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Release Date
September 05, 2023
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What if a school's mascot is seen as racist, but not by everyone? In this compelling middle-grade novel in verse, two best-selling BIPOC authors tackle this hot-button issue.

In Rye, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, people work hard, kids go to school, and football is big on Friday nights. An eighth-grade English teacher creates an assignment for her class to debate whether Rye’s mascot should stay or change. Now six middle schoolers–-all with different backgrounds and beliefs–-get involved in the contentious issue that already has the suburb turned upside down with everyone choosing sides and arguments getting ugly.

Told from several perspectives, readers see how each student comes to new understandings about identity, tradition, and what it means to stand up for real change.

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A Timely and Important Cultural Shift
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Six eighth graders at Rye Middle School are assigned a debate by their language arts teacher, Ms. Williams, in this novel in verse. They have to discuss whether or not it is appropriate to have Native American mascots for sports teams. Callie, who is Black and a Cherokee Native citizen, feels strongly that having the school mascot be the Braves, with the attendent insulting gestures and cheers, is inappropriate. Priya, whose family is from Gujarat, India, agrees, and cringes whenever there are pep rallies or games. Tessa, who is white, has been raised by parents who marched with Martin Luther King, and doesn't quite understand how to be an ally. Franklin is Black, and thinks that the mascot is fine, as does Luis, his best friend. Luis' family is from El Salvador. Sean's family has Irish ancestry, and would be considered more right wing. The family works hard but finds it difficult to get ahead financially, so Sean doesn't see how "white privilege" is working in his favor. When the groups have to research their debates, the students come up with a lot of information. This data sways Franklin, who starts to see they point of changing the name of the team, but doesn't sink in to Luis or Sean. The class evenutally petitions the school board to change the name, and gathers signatures. When they speak at the board meeting, Tessa doesn't stick to the agreed upon comments, and her classmates are angry that she felt a need to disregard their opinions. It takes the board quite some time to decide what to do, and Callie's side of the debate decides to have a protest. Only Franklin, Callie, and Priya are punished for leading it. While waiting for the decision to come down, they do make an effort to raise money to help with the cost associated with the change. In the end, the project is a divisive, but ultimately helpful one for the school community.

Good Points
It was interesting to see the variety of backgrounds represented, and realistic that not everyone's minds were changed by the argument. Sean talks to an alumnus, Mr. Allen, who runs a local diner and is himself Native. He claims that having a Native mascot is honoring his ancestors, but he is one of the few who see it that way. Sean never does change his mind, and Sean's parents are surprised that Ms. Williams is able to say nice things about his academics even though he persists in being against the name change. While not all of the actions of the characters are perfect, they are thoughtful and deliberate, which makes this book interesting. Tessa eventually does learn to become a better ally through listening to her fans and checking her privilege.

There are countless occurrences of team names being changed, and all seem to have some controversies and differences of opinions surrounding them, even though the use of stereotypical Native images have been considered problematic since the 1940s. The Washington Commanders and the Cleveland Guardians are two major league teams who finally changed their names (in 2022 and 2021 respectively), so I'm sure there are plenty of smaller teams who have not yet made this transition due to all of the factors mentioned in Mascot.

This is a great addition to a growing list of Native American titles that have the approval of Native American scholars and critics, such as Christine Day's We Still Belong, Young's Healer of the Water Monster, or titles by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
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