Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE CROW'S TALE by Naomi Howarth

The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth came out last year (2015) from Frances Lincoln Children's Books. That's a publisher in London.

The complete title of Howarth's book is The Crow's Tale: A Lenni Lenape Native American Legend. 

In her "About the story" note, Howarth writes:
The Rainbow Crow -- a Pennsylvania Lenni Lenape Indian legend--is the perfect example of a story that was first told to explain the mysteries of the natural world. When I came across this beautiful tale, my imagination was immediately soaring with Rainbow Crow across wide winter skies and landscapes. The tale has been passed down through generations of Lenni Lenape Indians, mostly orally, and I have tried to remain true to the narrative, although I have visualized the Creator as the Sun, as I wanted to make the Sun a character in his own right.

On her website page for the book, I see this:
Inspired by a Lenape Native American myth, this beautiful debut picture book shows how courage and kindness are what really matter.

Yes, courage and kindness matter, but so do other things. Clearly Howarth felt that she was doing a good thing with this story.

I have several questions.

What is the source Howarth used for this story? She doesn't tell us, which means we can't tell if her source is legitimate, or, if it is amongst the too-many-made-up stories attributed to Native peoples. Without that information, teachers are in a bind. Can they use this book to teach students about Lenni Lenape people and culture?

Is Howarth's story a Lenni Lenape one if she changed a key part of it? She tells us that she visualized Creator as the sun. Could she (or anyone) do that--say--with the Christian God and still call that story a Christian one? Maybe, but I think most people would say that doing so would be tampering with a religion in ways that border on sacrilege. How do the Lenni Lenape people visualize Creator? Did she talk with them, to see if she could depict Creator as the sun?

By "them" I mean--did Howarth talk with someone who has the authority to work with her on this project? Increasingly, tribal nations are working to protect their stories by setting up protocol's researchers and writers should use if they're going to do anything related to their people, history, culture, etc.

As we might predict, Howarth's book is well-received in some places. This morning I read that this story is on the shortlist for a 2016 Waterstones Children's Book Prize. If you're in the UK, or if you know people in the UK who are on the committee, please ask them these questions. You could ask Howarth, if you know her, or her editor (I don't know who that is). Asking questions is what leads to change.

Published in 2015, The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth is not recommended.

Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie on Winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Youth Literature Honor Award for Young Adults

I'm pleased to share Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie's response to the news that Her Land, Her Love had been selected by the American Indian Library Association for one of its honors.


Evangeline said:

On Friday February 5th, when I was first told by my publisher, Eric Lockard of Salina Bookshelf, Inc., that my novel had been selected by the American Indian Library Association as an Honor Book in the Young Adult category, I held my breath and asked Eric to repeat the news to me.  I wanted to hear the news several more times but my memory has been doing that for me.  

A heart-felt appreciation and deep gratitude is what I feel toward the awards committee who selected my novel, Her Land, Her Love as an Honor Book. I am still in awe of the beautiful blessing that the people on the committee have bestowed upon my novel.  

Her Land, Her Love is my first novel and one that I cherished through the years as I wrote and rewrote it. To obtain the voice of Navajo elders, I began by turning toward the stories my maternal grandmother and my father told me regarding the Navajo Long Walk which is a painful time in Navajo history.  Not only has the committee blessed me, it has also blessed Navajo elders with whom I consulted to obtain the truth about the Long Walk.

I also praise and thank the Lord for the gift of writing that He instilled within me. It has been five days since I heard the news and I am still smiling!

Once again, I thank the American Indian Library Association's awards committee for the honor of their recognition for my work.  

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Lisa Charleyboy on Winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Middle Grade Honor Award for DREAMING IN INDIAN

I'm pleased to share Lisa Charleyboy's response to the news that Dreaming in Indian was named as the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Honor Book in the Middle Grade category: 

I am truly honoured to have 'Dreaming in Indian' recognized in the Middle School Category in the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Awards. It has been an absolute dream for me to have worked with my co-editor Mary Beth Leatherdale in creating this anthology so that more youth across Turtle Island would be able to learn about the Indigenous experience.
It was truly our goal to use this book to enlighten and empower and being recognized in prestigious awards such as this allows the book to reach more people which is truly a blessing! 

Do take time to watch this video. In it, Lisa and her co-editor, Mary Beth Leatherdale, talk about the ideas, development, and reception to their book. In personal conversations with librarians, I can say that it is a big hit in their libraries.

Dreaming in Indian was reviewed on AICL on September 8 of 2014. Click on over to the review to get a peek of what is inside this terrific book. Congratulations, Lisa and Mary Beth! This book is a feast.

Debby Slier's LOVING ME

Debby Slier's Loving Me is a delightful board book! Published in 2013 by Star Bright Books, it is definitely one I'll be recommending!

Here's the cover:

The very last page in the book tells us the woman and baby on the cover are Shoshone Bannock. Indeed, with that page we learn that the other photographs in the book are of children and family members who are Lakota Sioux, Navajo, Iroquois, and Potawatomi.

On the first page, we see a mom and baby. The text is "My mother loves me." That pattern is repeated over the rest of the book. A dad, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandma, a grandpa, and a great grandma... embracing a child. They're clad in a range of clothing, from jeans and t-shirts to traditional clothing, but all of it in the day-to-day life of the individuals being shown. Slier's photo essay is a terrific mirror for Native kids, and, it'll help children and adults who aren't Native see us as in the fullness of our lives as Native people.

I heartily recommend Slier's Loving Me, published by Star Bright Books.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


When I learned that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's The Smell of Other People's Houses has Native characters in it, the title took on a dark connotation. Central to European and US racism towards Native peoples was their characterization of Native peoples as primitive, dirty, and in need of "civilizing."  Thanks to a friend who was at the American Library Association's Midwinter meeting last month, I was able to read an advance reader's copy of it.

Most of Hitchcock's story takes place in Fairbanks in 1970. Here's the synopsis:

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 

The story is told in alternating chapters, by Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. This review is primarily about Dora.

The book starts out with Ruth. Her little sister is named Lily. They live with their grandmother. I believe they are white. Nothing in the story tells me they are not white. As the story begins, Ruth and her friend Selma, and Lily and her friend Bunny (Lily and Bunny are 11 years old) are about to sit down to eat together. Bunny gets to talking about the fish camp her family goes to. Lily asks Gran why they don't have a fish camp, and gran says "because we aren't native."

To that, Bunny says (on page 17 of the ARC):
"I'm not native, I'm Athabascan." 
Clearly, she objects to being called native. Ruth and Selma laugh at her. Lily (Ruth's little sister) responds:
"What's so funny? She is Athabascan," says Lily. "Natives are the people like Dora's mom, the ones who hang out all day at the bar--they're too drunk to even bother fishing."
Remember--Lily is eleven years old, but she apparently holds some rather stereotypical ideas about Native people. Maybe because she's eleven, we're meant to excuse her remark.

Later on that page we learn a little more, from Ruth:
Fish camps are pretty much handed down from family to family, but maybe Gran shouldn't have lumped all Alaska Natives together. It didn't seem to make Bunny very happy. Especially because Bunny and Dumpling actually have the nicest parents in Birch Park. 
Are there tensions in Alaska between different Alaska Native groups that would cause Bunny to be upset that gran would use "native" to describe her and her family? Are her objections specific to the alcoholism of Dora's mother? Are we to understand that "natives" in Alaska are more likely to be alcoholic than Athabascans? From Dora, we learn that most people in Fairbanks "lump all native people together" and that she (Dora) is Eskimo or Inupiat, while Dumpling is Athabascan, or Indian (p. 27-28).

As the synopsis indicates, Dora is one of the main characters in the story. Her escape is from her own home. Her dad, we read, drinks, too. But there's more: her dad sexually abuses her, and her mother knows about it. Near the end of the story, he beats up her mother and threatens to shoot Dora. By then, Dora has been living next door with Bunny and Dumpling's family for awhile.

When Dora wins some money, her mother pesters her for it so she can buy more beer. When her dad gets out of jail for shooting up the bar, he wants her money, too.

There are characters in the story that might be Eskimo or Inupiat (not sure what Dora's preferred term is). George, the old guy who works at Goodwill, knew Dora's great grandparents, but I can't tell if he's Eskimo/Inupiat or not. Nick, the bartender with nice teeth might be, too. Dora's mom dated him for awhile. If these two men are Eskimo/Inupiat, that would be cool, because they're likeable. But--we don't know.

And then there's Dora's mom's friends, Paula and Annette. Paula has a beaded wallet, so maybe she's Eskimo/Inupiat. The three woman are loud and drink together, a lot. Paula seems nice enough but the vibe I get of them is not good. In that scene in which Dora's father threatens to shoot her, Paula and Annette came running out of the house, abandoning Dora's mom.

The contrast between the Bunny and Dumpling's Athabascan family and Dora's Eskimo or Inupiat family, is striking. In the Athabascan home, Dora feels safe and cared for. Dumpling's family may be shown that way so that we'd have more than one image of Native peoples, but I wish that we were given more information about Dora's parents so that we might understand them as more than the stereotypical drunken and violent Indians. Why do they throw pictures across the room, cracking the glass and putting them back on the wall, with that cracked glass? What is the backstory on them? Without it, I think this story confirms troubling stereotypes. I'm also unsettled by the sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of Native women is rampant, and while there's no doubt that incest is part of that, I wish that wasn't part of Dora's story.

I'd also like to know more about Indigenous peoples of Alaska. Hitchcock gestures to complexities in terms used but I'm reading and re-reading those passages trying to make sense of it. Due out in 2016 from Random House, I'm marking this as not recommended.

Update, Feb 9 2016:

My social media feeds yesterday carried news about a research study comparing alcohol use across Native and White populations:

The researchers analyzed data from a survey of more than 4,000 Native Americans and 170,000 whites between 2009 and 2013. Called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the survey was administered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The UA study also used another nationally representative survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to measure how often Native Americans and whites engaged in excessive drinking in the past month. Again, findings for the two groups were comparable.
About 17 percent of both Native Americans and whites were found to be binge drinkers, and about 8 percent of both groups were heavy drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks on one to four days in the past month. Heavy drinking was five or more drinks on five or more days in the past month. Sixty percent of Native Americans reported no alcohol use in the past month, compared to 43 percent of whites.
“Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn’t mean that alcohol problems don’t exist,” Dr. Cunningham said. “All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.
“But falsely stereotyping a group regarding alcohol can have its own unique consequences. For example, some employers might be reluctant to hire individuals from a group that has been stereotyped regarding alcohol. Patients from such a group, possibly wanting to avoid embarrassment, may be reluctant to discuss alcohol-related problems with their doctors,” he said.

I think it was being shared in Native networks because we are keenly aware of the stereotype which is, I believe, reflected in Hitchcock's story. 

Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett on winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Picture Book Award

I asked Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett for a response to the news that their exquisite board book, Little You, had won the 2016 Picture Book Award from the American Indian Library Association.

Richard said:
 "I've always wanted to work with Julie Flett so I'm honoured to receive this high honor with her and our team at Orca Books!"

Julie said:
It's really exciting to hear that Little You is being honored along with the other books listed. Wow, thank you, committee!"

Congratulations to both of you, Richard and Julie! 

Several books by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett are amongst AICL's Best Books lists, so do click on over there and see what else they've done.

I hope they work together on additional books!

Before hitting the upload button for this post, I want to point readers to another huge plus for Little You. At Orca's blog, I learned that is available in South Slavey, Bush Cree, and Chipewyan: