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Native Pathways to Education
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Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature

Criteria for analyzing Alaska Native Children's Literature
By Jennie McLean

Is this book truthful and respectful? Would anything in this book embarrass or hurt a Native child? Is anything in this book stereotypic thinking in a non-Native child?

NAME OF BOOK: Toughboy & Sister copyright 1990

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT AND WHERE IT COMES FROM? The summary in the book states: "The death of their drunken father strands ten-year-old Toughboy and his younger sister at a remote fishing cabin in the Yukon, where they spend a summer tying to cope with dwindling food supplies and hostile wildlife."

The summary in the book like the parts in the book about the drunken father, these statements I didn't really care for. While a lot of the children in the villages have to deal with alcoholism in the home I felt that this part of the story could have been written differently and with more compassion. I feel that reading this book some children might be afraid that this could happen to their family and may cause them to be afraid of all people who drink.

WHAT REGION OR TRIBAL GROUP IS THIS BOOK PORTRAYING?
This story I believe like the rest of Hill's stories takes place along the Yukon River in the area around Ruby and Nulato. This is the Doyon region and all the villages have their own tribes.

FRONT COVER OF BOOK AND ILLUSTRATOR:
Illustration by Diana Zelvin, 1992 and Cover design by Rebecca Laughlin

INFORMATION FROM BOOK SELLERS SUCH AS AMAZON OR OTHERS ON WHAT THE BOOK IS PORTRAYING:
This is a book review from the internet site kidsandbaby:

three starsToughboy and Sister, tough language as well

After reading "The Year Of Miss Agnes" with my 9 year old we eagerly ordered "Toughboy and Sister". What a disappointment! I don't feel that even mild profanity is appropriate in a book sold for the 9-12 age level. Nor was I pleased with two different examples of taking the Lord's name in vain. This book was ordered for a book report for my daughter but was a waste as it cannot be used in her Christian school.

The sad thing for us is that the story is great, and would have been just as good without including words that are offensive to a whole group of parents.

Another book review from the same site:

five starsToughboy and Sister

Toughboy, age 11, and sister, age 9 have only their alcoholic dad to care for them after their mother's death. They get excited about going to fish camp, even though it will be the first trip without mom. Shortly after they arrive to camp, their father leaves. Toughboy and sister learn to prepare meals, take care of themselves, catch fish the way their parents once had, and reminisce about past times. One day the dad returns on the boat, dead. They are then stranded at the fish camp for many weeks; finally Natasha saves them. At this point, they both realize the tremendous positive affect being stranded has had upon them.

The book, in my opinion, tells a very good story. It provides a positive ending to a suspenseful, intriguing story. If you like survival stories, you will definitely enjoy this book!

AWARDS GIVEN FOR BOOK:

AUTHOR: Kirkpatrick Hill

Good points: I know of Kirkpatrick Hill and her books and I use them in my classrooms but nothing was written about the author in this book.

Bad points: Did not tell about the author in this book

ILLUSTRATIONS: Cover illustration copyright Diana Zelvin, 1992. Cover Design by Rebecca Laughlin.

Good points: I though that the front cover depicted what Toughboy & Sister would of looked like. They looked like Alaska Athabascan Indians. I don't think that the children then or now would be wearing white shirts though.

Bad points: It did not give any information on the illustrator or designer of cover.

Information about Illustrator: none given for this book. It would have been nice to know more about the illustrator and the author.

INFORMATION FROM AN ELDER FAMILIAR WITH THIS TIME AND PLACE?

PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS IN BOOK: could they sound out the words by showing it in parentheses ( ).

LOOK AT PICTURES:
Properly illustrating what the book is about and the people that it is portraying.
As stated in the illustrator's section, I liked the cover of this book.

LOOK FOR STEREOTYPES:
Look at both the writings and pictures to see if they are stereotyping the culture which the book is about.

LOOK FOR LOADED WORDS:
Are racist adjectives used to refer to Native peoples? Is language used as to insult Native peoples? Is the language respectful?

LOOK FOR TOKENISM
Are Native people depicted as stereotypically alike, or do they just look just like whites with brown faces? Are they depicted as genuine individuals?

In this story the author writes stereotypes, loaded words and tokenism's that are not true of most Alaska Natives.

When father found out about his wife and unborn child dying in childbirth he, "got drunk somewhere", "daddy hated it when there were too many people around", Mamma was laid out in her coffin", "up there in the community hall, while everyone played cards around her and ate and drank".

When I read this part of the book it saddened me that the Athabascan people were portrayed as drunks and that the funeral was a burden to the father and he ignored his children for days. Also stated that the mother was laid in her coffin, I would of written a homemade casket or casket. It seems to me that she was just laid there with no respect. Also in the community hall people do sit around and play cards because we are never to leave the body alone until after they are laid to rest. It stated that they drank, is this stating that people were drinking alcohol because I know that drinking alcohol in the community hall during a burial is not allowed or ever was.

"What's the old man going to do about them kids?" on page 4 was unnessassary. I think of this statement as having no respect for the children and that they were not cared for by their father. The father was not an "old man", I think this is a loaded word.

LOOK FOR DISTORTION OF HISTORY
Is the time and place of the history in the story correct? Does it depict the right clothing, language, and way of life for that time and place in history? Is the U.S. government only "trying to help"?

Are there Native heroes who are admired because of what they have done for their own people? Are they elders shown as people that were greatly respected by the community?

The time and place were written with very vivid words and I could visualize myself there in the story. The Native heroes in the story were the father when he told Natasha that he could care for his children and they were old enough to care for themselves. Also it talked about the people of the village that helped out when needed. This part of the story I see as part of the village life on the Yukon. Alaska Native people are giving and caring people and this part of the story I truly enjoyed.

LOOK AT THE LIFESTYLES
Are Native cultures presented in a condescending manner? Are there paternalistic distinctions between "them" and "us"?
Are the Natives in the book respected and does it show respect for the complexity of their societies, values, religions, morals and connection to past and present?

LOOK FOR STANDARDS OF SUCCESS
Are the Natives portrayed as a helpless and less of a person compared to a priest, teacher, or other non Native person that seems to know what is "good for them" (the Natives).

LOOK AT THE ROLE OF WOMEN, MEN AND ELDERS
Do the women do all the work? Are the men lazy? Are the elders treated with respect or are they looked upon as a burden to the people? Are the customs of the elders valued?

LOOK AT THE EFFECTS ON A CHILD'S SELF-IMAGE
Is there anything in the story that would hurt or embarrass a Native child? Are there one or more role models with whom a Native child can identify? Are the children encouraged to succeed by their elders and parents?

In the story they say that Natasha chose to take the children in and raise them was nearly seventy years old. Many older people in the villages during this time took care of other peoples children or their grandchildren. My great grandmother Anna Stickman took in many children and was a very caring and compassionate woman and very well respected. She was never mean or came off as being non-approachable by children. In this story they say that the children and others were alittle afraid of Natasha. People were not afraid of the medicine people, they were respected not seen as voodoo people.

OVERALL VIEW OF THE BOOK AND RATED BETWEEN 1 - 10
I truly enjoyed this story even with the little problems with some of the wording of problems that arose during these children's lives. I would still chose to use this in the classroom because it does depict the lifestyle of the Athabascan people of this time. I think the author made the characters real and belieable

The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.

The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified August 21, 2006