Wednesday, March 5, 2008


As some of you know, my mother teaches junior high English classes. She is looking to add a new book to her syllabus, one for 8th graders that would appeal to both boys and girls. She is considering the Alexie book, and I recommended The Trap by John Smelcer (another Native American title). She wants something that would hold the kids' interest and have a wide appeal. Does anyone have any great suggestions?


Debbie Reese said...


Smelcer's book may be quite good, but I learned there are serious issues related to his claim to Native identity. If your mother chooses his book and does an author study, the kids will find out that Smelcer's father publicly stated that Smelcer was adopted and not raised in the Alaskan Native community.

I maintain a blog called American Indians in Children's Literature. If you do a search on that term, you'll find it. I wrote about Smelcer there, twice.

I think your mother really should use the Alexie book. It is AWESOME. She could also consider a historical fiction text called MY NAME IS SEEPEETZA. It's about a First Nations girl, and her experiences in boarding schools designed to "kill the Indian, save the man." I've written about that book, too, and found a terrific video of a middle school teacher using that book in a classroom in the northwest US.

My blog is recommended/required reading by professors in over 100 classes in the US and Canada, in Library School, Education, and English.

Amanda said...

Thanks for the input, Debbie. I know nothing about Smelcer, just that I enjoyed his book. I'll hop over to your blog when I have time and learn:)

And to everyone else, just to be clear, my mom isn't specifically looking for books about Native American characters, but she mentioned Alexie and it made me think of the Smelcer, which I had just read the other day.

Debbie Reese said...

I really liked the opening chapter of Smelcer's book, and posted about it on my blog, and immediately started hearing from people in Alaska about his claim to Native identity.

Appropriation of that identity for personal or professional gain is of major concern among Native people.

Cassandra Mortmain said...

I can't believe Debbie found the blog, because I was just popping in to point you in her direction. I haven't read The Trap myself, and I don't know where I stand on the complex identity politics the author's questionable ethnicity brings up, but I knew you would want to know that information regardless.

As another suggestion, I just finished Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl, and it was wonderful. It;s older (originially published in the late 60s I think) and it's sci-fi, so I don't know if it's what your mom is looking for, but I think it would be an incredible book for in-classroom use. Rather than just introducing the sci-fi elements of the plot for mere escapism, Engdahl uses them to engage with the world we live in right now, but in an exhilirating way- in the same way Lois Lowry does in The Giver. I enjoyed the book enormously, and can easily imagine it being a great discussion starter in a classroom.

Debbie Reese said...

Google has a "news alert" function that I set up periodically for one book title or another. I have one set right now for "The Trap" +Smelcer. When someone posts something with that info, Google's spiders find it and send me a news alert.

I have them set up for "American Indians" and "Native Americans" --- with this news-alert function, I have a sense of what is happening in cyberspace without having to do searches.

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