Friday, November 16, 2012

Looking for Authenticity: Indigenous Cultures in Picture Books An Interview with Linda Boyden

Welcome to day two of Lindapalooza! I am super excited about today's post. If you read Linda's Banana Peelin' post, you know that I am a huge fan of her ABC book, Giveaways. It's beautiful, smart and witty...hey, just like Linda! It is also respectful and reflects the beauty and diversity of indigenous cultures across the Americas.

I love learning about different cultures. People are interesting! Everyone has a story and I hope you find today's interview as interesting as I did. I also hope that it makes people think about what they see and read in a new light.

Linda is offering her book Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas, to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment below describing one reaction, thought or feeling you had related to this post and you will be entered. The winner will be selected next week! 


Can you tell us a little about your Native American background? 

My father grew up in a small town in Tennessee and his family was of Irish/Cherokee ancestry. My mother’s parents’ families emigrated from Quebec, Canada, in the early 1900s eventually to southeastern Massachusetts where my siblings and I grew up.

Like many of my generation, my family only spoke about being “American.” Of course I was a child in the 1950s when it was not cool to be anything but American. As I matured I wanted to know more about Cherokee history and traditions.


How does your heritage influence your writing?

I came to my heritage late; my family isn’t enrolled in any tribal nation and I wasn’t raised in a traditional Native way. Mixed-blood people often wonder where they belong and that longing for “home” comes through in my poetry, for example.

In all my writing, I think how might this impact the Seventh Generation down the road? I strive to create books or art that would make my parents, children, and grandchildren proud; to produce works that will educate and enlighten non-Native people.

 
What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions society has of Native American cultures?

First, the terms, Indian and Native American, really convey nothing. They are simply gross generalizations. I think indigenous is more accurate, meaning the people who originally inhabited the land. Regardless this semantic debate goes on and on so I take the simple road: use them all! Truthfully, most Indians prefer to be called by their actual tribal affiliation, for example Cherokee, Abenaki or Lakota.

The underlying misconception with any of these generic terms is that all Indians were the same, and nothing could be further from the truth. The indigenous peoples of the Americas possessed and still do possess great diversity within their cultures.

 Another misconception is that all Native people vanished after their tribal lands were taken; that there are no modern Indian people alive today and that is completely untrue.


What inaccurate images of Native American cultures in picture books do you see the most? What should the public know about each?



In picture books, things have vastly improved within the last twenty years. Publishers are actively more sensitive to our concerns and act upon them. That said there are still not enough Native American authors, illustrators, and publishers in the publishing world.

 As mentioned already, books, especially picture books for young children, need to show accurate specifics of Native Americans whether set in present day or in the past. We did not all live in tipis! Indigenous peoples of the Americas lived in many different types of houses, wore clothing with ornamentation specific to their clan or tribe that reflected their tribal affiliations as well as their geographic regions.

What are three to five questions teachers, parents, and young readers can ask themselves to evaluate the authenticity of a picture book on Native American cultures?

~Have the authors/illustrators done their research? Have they interviewed tribal members/leaders? Have they listened to tribal elders?

~Is there anything in this book—words or pictures or any underlying theme--that could embarrass a Native child and misinform a non-Native child?

~Does the story contain positive Native role models for both Native and non-Native children to identify with?​

~Does this book foster positive American Indian family values, such as cooperation, sharing, and respect for tradition?


Do you have any favorite picture book titles that you would recommend to educators and families that accurately portray Native American cultures?
There are so many, but here are a few of my favorites:

 Margaret Bruchac’s “1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving.” This nonfiction book is the REAL Pilgrim/Indian story with excellent photos.

 Joseph Bruchac’s “A Boy Called Slow” and “Crazy Horse’s Vision.” The first is a snapshot of Sitting Bull as a young boy and how he earns his adult name. The second is also a glimpse into the life of the Lakota warrior-leader, Crazy Horse.

 Cynthia Leitich Smith, “Jingle Dancer.” A delightful story about how a young girl and her female relatives work together to make her jingle dress for powwow.

 James Rumford’s “Sequoyah.” Although a non-Native, Jim’s biography of the Cherokee genius, Sequoyah, is accurate, sensitive and beautifully illustrated; plus each page is printed in both Cherokee and English.

 Richard Van Camp’s “A Man Called Raven.” This story set in contemporary Northwest Territories of Canada blends the past with the present to helps kids value the natural world.

 And of course, my own!

“The Blue Roses.” The winner of Lee and Low’s first New Voices Award, this book helps kids understand the circle of life through the metaphor of a garden.

“Powwow’s Coming.” A contemporary Indian family introduces the Native tradition of powwow to young readers.

“Giveaways, An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas.” Every entry word in this nonfiction book originated in a Native language and celebrates the contribution Native languages have made to modern English. It has won a number of awards, too.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for interviewing me for your blog. It’s been a pleasure.




19 comments:

  1. I have heard of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, but haven't had the chance to read it yet. I really like the questions you suggest to ask about positive role models and family values. Thanks so much for sharing. And thanks for the great contest too!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Chirstie! I need to pick up a copy of Jingle Dancer as well. =)

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  2. Fabulous interview with Linda and I really enjoyed the questions you asked, Elizabeth. I understand your labeling discussion, Linda. I know that, for example, a Togolese person would identify much more with their tribe than the nationality so it makes sense this would be true for other indigenous groups. In case your readers are interested, I reviewed The Blue Roses last week: http://joannamarple.com/?p=4586

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    1. Thanks Joanna! Loved your review of THE BLUE ROSES. I have yet to read it! Sounds like another beautiful book. =)

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  3. Thanks, Christie. Glad you liked my questions. I have spoken often on this topic and have learned from audience comments what THEY wanted to know. So built these questions from those experiences.

    And Joanna, again, thanks for the wonderful review of my Blue Roses! I am truly lucky. Glad to know that other countries prefer to be known by their specific nation as well. Being respectful is a good way to live.

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  4. I so enjoyed reading this post! I wonder how many multi-generational Americans are unaware that they might have Native American blood? It might make them pay more attention :) I did some genealogical research not long ago and I am proud to say I found that I have an Iroquois ancestor! The books you mention, and posts like this, help us all to pay better attention, and work to chip away at the stereotypes and foster understanding. To that I say, "Bravo!"

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment other Elizabeth. =) How awesome to discover your link to the Iriquois. Super interesting stuff to research.

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  5. Thanks for this interview & the wonderful responses! I think that in a world of blanket statements and all too easily passed along misinformation, it's important for kids & the adults who love them to hear voices that speak the truth. Thank you Linda for giving us books that tell things as they should be told. Thanks for wanting to stop the cycle of misinformation that is all to prevalent in the world!!!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Marcy! Linda is such a great role model to all of us with her truth-speaking ways.. =)

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  6. Thanks, Marcy And Elizabeth Rose (as compared to Other Elizabeth!!!) for commenting.
    Two more websites I would highly recommend as excellent resources are www.oyate.org a terrific site by Beverly Slapin & Doris Seale whose book,"Through Indian Eyes" reviews both positively and negatively books about Native people in children literature. It has been fundamental in affecting changes over the years. The other is www.hanksville.org is the brainchild of Karen Strom that lists many contemporary Native writers.

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  7. Absolutely fascinating! I've been looking for authentic picture books about different tribes of Native Americans. We went to North Dakota last year and learned about Crazy Horse and even have that particular one! Linda, I am definitely going to get your books!

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    1. Yay! So glad that Linda could help you on your hunt for authentic books! Thanks so much for your comment.

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  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview! Great questions, Bananabeth, and Linda, I took a peek at your book on Amazon and it looks wonderful! It was interesting to learn about the misconceptions regarding the terms, Indian and Native American. Thanks for clarifying that. Now I am off to read Joanna's review of The Blue Roses!

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    1. Thank you Iza! So glad you enjoyed it. Linda is a smart woman. Her work is beautiful. She has a real way with words. Like you, I learned a lot from her answers. =) xoxo

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  9. Thanks, Julie and Iza, Bananabeth sure knows how to ask the right questions. And I always warn people I'm a "recovering" teacher because despite not teaching full time anymore, I will sneak learning in whenever possible...grin!

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  10. Linda, fabulous post! I like use of the garden metaphor in THE BLUE ROSE. What a wonderful way to help children understand the circle of life.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Lori! I can't wait to read THE BLUE ROSES. The artwork look amazing too!

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  11. Since you're from Canada you might enjoy Where is Mouse Woman, a board book about the Haida people from British Columbia.

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