Someone else asked if I could elaborate on why this "warpaint" is problematic. The protagonist is, according to the review, part Cherokee. As a part Cherokee person, she applies "warpaint" to her face when she needs it to overcome something. It plays into stereotypical ideas of Indians "on the warpath." Frankly, I don't know any Native person--Cherokee or otherwise--who would use lipstick in this way, in this pattern, in this day and time, to overcome adversity. 

It suggests to me, that the protagonist is clueless about her Native identity. Is that part of the storyline? That she is ignorant about her Cherokee heritage? Does she, along the way, learn that what she is doing is goofy? Inappropriate? Stereotypical? 

Update, Tuesday Jan 27, 8:18 AM

Reaction to the "warpaint" from Cherokee librarians, writers, and parents:
  • "Sigh. Just once I wish they would pick on someone else."  
  • "Part Cherokee? Which part?" 
  • "Slowly bangs head against desktop."

People who really are Cherokee are weary of their nation being used over and over and over and over and over, and misrepresented over and over and over and over... 

Update, Sunday April, 2015

AICL's full review of Mosquitoland includes Mr. Arnold's response.

AICL's Open Letter to Mr. Arnold includes another response from Mr. Arnold.