Saturday, August 11, 2012

Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Documentary: Moccasins and Microphones

If you're in Santa Fe on Saturday, August 25th, head over to the New Mexico History Museum at 6:00 PM for the premiere showing of Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling through Performance Poetry. Here's a clip:

Moccasins & Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry Trailer from Cordillera Productions on Vimeo

If you want the CD of the students performing their poetry, see YA Poetry CD: Moccasins and Microphones

The premise for Scholastic's INFINITY RING

Thanks, Ami, for pointing me to something Elizabeth Bird at SLJ said:
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the upcoming Scholastic series The Infinity Ring.  It looks like it’s getting a big push in the same vein as The 39 Clues and all that.  I hadn’t paid it much mind, until I realized the plot.  So in Book #1 it is imperative to rescue Christopher Columbus so that he can discover America (the reasoning being that if he doesn’t then even worse guys will . . . to which I say, just how much worse?).  That’s Book #1.  Book #2 requires that the bad guys, who want to prevent The French Revolution, be thwarted.  So to recap, the heroes must save Columbus in Book #1 and ensure that Marie Antoinette gets her head separated from her neck in Book #2.  If this is incorrect please tell me now.  Otherwise, I’m utterly baffled.  I demand clarification!!!
I went over to the Scholastic page, where I learned that The Infinity Ring is a series for children ages 8 and up, in which three kids will time travel to save the world. The first book in the series is A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner. At the Scholastic page, I read:
History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!
History, the kids learn, "has gone disastrously off course" because Christopher Columbus was thrown overboard in a mutiny.

Wait, wait, wait... Off course for who?!

I guess, in this story, the entire world is a wreck because Columbus did NOT "discover" America. I wonder what this "undiscovered-by-Columbus" America looks like?! Who is making a wreck of what? Who are the "bad guys" Elizabeth refers to?!


Scholastic sent out some advanced reader copies (arcs) and by reading reviews at Goodreads, I gleaned a bit more info.

Because Columbus didn't "discover America" all sorts of natural disasters are occurring because someone else--"the Amancio brothers"--have done the discovering. I guess they are to blame for the natural disasters. I wonder what the disasters are?

Climate change, anyone? The real one, I mean?

I wonder if the author takes up anything to do with Indigenous peoples?!

Guadalupe Garcia McCall's UNDER THE MESQUITE

I grew up at Nambe Pueblo in what is now called the state of New Mexico. Nambe is one of the over 500 federally recognized sovereign nations within the United States. Nambe is older than the United States (going by the US Declaration of Independence) by over 400 years, and older than New Mexico (statehood granted in 1912) by over 600 years.

The lines that were drawn, delineating what was U.S. and what was Mexico, are lines that nationally and politically divided Indigenous communities and peoples on the southwest, in some cases, quite literally. The Tohono O'Odham Nation is one example, as stated on their website:
Then, in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase or Treaty of La Mesilla, O'odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States of America and Mexico.

As such, there are a lot of things that the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Indigenous Nations of New Mexico and Arizona have in common. That commonality is what endears me to Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite. The glossary at the back? I didn't need it. All those words are familiar to me, and the ways she writes about family, extended family, and community... It all rang true.

Though Under the Mesquite is generally seen as Latino literature---it won, for example, the 2012 Pure Belpre Award---it is also correct to see it as an Indigenous text.

In this beautiful story, told in free verse, Lupita tells us about her Aztec ancestors. As I read Under the Mesquite I paused again and again to be--just be--with McCall's gorgeous phrases. Sitting on my couch, her words summoned from my memory so much... the way the southwest sun feels on your skin, the images of women caring for their gardens or preparing food for their families.

Her description of children looking for chicharras (cicadas) was priceless. She didn't tell us why anyone would look for them. I suspect too many American readers would freak out to learn that a lot of us Indigenous peoples gather and roast those chicarras!

I was captivated by Under the Mesquite. Published by Lee and Low, I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Earlier this week, NPR released the results of its survey of its listeners favorite young adult novels. Like Shaker Laurie (teacher in Minneapolis), I was struck by how White the list is... As she pointed out, there are only two books by authors who are not White. Those two are House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

Do the responses to the survey and the list NPR created based on the responses and their judgements on what qualified for the list reflect the Whiteness of the listeners and of the NPR staff, too?

I think so.

NPR has a lot of work to do with regard to diversity. Given that NPR recently received a 1.5 million dollar grant to work on diversity, let's hope that we'd see a difference list from a more informed NPR.

If their coverage becomes more inclusive, maybe more people of color will tune in. And when NPR administers another survey, the results would be different.

And if they hire a more diverse staff, maybe that staff would notice how White the list is, and develop a story ABOUT that whiteness. Such a story would inform listeners of the outstanding literature being written by writers of color.

That "P" in NPR has got to stop standing in for "White" because the public in the US isn't predominantly White.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

New cover for TINTIN IN AMERICA?

This morning at the Kirkus page, I noticed a contest in which people can win complete sets of Herge's Tintin series. Here's the image that accompanies the story:

See the cover for Tintin in America? It is not the cover I'm most familiar with, shown here:

I wonder what prompted the new cover? Instead of Tintin tied to a stake (which, by the way, is an inaccurate or misleading bit of info about Indians that was popularized by Westerns), we see Tintin riding a horse. Here's another version of the on-a-horse cover. It is the one offered at Amazon:

In doing an Internet search of covers for Tintin in America, I came across a couple of others. This one has a "II" after it, so maybe there's a Part 2 for this particular book in the series.

And this one, according to a fan, is the original cover.  The original artwork for this cover was recently sold for $1.6 million dollars.

The Tintinologist site has a great deal of information about Tintin in America, including the changes publishers wanted made: 

Finding a publisher for this book in the USA was impossible. Even in the mid-1940s, American publishers insisted that Hergé replaced the 'coloured' people featured in the comic with 'whites'. Then again, the USA was not the only country that gave Hergé a hard time publishing this comic. Most foreign publishers (i.e. non-Belgian or French) seemed to have problems with the almost apocalyptical scene in which the soldiers move out the Indians of the reserve, and the speed in which the new town is created. 

I've got to do some research on Tintin in America...  

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

American Indians in Children's Literature receives Wordcraft Circle Award

I am pleased to announce that American Indians in Children's Literature was named as a recipient of one of its 2012 Wordcraft Circle Honors and Awards.

I'm especially pleased that Wordcraft has selected Tim Tingle's Saltypie for its children's book award.

As I understand it, writers especially like being selected for the National Book Award, because selections for it are made by fellow writers who understand the art of writing.

Wordcraft Circle is composed of people who understand the work of Native people who seek to create greater understandings of who we are as Indigenous peoples. Being recognized by them is a special honor.

Here is info from the WordCraft page:

Our Vision: To ensure the voices of Native American and Indigenous writers and storytellers - past, present, and future - are heard throughout the world!

Our Mission: To support the work and words of Native and Indigenous people in order to strengthen the impact of their voices in asserting community sovereignty, individual self-determination, traditional and cultural values, and creative expression.

Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers was founded in 1992 by Lee Francis III after attending the first Returning the Gift gathering of Native writers and storytellers in Norman, Oklahoma. Dr. Francis wanted to honor the memory of a former student who had passed away during the gathering by creating an organization that would continue to promote the work of Native American writers and storytellers. Throughout the 1990's, Dr. Francis helped promote the work of numerous Native American and Indigenous writers, both emerging and professional, throughout North and South America. Writers such as Joseph Bruchac, Dianne Glancy, MariJo Moore, Chris Eyre, and E.K. Caldwell were all a part of the organization during it's first decade. For over ten years, Wordcraft connected hundreds of Native writers in gatherings throughout the U.S. In 2003, Dr. Francis passed away after a short struggle with cancer and the organization was inherited by Dr. Kimberly Roppolo and Lee Francis IV.

Update, May 2, 2016:
In addition to AICL and Saltypie, I want to note awards given to:

  • Arigon Starr, Lee Frances III Memorial Award for Wordcrafter of the Year
  • Sara Hoklotubbe, Mystery, for The American Cafe 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Indigenous peoples in Victoria Foyt's REVEALING EDEN

Tweets I read yesterday prompted me to read Victoria Foyt's young adult novel, Revealing Eden. Some call it provocative, others call it misguided, and others call it utterly racist.

Revealing Eden came out in January of 2012 from Sand Dollar Press. It didn't get reviewed by any of the major review journals. That is due to it being published by Sand Dollar Press, which has only published one book: Revealing Eden. 

In an interview posted at Amazon, Foyt said she drew on her "deep fears about Global Warming" to write this story in which "an overheated earth turned social standards upside down." On her website, she writes that she wanted to create a world where "environmental chaos turns today's prevailing beauty standards upside down."

So... she created a story set in the future in which "Coals" are black people whose dark skin makes them more resistant to "the Heat" (skin cancer). That makes them more powerful than the "Pearls" whose white skin makes them more susceptible to skin cancer. The Coals survived "The Great Meltdown" (caused by depletion of the ozone) in greater numbers and are now the ruling class. The Pearls are the lowest class. They all live together underground. The Pearls coat their white skin and blonde hair so their skin is darker and their hair is black. The product they use is called "Midnight Luster." It has to be reapplied every few days. It wears off, and if it gets wet, it comes off. It can also be rubbed off. They wear it for protection from the sun (which would make sense if they went above ground, which they don't) and so that their white skin doesn't antagonize the coals. "Midnight Luster" allows Pearls to pass as Coals. Lowest in class are "Cottons" (Albinos). Between the Coals and the Pearls are the Ambers (Asians) and just above them are the Latinos who I think are "Tigers Eye."

It is difficult to follow the story itself. There are gaps and inconsistencies that an editor would have caught. The logic of the world Foyt creates doesn't hold up. I suggest you read Margaret J. B. Bates's critique at Legendary Women. It has links to other sites with information about the book and does an excellent job of discussing blackface. 

Writing about Foyt's book lets me call attention to the ways that Foyt (and those who like the book) are caught up in stereotypical ideas about Indigenous people.

Yeah... Indigenous people are in her book, too.

But they don't have a category like Coal or Pearl.  They don't live in the tunnels. Instead, they're on the surface near the equator, and they're the Huaorani. Somehow, they've made it into Foyt's future (on the surface), but she doesn't tell us how they were able to survive the Meltdown. 

In the story, Eden and her father (a scientist experimenting on "Interspecies Structural Adaptation") and a coal named Bramford leave the underground when a radical Coal group led by a guy named Jamal attacks the lab. But before they leave, Bramford asks her father to do his experiment on him, which turns him into a creature that is part jaguar.

They fly to Sector Six which is "a lawless, barren land" where "drug lords," or "The Heat" or predators might kill them (p. 48). As we'll see, Sector Six is near the equator. This reference to drug lords is one of the things that doesn't make sense and isn't explained. Instead, it just IS. It is not unlike the ways that a lot of Americans---today---blame Latin America for drug problems.

When they land, Eden sees "a half-dozen, short, muscular Indians wearing a rag-tag assortment of clothes" (p. 50). Some have machetes, some have blowguns (and poison darts), and, "Despite fanciful feathers tucked into simple bowl-cut hairstyles, the warriors appeared fierce" as they stood by their vehicles (p. 50).

Her father is excited to see "The Huaorani" (and yeah, Foyt uses a capital T every time she references The Huorani) who, he says, are "the world's last independent indigenous tribe. No one knows how or where they've survived." Course, that is his (outsider) perspective (Foyt's, that is). Obviously, the Huaorani know how and where they survived. Not telling us (readers) keeps them in the realm of an unknowable exotic mythical tribe.

They're expert hunters, her father says, who hunt "cowode" which are "non-humans or anyone different from them" (p. 50).  Since Bramford isn't human, Eden thinks she can get the Huaorani to kill him. Eden, Bramford, and her father get off the plane, and she yells "cowode" and points to Bramford, but instead of killing him, they "fell to their knees and began to chant in ecstatic voices" (p 51):

"El Tigre! El Tigre!"

I'm guessing that the Huaorani people of Ecuador speak their own language and Spanish, too, so their use of Spanish in the novel is plausible.

Anyway, it turns out that the Huaorani think Bramford is El Tigre ("the Jaguar Man") who is the "long-awaited Aztec God" and because Eden is with him, they look upon her with "equal reverence" (p. 51). I guess Foyt want us to think that the Huaorani and Aztec have the same gods. Indigenous people, whether we're in North or South America... some writers think our ways are the same, no matter our location or history. Monolithic, ya' know! Interchangeable!

The Huaorani take Bramford, Eden, and her father to a village where (p. 54):
Native women and children in tattered rags stood by, staring blankly at the arrivals. They looked ill with patchy hair, and red, scaly rashes on their brown skin. Their stomachs were swollen, their eyes lifeless. Two drunken men sprawled in a heap of garbage. One of them raised his head, eyed the commotion, then spit and turned over.
Blank stares and lifeless eyes? This portrayal of the Huaorani isn't consistent across the novel. Here, it sounds like she's looking at a 'save the children' commercial. And drunken men?! Why is THAT there?

The nearby river is covered with green and black layers, which her father says is residue from oil mining (p. 54):
"My hypothesis is the tribe sold their oil rights long ago, probably for worthless cash. I suspect no one ever explained the consequences."
Ah, yes! Primitive, ignorant savages! Except that's not the case in reality. It is a trope, however, that works when the author and her audience are all steeped in stereotypes of primitive Indians.

From that village, Eden and Bramford go to another one where the people aren't as destitute. They are mostly naked, and wear their "ragtag" clothes when they're going to town (p. 85).  They make no sound when they walk (ah, yes! Another stereotype!) and boys become warriors only after they've been initiated by being stung by dozens of "bullet ants" (p. 88). They are a happy people with shamans and remedies and a lifestyle that Bramford wants to preserve and emulate. Sounds like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances With Wolves! Or that guy in Avatar!

Soon, Eden wants to be Native, too!

She asks Maria, a Huaorani woman, to cut her hair in the Huaorani style (bowl-cut). As her blonde hair falls to the floor, she wonders if Maria's daughters think it "held some potent magic or evil" (p. 112). As she looks in the mirror, she thinks she "might pass as a tribeswoman" (p. 112). Her father asks her and asks if she's "going Native" (p. 114).

Towards the end of the novel, Eden and Bramford go to "Heaven's Gate" to get a root they need to save her father's life. There, they see an "ancient, fortress-like stone terrace" that Bramford tells her was built by the Aztecs.

Did they really go all the way from Ecuador to northern Mexico?! Or, has Foyt got us back in the interchangeable Indian space again?

At Heaven's Gate, Bramford tells Eden that the Aztecs are watching them but are afraid of Eden's skin color. The pair dig up roots that Eden realizes are the "proverbial Fountain of Youth" (p. 130). Later, Aztec warriors help Eden and Bramford fight the radical group that wanted to take over the underground. The warriors appear and disappear without a sound.

The novel ends with Eden and Bramford kissing, ready for part two in Foyt's "Save the Pearls" series.

A too-kind word that sums up my appraisal of the book? Ick.

My concluding thoughts

Foyt's book is a mess. Through most of the story, her main character is racist. She says and thinks things about Coals and Huaorani that are racist, arrogant, and ignorant. Because of that, her early comment that she wants to mate with a Coal (Jamal) to improve her standing doesn't make sense. She is sexually attracted to Jamal and later transfers that attraction to Bramford, but she detests Coals, and, what are we to make of the title of the series title, "Save the Pearls"?!

Eden does blackface and isn't happy. Happiness only comes when she goes Native, with "going Native" an act that is based on stereotypes and romantic notions of what it means to be Indigenous. In that way, Revealing Eden is a lot like the picture book, Brother Eagle Sister Sky, in which white people learn to take care of the earth only when they adopt romanticized ideas of Native views.

Foyt is asserting that the story is about global warming, and while that is part of the story, it seems to me that the overwhelming storyline is calculated to stir things up in a bid for attention... Like an internet troll. There's nothing to learn or think about in this story. Its too rife with stereotypes and us-versus-them binaries. The writing is bad, and I struggled to read the book. I thought I could just stop, but given the rise in self-published novels and the apparent success this one is receiving, I stuck with it, in hopes that other might-be-self-published authors would read it and revisit any Indigenous themes they may be exploring. Stereotypes will sell, but don't do it.
The book cover (shown here), story, and video promoting the book caused a great deal of conversation on the Internet. Given the way Foyt described Eden when she goes Native (with the "bowl-cut"), some clever person could figure out how to show the three faces of Eden. But then again, maybe Foyt will do that herself on the cover of her next book.

Let's hope that there is no next-book.