Friday, October 07, 2016

News: We Need Diverse Books will launch an app called "OurStory"

Yesterday, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about the OurStory app, due out in January of 2017 from We Need Diverse Books.

As readers of AICL know, I am a strong advocate for WNDB. But, readers also (likely) know that, at my core, I'm an advocate for education and what children learn in the books they read.

My first response to the news about the OurStory app was "Cool!" I looked at the graphic at the top of the article and was thrilled to see Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost there. But I also saw Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever. So, I felt a bit less enthused...

Federle's book is praised because of Federle's treatment of Nate's sexuality. I welcome that, too, because Native boys need books that normalize homosexuality, but how, I wonder, do those Native boys feel when they read that part where Nate sits "Indian style"? And, how do they feel when they get to the part where Nate's aunt sees cowboys (in costume at Halloween) approaching and says "look out for Indians." She's corrected right away, but the correction doesn't work. She's told to say "Native Americans" instead of "Indians." So, a Native kid is supposed to be ok with her saying "Look out for Native Americans"? (See my review of Federle's book.)

I completely understand that we need books for middle grade kids with characters like Nate--but not ones that fail with respect to the Native content.

Seeing Better Nate Than Ever, then, makes me wonder about the books in the app. Did the people who selected the books decide that the needs of LGBTQ kids is so important that they can look the other way regarding the Native content?

That happens a lot. People who care about misrepresentation of groups that have a history of being omitted or stereotyped come across a book that gets things right about one group, but, that has same-old problems with Native content. They choose to look away from the Native content. I hear that all the time about Touching Spirit Bear. And I heard it when I raised concerns about The True Meaning of Smekday. I heard it last year, too, in my critique of Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger. People say that this or that author tried and deserve credit for trying. I understand that thought, but again, my commitment is to the children and teens who will read and learn from their books. I will not throw children under the "they tried" bus.

Last year when WNDB worked with Scholastic on diversity fliers that included books with problematic Native content, I was disappointed. I'm disappointed again. I want to wholeheartedly say "Get the app!" but I can't. When it is available, I'll be back with a review.

Debbie--have you seen Kenneth Oppel's EVERY HIDDEN THING

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Kenneth Oppel's Every Hidden Thing. Due out on October 11, 2016 from Simon & Schuster (one of the "Big Five" publishers), it has Native content.

When I do these "Debbie--have you seen" posts, I usually copy the description of the book, but this time, it doesn't help! The Native content is not included in the description, which I find a bit ironic, given that the word "hidden" is in the book's title:

The hunt for a dinosaur skeleton buried in the Badlands, bitter rivalries, and a forbidden romance come together in this beautifully written new novel that’s Romeo and Juliet meets Indiana Jones.
Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt it’s the “rex”, the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.

But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. Because if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.

As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. And with both eyeing the same prize, their budding romance seems destined to fail. But as danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light, Samuel and Rachel are forced to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry—and with it a new life together—or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?

See? Nothing there that references Native content. Reviews, however, provide more information. These are excerpts from the Barnes and Noble page for Every Hidden Thing.

Publishers Weekly's review says (in part):
As their friendship develops into romance, their camps are endangered by the local Sioux tribe after Rachel and her father remove relics from a burial site.

School Library Journal's review says (in part)
... the rival camps must also deal with realities of life in the historical American Wild West: lack of supplies, possibility of wildfires, and potential violence at the hands of the "badlands" inhabitants (often referred to as natives, Indians, or Sioux). 

And, the Kirkus review says
Rachel’s narrative reveals that she’s one of the few white characters with enough conscience to reflect on the savagery of the explorers’ treatment of the local Pawnee and Lakota Sioux.

I reviewed Oppel's The Boundless last year and found serious problems with it. If I get a copy of Every Hidden Thing, I'll be back.