Friday, August 12, 2016

Ashley Hope Perez's OUT OF DARKNESS

Last year, Ashley Hope Perez's Out of Darkness got a lot of buzz in my networks. Here's the synopsis:
"This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?" 
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
I got a copy and started reading. Then, I got to page 98 and paused at "I'm a low man on the totem pole." Prior to that reading, I'd had very limited--but positive--interactions with Ashley. So, I wrote to her about that line. Was it possible, I wondered, to take out or revise that one line in the next printing? Ashley wrote back, saying that she'd try.

Well... Ashley talked with her editor, and when the next printing was done, the line was changed. Ashley created a photo showing the change and shared it on social media, and she referenced our conversation. With her permission, I'm sharing her photo here:

I was--and am--gripped by, and deeply moved by the story she tells in Out of Darkness. It got starred reviews and went on to win awards. With that change ("Nah, I'm a low man on the totem pole" was replaced with "Nah, no suck luck.", I can enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend it.

Here's my heartfelt thank you to Ashley for hearing my concern. For not being defensive. For not saying "but..." or any of the things people say instead of "ok." And of course, a shout out to her editor, Andrew Karre, and her publisher, Carolrhoda, for making the change.

Out of Darkness doesn't have any Native content. I'm recommending it because it is an excellent story, and because it is an example of what is possible when people speak up and others hear what they say.

Is Out of Darkness in your library yet? If not, order it today.

Please see Sarah McCarrey's post, On Totems, because she, too, listened and responded in a good way.

Debbie--have you seen MacMillan & Kirker's MULTICULTURAL STORYTIME MAGIC?

A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker's Multicultural Storytime Magic. Published in 2012 by ALA Editions, here's the description:
Storytime audiences grow ever more diverse, and it s important that the materials used in programs reflect that richness of experience. Multiculturalism need not be an occasional initiative attached to particular holidays. In this book best-selling authors MacMillan and Kirker offer a new paradigm for multicultural programs, one in which diversity is woven into any and every storytime, no matter what the topic. Arranged thematically around dozens of popular storytime themes, the authors
  • Present original and traditional resources from all over the world that will enrich storytimes for ages 2 through 5
  • Offer concrete book recommendations, fingerplays, and other activities that can be integrated into existing storytimes
  • Include download links for flannelboard and stick puppet patterns, and illustrations of American Sign Language signs
With numerous activities and programming suggestions, this book will seamlessly integrate and enhance cultural awareness for children all year round.

On ALA Edition's website, they've provided some of the worksheets for activities in the book. Here's a screen capture of the top half of one page for the "House for Me" guessing game:

Here's another:

This is not ok! I am guessing that the editor at ALA Editions who worked on MacMillan and Kirker's book, and MacMillan and Kirker, too, assumed that using an award winning book--Mary Ann Hoberman's A House Is a House for Me--seemed a good choice, but it isn't.  It wasn't ok in 1978 when Hoberman's book came out, and it sure as heck isn't ok for it to be in a resource book published by ALA Editions in 2012, either.

A House is A House for Me is set in the present day. It shows children in a tree house (which is generally considered something for children to play in), or a cardboard box (which is also considered something for children to play in), beneath a beach umbrella or a table, or in a snow house made on a snowy day. There's a castle for a duchess and one for a king, too. All the other "houses" are for insects, animals, or other items ("a sandwich is a home for some ham").

As the worksheet suggests, there's one other category of houses:

If you haven't been reading articles about the ways that Native Americans are depicted in children's books, that page might seem fine to you. It isn't. For decades, people have written about the problems in using igloo's and tipi's to represent Native peoples. They are real things and are in use by some people today but Hoberman's book moves the time frame to present day. Certainly some Plains Indians use their tipi's today as a home, but most live in houses and use their tipi's for gatherings. Not all Eskimo's today or ever, lived in igloo's. Their use is specific to a geographical location and, in many cases, purpose.

"A pueblo's a house for a Hopi." That is a bit clunky. I have a traditional adobe home. It is not attached to others in the village like the one in Hoberman's book, but some pueblo people live in those villages in some of the pueblos. That sentence could be improved if she wrote "A pueblo's a house for Hopis." Plural. As is, it tells us that the entire village houses one Hopi.

The wigwam for a Mohee? That's not ok. Who are the Mohee? I don't know. Do you? I can find "Mohee" in several sources about a folksong, My Little Mohee. I also find a bit of info about it in a book titled The Lasting of the Mohicans. But really: there is no tribal nation that I know of that is called the Mohee.

Another way to think about this page is the one put forth by Guy Jones and Sally Moomaw in Lessons From Turtle Island (which I highly recommend, by the way). They wrote:
Non-Native children often believe that all American Indian people live in tipis. There is a reason for this erroneous idea. Books, cartoons, and movies typically show all Native people living in the past, most often in the tipi, the traditional abode for the plains Nations. For example, What Can You Do With a Pocket? (Merriam 1964) shows generic Indians in front of tipis. Some teachers try to counter this by studying the historic abodes of various Native Nations. Few teachers or books, however, show the homes of Native peoples today. Books such as A House Is a House for Me (Hoberman 1978), still being sold in bookstores as of this writing, continue to lock Native peoples in houses of the past (p. 13):
An igloo's a house for an Eskimo.
A tepee's a house for a Cree.
A pueblo's a house for a Hopi.
And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.
This stanza is clearly an attempt on the author's part to reflect the diversity of Native Nations, and perhaps to counter the prevalent image that all Native peoples traditional lived in tipis. However, the attempt is flawed because the author portrays Native peoples in the past and not in the present. A House Is a House for Me is a clear example of how a well-meant effort to diversity curriculum can go badly astray if all the factors are not considered.
A third way to think about that page is this: why is there only a page about Native homes? Where's the pages about the kinds of houses that other peoples lived in? I hasten to add that I'm not advocating for those pages, because they'll just do what the one on Native houses does: tell children that a particular group lives in a house that is unlike the ones that children see as the norm. In other words, adding those pages would make other groups exotic, too, and cast them into time frame that may not reflect the houses they live in today.

Last, most of the structures the kids are shown in are places of play, of imagination. It is a bit jarring to think of the Native homes in that framework.

I have no doubt that everyone involved in the making of A House Is a House for Me and Multicultural Storytime Magic had good intentions, but it gets tiring to talk about good intentions, again and again.

When "good intentions" is our default, we're doing a disservice to the children who are on the receiving end of those good intentions, and we are likely contributing to the likelihood that we'll see other books that do the same thing. We saw that very thing, in fact, last year, in Home by Carson Ellis. See what Sam Bloom at Reading While White said about Home and see what I said, too.

We can do better, right?