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The Secret Project

Here’s a book with lots of starred reviews — and lots of controversy. What will the Caldecott committee make of that? Some will be reading every review and blog post they can find about each of their nominated books, while others will stay away from social media and review journals all year. While it might be interesting to look at how various committees handle social media, we won’t be doing that now. Maybe later, or maybe it’s better to leave that beast alone. This post will just look at this one book. Plenty!

The Secret Project, illustrated by Jeanette Winter, is about atomic bomb research and testing at Los Alamos, New Mexico, during WWII, and was written by Winter’s son, Jonah Winter. It stands out because of its subject matter and because of the stark ending, which will undoubtedly lead to questions from children. Compared to other books on the bomb, this seems to be for a very young audience. As most of us know, children don’t shy away from asking difficult questions. How will adults answer those questions? Will teachers and librarians even put themselves in a position where they might have to explain such discouraging information?

If you haven’t seen this book yet, I may be getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back a bit.

When I pick up a book illustrated by Jeanette Winter, I know what to expect. Her art is tranquil and neat, with simplified settings showing repeated shapes and flat colors. Somehow, the overall effect is not antiseptic; it’s cozy. When I saw the subject of this book, I wondered how she could possibly illustrate a story so full of complexity, secrecy, and — let’s be frank — the potential destruction of life on this planet. The first three quarters of the book are classic Winter, with cleanly imagined settings in tidy squares. And then, amazingly, she goes for it. As the scientists crouch down and wait for the first atomic bomb test detonation, the white space surrounding her images changes to a dark green. The text reads simply, “The countdown begins” and the page-turn reveals a dark green spread with no art. Just words in various sizes and shades — “Ten. Nine. Eight” — counting down to the smallest and lightest — “One…” Next, two wordless spreads show a sequence of four vertical rectangles with the infamous growing mushroom cloud. There is just one more spread, so what will that page turn reveal? Where is she going and what will she choose? The answer is: nothing. All we see is a flat black spread. Questions, anyone?

Because this is a modern-day information book, there is back matter to help answer some of those questions. The answers provided are stark, but they also contain a seed of hope, suggesting that it may someday be possible to reduce the number of nuclear weapons on this planet.

My adult self is so awed by the art and design of this book that it is difficult for me to imagine how I might have reacted as a child. When I first heard about nuclear weapons and their potential (at around age 6), my world view changed for good. Adult reassurance that the worst would “probably never happen” didn’t help. Would I want to be the adult who changed a child’s life in this way? Honestly, no. Do I think this book is gutsy, honest about its primary subject, and uses the picture book form to its fullest extent? Yes.

This might have been the end of my post. Except, remember that controversy? The Secret Project was published early in 2017. Soon after that, Debbie Reese (a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman and author of the “American Indians in Children’s Literature” blog) pointed out some problems, and so did Edward T. Sullivan (author of The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb, 2007).

Reese has two primary objections. The text mentions Hopi Indians “in the faraway nearby,” a repeated phrase Jonah Winter uses to get across the idea that there were very few people living near the test zone. A Hopi artist is shown “carving beautiful dolls out of wood,” and Reese explains not only that the Winters’ use of the term “kachina dolls” is archaic but that they are not dolls or toys but specific figures, each with a distinct spiritual significance. [Preceding edits made after posting] Reese doesn’t elaborate on the specifics because their significance is private. I get the impression that these figures should not be appropriated by non-Native people unless they fully understand their significance, and it’s unlikely that such details would be revealed to an outsider. Moving on to her second objection, Reese explains that the area around Los Alamos was far from empty. While Hopi people were living about 300 miles away, there was a Pueblo reservation much closer. Reese herself grew up 30 miles away. Why, she asks, does the text focus on Hopi people 300 miles away when there were San Ildefonso Pueblo only 17 miles from the blast site? She asserts that the text erases some of the native people in that area.

Sullivan believes that The Secret Project‘s attempt to write about the first atomic bomb in a picture book is “ambitious” and “laudable,” but he describes the text as “misleading” due to various “factual errors and omissions” in descriptions of the project. Can the problems Sullivan points out be explained by the Winters’ wish to translate a complicated situation into a narrative young children can understand? Will the committee, as part of their research, read Sullivan’s book, as well as Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon? There’s no question that being on the Caldecott committee involves reading more than than just picture books.

If I were on the Caldecott committee this year, The Secret Project would have started out on my personal Top Ten list. But I would also need to assess the problems that Reese and Sullivan point out. While it is clear that the Winters did substantial research, it is also clear that their research did not go far enough and did not include the best possible sources.

I am among the vast majority of people in this country who do not know enough about its indigenous populations. I wish my elementary-school geography and history lessons had devoted as much time to the actual history and roots of this land as they did to Columbus and the “discovery” of the New World. If they had, maybe everyone involved in creating and reviewing this book would have caught the errors Reese points out before the book was printed. I think the real tragedy of this situation is that our collective ignorance may have sunk what would otherwise have been an amazing and groundbreaking book.

So, can this book win the Caldecott? Can any book with a lot of controversy surrounding it win? My opinion is that the medal will never go to a book with a lot of social-media controversy. For a book to win, it needs a majority of first place votes. That’s eight of the fifteen people discussing the books.

That’s my hunch.

Read the starred Horn Book Magazine review of The Secret Project.

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Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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  1. Patrick J says:

    Ed Sullivan is *one* reviewer. Have you fact-checked what he said? What is the basis of his expertise? One out of print book for 12 year olds? He’s not a historian or a physicist.

    Reese has also said that she has no problem with the use of the word “dolls.” Please context this. See her response to my goodreads review of The Secret Project (under Patrick J.).

    This review points up the flaws in the reviewing process. Fact-checkers are taken at their word. And even their word is distorted (e.g. “dolls”).

  2. Patrick J says:

    Correction: “Please context this” should read “Please correct this”

  3. Lolly, I will mercifully spare Horn Book readers (and those who have been following the discussions over the past weeks) redundancy, including the reiteration of still standing disagreements on the scene-specific alleged inaccuracies and/or anachronisms, as well as the unfounded notion that artistic representation of kachina dolls as opposed to the actual use of the figures or ceremonial violations, is unacceptable.

    Your major bone of contention is basically that the authors didn’t do enough research, and perhaps didn’t use the very best sources.There isn’t any evidence that the book is under researched, only that two people (Dr. Reese and Edward Sullivan) wish the Winters had written and illustraterd a different book. Reese wanted a book with Nambe Pueblos instead of Hopis and no kachinas. Sullivan wanted a book more like his own, I’m sure. In both cases, I think Reese and Sullivan weaponized 1-star reviews to get attention. Their challenges to the book should take it down from 5 to 4 stars or maybe 5 to 3. Even if we are to accept some of the objections, the one star rating is way out of line, but I do understand that this is what will gain one’s attention and perhaps raise their blood levels. 🙂

    A couple of people making a LOT of social media noise is not as I see it a social media controversy. We’ve seen such controversies in kidlit. This does not at all seem like one.

  4. Patrick J. says:

    Lolly,

    Did you reach out to Jonah or Jeanette Winter to explain their intentions and to respond to these criticisms? Your point appears to be that the book generated a lot of “controversy,” a controversy that consists of two people taking exception to the book: one on the rather facile and unconvincing grounds of erasure and one on bizarrely technical grounds. Have you tried to verify anyone’s claims about this book independently? It would seem that, as a journalist/critic, it’s your job to figure out – at least to your own satisfaction – whether there is any substance to this controversy and to take a stand on the issue. You do conclude that the Winters’ research was flawed, even though you say you would have to assess the claims made by Reese and Sullivan. If you didn’t assess them, how could you – who profess ignorance about indigenous people, and presumably the Manhattan project (and presumably Georgia O’Keefe, the source of the phrase “faraway nearby”) – conclude that they did not consult the best sources? Perhaps your ignorance on these matters has led you to trust the first people who came along to criticize this book. You wonder whether Caldecott members will read Edward Sullivan, whoever that is, but surely there are serious sources that you yourself could have consulted to make a decision about the quality of the Winters’ research and to determine whether the material was appropriately simplified and condensed for their audience. Did you consult any of these sources or are you simply reporting on what one blogger-scholar and one Goodreads commenter/author had to say?

    It is absurd on its face that two artists should put so much heart and soul into their work only to have their chances of being rewarded for it destroyed by two unchallenged commenters on the Internet. Is this all it takes to negate all of those starred reviews, all the responses of readers – including you – who admired the book when they first read it? Debbie Reese will be surprised to hear that her writing, which constitutes the lion’s share of the so-called “controversy” over this book, can prevent a book from winning a Caldecott, a charge which she has repeatedly denied.

  5. Lolly, I wish to include a link here to Patrick’s published response to Dr. Reese’s Good Reads review, which he also published at the same place. I do this in the interest of full exposure since both Dr. Reese’s and Ed Sullivan’s critique are included in your post, and this is basically the rebuttal. Thank you.

    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2004403792?type=review#rating_136767451

  6. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Hello, Sam and Patrick –

    Thanks for reading the post and commenting. This was a difficult one to write because only talking about the book itself seemed irresponsible. I tried to present the two voices against it in a descriptive way that held back my own judgement. I will certainly go back and fix any errors, trying to do so in a transparent way so the original post is still visible.

    I chose to link to Reese and Sullivan in my post, believing that other voices would add rebuttals, as you have. Now I would love to turn the conversation toward the art and design of this book because there is so much more we could say about that. For example, what do you think about the shifts in palette between the scientists & lab vs. the outside world?

  7. I would sincerely hope that two people taking issue with a book (or even three, five, a dozen, 200 people taking issue with a book) doesn’t keep it off the table for discussion. One person’s opinion doesn’t speak for everybody’s opinion. Surely reading reviews from both hoi polloi and scholars on Goodreads and any other social media platform has taught us that. Look at how many one star reviews previous Caldecott medal winning books have received.

    And I’ve said it during past “controversies” as well – my voice as a gay man does not represent all gay men’s voices. I don’t speak for my people. I speak for me. What I find offensive or inaccurate or galling is what I find offensive or inaccurate or galling, not what any other LGBTQ+ person does. I would be appalled if any committee listened to my voice above anyone else’s when determining which book to select as the medal recipient.

  8. Sam Juliano says:

    Aye, Joe.

    Lolly, thank you so much. I do welcome your shift suggestion with open arms and plan on engaging with your vital query as one compelling aspect of THE SECRET PROJECT’s impressive artistry. I will be thrilled to gather my own thoughts and post later this afternoon, as I like so many other elementary school instructors are doing the Halloween thing with parties and school parades for the next two hours or so. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the discussion, Lolly, and for including critical reviews of the book here. It would also be wonderful to see a move away from descriptions of critical commentary and analysis of children’s literature as “social media controversy.” Critiques from scholars, academics, and experts aren’t any more a “social media controversy” than this blog post or others on Calling Caldecott and Heavy Medal. I would love to see a time when discussions related to marginalization in children’s books aren’t themselves marginalized within the field, or presented as somehow outside of the main discourse on a book’s artistic attributes and merits.

    (Also, when it comes to books that have been the subject of such critical evaluation winning major awards, there are many recent examples, from Locomotive to The Hired Girl to Ghost to There is a Tribe of Kids.)

    At the end of the post, you reference the overwhelming misinformation about Indigenous peoples and cultures that non-Native students encounter in schools (and that Native students must negotiate as well.) You refer to this as a possible cause for some of the mistakes in this book, and a reason that many non-Native readers might not pick up on those errors. But of course, books like this then also become causes themselves — continuing the cycle of misinformation and misrepresentations when they are used with children. As long as the experience and expertise of Native critics, along with artistic concerns related to accuracy and representation, are held as controversial asides, that cycle just repeats itself.

  10. Lolly, to answer your question, I think the palette shifts are effective — red-orange outdoor beauty, followed by silhouettes working in black. Also, I don’t think I’ve seen such a powerful use of black in one picture book spread. (I’ve been noticing these more and more lately. For instance, I’ve had children request A Creepy Pair of Underwear, as but one example, at story times recently, since it’s a Halloween-esque read, and there’s an utter-blackness double page spread there. Used with reason. But in this book? It’s absolutely chilling.)

  11. I completely agree with Sarah (Hamburg) on the matter of “controversy.” I don’t however see any “mistakes”, just some differeing interpretatiosn and opinions.

    I also agree with Julie on the arresting color shift from the warm outside colors (still for me solemnly rendered deliberately) to the dark green employed for the clandestine gathering. I was about to say that black has never been used as powerfully and chillingly in a picture book, but Julie was right there on that point. The reaction of my first graders as I led them through the book with sporadic commentary was a hushed silence, with a few putting their hands over their mouths. Ms. Winter’s art here is spectacular, especially as the force of the red-orange tornado like torrent rises and then, suddenly with one turn of the page all turns the aforementioned terrifying black, which in this book represents nothingness in what can be seen as an end of the world scenario for people within range of the detonation. The ominous stark gray-black cover features bold, gravestone lettering and a back panel of the school before governmental intrusion. Hard to remember a picture book like this where your reaction is so immediate and cathartic.

  12. Anon2017 (for purposes of identification only) says:

    @Sarah, yes, sure, a critique is not a controversy. When that critique prompts many responses that do not agree with it, and when the discussion is held in public and continues for a while in different forums, it becomes a controversy, especially when the discussion gets heated. Any objective observer at RWW, Goodreads, Twitter, AICL, and WitD would have to acknowledge that this is a controversy, though Lolly has effectively stated how the issues of that controversy have narrowed and narrowed. This is because point after point of the Reese and Sullivan critiques have been effectively refuted, leaving only a few that need to be explored. Patrick J yesterday at 9:50 p.m. suggests a good way to explore them.

    It must be added that when discussion doesn’t become personal, and is conducted in an atmosphere of mutual calm, respect, and learning, it is less likely to become a controversy. It’s also less likely to be noticed, but for everything that is gained, there is something lost.

  13. Laura M. Jimenez says:

    Thank you for this commentary. As you noted, this picturebook is supposed to be a “modern-day information book”. If this is supposed to be an award winner then the information should be accurate and authentic to the people, time, place and events in the book. I am not suggesting some sort of perfect and unattainable Truth, rather I am suggesting a minimum of egregious errors.
    Some context. I am Chicanx and my family has been in Arizona, California since, literally, before there was a United States of America. In addition, I am a children’s literature teacher and scholar. I also take part in social media and public critical analysis of representation of mis and under-represented communities in children’s literature.
    Back to the book. I saw the book and immediately recognized the egregious misrepresentation of the Hopi (Who’s lands are in Northern AZ, not in NM). Again, I am NOT Native American, nor and I a Native American Scholar, but I have enough basic familiarity with the region to know where the Hopi are and where they are NOT.
    This issue trikes me as if someone wrote a picturebook about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (located Geneva, Switzerland) and mentioned that all the best Swiss clocks and watches are made in nearby Bologna, Italy (aprox. 300 miles from Geneva). That is factually wrong. No one would say that it doesn’t matter, or that it is nitpicking to suggest that Swiss and Italians are not interchangeable people, communities, or cultures.
    Claiming Hopi and Nambe Pueblo are interchangeable is factually wrong and completely in-authentic. For me this issue indicates a willingness to erase and misrepresent facts in a picturebook. The authors intentions are beside the point. The effect is the book is factually wrong.

  14. Thanks, Lolly, for pointing to my review. Thanks, too, for that paragraph about collective ignorance. In conversations I’ve had with Vicky Smith (of Kirkus), we talked about problems of omission. When to note them, when they matter, etc. Most people don’t even notice those problems–which is precisely what you’re getting at with “collective ignorance.”

    That ignorance will stay intact if we collectively choose to ignore the problems in books because we deem some other aspect of them more important. With this book, some think the subject matter overrides all else, and others think the quality of the art overrides all else. Some think majority makes right (the idea that since only two people have found problems in the book, we can be ignored).

    I’m glad that the problems are made more visible here, at Calling Caldecott. I’d like to point to the conversation that took place at Reading While White, between Allie Jane Bruce, Sam Bloom, and Elisa Gall: http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/2017/04/reviewing-while-white-secret-project.html
    I think all three of them have served on award committees. Their second-look at the book is helpful.

    Public conversations about books like this are important, so again, thank you for including my work on THE SECRET PROJECT.

  15. Speaking for myself I do believe that the subject matter and quality of the art does override all else in this case. The real threat of a nuclear war under the current administration cannot be underestimated. The matter of misrepresentation (the jury is still out on that point) of Pueblo and Hopis when both lived close enough to the events of the book seems to me a diversion, and self-serving. I have my sense of aesthetic, and don’t need to be told it is a measure of ignorance because someone else disagrees. There are plenty of scholars and book experts/critics who have not served on committees who have raved about the book, and have not relented to this moment. Ms. Reese of course will say she’s glad the “problems are made visible” while ignoring the praise the book has won on this same thread and virtually throughout the book community.

  16. Patrick J. says:

    Laura Jimenez: Does it change your view about this book in any way to know that J. Robert Oppenheimer had a katsina doll on his desk? It’s conceivable that the Winters were referring to that. Then again, if you assume that their research was flawed or bad, you couldn’t see this as a possibility. But it certainly does *seem* like they knew what they were doing though, right? Oppenheimer had a katsina doll on his desk and the katsina is referenced in the book – but without referring to Oppenheimer directly so as not to give the reader the sense that this katsina was “his” or that he himself understand what it represented. You think there’s confusion or sloppiness, but all I see is the subtlety and beauty – and morality – of art. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but we need to start weighing opinions and deciding which is more plausible. The confusion you see is pure projection. Does it change your view in any way to know that the phrase “faraway nearby” is from a letter by Georgia O’Keefe (who is alluded to in the book) and that it can be interpreted to mean “not literally nearby”? Does this seem like a stretch? At the very least, these facts must make one question whether the Winters thought of different Pueblo groups as “interchangeable.” At the very least, one should reconsider one’s claim that this constitutes an “egregious error” or even an error at all. It is an artistic choice that was made with good reason. For all the claims that the Winters’ research was flawed, it is remarkable that the people who are making these claims did not research what is *right there* on the surface of the book.

    It is also remarkable that only very rarely does anyone in these discussions address specific claims. Critics of the book keep assuming that the flaws are actually there, when this is precisely what we are debating. But when no one responds to specific questions or claims, we get nowhere and keep referring to previous discussions.

    Debbie: What constitutes “omission” is precisely what is at stake here. So long as we are shifting to a discussion of the illustrations, why is it not sufficient to represent the non-white inhabitants of the place visually without specifically naming all or any of them? If the San Idelfonso Pueblo were not included in the text neither was any other group.

    Lolly: Again, can you address the question of why no one seems to have reached out to the Winters to see what they think, or why you didn’t feel it was appropriate? You also say that you reserved judgment about the claims of the critics, but you say that clearly the Winters’ research was flawed. How do you square these two claims?

  17. Laura M. Jimenez says:

    Patrick,
    I cannot know what the authors meant or intended so I am ONLY considering the book. The book provides an inaccurate and inauthentic representation of a Hopi artist.
    The text reads, “Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries. Meanwhile, inside the laboratory, the shadowy figures are getting closer to completing their secret invention.” You are right – I don’t know where the authors’ meant by “faraway nearby”. I know, as a reader, that I was struck by the image of a vaguely, generic “Indian” making “dolls” because I know the Hopi make katsina and are no where near the lab.
    And the image of the man making a katsina isn’t even a Hopi!
    So, both the image and the text are inaccurate and it isn’t just a little thing. It is egregious because a) it could have been checked by using a simple Google search (where are the Hopi tribes?), and b) the history of erasure and misrepresentation of Native Americans in children’s literature is well documented.
    And your idea of “non-white inhabitants of the place visually without specifically naming all or any of them?” assumes the interchangeability of one tribe for another. The “non-white inhabitants” of the are would be the Pueblo, not Hopi.
    Is that specific enough to the book?

  18. I don’t have much to say that Debbie, Laura, and Sarah haven’t already said, except a plea: Time after time, I’ve seen Native misrepresentation/inaccuracy/sterotypes judged as less important than representation of [fill in the blank – in this case, nuclear bombs]. I’ve seen such mental and verbal gymnastics to to excuse bad Native rep. This contributes to the cycle of misinformation. Please don’t make this just one more case where Native kids are being told that they, their people, or their culture are less important than [fill in the blank].

  19. Patrick J. says:

    Allie: *Nobody* is saying, or at least I am not and haven’t seen anyone else saying, that misrepresentation isn’t important; this is *your* misrepresentation. What I am contending is that there are no misrepresentations in this book. All we have been presented with are idiosyncratic readings of images of roads and buildings, as well as the text itself, that show no knowledge of Oppenheimer, Georgia O’Keefe, Jeanette Winters extensive knowledge of katsina and the region, and so on. You’re also taking umbrage on behalf of people who have not expressed dismay about this book – no one except for one person, that is. It’s truly odd that you’re singling out a work about the atom bomb that represents a Hopi carver and katsina dolls in an extremely positive way as stereotyping/inaccurately representing Native people.

    Laura: So you are unimpressed by the fact that Oppenheimer had a katsina on his desk, which provides a more-than-plausible reason for including it in the text. Everyone is so mystified by why the Winters would include the katsina dolls, as though their prerogatives as artists weren’t enough (especially as they are doing nothing offensive or inaccurate). Well, Oppenheimer’s possession of this doll seems like a reasonable proximate cause. If the crux of the problem comes down to why the Hopi were represented and named and not the San Idelfonso Pueblo, then isn’t this a persuasive explanation?

    The man is Hopi. This has never been in dispute. See, this is how these discussions seem to be going; misreadings simply metastasize instead of getting resolved. Can you please provide a link so the rest of us will know exactly how a Hopi carver should look? The fact that you think he’s “generic” simply tells me that you have a stereotypical sense of what he should look like. I’ve seen all kinds of carvers.

    You really have sunk your teeth into the “nearby” part of the phrase – good! Now, look at the other word: “faraway.” What could that mean? Not nearby. The phrase is what is called an oxymoron. An oxymoron cannot be read literally or partially (as you read it). It must mean something like “faraway in one sense but nearby in another sense.” What are you so stymied by this?

    You know who is *obviously* interchangeable in the book? The scientists. The other figures in the book are not. I did not say they were interchangeable or that they looked alike; I said that they were not named explicitly in the text. You all seem to be equating “erasure” with “verbal erasure.” Native people are represented, and explicitly in the case of the Hopi man.

  20. Patrick – I was responding to Peter October 31, 2017 at 3:52 pm, and in general, to a host of other incidents I’ve witnessed over the ten years that I’ve been in children’s literature. Wasn’t responding to you.
    I’m off to listen to some Carly Simon, have a good night all.

  21. Elisa Gall says:

    It is true and unsurprising that this book first received praise “throughout the book community” considering the demographics of the industry, and specifically the data on Native representation: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/. Someone with lived experience and professional expertise sharing an informed critique isn’t ignoring that praise, however. It is acknowledging (like Lolly did in her post) that some people have more knowledge on some topics than others. I don’t think information shared by experts, even if there are not many of them whose voices are being heard, should be disregarded as just a matter of opinion. To do so would not only place “fill in the blank” topic above Native people (like others have written about already), but it would also be in conflict with what I believe is the spirit is of the “Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation” segment found in part 2 of the Caldecott Committee Manual:

    Inclusiveness is a core value of ALSC. It is the responsibility of each ALSC media award and notables committee to reflect this value in their approach to their work. ALSC award and notables lists provide librarians, teachers and parents with information about books and other media our association holds in the highest regard. Everyone benefits, children most of all, when the titles recognized within and across ALSC awards and best-of-the-year lists authentically reflect the diversity found in our nation and the wider world.

    Each year there will be overlap among individual committees in terms of titles being considered for recognition. The Caldecott, Notables, and Pura Belpré committees, for example, inevitably end up considering some of the same books. It is the responsibility of each committee to consider a work based upon how it meets the criteria of their specific award rather than speculating whether a particular title will receive another award. If a title is recognized by multiple committees, it does not diminish the work of any of those committees; rather, it draws greater attention to a particular work’s excellence.

    As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.

  22. Susan Dailey says:

    Lolly,

    Your question about the color palette made me re-examine the illustrations. The change to the dark, muted palette in the scenes with the scientists is an effective choice. I doubt that the scientists always worked at night (which was my first subconscious impression), but the darkness reinforces the secretive nature of their work. The blood red mushroom cloud chillingly reflects the destruction that came with the bomb. I was also impressed with Winter’s decisions on how to depict the power released by splitting the atom and on how to show the scientists’ thoughts.

    As I said in my comment about “Blue Sky White Stars,” I adore Kadir Nelson’s realistic style. Winter’s flat style isn’t one that I find as appealing. However, I believe the Caldecott isn’t about beauty (much as I might want it to be). It’s about whether the artist’s choices result in effective illustrations that reflect, support and extend the text. These illustrations were effective in stirring my emotions and leaving a strong impression. (As were Nelson’s–different choices for different texts/themes. How in the world does the committee compare apples to oranges to kumquats?)

  23. I believe it is pretty clear in view of the late revelation that J. Robert Oppenheimer owned a kachina doll and displayed it on his own desk, that Jonah Winter wanted to make that point for obvious reasons. It also has not been established remotely that an artistic representation of that doll as opposed to actual ownership is in any way a violation of Hopi regulations. What also seems a certainly as I follow this dicussion on this thread and weeks prior that readings of this book are idiosyncratic.

    I completely understand and sympathize with Allie’s claim of misrepresentation of Native Americans in literature dating back so many years, but this broad generalization is in view of unsubstantiated claims non applicable to THE SECRET PROJECT. Likewise the lamentations of “victimization” in a book that clearly celebrates Native American resilience and creativity as stark contrast to mankind’s descent into destructive madness sadly continue to obsficate the book’s urgent theme, one Dr. Reese continues to liken one overriding possible textual indignities, but in fact is a theme to end all themes as humanity stands on the precipise of extinction. So yes our very continuing existance, so powerfully explored in nocturnal hues is what the book concerns, and no effort to take issue with the the militant accuracy of Hopi and Pueblo, both of whom lived close to the place where the book’s events played out.

    Continuing on with Lolly’s call to further examine the book’s artistry, I’ll add here the changeover from green to black typography to denote the coming armegeddon of nuclear development. Then of course there is the book’s most emblematic and arresting illustration, the one superbly encapsulated within the borders of the letter “O” on the cover title, highlighting symbols of atoms, neutrons and protons on the profile silhouette of a scientist’s head.

  24. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Can someone catch me up re the doll on Oppenheimer’s desk? Is that in the book? And how is the Hopi carver not Hopi?

  25. Oppenheimer is not in the book. I provided this fact as a possible reason for including katsina dolls in the book. One could view the inclusion of the dolls as a subtle effort to reclaim them from the man who led the effort to make the bomb, a man who liked to appropriate non-Christian religions and cultures (e.g., when he said something like “I am Shiva the god of death.”). This seems more likely than this idea that the Winters think of Native people as “interchangeable” or that they deliberately slighted the artwork of San Idelfonso Puebloans. That they chose the dolls at random *and* Oppenheimer just so happened to have one of them on his desk would seem to be a wildly implausible coincidence.

  26. Patrick, I find it interesting that you keep asking Lolly why she didn’t check with the Winters before writing this. When an author or illustrator creates a book, once it is published, it will be loved, it will be hated, it will be met with apathy, it will be criticized. I’d like to believe the author or illustrator understands this and lets go some of that tension and fear in terms of backlash, especially book creators of the Winters’ reputation… but then again I am not an author or illustrator myself, so I don’t know for sure.

    Now I *AM* pretty sure that one of the goals of Calling Caldecott is to give a bit of a feel as to what it is like to be on the Real Committee. And I can tell you right now, when you are on the committee you do not, under any circumstances, touch base with authors or illustrators about anything. You can check on their research against other experts in the field (and let me tell you, if I was on the Real Committee and I got this book, I for sure would be listening to Debbie Reese’s comments on this with great interest) but you can not get in touch with the book creator… that won’t fly.

    Elisa, I appreciate you pointing to that section of the award criteria – that’s huge. The Real Committee members are going to be looking very closely at that manual, and the issues that Debbie and others have brought up will hopefully be equally weighed alongside the artist’s use of color, font and media.

  27. Patrick J says:

    Sam, I find it interesting that you answer for Lolly. I can only speak for myself, but I would always check my privilege before answering for anyone, especially a female writer. I didn’t “keep asking”; I asked twice because she didn’t answer the first time. She can of course just say yes or no. It’s not unheard of for critics to ask writers and artists to weigh in on a controversy, especially when they are being grossly misrepresented.

  28. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Hello, all –

    Sorry to have been AWOL yesterday afternoon and this morning. I’m juggling a lot right now including some health issues. Not a valid excuse, but that’s life. There are a bunch of comments I haven’t read yet but I did just see the most recent 1:20 comment from Patrick J.

    In fact, Sam Bloom is right about not reaching out to the Winters. I try to approach this blog as I would if I was on the committee (as much as possible). The committee is discouraged from communicating with authors and illustrators of the nominated books. (This can be difficult because once you get on a committee, publishers send you lots of dinner invitations so you can meet their illustrators. It’s so hard to turn down a chance like that. Some can’t resist the temptation, but I think most do avoid contact with potential winners.)

    Patrick’s question about my double standard (my phrase, not his) re: trying to keep out of the controversy is a good one. I do have an opinion and I let some of it show near the end of the post when I commented on how US history was taught when I was a kid. Now that he points it out, I see that I also slipped up right there in that one sentence near the beginning. I want to respond to that, but it will take more thought than I can muster at the moment. I’ll aim to post another comment tomorrow morning when I will feel better AND will have read every word of every comment up to then.

  29. I’m very sorry to hear you have been under the weather Lolly, and wishes go out to you for a speedy recovery.

  30. Ann Clare says:

    Thanks to Lolly, and to the commenters who have shared their personal and professional experiences and made me think.

    I come to this discussion as a youth librarian. My first impression of THE SECRET PROJECT (before I read Debbie’s first review and Laura’s comments) was that it is creative nonfiction—and more creative than factual. I don’t care for talk about “the faraway nearby.” Sentences like “the most brilliant scientists in the world,” are exaggeration. Why not say ‘physicists,’ who are distinct from, say, biologists? More creative talk: “something so loud, so earth-shattering, so huge, it is hardly even imaginable.” I found the simple formula of the book–white men=scientific thought; white women (rep by O’Keefe)=the creative arts; and a Native man=spiritualty—reductive and predictable. (Native and Mexican women are only in the crowd as people who cook and clean.)

    The Winters have attempted to create a white American myth out of the Manhattan Project. They use symbols and poetic language rather than specifics. Some people obviously find their telling seductive. My 7th grade science teacher showed us documentary footage from the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No permission slips were sent home, no warning was given. Some of the images are seared into my brain, as they should be. Maybe it wouldn’t have had such an enormous effect if a teacher shared this watered-down picture book a year or two earlier, and explained how we should feel rather than just showing us the truth.

    This myth making is very concerned with the secrecy of the lab and project. The secrecy is elevated. More so than the actual science that created the “gadget.” Personally, I think it would be better if the secrecy were stripped away and we dealt with the facts of this monstrous invention. We need to be clear-eyed in dealing with our destructive history.

    “In the beginning,” the books begins. As a starred review noted, it is like Genesis. Inherent to the book’s mythology, is that this was a place that “does not officially exist.” This is obviously an erasure of a people and culture who have been in that place for thousands of years. We can’t step anywhere in this country where Native people didn’t/don’t live. But an important part of white American self-mythologizing is heading into the barren, wild west to be loner cowboys or prairie girls–or hidden scientists?

    Once I read Debbie’s review, and realized (among many other details about the school and the roads, etc.) that the Hopi lived 300 miles away, and her own people, the Nambe Pueblo, lived in the nearby nearby, the book became fatally flawed to me. The ghost (?) of the Hopi doll floating in the air over a lab where white men are creating a weapon of mass destruction would be offensive to people of any religion.

    This whole business about Oppenheimer possessing a Hopi doll is nowhere mentioned, and so what? I owned a dream catcher. Lots of white people did/do. It’s nothing to brag about. Native religions don’t exist to be a spiritual inspiration to soulless whites. I’ve never bought into the saintliness of Oppenheimer.

    I remember seeing a Nova documentary about Richard Feynman. He talked about how they all celebrated when the bombs were dropped on the Japanese population, and if any of his fellow scientists had crisis of conscience, it came much later. I’m sorry the book doesn’t allow for that kind of ambivalence.

    As for positive representation–as a Deaf woman, I have been exposed to maudlin, exploitive stories about disabled people that others find inspiring. It interests me that you adore the image of the anonymous Hopi, but you don’t like a real-life Nambe Pueblo woman explaining her POV. What did the Nambe Pueblo of the time think of the white men’s “gadget?” That would make a fascinating subject. It’s egregious that the back matter discusses the health repercussions of the bomb test, but still doesn’t talk about the Native population.

    The illustrations are accomplished but they are also a bit flat for me. For those arguing that there are no factual errors in the book, I ask you: do you think this could win the Sibert or Orbis Pictus awards? It simply couldn’t be a contender. This year, there are some fine juvenile non-fiction books and bios that honestly blend facts and art. Elizabeth Bird has some titles in her Caldecott predictions.

  31. Hello Ann.

    You say you do not “buy into the saintliness” of Openheimer. Are there any people who do? The contention that Oppenheimer displayed a kachina doll on his desk was deliberately posed to condemn the man and his central role in the abomination known as the creation of nuclear weaponry. The Winters did not consider him anything but the blight on humanity that he was, and the symbolic reference point to him in THE SECRET PROJECT was rightly demonize him. I’m afraid you may have missed the pointed irony in this picture.

    You later say this:

    “It interests me that you adore the image of the anonymous Hopi, but you don’t like a real-life Nambe Pueblo woman explaining her POV. What did the Nambe Pueblo of the time think of the white men’s “gadget?” That would make a fascinating subject. It’s egregious that the back matter discusses the health repercussions of the bomb test, but still doesn’t talk about the Native population.”

    I am not getting how you could find it “egregious” that the book’s back matter discusses the health repercussions of the bomb test, but still doesn’t talk about the Native population, when as you know this book is not a sociological study of the Pueblos in the 1940’s but implicity and horrifically a book about the development of nuclear weapons. The book was not about Mexican Americans who lived in that area at the time, nor about any specific Native American group, but scene specific on the bomb and at that an uncompromised condemnation. Again, that you should take the concerted and passionate use of the Hopi carver as anything but the creative force that he was in the face of a White induced technogical monstrocity is mind boggling. It seems to me that much of your critique is devoted to posed what you feel YOU would have done, has you written and illustrated the book. The book’s back matter covered precisely what it rightfully should have all things considered, so I’d change your “egregious” to “insightful” and “proper.”

    I am also amazed at this statement:

    “The ghost (?) of the Hopi doll floating in the air over a lab where white men are creating a weapon of mass destruction would be offensive to people of any religion.”

    Really? This was the image that more than any in the book was widely praised in reviews of the book. I find it very sad and frustrating that an image meant to suggest creative resilience should be read so cynically, not to mention you are speaking for entire religions, when this is your sole objection.

    And finally, I refer to this, surely the most disturbing assertion you made of all:

    “The Winters have attempted to create a white American myth out of the Manhattan Project. They use symbols and poetic language rather than specifics.”

    I have yet to read, even from the book’s vocal minority that the Winters were trying to create a White American myth, as the full complicity and blame for the project rests on the Caucasians who conceived and engineered the nuclear development. Yes, the mode of presentation includes symbols and poetic language as th Winters opted for, but the specifics are there generously in the text and teh afterwards.

    The matter of the Sibert or the Orbus Pictus are N/A on the Calling Caldecott thread. I’d express disagreement with you on that contention, but since it doesn’t come into play here I will say nothing further. You thought the illustrations were “flat” though accomplished. That of course is more than a valid opinion and quite relevent to this dialogue.

  32. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Now that I’m caught up with comments, I will make this my last one before moving on to the more recent Calling Caldecott post about photographs and the Caldecott Medal.

    First, in the controversy department I am definitely aligned more closely with Debbie, Laura, Sam B., et al. I believe the book as published is what we need to evaluate. The subject of this book is a complicated one, and the book intentionally simplifies some aspects of the “project” and the detonation at the end. The backmatter, though, should be more inclusive. A simple Google Map search will reveal the site of the lab and the detonation. It also reveals clearly-outlined populations of Native people.

    My own reading of this book is colored by who I am now as an adult and who I was as a child who might have experienced this book at age 6 or 7. Back then, I was interested in the science up to a point (my father tested early rockets in White Sands in the 50s) but mostly I was concerned with the death and illness the bombs caused. At that age, I knew about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the unimaginable number of deaths of Japanese people.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I only considered the death and illness of the Native people living near those test sites fairly recently. It seems crystal clear to me that this area was chosen because the populations living there were seen as “lesser” by the people who had to choose where to create and test those bombs. In my opinion, this is a crucial part of the story and something children of any age can understand. I see no reason for omitting it.

    I would like to strongly suggest that we all move on. I think all relevant points have been made at least once, and anyone who feels strongly enough to comment will not be swayed by anyone’s comment speaking to the opposite side of a question.

    Let’s see if we can discuss this book’s art now. We have said very little about the look of this book. Other posts on this blog led to much more discussion of art than this one has. Or if we are done talking about The Secret Project‘s art, let’s move on to Elisa and Johnathan’s post, “Why the Hell Hasn’t Photography Won the Caldecott?!?”

  33. Sam Juliano says:

    Fair enough Lolly. Can I ask a question about the “Why the Hell Hasn’t Photography Won the Caldecott?! post? Will this basically be the post that will cover April Pulley Sayre’s FULL OF FALL, or will that book be separately considered in another post? Thank you.

  34. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Sam, please see Jonathan’s comment (addressed to you) on the Hell/Photography post.

  35. Sam Juliano says:

    Ooooh Thank you Martha!! I was away from there and hadn’t see it. TY!

  36. Patrick J. says:

    Lolly,
    You write: “I’m ashamed to admit that I only considered the death and illness of the Native people living near those test sites fairly recently. It seems crystal clear to me that this area was chosen because the populations living there were seen as “lesser” by the people who had to choose where to create and test those bombs. In my opinion, this is a crucial part of the story and something children of any age can understand. I see no reason for omitting it.”

    To make the case that this is why the area was chosen, we must establish that the scientists knew what the long-term and far-distant health effects of the bomb would be. The chief health effects of nuclear fallout have to do with genetic damage, about which the scientists knew almost nothing then. The link between cancer and nuclear fallout, for example, hadn’t been established; in fact, the mutation theory of cancer only became the standard view years later, after the discovery of the structure of DNA. If the scientists were aware of this or the other health effects of the bomb, beyond whatever effects would be brought about by being within a certain radius of the explosion, then why did they themselves go to the site right after it had been detonated to examine the ground? Why did they not protect themselves with anything more than sunglasses during the explosion? So if they weren’t aware of all of the effects — it wasn’t dropped on a human population until Hiroshima and Nagasaki — then they would only have to worry about killing people in the blast itself, which they avoided. The Winters’ book is about the development of the bomb and it ends with its detonation, not with what happened afterward. While the issue of racism certainly is a vitally important topic that is brought up in the vast literature on this issue, it pertains mostly to subsequent testing as well as the use of the bomb itself on Japan.

    As anyone who has read about the Manhattan Project knows, the scientists did view the non-White populations as “lesser”; they thought of them in stereotypical terms and would act insultingly or just thoughtlessly towards the Native people who worked with/for them. But this pertains to the issue of racism in general and has nothing to do with the choice of this site, which was dictated by logistical concerns, as well as Oppenheimer’s idiosyncratic desire to combine physics with his notion of a kind of monasticism in the desert.

    I realize that you would like to move on from this book, but that you’ve reached this new, crystal clear conclusion after looking at Google maps and not considering these other issues or reading up on the topic — can we find any account, in the many, many good discussions of racism and nuclear testing, that addresses the racism of this *particular * choice of this *particular* place in this *particular* moment in history? — is just another indicator of why no one in this discussion is willing to change their minds.

  37. Healing thoughts to you, Lolly. And thanks to Debbie, Laura, Ann, and others for their comments here.

    Patrick, the answer to your last question is yes. A quick search provides the following links; I’m sure people could also suggest better ones, especially from Native sources. If a defense of a picturebook requires denying the well-documented racism associated with the site and its selection, including the ways that a narrative of the land being “generally nonpopulated” both originated in and justified that racism (with continuing effects to this day) perhaps it’s not really the book people are defending — but their own understandings of history.

    https://sites.coloradocollege.edu/ejsw/2016/11/17/environmental-injustices-for-pueblo-communities-near-los-alamos-national-laboratory/

    https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/native-americans-and-manhattan-project

    http://newpol.org/content/shadow-manhattan-project (See the paragraphs re General Groves’ discussion of site selection for the Trinity blast in his memoir Now It Can Be Told.)

    https://www.rt.com/usa/341722-los-alamos-chromium-plume/

  38. Patrick J. says:

    Sarah H.: Lolly raised the issue of the death and illness brought on by the bomb in her remark about the racism behind the selection of the site. I am well aware of the struggles for environmental justice by Native populations in the surrounding area and “downwinders” striving for decades to be recognized and compensated in the decades following this initial test, especially as more tests were conducted and the horrific effects of the bombs were more understood. If Lolly’s point is that White people disregarded the rights and claims of Native people, or placed them behind the need to win a war, and that the book does not show this, then I can’t argue with her. But if her point is that this site was chosen with callous disregard for the health and lives of the population, as her topic sentence would seem to indicate, then I don’t understand what this could be based on except retrospective knowledge of the effects of nuclear fallout that the scientists didn’t have. If they did then why did they expose themselves directly to the blast area? If you could provide me with links that resolve this obvious cognitive dissonance I would sincerely appreciate it.

    Though I am of course defending the book, I am more interested in defending two artists who’ve committed their lives to social justice through art. Their book was initially criticized for not naming Pueblos specifically (even though it included a Hopi carver, who wasn’t “nearby” enough for anyone, it seems), for showing dirt roads or dirt on roads in Los Alamos (absurd), and for not knowing anything about katsina dolls (also absurd) or including them without motivation; the criticism then metastasized, highlighting the book’s condensation and simplification of highly technical material and its representation of a painter reminiscent of O’Keefe when O’Keefe hadn’t been there since 1941 or something; and now the criticism has shifted to failure to mention the racist disregard for the health of the people in the area, which might seem intuitively correct, especially given later developments, but doesn’t at all square with the scientists’ disregard for their own health. I’m not defending my understanding of history because I don’t have to. Nothing you present in these articles links the scientists’ and military men’s racism (which, please note, I acknowledge was real) with foreknowledge of the health effects of the bomb. This is what is at issue. Others should probably consider whether, in this particular case, they are going with what seems intuitively but is not actually correct.

  39. Based on many comments here and elsewhere, it seems that some people think that my review essay and questions I posed are an attack on the Winter’s. Their words and art are something they put into the world. I picked up their book. It is set in my homelands. I was excited! You are, too, when a book is in your neighborhood. If facts about it aren’t right, you notice. If aspects of it that carry great meaning to you aren’t right, you notice.

    I noticed things that were wrong.

    I used a word to describe one of the things that is wrong: erase. That word upset people. It implies an action. If we apply idea of an action to the Winter’s, we would say that they had put Pueblo people in the book and then decided their presence was in some way not working, so they erased them and chose to go with with the faraway Hopi. I don’t think they actively erased Pueblo people. I think they simply did not realize we were, and are, there. This is the ignorance that Lolly referenced.

    I noticed the pages of the faraway nearby Hopi man and the kachina dolls. (Roger asked if the man is Hopi or not. The text says he is; a colleague at Northern AZ said that a Hopi man of that time period would not have worn his hair that way. It is possible but not likely.) Those pages of the Hopi man and the kachina dolls made me uneasy because I know that most people do not understand what they are and what they mean. It felt–and still feels–to me, that the Winter’s used them with good intentions, but that in their use, they didn’t understand what they were doing. This, too, is well-characterized by Lolly’s use of “collective ignorance.”

    Collectively, children’s literature is in a period where it is trying to be more inclusive, accurate, and respectful of those who continue to be omitted or misrepresented or whose cultures are used in ways that feel off. Discussions like this one are important. They can move us all to a better place.

    I appreciate Lolly’s post and comments. As I’ve read through the thread, I am grateful for Sarah’s links. The second one, especially, is important. It points to context from where a Pueblo person reads a book like this. (In discussions elsewhere, people said “why didn’t you say that THEN” (in my first review). With any review I do, I have to think how much to say. Some people like the depth and others quit reading.) Here’s the link and a paragraph from that second link that is important:

    https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/native-americans-and-manhattan-project
    “The Manhattan Project prohibited many Native Americans from enjoying their ancestral lands as the military took over hundreds of square miles for scientific laboratories and industrial production facilities at Los Alamos, NM and Hanford, WA. While Manhattan Project officials made some provisions for access, Native Americans were generally unable to enjoy their traditional hunting, fishing and camping grounds or sacred ancestral sites. With little warning, the Manhattan Project abruptly disrupted Native Americans’ traditional ways of life. Afterwards, decades of environmental contamination further eroded Native Americans’ former lands and traditional lifeways.”

    THE SECRET PROJECT is an information book. I think most of us agree that it is unusual in its impact with respect to the bomb itself. If they could revisit the book… if they could revise it so that these problems (the ones I wrote about and the ones that Ed Sullivan wrote about), what would it look like? I think that is an important question.

    I know the discussion at present is about the merits of the book within the context of it being considered (we don’t know if it is or not) for the Caldecott, but stepping out of that context, I think the discussion itself is important to the growth and development of all of us in children’s literature, from those who create it, to those who publish and review it.

  40. From the paragraphs I pointed to in the link above: “Groves’ memoir, Now It Can Be Told, is an unintentionally revealing master narrative in which the writer’s contradictions and shady omissions when narrating the Trinity blast expose the Manhattan Project’s skewed priorities. After describing the tremendous Trinity flash and fireball, he writes his ‘greatest concern was over radioactive fall-out and the possibility it might concentrate on a populated area or even an isolated ranch.’ He claims that the Trinity Site was chosen with special caution; it ‘had no Indian population at all’ which he uses as a justification for not providing pre-blast information to a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (This makes little sense: the Bureau undoubtedly would have been concerned by a Native American presence, but comforted by an absence.) ‘Generally nonpopulated area’ is left undefined. Nevertheless ‘the city about which we were most concerned was Amarillo, TX, some three hundred miles away.’ It was for their benefit, presumably (not the benefit of the Native Americans whom Groves has ‘generally,’ or altogether, erased from the scene, or the farming settlements near Alamogordo that he never specifically mentions) that after Trinity he sanctioned a press release falsely stating the macabre fireball witnessed in outlying areas was the result of a large ammunition magazine detonation. Groves’ awkward underscoring of a large, urban, and white population in Amarillo three hundred miles away (at the expense of pocket New Mexico communities which dotted the area) reveals a general concern for secrecy, not safety. When population estimations include farmers, farming communities, and Native Americans, some 38,000 Americans lived within a closer radius than Amarillo, Texas.”

    Present-day environmental racism did not spring coincidentally from the ether; it is directly connected throughout history — including the early history of Los Alamos — to Manifest Destiny and colonialism. In Debbie Reese’s original review, she draws these connections powerfully in her comparison of the illustrations in the Secret Project to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s descriptions in the Little House books of land that is “empty.” The vision the illustrations present, of lands that are “generally nonpopulated,” follows in a direct line down through General Groves’ own actions and their consequences, and continues to justify those actions and consequences today.

  41. I think that both sides can readily agree that the powers that be including the infamous Oppenheimer (so often referenced) were racists, and Sarah H’s historical report is sound. It can be traced throughout history of course. I also understand that the people on this form who are arguing in behalf of “The Secret Project” and the Winters are progressive minded politically and artistically, as are those who have forged objections. All of us can roundly condemn this mindset then, now and for all-time.

    But there is still a vital fact in this picture that hasn’t been considered after taking in the post’s writer-moderator’s statement in a comment: “It seems crystal clear to me that this area was chosen because the populations living there were seen as “lesser” by the people who had to choose where to create and test those bombs. In my opinion, this is a crucial part of the story and something children of any age can understand. I see no reason for omitting it.”

    The problem with this statement is that the demographics in the immediate area where the test was conducted were roughly 50 to 60% Caucasian. Further research has revealed that those number have now increased as of 2015 to 85% Caucasian. If the scientists chose this spot exclusively because “lesser” people lived there, why then do the figures supporting that decision not line up?

    A few of the points that Sarah H. makes in her generally well researched and presented historical report are rather obvious – facts all would know (i. e. that the government was secretive about the entire process and that they would be concerned about concentrations of fallout on more populous areas.

    The bottom line is that these people had no idea what they were about to unleash and what the lasting ramifications would be. That they ended up conducting this test in a predominantly white area is ironic to say the least.

  42. Thank you, Sarah, for the additional information. And to Debbie, for making your intentions clear. I often think people jump to the defense without taking the time to process your thoughtful reviews.

    Talking to a friend last night, I said the book was a misfire. I have admired other books by the Winters. Patrick, you obviously know the Winters. You feel for them, and think that this sort of criticism is a personal attack. There is also the false idea that there’s a Twitter mob attacking authors/illustrators in a way that’s never been done before. I can tell you that’s not true.

    I published a book, T4: A NOVEL IN VERSE, in 2008. It has been harshly criticized and has a low rating on Goodreads. For my sanity, I don’t read all the reviews. But I agree with the basic points. It is too short. It is a shame that a more thorough account of the subject matter doesn’t exist in youth literature. I have not been criticized (as far as I know) for the Roma content, but I’m sure I used what someone in that community would see stereotypes and inaccuracies. ASL is my first language, and I’ve struggled with English literacy. That was the best I could do at the time. I’m always growing and learning. We can definitely be dedicated to social justice through art and get it wrong sometimes.

    The problem is not that you are defending your friends (I tell my family and friends to stay away from my reviews), but that you are dismissive and insulting to people from different cultures who see something differently from you. Any criticism is “absurd” to you. By keeping up this line of defense, the argument keeps spiraling.

    The Winters have a strong, successful career. That’s not going to change. I hope when they get over the hurt they feel, they will be able to address concerns expressed by Debbie and others.

  43. “The Winters have a strong, successful career. That’s not going to change.”

    Ann, I fully concur. Jonah Winter just won a prestigious Ten Best Picture Book of 2017 designation from The New York Times for his wonderful prose for “Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Inequality” (with ace illustrator Stany Innerst), which offers further evidence of what Patrick stated earlier: “I am more interested in defending two artists who’ve committed their lives to social justice through art.”

  44. Patrick J. says:

    Ann Clare: I don’t know the Winters. I own most of their books and have second-hand knowledge of them through my friends in publishing. I have no stake in their careers and I am certainly not speaking for them. I have no idea what they feel and, unless you’re privy to inside information, neither do you. I do know that other writers of children’s books have had book contracts cancelled because of the manufactured scandals over other people’s books. It is harder and harder for the vast majority of writers to make a living in this country. That might not be the case for you, but I know plenty who are struggling. It’s much easier for tenured professors, teachers, and librarians to get by. If I had directed this sort of dismissive comment (about knowing the people I’m defending) at anyone else, it would be criticized for the patronizing and presumptuous remark that it is. I could have easily said that the only reason the critics of this book are criticizing it is because they all know each other and like to engage in ritual displays of mutual support, but I have chosen to address claims and to counter them with my own. You don’t seem to be interested in addressing specific claims so instead you attribute my disagreements to some sort of personal grievance. The fact is that things are reaching a tipping point where a number of readers and writers and illustrators and editors are getting fed up with unjust attacks on people who are trying to do good work and whose futures are getting less and less secure. It’s telling that one would think that in order to defend these people one would have to be on their bowling team or share a bodily organ with them. Having said all that, would you like to address any of my specific points? Thanks.

    Sarah H.: I read that. At the risk of some chivalrous commenter stepping in to say that I keep asking the same question, I’ll ask it one last time: If the scientists knowingly harmed Native populations, then why did they expose themselves to the very same danger? This question is the big moldy lump in the pudding that you keep eating around.

  45. Anon2017 (for purposes of identification only) says:

    What an odd, ahistorical turn this conversation has taken.

    The Manhattan Project began in 1942, not mostly because of an idea that the weapon would need to be used in Japan, but because of a fear — completely borne out by the facts, in fact — that Nazi Germany was working on its own atomic weapon. Guess where the Allies would have used this weapon had the Battle of the Bulge gone differently? Yup, on white people in Europe. Guess where the white Nazis would have used the bomb first had they gotten to it first? Yup, on white people in Europe, Russia (well, Slavic, not white by their standards, I guess), or the USA.

    As for the racism implicit in the steps taken here in America to build the bomb, this is also ahistorical. The first reactor in the United States, the so-called Chicago pile was built and tested under the football stadium at the University of Chicago, a pretty white place at the time, though there had been talk of locating it in a forest not far from Chicago. Oak Ridge and Hanford were majority white, too, as were the areas noted in posts above, as were the actual Manhattan Project scientists self-exposing to the dangers (and who continued to participate in atomic research into the 1950s and 1960s after the Stalinist Russians, and totalitarian Russians, became a nuclear power).

    In light of this history, suggest we stick to talk of dirt roads leading into Santa Fe from the outskirts, an unnamed person some think is Georgia O’Keeffe, a reference “the faraway nearby” actually borrowed from the title of a haunting O’Keeffe painting of bones/skull/desert landscape, unhappiness that a particular Native nation was not mentioned while another was mentioned because of the faraway-nearby reference, and kachinas.

    Lolly is right.though. I’m not sure that more discussion on this will be fruitful.

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