Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paulette Molin's AMERICAN INDIAN THEMES IN YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE



Yesterday I posted an essay by my colleague, Paulette F. Molin, about activities found in the American Automobile Association's magazine. If you're a member of AAA, take a look at her essay. If you're a classroom teacher or librarian, consider using her essay and the online material for a lesson on critical media literacy. Paulette has been studying curriculum materials since the 1970s.

Paulette has an excellent book out that librarians and teachers should add to their shelves: American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. In her foreword is a letter from Genevieve Bell, the woman Scholastic hired to vet (fact check) Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground. Here's part of that letter:

I completely sympathize with the critical review of Rinaldi's work that has proliferated both on the Internet and off it. There is much in the book that is offensive, and I did say so to Scholastic. Indeed, there is much more in this book that is offensive that I missed, which is why I urged Melissa Jenkins [of Scholastic] to get a Lakota person to read it. She knew that I was not Native American. However, I also contracted with Scholastic to fact-check the manuscript and thought it only appropriate that my name be attached to that act. Again, I can only reflect on the naivete that made me think that my comments would be taken seriously enough to change the course of the publication. I am deeply sorry that they did not. And I apologize for the offense that I have given, however, inadvertently (xv).


The book has three sections (Contemporary Literature, Historical Fiction, and Nonfiction). In "Contemporary Literature," you can read her discussion of Lipsyte's three books The Brave, The Chief, and Warrior Angel or see what she has to say about Will Hobbs or Ben Mikaelsen. Course, she also talks about books that are well-done, such as Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

In the bibliography is an extensive list of articles that will be of interest to librarians and scholars alike. One example: a scholar might want to look at Mary Gloyne Byler's 1974 article in Library Journal, "The Image of American Indians Projected by non-Indian Writers."

Like Through Indian Eyes and A Broken Flute (both subtitled The Native Experience in Books for Children), this is one of those books that belongs in every library.

As noted yesterday, the book is available from Oyate. It was published in 2005 by Scarecrow.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stereotypes in AAA's magazine

Today, I am pleased to share an essay written by Paulette F. Molin. Paulette is on the board of directors for Wordcraft Circle, and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from White Earth. Among her writings is an excellent book called American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. The book is available from Oyate. I've referenced it on this site before, and its on my list of recommended books, but I realized (today) that I've not written specifically about it. Tomorrow, I'll do that. For now, here's her essay.

_______________________

Paulette F. Molin, June 19, 2008

Just as I was about to discard the May/June 2008 issue of Going Places: The Magazine for Today’s Traveler, a publication of AAA, a stereotypical image caught my eye, part of a pitch for Going Places’ interactive website, "Making Tracks for Kids." Looking further, I read this: "Meet Allaquippa, an Iroquois maiden named after the famous queen! Tell a tall tale, build a family tree, play a game and learn about Native American life and the history of Pittsburgh." See http://aaagoingplaces.com/gp_makingtracks/mj08/mt_reading.asp

If you make tracks to the May/June 2008 issue of Making Tracks, an interactive website of games and activities for kids,” to “Meet Alliquippa, an Iroquois maiden,” you will not find anything new. Instead, you will encounter the usual stereotypes about American Indians.

“Meet Alliquippa” features a cartoon “maiden,” fictionalized as a descendant of “Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen” in the piece. The historical Aliquippa, a sachem or leader of a band of Mingo Seneca near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, flourished during the first half of the eighteenth century. She garners only three sentences in “Meet Alliquippa,” described in the fictional Alliquippa’s voice: “One legend says that my ancestor Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen, set up camp many years ago where the three rivers meet near Pittsburgh. And it was there she met George Washington, who was on a military mission near her camp. The two became friends, the legend says.”

The Alliquippa cartoon image, like mascots and other caricatures, masks the actual history and contemporary status of Native people. This particular fictional “maiden” sports black hair hanging in two pig tails, wears feathers (the main one, green with red and white accents), and is decked out in a short top and slit skirt with generic Indian designs. Posed in a stereotypical stance, Aliquippa stands with her arms folded under a fringed wrap against a backdrop recognizable as a Plains star quilt design. She wears a bit of a smile, perhaps to reveal that she is friendly (in keeping with text such as, “Meet Alliquippa, our Seneca friend”). In one section, the Alliquippa figure is positioned above a photograph of an unidentified Iroquois male (actually, it is the Seneca leader Cornplanter, but he remains anonymous in the piece, with neither his name nor his history revealed).

The website’s stereotypical visual depiction is reinforced by the text, which fails to provide even the most basic information about the Seneca, such as identifying the tribal group as a member nation of the Iroquois Confederacy (the piece describes the Seneca as “one of the six tribes that make up the Iroquois Nation”). Furthermore, “Meet Alliquippa” does not identify any of the Seneca communities in the United States and Canada (among them, Cattaraugus, Allegany, and Tonawanda reservations in New York, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, and Seneca citizens in Ontario). Although the website mentions “the Iroquois’ ‘Six Nations,’ it does not adequately describe or discuss the Haudenosaunee (“people of the longhouse”), neglecting to identify the member nations (Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Tuscarora). In fact, the word “Confederacy” does not appear in the piece. “Meet Alliquippa” also overlooked an opportunity to identify and discuss the Seneca as “Keepers of the Western Door” of the Haudenosaunee or its specific role as a member nation.

“Meet Alliquippa” glosses over the role of women, especially rich among the Haudenosaunee, failing to address the contradiction between citing a historical female leader (“my ancestor Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen”) with its statement, “Men are the political leaders in our tribe.” Furthermore, the piece does not explain why the historical Alliquippa was called “Queen,” a European term of royalty. The clan system receives similar treatment (“The Seneca tribe is made up of clans: Turtle, Bear, Hawk, Heron and Wolf, among others”).

“Meet Alliquippa” also talks down to children, relying on clichés or exaggerated exclamations —“dance to the beat of your very own drum with our creative craft! “…the senators are like tribal council members who report to a chief—the president!” “A whole clan of 60 people could live in one longhouse! “ “But today, we live in houses or apartments, just like you!” The website also makes the fictional Alliquippa serve as the voice for the Seneca, substituting ersatz words for what tribal members would and could say about their own culture. The reading list offers no relief, listing only two books associated with the Seneca, both of them centered on myths or legends.

Unfortunately, the activities are along the same lines. “Create a Drum Craft” trivializes drums, which have deep religious and cultural significance in tribal societies, and reduces them to playtime craft. “Use a couple of beads,” the instructions direct, “to finish off your Iroquois drum below!” The activity is accompanied by an unidentified photograph of what appears to be a group of nineteenth-century Plains Indians, giving the impression that tribal groups are interchangeable. The text accompanying the activity conveys the notion that Europeans, not Native Americans, were settlers: “Many Native American tribes lived in Western Pennsylvania around the time it was settled. One of the tribes was the Iroquois.” In other words, Native American residence does not count as settlement in this contrived version of American history.

Another activity, “A Silly Piece of History,” is introduced by these words: “Every piece of land was ‘discovered’ by someone; from the first American who crossed over the Bering Strait thousands of years ago, to the European explorers who came later.” This self-serving narrative would have children believe that all “discoveries” are equal, neglecting to impart factual information about the European colonization of the Americas. Furthermore, it summarizes the indigenous presence in the Americas to “Bering Strait” origins, one Euro-American theory.

“Seneca Sling,” another activity, is merely a computer slingshot game, designed for participants to launch cyber rocks at animals and fish. The visual is stereotypical and cartoonish, featuring a headband-wearing, generic Indian male in a canoe. This activity is violent, playing out the killing of all manner of species and linking it to Indians. The fourth activity, “Build a Family Tree,” is introduced by these words: “History isn’t just about famous explorers and Indians.” In other words, this statement tells children that famous explorers and Indians are mutually exclusive.

Make Tracks away from this website. There are better materials available online and in print, including exciting works by contemporary Seneca and other Haudenosaunee authors.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Addition to the site

Meyer's Twilight, Mikaelsen's Spirit Bear, Alexie's Diary. These and other books get a lot of attention on this site. To help you find all the posts on each of these books, I'm adding a new section to the site. It's way at the bottom. It is called "CLUSTERS." It'll take a while to add all the books and all the links for each title. To start, I added the links to discussions of Caddie Woodlawn. I hope it makes the site more user-friendly. When you have specific troubles with the site, please let me know! Trouble, suggestions for improvement, etc. I do this site for you, so I need (and use) your feedback to improve the layout of the site.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another award for Alexie's YA Novel

Roger Sutton, editor at Horn Book, just posted to the child_lit listserv, that Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian has won the 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry. Roger's post says:

"Novelist Sherman Alexie is new to young adult literature but not to acclaim. A 1995 PEN/Hemingway Award recipient for his first collection of short stories for adults, he is also a poet, a film director, and a standup comic. Last fall, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature."
The award will be presented October 3rd in Boston. Acceptance speeches are printed in the The Horn Book Magazine.

Congratulations, again, to Sherman! I look forward to his work in progress, which is another YA novel: Radioactive Love.

Consider handing Alexie's DIARY to students that are enthralled with Meyer's TWILIGHT saga. His realistic depictions of Native youth in Washington are way better than hers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Slapin's review of Landman's APACHE GIRL WARRIOR

As indicated in my previous post on this book, I asked Beverly Slapin about Landman's book. She sent this review.

[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin.]

Landman, Tanya, Apache Girl Warrior. Walker Books, 2007. Grades 5-up

This atrocious young adult historical novel is the product of Landman’s (stated) lifelong fascination with Indians combined with an outrageous sense of white entitlement, sloppy research habits, a Euro-feminist approach to history and a penchant for imaginative exercises. From her comments on the back cover: “The image of a girl carrying a spear formed behind my eyes, but I didn’t know if a Native American woman would have been allowed to become a warrior…. The more I read, the more I found that what I’d imagined was entirely plausible.”

In Landman’s imagination, the Ndee refer to themselves as “Apache” (an enemy name) in the late 1800s, all “Apache” men are warriors (whether or not they are engaged in battle), all “Apache” women (“maidens”) are ineffectual (except for the girl who becomes a warrior), all “Apaches” have those ubiquitous “black eyes” that distinguish them as Indians, and hatred and vengeance are the sole motivating factors in “Apache” life. Besides one stereotype after another, much, much cultural confusion (e.g., wikiups are not interchangeable with “teepees” [sic]), and godawful writing, including relentlessly garbled metaphors ([Y]et hope tiptoed on softly moccasined feet, setting my heart beating with excitement”) and relentless ethnographic expositions (“It is the custom of our people to burn the possessions of the dead. And thus I burned our teepee.”), there’s the complete absence of family members: grandparents, aunties and uncles, husbands, mothers, children who play, joke, sing and enjoy each other’s company. Real families. Just like anyone else’s.

And the “Apaches,” of course, are doomed: “[I]will die proud. I will die free. And first I will live, and I will fight. I am Apache.”

Landman’s “historical note” is her not-so-veiled attempt to justify what she has done: “[E]ach of the tribes, all of the characters and every place name are fictional. I’ve made no attempt to produce an accurate historical novel: this is an imagined evocation of how it may have felt to have lived through events like these. I’ve tried to be authentic as far as period detail goes, but at times I have had to stretch things in order to make the story work.”

It has just been brought to my attention that Landman has done another young adult novel, called AZTEC: THE GOLDSMITH’S DAUGHTER, about another “doomed” civilization, whose protagonist’s “spirit and fire held [her] captivated for months while [Landman] wrote her story.” Landman is one of those authors, along with Lynne Reid Banks and Anne Rinaldi, who, through willful ignorance, mangle the histories and lifeways of the peoples they write about, tromping all over real peoples whose descendants live today, in order to come up with books that sell well and win awards. These people really ought not to be writing about cultures other than their own.

Teachers and librarians who already have copies of APACHE GIRL WARRIOR can teach middle readers critical reading skills by having them compare it with Joe Bruchac’s excellent book, GERONIMO.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: Bruchac's book is available from Oyate.]

Debbie's thoughts on Tanya Landman's APACHE: GIRL WARRIOR

A colleague wrote to ask if I know anything about a book called Apache: Girl Warrior, by a British writer named Tanya Landman. The book was recently shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in Literature, an award given annually in the United Kingdom. I don't have a copy of the book yet (it is en route), but my reading of Landman's webpage makes me think it is one of those tragic Indian stories that people love. Not all people, though... As readers of this site know, American Indians object to those romanticized books that confine us to the past, and, that provide readers with factual errors and biased stories about who we were, and who we are.

I wrote to Beverly Slapin of Oyate, to see if she's read the book. She has. And, she uses it in workshops as an example of a problematic text. First published in the UK, it is sold in the United States under a different title: I Am Apache.

Peter Hollindale (reviewer for "Books for Keeps") highly recommends it, but he also says this:

"Apache life may not have been like this, but few readers will doubt that it probably was. To write a compelling adventure story which is also a moving portrait of a doomed civilization and its values..."


May not have been like this?! Does he sense inaccuracies? And "doomed civilization" dovetails with Landman's discussion of the book and how she thinks about the Apache people. From my perspective, the "doomed" theme is really grating. For those who don't know (Hollindale and Landman, perhaps?), the Apache people are vibrant, strong, and very much not doomed.

Given Landman's book is shortlisted for the Carnegie award, I'm going to write about it here in the coming days. Check back for updates!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

2008 Children's Literature Association Conference

I spent the last couple of days at the 2008 Children's Literature Association (ChLA) Conference. I met many people (professors) with whom I've had email with over the last ten or so years. Among them are Michael Joseph, Tammy Mielke, Kara Keeling, and June Cummins. A lot of people there read this blog and encourage their students to read it, too. It was terrific, too, to meet Tom Crisp, a student in Teacher Education at Michigan State, and talk with Ben Smallwood, at Illinois State.

There were several presentations on Sherman Alexie's YA novel, and one on Bruchac's Dark Pond and Skeleton Man. Ben Smallwood talked about Tim Tingle's books. All were thoughtful papers, not romanticizing the writers or their books, but posing good questions. I am intrigued by Adrienne Kertzer's challenge over whether or not the illustrations in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian support the text, and will return to the book to consider her challenge.

In my presentation, I talked about three books I've written about on this blog (McDermott's Arrow to the Sun, Pollock's Turkey Girl, and Rodanas Dragonfly's Tale,) none of which I recommend.

Conferences are time well-spent. Meeting people, hearing others thoughts in person. Next year's conference is in Charlotte, North Carolina. A special thanks to Linnea Hendrickson for encouraging me to attend ChLA.