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: https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/caldecott-medal-contender-the-mayflower/). 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:
THE BAD GUYS THE ENEMIES WE WERE FIGHTING WERE SAVAGE AND WELL-armed 
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

David Arnold's MOSQUITOLAND

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... 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Comparing Reviews of MOSQUITOLAND at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

A lot of people use the reviews at Amazon to make decisions about books. I don't know how the specific content that is used at Amazon is selected, but it is worth noting that it is selectively used. No surprise there, really, because Amazon is a business, and so are the publishers.

Case in point: David Arnold's Mosquitoland 

Amazon includes this from School Library Journal:


Three sentences. They say "Debut author Arnold's book is filled with some incredible moments of insight. The protagonist is a hard-edged narrator with a distinct voice. There is a lot for teens to admire and even savor." 

The full review was much longer, as seen at Barnes and Noble:



In the full review, Angie Manfredi pointed out that the protagonist uses lipstick to paint her face and calls it "war paint" or that the protagonist is "part" Cherokee. She described these as "deeply problematic elements" of "cultural appropriation." 

She's right. 

I haven't read the book yet but will as soon as I get a copy. 

For now, though, I think it important to note the difference in what gets excerpted at Amazon versus what gets used at Barnes and Noble. If you are a person who is mindful of problems related to depictions of Native peoples, Amazon would lead you astray. 






Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Genocide of American Indians

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait includes "The Summer of Our Discontent" in which he wrote about moderates who, opposed to segregation, were friends of the Civil Rights Movement. But, King wrote, these moderates were less enthused about the breadth of the movement's call for equality to jobs, housing, education, and social mobility, which he called a Revolution.

Rather than condemn them, he sought to understand their reluctance. He wrote:*
They [the moderates] are evidence that the Revolution is now ripping into roots. For too long the depth of racism in American life as been underestimated. The surgery to extract it is necessarily complex and detailed. As a beginning it is important to X-ray our history and reveal the full extent of the disease. The strands of prejudice towards Negroes are tightly wound around the American character. The prejudice has been nourished by the doctrine of race inferiority. Yet to focus upon the Negro alone as the "inferior race" of American myth is to miss the broader dimensions of the evil.

Here's the next paragraph. There is a lot to say about the ideas in this paragraph, but my point in sharing it is the last line, which I am emphasizing with bold italics:

Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.

I'm sharing King's words today--the day after the US celebrates Martin Luther King Day--because I would like people to think about what he said in those two paragraphs. I want you to think about it each day as you work with children or teens and the books you use with them.

How many of the books on your shelf exalt the experiences of Native peoples in ways that incorrectly cast us as inferior people? Is it hard for you to look critically at those books because they require you to examine a previously unexamined allegiance to a view of American character that has not looked critically at what King called its evil dimensions?

__________
*I am reading Why We Can't Wait as an ebook and cannot provide page numbers for the excerpts above. Why We Can't Wait was first published by Beacon Press in 1963.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Merriam-Webster's CHILDREN'S DICTIONARY

Due out this year (2015) is a new edition of Dorling Kindersley's Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary. I reviewed a copy, available via Edelweiss, focusing on its Native content. Here's some of my notes/thoughts.

It includes (if I counted right) 27 specific "group[s] of American Indian people" --- but nowhere did the editors use the word 'nation' or 'sovereign' or 'government' to describe these "group[s} of American Indian people."

Let's look at the entry for Apache:
1 a member of an American Indian people of the southwestern United States
2 any of the languages of the Apache people
The editors are focusing on individuals and languages, both of which are important, but, our status as self-governing sovereign nations is the single most important fact about who we are.

As some of you know, there are several Apache nations. If you go to the National Congress of American Indians directory, you can enter Apache into the "Search by Keyword" box and you'll get nine different ones. If I was writing the entry for Apache, I'd do this:
1 a citizen or member of a sovereign Native nation currently located in the southwestern United States
2 any of the languages of the people of the Apache nations

See my use of 'sovereign' and 'nation'? Those words matter! For your reference, here are the entries:

  • Apache
  • Arapahoe
  • Cherokee 
  • Cheyenne
  • Choctaw
  • Comanche
  • Creek
  • Crow
  • Dakota
  • Delaware
  • Fox
  • Hopi
  • Mahigan or Mohican
  • Mohawk
  • Mohegan 
  • Navajo
  • Nez Perce
  • Ojibwa or Ojibway or Ojibwe
  • Oneida
  • Osage
  • Paiute
  • Pueblo
  • Seminole
  • Seneca
  • Shoshone
  • Tlingit
  • Wampanaog

Like some of you, I'm wondering how, out of the hundreds of options, they chose those particular nations.

I wondered if the dictionary has an entry for Eskimo, so did a search and found the word in a photo inset for the word costume, where a child is shown with this caption "Eskimo costume worn in Canada" (there are six children shown; more about that later). The "costume" includes a parka. A parka isn't a costume. It is an article of clothing. The definition of costume is (p. 201):
1 special or fancy dress (as for wear on the stage or at a masquerade) 2 a style of clothing, ornaments, and hair used during a certain period, in a certain region, or by a certain class or group <ancient Roman costume> <peasant costume>.  
Information provided in that photo inset is this:
Many countries and regions have one or more traditional national costumes. These often reflect the lifestyles that people led in the past, both in terms of climate and in the type of work undertaken by many inhabitants of the country.
The six "costumes" shown are described as follows (bullets are mine):

  • "the sari is worn in India" - lines point to "short top" and "sari" 
  • "a costume worn in Finland" - line point to "boots made from reindeer fur"
  • "a costume worn in Vietnam" - lines point to "scarf" and "piece of cloth wound around the legs"
  • "a costume worn in Korea" - lines point to "silk jacket" and "sports shoes are not traditional"
  • "a costume worn in Tanzania" - lines point to "bead necklace" and "bead belt" and "colorful cloth tied around the body"
  • "Eskimo costume worn in Canada" - lines point to "modern parka" and "insulated boots"


I don't think someone in India would call a sari a costume. Do you? Same with the boots worn in Finland, the items worn in Vietnam, etc. If, however, a kid who isn't of those places or people wears one of those items, then I think it would be accurate to say it is a costume.

The other place the dictionary has the word Eskimo is in its front matter, where you learn how to use the dictionary itself. Here's a screen capture (see update at the bottom of this page regarding Eskimo/Inuit):


Thinking about that usage label, I wondered if the word "squaw" is included. It isn't (it isn't in the 2000 version either; see update at end of review). I looked at other words commonly used for Native people. Of course, each nation has its own language and its own word for man, woman, child, baby, etc.

The third entry for brave is "an American Indian warrior" (p. 121). Though I've seen "brave" used as a standard word for man (or braves for men), I think they're trying to say that it is a person who fights. Like a soldier. I wonder who first used brave to describe Native fighters? Cooper?!

The entry for medicine man is "a person especially among American Indian groups believed to have magic powers to cure illnesses and keep away evil spirits." Contrast that to the definition of priest and you see some bias: "a person who has the authority to perform religious ceremonies."

Sachem is "a North American chief" (p. 700) but it is like the word papoose--it has become the default word for chief. In fact, the word is Narragansett and the Narragansett's use it today. I don't know anyone from another tribe who calls their leader a sachem.

Interestingly, the entries for chief don't include reference to Native leaders.

Entries for hogan, tepee (better spelling is tipi), powwow,  and totem pole, are ok.

The entry for tom-tom is "a drum (as a traditional Asian, African, or American Indian drum) that is beaten with the hands" (p. 834). It should not include American Indian because we use drumsticks, not hands, to beat our drums, and we do not call them tom-toms.

The entry for reservation could be better. It is not wrong to say it is "land set aside for American Indians to live" but it raises questions like, who set it aside, why, and when.

The entry for wampum as "beads made of shells and once used for money or ornament by North American Indians" (p. 891) is mostly incorrect and imprecise. Beside it is a photograph of a wampum belt. It is intended to be evidence of wampum as an ornament to be worn. Wampum is made of shell. That is the part of the definition that is correct, but wampum is far more than decoration, and it belongs to specific nations. Here's the first paragraph about wampum, from the Onondaga Nation's website:
Wampum is created from the shell of a clam. The bead is cut from the white and purple parts of the shell. The shell is thought of as a living record. The speaker puts the words of the agreement into the wampum. Each speaker thereafter uses the wampum to remember the initial agreement and the history that has happened to date.
Go read the rest of the page and you'll understand why the definition is wrong.

The definition for wigwam suggests that they are no longer in use, which is inaccurate and it doesn't specify what nations use them.

In conclusion, this was an interesting exercise (and tiring), going through this dictionary. I hope the editors make changes next time around to make it more accurate and less biased.

___________

Update: Thank you, Sarah, for noting that the definition for Eskimo in the screen capture is incorrect. There is no entry for Eskimo in the dictionary. (Note: there is an entry for Eskimo that I missed in my searching. If you use the search option in your e-copy, note that it is inconsistent. The entry for Eskimo does not show up when you search using the word itself. It will come up when you search using Inuit.)

Sarah also provided me with a useful page: Inuit or Eskimo: Which Name to Use? The entry for Inuit is:
1 a member of the Eskimo people of the arctic regions of North America
2 any of the languages of the Inuit people.

____________

Update (first update above was within minutes of the review being uploaded. Here's another update, within an hour of the review being uploaded): Thank you, Michelle, for looking at the 2000 edition of this dictionary. It does not have the word squaw in it. Does someone have an older version?