Water in Indigenous Children’s Literature

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

In Lakota language, water is called mni wiconi, literally “it gives me life.” Without water, there would be no life. Water is fundamental for every living being on this planet. Indeed, water, too, is living. Indigenous communities around the globe have always known that protecting and repairing water is essential for our survival. Stories of the the importance of water, its sacredness, and the fight of the water protectors are present in literature for children and young adults.

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Indigenous Crossover YA/Adult Fiction

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

When I taught high school English at a tribal school, the primary class novel I chose was The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), winner of the National Book Award for fiction in 2012. Choosing a whole class novel is never an easy task. It should be appealing to everyone (impossible). It should be able to be read and understood by all reading levels in the class (unlikely). It should be important, worthy of lengthy discussion, and worth convincing students that if they just give it a chance, they may like it, and see its worth. Of course, there is also the idea that we shouldn’t read whole class novels at all, allowing students to choose all their own books themselves, thus avoiding the above difficulties. However, for me, there is something deeply pleasurable and vital in having a shared reading experience and community dialogue around this reading.

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Sweeping Indigenous Histories

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

In Redrawing the Historical Past: History, Memory, and Multiethnic Graphic Novels, editors Martha Cutter and Cathy Schlund-Vials remind readers of a speech that Toni Morrison gave at Portland State University in 1975 where she said, “No one can blame the conqueror for writing history the way he sees it, and certainly not for digesting human events and discovering their patterns according to his own point of view. But it must be admitted that conventional history supports and complements a very grave and almost pristine ignorance.” This year, after teaching a few sections of a course which, in part, is an overview of Indigenous histories of the Pacific Northwest, I have realized that this ‘pristine ignorance’ is sometimes because of a lack of information, and sometimes because of a strong and willful desire to maintain the settler colonial histories learned as children and throughout life. In my work as a teacher educator, I need to assist non–Indigenous adults in learning history through an Indigenous lens before they are able to bring these important histories to their own students. Children’s literature can be such a valuable resource for relearning histories, even for adults.

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Middle Grade Novels Spotlighting Color-Conscious Casting

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Unlike in elementary school and junior high, I wasn’t quite one of the theater kids in high school. I was always on the edges of the theater crowd. A groupie, maybe. But perhaps I just appreciated the kind of personal expression, creative energy and openness that is often a part of the theater crowd. These days, instead of hanging around the drama room, I like to read novels that hang around the drama room.

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Indigenous Authored Books

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Indigenous authored books for youth being published in the U.S. and Canada have grown from only 6 in 2002 to 38 in 2018. Although having over ten times the number of Indigenous children’s books published is an exciting and promising amount of growth, this number only represents 1% of the total number of children’s books published. This unbalanced number does not reflect the 1.5% of the U.S. population and 4.9% of the Canadian population that have Inuit, Métis, First Nations, and Native American heritage, not to mention the low numbers of Central and South American Indigenous peoples in North America who choose to report as Hispanic without reporting Indigenous heritage.

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MTYT: The Bone Sparrow

By Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Subhi, who is nine, is a member of the Muslim Rohingya people of Burma and lives in an off-shore Australian detention camp. He was born there, unlike his sister Queenie. All he has known is the life in the detention camp. Barbed-wire fences and the brutality of the guards who oversee every moment of the campsite define his entire lived experience. His dreams at night and his ruthless reality during the day intersect in a never-ending labyrinth. The appalling food and living quarters, the enclosed spaces and the forever-watchful guards are what he knows as life. His family consists of his mother, sister and Eli (a boy who takes him under his wing, protects him from bullies and provides better quality food for him and his family). He meets a young girl who lives on the outskirts of the camp, and who has lost her mother recently. She is a prisoner of her own reality. Together both characters make sense of their lives.

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MTYT: Amal Unbound

By Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

In Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, Amal is an outspoken Pakistani teen who is confident in who she is. She lives in a small village in Punjab (the largest province in Pakistan comprising 62% of Pakistan) and is educated there. She wants to be a teacher and loves reading. She lives there with her father, mother and many younger sisters. Her mother is pregnant again and afraid that she will bear another girl. Amal happens to come in front of the car of the son of village elder and powerful local landlord, Jawad. She confronts the rude person and as a result the landlord calls in Amal’s family debts. Amal ends up in the landlord’s home as a payback. She befriends other servants as well as Jawad’s mother. She has it easy as she is only person serving the mother and not doing any menial labor. In her time there, she discovers criminal actions by the landlord and reports it. She ends up connecting with Asif (a U.S. educated teacher) in the village’s literacy center, funded, ironically, by the Khan family. This is where she learns that the significant family she works for is not invincible. Indentured servitude, class, gender and literacy are some of the themes this novel explores.

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MTYT: Internment

By Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Continuing on the theme of displacement and its representations in young adult and children’s literature, we turn our attention to Internment by Samira Ahmed. Layla Amin is an everyday American minding her own business before an Islamophobic president of USA orders a round up all Muslims and throws them in internment/detention camps due to the faith that they follow. Layla’s father is a professor at a university and writes poems with revolutionary content. He loses his job and his books are burned. The detention camp that the Amins are relocated to is situated close to the actual detention camp that the Japanese internment camps were located in California. It is headed by a director who thinks he is above the law and orders attacks on the inhabitants and is deliberately cruel to the women. Layla takes action and riles up the rest of the teenagers in the camp to conduct demonstrations in order to be released from the camp. There is a national uproar as her blog posts and videos get out to the public, which brings reporters and other people to be stationed outside the camp and sends Red Cross workers in the camp as observers. Some guards (especially one in particular) and Layla’s Jewish boyfriend, on the outside help. It is a novel that has hope in its culmination.

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MTYT: Saltypie

By Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Celeste Trimble, Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

As we continue to focus on the theme of displacement and its representations in young adult and children’s literature, we turn our attention to Saltypie by Tim Tingle. Through family history of racism and displacement, as well as powerful family love and togetherness, Saltypie tells the true story of a young Choctaw boy and his grandmother. In this 2010 picturebook put out by Cinco Puntos Press, Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle shares a story from his own family. One central concept, highlighted in the title, is that Tingle’s grandmother is blinded by a racist neighbor throwing a rock at her after they moved from Oklahoma to Texas. She regains her sight through an eye transplant much later in her life. Reviews and awards for Saltypie include ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2011, Booklist, 05/01/10, Kirkus Reviews, 04/15/10, Library Media Connection, 11/01/10, Publishers Weekly, 04/26/10, School Library Journal, 05/01/10, and Wilson’s Children, 10/01/10.

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MTYT: The Night Diary

By Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Celeste Trimble, Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

We focus on the theme of displacement and its representations in young adult and children’s literature in this July’s My Take/Your Take. With the present day global and national focus on anti-immigration and children being kept is cages point towards the necessity of giving this theme attention in any or all forums that we as citizens have access to. The textset within this forum includes strong narratives that speak to the issue in various parts of the world, some as historical present and others as historical past that still seems relevant to today. The five books to be discussed each week are The Night Diary, The Bone Sparrow and Guantanamo Boy, Internment, Amal Unbound, and Saltiepie.

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