Posts Tagged Native American literature

Cynthia Leitich Smith of the new HarperCollins imprint, Heartdrum

The latest diversity in children’s book data released by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows the publishing slice for American Indians/First Nations books stayed relatively flat. This percentage increased only slightly from the 2015 data (0.9%) to 1% reported in 2018. The excellent infographic, Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 by David Huyck and Sarah Park Dahlen, visually represents this striking data.

There is a need for action.

The first step has been around a long time for the readers and educators who have found it. It’s the abundance of exceptional Native content produced by exceptional Native creators. I highly recommend digging into Native kidlit and giving these books a try. You’ll be glad you did.

A solid and promising second step came recently from a major publishing house. HarperCollins Children’s Division is taking a step forward with the announcement of their Heartdrum imprint. Better yet, this exciting new imprint will be led by two awesome and talented individuals, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan. Today, we are honored at From the Mixed-Up Files to have Cynthia Leitich Smith graciously answer a few questions about Heartdrum.

Cynthia, welcome! Thank you for being our guest and sharing this great news about Heartdrum.

What does having a Native imprint at major publishing house mean to you personally, now and for the future, as an author, advocate, and enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation?

It’s a signal that Native voices and artistic visions are more fully welcomed and embraced by children’s-YA book publishing per se. It is a noteworthy and encouraging intersection between the industry and the intertribal Native literary community—most importantly, young readers, centering Native children and teens.

When we think personally, “community” is the first, most important word that comes to mind.

As excited as all us Native Kidlit fans are for the news of the Heartdrum imprint, we mustn’t look past the tremendous creative work that has been and will be released in the future from independent publishers. Can you touch on some of those wonderful houses?

We must remember that tribal presses and Native-owned presses are and should always be the leaders in this industry conversation. We must also pay tribute and continue to support small presses that have been at the forefront of bringing Native voices and visions to kids from the start.

When seeking out Native literature, we’re all blessed to have high-quality titles from houses like Salina Bookshelf, Lee & Low/Tu Books, Charlesbridge, Cinco Puntos, Levine Querido, Native Realities Press, and Chickasaw Press (among others).

(A huge shout out to Lee & Low for taking a strong leadership position in encouraging more diversity and accountability within publishing as an industry and to Tu editor Stacy Whitman for bringing more Native voices in speculative/genre fiction into the world.)

This moment is also a testament to the importance and guidance of groundbreaking elder authors and illustrators like Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Michael LaCapa, Tim Tingle, Lucy Tapahonso, Joy Harjo, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Simon Ortiz…to new and rising stars like Christine Day, Dawn Quigley, Darcie Little Badger, Eric Gansworth, Julie Flett, Monique Gray Smith, David Alexander Robertson, Angeline Boulley, and Brian Young (among others).

Likewise, we should all be sure to herald breakout individual titles on big-house publisher lists from new sensations like At Mountain’s Base, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Kokila/Penguin Random House), Fry Bread, written by Kevin Noble Malliard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) and the forthcoming We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)(among others).

(A huge shout out to Traci Sorell for her leadership in the Native children’s-YA literary creative community.)

Together, these Native literary and visual artists have proven that authentic, well-crafted Native writing and illustration can entertain, inform, delight, foster empathy, validate and connect.

And their accomplishments didn’t come easily. They have persevered and broken through barriers of bigotry, misconceptions, and stereotypes—navigating and pushing against literary defaults to non-Native conventions and sensibilities. And that battle is still ongoing.

What is Heartdrum’s origin story?

Turning to the Heartdrum imprint, it should be noted that credit for the idea goes to Ellen Oh at We Need Diverse Books. And of course, she—like so many of us—was made more aware of the Native children’s-YA publishing book landscape in part from the hard work of folks like CCBC, former ALA President Loriene Roy, the American Indian Library Association, Drs. Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, and rising voices like Kara Stewart and Alia Jones.

Ellen and the CCBC team are wonderful examples of friends who went above and beyond.

Remember that every act of support from each of us makes a difference.

Every Native or non-Native teacher who shares an authentic Native-focused book—especially when it’s not November; every Native or non-Native family member or friend who gives one to a beloved child….

As a fan, I’ve enjoyed the recent resurgence in Native-created content. Can you highlight some of these changes which have given Native creators in the industry the space they deserve?

Last year, author Debby Dahl Edwardson organized LoonSong: Turtle Island, a workshop for Native writers, that led to deep friendships and ah-ha moments that will long impact children’s literature in exciting ways.

This year SCBWI welcomed me to its Board of Advisors, and I’m working with a terrific committee of luminaries on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Bank Street College featured several Native voices at this fall’s book festival.

Just last month, educator Jillian Heise organized and moderated a Native author panel at NCTE. And Native representation was up at that conference across the board.

KidLitCon has announced that Dawn Quigley will be their upcoming keynote speaker.

Children’s librarians introduced authors like Traci Sorell and Kevin Noble Maillard to elementary students at their schools.

Native booksellers like Red Planet Books & Comics in Albuquerque and Birchbark Books & Native Arts in Minneapolis (among others) have become essential destinations.

Of late, Meghan Goel, the children’s book buyer and programming director, at Austin’s legendary independent bookstore, BookPeople, reached out to ask how she and the store could better support Native voices, and she took positive action from there, including writing a related article for Publishers Weekly.

The work of today’s veteran advocates is echoed and carried forward from Indigo’s Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth.

I could share so many more examples—including this interview at Mixed-Up Files!

All of this is to say: We’re talking about a steadily building groundswell of support, over many years, that has been the most successful when Native voices have taken the lead and true friends have listened respectfully and responded proactively in cooperation.

What role do you envision for Heartdrum in advancing Native literature and literacy?

The Heartdrum imprint is another next step forward. Actually, it’s a leap of faith.

Twenty years ago, a big-house editor, Rosemary Brosnan, took a risk on my first book, Jingle Dancer, a contemporary Native story about a young girl bringing together regalia with the help of women of every generation of her family and community. Launching the Heartdrum imprint with her feels as though our journey has come full circle. And now, we’ll begin again with the goal of helping to nurture and lift more Native creative folks and books, to benefit generations of young readers.

A house with the reach and resources of HarperCollins, dedicating itself to this initiative, will be a game-changer for the future of children’s-YA book publishing.

Heartdrum will offer page-turning, heartfelt, sometimes joyful, sometimes reflective books that will speak to generations of young readers.

My hope is that Heartdrum books will validate fellow Native literary and visual artists of all ages—from preschoolers to elders. I also hope that educators will take note of our emphasis on tribally specific, contemporary (and perhaps futuristic) stories to recognize that Native people hail from distinct Nations with past, yes, but also a present and future.

We’ll be inclusive when it comes to the intersectional identities. There is so much diversity within Indian Country—intertribally, culturally, linguistically, in terms of faith, socio-economic status, body type, gender, orientation, and so on. If, say, a Native author with a disability reflects that experience on the page, we’re not going to say, “Your layers of identity are too much for the mainstream market to process.” We understand that the human experience is not a check-one-box proposition.

Joy, fun, and humor will be ever-present in the mix with more serious themes.

We’ll prioritize the needs of kid readers, especially Native kids.

Beyond that, I hope friends and colleagues take this moment to reflect on their relationship to Native literature and diverse and inclusive literature more broadly. And that’s something we’ll continue to do, too.

We must all be asking ourselves with each step forward: How can we do better?

I’m also deeply grateful that WNDB and HarperCollins are making it possible to organize annual workshops for Native writers to nurture their writing journeys. No doubt that some writers we’ll be working with will go on to publish with the Heartdrum imprint and some will go on to publish with other houses.

We’ll be filled with joy about them all!

 

 

Native American #Kidlit Recommended Reading

If you’re looking to explore the rich world of Native American literature with your family, the following wonderful middle grade titles are a great place to start. (Thank you to the First Nations Development Institute who graciously let us share their list with the Mixed-Up Files readers, and to Debbie Reese, Ph.D., who chose these books. Dr. Reese is a expert in the field of Native children’s literature and an enrolled member of Nambé Pueblo. She is the curator of the Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading list and the editor and publisher of the “American Indians in Children’s Literature” website.)

Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
Eleven-year-old Sonny and his mother can’t predict his father’s sudden abusive rages. Jake’s anger only gets worse after long days at the paper mill — and when Uncle Louis appears. Louis seems to show up when Sonny and his mother need help most, but there is something about his quiet wisdom that only fuels Jake’s rage. Through an unexpected friendship with a new school librarian, Sonny gains the strength to stand up to his father, and to finally confront his mother and uncle about a secret family heritage that may be the key to his father’s self-hatred.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Chippewa)
“[In this] story of a young Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, living on an island in Lake Superior around 1847, Louise Erdrich is reversing the narrative perspective used in most children’s stories about nineteenth-century Native Americans. Instead of looking out at ‘them’ as dangers or curiosities, Erdrich, drawing on her family’s history, wants to tell about ‘us’, from the inside. The Birchbark House establishes its own ground, in the vicinity of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books.” –The New York Times Book Review

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (Sicangu Lakota)
Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

Son Who Returns by Gary Robinson (Choctaw/Cherokee)
Fifteen-year-old Mark Centeno is of Chumash, Crow, Mexican and Filipino ancestry–he calls himself “four kinds of brown.” When Mark goes to live with his Chumash grandmother on the reservation in central California, he discovers a rich world of family history and culture that he knows very little about. He also finds a pathway to understanding better a part of his own identity: powwow dancing. Riveted by the traditional dancers and feeling the magnetic pull of the drums, Mark begins the training and other preparations necessary for him to compete as a dancer in one of America’s largest powwows.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee (Creek)
What do Indian shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins…or hightops with bright orange shoelaces? Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes — like the time they are forced to get creative after a homemade haircut makes Ray’s head look like a lawn-mowing accident. This collection of interrelated stories is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes with wit and candor about what it’s like to grow up as a Seminole-Cherokee boy who is just as happy pounding the pavement in windy Chicago as rowing on a take in rural Oklahoma.

How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe’s removal from the only land his people had ever known, and how their journey to Oklahoma led him to become a ghost–one with the ability to help those he left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharpening Perspectives Through Native Voices

We once thought the universe revolved around us all-important humans on the Planet Earth. We eventually looked through a new perspective and found we are not the center, but actually part of a universe even more awesome than we previously  imagined.

The world was also flat. But we did not fall off when we traveled to the perceived “edge”. Hence, the world became accepted as being round.

As you can see from the past, we need to look at several angles and expose ourselves to several viewpoints before we can get a true picture of something. If we don’t, our knowledge of that particular something is flat and/or lacking in truth.

For example, I can look up a location on Google Maps of let’s say, Huron Indian Cemetery (Now called the Wyandot National Burial Ground) in Kansas City, Kansas and get this:

HPC_Map

It tells me the basics, but the map is pretty basic and simple. Not much information.

Let’s switch over to the satellite map image for another viewpoint.

HPC_SatImage

Hey! That’s a lot better. There are trees and roads and cars and maybe even fire trucks and… Okay, okay, back on task.

Finally, let’s go down to our man on the street with Street View.

HPC_Entrance

Wow! I feel like I’m right there standing at the entrance to Huron Indian Cemetery in downtown KCK.

Conclusion? Looking at things from several different viewpoints provides more information. More information provides a better understanding.

Besides being a professional scientist, I am also a proud lifetime member of the guild of sports fanatics and a history nut (especially the obscure snippets of history which often fail to make school books or PBS miniseries). In science, we must look at all angles of a problem to get the big picture to prove or disprove our hypothesis. Sports are a little more cut and dry in regard to discovering the truths. There are winners and there are losers. The details often fall into supporting evidence of why one competitor won and why one competitor lost.

In history, though, the cut and dry truths do not exist. The variables are too numerous, too varied, and often too buried to be added to the “truth”. History depends on multiple viewpoints to be taken into account. We often fall short in teaching history because we either fail to include multiple perspectives of an event or the information to expand the knowledge base in not available.

As a white kid growing up in a lower, middle-class area of KCK, our education was solid, but our history was often one-sided. We took our lessons from textbooks written from a narrow, white, European view of the past. And, being a Croatian, Irish, English, French (and probably a few others mixed into the genetic soup that’s me.) kid in the 1970’s attending a relatively poor Catholic school with older, slightly-used-by-perhaps-your-grandmother textbooks, we really got a shot of history told through the narrow lens. So, I set out in life fairly well-educated but with an extremely narrow view of the world-at-large.

A few years back, I became interested in the role of Native Americans in the American Civil War, especially in the Border War on the western front. I stumbled across the American Indians in Children’s Literature  (AICL) blog run by Debbie Reese and began to follow it. I thought I knew a bit about Native Americans, seeing as I was a native Kansan. I grew up surrounded by places with names like Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo and in a city founded by the displaced Wyandot Tribe. I thought I was in the know but, in reality, I knew nothing about Native Americans.

I’ll admit I don’t always agree with AICL 100% of the time, but I know I learn something from the information provided on AICL 100% of the time I visit the site. The AICL has introduced me to a world of native authors whose work presents a new viewpoint (at least to me) of historical events I thought I knew.

Take the Trail of Tears. I only really knew— mostly from paintings and snippets of information in textbooks—that native people were displaced from their homelands to reservations in Oklahoma. Tim Tingle changed that with his excellent book, HOW I BECAME A GHOST and its sequel WHEN A GHOST TALKS, LISTEN. In these two books, I learned about President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, Choctaw culture and history, the cruel hardships suffered by those forced to walk the trail, and the contribution of Choctaws, like General Pushmataha, to our young nation. And I learned all this while being thoroughly entertained by the story.

Ghost1 Ghost2

In his book IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE, Joseph Marshall III provides a riveting account of the historical events leading up to the Battle of Little Bighorn which balances the single viewpoint narrative I had picked up over the years. In the book, the reader follows a contemporary Lakota grandfather as he travels with his mixed race Lakota grandson to trace the life of Crazy Horse from his youth through to the battles and all the way to his surrender at Fort Robinson. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE excels at both giving an insight to the Lakota way of life, both old and new, and the history as seen through the eyes of the Sioux tribes.

In-the-footsteps

Anyone remember reading about Hiawatha in school? All I remember is the epic poem that turned into an epic nap for me. But have you heard the real story of Hiawatha? The story passed down through the oral tradition of the Iroquois Nation? This authentic version of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker is truly an epic and riveting tale. There are two versions in print that I highly recommend.

hiawatha-1

The first is a picture book by Robbie Robertson (Yes, THAT Robbie Robertson of The Band fame!) called HIAWATHA AND THE PEACEMAKER. The book tells the version of the Hiawatha story Mr. Robertson heard from his Mohawk and Cayuga relatives in the reservation longhouses when he was a kid.

EagleSong

The second version is from Joseph Bruchac’s contemporary middle-grade book, EAGLE SONG. The main character, Danny Bigtree, misses his life on the Mohawk reservation and is having a hard time adjusting to life in New York City. His father tells him the story of Aionwahta (Hiawatha) and the legendary Peacemaker to help him adjust to the difficulties and learn to cultivate peace in his new situation.

Readers and writers! Look at things and study them from several different points of view. Respect the cultures and the traditions you may encounter. Respect other cultures in your work and do the necessary research. Don’t cut corners because you may be cutting off the most beautiful part.

Branch out and you may find your life enriched.

We are all spinning together on this round planet in an elliptical orbit around the solar system so we might as well make the best of each other’s company.

Which “outside-of-your-comfy-box” books have enriched your life and expanded your knowledge base? Please share in the comments below.

“Yakoke!” (“Thank you” in Choctaw, learned via Tim Tingle in HOW I BECAME A GHOST.)