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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

I’ve been bad

I love controversy because it shakes things up; diversity, thinking, disagreeing, arguing, even ranting is part of the growth process as long as we focus on ideas and not the person. Educators believe they must be the experts. Where should we be growing and stretching? I’d lilke to suggest PC-ness. Take the controversies stirred by Debbie Reese on LM_NET and on her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature. There is also a SLJ interview from April.

Everyone owes themselves the chance to grow, to disagree, to argue, to ponder, and to discuss how American Indians/Native Americans are depicted in children’s literature. I am monitoring the discussion on Jan Brett’s newest title that incorporates Inuit culture clothing with the story of Goldilocks and the three Bears. I’m not going to come out here with an opinion. I want others to do some deep thinking and discussion. In fact, I’m sending Jan Brett this blog post to see if she’d like to respond.

I asked three teenagers recently what fiction titles depicting Native Americans had been shared with them during their entire K-12 life. They couldn’t name one. They couldn’t recall any discussion about the perceptions of Native Americans in literature. They all brightened up to tell me they had had one unit on Native Americans to discuss their loss of lands. They were actually surprised that I mentioned the topic because the unit was so separate from currency and history. It had no relevancy to them. ARGH!!!

The discussion last year on the Higher Power of Lucky was helpful to our profession as it forced people to think, to form an opinion, and to study their position in society and in our profession. Discussions help. We have so much room to grow. Growth may be uncomfortable but it is necessary to life.

I have been bad. I have used some of the titles that were negatively reviewed on the blog. Will this force me to change? Yes. Will I immediately stop using all of the titles or will I start teaching perspective and cultural sensitivity? Stay tuned and join the growth process.


  1. Debbie Reese says:

    You’re not bad, Diane. Like anyone else, you were schooled in a society that is saturated–intentionally and not—with misinformation about who American Indians are. What I find problematic is that, when we object, we are dismissed, attacked, cursed at…

    That is so ironic, because Americans are so in love with American Indians. They want to emulate us–on the football field, in psuedo-rituals, in fiction, the cars they drive, the tools of war (helicopters, battleships, etc. that are named after tribes).

    But they don’t want to hear from us. They seem to want us to stay “in a glass case” where they can admire what they think we were.

    In the end, it isn’t just the books. It is the context and the voices that MUST be brought to the table. OUR voices, that must be heard AND acted on. Not just treated as great wisdom, or provocative. We’ve all got to ACT.

    And KNOW that if you like a book that someone has criticized as stereotypical, you are NOT a racist for liking it. I don’t say that, because I don’t believe it to be true.

    More later! Gotta run.

  2. Judi Moreillon says:

    And I wrote one of the titles, Sing Down the Rain (Kiva, 1997), that earned a negative review from A Broken Flute (Slapin and Seale). The book is illustrated by Michael Chiago, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Revered elder Danny Lopez served as the cultural advisor for my poem.

    My book has been embraced by many members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, elders and youth alike. It continues to be performed by students and families as a choral reading further spreading the beauty and power of Tohono O’odham traditions. It honors a people and a culture that are invisible to many.

    I believe it is important for librarians and educators to remember that no one person or organization speaks for all members of a particular group. It behooves us to do our homework, to make reasoned judgments, and to spread the positive potential of an inclusive, respectful diverse society.

  3. So, the possibility exists for every book to be challenged by someone. Gerald Hodges was my teacher at University of Iowa. He always said that if a library removed every book that was challenged, it would only have one title left and HE WOULD CHALLENGE IT FOR BEING BORING. There is a need for thinking about all titles. Sometimes cultural reviews appear all negative as if it wasn’t enough until SOMEBODY objected to the title.

    I often think of this because no one can represent me and who I am. If someone tried to portray me, we’d get caricatures of a girl growing up on the Prairie who dreamed of international travel. Do I represent small-town Iowa? Not to the people who stayed in my small-town. Do I represent Tennesseans? Not to the people who were born here. Could I write about any of these groups? Sure, but someone would be bound to object. I’d expect that. But, I also have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible if I am the only glimpse of a culture that an outsider will see. It’s a fine balancing line. I would be “cut more slack” than if I were basing all my writing on the year I lived in Taiwan and if I were pretending to be a Chinese expert. I’m glad you mentioned the opposite side Judi because we do need more discussion of titles and not to just assume because a title receives one negative review that we should disregard it. I’ve written about that before. I’ll keep thinking about titles.

  4. Debbie Reese says:

    I fully appreciate and understand the “one negative review” concern, and the “no one person speaks for all” remark posted by Judi.

    Both are with merit.

    But let’s not use what she said as an auto-defense mechanism. Let’s not use it as an excuse to ignore or dismiss negative critiques. Doing THAT only maintains the status quo, and that status quo is a mess.

  5. What do most people do when they read a negative critque? Do they toss the idea of purchasing that title aside or do they find other reviews and read the title to check the criticisms? What is your gut response? I like to read more than one review and examine the title. I really do appreciate the cultural notes because I do not have the background to understand the bigger picture.

    But how do we value the reviewer’s background? My children are multi-racial. They do not believe most authors are writing effectively about them. If they were to write books (which I keep trying to get them to do!!!), who should review their titles? Chinese reviewers? Norwegian reviewers? French reviewers? Iowans? Tennesseans? Illinoisans? Kentuckians? Germans? All of those places and people have an impact on who they are. Whose opinion counts most?

  6. The entire second half of my comment disappearerd. Sorry!

    Recently I picked up a title with Jewish characters. I have lived in a Jewish community and was very excited. Unfortunately, I hate that book. So much so that I will never share the name. I tried putting it in a variety of other types of people’s hands, but they hated it so much most wouldn’t finish it. Why won’t I review it? Because I am not qualified to debate the Jewish merits of this book. Fortunately it’s not intended for children, so I know you are safe. The people who have reviewed it comment on the brilliant writing and the scandalous ideas. I’m relieved there are so many varieties of reviewers out there,


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Debbie and Diane.

    It isn’t easy for educators to determine accuracy and authenticity for every book they buy for or use in the classroom or library. We do have to rely on review sources and other people’s judgments. It is ideal when we can ask a person – or two – from a particular culture to share their opinions, but that isn’t possible in all cases.

    Questions about cultural accuracy and authenticity are soooo hard. I believe this is a critical conversation for all librarians and educators. There are some truly horrid books that have contributed to promoting stereotypes and prejudices. Once we become conscious of these issues, it is easier to identify these – but even then we can make mistakes.

    I used a book that I love – The Day of Ahmed’s Secret (Heide/Lewin)- as an anchor book in one of the lessons in my professional book. The story is about an Egyptian Muslim boy who has learned to write his name. (I have been using this book for years when I teach children’s literature as well as with elementary students. It has a lovely message about literacy as empowerment.)

    Then, I learned that some of the story/illustrations are inaccurate – a gate that’s actually in Morocco is shown in Cairo, an Egyptian wearing a hat that’s Tunisian, camels on the streets of Cairo (which they weren’t in 1990 when the book was published).

    I also learned that the doctoral students who authored the critical view of this book wondered how Ahmed could be smiling (about his secret) – as he was engaged at that moment in child labor! For me, this is a clear example of the reading transaction. These students – like all readers – brought their bias to the text.

    Fortunately, I use the book in teaching the reading comprehension strategy of questioning. Students can legitimately question this text! (And I have added information about the accuracy questions on my Web site support for this lesson.)

    Striving to see the world from another’s point of view, remaining open to learning, and yes, making a mistake from time to time and correcting one’s missteps are all part of being an educator – a human being.

    I hope more people will join in this conversation.

  8. Debbie Reese says:


    My last two attempts to post here haven’t worked…

    Child_lit and YALSA are having extended conversations about these topics.

    And, I continue to post to my blog about the issues.

  9. susie q says:

    I found all these comments very interesting. I will be attending a mission study soon on Native Americans and I hope I can be open-minded and learn some important facts about these issues and cultures.