Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Honor Tree

Normally I do not review picture books on this blog because YA books are typically more complex and need more thorough reviews.  It's easy to sit down and read through a picture book and usually the reviews you will find of them tell you everything you need to know.  Professionally, I feel reviewing YA books is needed more.

However, this is too bad to not review.  That's right, too bad.  I received my copy of this book from the author, Ava McAllister,  herself.  Warning signals started going off in my head the moment I looked at the cover.  The story is about a young Native American boy named Indigo who is supposed to find honor one day so he can plant his honor tree.  Going about his day and searching for some honor, he encounters different people from his village and helps them out in various ways.  That afternoon he goes back to his village to prepare for the ceremony but he's disappointed because he couldn't find any honor.  His father gives him a little pep talk about all the kind things he did for people that day and how that is true honor.  So Indigo feels better and plants his tree.

I'll address my issues with the author and the book in an orderly fashion.  
  1. According to the back of the book, Ms. McAllister's degrees are in the biological sciences and her career is in the healthcare industry.
  2. Ms. McAllister is from Connecticut, but she makes no mention of working with or consulting any of the Native American tribes from her area or any other area.  Nor is there any indication that Ms. McAllister is Native American herself.
  3. Although I did not do extensive research, nowhere can I find any evidence of any North American Native cultures having an "honor tree."  If any Native American person out there reads this and knows otherwise, I will most humbly apologize and believe you. 
  4. Using the Oyate Criteria for Evaluating Books, my own knowledge of Lakota culture (which isn't extensive but I take it very seriously), and other random knowledge of mine here are my cultural issues with the book: 
  • The main character is named Indigo
  • Another village boy is named Shiloh, which is a Hebrew word
  • A hunter named is Tomahawk
  • The text says Tomahawk is testing a crossbow when Indigo comes across him.  My husband bow hunts so I know enough about bows to know that the bow pictured in the book is not a crossbow, a long bow, or a compound bow - it's a recurve bow.  I also have not found any evidence that Native American historically used crossbows. The Inuit people did use them for hunting. However, not until enslaved Africans were brought to North America did crossbow technology develop in the area now called the continental U.S.
  • Indigo's father is named Riverwolf
  • Indigo encounters a medicine woman, which is Plains Indian culture and the story is clearly set on the East Coast (like say, in Connecticut) 
  • Indigo has two eagle feathers in his hair at his ceremony.  Traditionally in various Native American cultures, eagle feathers were given to an individual for great acts of heroism including (but definitely not limited to) a brave act in battle, saving a life/lives, etc.  It is highly unlikely that a boy of Indigo's age would have one feather let alone two.        
  • The illustrations of people are very generic and other than coloring, they don't really look like Native Americans. 
 So I urge you, no matter what the message of this book is, don't purchase it - there are better ones out there.

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