Friday, July 8, 2016

Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids



by Sam Bloom

For months now, I’ve been thinking about the dynamic in the children’s lit world centered around whether you can be a fan of an author/illustrator’s work and still be able to look critically at their books. (We saw this at work last fall when beloved illustrator Sophie Blackall caught heat for her illustrations in Emily Jenkins’s A Fine Dessert.) I started (and scrapped) several attempts at a blog post on the subject, until one day in June when I found that Zetta Elliott had brilliantly and succinctly said everything I had ever wanted to say about this phenomenon:


I love my friends. At times, I gush about my friends because they’re brilliant and creative and inspiring. But I am not a “fan” of my friends, and when a librarian comes up to me to express her appreciation for my books, I don’t think of her as a “fangirl.” To me, fans are not in their right mind—they’re fanatics! Their enthusiasm and excitement overwhelm their ability to think critically, and THAT can be a real problem when your job is to objectively evaluate and acquire books.

YES! Especially that last sentence. It’s so very true that those of us in this relatively small (and tight-knit) children’s book world have to strike a balance between celebrating the creators of the books we love while also (a) thinking about what the books are saying about the world, and how that affects young readers, and (b) holding the creators of the book accountable when things go wrong.

Which brings us to Lane Smith’s latest picture book, There Is a Tribe of Kids (Roaring Brook, 2016). I’m guessing you don’t need an introduction to Smith’s work; suffice it to say his books (especially his collaborations with Jon Scieszka) are perennial favorites that I still return to frequently. (By the way, as much as I love Scieszka he hasn’t always been the most culturally sensitive writer; see Debbie Reese’s take on the unfortunate Me Oh Maya, an entry in the Time Warp Trio series.) The “enthusiasm and excitement” that Zetta mentioned above are definitely there for me when it comes to Lane Smith’s books.
But when this title (along with the book cover) flashed across the screen at a Macmillan publishing preview event this past January, I immediately grew leery. It was really the combination of the title, with its use of the word “Tribe” in an obviously playful way, and the shots of the (human) kids from the title on the last two spreads. Minh Lê touches on this unfortunate juxtaposition in his review in the New York Times Book Review: “Some readers may detect something ill-advised, if not sadly familiar, in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or “playing Indian” to signify wildness, especially since the word ‘tribe’ is so central to this often captivating book.”


I understand that “tribe” can be used in reference to a group of goat kids. Smith sets this up in the first few spreads when the human “kid” protagonist is left behind by a group of young goats, the other “kids” from the title. It’s a clever bit of wordplay, but “tribe” is a loaded term, and to me the repartee falls flat. (Ill talk more about this later; for now I highly recommend you stop and read this Teaching Tolerance piece, The Trouble with Tribe, before you continue. It’s worth it.) Smith shows the child protagonist using play to connect with his new “tribe,” happy to be included. As Lê  writes, “Within the confines of the book, this is a heartwarming finale.”

IMG_2880.JPGBUT. Take a look at the detail on the left; it comes from the book’s penultimate spread, a visually stunning wonderland that is equal parts Swiss Family Robinson and the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. And yes, it does make for a sweet ending within the confines of this book. But a child of Native/First Nations will not experience this story and these illustrations (kids with feathers or distinctly feather-shaped leaves sticking out from their heads, living a simple, primitive life) “within the confines of the book.” Children of Native/First Nations live in a world that oppresses and colonizes them and has done so for hundreds of years. And here we have a book that implies that it is okay to play “Indian,” to costume one’s self in Native dress, and the bottom line is that this is NOT okay.

I believe that Smith’s intention here was to create a kind of childhood utopia, with the giant treehouse and the lack of adult intervention and the closeness to nature and all of that; a paean to being a kid. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that! But looking back at the aforementioned piece from Teaching Tolerance, which reads in part, “To be in a tribal state is to live in an uncomplicated, traditional condition,” it gets a bit thorny. By creating the primitive scene as a sort of unspoiled, unevolved mini-society, Smith is reinforcing the age-old stereotype which led to (again quoting from Teaching Tolerance) “the concept of tribe [as] a cornerstone for European colonial rule in Africa.” And again I’ll harken back to one of Lê’s comments: using “tribe” in the title was certainly “ill-advised.”


But here’s the thing: Lê’s mixed review of the book is the exception to the rule, as There Is a Tribe of Kids has garnered 4 starred reviews to date and sits at 2nd place in the Goodreads Mock Caldecott voting. As most reviewers are White, this brings up some questions. Are we all too enamored with Lane Smith to see the problems here? To return to Zetta Elliott’s earlier point, are we able to “think critically” about and “objectively evaluate” books when they are created by someone we greatly admire? If it wasn’t Lane Smith’s name on the front cover, could we more easily see the problems inherent in There Is a Tribe of Kids? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this is a book that I personally won’t be sharing with (human) kids.

135 comments:

Roger Sutton said...

Oh, Sam, I dunno. The Horn Book did not star There Is a Tribe of Kids, but we did recommend it. I think it is cynical to believe that we did so by overlooking parts of the book due to being "enamored" with the author. You were a part of the discussion re Tribe of Kids at the Horn Book, so you know we discussed all the issues you raise in this post. It's simply that the reviewer and the editors differed with your assessment. I feel like I know my colleagues at the other rags well enough to say that similar discussions would have happened there, too. If you want to say we disagree with you because we are racists, well, it's an argument with which I am willing to engage. But please don't say we reviewed the book as we did because we wanted to be nice to Lane Smith!

Jamalia Higgins said...

I get leery when we speak as if we know how children will experience a picture book. There are circumstances within books that have clearly dated representations which may trigger a reaction in a child of a particular group. But I get worried when we, especially those of us who do not identify as a member of that group, determine the harm that children of this group will endure from a maybe-possibly representation such as the leaf and stick wearing in the penultimate spread here. Children the age that this Lane Smith book is targeted likely would not take on the baggage that the words tribe(al) may or may not carry in this situation. I'm all for an analysis, but much of this veers into very shaky ground.

Megan Schliesman said...

I agree with you, Jamalia, that there is always a risk when projecting onto a child audience and in generalizing. But I do think it goes both ways--a blanket statement about children likely NOT taking on the baggage doesn't acknowledge that some of them already are carrying that baggage. Some of them have already been damaged by the stereotypes and messaging this review questions. I think it's a hard thing to hold ALL children in our minds when evaluating books but I think, especially when looking at elements that are potentially or in fact hurtful and harmful in terms of perpetuating racism, we must try to. (Alternately, we can't ever evaluate a book by demanding it have appeal or relevance to all children, but that's a different perspective.) In the end, none of this is easy. But I think we have to ask these kinds of questions and challenge ourselves and one another.

Sam Bloom said...

Well, Roger, I didn't bring up the HB discussion because I thought it was supposed to be secret! But now that you mention it, I (obviously) disagree with you about recommending the book, and I said so during the process. As for your other comments I can only ask you not to reduce my post to either/or/for/against because the opinions we all have about this book, whether we agree or disagree or a combination of the two, are so much more nuanced than that.

Pat said...

The history of Smith's accomplishments means the work has to be taken seriously as a contribution to the art and form of picture book creation. But there are two histories (at least ) at play here. Sam and others are also reckoning with the history of books published using 'tribal' tropes and images as a way to advance a storyline. The ache and damage done by this continuing legacy in children's publishing does not depend on children's accounts of their own reading experiences. We know from Debbie Reese and many other First Nation author-critics of children's literature (see Bruchac 2010 in the Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature) that these narratives persist despite unyielding efforts to condemn demeaning and dehumanizing 'tribal' references. Given well-known scholarship in American Indian children's literature, an evaluation of Smith's book should include a recognition of its placement among a long history of books that represent 'tribalism' and thus American Indian/First Nation cultures as naive, historic, and fanciful (see Peter Pan; see also Deloria Playing Indian). If the book is placed in this legacy, it can also be read alongside available critiques and literature, calling attention to problems and possibilities of representations. An informed reading means giving up the position of innocence that White readers enjoy when 'other cultures' are represented in service of an engaging story.

K T Horning said...

Thanks for this great comment, Pat! As I was reading THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS, I kept thinking about what other word could have been used instead of "tribe" (group, circle, horde, clan, school, etc) and wondering how it might have changed the visual story. Would a different collective noun have changed the choices the illustrator made? How much was the "primitive" imaginary inspired by the use of the noun he chose?

Roger Sutton said...

I agree with you there, Sam (that your thoughts on the book are nuanced); I was only querying the statement that those who did not share your view were blinded by deference to the author.

CJ J said...

Oh my word. This is a book about collective nouns that also shows kids in imaginative play. I think it's unlikely kids reading this book will pick up on or see fault in the use of the word 'tribe'. There are no references to any ethnicity or culture. Do we have to find offense in every single book? That's energy better spent in so many other ways.

Debbie Reese said...

Jamalia's suggestion that Sam ought not say anything about this is precisely why we see this kind of thing again and again.

I love Pat's last sentence and am copying it here:
"An informed reading means giving up the position of innocence that White readers enjoy when 'other cultures' are represented in service of an engaging story."

"Giving up the position of innocence." I'm going to remember that phrase and use it, crediting Pat and this post!

Elizabeth Saxton said...

Well children won't "pick up on" the use of tribe because this book just reinforces the same stereotypes. They won't notice because it's typical, and that is the problem. While there are no references to ethnicity or culture a large majority of children only know the word tribe in reference to Native people, so clearly an association will be made for many.

Sarah Hamburg said...

Roger-- I didn't see Sam making that statement; I saw him asking questions and saying he doesn't have the answers. How *do* reputation and status within different parts of the children's literature community influence whose work is defended, and from which types of critique? (I've certainly seen different reactions to criticism of the work of authors who many view as "outsiders".)

And thirding the appreciation for Pat's comment. So often it seems as though critiques like this one are reduced to being about a single word, or a single sentence-- without recognition of the underlying, ubiquitous story those words and images tell, and the larger context in which that story operates.




Nina Lindsay said...

Roger, I will just add to Sarah's comment that I have witnessed and experienced the trepidation with which otherwise fully reasonable and smart reviewers (including myself) second guess what we see based on the reputation of the writer or author. I think it's a natural human thing to do, and part of our job to work as critics is to set that aside, especially those of us who are White, as we probably have a harder time seeing past it, and less of an incentive to set it aside. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether or not this was in play in the Horn Book discussions. However, given the reviews overall for this book, and Smith's well-deserved reputation, I think Sam's question is totally fair to ask.

Elisa Gall said...

How do we account for overwhelmingly favorable reviews of books that have serious questions raised about them once they reach a broader readership? I’m not sure there is just one answer, but I do wonder how we—critics and champions alike—can keep working to hold each other accountable as well. I think conversations like this are a step. Thank you, Sam, for sharing your reflections here (and everyone else in the comments too).

sharon said...

This is in response to cj's statement that "I think it's unlikely kids reading this book will pick up on or see fault in the use of the word 'tribe'."

To me this is part of the point and the problem. This book continues to enforce already existing and pervasive negative stereotypes. Most kids are unlikely to be offended by this. But they are likely to take pieces of all the books and media they encounter and have it help form their world view. So, pointing out the racism and offense in children's books is vital, not just for the children who will be hurt by it directly, but also for all the children who read and see these materials and are hurt indirectly by taking in these negative and inaccurate views of people different than them.

Sam Bloom said...

Thanks, all, for this lively discussion!

I want to link to Debbie Reese's post today at her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, because she's added more of her own thoughts about use (and abuse) of the word "tribe" and more:
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/07/reading-while-white-reviews-lane-smiths.html

Debbie Reese said...

Hi Sam! I had just come over here to submit a comment saying I'd written about your review! Thanks for posting that link.

Debbie


Pat said...

Hi all. I do not mean to suggest that, for some reason, I do not want to identify myself. Pat= Pat Enciso @ Ohio State University. Still getting the hang of social media.
The dialogue across blogs exemplifies the qualities of integrity and concern that we can promote in discussions with teachers, youth, friends and neighbors ... now more than ever.

Debbie Reese said...

Oh! Hi, Pat! I was driving thru your city a few days ago and thought that some time I should visit you. For those who haven't read Pat's essay about Matt de la Pena's MARKET STREET, I highly recommend it. It is at the Latinx in Kidlit blog.

Monica Edinger said...

I think for many it IS incredibly challenging to speak-up publicly with questions and concerns about the work of anyone, but even harder to do with that of someone you admire. Every and any time I'm critical (however prominent the creator) I think through what the response will be. Will it help the creator(s) to do better next time? Will it get the other adult readers (librarians, teachers, and others who share books with children) who may not have been doing so, begin to think with awareness about the title in question? About the issues as it affects readers throughout the country, not just theirs? To think about what they can do as they select and recommend books for their library/classroom/children/bookstore/etc to help their patrons/students/buyers be more aware of the issues around the book. I admit that I'm far more cautious than you all here, but I do still write publicly of my reservations and concerns. Kirkus, among the major trade review publications, is the only one (I believe) that keeps reviews anonymous. I suspect (having felt this way myself for the brief time I was a Kirkus reviewer long ago) that it gives some freedom to the reviewers to be more critical than perhaps they would be if their names were attached. And so kudos to you Sam for raising this hard question in public for us all to grapple with.


Jamalia Higgins said...

Debbie Reese, I never suggested that Sam Bloom "ought not to say anything" about the Lane Smith book. I said I was leery, worried, and thought some of the contentions veered into shaky ground.

I apologize for not recognizing that tribe and tribal are trigger words that should no longer be used. I learn new things from this and other eye-opening blogs every day, and for that I thank you all so much for this opportunity to have spirited and respectful discussions.

Sam Bloom said...

I thought that was you, Pat! Thanks again for your contributions to this discussion. (And I second Debbie's recommendation to read Pat's "Last Stop on Market Street" piece, which is amazing.)

Monica, thanks for your thoughts. I think PW also keeps reviews anonymous, does it not? I agree that this would seem to change the way people would review; there were times when I was reviewing with SLJ (and now with HB) that I took out a particular line because I chickened out.

Jamalia, thank you for your part in these spirited and respectful discussions! And I agree about the eye-opening part, both here in these comments and in many other places online.

fairrosa.com said...

I will have more specific and longer comments coming tomorrow probably. But, today, I want to just focus on one aspect from Sam's review -- that he linked to the problematic uses of TRIBE to Teaching Tolerance. Thank you for the link and for the wealth of information there. The article is mainly (or fully) about the use or "Tribes" in context with African/colonial cultures.

I just wonder if it is 100% correlating to the Native American contemporary scenario -- since the words Tribe and Tribal are used in very official, formal, and dignified ways by contemporary Native Americans. For example, in this document http://www.ncai.org/about-tribes/indians_101.pdf, words such as "tribal sovereignty," "the structure of tribal lands," "tribal lands" -- are found in the table of contents, and on page 6 of the document in the FAQ section, tribes, nations, bands, etc. are all listed as legitimate groupings of contemporary Indian social and political groupings.

So, I wonder how are we (who are not Native American and who only knows one or two Native American scholars who have spent time and energy on dissecting children's literature) reconcile these two documents: one that tells us that TRIBE is a truly problematic word while the other (by National Congress of American Indians) uses TRIBE in a formal and non-derogatory or stereotypical or backwards-indicating way.

A second question I have is: why is frolicking in nature, wearing full on leafy outfits (which is definitely not a Native American practice) something that signifies "a lesser and thus undesirable" actions and not something that signifies "harmonious with nature" actions? I don't have the book with me at this point (it's at work and I will get it tomorrow) but as far as I remember, and someone can check this image out: http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/interiors-images/9781626720565.IN01.jpg most of the pages in the book feature children imitating animals in a loving and joyous way which looks more like European fairies/pixies than any Native American images. I think it is quite dangerous to take one or two images from a huge array of images to discuss without giving the full range of what the entirety of the book offers. This practice seems to be exactly what we have been advocating to avoid -- in school, in our society, and in the children's literature world:

Sampling one or two components from a large group of varied components and using these to DEFINE the entire group. (For example, saying that since there have been some muslims who are terrorists, the entire muslim community is to be condemned.) In this case, instead of looking at the entirety of the book and seeing how the "leaf-looking-feather-like" is not the overwhelming component a large variable images Lane Smith created for this book, Sam and other critics of this book decided to simply highlight and focus on the it to make those who read the reviews feel like the entire book is full of such "questionable" images. (I'm also not sure that these images are that questionable.)

Isn't this something we try to NOT do and try to teach our children NOT do?

Haha.. this is MUCH longer than I thought I was going to write... but I am sure more will come and since people are going to disagree with me, I can see how I'll spend my next few days online!

Debbie Reese said...

Good morning,

I'm not privy to conversations at NCAI over their decisions on what phrases to use, but can speak to my own thinking.

There's a lot to do in order to move the ways people in the US think about the Indigenous people of what came to be known as the United States, or, more broadly, North America, to a place of integrity and knowledge about who we were, and who we are.

I use "tribal nations" and I use "Native Nations." I prefer Native Nations.

I use "tribal" -- a word that Americans are familiar with -- but I link it with "nations" in an attempt to move people away from linking "tribal" with "primitive" to linking "tribal" with "nations" so that they think of us as peoples of nations who this land belonged to. Right now there's still far too many people who think that we were "primitive" and "uncivilized" and that Europeans "civilized" us.

Any and every word is loaded. What does "civilized" mean, anyway? People say that Europeans were more advanced because they had superior x, y, or z. Truth: x, y, and z made it possible for "civilized" Europeans to do all manner of horrible things to people.

There are other measures, right?

There's a, b, and c that made it possible for those deemed "uncivilized" to be more inclusive. I hesitate to say that because people will default to romantic stereotypes of Native people and I don't want THAT to be the place we are, either, but I hope you all know what I'm getting at. (An aside: last week in PA I was the only Native amongst a gathering of White people. Somehow the convo turned to Indians not being wasteful, using every thing in the animal they killed. It was one of many times when I sit there and think 'do I say something or not.' I chose not to, but, wanted to say 'come on... I bet if you looked up your own ancestors, I bet you'd find they did that, too.')

Back to tribe. I'm glad Roxanne is using the NCAI site. Others should, too. There's a lot to learn there.

I firmly belief the first thing people need to learn is that we are sovereign nations. With that knowledge as a starting place, we can move to address other areas of ignorance. Will the use of "tribe" or "Indian" drop out over time? Maybe. But right now, both are used in the US Constitution, in Supreme Court docs, etc. That means they carry a great deal of weight.

People can learn to use words like tribe with the dignity they signify, but I think that Lane Smith's use of the word and his illustrations are precisely what we are pushing against: ignorance.

I'm tired, by the way, of saying "he meant well." He probably didn't know. So do I excuse his ignorance? No. I call it out. Because calling it out is how change happens.

How change does NOT happen? By defending what he did because it is just one image in the book. It isn't one image in one book, Roxanne. This is a conversation we've had so many times, as has been pointed out in the thread already. In my experience, there's more stereotypical images in kids books than there are accurate ones. That's what you're defending. The status quo.

fairrosa.com said...

Debbie, you said, "People can learn to use words like tribe with the dignity they signify, but I think that Lane Smith's use of the word and his illustrations are precisely what we are pushing against: ignorance."

I am really curious as to how you came to this conclusion. What do you think he was ignorant of? That the word tribe is used in Native Americans/American Indians' cultures, that the word can be used as a group term of goats, that the word is also used by other people all around the world and people who are not Native Americans to signify group affinities (see The Tribe, a Cannes Film Festival winning film completely without dialog or sound to capture the deaf experience, for example). Or do you mean that he's ignorant that by seeing the word "Tribe," some people will only associate it with Native American cultures and associating it in a negative and derogatory way?

My question is -- who is actually linking this word and these images to signify "lesser" "wild" "uncivilized" or "derogatory"? Since you are putting intent in Lane Smith's mind, I am practicing the same: I imagine that Lane Smith did NOT associate his imageries with these notions.

I am not really defending the image cited here since I don't think it needs defending. I also think it will be really productive to think of ways that teachers and adults and young people may use this book in a positive way -- to celebrate imaginary play, to connect with the natural world, to study the images in a culturally sensitive way. I truly do not believe that all of these kids (or even the one that's captured in Sam's review here) are "playing Indians." And truth be told, my white (and not white) students in NYC have a lot of respect and will never think of "playing Indians" and when they see these images, their association is more likely to be one of being attuned with nature than some ideas that "Oh, Indians are just like Barbie Dolls that we can play with/play act on." In a way, isn't that what we all are striving for: that these images do not elicit backward, insensitive thinking in our young readers?

Not sure that I would sit back and accept the accusation that I am here to "defend the Status Quo," either. I just think it is truly important in our collective work to better the children's literature field that we examine the facts carefully, that we hear many different viewpoints, and that we hear more voices from the "same group" of people -- since I have believed for a long time that NO CULTURE is homogeneous or has ONE single thought -- I surely cannot speak for all Chinese or Chinese Americans, nor all New Yorkers, nor all Middle School Librarians, nor all Women.

Debbie, have you shared this review and all these comments with other Native American scholars? It will be so great if you can ask them to come here and share their views directly with us! I'd LOVE that!!!

Roger Sutton said...

I completely agree that an author's reputation can cause a reviewer to tread lightly (or heavily, too). But what I didn't see in Sam's post was any consideration that the starred reviews might have come about because the reviewers genuinely liked the book. Why jump to bad faith?

Sarah Hamburg said...


Roxanne-- two responses: a) I would point back to Pat's recommendation of the book Playing Indian, by Philip Deloria. What's under discussion here are not different, equally-weighted readings and possible interpretations of the nuances of an individual text, but a fundamental story of colonialism that dominates children's literature.

This also ties into b) which is the frequent assertion, articulated in your comment as well, that Debbie's is but one, subjective voice: that she does not speak for all Native peoples, and that her perspective is only one equal reading among all of the possible interpretations of an individual text. No, of course Debbie does not speak for all Native people (I know you're the first one to say this, Debbie!) But she does speak with and from years of scholarship, and in community with other Native people. This is always included in her posts. And I find it revealing that the idea that Debbie only represents one equal voice is so often invoked in service to the argument that a Native perspective should be given no weight or significance. (It's all subjective, so all perspectives are equal, so the dominant one should prevail. I think this is part of what you mean by protecting the status quo, Debbie? All perspectives are NOT treated equally within children's literature. That's the problem.)

It's also interesting that when many Native critics do speak together, the reaction shifts to characterizations of a "mob," or of group "shaming". (See, for example, responses to Native scholars and readers speaking out about JK Rowling's new stories.) All of which goes back to Pat's point about the preservation of innocence, which Debbie elaborates on in her post linked above.

Debbie Reese said...

Hmm... I think Roxanne is doing the "Debbie is ONE person" so unless we hear from others, we can ignore her.

Do I "rise" to Roxanne's challenge? Prove the merit of my critiques by pointing RWW readers to other Native people who share my orientation towards misrepresentations, playing Indian, etc.?

I could point readers to my site, where I've got a long page of Native responses to Rowling's Magic in North America.

I could point readers to this or that tweet where Native lawyers, or scholars, or parents, or librarians, have objected to playing Indian, to mascots, to Rowling, to Little House...

Shall I take time to do that? Is it necessary?

徐幼鳳 said...

I am in no means "baiting" you, Debbie. Instead, I appreciate links and information that Sarah shared and will read and educate myself further. And there is also no discounting your voice in the discourse. The more information from more people the better we can all be better informed.

I have never considered a group of native voices as a "mob" so please make sure that it is not unfortunately linked to my attitude by Sarah here.

I will write about the book on my blog later today when I can examine it closely and after reading some of the provided information here.

Debbie, are there other essays about this book from Native American critics that I should read before writing ?

徐幼鳳 said...

I am in no means "baiting" you, Debbie. Instead, I appreciate links and information that Sarah shared and will read and educate myself further. And there is also no discounting your voice in the discourse. The more information from more people the better we can all be better informed.

I have never considered a group of native voices as a "mob" so please make sure that it is not unfortunately linked to my attitude by Sarah here.

I will write about the book on my blog later today when I can examine it closely and after reading some of the provided information here.

Debbie, are there other essays about this book from Native American critics that I should read before writing ?

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Roger, I don't think that Sam jumped to "bad faith", I think he used this book as a launch point from which to start a conversation about how the culture of tight relationships in the children's literature world can impact our professionalism. I saw him putting his own desire to love Lane Smith at the expense of his professional judgment on trial, and asking others to do the same.

I have to constantly ask myself whether personal relationships/love of author's prior works play into my praise/criticism of books, and I appreciated knowing that I'm not alone in this. I'd like to continue to have that discussion, and I think by reading what others say I can interrogate my own assumptions and learn useful ways to stay professional in this friendly friendly field. If you're feeling like you and HB are already there, I think you can assume Sam wasn't talking to you (and that was only meant to be mildly snarky).

Roger Sutton said...

No, we have that conversation here very often--When Good Friends Write Bad Books! It's always horrible.

K T Horning said...

Again, I go back to Lane Smith's choice to use the word "tribe." I understand his desire for the clever play on words, but it is just one of the collective nouns that can be used for goats (and it's not even the most common one). You can also have a herd, a flock, or a trip. How would it have changed the book to have the opening line as "There is a herd of kids..." or "There is a flock of kids..." or "There is a trip of kids..."

The Teaching Tolerance article Sam linked to in his original post cites one of the problems with the term "tribe" is that it is linked to the stereotype of primitiveness. Certainly that's what we see throughout the book THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS with children, close to nature, dressed in leaves, holding spears, living in huts. I believe it was the author's choice to use the word tribe that led to these sorts of images, including the one cited where the children are playing Indian. Throughout the book, the illustrations reinforce the stereotype of a wild, primitive existence.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Roxanne, first, I can't help but scratch my head. You're saying this use of "tribe" isn't problematic because the word "tribe" is not inherently problematic? The whole point of the book is the wordplay. If it weren't, the main character and his buddies would all be goats. There's no book without the double meanings of "tribe" and "kids", and the double meaning doesn't work unless you get into the whole stereotypical "tribe" thing. The creators and publishers are capitalizing off of a stereotype. Sure, they've also created a visually stunning book. And they've been clever with the wordplays. And they've capitalized on a stereotype.

Second, I think Debbie is experiencing a microaggression at your hands here that is all-too-common for her. Roxanne, you may ask with nothing but good intentions whether Debbie has more Native resources and Native reviewers that she can share. The unintended subtexts of such a request, though, are significant: (1) It implies that Debbie's voice is not one that can stand on its own, with no more and no less respect and consideration than any voice in our field (I have never ever had someone say, in response to a review of mine, "Interesting, Allie. Are there other white voices? Can you send me some more essays and reviews by other white people?"--Debbie's identity as Native and Nambe Pueblo here becomes a tool used to discredit her) and (2) It implies that Debbie should do the work to educate all the rest of us about Native stereotypes, history, and representation, instead of this being shared work that we all need to take responsibility for. And here's the thing: Debbie DOES. A ton. She puts her scholarship, research, and her resources online. For free. And, in my experience, has been more than happy to help with specific questions however she can.

Please just keep in mind that it is ALL of our responsibility to teach ourselves about Native representations in children's literature. While you may not have intended to "bait" or "discount" her, this is not the first time Debbie's experienced such a request, and when she's saying "hey, you're discounting my voice" I think you need to acknowledge, rather than dismiss, her experience.

Third and last, I'm having a really hard time with the way that you compared Sam's analysis of these images to condemning all Muslims because a few are terrorists. That parallel is not sitting well with me--in part because there's a lightness with which you brought in Islamophobia to prove your point (and I confess it's triggering me that you did not capitalize "Muslim" although you later do capitalize "Women" and "Middle School Librarians", among other things). I am totally fine with your disagreeing with any review, but I am concerned that you trivialize Islamophobia when you use it to try to prove your point like this, and I caution you against using an entire culture in service of a point you're trying to make.

徐幼鳳 said...

Allie, I am responding to this only and not any of the other of your points: "Third and last, I'm having a really hard time with the way that you compared Sam's analysis of these images to condemning all Muslims because a few are terrorists. That parallel is not sitting well with me--in part because there's a lightness with which you brought in Islamophobia to prove your point (and I confess it's triggering me that you did not capitalize "Muslim" although you later do capitalize "Women" and "Middle School Librarians", among other things)."

I have to apologize for not capitalizing Muslims! And I definitely used an extreme example here. Instead of trying to trivializing Islamphobia, I definitely intended to put more weight on what we are discussing here. That we need to be very careful and conscientious when discussing any title and do not assign blanket values to the whole by examining only partially what is in front of us.

However, I absolutely see why you might be triggered by my using this extreme example.

徐幼鳳 said...

KT, you said, "Throughout the book, the illustrations reinforce the stereotype of a wild, primitive existence."

I don't really know what these images are stereotype of? Are you saying that they are stereotype of Native American children? Or any children?

Is a wild and primitive life considered a negative existence? By whom?

Should they all go back to a hot supper in a "civilized" house/room like Max does after his wild and primitive play with the Wild Things?

K T Horning said...

Roxanne, I am saying they are a **stereotype** of primitiveness or "primitive cultures" in the illustrations. Throughout the boy is dressed in an outfit made of leaves and he communes with wild animals. When at last he finds his "tribe" they are living in huts (built on tree branches, no less), holding spears, all in clothing made of leaves. Some of the leaves are placed to stand up on top of the characters' heads, suggesting stereotypical Native headdresses.

I am not saying there is anything negative about a "primitive" lifestyle (or preliterate societies, to use a more contemporary term.) It's the STEREOTYPE of primitive peoples that is the issue. These images of people cavorting with wild animals, living in trees and huts, holding spears and dressed in leaves are all stereotypical images common to a colonial Western view of "less evolved" people.

Sarah Hamburg said...

Yes, I'm not sure how the word primitive can be anything other than derogatory when it refers to people.

Also, and of course, "positive" stereotypes like "attuned with nature" are not in fact positive. They do damaging work, just like all stereotypes. Debbie gives one example of how she experiences that stereotype in daily life above.

The stereotypes of "wild" "primitive" "childlike" were/are also integrally tied to justifications for colonialism and genocide, as Debbie and others have also written about.

And thanks, Allie, for the comment about Islamaphobia, as well as the reminder that this is *all of our work*.

fairrosa.com said...

Thanks, K.T. for the clarification! So you find the entire book with all its illustrations objectionable because you see children dressed in leaf-clothing, cavorting with wild animals - and that signifies primitive and wild, "native cultures."

I am finally looking at the whole book and noticed something that I did NOT pick up on the first few times of reading:

There are two different spreads:

One says, "There WAS a Tribe of Kids" and the other says, "There IS a Tribe of Kids." Both features children of different skin tones from pale pink to dark brown - definitely not Pan Native American, but the Whole World? The final five-member "family?" picture definitely features multiple ethnicities as well. This book is even more nuanced than I first thought and after I read this entire thread.

Can't wait to hear more from everyone!!!

Nina Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nina Lindsay said...

Roxanne, I can't see where "Sam and other critics of this book decided to simply highlight and focus on the [one spread?] to make those who read the reviews feel like the entire book is full of such "questionable" images." I think you're mischaracterizing a discussion in which we're attempting to examine something most reviewers chose to disregard.

The book is indeed nuanced, and one nuance you seem still not to have acknowledged is that the "small world after all" effect you've noticed above *depends* upon and *capitalizes* upon a stereotype that is never fully exposed. Smith achieves his "harmonious with nature" tone, his sense of play and innocence, upon the basis of the stereotype.

fairrosa.com said...

Nina, I don't think I misread Sam's or Ming le's objection as based mostly on the last two spreads of the book -- and specifically a couple of the kids -- Sam mentions in this review that he was leery before actually reading the entire book based on the title and the quick glimpses of the two final spreads, and he quoted Ming le's review specifically also highlight the 'uses Native imagery or “playing Indian” to signify wildness, especially since the word ‘tribe’ is so central." Because, the majority of the book (now I have a chance to re-read and re-look at the entire book several times today) does not really evoke "Native American" imagery. And in the WAS a Tribe final spread, as I pointed out earlier, there is a huge range of how the children are outfitted -- it does seem that Lane Smith was using iconic imageries of different cultures, though. Note I use the word ICONIC -- instead of STEREOTYPE because unfortunately, this word has taken on such loaded and negative connotation that even using it means something I don't mean (but I cannot speak for Lane Smith -- whether he considered these images Iconic or Stereotypical is not something I can easily discern.)

I do agree with you that it's quite odd that none of the reviewers chose to at least point out some of the issues we are unpacking here. I totally shared the same reservation that Sam had when the book was previewed (I was in the same room, I believe) -- but examining the book as a whole, I am still not going to discount the book as Sam decided to do -- "I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this is a book that I personally won’t be sharing with (human) kids." This is quite a declaration of the worthlessness of the book.

I also do agree that there is a switch in what the rest of the book seems to be about in the last two spreads: stylistically and conceptually -- The first of the two spread can be interpreted as a romanticized utopia (you said "small world after all") where children are all gathering together, peacefully, regardless of how they are dressed or what skin colors they have, at play. Our "Main character" follows the trail of snails on the beach and encounters this "Tribe of Kids" -- in my mind, that denotes these children share specific traits that are unique to childhood: which children's literature folks and educators have acknowledged as a specific and separate "culture" different from those of adulthood.

And then we are taken further in the timeline to the present -- where you see a group of young children still holding on to that specific and unique life experience that is childhood -- and I also decided that the final "snapshot" of five characters are all of children (at least a couple were found on the previous spread) -- or they can be interpreted as Yesterday's Children now Adults, lovingly encouraging Today's Children to continue with their imaginary play which has no traces of "playing Indian" imagery on it.

Nina, you said that I "have not acknowledged the "small world after all" effect *depends* upon and *capitalizes* upon a stereotype that is never fully exposed." And that "Smith achieves his "harmonious with nature" tone, his sense of play and innocence, upon the basis of the stereotype." -- Would you elaborate? Is it that "romanticized" utopian depiction that is problematic to you? I also do not understand the use of "capitalizing" via stereotyping since the majority of the illustrations in the book seem to me very original and innovative.

Thanks for engaging in this discourse! I miss talking to you :)

Nina Lindsay said...

To me, the power of the book rest in where it resolves itself. Most books do this, yes? The resolution, which combines an elaborate play on words, and a transition from imagined "iconic" past to realized present, depends on the word "tribe" having the multiple meanings it carries with it from a history of white colonial oppression.

It seems like you are trying to say that those of us who see this are singling out two spreads out of context. But the two spreads merely expose the context that is at the root of the concept of the play on words in this book, borne through its illustrations.

Monica Edinger said...

I'm one who has known and learned enormously from Debbie over many, many years. (We met first on child_lit in the mid 1990s. Debbie, do you remember our finally meeting face to face at a conference you were at in NYC? I have fond memories of doing so.) To give one example, this spring I designed a new literature circle unit for my fourth graders as a result of last fall's and previous years' discussions around Thanksgiving led by Debbie, featuring middle grade fiction works by Native voices (Marshall, Erdrich, and Bruchac). I meant it to be a corrective to the children's possible stereotypic understandings prior to our intensive study of the Pilgrims (as early immigrants). Roxanne worked on it too as our middle school librarian, having the students research the nations featured in the books they read. I go often to AICL to learn about books I've come across and am thinking hard now about several recent titles featured there. Debbie is an amazing resource for all of us, that is unquestionable to me.

But I also feel so much for Debbie too, having to be our (that is, the US children's book world) main representative for a large group of people who come from a range of experiences, histories, and nations. Wouldn't having others from the First Nations community joining in on our conversations, speaking out directly as Debbie does, be great for her and for all of us? I see this happening in the Pottermore discussion, think it so important, and don't quite understand why it isn't happening in our world of children's literature as well. (Maybe it is because the Pottermore discussion seems to be strongly in the world of HP fans more than children's literature? I'm not sure, just wondering.)

Would love to hear and see others of who identify as First Nation standing side by side with Debbie (not by agreeing necessarily but by being a member of the same community that she is), being their authentic selves, weighing in on conversations like this one, directly (as I do occasionally see anonymous comments over at Debbie's blog and elsewhere from those who define themselves as being members of particular First Nations). I can only see this as being a good thing for all of us.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Roger, I honestly am curious: What does the "when good friends write bad books" discussion look like? Without getting into specifics or naming names, are there any anecdotes you can share? What advice do you offer reviewers who are struggling with this?

Sarah Hamburg said...

I am certainly not going to dispute the fact that the field of children's literature would be a much better one with more Native scholars. (For those raising this question, it might also be worth stopping to consider the reasons *why* there aren't more Native critics, authors, and illustrators working in kidlit. Reasons fundamentally tied to the set of issues under discussion.)

I must say, though, that I find the raising of this question here-- and the tone of concern with which it's raised-- to be completely derailing. Sam Bloom wrote the review up above. Minh Lê wrote the review in the New York Times. I had the same concerns about the book when I read it independently. So did others I showed it to. Others here in the comments also shared those concerns. The singling out of Debbie's voice (in order, strangely, to argue that she is speaking alone) is, in my view, a distraction from the issues many readers are raising about this book-- issues which, as Allie says, belong to all of us.

Roger Sutton said...

AJB, I won't personally review books by people I am friend-friends (as opposed to work-friends) with. If an author's well-being is of interest to me, I can't review him or her fairly. (Neither should a reviewer seek revenge for a personal slight, of course). So I'll hand the book over to someone else. I also try to make sure that our reviewers aren't reviewing their buddies or enemies, either.

I don't have many friends.

K T Horning said...

Roger, how do you make a distinction between friend-friend and work-friend?

fairrosa.com said...

Allie, this is why I actually try VERY hard to not be friends-friend with most of the authors/illustrators, no matter how much I admire them. This is a very small universe, the children's book publishing/librarian/critics world -- so it is very difficult to NOT make friends since we are all in this together so passionately!

It is always a relief when an actual author friend of mine writes a great new book -- I don't have to pretend to like it. And it is my nature to not pretend at all. So if there are issues with the book, I will raise it -- probably not publicly but if it is a really thorny issue that is not just about this ONE book but about a broader landscape, I might include it in a discussion. I do see there are some current trends of children's lit folks chumming up with authors/editors/illustrators very publicly on social media and I guess in real life and championing their books to a degree that actually makes me slightly uncomfortable: I ADORE children's book
creators and I think great books need a lot of love and push and championing. But I find it slightly disconcerting when book creators are hailed as gods or goddesses and a few books get so much hype that many other equally (or even better) books do not receive even a very small amount of attention. (And it also makes me slightly worried when a highly regarded author came out with an OK book but it is still promoted by their non-author friends - or other author friends - as THE BEST ever, etc.)

This is when I see the concerns that Sam raised in this article manifest themselves most apparently (and oddly, not so much for There's a Tribe of Kids.)

This is different, of course, from professionally assigned reviews for publication like your question was about :p

fairrosa.com said...

KT, I'm not Roger, but I think it is not that difficult to distinguish a friends-friend from work-friend -- even in my daily professional life: most of the people I work with are work-friends. We do not visit each other's houses, get lunch/dinner/drinks together all the time, travel together, etc. and I do not tell them the troubles I have with whatever (health, family, finance, etc.) But there are a few people who I socialize with, who I hear their woes and triumphs that they do not share with other, and that I will share those thoughts and feelings with. A few that I'd call friends-friend.

I can't imagine it being so different in our world (defined by working on Award selection committees, reviewing, going to publisher events, previews, arranging for book speakers for our organizations, etc.) I've met hundreds of publishing folks (marketing, publicity, editorial, authors, illustrators, agents) and I will not call the majority (99%?) of them my friends-friend. We're friendly and we know that we are all in this together. But I can only think of probably between five and ten of them as more than simply work-friends.

Or is your question more about what OTHERS might perceive and presume our (my and Roger's) relationships with particular authors/illustrators/editors?

Roger Sutton said...

K.T., I guess if I find myself concerned for an author's (or anyone's) well-being on a regular basis then he or she is a friend. As Roxanne points out above, it does get tricky in an era where we are "friends" with people all over the world via Facebook, etc., and sometimes we think of someone as a friend who in truth gives us only passing thought.

I have about half a dozen writers firmly in the friend zone and they all know about this particular scruple of mine. But it certainly is muddy beyond that.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Perhaps a subject for a different post... I think a lot about the rise of what I call "cheerleading" among library professionals and the impact it's had on our field. And what to do about it. I share a lot of your concerns and experiences, Roxanne.

K T Horning said...

I get what you mean, Roger. There are more than a few authors and illustrators whom I count as friend-friends (e.g. I have their cell phone numbers, we get together socially when in the same city, etc.) I would never be able to review their books fairly, whether I liked their books or not. And more often than not, with a friend-friend, I like their books so I know I can't be impartial. Nor could I serve on an award committee where their books were being considered because I'd find myself bending over backwards to not show a preference for their books, and that's not fair to the books either.

Roger Sutton said...

And that's an important point, K.T., that being friends with a reviewer is just as likely to work against you as in your favor!

fairrosa.com said...

KT, totally agreeing with you. If I find myself a bit too enthusiastic about a book, and it's written by someone I consider a "friend-friend," I do top and check to see if it is truly "the book" or is it my friendship. That's when I look to others and see their reviews to verify my initial feelings. I'd like to NOT stop promoting a really great book simply because I consider an author a friend and worry about what "others" might think about why I'm so excited about a book. In the end, I do believe it is the books themselves that speak -- to the intended readers: whether something has lasting power has a lot to do with the actual quality and appeal of that title, and not just the initial reviews or buzzes.

And yes, Allie, it will be an interesting area to explore: when does reader enthusiasm become problematic -- AND whether it poses problems at all! Not continuing on this thread, though. Roger -- want to take this on Horn Book?

Roger Sutton said...

Did!

http://readroger.hbook.com/2007/04/this-is-why-i-dont-have-blogroll-or.html

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Hmmmm. 2007. Wow. Very interesting stuff.
I will continue thinking.

Jamalia Higgins said...

Allie, I really appreciate your quote: "I think a lot about the rise of what I call "cheerleading" among library professionals and the impact it's had on our field." In my estimation so much of this has changed since 2007, particularly with the rise of widely-read blogs and influential award committee members. I think an article exploring this topic would be timely.

Sarah Hamburg said...

On the subject of bias in reviewing (and awards/speaking appearances/who has platforms/other accolades and sources of publicity): of course part of the problem is that it doesn't have to be conscious. Malinda Lo's series of posts on reviewing come to mind. Also always think about things like blind auditions. I doubt many of the individual judges of music school auditions, for example, would consider themselves to be prejudiced in their assessments of students. Yet the demographic changes before and after the introduction of blind auditions are stark. I don't think blind *reviews* are possible, but that doesn't mean personal relationships or interactions, past work, biases, reputations...etc don't have effects, even with good intentions.

Also think this can work *against* writers and artists-- especially marginalized writers and artists. For just one example, there are books that haven't received reviews where I've definitely wondered why. (Shadowshaper comes immediately to mind.) Or, how did the Horn Book choose who would write the two year-end summaries for the current issue? (The year in pictures and words, including "last word" summaries of discussions of A Fine Dessert, Birthday Cake for George Washington...etc.)

And I agree with Jamalia. For another perspective on the "cheerleading" issue, also sharing Ebony Elizabeth Thomas' post, which seems relevant here, too. https://storify.com/Ebonyteach/weneeddiversecritics-my-response-to-children-s-lit

徐幼鳳 said...

Sarah, you meant that Horn Book magazine did not review Shadowshaper, correct? Because it definitely received many reviews and praises other review sources. It is included in the Horn Book Guide with a very positive write up, too, that the book is a "vibrant and uncommon, diversely populated fantasy that speaks to the urban teen experience."

I am not sure why this title came to your mind when thinking of books that are left behind in the dusty and neglected corner since it definitely was not one of the unnoticed: it even made to the top ten BFYA list.

Personally I absolutely adored many aspects of the book, especially the authentic teen speech, some of the mesmerizing supernatural scenes, the living family ties, and Older's often beautiful prose. However, I thought that there were quite a few "too convenient" scenes (the whole being able to use the university archive that happens to have someone who's there to give a lot of help" and the final sudden coming into her power scene) to make it a top notch, solid world building fantasy.

Now I await all the tirade thrown at me because I obviously misread the book and have committed a crime like HB did for not thinking that it is a great fantasy.

徐幼鳳 said...

.. the loving family ties... autocorrect on my phone. Haha

Also: Sarah, did you mean to point out the Shadowshaper was not reviewed in the Horn Book because it was written by a Latino and features latino cultures and that Horn Book chose to ignore it because they don't have a reviewer on staff that will appreciate this book? Not saying that was what you meant but want to know what you meant.

徐幼鳳 said...

.. the loving family ties... autocorrect on my phone. Haha

Also: Sarah, did you mean to point out the Shadowshaper was not reviewed in the Horn Book because it was written by a Latino and features latino cultures and that Horn Book chose to ignore it because they don't have a reviewer on staff that will appreciate this book? Not saying that was what you meant but want to know what you meant.

Elisa Gall said...

Someone wise once gave me this advice re: work-friend or friend-friend: Do they send non-work related mail (such as a b-day or holiday card) to your home address or personal email? If so, they are enough of your friend-friend that you might think twice before reviewing. I like the piece Roxanne wrote about the level of detail you would offer them about family/health/etc. too. That’s a helpful way to reflect on it.

I think it is important to note that professional reviews, just like the books they critique, go through an editing process involving more than one person. I consider myself lucky because I get to see and provide feedback on edits made to reviews I write. Not everybody gets to do this. It might not be probable, but it is possible that questions or criticisms about Smith’s book (& others) were edited out of reviews. We would never know for sure in some instances.

The cheerleader-critic conversation is definitely one to continue. I’ve had friends who identify as “cheerleaders” say that they have rules for themselves, such as: “I never say anything bad about a book.” This sounds great, but what happens when other readers start asking serious questions about a book that they’ve been cheerleading? If they keep on cheering, apparently ignoring/dismissing the other conversations, they’re not exactly staying “out of it.”

Hanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hanna said...

I'm jumping in a little late, but thank you Sam for applying the question raised by Zetta, and thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. I am grateful to be in a profession where respectful dialog happens with regularity and where I can learn from so many thoughtful professionals.

It seems that one of the issues at play here is one that Debbie and others have discussed elsewhere--a reluctance to give up something beautiful or evocative because of what some might call "one small thing."

"When Good Friends Write Bad Books" relies on the idea that the book is just outright bad. I too have this reluctance to give up books that have so much to offer. I think this relates to KT's question: would there have been another way to write and illustrate this story?

There certainly are bad books, but it doesn't seem to be the case here or with many of the books that provoke such ardent discussion. Smith brings his talent with words and art to this book, and it has value. But the underlying foundation on which the book rests, casual reinforcement of damaging stereotypes associated with a historically loaded word, should cause anyone who gives books to kids to think twice. Yes, it is beautiful and clever, but how can we, with open eyes, celebrate books that harm children?

The impact of uncritical literature, while felt most immediately and acutely by those who are being misrepresented, does not stop there. It perpetuates a false reality for those in the "position of innocence." In this case, let me be clear: the false reality perpetuated here is a world in which the word "tribe" is not accompanied by all of the burdens outlined at Teaching Tolerance. It is precisely this false reality, a blissful ignorance, that allows books that casually or even kindly denigrate some children. It is an ignorance can start to feel painful when other peoples' voices finally start to break through.

All kids deserve honest books--even those classified as fiction or fantasy--that respect their intelligence.

I am a librarian in a rural Mississippi system with limited funds. Reviews matter. My colleagues and I buy recommended books, which tells publishers to keep doing what they're doing. But we need them to do better. I want beautiful, clever books, but they also have to be books that don't attack or mislead the kids I'm trying to entice to read.

Debbie Reese said...

I'm not at all sure if it is coherent or not, but my review of the book, and, a response to Rosanne Parry are up now:
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/07/lane-smiths-new-picture-book-there-is.html

Jacinda Ramsey said...


Sarah said: No, of course Debbie does not speak for all Native people (I know you're the first one to say this, Debbie!)

Later fairrosa.com said : Debbie, have you shared this review and all these comments with other Native American scholars? It will be so great if you can ask them to come here and share their views directly with us!

Allie Jane Bruce replied: (2) It implies that Debbie should do the work to educate all the rest of us about Native stereotypes, history, and representation, instead of this being shared work that we all need to take responsibility for.

Asking someone, who in all probability knows, to suggest other Native American scholars seems to me to be a logical first step in education about this.

Deborah Davis said...

I'm following this conversation with interest, and it made me wonder about the origins of the word "tribe." I found these:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribe

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tribe

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/tribe

Debbie Reese said...

Hi Deborah,

I have been gathering resources to write a post about the word tribe. Words and their meanings and the baggage they carry shift over time and place. Right now in the US and Canada, I think it is accurate to say that when most people hear the word tribe, the image that comes to mind is something to do with Native Americans. This can be seen, I think, if you go to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble and search in their children's sections using the word. Most of the books that come up are ones specific to Native people.

I saw the Oxford info a few days ago. Here's one part of it:

"In historical contexts, the word tribe is broadly accepted ( the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts, it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists toward so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people."

K T Horning said...

Jacinda, I think you're missing the point of what Allie was saying.

First Nation/Native People and people of color are always being asked to do all the necessary background work to educate and/or enlighten others. So they are expected to spend THEIR time doing research for YOU and ME. For no compensation. We are perfectly capable of doing our own research, most especially those of us who are librarians. You're saying you couldn't find any Native scholars on your own?


Kathy J said...

After reading Debbie's review of There is a Tribe of Kids and Rosanne Parry's reaction to Sam's blogpost, I'm reminded of how we all read and evaluate books using our own particular cultural lens. I am a White woman, but also a person of Celtic heritage and, like Rosanne, my first reaction on seeing the illustrations in question was that the kids looked like little Green Men with their bodies all covered in leaves. Of course, I can also see where Debbie, Sam and others are coming from as well. Is it possible to have different viewpoints on the value of this book and have all viewpoints be equally valid?

Sam Bloom said...

There are so many points I want to speak to here - especially the discussion of "cheerleading" and its effect on the field (boy, do I have opinions on that!).

But for now I want to speak to Roxanne about the resources illustrating acceptable use of the word "tribe." I think the crucial point to mention here is that these resources you're sharing, Roxanne, are insider perspectives. If I use the term "tribe," or Lane Smith, as White men, we're using the term as outsiders. Outsiders whose race has used the stereotype of primitivism of First/Native Nations people to take their land and freedom for years and years and generations and generations. To me that makes outsider use of the term inherently offensive and wrong.

I really appreciate everyone sharing their own perspectives on this. I knew this book was ripe for closer analysis, but I couldn't have predicted this kind of robust discussion, that's for sure!

K T Horning said...

It's possible, Kathy J. I'm of Irish and Scottish descent as well, but did not think of Green Man when I saw the pictures. I think it's the way in which the children wear what look like headdresses made of leaves that makes many people think they're playing Indian. The leaves on the children's heads do not look like Green man.

You can google "Celtic Green Man" and bring up a multitude of images of him. He, too, is shown wearing leaves on his head but more as a crown or even as if they are growing out of his head on branches.

徐幼鳳 said...

Sam, is Tribe really only an insider term for Native Americans? The twelve Tribes of the Jews - the Deaf community sometimes refer themselves as a Tribe. Just to throw that in the mix. You presume that the term Tribe is narrowly assigned to a particular culture -- and take a few images from a collection of images to indicate that assignment. Yes? And weird, I posted a here this morning and nothing that I wrote came up.

徐幼鳳 said...

Also another question -- when KT asked us to do our own research, I thought she meant that we need to look for places that have authentic opinions on terminology and how the Native Americans would present themselves to the world. If I don't look to official documents from within that culture, where would I find authentic information? I am really puzzled -- so it comes down to the fact that Lane Smith is a white man is not allowed to use this supposedly "insider" term even though it is not necessarily a unique word/phrase to a single culture? Your concerns then are based mostly on the author's identity? If similar images and the same word are used to create a book by someone from an actual Tribe, you will be fine?

Jacinda Ramsey said...

K.T. Horning Yes, I can find Native scholars on my own. However, asking an expert in the field to suggest some names of colleagues to start with isn't asking someone to do research. I always ask people for recommendations of all kinds of things. It is a great place to start.

fairrosa.com said...

Dear Reading While White Community, I am really saddened that Debbie Reese, who is so vocal and so strong and so brave in her combat against bigotry and negative stereotypes in Children's Literature, would say something like this: "This is, of course, par for the course. It isn't new. It is why there is so little change. I wonder if they realize they sound like Trump." -- as her vocal comment on our asking her to recommend other scholars who can share their opinions on Lane Smith's book. She chose to maintain her silence here but took to Twitter to demonize us. I do not realize that collegial unpacking of thorny issues will result in my being defamed in such a way. I have to say I am really shocked by this behavior.

fairrosa.com said...

One more note: KT -- I do not get compensated for anything I put up on fairrosa.com, commenting here, or posting on listservs. I spend a lot of hours each week researching topics that I'd like to address and think very hard on everything I say and post on my blog. I think this is very common, across the board, in our field. Yes?

I also have heard that Debbie is actually compensated for consulting for publishers on books with Native American content - her stamp of approval is very highly valued. It will be great if we can confirm if this is true.

Jacinda Ramsey said...

Holy crap! Comparing me to Trump because I asked an EXPERT to recommend a colleague? How is asking for a name research? How does she think people find out about her? Not everyone relies on Google for an expert.

fairrosa.com said...

Debbie wrote me back in a tweeted response, "Yes, @fairrosa, I view your responses as within the same framework of Trump's refusal to acknowledge racism." I'll leave it at that for everyone who has been following this thread and elsewhere to see if this comparison is appropriate. I have no words.

Kazia Berkley-Cramer said...

I've been lurking on this post as this discussion has been unfolding, but I have to jump in to say that I'm unclear how Debbie not commenting after less than 24-hours *and* after she has linked to her thoughts on her own blog could be construed as "silence". Is it because she hasn't responded as quickly as you would like, or because you don't like what she has to say on her own site? Because she disagrees with you and you're waiting for her to come around to your opinion? I'm honestly confused.

Additionally, intention (in this case, wanting to find more resources) has little to do with the way something is interpreted, as we all know in a post-Barthes world. (The first thing beyond this conversation that pops into mind is that no matter what John Green says about Paper Towns being a critique of the manic pixie dream girl trope, plenty of women read it as problematically contributing to that trope). Please, please really listen when folks tell you that what you're doing or saying is problematic. Your intention isn't all that relevant.

fairrosa.com said...

Thanks, Kazia, for pointing out that sometimes we're too impatient and yes, Debbie isn't "silent" in her opinions on the book nor is she not offering her views here and elsewhere. However, her silence that we refer to here is her seeming reluctance to lead us to more views (and many of them would totally support her opinions, I'm sure!)

I'm not sure that finding more and learning from multiple, reliable sources does not inform us.

I will also send the same plea back to you and others: please also really listen to those who might disagree with Debbie or Sam or Allie or Nina or KT. Thanks!

Jacinda Ramsey said...

This is why it is so hard to have dialogue about hard subjects. Pulling the racist card.

Sarah Hamburg said...

The amount of anger at a no (in this case Debbie not doing the work of finding other Native people to come contribute to this discussion. Really? This is really her responsibility?! I'm floored) is telling. It also has history behind it. (It's a dynamic Cherokee scholar Adrienne Keene has written about on her site Native Appropriations, if people are most concerned with discovering the writing of other Native critics.)

No, Debbie no longer offers paid critiques, to answer that question and insinuation.

I agree that the dynamics surrounding critiques of representation in children's books are reminiscent of the larger political landscape--and feel intrinsically connected. See for example the frequent use of terms like "censorship" to describe measured criticism. Also, the phrase "racist card".

Jacinda Ramsey said...

Racist card. What is a better term when someone says I am a racist for asking about a topic I am interested in and want to be educated about?

If I understand correctly, asking an expert in a field to recommend a colleague is wrong. I am surrounded by people who claim to be experts. I think most of us know at least a few people who claim they are experts in something. I KNOW Debbie is an expert and can trust her. Why is it wrong and racist to ask for a name as a starting point for research?

Sarah you just recommend a Cherokee scholars website! Did you have to do intensive research for that or did you already know about it? I imagine you already knew about it. That is exactly what I am talking about!

Sarah Hamburg said...

Jacinda, please point me to the place where someone said you are a racist.

I am still floored (if unsurprised) by the expectation and demand that Debbie bring other Native people to this comment thread, and the characterization of her response as "silence". The byline for the above review reads "Sam Bloom". Are people making the same request of him?

(If a white man wrote a review of a book in which he discussed patterns of sexism, and a woman resonded affirmatively in the comments, what would you think of the expectation that she find other women to come comment with her? Or provide a list of feminist scholars to back up her affirmation?)

Jacinda Ramsey said...

Based on her twitter feed comments. She said some of us sounded like Trump in regards to asking for recommendations. When there was a response she reaffirmed it as being "within the same framework as Trump's refusal to acknowledge racism". People have called Trump out about this and said he is racist. Maybe I extrapolated too much? But I took a gut punch. Not sure what else that could mean.

Debbie Reese said...

So much in this thread, let alone the last 24 hours, that I don't know what to respond to! I'm going to try to keep further comments here distinct in focus so -- if conversations continue -- I can reference them. This one, I'm titling....

Who are the Other Native Scholars in Kidlit?

I could take, at face value, the requests that I give people names of other Native scholars who have reviewed Lane Smith's book but it didn't feel like a genuine question. It felt like an attack, and that in responding to the request, I'd be acknowledging the attack as having validity. Those of you who've followed discussions on these topics within children's literature over the last 20 years know that there is a quick "where's the proof" for what I or a scholar of color says, and when that proof is offered, it, too, is attacked as lacking in merit.

Anyway... Here's what I thought when the question was posed: I don't know of another Native scholar or even another Native person who has read and said anything about Lane Smith's book. I could have said that then, but I chose to refer to the post I did on all the Native responses to Rowling's appropriation of Native stories. I figured that people who want to know about other Native people who are critical of misrepresentation could start with that list and see what any of them say about other misrepresentations or issues of representation.

What else did I do? I went to various networks I'm in to ask if any of them know of Native people who are reviewing in children's literature, or considering it as an area of research. There was/is lot of conversation but the answer: no. There are people studying adult literature by Native writers, but in kidlit? Nobody offered any names. Many of the professors who are working in literary criticism/literature/American Indian studies said they'd introduce their students to this area of research as a possibility for them to take up. But let's remember: we're a tiny demographic. Because of the depth and breadth of negative depictions of Native people, our youth drop out of school. Many struggle in school. The numbers of us who make it through undergraduate, let alone graduate school are even smaller, and, here's another truth: those numbers continue to decrease.

Naomi Bishop is Native. She's a librarian, too, and on occasion, has written something that I posted at my site. She is going to try to get the book and review it. I anticipate that some people reading this post are going to say "now that wasn't hard was it" (to offer her name), and it wasn't hard of course, but remember: the question itself felt disingenuous and I felt--and feel--a hesitation because of past experience (what she says will be rejected, too). If Naomi gets the book and reviews it, I'll let you know.

Jacinda Ramsey said...

I have been a librarian for less than 3 years. I learned a lot about what to do and not do from this conversation. I had no idea that asking colleagues and scholars for recommendations of people was not a good way to conduct research in our field. I won't do it again. Truly.


Debbie Reese said...

Jacinda--are you the person who I had a lengthy email discussion a few months ago, where I offered lot of sources regarding tribal enrollment?

Debbie Reese said...

About the word tribe

Somewhere in this thread, Roxanne said that I said Native people are moving away from using the word tribe and she offers examples of other Native peoples using it as evidence that I'm wrong. She referenced the National Congress of American Indians, and in another (more recent) post, the Hopi Tribe. She asks me for proof of an assertion that I did not make.

Please go look at what I said in my comment on July 11, 2016 at 9:59 AM. I said (copying it here without paragraph breaks):

"I'm not privy to conversations at NCAI over their decisions on what phrases to use, but can speak to my own thinking. There's a lot to do in order to move the ways people in the US think about the Indigenous people of what came to be known as the United States, or, more broadly, North America, to a place of integrity and knowledge about who we were, and who we are. I use "tribal nations" and I use "Native Nations." I prefer Native Nations. I use "tribal" -- a word that Americans are familiar with -- but I link it with "nations" in an attempt to move people away from linking "tribal" with "primitive" to linking "tribal" with "nations" so that they think of us as peoples of nations who this land belonged to. Right now there's still far too many people who think that we were "primitive" and "uncivilized" and that Europeans "civilized" us."

Earlier today I had an email from someone on the ALSC listserv. She asked if I think the word (tribe) is offensive. Her question is helpful. I don't think the word is offensive. When used alongside illustrations like those in Smith's book, it becomes problematic because together, the word and the illustrations collapse into primitive notions of who we were, and who we are.

Elsewhere many have said that the word doesn't just mean Native people. I know! And said so in an earlier comment (again, copying it here for your reference). On July 15 at 1:30 I wrote:

"I have been gathering resources to write a post about the word tribe. Words and their meanings and the baggage they carry shift over time and place. Right now in the US and Canada, I think it is accurate to say that when most people hear the word tribe, the image that comes to mind is something to do with Native Americans. This can be seen, I think, if you go to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble and search in their children's sections using the word. Most of the books that come up are ones specific to Native people."

In that same post, I copied a paragraph from the Oxford dictionary that says:

"In historical contexts, the word tribe is broadly accepted ( the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts, it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists toward so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people."

Debbie Reese said...

And now:

Characterizing the resistance to my critique as being like Trump

Yeah, I did say that on Twitter.

And no, I don't think Roxanne or Jacinda are racist. The response I'm getting is a resistance to my point of view. What I say matters, but it doesn't seem to matter to you. It feels like a great big NO NO NO NO NO DEBBIE YOU ARE WRONG, SO GO AWAY UNLESS YOU HAVE OTHERS TO BACK YOU UP. (Yes, I used caps on purpose to convey what it feels like to read your words of resistance). Hence, it feels to me Trump-like.

fairrosa.com said...

Debbie -- I'm not sure why you found my query regarding other native scholars in children's literature and specifically this book as an attack. Do you honestly believe that I am out here, posting about this book and other children's literature matters to assert some form of racist agenda and to put you and other POC down? (For those who do not know me, I came from Taiwan originally 25 years ago, am Chinese, married to a Jew, with a 17-year-old mixed-race child.) If you didn't respond because you believed that my request was a veiled attack, I found that unfortunate. And I thank you for today's post regarding how difficult it is to find another Native scholar as dedicated to this topic as you are. I wish it hadn't been so and hope for a time where more Native Americans have the chances to pursuit this area of studies!

However, I must also publicly state that it is hard for me to not feel like attacked seeing you take what's transpiring here and on your blog to the land of the Tweets and, given very little context, link these exchanges to one of the worst racist public figures in our nation's history. I would love it if you do not conduct scholarly or professional discourse in this way in the future.

I specifically refer to your tweets like this one, "Astonishing, and not. As I noted, this is not new. Roxanne and I have a decades-long history of disagreements." In the twittersphere, there is no space to give any indication that I have supported you and your opinions on many an occasions, and might I say that your tweet also implied that I am one who will not be able to ever see your viewpoints -- especially after you had already linked my name and my twitter account with the Trump/Racist claim to many of your followers who have not had chances to know me for who I am?

K T Horning said...

This is the key paragraph in this whole discussion:

Earlier today I had an email from someone on the ALSC listserv. She asked if I think the word (tribe) is offensive. Her question is helpful. I don't think the word is offensive. When used alongside illustrations like those in Smith's book, it becomes problematic because together, the word and the illustrations collapse into primitive notions of who we were, and who we are. -- Debbie Reese

Debbie Reese said...

Roxanne,

I'm trying again to address my use of "sounds like Trump" to characterize this discussion.

Trump's motto is to "make America great" again. He's pushing people to fight for a time when Native and POC were in even more marginalized places than we are now. In that nostalgic place he imagines as "great," kids played Indian. Kids were shown in books, playing Indian. I think it happens less, in real life, now than it did in the past, but we still see it in kids books---as we do in Smith's book.

And it feels very much to me like you're finding every angle you can to say that what Smith did is fine. That I am wrong. That Sam is wrong. That others who are saying it is a problem, are wrong.

It really feels to me that you're fighting for a status quo in children's lit where this kind of illustration is ok.

I understand that you feel that you've supported me in the past. I'm wondering when, where, and on what? Please remind me. I ask sincerely, because my perception of your contributions in this and other conversations about such matters is that we disagree. Over and over.

As I said earlier, I do not think you are racist. I do think you defend the status quo, which--with respect to the majority of depictions of Native people--is racist.

Jacinda Ramsey said...

Debbie yes I am that Jacinda. I think that it was part of the reason I felt it was all right to ask about other recommendations. I'm sorry.

Kathy J said...

Surely anyone reading and commenting on this blog is a person of goodwill, genuinely interested in other people's perspectives. And surely among people of goodwill, there can be room for disagreement on a particular title without getting personal. Some of us will look at the spread in question and see children playing Indian; others will see a multitude of children dressed in leaves playing in the woods, with a few wearing those leaves in places that would seem to mimic the stereotypical Native American feathered headdress. Some will find the use of the word tribe to be a problem; others will see the word in a broader context. We all have opinions.I know that Debbie is the first to say that she does not represent all Native people; Roxanne does not claim to represent all people of Chinese descent and I certainly don't purport to represent all White people. KT and I, coming from a similar ethnic background, saw different things in the illustrations in question. Even what I'm writing now is just my opinion. And I like hearing everyone's opinions because it helps mine to become more informed.
I've learned so much from this blog over the past year and what I've learned has improved both my library collection and my readers' advisory. I truly want to hear what everyone has to say!
And Jacinda, please don't stop asking questions - it's the only way we learn.

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Jacinda. I think if your question had appeared before the others who asked for other Native scholars, I believe I would have responded to it as I did in the many emails we've had.



fairrosa.com said...

Debbie,

It's too bad if you think I have always been opposite of your views -- I have included many of your essays, news, and opinions as part of my links and musings on FCL -- and I know I posted supportive views of your essays in the past. Actually, this morning, I thanked you (and sincerely so) for unpacking the Smith's book in a way that helped me see something differently from yesterday.

But you chose to ignore all of the positives. I cannot help that and will not attempt to change how you present yourself and your opinions -- for matters and important racial justice issues. I only asked if you do not attack me and my reputation publicly. I don't think that is too much to ask.

Oh -- and I just got a tweet from you telling me that what I feel about being linked to Trump is just like what you feel about seeing kids "playing Indian" -- if that is the case, why would you want to do that to me? (And, no, I don't think my "pain" is as strong as yours, actually.) Is this what we do now? You made me feel bad; so I am going to make you feel bad? And your response to Jacinda, you just sent another personal shot at me - because I was the first to query about other scholars so you chose to not respond. Ah. Now I know.

I am going to stop posting our back-and-forth here and also not going to respond to any of your tweets. Since this has become a personal attack and vendetta which is not what I think Reading While White or other professional blogs should be about.

Debbie Reese said...

The back and forth between me and Roxanne, here and elsewhere, has been unpleasant in a myriad of ways. For those of you not on twitter, here's what I said in a series of tweets:

@fairrosa As I said elsewhere, I do not think you are racist.

Trump wants to "make America great again" which means he wants to turn the clock back to a time when Native and POC were...

... more marginalized than we are today. That time included kids playing Indian. I don't want to go back to that time. Do you?

I don't think kids play Indian, today, as much as they used to before. It still happens, though, and defending bks...

.. where kids play Indian feels to me like you're asking for the same thing Trump is asking for. I think you don't see that, but..

...that is what it feels like to me.

Sarah Hamburg said...

Thanks, KT, for bringing it back to that paragraph.

Since this is a recurring pattern, I'd also like to point out again that though Sam Bloom wrote the review, he is not experiencing the brunt of the pushback for it (nor am I, for my comments.) That pushback was directed at Debbie long before any reference to Trump, here or on Twitter. As this blog is called Reading While White, I think this aspect of whiteness is important to name. A white person critiqued the use of the word "tribe" in a book, and its relationship to a stereotype of "wildness" and playing Indian. Other white people and non-Native people also supported that reading. A Native woman is experiencing the pushback against that reading. Why? (And no, I don't think it's related to tone.)

fairrosa.com said...

Ah.. I have to say this here, even after I said I was going to stop: Debbie, you wrote all of these after I brought your original tweets to light here and listservs that we are both on because I think it is an interesting social media exchange that you took what has a rich context into the land of 140 characters per tweet and I still don't believe that twitter is a good place for complex unpacking of literature or other issues.

I don't believe children should "play Indian" or be encouraged to "pick a tribal name" casually -- that's why when we are conducting lessons with our students, we make sure they find reliable, Native American tribal sources that do not reinforce the "throw-back-to-yester-years" stereotype. Trust me. I know. I resent it when new books set in China still harkens to the early 20th century exoticism.

And that is why I support your view 100% -- but it is also true that I cannot always support your methods - like how you took parts of Rosanne Parry's article and made it read so much more condescending than her original text and like how you decided that in my attempt to be collegial and professional, I was actually attempting "coded attacks."

Now, I am really going to stop posting here.

fairrosa.com said...

*sigh* It is hard to leave :)

My first comment was directed to the essay and Sam -- but Debbie responded in the comment right away, and others started commenting either addressing what she pointed out in her comment or defending her or whatever -- and thus the engaging agent shifted. I believe Allie's comment toward me also was about my questioning Sam and his original post. Sam just never got back on (he's preparing his family for a vacation) to post his own reactions/comments.

Sarah, yours seems to me an example of reading into something an oppression that's 1. not intended; 2. not actually existing.

Why do you think I, a yellow skin woman, would want to oppress a fellow children's literature scholar (yes, I do also consider myself a scholar since I have both 20+ years of experiences working with children's literature and a master's degree in Children's Lit -- I just don't mention this much)? Why do you think that my completely open discourse is suspect? And why do you think that my reaction to being likened to Trump in any way out of line? (I can argue that if there is any oppression going on, it is I being picked on :)

Sarah Hamburg said...

Roxanne--

As I said, I'm speaking about a recurrent pattern. My comment isn't personally directed at you or the specifics of how/when you, in particular, commented. (I do use people's names when I'm addressing them directly!) A large part of this thread is devoted to the question of whether Debbie would bring other Native readers into the conversation, or name other Native critics, and what her responses to that meant or implied. (Again, not singling out *you* or your motives in naming that pattern.) As I said, this is especially notable since she isn't the author of the review. Are there comments questioning Sam's qualifications to review the book, or asking that he find others to qualify his review? If so, I missed them. And again, this is not an observation directed at you personally.

Debbie Reese said...

Oh! I was going to spend time looking for stats on Native students in college/grad school, tomorrow, but this article was in my FB feed this evening. http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/education/2016/07/15/admissions-program-focuses-cultural-identity/86708704/?hootPostID=%5B%2701428986a09a11f26cffbe0ba747d4e1%27%5D

Carol said...

I have mixed feelings about the whole conversation. On one hand, it is valuable and instructive to read all viewpoints; on the other, it's tiring and frustrating to wade through all of the comments and replies and counterpoints and counterpoints to the counterpoints, etc. I don't see why Debbie should have to be the source for other Native American scholars. Fairrosa: since you would love to hear from others, do your due diligence. I *am* listening to you and those who disagree with Debbie, Allie, Sarah, et al, but in the end, it's all so much sound and fury when it could be so simple to accept Debbie's pov instead of parsing and dissecting "tribe" and passively aggressively demanding that Debbie back herself up. Still gathering my thoughts but I felt moved to say something and that's my first instinct: to agree with Allie and Sarah and KT. That doesn't mean I'm not listening to you - maybe that I just don't agree. Respectfully, Carol

Carol Valdez said...

Debbie, I imagine this is a tiny taste of the fatigue you must feel every day of your life.

Carol Valdez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Valdez said...

Debbie: admirably audacious.

https://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/2016/07/admirable-audacity-speaking-listening.html?m=1

Allie Jane Bruce said...

(1)
Hi all, I have such a long comment it's making me split it in half...

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around what's happened in this discussion, especially since I was off the grid yesterday and the day before. Having just read the comments through again, I keep thinking back to this post I wrote last year titled "On 'Be Kind' and Other Bull****" http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/2015/11/on-be-kind-and-other-bull.html In particular I'm thinking of this:

Person A: [Something racist, intentionally so or not.]
Person B: Hey!! Hearing that racist bullshit hurts me!! Stop it!!!
Person C: Gosh, Person B, why couldn't you be KIND in how you said that?

Person A: [Hits someone with their car, intentionally or not.]
Person B: Hey!! You just hit me with your car, and... shit, this hurts, look, my leg is broken!! Stop the car!!!
Person C: Gosh, Person B, why couldn't you be KIND in how you said that?

This is an expression of White fragility, which can take many forms. Person C could also say, "Why are you tearing that driver to shreds?", or crack a joke that Person B is supposed to laugh at, despite the pain she's in (followed by a smiley face), or--here's the kicker--say "How dare you bring race into this?" In my metaphor, that would be "How dare you bring her driving skills into this?"

...

...right now, we're not prioritizing White people's pain over equal pain expressed by Black people (as was done in the study I cite above). We're prioritizing White people's discomfort with *the manner in which we are being informed of the pain we're causing people of color and First/Native Nations people* over the pain we're causing people of color and First/Native Nations people. And that's just plain bullshit.


It looks like, and this is just my analysis, Debbie was unfairly singled out and asked to bear the weight of this discussion. Debbie was pushed to her breaking point, and now is being scolded and told to be kind. I really like what Sarah Hamburg says here:

Since this is a recurring pattern, I'd also like to point out again that though Sam Bloom wrote the review, he is not experiencing the brunt of the pushback for it (nor am I, for my comments.) That pushback was directed at Debbie long before any reference to Trump, here or on Twitter. As this blog is called Reading While White, I think this aspect of whiteness is important to name. A white person critiqued the use of the word "tribe" in a book, and its relationship to a stereotype of "wildness" and playing Indian. Other white people and non-Native people also supported that reading. A Native woman is experiencing the pushback against that reading. Why? (And no, I don't think it's related to tone.)

Allie Jane Bruce said...

(2) The other thing to bear in mind is that this is not the first time this has happened to Debbie. With shocking frequency, she voices her opinion only to have someone reply, with feigned innocence, "Oh, gosh, Debbie, do you have other Native scholars who can back you up?" This is at both a passive aggressive way to discount Debbie's own opinion and a way to shift the burden of providing scholarship about Native representations in children's literature to her shoulders. White people like Sam, Sarah, and me never have to worry about these things happening to us. And while there are definitely fewer people of color in all areas of the children's literature field, there are even fewer Native people.

This is something of a parenthetical, but--Once, I asked a Native author if she knew of any OwnVoices LGBTQIA+ Native books for kids. She racked her brain and couldn't come up with anything. I said "Oh, gosh, that's a shame." She sighed, then raised her hand so her thumb and pointer finger were very close together (almost pinching) and said "you know, we have THIS many people." I realized in that moment that I had unintentionally committed a microaggression against her. Rather than recognizing the immense obstacles Native people are up against in producing more books, and using my role as a gatekeeper and an educator to try to undo those obstacles, I had demanded something more of the community, as if those obstacles didn't exist.

So I'd like to suggest that in future, any time we ask Debbie to provide more Native children's literature scholars (and Jacinda, I do think you came from a genuine and well-intentioned place), let's also ask ourselves why there aren't more Native scholars already in the field, what privileges we enjoy as Non-Native children's literature scholars that are not available to Native scholars, and what we can do to undo the racist systems and obstacles that are set up to perpetuate the status quo.

And when Debbie says "shit, my leg is broken" let's say "oh no! This car didn't break MY leg, but it looks like you're really in pain, let's get you some medical attention and let's see how we can teach this driver to drive better"

instead of "I don't believe your pain is real, you jumped to 'my leg is broken, as it so often has been in the past' awfully quickly, and I think you should have been kinder in how you said your leg is broken. Which it's not."

fairrosa.com said...

I have written a blog post about the double spread we've been going discussing here, entitled: A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS

Thanks to Debbie and Allie (and others), I will make sure that I do not demand Debbie for references to other Native American scholars and their work on children's books.

Carol Valdez said...

this is from the mission statement for this blog: "We resolve to examine our own White racial experiences without expecting people of color and First/Native Nations people to educate us."

Unknown said...

I'm having a hard time keeping up with this thread for various reasons, but something seems to have slid by that really bothers me. Is it somehow supposed to be an indictment of Debbie that she was paid as a consultant? The idea that women--particularly Native women and women of color--should be providing labor for free is absurd. Debbie has put a considerable amount of time and effort developing her expertise and knowledge. Her labor has value. Why shouldn't she put it to use in helping to improve people's work? Why shouldn't she be compensated for it? What exactly is the implication here?

When I publish short stories, I get paid. In fact, I won't publish them unless I get paid, because writing them is hard. It takes time and effort and research and thought. But nobody says my stories are some how worth less than the work of people who write for free. And when I take the knowledge and effort and technique I have gathered in writing those stories and I apply it in other forums--like comments sections, for instance--and don't get paid, nobody suggests that the fact that I have gotten paid in other contexts somehow taints my thoughts.

I read this as a particularly insidious way to attempt to undermine Debbie's integrity and I really don't understand what the point is supposed to be.

--Veronica

Carol Valdez said...

http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html?m=1

Sarah Hamburg said...

Thanks, Veronica, and I wholeheartedly agree.

I just wanted to add one other observation, since there seems to be a characterization of this discussion as splitting into a dichotomy of readings: some people read the book one way; others read it another way. I did a quick google search for references to Peter Pan in professional reviews of the book. These positive reviews popped up first. They are reviews which could be said to fall on the side of the reading divide that does not see allusions to playing Indian in the book. Here are quotes from those two reviews: (From the starred review in Publisher's Weekly http://www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html?issue=503#m8789 ) "...it stars a solitary human child, a cross between Peter Pan and Mowgli." (From the positive review in Shelf Awareness http://www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html?issue=503#m8789 ) "...this time a tree of lead-clad human ones, much like Peter Pan's lost boys, except with girls, too."

I would argue that the difference between those positive, even starred reviews, and ones like Sam's or Minh Lê's is not in whether people pick up on the undertones of colonialism. Rather, it's in whether the reviewers name those undertones as such. The two reviewers quoted above had positive reactions to associations with Peter Pan (or with Mowgli). Peter Pan and his Lost Boys also represent an origin text for destructive narratives about Native people. (And The Jungle Book is an origin text for destructive narratives of colonialism as well.) I don't think the dichotomy is in whether people pick up on the associations with stereotypes of Native People and "wildness" that appear *throughout* children's literature; I think the difference is in how readers consciously interpret and understand those references. This is a book about the multiple layers of meaning words can carry: the meanings the book itself carries do not sit on one or the other side of a reading divide. Such meanings are part of what the book communicates, and however one reads them, they matter.

Carol Valdez said...

Jacinda, I think your intentions were innocent when you first asked, but you immediately veered into injury and fragility. I'm new to this blog and this type of discourse but I think that this blog's mission statement is a reminder of the mindset we value which, in a nutshell, is to listen and learn. The last paragraph of the mission statement is what I'm looking at, especially the two middle sentences. I think your reply to Debbie put some burden on her; maybe it's just my impression (and writing puts a greater burden on the writer to express themselves), but I interpret your comments to have the purpose to induce some guilt in Debbie. Rereading the mission statement would help reset your mindset.
http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html?m=1 statement,

Sarah Hamburg said...

With apologies for the typos above. The link for the PW review is here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62672-056-5 And the kids are leaf-clad, of course. Though lead-clad brings interesting visuals...

Carol Valdez said...

Jacinda: i think I understand your hurt; I wouldn't want to be compared to Trump, either. However, again referring back to the mission statement and the FAQ's, etc, I think it helps to remember that we are participating in this community with the understanding that we will probably feel uncomfortable at some point as we confront our assumptions and reflexes. I think Debbie felt a gut punch first and making the Trump comparison was a way of waking up whoever had the need to. Again, new to this discourse which feels like kind of like whack-a-mole, but it seems so easy for this kind of conversation to start with one issue and to promptly zigzag into another direction. Boiling it all down: I think refocusing on the mission statement and other background info on this blog about its purpose would help us all. I'm assuming we're all here because we want to do everything we can to sensitize ourselves. I'd like to think I have it all under control myself, but I'm afraid it's very likely I, too, will have an uncomfortable moment at some point - but that's part of the journey we're on, right?

Carol Valdez said...

Jacinda, this is where I feel you have placed the burden on Debbie to apologize.

Pat said...

Hoping it's not too late to add a few more thoughts...
I’m trying to characterize what seems central to the insights and dialogue unfolding here over 100+ comments. As Sarah H. says, we are in this space because we care about how a book communicates and how we name the ways different meanings matter. The word ‘tribe’ and how it communicates has been at the heart of much of this dialogue; so I’ve been thinking about how to describe ways of reading images and stories written by non-Native authors that depend on the word ‘tribe.’

Maybe this is obvious to many people here, but I see the differences in reading in terms of the imaginative scope a reviewer might encourage and promote; or conversely, question and reject. Debbie Reese, other writers and the RWW bloggers strive to bring these two ways of reading together.

The first way of reading hinges on a claim to or protection of the widest possible landscape of images and relationships available to authors/illustrators. Arguments that protect imaginative possibilities are important for the development of literary arts, but they include a blindspot that misses the ways imagined possibilities serve some interests and not others—some children’s futures and not others.

In this case, when 'tribe' is allowed to be both playful and ahistorical, it is possible to see images of children in carefree poses, while remaining blind to 'leaf head bands’. A ‘universal imagination’ reading also sees the word ‘tribe’ transformed only once – from ‘tribe of kids/as goats’ to ‘tribe of kids/as universal children.’

A second reading hinges on accountability to histories of representation. While acknowledging imaginative possibilities, this second reading also notices how a word means in the world, beyond the book. Such a reading recognizes a second transformation in the word ‘tribe’ - from ‘tribe of kids’ to ‘tribal children playing Indian.’ Once this transformation is recognized, readers have to ask how it will be possible to ‘place’ this book in classrooms, in bookstores, in libraries, in the pantheon if literary arts.

In fairrosa’s blog the move into the world with the book features an imagined teacher and group of children who are invited, through guided questioning, to see themselves as playmates in a melting pot world of activity and freedom. The universality of the situation described in the post does not, presumably, include a teacher or children of First Nation heritage, who would have altogether different, deeply personal and cultural meanings associated with the word tribe. (For one thing, a ‘tribe’ would not be infantilized). These and other children and their teachers might appreciate and relate to depictions of joy and freedom in a play world; but they should not have to do so at the expense of their own or others’ dignity.

Two ways of reading have to be in tension and in conversation: one conceives imagination as limitless and transporting; the other sees imagination as potentially exploitative and dehumanizing. We have to read for both, right? That second transformation matters. Pat Enciso @patriciae1

Carol Valdez said...

@Fairrosa: my interpretation of your exhortation to Debbie here was that you were putting the ball in her court; placing the responsibility on her shoulders to share her review and invite other Native American scholars to come "share their views directly." There's a lot to unpack in this seemingly enthusiastic invitation that ultimately comes across as insincere and an attempt to mask what seems to be a microagression. I don't think you're intentionally racist. I'm not intentionally racist, either, and I'm here to learn the ways in which I am and to correct these tendencies as best I can. As I read your comments, I get a sense of a well educated and thoughtful person but who is inclined to defend the status quo.

My questions and observations:
(1) why is it up to Debbie to ask other Native American scholars? Could you not extend this invitation?
(2) your language is courteous but your intention seems to be to shut Debbie down - I'm hearing "don't call us, we'll call you as soon as we hear that others feel the same." I know you didn't say this directly; that's how I interpret your comments (an outsider to the "decades long, unpleasant(ness)..." Debbie mentions later in this thread).
(3) the way you couch all of this seems so nice but it seems controlling, too - like, how can Debbie argue with one who would "LOVE" to hear from other Native American scholars?

The way you're shutting her down is subtle and couched in "niceness" but it is what it is - shutting her down.

I do realize you're originally from Taiwan and of Chinese heritage. In the context of this particular discussion, I don't feel that this is relevant. Debbie is the one speaking her pov and her truth and it seems as if you're spending so much time defending instead of listening.

As I close, I respect your voice and experience and your care in attempting to be gracious and diplomatic. I appreciate you, Fairrosa, and everyone in this forum for making time to discuss these matters with respect and gravity. I'm very happy to have found this forum. Debbie's posts on the Texas Library Connection listserv have inspired me and I'm excited to be in the company of other librarians who care about the effects of "reading while white."

Sincerely,
Carol


Carol Valdez said...

Jacinda: I agree with you on the point that asking someone to suggest other Native American scholars seems a "logical first step." In this context, though, the mission of this forum is clear. Allie has an excellent article about this, also. "On being white: a raw, honest conversation", Fall 2015, Children and Libraries.

I have a lot to learn and think about before I can cogently put it all together but what has helped me has been referring back to the mission and to Allie's article. The loose analogy I have formed about this situation is that it's like before posting to a listserv: it's good to check the archives first before sending a question to the whole group.

Carol Valdez said...

Yes, thanks to all!! I'm excited to be able to participate in discussions such as this.

Carol Valdez said...

Fairrosa: not sure why this matters. Would you elaborate?

Carol Valdez said...

This is a really good article, also; relevant and enlightening with practical tips and insights.

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-and-the-rules-of-engagement-twlm/

Carol Valdez said...

"Many of us actively working to interrupt racism continually hear complaints about the “gotcha” culture of white anti-racism. There is a stereotype that we are looking for every incident we can find so we can spring out, point our fingers, and shout, “You’re a racist!” While certainly there are white people who arrogantly set themselves apart from other whites by acting in this way, in my experience over 20 years this is not the norm. It is far more common for sincere white people to agonize over when and how to give feedback to a fellow white person, given the ubiquitousness of white fragility. White fragility works to punish the person giving feedback and essentially bully them back into silence. It also maintains white solidarity—the tacit agreement that we will protect white privilege and not hold each other accountable for our racism. When the person giving the feedback is a person of color, the charge is “playing the race card” and the consequences of white fragility are much more penalizing."

Source: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-and-the-rules-of-engagement-twlm/

Carol Valdez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacinda Ramsey said...

Carol said : Jacinda: I agree with you on the point that asking someone to suggest other Native American scholars seems a "logical first step." In this context, though, the mission of this forum is clear.

From the mission statement: We resolve to listen and learn from people of color and First/Native Nations people willing to speak about those experiences.

As I read this part of the mission statement I thought it would be nice to know who to ask. Asking Debbie was asking an expert for more experts! As I said before I apologize and will find other ways to find experts to ask!

Carol Valdez said...

Jacinda: I didn't mean for you to feel you had to apologize again! I do see where you coming from originally.

Carol Valdez said...

Jamalia Higgins said...

Debbie Reese, I never suggested that Sam Bloom "ought not to say anything" about the Lane Smith book. I said I was leery, worried, and thought some of the contentions veered into shaky ground.

I apologize for not recognizing that tribe and tribal are trigger words that should no longer be used. I learn new things from this and other eye-opening blogs every day, and for that I thank you all so much for this opportunity to have spirited and respectful discussions.

Jamalia's reply is perfect. I've pasted the whole comment because it's short - four sentences, yet she said everything necessary. She respects Debbie's pov, i.e. does not say she'd "LOVE" to hear from other experts. Allie and Nina have expressed this more eloquently and succinctly than I so I'll leave it at that.

I was also unaware that "tribe" and "tribal" are trigger words. For Debbie to say it was enough in the context of this conversation.

Thank you, RWW and commenters, for the opportunity to engage in "spirited and respectful discussions." (thanks to Jamalia for a GREAT description)

Debbie Reese said...

Hi all,

Somewhere in this thread, I said this, and KT Horning repeated it, and I'll say it again.

I don't think the word is offensive. When used alongside illustrations like those in Smith's book, it becomes problematic because together, the word and the illustrations collapse into primitive notions of who we were, and who we are.

I'll add this:

Tribe and tribal are not "triggers" or "triggering" to me. Right now, "trigger" is used in the context of PTSD and I don't want anyone to think that I'm experiencing anything akin to what happens to those with PTSD.

And one more time:

I don't think the word is offensive. When used alongside illustrations like those in Smith's book, it becomes problematic because together, the word and the illustrations collapse into primitive notions of who we were, and who we are.

徐幼鳳 said...

Thanks, Debbie, for the clarification. I plan on rereading all the thoughts expressed here, on your site, and on the listserv, to continue considering the many points raised.

Debbie Reese said...

Good morning,

The discussion we're having here about finding someone who is Native who can weigh in on any given book, parallels recent discussions amongst writers/editors to find someone who is an insider to a particular group who can read a manuscript and give feedback on what is in the manuscript. The term for doing that is "vetting" a manuscript or having a "beta reader." A more recent term associated with that activity is finding a "sensitivity reader."

In that particular discussion (authors/editors) I wrote up some thoughts on that activity. In a nutshell: at research institutions there is a process research proposals go through before a research project can begin. Some of the process is specific to populations deemed vulnerable to exploitation. Children, for example, but minorities, too, because there's quite an extensive history of Native and People of Color being used--without their knowledge--as subjects in research projects. It is a grotesque history. Debby Dahl Edwardson's MY NAME IS NOT EASY includes one of those examples. I highly recommend her book.

Part of getting someone's feedback or participation in such studies requires that they fully understand what is going on, and depending on the research question, having someone who has the knowledge/experience to provide feedback that is reliable. For more details about that, here's the post I wrote about it:
http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/02/dear-writers-and-editors-some-cautions.html

Carol Valdez said...

Debbie, thank you for clarifying.

and again, thank you to RWW for this forum, and to every single commenter - I am grateful that you make the time to thoughtfully and sensitively engage. LOVE it!! Librarians are the BEST!!

Kanumommy said...

Took one look at one illustration and can truthfully say my own tribal children would be very offended. Even at a young age. Because they see things that look like stereotypical feathers-on-Indians. They get really sick of that. Perhaps because they were brought up knowing what that regalia means.