Saturday, March 25, 2017

What happened to "A Second Perspective" at All The Wonders?

First, a brief overview of what happened to my "Second Perspective" post at the All the Wonders website (more on who they are, later):

  • On Wednesday (March 22, 2017), I reviewed The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winters.
  • On Thursday morning (March 23, 2017), my review was added (with my permission) to the All the Wonders page about that book, as "A Second Perspective."
  • On Thursday evening (March 23, 2017), my review was gone.

Now, the details. 

On March 22, I wrote my review of The Secret Project, loaded it to AICL, and posted a link to the review on Facebook and Twitter. Then I looked on Twitter to see if others had reviewed it. If someone I know has reviewed a book I've also reviewed, I'll generally ask them to take a look at my review. Donalyn Miller and Jillian Heise added links to my review to their reviews on Goodreads.

I saw that The Secret Project was featured at All the Wonders. I read their interview with Jonah Winters (the author), and agree with what he said about propaganda. I felt then (and still do) that some changes to the book would make it outstanding. I wanted to listen to the podcast and read the interview with the illustrator, but had other things to do at that moment. Because I know All the Wonders is widely read by teachers and librarians, I asked them if they could add my review so that they could use information I share when they teach or read the book.

They said yes. On Thursday morning, my review was on their site as "A Second Perspective." I went back to my review and added a link to their site (and a screen cap of their introduction to my review). They wrote:
Here at All the Wonders, we strive to represent diversity and inclusion in the books we share. Debbie Reese, co-founder of American Indians in Children's Literature drew our attention to a recent review of The Secret Project she wrote where she discusses concerns over how Native Americans were represented in the story and illustrations. Specifically, the depiction of the Los Alamos Ranch School as isolated from other inhabitants to the region -- which it was not -- and the use of the phrase "nobody knows they are there" in reference to the scientists working on the bomb, which marginalizes the presence of the Native people living there. 
The story told in The Secret Project through words and illustrations is powerful, but in order to understand and appreciate more fully the context in which the even happened, it is important for readers to be aware of the Native people in and of the surrounding area.
Then, I went back to All the Wonders to read the interview with the illustrator, but it was gone. A little bit later, the interview with the author was gone, too. Why were they gone?

On Thursday night, I had an email from Matthew saying they had made a difficult decision to remove my review.

That night on Twitter, Sam Bloom of Reading While White, asked Matthew what happened to it. Here's a screen cap of his question:

Matthew replied, saying that they value "reading and being challenged by that review, but ultimately decided as a team to support the conversation in other ways". Here's a screen cap of his reply:

Early Friday morning, I replied to Matthew to acknowledge what they had done and let him know that I was about to get in my car for a day-long road trip and didn't have time to write back at length about the decision.

Just before I got in my car, I saw that the author and illustrator interviews were back on the All the Wonders page.

As I write this post, it is Saturday morning. I'm reading through what happened yesterday on Twitter.

Kathleen Horning of the Cooperative Children's Book Center  asked Matthew for an example of "other ways." He replied, saying "Such as in a conversation on an open forum such as Twitter where all stakeholders can participate in real time." And, here's the screen capture of that:

In an email sent to me yesterday, Matthew suggested I contribute a post for All the Wonders, that consists of books I recommend. He also referenced a Twitter conversation. I haven't replied to him yet. I'm conflicted. If I say yes to his invitation, I'll be able to bring visibility to Native writers.

I'm not angry at Matthew, and I hope this blog post doesn't cause him to withdraw his invitation.

Here's what I think, and some back story...

In posting my review at their site, All the Wonders found themselves mired in the politics of children's literature. Did Jonah Winters demand that his interview be removed? Did Jeanette Winters demand that her interview be removed? Did their publisher make demands of the team at All the Wonders? Did they make threats?! I know--that sounds dramatic--but there's back story to all this that prompts me to use the word "threat."

The Secret Project is published by Simon and Schuster. As one of the Big Five, it is a powerful entity. Back on March 5, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled The 'Rock Star' Librarians Who Choose What Your Kids Read. That article is how I learned about All the Wonders and Matthew Winner. He's featured in it as one of the three men characterized as rock stars (the three strongly objected to being the focus of the article and to being characterized that way. Women had also been interviewed but were not included).

The article generated a lot of discussion. Allie Jane Bruce of Reading While White did a terrific post about it. She asked some pointed questions. Are these three librarians being used by publishers as a way to get free advertising for their books? Were/are they (inadvertently) functioning as marketers for publishers? Please read the comments to the post. Among them is one from Matthew Winner. He disagreed with her remarks about advertising and marketing. He also said that he wants to increase the diversity of the podcasts at All the Wonders. In my comment to Allie's post, I recommended he add Native writers. He and I started talking, via email, about possibilities and I think one will be there, fairly soon.

I also asked him, in an email, if he might add critical content to some of the pages they do at All the Wonders. He didn't say yes or no, but I believed (and still believe) that he and his team are very interested in being more diverse with what they're doing on their site. So... last week when I saw that All the Wonders had a new page up on The Secret Project, I decided to ask them to add a link to my review and was thrilled that they did. Then, as you know, they removed it.

So, what happened to "A Second Perspective" at All the Wonders?

Did Simon and Schuster put pressure on the All the Wonders team to remove my review? If Simon and Schuster gives All the Wonders books, did they threaten to withhold future books? If Simon and Schuster controls access to its authors and illustrators, did they threaten to withhold access to their authors and illustrators? Did they say "get rid of Debbie's review, or else"?

I don't know if the All the Wonders team was pressured to remove my review, and I'm not going to ask Matthew that question.

It seems to me that the team at All the Wonders was put into a difficult position. They want to offer critical content of books along with podcasts and interviews, but their effort to do so with my review didn't succeed.

I've got lot of questions. Do publishers wield that much power over sites like All the Wonders? If so, that's not good, at all, for anyone. If not, then.... what happened to my review? Right now, several people are wondering what happened.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not recommended: VIVIAN AND THE LEGEND OF THE HOODOOS by Jennings and Saroff

A reader wrote to ask me about Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos, written by Terry Catasus Jennings and illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff. Published by Arbordale Publishing, it came out in 2017.

Here's the synopsis:
Long ago, the Old Ones were bad. They drank all the water, ate all the pine nuts, and left nothing for the other creatures. Sinawav the coyote punished them by turning them into rocky hoodoos. Now when children misbehave, their Paiute elders remind them that they too could be turned into stone columns! Vivian has heard the stories, but this year as she and her grandmother climb the mesa to pick pine nuts, Vivian has something more important on her mind: basketball tryouts. When Vivian is disrespectful to the trees and the land, her grandmother must remind Vivian of the legend of the hoodoos and how nature has made it possible for her people to live.
My thoughts:

I specifically look for books set in the present day, in which a Native child and his parents or grandparents are doing something together, whether it is specific to their nation or not. I like to see traditional story brought into that story, in a natural way, with the characters speaking, in a natural way. 

And so, I like that Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos is set in the present day. If it was well done, it could have been a mirror for Paiute children who pick pine nuts with their families. If it was well done, it could have been a window for non-Paiute children to learn a little about Paiute people.

But, I don't think it is well done, for several reasons.

As the synopsis says, Vivian is out with her grandmother. They're going to pick pine nuts. As they set out, her grandmother reminds her that they should leave some for others. Vivian remembers a legend her grandma had told her, about "the Old Ones" who took everything. Others asked "the god" named Sinawav, or coyote, for help. 

Using "the god" to describe coyote bothers me. Do the Paiute's think of coyote as a god? 

In the story, Sinawav invites the old ones to a banquet, and then punished them by turning them into "rocky hoodoos." When Vivian was a little girl and out with her grandma, that story of misbehaving always made Vivian obey. But now that she's older, she knows it is erosion that formed the rocks that way, and not Sinawav. Here's that part of the story:

That bothers me, too. If the hoodoos are, in fact, amongst the stories the Paiute people tell about how their land came to be the way it is, would that story be spoken of that way? It is possible, of course, but I wonder. Would we see something similar in a story with a Christian grandmother and her grandchild about something important to how the Christian world came to be?

Vivian is impatient. Her grandmother reminds her to ask the trees' permission to pick their fruits, but she replies that she'd done that last year. Her grandmother harrumphed, and asked the trees' permission herself, and they got started picking the nuts.

At one point she starts treating the pine cones like basketballs, shooting them into her bucket. That makes her grandmother angry. She grabs Vivian's hand and takes her to a place where "the Old Ones had lived." This place, however, is different from others she's been to. At this one, Vivian nearly steps on a pottery shard. She picks it up and admires it. Her grandmother took it from her and put it back on the ground, saying
"Things from long ago are sacred. You shouldn't remove them."
Some things from long ago are sacred. Some pots from long ago might be sacred. Sacred or not doesn't matter. When you're on a reservation or at a national park or lands held by the US government, it is against the law to remove such things. For centuries, people have taken things like that. Some ended up in museums. Today, there is a federal law by which such things are returned to the tribal nations they were taken from. And, people who take them, today, are arrested and prosecuted for doing it.

Next, Vivian's grandmother tells her:
"Our legends say we have always been here."
That doesn't sound the way a grandma would speak to her grandchild in a natural, one-on-one conversation, and it doesn't fit with what Vivian already knows (the story about the hoodoos). I also don't think a grandma would use the word "legends" either, to refer to their stories. I can imagine a grandmother speaking that way to an audience of non-Native people in a storytelling format, but again, I don't think she'd say "legends." It is possible, of course, but it feels very much an outsider trying to speak as an insider, but not getting a strong sense of how we talk to each other. 

Vivian's grandmother goes on to tell her a story about "those who had lived on that mesa." Again--this doesn't feel right. Vivian knows that hoodoo story but not any of this cultural information about pine nuts, songs, drying meat, sewing skins, and making bows and arrows? As the two walk in the runs they find many of the things from the story Vivian's grandmother has just told her about (like an awl made of bone and a metate).

They return to picking nuts, but before she does, Vivian asks the trees' permission, and when she leaves, she thanks them for their fruit.

That's the end of the story but not the end of the book. One of its selling points is the four pages of information about Paiute culture and history, how water shapes rocks, and one about hoodoos. That last one is also a puzzle. If kids put a set of four paragraphs in proper order, they will learn "the name of the modern Paiute tribe." That is an oh-oh right away, because there's more than one Paiute tribal nation today. Do a search using "Paiute" at the list of federally recognized nations and you'll see what I mean. You'll get 37 hits, but about 20 (if I counted right) distinct tribal nations with Paiute in their name. Nonetheless (before doing that search), I tried to figure it out, and failed. So... I cheated. I looked at the answer, and thought, "that's not right! No wonder I couldn't do it." Take a look:

Did you figure it out? The answer is Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. See why "the name" isn't quite right? The puzzle ought to be something like "an acronym for the Paiute bands in Utah."

In the book, Glenn Rogers and Clarence John, of the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, are thanked for verifying the accuracy of the information about Paiute culture and history. The problems in Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos are not about accuracy. They're about bias and voice. As such, I do not recommend it.

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

Eds. Note on 3/27/17: This review was posted on a popular children's literature website but removed. For details, see What Happened to A Second Perspective at All the Wonders?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen The Secret Project by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter. 

It was going into my "Debbie--have you seen series" but when I looked it up, I got a copy right away. Why? Because it has several starred reviews, and because its setting is so close to Nambe Pueblo (my tribal nation, and where I grew up is about 30 miles away).

The Secret Project came out in February of 2017 from Beach Lane Books, which is part of Simon and Schuster. It is a picture book for kids in grades K-3. 

Here's the synopsis:

Mother-son team Jonah and Jeanette Winter bring to life one of the most secretive scientific projects in history—the creation of the atomic bomb—in this powerful and moving picture book.
At a former boy’s school in the remote desert of New Mexico, the world’s greatest scientists have gathered to work on the “Gadget,” an invention so dangerous and classified they cannot even call it by its real name. They work hard, surrounded by top security and sworn to secrecy, until finally they take their creation far out into the desert to test it, and afterward the world will never be the same.
The Secret Project is getting a lot of starred reviews for its content and illustrations. Of course, I'm reading it from a Native point of view. Or, to be more specific, the point of view of a Pueblo Indian woman whose ancestors have been in that "remote desert of New Mexico" for thousands of years. 

The opening pages depict a boys school, all alone in the middle of a "desert mountain landscape":

That school was the Los Alamos Ranch School. The boys shown are definitely not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time. In the Author's Note, the school is described as being an elite private academy (elsewhere, I read that William Borrough's went there). It was, and its history is interesting, too. What bothers me about those two pages, however, is that they suggest there was nothing there at all. It is like the text in Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. All through that area, there are ancestral homes of Pueblo Indians. Depicting the school that way adds to the idea that the site where the bomb would be developed was isolated, but depicting it that way also erases Native people. 

The government wanted the school and that area to do research, so the boys school had to close. The scientists moved in. We read that "nobody knows they are there." Who is nobody? It was, as the Winter's tell us, a secret project. But people who lived in the area knew it was there. They may not have known what was going on, but they knew it was there. If, by "nobody," we are meant to think "citizens of the world minus those who lived there" then yes, nobody knew (but again, nobody is relevant, even to them). 

We read that in "the faraway nearby" places, people didn't know the scientists were there. 

Artists, specifically, don't know they are there. The first image is meant to represent Georgia O'Keefe who lived in Abiquiu, which is about 50 miles away. It--I guess--is a "nearby" place. 

Then, there's this page:

The text on that page reads "Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries."

Hopi? That's over 300 miles away in Arizona. Technically, it could be the "faraway" place the Winter's are talking about, but why go all the way there? San Ildefonso Pueblo is 17 miles away from Los Alamos. Why, I wonder, did the Winter's choose Hopi? I wonder, too, what the take-away is for people who read the word "dolls" on that page? On the next page, one of those dolls is shown hovering over the lodge where scientists are working all night. What will readers make of that? 

On an ensuing page, we see the scientists take a break by going to "the nearby town" on what looks like a dirt road. That town is meant to be Santa Fe, and that particular illustration is meant to depict the plaza where Native artists sell their work (there's a Native woman shown, holding a piece of pottery). It wasn't a dirt road, though. By then, Santa Fe had paved roads. Showing it as a dirt road contributes to the isolated nature of where the scientists were doing their work, but it isn't accurate. 

Like many reviewers, I think the ending is provocative. The Secret Project ends with the test of the atomic bomb, at the Trinity site. As the bomb explodes, the scientists watch from a bunker, far away. The bomb's explosion fills the last page. That's it. No more story. I think some readers will think "AWESOME" and others will think it horrible. The author's note is next. It has information about the radiation that explosion left behind, how long it will be there, and that now, studies of the cancer it caused in citizens near there, are being done. 

I think children should have books about subjects like the development of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they ought to be inclusive of -- in this case -- Native peoples who lived and live in and around Los Alamos. As is, the book yanks those readers out of the book. And, it misleads readers who don't know the area or its history. 

I suspect that people will defend it, telling me or others that "it is important that kids know about the bomb" and that my concern over its misrepresentations are of less importance than knowing about the bomb. With that defense, however, it will be among the ever-growing pile of books in which this or that topic is more important than Native people. 

The irony, of course, is that this universe of books is one in which books are written and published by people who are occupying Native homelands. 

Published in 2017 by Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster, I do not recommend Jonah and Jeanette Winter's The Secret Project. 

Update, March 22 2017, 1:45 PM

Back to insert comments from Dr. Jeff Berglund, a friend and colleague who teaches at Northern Arizona University. He said, in part (read his entire comment below):

"I have another issue with the Hopi panel: the majority of Hopi men during the 19th and through the mid-20th century had cut hair with bangs, quite distinct and different from the carver depicted. This is a simplistic stereotypical rendering of a Native man."
Update, March 22 2017, 3:30 PM

Another colleague--actually, she's more of a member of my family--wrote to tell me about a 2015 Walking Tour document of Los Alamos. Take a look. Here's an enlarged piece of the document, showing item 9:

I looked around a bit and found this photo of it from a running and travel blog, whose post says it is right behind Fuller Lodge:

Update, March 23, 2017

The folks at All the Wonders asked if they could put my review on their page about The Secret Project as a "Second Perspective." That's a terrific idea! Readers there can listen to the podcast review, read interviews with the author and his mother--and read my critical review, too. Here's a peek. Go there and see it, and thanks, All the Wonders for adding it.

Update, March 25, 2017

My review is no longer at the All the Wonders website. For details, see What Happened to "A Second Perspective" at All the Wonders? 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jokes and Riddles in Books for Kids

This morning on Twitter, I saw a tweet from a Native parent that included an image from a joke book her child was reading last night. The book is from their local library. I've asked her for more details, but in the meantime, it was easy to find at least one book with the "joke" in it:

That's from Biggest Riddle Book in the World, by Joseph Rosenbloom. Published in 1976 by Sterling Publishing Company, the copy at Google Books shows that it was reprinted at least 11 times:

A quick search of the book, using "Indian" as the search term, shows this "joke" is in it, too:

Rosenbloom's book doesn't have illustrations for those two "jokes," so that's not the one in question.

Based on the style of the illustration that was tweeted out, I think the book is Bennett Cerf's More Riddles, published in 1961. Here's the cover. I put the big red X there, with the hope that next time you see that book, you'll remember that red X, and remember that it has a racist "joke" in it.

And here's the image (adding it at 11:40 AM on March 17, with permission of the parent):

In American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography, there's a passage about that book:
Cerf’s More Riddles (1961) contains an image and verse that epitomize the detached nature of “Indian” imagery from the reality of Native people. “What has . . . Two legs like an Indian? Two eyes like an Indian? Two hands like an Indian? Looks just like an Indian? But is not an Indian?” The questions are accompanied by a headdressed, buckskinned, dancing caricatured “Indian.” The answer to the riddle, on the next page, is “A picture of an Indian,” and is illustrated with a child holding a picture of the same caricature. The “Indian” image in this and other books has no reality except as a white-created caricature of Native people, true only unto itself, and the answer to this riddle unwittingly reflects that fact.
Cerf's book is old, but is popular, which is why it is still in that library. There are other joke and riddle books with that sort of "joke" in them. I noted Rosenbloom's book, above, but I recommend you get a copy of American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and Bibliography. I've got a hard copy of the first edition (published in 1982), but get the second one, which came out in 1991 (I have a hard copy and electronic copy of that one). The publisher is Scarecrow Press, and the book is edited by Arlene Hirschfelder, Paulette Molin, and Yvonne Wakim. Inside are chapters by them, and other writers, too. Here's screen captures of the Table of Contents for part one (part two is the bibliography):

I think American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children can be used as a collection development tool. As the Table of Contents shows, it has chapters about books, textbooks, toys, films, holidays... It is amongst the books I read early in graduate school, and that I use as a resource, now.

If the Native parent gives me permission to use the image she shared last night, I'll be back to insert it and the title of the book her child was reading. Obviously, these "jokes" aren't funny to those who are the subject of the joke.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Not Recommended: DREAMLAND BURNING by Jennifer Latham

See note below about the red X.
Jennifer Latham's Dreamland Burning is about racism in 1921, and racism in the present day. The story is told from two points of view. Published by Little Brown, Dreamland Burning was released in February. I finished reading it last night. It has starred reviews from major review journals that I don't think it deserves. 

Let's start with the synopsis:
When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family's property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past... and the present.
Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what's right the night Tulsa burns.
Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.
That description doesn't tell us much about Rowan and Will. We know they both live in Tulsa. Rowan is the present-day character. Will is from 1921. Let's take a closer look at the characters in this story. There's a whole lot packed into Dreamland Burning. Bear with me. I recommend you take a look at Pamela Penza's review, too. She hits on similar points. Her review may be more helpful than mine. 

Let's dig in.

Rowan's mother is Black. Her father is White. They're wealthy. He's a doctor; she's a lawyer. Rowan goes to a private school. Her sidekick is James. He's "part-Kiowa, part-black" (Kindle location 308). The house Rowan lives in (where the skeleton was found) was commissioned (to be built) by Will's parents, back in 1921. It, as Will describes it, is "more mansion than house" (Kindle location 363). The money to build it is not from his father, who owns a Victrola store, but from his mother. She's Osage. Here's some of what Will says (Kindle location 361-363):
Mama, you see, was a full-blood Osage Indian, and as such had been allotted one headright—one equal share—of all profits earned from oil pumped out of tribal land. She’d also inherited her brother’s headright after he died in the Great War, and her own mother’s not long after that. Mama was a woman of substantial means.
When I first heard that Will was Osage, I wondered if the story would have anything in it about the Reign of Terror. The answer is no, because Dreamland Burning takes place just before the Reign of Terror. Here's the first two paragraphs about it, from the National Museum of the American Indian's page about it:
One of the most dangerous places in the United States in the early 1920s was the Osage Indian Reservation in eastern north-central Oklahoma. During a two-year stretch beginning in 1921, at least two-dozen Osage Indians died in increasingly peculiar ways, from suspicious suicides to explosions. Among the Osage, it came to be known as the “Reign of Terror.” 
This black chapter in U.S. history is an incredible story of oil, greed and murder. The Osage Indians went from poverty to prosperity when huge petroleum reserves were discovered on a corner of their reservation. But the sudden wealth also brought great misery. Perhaps the most gruesome was the crime spree known as the Reign of Terror – one of the first homicide cases for the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation. By the Bureau’s own account, the investigation into the Osage Indian murders remains one of the agency’s most complicated cases.

As Dreamland Burning begins, we're with Rowan (remember--she's in present day Tulsa). She is at the courthouse. She's thinking about how history "loops past the same mistakes over and over again." She hopes to stop one of those loops, by meeting with the district attorney. 

See, a few days prior to this opening scene, she had been rear-ended by a white man named Jerry Randall. She was stunned by the impact. As she tries to make sense of what happened to her, the man who hit her is snapping his fingers in her face. He says "you people" to her. Arvin, a homeless Black man she knows from the clinic she works at, saw the accident and walks toward her car. She sees the white man shove Arvin and hears him call Arvin "Goddamned nigger" (Kindle location 2061). That shove sends Arvin into the other lane of traffic, where he is struck and killed. The next day, major media is covering the story. There is fear that Tulsa will be Ferguson, all over again. Though she told the police what Randall said, he wasn't charged with a hate crime. So, she's meeting the DA to talk with him about that. She's trying to interrupt that loop of white people getting away with racist acts. 

Admirable, yes. Plausible, maybe. But! To me, though, this reeks of white saviorism. Not from Rowan, but from the author. With her book, Latham is attempting to create awareness of the riots that happened in Tulsa in 1921. She's using present-day racism to do it. She's created a Black/White character as the device to accomplish her goal. In several places, however, things Rowan says or thinks sound way more White than Black. She's growing up privileged, and there's a part where her mom tells her that her father (remember, he's White) will never understand their lives, but none of the places where Rowan experiences racism ring true. And, the idea that Rowan can pull off something that thousands of African Americans have tried to do in recent years... strikes me as arrogant. It strikes me that way because Latham isn't African American. Overall, Rowan's identity and actions as a Black teen feel superficial. 

That's a problem with Will, too, in 1921. He's supposed to be Osage, but as I read about him, he doesn't sound Osage, at all. He sounds White. When he experiences racism (he is called a half breed), or when he thinks about how his dad's friends call his mom a squaw, it feels superficial. It is just a thing that happens. There's no real reaction in him to any of that. And when he and his parents go visit his mother's grave at Pawhuska, and then his mother's cousins.... That, too, feels like a nothing. There's nothing Osage about any of it. 

That's the case, too, with James (Rowan's friend). He's part Black and part Kiowa, and there's one part where Rowan remembers him going to powwows with his dad, where they'd drum together. That ends (not in the story itself) when James told his dad he's asexual. His dad, apparently, wants nothing to do with him after that. We come away from that part of the story thinking this Kiowa dad is not an okay dad. Plausible, I suppose, and handy, too, because it means there's no need to do anything with that Kiowa identity. It doesn't matter to the story. It isn't necessary to the story. So... why is it here? 

That, ultimately, is my big question about Dreamland Burning. Why do these characters have these identities? As-is, they feel like tokens in this time of diversity in children's and young adult literature. 

Rowan is a savior in present day Tulsa, and so is Will, in 1921. In her review, Pamela Penza noted that Will's actions start the riot that takes place a few days later. Early on in the story, Will has gone to a speakeasy. He's drinking. The girl he is sweet on is there. She's White. He gets up to talk to her, but before he does, Clarence, a Black man whose skin is "browner than boot leather" comes in and sits with her (Kindle locations 156-159): 
Hate balled up inside me like a brass-knuckled fist. And when he slowly, slowly ran his fingertip across her skin, every foul emotion in the world churned deep down in the depths of my belly. Glancing sideways at a white woman was near enough to get Negroes lynched in Tulsa. Shot, even, in the middle of Main Street at noon, and with no more consequence than a wink and a nudge and a slap on the back. And God help me, that’s exactly what I wanted for the man touching my Addie. I wanted him dead.
That is one passage (of many) that makes him seem White. An Osage might think that way, too, so I don't mean to suggest Whites own all racism. They don't. But within a few days, Will goes from wanting Clarence dead to being fearful about the well-being of a little girl named Ruby. She's Black. The night of the riot, he plays a key role in getting the family of their Black maid to safety, and then he sets out to help other Black people, too, including Ruby. Saving them. It doesn't work. One day his Whiteness makes him racist; the next day he's saving Black people.

There's more. A lot more. Like, the near rape of Ruby. And, the undocumented workers. And, the references to Choctaw beer and Muscogee land. Go read Pamela's review. It is more comprehensive than what I've shared here in my focus on Will. I might be back to say more at some point.

For now, though, I'll ask (again), that writers not use Native characters as decoration in their stories. Native readers deserve more than that. In Dreamland Burning, it feels like an index card with some notes on it was dropped into the story. The Osage parts of this story are a convenience.

As such, I do not recommend Jennifer Latham's Dreamland Burning.

Note about the red X on the cover: You know that old "a picture is worth a thousand words"? Brain research on image and the brain confirm that images are seared into our brain, while words trail far behind. I'm using a red X on book covers so that the image of that red X is in your brain. It will help you remember that the book has problems in it. I wish the words "Not Recommended" were sufficient.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

AICL's Best Books of 2016

Comics and Graphic Novels:
Board Books:
Picture Books:
For Middle Grades:
For High School:

Please share this page with teachers, librarians, parents--anyone, really--who is interested in books about Native peoples. As we come across additional books published in that year, we will add them to this list. If you know of ones we might want to consider, please let me know!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Recommended! Jordan Wheeler's JUST A WALK

A few years ago, I read--and laughed aloud, as I read--Jordan Wheeler and Christopher Auchter's Just A Walk. 

Those of you who like Numeroff and Bond's If You Give A Mouse A Cookie will enjoy this book, too. It is similar in style, with one thing leading to another, and at the end, circling back to the beginning. Along the way? Lot of humor, lot of rhyme.

Wheeler is Cree; Auchter is Haida. Regular readers of AICL know that I love to recommend books by Native writers and illustrators because teachers can use that all powerful two-letter-word, is, when they read this book to kids. That tiny word brings us out of the long ago past and into the present day.

The main character in Just A Walk is a little boy named Chuck. The book came out in 2009 from Theytus Books, a small publisher in Canada.

One day, Chuck decides to go for a walk. He's got no plan for this walk. He just sets out, walking. He looks up to the sky and sees a hawk. As he walks, he watches that hawk as it flies, across the sky. If you've ever watched a hawk, you know it can be mesmerizing as it floats, flaps its wings, dives, and darts! Well--because Chuck isn't watching where he is going.... he falls in a river.

But he can't swim! He grabs onto a fish and thinks it'll be ok, but that fish takes him over a waterfall. As he falls, his braids catch on a branch. He dangles there, but of course, the branch breaks, and down he goes. He'll encounter a badger, and a bear, and an eagle... and when he finally gets home, his mom gives him heck. Where have you been?! she exclaims. He grins and says he just went for a walk.

Like I said, this story is funny! Reading it aloud will invite the kind of rhyming word play teachers like at storytime. I recommend it, and am glad that Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm asked me about it yesterday on Twitter. She's Anishinaabe and a founder of Kegedonce Press.