Monday, September 15, 2014

Tim Tingle's NO NAME

In Removing the Word "Reluctant" from Reluctant Reader, Stringer and Mollineaux write that there are many reasons why teen readers choose not to read (p. 71):
For some youth, reading difficulties may be intertwined with factors such as cultural background, language barriers, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, family disruptions, teenage pregnancy, fear of failure, and peer pressure. These problems may occur with other stressors such as school transitions, low self-esteem, poor time management, and depression.
In their work on the experience of Native youth in school, Tippeconnic and Fairchild write that over time, Native youth disengage from school. Among the reasons, Tippeconnic and Fairchild put forth is that Native youth don't see themselves in the materials they're asked to read.

Enter Tim Tingle's No Name. It is one of the new titles in the PathFinders series published by 7th Generation. Pitched for kids aged 12-16, it is about Bobby, a present-day Choctaw teen. His dad drinks. When drunk, he becomes abusive to his wife and Bobby. She leaves, and Bobby decides to run away. He doesn't go far, though, choosing to dig a hideout in his backyard.

People who are aware of the dysfunction of his home life help him and his dad find their way. One strength of No Name is that the way is real. Things don't get better overnight. That is a truth that children in similar homes know.

There are aspects of Choctaw life in the book, too. Tingle's story draws from a Choctaw story about No Name, a boy who also has a difficult relationship with his father. I especially like the parts of the story where Danny and his friend, Johnny, talk about the Choctaw Nation and water rights.

Danny and Johnny (who is Cherokee) play basketball. I think No Name has appeal to a wide range of readers. Those we might call reluctant, and those who are Native, especially Choctaw or Cherokee, and those who live in homes disrupted by alcoholism will be drawn to No Name.   

Earlier today I posted a bit of a rant over recent works of fantasy in which non-Native writers use Native culture as inspiration for a story that has little if anything to do with the lives of Native people today. Today's society knows so little about who we are! Works of fantasy just feed that lack of knowledge. Society embraces an abstract, disembodied notion of who we are, rather than us as people with a desire to be known and appreciated for who we are.

Gritty, real stories, of our daily lives in 2014 are too few and far between. We need more books like Tingle's No Name. Get a copy for your library. Choose your framework for sharing it: it is a basketball story; it is a realistic story of alcoholism; it is a story about the Choctaw people.   


A colleague asked me about H. M. Bouwman's The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap. Published in 2008 by Marshall Cavendish, it got a starred review from Kirkus, and was tagged as "serviceable" by School Library Journal. 

Right off the bat, I'm giving it a thumbs down.

The setting is 1787. One character, Lucy, is "Colay" which is a fictional Native tribe the author made up for this fantasy. Because it is fantasy, people will defend what Bouwman does with characterizations of that made-up tribe.

But because Americans know so little about Native peoples, I object to works of fantasy like The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap.  And Bow's Sorrow's Knot. And Healy's Guardian of the Dead. 

One of our most esteemed Native writers, Simon J. Ortiz, wrote some time back that people love to retell and read traditional Native stories. A great deal of those stories are "retold" by writers who are outsiders to the people whose story they are "retelling" according to their own needs and creativity. They profess being inspired by Native peoples.

Ortiz quite rightly points out that Native people have very real lives and very real issues that need attention. It might make writers feel good to "retell" our stories, or to use our stories to create fantasies like Bouwman and Bow and Healy have done, but in so doing, they're doing further harm to Native peoples.

Bouwman, Bow, and Healy (and they aren't the only ones!) are feeding a monster of stereotypical expectations of who we are. That is not ok. How can they--on one hand, profess admiration for us--and on the other hand, take/use/misappropriate Native stories and culture when what they do hurts Native people?

Friday, September 12, 2014


So! Scott (a colleague) wrote to ask me if I'd read The Education of Little Tree. I've written about that book here on AICL several times because it is not really a memoir. It was published as the memoir of a Cherokee named Forrest Carter, but that author's brother outed him as Asa Carter. Yeah, that guy. Of the KKK.

Scott said that a friend's daughter is reading it as a class assignment. She is telling the teacher that there are problems with it, but the teacher things there are valuable lessons in it, so I guess that means the teacher thinks they can ignore the problems. I don't know what the daughter is pointing out. Scott owes me big time for having to read this book...

This afternoon, I read The Education of Little Tree. It is set in the 1930s. Little Tree and his grandparents are amongst the Cherokee people who did not go to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears.

As I read, I was shaking my head, sighing deeply, again and again as I read. I just can NOT see what ANYONE would see of value in this book.

There are several words in the first chapter that we are meant to understand as Cherokee words. Using the Cherokee Nation's translator, I found that one or two of Carter's words are close to what I found as being good translations but most of them don't work at all. So--if you think you're learning Cherokee words by reading this book, you're not.

That first chapter is called Little Tree. It sets the stage for why this five-year-old is now living with his grandparents. His mother has died. He gets on a bus with his grandparents who've come to his mom's funeral. As his grandfather is paying the bus driver, that bus driver turns to the passengers, holds up his right hand, and says "How!" They all laugh, and Little Tree thinks they are friendly people. There's another part there, where a passenger calls out "Wa...hooo" as they walk past her seat.  We, the reader, know what's going on, and we go along with Carter, thinking that the driver and the passengers are racist. Maybe that is what draws people into the book. The thing is, with Carter being a fraud, I think readers are the ones who are the butt of his joke.

Once they've gotten off the bus and are walking into the mountains where his grandparents live, he hears his grandma singing an Indian song and that makes him feel safe. I guess that means his mom sang those songs to him? Nonetheless, he's about to learn a lot of what it means to be an Indian by living with these grandparents.

Like in "The Way" --- which is chapter 2. Here we learn of "Mon-o-lah" or "earth mother." If you search on "Mon-o-lah" you're going to get a lot of hits about this book. You're also going to get some hits to New Age sites and some odd stuff, too.

In "The Way" Little Tree and his grandfather see a hawk hunting quail. It gets one, and Little Tree is sad. His grandfather says:
"Don't feel sad, Little Tree. It is The Way. Tal-con [I think we're supposed to think that is the Cherokee word for hawk] caught the slow and so the slow will raise no children who are also slow." 
That was one of the shake-my-head moments. That struck me as a twisted eugenics philosophy. Grandpa continued:
"Tal-con eats a thousand ground rats who eat the eggs of the quail--both the quick and the slow eggs--and so Tal-con lives by The Way. He helps the quail."
Not only does Tal-con kill slow quail, he kills the rats who eat the quick and slow ones before they're hatched, too. I know Carter's trying to get us to buy into some Circle of Life thing but, this hawk/quail/rat cycle is kind of messed up.  And then, he says:
"It is The Way. Take only what ye need. When ye take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat. Pa-koh, the panther, knows and so must ye." 
That's just baloney. Animals do that "smaller and slower" hunting, but human beings do not do that. Human beings leave the female deer alone. That is the way it is done. A doe is smaller than a buck. If you kill the smaller, you kill the females and then guess what? No more deer! This seems silly to even say, but my guess is that a pregnant doe would be a bit slower than the rest of the deer, too. According to Carter's "The Way" she's the one to kill! This is just a bunch of nonsense.

But it must work! For millions of people who love this book, it works. WHY?! Because the portrayal of Native people as animals rather than humans has been done so well, that readers don't notice this nonsense!

More animal-like framing happens in chapter six, "To Know the Past." Little Tree's grandparents tell him it is important to know the past, so, they tell him about the Cherokee removal. According to Carter, the soldiers came after harvest time. That harvest time, though had been preceded by springtime, when
"...the Cherokee had farmed the rich valleys and held their mating dances in the spring when life was planted in the ground; when the buck and doe, the cock and peahen exulted in the creation parts they played."
Mating dances?! EVERYONE should stop reading at that point. Why bother reading this book? How 'bout we just all agree not to assign it any longer?

(Note: There's a lot more sillyness in the rest of the book. You'll find the stoic Indian who feels no pain. Carter's going to give you a bogus explanation for the word "How." In "To Know the Past" Carter tells us that the Cherokees refused to ride in the wagons on the Trail of Tears. He goes on and on about the empty wagons behind them. That doesn't reflect anything I've read about removal, including the accounts on the website of the Cherokee Nation.)

Update, Saturday September 13

In an earlier post (Where is Your Copy of The Education of Little Tree), I quoted from Daniel Heath Justice's article. In a comment to this post last night, Daniel pointed me to a documentary on Carter.

There's also a short film about the words Carter uses in the film. The people in it are Cherokee speakers. The words Carter uses are not Cherokee.

IT'S THANKSGIVING by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marilyn Hafner

Earlier this summer I started doing some research on easy readers to see what sorts of images of Native people I'd find in them. I've written about some in the past (like Danny and the Dinosaur) but haven't done a systematic study.

This morning I put out a call asking librarians for titles in their collections. Michelle replied, sending me scans from Jack Prelutsky's It's Thanksgiving! That book was first published in 1982. Michelle sent me illustrations from the 1982 edition, and, from a newly illustrated edition in 2007. The text did not change. Just the illustrations. (A shout out to Michelle for sending them to me!)

I don't know what prompted the new illustrations, but certainly, it wasn't a concern for accuracy. The Wampanoag's didn't use tipis as shown in the old and new editions:

The one on the left is from 1982; the one on the right is from 2007. The illustrations are from "The First Thanksgiving" chapter of the book. If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know I find the telling of that Thanksgiving story deeply problematic.

But let's spend a few minutes with those two illustrations. In the old one, the Pilgrim and the Indian have their hands up. Are they saying "how" to each other? Maybe the publisher and illustrator knew "how" was a problem but were clueless about the tipis and clothing? It also looks like they made the Indian noses less prominent, but just barely. The Pilgrims, though, their noses look a lot better.

If you are weeding books and want to weed this one but aren't sure how to justify it? Accuracy. Check out page 47 of CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries published in 2008. Crew has an acronym, MUSTIE, to help with weeding. Here's what the M stands for:
Misleading refers to information that is factually inaccurate due to new discoveries, revisions in thought, or new information that is now accepted by professionals in the field covered by the subject. Even in fields like physics, that were once thought to be pretty settled, changes occur that radically impact the accuracy and validity of information. 
So how 'bout it? Will you weed it? So kids don't keep growing up thinking that All Indians Lived in Tipis? There's a lot more to say about the "First Thanksgiving" story. I've reviewed a lot of books about it, but for now, check out this post. It features the thinking of a 5th grader: Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with smiling Indians were wrong?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Was Paul Goble adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes?

Within the framework of children's books, one thought that comes to mind when I hear the word "adopted" is Paul Goble. Let me preface this post by saying that I find his children's books highly problematic. See Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses for background.

For years, I've read that he was adopted by Chief Edgar Red Cloud. Here's an example from the World Wisdom website:
Paul Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name "Wakinyan Chikala," Little Thunder) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
I've been skeptical of such statements and have started some research into that statement. I kind of doubt he was adopted into either one. Maybe Chief Edgar Red Cloud adopted him into his own Lakota family, but I doubt it was an adoption into the nation itself, wherein Goble's name was put down on the tribal census. The Oglala Lakota tribal constitution says members are those who are born to a member of the tribe.

The Yakima and Sioux are two distinct nations, by the way, and using both in that sentence tells us that the person who wrote it doesn't understand that they are two different nations.

I did some searching using "Paul Goble" and "Little Thunder" and found this at the website of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
His interest in Native Americans was so deep and genuine that he was adopted into the Yakama (Yakima) tribe by Chief Alba Shawaway and into the Sioux tribe by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
Alba Shawaway was Yakama and maybe he did adopt Goble into his immediate family, but again, I doubt he would have been adopted into the tribe itself. 

Doing some research on Edgar Red Cloud, I came across Phil Jackson's book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. Jackson is a big name in the National Basketball Association. Edgar Red Cloud gave him a name, too in 1973: Swift Eagle.  Jackson writes:
Call me Swift Eagle. That's the name Edgar Red Cloud gave me during the 1973 basketball clinic that Bill Bradley and I conducted at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Edgar, the grandson of the famous chief Red Cloud, said I resembled an eagle as I swooped around the court with my arms outstretched, always looking to steal the ball. Swift Eagle. Oknahkoh Wamblee. the name sounded like wings beating the air. 
In the next paragraph, Jackson writes that Edgar Red Cloud gave Bill Bradley a name, too: Tall Elk.

But let's get back to Goble. I haven't found anything he's written himself that says he was adopted. Here's the dedication in his Adopted by the Eagles: 

See that? He says he was given a Lakota name and called son by Chief Edgar Red Cloud, but Goble doesn't say he was adopted. He doesn't say anything about it in an interview at the Wisdom Tales website.* And he doesn't say anything about it in his autobiography, Hau Kola-Hello Friend published by Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc. in 1994.  

So... what is the source of information that says he was adopted? I'll keep looking. If you find something, do let me know.

Why it matters: Having his work cloaked with an adoption story suggests that he's got an insider perspective. As my post on The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses indicates, I find his work problematic, and so do Doris Seale, a librarian who is Santee, Cree, and Abenaki, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, an American Indian Studies professor who is Crow Creek Sioux. At the bottom of that post, you'll see a link to a post where I quote them. That post is About Paul Goble.

Monday, September 08, 2014


For some time now, I've been waiting for Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices. Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale, it was getting buzz in Native networks on social media.

Given my commitment to bringing the work of Native writers to the fore--especially those set in the present day--the title alone caught my interest. Seeing names of writers who would have work in Dreaming in Indian intrigued me, too.

I've read it, now, and highly recommend it.

The publisher, Annick Press, tags it as being for young adults. Dreaming in Indian has a vibrancy I've not seen in anything else. A vibrancy that, perhaps, is characteristic of a generation at ease with technology and its tools... Native writers, that is at ease with technology and its use. Here's a set of pages from inside (image from publisher website):

I want to pore over the art, studying it, thinking about it, marveling at it. Isn't it stunning? I can imagine a lot of people dismissing this work because it doesn't conform to their stereotypical ideas of dead or stoic Indians. But I can also imagine a lot of others holding it dear because it reflects who we are...

The Foreword is by Lee Maracle (Salish and Cree Sto:lo Nation). She writes:
All the works in the following pages are part of that amazing struggle to go forward, into modernity, onto the global stage, without leaving our ancient selves behind.
They sing out loud in verses, plain and compelling. They cry freedom in words commanding and unapologetic. They do with with tender insistence, bravery, and beauty.
Within Native literatures, Maracle's name is up there with our most acclaimed writers. As such, her words mean a lot. One of her most compelling books is I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism. 

The first items in Dreaming in Indian are by a younger, equally compelling writer: Nicola Campbell (Interior Salish of Nik7kepmx [Thompson], Nxilx [Okanagan], Metis). I've written about her children's books several times. She has two poems in this book: "I Remember Lullabies" and "I Remember Fried Bologna and Rice." From the red and white checked tablecloth to the smoked hide Auntie works on, Campbell's poems reflect what Maracle noted: modernity and ancient selves that are part of our lives as we go forward.

Campbell's poems are in Part 1: Roots. The theme for Part 2 is Battles; for Part 3 it is Medicine, and Part 4 is titled Dreamcatchers. In each one, you'll find poetry, prose, and all manner of art. For most, you'll also have a solid introduction to the artists and writers, their lives, what drives them... Gritty and real, their live stories are inspiring.

Annick categorizes Dreaming In Indian as nonfiction, but I honestly don't know what to call it. The mix of media, writing, topics... It makes me think of Eliza Dresang and her writing about radical change. There's a lot to ponder in Dreaming In Indian. It'll challenge readers, in good ways, and that is a good thing. Check it out.

Update: Tuesday, September 9, 2:38 PM

I had a query about the image at top of the set of four. It features the work of Louie Gong. He is Nooksack. His contribution to Dreaming In Indian is a panel that has shoes and a phone case on the left:

 And, shoes on the right:

The accompanying page says that Gong wanted a pair of Vans but didn't see any patterned ones that he liked. So, he bought some gray ones, went home, and drew traditional Northwest Salish images on them. His art, his expression, his identity. Pretty cool.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS

The cover for Gary Robinson's SON WHO RETURNS is sure to catch the eye of readers interested in stories about Native peoples. Because it is a photograph, one might assume it is a work of non-fiction, but it isn't. Instead, it is the story of Mark Centeno. He is 15 years old. His dad is Mexican and Filipino; his mother (she died of cancer when he was 10) was Chumash and Crow.

Mark is kind of a surfer dude. He loved hanging with his buddies in California, and is unhappy living in Dallas. He convinces his dad to send him back to California for the summer, to live with his mother's Chumash family on their reservation.

Nana (his grandmother) and his aunt meet his plane and he starts to learn a lot about his Chumash heritage. When he was younger, his mom had told him some things, but as the story unfolds, he learns a lot more. As the cover suggests, dancing is part of what Mark is going to learn about. By the end of the story, he's a pretty good Traditional dancer and knows several songs in that category.

Early on, Mark learns that his cousin, Adrian, is actually his half-brother. When Mark first talks with him, Adrian is getting ready for an upcoming pow wow. Mark asks him if a choker is part of his costume. Adrian is incensed that Mark has used the word "costume" rather than regalia. It is moments like that by which Robinson (the author) imparts a lot of solid information to us (the readers)--information that bats down stereotyping and bias that is all-too-rampant in society.

Robinson also introduces readers to some of the identity politics that run through Native communities. Another character in the book is Charley. He's Lakota from Pine Ridge. Mark meets him when he registers to dance for the first time. Charley looks down on Mark, saying (p. 75):
"You know, powwows aren't really meant for California Indians. You're all mostly watered-down mixed breeds. You should leave this stuff to real Indians like me."  
I'm glad to see Robinson take up this fraught topic. I think Native kids (like Mark) who are new to powwow dancing, or who are mixed, will like reading how this identity politics will all get sorted out, and many will love seeing references to Gathering of Nations. Non-Native kids will get a glimpse into the not-monolithic world of Native people.

Son Who Returns was published in 2014 by 7th Generation. It is in their Pathfinder series of books for reluctant teen readers.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mexicans, lawn jockeys, and an Indian spirit in A.S. King's PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ

Today is one of those lazy Sundays in which I pick up an acclaimed young adult novel to read--not for AICL--but just because it is important that I read books that win major awards.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, was named as an Honor Book in YALSA's Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction in 2011. I started reading it a couple of hours ago. I paused when I read this (note: I'm reading an e-book and cannot provide page numbers for excerpts):
I drive over the bridge into town. The whitest town on earth--or, more accurately, once the whitest town on Earth until the Mexicans moved in. Once you get through the crowded old suburbs where the large Victorian homes sit on the hill and past the rows of cupola-topped row houses, it's an ugly town--a mishmash of 1940s asphalt shingles, multicolored bricks, and gray concrete. There's too much litter, and too many people look angry. Dad says it wasn't always like this. He says it's not the Mexicans' fault that the city council would rather spend the city's money on new arts initiatives and a big flashy baseball stadium than more police on the streets. So now, while there's wine, cheese, and doubleheaders downtown, poverty has taken over and crime is at an all time high uptown. I lock my doors.
So--Mexicans live in the ugly part of town, but if the city spent more money on police, that part of town wouldn't be dirty, ugly, and filled with people who look angry? Really?! Just how would more police help with that? 

I kept on reading. Vera's home is on Overlook Road, near the top of a hill. So is Charlie's. They're next door neighbors, but their houses are a hundred yards apart, in a wooded area where, I gather, the wealthy people of the city live. Vera's neighbor on the other side is the Ungers. The Ungers have a boat, two Cadillacs, and a lawn with ornaments that includes
lawn jockeys (the black kind), and three cement deer--a doe and two fawns.
The Ungers also have gnomes, which Charlie and Vera move around for kicks. There is no further mention of the lawn jockeys. What are we readers to make of that?! Thinking that I'd come across something that tells me the Ungers are racist, I kept on reading. The chapter titled "History--Age Seven" opens with Charlie telling her about "the spirit of the Great Hunter." Of course, that passage gave me pause. Again. Here's that excerpt:
As far as Charlie was concerned, the Great Hunter was an Indian spirit who lived in our woods. He drank from the lake. He watched the stars from the ridge. He protected hikers and hunters and tree-climbing little urchins like us, and he created the most sacred tree of all, the Master Oak, for us to grow up in.
How nice (not)! An Indian spirit who looks after white kids. 

Not all Mexicans, or all African Americans, or all Native people, will pause at King's references to them/their culture, but I noted all three instances, and frankly, I'm more than a bit annoyed. Each of these three passages yanked me out of the story King is telling. 

I looked through reviews, and not once have I found a review from a reviewer at a journal, or from a blogger, that noted these references. Didn't anyone notice them? Or did they get noticed but were then deemed unimportant? Are such things so much a part of white culture that they are unremarkable?! 

Needless to say, I am setting aside King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Did you notice the passages?

Update: 5:03 PM, August 31, 2014

In my post (above), I should have provided a synopsis of what the book is about. Here's what you'll find at Amazon:
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Update: 5:44 PM, August 31, 2014

Well, I kept on reading...

I came across a "Nazi skinhead" named Mick who is boyfriend to one of Vera's coworkers (Vera works at a pizza place). One evening, Vera gives Jill a ride home. They've got Sly and the Family Stone cranking. When they get to Jill's apartment, Jill reaches over and turns the volume way down so Mick can't hear it. She turns to Vera and says "What can I do?" With Jill's action and question, we understand that King wants us to know that Mick is racist towards blacks. Why couldn't she give us something like that about the Ungers, too?

Later, Vera is remembering being on the bus when she was in 8th grade. She was listening to Al Green on her headphones. A senior guy sits with her and asks her what she's listening to. His name is Tim Miller. Vera doesn't want to tell him what she's listening to because he uses the n-word and she's sure he won't like the music she listens to. There's also a Confederate flag in his yard. He lives at the bottom of the hill. He tells Vera she's a rich kid. Given the location of his house, his family is low on the SES scale. He's obviously meant to be racist. Again--why don't we have anything to mark the Ungers as racist? Why couldn't Vera have said "the racist black kind" rather than just "the black kind" when she noted them on the Ungers lawn?  

I'm trying to figure out who Vera is...  She is well-off, doesn't like the n-word, and is aware of white supremacist racism towards African Americans. Is that a plus for Vera? For King?

Update: Monday September 1, 7:58 AM

I finished Please Ignore Vera Dietz last night and am following up on my post from yesterday.

After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, police response to protesters, and white response to the entire thing, Vera's observation that more police would make the Mexican neighborhood a better place set me off. It reminded me of a piece I read in the Washington Post. Written by Carol Anderson, a professor in African American Studies, she did an excellent job providing analysis of Ferguson. Anderson's article captures what I think is wrong with King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and it being singled out for distinction, and, the lack of critical commentary on its racial dimensions.

Titled Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress, here's an excerpt:  
Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.

Though Vera drinks and starts dating a man (she's 18; he's 23), we're supposed to like her. She is a progressive thinker. She likes African American music. She is uncomfortable around Mick, the "Nazi skinhead" and Tim, the kid who uses the n-word and has a Confederate flag in his yard.

Vera doesn't like overt racism, and she feels bad for "the black kids who are called nigger at school."

Vera is like a lot of people that object to overt racism, but don't see the institutionalized racism that is created by the aura of respectability that Anderson describes in courts, police departments, legislatures, and governing systems.

I think the aura of respectability is also very much a part of the book world. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a great example.

Vera thinks that the Mexican part of town would be better if there were more police there. Did King want us to see Vera's thinking as problematic? If she did, I think she'd have woven it into the story, but she didn't. There's nothing about it in the discussion guide she has at her site, either. The lawn jockey is never taken up again, either.

The Great Hunter does reappear. Anticipating his death, Charlie leaves a series of notes for Vera. Finding and reading them after his death, Vera reads one that says "You'll never lose me, Vera. I'm the Great Hunter now." Presumably, people love that idea, but for me, it is just more white-people-playing-Indian according to their ignorant/racist ideas about who we are! They see this play as honorable and positive, and it leads a great many to defend the use of Native imagery for sports mascots. Vera never says "oh that Great Spirit shit is fucked up." She could have, but she doesn't get it. Does A. S. King get it? I don't think so.

Again: None of this noted in reviews. The focus of those reviews is on Vera and Charlie and how they're navigating troubled waters of abandonment and abuse. No doubt, readers/reviewers see that as the most important theme of the book. All that other institutionalized racism stuff? To them, it must either be invisible or just not important.

Obviously, I disagree.

There is a great deal of harm in institutionalized racism and in that aura of respectability. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Books by Cherokee Mystery Writer, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Some months ago I was asked if I could recommend a Native mystery writer. Because my area of expertise is books for children and young adults (and not adult mysteries), I asked colleagues in Native literature for names and learned about Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.

Right away I downloaded an e-copy of Hoklotubbe's American Cafe. Published in 2011 by the University of Arizona Press, I liked it a lot and passed her name along. American Cafe is the second book featuring Sadie Walela, a Cherokee woman trying to find her way in the world.

Hoklotubbe's writing is the real deal. Her Cherokee identity and knowledge are the foundation of her books. As you read, you'll be drawn into Sadie's world. There's no romanticizing, no stereotyping, and no mis-steps either like those you'll find in books by Tony Hillerman or Sandi Ault. Their books make me cringe (and yes, I did read some of them.)

Hoklotubbe will be reading tomorrow in Washington DC at the National Book Festival. For the last few weeks, I've been recovering from a broken ankle. Among the books I've read is the first Sadie Walela book, Deception On All Accounts. I like Sadie and want to read more of her. I'll turn, next, to Sinking Suspicions. 

Though it isn't marketed to young adults, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Hoklotubbe to older teens (or adults) looking for books--especially mysteries--by Native writers. I encourage you to get her books for your library and take a look at her website, too.