Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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

Some conversations about my review of Jonah and Jeanette Winter's The Secret Project suggest that I didn't say enough, back in March. I'm back, therefore, to say more. Some of what I wrote in March is being interpreted as innuendo and destructive. In saying more, this review is much longer. I anticipate that some who read it will continue with the "nit picking" charge that has already been leveled. 

Some people read my reviews and think I'm being too picky because I focus on seemingly little or insignificant aspect of a book. The things I pointed out in March were not noted in the starred reviews by the major review journals, but the things I pointed out have incensed people who, apparently, fear that my review will persuade the Caldecott Award Committee that The Secret Project does not merit its award. 

In fact, we'll never know if my review is even discussed by the committee. Their deliberations are confidential. The things I point out matter to me, and they should matter to anyone who is committed to accuracy and inclusivity in any children's books--whether they win awards or not. 


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The Secret Project, by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, was published in February of 2017 by Simon and Schuster. It is a picture book about the making of the atomic bomb. 

I'm reading and reviewing the book as a Pueblo Indian woman, mother, scholar, and educator who focuses on the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. 

I spent (and spend) a lot of time in Los Alamos and that area. My tribal nation is Nambé which is located about 30 miles from Los Alamos, which is the setting for The Secret Project. My dad worked in Los Alamos. A sister still does. The first library card I got was from Mesa Public Library. 

Near Los Alamos is Bandelier National Park. It, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde are well known places. There are many sites like them that are less well known. They're all through the southwest. Some are marked, others are not. For a long time, people who wrote about those places said that the Anasazi people lived there, and that they had mysteriously disappeared. Today, what Pueblo people have known for centuries is accepted by others: present-day Pueblo people are descendants of those who once lived there. We didn't disappear. 

What I shared above is what I bring to my reading and review of The Secret Project. Though I'm going to point to several things I see as errors of fact or bias, my greatest concern is the pages about kachina dolls and the depiction of what is now northern New Mexico as a place where "nobody" lived.

"In the beginning"


Here is the first page in The Secret Project:



The words are:  
In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape, 
The illustration shows a vast and empty space and suggests that pretty much nothing was there. When I see that sort of thing in a children's book, I notice it because it plays into the idea that this continent was big and had plenty of land and resources--for the taking. In fact, it belonged (and some of it still belongs) to Indigenous peoples and our respective Native Nations.

"In the beginning" works for some people. It doesn't work for me because a lot of children's books depict an emptyness that suggests land that is there for the taking, land that wasn't being used in the ways Europeans, and later, US citizens, would use it.

I used the word "erase" in my first review. That word makes a lot of people angry. It implies a deliberate decision to remove something that was there before. Later in the book, Jonah Winter's text refers to Hopi people who had been making kachina dolls "for centuries." His use of "for centuries" tells me that the Winter's knew that the Hopi people pre-date the ranch in Los Alamos. I could say that maybe they didn't know that Pueblo people pre-date the ranch--right there in Los Alamos--and that's why their "in the beginning" worked for them, but a later illustration in the book shows local people, some who could be Pueblo, passing through the security gate.

Ultimately, what the Winter's they knew when they made that page doesn't really matter, because intent does not matter. We have a book, in hand. The impact of the book on readers--Native or not--is what matters.

Back in March, I did an update to my review about a Walking Tour of Los Alamos that shows an Ancestral Pueblo very near Fuller Lodge. Here's a map showing that, and a photo of that site



The building in Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be the Big House that scientists moved into when they began work at the Los Alamos site of the Manhattan Project. Here's a juxtaposition of an early photograph and her illustration. Clearly, Jeanette Winter did some research.



In her illustration, the Big House is there, all by itself. In reality, the site didn't look like that in 1943. The school itself was started in 1917 (some sources say that boys started arriving in 1918), but by the time the school was taken over by the US government, there were far more buildings than just that one. Here's a list of them, described at The Atomic Heritage Foundation's website:
The Los Alamos Ranch School comprised 54 buildings: 27 houses, dormitories, and living quarters totaling 46,626 sq. ft., and 27 miscellaneous buildings: a public school, an arts & crafts building, a carpentry shop, a small sawmill, barns, garages, sheds, and an ice house totaling 29,560 sq. ft.
I don't have a precise date for this photograph (below) from the US Department of Energy's The Manhattan Project website. It was taken after the project began. The scope of the project required additional buildings. You see them in the photo, but the photo also shows two of the buildings that were part of the school: the Big House, and Fuller Lodge (for more photos and information see Fuller Lodge). I did not draw those circles or add that text. That is directly from the site.




Here's the second illustration in the book:



The boys who went to the school in 1945 were not from the people whose families lived in that area. An article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says that:
The students came from well-to-do families across the nation, and many went on to Ivy League colleges and prominent careers. Among them were writer Gore Vidal; former Sears, Roebuck and Co. President Arthur Wood; Hudson Motor Co. founder Roy Chapin; Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby; and John Shedd Reed, president for nearly two decades of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The change from a school to a laboratory



Turning to the next double page spread, we see the school principal reading a letter from the US government. The man's name was A. J. Connell, and he was the director of the school. The letter (shown here, to the right) was sent to the director on December 7, 1942, saying the boys would have to leave by Feb. 8, 1943. Facing that page in the book is the scene where the boys had been playing games earlier, but now, there's no boys there. They've left behind a ball and a pair of shoes. 

In his review of The Secret Project, Sam Juliano wrote that this take over was "a kind of eminent domain maneuver." It was, and, as Melissa Green said in a comment at Reading While White's discussion of the book,
In her review Debbie Reese observed an elite boy’s school — Los Alamos Ranch School — whose students were “not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time.” Of course not: local kids wouldn’t have qualified — local kids wouldn’t be “elite”, because they wouldn’t have been white. The very school whose loss is mourned (at least as I can tell from the reviews: I haven’t yet read the book) is a white school built on lands already stolen from the Pueblo people. And the emptiness of the land, otherwise…? It wasn't empty. But even when Natives are there, we white people have a bad habit — often a willful habit — of not seeing them.
Green put her finger on something I've been trying to articulate. The loss of the school is mourned. The illustration invites that response, for sure, and I understand that emotion. Green notes that the land belonged to Pueblo people before it became the school and then the lab ("the lab" is shorthand used by people who are from there). There's no mourning for our loss in this book. Honestly: I don't want anyone to mourn. Instead, I want more people to speak about accuracy in the ways that Native people are depicted or left out of children's books. 

The Atomic Heritage Organization has a timeline, indicating that people began arriving at Los Alamos in March, 1943. On the next double paged spread of The Secret Project, we see cars of scientists arriving at the site. On the facing page, other workers are brought in, to cook, to clean, and to guard. The workers are definitely from the local population. Some people look at that page and use it to argue that I'm wrong to say that the Winter's erased Pueblo people in those first pages, but the "nobody" framework reappears a few pages later.

By the way, the Manhattan Project Voices site has oral histories you can listen to, like the interview with Lydia Martinez from El Rancho, which is a Spanish community next to San Ildefonso Pueblo. 

The next two pages are about the scientists, working, night and day, on the "Gadget." In my review, I am not looking at the science. In his review, Edward Sullivan (I know his name and work from many discussions in children's literature circles) wrote about some problems with the text of The Secret Project. I'm sharing it here, for your convenience:
There was no "real name" for the bomb called the Gadget. "Gadget" was a euphemism for an implosion-type bomb that contained a plutonium core. Like the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Gadget was officially a Y-1561 device. The text is inaccurate in suggesting work at Site Y involved experimenting with atoms, uranium, or plutonium. The mission of Site Y was to create a bomb that would deliver either a uranium or plutonium core. The plutonium used in Gadget for the Trinity test was manufactured at a massive secret complex in Hanford, Washington. Uranium, used in the Hiroshima bomb, was manufactured at another massive secret complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There are other factual errors I'm not going to go into here. Winter's audacious ambition to write a picture book story about the first atomic bomb is laudable but there are too many factual errors and omissions here to make this effort anything other than misleading. 


The art of that area...


Turning the page, we next see two outdoor scenes:


The text on those pages is:
Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings.
In my initial review, I noted the use of "nobody" on that page. Who does "nobody" refer to? I said then, and now, that a lot of people who lived in that area knew the scientists were there. They may not have been able to speak about what the scientists were doing, but they knew they were there. The Winter's use of the word "nobody" fits with a romantic way of thinking about the southwest. Coyotes howling, cactus, prairie dogs, gorgeous scenery--but people were there, too. 

I think the text and illustration on the right are a tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe who lived in Abiquiu. I think Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be O'Keeffe, painting Pedernal. That illustration is out of sync, timewise. O'Keeffe painted it in 1941, which is two years prior to when the scientists got started at Los Alamos.  

The next double-paged spread is one that prompted a great deal of discussion at the Reading While White review:


The text reads:
Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries. Meanwhile, inside the laboratory, the shadowy figures are getting closer to completing their secret invention.
In my initial review, I said this:
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? 
Reaction to that paragraph is a primary reason I've done this second review. I said very little, which left people to fill in gaps.

Some people read my "why did the Winter's choose Hopi" as a suggestion that the Winter's were dissing Pueblo people by using a Hopi man instead of a Pueblo one. That struck me as an odd thing for that person to say, but I realized that I know something that person doesn't know: The Hopi are Pueblo people, too. They happen to be in the state now called Arizona, but they, and we--in the state now called New Mexico, are similar. In fact, one of the languages spoken at Hopi is the same one spoken at Nambé.

Some people thought I was objecting to the use of the word "dolls" because that's not the right word for them. They pointed to various websites that use that word. That struck me as odd, too, but I see that what I said left a gap that they filled in.

When I looked at that page, I wondered if maybe the Winter's had made a trip to Los Alamos and maybe to Bandelier, and had possibly seen an Artist in Residence who happened to be a Hopi man working on kachina dolls. I was--and am--worried that readers would think kachina dolls are toys. And, I wondered what readers would make of that one on the second page, hovering over the lodge.

What I was asking is: do children and adults who read this book have the knowledge they need to know that kachina dolls are not toys? They have spiritual significance. They're used for teaching purposes. And they're given to children in specific ways. We have some in my family--given to us in ways that I will not disclose. As children, we're taught to protect our ways. The voice of elders saying "don't go tell your teachers what we do" is ever-present in my life. This protection is there because Native peoples have endured outsiders--for centuries--entering our spaces and writing about things they see. Without an understand of what they see, they misinterpret things.

The facing page, the one that shows a kachina hovering over the lodge, is not in full color. It is a ghost-like rendering of the one on the left:


We might say that the Winter's know that there is a spiritual significance to them, but the Winter's use of them is their use. Here's a series of questions. Some could be answered. My asking of them isn't a quest for answers. The questions are meant to ask people to reflect on them.

  • Would a Hopi person use a kachina that way? 
  • Which kachina is that? On that first page, Jeanette Winter shows several different ones, but what does she know about each one? 
  • What is Jeanette Winter's source? Are those accurate renderings? Or are they her imaginings? 
  • Why did Jeanette Winter use that one, in that ghost-like form, on that second page? Is it trying to tell them to stop? Is it telling them (or us) that it is watching the men because they're doing a bad thing? 
The point is, there's a gap that must be filled in by the reader. How will people fill in that gap? What knowledge will they turn to, or seek out, to fill that gap?

In the long exchange at Reading While White, Sam Juliano said that information about kachina dolls is on Wikipedia and all over the Internet. He obviously thinks information he finds is sufficient, but I disagree. Most of what is on the Internet is by people who are not themselves, Native. We've endured centuries of researchers studying this or that aspect of our lives. They did not know what they were looking at, but wrote about it anyway, from a White perspective. Some of that research led to policies that hurt us. Some of it led to thefts of religious items. Finally, laws were passed to protect us. One is the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (some good info here), and another is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990. With that as context, I look at that double-paged spread and wonder: how it is going to impact readers?

The two page spread with kachinas looks -- to some people -- like a good couple of pages because they suggest an honoring of Hopi people. However, any "honoring" that lacks substance is just as destructive as derogatory imagery. In fact, that "honoring" sentiment is why this country cannot seem to let go of mascots. People generally understand that derogatory imagery is inappropriate, but cannot seem to understand that romantic imagery is also a problem for the people being depicted, and for the people whose pre-existing views are being affirmed by that romantic image.

Curtains


One result of these long-standing misrepresentations and exploitations is this: For some time now, Native people have drawn curtains (in reality, and in the abstract) on what we do and what we share. As a scholar in children's literature, I've been adding "curtains" to Rudine Sims Bishop's metaphor of books as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. There are things people do not share with outsiders.

Tribal nations have protocols for researchers who want to do research. Of relevance here is the information at the website for the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. There are books about researchers, like Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, now in its 2nd edition.

My point: there are resources out there that can help writers, editors, reviewers, teachers, parents and librarians grow in their understandings of all of this.

The Land of Enchantment


The last page that I want to talk about in some detail is this one:



The text is:
Sometimes the shadowy figures emerge from the shadows, pale and tired and hallow-eyed, and go to the nearby town.
That nearby town is meant to be Santa Fe. See the woman seated on the right, holding a piece of pottery? The style of those two buildings and her presence suggests that they're driving into the plaza. It looks to me like they're on a dirt road. I think the roads into Santa Fe were already paved by then. See the man with the burro? I think that's out of time, too. The Manhattan Project Voices page has a photograph of the 109 E. Palace Avenue from that time period. It was the administrative office where people who were part of the Manhattan Project reported when they arrived in Santa Fe:




You can find other photos like that, too. Having grown up at Nambé, I have an attachment to our homelands. Visitors, past-and-present, have felt its special qualities, too. That’s why so many artists moved there and it is why so many people move there now. I don’t know who first called it “the land of enchantment” but that’s its moniker. Too often, outsiders lose perspective that it is a land where brutal violence took place. What we saw with the development of the bomb is one recent violent moment, but it is preceded by many others. Romanticizing my homeland tends to erase its violent past. The art in The Secret Project gets at the horror of the bomb, but it is marred by the romantic ways that the Winter's depicted Native peoples.


Some concluding thoughts


The Secret Project got starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, The Horn Book, Booklist, and Kirkus. None of the reviews questioned the Native content or omissions. The latter are harder for most people to see, but I am disappointed that they did not spend time (or write about, if they did) on the pages with the kachina dolls. 

I fully understand why people like this book. I especially understand that, under the current president, many of us fear a nuclear war. This book touches us in an immediate way, because of that sense of doom. But--we cannot let fear boost this book into winning an award that has problems of accuracy, especially when it is a work of nonfiction.

There are people who think I'm trying to destroy this book. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, it got starred reviews. My review and my "not recommended" tag is not going to destroy this book.

What I've offered here, back in March, and on the Reading While White page is not going to destroy this book. It has likely made the Winter's uncomfortable or angry. It has certainly made others feel angry.

I do not think the Winter's are racist. I do think, however, that there's things they did not know that they do know now. I know for a fact that they have read what I've written. I know it was upsetting to them. That's ok, though. Learning about our own ignorance is unsettling. I have felt discomfort over my own ignorance, many times. In the end, what I do is try to help people see depictions of Native peoples from what is likely to be their non-Native perspective. I want books to be better than they are, now. And I also know that many writers value what I do.

Now, I'm hitting the upload button (at 8:30 AM on Tuesday, October 17th). I hope it is helpful to anyone who is reading the book or considering buying it. I may have typos in what I've written, or passages that don't make sense. Let me know! And of course, if you've got questions or comments, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

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

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women is another outstanding collection edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Released on September 12th, 2017 from Annick Press, it is one you'll definitely want to add to your shelves--alongside their other two books--Urban Tribes and Dreaming in Indian.



#NotYourPrincess is one of those books that is so stunning in so many ways, it is kind of hard to decide where to start!

Let's start with the title.  The hashtag title is perfection. It boldly says that Native women are here and we have things to say.

Some of you may know that a lot of activism takes place on Twitter. Native people have been creating and using hashtags to inform others about the things Native people care about. Did you, for example, follow the conversations that took place using #NotYourPocahontas and #NotYourMascot?

#NotYourPrincess is the first part of the title. The rest of it is "Voices of Native American Women." That's what Charleyboy and Leatherdale give us this time. The words and art of Native women. Let's take a look inside their book...

A couple of years ago, I was visiting Heid Erdrich at Birchbark Books. While there, I saw a stunning painting by Aza E. Abe. She's Turtle Mountain Ojibwe. Her painting, titled RedWoman, is the first item in #NotYourPrincess! (Some of you may know, too, that it is on the cover of Louise Erdrich's The Round House.)


Facing it is a piece written by Leanne Simpson. She's Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg:


Turning the pages, it is easy to see why Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale put these two items side-by-side as an opening for the book. With them, I am visually and textually drawn into an Indigenous space that wraps me in a warm embrace, and that--in some instances--pierces that warmth with truths, but right away, brings me back to that place of knowing the power of Native women.

The next double page spread has Tear -- a poem by Linda Hogan (she's Chickasaw) -- that is about the past and future. Here's the last part of her poem. It resonates with me, deeply: 
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children. 
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

 It is brilliantly paired with a painting by Wakeah Jhane (she is Comanche/Blackfoot/Kiowa):


She is a self-taught ledger artist. The ledger behind the woman in the painting signifies ancestors who were at boarding schools, while the child she carries embodies the future. I mean it when I say that I'm sitting here, blinking back tears at the beauty, the power, and the resilience in #NotYourPrincess. I'd love to upload images of every page, but of course, won't do that.

What I will do, is tell you to get a copy right away for yourself, and for Native teens in your life. I sang the praises of Dreaming in Indian and of Urban Tribes but there's a quality to #NotYourPrincess that... well, that I don't have words for yet, that do justice to how it is impacting me.

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The work of 58 different Native women is in #NotYourPrincess. Art, words, photography. What you see and read in this book will linger in your head and heart.



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

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

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



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



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

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

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

A few days ago, I added a new feature to AICL. I called it "Reviewed on Twitter." It is for books that I talk about on Twitter, in a series of numbered or threaded tweets. Earlier today (October 3, 2017), I did one for Zetta Elliott's Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged. Here's the description for Zetta's book:
A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because “true friends accept each other just the way they are.” A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences.

I like the immediacy of Twitter, capturing and sharing joy (or frustration) when I get a book and want to say something about it, right away. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @debreese. So here you go... tweets I sent out about Zetta's book! 
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In my mailbox today! 's BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED.


Zetta and I have lot of terrific conversations about children's lit, and some about institutional racism, too. I admire her a great deal.

One time when we were talking -- online, I think -- I said that any of the kids in her picture books might be a Native child.

I wasn't talking about that "culturally neutral" thing some people like. That is a bogus concept that I reject.

What I meant was that a Native person's identity is not determined by dark hair/eyes/skin, or, ummm... cheekbones!

Native identity is based on citizenship, or kinship relationships, in a specific tribal nation.

We talked, then, about how a writer might signify or hint at a character's Native identity, in a picture book that isn't abt Native ppl.

And how to do it, without resorting to stereotypical markers (long braids, fringed clothing, moccasins)...

Where I ended was 'how about a t-shirt' that a Native kid might wear, one that shows that kid's pride in something Native.

Zetta follows my work and knows I'm a huge fan of 's SUPER INDIAN.

A few weeks ago, she wrote to me to ask about having Super Indian on the t-shirt. I was PSYCHED at that idea. I introduced her to Arigon.

In my head, I was remembering working with Pueblo kids at Santa Clara. I showed them SUPER INDIAN. They love that bk.

And, I had a Super Indian tote bag that gave me. It, too, was much-loved by them.

So! In BENNY DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUGGED, there's a Native kid in one scene, wearing a Super Indian t-shirt as he plays basketball:


Zetta's in NYC. There's a lot of Native people in NYC. That character might seem a small thing to some, but I think that...

... any Native kid who happens to read this book and knows Super Indian... is gonna go WHOA!!!

They're gonna say "LOOK!!! It is Super Indian!" Thanks, Zetta. I think this is way cool.

****

As I sent out that series of tweets, two Native women--Chelsea Vowell and Adrienne Keene--who I admire tremendously for their work, too, were reading the tweets and then enthusiastically shared them with their followers. Repeating what I said on Twitter: this might look small to some people, but to me and the Native people who are sharing it on Twitter... it means a lot.

Get a copy of Benny Doesn't Like to Be Hugged, and get Arigon Starr's Super Indian books, too!



Sunday, October 01, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Diverse BookFinder" Project

I started getting email from people who wondered if I had seen the Diverse BookFinder website. And, I began to see people sharing it on social media, with comments that suggest it is a good place to find books about diverse groups of people:
"A resource for finding diverse books"
"Great resource!"
"Helps users find diverse picture books"
"Awesome book finder!"
"Wonderful site! I need to get my hands on these books!"
"Makes it easier to find diverse books..."
Lot of enthusiasm! So, I went to take a look and tweeted my observations as I looked through it. With this post I want to say a bit more than I said on Twitter.

First, some background: the country is in another of its many periods where people are working hard to promote books that accurately represent marginalized peoples. At some point, it will not be another period of this kind of work. It won't be necessary. Data shows, however, that we've got a long way to go to get to where the body of literature published/republished each year is not that "all white world" that Nancy Larrick pointed to in 1965.

The Diverse BookFinder project is one of many in the works right now. We Need Diverse Books launched its Our Story app a few weeks ago. I recommend it. I spent time going through it.

Even more recently, Kirkus partnered with Baker & Taylor to help librarians find books. I have not had a chance to look through that one.

And--I'm part of the See What We See project, and I'll also be working with the newly funded Diversity Deep Dive Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center

That's the background. And now, some thoughts on Diverse BookFinder.

Their mission/vision statement says that they want to "diversify and balance bookshelves everywhere" and that they want to "move the diverse books discussion beyond a focus simply on the lack of numbers to also consider content and impact." They write that "improving cultural accuracy" is essential. I agree with all of that. But when I move beyond that page to other pages, I find problems. 

We can start with the Search page. After my tweets, Anne Sibley O'Brien, one of its founders, replied "This is really helpful, Debbie, suggests that we need a very clear statement on the site that inclusion in the site =/= recommendation."

They added this statement to the top of the Search page:
Our intention is to acquire and make available ALL picture books featuring indigenous people and people of color published in the U.S. since 2002, including reprints. Inclusion of a title in the collection DOES NOT EQUAL recommendation. See our related readings page for suggested links for evaluating books.
I'm not sure that statement helps. It seems to say "here's a way to find all the books" and "it is on you" to figure out if they're any good. For most people, some things will be obvious. If, for example, Little Black Sambo was reprinted, they would include it in their database. Most people, I think, would know that book is racist and wouldn't get it to use with children. They might use it in with adults in college classes, but not with children. 

I put "Native" in the search box. Returns are presented, ten per screen. As I paged through, I saw that a lot of the books have the "folklore" category. That's a problem. Some of those stories are creation stories. They aren't folktales and they ought not be considered within the same framework as Beauty and the Beast. Here's a screen cap of the Categories page at the Diverse BookFinder site. 





The first category is also a problem. It is "Any Child: Assimilation."



The "just kids" or "any child" idea -- I see that it has appeal but I also see it as deeply problematic. It erases so much of what Native and children of color carry within them, in an unseen way to most, that informs or shapes what they say and do, think and feel. It assumes that beneath the physical features of any given person, they are "the same" underneath. Linda Sue Park's blog post about "race neutral" is terrific. I urge you to read it. She said, in part:
If a story depicts someone who leaves their own home and interacts with others in public spaces (in other words, almost any novel ever written) but never or almost never has to consider their racial identity, THAT CHARACTER IS WHITE. This could even serve as a reasonable definition of ‘white privilege’: Only those of the dominant culture have that incredible luxury.
A POC can never go outside their own home or family circle without thinking about their racial identity in some way. The trigger is not always malicious or even negative, but it is inescapable. A POC’s racial identity IS NOT THEIR SOLE DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC–but in society, it is *always* a consideration.
I shared it, and KT Horning's "Culturally Generic/Neutral?", too, with Anne. She knew of KT's and said it really influenced their thinking, but I'm having a hard time understanding what that means. I'm not able to connect the dots.

Assimilation -- the word and what it represents -- is not positive. If you say that word to a Native person, they are likely recalling the many times the US government tried to make us into White people. That happened, overtly, in the boarding schools where the motto was to "kill the Indian" and to "save the man." There were other programs, too. Do the developers of the Diverse BookFinder need to keep that in mind as they create and use categories? I think so.

In the list of categories on the left margin (it is different from the Category Chart that has "Any Child: Assimilation" -- which also confuses me), is "Tribal-Nation." I was glad to see that, because I figured that's where I'd find books about Native peoples as peoples of sovereign nations. But when I clicked on it, I was puzzled. It isn't specific to Native peoples of the US. Most of the tabs under it are Native Nations of the US but some are not. Two that are not are Bhil, and Massai. My expectation was wrong. I was confused at first and still wonder if "Tribal-Nation" is going to work for users or not.

I saw two Pueblo nations in the list, but Elan, Son of Two Peoples is not about anyone from the Pueblo of Sandia.  Elan is from Acoma. It says so, in the book. And Whispers of the Wolf is under the tab for Pueblo of Santa Clara, but it isn't set there. That one doesn't have a setting other than an ambiguous before contact with Europeans. A note inside from someone who is from Santa Clara doesn't mean the story should be labeled as a Santa Clara story. It isn't by a Native writer. So--the team that categorized these two books made errors.

Creating a database that will be helpful to users means starting with words that will grab the books that should be scooped up in a particular search or category. In the Cherokee category, I see a book about a Chinese American film star and a book that is First Nations (Canada). The We Need Diverse Books app had some of those problems, too, but they asked me to look it over before they released it.

Bottom line: I'm confused over what the project means to do. It seems to me that it is supposed to be a study. A research study. Of a collection in a college library that will be adding books to it. But the Finder part... just confuses me. I'm trying to make sense of it. For now, I can't recommend it. I'll check in on it from time to time.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Cover for Eric Gansworth's GIVE ME SOME TRUTH

If you're a regular reader of AICL, you know I think Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here is outstanding. I recommend it all the time when I work with teachers and librarians.

Today, Nerdy Book Club was the host for the cover reveal for his next book, Give Me Some Truth, which will be out in 2018.



Here's some of what he said:

[W]hen I’m getting ready to write a new novel, I look at my existing cast of characters, and develop a new one by first identifying which other characters they’re related to. I ask the new character, “Now whose kid are you?”

As a Native person, I smiled as I read "whose kid are you" and I wondered who would be at the center of Give Me Some Truth! Who, I wondered, would take me back into a Native community that feels very real to me.

Gansworth doesn't have to sit there at his computer and think "how would a Native kid" think or feel or speak. He's writing from a lived experience. His writing resonates with me and so many Native people who have read and shared If I Ever Get Out of Here.

Head over to Nerdy Book Club and see what else Gansworth said, and keep an eye out for Give Me Some Truth. 

_______________________

Back to add Gansworth's bio:
Eric Gansworth (Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ) is Lowery Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and was recently NEH Distinguished Visiting Professor at Colgate University. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eric grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Nation, just outside Niagara Falls, NY. His debut novel for young readers, If I Ever Get Out of Here, was a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick and an American Indian Library Association Young Adult Honor selection, and he is the author of numerous acclaimed books for adults. Eric is also a visual artist, generally incorporating paintings as integral elements into his written work. His work has been widely shown and anthologized and has appeared in IROQUOIS ART: POWER AND HISTORY, THE KENYON REVIEW, and SHENANDOAH, among other places, and he was recently selected for inclusion in LIT CITY, a Just Buffalo Literary Center public arts project celebrating Buffalo’s literary legacy. Please visit his website at www.ericgansworth.com.    

Monday, September 25, 2017

Twitter Conversations about Scholastic's THE ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE

On September 22, 2017, a parent in Canada tagged me on a tweet about a book in his child's kindergarten classroom. He asked "What are kids learning about Canadian history? He shared four images from inside a book:



The pages are from The Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Marc Tetro, first published in 1994 by Scholastic Canada, for kids 5-8 years old. The tweet generated a fair bit of interest.

When I retweeted it, I tagged Scholastic:



Earlier today (Sep 25), Scholastic Canada replied:













I don't think there are any mechanisms by which a teacher or librarian would know that Scholastic stopped publishing this book because of the issues with its content. Clearly, it is still in at least one classroom in Canada.

I looked in WorldCat to see how many libraries have it. Given the issues in it, it shouldn't be in a public or school library. It does have use, however, in a university library. Unfortunately, it is in several public and school district libraries. If you've got it in your library, deselect it.





Sunday, September 24, 2017

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

Today, AICL is launching a new feature. I'm calling it Reviewed On Twitter and it will have its own label. Sometimes, I tweet that I got a book. If I have something more to say as I look it over, I send a second tweet, and a third, and so on. I end up with something akin to a review, except that it is in a series of tweets. Too often, I never get a review written and posted. That means that anyone who reads AICL but doesn't follow me on Twitter, doesn't see what I said about the book. I don't know if this new feature is going to work out or not, but, we'll see.


****
Not Recommended


On September 17, 2017, CBC News ran a news item by Angela Sterritt. In 'A punch in the gut': Mother slams B.C. high school exercise connecting Indigenous women to 'squaw', Steritt wrote about a worksheet from a guide for a graphic novel being taught in her daughter's classroom. The graphic novel is Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush. Below are my tweets, as I read through it. I started on September 21.

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In today's mail; not looking forward to rdg ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH.


Page 2. Nothing in the text says anything about Thanksgiving. Why is it there?

Doesn't that look like an American Thanksgiving scene? Set in 1810, this is supposedly a story about going to Canada.

In Ch 1, Susanna meets her man, gets married; in ch 2 they set off for Canada. On Aug 30, 1832, they approach "The New World."

In ch 3, her husband, John, is out hunting. He comes home, sees Indians, aims his rifle at them; Susanna says she's ok.

The Indians (Chief Peter Nogan, his wife, their son) are teachng her their language. They name her, Nonocosoqui. It means Little Bird.

Susanna can draw. She draws a bird. The chief's wife says "your squaw is a much clever woman." 👀

Susanna draws more, there's talk of trading. She gives them pieces of her fancy mirror (it mostly shattered on its way to their cabin).

I gotta say: stories that have Indians staring into mirrors, marveling, enable a "primitive" image. Water surfaces reflect image, too!

Oh... they give her a gift... she looks in a mirror shard.... it is a bone choker (some of my Native friends will get a kick out of that).

A few days later a Black man gives her a cow. He tells her he heard she's a writer. He tells her "this is no country for writing." Damn.

That "no country for writing" is another problem. It suggests Native ppls were primitive and didn't write.

The Black man's name is Mollineux. He knows abt writing (Shakespeare, specifically) because his master on VA plantation let him use library.

I should note that Susanna and John are Elitist Good White People. They don't like lower class men, like the ones in ch 4...

Ch 4 is about a "logging bee." Lot of working men come to work for Susanna and John. The morning they are due to arrive, Susanna's...

... maid ran away. Susanna doesn't know how to cook, but have no choice. The workers give her a hard time.

An American neighbor goes over to Susanna's. But, they're squatters! LOL. Susanna dissing on Americans. She even says that they...

... ""borrow" the land on which are farm now stood!" I guess Susanna and John got their land... legally?! Again: 👀

The American squatter woman gives Susanna heck abt not sitting down with the workers. "You invite the Indians" but not "your helps."

Susanna wants to avoid "Speechifying on Yankee democracy" so changes subject to Mollineux. Squatter woman says he used to work for her...

... and he had "good conduct" but she "could never abide him for being black." Susanna says Mollineux is "same flesh and blood" as...

... squatter woman's "helps" and asks if he sat at their table. "Mercy me, my helps would leave if I put such an affront to them."

I should have noted when I started this thread, that the teacher's guide for ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH is why I ordered this book.

I did a long thread on the guide a couple of days ago.
1. I ordered a copy of ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH (graphic novel adaptation of the 1852 book) in this news item:
2. Question for -- why did you publish ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH as a graphic novel? I'm flipping thru 1852 bk and.. 
3. I see "squaw" a lot. Here's one passage: "a very large, fat, ugly squaw" is the first example.
4. In the original, "squaw" appears 39 times. How many times is it in the graphic novel? Course, even once is not ok.
5. Hmmmm... I searched the original for the word "darkie" that is definitely in the graphic novel, but it isn't in the original.
6. The original has the n word but the author pushes back on racist ideas. See?

7. Is that passage in the graphic novel... with "darkie" used instead?
8. Teacher's guide for bk is here: [It was removed for review.] See disclaimer? Why say "not politically correct" instead of racist? 

9. And, the person who wrote "of that time" is clearly living under a rock. Those prejudices and racist language are still here, TODAY. 
10. This guide is clearly written with White students/teachers in mind.
11. Did its author and publisher not realize Native and Black kids are part of today's society? First suggested activity is to imagine... 
12. ... life as a "pioneer." It is f'ed up to ask a Native child to imagine what it was like to be a "pioneer." 
13. The guide asks students for good definition of pioneer. How about "a biased word for someone who invaded Native lands." 
14. Here's another question from the guide. I don't see a question asking students how an Indigenous person felt...
15. The next question asks if relationships between pioneers and indigenous ppl improved. Guessing the answer is supposed to be yes. 🤔
16. Next activity: build a model of a pioneer village. That kind of thing centers Whiteness. Teachers: don't do this!
17. The third activity is about "politically incorrect" language:

18. Lot going wrong in this activity. In this true/false statement about words that "everyone" used? "Everyone" means White people. 
19. And here's the activity that brought attention to this messed up book and teacher's guide for it. Guide tries to say "don't use... 
20... certain words today" but then uses them in the activity like they're facts kids must learn. 



Where was I? Oh, yeah, the squatter woman and the not squatter woman trying to out-do each other with their imagined superiority.

Well, damn. When I was looking at the guide the other day, I saw that ch 6 is about a "shivaree" but didn't know what that was. I do now.

By ch 6, Mollineux has married an Irish girl. It is nighttime, men have fiddles, drums, masks. They go to his house: "Come on Darkie!"

One calls "string him up". They pour tar on him, feathers... When I first heard of this book, I asked WHY it was published.

It seems to me that the publisher and writers of the graphic novel & guide had NO IDEA that Native or Black kids would be asked to read it.

The graphic novel, published in 2016, has an Intro by Margaret Atwood. Her recent Emmy probably makes the bk more saleable. But...

But I can't see her name anymore and not remember her involvement in the Joseph Boyden messes.

I'll stop for now with this quick look at ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH. If it was assigned to my child, I'd raise hell for sure.

-----

When I quit last night, I had finished Ch 6, "Shivaree." I didn't share any pain-inducing images from those pages. I'm still aghast at them.

The bk is marked as being for kids in sixth grade and on up. Those "Shivaree" pages are brutal.

Ch 7 is called "John Managhan." John goes to Susanna's house, asking for work. He's hurt but Susanna's new servant won't help him.

He starts to work for Susanna. Kind of heroic. Even tells Susanna's husband how to deliver their 2nd baby when the midwife can't get there.

That's because he's a Roman Catholic. An inset box tells us that enmities between religions ran high "in those days." Not today, I guess?!

Life is getting harder for Susanna. Milk, bread, and potatoes are sometimes all they have to eat. But wait!

Remember the Indian Chief from the start of the book? He comes by from time to time and gives them fish.

Susanna gives most of the food to her family. Husband notices, tells her she has to eat more because he needs her help in the fields.

Susanna cries. She is "reduced to field-labour" but understands why. She steps up but they don't have skills, really, to do this work.

Life gets harder and harder. There's a page where she's grimacing as she skins squirrels for their meals. She's also upset because...

... her sister, who had visited (briefly) in ch 5, has written a book that has "made this wretched wilderness into a fool's paradise."

Susanna's husband tells her to write, again, as she had before they left England. Write the truth of their lives, he says.

Susanna doesn't want to do that. Everyone in England would think of her, living in a log hut, consorting with vulgar ppl & Americans.

But, after a while, she does (write). War breaks out. John has to leave. Oh... here's Indians again as Indian women show her how to fish.

I've looked thru and thru the book. No mention of what tribal nation Susanna was learning words from, or learning fishing techniques...

The thread this tweet is part of is about the graphic novel, SUSANNA MOODIE: ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH that was (is?) being taught in Canada.

It is based on a book with that same title, written by Moodie, published in 1852. In the original, Moodie used "Indian" 118 times.

You can see the original, here: I don't plan to do any analysis of the 1852 one compared to the 2015 one.

Mostly, I just wonder why Second Story thought it was a good idea to make this graphic novel adaptation, for young ppl of today.

I don't recall seeing a disclaimer like this one, inside ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH. See that past tense, "were", in there? (Because text in photo is small, I am inserting it here: "Common prejudices in the nineteenth century resulting from antagonisms between Protestants and Catholics, or racism perpetuated by white Europeans against Blacks and Aboriginals, were reflected in the everyday language people used to describe themselves and each other. Today it is unacceptable to use words such as Indian, squaw, darkie, Negro,Yankee, or Papist.")




There's something like that disclaimer in the teaching guide for the bk, too. That guide got pulled. Will the book get pulled, too?

My guess is, no. It was (is?) being used in classrooms in Canada, which means it was bought in quantities. Just for one class? More?