Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reviewing While White: The Secret Project

From http://d28hgpri8am2if.cloudfront.net/book_images/

by Sam Bloom, Allie Jane Bruce and Elisa Gall

After reading Jonah and Jeanette Winter’s The Secret Project (Beach Lane Books, 2017), a few of us at Reading While White wanted to discuss our own reactions to it and what we have learned from reading and reflecting on criticism including Dr. Debbie Reese’s review at AICL. During this conversation it also came to our attention that Reese’s critical review was posted to the All The Wonders promo page and later taken down, adding another layer of complexity to our discussion (we recommend you read “What Happened to “A Second Perspective” at All The Wonders?” by Dr. Reese as well). Feel free to join our conversation and add your questions and/or thoughts in the comments!

Elisa: When I first read The Secret Project, I was immediately drawn into the visual narrative of the ending. It was so gripping that I found myself focusing on that part of the book and remembering little else. When I saw the critical review on AICL, I knew that I had allowed myself to be wooed by the final pages. Sometimes a “WOW” effect like that can lead readers to prioritize one successful piece of a book over its serious problems. To me, that choice to overlook is the epitome of privilege I carry with me as a White, non-Native reader.

Sam: I really liked it on first read. It’s embarrassing now, having seen the things Debbie pointed out, that seem so obvious. When I saw the spread with the Hopi man, I thought to myself, “I’m sure they got it right, this is the Winters we’re talking about.” That’s such a naive statement, but it was my first thought, so I just glossed over it. And like you, Elisa, I was gobsmacked by that ending.

From http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/
Allie: My first reaction was just like both of yours.  That ending--so sad! So powerful! So, just, beyond words (literally)!  To be honest, I still feel that way.  That ending is one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in a picture book, ever.  This is where I need to practice my nonbinary thinking: The book has incredible merits; the book erases Pueblo people.  These things are both true.

Elisa: Sam, that hope (“I’m sure they got it right”) is something I’ve noticed myself having. I find myself wanting to take the easy route of just going with the flow and trusting that a book (especially from a publisher or author whose past work I admire) is authentic and accurate. Looking critically and asking questions can be tough work. It definitely pulls me “out” of the narrative, which is why almost subconsciously I find myself resisting and wanting to “gloss over” as you put it. I have grown accustomed to getting to stay “in” the books I read. I try to remember that so many readers NEVER get to stay “in” (and some never get “in” at all) because the world of children’s literature has never been inclusive to them.

Allie: What you’re describing is, I think, a set of skills that are not prioritized in library school.  I’m reminded of this post that Megan wrote about her process of letting go of A Fine Dessert a year and a half ago.

I need to practice that skill of letting go.  It is a professional skill.  When I love a book for a particular reason, and then find out that it contains one (or more) problematic elements, I need to do what Megan did with A Fine Dessert: Sit. Breathe. Think. Go through whatever mental process I need to go through.  Then, practice saying the words “I changed my mind.”

Megan’s older post is, in fact, so completely on-point here that I want to quote from it:

I cannot ignore the voices of those who have helped me understand something I didn't consider before: No matter how thoughtful the intent was in depicting this mother and child, the end result is that it can be seen as perpetuating painful imagery of "happy" slaves.

Am I ashamed I didn't see this myself? Yes. Because it's the kind of thing I'd like to think I wouldn't miss.

But I'm not so ashamed that I'm going to dig in my heels.

I can let go of A Fine Dessert.

Did I come to this decision easily? No. Am I sad about letting go of the book? Yes.

But it's a small sadness.

Yes, I still appreciate many other things about A Fine Dessert, but I can also accept that this is a fault it cannot overcome for me when it comes to recommending it to librarians and teachers.

Swap The Secret Project in for A Fine Dessert, and alter that second line to read, “No matter how thoughtful the intent was in depicting the setting, or how successfully it communicates the massive global and moral implications of developing nuclear weaponry, the end result is that it erases Pueblo people from this story.”

Elisa: Yep. It is admittedly tough to come to terms with the fact that a title you first thought was excellent, or even haven’t read yet but want so much to be flawless, misses the mark...but again, tough for whom? Is it as tough as being a Native reader who sees (to quote Debbie Reese’s recent post) The Secret Project as yet another book in the “ever-growing pile of books in which this or that topic is more important than Native people?” Whose reactions and feelings are being prioritized if criticism is ignored? And there is plenty to talk about with regards to the way the conversation about this book played out after concerns were being discussed.

Allie: I followed the way the conversation unfolded with great interest.  I had hopes that this would become a groundbreaking case of mainstream non-binary thinking, that we could acknowledge the merits of the book, and talk about how powerful that ending is, and also acknowledge the ways in which it erases Pueblo people, and what implications that has in the context of our history and our world.  Instead, I saw the same patterns as always, and found myself asking the same questions as always.

Particularly troubling to me was Matthew Winner’s comment on AICL, in which he says that All the Wonders enters into a “verbal agreement” with book creators to shine a positive light on their book.  If I were entering into an agreement, verbal or written, to promote somebody’s work to the exclusion of criticism, I would change my job title from “librarian” to “salesperson” and ask to be paid for this work.  Now, it’s not my prerogative whether anybody else follows that advice--except that it impacts our profession as a whole when leaders in the field refer to themselves as “teachers” or “librarians” but in fact serve as de facto members of publishers’ advertising teams (for more of my thoughts on this, see my post responding to the recent Wall Street Journal article here). I see so much personal, passionate “I looooooooved this book” from the “rock stars.”  By contrast, I see such rational, researched, informed opinions from Debbie.  But somehow Debbie is always the one who gets called “nasty” or “unprofessional” while the “rock stars” are seen as the pinnacle of the profession.

Sam: I think some of the backlash Debbie received is due to the fact that she is a woman, and the “rock stars” are men. I’ve been called a “rock star,” too. For doing the same damn thing an enormous number of women in the profession have done before. What’s that phrase about standing on the shoulders of giants? Well, I am certainly standing on the shoulders of giants to get to a point where I can get invited to the publisher dinners and shmoozy events, and guess what: pretty much EVERY ONE of those giants is a woman. And yet I, as a man (a White man, at that) may get up and read a story or two to kids; I may sing and dance and act goofy; I may do book talks for school age kids; and I’m the “rock star” even though there are how many women doing ALL of those things, probably with more skill and grace, who won’t get any attention for simply DOING THEIR JOB?

Elisa: I know we have shared Robin DiAngelo's work on White Fragility before, but it is worth sharing again to notice these patterns you’re describing. You make good points, too, about "librarian" versus "advertiser." I have been reflecting on this a lot. The line has definitely become blurred. Influence marketing works (which is why we see it),  but it is so important for our profession that it becomes clear if/when librarians are getting paid (or given benefits) to celebrate a book/author/publisher. Librarians DO spotlight and promote books and authors, but after careful evaluation. And even then, it is okay (expected!) to reevaluate your position after receiving new information. You might even change your mind.

It feels good to get a book sent to you because a publisher thought you'd like it, or invited to a dinner with a creator whose work you admire. These gestures can feel like agreements. Let's be real - it is business! It can be hard to separate those warm fuzzies from problematic texts. But it is imperative. I acknowledge my own participation in this system. I keep telling myself: you want to go to that dinner or schmooze with creators? Fine. But then be ready for the hard reality that at the end of the day, no matter what you’ve been given or how much you like that person, you have to do your job.

Allie: We spend much of our professional lives, by nature of the profession, in the thick of conversations about judging books, whether to spend budget money on this book or that, whether this book is good enough for this list or that award.  We form opinions, positive and negative, sometimes passionately so, informed by our expertise in book evaluation, our experiences sharing the book with kids, observations about a book’s accessibility, popularity, and so much more.  When it gets into that “passionate” territory, though, let’s face it:  It’s often hard to separate one’s personal love or hate for a book from a professional assessment, based on expertise, research, and knowledge.

Elisa: I agree. And going back to how critics can get accused of bullying or being “nasty,” I think there is a myth that it is somehow always easy or fun for critics to interrupt racism or bias in a text. It can be disappointing, alienating, and scary. If representation of your identity is at the center, it can be traumatic and in some instances, people’s safety can be put at risk. No matter how it is shared though (and even if/when it is directed at something I am passionate about), I am working to remember that criticism reflects care and commitment. It is how things improve, because I have hope that discomfort will lead to deeper reflection in the future, and more honest, thoughtful, and accurate books getting made as a result.

[Ed. note 10/17/17: The Reading While White team has decided to close comments on this post.  Please email us with any questions.]


Laura Jimenez said...

Than you all for this thoughtful "conversation". I'm planning on assigning this to my children's lit classes as you show the difficulty with and consciousness needed to do this work.
Thank you.

Sam Bloom said...

Thanks for reading, Laura, and for all that you do!

Unknown said...

Wow. What an incredibly powerful and informative piece! I wrestle with how I share and review books as a librarian every single time I post on my blog, Instagram, Twitter or Goodreads, and do try so hard to do the research needed. I admit to doing a LOT more research on the books I review for School Library Journal, as I rely heavily on those reviews myself for purchase of other titles. I am always willing to go back and edit my original opinions on social media/blog/Goodreads when I learn new information, however, because I know that I am not the expert on every single topic on earth. That's why I depend on sites such as the AICL blog and Reading While White (among others), and also reviewers for Kirkus and PW along with SLJ - thank you for doing so much for our profession.

Jakester said...

Do you people actually enjoy being a self-hating, anti-intellectual white liberal cucks?

Tenisha McCloud said...

Obviously the comment above from April 12 is a troll.

One thing that has struck me, however, is that there has been so much content on this blog about Native Americans, and specifically the work and writings of one Native American, Debbie Reese. In that sense, I feel that she is becoming a rock star among the like-minded writers of this blog. Is this intentional or just coincidental?

I would also like to see more ethnic groups and races represented on RWW, such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, and peoples such as Jews. Is this being considered? There are many books for children and teens written with characters of these groups included but I do not seem to see the analysis that has been granted Native Americans. I do not wish to pit one group against another; that is not my intent.

I like this blog for making me think, and I appreciate that. Thank you for allowing me to give voice to my concerns.

Maryrita said...

Thank you for this post--I always find the discussions helpful and informative. I agree that librarians need to be critical and objective in their reviews and not salespeople. Sometimes, unintentionally or not, the line gets crossed.

Anonymous said...

Oh I can't convey the extent of my sadness at finding out just this morning from a reader at my blogsite, Wonders in the Dark, that there was controversy encircling this book several months back, as per the post date of this discussion. It is especially upsetting as THE SECRET PROJECT remains for me a searing artistic accomplishment that stands as one fo the best picture books of 2017, and what I perceived to be a major Caldecott Medal/Honor contender. In fact it is the most powerful children's book on the atomic bomb since 1980's HIROSHIMA NON PIKA by Toshi Maruki. My reader informed me of this dust up not through Reading While White, but from a comment posted on Amazon by Debbie Reese. My initial reaction was annoyance at what I perceived to be nit-picking aimed at compromising the unique power and artistry of the book. Ever the emotional Italian-American I placed a sarcastic (though not nasty) comment under Debbie's review (Debbie's site link in on my mainly movie/television blog so I DO respect her despite our past and current differences) but I now regret doing so. I will go there again and apologize. I see above that the major dispute over the Jenkins/Blackall A FINE DESSERT was broache dhere, but after spending some time reviewing this post and becoming more familiar with the complaints, the matter with THE SECRET PROJECT appears miniscule in direct comparison.

I honestly am not looking to lock horns with Ms. Reese, Sarah Hamburg, Eliza Gall nor my good friend Sam Bloom nor anyone else at this site. I understand the scene specific objections and the reason why one of teh group (above) had made the exceedingly difficult decision to "let the book go" but I will not do so myself. I feel the book is an extraordinarily potent and resonating work comparable to Eric Schlosser's Pulitzer Prize Finalist "Command and Control", though of course aimed at the much younger audience. I do not mean to minimize the stated issues of solitude and the misrepresentation of the Hopi Indian tribe, and the perception that Native Americans are deficient in domestic skills according to one of the illustrations. I am still absorbing the complaints with an open mind but I'm afraid that at this point I stand by the position Ms. Reese speculated some would indeed embrace, that which points the urgency of the book in the larger scheme. The last several pages of the book are so electrifying and get to the cruz of a perspective calamity that what I see are lesser issues are in this dicussion taking on more (sadly) mitigating ramifications. "We can't see the forest for the trees'. What I did see was a celebration of Hopi Indian culture and how the US government was to be held accountable for the infamous episode that accomplished among other dubious purposes of displacing Native Americans and polluting some of their living areas. I just find it sad that these liberal minded enviononmentally conscious artists are being called out for what is a minor cultural distortion, which at that wasn't even intended. The focus was clear and Native Americans were ultimately embraced as victims. In any case, that is my position. I respect everyone here for theirs. I have used this book to powerful effect and ensuing discussion with my five first grade classes. -Sam Juliano

Anonymous said...

I also feel I need to add this response to Ms. Reese's original review from Patrick J, which was tweeted on July 7th by author/artist and Caldecott Honor winner Marla Frazee: (length requires multiple posts here) Part 1:

"Because Debbie Reese's rather uncharitable and inaccurate review appears to be influencing other reviewers and dragging down the rating of this extraordinary and powerful book, I feel that I must respond to it directly.

Reese argues that the book erases Native peoples, particularly the Pueblo Indians who lived in the area. She begins by noting that "[t]he boys shown [at the Los Alamos Ranch School] are definitely not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time." Is this a criticism or merely a description? Reese might not like it, but the boys in the illustrations look like the boys who actually attended that school. See for yourself:


Now look at Winter's illustrations: close enough? I should say so.

But Reese says that her "real problem" is that the book implies that there is "nothing" around the school. First, there wasn't much in the immediate surroundings: The school was a ranch, and ranches tend to occupy huge tracts of land - for the purposes of, um, ranching. Should the illustrator cram in a few adobe houses at the margins to satisfy Reese? If Reese has pictorial evidence that the Winters deliberately erased Pueblo buildings, she should present it instead of making a baseless assertion. Second, the pages that follow this clearly show that the school was near a town (Sante Fe) filled with what look to me like Native people. So clearly there is something "around" the school, close enough for the scientists to visit.

Anonymous said...

Part 2-

Next Reese deliberately misreads Winter's claim that "nobody knows they [the scientists] are there," which again, she claims, erases the people who lived there. She claims that the people near the school knew "it" [the school] was there. Of course they did, but that's not what Winter writes. He says nobody knew "they" (the scientists) were there. Now, as for "nobody," Winter is clearly referring to everyone outside the laboratory, as the sentence explicitly states, not "citizens of the world minus those who lived there." The only people who must have known the men were there were the people who were hired to cook, clean, and guard, who are mentioned on the previous page. And they're not "outside the laboratory." Now, were they Native people? Some of them certainly appear to be illustrated to look that way.

The Winters are not erasing anybody but the scientists themselves. This is the most deliberate and most brilliant erasure in the book: the scientists, who are normally valorized or at least not held to account for their activities. Tucked away in a school house - no longer the bright boys who played and learned as students but dark, anonymous, vaguely sinister, grown-up students, each of them a travesty of the stereotypically benign figure of the good student harmlessly pursuing knowledge for its own sake - these scientists are "students" who stay up all day and night, like machines, trying to solve complex, abstract, mathematical problems without any real knowledge of what their solutions will unleash in the real world.

Reese's quarrel with the book is focused on the alleged failure to represent Puebloans. So she isn't writing from a Native point of view but a specifically Puebloan one. This is why she simply doesn't know what to do with the page about the Hopi Indian artist except to ask questions full of winking and innuendo. The Hopi are too far away, she claims, while the San Ildefonso Puebloans were just 17 miles away. She wonders why the Winters chose *them.* Regardless of why they chose the Hopi, it's indisputable that the book represents Native people. Does Reese just think that the Winters are specifically anti-Puebloan and pro-Hopi? Does this seem plausible, given the rest of the book and indeed the rest of the Winters' other books? Puebloans are not named explicitly - so what? It doesn't erase them any more than it erases the non-Puebloans who lived in the area, who are also not specifically named. They are *shown*, correct? More generally, this criticism is just crazy if you know anything about the Winters' work. The Winters have written and illustrated some of the most racially and culturally sensitive books in the history of children's literature - books about Frieda Kahlo, the Negro Leagues, Sonya Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente, James Madison Hemings, Jelly Roll Morton, the Voting Rights Act, girls from Kenya and Afghanistan, Malala Yousafzai, and many other subjects -

Anonymous said...

Part 3

– and now they suddenly have a vendetta against Puebloans?

Reese also has a problem with the use of the word “doll” to describe what the Hopi man is carving. Now, this might disgust you, but Winter uses the word “doll” because – wait for it – that’s what they are called. They are Hopi katsina figures or “kachina dolls.” According to Wikipedia: “Hopi katsina figures (Hopi language: tithu or katsintithu), also known as kachina dolls are figures carved, typically from cottonwood root, by Hopi people to instruct young girls and new brides about katsinas or katsinam, the immortal beings that bring rain, control other aspects of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world.”

Clearly the point of including these dolls is to show, at least in part, that there are better ways to use our imaginations than to invent world-destroying bombs. We should CREATE, like O’Keefe, like the Hopi sculptor, not DESTROY. These dolls might also represent a respectful, symbiotic way of relating to nature, as well as a kind of spiritual presence that exists beyond the nihilism of the nuclear arms industry.

Most ridiculously and embarrassingly, Reese claims that Jeanette Winter illustrates the road into Santa Fe as a dirt road, probably because it is a brownish color. But my God, it’s just HISTORICALLY ACCURATE to illustrate the road this way! That was the color of the road. Don’t take my word for it, just look at this postcard from 1945:


Shouldn’t the Winters be praised for their meticulous accuracy?

Anonymous said...

Part 4:

It should be obvious that Reese simply doesn’t like any book about the development of the atom bomb that doesn’t talk about Pueblo people and culture explicitly. That they are represented in the illustrations isn’t enough. What specific role did the Pueblo people play in the development and testing of the atom bomb that should be told about? If nobody is aware of one, then how is it a valid criticism that Winter erases them from the story – especially if they’re not directly involved in it? Even if it were valid, I can’t see how much of it still stands once we clear away the inaccuracies and misrepresentations of Reese’s review.

I wonder if Reese did ANY research before trying to destroy this book. Maybe she should ask herself why she sees erasure and inaccuracy everywhere in this book when even the most casual Google search completely vindicates the Winters’ representations. At the very least she should retract her inaccurate statements and misleading intimations.

Sam Bloom said...

What I find interesting here, Sam, is that you begin (way way WAY up in your first comment) by stating that you don't wish to "lock horns" with anyone, but then you quote a tweet/comment that actually says, "I wonder if Reese did any research before trying to destroy this book." Which is pretty inflammatory and offensive. Not okay. That whole false narrative about Debbie "not liking anything" is also in there, and again, is ridiculous. Why do we continue to have this conversation? Have you ever stopped and wondered why Debbie, a foremost scholar on children's literature, continues to have statements like these made in her direction? How many other people have to deal with that, I wonder? You can quote and/or write a defense of this particular book without making comments like that. Again, this is NOT OKAY.

Anonymous said...

Sam, I don't contest Debbie Resse's scholarship, what I contest is her scene-specific TAKEDOWN of a book I feel is innocent of the charges she has made at her blog and elsewhere. No, she is NOT infallible, and neither does she rate a free pass after making serious accusations in a post at her site where she posted "NOT RECOMMENDED." When a book is taken over the coals like this one was I do believe it should be addressed in kind. I did NOT write this rebuttal -I found it linked on Twitter - but after reading through THE SECRET PROJECT numerous times I agree with it 99%. I fully respect and understand that you feel compelled to defend the integrity and legitimacy of Ms. Reese, but in this case I feel a similar need to defend the integrity and accuracy of the Winters' work, which I feel was unjustly maligned by this negative review. I have yet to see any attempt to even try to address Patrick J's findings.

Anonymous said...

Sam J. - you're making my case for me about why letting go, and the ability to separate personal passion from professional assessment, need to be prioritized in library school. Our goal here was to engage in nonbinary thinking and separate ourselves from our immediate, impassioned responses. Your response is an exercise in personal passion and binary thinking.

And you're making Debbie's case for her about the ever-growing pile of issues that are just "more important" than authentic Native rep. I wish I were surprised that she predicted this argument before you made it.

As Debbie has said over and over again, her analyses privilege Native children, not White readers, and not the intentions of the book creators. Your argument comes down to "it's not OK to privilege Native children in your analysis of this book".

And don't be all "I'm so sad, I don't want to lock horns" and then copy something from twitter into a 4-part post that assumes Debbie "did no research" (aside from, you know, living life as a Nambe Pueblo person) and was out to "destroy this book". This is the very definition of lip service. You want to argue, fine. Leave the passive aggressive defensive shield at home.

Debbie Reese said...

What is it, Sam. This morning you submitted an angry comment to my review at my site.

A few hours later, you apologized.

Now I see you're over here, saying I should "at the very least" retract "inaccurate statements and misleading intimations."

I retract nothing, Sam. Nothing. As I said in my review, the place that book is set is the homelands of my ancestors. I walk in those spaces. I know that place and its history.

I stand by all that I said.

Go back and read what I said, Sam. You're sharing Patrick J's review and think that because I did not reply, it must mean I'm afraid of what he said. He is wrong enough about what I said that I didn't know where to start. So I didn't.

I didn't raise a concern about the use of the word doll. My concern is with the depiction of it. Most people don't understand them. The way they're shown here doesn't help with that, at all.

Patrick J tries to do some kind of thing about "anti Pueblo" and "anti Hopi" that is odd. Does Patrick J--or you, Sam--know that Hopi is Puebloan, too? I know that, in part because my grandfather is Hopi.

So--Sam Juliano--how about YOU pick out specifically that you want me to respond to from Patrick J's comments, and do it ONE AT A TIME so I can respond succinctly. Do some of the work. Don't dump all of that on here or anywhere and say "she didn't respond" hinting that I can't because I'm afraid of Patrick J's "facts."

Debbie Reese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Reese said...

I went back to re-read what Patrick J said, and saw that Ed Sullivan gave it a one star (low rating) because it has inaccuracies of other kinds. Here's his review:

Although I do admire Jeanette Winter's vivid and detailed illustrations, there are serious problems here with the textual content. Other critics have already noted inaccuracies in the Native American references.

My expertise is in the Manhattan Project and I observed numerous problems in Jonah Winter's text. There was no "real name" for the bomb called the Gadget. "Gadget" was a euphemism for an implosion-type bomb that contained a plutonium core. Like the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Gadget was officially a Y-1561 device. The text is inaccurate in suggesting work at Site Y involved experimenting with atoms, uranium, or plutonium. The mission of Site Y was to create a bomb that would deliver either a uranium or plutonium core. The plutonium used in Gadget for the Trinity test was manufactured at a massive secret complex in Hanford, Washington. Uranium, used in the Hiroshima bomb, was manufactured at another massive secret complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

There are other factual errors I'm not going to go into here. Winter's audacious ambition to write a picture book story about the first atomic bomb is laudable but there are too many factual errors and omissions here to make this effort anything other than misleading.

Anonymous said...

"And don't be all "I'm so sad, I don't want to lock horns" and then copy something from twitter into a 4-part post that assumes Debbie "did no research" (aside from, you know, living life as a Nambe Pueblo person) and was out to "destroy this book". This is the very definition of lip service. You want to argue, fine. Leave the passive aggressive defensive shield at home."

Ah I see Allie, so Debbie's time living as a Nambe Pueblo person means she's carte blanche an expert and all-knowing on every intricacy projected in THE SECRET PROJECT. No writer or illustrator should finalize their own research without clearing it with her first. I see. This is similar to the way I've always been told about her brilliant scholarship and ability to see through and refute every argument poses by far less intelligent and distinguished people. I didn't assume Debbie did no research at all (you just said that), I simply presented a seemingly powerful and annotated case against her condemnation of a book that has received spectacular reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and numerous others, and presently is slated for a Caldecott qualification post at The Horn Book. Excuse me if I don't automatically buy into Debbie Reese's attempt to invalidate all the passion and overwhelmingly positive responses on the basis of what is tantamount to territorial privlege. Why do you ask me to "leave the passive aggressive defensive shield at home" as a result of following up my own clearly delineated reasons why I stand behind this picture book masterpiece? Did you not see or read my first comment above before I enlisted the most persuasive follow up argument by Patrict J.? I see what a prevailing mind set is at this site. So do many other professionals in the industry. I love the site's purpose, but am exasperated at the group think and willingness to always give free passes to people based on their implied prestige. One person makes a shaky determination and pulls rank and all the others become indignant at anyone who has the temerity to question those sentiments Debbie Reese is all over Twitter now even adding a post to her followers that the book should NOT win any Caldecott consideration. I read Debbie's review and I found much of it loaded with innuendo and assumptions. I don't need to separate my passion from professional assessment. I found nothing in this book that disparages Native American children. Nothing. if anything the book celebrates their rich culture and implies they are victims due to the tragic nature of these advancements.

The four-part post which you (and previously Sam) have complained about was necessitated by the matter of limited letter acceptance in the post. I attempted unsuccessfully several times to have it all in one post and then in two, but the length had to be broken down into four parts. I am remain aghast that after a critically-praised book -one repeatedly lauded by classroom teachers and critics- receives a pan by one person, albeit one who holds an unGodly level of sway with some fo the members, the book is all of the sudden no longer desirable. I've seen this happen here in the past. "I loved the book, but then after Debbie pointed some things out I feel so much differently."

Sad. She is hardly infallible, as the matter of this book has proven to the book community.

Anonymous said...

Debbie---The inaccuracies that you now point out to in Ed Sullivan's (love that name!) review have little to do with your issues about Native American misrepresentation but with names used for the nuclear aspect of the text.

You never brought that up in your original review, but yet you use it now. Obviously Sullivan's reference point to the Native American objections was to you, not to the overwhelmingly critical majority which once again includes Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly and an upcoming post at the Horn Book. Every book even the most praised will always get one or two minority dissents in the critical and/or blogger ranks.

Anonymous said...

"So--Sam Juliano--how about YOU pick out specifically that you want me to respond to from Patrick J's comments, and do it ONE AT A TIME so I can respond succinctly. Do some of the work. Don't dump all of that on here or anywhere and say "she didn't respond" hinting that I can't because I'm afraid of Patrick J's "facts.""

I am not one ever to dump work off on anyone else, and will spend all the time that is needed to sort this out. Yes I must say I am rather surprised that you haven't yet responded to a post that went up back in July, but that's neither here nor there. I will return to this post after I determine what I want to ask you, and am hopeful we can achieve a truce, not on our opposites view of the book's greatness but on the matter of teh scene-specific issues. Thank you for offering that here.

Debbie Reese said...

Oh---I see Sam J is using "majority makes right" claims he made before. What could be wrong with that?!

And why shouldn't I bring up Ed Sullivan's review? I wasn't looking at the content he was looking at when I did my review.

AND YES. There's a lot of chatter in children's literature circles about me and my reviews. Some--like you, apparently--don't like what I say. My reviews have nothing to do with intelligence. They have nothing to do with the ways a person may or may not be "distinguished" (your word, not mine). My reviews ask people to consider the ways Native people are--or are not--depicted in children's literature. If it isn't right, I'll say so.

One more and: who is Patrick J?

Anonymous said...

Debbie: As you politely asked me to present one matter at a time I will fist address the one you made a point of broaching in the above posting. You stated:

"I didn't raise a concern about the use of the word doll. My concern is with the depiction of it. Most people don't understand them. The way they're shown here doesn't help with that, at all."

I have the book in front of me right now and am looking at that page, which happens to be my favorite tableau in the entire book aside from the electrifying three page finale. Jonah Winter asserts: "Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries."

Right off Jonah injects positive energy and appreciation for this Native American group, and Jeanette offers up a soulful tapestry of a Hopi Indian carving a doll as a counterbalance to the destructive creativity going on behind closed doors. I am not sure what you mean when you say "people don't understand them" and why this would even adversely impact the celebratory aspects of the illustration for young readers. Further, I see nothing disparaging and why you feel that "the way they are shown here offers no help at all." How are they shown here. I see an engaged man in love with what he is doing.

Debbie Reese said...

Do you know what they are, Sam? To the people who make them?

Anonymous said...

Debbie, I do not know what they are to the people who made them as far as your scene- specific question goes. Are you implying that for Native American children this illustration is offensive?

Anonymous said...

The obvious connotation is to establish the disparity between spiritually imbued creativity and the destruction of the "other" creativity. Man connecting with nature and man destroying nature. Enhancing making of the doll is that it is being created with natural elements. Surely Native American children as well as white children would understand and appreciate that powerful contrast.

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Anonymous said...

I mean we all can see what we choose to see. I also see this as Native Americans showing respect for the environment while the white government emissaries are engaged in the worst violation of our resources. A passionate and responsible classroom teacher or librarian would surely point this out.

Debbie Reese said...

Ok. You do not know what they mean.

What you offered in your discussion of them is your interpretation of what they mean for the story, and why you think the Winter's put them in there.

You, and they, are using something from Hopi ways to make a point that works for you and the story they wish to tell.

Do you think their significance to the people who create them matters?

Debbie Reese said...

I think you're on a slippery slope, Sam.

With your "we choose" what we see, you seem to be saying their significance to the people who create them doesn't matter. You'll choose to ignore that because it is inconvenient to what you want it to mean.

Anonymous said...

"With your "we choose" what we see, you seem to be saying their significance to the people who create them doesn't matter. You'll choose to ignore that because it is inconvenient to what you want it to mean."

Not at all Debbie, not at all. You are using interpretive criteria to completely toss aside the central aim of this book. You still haven't answered what is objectionable in the illustration. Patrick J. claimed that you didn't really know how to launch an attack against it, so you staged a kind of landing pattern speculation. This entire book condemns white humanity for their senseless technological advancements, and used Native American culture to personify spiritual and creative nobility. Instead of celebrating that and how effective it has proven with young readers you go after specific details to flaunt your expertise as someone who lived among these people. I understand it is far more important for you to be the hero of pedantry than to be an environmental proponent. Au contraire, I think YOU are the one on the slippery slope and have been since you embarked on this ludicrous crusade in the name of exactness. YOU are the one who spread negative energy and read into things that didnt exist.

Anonymous said...

I have been advised to leave this discussion and I will. The Yankees game is coming up. I feel fully vindicated by a series of FB messages and e mails today from book authors, illustrators and writers who are appalled with Debbie Reese's charges and know well there is a group think here. Good luck.

I do what I do for a hobby because I love children's literature and enjoy teaching it.

Sam Bloom said...

Sam: YOU wrote a review of the book. Said plenty about it there. But that wasn't enough for you, so you went onto Debbie's blog post (from months ago) and made a comment there. But even THAT wasn't enough for you, so now you've come here and spent the entire day trying to start stuff with Debbie. Isn't that interesting? In the comments of this review - which by the way, wasn't written by Debbie - you've picked a fight. Don't try to deny it! That's exactly what this is. You love a book, and your feelings are hurt, so you're choosing to ignore what is right in front of your face. It is NOT Debbie's job to educate you. You are a grown man, do it yourself. And please take your thoughts for this book back to your own blog - we get that you love it. We get it. No one is attacking the book, or the Winters - who I assure you, will come out of this whole thing fine - so enough with the righteous anger. Just stop.

Sam Bloom said...

Wow, Sam - way to leave on such a ridiculously petty note. Unbelievable.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

I will never understand how you can just dismiss someone's entire life experience and ancestry based on the idea that you know better because you read something on Goodreads.
From a thousand things I could have picked out, this stands out to me, and that's Sam J's totally earnest assertion that this constitutes a defense of the content: it "used Native American culture to personify spiritual and creative nobility"
Dude, don't say "used" and "noble" in an attempt to demonstrate that someone is authentically and respectfully representing Native people. Unless you're being satirical.

Debbie Reese said...

Hey Sam--you said you're leaving, but just in case you peek over here to see if I have anything to say in response to your last comments, I'll say this:

I, too, have a series of FB messages and emails today from book authors, illustrators and writers who are appalled at what you're saying here and on your blog. But this is NOT a popularity contest of who has more support! This is a review that noted problems with content.

And please, everyone who is reading this thread, Sam said that the book "used Native American culture to personify spiritual and creative nobility." Don't go there. That's mascot land.

I offered to go through my review, with Sam, and he bailed. I think he bailed because he couldn't tell me what kachina dolls mean to the people who create them.

I wouldn't tell him, and I'm not going to say more about them here, either. That is an educational move on my part. I am not going to do a "tell all." Instead, I'm choosing not to share, thereby protecting our ways from appropriation.

I am not saying the Winter's appropriated anything in their book. I don't think they understood what they were doing. If they did, would they make that choice again?

Anonymous said...

No Debbie I did not "bail." I never bail on anything. I'll talk with you for days if you'd like. I disappeared here for two reasons. One was an internet message strongly urging me to cease responding to end the contentious dialogue, and the other was to watch the opening innings of the American League Division Series where our beloved New York Yankees are playing the Houston Astros. Alas, he game has not started off well for us.

I have also been told behind the scenes that the Winters can defend their own book, yet you are obviously not being left alone here to deal with me, as I have been ganged on here. Yeah I can alert others in my own circle, but what is the point? You just told me that concensus and popularity are insignificant yet several here are acting like I'm a serial killer on the loose.

Tonight I was also called a "white supremist" for my steadfast support of THE SECRET PROJECT. The absurdity of the statement was picked up by family and friends who of course know I have taught 35 years in a school district composed of 85% Hispanic and African American students, and that some of my close friends are Hispanic and African-American. I am a lifelong liberal Democrat who voted for Obama twice and worked hard against Donald Trump, and have served many years as a Democratic county committeeman. I defend books, whether they are written by whites, blacks, Hispanics or Asians. And unless there is concrete evidence of pictorial or texual malfeasance, I am always inclined to give the benefit of a doubt.

Debbie, the meaning of Kachina dolls is all over the internet, not to mention even on wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kachina Observe the sentence where it is asserted they are given to Native American children. You continue to balk on saying anything about the numerous counter charges in Patrick's rebuttal, and to this point have yet to respond to even a single one. Nothing online intimates that there is anything nefarious about the Native American crafting of these dolls nor about them being used as gifts for children.

Anonymous said...

The matter of there being "nothing around the school" has been attributed to ranches and ranching. Assuming this is a fact why would there be issues against an artistic decision consistent with this?

Anonymous said...

"And please, everyone who is reading this thread, Sam said that the book "used Native American culture to personify spiritual and creative nobility." Don't go there. That's mascot land."

Oh I went there and I'll go there again. Whether or not this was deliberately intended I feel the book gave a very positive and glowing picture of Native Americans. I'm there.

Anonymous said...

"I will never understand how you can just dismiss someone's entire life experience and ancestry based on the idea that you know better because you read something on Goodreads."

Easy Allie. Nothing said on Goodreads has been successfully refuted by Debbie or anyone else. And talk about calling the kettle black. You don't even want to think that there is even a possibility that even one aspect of the criticism was wrong. Much more important to keep the group think and site loyalties at all costs. As to Goodreads I've actually read plenty of insightful reviews there over the years.

Debbie Reese said...

Hey Sam J. -- you're back.

I asked you to tell me if you know what kachina dolls mean to the people who create them. You cited a Wiki page. That's outsider stuff. It isn't what they mean to the Hopi people.

I'm thinking, at this point, that we can say that you don't know.

You know what you read online and you're able to use that information to use something that has a great deal of spiritual significance to suit your need to say that the Winter's did a good thing. Last night, I said that I wouldn't tell you what they mean.

What I can say is that non-Native use of Native ways, going back for some time, turned into government policies that said it was appropriate for government officials to burn and confiscate things like kachina dolls and into policies that said "you can no longer worship in the ways you do." Did you know about that, Sam?

Did you know that one result of that is protocols tribal nations developed, specifically, to protect those items from outsiders? Did you, by any chance, look at the Hopi Nation's website?

Did you know that another result of that history is federal laws like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act?

Do you know anything about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act?

My point is that kachina dolls are not dolls. They are not a craft in the same way that you might do if you picked up a knife and whittled something.

And--I asked if you'd bring forth your points (and Patrick J's points) one at a time. So far, you brought up kachina dolls. I've offered what I can/will offer on that, but I think you're not going to accept it. You'll go with Wiki, and you're going to stick with that empty 'honor' rhetoric.

Debbie Reese said...

Sam -- here's my response regarding "nothing there."

If you recall, my review likened that 'nothing there' framework as similar to what we see in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, but there are many examples in which this continent is depicted as "empty" with "nobody" there.

When I see people say "nobody" -- I interpret it as an unconscious (and sometimes deliberate) justification for the taking of Native lands. The mindset goes something like this: "Nobody there! I'll take that. Oh---who owned it?! Too bad. Might makes right."

You're a teacher, right? Have you read AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz?

Reading While White said...

[This is posted on behalf of Sarah Hamburg, for whom blogger is not cooperating]

Debbie has already taken the time to respond in depth here, and her words speak for themselves.

There's something else in this whole exchange that I did want to note, because it keeps cropping up again and again within kidlit/YA, and that is white anger.

As Sam B. points out, Sam J. came into the comments of a months-old review on Debbie's site, and then brought his anger here too. In his comments, he challenges Debbie for not having responded point by point to an anonymous goodreads review. An anonymous goodreads review that belittles Debbie's work, experience, and expertise. An anonymous review that displays an insulting ignorance of the most basic facts as it insinuates that Debbie's critique originated in a conflict between Pueblo and Hopi nations. (An ignorance that Debbie patiently corrected here, without acknowledgment.)

Debbie offered a professional critique of a book, rooted in her deep experience and knowledge, and the response, as is so often the case, is white anger. I think it's time (long past time) for white people in this field to really sit with and take a long look at that anger. It's the same anger that comes when Native people push back against mascots, and those "noble" stereotypes Sam J. invokes here. It's the same white anger that comes when Native people assert their sovereign rights. It's the same anger that comes at the very idea that Native people possess knowledge that white people do not share -- and at a Native person saying "no" to sharing that knowledge. This destructive white anger is everywhere, and we white people need to own it and the damage it's doing within children's publishing... and work to change it.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I will no longer answer pile on comments anymore. And if I did I wouldn't even dignify your tone nor attitude. I will address Debbie and will ignore the Reading While White cheerleader brigade and group think. However I will address you here once anyway: In all my years of blogging I don't think I've ever encountered an "angrier" person than you. The issue is always second to going after the person. Your gross generalizations ("This destructive white anger is everywhere, and we white people need to own up to it and the damage it's doing within children's publishing") have nothing at all to do with this post, nor the scene specific issues at hand. And again with the Debbie Reese infallibility. Her review of THE SECRET PROJECT was rife with attitude, innuendo, false perception and allegations, an underlying resentment that Pueblo attedance was not addressed though the book was hardly about that. Instead of railing against the evils in the world like Howard Beale, maybe you should attend to the more important matter of verifying faulty evidence. That's where it starts. If children's literature needs some reform it is to reject the dictorial edicts of those who stand behind authorship and advanced degrees, and possess the power to seriously compromise books on the marketplace based on jaded perceptions. If Debbie is as exceptional as you claim (I don't doubt it) she doesn't need you rushing in. You are only confirming my points. I have asked my readership to avoid the corresponding thread at my site for the very reason.

Take a look in the mirror next time you make blanket assertions on anger en masse.

Anonymous said...

"What I can say is that non-Native use of Native ways, going back for some time, turned into government policies that said it was appropriate for government officials to burn and confiscate things like kachina dolls and into policies that said "you can no longer worship in the ways you do." Did you know about that, Sam?"

No I did not know that Debbie. And apparently neither did you when you wrote your review back on March 22, 2017, nearly seven months ago. If that was a deal-breaker with seriously vile and unacceptable ramifications you would have surely included it in your capsule under the illustration in question. Most likely you investigated some unknown-to-the-public (and unknown to authors, illustration and just about everyone else) only after the rightful objection was posed about your inexplicable opposition to the illustration. But let's take this another way. Let's accept your follow-up evidence based on an that admittedly horrific governmental act, how in any manner does that impact the reverence the Hopis had for these figures, and by extension how the Winters visualized them in that illustration. Then you state "What will readers make?" of the illustration showing an image of the doll hovering over the laboratory, as if there was real chance they wouldn't understand the obvious conuterpoint of soulful and spiritually inspired creativity vs. the creativity run amok behind closed doors. Some of my first graders even understood the concept, but for teachers it was pretty much a non-brainer. You asert that after this governmental intrusion, the items were sacred and not made accessible to outsiders. Does this include an illustration of the kachina doll by an "outsider?" YOU chose to interpret the hovering doll in the most cynical terms imaginabke, short of any sensible perception that it was unflattering. I'd have to believe Native American children may also be inspired by the tableau. I this case your ever critical eye has resulted in a bogus, unsubstantiated conclusion, in the trade "you saw what you wanted to see."

What you have done here Debbie is to completely put aside all the research and studies on the significance of kachina dolls (and I'm afraid it goes way beyond wikipedia, which you deride nose in the air--there is massive evidence by just using the google search engine as I did last night and today) to strip the valid and acknowledged name of these dolls to allow you a way out of this. Because there was a time the government violated Native American culture, there now is a complete revamp of waht these dolls meant to those who crafted them? Ha, pretty preposterous, and rather an insult to other Native American scholars, whom you feel you always trump.

Yes, I was on the Hopi Nation's website late last night. My wife, who was fascinated with the site, brought it up on her lap top. I also do know of the "Indians Arts and Crafts Act" and the "American Indians Religious Freedom Act." I've read about both. I'm also hoping you know about or have read "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety," which is a perfect choice to expand on THE SECRET PROJECT. So disengenuous of you to push the book's central theme under the rug to continue with long refined pedantry. But again, where was all of this seven months ago?

Anonymous said...


In Patrick J.'s lengthy missive he took issue with your contention here:

"It wasn't a dirt road, though. By then, Santa Fe had paved roads. Showing it as a dirt road contributes to the isolated nature of where the scientists were doing their work, but it isn't accurate."

A photo of the exact road from 1945 was provided for conclusive proof to mitigate any "Yes it was, no it wasn't" discourse. What wasn't accurate was your claim. Physical evidence speaks for itself.

Debbie Reese said...

Everyone: I am spinning my wheels talking to Sam. He's going to knock back anything I say.

Somewhere in this discussion, Sam said that THE SECRET PROJECT is up for discussion at the Calling Caldecott blog at Horn Book. For Sam and anyone else who is where he is in understanding Native history, or Hopi history, or Pueblo history, I think I'll work on another review of the book, going into the sort of detail that will--hopefully--help in ways that what I already wrote do not (for Sam, at least).

I deliberately chose what to and what not to share when I pointed to the kachina dolls. Because of history, we draw curtains on what we share. Seven months ago, and going forward, I will draw those curtains, as our elders have done--to protect us.

Regarding the dirt road into Santa Fe, here's a link to a screen capture of that page in the book. It looks like a dirt road in an isolated place, leading right into the Santa Fe Plaza. I do not think that is an accurate rendering.

As for the "photograph" of Santa Fe that Patrick linked to? That's not a photograph. It is a postcard. Here's what Patrick J linked to: http://manhattanprojectvoices.org/sites/default/files/La%20Fonda%20Wikimedia%20commons%20edited.jpg

When he loaded that on Goodreads, I thought it a bit silly that he was using a vintage postcard as evidence to refute what I said. Go to the Wiki page for La Fonda. You'll see there, "Vintage postcard featuring La Fonda."

Because THE SECRET PROJECT is nonfiction, I think it ought to be accurate. And because it is set in my home state, where I grew up, and in the homelands of my ancestors, I damn sure want it to be accurate.

I'll note, too, that photographs of that time period were made into post cards and similar items to entice people to visit New Mexico. The photos were manipulated, though, to make the area seem more isolated, more romantic... kind of like Jeanette Winter's did with her art. Pretty, yes. Accurate, no.

For example, Dr. Matthew Martinez's research compares the actual photos with the post cards made from them. He showed that a photograph that showed glass windows in a Pueblo house was changed in the post card. No glass in the window. Just the hole. In one photo where Pueblo women are baking bread in outdoor ovens, they're using a metal bucket like a stool. In the post card, the bucket is gone, replaced by a stump. In others, the electric lines that run over the houses are removed.

A lot of the photographs were manipulated, too, by the way! For example, people love the photos that Edward Curtis took, but they can't be used uncritically. He was after the "vanishing" Indian image rather than reality.

Sam Bloom said...

Hey Sam, here's what you wrote in your second comment on Debbie's post (found here - https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2017/03/not-recommended-secret-project-by-jonah.html):

Debbie Reese, I apologize for my quick-tempered Italian American behavior in the previous post. It was uncalled for. Your site has been linked to my own sidebar for a few years now, so I do feel you are a vital voice. I do love THE SECRET PROJECT though and feel that despite the issues you have with it, it is in the end a powerful cautionary tale. I stated my full position at the corresponding post at READING WHILE WHITE.

I'm very sorry.

^^^ To me, this is where it should have stopped. You love the book, you saw a few negative reviews, you got mad, you apologized. It happens to the best of us sometimes.

Let me just say this (and I think this goes for ANY book): you're allowed to love the book. Seriously, you are. No one is going to stop you. But you've let your affection for a book lead to anger (with apologies to Yoda) and, as we've seen before, when you get angry you just don't seem to be able to stop. But let's be clear, this is not a "pile on" - no one here came looking for you, tried to argue with you on your site. In the past few months I've noticed you mentioning this book on Calling Caldecott and other spots - never jumped in and told you I disagreed. Neither did Debbie. Neither did Sarah, or anyone else from RWW. If this were a "pile on," we would have come and commented on YOUR post. But we didn't... YOU went to Debbie's site, and then YOU came here, so enough with the poor me thing you've got going on. You brought this on yourself - if you want it to stop, back away from your keyboard and go on with your life. I promise you, the last thing I personally plan on doing is visiting your website and/or reading any more of your reviews.

But first: I encourage you to try that apology again, because Debbie definitely deserves it. You've treated her like crap, and while it seems obvious to me, that is not okay and it needs to stop.

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Anonymous said...

Part 1 (necessitated by length)

Sam, you sent me a nasty and intimidating private message, accusing me of being a white supremist, because I liked this book. YOU are the one who should be issuing apologies. That preposterous statement was not only the height of ignorance but more inflammatory and slanderous than any other statement made on this thread! You also told me that Jonah and Jeanette Winter can fight their own battles and that they would come out of this fine, yet you are more aggressive than any other respondant on this entire thread, periodically running to the defense of someone (Debbie Reese) who according to your own stated philosophy should be left to conduct her own discussion. I have steadfastly stuck to the matter at hand, which is what I have felt was an unfair and misguided takedown of a book. I have not engaged in name calling (i.e. the angry white male company card and some personal innuendos) but have remained on course.

Don't even try to tell me this is not a pile on. That's EXACTLY what it is! And you've been the ringleader. Your lack of respect for me on this thread, wrought out of a lap dog desire to defend someone you feel is infallible is what stands out most in the disrespect department. Why not stick by the issues of the book instead of barreling in here with this disgraceful attempt at intimidation and disparagement. Debbie INVITED and ENCOURAGED a step by step discussion of the book. I engaged her and this morning saw her and late last night saw her fair, measured and respectful latest comment, which I was preparing to answer in kind this morning. Then I get on here and read this sickening and ultra-aggressive attempt to turn the tables on me and divert attention from the matter at hand. It seems to me that you are doing everything you can to steer readers AWAY from a legitimate discussion of the issues in Patrick J.'s rebuttal, issues that Debbie Reese herself has eagerly pledged to address and which despite your lamentable attempts to obsficate has indeed been doing well. Why do you feel you need to periodically intrude to remind the RWW children's book world that Ms. Reese is above and beyond even the slightest hint of misrepresentation and that any attempt to compromise her supreme authority equates to personal disrespect? And then the request for an apology? Why? We are talking about a book here point by point. YOU are the one who is taking this discussion as some kind of a personal affront and trying very hard to make your readers believe the entire affair is fueled by some type of personal dislike and resentment. I have continued to maintain the link to Debbie Reese's site on my own site sidebar because I feel she is a vital voice in the community regardless of the differences I've had with her on some books.

You bring up that you, Debbie and Sarah didn't descend on The Horn Book where I previously had voiced love and support for THE SECRET PROJECT on a few Calling Caldecott threads. I am hardly the only person who has spoken highly of the book and this includes the generally spectacular reviews it has received from the most well-respected book critics.

Anonymous said...

Not at all concerned about you looking at or reading my reviews (have you ever even done so?), as if such a matter even needed to be brought up here. I write them with much encouragement from the children's book community. If that community waere to send me signals that it would be best to cease this annual series, I will do. The point is that I do not write them for you. Also, please don't hold the matter of you and others not going over to my site. My readers can handle themselves quite well. I deliberately send out a group e mail imploring them not to become involved, so as not to exacerbate a tense situation. Apparently YOU have not acted in kind.

I again call on you to STOP trying to interfere with the progress Debbie and I have made here. I actually LOVED her last comment above and will tell her so in my next comment. I ask to abandon this apology/respect tact and either join the discussion in a fruitful way or ignore it. You've done so much for children's literature and for the time I've known you I have greatly respected that. I referred to you a few weeks ago to someone else as a "Prince." While obviously we can't conclude it is any longer mutual, I ask you to allow Debbie to hold center stage and end the attempt to dismiss me on grounds that have ZERO to do with the matter at hand.

Thank you.

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Anonymous said...

"Everyone: I am spinning my wheels talking to Sam. He's going to knock back anything I say."

Debbie, I don't see it as a matter of me trying to "knock back" your responses here, but just as it being the back and forth nature of a discussion that I feel is moving forward well. I appreciate this focused and congenial last comment and I will respond in kind.

Yes I did recognize it was a postcard and nearly wrote "photo/postcard." I did not consider the possibility of manipulation, thinking to myself what would ultimately be the purpose to do so. But yes you are right that it could have been manipulated. I have working hard all morning to find more pictorial evidence, though I must be honest with you here. I never found this particular objection in Patrick J's rebuttal as important as the others, since it seems to me the matter of the dirt road was in transition duing the first half of the 40's. Unless I can find any evidence to the contrary I am inclined to say the jury is still out on the matter of the dirt road, a factor that weighs in your corner for now. Hopefully the matter can be cleared up with further research. I looked at the screen caps you posted above from your review,, and do regard the evidence you provide from Dr. Matthew Martinez persuasive.

In your original March 22 review you stated in conclusion: "I suspect that people will defend it, telling me or others that "it is important that kids know about the bomb" and that my concern over its misrepresentations are of less importance than knowing about the bomb." OK, THIS is precisely my position in regards to THE SECRET PROJECT. I know you feel that with non-fiction you demand vigilant accuracy. This is not an unreasonable position. There are others I respect who agree. My position remains that because THE SECRET PROJECT did not disparage Native Americans and clearly celebrated their creativity in the shadow of the powers who endanger the world, the matter of alleged misrepresentations either by erasure or by inclusion do not negatively impact nor remotely compromise one of the most POWERFUL, SEARING and HEART-BREAKING books in a very long time. Jeanette Winter's illustrations are stunning and they hit the bulls-eye with their target audience while they are extraordinarily beautiful.

I remain convinced the book paints Native American culture glowingly.

I am sorry I got heated up, and really do respect your vast knowledge on the subject and vital concern for proper depiction of Native American culture. Yes I really do adore this book and will continue to promote it with vigor, but never again at your expense in any way. I lament Sam (Bloom's) previous comment, but I do agree we should conclude here.

Thank you for engaging me Debbie. And thank you too for that most civil and resonable response.

Debbie Reese said...

Sam Juliano--come on, now.

Do you really not see the problems in the ways you're speaking about me in your comments in this thread? I find your disparagement tiring, and I'm grateful to others in the thread who are asking you to step away from doing that.

I will say this:

Do you really not see how you--a White man from the East Coast--is dismissing the words of a Native woman from the very place this book is set?

Do you really not see how you--a White man from the East Coast--is telling me, a Native woman with the very ancestry being depicted in the book that I'm wrong to object to how my peoples spirituality is being used by the Winter's and interpreted by you? You are intent on telling me that you and the Winter's know best. Come on, Sam. Really?

I'm ignoring all of your disparaging remarks here because I am focused on a book that I find lacking in merit. It is lacking, Sam. I will never say "oh, Sam is right" because you are not right. Champion the book all you want. That won't make it right.

You have good intentions. The Winter's have good intentions. I hate that I feel obliged to say that, but I do. Over and over, I say "they meant well." I believe you do. I believe they do, too. But there are things you and they do not know. Things that I know. Your lack of knowing and their lack of knowing is part of a far larger societal lack of knowing that centers Whiteness. I'm trying to de-center all of that.

Now, back to my second look at the book. It is a follow up review that will have far more detail in it than the one I did in March. This exchange with you shows me that saying more is necessary.

Oh--you ought to go back to Goodreads and read a bit more. I see you citing Betsy Bird's review. You apparently didn't notice the comments to it.

The first comment to Betsy is from Donalyn Miller, who asked Betsy if she'd seen my review. In reply, Betsy said "I did! And I think it makes some excellent points that I completely missed in this review."

The third comment there is from Edward Sullivan (I pasted his review earlier in this long thread), who said "Lots of factual errors and omission in this one. An audacious attempt but a sketchy result."

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"I'm ignoring all of your disparaging remarks here because I am focused on a book that I find lacking in merit. It is lacking, Sam. I will never say "oh, Sam is right" because you are not right. Champion the book all you want. That won't make it right."

Debbie, what I am stating on this thread is not to be proven "right." Art and perceptions to it are subjective. There isn't any right or wrong here. I stated a position I am entitled to as a teacher, a writer and a children's book enthusiast. I see your points, but they do not overide the staggering accomplishment of this work. The ones about "erasure" are not being shared by a good many people, a few of whom have now placed comments on my own site thread. You do grant me that right? I am not taking to you as a Native American woman, I am talking to you as an academically gifted and vastly accomplished fellow American. You have taken the position as per your site's understandable viligence to misrepresentations. I don't myself have that central focus and unless there is a clear case of disparagement or intentioned slights I usually go beyond that.

As to the matter of others rallying behind you at this site, yes you will always have the charter membership ("I've got your back") in the same manner that readers at Wonders in the Dark are traditionally very supportive. What is erroneously being farmed as "disparagement" is my effort to discuss this put in a civil and scene-specific manner. I think we have reached the mutual respect stage here, please, please let's not back track.

I have indeed seen the comment under Betsy Bird's review and her response. I am waiting to see if she eventually amends her position on the book. In any case I haven't seen any others even remotely alter their original positions.

I will head your advice here and spend more time today further investigating Good Reads and look forward to your second review of the book, which will be a first day read for me of course.

Anonymous said...

Just to redefine where we stand apart at this point:

You feel that non-intentional issues of alleged mistrpresentations and or omissions are enough to disquality a book as art and or to diminish its ultimate greatness.

I most certainly do not.

This has zero to do with me being a lifelong East Coast dweller and you having lived in Native American turf, but rather a stated position on my personal aesthetic. Short of painting Native Americans in a NEGATIVE manner, which for all your objections it does NOT (nor have you said it has done in fact) I stand behind this amazing book.

Jean Mendoza said...

Sam (not Sam Bloom, but Sam writing as Lucille Juliano),

You can't help but respond to Debbie as a Native woman/scholar/critic because that is the essence of the stance she takes in her reviewing. And do you not see that by insisting that you are NOT going to talk to her as a Native American woman, you're essentially turning your back on aspects of her identity/self/ that inform her critique of the work in question? Do you not see that as a kind of erasure? She's never going to be who you are. But from her position as a Native woman/scholar/critic, she can inform your understanding of what that book does and doesn't do. You may not like what she has to say -- in fact, you obviously don't like it -- but you don't get to claim insider knowledge of Hopi/Pueblo culture. Well, you could claim it, I suppose, but you would be off-base if you did. Debbie is someone people -- authors and editors and scholars and parents -- listen to because not only is she "academically gifted and vastly accomplished" but also because she's writing/talking about things she knows about.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hello Jean. I received this comment at my site that addressed the main thrust of your position so I'll share it here:

"The idea that a person needs to be “of” a culture in order to critique its representations begs the question of what being “of” a culture even means, and is also counterfactualThe world is full of bona fide experts on cultures, ethnicities, and religions who are not of those identity marker areas. Profs. Arthur Spears, Paul Johnson, Eric Foner, and Amy Jill Levine all come to mind. Moreover, being “of” a culture does not ipso facto make a person an expert. I know little, for example, of the Roman Catholic code of canonical law, and I daresay that most Roman Catholics don’t, either."

(sorry about the log in, which began under my dear wife's google account, which I maintained on teh thread.)

Yuyi Morales said...

I have suggestions to make. A lot of what has been said here in the discussion has already been repeated many times already. Actually, in my opinion, it seems as if the forefront of the discussion has been the review of Patrick J, a person who is not even here to make his questions himself, and who is rather insulting of Debbie in his way of speaking of her work. So, my first suggestion is if we can speak for ourselves and stop demanding that Debbie goes and responds to an insulting posting made months ago in another site. Can we own our own voices here for this conversation? My other suggestions is to inspects our emotions about this discussion. I don’t suggest for emotions to be put aside, but rather to examine them and work to understand them, since I believe that emotions when worked to become conscious can bring us to a place of more light. One more suggestion; could the team of RWW pause and help us resume what has been said so that together we could make a review of what has been learned so far? Really, what have we learned?
Sammy, I always love your enthusiasm for books, but I would offer the thought that between a book and people, it is always people who matters the most. Can we see the way people is being hurt instead of choosing to defend the beauty of a book? I can’t speak for the Winters, but, I think that even them might agree that the ones who matter here the most are people, and mostly children—all of them, and not only some.

Anonymous said...

Yuyi, people do matter the most absolutely. It isn't even close. Yes this entire thread got out of hand and I am certainly a good part of the reason it did. Some of the same has been going on at my own site, though I am trying to discourage more comments there. In any case it isn't on the same scale remotely as it has been here. At this point after reviewing all the facts, commentary and opinions, I remain as certain as ever that the Winters have produced a picture book masterpiece. But Debbie Reese's vital voice remains firmly implanted on a link on my site sidebar, and as long as the site is there she will be there. She has offered so much to children's literature over many years.

I respect you and your work immensely and regard you as one of the most beautiful human beings I've ever had to pleasure to meet online. You also have given the world a number of masterpieces. Did I let my enthusiasm get out of hand and is it possible I hurt someone's feelings here? The answer obviously is in the affirmative. I will go along with whatever you suggest here. Would you recommend that all the comments on this thread be deleted from the point where I orginally entered? I have come to conclusion myself that this would be a wise course of action. If you and the moderators here at Reading While White agree, I think we can have some closure.

People and children do come first. There can never be any question to that my friend. Thank you for your passionate intervention.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Reading While White moderators (Sam, Ali, Sarah, etc.) would you consider deleting this entire thread from the point where I first appeared?

My heartfelt apologies to all.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Sam J., while I appreciate your discomfort at this moment, your apology feels performative. I wish I could be as calm and constructive as Yuyi right now, and certainly Sam and I will work on recapping what we've learned from this comment series, but the short answer to your question re: deleting comments is a firm no. Do you realize that in asking us to delete the thread starting from where you came in, you are also asking us to erase Debbie's voice, and the scholarship that she so generously shares?

If your apology really is heartfelt, start taking some genuine responsibility. It's OK to push pause for 48 hours and come back with a "real" apology. Lord knows that's a lesson I still need to internalize. But right now your apology isn't real, and your asking us to delete your comments confirms that. Because if it were real, you'd be pointing others to your comments, highlighting where you (because you are human) messed up, and encouraging others to learn from the mistakes you made.

You really can push pause and come back. We'll all still be here.

Yuyi Morales said...

Sammy, I believe that true learning happens when we can transform ourselves. If I were you I wouldn’t delete your comments because from where I see it, the most powerful learning that this conversation gives us is that we are having it! We are making books for the children who soon will be the adults of what is the most powerful nation in the world. Wow, our responsibility with humanity blows my mind! We cannot be silent nor deaf about such a responsibility. Let’s speak up, let’s have discussion, let’s listen, and let’s grow together into the best version of book creators and book lovers we can be. I know it is not going to be easy, but we can start doing it.
My partner tell me that the Mexican Zapatistas say this about peace: Peace can only exist with justice and dignity. Peace, and let’s continue the dialog.

Anonymous said...


I don't think I need 48 hours, I've slept on it.

Two years ago during a heated comment thread under A FINE DESSERT Debbie in public called on me to retire from my teaching position. The implications of that statement go above and beyond the differences stated in this thread. Debbie soon caught herself and apologized on a follow-up post written by Betsy Bird at SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL.


My reaction was swift. Within minutes I accepted her apology graciously:

"Debbie, no problem. I also apologize to you for my less than hospitable comments. I know that discussion heated up, but I think we are all the more wiser for it. I know you are a lovely person."

I did not try to score political points by holding her apology in abeyance. I did not question the authenticity of her peace branch. I did not liken her gesture as performative, or imply that her entreaty was disingenuous. Yet you choose to treat me -a 63 year old father of five and veteran educator- as a child who needs to understand the error of his ways.

Comments continue to pour in at WONDERS IN THE DARK under my review about Debbie's responses on this thread. I have attempted to stem the mounting indignation, but like you Allie I cannot and will not delete or erase any comments made. Some of these people have volunteered their time and energy and they can't be shown any disrespect. I am well aware that I have the ability on my end here to delete every comment made on this thread made by me. In view of your decision so as not to slight Debbie's contributions and Yuyi's subsequent heartfelt plea, I will not delete anything I posted.

However, unless Yuyi -one of the loveliest and genuine human beings I've ever connected with (not to mention a mover of mountains in children's literature and a maker of masterpieces) sustains dialogue in the noble spirit of her moving plea here, I will simply withdraw. Debbie tried to destroy a book and was called on misconceptions, false information and a personal agenda on the Pueblos. Her indignation throughout helped to fuel the contentious tone of this thread though I too as I admitted was no slacker in that department either. My feelings were hurt like Debbie's were. I was ludicrously charged with white supremacy, yet some of the tactics at this place are very much like what a white supremist would do or say. Debbie refuses to own up to anything she says, and steadfastly refuses even to compromise an inch. One simply cannot reason with such a mindset.

I love you Yuyi Morales.

Melissa S. Green said...

Wow. I just read through this entire thread. Wow again.

On the topic of the (now abandoned) proposal to delete comments: I'm glad to see they'll stay. "Reading While White," after all — this conversation with all its contentiousness has a lot to teach on that very subject.

Sam Juliano (in the last Lucille Juliano post) says "Debbie tried to destroy a book." Um, no. She wrote a review that said "not recommended." She gave reasons for her negative recommendation. "Recommendation" always leaves the reader the choice whether. That's a far cry from an attempt to "destroy."

I understand you're a teacher. Then you already know: words have meaning.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Not quite Melissa. She also went onto Twitter, linking my own glowing review of the book as "misguided." She is well aware too that a non-recommendation from her has in the past compromised the success of books, and she felt she needed to inform her Twitter followers that someone (myself) was out there promoting the book as a Cadecott Medal Contender, which is something she simply can't fathom.

This is all semantics. Her non-recommendatiosn have damaged other books, but no point to go into that further. So yeah the word "destroy" here is accurate.

I'm equally happy that the contentious nature of many of the comments at WONDERS IN THE DARK will remain too. Hopefully others will pick up on the deliberte misuse of power, and the absurdity of group think.

Melissa S. Green said...

Mr. Juliano: "She is well aware too that a non-recommendation from her has in the past compromised the success of books..."

I don't find that argument at all convincing. That's one of the primary points of reviews in the first place: the reviewer trying to influence booksellers & readers & award-givers in their choices.

So there you are trying to influence people that this book is deserving of the Caldecott Medal, & there she is trying to influence them that it's not. But in the end, every person who reads your review & every person who reads hers still get to make up their own minds, including the people who actually award the Caldecott Medal.

Still a far cry from "destroy."

The best I can parse from all of this is that you object to her having a different opinion of this book than you do, you object that she doesn't accept your explanations of the things about the book that she has criticized, and those are things you simply cannot fathom, & it makes you angry.

Anonymous said...

"The best I can parse from all of this is that you object to her having a different opinion of this book than you do, you object that she doesn't accept your explanations of the things about the book that she has criticized, and those are things you simply cannot fathom, & it makes you angry."

Melissa, with all due respect you will of course come to that conclusion. You will always see it from her point of view. There wasn't one chance in a million you would have seen it from my way. But that's OK. I stated earlier in the thread that it would play out that way, but I came over here anyway to make what I felt were some urgent points and some marked injustice. You won't ask though why Debbie Reese has unsuccessfully addressed all the specific points connected to her faulty and agenda-ridden criticisms of the book. But you know what? I've really overstayed my welcome here, and am moving any further discussion of THE SECRET PROJECT or Debbie Resse's criticisms over to my site WONDERS IN THE DARK and down the road to THE HORN BOOK.

Thank you for being polite and fair in your responses to me here, but if you do respond I can't return. I will not be getting the last word here, and that's fine.

Melissa S. Green said...

Mr. Juliano, you begin your reply to me, "with all due respect" — and then go on to show a complete lack of respect.

You do not know me, you do not know my mind, you do not know my opinions about this book, about how I might have been influenced about the book by your respective reviews, about this discussion, or about its participants other than those I've disclosed in my prior two comments.

And yet you have the audacity to claim to know my mind and opinions: "you will of course come to that conclusion. You will always see it from her point of view. There wasn't one chance in a million you would have seen it from my way."

That's not respect. That's making judgments of me based on your own preconceptions. It's respect's exact opposite.

(You also completely sidestepped the issue that was under discussion between us: the difference between "destroying" books vs. giving them negative reviews.)

Asking my opinion would have been far more respectful. My answers might even have surprised you in some ways.

But, since you'd have to return to ask, but "even if you do respond I can't return," I don't suppose we'll ever know.

Anonymous said...

"Asking my opinion would have been far more respectful. My answers might even have surprised you in some ways.
But, since you'd have to return to ask, but "even if you do respond I can't return," I don't suppose we'll ever know."

Well then, fair enough Melissa, I'll listen to you. My comment was mainly to address the site propensity not you in particular. I've yet to receive one comment from anyone seeing it from my point of view though everywhere else including at my own site it has been the polar opposite. But fair enough. I look forward to what you say if you are still willing to say it.

I do not feel I have sidestepped the issue of "destroying" at all. Debbie wrote a review at her site, and she tweeted against favorable reviews but perhaps most tellingly she went OUT OF HER WAY to post her negative ONE STAR REVIEW at Amazon, the place where so many order their books! It was not enough for her to take down the book, she also attempted to influence potential buyers to avoid the book. If that isn't trying to destroy a book, then what is it? Her grading pulled down what would have been a nearly five-star rating to a four, but the review itself no doubt made some pause. Why not leave a review stand on its own terms? Why go after the book directly on the marketplace? If the response here is that Ms. Reese has a habit of posting all or most of her reviews on Amazon (can't really say if she does or not without looking)then my strong objection here applies to the practice in general. That book didn't disparage anyone to deserve that scathing takedown at Amazon. At the end of her review aimed at people pondering a purchase she again reminds them: "This Book is Not Recommended." Of course she was the lone one-star review.

Out to destroy the book is absolute here. If her intent was only to influence her Native American readers why go to a place where EVERYONE buys? Why not keep it at your own place? She was not playing nice here at all.

Yuyi Morales said...

This is interesting, Sammy, because it goes to the heart of what children’s literature is about. Bear with me while I try to say what I see. You say that if Debbie’s intentions were to influence her Native America reader why go to a place where EVERYONE buys? And I think you go to a very important point there! Because—and people can correct me here— some reviewers are comming with a more critical eye are saying that books hurt when they misrepresent, and they don’t only hurt the people misrepresented (and I am not making a case here about whether The Secret Project does that), but it also hurts any readers who learn to dismiss the misrepresentation of people of color or First Nations, or others. It hurts everybody when someone is misrepresented or erased. It hurts our empathy, our recognition of the other, our understanding of the other, it hurts you and me as well. That is what I see Sammy. Like you, I feel a lot of passion about this. I actually believe that those in this conversation are here because we care deeply; and I admire that very much about you.

Beverly Slapin said...

So, Sam, I’m jumping in a little late here, and I’ll keep my comments short. Are you saying or implying that a Native woman who grew up in the area in which this book takes place and who has relatives who still live there, who is a scholar by virtue of both life experience and long, hard study, who can easily look at and deconstruct a series of picture postcards, who cares deeply about how Native and other children’s lives are affected by these kinds of books, and who is willing to go to any depths to protect them—doesn’t know what she’s talking about because you know how to use Wikipedia and won’t step back to consider the truths and the importance of someone else’s (especially an Indian woman’s) life’s work? (I wrote, “especially an Indian woman” because you consistently refer to Indian people in the past tense.)

And another thing: You seem to take great pride in the fact that you teach (or taught, I forget which) mostly Black and Latino children, yet you used the term, “the pot calling the kettle black”! Are you aware that that is a racist term that goes back at least decades? Do you even know what it means?

You need to back off and think about things. OK, I’m done for now.

Anonymous said...
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Melissa S. Green said...

{PART 1}

Mr. Juliano: glad you came back after all.

The likely reason you see similarity of opinion here is that people here were attracted to this blog through their common interest in its topic of racial diversity & inclusion in children's literature. I'll bet there's some form of self-selection at your site too, accounting for similarity of opinion there. You've commented several times here about "group think" — it'd be easy to answer you: take a look at the "group think" at your own site. But then really look at what people say. All the followers of your blog have their own minds. If they agree with you on some things, chances are they disagree on others. Chances are that when they agree with you, their reasons aren't always the same as yours.

Same here.

I've only been here today. I didn't know of this blog until today. I'm here not as an educator or librarian, but as a reader & a writer & a plain old human being who is & all my life has been concerned about racism & other types of prejudice. I've read all my life about racism, the Holocaust, slavery, the "manifest destiny" genocide of Natives in the Lower 48 & (since my move to Anchorage in 1982) Alaska, misogyny, anti-LGBT bigotry...all of which informs what I'm trying to write about. I've published a little, not a lot, because life & all its disruptions —

— but when I do…? This. stuff. matters. I’m thrilled to find this blog because what they're talking about here matters to me. As a human being, yes, but especially as a writer. As a writer who "happens" to be white — who also happens to be a woman, who also happens to be a lesbian — who doesn't want to erase or pretend away the harms done to people different from me (race, sex, religion, color...) any more than I want to erase or pretend away the harms done to people like me. Any more than I want to erase or pretend away the genius & beauty & strength of them. This isn't just a matter of "political correctness" or "group think" or whatever the hell you want to call it. I think you care about this. I think so do the people here. I know that I do.

I hope you're listening.

I'm proud to say that I myself personally have gone OUT OF MY WAY to give one-star reviews on Amazon to books deserving of so low a rate. Oh yeah, right to the market. The one-star review I'm most proud of is for a Nordic noir thriller called Snow Angels by James Thompson. If you look it up on Amazon, you'll notice that my review was one of the miniscule 6% minority of one-star reviews given to this novel. Snow Angels got five-star reviews at 37%, four-star 37% — a "A Booklist Best Crime Novel Debut" — shortlisted for an Edgar Award, that most prestigious award of the Mystery Writers of America.

This guy's book sales suffered minimally if at all for my negative review, especially given his book was published in December 2009, my review (entitled "This book's real title is the two-word slur repeated 20+ times," read the review to learn what the slur was) not till a belated June 2013. If only I'd come across it sooner (had read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books sooner, become interested in Nordic noir sooner, came across Finnish nordic noir sooner — I, half of whose ‘white’ness comes from being Finnish-American) — maybe I could've done more to squash this novel's ugly rubbernecking misogynist racism, & the effect it had on upholding the unexamined misogynistic racism of the wider white reading public.

Seriously. Even now I read other people's reviews of this book on Amazon & Goodreads & despair.

Melissa S. Green said...

{PART 2}
A couple of points here.

Amazon has set itself up to make reader reviews easy. Nobody has to "go out of their way" to review anything. It’s easy. It’s always been easy. It’s made easy because Amazon wants and encourages reviews by readers. More recently (past year or so), Amazon has changed itself to privilege Verified Purchase reviews. Reviews by people who bought it elsewhere, or never bought it at all, will still be shown, but only if the customer isn’t too lazy to look for them. Otherwise, reviews by Amazon by Amazon-verified purchasers are most likely to be seen by a would-be purchaser. And so: even negative reader reviews seen by would-be purchasers will most likely be by reviewers who still contributed income to Amazon, & to the author.

The author and illustrator of The Secret Project, and Amazon itself, profited directly from Debbie Reese’s Verified Purchase. Whether or not they lost income from her associated one-star review…? That’s less clear.

Amazon is set up to make profits for its shareholders, secondarily for the publishers & writers whose works are distributes through Amazon. I’m not an economist, nor particularly a fan of capitalism, but as a writer & would-be published writer — there you go. We live in a capitalist society that glorifies “the market,” & so that’s the territory wherein social justice discussions get discussed. Get fought out. What’s the market share on racism? On unexamined white privilege?

Again, I'm no economist, but even as your bog-standard random American citizen it's pretty obvious to me that issues of race, gender, sex — all the social justice stuff — are negotiated as much (if not more so) in the market as in the realms of court & law & government. People who seek justice need to attend as much if not more so to the market as to the courts & law & government — especially if they seek to preserve the welfare of their people, their kin, their children.

The shorter version of this is:

(1) Debbie Reese hasn't had to go "out of her way" to post one-star reviews of books that she sees as endangering the welfare of Natives: Amazon makes posting any kind of review easy, & encourages it! and profits from it!

(2) In my short acquaintance with Debbie Reese's efforts, I see her use of Amazon reviews & reviews on the AICL website as being well within standard views of what's "fair" in the marketplace ("let the market decide!” all the capitalists declaim).

(3) Even so, her work, the work of this blog, the work of all the writers this blog seeks to bring recognition to, is at a disadvantage. Because the market only pays attention to this what the people here care about if it brings a profit.

(4) But if Debbie Reese & other people who visit this blog can get writers & illustrators & publishers to change their depictions of the world for the better by hitting them in the pocketbook, then all power to them. I’m happy to help.

Melissa S. Green said...

{PART 3}

ut then I come back to the book. The Secret Project. I haven’t read the book. I’ve read this book, I’ve read your review of it, I’ve read Debbie Reese’s review of it. Here’s how the two of you have influenced me:

I wish it didn’t make the mistakes it made.

I grew up in northwest Montana, have been an Alaskan since 1982 — I’ve always lived on lands that belonged to other peoples before me: the Salish/Kootenai, the Dena'ina. Those peoples still live. In her review Debbie Reese observed an elite boy’s school — Los Alamos Ranch School — whose students were “not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time.” Of course not: local kids wouldn’t have qualified — local kids wouldn’t be “elite”, because they wouldn’t have been white. The very school whose loss is mourned (at least as I can tell from the reviews: I haven’t yet read the book) is a white school built on lands already stolen from the Pueblo people. And the emptiness of the land, otherwise…? It wasn't empty. But even when Natives are there, we white people have a bad habit — often a willful habit — of not seeing them.

I wish the book didn’t make those mistakes. Because you in your review, & others here, have convinced me about this this book. How through its artistry it teaches the horror that lay behind the beauty of this place, this time.


Allie Jane Bruce wrote in the original post:

This is where I need to practice my nonbinary thinking: The book has incredible merits; the book erases Pueblo people. These things are both true.

It’s for the former, its merits — that your review, Mr, Juliano, so eloquently describes — that leads me toward buying this book. But if I do, it will be in spite of its flaws. And also in hope that its author & illustrator will do as I hope to do: to build upon its merits. To learn from its flaws. I’m not a teacher, but if I was, I’d have to teach both the virtues and the flaws.

I did not find the intent to “destroy” when Debbie Reese wrote this:

I am not saying the Winter's appropriated anything in their book. I don't think they understood what they were doing. If they did, would they make that choice again?

Unspoken: hopefully not. As a writer myself, I would make every effort not to. I would make every effort to make sure I knew what I was doing. (I don’t know the Winters, but I hope the same of them.)

I did not detect an intend to destroy when Debbie Reese wrote this:

You [Sam Juliano] have good intentions. The Winter's have good intentions. I hate that I feel obliged to say that, but I do. Over and over, I say "they meant well." I believe you do. I believe they do, too. But there are things you and they do not know. Things that I know. Your lack of knowing and their lack of knowing is part of a far larger societal lack of knowing that centers Whiteness. I'm trying to de-center all of that.

I don’t see any sign anywhere in this that Debbie Reese was insisting that Pueblo people need to be the protagonists of a story about the creation of the first nuclear weapons. Just that they not be erased from the homeland in which the story takes place.

As a writer, that makes even more sense to me. Don’t erase the people from the land that was used to create the weapon that is all about erasing people from the land.

There’s my opinion. Or as much of it as I could put into words over the last couple hours.

In hopes it will lead to some good.

— Mel

Melissa S. Green said...

{PART 4}



Let's re-center.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again Yuyi for your heartfelt attempt to corral the sometimes contentious dialogue and have this debate reach a point of common ground. You are one of the most passionate artists I've ever encountered. The last point, about Amazon and negative reviews being sent there was a direct response to Melissa S. Green, who wanted to me qualify the reason I used the word "destroy" to describe Debbie's review/response to THE SECRET PROJECT. I understand what you are saying about the matter of Debbie (or any critic) feeling a need to provide honesty to readers and this case buyers, and if teh perception is misrepresentation then this would justify such an action. Well, I've also placed some reviews on Amazon, not only of children's books but of other books, films, DVDs, operas and classical music. I have yet to place a single negative review, not that there aren't works in these areas I do not like, but my policy is never to write anything negative. Here's the thing. If Debbie's review of this book uncovered either intended slights, an unflattering view of Native Americans (Pueblos/Hopis) or if it was likely to belittle Native American children, I'd say even an Amazon pan would be in order. But even then I'd hesitate. But in the case with A SECRET PROJECT the invalidation from the very start was shaky. What the kids see are Native Americans engaged in creative pursuits. I think the book paints Native Americans quite favorably, though when I spealled out my glowing interpretation Debbie rejected it as "mascot territory." No matter that the overwhelming majority of book critics and reviewers, not to mention bloggers and teachers see the book as a bold and powerful work. Though I am still not myself conceding there are inacuracies in view of real evidence, I nonetheless maintain my position that even if there were it would not even remotely compromise what the Winters have accomplished. This is a searing, harrowing, cathartic work that miraculously negotiates one of the most difficult subjects for children to grasp or understand and it leaves them asking a plethora of related questions. I'd say this much to anyone (not just Debbie) but anyone standing viligant on some matters of some very minor and non impactful historical inaccuracies in view of the spectacular success of this book on its central context, that they are being extraordinarily selfish. In the long run I see this hurting the children's book community, rather than helping it. Complicating this problem even more is that with this particular book there have been some real and genuine unanswered questions. The (minor) objections are simply not standing up to scrutiny. It all adds up to a kind mistrial or hung jury. God I must have now read this book over 50 times, read it to kids about 12, read every online review -today I found yet another by a very astute young librarian from the midwest who runs WAKING BRAIN CELLS. There were tons of confirmed historical inaccuracies in AMADEUS, yet that 1984 Milos Forman film is still a masterpiece. Same with the John Ford classic MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1939) and many more films and books. This judicial edict of dismissal is medieval. A few critics bemoaned the fraudulent Welch accents in 1941's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, yet practically no one argues against it as being one of the greatest of films. It goes on and on. Sure this is for children, but it changes nothing. Again, your views, patience, fairness and commitment to this discussion has me enraptured my friend.

Anonymous said...

Melissa that was quite a spectacular post (two posts in fact!) and as far as it doing good (as you say you hoped it would) I'd say it is magisterial. I want to say more but I am pooped after the response to Yuyi and I have to at least acknowledge the snarky post from Beverly, who I actually like, but who sometimes enjoys getting my gander. But there is more to say to you and I will get back. Thanks for the nice words too.

Please drop me an e mail. I have an extra copy of the book and will get it out to you pronto. Everything is covered. This is yours to keep. I'm very excited to hear your views too!


Anonymous said...

Hahahaha Beverly. You are a card. But a very good person. Yes I know about the idiom, but it is commonly used by whites, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. There is plenty on line, but most rightly see it as an expression devoid of negative connotations. Yes I do know about Debbie's credentials and have known about them for a long time.

Actually I have backed off a few times, but there are some very fine folks here who prefer a continuation of dialogue.

Melissa S. Green said...

Thanks for the offer, but as a matter of integrity i can't accept it.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I was actually gifted this extra copy by a colleague. In turn I thought I could gift it to you. But fair enough, I understand. As I stated I greatly look forward to your response after you've seen the book. :)

Anonymous said...

"As a writer, that makes even more sense to me. Don’t erase the people from the land that was used to create the weapon that is all about erasing people from the land."

Melissa I feel I do need to address this point. Not sure why Debbie has insisted on "erasure" when there could not be anything further from the truth. Native Americans were shown as the enterprising, creative and spiritually pure people that they are. There were however NOT involved in the making of the bomb, which is course is overwhelmingly the prime thrust of this book. The take away of what Debbie has asserted for me has much more to do with her wanting a greater quotient of representation. She is entitled to desire that. However, it is quite another story to then go to the lengths she has to clamor for gross misrepresentation. It simply isn't there and legions of critics have showered the book with high praise for its uniform excellence. I have written reviews in all the arts, and only in the children's book community have I come across this attempt to try to stiffle opinion in the name of infallible expertise. I have never seen this anywhere. It is not working obviously and is creating quite a stir and subsequent backlash in the book community, but the fact that it is even happening is something I find more than disturbing. I mean I like Beverly (above) but again she railed on with the Trmpist "how could you dare question expertise?" above in totalitarian manner, attempting to deny both artistic license and an individual's ability to access a work of art. This site, but its very concept (and I maintain it is a vital and urgent forum that has made MANY accurate calls!) should exclusively be a place where all opinions are embraced and sorted out. It shouldn't be a throwback to the inquisition, where dialogue is suppressed, in the case for personal loyalties and the misguided belief that chosen human beings are incapable of error, based on the equally misguided notion that having lived places makes they incontestable authorities. The very fact that this books was set BEFORE Debbie Reese was even born should raise a red flag immediately. Any attempt to then address that with "well she then studied the period and was told by siblins and so on" flies in the face of the original contention. And Beverly brings up the question of WIKIPEDIA as a source for common use (Beverly, I did not use Wikipedia for my thesis on John Keats I assure you, hahaha) when I stated in a prior response that the internet was LOADED, LOADED, LOADED with references to Kachina dolls. Only when pressed to explain why she had an issue with something even noted Native Americans have confirmed she then tried to claim there was some hidden inflamatory connotation to their use in that extraordinarily soulful and celebratory illustration. While everyone who looks at the book sees it for what it is, she has found a way to question it. We simply in the same of artistic license and freedom of speech allow this to happen. The term "We must agree to disagree" is a no-no in this discussion. The First Ammendment seems to be always taking a major hit here. It is beyond insane. People can spin it all they want and I am NOT referring to you Melissa who, along with Yuyi Morales brought some wonderful dialogue here (in my opinion of course), but the fact is clear that a studied position based on many facts connected with this discussion the objections raised have yet to be answered in any way, shape or form.

Anonymous said...

One more thing. A few on this thread have spoken of WIKIPEDIA as if it was a Cliffs note version of a major novel and those who use it (innuendo, not said as such) are simpletons and/or lazy academics. Again this counldn't be further from the truth. WIKIPEDIA is a place nearly everyone goes to for quick facts, figures and dates (filmographies, discographies, etc.) and it serves the community in a very helpful way. Sad that the people who work so hard to keep an online encyclopedia up at great toil and financial scrapping should be subject to such dialogue. WIKIPEDIA was used originally on this thread to denote common usage. But after it was linked the predictable response was to ridicule those who reference it in a turn-the-tables ploy. I go to hundreds of sites for research and I'll always appreciate WIKIPEDIA for what it does to serve the public. Thank you Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger!

Debbie Reese said...

Good morning!

I've finished my second review of THE SECRET PROJECT. Here's the link:


I will share it with moderators at Calling Caldecott and ask that (if they plan to cite my review) they use this one in addition to (or instead of) the one from March.