Now that Thanksgiving has passed and the holiday books begin to make their way back to your shelves, it’s the perfect time to train your critical eye upon this sometimes-controversial, and frequently inaccurate and inauthentic, array of titles.
As librarians and purveyors of information, we have a duty to provide resources that reflect truth and diversity. Many of our books often share the “First Thanksgiving” narrative that shows happy Pilgrims and American Indians* sharing a meal blissfully side by side. Or, this narrative shows up as a classic school play where children dress up.
The stories such as these that we find on our shelves often share only the white colonists’ perspective and neglect to share the reality of all parties. While newly published books about Thanksgiving aim to be factually accurate, language can be used craftily to avoid flagrant falsehoods while still following a stereotypical Thanksgiving narrative.
Admittedly, our collections won’t be perfect, and neither are we. I’m the first to admit that as a white, cis female librarian from a small-town, I don’t always feel that I can make a judgment call on my own: I rely on resources such as Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature and Oyate, an organization that publishes and reviews titles focused on American Indians, to inform my decisions.
When faced with these books, think about what the books in your Thanksgiving section say. From whose perspective are they written? Is everyone happy? Do the books show Pilgrims, but no American Indians? (Omitting is dangerous too!)
If you’re looking for book lists to help supplement or refresh your collection, both those tackling the concept of the First Thanksgiving and more generic titles about gratitude, start here:
- Thanksgiving Books: Authenticity and Accuracy – Ypsilanti District Library
- Good Books about Thanksgiving – American Indians in Children’s Literature
- Thanksgiving Resources – Oyate
Consider, too, ways in which you can celebrate American Indian people, culture and history outside of National Native American Heritage Month. Find non-fiction, fiction, and picture books that show contemporary American Indian life and include them in your displays, your programs, your storytimes. Explore the resources of the National Museum of the American Indian. And finally, know that you make a difference by choosing to show representation when and where it counts.
*Many articles, blogs, etc will use Native American and American Indian interchangeably. I’m choosing to use American Indian, as Debbie Reese does, unless referring to a proper noun that specifies the use of Native American.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competency IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.
Alexandria Abenshon, Library Manager (and children’s librarian at heart) at the New York Public Library, is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post offers practical advice about how to avoid misleading or offensive presentations of the Thanksgiving narrative to readers. It is an appropriate and welcome topic for discussion by professionals in the field, as well as for caregivers. We all need to be aware of this deeply painful part of the American past.
What astonishes me about the decision to run this post is the context. After the mass murder in Pittsburgh, I hoped there would be an ALSC response on this blog, including, as this one does, a list of resources to combat prejudice and hate. There has been none.
The fact that the author of this post works at the NYPL, one of the most diverse cities in our country, including a large Jewish population, makes it even more egregious. Ms. Abenshon could not have been unaware of the tremendous outcry, as well as the supportive participation, of many New Yorkers of different races, religions, and ethnic groups, in showing solidarity with their Jewish neighbors. Many joined us in discussing ways to respond to the event, particularly in speaking with children.
At first I thought that the ALSC’s silence was an example of indifference. Now I feel it might be more deliberate. Members of a Public Awareness Committee should take seriously their obligation to be aware.
Here is a link to my ALA OIF post on the subject:
Thank you for your comment and we recognize your concern. ALSC has resources available addressing anti-Semitism in our Serving Diverse Communities working document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zv7DiiyOHRrwTjEbrWbkE0UvJcZ0qDGCu9lhE1AHdhE/edit. Additionally, the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Love Your Neighbor booklist along with other booklists highlighting diverse voices were shared in our quarterly newsletter earlier this month: http://www.ala.org/alsc/alscconnectonline/alsc-matters-november-2018-vol-16-no-4.
ALSC welcomes the opportunity to talk with you directly and work together on ways we can further resource and information share. ALSC Leadership will reach out to you soon to discuss your concern.
Allie Jane Bruce
Once again, Ms. Schneider is attempting to derail a conversation about countering anti-Indigenous racism. This is a sad pattern. That she has labeled the mere *existence* of this post as “egregious” is extremely telling, and disturbing. She sees someone working towards Native equity and says “this is an attack on Judaism.” It is nothing of the sort. Why, Ms. Schneider, why, do you *always* frame the situation as if anything that counters anti-Native or racist patterns necessarily exists in opposition to efforts to fight anti-semitism? (How’s that for a mouthful?) (Please don’t answer the question, it was rhetorical.) (And for anyone who’s wondering, I’m Jewish.) (Read more about Schneider’s pattern of leveraging anti-Semitism to belittle Native and Black people in this excellent Twitter thread by Sarah Hamburg: https://twitter.com/sarahrhamburg/status/1024731001161965568)
Thank you, Alexandria, for this post!
I feel optimistic about my own work when I see others writing posts that urge people to think critically about what libraries have on their shelves.
Where exactly in my comment did I say that writing about native equity is “an attack on Judaism?” You must know that I have claimed nothing of the sort, nor have I even used that phrase.
My comment, in fact, affirms the importance of correcting prejudiced Thanksgiving narratives, and also refers to the positive and encouraging sense of solidarity I experienced at gestures of support and empathy from many non-Jews after the Pittsburgh attack.
It is truly awful to read an accusation that standing up for the Jewish people entails “belittling” others.
The most revealing part of your comment is your assertion that you don’t want an answer because your accusations are rhetorical. That says a lot.
I feel awkward about this conversation.
I was (and still am) thrilled that ALSC published Alexandria’s post.
Then, I read Emily’s comment and thought “Emily, again?” I don’t know Emily, but as far as I can remember, her name and concerns became known to me when she responded last year to ALSC’s conversations about changing the name of the Wilder award. In more than one place where that topic was raised, she commented to support it but also to express her concerns over what she characterizes as indifference to anti-Semitism.
It felt and feels like she’s using conversations about the Wilder name change and articles about Native concerns as a way to raise visibility for her own.
Many of us, me included, use opportunities to raise our respective concerns.
I’m guessing that Emily read Alexandria’s post and thought “again?” too–with her “again” referring to another instance in which ALA or ALSC or the author of this or that post had not done a similar post about the need for public advocacy for Jewish children, families, communities.
Emily is advocating for more public support from ALA and others. That’s what I do with my work, too. Emily refers to “the context” in which Alexandria’s post appears. By “context” she means the rising anti-Semitism and attack in Pittsburgh. For me, the context is “Native American month” and the tiring ways that the US does up “Thanksgiving.”
To me–in the contexts I occupy on and offline–Emily’s commenting on posts about the name change and about Native concerns feels a bit more than using an opportunity to raise concerns. It feels to me like her initial words of support in these comments (about supporting the topic), are kind of convenient rather than sincere because the purpose of her comment is about the need for more public support regarding anti-Semitism.
All of this makes me think about how we–advocates for children and their books–navigate conversations about them and those books. So many of us carry scars inflicted on our souls, personally, and as a body of people that have been targets of hate and genocide.
Emily–the pattern of your comments in these online conversations (Allie Jane Bruce notes it, too) make me think that I’ve done something to hurt you. Have I? That’s a sincere question.
Your suggestion that my statement of support for a more accurate presentation of Thanksgiving is insincere is completely unfair and impossible to refute. Anyone can question the sincerity of someone’s expression of respect and support for a cause. Readers who are interested in my work can find it online and make their own judgments. I commented on this piece because I thought it was relevant and important. I then raised a question which I had already discussed in my OIF post because the Thanksgiving article and list of resources was exactly the type of response I had hoped to see after the Pittsburgh murders. You have certainly posted comments in different publications and blogs raising American Indian issues even when they were not the central topic of the post because you saw a relevant connection. I would never accuse you of insincerity or opportunism for doing so. There can be more than one context for an article.
My comment was not about the Wilder Award. I have written about that in the past. I received a lot of positive as well as negative feedback for my position. Again, readers may look up my articles and blog posts. I would like to point out that all the attacks on my allegations of bias against Jews in the work of a Wilder Award winner were exclusively based on questioning my right to criticize the author’s work. Not one comment or tweet addressed my discussion of why the book in question was compromised by centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes. I’m sure that you appreciate the importance of engaging with the specific content of biased books because that is exactly what you do in your writing.
There are many causes for outrage in Trump’s America. Many people are under attack. The Pittsburgh murders were only piece of dramatic and alarming evidence that American Jews are vulnerable in this climate. I maintain that the ALSC and the children’s literature world in general could do much more to show solidarity for our community, rather than continually sidelining us in the quest for diversity in children’s books, which I fully support as it applies to people of color, Native Americans/American Indians, the LGBTQ community, women, and other oppressed groups.
I hope that I do not have a history of going to posts about oppressed peoples, and saying LOOK AT US (Native peoples). I do comment and raise Native concerns elsewhere but I sure hope it isn’t on pages about mistreatment of Jewish people, or African Americans, or any of the too many groups that Whiteness has oppressed.
It feels personal to me that you’re doing it here and that you did it on posts about the name change to the Laura Ingalls Wilder award . It feels like you, in your effort to bring attention to anti-Semitism, are willing to stomp all over us.
Allie Jane Bruce
You started your comment with a few sentences about how useful the post is, and then went on to describe the existence of the post, in this context, as “astonishing” and “egregious”. You later suggested that this post reveals that ALSC is deliberately ignoring Jewish concerns. It is clear from your comment that you view the very existence of this post as an assault on Jewish people. You can surely see why Debbie and I don’t buy your initial statements. It feels like a shield you set up to defend yourself against anyone calling you out on your subsequent statements.
The fact that the only context you are capable of seeing right now is Pittsburgh reveals that you are operating from a White Jewish default. (You said, “the context is Pittsburgh”. You didn’t say “the context is Pittsburgh AND Thanksgiving AND Native American Month”.)
This blogpost is the second the Public Awareness Committee blog has posted since Pittsburgh (the first is here: https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2018/11/library-services-to-immigrant-and-refugee-families-alsc-library-service-to-special-populations-toolkit/). You did not comment on that post. You commented on THIS one, consistent with your pattern of interrupting conversations about Native rights in an attempt to steer them towards Jewish concerns.
This is deeply personal for me. When I see you leveraging anti-semitism in the service of stomping on Native people, I feel mortified, as a Jewish person. And I say: NOT IN MY NAME.
Please, please, stop.
Just a friendly reminder about the ALSC Blog Policy regarding comments:
Comments are open to all but may be moderated by the Blog Manager. Commentary, opinion, and reaction to posts are welcome. Comments should be relevant to the specific post to which they refer. ALSC reserves the right to remove, or not to post, comments unrelated to the mission of the blog. Spam, flaming, personal attacks, and off-topic comments are not permitted.
Mary R. Voors/ALSC Blog Manager