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Preview: American Indians in Children's Literature

American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL)

Established in 2006, American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society. Scroll down for links to book

Updated: 2017-11-23T10:04:08.547-06:00


Not recommended: John Smelcer's KISKA


Published by Leapfrog Press, John Smelcer's Kiska was released in November of 2017.  I'll start by saying I do not recommend Kiska. Back in September when I received an advanced reader copy of Smelcer's book, I tweeted as I read it. Last week, Melissa S. Green sent me an in-depth review of his book. Rather than repeat what she said in her excellent review, I'm going to focus on a couple of things: the seal story and the dramatic character of Smelcer's story.First, though some background.My guess is that most people do not know that Native peoples of Alaska were removed from their villages during World War II. In fact, most people don't know much about the Indigenous people of Alaska.As I began the background research to review Kiska, I wrote to colleagues and writers in Alaska to ask about the internment of the Aleut people. I learned that the preferred name for the people I was asking about is Unangan. One resource I was pointed to is The Alaska Native Reader (2009), edited by Maria Sháa Tláa Williams. Here's a paragraph (I highlighted the end of the last sentence (Kindle Locations 62-66):The history of Alaska is often told from the perspective of outsiders and those who view the resources of Alaska as amazing treasures to exploit. There are stories of eighteenth-century Russian fur hunters, of the brave miners who came to Alaska in the late nineteenth century to discover gold, of the companies that developed salmon canneries, and, in the twentieth century, of the oil companies that worked together to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the engineering marvels of the twentieth century. These stories are often highlighted and even exalted, yet one must ask what was the impact on the indigenous people.When I review a children's book, I consider impact. What will the content of a book do to Native children, particularly the children who are of the identity the characters are meant to be. Will it accurately reflect their people, past and present, and their experiences--good and bad? And, what will a book do to non-Native children? Will it give them reliable information about the people who are depicted in the book? The answers to those questions are why I do not recommend Kiska.****Let's start with the description (from Amazon):Kiska’s home in the Aleutian Islands is a peaceful paradise until Japan invades in 1942. Soon after, a U.S. naval ship arrives to evacuate everyone in her village to an internment camp almost 2,000 miles away—where they are forgotten. Informed by true events, this is the story of a teenage girl who steps up when her people need a hero.In chapter one, we meet Kiska as a grandmother who is telling her 13-year-old granddaughter what happened to her in 1942 when she was 13 years old. Kiska speaks to her granddaughter in a way that suggests that the granddaughter knows little, if anything, about being Aleut and nothing about 1942. Making the granddaughter ignorant makes it possible for the author (Smelcer) to write for a similarly ignorant audience of readers.On page 16, for example, Kiska says that their word for kayak is baidarka. We can read that as her attempt to teach her granddaughter their language, but she only uses baidarka that one time. After that, Kiska uses kayak. If part of what Kiska/Smelcer are doing is to teach some Indigenous words using story, it would have been appropriate to use baidarka throughout, rather than revert to kayak.Update, Nov 12, 6:00 AM--I shared this review on Facebook. There, I received an immediate comment that baidarka is a Russian word. That individual is correct. The Unangan word for kayak is iqyax. I consulted several sources, including Smelcer's Alutiiq Dictionary, published in 2011. On page 44, he writes that "the word baidarka is of Russian origin, while the Unangan (Aleut) word is Igyax." Why did Smelcer's character say baidarka is the Aleut word? He clearly knows otherwise. Right away in chapter one, the story moves from Kiska-the-grandma to Kiska-the-teen. There's one point where Kisk[...]



Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share Allie Jane Bruce's review of The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim, by Jeffry Burton. Published in 2017 by Little Simon, I agree with Allie--this book is not recommended. --Debbie Reese****The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim, by Jeffry Burton, Ill. Sanja Rescek. Little Simon.Reviewed by Allie Jane BruceIn 1863, a White woman named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln.  Hale, a writer and editor (she is most famous for authoring “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), had an idea that she thought might help heal a divided nation: Lincoln should establish a national holiday to celebrate a fictionalized version of an historical encounter between Wampanoag people and English invaders in 1621.  The narrative she told got a lot of things wrong, including the idea that the English people invited Wampanoag people to feast with them (they issued no invitation), and left out even more, such as the larger colonial genocide surrounding that “first Thanksgiving” (for more information about the actual events of 1621 Plymouth, check out 1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace and Margaret Bruchac, National Geographic Children’s Books, 9780792261391).  Lincoln liked this bowdlerized version of history, and agreed to create the holiday—Thanksgiving—that Hale suggested.  The story was canonized and enshrined.150 years later, myriad books for children, including THE ITSY BITSY PILGRIM, are still telling that story.  In addition to the atrocious rhyme scheme, vapid art, and overall insipid feel, THE ITSY BITSY PILGRIM checks all the usual boxes in perpetuating the Thanksgiving myth:The “pilgrims” (mice) in question are centered and framed as non-problematic settlers rather than increasingly hostile invadersThe “pilgrims'” work—building houses, shoveling snow, growing food—is portrayed as entirely their own accomplishment (the Native folks do not show up until after Winter), when in reality, without Wampanoag help from the beginning, the people from England would likely have perishedThe tribe (Wampanoag) is not named—in fact, these “new friends” are not even identified as First/Native NationsThe Wampanoag clothing is simplistic and stereotypical, down to the requisite feathersThe pilgrim mice issue an invitation to the Wampanoag mice (this time, to “play”)Both groups sit and eat together in an uncomplicated, thanks-filled, joyful meal, after which……the story ends, free from genocide, displacement, structural inequities, or any other inconvenient injustices.That a board book could tackle a subject like genocide is, I know, unrealistic, and I do not mean to suggest that it should.  I know that the 2-4 year old brain (for which this book is intended) is not built to understand such a concept (although young children hailing from cultures who’ve experienced genocide are often, inevitably, exposed to language and conversations about genocide from the time they’re born).  It is crucial, however, to examine the messages we have sent and continue to send, year after year, about Thanksgiving; at its essence, the holiday story airbrushes history, minimizes Native trauma, and assuages White guilt.  No single board book can correct that, but it can perpetuate—or counter—those messages.  The Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim unequivocally perpetuates them.  I unequivocally do not recommend it.[...]

KISKA by John Smelcer: "Historical fiction" that lies about history


Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) is pleased to publish Kiska: "Historical fiction" that lies about history" submitted to us by Melissa S. Green of Anchorage, Alaska. AICL concurs with Green that Kiska ought not be taught in the classroom. Teachers who teach about WWII will find the history Green provides especially useful. Writers, editors, and reviewers in children's literature: please study and share Green's review. Published in 2017 by Leapfrog Press, Kiska is not recommended. --Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, AICL. (Additional note on Nov 12: see Debbie's review of Kiska.)****Kiska by John Smelcer: "Historical fiction" that lies about historyMelissa S. GreenAnchorage, AlaskaHistorical fiction shouldn’t lie about history. This book does.Kiska presents itself as a historical novel for readers aged 12–16. The author writes at the start of the book, “Except for variations in time and character identification and placement, most of the events written in this story are true and actually happened.”But historical fiction shouldn’t lie about history. This book does. This book’s author and publisher rely upon the ignorance of readers and reviewers for any success this novel might have. The book’s “Questions for Discussion” and “Resources for Further Study” indicate a plan to market the book to educators for use in classrooms.I object to intentionally teaching falsehoods to middle schoolers (or to anyone else for that matter.) This review is intended to correct some of the distortions of fact contained in this novel, and to offer some resources to supplement the wholly inadequate “Resources for Further Studies” bibliography included in Kiska. The historyKiska’s historical setting is World War II Alaska. Six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted U.S. entry into the war, on June 3–4, 1942 the Japanese bombed U.S. naval and army installations at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. On June 6–7, they invaded Kiska and Attu Islands, on the other end of the Aleutian Chain. (Though unknown to Americans until WWII ended, the Unangax (Aleut) villagers on Attu were captured and held as prisoners on the Japanese island of Hokkaido for the duration of the war.)In emergency reaction to Japanese military movements, American commanders ordered the evacuation of all Unangax (Aleuts) in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. The evacuation, involving 881 Unangax from the nine villages of Atka, St. Paul, St. George, Nikolski, Kashega, Makushin, Biorka, Akutan, and Unalaska, took place in three waves from June 12 to July 26, 1942. Evacuees sometimes had little more than an hour (or, in Atka village’s case, no time at all) to gather possessions or secure their homes and property, and neither evacuees nor the Army and Navy personnel who effected the evacuations had any idea where the evacuees would end up. Earlier plans, some even made in consultation with Unangax communities, were incomplete, and in the contingencies of the moment, with U.S. Army and Navy ships already underway with evacuees aboard, the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs (OIS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) scrambled to find relocation sites for the evacuees. What they found were abandoned facilities in Southeast Alaska — old salmon and herring canneries, an old mine, an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp — rundown facilities with poor sanitation, inadequate heating, bad pipes, and other problems. As summarized in the 1982 report Personal Justice Denied of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC):The Aleuts were relocated to abandoned facilities in southeastern Alaska and exposed to a bitter climate and epidemics of disease without adequate protection or medical care. They fell victim to an extraor­dinarily high death rate, losing many of the elders who sustained their culture. While the Aleuts were in southeastern Alaska, their homes in the A[...]



The Story of Manoomin (2013), is a photo-essay, an Ojibwe language lesson, and a board book all in one. Published by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this little book explains what manoomin (erroneously called “wild rice) is, how it grows, why it is important to the Ojibwe people, and how they harvest and share it. Full of pictures of kids, families, and local creatures and scenery, it conveys information in a friendly way about a key aspect of Ojibwe community life. I’m charmed. Though it’s from and about an Ojibwe community, children from anywhere may enjoy it. They may like learning the words for the seasons and the steps in harvesting, or the Ojibwe way to say “I’m tired!” or “I’m hungry!” They may have seen “wild rice” in the store and wondered where it comes from. Share this book with them, and they will know more than most adults do! We often think of board books as being for toddlers. This one has enough photos of people to interest children that young, if the adult sharing it talks about the pictures. But the content works at other age levels, too, from preschool through first grade, and maybe beyond. One photo of a chubby-cheeked little girl reminds me of one of my granddaughters, who used to toddle purposefully around hugging one or two board books close to her tummy. I think she would have hugged this book. Adults can pair this with some of the late Jim Northrup’s stories about ricing. The Story of Manoomin is available at Birchbark Books. -----Review submitted by Jean Mendoza. [...]



Not Again! Boarding School Story Misses the Mark*Last year, Debbie and I analyzed several picture books about children in Indian boarding school for a book chapter. We intentionally left out of our chapter a fairly popular 1993 book, Cheyenne Again, by European-American writer Eve Bunting, illustrated by Dine artist Irving Toddy. I recently saw it in a display of children’s books about Native people in the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument bookstore (which also featured several good books created by Native people.) Young Bull, the narrator of Cheyenne Again, is 10 when the story starts. It’s apparently set in the late 1800s, when boarding schools began to proliferate. A white man and a uniformed, fully assimilated Native man come to Young Bull’s community and tell his family that he must go away to school. The boy doesn’t want to go. But his father tells him he “needs to learn the White Man’s ways”– and there will be food for him at school. How the father can be sure of that is not explained.So Young Bull rides the train to an unnamed school. School officials cut his hair, take his clothes, make him wear a scratchy uniform, disrespect his heritage. With dozens of fellow students, he marches in formation, goes to church, and helps repair the school dormitories. He learns to read, and notices that the school’s history books say nothing about how Cheyenne and Sioux (sic) defeated Custer at Greasy Grass. He cries for home in his bed at night.Then one night he runs away -- into a blizzard. He’s caught and shackled for a day as punishment. A sympathetic teacher then encourages him to “Never forget that you are Indian inside.” He finds that drawing scenes of home and of Cheyenne heroism at Greasy Grass helps him feel that he is “Cheyenne again.” In her review of this book for A Broken Flute: the Native Experience in Books for Children, Beverly Slapin comments that Irving Toddy’s illustrations vividly express the depressed, desperate boarding school ambience, in contrast to the bright golden scenes of Young Bull’s early boyhood and the heroic events he imagines. I agree: the illustrations feel psychologically “true,” which makes sense, given that Toddy himself attended a boarding school.The historical record confirms elements of Bunting’s story: parents who were misled but hoped for the best, unpleasant or hostile school environments, children’s loneliness, the harm deliberately inflicted on students in service to the goals of conquest and/or assimilation. Historical accuracy is essential but goes only so far in supporting authenticity. I wondered why Young Bull doesn’t seem to interact with peers. Boarding school survivors have reported social relationships and friendships among children, despite efforts at some schools to squelch such relationships (to reduce the chance of organized resistance to their regime). And would school officials have tolerated ledger book drawings of Cheyenne military glory? If not, Young Bull’s drawings are acts of resistance, and the author should make that clear to readers!But Young Bull’s escape attempt feels especially out of touch. Many children ran from boarding schools. Some were caught and punished. Some died of hunger or exposure. Some made it home. It makes sense that Young Bull wants to escape. He’s been there long enough to learn to read history books in English. But instead of carefully planning his get-away, this otherwise seemingly cautious character, from a region that has severe winters, seems to ignore everything he knows about blizzards and walks into one, barely clothed, at night, apparently on impulse. This lack of clear motivation, for me, undermines the protagonist’s credibility and misses a chance to bring an important dimension to the story. An adult reader is likely to think, “Sure he hates it there, but he should know better than to run NOW!” Child readers/listeners may imagine themselves as more sensi[...]



Red x is mine, a visual signal that I do not recommend this bookBack in July, I wrote (a little) about Greg Pizzoli's The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon. Published in 2017 by Viking/Penguin, I disagree with the starred and positive reviews it is getting from mainstream journals.See that red x over the cover of the book? For some time now, I've been using that red x to provide people with a visual signal that I do not recommend a particular book. You've heard that "a picture is worth 1000 words." My red x conveys a great deal.A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words. Below, you'll see that Pizzoli created an image of one of Fawcett's crewman, dead, with 42 arrows in his body. A few pages prior to that image in The Quest for Z, we read that Fawcett had planned for encounters with "hostile" tribes.A few days ago, I was talking with Dr. Thomas Crisp about that image in Pizzoli's book. He told me about a scene in the recently released movie, Ghost Story. It depicts a pioneer family, dead, with arrows in them.Update, on Nov 10, 2017:I saw the trailer for a new western. Titled "Hostiles" here's a screen cap from the opening scene:Whether in a picture book for children or a feature film for adults, images of someone with arrows in them tells us a lot. It creates and affirms a strong sense of "good guys" and "bad guys."That image -- this book -- leave me with many questions. Why did Pizzoli create this book? Why did the publisher think it ought to be published? Does anyone, anywhere, need this book?What I mean with those questions is this: all of us (adults and children) need books that accurately depict Indigenous peoples of the past and present. Pizzoli's book affirms enduring stereotypes.****Here's the description for The Quest For Z:British explorer Percy Fawcett believed that hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest was an ancient city, lost for the ages. Most people didn’t even believe this city existed. But if Fawcett could find it, he would be rich and famous forever. This is the true story of one man’s thrilling, dangerous journey into the jungle, and what he found on his quest for the lost city of Z.Pizzoli's biography of Fawcett starts on page 5 with a legend of an ancient city in Brazil that had been "forgotten." He tells us that "no one" knew where it was. That centers the story--and the reader, too--in a British point of view. The British didn't know where that city was. Let's assume there was, in fact, a city. If you centered the story in an Indigenous point of view, would we be reading "no one" knew where it was? I doubt it. For various reasons, Indigenous people who knew where it was might withhold its location from the likes of Fawcett. By the time Fawcett was traipsing about, the Indigenous people of South America had been fighting Brits for literally, hundreds of years. British expeditions were all over South America, looking for riches and enslaving Indigenous people to work on plantations and in mines. My point: British people didn't know where it was; saying "nobody" means that the only people who count, in this book, are British. An aside... In chapter 20 of Exploration Fawcett, I read Fawcett's descriptions of many different Indigenous people, some that he calls "wild people" (p. 324) or cannibals, and others that he thinks are highly intelligent and skilled. That chapter also has information about Fawcett choosing to call that city he was looking for, "Z" (p. 332-333):"On many occasions the early explorers of the interior reported glimpses caught here and there of clothed natives of European appearance. They were glimpses only, for the people had an almost uncanny knack of disappearing. These reports have not so far been substantiated, but they cannot be airily dismissed. Our destination on the next expedition—I call it ‘Z’ for the sake of convenience—is a city reputed to [...]

Debbie--have you seen Eric Gansworth's GIVE ME SOME TRUTH?


I've been waiting for Eric Gansworth's Give Me Some Truth for some time now. Due out next year, a copy of the ARC was in my mail two days ago! 

Here's the synopsis:

Carson Mastick is entering his senior year of high school and desperate to make his mark, on the reservation and off. A rock band -- and winning the local Battle of the Bands, with its first prize of a trip to New York City -- is his best shot. But things keep getting in the way. Small matters like the lack of an actual band, or the fact that his brother just got shot confronting the racist owner of a local restaurant. 
Maggi Bokoni has just moved back to the reservation from the city with her family. She's dying to stop making the same traditional artwork her family sells to tourists (conceptual stuff is cooler), stop feeling out of place in her new (old) home, and stop being treated like a child. She might like to fall in love for the first time too. 
Carson and Maggi -- along with their friend Lewis -- will navigate loud protests, even louder music, and first love in this stirring novel about coming together in a world defined by difference.

I recommended Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here a few years ago. Still do! Every talk I give features that book.

I'll be back with a review of Give Me Some Truth, later, but wanted to take a minute, today, to say that I highly recommend it! Pre-order a copy. The hardcover will be available on May 29, 2018.

Still Not Recommended: THE SECRET PROJECT by Jonah and Jeanette Winter


Some conversations about my review of Jonah and Jeanette Winter's The Secret Project suggest that I didn't say enough, back in March. I'm back, therefore, to say more. Some of what I wrote in March is being interpreted as innuendo and destructive. In saying more, this review is much longer. I anticipate that some who read it will continue with the "nit picking" charge that has already been leveled. Some people read my reviews and think I'm being too picky because I focus on seemingly little or insignificant aspect of a book. The things I pointed out in March were not noted in the starred reviews by the major review journals, but the things I pointed out have incensed people who, apparently, fear that my review will persuade the Caldecott Award Committee that The Secret Project does not merit its award. In fact, we'll never know if my review is even discussed by the committee. Their deliberations are confidential. The things I point out matter to me, and they should matter to anyone who is committed to accuracy and inclusivity in any children's books--whether they win awards or not. ****The Secret Project, by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, was published in February of 2017 by Simon and Schuster. It is a picture book about the making of the atomic bomb. I'm reading and reviewing the book as a Pueblo Indian woman, mother, scholar, and educator who focuses on the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. I spent (and spend) a lot of time in Los Alamos and that area. My tribal nation is Nambé which is located about 30 miles from Los Alamos, which is the setting for The Secret Project. My dad worked in Los Alamos. A sister still does. The first library card I got was from Mesa Public Library. Near Los Alamos is Bandelier National Park. It, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde are well known places. There are many sites like them that are less well known. They're all through the southwest. Some are marked, others are not. For a long time, people who wrote about those places said that the Anasazi people lived there, and that they had mysteriously disappeared. Today, what Pueblo people have known for centuries is accepted by others: present-day Pueblo people are descendants of those who once lived there. We didn't disappear. What I shared above is what I bring to my reading and review of The Secret Project. Though I'm going to point to several things I see as errors of fact or bias, my greatest concern is the pages about kachina dolls and the depiction of what is now northern New Mexico as a place where "nobody" lived."In the beginning"Here is the first page in The Secret Project:The words are:  In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape, The illustration shows a vast and empty space and suggests that pretty much nothing was there. When I see that sort of thing in a children's book, I notice it because it plays into the idea that this continent was big and had plenty of land and resources--for the taking. In fact, it belonged (and some of it still belongs) to Indigenous peoples and our respective Native Nations."In the beginning" works for some people. It doesn't work for me because a lot of children's books depict an emptyness that suggests land that is there for the taking, land that wasn't being used in the ways Europeans, and later, US citizens, would use it.I used the word "erase" in my first review. That word makes a lot of people angry. It implies a deliberate decision to remove something that was there before. Later in the book, Jonah Winter's text refers to Hopi people who had been making kachina dolls "for centuries." His use of "for centuries" tells me that the Winter's knew that the Hopi people pre-date the ranch in Los Alamos. I could say that maybe they didn't know that Pueblo people pre-date the ranch--right there in Lo[...]

Highly Recommended: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale


#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women is another outstanding collection edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Released on September 12th, 2017 from Annick Press, it is one you'll definitely want to add to your shelves--alongside their other two books--Urban Tribes and Dreaming in Indian.#NotYourPrincess is one of those books that is so stunning in so many ways, it is kind of hard to decide where to start!Let's start with the title.  The hashtag title is perfection. It boldly says that Native women are here and we have things to say.Some of you may know that a lot of activism takes place on Twitter. Native people have been creating and using hashtags to inform others about the things Native people care about. Did you, for example, follow the conversations that took place using #NotYourPocahontas and #NotYourMascot?#NotYourPrincess is the first part of the title. The rest of it is "Voices of Native American Women." That's what Charleyboy and Leatherdale give us this time. The words and art of Native women. Let's take a look inside their book...A couple of years ago, I was visiting Heid Erdrich at Birchbark Books. While there, I saw a stunning painting by Aza E. Abe. She's Turtle Mountain Ojibwe. Her painting, titled RedWoman, is the first item in #NotYourPrincess! (Some of you may know, too, that it is on the cover of Louise Erdrich's The Round House.)Facing it is a piece written by Leanne Simpson. She's Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg:Turning the pages, it is easy to see why Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale put these two items side-by-side as an opening for the book. With them, I am visually and textually drawn into an Indigenous space that wraps me in a warm embrace, and that--in some instances--pierces that warmth with truths, but right away, brings me back to that place of knowing the power of Native women.The next double page spread has Tear -- a poem by Linda Hogan (she's Chickasaw) -- that is about the past and future. Here's the last part of her poem. It resonates with me, deeply: The world behind them did not close.The world before them is still open.All around me are my ancestors,my unborn children. I am the tear between themand both sides live. It is brilliantly paired with a painting by Wakeah Jhane (she is Comanche/Blackfoot/Kiowa):She is a self-taught ledger artist. The ledger behind the woman in the painting signifies ancestors who were at boarding schools, while the child she carries embodies the future. I mean it when I say that I'm sitting here, blinking back tears at the beauty, the power, and the resilience in #NotYourPrincess. I'd love to upload images of every page, but of course, won't do that.What I will do, is tell you to get a copy right away for yourself, and for Native teens in your life. I sang the praises of Dreaming in Indian and of Urban Tribes but there's a quality to #NotYourPrincess that... well, that I don't have words for yet, that do justice to how it is impacting me.****The work of 58 different Native women is in #NotYourPrincess. Art, words, photography. What you see and read in this book will linger in your head and heart.[...]

Debbie--have you seen ALL KINDS OF FAMILIES by Mary Ann Hoberman?


In my mail today (Oct 3, 2017) is an email from a librarian in Illinois, asking if I've seen Mary Ann Hoberman's All Kinds of Families. First published in 2009 by Little Brown, it was published again in 2014 by McGraw Hill Education. The illustrations are by Marc Boutavant. Here's the description:
With irresistible, rollicking rhyme, beloved picture book author Mary Ann Hoberman shows readers that families, large and small, are all around us. From celery stalks to bottle caps, buttons, and rings, the objects we group together form families, just like the ones we are a part of. And, as we grow up, our families grow, too.
Mary Ann Hoberman gives readers a sense of belonging in this all-inclusive celebration of families and our role in them.

The librarian in Illinois sent me a scan of this page in the book:

The text on that page is:
Pens full of bright-colored ink are a family
Toothbrushes over the sink are a family
Even the thoughts that you think are a family
Light as a feather
Living together
Inside of your mind
What else can you find?
Nothing in Hoberman's text is about Native people, but I guess Boutavant saw the word "feather" and decided to draw his idea of a headdress on that kid and a dreamcatcher, too. Course, Hoberman's text in A House is A House for Me tells us she's got some problems in her thinking, too:

If you've got either book in your library, consider talking with children about stereotypes. If your collection development policy has language in it about accuracy of information, you can remove these books.

Recommended! BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED by Zetta Elliott; illustrated by Purple Wong


A few days ago, I added a new feature to AICL. I called it "Reviewed on Twitter." It is for books that I talk about on Twitter, in a series of numbered or threaded tweets. Earlier today (October 3, 2017), I did one for Zetta Elliott's Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. Here's the description for Zetta's book:A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because “true friends accept each other just the way they are.” A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences.I like the immediacy of Twitter, capturing and sharing joy (or frustration) when I get a book and want to say something about it, right away. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @debreese. So here you go... tweets I sent out about Zetta's book! ****In my mailbox today! @zettaelliott's BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED.Zetta and I have lot of terrific conversations about children's lit, and some about institutional racism, too. I admire her a great deal.One time when we were talking -- online, I think -- I said that any of the kids in her picture books might be a Native child.I wasn't talking about that "culturally neutral" thing some people like. That is a bogus concept that I reject.What I meant was that a Native person's identity is not determined by dark hair/eyes/skin, or, ummm... cheekbones!Native identity is based on citizenship, or kinship relationships, in a specific tribal nation.We talked, then, about how a writer might signify or hint at a character's Native identity, in a picture book that isn't abt Native ppl.And how to do it, without resorting to stereotypical markers (long braids, fringed clothing, moccasins)...Where I ended was 'how about a t-shirt' that a Native kid might wear, one that shows that kid's pride in something Native.Zetta follows my work and knows I'm a huge fan of @arigonstarr's SUPER INDIAN.A few weeks ago, she wrote to me to ask about having Super Indian on the t-shirt. I was PSYCHED at that idea. I introduced her to Arigon.In my head, I was remembering working with Pueblo kids at Santa Clara. I showed them SUPER INDIAN. They love that bk.And, I had a Super Indian tote bag that @misskubelik gave me. It, too, was much-loved by them.So! In BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED, there's a Native kid in one scene, wearing a Super Indian t-shirt as he plays basketball:Zetta's in NYC. There's a lot of Native people in NYC. That character might seem a small thing to some, but I think that...... any Native kid who happens to read this book and knows Super Indian... is gonna go WHOA!!!They're gonna say "LOOK!!! It is Super Indian!" Thanks, Zetta. I think this is way cool.****As I sent out that series of tweets, two Native women--Chelsea Vowell and Adrienne Keene--who I admire tremendously for their work, too, were reading the tweets and then enthusiastically shared them with their followers. Repeating what I said on Twitter: this might look small to some people, but to me and the Native people who are sharing it on Twitter... it means a lot. Get a copy of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged, and get Arigon Starr's Super Indian books, too! [...]

Some thoughts on the "Diverse BookFinder" Project


I started getting email from people who wondered if I had seen the Diverse BookFinder website. And, I began to see people sharing it on social media, with comments that suggest it is a good place to find books about diverse groups of people:"A resource for finding diverse books""Great resource!""Helps users find diverse picture books""Awesome book finder!""Wonderful site! I need to get my hands on these books!""Makes it easier to find diverse books..."Lot of enthusiasm! So, I went to take a look and tweeted my observations as I looked through it. With this post I want to say a bit more than I said on Twitter.First, some background: the country is in another of its many periods where people are working hard to promote books that accurately represent marginalized peoples. At some point, it will not be another period of this kind of work. It won't be necessary. Data shows, however, that we've got a long way to go to get to where the body of literature published/republished each year is not that "all white world" that Nancy Larrick pointed to in 1965.The Diverse BookFinder project is one of many in the works right now. We Need Diverse Books launched its Our Story app a few weeks ago. I recommend it. I spent time going through it.Even more recently, Kirkus partnered with Baker & Taylor to help librarians find books. I have not had a chance to look through that one.And--I'm part of the See What We See project, and I'll also be working with the newly funded Diversity Deep Dive Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center. That's the background. And now, some thoughts on Diverse BookFinder.Their mission/vision statement says that they want to "diversify and balance bookshelves everywhere" and that they want to "move the diverse books discussion beyond a focus simply on the lack of numbers to also consider content and impact." They write that "improving cultural accuracy" is essential. I agree with all of that. But when I move beyond that page to other pages, I find problems. We can start with the Search page. After my tweets, Anne Sibley O'Brien, one of its founders, replied "This is really helpful, Debbie, suggests that we need a very clear statement on the site that inclusion in the site =/= recommendation." They added this statement to the top of the Search page:Our intention is to acquire and make available ALL picture books featuring indigenous people and people of color published in the U.S. since 2002, including reprints. Inclusion of a title in the collection DOES NOT EQUAL recommendation. See our related readings page for suggested links for evaluating books.I'm not sure that statement helps. It seems to say "here's a way to find all the books" and "it is on you" to figure out if they're any good. For most people, some things will be obvious. If, for example, Little Black Sambo was reprinted, they would include it in their database. Most people, I think, would know that book is racist and wouldn't get it to use with children. They might use it in with adults in college classes, but not with children. I put "Native" in the search box. Returns are presented, ten per screen. As I paged through, I saw that a lot of the books have the "folklore" category. That's a problem. Some of those stories are creation stories. They aren't folktales and they ought not be considered within the same framework as Beauty and the Beast. Here's a screen cap of the Categories page at the Diverse BookFinder site. The first category is also a problem. It is "Any Child: Assimilation."The "just kids" or "any child" idea -- I see that it has appeal but I also see it as deeply problematic. It erases so much of what Native and children of color carry within them, in an unseen wa[...]

The Cover for Eric Gansworth's GIVE ME SOME TRUTH


If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know I think Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here is outstanding. I recommend it all the time when I work with teachers and librarians.Today, Nerdy Book Club was the host for the cover reveal for his next book, Give Me Some Truth, which will be out in 2018.Here's some of what he said:[W]hen I’m getting ready to write a new novel, I look at my existing cast of characters, and develop a new one by first identifying which other characters they’re related to. I ask the new character, “Now whose kid are you?”As a Native person, I smiled as I read "whose kid are you" and I wondered who would be at the center of Give Me Some Truth! Who, I wondered, would take me back into a Native community that feels very real to me.Gansworth doesn't have to sit there at his computer and think "how would a Native kid" think or feel or speak. He's writing from a lived experience. His writing resonates with me and so many Native people who have read and shared If I Ever Get Out of Here.Head over to Nerdy Book Club and see what else Gansworth said, and keep an eye out for Give Me Some Truth. _______________________Back to add Gansworth's bio:Eric Gansworth (Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ) is Lowery Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and was recently NEH Distinguished Visiting Professor at Colgate University. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eric grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Nation, just outside Niagara Falls, NY. His debut novel for young readers, If I Ever Get Out of Here, was a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick and an American Indian Library Association Young Adult Honor selection, and he is the author of numerous acclaimed books for adults. Eric is also a visual artist, generally incorporating paintings as integral elements into his written work. His work has been widely shown and anthologized and has appeared in IROQUOIS ART: POWER AND HISTORY, THE KENYON REVIEW, and SHENANDOAH, among other places, and he was recently selected for inclusion in LIT CITY, a Just Buffalo Literary Center public arts project celebrating Buffalo’s literary legacy. Please visit his website at    [...]

Twitter Conversations about Scholastic's THE ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE


On September 22, 2017, a parent in Canada tagged me on a tweet about a book in his child's kindergarten classroom. He asked "What are kids learning about Canadian history? He shared four images from inside a book:The pages are from The Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Marc Tetro, first published in 1994 by Scholastic Canada, for kids 5-8 years old. The tweet generated a fair bit of interest.When I retweeted it, I tagged Scholastic:Earlier today (Sep 25), Scholastic Canada replied:I don't think there are any mechanisms by which a teacher or librarian would know that Scholastic stopped publishing this book because of the issues with its content. Clearly, it is still in at least one classroom in Canada.I looked in WorldCat to see how many libraries have it. Given the issues in it, it shouldn't be in a public or school library. It does have use, however, in a university library. Unfortunately, it is in several public and school district libraries. If you've got it in your library, deselect it.[...]

Not Recommended: SUSANNA MOODIE: ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH, A GRAPHIC NOVEL by Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe


Today, AICL is launching a new feature. I'm calling it Reviewed On Twitter and it will have its own label. Sometimes, I tweet that I got a book. If I have something more to say as I look it over, I send a second tweet, and a third, and so on. I end up with something akin to a review, except that it is in a series of tweets. Too often, I never get a review written and posted. That means that anyone who reads AICL but doesn't follow me on Twitter, doesn't see what I said about the book. I don't know if this new feature is going to work out or not, but, we'll see.****Not RecommendedOn September 17, 2017, CBC News ran a news item by Angela Sterritt. In 'A punch in the gut': Mother slams B.C. high school exercise connecting Indigenous women to 'squaw', Steritt wrote about a worksheet from a guide for a graphic novel being taught in her daughter's classroom. The graphic novel is Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush. Below are my tweets, as I read through it. I started on September 21.----------In today's mail; not looking forward to rdg ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH. Page 2. Nothing in the text says anything about Thanksgiving. Why is it there?Doesn't that look like an American Thanksgiving scene? Set in 1810, this is supposedly a story about going to Canada.In Ch 1, Susanna meets her man, gets married; in ch 2 they set off for Canada. On Aug 30, 1832, they approach "The New World."In ch 3, her husband, John, is out hunting. He comes home, sees Indians, aims his rifle at them; Susanna says she's ok.The Indians (Chief Peter Nogan, his wife, their son) are teachng her their language. They name her, Nonocosoqui. It means Little Bird.Susanna can draw. She draws a bird. The chief's wife says "your squaw is a much clever woman." Susanna draws more, there's talk of trading. She gives them pieces of her fancy mirror (it mostly shattered on its way to their cabin).I gotta say: stories that have Indians staring into mirrors, marveling, enable a "primitive" image. Water surfaces reflect image, too!Oh... they give her a gift... she looks in a mirror shard.... it is a bone choker (some of my Native friends will get a kick out of that).A few days later a Black man gives her a cow. He tells her he heard she's a writer. He tells her "this is no country for writing." Damn.That "no country for writing" is another problem. It suggests Native ppls were primitive and didn't write.The Black man's name is Mollineux. He knows abt writing (Shakespeare, specifically) because his master on VA plantation let him use library.I should note that Susanna and John are Elitist Good White People. They don't like lower class men, like the ones in ch 4...Ch 4 is about a "logging bee." Lot of working men come to work for Susanna and John. The morning they are due to arrive, Susanna's...... maid ran away. Susanna doesn't know how to cook, but have no choice. The workers give her a hard time.An American neighbor goes over to Susanna's. But, they're squatters! LOL. Susanna dissing on Americans. She even says that they...... ""borrow" the land on which are farm now stood!" I guess Susanna and John got their land... legally?! Again: The American squatter woman gives Susanna heck abt not sitting down with the workers. "You invite the Indians" but not "your helps." Susanna wants to avoid "Speechifying on Yankee democracy" so changes subject to Mollineux. Squatter woman says he used to work for her...... and he had "good conduct" but she "could never abide him for being black." Susanna says Mollineux is "same flesh and blood" as...... squatter woman's "helps" and asks if he sat at their table. "Mercy me, my helps would leave if I put such an affront to them."I should have noted when I started this t[...]

Not Recommended: I AM SACAGAWEA by Brad Meltzer


Today, AICL is launching a new feature. I'm calling it Reviewed On Twitter and it will have its own label. Sometimes, I tweet that I got a book. If I have something more to say as I look it over, I send a second tweet, and a third, and so on. I end up with something akin to a review, except that it is in a series of tweets. Too often, I never get a review written and posted. That means that anyone who reads AICL but doesn't follow me on Twitter, doesn't see what I said about the book. I don't know if this new feature is going to work out or not, but, we'll see.****This morning (Sep 24, 2017), I started reading Brad Meltzer's I Am Sacagawea and sharing my thoughts, on Twitter, as I read. I am pasting the text of those tweets, here.1. Another of my "WHY?" threads. This one is about a new picture book about Sacagawea.6:50 AM - 24 Sep 20172. Ppl in kidlit know abt the "I am ___" series by Brad Meltzer. It is published by Dial/Penguin. "We can all be heroes!" is a tagline.3. Bks in the "I am" series are abt political figures, but also entertainment, sports, activists, etc.4. I'm looking at resources about Sacagawea. Wonder if Meltzer knows she's controversial? 5. When I start reading I AM SACAGAWEA, will I find anything about that controversial POV in Meltzer's book? @penguinusa6. In the back of the bk, the author and illustrator thank Carolyn Gilman. She wrote a book called Lewis and Clark: Across the Divide.7. Gilman's book is available online: I'll look at that, but the bk I am going to rely on is...8. ... not that one! ANYTIME I see anything abt Lewis and Clark, I remember a mtg I was in with Native historians, several years ago.9. It was in the years preceding all the big rah-rah events to mark the "200th anniversary" of the expedition. Some planners wanted...10. ... ppl of the tribal nations along the expedition to participate in re-enactments. Paraphrasing the response; it was something like...11. 'Why would we wanna do THAT?!' -- In other words, 'no, we will not perform in your story.'12. Some quick thoughts, now, on Meltzer's I AM SACAJAWEA. First page: "I am Sacagawea." Oh-oh. Did she, in fact, say those words?13. Does Meltzer have evidence that she said "I am Sacagawea." in the files he put together to do this book? Or... did he make that up?14. Next page... another 'oh-oh' from me. "What do people expect of you?" she says. I am pretty sure she didn't say that. What we've got...15. ... is a white guy creating the speech of a Native woman who lived over 200 years ago. He's leaping over differences in...16. ... identity and language and time and culture. What could go wrong?17. Next lines are about what people expect of you (reader) and what people expected, in that time, of Sacagawea.18. Meltzer's Sacagawea has an answer: "In fact, they didn't expect much at all." You should be wondering WHO didn't expect much of her.19. Meltzer's question, in short, centers Whiteness. He doesn't name it. What he means is that WHITE people didn't expect much of her.20. Yeah... what can go wrong with Invented Dialog that leaps across time, language, identity... easy to see, so far, right?21. Oh, Penguin... do we need another messed up book about Sacagawea? WorldCat says there's 268 books (for kids) about her. Yours makes 269.22. Meltzer's I AM SACAGAWEA is doing exactly what ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH did: telling (white) rds that racism is a thing-of-the-past.23. Lines like "That's how things were back then." are lies you're telling to kids. Things are like that RIGHT NOW.24. Hmm. Meltzer has Sacagawea quoting "Chief Meninock of the Yakama Tribe" saying "We can only be what we give ourselve[...]

Recommended: FIRE STARTERS, by Jen Storm; illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colours by Donovan Yaciuk


Check out the cover for Jen Storm's Fire Starters: Who are those two boys on bikes, riding away from that burning building? Are they the fire starters who set that building ablaze?**** Jen Storm's Fire Starters is a graphic novel published by Highwater Press in 2017. Its gorgeous illustrations are by Scott B. Henderson; Donovan Yaciuk did the colours. Here's the description:Looking for a little mischief after discovering an old flare gun, Ron and Ben find themselves in trouble when the local gas bar on Agamiing Reserve goes up in flames, and they are wrongly accused of arson by the sheriff’s son. As the investigation goes forward, community attitudes are revealed, and the truth slowly comes to light.In an interview at CBC Books, Storm said that she wanted to:  ..."explore how all the people in a town — the bully, the bystander, the underdog, law enforcement — would react and what their role can be in reconciliation because I think a lot of people hear that word and think really big grand picture and don't see how they can fit into it."Reconciliation? Some readers of AICL know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. For those who don't, here's the introduction, from the commissions's website:There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.Storm is Ojibway from the Couchiching First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. With her story, she moves reconciliation from a concept to an on-the-ground example of what reconciliation could mean, in action, in a small community that is predominantly White.Within a few pages, we know that the building is owned by a Native man. We also know that Ron and Ben, the Native teens, did not set that building on fire. We know that it was done by Michael, the sheriff's son, and we know why he did it. Ron and Ben are being held at the jail. People think they're the ones responsible for the fire. When they're let go, they are taunted on the school bus and at school, they're surrounded by kids who call them fire starters. A fight breaks out. There's more of this kind of thing later, at a hockey game.Finally, the sheriff figures out that it is his son, Michael, who set the fire. After that, the story shifts to a circle justice gathering. It is a Native system of justice. In the next scenes, we see Michael helping to clean up the inside of the burned building.Storm's story is a very thoughtful look at the two systems of justice. The Native boys are in the White system, being interrogated and intimidated. It is a stark contrast to what the White boy experiences in the Native system of justice. It points to the path Storm is looking for: how a community can heal, rather than how it could punish and inflict more harm on people.There are two especially poignant aspects to the story. First is the poster on the wall of the building that was set on fire. It is of a Native woman. She's missing, and the poster is asking for help, to find her. For information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, I suggest you[...]

Some thoughts on Jason Chin's GRAND CANYON


I'll likely catch heck from people who think it is unfair to criticize a book for what it leaves out. In some instances, I'd agree. Sometimes, it isn't fair. Sometimes, though, it is.If you're an American, you think of the Grand Canyon as a spectacular place. It is that, for sure, but if you're a Native person, particularly one from the tribal nations for whom the canyon is significant as a site of origin or of spiritual importance, you may think of it as a spectacular place, but you are also likely to think of it in other ways that you may or may not feel ok to talk about.The point of view in Jason Chin's Grand Canyon is not a Native one. Kirkus describes the little girl as Asian American. Other than her and her dad, there aren't any people in the book. They're on a solitary journey into the Grand Canyon. I think it helps readers focus on the land and animals of the present, but of the past, too. There are pages where the little girl is transported to the past. All in all, the book is packed with good information. Science teachers will like it, a lot. It has gotten starred reviews from most of the major children's literature review journals. It may likely be considered for awards this year!****I'd like to offer some thoughts on how Chin can "kick it up a notch" (remember the Food Network chef who used that phrase?!).In the closing pages, Chin touches on the Human History of the canyon. He starts with humans of 12,000 years ago and then moves forward from there, saying:Later, several different cultures settled in and around the canyon, including the Ancestral Puebloans, farmers and skilled potters who lived in multi-room buildings called pueblos. Today's Hopi and Zuni peoples trace their heritage to the Ancestral Puebloans. It wasn't until Hopi guides led Spanish explorers to the South Rim in 1540 that the first Europeans saw Grand Canyon. He follows that with a paragraph about John Wesley Powell being there in 1869 and that in 1919, President Wilson designated it a national park. Then,The park covers more than one million acres of land and most of the canyon lies inside the park boundary, while parts of it are within the borders of the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Navajo Indian reservations. The canyon remains a place of cultural and spiritual importance for many Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Paiute, Apache, Hualapai, and Havasupai.If a second printing is ahead of Chin, I suggest he replace "tribes" with "tribal nations." And, it'd be great for kids to see a map of the reservations Chin references in that paragraph. Google includes some on their maps. Here's one of that area that shows Grand Canyon National Park. To the left is the Hualapai Indian Reservation; to the right are the Hopi Reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, the Zuni Reservation, and at the bottom, the Fort Apache Reservation.Another suggestion is to bring Native languages into the book. On that first page, where we see the mountain lion descending into the canyon, Chin could use the borders in the same way he did elsewhere in the book. On this first page, they're blank. He could get in touch with the tribal offices for each of the reservations and ask them what--in their language--they call the Grand Canyon. He could do a small sketch of a Hopi child saying "At Hopi, we call it ___" and so on. And on that page about the Kaibab Formation, Chin could add a note about the word, "kaibab" and what it means.Another addition could be a paragraph about President Wilson's actions to designate it a national park. How did tribal leaders feel about that, then? How do they fee[...]

Recommended! C IS FOR CHICKASAW by Wiley Barnes and Aaron Long


C is for Chickasaw by Wiley Barnes (Chickasaw) and Aaron Long (Choctaw), published in 2014 by White Dog Press (Chickasaw Press), is definitely an alphabet book that every library in the country should get!Here's the cover:And here's the description:C is for Chickasaw walks children through the letters of the alphabet, sharing elements of Chickasaw history, language, and culture along the way. Writing with multiple age groups in mind, Wiley Barnes has skillfully crafted rhyming verse that will capture and engage a younger child s imagination, while also including in-depth explanations of each object or concept that will resonate with older children. The colorful illustrations by Aaron Long reflect elements of Southeastern Native American art and serve to familiarize children with aspects of this distinctive artistic style. A supplementary section with questions and activities provides a springboard for further discussion and learning.The figures on the cover are on the C page, but so are these (below) ... which just makes me want to jump up off my couch and do a fist pump! I love books that have illustrations that place Native people in the present day! This one is perfect because the three people are clearly in modern dress, giving readers a strong corrective to the all-too-frequent Native peoples in the past imagery that most books have in them.The man on the left is holding a Bible. Though many Native peoples practice their own religions, some practice Christianity, or some combination of both. It is great to have that reflected in this illustration. And the book the woman is holding is a Chickasaw dictionary! Way cool, right? And the guy on the right is likely meant to be astronaut John Herrington. If you haven't gotten his book yet, do that right now:As you turn the pages of C is for Chickasaw you (of course), encounter another letter of the alphabet. For each one, there's a word in English and the word in Chickasaw, too. Here's a close-up of the 'E' page:Barnes and Long don't shy away from difficult topics either. The 'I' page is about Indian Territory. The illustration is of a family moving across a map that shows Georgia and Oklahoma. The text reads:The Chickasaws were forced to settle in this new placeThe journey was long with many challenges to faceAt the bottom of each page is more information:Indian Territory was land set aside by the United States for the forced re-settlement of Native Americans. It was created by the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834. The Chickasaws, and other tribes, were forced to give up their land in the east and move to land in Indian Territory. Later it became part of the state of Oklahoma. A bonus for teachers is the "What did you learn" questions in the back, and a page of suggested activities.C is for Chickasaw is a rare book, and I highly recommend it! It is also available as an app. More coolness! More fist pumps! Get a copy for your library or classroom shelf.[...]

John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS a finalist for the PEN Center USA 2017?


To start, a brief Timeline that I'll add to as additional news articles are published. The timeline starts with the PEN Center USA's announcement that John Smelcer's book is a finalist for its award in the young adult category. Several other articles are in-process and will be added when they are published. Beneath the timeline is background, going back to 2008. TIMELINEAugust 10, 2017PEN Center USA announced finalists for its 2017 Literary Awards. John Smelcer's Stealing Indians is among the finalists in the young adult category. August 11, 11:18 AM, 2017On social media, people began to talk about his nomination when Marlon James posted the following on Facebook:If you were at the Wilkes MFA, when I was, then you know full well the living con job that is John Smelcer. This is the man who at our class reading invented a language, claiming that it was an ancient Native American tongue, and he was its last speaker. So a few days ago PEN Center USA (PEN America) nominated his novel "Stealing Indians" in the category of Young Adult. Let's leave the title for another day. This 2016 book has a blurb from Chinua Achebe. Achebe died in 2013. This is the motherfucking fuckery we keep talking about. Why does this alway happen? Why do these people keep making the same stupid mistakes? You werent conned, you were fucking lazy. Seriously, the quotes all over his site from dead people didn't tip you off? The shadiness of his name? You couldn't have done one stinking google search? Nothing? Nothing at all? How can you claim to listen to us, when you keep making the SAME MISTAKES all the time, like the one you made the last 15 times we spoke to you. If this isn't rescinded, I'm done with PEN. Consider my membership over. Real talk.Kaylie Jones participated in that conversation (more on that below). August 11, 12:40 PM, 2017At its Facebook page, PEN Center USA posted this announcement:PEN Center USA has become aware of concerns expressed by some within the literary community regarding the nomination of John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS for the 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Award for YA. Our staff takes these concerns seriously and is investigating them further to determine an appropriate path forward in accordance with our mission to both celebrate literary merit and defend free expression for all.August 11, 6:25 PM, 2017Laurie Hertzel of the Star Tribune, published a brief article about the developing story: Marlon James, others join growing backlash against writer claiming American Indian heritage.August 13, 2:37 PM, 2017Rosebud Magazine's twitter account posted "Marlon James is wrong. Ahtna is a real language and a real culture. John Smelcer speaks Ahtna, has papers. ANYONE can easily check this out"Smelcer is an editor at Rosebud Magazine. In his post to Facebook, Marlon did not deny the existence of Ahtna as a language or a culture. His post (see it above) was with respect to Smelcer's claims that he was the last speaker of a language he was presenting at Wilkes. The screen capture below was posted to Smelcer's FB wall at 3:06 PM on August 13:There was also a second post with a link to an Ahtna 101 video channel, run by "Johnny Savage." Both of those Facebook posts have since been deleted and replaced with this:August 16, 2017On her Facebook page, Kaylie Jones posted a statement she provided to PEN USA. It says, in part, The James Jones Fellowship submissions are read blind; the judges do not know the identities of the authors who submit. We learned from Smelcer's bio, once the announcement of his win [...]

Tim Tingle's WHEN TURTLE GREW FEATHERS -- as a mural!


On July 12, 2017, Tim Tingle (Choctaw Nation) was visiting a library and came upon a delightful mural! Here's a photo of Tim, standing in front of it: The child depicted in the mural is reading When Turtle Grew Feathers, which is one of Tim's picture books! I was thrilled to see it and asked Tim to share details as soon as he could. The mural is in the Tye Preston Memorial Library in Canyon Lake, Texas. The original bank in Canyon Lake was owned by Harry Preston, who donated the land and money for what came to be called the Tye Preston Library. That building was eventually sold. Funds from its sale were used to help finance the new library. A local artist, Linda Jacobson, came up with the idea for the "Wall of Honor" mural in the new library. She sketched out the design, and a local muralist, Brent McCarthy, got to work. He was given access to the library, and would come in often late at night, to sketch and paint. They kept a sheet over the mural until it was complete. Take a look at photographs of the work-in-progress, at the "Making of a Mural" page!Brent likes to work from photographs. Harry Preston was alive when the mural was painted, and he offered pictures of his mother. As you flip through the photographs, you will her, as well as the little girl. Brent wanted to put children in the mural. The little girl reading Tim's book is someone who attends Brent's church. He took her photo. He also wanted local authors to be depicted on the mural. When he asked about a local children's author, Tim's name came up. He and his dear friend, Doc Moore, had done many storytelling performances at the old library. Tim had donated copies of When Turtle Grew Feathers. Brent was shown that book, and, that's how it became part of the mural. The little girl and her mother were there when the mural was unveiled on October 20, 2010. I love the story of this mural! I love the mural! It is heartwarming in so many ways! [...]

Beverly Slapin's review of JUAN PABLO AND THE BUTTERFLIES


Back in June, a reader wrote to ask me about Juan Pablo and the Butterflies by J. J. Flowers. I did a "have you seen" post about it and am glad to see that Beverly Slapin, of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, has a review up now. Here's some excerpts:Abuela appears to be a shaman as well. She’s an all-in-one spiritual phenom, singularly embodying not only a whole culture’s metaphysics but also bits of other cultures—a mishmash of mythology and mysticism that the author invents. Still, it was the old woman’s shamanic powers that were a good deal more popular than her famous doctoring skill. Nothing made his abuela happier than taking away people’s aches and pains, their troubles and struggles. She took away the pain of childbirth as well as the opposite, the struggle of transitioning. She cured little Jose’s [sic / the nickname for “José” would be “Pepe,” not “little José”] poor hearing, but also his mother’s gambling problem, Ms. Sanchez’s strange rash, but also her husband’s infidelity, Mr. Hernandez’s high blood pressure, but also his depression. Occasionally she worked miracles, curing dementia, diabetes, and even many different cancers. People sought her out from hundreds of miles away. (p. 11)And there's a subsection about playing Indian:NOTE ABOUT “PLAYING INDIAN”When Juan Pablo and Rocio were children: Following his abuela’s suggestion, he and Rocio had built an Indian tepee [sic] in the forest just beyond the meadow. No one else but his abuela knew about it. The tepee [sic] became their secret, a private tent where they passed the endless hours of childhood playing imaginary games: Indians—Rocio was the chief and he was the brave; hospital—Rocio was the doctor and he the patient; school—Rocio was the teacher and he the student; and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—finally, he was Harry Potter and Rocio was Hermione. But lately, as they began outgrowing imaginary games, they hiked up to the tepee [sic] just to read good books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Old Man and the Sea, but also The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games. (p.21)Since most Mexicans are of Mestizo heritage, they’re “Indians.” That Juan Pablo’s Indian abuela would encourage the Indian children to “play Indian” doesn’t make any internal cultural sense. And, as Indian children, why would they want to enact stereotypical Plains Indians? This is all the author’s cultural assumptions and does not apply to Mexican children who probably did not grow up watching “cowboys and Indians” on 1950s TV shoot-‘em-ups. (JP and Rocio’s “tepee” shows up in a later chapter, when Juan Pablo and Rocio are on the run and hide in this “wooden structure,” which a tipi is not.)The author also inserts some miscellaneous stuff that misrepresents Indians and Mestizos:If [JP] squinted against the light just so, he could see the narrowest of paths reaching around the cliff. Probably an old Indian path. Indians used to live here hundreds of years ago, after the Aztecs and before the Spaniards. (p. 81)Go read the full review! There's a lot of detail there that you'll find helpful. [...]

Recommended: Daniel W. Vandever's FALL IN LINE, HOLDEN


I love Daniel W. Vandever's Fall In Line, Holden! Published this year (2017) by Salina Bookshelf, it is a terrific picture book about a Navajo boy. Here's the description from the publisher's website:Fall in Line, Holden! follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through his day at boarding school. Although Holden is required to conform to a rigid schedule and strict standards of behavior, his internal life is led with imagination and wonder. Whether he is in art class, the computer lab, or walking the hall to lunch, Holden’s vivid imagination transforms his commonplace surroundings into a world of discovery and delight.Explore the world through Holden’s eyes. Join him for the day, and celebrate the strong spirit of a boy who rises above the rules surrounding him.In an interview at the Salina Bookshelf Youtube channel, you can hear directly from Vandever about the book and how it came to be. He cites statistics, too, about the lack of books that can function as mirrors for Native kids. My hunch is he saw CCBC's data.  width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Holden--the little boy in the story--is a combination of the author, his dad, and his nephew. Three things that especially appeal to me are...First, that the little boy's imagination is the heart of the story. Turning the pages, you'll see what Holden sees--and what the rest of us miss--when we stand in rigid spaces. I could easily see teachers using it and alongside John Herrington's Mission to Space.  Second, the art! When people think "American Indian" (or "Native American") a certain imagery or style comes to mind. Vandever blows that expectation away with his own graphic style. Studying it, I'm reminded of Phil Deloria's book Indians in Unexpected Places. We are, and do, so much more than mainstream society knows. In that regard, Vandever's book is outstanding. Third, Vandever's notes provide teachers with important context about Native peoples and education. I hope he writes another book, and of course, I highly recommend that you get a copy of Fall in Line, Holden! for your classroom or library!  [...]

Bob White, Colleen Murphy, and Appropriation at the 2017 Stratford Festival


The Place: a church meeting room in Stratford, OntarioThe People: adults in a week-long seminar for the Stratford Shakespeare FestivalThe Event: the guest lecturer, Bob White, a dramaturg for the festival[D]ramaturgs contextualize the world of a play; establish connections among the text, actors, and audience; offer opportunities for playwrights; generate projects and programs; and create conversations about plays in their communities (source of definition is the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas page.) ****Dare I tell my story the way the dramaturg told his, the day he was the guest at the seminar? Nah. I'll just tell it like it was. Bob White told us that he asked Colleen Murphy to submit three one-page ideas for plays that the Stratford Festival could do this year (2017). Of the three, he really liked one that would become the play the festival is doing this year: The Breathing Hole. What, you wonder, is it about? Here's the description from the festival page: Intersecting with Canada’s history from the moment of First Contact to a future ravaged by climate change, this saga follows the mythic adventures of a polar bear to a profoundly moving conclusion.Specially commissioned by the Festival to mark Canada 150.Nothing in there that says Inuit... but if you go to the festival page you'll see an Indigenous woman. A polar bear is behind her. Bob White, at one point, said it is an Inuit story and at another, said it isn't. He also said that they were aware of discussions about appropriation of Aboriginal stories and that they wanted to be careful with The Breathing Hole. Like Bob White, Colleen Murphy, is White. Aware of the appropriation conversation, Bob White said he set up a meeting with someone who could look over the play and make sure it was ok. That someone, he said, is Indigenous. He may have said that person's name but I don't remember. That person said it was ok. The next thing he had to do was to find some actors who would do the Inuit parts. Bob White said he set up a meeting with some Indigenous actors. Here's where his story got kind of interesting as he recounted how he felt as a White guy going into a room of Indigenous people. He could feel the tension. He'd never felt anything like that before. The actors were not at all pleased or happy about the Breathing Hole project. Oh how I wish there was a recording of that meeting, and of what Bob White said to us that day! Bob White said that, in the meeting with the actors, there was a lot of back and forth. On the second day of the meeting, all talk stopped. Nobody said anything. They were at an impasse. A few minutes passed. He wondered if it was all over, if the project was going to fail. But, he said, he spoke up, stepping into that silence. He told them their voices were being heard and that their voices would be in the program materials. That seemed to make a difference. This--again--is his telling and my remembering of what he said. One way to think of it: he saved the day and the play went on to open as part of the 2017 festival.I stood to ask Bob White some questions. I'm paraphrasing as best I remember. If anyone reading this was in that room, please share what you heard. I said "If I understand what you've said, the Native actors did not want to do this play because it was written by Colleen Murphy, who is not Native. Do you think, if you were to ask the ac[...]

Round Up: Letters About the "Indigenous Experience" Panel at USBBY's October 2017 Conference


For the convenience of activists, scholars, parents, teachers, caregivers, and others who study issues specific to Native peoples in children's literature, AICL offers this timeline about USBBY's October 2017 "Indigenous Experience in Children's Books" panel. For each item, an excerpt is provided. Click on the link to see the full post/conversation. Additional items will be added when they are available. Monday, July 24, 2017Debbie Reese's post to USBBY's Facebook page"I looked at the schedule for the conference in Seattle, and saw that there will be an Indigenous Experience in Children's Books panel. In the midst of such a visible effort to promote Native and Writers of Color, I am stunned that not all people on the panel are Native. Can anyone here share some background on the rationale for the panel's composition?(One of the White women is married to a Native man and is a co-author with his mother who was in boarding school, which makes her presence understandable.)"Tuesday, July 25, 2017Naomi Bishop's Open Letter"One of the general sessions (that everyone attends) is titled: The Indigenous Experience in Children’s Books. The presenters on this panel include four Canadians (Lisa Charleyboy, Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Sarah Ellis -moderator) and one American, Nancy Bo Flood. In an email to me, the USBBY President stated that Nancy Bo Flood is not Native. “Nancy Bo Flood is the fourth speaker. She has written a number of children’s books several of which have Native American themes.  She is not Native American.”  The problem with Nancy Bo Flood is not just that she is non-native, but that she appropriates Navajo culture. She states that she lived on the Navajo reservation, taught college students there, and writes books about Navajo’s, but she is not Navajo. It is disappointing to see Nancy on this panel because there are so many wonderful Native American authors and illustrators publishing awesome books here in the US. I am pleased to see First Nations writers on the panel, but wonder why the organizers did not select any writers from U.S. Tribal Nations?"Debbie Reese's Open Letter"I was--quite frankly--furious to see Nancy Bo Flood's name on the "Indigenous Experience in Children's Literature" panel. As regular readers of AICL know, I've been studying the ways Native peoples are depicted in children's literature for decades. In that time, I've come to know the work of many people who--like Flood--are not Native, but write books about Native peoples. Amongst that body of White writers, there are many instances in which the writer has done particularly egregious things."Wednesday, July 27, 2017Christy Jordan-Fenton's Response to Conversations"It is not my mother-in-law’s job to defend her people’s right to control how their stories are told. Her voice is for sharing her experiences. It was under an invitation for her to do so that we agreed to participate. If the panel is now openly forcing her into a position of defence, we will have to decline the invitation. However, if we can all work together to realize our learning opportunity from this, and use it as a catalyst to find a better way together, we would be honoured to participate."Thursday, July 27, 2017 USBBY President Therese Bigelow's Announcement "We are changing the program on Indigenous Voices in Children’s Literature. Nancy Bo Floo[...]