Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content, by Kara Stewart

Note: This post, authored by Kara Stewart (Sappony), first appeared on From Here to Writernity.

Are you seeing American Indian characters or content?
Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate Native content

Developed by Kara Stewart (Sappony) with many thanks to Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) for contributions.

Dear Agents and Editors, 

Have you just been presented with a manuscript that has American Indian content? I know what you’re thinking. “Great googlie mooglies, how do I tell if the Native content in this doorstop is accurate or if it will cause a garbage fire for my agency/house?”  

Or you may be thinking, “Well, I really like the voice, the plot is killer, and the author says she did a lot of research.” 

Or you may not be overly familiar with problems in the ways that writers create American Indian content, and think “I’m sure it’s fine…”

Or….*eyeswipe over listed resources*  
“Okay! A resource list! Content should be good to go.” But that niggling doubt… are those resources reliable?

Or perhaps you’re thinking, “It’s just this one little paragraph that has American Indian content... and it sounds okay to me...we don’t need to check on just that!”

Stop right there!

I know neither you nor your authors want dumpster fires, so here is a handy (errr… I think it’s handy and hope you do, too!) set of questions (and answers!) you can use to evaluate that manuscript. And a bonus resource list! By using it, you can gain skills to inform yourself and help authors create great books that help, rather than harm.

Just pick from List A (for authors who claim to be American Indian) or List B (for those who do not) and have at it!

A couple of notes on the questions:
  • These are meant as guides. Any single question may not lead you to a definitive answer, but will inform you. Or you may come up with additional questions to ask or research on your own.
  • It is not racist or bad form to ask questions specific to American Indian citizenry. For American Indian populations, the question/answer is larger than underrepresented minorities or historical oppression, and involves tribal citizenship.  American Indian people are, first and foremost, sovereign nations­ with structures in place to govern ourselves. This includes citizenship. Asking “Are you enrolled?” or “Are you a citizen of your nation?” then, is a question that many welcome. The answer will tell you a lot. Most American Indian authors will understand why you are asking and openly share their citizenship with you.
  • One little paragraph, sentence, or phrase can make a difference in a book’s tone, believability, consequences, and how an American Indian reader may respond to it. Why include American Indians at all in that phrase, sentence, or paragraph? Choose from List A or List B.
  • For List A, Question 4 and for List B, you will need at least one, preferably two, vetted readers from the tribe whose content is included. The author’s American Indian contact and their auntie who works at the college does not count. An objective, tribally-vetted person from the tribe who is familiar with Native literature does.
  • Is pondering these questions slightly uncomfortable? It is for me too, but I believe it is crucial that agents and editors take an informed, pro-active stance in the stream of what gets published. Cliché, but we need all hands on deck. I’m not suggesting an interrogation, but a conversation that includes these questions will greatly improve depictions of American Indian people in children’s and young adult books.
  • As editors and editorial agents, you often ask writers to revise something that you think isn’t right. It might be a factual error, or asking for clarity. You can do that, too, with American Indian content.
  • Ultimately, what you’re asking is this: “What will children most likely walk away from this book/section believing about Native people?” Boil it down to what is/isn’t on the page. And don’t forget American Indian children! What will they walk away with, when they read this book or this section?


LIST A: For authors who claim to be American Indian

1. I see your bio says you are Native American. What tribe do you associate yourself with?

2. Is that a state, or federally recognized tribe? 
3. How are you involved with your tribe? 

4. Are you writing about your tribe or another tribe?

List A Cheat Sheet Potential Answers:
1.       The author should be able to definitively name a specific tribe. If not, they may have Native ancestry at some point in their family lineage, but they are most likely not part of a tribe or familiar enough with it for them to be able to write in the #OwnVoice framework.  If an author seems to change their mind, giving  different tribe names at different times, that indicates they’re in an exploratory phase of finding out their American Indian ancestry. Note: if an author tells you they are Native via a DNA test, hit the pause button! Read (re-read) Kim Tallbear’s article, There Is No DNA Test To Prove You’re Native American. DNA means nothing. What matters is lineage and kinship, not DNA.

On the plus side, an author may say, “I am a citizen of the Choctaw Nation and of Navajo descent” or "I am Sappony". Or, “I am Lumbee and Sappony, enrolled with the Lumbee” or "I am an enrolled member of the Sappony", if the author understands that there are members, and there are enrolled members, and it sometimes makes a difference.  Note: if a writer gives you enrollment information for two distinct tribes, that’s a sure sign that the writer is not versed in citizenship. While we may have parents or ancestry from more than one tribe, we are enrolled in one. That’s a protocol widely known amongst those who are raised with knowledge of their native communities. You can also ask the author for their tribe's website and contact information. Many tribes verify membership through tribal ID cards. You can ask to see the tribal ID card. “And do you have a tribal ID card?” is acceptable. If the person does not have a card, but is a member/citizen, they’ll likely know that they (and you) can verify enrollment or citizenship through letter/email. We are asked for our tribal ID cards fairly often – at university offices, to register to dance at powwows, or as acceptable forms of identification to vote in some states, for example.

2.      Question 2 is, in essence, a check on Question 1. It is easy for someone to fudge their way through Question 1, especially if you, agent/editor, don’t feel confident in your ability to sniff out American Indian authenticity. If they don't know if their tribe is state or federally recognized, that is a red flag that points to shallow understanding and knowledge.  It lessens the chance they are really part of any tribe. Neither state nor federally recognized is 'better than' or more authentic than the other. If their tribe is neither state nor federally recognized, that could be a warning signal to find out more, since there are many groups that claim to be American Indian tribes.

3.      Asking how one is involved in the tribe they claim is another check on Question 1. Being a member of a tribe is more than an enrollment number or membership verification. It a way of life. It is giving back to your tribe, your family. It is being involved. Some nations require tribal members to live nearby, or require participation in tribal activities. Possible follow up questions: Did you grow up in the community you are writing about? Do you live there now? Are you able to get back to see your family much? If a person says they serve on the tribal council, or sit on a committee for their tribe or state or federal Indian organizations, volunteer at tribal events and can name them, or can tell you other ways they give back to their own Indian community, their state-level Indian community or the federal-level Indian community, then they have a higher chance of creating content that is accurate.

Caveat: volunteer work at various Indian functions or organizations is not really an indicator on its own since many non-Natives volunteer and may therefore think they have enough Native experience and friends to write about us. See List B.

4.      If the author is American Indian but writing about another tribe, see List B. American Indian tribes are so varied that a Lakota writing about the Mohawk, a Pueblo writing about the Sappony, a Tohono O’Odham writing about the Ojibwe, means that the author is writing about a culture not their own, a culture outside of their own experience. They may have a fundamental understanding of the overarching issues, stereotypes and values in ‘Indian Country’ in the generic sense, but would be an outsider to another tribal culture. We think that you will still need a vetted reader, or two, from the tribe whose content is in the book. See List B.

LIST B: For authors who are not American Indian but claim to have done research and/or have enough American Indian experience to result in authentic, accurate, non-stereotypical text:

1.       Why did you want to write a book about American Indians/include this part with American Indian content in your book?

2.      What tribe are you writing about/what tribe’s content is included in this part of your book?

3.      Why did you select this particular tribal nation for your story?

4.      Who have you interviewed/spoken with in the tribe, and can you give me the names and a statement from the tribe that acknowledges that these people are vetted by the tribe to speak for them?

5.      What is your personal experience with this tribe?

6.      What resources have you used to inform your work?

List B Cheat Sheet Potential Answers:
List B questions are more recursive than List A questions.

1.
·       If the author talks about having worked with American Indian kids/community and says that they asked the author to write a story for them, and this is that story, we have an example of saviorism. It’s not just authors of European ancestry who can get it wrong. Writing from ANY ‘outsider’ culture – White, African American, Asian, Hispanic – should have equally rigorous scrutiny when including American Indian content. If the author is being a savior, they may have saviors in the story, too. Also, very commonly, authors will express having an affinity for American Indian culture, being fascinated with Indians, or growing up near a reservation – Danger, Will Robinson! Proceed with caution! This can be code for “many stereotypes ahead”.  See Answer 6 for great resources to combat that.
·         If there are a couple of American Indian references in the book, “some Indian tribes say…” or “..look like an Indian..” or “Hopi legend says…” or “Indian burial ground” or “wise, old Indian man said …”, ask the author why they chose American Indian culture for that reference. We’ve seen many books in which it seems the author did not imagine American Indian children as amongst the audience for the book. With that in mind, ask why the author needs to include American Indians at all in that phrase, sentence, or paragraph. Can the scene stand without it? Why is it there? Can another group reference be substituted there? If the answer doesn’t support accurate, non-stereotypical text, you probably want to lose it.

2.  If there is no specific tribe mentioned . . .  
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

3.      This answer circles back to Question 1 but will give you more specific information. Pay particular attention if the author says something like, “I had a neat idea for a historical fiction book based on a real tribe/person/event.” See Answer 6.

4.      Via a social event or mutual acquaintance, a non-Native author may feel they have someone they can turn to who can help them with their American Indian content.  But that doesn’t mean that the Native person your author spoke with speaks for the tribe, has a larger view of the cultural questions, or knows anything about American Indian representation in literature. The author may pose questions and receive vague or simple affirmation for that content. The assumption is that feedback from any American Indian person is fine, or that positive feedback from an American Indian person is validation of authenticity, accuracy and acceptance. That is a false assumption.  You and your author—and your author’s readers—deserve more than that. Writers worked, in some cases, years on the manuscript. It is important to find someone who can give the content the serious attention it, the writer, and readers, deserve.  This is why it is important to have not only appropriate, but objective, American Indian information contacts as well as vetted (someone the tribe agrees can speak for them) readers. 

5.      This answer circles back to Questions 1 and 2, but will give you more specific information. Again, if the author talks about working or living with/near American Indian kids/community and the story written was well received by them . . . time to ferret out more information. What experience? For how long? Time frame? What did the work/interactions consist of? What about this experience enables you to write from the point of view of an American Indian person?

6.      The Devil is in the details . . . and the overall tone. Authors can have all their facts historically correct according to accepted sources available. But it is the interpretation of the facts into a story that makes the book harmful or helpful. I’ve seen a number of books that get most of the ‘facts’ correct, but the overall tone is that of stereotypes (which may be difficult for non-Indian writers, agents and editors to see when that has been the prevailing mode of American Indian representation). I’d highly recommend that agents and editors read the Revised Criteria from How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti­-Indian Bias. Reading a manuscript through that lens and thinking deeply about Eurocentrism and colonialism will make all the difference. You can find guidelines, suggestions, statistics and a number of resources here at Writing About Native Americans. It is a long post (as was this).

       But if it is truly important to you and your author to stop perpetuating stereotypes, you will have made it to the end of this post. And that one.

Resources
Is My Novel Offensive? by Katy Waldman for Slate
Writing, Tonto and the Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is Always the First to Die


-Kara Stewart (Sappony) is a Reading Specialist in the public schools. She currently serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education and on her Tribal Council.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Bring It Back: Families


families-cover.jpg
Among the many genres and subgenres of informational books for children are those about the people around us. One niche in this category are books about families.  Most bookstores or libraries will stock several of these titles.  Some explore families worldwide (beware the title that compartmentalizes race, ethnicity, and religion to geography - especially making America a White land) others look at families here in the United States.  Most authors and photographers do a good job of showing the wide range of families (big families, small families, adoptive families, interracial families, gay and lesbian parents, divorced families) however the writing style tends to use overarching and general language. One exception to this trend is Susan Kuklin’s Families.



Kuklin, Susan. Families. Hypersion, 2006, 36 pages ISBN 978-0786808229 op











Kuklin interviewed several children between the ages of four and fourteen to learn more about their families. Fifteen families are featured - each on a two page spread.  The children selected clothing, household items, and pose for their family photos.  Each child picked a historic family photo they referenced in their conversations. These images are inset with accompanying text to deepen our understanding of the family's history. This approach to crafting a book about American families creates a text that is wholly unique. We hear the child’s view on their own families. While all of these families live in the United Stated they represent the reality of a global society. The assortment of families we find in this type of book are all here but with a depth and breadth unparalleled by other titles. Kuklin has captured the voice of children introducing the multitude of possible families.   The availability of this notable  project is now limited due to it being out of print.

Some questions that come to mind: Hyperion, can you bring it back? If the pictures and cultural references are outdated, creating barriers to reprinting, maybe a second edition is in order?


families-jehangir.jpg




JEHANGIR: My family’s from India. People think we’re Hindu because most of India is Hindu. I’m Muslim. The things I do are mostly Muslim. But the things I eat and wear are usually from Indian culture.








Cover image, photograph, and excerpt from the author’s website. To see more photos and excerpts from Families visit http://www.susankuklin.net/childrens-books/families/

- Ernie Cox

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reviewing While White: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

by Angie Manfredi

Names matter.

Names matter when it comes to people and  to cultures.  And names matter when it comes to locations. So I was hesitant when I first heard the title of Faith Erin Hicks’s graphic novel The Nameless City. What would it mean for a city to be “nameless”?

The Nameless City is the first in a series.  The main plot revolves around two characters, Rat and Kaidu, who become best friends even though they are from different worlds.  In Hicks’s universe, “different worlds” pretty much breaks down to “conquerors” and “conquered.”  The main action takes place in the titular “Nameless City” - a city, valuable for trade due to its location at the opening of a river passage, that has been the subject of repeated cycles of conquest over generations.  Kaidu is a member of the Dao people, the current occupiers of the city.  Rat is a member of the group known only as “The Named,” i.e. the residents of the city, presumably made up of “generations” of residents who have survived the cycles of occupation. I say presumably because one of the main weaknesses of The Nameless City is not taking the impact of generations of conquest as serious as is warranted.  Who makes up “The Named” and when does a city resident become considered as such?  Are “The Named” composed of any disenfranchised citizens no matter who is conquering the city or can you become part of “The Named” when a new conquering group arrives? If Kaidu’s Dao people were conquered and replaced as leaders would the Dao then belong to “The Named”? Hicks never specifies any of this or sorts it out in any coherent way and that’s a real problem in a story that is ostensibly about the importance of different cultures and people coming together to build a coalition: how can we appreciate that if we can’t really tell them apart in the first place?

The idea that some people, and some places, are “nameless” is a common, and troubling, White stereotype.  It allows White people to other and exoticize people of color. Hicks never uses “tribes” to describe the people who have lived in/conquered the city. This is just one of the problems with how the book avoids specificity of culture and location.  Various groups are referred to as “the horse people,” “the people of the river,” and “the warrior people.” The first people who lived there, whose language and science has been lost, are referred to as either “The Northern People” or the “The First Builders.” But we also get a few specific names such as Dao, Yisun, and Liao. Do those names sound “Asian inspired” to you?  They did to me and that ties into the key problem of The Nameless City.

I say “Asian inspired” for a number of reasons, one being the fact that Hicks herself has openly talked about how she drew inspiration for the story. Here’s an interview with her at Comics Alliance:


CA: You say it’s loosely based on feudal China?
FEH: Well, the setting is based on that particular time period, but there’s no historical link between the story that I’m telling and and events that happened in that period. I just used it as the inspiration for my story’s setting.
CA: If you weren’t worried about historical accuracy, did you still spend time researching?  And did you limit your research to that period, or did you pull in some elements of other things?
FEH: I did a little bit of research on later periods, but most of it was specifically influenced by the Mongol dynasty that oversaw China during the thirteenth century.

There are some really troubling statements here and I think those attitudes show up in the text. Writers, especially White writers, should not just cherry pick the aspects of a culture and history that they want for the look and atmosphere of a story while leaving out anything that they don’t know enough about or don’t feel engaged by.  That's a textbook definition of appropriation and it's endemic in works by White people.  Just because White writers choose to make up cultures, tribes, and even races doesn’t mean they then somehow exist in a world where real life biases are harmless.

Along with the names, the “Asian inspired” elements show up everywhere in this work and it is clearly intentional. There are Chinese junk ships, Chinese style clothing and fighting, and the repeated use of Asian inspired names as mentioned above. There’s even street signs that have “Chinese-like” writing that isn’t actually a real language. What elements did Hicks use as "inspiration" and what did she leave out?  WHY?  What do those omissions tell us?

The Nameless City  has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Kirkus and Booklist both starred it, Kirkus named it to their Best Fiction of 2016 list. But let’s take a closer look at the reviews. The Publishers Weekly  review says it has "a Tibetan air" while the Kirkus review says it is "Asian-influenced" ... these things aren't interchangeable. Booklist seems more aware of Hicks’s process and says the setting “resembles thirteenth-century China.”

Resembles? Influenced? Air? These are weak words for the fact this book takes place in a world that samples from Chinese history on a surface level only when it suits the author. Asia doesn’t mean only China.  Tibet and China are not interchangeable. These cultures and places deserve more than being used as set decoration or “trendy” influences for stories. The fact that reviews are just lumping it in with hand-wavey "you know, like, over there?" is indicative of the problem. Asia is not a mono-culture and removing details, appropriating only what you want, perpetuates the kind of thinking that now, more than ever, kidlit/YA should be tearing down.

At one point in The Nameless City (pg. 89), Kaidu’s father (part of the Dao, the group currently occupying the city) tells him, “For thirty years the Dao have brought peace and prosperity to the Nameless City.” Hicks makes a great choice: to illustrate this scene with Kaidu receiving this pronouncement from his father while sitting in front of a painting showing Dao warriors in battle - specifically while they are slaughtering people. It’s a bracing contrast, one left for the reader to wrestle with, and the kind of brutal introspection this text needs more of. In another scene towards the end, a monk from the Named describes the Dao’s battle as a “sneak attack.”  Kaidu repeats back the story he knows: “It wasn’t a ‘sneak attack’! It was a heroic battle.” The monk answers, “So the Dao say. The Yisun might think differently” (194). Again, these are the kind of conversations about conquest and ruling that this book should be engaging with, but too often Hicks chooses to smooth over the consequences of colonization and conquest by falling back on half-explored themes of how perhaps we’re more alike than different. This is all further complicated by the opaqueness regarding an actual, specific setting and culture.

There are certainly some strong elements in the The Nameless City.  But overall this is a title I can’t recommend. Cultures aren’t interchangeable. Names matter, even in supposedly Nameless Cities.

--
Further Reading: Laura Jimenez’s takes a critical look at Nameless City, including how it fails the Bechdel Test.

I couldn’t have written this piece without the support and help of two of my favorite indie comic creators: Wendy Xu and Trungles. Wendy has a short, informative tweet thread about the issues she had reading The Nameless City as a Chinese person. And Trungles has a tweet thread about the problems (and the strengths) of the book.

Let me stress that one of the most important things you can do to boost the voices of artists of color is to support their work financially. So if you love indie comics by creators of color, I urge you to check out and support Wendy’s Patreon and Trungles’s Patreon. I love getting their drawings and updates! 

Monday, January 30, 2017

RWW Interviews: Debbie Reese



Debbie Reese
Debbie Reese, PhD. is an accomplished scholar and literary critic. In addition to numerous peer reviewed publications exploring diversity in children’s literature Debbie frequently offers her expertise at conferences. 

She is one of the founders of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois where she received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2003. 

Debbie currently serves on the  Literature Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental and The Journal of Children’s Literature.   I appreciate Debbie making time to talk with us about her career and life.


Can you share your origin story? How did you get started in this work, and what has changed over time?

That is an interesting question! It creates an opportunity for me to address the tremendous visibility and invisibility of Native peoples. We are not “First Americans.” Our origins predate what came to be called the United States of America. Time and again, though, writers and their editors seem hell bent on doing a force-fit in their depictions of us. In a cynical moment, I’d say that was a political move, intended to undermine who we are. In the next moment, I’d say that it is indicative of ignorance or a feel-good embrace of an American society that—intentionally or not—wants to look away from the stories it tells about history.  

My origin story, then, as a woman of a Native Nation is this: I’m tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. In the 1600s, my ancestors fought like hell against the Spanish explorers and missionaries who sought to take our lands and eradicate our ways of being. That fight is why I’m still here and why my people are on the land we’ve been on, for hundreds of years. In fact, our kiva—which is similar to a church—has been there since the 1300s. We still use it. When we pray, we don’t pray for our personal needs. Our elders remind us that what we do is for our community and for the world. Those words are powerful and stand in stark contrast to “the American dream” which tends to be about one’s own accomplishments and acquisitions.

I know that answer is a bit long, but it is part of my origin story. What I do as a scholar in children’s literature—especially what I do at my site—is an embodiment of those teachings. Stories. Words. They matter. They shape individuals, communities, and the world, too. I started American Indians in Children’s Literature in 2006 as a way to make my work freely accessible to parents, teachers, librarians, professors… anyone who was interested in learning about the ways that Native peoples are represented—or I should say misrepresented because that happens more often—in children’s and young adult literature.

Change over time? The year 2016 marks a significant moment. Several books were withdrawn or revised, due to conversations on social media. Content area bloggers are making a difference in how writers write, how editors edit, and how reviewers review books. I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been! I’m a realist, though, and acknowledge the power of capitalism. Money talks. What we buy matters.

And, I’ll add, that I see the current presidential administration as a threat to Native nationhood. The presidential memorandum about the Dakota Access Pipeline is deeply unsettling. Native people who went to Standing Rock went there with sovereignty foremost in their minds. They, like me, carry a different origin story than most Americans do. So much of the news media about the resistance to the pipeline focused on things like drums, tipis, and feathers but said little if anything about our status as sovereign nations. I can’t help but wonder: if the word “nation” were present in more children’s books, might that help reporters, and allies, too, understand and speak of our nationhood in ways they do not, now? 

Have you seen any important trends or themes in publishing by and about First/Native Nations over the last ten years?

I’m thrilled to see a growing awareness of our sovereignty! I love, for example, that Reading While White is using it. Collectively, you hold a lot of influential power, so I’m really happy to see it here. I’m also seeing a growing awareness of what it means to be a tribal member or citizen. History being what it is, so many people claim to be “part Native” – I’m seeing more conversations about what that claim means. I know it makes people uneasy to wonder if someone is Native or, not-quite Native, or not-really Native at all. If we can shift from thinking that is a racist question, to thinking of it as a political one similar to nationhood or citizenship in, say, France, I think we’d all be in a better place. I love that Tim Tingle’s How I Became A Ghost has “Choctaw Nation” on the very first page, and I love that Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer has information about the Muscogee Nation in the author’s note. This matters!

I’ve started to see Native characters that are LGBTQ. Unfortunately, most of them are stereotypical. That is frustrating. Native kids who are LGBTQ need mirrors, too, but the ones they’re getting are just like the ones Native kids have gotten for decades. Those aren’t mirrors. Those are White Man’s Indians. Literally, those images are created (for the most part) by White writers. The need is there, however, and I’m hopeful we’ll see better representations, soon.

I’ve also started to see Black Indians. Or—I should say—I’ve noticed two in particular that I didn’t notice before. This new awareness of two favorite books is important. In Jingle Dancer and in Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Cynthia Leitich Smith has two characters that are Black Indians. Now, whenever I read, I keep an eye out for that. And whenever I give a lecture, I talk about her characters. African Americans in the audience are thrilled. It speaks to the need for more of that, too. They have to be well done, though, and Smith’s are terrific. Researching these characters is on my to-do list. I’ve got to read and analyze Virginia Hamilton’s Arilla Sun Down and Michael Dorris’s The Window.

What is one question you wish more White People would ask about First/Native Nations?

“Do I know what I’m talking about? How do I know it?” If people would just hit the pause button on what they think they know, a wide range of questions open up. This is critical thinking that asks us—me, too!—to question what we’re taught, who taught it to us, why it is taught that way… In light-hearted moments, I want to say “WHO SAID” in the way kids challenge each other on the playground.  


In all the work that you do, what are you most proud of?

A few years ago, Simon Ortiz asked me to give a talk in the lecture series named after him, at Arizona State University. He is from Acoma Pueblo and is amongst the most respected Native writers in the U.S. I gave my lecture in October of 2016. Now, I am in the company of women I deeply admire, like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ofelia Zepeda, and Leslie Marmon Silko, and Wilma Mankiller. https://english.clas.asu.edu/indigenous

Oddly, I’m proud of the fact that people whisper “Debbie Reese hates white people” to each other. It means they are aware of my work. Whether they believe that I hate white people or not—they’re paying attention.


How do you stay motivated or promote self-care when facing frustration or pushback?

Around me, I have photographs of my daughter as a little girl, her cousins, my siblings grandchildren. In lectures I’ve been sharing this photo. That’s my little sister’s granddaughter. Her joy is infectious. I want to see that joy on her face every time she picks up a book with Native content.  


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Who are your heroes, both within and without the children’s literature world?


Last week on Twitter, I posted a series of photos of Native women I’m inspired by. This was part of the women’s march to Washington DC. I’ll share their names here.

Suzan Harjo, for her activism and bringing the National Museum of the American Indian from an idea to a stunning reality, there on the National Mall in DC.
Joy Harjo, for her poetry, her music, her stories.  
Lotsee Patterson, for working to get Native people into library science. 
Cynthia Leitich Smith, for her mentorship of writers, and her own books, too. 
Elizabeth Reese (my daughter) and other young Native women like her who have a fierce commitment to standing up for our Nations.

What advice do you have for others looking to do equity work in the world of libraries and youth literature? 

Network! Find others who are doing similar work. Being able to reach out to them is crucial. This is hard work. They will sustain you. I could name some of the people I turn to, but I’ll use RWW’s social media platform to direct your readers to another one! Go onto Twitter and search using #DiversityJedi. We started using that hashtag--created by Cynthia Leitich Smith--on November 2, 2015. Two of the DiversityJedi were in this RWW series of interviews! Laura Jimenez and Edi Campbell are people I learn from, and turn to, as well.   

-Ernie Cox

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rudine Sims Bishop: In Appreciation

Have you ever used the phrase “Mirrors and Windows” when discussing the need for more diverse children’s books? If so – or even if you’ve only heard someone else speak these words in this context – give a tip of your cap to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.


On Monday at the Youth Media Awards in Atlanta, Dr. Bishop received a standing ovation after winning the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. How many of us were thinking, “It’s about damn time!” Dr. Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University, has done enough to push children’s literature forward for two or three lifetimes. Check the Reading Rockets site for several video interviews and a handful of links (one of which connects to her seminal essay, Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors).


The idea behind Dr. Bishop’s work is simple: all young readers need more books with characters of all ethnicities and backgrounds, having a diverse range of experiences. This doesn’t mean that African American children only need to see more books with characters like themselves (although obviously they do), or that Ojibwe children only need to see more books with characters like themselves (might I add, in the present tense), and so on; but that African American children need to also see those Ojibwe characters, and vice versa. And also, children from non-marginalized groups (read: White kids) need to see these aforementioned books too. When White kids see White characters all the time, they get a distorted view of reality. White kids are overwhelmingly seeing “mirrors” but not “windows,” and that’s a huge problem.
Rudine Sims Bishop acknowledges the crowd at the Youth Media
Awards after winning the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton
Award for Lifetime Achievement.


(By the way, earlier I mentioned the need to tip one’s hat to Dr. Bishop when talking about windows and mirrors. Let me take that a step further: we must give credit where credit is due by citing Rudine when we use this phrase, no matter the situation. This is really a good guideline to follow in general, but especially since many White people tend to take credit for ideas and things created by people of color or First/Native Nations, I implore readers to attribute this phrase to Dr. Bishop.)


This may all be old news to some, but one of the reasons Dr. Bishop is so impactful is her years of service, of pushing and prodding the children’s literature world to think more broadly about what diverse books can do. And she has done so for all these years with characteristic grace and understated authority, leading by example.


I had the great fortune of serving on the Coretta Scott King Book Award Jury these last two years with Dr. Bishop as my chair. When you’re on a book award committee, you get to know the other people in the room extremely well, and it isn’t always rainbows and ponies, as they say; things can get heated at times. Discussions hit brick walls, and committee members get feelings hurt – we have such personal attachments to the books we have read and loved! There were a few times I wanted Dr. Bishop to tell us what to do in these hard situations: “Come on,” I’d think. “You’re RUDINE SIMS BISHOP!! You have more knowledge than the rest of us combined! DRAW US A MAP!!!” But that isn’t the way Dr. Bishop works. She is not someone who is going to tell you what to do, or what to think; Rudine Sims Bishop does not direct. When Rudine speaks, the whole room leans forward, and not just because she has such a quiet voice. Dr. Bishop exudes authority, but not the kind that demands one snap to attention. Her authority lies in her knowledge, yes, but above all in the graceful and dignified way she carries herself.

All of this is to say: thank you, Dr. Bishop. Thank you for your tireless and continued work. Thank you for being a shining example of true leadership.

-Sam Bloom