Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reviewing While White: Last Stop on Market Street

by Nina Lindsay

Last Stop on Market Street almost doesn’t need a review here, as for the most part the major review sources did it justice, and it seemed to be doing quite well even before its groundbreaking success at the Youth Media Awards announcements. But the awards it garnered, and the responses to them, are worth reflecting on, and in the midst of Cakestorm, we wanted to turn some attention back to it.   

At the blog Heavy Medal I and others talked about the book from a Newbery perspective when the awards were announced as well as a few days later.  I won’t reiterate the many examples in the comments of the effectiveness of the text, but if you browse through them you will also find there some of the criticism Sam mentioned here in Housekeeping and the YMAs.  

I grow more and more curious about the responses that criticize this book as an award winner, suggesting the choice was “political rather than based on the actual merits of the books”  or that “diversity trumped quality.” What is it about the book that make people suppose this? One commenter at Heavy Medal said:

“...there was a definite message the reader was supposed to get and the author was going to make sure they got it. I think the best stories are ones that speak a truth in a way that is eloquent, lyrical, thoughtful without being didactic. They show a mastery of literary skill and storytelling which speaks to readers of any age. Imo, “Market” doesn’t measure up to that.”

This makes me wonder if there isn’t a prejudice against certain kinds of messages within children’s literature.  I don’t care for a heavy-handed message myself, and I think young readers can smell them a mile off.  But being heavy-handed is very different than deliberately crafting a message to an audience in a way that allows interpretation.  That is, in essence, what most writing is doing, and Pat Enciso, in her review of the book at Latin@s in KidLit, unpacks exactly how marvelously Last Stop on Market Street achieves this:

“On the face of it, CJ is asking for what kids (and adults) often desire: to be unconstrained and worry-free, to have easy access to pleasure and fun. Stories can create this kind of world for children; and many adults think this is what stories for young readers should do. Instead, Last Stop on Market Street honors the realities that exist beyond the readymade worlds of comfort and privilege.”

Is it the delivery of the message, or the message itself that has some people upset?  I noticed a slight in this regard in the otherwise positive SLJ review: “This is an excellent book that highlights less popular topics such as urban life, volunteerism, and thankfulness.”  Less popular how, exactly, and why?   Is there, in our critical industry, a normative type of story for children that creates an “unconstrained and worry-free” world for readers, so that a book that addresses this desire in a different way is seen as less popular, or political, or of lesser quality?

The more I read the book, the more I appreciate the way CJ responds, ultimately, to his own questions. The narrative describes what CJ comprehends from his Nana in gestures, showing rather than telling. “Nana gave everyone a great big smile / and a ‘good afternoon.’ / She made sure CJ did the same.” … “A man climbed aboard with a spotted dog. / CJ gave up his seat.”  And “Nana glanced at the coin in CJ’s palm. / CJ dropped it in the man’s hat.” This coin is the one that the driver pulled from behind CJ’s ear as they boarded the bus. When CJ drops it in the musician’s hat, Mr. Dennis calls out “Last Stop on Market Street” and they head into the final transformative pages of their trip. This transactional metaphor--the receiving and giving of the coin as passage--serves as a turning point in the narrative as CJ sees his city in new way, emphasized by fleeting rhymes in a musical rhythm of the last few pages.

This is a book clearly deserving of its accolades, and sets a standard in storytelling and illustration as award winners should do.  It is also an important book for what is says, as well as how. As Pat Enciso says in her review:

“It is a story where it matters that CJ is a Black child spending Sunday with his grandmother. It is a story where it matters still more that CJ and his Nana ask each other hard questions and make space for complex answers.”

So did “diversity trump quality,” with a “heavy handed” message? Or is it the message itself that some people feel is not deserving of recognition?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Conversation on A Birthday Cake for George Washington


So here’s my question: How does this happen (or almost happen)?  And I'm not asking in a rhetorical, throw-up-my-hands way.  I want to know--how, almost a hundred years after Gone With The Wind came out, does the narrative of happy/smiling slaves still happen?  For that matter, how do smiling Indians still happen?  Smiling Skippyjon Jones?

Obviously, they happen because they sell.  Let's go a little deeper, though--why do they sell?  I keep thinking of Roy Wood Jr. on the Daily Show, explaining "If we want to win an Oscar, we have to make a movie about Black people being oppressed... Creed could have got an Oscar nod if they would have sprinkled a little slavery in it."

And what are my responsibilities here, as a White person?  It mustn’t be to jump up and down on the creative trio of Black women behind this book.  I need to examine my culpability and my responsibilities, and that always starts with some worldview shifting within myself.  So with that in mind, I think the reason smiling/marginalized people narratives sell is that they allow White people to be in an empowered position with no accompanying shame or guilt.  I have to get my hands dirty and find the part of myself that wants that power sans guilt, and reckon with it.


I agree, Allie, about examining my own responsibilities.  While I definitely think it’s important for White people to call White publishing to task, I also want to tread lightly on how I, as a White woman, am empowered to determine how Black women talk about and approach slavery. (I am specifically speaking about Ramin Ganeshram, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and Andrea Davis Pinkney.)  I have been grateful that Black voices have led this conversation, with special notes of thanks to Edi Campbell, Allyson Criner Brown, and Dr. Ebony Thomas. I think the most important thing White librarians and critics can do in this situation is listen. So, I’ve tried to do that when it comes to A Fine Dessert and especially A Birthday Cake for George Washington.  Before projecting my OWN ideas, I’ve tried to listen.  I think I’ve learned a lot more that way.


Angie, I completely agree. And yet I feel like this is so hard to do when one is passionate about a subject, as much of the discussion that I have seen involves authors, youth services librarians, teachers, publishers -- obviously folks that care a great deal about children’s literature. But when it comes to a subject such as the way slavery is portrayed in a picture book, we White people really do need to take a step back.


I concur. At the same time, we began this blog because we know our job is also to speak, to do some of the work of challenging racism. To that end, I like your reference to worldview shifting a lot, Allie. Because that is absolutely necessary for change in the children's book world, and in the greater world of which that is a part. And yes to allowing for ownership of a self-perceived mistake or changing of minds without that becoming more fodder for criticism.


I also want to make room for "ownership of a self-perceived mistake" and at the moment am trying to respect that.  I also recognize this is a scary time for book creators, so I'm willing to make room for their dismay.  But I hold some discomfort around the way this unfolded, and am concerned at the message behind Scholastic's recall statement:
"While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, ....We do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator."

That's some serious ass-covering going on, which I guess is to be expected, yet seems to be at the expense of the author, editor, and illustrator, while removing any responsibility from Scholastic itself.  As a publisher that makes a heck of a lot of money on its proclaimed commitment to "providing books, magazines, and educational materials that portray the experience of all children, including those from diverse communities and backgrounds" I'm not really willing to let them divorce themselves from any responsibility.

I'm similarly discomforted by Emily Jenkins' apology for A Fine Dessert, at the same time that I respect and admire it.


Why are you discomforted by Emily Jenkins' apology, Nina?  I thought it took courage for her to do that. I found it interesting that so many White people who were champions for the book seemed to disregard her apology and carry on as if it hadn't happened.


And meanwhile, those same fans of A Fine Dessert fought tooth and nail to defend the book’s illustrator, Sophie Blackall. In fact, here we are, several months later, and many are STILL defending Blackall while demonizing Jenkins. What’s up with that? Is it because Blackall defended her work while Jenkins did not? To me this ties into the White Lady tears phenomenon somehow, though I can’t quite put my finger on exactly how this is all working.


I agree it took courage.  I'm trying to locate my discomfort. I guess I want writers to take responsibility for what they publish, before they publish it. Same goes for editors and publishers.  Although (arguing with myself here), I guess Emily Jenkins' was taking responsibility in the best way she could, when she could, and I do respect that.  

Where else my discomfort? I anticipated the backlash idea that now this would scare off all book creators from writing about difficult subjects...I was discomforted by that precedent.  But I think I just talked myself out of that discomfort over at the Fuse 8 discussion.

Where else? Yes, an immediate reaction was thinking about how the illustrator and editor of the book would feel, since I admire their work as well.  But, truthfully, they also hold responsibility, and at the end of the day I am more concerned with how young readers feel than book creators.

I think that's the bottom of my discomfort.  And, yup, they are all White People Problems.


Something I haven't seen anyone mention is that A Birthday Cake for George Washington was written by a celebrity author who has no track record for writing picture books for young children. I would love to know more about the background of how this came to be published. Was the book Ganeshram's idea or someone else's?

There were many things in Ganeshram's post-controversy note that made me think that her argument might fly had she written a book for teens who might better understand the historical context. But 6 year olds?

I like Vanessa Brantley-Newton's illustrations for contemporary stories such as My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay and The Hula-Hooping Queen. Her characters always have bright eyes and big grins -- that's her style. They work in contemporary stories.  But who thought she would be a good match for a book set in slavery times?

So going back to Scholastic's statement, "...we do not believe this title meets the standards of appropriate presentation of information to younger children, despite the positive intentions and beliefs of the author, editor, and illustrator" -- how does a book get all the way to publication before this determination is made?


KT, I’m interested in the celebrity angle of it too, especially because I read other writing from Ganeshram that seems to take more seriously the issues with Hercules and Deliah’s enslavement--and Hercules’s escape too. Imagine if the text spent less time on authentic mixing bowls and the hunt for sugar and looked at the information Ganeshram has here:
“Hercules decided his own fate soon enough. On his master’s 65th birthday, February 22, 1797, Hercules escaped in the wee hours, leaving his son Richmond behind.”  
Why do we, as White readers, shy away from that story?  Why do we want a story where Washington puts an arm around Hercules and praises him?  I think that’s something everyone should consider when they’re processing their fierce feelings about this book - why do you need to make Hercules’s story more palatable to you?  Why do you feel the need to bemoan “censorship” and wring your hands thinking about “the children” when, at the very least, we know this book was not telling children the full truth of Hercules and Delilah’s lives as even Ganeshram’s own research showed?


These are questions that, as Allie notes, are more than rhetorical.  Ones I hope authors, illustrators, editors and publishers are not just asking themselves, but talking about, reflecting upon. Just as we need to reflect on it--all of us who are gatekeepers once books are published as reviewers and critics and selectors.  This may feel like a time of crisis and uncertainty, but it’s also one of opportunity. Opportunity that too many people -- too many young readers -- have been waiting for someone to grasp onto for far too long.

I also agree with you, Nina, that it is a scary time for book creators. It’s not just about their livelihoods, what they are doing, but it’s their creative lives, and they wouldn’t be writing or illustrating if that creative expression weren’t essential to their identities.  There is no joy or pleasure for any of us in looking at someone’s work and negating it in some way. None.

I also don’t want to suggest that this is a single “right” way to depict an experience. I’m not suggesting that every book with enslaved characters, for example, show those characters in constant misery. (Per Allie’s opening salvo, too often that is the trope in Hollywood). What I think we are suggesting, or what I’m saying anyway, is that I don’t want to see reality ignored. I want to come away from a book, no matter how young the audience, with the sense that the brutality of enslavement is understood, even if it isn’t the primary focus of the story. Obviously what is conveyed will differ based on the book and the audience. But I think, as an example, of Shane W. Evans’s Underground. In just a few words and powerful images, he conveys a palpable sense of fear, and underneath that is agency and determination, and at the end, such relief. It isn’t graphic in terms of the physical violence of slavery, and it doesn’t spell out the psychic violence, but it’s there all the same.  


And White folks, can we please agree not to use some version of the “But slaves were happy sometimes!” argument in these situations? There’s something about a White person defending the Happy Slave trope that is deeply disturbing. Like Megan, I’m thinking back to Allie’s comments at the beginning about how this goes along with White guilt.


For sure.  And it’s also a deeply disingenuous derailing argument: “I guess you think slaves never felt joy, so you must be the racist!” There are several books about enslaved people that show the complex realities of their lives -- Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate or Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson just off the top of my head.  NO ONE is saying that picture books can’t, or shouldn’t, deal with slavery or other hard topics.  Instead, we’re asking that there is actual nuance and honesty in these stories and images. Tell the truth -- not only can kids handle it, but many of them already know it.  Stop assuming all audiences for these books will be White kids in White classrooms with White teachers.


I know that some of the conversation around both of these books has been a feeling of can’t-win: “We can’t show slaves happy!  We can’t show slaves constantly miserable victims!  What to do about slavery?”

I truly don’t know.  I think it would be nice if we had more contemporary, sci-fi, and fantasy books about Black, Native, and Latino people, though.  Not to mention historical fiction that’s not centered on slavery or segregation.  This timeline of Black YA History is a powerful visual representation of the single-story problem.  I love, for example, If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.  It’s historical fiction about an American Indian boy, set in the 70s.  Lewis (Gansworth's protagonist) spends a memorable chunk of the book wondering if Paul is dead.  I want more like this.

Recently a parent (a friend of mine, not someone from work) asked me to recommend something for her history-loving kid: historical fiction that features diverse characters, is not racist or otherwise problematic, is not overly violent or scary, and that her child--who is struggling to advance beyond the Amelia Bedelia level--could actually read.  I couldn’t think of a dang thing.  Anyone?


Sorry Allie. But I think I have an answer to your first question, our refrain, “How does this get published in the first place?”  White people don’t speak up enough when we see it, out of fear of hurting feelings or being branded “politically correct,” and we silence people of color and First/Native Nations when they do.  We have to get comfortable with asking uncomfortable questions about books, and making space for diverse opinions.  This isn’t just about one book, or two books.  This book got published because of everything before it.  Maybe it can be one in a chain to make a real shift in children’s book publishing.


And this takes me back to Allie’s shifting worldview. Discussions happening in the children’s book world in recent months have been uncomfortable, to say the least.  Sure, we can creep along the continuum of incremental change, and in twenty-five years be having similar discussions, and still be talking about dismal numbers in terms of representation of people of color and First/Native Nations. Or we can acknowledge and embrace discomfort and upheaval in the hopes that as a whole when the ground settles we’ll have moved a little more than a mere increment.

I know there are people upset about the book being pulled from the market and they speak to its importance in generating open discussion and serving as a learning opportunity. But to me, that decision, for better or for worse, is one form of upheaval, and I find it presents as much of an opportunity to talk and learn and ask questions as the book itself. In a way that decision, whatever is behind it, is leading to more critical questions than otherwise might have been asked within publishing. I hope so, anyway.


We started this conversation almost a week ago, and a lot has happened since then. PEN/NCAC issued a statement that Scholastic's decision to recall the book is censorship; yesterday, Scholastic responded that it is not. I suspect that we haven't seen the end of this story. But whatever happens, we White people need to listen first on this one; and when we do speak, we need to remember to focus on ourselves and our responsibilities. Let's hold each other accountable to that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

No Text Is Sacred

by Megan Schliesman

Part I: Context Matters

Let me be perfectly clear from the outset: I think the principles of intellectual freedom we hold as rightfully essential in our work as librarians and teachers are sacred, but no individual book can be considered in light of those principles abstractly. Context matters.

I say all this as someone who spends a fair amount of her job thinking about intellectual freedom and censorship, speaking about them, and considering what it means when books are challenged.

And when books are challenged (and before that, when chosen for inclusion in a library or classroom), context is everything.

In a perfect world, every book challenge and potential censorship situation would have an outcome that sees the title in question remain on the shelf or in the classroom. But that would not only require every individual with decision-making authority to fully understand and embrace the principles of intellectual freedom, it would require that we, librarians and teachers, never make a mistake.

And sometimes we do.

We are human, and fallible, and regretful things happen for many and varied reasons. The solidly middle or high school novel ends up in an understaffed K-5 library with no library media specialist and a part-time aide. The outdated novel considered racist by many is still being taught in a fourth grade classroom by a teacher who is unaware of, or doesn’t care about, the criticism.

Are these typical of most book challenges? No. But let’s not ignore the fact that these kinds of situations happen.  And let’s not forget the fact that every book challenge, every attempt at censorship in a  school or public library or classroom, is about a specific book or books in a specific context. That is how they occur, and that is how they are, or should be, handled.

No book belongs in a library collection or classroom on principle, it belongs because of what it specifically has to offer, something hopefully guided by selection criteria and guidelines in policies and procedures that affirm intellectual freedom and the need to build collections responsive to the needs (not just assumptions about the needs) of the specific communities they serve.

Part II: In Defense of What?

I found the news that Scholastic has pulled the picture book A Birthday Cake for George Washington,  having reconsidered the book in light of criticism and recent discussions about the depiction of African American enslavement in general, and the story it tells in particular, shocking. But not, perhaps, for the reasons one might think.  

I found it shocking because it was so unexpected. Not because I thought it was wrong.  I don’t know that I can label this decision right or wrong.   

But I do know this: Publishing is a business, and in that, it is, like it or not, different from the world of libraries and public education. The same rules do not apply when it comes to the principles of intellectual freedom.

I’ve read concern and dismay at the censorship implications of Scholastic pulling the book.

Do I think this sets a dangerous precedent? Will the next book to be recalled by a publisher be a picture book about a transgender child or a girl with two dads or a Muslim family coming to America?

I honestly don’t think so.  

This has happened to a specific book for a specific reason. Again, context matters. The specifics matter. Sure, there might be hue and cry about another book. And it might be hue and cry that is from cultural insiders who are critical of its portrayal of their experience. That’s important to listen to (and important to get insight into before a book is ever published). But I don’t think Scholastic or any publisher is going to pull a book based on general disagreement or disregard for its content.

And then there is this: There is and always has been censorship in publishing. It is part of the gatekeeping role, like it or not. Decisions about what does and does not get published are made every single day. And yes, I’m saying this with some judgment, because part of the reason RWW exists as an ally for diversity is that for far too long too many of those decisions have  minimized the need for greater and more authentic diversity in children’s and young adult literature.

Truthfully, I am far more concerned about the voices I’m not seeing at all than Scholastic’s decision to pull this specific book for the specific reasons cited.

But I also say that there is censorship in publishing with some understanding: they cannot publish everything (nor would we want them to).

So really, what is shocking to me about the decision to pull A Birthday Cake for George Washington, a book that I have no doubt was created with good intentions on the part of everyone involved, is that it seems so counter to the typical corporate, business-based decision in publishing. The book had already been printed. It was available for purchase. Being reviewed in journals and online, for better and for worse.  Why pull it? Because let’s face it, the book probably would continue to sell. Check out the screen shot below 1/18/2016--Martin Luther King , Jr. Day:

Instead, the decision felt like a human one. One that acknowledged the capacity we all have to be fallible. To say we have listened and learned.

I hope that is the case, but I'm aware that could be my wishful White thinking. It might have been a business decision, pure and simple, that calculated the financial cost and deemed it acceptable to avoid more negative publicity. It might have been a decision that wouldn't have been made were the creators well-established White people rather than people of color. 

In the meantime, we can ask questions about this and about other books and what went into creating them. I think we should. But let’s also acknowledge that change is a process, a journey. There is no perfect end, just the work of moving forward, which can be messy and murky and painful even as we try to keep hope for the direction we're heading high.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Housekeeping and the YMAs

by Sam Bloom

We thought it would be a good idea to periodically remind readers of our FAQs, Mission, Glossary, Comment Policy, and Resources for Further Research. If you’re reading this on your mobile device, click the drop-down menu under the banner; if you’re on a computer, you should see these running horizontally under our banner. Please check those out, but remember that they are all living documents and could change at any point. So if you have questions, comment on the specific page or email us by clicking on the “email” link in the Reading While White blogger profile.

Most of you are aware, but in case you missed it, the Youth Media Awards were announced this past Monday at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston. As a member of the Coretta Scott King book jury, it’s hard for me to comment too much due to confidentiality, but I will say I was THRILLED with pretty much every result. Kudos to ALL the committee members for their service.
One thing that is guaranteed every year is the Monday- (or, in this case, Tuesday-) morning quarterbacking that inevitably shows up after the announcements, especially where Newbery and Caldecott are concerned. It’s one thing to sigh wistfully, thinking of What Could Have Been. There is passion involved in this type of reflection, and sometimes thoughtfulness, and – normally – no committee-slamming.
But then you have the ugly side of the second-guessing. We’ve seen this in display over at Calling Caldecott (and to a lesser extent Heavy Medal). The argument some commenters are making is basically that the committees “decided to promote diversity over quality.” In perhaps the most odious of all of the comments, Telly wrote:
“In my opinion, judges are going a little too far [to] showcase diversity. How likely is it that, out of everything released in 2015, 3 of the 5 winners happen to have non-white protagonists? I just picture a bunch of smug white librarians patting themselves on the back for these picks. At least if you’re going for diversity, try not to be condescending and have all those books be about civil rights, racial struggles, poverty, etc. It’s just so transparent.”
You’d think I would have made myself immune to this type of thing, seeing as how we live in the Age of the Internet, and yet this kind of self-righteous bullshit still triggers my gag reflex. Never mind the fact that committee members work tirelessly, using the award criteria (which are forever burned on their brains), to come to their respective decisions. No, what is especially troubling about Telly’s comment here is something I’m seeing across the board: the way that Telly (and CJ, and Emily) seem genuinely troubled by the success of authors of color… because apparently diversity and quality are mutually exclusive, and anyone who disagrees with their flawed perspective is “superior” (and not in a good way). In our profession where we love our authors and illustrators to a fault (I have a lot more to say on that subject, believe you me), we get catty as all hell if – God forbid – more than half of the award-winning books are from authors and illustrators of color and First/Native Nations.

For now I have promised myself that I won’t engage with commenters like this, and instead focus on the good things coming from Monday’s announcements, because, as Nana so wisely observes in our new Newbery winner, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reviewing While White: Walk on Earth a Stranger, and, In the Footsteps of Crazyhorse

by Nina Lindsay

Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger was on the National Book Award longlist for Young People's Literature, and it came to my attention as Debbie Reese started posting her thoughts while reading it.   It made we wonder what made the book stand out to the NBA committee.  The Booklist review noted "world building" and "carefully constructed, well-researched aplomb" in a book with "a lot going on...from slavery, animal cruelty, and Indian bashing to heart-stopping medical procedures and gender and class issues."  Sounded like a fascinating read, if nothing else. I bit.

The book certainly delivers a well-constructed and wordy escape.  And it's romantic, in many senses of the word.  We know for sure exactly what kind of book this will be by p.47, when protagonist Leah  ("Lee") refuses childhood friend Jefferson's awkward marriage proposal: "He pauses. Turns. Sadness tugs at his eyes as he say, 'Seems like I've been waiting for you to come around my whole life, Lee. But a man can't wait forever and stay a man.'"  

But the underlying romanticism in this book is the romanticism of the West, and to fully enjoy it the reader has to buy into the White man's pursuit and claim of land and gold as a noble cause. I think we're expected to excuse Lee for going along with it because she's a young woman trying to escape the clutches of an evil Uncle and of society's gender roles.  Oh, and she has this special power, that lets her sense gold.  So, she can't really help it.

Lee’s heartthrob and best friend from childhood, Jefferson, is "half Cherokee."  You must read Debbie Reese's conclusive post on this book for a full unpacking of the problems with how Carson portrays First Nations/Native people.  I find it particularly unnerving how this is delivered under a veneer of “respect.”  Lee is carefully and deliberately characterized as non-racist for her time as seems reasonably possible, by pointing it out in others:  p.59 "It takes a moment for me to realize 'boy' refers to his slave."  Or p.232 "Mama used to say that Jefferson had a noble dignity about him, which was her way of pointing out his Indian blood while pretending to be polite. He doesn't seem noble to me. He's just Jeff."  Debbie Reese does an excellent job of outlining how Carson, in what seems like an intent to assign blame across the board as if even-handedly…”gives us Indian people as a group who are horrible, versus specific White individuals who are horrible.”    They remain a “group” in this story, not individuals.   And Jefferson, while individual, seems mostly device.   When Lee says on  p.235 "I don't know what to think about the Indians. Seems to me we don't really know anything about them. We don't even know what we don't know,”  it seems clear Carson doesn’t know either, and this echoes like a sloppy excuse.

Joseph Marshall III’s In the Footsteps of Crazyhorse feels like a book I’ve been waiting for for a long time, and I was pleased to see it on School Library Journal’s Best of 2015 list. With a simple setup and straightforward prose, young Jimmy goes on a road trip with his Grandpa Nyles and listens to stories about the Oregon trail, and the famous battles that Crazy Horse took part in, and which are generally told in books for children from a radically different perspective.  I don’t recall reading a book for children that lays out the horrible details of these battles in a way that doesn’t “other” the Lakota and other First Nations.   Stop by stop, Grandpa Nyles takes Jimmy to visitor centers and historical markers to read  the information there, and then tell him “the way it was.”  At “Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument” Grandpa Nyles describes the onset of the Battle of the Greasy Grass:

“Everyone at the south end of the village could hear the guns now. So much gunfire was not good and usually meant danger. So much gunfire usually meant enemies. It was better to think that and do something than to wonder and be confused. Enemies attacking were nothing new to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho people.” p.93

This is such a different perspective on events than I have read in most books for children, in which Indians suddenly appear to battle. Throughout, Grandpa Nyles painstakingly elaborates instances of bravery and courage within an authentic context: not sensationalized, not stereotyped.

This book is labelled fiction, and it’s set up as a novel.  While the language is fluid and accessible, I found it light on character development and plot as commonly read for in our industry, and was feeling disappointed in that regard.  But about half-way in I realized I was reading it wrong.  It’s a history book, told in story, and one that provides a much-needed perspective lacking in most of children’s literature. Held next to Walk on Earth a Stranger it feels like a balm, and Carson’s novel’s raking othering of Indians in service of the romance of the West stands out even more starkly in comparison.