Friday, June 08, 2007


Sherman Alexie's blog

Sherman Alexie, author of a terrific YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has been writing outstanding fiction for many years, for the grown-ups. Most people would not use his books with teens, but you and should decide for yourself, based on the guidelines of your particular school. (Americans are an odd bunch. Glorify violence. Fear sex.) Do get True Diary for your library. Add it to required reading lists. It is one of my favorite books for young adults.

Alexie is a very engaging speaker, too. Quite funny. Nothing sacred. I've seen him do Bush's swagger, and he did a hilarious "why do you want to use us as mascots?!!! We LOST. YOU BEAT US."

In addition to True Diary, he's got another book out that he's promoting. It's called Flight. He's keeping a blog as he's out on the book tour. Take a look. It's laugh-out-loud reading.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"We" the People?

A few years back, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association began a "We the People" Bookshelf program that was designed to, on an annual basis, select a handful of books with specific themes. These books would reflect the peoples of the United States of America. That first "shelf" of books was troubling in many ways. Those who view literature critically for its representation (or lack thereof) of American Indians took great issue with that list. We wrote letters to NEH and ALA to document our concerns, but no changes were made to that first shelf, and books chosen in the ensuing years give evidence that our concerns were not taken seriously. Or, perhaps they were, but the NEH in the Bush administration has a specific agenda driving the selection of books that dismisses us.

Conversations about those "bookshelfs" continue. Below is a post written by Professor Jean Mendoza, a colleague and friend with whom I celebrate and commiserate about life and books. Jean's post was part of conversation taking place recently on the CCBC-NET listserv. I share it here with her permission.

_______________

Date: Friday, May 18, 2007

Oh, goodness, this mention of "We, the People" touches a nerve.

A colleague and I have decided the NEH and ALA should call it, "We, Some People" because significant voices are left out and others effectively silenced in and by several of the selections each year.

If one believes (as I do) in the notion of "mirrors and windows" (per Sims-Bishop and others) -- that good literature for children offers them mirrors of their own lives and windows on the lives of people who are "different from them" -- several "WE, the People" selections are highly problematic, distorting both the reflections and the view....

After the first "Bookshelf" list came out, several Native scholars and parents noted the complete absence of books by Native writers, while two of the books, Little House on the Prairie and The Matchlock Gun, contained extremely negative representations of indigenous people. There was no way that a Native child could find in that collection (called Courage) any images of people of his/her heritage suggesting that his/her ancestors might in fact have been courageous, or even fully human and equal in importance to the "settlers". There were more problems with that year's list, but I'll just stick to the problematic representations of indigenous North Americans.

The next year, "Freedom" was the metaphor/topic and again no works by Native writers (or illustrators) were included, though one story with a Native protagonist, by a white writer, appears -- the problematic The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble. The implication of this absence is that Native people's stories have no relevance in discussions of "Freedom". The irony grows painful.

The next year's collection is called "Becoming American". Probably I shouldn't get started on that choice of title. Who was here first? Who may have struggled the most with what it means, or meant, to "become American"?? And who is unrepresented, except in a book by a white author? As my husband sometimes says, "The irony rusts me out."

And as for this year's shelf, entitled "The Pursuit of Happiness" -- apparently, in the eyes of the "We, the People" selection committee, no indigenous writers of books for young people have made their characters pursue happiness in a manner worthy of inclusion in the collection.

This bookshelf idea seems great -- who doesn't like free books? -- but the practices of those making the selections seem to me (as a parent, grandparent, and aunt of Native kids) blatantly exclusionary. The NEH and ALA have been hearing every year from people (parents, scholars, educators) who practically beg them to choose books that reflect greater accuracy, authenticity, and inclusiveness. And each year, it seems to me, the exclusions simply compound those of previous years. Ignoring voices of protest can, at least for a time, be effective in silencing discourse and perpetuating historical "whitewashing". If that is NOT the underlying purpose of "We, the People", then those who work on the project really ought to make some significant changes. (And if silencing voices and whitewashing history actually were an underlying purpose, then would such a project deserve participation by libraries and schools?) There is no reason to continue to present the distorted (or painted-over) mirrors and windows as the project has done since its inception.

In my humble and deeply frustrated opinion, the "We, the People" bookshelf project really ought to get in synchrony with reality.

Jean Mendoza

Jean Mendoza, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Early Childhood Education
Millikin University
Decatur, Illinois


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tim Tingle's Spirits Dark and Light: Supernatural Tales from the Five Civilized Tribes

[Note: This review used with permission by its author, Beverly Slapin, and may not be published elsewhere without her written consent.]

-------------------------------

Tingle, Tim (Choctaw), Spirits Dark and Light: Supernatural Tales from the Five Civilized Tribes. August House, 2006. 192 pages, grades 5-up; Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole


“You might see yellow knots on a floating backwater log,” Tingle cautions. “Better not reach for it, it might have teeth. Maybe it looks like a pile of leaves lying on the ground. Better not step on it, it might have fangs. Maybe it seems like a bunch of moss hanging from a tree limb. Better not touch it, it might have claws.” It might be Naloosa Falaya.

In Spirits Dark and Light, Tingle seamlessly weaves elements from traditional stories of the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole peoples into tellings that are eerie, gruesome, frightening, poignant—and just plain satisfying. In these stories in which the world of the spirits and the natural world come together, terrible witches and conjurers stalk the careless, the dead offer advice to the living, greed is properly punished, and heroism takes many forms.

Sometimes lessons are directly stated; sometimes they are inferred; sometimes a reader will have to look pretty hard to find them. And sometimes, as Tingle tells the reader, there may not be any. “Now I am not claiming this tale to have any moral attached to it,” he says. “But if it did, it might be this: if you pull a sticker burr out of your foot, a hard sticker burr that hurts bad, once you get that sticker burr out, don’t turn right around and poke it back in.”

Tingle is a master storyteller; his flow and timing are superb. Young readers will feel like he’s talking directly to them. The stories in Spirits Dark and Light are wonderful for reading aloud at a campfire or in a darkened room.—Beverly Slapin




Sunday, June 03, 2007


Elizabeth Anne Reese
Yun Povi

My daughter graduated from high school on Saturday. After receiving her diploma, my parents and nephews honored her with a Pendleton shawl. Beneath her graduation gown she wore her black manta and moccasins. With her tassel is an eagle feather. I am very proud of her and the work she's done as a young woman, trying to effect change at Uni High with respect to the recruitment and retention of Native, Latino/a, and African American students. She encountered a great deal of resistance from fellow students and their families. Some of that resistance was mean spirited and outright racist, but she kept her dignity throughout the year. She is an amazing Native woman.

(Note: Yun Povi is her Tewa name. Tewa is the language we speak at Nambe. Yun Povi means Willow Flower.)