Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Indigenous Comic Con! November 18 to 20 in Albuquerque

In children's and YA literature, we know that comics and graphic novels are a growth area. We know that there's momentum, too, to provide children and teens with work by Native people and people of color.

With that in mind, I hope that representatives from large and small publishers will head to Albuquerque in November of this year for Indigenous Comic Con. The list of special guests includes people who are very popular in Native circles. That means their work resonates with Native people, which means their work is legit. People within the industry who pay attention know that we love the 1491s! And, Arigon Starr! They are among the special guests for the conference.

Indigenous Comic Con is being organized by Native Realities publishing. People often ask me to recommend a publisher who they can count on for authentic and accurate books about Native peoples. I'm usually hesitant to recommend one because some who publish books that I recommend also publish books that I find problematic. Native Realities is the one exception. So far, I haven't seen anything from them that is problematic.

Lee Francis is a key figure at Native Realities, and a leader in the comic book genre. He, and the work he does, was featured on PBS News Hour in 2015. Here's an excerpt:



Most (all?) publishers tell us they want diverse voices. With this post, I'm looking at publishers and editors who proclaim their interest in Native voices. Indigenous Comic Con is an opportunity to meet Native writers and bring their work into greater visibility. Register (get your tickets). An early-bird three-day pass is $45. Look at all the things you can do while there!

Attend Indigenous Comic Con. Get to know Native people there who are creating terrific comic books, videos, and games.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS

John Smelcer's Stealing Indians is due out in August of this year (2016) from Leapfrog Press. Having read it, I'll start by saying that I do not recommend it. Neither does Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous People's History of the U.S. (She has written to him asking that he not use her to promote his book. Details here.)

Scholars who study boarding schools for Native children report that there was a wide range of experiences at the schools. Those who write about it take care in what they say about the schools. Today, they touch our lives, through the stories we hear from our elders, or from our own experiences in them, or from what we lost because of them.

Here's the opening preface to Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, published in 2006, edited by Cliffford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc (Kindle Locations 30-36):
The American Indian boarding school experience left an indelible mark on the history of the United States and Canada, and only recently have we tried to understand the significance of the schools in the lives of students, teachers, administrators, and Indian communities. Perhaps we have waited so long for this scholarly examination because of the difficulties involved in addressing the dramatic impact of the boarding schools on the lives of so many people. For some American Indian students, the pain they suffered inhibits our intrusion into their lives. For other students, their boarding school days were filled with fond memories, sometimes mixed with melancholy, sometimes with humor. Understanding the many and varied levels of the boarding school experience is a complex business. No single interpretation of this experience exists today or ever will. Native American students and their parents viewed the schools in many different ways. Oral and written accounts by Indian students and non-Indians involved at the schools are extremely diverse. Historian Tsianina Lomawaima recently wrote to the editors that "part of that message, importantly, has been that the schools were not monolithically destructive or successful in their assimilative goals, but the harsh reality is-for some people, they were."
A key point in that excerpt is the diversity of experience. Given their long history and existence today, how could it be otherwise? Some were in Canada, some were in the U.S. There were/are "off reservation" boarding schools, and there were/are day schools on reservations, too. When they were in elementary school, my parents went to the day school on their respective reservations. Then they went to Santa Fe Indian School, where they met in the 1950s. Because of the stories they told me and the reading I've done, I know experiences varied widely by time and place.

Children in the US are not generally taught about the schools. Because some teachers use children's books to bring history into the classroom, it is crucial that the information conveyed in those books be accurate.

As noted above, I cannot recommend Smelcer's Stealing Indians. As my notes show, accuracy is an issue. Another is the lack of specificity of the character's respective nations. As regular readers of AICL know, I think it is important that writers be tribally specific (telling readers a character's tribal nation, within the story or in an Author's Note) because that specificity increases knowledge that can push back on the monolithic or stereotypical imagery that is far too prevalent in today's society.

Here's the synopsis for Stealing Indians:
Four Indian teenagers are kidnapped from different regions, their lives immutably changed by an institution designed to eradicate their identity. And no matter what their home, their stories are representative of every story, every stolen life. So far from home, without family to protect them, only their friendship helps them endure. This is a work of fiction. Every word is true. 
Smelcer's book is set in the 1950s and is located in the United States. Below are my notes and comments (my comments are in italics to distinguish them from description of the book's content) as I read his book:

CHAPTER ONE is about the four teenagers and how they were taken from their homes.

Lucy Secondchief is 13 years old. She's thinking about her father, who's been dead for four years. Specifically, she's thinking about the day of his burial, when some people brought food to their house, but others came to collect old debts. The latter took two rifles, a stack of lumber, the entire sled dog team, and the sled, too. That night, the sky was filled with the northern lights, which Lucy has been taught to fear because they are "a bad omen" and "a malevolent force that comes down to carry people away" (p. 18). Rather than stay inside she walks into a field. The lights drop down and surround her. People in the village watch in disbelief. Dogs howl and cower. Lucy starts to laugh aloud.

Debbie's comments: What is Lucy's tribal affiliation? We aren't told. Because of the northern lights and the sled dog/team, we can assume she's meant to be Alaskan Native, but which one? There are over 200. Amongst them, there are over 20 different languages. And of course, a diversity with regard to how they view the northern lights. Do some think they're a malevolent force? Maybe so, but it isn't likely they all feel that way. Lack of tribal specificity, then, has consequences for additional information we're given.

One day, a "tall-roofed black car" pulled into Lucy's driveway. Two men get out of it, approach Lucy's mother, and hand her a paper. Lucy's mother can't read, but (p. 22):
[S]he knew what the document said. Every Indian parent knew what it said. All across the country, Indian families were given the same piece of paper, which proclaimed the end to families. The paper was the law. It was the government's authority to steal Indian children from their families and send them far from their homes and villages. The law was for the sake of the children, a ticket to a better life free from the burdens of poverty and ignorance. The paper was the law that sent them to Kansas, Oregon, the Dakotas, California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania--anywhere far enough away so that they would forget what it means to be Indian. 
The men grab Lucy, drag her to the car, push her into the backseat and close the door. There are no door handles on the inside.

My comments: I've found nothing about tall-roofed black cars that were used to pick up and remove Native children from their homes. As far as I am able to determine (via print/electronic sources or through emails with colleagues in Native studies/law), there was no law like that. The boarding schools were designed to wipe out Native identity in students but there was no law written down on a piece of paper that was handed to families in the 1950s. I have not found evidence of such papers prior to the 1950s either. I did find something specific to removing Native children from their homes without the consent of their parents, guardians or next of kin, dated June 21, 1906, but it is about reform school, not boarding school:
25 USC § 302. Indian Reform School; rules and regulations; consent of parents to placing youth in reform school
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is authorized and directed to select and designate some one of the schools or other institution herein specifically provided for as an “Indian Reform School”, and to make all needful rules and regulations for its conduct, and the placing of Indian youth therein: Provided, That the appropriation for collection and transportation, and so forth, of pupils, and the specific appropriation for such school so selected shall be available for its support and maintenance: Provided further, That the consent of parents, guardians, or next of kin shall not be required to place Indian youth in said school.
Many coercive measures were used to get parents to send their children to the schools. It is possible that two men in Alaska were using a paper like that, but it isn't plausible. It is more dramatic to present these removals with that piece of paper, but that isn't accurate, and is information that would have to be unlearned at some point. There's no reason, in my view, to add to the body of misinformation that already exists. 

Simon Lone Fight is 14 years old. He lives in an "arid desert" (p. 22) of canyons, arroyos, buttes, and mesas. His parents were killed when he was 13. He is passed from "one cramped house of poverty to another" (p. 24). One of those homes is with his grandparents. One day, Simon sees a "black, high-roofed automobile" (p. 25) arriving at their house. Hiding behind the outhouse, Simon watches two white men get out of the car, briefcase in hand, and approach his grandfather. They argue, and then go into the house. Simon, a runner, takes off. That happens three more times that month. One day, his grandparents offer him ice cream if he'll go to town with them and help them sell hay. Instead of going into town, however, they pull off at the train station. Simon thinks they're going to load the hay onto a train. The train arrives, and Simon doesn't hear or see the black car. The two white men grab him. His grandfather watches and tells him "You must go to school. It's the law." He is put on the train.

My comments: There's that "law" again. As noted above, I have found no evidence of a law or piece of paper presented to parents. Use of "one cramped house of poverty to another" sounds like an outsider's observations rather than those of Simon or his relatives, and the way Simon was taken doesn't ring true. 

Noah Boyscout is also 14 years old. He's out hunting in a snowy landscape. Uneasy when he sees something in the distance, "the young Indian" (p. 28) checks to see how many bullets he has. As he heads home he thinks about how, as a "half-breed" he's an outcast and that he feels more at home in the forest with animals than he does with people. His mother isn't Native and doesn't like the stories he tells her of his interactions with animals: a fox lets him pet it, and a baby moose lays its head on his hip and naps, and he speaks raven and grouse. The thing he saw in the distance turns out to be one of several wolves who are pursuing him. He is afraid of them, ponders shooting them, but figures out that they're really after the dead rabbits he has in his pack. He throws the rabbits at them and makes his way on home to their cabin where there's a "tall black car" (p. 33) in the driveway. When he goes inside, a man in a black business suit and hat greets him. His mother starts crying and runs to the bedroom. There are photographs and papers on the table. The man tells Noah he has to go away, to a school for Indian boys and girls. The story jumps to the next character, Elijah.

My comments: I think the snowy landscape and Noah's parka and snowshoes place him in Alaska, but as with Lucy, we aren't given a specific tribe. The use of "the young Indian" tells us he's Native but I find that phrase jarring. It objectifies him and sounds more like an outsider's description than an insider voice. There's that tall black car again and reference to papers, one of which I assume is that "law" that Lucy's and Simon's parents are talking about. The story immediately moves to the next character.

Elijah High Horse is with his cousin, Johnny Big Jim. They're in the woods, camping. With his hunting rifle Elijah shoots at a deer that Johnny can't see. Both are 14. "They were Indians" (p. 35). Time spent in the woods was sacred, "a time to be what their grandfathers had been long ago" (p. 35). The next day they visit their grandfather. Elijah tells him about the deer that Johnny couldn't see, and his grandfather, "an old chief" (p. 37), tells him that when he was a baby being baptized, his nose started bleeding when the holy water touched him. They knew, by that bleeding nose, that Elijah would be a shaman one day, if he was strong enough not to be used up by spirits he would eventually start to see. Later, "the two young Indians" (p. 39) sit by a fire, and Elijah tells Johnny he's also seen a white buffalo.  A week later, Elijah's dad drives him to the train station, hands him a suitcase and a paper bag with fried chicken, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and two apples (p. 39):
Johnny was there to say goodbye. He wasn't going. The government had already taken two of his older brothers and a sister. He was allowed to stay. Not all Indian children were taken from their homes. That would have been unnecessary and, practically speaking, impossible. Neither the available room nor the funding would allow it. The government's goal could be achieved by taking only some, similar to the way the government didn't draft every young man from large families into military service during the war against the Nazis and the Japanese, over for only a few years.
Johnny waves goodbye, his father shuffles off, and "The young Indian" (p. 40) got on the train.

My comments: Again, we don't know what Elijah's tribal nation is, but the mention of the white buffalo suggests he's Lakota. That part about his nose bleeding sounds more like a horror movie than anything else. Elijah, in Christian stories, was a prophet. It strikes me as odd that this boy's family would name this infant--who they believe will be a "shaman"--by the name of a prophet whose holy water causes that nosebleed. And that part about Johnny being able to stay strikes me as an inconsistency. Remember--according to this "law," everyone has to go. Here, now, we have a different scenario. Does that "law" delineate exceptions for a 4th child in any given family?

CHAPTER TWO is about the four teens and their experiences on their way to Wellington (fictitious name of the boarding school).

Lucy. After many hours on a narrow, winding highway, the car Lucy is in arrives at a diner where she has french fries, and then a few hours later they arrive at a bus station where she is given a bus ticket. She rubs the red welts on her wrists, but we don't know why those welts are there. She's told that the bus driver will know where she has to get off. She has nothing other than the clothes she is wearing (no jacket). In the morning when she re-boards the bus after a stop, there's a new rider on the bus: Noah.

My comments: In the "Questions for Discussion" at the end of the book, item #4 is about a pair of handcuffs at the museum at Haskell Indian Nations University. I assume the author meant to include a passage about Lucy being handcuffed, hence the red welts, but it isn't there. 


Noah. Noah invites Lucy to sit with him. He offers her an apple. The bus travels hundreds of miles, south. They tell each other about their families. Late that day the driver tells them they have to get on another bus. They can sit and wait for it, but "the Indians" (p. 46) are tired of sitting and walk around the town. A pack of mongrel dogs come out of an abandoned warehouse and run at them. Lucy is afraid but Noah kneels, holds out a hand, and speaks to them. They drop to their bellies and let Noah pet them. After awhile he stands, points to the warehouse, and tells them to go home. The dogs go off, behind the building. "The two young Indians" (p. 47) return to the station, board their next bus and ride all night and much of the next day.

Simon. On the train, Simon heads northeast, knowing it will take two days to get to the town named on his ticket. With no food, he's hungry but "The Indian" (p. 49) goes to the dining car and grabs leftover food from empty tables. The next morning he sees "an Indian boy" (p. 50) has gotten on the train, too. It is Elijah, who leans toward Simon and asks his name.

Elijah. Elijah and Simon start to talk and learn they're going to the same place. Neither remembers the name of the school but talk about the photographs they saw of the iron arched gateway. Simon learns that Elijah had been on the train for a day and a half longer than he had and he's hungry because he's eaten up all the food his dad had given him. Together they go to the dining car, grab some leftovers, eat and that night, play card games. The next morning the train stops in a large city where they learn they will change trains. They have time before the next train arrives so the two set off to look around. Elijah ("the amazed Indian" p. 53) imagines people who work in the offices. Looking at the people milling about reminds him of salmon.

My comments:
Noah's powers are handy but I view them as stereotypical in the one-with-nature-and-animals way that Native peoples are often depicted. But, my guess is that most of the American reading public will think "cool" when they read how he handles those dogs. As you see, I'm noting some of the places where "the Indian" or "the Indians" is used. I think it distances the reader from the characters. Imagine those passages if the author just replaced all of them with "the kid" or "the kids." Recall that Elijah saw a white buffalo, and so I thought he was, perhaps, Lakota. But now he's talking about salmon and being on the train longer than Simon, which suggests he's of one of the tribes on the northwest coast. Which is it? Is Elijah of a Plains tribe? Or a northwest coast tribe? 

Simon and Elijah. 
"The Indians" (p. 53) walk for blocks. "The amazed Indian" (Elijah) imagines all the people in the glassy office buildings they pass by. As they go, people hand them change (money), which they accept, thinking the city people are the friendliest ones in the world. They buy hot dogs and then go down some stairs to an underground train where they encounter four older boys who start to bully them. The oldest asks them if they're Mexicans and if they have any pesos. Elijah says "We're Indian!" One of the boys tries to grab Elijah's backpack. Elijah sees a vague image beside one of the boys. It is a man, holding an empty bottle in one hand and a belt in the other. Elijah tells that boy that he's going to end up like his dad, who drank too much and beat him. The boy is shaken by what Elijah says. Elijah and Simon fight the four boys. Afterwords, Elijah and Simon head back to the station and the chapter ends.

My comments: I can imagine these two boys being struck by what they see in a city, but the way their unfamiliarity is described seems a kind of mockery of their lack of familiarity with a city. And--again, the objectification of them is jarring. 

Chapters 3-13

I provided a close read of chapters one and two, where we meet the characters. There are flaws in the ways these characters are depicted which has bearing on the story. Once they arrive at the school, the four will meet other students. One talks about his journey. It struck me as odd (p. 62): "I was in the bottom of a ship for two days. It was dark and they didn't let us out, neither. It was like we was cows or something. They just herded us in and closed the door." Where, I wonder, did that ship originate?!

On page 69 Elijah sees "English Only" posters on the wall. To my knowledge, there weren't posters like that in the schools in the 1950s. Indeed, significant changes took place from the 1930s through mid 1950s. Under the direction of John Collier (appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933 by President Roosevelt), there was a shift to make the curriculum reflect Native life and instill pride in a Native identity. In My Mother's House by Ann Nolan Clark, illustrated by Velino Herrera, is one of the outcomes of that shift. With various Native illustrators, Clark wrote several books like In My Mother's House between 1940 and 1951. Some of them were published in a Native language. Here's the cover of Little Man's Family, published in 1953. See the words beneath the English title? That is Dine (Navajo). It appears on every page. It seems unlikely then, that there would be "English Only" posters on the walls of the school. 





On page 112 of Stealing Indians, Simon and another boy speak Navajo to each other. Their conversation is overheard and Simon ends up being locked in an old maintenance building. It is a dramatic scene. Simon is led to the back of the poorly lit room where he's handcuffed to a pipe and left to sit on the concrete floor for several days. That scene sounds a lot like what happened in the schools in earlier times. In particular, it reminds me of a scene from a documentary about Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Again, though, it doesn't ring true for the 1950s. There are other plot points that I also find problematic. 

I think I'll stop here, saying again, I do not recommend Stealing Indians. It has problems of stereotyping, lack of tribal specificity, and problems with accuracy with respect to boarding schools of the time period in which the story is set. 

Given the depth and breadth of inaccurate depictions of Native people--past and present--in textbooks, movies, TV shows, and children's books, I firmly believe that the experiences Native people lived through must be presented with integrity and accuracy. Over-dramatizing what happened is a disservice to their experiences. 

__________

For further reading:
Previous posts on John Smelcer
John Smelcer, Indian by Proxy


Debbie--have you seen BELLA BELLA by Jonathan London?

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Bella Bella by Jonathan London, illustrations by Sean London (don't know if there is a relationship between the author and illustrator). Bella Bella came out in February of 2016. Published by West Winds, here's the synopsis:

From best-selling author Jonathan London comes BELLA BELLA, the heart-pounding sequel to DESOLATION CANYON. In this story for young readers, the same cast of characters―thirteen-year-olds Aaron and Lisa and their fathers, and seventeen-year-old Cassidy and his dad―embark on a sea kayaking trip through the Inside Passage that brings them unexpected and even terrifying adventures. Young readers will eagerly follow Aaron’s adventures in this suspenseful page turner, as he learns to navigate a kayak, discovers another side to a bully, shares a first kiss, encounters the desperate world of human trafficking, and challenges an evil smuggler who threatens the entire group.

Nothing in the synopsis to tell you there's Native content, but the art on the top half of the cover tells us there is (see image to the right). I don't know what to call that image. Is it meant to be a totem pole? What do you think it is?

The review at Kirkus tells us that the characters begin their trip at a First Nations village (Bella Bella) and that they hope to learn about First Nations tribes. The Kirkus review included a link to their review of Desolation Canyon, so I took a look at that review. It apparently has Native content, too.

If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review. If you've got a copy, please comment on what you see in it.




Saturday, July 23, 2016

Debbie--have you seen LITTLE WHALE by Roy A. Peratrovich, Jr.?

This morning as I started to read the Summer 2016 issue of Children & Libraries a book cover caught my eye (that's it, to the right). Inside the front cover is a page of new books for children and young adults. Little Whale is displayed.

Here's the synopsis:
Keet, a ten-year-old Tlingit Indian boy, stows away for a voyage on his father’s canoe . . . and soon finds himself caught in the middle of a wild seastorm. The story carries him far from his home village, and when he makes land, he winds up right in the middle of a dangerous dispute between two Indian clans. The story of how he copes with these surprises and extricates himself from danger is dramatic and unforgettable.
And it’s mostly true. Roy Peratrovich here builds a wonderful children’s tale on the bones of a story his own grandfather passed down. His accompanying illustrations bring the people and landscapes of Alaska—to say nothing of the adventures!—to stunning life, drawing young readers into a long-gone time when the whims of nature and man could suddenly test a boy’s courage.
I'm definitely interested in this one! The author is a member of the Raven Clan of the Tlingit Tribe of Southeast Alaska. Check out his bio. I'll get a copy and be back with a review.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Does Lane Smith's RETURN TO AUGIE HOBBLE tell us anything about his THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS?

A reader who was following the conversations about Lane Smith's There Is A Tribe of Kids wrote to ask me if I'd read his Return to Augie Hobble. Here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
The synopsis doesn't say, but as I started reading about the book, I learned that it is set in New Mexico, which could (for me) be a plus. It could be a plus for kids in New Mexico, too, including Native kids.

But, the person who wrote to me told me that Return to Augie Hobble has some Native content in it, so I started reading the book itself, wondering what I'd find.

Scattered throughout are illustrations of one kind of another, all done by Smith. In chapter four, the main character, Augie, is out after dark in the woods nearby and has a fight with a wolf-like creature. The next morning Augie feels like his face has tiny splinters on it. He uses his moms razor to shave them off. As the illustration on the next page tells us, he's got bits of toilet paper on his chin and neck because he's nicked himself with that razor.

Augie gets to work early, so is sitting in the break area reading a comic, waiting for his shift to start. Moze, another employee arrives. Augie gets up, but (p. 68-69):
He [Moze] pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again. 
Interesting, isn't it? Let's look at that passage, in light of the discussions of his There Is a Tribe of Kids. The discussions are about some of the illustrations in the final pages of the book. Here's three:


Some wonder if Smith meant to depict kids playing Indian. Some say these kids aren't playing Indian. Smith hasn't responded (as far as I know) to any of the discussions. Some wonder if--as he drew the illustrations--he was aware that they could be interpreted as kids playing Indian. That wondering presumes that he is aware of the decades long critical writings of stereotyping, and in this case, stereotyping of Native peoples.

With Return to Augie Hobble, we know--without a doubt--that he does, in fact, know about issues of stereotyping.

How should we interpret that passage in Return to Augie Hobble?

Amongst the recent threads in writers' networks, is that if a writer is going to create a character who stereotypes someone, there ought to be some way (preferably immediately) for a reader to discern that it is a stereotype. One method is to have a bad-guy-character make the stereotypical remarks, because with them being delivered by a bad-guy, readers know they're not-good-remarks.

Does Smith do that successfully? I'll copy that passage here, for convenience (so you don't have to scroll back up):
He pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again. 
In the passage above, it is Moze (a bad guy character) who is speaking. From "hits me again" the narrative leaves this whole Indian thing behind as they talk about other things.

I find the passage confusing. It feels like there's something missing between "Toilet paper, twerp." and "He goes, "woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk." What do you think? Is something missing there?

Confusion aside, I think the passage doesn't do what, I assume, Smith meant it to do. Moze is delivering remarks in that humorous style Smith is praised for using.  Will kids pick up on his message (assuming he meant to use Moze to teach kids that dancing around that way is not ok)? Or, does his "PC, Mac" get in the way of that understanding? With "PC, Mac" the focus is on computers, not stereotypes. That kind of word play is a big reason people like Smith's writing.

Back when I taught children's literature at the University of Illinois, I selected Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as a required reading (Smith is the illustrator; the text is by Jon Scieszka). It is a terrific way to teach kids about differing points of view. When I think about that book, I know that Smith understands different points of view and how they matter.

I think it fair to say Lane Smith is a master at conveying the importance of that all important point of view. As his Augie Hobble tells us, he's aware of problems with the ways that Native peoples are depicted. That is part of why I find his There Is a Tribe of Kids disappointing.

What are your thoughts? Knowing he is aware of issues of stereotyping, what do you make of what he did in There Is a Tribe of Kids? And, does what he did in Augie Hobble work?

__________

From time to time I curate a set of links about a particular book or discussion. I'm doing that below, for There Is a Tribe of Kids. The links are arranged chronologically by date on which they were posted/published. If you know of ones I ought to add, please let me know. I will insert it below (as you'll see, I'm noting the date on which I add it to the list in parenthesis).

Sam Bloom's Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids posted on July 8, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Debbie Reese's Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS posted on July 9, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Debbie Reese's Lane Smith's new picture book: THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) posted on July 14, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Roxanne Feldman's A Tribe of Kindred Souls: A Closer Look at a Double Spread in Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS posted on July 17, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Roger Sutton's Tribal Trials posted on July 18, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Elizabeth Bird's There Is a Tribe of Kids: The Current Debate posted on July 19, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

State of Oklahoma, 2005, Resolution Commending Tim Tingle

Amongst Tim Tingle's many books is Walking the Choctaw Road. Parts of it are heartrending.

First published in 2003 by Cinco Puntos Press, it consists of twelve stories, some of which evolved into his picture books.

I just came across something I didn't know about. In 2005, the State of Oklahoma's 50th Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 1025, commending Tim. I didn't know Tim, back then, but he was already doing important work that was being recognized--in this case, by the State of Oklahoma. A belated congratulations, Tim!

For AICL's readers, I'm reproducing the text, here, from the pdf.





*****


STATE OF OKLAHOMA
1st Session of the 50th Legislature (2005)

HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 1025
By: Carey of the House
and
Gumm of the Senate


AS INTRODUCED 

A Concurrent Resolution commending Tim Tingle for his 
dedication to Native American cultures and to 
preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation; and 
directing distribution. 

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle has dedicated his life to collecting and preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation and other Native American cultures; and WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, as a renowned folklorist and storyteller, honors the voices of many Choctaws by presenting stories that represent their history, spirit, and beliefs; and

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, through his inspiring book Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory, has translated twelve of these stories into written versions that captivate readers and transport them to a magical place where truthfulness, generosity, bravery, patience, dignity, courage, tolerance, faith and working toward the good resonate; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory has garnered numerous regional, national and international awards; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory was selected by popular vote to be the “one book” all Oklahomans read and discuss during 2005 as part of the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Centennial Project, a concept endorsed by the Library of Congress; and

WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory holds the national record of being the only book selected by two statewide reading projects (Oklahoma and Alaska) as the “one book” to read and discuss throughout 2005; and

WHEREAS, Tim Tingle encourages people to make connections through literature and reading by participating in more than 70 appearances at libraries, museums, community centers, and schools throughout the State of Oklahoma from June through November 2005.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 50TH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN:

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for the honor he brings to the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma by preserving and writing about Native American cultures.

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for his dedication to literature and recognizes his many contributions to building bridges between cultures and commends his courage, integrity, and commitment to high standards.

THAT the Oklahoma Legislature urges all Oklahomans to read Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory and discuss its historic perspective and cultural themes from which we may all gain strength and understanding.

THAT a copy of this resolution be distributed to Tim Tingle.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Debbie--have you seen Lane Smith's AUGIE HOBBLE?

A reader who saw my review of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids wrote to ask if I've read his Return to Augie Hobble. It got starred reviews from Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus... Published in 2015 by Roaring Book Press, here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

I was at the local library this afternoon and got a copy. As soon as I can, I'll be back with a review. It is getting bumped up on my list because it is set in New Mexico...

Debbie--have you seen Joan Crate's BLACK APPLE?

A reader writes to ask if I've seen Joan Crate's Black Apple. Published in March of 2016 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.
Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
I'll see if I can get a copy. If I do, I'll be back with a review.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lane Smith's new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry)

I love word play. Lane Smith's book is getting a lot of love for its word play, but I'm tagging his book as Not Recommended.

Here's the cover of his new book, There Is a Tribe of Kids. The blue creature to the left is meant to be a young mountain goat, or, a kid (that is the term for a baby goat). We follow the child on the right as we read There Is a TRIBE of KIDS. That child is a kid, too, of course, which tells us that Smith is doing some word play in the book. See the two sticks coming out of the child's head? See the stance the child is in? That child is playing at being a goat kid.


Note that two words in the book title are in capital letters. They go together. That's a pattern that Smith uses throughout the book, and as a former elementary school teacher, it is kind of detail that I'd love to point out to kids.

BUT.

Smith's error is using the word TRIBE on the final pages of the book, to refer to children who are playing, adorned in various ways with leaves. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's go back to the opening pages.

On the title page the child is with three kids (goats) as an adult goat looks down on them from atop a rock. On the next page, the three kids climb the rock, leaving the child alone. The child stands upright and walks away from the rock, discarding the horns.

Beneath that illustration are the words "There WAS a TRIBE of KIDS." The three kids the child was with are part of a tribe (tribe is another word for herd), but since they've left him behind, Smith uses the past tense (was).

Beneath that sentence is an illustration of the child looking across the page at a penguin. The child is shown in the same pose the penguin is in. On the next page the child is shown in the same pose as four penguins (see the illustration to the right). As we saw with the goats, the penguins leave (they go into the water and the child follows), and the text is "There was a COLONY of PENGUINS."

In the water, the child is in the midst of jellyfish. In a series of illustrations, we see the child's leaf shirt float up and then into a balloon shape, which are the shapes of jellyfish as they swim.

That's the pattern of the book. The child is with a group of some kind, and while with that group, the child's leaf clothing or body positioning emulates that group.

On some pages, the child is just shown with the group. On one page, the child sits atop a whale. A raven picks the child up off the whale's back and flies with other ravens; the raven opens its beak and for an instant the child is flying but then drops to the ground and lands on a pile of boulders. The child plays on the boulders (holding his body like one), falls headfirst into some flowering plants, and when the child is upright again, the child has leaf arms and leaf ears and a flower atop its head. The child finds elephants and then, those leaf ears are like elephant ears.

As we get to the end of the story, the child is near the ocean, which has a bed of clams. The child uses one as a bed. In the morning the child wakes, alone, abandons the leaf shirt and follows a trail of shells and finds "a TRIBE of KIDS" playing beneath and on the branches of a massive tree. There are 28 children. What are they playing? They've all got leaves on, in some way.

Here are the ones with a leaf/leaves on their heads. Coupled with the word TRIBE on that page, it looks to me like they're dressed up to play Indian. Remember the pattern of the book. The child we followed from one page to the next was (mostly) shown doing something to emulate something else.










But, writer Rosanne Parry disagrees with Sam, and with me, too, but she didn't reference me at her post, A Tribe of Book Reviewers.  My guess is that she thinks her blog post title is clever. It isn't. She thinks that Sam Bloom (see his review at Reading While White) should have
"been willing to look a little deeper, beyond just the immediate Oh no! we are insulting Native Americans again, as we have done so often in the past."
When I read that line in italics, I was incensed. She's being quite dismissive of criticism of stereotyping, bias, appropriation---all those things that white writers, including her, have done. A few years ago, I reviewed Parry's Written In Stone. There's a lot wrong with that book. She wrote to me privately to talk about my review, but I preferred the conversation to be public so that others could follow and learn from it. Many did. Parry did not. Indeed, Parry's resistance was remarkable. She was so sure that she was right to make up traditional Native stories, and right to make up petroglyphs and assign them meaning, and right to write that story because the Native kids she taught--she told us--wanted her to write a story about them. Sheesh! White savior to the rescue!

Parry had a lot more to say about Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids...

She acknowledged that tribe is a loaded word, but says that she:
"didn't immediately make the leap to Native American tribes because there are no tribes in North America who dress in garments made of leaves. Plant fibers woven into cloth, yes. Dance costumes made of pale yellow grasses, yes. But broad-leafed green plans arranged around the body as a short cloak? No."
Are you rolling your eyes? Are you flipping out at her use of "costumes"? You should be. She likes to talk about the Native kids she taught in Washington. Does she think they wore costumes?! There's more. She read through the book and
"didn't see a single reference, even an oblique one, to a Native American tribe or any tribal activity of North America. No hunting, no fishing, no fires, no tomahawks, no archery, no totem poles, no teepees, no drums, no horses, no canoes."
Again: are you rolling your eyes? Or, maybe, grinding your teeth? Or laughing at how stupid this all sounds? Or---are you reading it and thinking she's making good points? All those reactions are possible, given the widespread ignorance out there about Native people! Some get it, while others are oblivious. Parry goes on, telling us the way the kids are playing is more like the Green Man,
"an ancient mythological figure associated with the Celtic tribes." 
Oh! The kids are playing Green Man. Not Indian! (I'm being sarcastic). Parry isn't done yet, though... She tells us that the children playing on those final pages are of different colored skin tones, making the book:
"one of the most racially inclusive books on our bookstore shelves this year. Not only that, it's a racially inclusive book that isn't about slavery or civil rights or westward expansion, which often cast Black and Native American characters as victims."
Oh, yay (again, I'm being sarcastic). Then she tells us that the kids are:
"arranging shells, playing ball, swinging, sliding, climbing, dancing, running, hiding, napping" 
and that none of those actions are
"a mockery of Native Americans. If they were wearing fringed buckskins or button blankets or powwow dance costumes or had painted faces or were brandishing bows and arrows, that would be an entirely different story."
Oh. I see. (More sarcasm from me; I can't not be sarcastic about her words, and this is the fourth or fifth time I'm reading them!) There's that use of costume again. From a white woman who professes love for the Native kids she taught. She tells us that what she sees in Smith's illustrations are depictions of how kids play, and asks
"Who are we to shame them by saying this is playing Indian?"
Shame. That word is getting used a lot in children's literature discussions last year and this one, too. Us Native and people of color are being mean, shaming writers and now--Parry tells us--the way that kids play.

Sigh. Yes, some of the kids are sliding. And some are playing ball, etc. But look at the illustrations I shared above. What are we to make of them? They're not active in any way. They're just there, wearing their leaf feathers, holding staffs, standing, sitting, jewelry dangling from neck/wrist/ears... What about them?

Parry offers workshops on how to get things right. If you're a writer, avoid her. I wish I could say she's clueless, but I think she is being deliberately obtuse. She'll lead you to think your problematic story of appropriation is ok. It won't be.

I acknowledge that I'm clearly incensed with her and I anticipate lot of people coming to her defense. Parry and others (as Sam Bloom noted, There Is a Tribe of Kids is getting starred reviews) don't see--and refuse to see--the problems in the book. That's where we are in 2016.

Update, Friday July 15, 2016

See my first post on Smith's book: Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids

Part of the contentious discussion is that tribe doesn't mean Native peoples. That is, of course, true. However, in the U.S., that's what the word generally invokes. Some evidence: In preparing this review, I did a search of children's books at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, using "tribe" as the search term. The results make it clear that the word is coupled with Native peoples. I didn't include discussion of the word in this review but will discuss it in another post.