Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beverly Slapin's review of UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM by Steve Sheinkin

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review of Steve Sheinkin's Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2017. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children. I (Debbie Reese) hope to read and review this book, too. See also the review at Reading While White

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Sheinkin, Steve, Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. Roaring Brook Press, 2017; grades 6-9 (Potawatomi, Sac and Fox)


PREFACE

In “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” a chapter in American Indian Stories, [1], Zitkala-Sa (Dakota) writes of her experiences at White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana:

The melancholy of those black days has left so long a shadow that it darkens the path of years that have since gone by. Perhaps my Indian nature is the moaning wind which stirs them now [2] for their present record. But, however tempestuous this is within me, it comes out as the low voice of a curiously colored seashell [3], which is only for those ears that are bent with compassion to hear it.

Zitkala-Sa devoted her life to seeking justice for her people and was one of the few early Native writers who wrote without the “aid” of a white editor, interpreter or ethnographer. While her stories describe the everyday humiliations, turmoil and pain that encompassed the Indian residential school experience, she also wrote of resistance and rebellion.

It’s my firm belief that no one could or should attempt to represent what the children experienced in the Indian residential schools without listening to the stories of their descendants, and with “ears bent with compassion to hear it.” And even Zitkala-Sa is not saying that those people are entitled to voice, much less to interpret, what they have heard.

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The 1951 movie, entitled “Jim Thorpe, All American” (starring Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe), begins with this hyperbole-laden voiceover:

“Jim Thorpe, All-American, the man of bronze who became the greatest athlete of all time, an Oklahoma Indian lad whose untamed spirit gave wings to his feet and carried him to immortality. Here in a mighty cavalcade of sport are all the giants who faced this champion among champions, each test adding new honors to his ever-growing fame. Here is the thrilling panorama of the Olympic Games, the nation’s praise for its returning hero, and behind the glory and glamour, colorful days at Carlisle University [sic]…” 

Stories of heroism and singlehandedly overcoming adversity are well received in European and European American children’s literature as well, and Jim Thorpe fits into this mold. He’s larger than life, a legend, almost mythic, so many stories about him—both true and false—lend themselves to the persona we know as “Jim Thorpe.”

That’s why, especially in a biography for children, it’s important to get things right. Unfortunately, Sheinkin writes through a cultural filter that objectifies Native lives, histories, and experiences, and in doing so, misleads young readers about Jim Thorpe, the real person.

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“CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL,” COVER AND BACK MATTER

Although Sheinkin refers to the “Carlisle Indian Industrial School” by its full name a few times, he then shortens the name to “Carlisle Indian School,” the name that’s reflected on the cover and front matter as well. Omitting the word “industrial” from Carlisle’s name—which Sheinkin does often in this book—belies the school’s purpose: to train its Indian students to be servants and other low-wage workers, rather than to educate them. (Referring to the school as the shortened version, “Carlisle,” after using its correct name is acceptable. Not acceptable is referring to “Carlisle Indian School” as its correct name.)

On the front cover flap—the first text the reader sees—there is this, in large print:


JIM THORPE:
SUPER ATHLETE, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST,
NATIVE AMERICAN

POP WARNER:
INDOMITABLE COACH, FOOTBALL MASTERMIND,
IVY LEAGUE GRAD


Here, Jim Thorpe is identified by his ethnicity, while Pop Warner is not. This introduction objectifies Jim Thorpe and sets the stage for much of what is to come.

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JIM THORPE AND BLACK HAWK

A caption on page 12 reads:

Young Jim’s first hero, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, Black Sparrow Hawk, or Black Hawk. Black Hawk was a member of the Thunder Clan of the Sac and Fox, the same clan as Jim Thorpe.

This 31-word caption goes off in several confusing directions, echoed in the text that follows it. 

(1) Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak was a Sauk war leader whose name, as interpreted into English, was “Black Sparrow Hawk.”

(2) Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak was born into the Thunder Clan of the Sauk Nation. He was not a “member of the Thunder Clan of the Sac and Fox.” The Sauk and Meskwaki Nations formed a political alliance after 1732, and, although the US government referred to them as a single entity, the “Sac and Fox Confederacy,” each treaty had a separate place for Sauk and Meskwaki chiefs to sign, and the Sauk and Meskwaki remain two separate nations. As Johnathan Buffalo, Preservation Director of the Meskwaki Nation, explained to me, “We are Meskwaki. When we deal in government-to-government relations with the US, they refer to us as Sac and Fox. We’re stuck for legal reasons but not for cultural reasons.” He added, “They can terminate the Sac and Fox, but they can never terminate the Meskwaki because only our God can do that.”

A lot of people, including Jim Thorpe’s family, refer to themselves by the government name, “Sac and Fox,” or even use “Sac Fox,” and historians and biographers should note the distinction. Sheinkin did not.

(3) Since Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak was born around 1767 and Jim Thorpe was born in 1887, Thorpe’s clan citizenship was the same as that of his Sauk ancestor, not the other way around.

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THE DAWES ACT

On pages 9-10, Sheinkin briefly describes the land rush that occurred after the General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Severalty Act):

Three years later, twenty thousand settlers lined the edge of what had been Sac and Fox land. A government agent fired a gun, the signal for the land rush to begin, and everyone raced on horseback or in wagons, claiming open sections of land by driving stakes into the soil…. By nightfall, the plains around the Thorpes’ farm were dotted with settlers’ tents and campfires. In just a few hours, the Sac and Fox had lost nearly 80 percent of their land. [italics mine]

In the General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act, the US government seized and split up Indian reservation lands held in common and “allocated” non-adjacent tracts of 160 acres each to individual Native families, forcing them into subsistence farming. The government then sold the “excess” 86 million acres of formerly communal lands to white settlers.

The government’s intent was to break up tribal communities, which is what they did. By seizing and “redistributing” the land, the government also destroyed the ceremony, social structure, kinship, respect for elders, and community child rearing—in short, the spiritual and material foundation of traditional Native beliefs and lives. Three years later, the government-sanctioned land grab stole almost all of the rest of the land. (Both the terms “allotment” and “severalty” euphemize what was actually theft of land and culture.)

After the US government forcibly relocated people from traditional lands to reservations, and, within a generation or two, from those communal lands to individual “allotments,” the Dawes Act became the metaphorical nail in the coffin.

When your family is abruptly cut off from land, community, and culture and surrounded by a hostile foreign environment, your life changes drastically. It’s not surprising that in this cultural vacuum—exacerbated by the easy availability of the cheap alcohol that can be likened to chemical warfare—Hiram Thorpe became a mean, abusive alcoholic, regularly threatening, beating and abandoning his several wives and many children.

Jim Francis Thorpe was one of six children (later 11) born to Hiram Thorpe and Charlotte Vieux Thorpe in 1887, the same year as the Dawes Act, and just before the massive white land grab. This was the difficult life—no, turmoil—that shaped Jim’s childhood. Land theft. Culture theft. Theft of Indian children into the government schools. A violent father. A strong, protective mother. He was not left unscarred. This is a crucial part of Thorpe’s life that Sheinkin leaves out.

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Native babies and children are traditionally named in different ways and through different practices. Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down (“Sitting Bull”) was named “Slow.” His Horse Is Crazy (“Crazy Horse”) was named “Curly.” Some children are traditionally given names that encourage them to “throw away” their baby names. (I’m reminded here of Joe Bruchac’s excellent historical novel, Brothers of the Buffalo, in which identical Cheyenne twins are named “Too Tall” and “Too Short.”) And the baby name of a good friend of mine translates from the Ojibwe, “Maniigimoogibineyans,” as “little bird making mess by making poo.” (She remembers, she told me, that she tried her best to learn how to use the potty so that everyone would stop calling her “little poo butt.”) Sometimes babies are named by their parents, sometimes by a grandparent or by a spiritual leader enlisted for that purpose. Sometimes babies are given a clan name.

Jim Thorpe was born into the Sauk Thunder Clan, which assigned him his traditional name, Wa-tha-sko-huk, meaning “The Light After the Lightning,” a Thunder Clan name. Unfortunately, Thorpe’s birth name is often cited as “Wa-tho-huck,” and erroneously translated as “Bright Path” by his biographers. Just about all of the references to “Bright Path,” which lead back to Jim Thorpe himself, have a romantic overtone, signifying that he was destined for greatness. Here, on page 9, Sheinkin writes:

Jim would later explain that his mother, following Potawatomi custom, also gave her sons names inspired by something experienced right after childbirth. Through the window near her bed, Charlotte watched the early morning sun light the path to their cabin. She named Jim Wathohuck, translated as “Bright Path.”

In any event, both of Thorpe’s parents would have followed traditional protocol and traveled to spiritual leaders in the community who were responsible for providing names. (Potawatomi and Sauk aren’t that far apart—they’re both dialects of Anishnaabemowin.) Or they would have followed the father’s traditional protocol. Although it’s possible that some individuals might name their children in this way (and “Bright Path” could have been an endearing nickname) this “first-thing-they-saw-after-childbirth” thing is a well-worn trope. It reminds me of the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which the great Will Sampson’s tongue-in-cheek story ends with, “But why do you ask, Two Dogs Copulating?" [4]   

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THE “OUTING” PROGRAM

One of the more infamous programs of the Carlisle experience was the summer “outing” program, in which the young students were sent to live with white farm families, who, more often than not, mentally and physically abused them. The reasons that Pratt gave for this program was for the students to experience living in the white world while being trained for regular work. The actual purposes of the outing program were to keep the students from going home for the summer and to continue to train them as domestic servants and farm laborers while they provided an equivalent of slave labor. Sheinkin does not acknowledge any of this. Rather, on pp. 100-101, he writes:

The Outing Program was a major part of life at Carlisle. The idea was for students to live with a “civilized” family, practice English, and learn how to run a farm. “When you boys and girls go out on jobs,” Pratt told students, “you don’t go as employees. You go and become part of the family.” [italics mine]

  Sheinkin continues:

That was not Jim’s experience. Assigned to a farm near Carlisle, he was put to work mopping floors and doing laundry. He was made to eat alone in the kitchen, and paid half of what a white laborer would typically earn.

While Pratt and the school administrators had full knowledge of the rampant cruelty from the white “patrons” to their young charges, Sheinkin describes the outing program as generally beneficent.

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ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT

On page 141, Sheinkin describes Gus Welch’s life with his grandmother and younger brother in the woods of northern Wisconsin:

Gus spent as much time as possible outside, hoping the cold air would keep his lungs clear. His grandmother taught the boys to paddle a birch bark canoe, to trap animals for their fur, to collect maple syrup and wild rice. Gus earned money for the family by taking furs into Duluth to sell—which is what had brought him to town the day he saw the Carlisle football poster. [italics mine]

Here, Sheinkin, in one sentence—a wildly inaccurate one at that—purports to describe everything two Indian children learned from their one grandparent. The way it’s worded, as well as what it leaves out, implies that Ojibwe (“Chippewa”) people were and are simple, primitive, nature loving, and technologically impaired. All of it absents the reasoning, the science, the skill sets, and the methods of traditional Indian education. And it absents the fact that these traditional skills—valuable pieces of Indigenous knowledge and technologies—have been handed down for thousands of years.

In terms of canoe building, maintenance and management, many stories were traditionally used as instructive mnemonic devices. My friend and colleague, Lois Beardslee, told me that children were taught everything about the physics of that canoe and all mathematical things to know about a vessel: construction, ratios of length to width, use and repair, how and where loads should be balanced. They were taught hydrodynamics (the equivalent of aerodynamics), how each of the materials the vessel is made of reacts with its environment. For instance, they were taught how and why to weigh down a canoe and store it in the water. They were taught that bark and wood fibers need humidity to swell so that they hold together; that opposing tensions hold these materials together and the caulking is spruce or pine-pitch with fat, using ash as filler. They were taught that a canoe needs the coolness of the water.

Lessons about how to trap animals for their fur were traditionally accompanied by stories about how trapping assists in keeping animal communities healthy through population control, how animals give themselves to humans and how they are to be respected, how they are thanked and quickly killed, and how the pelts are cleaned and dried and prepared. If there were any meat, it would certainly not have been wasted. (My friend, Barbara Wall, commented: “Yum—muskrat and beaver…beaver feast in midwinter!”)

Maple syrup is not collected. People obtain maple sap from the sugarbush and again, there are stories and mnemonic devices for children to understand how things are done in a certain way. Children were and are taught that, as Lois told me, “When we make the syrup, the sap is transformed. It’s all about chemistry; it happens very fast. When the first crystals are formed at a certain temperature, they are the catalyst for a massive rapid series of crystal formation. Our language describes this chemistry accurately. Outsiders could not, because they didn’t have the scientific language to describe it.”

“It takes ten gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and six gallons of syrup to make one gallon of sugar,” Lois continued. “Earlier, we made maple sap into sugar cakes; it wasn’t until the 1950s that glass jars were affordable in the Indian community and we started making syrup instead of sugar. We’re always a generation behind, financially.”

Manoomin (“wild rice”) is not “collected,” nor is it “wild.” Anishnaabe families have harvested and processed the rice, and seeded, cared for, and protected the rice beds for thousands of years.

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CONCLUSION

On page 154, Sheinkin writes:

The Carlisle School was supposed to sever these young men from their heritage, to “Kill the Indian in them,” as Pratt had so famously said. But fans and sportswriters never let the players forget they were Indians—and there’s no evidence they wanted to forget. They did not call themselves the Carlisle Cardinals or the Carlisle Wildcats. They were the Carlisle Indians.

It was Pratt who named the team, “Carlisle Indians,” and the place they practiced, “Indian Field.” These names were certainly not the choice of the Carlisle students. The racist scorecards and the heavily altered “before-and-after” portraits that depict the students’ so-called journey from “savagery to civilization” were made into postcards and sold as souvenirs.[5]  And the stereotypic headlines (“Indians Scalp Army”) and articles (“With racial savagery and ferocity the Carlisle Indian eleven grabbed Penn’s football scalp and dragged their victim up and down Franklin field”) were written by Carlisle publicists to rake in money for the school, from which the Carlisle students did not benefit. Rather, there was an athletic slush fund diverting money from the Indian students. Although Sheinkin quotes from this material, he neither analyzes nor even questions it.

Sheinkin also fails to follow the money trail regarding letters from the Carlisle students. “Dear old Carlisle” is a phrase that shows up in virtually every student’s letters—because these were also used as fundraisers. There were many letters addressed to parents that were never sent, and there is clear evidence that students were required to turn letters over to the “outing” parents rather than sending them home. These letters were heavily censored; especially heartbreaking are the letters to “Dear old Carlisle” from students who had left, requesting the return of their belongings and the balances in their bank accounts.

In terms of what Jim Thorpe actually wrote, fact-checking material whose research is entirely based on hype is impossible; what’s available is inherently problematic and fundamentally wrong. Nothing is real or true. Jim Thorpe was encouraged to market his life, so everything he publicly said and wrote has to be viewed in this way. In searching out the truths of the Indian residential school era, it would have been necessary—and it would have been Sheinkin’s responsibility—to dig deeper. Rather, he chooses to represent “stereotypes as stereotypes” without question.

And that is the main problem with this book. Among the questions neither asked nor answered: Why is there a children’s cemetery on the school grounds with 192 headstones? Why were children sent home to die so as not to taint Carlisle’s statistics? Why was there a children’s jail on the school grounds? Why did twice as many children run away as were graduated?

Why did Sheinkin not interview descendants of the Carlisle students and especially, Jim Thorpe’s descendants? And why—when the sheer brutality that Pratt and his surrogates inflicted on his young Indian students, mentally and physically, has left generations of Indian people scarred and traumatized—does Sheinkin insist on finding “balance” in Pratt’s intentionality?

What does this say about Richard Henry Pratt and his life’s work? Was he a man who cared about the future of Native Americans at a time few other white leaders did? Was he a man who put down his rifle only to use his school as a weapon against the very people he was claiming to save? Can there be truth in both of the above? (p. 227)

The children who were in the clutches of the Carlisle teachers and administrators were parroting what they were expected to say. This is all clear from the school records—none of them document what the children actually experienced at the school. However, many first-person and descendants’ stories that relate the truths about Pratt’s “noble experiment” at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School have been passed down for future generations to know. But despite the copious research that Sheinkin conducted for this book (including 25 pages of source notes and six pages of works cited), his cultural filter as an outsider impedes his ability to tell the real story.

The purpose of this review is not to compare Undefeated with the countless other books and materials about Jim Thorpe, but it invites the questions: What if anything does Sheinkin offer here that is authentic, fresh or innovative? Is this an exceptional work?

“Nothing” and “no.” Just like the others, Sheinkin’s story only adds to the vast collection of what a friend calls “manifest mythology.” It’s no lie that Jim Thorpe was a remarkable human being. But praising only the achievements of one or two or a few Native individuals while all but ignoring the hundreds of Indian children whose lives and spirits were stolen from them in that same place is an injustice to the Carlisle students and their descendants and to both Indian and non-Indian readers as well. The forced removals and brainwashing of children, after forced relocation, after forced land theft—those are the stories whose importance is buried in the children’s cemetery, and in Sheinkin’s book. The greater win is empathy and compassion, and accomplishments and rebellions collectively shared. Whispering encouragement in Lakota to frightened younger children. Protecting little ones from being beaten for not knowing what is expected of them. Sneaking out in the middle of the night to give food to runaways. Secretly turning the children’s jail into a bonfire. Burying medicine bundles to save them from being destroyed. Pouring salt into a pot of mush or mashing the turnips with such fury that it breaks the jar. Many such stories have been told and many more are waiting to be told.

Sheinkin’s Undefeated is yet another addition to the cult of individual exception. It’s one person’s “bright path” superimposed over everyone else’s dirt road. Our Indian children deserve better.

—Beverly Slapin
3/28/17

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‘Chi miigwech to my dear friend, Barbara Wall (Citizen Potawatomi), whose grandfather was a student at Carlisle, and whose great-great grandmother on her father’s side was Jim Thorpe’s mother’s sister. You have strong shoulders and a good heart. And to my friend and colleague, Barb Landis, whose life’s work has been devoted to documenting the Indian students’ lives at “Dear Old Carlisle.” And to my friend and colleague, educator and poet Lois Beardslee (Anishnaabe), who ceaselessly speaks truth about power. And to my dear friend, Dovie Thomason (Lakota, Kiowa-Apache), for her brilliant and compassionate stream-of-consciousness telephone conversations and unwavering support. 



[1] Hayworth Publishing House, 1921

[2] Here, Zitkala-Sa is referring to her teachers at White’s Manual Labor Institute.

[3] Here, Zitkala-Sa, who was born of mixed parentage, describes herself as “a curiously colored seashell.”

[4] I substituted “copulating” for the actual word.

[5] These “before-and-after” portraits were made for two purposes: (1) as fundraisers for the school, and (2) as propaganda. The children’s complexions were often darkened in the “before” photos and lightened in the “after” photos. As well, children in the “before” photos were often “costumed” with props that were not theirs. For instance, on page 33, Wounded Yellow Robe and Chauncy Yellow Robe are wearing eagle feathers in their hair, standing straight up. These feathers were props.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Debbie--have you seen BEAUTY OF THE BROKEN by Tawni Waters?

A reader wrote today, to ask if I've seen Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters. It came out in 2014 from Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster. Here's the description:

In this lyrical, heartwrenching story about a forbidden first love, a teen seeks the courage to care for another girl despite her small town’s bigotry and her father’s violent threats.
Growing up in conservative small-town New Mexico, fifteen-year-old Mara was never given the choice to be different. Her parents—an abusive, close-minded father and a detached alcoholic mother—raised Mara to be like all the other girls in Barnaby: God-fearing, churchgoing, and straight. Mara wants nothing to do with any of it. She feels most at home with her best friend and older brother, Iggy, but Iggy hasn’t been the same since their father beat him and put him in the hospital with a concussion.
As Mara’s mother feeds her denial with bourbon and Iggy struggles with his own demons, Mara finds an escape with her classmate Xylia. A San Francisco transplant, Xylia is everything Mara dreams of being: free-spirited, open, wild. The closer Mara and Xylia become, the more Mara feels for her—even though their growing relationship is very much forbidden in Barnaby. Just as Mara begins to live a life she’s only imagined, the girls’ secret is threatened with exposure and Mara’s world is thrown into chaos.
Mara knows she can't live without Xylia, but can she live with an entire town who believes she is an abomination worse than the gravest sin?

The description doesn't mention Henry, the Native character. Here's what I see in Amazon's "look inside."

We meet Henry at the start of chapter 4:
There's a new freshman named Henry at our school. He's an Indian who moved from the reservation. His father came here to work at the prison, not as a guard, but as a janitor. Henry has no mother. No one knows why for sure. Some people say she drowned herself when he was little, right after his baby brother drowned in the tub. But I don't know if that's true. People talk a lot, and only half of it has any basis in reality.
What I do know is that Henry has long braids, black and shiny like licorice whips. Daddy said Henry's father fought the school for Henry's right to keep his braids and they agreed because they needed his tuition money. That pissed Daddy off so much, he drank all night and punched out a window. "It's a disgrace for a man to have long hair!" he bellowed. "It says right there in the first Corinthians. They call that place a Christian school? The little fucker probably worships rocks and trees and wolves and shit."
Daddy isn't alone in his convictions. All the boys at school hate Henry. Especially Elijah Winchell. I heard that in the bathrooms, they shove him up against the wall and call him gay. Also, people say he wears tighty-whities, which is weird because, apparently, most boys wear boxers these days. Not that I'd know from personal experience, but everyone seems to agree on it.
Mara feels bad for him. By the end of the chapter, she's invited him to her birthday party. He accepts her invitation. The last line in the chapter is this:
And that is how I ended up with a genuine Indian coming to my birthday.
I'll order a copy and will be back once I've read it.

Alternatives to Aaron Carapella's "Tribal Nations Map"

A few years ago, Aaron Carapella launched his Tribal Nations Maps website. At first glance, the project seemed terrific, but a close look revealed a lot of problems.

People--some who are scholars, others who are resource people for their particular nation, and some who are teachers--spotted problems and began to talk about those problems on social media. Among the problems with his maps are the sheer volume he tried to put on a fixed page. Native Nations moved and were removed over time. So--where he shows a given nation can be incomplete or wrong altogether. Another problem is that he tried to tell Native peoples the right name to use--based on his research which many told him was wrong, but he persisted and told them they are wrong. Another is that he used photographs in the public domain--much like people have used them forever--which means replicating problems in the photos themselves and how they were taken and used. An admirable project, yes, but when you get down to the product itself, problems! Nonetheless, Carapella continues to sell his maps.

Some people recommended alternatives to Carapella's maps. I'm sharing their recommendations, below. Some are maps, and some are in-depth looks at the concept of mapping. If you've got one to recommend, drop it in the comments.

Important! A first step, always, is to go right to the website of the specific nation you're interested in. See if they've got maps you can study.

The Invasion of America is a time lapse map project created by Claudio Saunt. It's interactive features provide a lot of information teachers will find useful. (Added here on 3/27/17.)

Maps are Territories is a close look at the concept of mapping. There's terrific material all through that site. If you're a teacher who asks students to make maps, study the site before you do your mapping projects. Recommended by Eric Ritskes.  (Added here on 3/27/17.)

Yuhaviatam (People of the Pines) is a map of Native peoples in southern California. Recommended by Pamela Peters. (Added here on 3/27/17.)

Yup'ik Environmental Knowledge Project Atlas is interactive and was created by elders. (Added here on 3/27/17.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

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

Eds. note, 3/30/17: Please see updates to this post, including Matthew Winner's explanation.

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

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

Now, the details. 


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Update (3/30/17) -- A Response from Matthew Winner


A few days after loading this post, I went back to School Library Journal to read "Rock Star Librarians" Article Hits Sour Note. Written by Addie Matteson and Matthew Winner, it addressed a major concern with the article in the Wall Street Journal that featured three male librarians. This paragraph stood out to me:
The fact that diverse voices weren’t heard, valued, or represented in the WSJ article made us look more closely at the people we look to as leaders, the authors and role models we invite to our schools, the books we choose to read, review, and purchase. We need to do more, and we need to be better. If we want our students to see themselves on our bookshelves and in our programming, we need to actively work toward that goal. How can we expect the world (or the Wall Street Journal) to see school libraries as places where diversity is honored and celebrated if we are not working to make them that way?

Winner's decision to use my review of The Secret Project was evidence of his wish to "do more" and "be better." But, with those words as context, his decision to delete it made the decision to use it in the first place even worse.

I shared that excerpt on Twitter yesterday morning (3/29/17), again asking why my review was taken down. Kate Messner, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Justine Larbaleister retweeted it and asked the question, too.

At 8:14 PM, Winner replied to Kate Messner and Laurie Halse Anderson, saying he would respond. Here's a screencap of his tweet to Laurie:



At 8:41 Winner submitted a response, using the blog's comment form. I saw it in this morning's email and am pasting it here:

Hi everyone. I want to apologize publicly here to anyone who was offended by our decision to include Debbie’s review of The Secret Project in our feature at All Wonders and then retract it later that day.
We feature one book each month in addition to our regular content, and the selected book is one that our team believes stands above the rest. We think of our features as an award from our team, and we honor the chosen book by compiling various forms of content that celebrate it. We even describe the feature to the artists involved as "a week-long celebration of your book." These words, we believe, enter us into a verbal agreement that we will shine a positive light on their work, and it is based upon this agreement that the publisher grants us permission to license their images, words, and behind-the-scenes content. I made a misstep, then, by surprising Jonah and Jeanette Winter and their publisher, Simon & Schuster, with a critique, and introducing an element of debate into the feature. After careful reconsideration of these factors, we decided to pull the post. 
I know now that this series of events confused and offended a number of individuals. I am sorry for that. We (myself along with the team) had the best intentions, which was to offer a “second perspective” post from Debbie, who saw something that we did not see in our reads through the book. We consider critically all of the books that we include on our site, and we welcome discussions about how they are serving readers, but our features in particular are not designed for that purpose. They are designed to give children multiple entry points into what we believe to be special books. 
Once we came to the decision to pull Debbie’s post, we immediately communicated to her via email that we would be removing her post for these reasons and gave her an open invitation to address American Indian representation in children’s books on our site or in the form of a Twitter chat. Though we are still waiting for an official response from Debbie, it is our sincere hope that she will choose to work with us in the future to raise awareness about misrepresentations of American Indians in children’s literature.
Our goal at All the Wonders is not to silence, but to raise the voices of authors, artists, bloggers, and critics in service of readers. I regret the way these events have unfolded, but I consider this an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and a renewal of our mission to build positive relationships with all of our colleagues. 
Sincerely,
Matthew C. WinnerAll The Wonders co-founder 


Matthew did, as he wrote above, email me to say they were removing my post. Specifically, he wrote:
 [We] dd not feel that the piece added to the focus of the feature and that the conversation it beckons would be better served in other contexts throughout the site. We felt that the topic begs for discussion, and that is not something that the feature is suited for or capable of.
That line was particularly ambiguous (to me). He went on to say that they wanted me to write about Native writers and be a guest on a Twitter chat they host.

That invitation is fine, but it is a far cry from what a Second Perspective on books can do for teachers and librarians. When they added my review as A Second Perspective, I thought of all the other books they had featured and that could use A Second Perspective. One, for example, is Laura Jimenez's perspective on Telgemeier's Ghosts. Frankly, I was excited at the possibilities.

Do I want to contribute a post about Native writers to All the Wonders? I'm not sure.

I still think that their decision not to proceed with A Second Perspective is a mistake. A week-long celebration of a book is a mistake if there are concerns about that book's representations of marginalized people.

Winner and the team at All the Wonders were right when they said this, to introduce my review as A Second Perspective at their site:
The story told in The Secret Project through words and illustrations is powerful, but in order to understand and appreciate more fully the context in which the even happened, it is important for readers to be aware of the Native people in and of the surrounding area.
Saying that, they recognized Pueblo children as readers. Indeed, they recognized all children who live in that area who know more about the history and cultures of the area than Jonah and Jeanette Winters told them in The Secret Project. 

As Winner's response says, their decision to add A Second Perspective surprised Jonah and Jeanette Winters, and Simon and Schuster, too, because of his verbal agreement to shine a positive light on their work. That, I believe, explains why their interviews disappeared from the site when A Second Perspective was published. Once that second perspective was removed, their interviews went back up.

Those two people and their publisher set the terms under which Matthew Winner and the team at All the Wonders will speak about their books.

That's not surprising, but Winner is a librarian by training and profession. From that position as a librarian, he is providing a huge service to teachers and librarians who read All the Wonders.

But is it a service to his profession? I think it is a service to publishers. With that as a fact, his words in the SLJ article ring hollow. Doing better doesn't mean just talking up the good. Books get better when we talk about the problems in them, too.

Update, March 31, 2017

Yesterday, Kate Messner asked Matthew Winner for a clarification:
To clarify...were you asked by S&S to remove the original images/words/content after you'd added Debbie's Second Perspective?
He replied saying:
S&S expressed their regret, but we as @_AllTheWonders maintain full autonomy over what we create and what we share on our site. 
and
S&S was very specific about saying they would not pressure us to take down the post. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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