Saturday, March 18, 2017

Librarians Noting Problems in Nonfiction Series: First Peoples of North America, by Cassie Lawton

One of the more gratifying kind of emails I get is from librarians who are bringing a critical lens to nonfiction.

Recently I had an email from a librarian in Oklahoma who was looking over Cassie Lawton's First Peoples of North America. That seroes came out in 2016 from Cavendish Square Publishing.

The librarian noted problems that every librarian can keep an eye on as they look over nonfiction books.

One is tense. Are all, or most of the verbs past tense? If so, that's a problem.

Another is words used. This series has "costume" for the clothing the people in the books are wearing. Better words are regalia, or traditional clothing.

A third one this librarian noticed is about the photographs. She wonders if the photos match the particular tribal nation the photograph is supposed to be about.

I haven't seen the series. Given their price, I don't plan to buy them. If they turn up in a local library, I'll review one. I did look them up on the publisher's website and winced at the covers. Those old sepia-colored photos on the covers generate a nostalgic response in so many people that moves them to talk about "plight" and hold us safely in mind as a problem of the past, not present. It is a lot like how people view mascots.

Anyway. If you're a writer, or if you're an editor... no matter what kind of book you're doing: stay away from those sepia covers! Please!

5 comments:

Liz P. said...

As an elementary school librarian, I also really struggle to find nonfiction texts that portray native peoples as they live today. While there are a few that I have found that seem more up to date and culturally accurate, many books have one page marked "today" with pictures in color, but the rest is illustrations or sepia photographs.
Have you come across any series that you think do a particularly good job?

AnneM said...

I'm glad you are discussing this Debbie. I previewed a different series set and decided not to purchase it because of the tense issue.
Can anyone recommend a good non-fiction series?

Debbie Reese said...

Liz and Anne--I don't have a series I'd recommend. The one I really like is Lerner's WE ARE STILL HERE series, but it went out of print long ago.

I hate to see the same old content repackaged by these publishers every few years, and librarians spending precious dollars on them.

An excellent set of books for elementary-middle school use is called "American Indian Contributions to the World," edited by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield. There are five books in the set (the cover of one is shown above):

Food, Farming, and Hunting
Trade, Transportation, and Warfare
Science and Technology
Medicine and Health
Buildings, Clothing, and Art
Or, you can order it in a single volume, under the title Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the world: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. The single volume, also by Keoke and Porterfield, was published in 2003.

Liz P. said...

Thank you for the "American Indian Contributions to the World" recommendation- I'm adding those volumes to my next order!

Beverly Slapin said...

Hi, Debbie. There are still some titles available from the Lerner Series, WE ARE STILL HERE:

CHILDREN OF CLAY: A FAMILY OF PUEBLO POTTERS by Rina Swentzell
FORT CHIPEWYAN HOMECOMING: A JOURNEY TO NATIVE CANADA by Morningstar Mercredi
KINAALDA: A NAVAJO GIRL GROWS UP by Monty Roessel
SONGS FROM THE LOOM: A NAVAJO GIRL LEARNS TO WEAVE, also by Monty Roessel