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SHOW ME A SIGN, by Ann Clare Le Zotte--a group review

Alexis, 19: I have a long-term relationship with this author. I was a volunteer and then intern at the library where she works. She introduced me to AICL and Debbie Reese. She helped raise funds to create a trust for Indigo (2002- 2018), and for my care in an ED clinic. She helps edit our blogs and is still a go-to for help and advice. I read part of a previous version of this book and offered specific corrections on the galleys, which Ms. Ann included. We will try to be neutral in this review as we were with Ms. Debbie and Ms. Jean's AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNTED STATES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. Like that book, we are reviewing SHOW ME A SIGN not as a favor but because we feel it has value.


This book will not be published till March 3, 2020. We did a group read. This discussion includes few spoilers (none of the major plot twists) because we think it's necessary to evaluate the book.

Alexis, 19: There are a lot of books by White authors for young readers set in the "American" past  that romanticize nostalgia and erase Indigenous history and/or perpetuate harmful stereotypes.



Charlie, 17: The cover kind of looks like that. It's a beautiful illustration. But some may worry at that white collar and plain, pretty face. On the other hand, the girl's hands are not typical.

Michael, 18: Yes! I haven't seen too many books with people using sign language in the cover.

***ALEXIS: I'M ADDING THIS NOTE THE DAY AFTER THE INITIAL BLOG. I CHOSE THE FOLLOWING PHOTO AND WROTE THE CAPTION TO FOLLOW MICHAEL'S OBSERVATION ABOUT DEAF SIGNING PEOPLE NOT BEING PRESENT ON BOOK COVERS. IT'S INSULTING NOT FUNNY. AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE IS ROUTINELY DENIED TO DEAF CHILDREN, WHILE IT IS POPULAR WITH HEARING BABIES. IT IS PART OF A RICH HISTORY AND CULTURE THAT IS THE HEART OF SHOW ME A SIGN. I APOLOGIZE FOR THE HURT I HAVE CAUSED. I WILL CONTINUE TO LEARN FROM WHAT DEAF PEOPLE SHARE AND TRY TO DO BETTER.

                                                                  Nope--not that one!

Ashleigh, 13: What's the sign she's making?

Alexis: It's my understanding that it looks like it could be a number of ASL signs--but not completely, because it's static. The sign language in the book is an extinct sign language--Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL). Deafness on the island was a recessive genetic trait which affected all genders equally and produced no anomalies except for complete deafness. [I'm getting this from the back matter.] That is, among the White settler population from the late 1700s till the 1950s. It was and is a Wampanoag island called Noepe.

             
Charlie: I like the quote at the beginning about Deaf people always being here before we thought about them. The dedication to Ms. Ann's brother who she lost is sad, and explains why the loss of a sibling in the book is heartfull.

Alexis: I think the production is good and it grabs you from the first page. We all agreed it is an amazing Deaf representation. None of us have read anything like it before. Now let's discuss the Native and Black representation. On the first page of the Prologue, the MC eleven-year-old Mary Lambert describes Martha's Vineyard/Noepe as "...the lost paradise that the English captain who named the land after his daughter was seeking long ago." Some Native readers may stop reading there, thinking it's one of those books.

                                    Martha's Vineyard, first and always called Noepe.

Charlie: To stop at the first page would be a little extreme. But after the last book I read by a White person with an Indigenous character and relationship, I'm feeling tired. Elders may think that's enough for them.

Michael: I'm feeling different here. I have CP and I'm dyslexic. There are so few disabled own voices, I'm ready to hang in there. Plus, we do know something about the author. I trust for this not to be the kind of story where we have to put up with a White girl's ignorance and insults.

                         Autistic author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag #ownvoices.

Alexis: That's called a "White awakening narrative." We should always be suspicious of it, even with marginalized White authors who are our friends. I was nervous on page 10 when Mary observes: "Mama socializes only with English women. She is glad early missionaries to the island succeeded in Christianizing so many Wampanoag. I was raised to accept her beliefs." I felt better when she added: "But since George died too young and without just cause, I have begin to question everything." I can relate to eleven-year-old girls who question everything! It's introduced so early in the book we don't have to listen to her old pious ideas. That was smart if you care about Native and Black kids reading your book, as I believe Ms. Ann does.



Ashleigh: I like Mary all right. It's Nancy that's terrible. She runs away when she first sees Thomas because he's Black. She says (I mean, signs!) to Mary about Thomas' wife Helen: "She is just an Indian."

Charlie: Do you think Mary should stand up to Nancy more?



Michael: Since I was a kid, I've had friends who make ugly remarks about queer people or POC or Jewish people. I am getting better about standing up to them. I think the book is realistic about Mary, who goes through all kinds of bad things, learning to be who she is--that's not easy with ableism from any time--and fight bullies.


Alexis: To be fair, Mary isn't totally weak. She signs to Nancy: "You're not going to tell the truth, even now?" Nancy threatens her with a disclosure that Mary thinks would make her parents hate her. But I don't want to give too much away...

Charlie: This will sound weird. I'm happy there are prejudiced characters in the book. In your own house. Not just over there, on the other side of the fence. I've read White books in school like that--where every child's holding hands and besties in ridiculous situations. In this book, not all the White main characters--or even all the Deaf people--are good people. Mary interacts with everyone--she's privileged till she's taken--but she mostly admires her father and teacher who are righteous.


Ashleigh: I think Ms. Ann tried hard to do the opposite of that book and this new book that Ms. Debbie just wrote about. Looking out the windows at snowy fields as a prisoner in Boston, Mary thinks about the Massachusett Nation who lived there.



Alexis: Wow! We're touching on a lot of important points. Here's some set up. There is a loving Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah family in the book--former slave (manumission) Thomas Richards, his wife Helen and daughter Sally. Thomas labors as a farm hand for the Lamberts, Mary's family. Helen is a washerwoman for the Skiffes, Nancy's parents who are both Deaf and horrid. Sally spends time helping both parents, and she loves horses. I understand why Ash can't stand Nancy. I am more sympathetic, because her father is an abusive alcoholic.


Charlie: It's obvious from Mary's first conversation with Thomas that Ms. Ann has been listening to Native scholars, like Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Kim TallBear's work on DNA.


Mary: "Why do you say Aquinnah instead of Gay Head?"
Thomas: "For the same reason I say Noepe instead of Martha's Vineyard. All Wampanoag use the names of our ancestors..."
...
"But they're not your ancestors." I make the sign for a tree with long branches to indicate ancestors.
"They are my ancestors, Mary....My place is with the Wampanoag Tribe."
"But you don't have Indian blood."
"The Wampanoag don't see it the same way," he explains. "It's not just about blood. My wife, daughter and I belong in the town of Aquinnah. We share the same beliefs and customs. We participate in ceremonies to honor the Great Being Moshup. We work hard to sustain our small community."
...
"What about Sally?" I ask. "She is half Indian and half black. Mama says that means she can't lay claim to Wampanoag land."
"My daughter will inherit her mother's land. My history is also her legacy. A few in Aquinnah disapprove of my marriage to Helen, but Sally belongs fully to the Wampanoag Nation."
"But Mama is half French, which means I am a quarter French..."
Thomas smiles without answering and goes back to work. I think he knows he set my mind spinning.

Michael: Ms. Ann really did her homework. One sensitivity reader was Penny Gamble-Williams, activist and spiritual leader of the Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation. She's amazing--look her up! Ms. Ann listened to and worked with the best.


Ms. Penny

Charlie: Ms. Ann highlights how the White people are obsessed with blood quantum and owning every piece of land. Like in the White town hall meeting. Mary's teacher is the only one saying, "I do believe in compromise." The rest look like maniacs! "Ridiculous! I will not be responsible for the alleged sins of the fathers." "We don't recognize them [Wampanoag of Aquinnah] as a sovereign nation."

Alexis: What are some of the weaknesses in SHOW ME A SIGN? I see Ms. Ann falling into teaching about the "three sisters" and Mary wanting to wear deerskin clothing and moccasins as too stereotypical for the rest of the book, which contains excellent things.



Ashleigh: You're being picky. There are a lot of strengths. I like the ghost stories--not about 'Indians'! Ms. Ann doesn't make a close comparison between the way the Richards family are treated every day and how Mary is treated in Boston. Mary can go back to the safety of her home. She probably has PTSD, poor girl! The Wampanoag's home has been destroyed by colonizers like the Lambert family.

Alexis: Ms. Ann doesn't explain the belief in Moshup or what ceremony the Richards are going home for. She allows the Wampanoag their own thoughts and lives outside of the White folks. Sally saying, "I need a private place sometimes," may be the most relatable line in the book. And this: "We can't hide from our ancestors' misdeeds."  That's Mary's father telling her some ugly truths about the founder of the island's Deaf community who is a relative and hero!!!!

                                                            Jonathan Lambert

I don't mean to be too picky! I don't want to seem like I'm showing favor to Ms. Ann. I *love* Sally--she's real to me. We share a love of horses and both pay careful attention to small details. She shares a 'bad dad joke' with Thomas. My biggest complaint is probably too little Sally. I want her story expanded. Like Pam Munoz Ryan's PAINT THE WIND with Sally and Bayard. I also appreciate that Nancy gets away from her abusive father--and maybe can become someone better.

                                                            Bayard the magical horse

Charlie: I like Thomas. He doesn't just exist to give Mary wisdom. He stands up for his wife and daughter when he could be badly punished for it. He tells Mary: "It was good of you to speak the truth." That's a good lesson for White kids. Alexis keeps saying "Native and Black representation"--but Thomas and Sally are Black Native. You don't see that a lot. There is one slur for kids who have biracial parents in the book. Not halfb----. It may hurt some people. I think it's necessary in the story. It comes right before everything changes.

Michael: We haven't mentioned the villain scientist Andrew Noble one time. This is a book about how White Deaf people made a community and where American Sign Language for everyone came from. We all agree seeing Mary treated like an animal was horrible after we saw how she is smart and capable and trying to do the right thing. At one point, she hits bottom and questions her self-worth.
The flame I was keeping lit inside of me snuffs out... Darkness grows on the edges of my vision...My hands make signs, and I don't know what I am saying...Could we have been wrong on the island? Are deaf-mutes lower beings?
Maybe it hit me harder because I've been in a wheelchair since I was born. There are still many people who look with disgust at disabled people. They only talk about cures and think we'd be better off dead. This book may not change their minds--but it's an argument against them. Ms. Ann writes like she works at the library--to give kids tools to feel better about themselves.

                                             Ms. Ann leading Sensory Storytime

Alexis, Ashleigh,  Charlie, Michael: This is the first book by a White author (Ms. Jean is a co-author) on Indigo's Bookshelf that we RECOMMEND!!!!

Here is a starred review from Kirkus. "A vivid depiction of Deaf community along with an exciting plot and beautiful prose make this a must-read."


*HUGE THANKS to Alexis' mother Gail. We couldn't go to Ms. Ann to fix our grammar and ask us to clarify what we meant on this one. All of our parents and guardians encourage us to be critical but fair. We love and honor all of them--and understand their fears about us having a social media presence.





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