I hasten to say that McDermott's award-winning Arrow to the Sun is deeply flawed and should not be subtitled "A Pueblo Indian Tale." It is so deeply flawed, in fact, that the word "Pueblo" should be replaced. It's new title, I think, should be:
Arrow to the Sun: Gerald McDermotts misleading-erroneous-inaccurate "Pueblo Tale" that cannot in fact be called a Pueblo Indian tale
Harsh, I know. Lest you feel sympathy for McDermott, think about all the Pueblo Indian children who are reading his book, know that it is wrong, but have to regurgitate his words for their teachers when they discuss the book in the classroom. And think about all the non-Pueblo children who are being mis-educated through this book.
If you are a teacher using the book and feel embarrassed or uncomfortable by this harsh essay on his book, I hope that you read the entire essay, spend time on this site, and then walk away from your computer thinking carefully about what you read here. You are not a bad person for having used McDermott's book with students in your classroom. You didn't know it was a bad book. It carries a sticker on it that tells you it is an award winning book. You were misinformed. Not intentionally (the Caldecott committee didn't recognize it as problematic either), but nonetheless, you were misinformed. I hope that makes you mad, not at me, but at the industry and institutions that continue to promote his book.
I have harsh words for McDermott. That dance that happens at the end of the story? The "Dance of Life" --- he made that up. No pueblo does that. He made up that dance. For Pueblo Indians, dance is prayer. The not-Pueblo-Indian Gerald McDermott made up a prayer, and is passing it off as a Pueblo prayer. I think that's pretty messed up.
So. On to the Weston Wood's guide on the Scholastic website...
Here's the opening paragraph, which is a synopsis of the book, followed by objectives:
In Arrow to the Sun, a boy, born from the sun, begins a quest to find his father. He travels through the world of men, finally finding his way back to the sun. Once there, he must prove himself through a series of tests. Only then can he return to the earth and the world of men again. In this Pueblo tale, students will be visually transported into the world of folklore and oral history that were and are cornerstones of Native American culture and tradition. The bold, imagistic art will captivate children as it lends to the magical quality of the story. This program provides an excellent starting point for Native American studies as well as a rich journey through the art and culture of Pueblo life.No. No. And no, again. Here's my rewrite. I'll put my revisions in red.
- Students will identify some of the aspects of Pueblo Indian life.
- Students will compare and contrast this tale with the tales of other Native American groups.
In Gerald McDermott's fantasy Arrow to the Sun, a boy, born from the sun, begins a quest to find his father. He travels through the world of men, finally finding his way back to the sun. Once there, he must prove himself through a series of tests. Only then can he return to the earth and the world of men again. In this tale, students will be visually transported into McDermott's imagined world of folklore and oral history. Though his book may feel like it is a presentation of Native American culture and tradition, it is only his imagined presentation. The bold, imagistic art will captivate children as it lends to the magical quality of the story. His book and this guide provide an excellent starting point for teaching children that information in books can be wrong. His book is used in courses in Native American studies to demonstrate how American Indian cultures are misrepresented in award-winning books.
- Students will identify McDermott's errors in presentation of Pueblo Indian life.
- Students will learn about two other writers who also misrepresent Pueblo Indian people.
Following standard practice, the guide follows the Objectives with "before" and "after" reading activities:
Before Reading Activities
Preview the vocabulary words from the book: pueblo and kiva. Show students photos or illustrations of pueblo houses and the kivas in them. Discuss the southwest area of the U.S. where Pueblo people are from, focusing on the environment and climate. Explain to students that pueblo houses are made from adobe, a clay-like material that kept the temperature inside the house cool. Use visuals to show how pueblos are constructed somewhat like apartments, with ladders between the different levels. Typically, all of the members of an extended family would occupy one pueblo, dispersing themselves among the different levels. Explain that the kiva is like the basement of a pueblo. The kiva was used for important ceremonies and is considered a sacred space. Encourage the students to look for pueblos and kivas in the story.
Teach students about some of the basic adaptations that Pueblo peoples used to survive in their environment. Due to the dry climate in the southwest, Pueblo people used pottery to collect rainwater and store surplus food during times of drought. Corn was the staple crop, as it is a hearty plant that can be cultivated in harsher, drier conditions. Finally, review the ways that pueblo houses helped to shelter people from the heat through the use of adobe and building the pueblos into the sides of hills to provide greater shade. Tell the students that some of the characters in the book will reflect these important parts of Pueblo life.
Here's my rewrite of the "Before Reading" activities.
Before Reading Activities
Introduce the word "sacrilege." Tell students that Pueblo Indian dance is "prayer in motion" and that Pueblo Indian people dance, not for entertainment or performance, but as a way of praying. Tell them they will read about a "Dance of Life" that McDermott made up.
Preview the vocabulary words from the book: pueblo and kiva. Tell the students there are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, each with its own ways of doing things, from cooking to praying to stories they tell, and that prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were a lot more Pueblos, but that due to warfare and disease, the number of Pueblos decreased. Tell students that the Pueblo Indians were prosperous traders with their own forms of governments and that today, they continue to govern their people and maintain their status as sovereign nations.
Tell students that a kiva is a place of worship and teaching. Tell them that Christian missionaries thought the Pueblo Indians were pagans and persecuted them for praying, that they filled kivas with sand and built Christian churches on top of the kivas to prevent the Pueblo people from going to their kivas. Tell them that the US government had policies that prevented them from doing their dances.
Tell them the Pueblo peoples led the first successful overthrow of an oppressive invading regime in what came to be called the United States of America (Thanks, JM, for asking for clarification). To learn more about it, they can do research on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Tell them that, today, the Pueblo peoples continue their dances, and they protect and maintain their kivas much like any religious order does with their sacred spaces. (Note: kivas are not like a basement, located underneath a pueblo. Some extend below ground level; some do not. Some are circular in shape; others are rectangular. The person who wrote the 'before reading' activity suggests that a pueblo is a building. That is incorrect. The word pueblo is Spanish in origin, and it means village. Each Pueblo had/has many buildings.)
Here's the "After Reading Activities"
After Reading Activities
Students can work in groups of 2-3 to use modeling clay to construct model pueblos. They can label the main parts of the pueblo: kiva, ladders, sleeping space, outdoor cooking area. As a shared writing activity, students can write a paragraph about the adaptations that Pueblo people used to adapt to their environment. This should be a whole group exercise with the teacher transcribing student ideas into complete sentences and correct paragraph structure. Finally, students can paint or draw a mural on butcher paper that shows the southwest environment as a backdrop for the clay pueblos. Display the artwork in the classroom. As different Native American groups are studied, students can construct similar scenes to display as comparison.
Read other Native American folktales to the students, notably those by Paul Goble, such as Buffalo Woman. (Goble has written an extensive collection of Native American stories from many different tribes). Using a Venn Diagram, compare and contrast the similarities and differences between Arrow to the Sun and these other stories. Alternatively, or in addition, compare and contrast Arrow to the Sun with other Pueblo stories. Guiding questions:
- How are the characters different and how are they similar?
- What challenge(s) does the main character face?
- How does the character solve his/her problem?
- How does the story teach you about this group's way of life?
Stage a dramatic presentation of Arrow to the Sun. Choose two to three students to be narrators. Rewrite the text for beginner readers or help them memorize their parts of the text. Some students can be actors and the rest can play instruments and provide other sound effects and music. Rehearse the production and present it to other classes and parents.
And here's my rewrite. It's all in red text...
After Reading Activities
Students can work in groups of 2-3 to compose a letter to McDermott, asking him about his book and if he has rethought the way he wrote that book. Has he, for example, changed his approach to the ways that he tells the stories of other people? If he could rewrite Arrow, what changes would he make? They can write to Weston Woods, asking them to rewrite their Discussion Guide, and they can write to Scholastic, asking them to take the Weston Woods guide off their website.
Students can share what they learned about the Pueblo Revolt.
Students can read essays on this site about Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story, written by Penny Pollock, and Dragonfly's Tale, written by Kristina Rodanas, and write to Pollock and Rodanas, asking them if there are any changes they would make to the stories they wrote.
Read other Native American folktales to the students, notably those by Paul Goble, such as Buffalo Woman. (Goble has written an extensive collection of Native American stories from many different tribes). His stories have been criticized by the tribes whose stories he retells (Note: consider teaching children the word 'appropriation' and what it means.) Give students a copy of Doris Seale's essay about Goble and discuss it with them. The essay is on page 158 of A Broken Flute, available from Oyate for $37 in paperback.Do not stage a dramatic presentation of Arrow to the Sun.
I think that's it... There's a lot more that can and should be done, but that's what I've got for today. I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK! Use the comments option, or write to me at debreese at illinois dot edu.
Previous posts about McDermott's book are:
McDermott made up the "Dance of Life" in ARROW TO THE SUN
Gerald McDermott's ARROW TO THE SUN